I decided to share our adventures from our time in New Zealand in August of 2002. Yes, that was a long time ago and yes, my memory is a little foggy. I always keep a travel journal on our adventures, so I am able to piece together the trip in some detail, but this post will admittedly not go into as much detail as my other destination posts. I will make up for that lack of detail by adding a few more pictures than I usually post. (Also note that digital cameras were fairly new back then, so while the digital photo quality is not as impeccable as you see now, you’ll get the general idea of how beautiful this trip really was.)
(FYI, the details from our entire two-week trip to Australia and New Zealand can be found here.)
After looking at the options for seeing natural wonders in Victoria, we went with the following itinerary.
- One night in Auckland,
- Drive from Christchurch to Mount Cook National Park,
- Drive from Mt Cook to Te Anau to Milford Sound, and
- One last night in Queenstown before heading home.
We rented vehicles in Christchurch. My husband did all the driving. This was an adventure, driving on the wrong side of the road for us, with the steering wheel of the vehicle also on the wrong side of the car for us. A few unforeseen difficulties arose, but he got used to it eventually.
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One Night in Auckland
When we landed in Auckland we were surprised to find that, instead of a shuttle to our hotel, there was one of those fancy drivers holding a sign with our name on it! We had arranged a ride to our hotel with our flight, so that was a fun little treat. That night we stayed at a hotel on the harbor in downtown Auckland. Not a bad view from our hotel room.
Christchurch to Mount Cook National Park
The next day we were supposed to fly to Queenstown via Christchurch. However, when we landed in Christchurch we discovered that our flight to Queenstown was canceled due to a storm in the Queenstown area. We knew Mount Cook National Park was on the way to Queenstown but out of the line of the snowstorm, so we decided to drive there for the night and make our way to Queenstown afterward. It was a serendipitous twist to our trip. The drive was absolutely stunning. I can’t put it into words, and the pictures were so far from the reality that I almost didn’t include them here. Mountains and glacial lakes and simply untouched scenery. Gorgeous.
We stayed that night at The Hermitage at Mount Cook National Park. We hiked to the Tasman Glacier that night, and to Kia Point in the morning.
From Mt. Cook to Te Anau to Milford Sound
The drive from Mt. Cook to Queenstown via Wanaka was equally stunning. We commented that we’re not sure why they bother specially designating any roads as scenic highways in New Zealand, because they were all just jaw-dropping. We stopped in Queenstown only to make sure we could find a hotel room for our final night of the trip. From there we headed to Te Anau to spend our second-to-last night, so that the next day we could get a tour to Milford Sound.
The drive from Te Anau was surprisingly jammed up. But not with cars or tour buses…with sheep. Hundreds of sheep using the road to get from one place to another. You’ve heard that there are more sheep in New Zealand than people? Well, it was certainly true in this part of the country.
The rest of the drive was a fairly harrowing drive on Milford Road, which had just finally gotten paved in the 1990’s. It was such a memorable road that my husband bought a book about its construction. And the scenery in Milford sound itself was beautiful. Apparently it’s technically a fjord, not a sound, but why quibble? It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been blessed to see.
We spent our last night in Queenstown wandering around the town. It’s definitely a ski and adventure-type crowd there. It felt a little like walking around Aspen or Estes Park. They offered all kinds of heli- options where a helicopter drops you off at the top of the mountain, and you take various means down: heli-biking, heli-skiing, etc.
- Traveling in winter was definitely great for keeping down tourist traffic on our trip. However, the biggest downside was that our days ended very early. It would have been nice to have early evening time to explore some more, but it was too dark to do so.
- A note on the exchange rate: When we went in 2002, the exchange rate was $1 US = $2 Australian. As of the writing of this post, the current exchange rate is $1 US = $1.28 Australian. So we were able to get much more lodging, food, fuel, and souvenirs for our dollar than we could if we took that trip today. I didn’t write down the exchange rate for New Zealand, other than to note that it was not quite as good as it was in Australia.
- Many of the places we drove on this trip were out of radio station range. This is the pre-smartphone era, so we were wishing we had brought some music along for the car rides (which, in 2002, meant CD’s). In Auckland we ended up buying an old (and crappy) Pink CD and the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack, a favorite of ours. We listened to the latter for many hours as we drove around New Zealand.
- According to my journal, we had to pay for ketchup in Australia, but not in New Zealand. Go figure.