Two Canadians, A Campervan and New Zealand’s South Island

It’s been over 6 months of us working in this country, and we have now earned holiday time! Vintage is done, and Air NZ started offering really affordable flights within the country. All of this meant that we could finally get to the South Island, and we were so excited to explore it!

As people heard we were going south, they all gave us their lists of the must-do’s! We appreciated all the cool, local tips, but unfortunately we didn’t have a year to actually cross them all off… New Zealand offers almost never ending exploring! So we picked the things that sounded the most intriguing to us, accounted for our budget and time allowances, and carefully planned (on my end) a jam-packed, 6 day adventure, in a campervan, of course!

We got an amazing flight deal to Christchurch, so we headed there early Wednesday morning, thankfully just missed the fog, and landed on time at 8:05am. We picked up our Campervan from Jucy, and hit the road, as we had an appointment to get to in the Waipara area of the Canturbury Wine Region.

I won’t go into too much detail about the wineries we visited on this trip, but we uprooted our entire lives, and moved to this country specifically to work in wine; clearly it was high on the priority list for this holiday, as it usually is.

Bell Hill

The wine in the South Island is very different than it is where we work in the North. We work in the warmest wine growing region in the country, with very vast and diverse soil types; the wine regions in the South Island have completely different soil from each other, and from the North; they also have their own unique climates, and therefore, produce unique versions of some of the grape varietals we have in the North, and also some completely different varietals altogether. We tried lots of Pinot Noir on this trip, some Chardonnay and bubbly wine, as well as many aromatic whites, like Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir based Roses, and even a Muscat, that was dry and surprisingly enjoyable.

In Canterbury, we visited Bell Hill, and had a private tour around their biodynamic and organic boutique vineyards, on incredible slopes, with the vines showing off the beautiful autumn colours. We tried some Pinot Noirs out of barrel. We visited Pegasus Bay, which had beautiful grounds, some very nice wines, and a friendly and knowledgeable Cellar Door host.

Tasting in the Bell Hill caves
Pegasus Bay Cellar Door
Pegasus Bay

We also visited the winery with two labels that belongs to this year’s New Zealand Winemaker of the Year, Greystone and Muddy Water. The Winemaker at my workplace has won that award 2 times in the last 5 years, and we have amazing wine, so I had very high expectations for this place, which I feel is fair. If you are considered the best Winemaker in the country, your Cellar Door should support that, and the visitors that you will undoubtedly bring, and give an exceptional experience. This one, sadly, did not. The host was unfriendly, made no effort at conversation, and was actually outrightly rude to us with a couple comments. Thankfully, the Marketing Manager overheard some of our questions and came out to speak with us for a while, and he was great. If it weren’t for him, we would have had a terrible experience there.

We made our way back into Christchurch for the remainder of the afternoon, did a bit of shopping for some winter gear and groceries, and drove around to see the sights.

A highlight for me was the 185 Empty White Chairs memorial for the people who died in the 2011 earthquake. It was chilling to see, and served as a reminder that life is short and fragile, and should be valued and lived to the full. We had a quick dinner at what I describe as a funky, more upscale food court, Little High.

We visited one of Christchurch’s older and highly awarded bars, the OGB Bar, and had a great experience. One of their employees did a wine tour with me a couple months back on his holiday, and invited me to visit him there on our trip, and him and his colleagues made sure we were taken great care of!

Then, it was time for a very late dinner and wine, once we found somewhere to camp! We used the Ranker’s Campervan App to help us find everything we needed to on our trip. It showed all of the places we could park, empty our tanks, etc., with reviews, photos and prices. We searched for the free options, and found a place just outside of the city to park. I’ll elaborate on the campervan later.

We woke up early on Thursday to get a good head start on our drive to Lake Tekapo.

The Lake Tekapo famous church

The scenery was beautiful on the way, as we made our way into the mountains. We spent the afternoon in Tekapo; we got some photos with the famous church on the lake, and then took a moment to pause inside and admire the view of the lake through the windows on the back wall. What a great place to go to church! We opted to walk to the top of Mount John, which was a short, fairly easy but steady climb.

Almost to the top of Mount John
The view
Snacks at the Astro Cafe

We enjoyed views of the lake and surrounding mountains, and some coffee and dessert in the sun at the Astro Cafe, before heading back down for lunch. We parked the van alongside the lake for a gorgeous view, had a picnic and some Riesling, and then headed to the Tekapo Hot Springs.

We had a booking for 2:00, but because we picked the date and time ahead, we were able to get a great deal on a site called bookme.co.nz. We enjoyed a couple of hours there, soaking in the warm water, and soaking up that view, before heading on.

Next, we drove to Lake Pukake, and stopped for some views of Mount Cook, and then made our way through the Lindess Pass, which was beautiful at sunset, and then onto Cromwell, where we wanted to start our next day.

Classic NZ highway photo
Lindess Pass at sunset
Admiring Mount Cook and Lake Pukake

We found another free camp spot on the Ranker’s App, right next to the lake, and it was such a gorgeous spot. I can’t believe some of the amazing, free camp grounds New Zealand has! I kept saying to Greg, “why is this free…?” In Canada or the USA, those would have been costly spots.

“Pancake Saturday” was moved to Friday, as we had the time in the morning, and the lakeside spot to enjoy! As we awoke in Cromwell, we were already amongst many more great wineries we were excited to visit! This is when it really started feeling like a holiday to me; finally, we had made it to Central Otago, another world renown wine region on our bucket list!

We definitely started off with the bar high, as we visited the appointment only Cellar Door of Felton Road for a tour and tasting with the owner’s daughter. Bookings are required well in advance to get a spot. She was fantastic, as was their philosophy, place, and wine, and we loved our experience there.

Felton Road tasting set up
Felton Road Cellar Door

We followed that up with another amazing experience at Mt Difficulty. It was a gorgeous, sunny, autumn day, and we took in the expansive views of Central Otago on their patio in the warm sun for a delicious and generous platter, that was a special treat for me from a reward card I received at work. After we ordered, we did a complimentary tasting to help us decide what to have with lunch. By the time we finished our tasting, our food was ready for us. We enjoyed our time there so much!

Views with the platter and wine at Mt Difficulty

Other wineries we visited in the Cromwell area were Carrick, and Akarua; we had positive experiences at both of them as well. We then jumped back in the Jucy van to head for Dunedin! The drive was absolutely beautiful the entire way; we arrived around dinner time, and spent the evening with friends.

Baldwin Street

They took us for dinner at a quaint and delicious Italian place, and then drove us to the top of Signal Hill to view the city, as well as took us for a spin up and down the steepest street in the world! We parked the van outside their house that evening, and funnily enough, we weren’t the only Jucy van on the street.

In the morning, we grabbed coffees and had a visit with our friends before making our way around Dunedin to see St Clare Beach, and the famous Railway Station; as it was Saturday, we visited the Farmer’s Market where we purchased some fresh fish and produce for dinner, before making our way back to Central Otago, where we’d spend the next 3 days.

We arrived in Wanaka mid-afternoon, so we went to Rippon, another famous winery with, yet again, amazing wines and an exceptional view!

We also visited Maude Wines, where we had the perfect spot on their comfy couch with blankets in their sun room, overlooking lake Wanaka.

We each had a seated tasting flight of different wines, and then enjoyed a glass in the sun. Our host at Maude was extremely welcoming and knowledgeable, and made us feel very comfortable during our visit.

After we were done relaxing at Maude, we headed down to That Wanaka Tree, to get some sunset photos. We were amongst a group, but got some beautiful shots. I love when I get to see something in real life that I’ve been seeing on Instagram for a while!

That Wanaka Tree at sunset
That Wanaka Tree at sunrise

We checked out another cute wine bar in Wanaka called the Cork Bar. It was warm, dim, and comfortable. So many of these places remind me of small mountain towns in British Columbia, and the whole Wanaka/Queenstown area made me feel quite at home.

At the Cork Bar, I tried some Black Peak Pinot Noir, who’s Winemaker and owner had been in to work last week. We also tried some Burn Cottage Pinot Noir, that came highly recommended, and loved it.

As Wanaka is such a famous tourist spot all year long, there are no free campsites there. We were fortunate to have a friend who’s father lives in Wanaka, and allowed us to park in his driveway for the evening. We carb loaded for our upcoming hike with some pasta, and enjoyed a bottle of wine before bed. We had purchased some candles by this point, so we had our usual ambience and didn’t have to run the bright LED lights in the van!

The next morning, we were up at 6:00am to eat breakfast, grab some sunrise photos of That Wanaka Tree, and make it to the base of the Roy’s Peak Hike for daylight at shortly after 8:00am.

Roy’s Peak Ridge

We were up to the ridge by 10:00am, took our photos, and decided to go for the summit. It was pretty cold up there, but we were glad we made the extra treck to complete the hike. The views were stunning and we had the place to ourselves.

Roy’s Peak Summit, 1578m

We had lunch back down at the ridge, and started our descent just as the rain began. By the time we got to the bottom it was full on pouring, and we were drenched! Thankfully we started when we did that morning, because had we even been 1 hour later, our view would have been largely lost in the rain clouds and fog.

Very wet after finishing Roy’s Peak

Many reviews strongly suggest a high fitness level is required for this hike, and I completely agree. It’s steep, and it’s all up, sometimes at a 45° angle, with basically no plateaus, for hours. And then you have to come down…potentially in the rain or snow, depending on the season. You must wear proper clothing, shoes, and layers. It is almost 1600 meters in elevation; the conditions are considered Alpine at the ridge and upwards, and with all that uphill climbing, if you’re not wet from the rain, you’re wet from the sweat. I was so thankful to have key parts of my work uniform on; I wore my amazing Icebreaker Merino wool jersey and Merino wind proof vest, all thanks to my awesome company outfitting me for the winter. The hike was absolutely worth all the effort and sore knees; in exchange we got some of the best views we’ve ever seen in our lives, and some pretty amazing photos.

Rainbow and mountain views from Roy’s Peak Summit

We had a makeshift shower with baby wipes when we got back into the Jucy van, and were happy to get out of our completely drenched clothing. We hung it all around the van, but the van unfortunately never got warm enough to dry any of it. I got creative to dry my hair.

We headed for Arrowtown, and walked around a bit there.

We found a candy store and got some fudge, but were stiff and cold, and just wanted to sit down. We found a cool restaurant that was just about to close, The Chop Shop, but they gave us a table. Greg had a thirst quenching beer, and I had a warm coffee with Baileys and it hit the spot perfectly. We ordered a dessert, and ended up getting 3 more free because they were using them up before closing!

Do you want another dessert on the house? Yes, please.

We headed to, guess where… more wineries! Are you surprised? We fit in short visits to Peregrine, Gibbston Valley, and then had a nice long tasting at Mt Rosa.

Peregrine Cellar Door

The owners of Mount Rosa had come to do a tasting with me at my workplace in the Bay at Christmas time, and one of my good friends is heading down to help them out for several weeks this winter while they go on vacation! As the owner knew me, he had us in way past close, and gave us a very personalized tasting. We enjoyed his wine, and the cozy, warm, rustic atmosphere!

We made our way into Queenstown that evening to check it out, and then found a campsite in the area. Queenstown doesn’t have any free sites either, but we found a decent one for only $13/each. Greg cooked up a nice meal, and we relaxed in the van, as it was still pouring outside!

The next morning, after a stop at Starbucks (yes, whenever I get the chance) we traded in the Jucy van for a car, as the van specifically had to be back during certain hours, and our flight home the following day wouldn’t allow for that to work. We took the car around the area, and did our last set of wineries: Chard Farm, which has an amazing, 2km cliff side drive in, Wet Jacket and Whitestone Cheesery, which is in an old wool shed and has a super cosy atmosphere, and then Amisfield, which was closed for repairs, so I was quite disappointed to miss them.

Chard Farm’s driveway along the left
Visiting Wet Jacket with wet jackets
Wet Jacket Cellar Door
Bald Hill

The rain had stopped by then, so we ate up the rest of our groceries outside the boot of the car! We went to Bald Hill instead of Amisfield, and then it was time to check into our hotel.

We stayed right close to downtown Queenstown, which was amazing. We got straight to laundry, as our hiking gear was all still soaking wet, and we weren’t sure how we’d get it home that way! We visited with some friends from home, who also happened to be on holiday in Queenstown!

Then we walked downtown from our hotel and checked out the shops, as well as this very cool bar, The Winery.

Inside The Winery

It has many enomatic machines, that work like a Coravin, allowing small tastes of a bottle of wine to be poured from it without oxygen getting in. We were able to try several new wines, and I got that Amisfield wine after all. It was a lovely evening, and we enjoyed some cheese and crackers on the balcony of our hotel before bed, and also really enjoyed a hot shower, a real toilet, and a King size bed! As much as we loved the hotel for the last night, we really did like the Jucy van.

Our Jucy van was just what we needed for this trip.

Fuel prices

It was small enough to get good fuel mileage (which matters a lot here – fuel on the South Island was around a whopping $2.40/litre, and that’s not a typo); it was still big enough to have a functioning bathroom. We had a small living area with benches, and a table that we could set up for dinner. That same area converted to a bed for the night.

There was also a bed option up above, but with just us, we didn’t need to use that one for anything but storage. It came with a kitchenette, and all of the dishes we needed. It also had towels, and bedding. The weather was quite cold (for NZ) at this time of year, and got down to just above 0° at night, but we had 2 duvets, and were toasty warm under them – borderline hot some of the nights. I was glad we only flew with carry-on luggage though, because compared to our camper in Canada, it felt a bit tight, and I wouldn’t have wanted to have any more stuff!

On another note, this was the lightest I’ve ever packed for a trip, and it was a big stretch for me! I wore the same boots the entire time, other than my runners for hiking. I didn’t bring heels. (Who am I?) I didn’t bring my blow dryer or straightener, either, and just made due with the hair situation. I knew we wouldn’t have power for them anyways. (Thankfully, I was able to shower at my friend’s in Dunedin, half way through the trip, and use her hair appliances to freshen up. Alice, you’re a life-saver!) Over all, I really embraced the campervan lifestyle. It was fine for 5 days, but by day 6, I was quite happy in our hotel room! I am still a bit “precious” as they say here, after all.

I have also realized that we’ve only been here just over half a year, and our trip was greatly enriched by the many connections we already had, because of our jobs in the industry, and friends we have made. We visited friends in Dunedin and Queenstown, and I knew people in Christchurch, and Gibbston Valley through simply meeting them at my job and spending some time getting to know them; they then returned the hospitality to us. We tried wines of people I’ve met at my job. We had a free place to stay in Wanaka, through another friend we’ve made. Most of the places we visited gave us extra special treatment when they found out we were industry people. I’m so thankful for all of these connections, and they make us feel so much more welcome in NZ.

Our trip was amazing.

Queenstown area
Queenstown
Roy’s Peak Summit
Arrowtown in Autumn

I’m so happy to have finally seen the South Island, and it is every bit as beautiful as people say. (Although, I do have to give bigger points to the Canadian Rocky Mountains.) 6 days went by so quickly, and we did a lot, but we still had moments of relaxation, and thoroughly enjoyed our first actual holiday in NZ.

Relaxing with my babe, stunning views and some Pinot at Maude

Hmm… where to next?

Tauranga & The Coramandel

Our final summer road trip ended up being 3 nights long, thanks to a kind soul making my roster work for me to travel, and thanks to Greg’s employer being flexible with his weekend. With that much time, we were able to go a bit farther than we had previously gone, and we decided to head up to Tauranga, and the Coramandel, with some specific sights in mind.

Some generous and helpful friends of ours loaded us up with all the camping gear we could possibly need and want, and sent us on our way!

We left town after work on Friday night, and ate our spaghetti in the car! We stopped in Rotarua to grab a beer for Greg. You non-Kiwis may be thinking, “excuse me, grab what?” Apparently it’s legal to drink alcohol in the vehicle in most places in NZ, as long as someone else is driving. Yeah. (Kiwis, if I’ve misunderstood this, correct me, please!) We hadn’t done it yet, but we figured we should have the experience at least once. (Cause we don’t have enough opportunity to drink here as it is. #sarcasm) It felt really wrong, but when in NZ… cheers to road trip beers!

We arrived in Tauranga where some new friends, R and S, put us up for the night. We shared some wine and had a great visit with them on their beautiful patio before bed.

The next morning, we headed to the beach by their place, Papamoa Beach, and enjoyed some white sand, sun, and Tuatua catching!

We had heard of catching tuatuas from a couple of people, but didn’t really understand how to do it until we got into the water. We saw some others with buckets out about thigh deep, and wandered out as far as they were. Greg started digging his toes around in the sand until he felt what seemed to be a rock underneath, and then picked it up to find out it was a Tuatua! They are similar to muscles or clams. I tried and found a few myself! The limit is 150 per person, per day, so Greg set out to get a small bucket full for dinner. It was a new, unique experience for both of us, and so cool to try.

We had an amazing brunch with R and S, and then headed into Tauranga, where we climbed Mount Maunganui.

It was a bit cloudy, which ended up being to our benefit, as it was 27°C, very muggy, and we came down drenched in sweat! The views at the top were gorgeous, and I would highly recommend climbing it if you’re ever there. Just make sure you have decent shoes, some water, and a relative level of fitness.

We did some shopping afterwards, and then Greg and I headed to visit some Canadian/Kiwi friends for dinner! It was so great to spend the evening with some familiar faces from Canada, and to glean some wisdom from people who have moved abroad, and experienced so many of the same things as we have, but are years ahead of us on the journey. (Greg also cooked the Tuatuas, and they were pretty flavourful! You can see some in the bowl between us.)

We finished the evening with a walk to the beach to watch the girls run and enjoy the cool breeze. We left Tauranga around 8:30pm to finish our treck to Hahei in the Coramandel, where we camped at the Seabreeze Holiday Resort. The road was extremely windy to get up there, but was nothing we weren’t prepared for by now. We arrived and got the tent set up, and made it to bed before midnight.

Sunday was a relaxing morning of sleeping in, coffee and pancakes. The camp facilities at Seabreeze were amazing to me! I guess they are quite typical here, and from what we’ve heard, some resorts are better than others, but Greg and I were blown away at the amenities this place had. They had a large communal building with several bathroom stalls and shower stalls (there was never a line in the 2 days we were there). They had a big kitchen area with 4 fridges/freezers, about 6 sinks (dish soap provided), 6 stove tops (some pans provided), several microwaves and kettles, toasters, plug-ins where people charged their phones, and even a tv room with couches and chairs.

This place would be amazing to camp at with groups of friends! I’ve never had such a great experience tenting. It honestly reminded me of being at summer camp. We slept in our tent, but we headed to the main building just down the path whenever we wanted to cook, do dishes, use the toilet, or get something from the fridge. We also met a few nice people in the kitchen as well; I really like how this style of camping promotes community and making new friends. A person could have privacy in their site if they preferred, but could also head to the main building to meet others if he or she wanted. It was awesome! Canada could learn from this.

Sunday afternoon, Greg and I headed to Cathedral Cove. We parked and walked the 25 minutes in with our beach gear. We planned to stay for a while and enjoy it, instead of just getting some photos and leaving. I’m glad we did! We had a great afternoon. It was partially cloudy, which allowed us to stay longer without burning to a crisp in the NZ sun. (We still burnt a bit!) Cathedral Cove is beautiful, and a NZ must do.

We wanted to go to Hot Water Beach as well, so we left Cathedral Cove in the late afternoon, with the plan of heading over to HWB, not realizing that we were in the wrong tide window for it to work. We had gotten there too late, and the water was up high enough to cover most of the hot spots. We left with the plan of returning in the morning before heading home.

As it turned out, there was a brewery on site at Seabreeze, so obviously, Greg was pretty happy about that. We cleaned up and headed over for some pints and hot chips before dinner. It was a nice place to relax on site at our resort!

We had a nice steak dinner, cooked on the communal BBQ at the resort, and enjoyed some star gazing before bed.

The stars were so bright and beautiful that far out of town. It felt like we could see every star in the Southern Hemisphere. We’ve learned that down here we can see the Southern Cross, the constellation on NZ’s flag, but it can’t be seen from Canada. We can’t see the Big Dipper from down here.

Another random piece of information for the Canadian readers is that they have these creatures here called “cicadas.” They essentially sound like crickets, but they chirp in the day, from dawn till dusk, and are about ten times louder than crickets. I usually don’t mind them, but while sleeping in the tent, they were so loud in the early evening and morning that we had to put earplugs in. Thankfully I had 2 sets in my bag from the flight over!

On Monday morning, after another round of pancakes, we packed up and headed to Hot Water Beach, at the appropriate time this time! In order to access the hot springs under the sand, one needs to be there either 2 hours before or after low tide. We only had a bucket, but Greg started digging.

Our neighbours in the next hole told us the water beneath the surface needs to be hot right at the beginning of digging. If the water coming up is cold, there is no hot spring under that spot. We had cold water, so we moved to another spot, and started digging again. Those same neighbours lent us their spade, so Greg was able to do a more efficient dig.

The water was warm in the new spot, so Greg kept digging deeper and deeper until we had a sizeable pool to sit in. There was a really noticeable hot spot on the left side of our pool, and it was so hot that it was burning my elbow and waist on the left side. I had to keep shuffling the sand around and moving the water throughout the pool, just like trying to warm up the bath water! We just dug a hole in the sand and made our own hot tub with geothermal heat. NZ has got some amazing things to do!

As our neighbours were so kind to give us tips and lend us their spade, we gave them some of our wine, and had a nice visit with them. Some other neighbours had a hole that was so hot they couldn’t even go in it, and we felt bad for them. As we had to leave a bit early to get home for a party that evening, we gave them our hole, and they were quite thankful.

We enjoyed the scenery on the drive home, and I took my turn to enjoy a nice wine pairing with my lunch in the car (still so odd…). We got home 25 minutes before our friends arrived at our place, and we finished off the weekend with a fun farewell party with friends!

It was a great long weekend, and finale to our summer travels. I’m so looking forward to the next time we get to go exploring in more of this amazing country we’re calling home.

Road Trip to Rotorua

After our weekend in Welly, we were anxious to have more of a relaxing trip for our next getaway; fortunately for us, some of our new, good friends, R and A, had invited us up to their bach (lakehouse, or “cabin,” for you Canadians) for a weekend. We were excited to do something more in the realm of what we would normally do for a summer holiday – get to the lake!

We had been warned how much Rotorua stinks, so we were prepared for the smell of sulphur in the air. The smell is due to all of the natural geothermal activity in the area. We got out of the car, and soon realized it was not as bad as we figured it would be. Besides, we figured it was a great place to fart, because nobody would ever know the difference! I had to remind Greg that the smell of the air unfortunately didn’t hide the sound of the farting though. 😂

We did a cultural experience on Saturday, at the Living Māori Village of Whakarewarewa (pronounced not at all how a Canadian would read it). We’ve been slowly learning more of how to pronounce Māori letters, and we learned a bit more from our tour guide at the village. Our experience included touring the village, which is still a functioning home to many people, learning the history of the place and the culture, and eating a “Hangi” meal, prepared in the geothermal steam oven underground.

Our favourite part of the experience was the show, in which we saw songs and dances, as well as the famous, “Haka.”

Traditionally the Haka was used to psych the warriors up for battle, both physically and mentally, and to scare and intimidate opponents. (Māori friends, please correct me if I’m wrong on any of this cultural information!) It was an honour to finally get to see it performed, and to enjoy some other songs and dances. They were amazingly talented people, and we loved every minute of it.

We headed out to the bach with our friends after the cultural show, and went out on the boat for the remainder of the afternoon and early evening. Greg tried out “the disc,” which is a round piece of wood that goes behind the boat.

He didn’t try the 2X4 though, which they call “the plank,” as it’s apparently “next level,” and the smaller of the two discs proved challenging enough! I even got out on the biscuit, because I figured, when in NZ, take the chance to ride the biscuit!

We loved “champagne pool,” which was a little geothermal pool along one edge of a small bay in the lake. It has very hot water coming out of a rock in the side, and it heats up the pool like a hot tub. We relaxed in there and had fruit, cheese and crackers! Greg did some cliff jumping with R, and we swam in the lake when we needed to cool down. Greg commented on how surreal the experience was to him, and it definitely was one we will remember!

For dinner we had smoked trout that R had caught that morning, a steak dinner, and wine on the deck, overlooking the lake, next to a fire. We even had some roasted marshmallows!

Our friends took us for a surprise adventure after dark. We hopped in the car, and then walked down a dark road until we saw them… glow worms! I’d been hearing about these bright and beautiful creatures from people in the cellar door and had become quite curious about them, so I was happily surprised to get to see some for myself! They are part of the arachnid family, (Greg wasn’t scared of them though, and even touched one), and they glow in the dark! It was too dark for me to capture them in a photo.

Our day was so relaxing and fun; it had all the elements of a typical getaway weekend at the lake for us, plus so many new, cool, unique to New Zealand elements, and we felt right at home. I slept SO well that night.

Our friends cooked us pancakes in the morning, and after some cards, we went back out for a day on the boat, filled with more picnics, hiking, and watching the girls do silly tricks on the biscuit and swing from a rope into the water, before packing up and heading home.

We stopped to do a short walk to Huka Falls on the way home, as a quick waterfall stop is something one can do in New Zealand!

Overall, we loved Rotorua, the culture we experienced, the feel of the city, and most of all, being at the lake and making memories with good friends.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

We completed our first official day hike here in New Zealand on the 8th of December, and it was sunny and warm! We’re not used to warm December dates yet, but they’re fabulous.

Tongariro Crossing is one of the most famous tracks in New Zealand, and I had seen pictures of some of the scenery on Instagram before we even knew what it was and thought, “I want to go there.” It’s a 19.4 km day hike to the summit of a volcano, past the Emerald lakes and down through somewhat of a rainforest.

I was a bit concerned about the difficulty level, as we had heard some mixed reviews on how difficult the hike is. There is a sign on the trail that warns people who are not fit enough to turn back. It does include some fairly steep climbs, as well as some descents with loose footing. The tour companies suggest it will take 6 to 8 hours. Some people I spoke to said it took them upwards of that, and that they were sore for a week, or that they lost toenails. People seemed to be shocked that we were planning to do it on a weekend in between work, so their reactions to our announcement of the plan was a bit concerning. We got set up with all the right gear by some generous friends who had also done it; we made sure we were well fed and sunscreened, and our friends told us we’d be fine!

We had driven up to the mountain the night before and slept in the car in a campsite. We got up at 6:00am and had pancakes for breakfast, thanks to my husband!

There are a few shuttling options, but we went with Tongariro Expeditions’ one way option. We parked the car at the end of the hike, and then took the 8:30am shuttle to the beginning of the hike. I went with this option due to another blogger suggesting it, and I was glad we did the one way shuttle and didn’t have to wait for another shuttle at the end. What they didn’t tell us though, was that after getting off the trail we still had a ways to walk to our vehicle; the 19.4 km trail ended up being over 23 kms according to my FitBit.

We hit the trail at 8:48am. It took the first kilometre or so to adjust the backpacks and distribute the weight properly, so we were off to a bit of a slow start, but once we figured that part out, we were well on our way.

The hike begins with a nice, gradual incline into the mountain, and passes Mount Doom, from Lord of the Rings.

From there, the first steep climb begins. On the pamphlets and maps they give you, it says it will take an hour to do this climb. We completed it in 35 minutes. The views from the top are amazing!

There is a 15 minute plateau on which we were able to spread out from the rest of the groups on the trail and catch our breath a bit before the next climb, the “Devil’s Staircase.”

It was supposed to take 30 minutes, but we climbed it in about 18.

For a person who doesn’t normally exercise, this would take at least the recommended time, or longer, if one was stopping for rests part way up. We are quite fit, and it was still a very good work out getting up the mountain! It’s not a walk to be taken lightly.

Once at the top, we were able to see the Emerald Lakes in the distance, which were my favourite part of the track. Most people eat lunch at the top, but we decided to continue to the lakes before stopping for lunch, as it was only about 11:00am. Walking along the edge of the crater was really cool!

The climb down to the lakes required an adjustment in walking, as it was about a 45 degree slope with very loose gravel and volcanic sand. We slid with every step. I fell 3 times, but it wasn’t a far fall seeing as how the angle was so extreme that my hands were so close to the ground anyways. Eventually we got used to the sliding and began adjusting for it as we learned how to transfer our weight properly.

We had an enjoyable lunch on the rocks overlooking the lakes, and took the most photos around there. It was really windy! Some days, if the weather is unfavourable, people have to do the crater walk (pictured above) on their hands and knees.

The above photo was our lunch spot!

The lakes were amazing, as you can see.

Once we passed the lakes, we used one of the many toilet stops. No TP was supplied, but thankfully, I had my own! We had to wait in line. I couldn’t believe how many people were on this track!

Then we began the long descent down. The views were great at the top, but the trail down was long. This was the most difficult part for me, as my feet kept hitting the fronts of my shoes, leading to very sore toes. It was also a tedious climb down with similar scenery for a couple of hours, until we got into the rainforest area at the end.

We finished with a walk next to a beautiful, rushing stream, exited the trail at 2:44pm, and then, of course, added on the longer walk to the car.

We were surprised we’d finished so early based on the expected time, but I believe we saved a lot of time during the two inclines; we took lots of time to enjoy lunch and stop for photos, and didn’t rush ourselves, but we still finished in 5 hours and 56 minutes.

We had originally planned to stay another night in the car, but as we finished early, we went to Taupo to some natural hot springs to refresh our sore muscles and relax, and then decided to drive back for a hot shower, and a nice, comfortable sleep in a real bed. Wow, did we ever sleep well that night!

In conclusion, Tongariro Alpine Crossing is amazing, and although I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, I would highly recommend it to anyone who is fit, up for a good physical challenge, or is a regular hiker. It definitely requires a certain level of fitness to be enjoyable and safe, and the proper gear, clothing and food/water is essential. Planning ahead for transportation, and leaving lots of time to do the track is important, as I believe 6 to 8 hours is a reasonable expectation for time. We were also fortunate to have amazing weather, and that is key as well. We finished off the night with a celebratory wine from the winery I work at.

Happy exploring blog family, and cheers!