Hello friends! My husband Brett and I have just returned from a three week “holiday” in New Zealand and it was amazing to say the least! Oh what time away being unplugged does for the soul! Before I dive into my Inbox, attend meetings and get back to my day-to-day, I wanted to take a moment and share some of the highlights of our trip.
We spent the majority of our time on the South Island driving around in a campervan we rented from Maui (they were great and our van came with everything we needed, highly recommend them!). We flew into Christchurch and honestly didn’t have a plan, all we knew is that we wanted to travel around the island clockwise and had a small handful of must-see places. I of course am the planner of the family, but I’ve learned over the last 5 years of our marriage to let Brett take the lead on vacations being spontaneous with lots of options and no set plan. I’ve come to love it and once again it turned out great on this trip. If you’re curious, I’ve outlined where we stayed each night below.
After about two and a half weeks on the South Island we flew from Christchurch to Auckland on the North Island, where we spent the last four days of our trip. We rented this cute Airbnb in Ponsonby (a neighborhood just outside downtown filled with tons of cute shops and restaurants…I loved it!), and took this time to relax, go out for good meals, and did a ton of walking to explore the city. In hindsight, because we loved the campervan so much, I wish we would have rented the van for our entire trip and taken the ferry from the South Island to the North Island to wrap-up in Auckland, but other than that I wouldn’t change a thing.
Top 10 Highlights of our Kiwi Adventure:
- Listening to books on tape while driving around and snacking on Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds – We listened to two Ernest Cline books, Ready Player One and Armada. Can you tell who was in charge of downloading the audio books? In all seriousness, I enjoyed both of them, great fast-paced fiction fantasy adventures. Since I knew we were going to be driving quite a bit, I packed some snacks from home, seeds and nuts being one of my go-to options. Can we talk about these pumpkin seeds, oh emmm geee I am obsessed, so delicious!
- Milford Sound – both of us agreed that this is the most beautiful place in the world we’ve ever been. We happened to hit it on a beautifully sunny day with barely any wind which we heard is extremely rare. Words can’t even do it justice, you have to go see it!
- Rocky Mountain Hike in Wanaka – one of our favorite hikes from the trip with incredible views of Lake Wanaka and Wanaka itself.
- Wine Tasting – New Zealand has some incredible wines, their known for producing exceptional Pinot Noirs and Sauvignon Blancs. We were able to visit multiple wineries, but I think Rippon was my favorite (located in Wanaka). I laughed when we walked in and directly in front of us was a beautiful room for small wedding ceremonies. Once I saw that I knew it was my kind of place!
- Celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary – Brett surprised me big time by getting down on one knee and asking me to marry him again with a wedding band. Since we had a short engagement and I was feeling overwhelmed with wedding planning decisions, I decided to wait to pick out a wedding band. I figured we’d get it after the wedding. Well one month turns into one year turns into five and before you know it I got used to not having a wedding band. Brett knew I always wanted one and I loved how on our first milestone anniversary he surprised me with it. Such a special memory!
- Nevis Swing – while we were in Queenstown I did something very brave. I went off the World’s Biggest Swing! Brett and I were able to go together, and while 160 meters above a canyon, we fell for 70 meters before swinging in a 300 meter arc. I posted a video on my personal Instagram (@jenleslie) so you can get a feel for it. I screamed so loud and instinctively shut my eyes for most of the fall and finally opened them we started swinging. It was such a rush, and I’m usually not an adrenaline junkie, but it was a blast and I’d definitely do it again! Brett ended up going bungee jumping while we were there as well, crazy kid!
- Freedom Camping – since our campervan was self contained (meaning it had a toilet and shower), we were able to “freedom camp”. New Zealand is set up great for car camping, and in most rural areas they’ll let you pull over on the side of the road and stay the night (as long as you’re self contained). Since we didn’t have any specific travel plans, we’d sleep in, make breakfast, drive to our new destination, do an activity for most of the day or afternoon, and at night we’d figure out where we wanted to drive the next day. We used an app called CamperMate which helped us find free spots to stay at all over the South Island. We seriously loved our campervan and are strongly considering getting one at home!
- Springtime – Since New Zealand’s seasons are opposite of mine here in the Western Hemisphere, I really enjoyed seeing their country in springtime. The cherry blossoms on all of the trees were bursting and it was so funny to see tulips, daffodils and other spring flowers in bloom in October! You could tell the locals were excited about the warmer temps and longer days, plus there is great newness to spring which I love. To experience that while I’ve been preparing myself for Fall was a funny mix, but it reminded me to enjoy each season and all that it offers!
- Pancake Rocks – Punakaiki, otherwise known as Pancake Rocks, was one of my favorite landscapes we saw because of the unique limestone rock shape. The area was formed 30 million years ago from minute fragments of dead marine creatures and plants that landed on the seabed about 2 km below the surface. Over time immense water pressure caused the fragments to solidify in hard and soft layers. Gradually seismic action lifted the limestone above the seabed and mildly acidic rain, wind and seawater sculpted the bizarre shapes, which look like a stack of pancakes. It’s a short 20 minute walk from the parking lot to view this area on the coast and it was a great chance for us to stretch our legs!
- Castle Hill – Brett is an avid rock climber, so of course we had to seek out a few rock climbing destinations. One of the spots we went to, called Castle Hill, was actually where parts of the Chronicles of Narnia was filmed. You walk up this grassy hill to these rounded rock formations that look like they’ve been scattered across the hillside.
- (BONUS) Spending time with my best friend – I feel like Brett and I are closer now than when we left. We were able to have so many great conversations about our lives, marriage, business/jobs, house projects, you name it. So grateful for this time together creating new memories! (apparently we only take photos with sun glasses on, woops!)
New Zealand is every bit as picturesque and beautiful as you imagine. The people are so friendly, the roads were easy to navigate and we discovered their savory pies which are delicious! If you’re thinking about traveling there, or it’s been on your list for a while, GO! Especially if you love to do things outdoors like we do, you’ll have an incredible time!
- Wanaka for 2 nights
- Milford Sound
- Queenstown for 2 nights
- Fox Glacier
- Kaiteriteri for 2 nights
- Hanmer Springs
- Arthur’s Pass
- Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula
- Auckland for 3 nights