The driving experience in NZ was an adventurous one. Most of the roads, even highways were single lane and we were driving through winding roads up and down the mountains for half of our journey. And I had experienced my many "first time" here..
"First time" number 1: Staying in camper van
We rented a camper van for one week and it was during the off-peak season for camper van. We did not see many camper vans on the road throughout our trip. Winter's not the tourist season for NZ as it was really cold, windy and rainy. The weather was quite unpredictable. Not to mention staying in a camper van in winter. We must be out of our minds.
We drove through the North Island, from Auckland all the way to Wellington. We searched for Holiday Parks to stop over every night. It's my first time travelling without a proper hotel. It's actually not as bad as I thought, even though the space was really limited. But it got quite scary when there were strong winds outside. We can really feel the whole camper van jerked in the middle of the night and it could get really cold even when we were inside the camper van with a small heating fan.
Our camper van.. woo.. Mercedes Benz yeah..
The switches in the camper van..
Our bed.. It's actually sofa seat in the day and a bed at night.. And oh.. Our self-made hanger..
Holiday Park, where we spent our nights.. The shared toilets at the Holiday Parks were surprisingly very clean!
"First time" number 2: Luge on a rainy day
It kept raining on the first few days and we couldn't do anything except going to the museums. But in the end, we decided not to let the rain spoiled our plans and we went ahead with the luge ride at Skyline Rotorua. We took a cable car (which they called it gondola) up to a point, then we changed to chairlift to reach the top which is the starting point of the luge ride. There's nothing much to do at Skyline Rotorua other than taking the Gondola, the luge ride and looking at the beautiful scenery (which we didn't have the chance to enjoy because it was raining and foggy, and we couldn't see any scenery). There's restaurant at Skyline Rotorua too, but I guessed it's quite expensive. I'll leave the website of Skyline Rotorua here, and you can research and decide if it's worth making a trip there.
Chairlift up to the luge starting point.. There were even cows on the slope..
Me in raincoat.. riding a luge..
"First time" number 3: In muddy waters
I was told that spa/hot spring is one of the things to do at Rotorua and we tried something different - mud bath. We found one that was cheaper than the famous Rotorua Bath House and some other spa centers. But it was at the physiotherapy wing of a hospital -.-
The mud pool that we were supposed to soak ourselves in..
After 3 days of heavy rain, the weather finally turned for the better on the 4th day! Yeah!
With such nice weather. we went to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. It's a nice walk into the woods and mountains (there were proper pavement). Be prepared to walk a lot. We spent around 3 hours there. You can really see those boiling hot springs, lakes, the Champagne pool and many more nature's creations. It's highly recommended if you are in Rotorua. Here's the address and the website, we took around half an hour to drive from Rotorua to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.
Address: 201 Waiotapu Loop Road RD 3, Rotorua 3073, New Zealand.
There's one thing to take note, the famous Lady Knox Geyser which erupts daily at 1015am is not located in the Thermal Wonderland itself. So if the Lady Knox Geyser is your first stop, when you arrive, you need to go to the Thermal Wonderland visitor center to buy the tickets first. Then, you will be allowed to drive to the Lady Knox Geyser, there's staff half way along the road to check your tickets. The drive from the Thermal Wonderland to Lady Knox Geyser took us around 5 minutes.
We were just in time. The Geyser have not erupted.
Still erupting after 15 minutes but not so forceful liao.
A boardwalk in the Thermal Wonderland.
The Sinter Terrace Formation close-up view
Wow! What a name. Inferno Crater.
Hot boiling water cave
Puddles of boiling water
The Champagne Pool.. It was misty because the water in the lake was hot but the air was cold..
Not sure why was it called Devil's Bath.. Maybe because of the color?
After we left the Thermal Wonderland, we continued our journey. One thing to note when driving in NZ are sign boards along the road. Some of the sign boards will indicate a scenic lookout nearby and if you have the time, you can make the turn and ta-da! Beautiful scenery before your eyes. Like this one..
Did I mention earlier that there are many winding roads up and down the mountains? Yes.. So it's important that you have enough petrol for your car because it's possible that there's no petrol station in the middle of the mountains.We started our journey with half tank of petrol, it was depleting very fast as we kept going up hill. There was not a single petrol station in sight for nearly 2 hours. The petrol indicator was already blinking but we were still in the middle of the winding roads in the mountains. It was already dark. We panicked and my boyfriend dared not step on the accelerator, all we hope was down slope all the way until we found a petrol station. Luckily, we found one before the petrol was totally used up.
Omg! Things were still not smooth! We were unable to use it because it was a self service kiosk and it doesn't accept cash! Some sort of a local card was required for the payment! And so.. we waited at the kiosk, hoping for people to stop by. My boyfriend even ran out to the road to stop some cars. Lucky for us, finally this Samaritan stopped by and helped us. We were so so grateful to him. We continued with our journey and we reached Napier in one hour time.
What should we do at Napier? Wine tour and eat seafood. Guessed I didn't hold my liquor very well.. I was 'gone' towards the end of the wine tour. There's just too many glasses of wine to taste at each place..
The wineries we went
Empty wine yard during winter..
Okay, no story after the wine tour because I concussed after that.
The next day, my boyfriend brought me to this fresh seafood market. He said it was recommended by the wine tour guide the day before. Oh.. I dun even know about that. Hehe. If you love fresh seafood, you may want to give it a try when you are in Napier.
It's really good recommendation! The oysters were cheap and delicious!
The seafood cafe menu. The seafood were all very fresh.
After the seafood lunch, we were on our way to Wellington when we saw something interesting..
"First time" number 5: In the middle of a wind farm..
The pictures say it all.. We drove right into the wind farm and the strong winds were scary.. We could hardly walk against the wind and our camper van jerked many times.
We continued our journey and took a photo of the winding mountain roads..
When we stop for a rest, we saw this.
Coconut is called "Thailand Drinking Nut" and it's so expensive!
"First time" number 6: Stepping on grass and mud into the woods
In Wellington, our itinerary was quite empty as we didn't know what to do there. We went to the tourist information center and signed up for a 'Lord of The Ring' tour. But it's a bit disappointing as the tour just brought us to Victoria Hill, walked into the woods around there and showed us the places where Lord of the Rings was filmed.. So basically, we just followed the tour guide into the woods, and he used his laptop to show us the photos of a few scenes in Lord of the Rings and tell us which scene was filmed at which part of Victoria Hill. That's about it. I think if you are really interested to go for the 'Lord of The Ring' tour, you should go a full day or half day tour which brings you all the way to Wellington outskirts. That's where you will see more things. Ours was just a 3 hours tour (it's stated 3 hours but our tour only took 2.5 hours -.-), and we never traveled out of Wellington. Sigh, we chose the wrong tour.
The views was quite nice at Mount Victoria though..
One of the scenes in LOTR..
Walked to another place in Victoria Hill and showed us another scene.. There were a few more other scenes, but we did not take pictures of all the scenes..
LOTR tour ended. Next, we took the Wellington cable car to see the views of Wellington..
That's all for the North Island. We took a flight from Wellington to Christchurch and it's self check-in at Wellington Airport. The boarding passes and luggage tags were printed from this kiosk after we scanned our passport and entered our flight details.
Luggage tag printed from the kiosk, we gotta peel it and stick it on our luggage ourselves..
After an hour plus, we arrived at Christchurch and we met up with my boyfriend's friend, Trevor, and his wife, Fiona. We stayed at their house while touring the South Island. A big thank you to them for being such great hosts!
They brought us to Lake Coleridge where we spent 2 days there. It was really beautiful. I think the photos would be a lot nicer if not for the cloudy weather.
We stayed at a cottage with mountain views. And.. I gave the important 'nod' of my life there. No pictures or videos of the proposal taken. It happened on a dark night outside our cottage with just the 2 of us. Under the clearly lit moon and stars, and the range of snow mountains, he went one knee down and popped the question. And I gave the important 'YES' of my life ^-^
"First time" number 7: Trekking up a hill..
The next day, we left the cottage and proceed to Peak Hill, where the 4 of us trekked up the hill for stunning views. Yeah. My first trekking up the hill, was kinda afraid that I might slip and roll down the hill so I kept grabbing my boyfriend. And finally, we were up there.
"First time" number 8: Riding a horse and I fell from it..
We signed up for a 2 hours beginners horse riding tour where we rode on the horse and tour the beautiful landscapes. I rode on the horse without really understanding how to control it. It suddenly galloped 15 minutes after the tour started. I was at a loss, I lost my balance and fell from the horse. I was lucky that I was not injured, just that my butt hurts. After this incident, the guide asked his colleague to hold on to my horse for the rest of the tour. At some places, it was still really scary. The horses were walking single file along the edge of the hill/mountain. In conclusion, it was still a nice experience to tour around on a horse to see spectacular views. But our bodies ached terribly the next day.
"First time" number 9: Dolphins
We went to Akaroa for the dolphins tour. It's our first time boarding a cruise in search of wild dolphins in the sea. Besides our guide on board the cruise, there's this cute little dog named Hector. It could sense the location of the dolphins, and when it ran to a spot on the cruise and barked excitedly at the sea, we would know the dolphins were there. So we just followed him running around and we would be able to spot dolphins.
Cute and smart Hector ^-^
Not many dolphins that day. This was our clearest picture of dolphin.
This is a salmon farm. I had Akaroa salmon when I was in Christchurch and it was awesome! I had never eaten such tender salmon meat. It tasted almost like fatty meat and it melted in my mouth.
"First time" number 9: Picking up a hitchhiker..
We saw these boards the hitchhiker was holding. Since he was going to the same place as us, we picked him up.
"First time" number 10: In a snow with my boyfriend..
It was raining when we reached Arthus Pass. We felt disappointed that it didn't snow. So we searched for snow ourselves. We purposely drove up the mountain just to see some snow. The road up the mountains was quite treacherous. There're a lot of bends and the roads were slippery because of the rain and snow. We were quite stressed when we were half way up the mountain as we had never driven in snow before. The bends up the mountain just made matters worse. But we decided to go on and it was snowing! It's really a big snow near the top of the mountain.
We didn't spend enough days in the South Island. We didn't felt satisfied going back to Singapore without exploring Queenstown, Franz Josef Fox Glacier, Mount Cook etc. I think we should come back NZ again next time to tour the South Island thoroughly!