South Island, New Zealand (Jan 2016)

New Zealand was at the very top of both of our “places to visit” bucket lists. Our first vacation together was a 5 day road trip through Southeast Ireland; a remote area of that country that is full of coastal scenery, sheep, traditional Irish heritage, and most importantly is not too overrun with tourists. We fell in love with this experience, but figured it was unique to Ireland. As we learned about New Zealand over the last few years, we realized that it could be the same, if not better than our trip to Ireland.

“New Zealand is like a bigger, more dramatic version of Ireland,” we heard. “You’ll want to stop around every turn in the road to take pictures, but there won’t be anywhere to pull over because the roads are so narrow.” The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit movies were filmed there, and the scenery in those films is amazing. It’s home to the vineyards that produce the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world (Christine’s favorite). There are more sheep than people. It’s full of outdoor activities. Queenstown is the adrenaline capital of the world. Milford Sound. Lorde. The reasons started to pile up. We had to get there.

Fast forward to the planning sessions for our round the world trip. Our goal was to chase warmer weather. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand’s summer is the US’s winter. It was a perfect fit. We wanted to get to that side of the world anyway, so it became our starting point.

Then came the first problem. New Zealand is BIG. And it’s made up of two islands. And it’s expensive! We had to make decisions. After several long days of research, we determined that we should pick one island and immerse ourselves there, instead of rushing to see it all. The North Island seemed to be more about cities, hot springs, and aboriginal culture, while the South Island seemed to be more about sheep (yea, we like sheep), outdoor activities, and dramatic scenery. We chose the South Island, set a limit of 3.5 weeks, and booked one way flights to Christchurch.

Then came the next problem. How will we get around an island that’s roughly the size of the U.K.? The three options were to take an arranged bus tour, rent/buy a campervan and live out of it, or rent a car and stay in normal accommodations. Again, after several long days of research, we decided that the best fit for us, both in terms of comfort level and to have the most flexibility, was to rent a car. In hindsight, we have no regrets in making that decision. Having a car allowed us to get to some seriously “off the beaten tracks” locations. We definitely wouldn’t have survived in a campervan, and the bus tour option felt too pre-arranged for our objectives for this trip.

Now, how to sum up our time in New Zealand? It’s nearly impossible. We put over 2,600 miles on our rental car exploring the South Island (Kevin had to learn how to drive on the left side of the road, again. He did a fantastic job!). We stayed in 15 towns, ranging from large cities to small villages of just a few hundred people (and unknown numbers of sheep). Christine sampled some awesome wines, while Kevin happily drove her around to the wineries. We interacted with seals, weka birds, kea parrots, little blue penguins, and sheep (not like that…). We picked up hitchhikers (relax, it’s a safe and normal way to get around there), and traded travel stories. We hiked, or tramped as they call it there. We learned about the aboriginal Maori culture, picked up some Kiwi slang (sweet as!), and mastered our “English” accents. Christine found the best Thai Green curry she’s ever had, and Kevin found the best latte he’s ever had. We experienced places in nature that are so grand in size that pictures literally do not do them justice. They have to be experienced first-hand to be fully appreciated.

Most importantly, we had the opportunity to meet the people of New Zealand. Kiwis are such friendly people, always willing to help, or just willing to strike up a conversation. They’re proud of their country and all that it has to offer, and are passionate about preserving the natural wonders that surround them.

New Zealand isn’t easy to get to. It took us 3 calendar days to get there from the US, with about 33 hours of actual travel time. The cost of living is high, however most of the outdoor activities are completely free to see. But it was 100% worth it. It did not dissappoint. We could have easily stayed there another 3.5 weeks, and would still have not fully experienced the South Island. It needs to be on your bucket list. When you decide to experience New Zealand for yourself, feel free to ask us questions; where we went, what we did, where we’d go back to and spend more time, or places we’d skip.

New Zealand is so awesome and picturesque that it was hard to choose our favorite pictures. Here are some highlights from our trip, by region!

North Canterbury and Malrborough

Nelson and Tasman

West Coast and Southland

Otago and South Canterbury