The Emerald Lakes on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in Tongariro National Park, North Island

New Zealand is a magical place. It’s beautiful and majestic and has geography and wildlife like no where else in the world. So naturally, you’re going to want to spend some time there, which usually means spending more money, too. But if you’re staying on the islands for more than the classic American 1-2 week vacation (and I highly recommend you do or you’ll see virtually nothing), there are plenty of ways to save money in New Zealand!


Save on Transportation in New Zealand


Tour Buses: There are several operators to choose from, but most offer a hop-on hop-off sort of service that gives you the flexibility to get off and go where you want and stay as long as you want. They’re expensive, though, from $500 with limited stops on NakedBus to over $1000 with Kiwi Experience, so be prepared to shell out the cash for the convenience of not having to do any of the driving. However, the buses don’t go everywhere and you may have to buy separate tickets with different companies to get to any places you’d like to explore that aren’t on the well-worn tourist track. Keep in mind you'll also have to factor in accommodation costs if you're not couchsurfing.

Rental Car: It may be expensive, but it does give you the freedom to explore at your own pace and see just the sights you want to see. Rent a van and you can even sleep in it if you like! To save money and if you have the time and inclination, look into sites like Transfer Car or Imoova for deals on relocating rental cars. Some places will give you the car for free if you take it from Wellington to Auckland (and other routes) for them as most travelers are headed the other direction.

Hitchhike: Being an exceedingly backpacker friendly country, hitchhiking is pretty well accepted, especially on the south island. More populated areas are easier to hitch from, but big cities like Wellington, Auckland or Christchurch may not be so amenable. It may be free, but you’ve got to have a lot of time on your hands and be prepared to scrap plans if you don’t get picked up.

Buy a car: This is what we recommend if you’re going to be in New Zealand for at least a month. You can pick up a decently priced vehicle at Turner’s auctions in some larger cities, on numerous backpacker boards, or on TradeMe.co.nz which has auction and buy it now type listings. Even better than a car, buy a campervan so you don’t have to pay for accommodation, too. Spend as much as you can get away with and plan to sell it a few days before you leave the country. We bought a camper van that had been outfitted with a mattress, camp stove, etc., for $1,750 NZD in Hamilton and sold it for $1,700 NZD in Auckland when it was time to leave. You will most likely have to perform routine maintenance like oil changes and you may have to pay for repairs and upkeep (like replacing tires or we had to replace the ignition switch), but with the price of a rental car for that long, you’ll still come out on top.


Save on Accommodation in New Zealand


Hostels: Everybody knows this is the cheap backpacker options. I personally have a love-hate relationship with hostels (I love getting to hang with other travelers, I hate having to sleep on a squeaky bunk bed in a room with 4 sweaty guys and no AC), but they serve a purpose. They’re all over and you’ll pay less than at a hotel, usually around $25-$30 NZD per person.
          
Camping: There are scores of campsites all over New Zealand where you can pitch a tent or pull up an RV for anywhere between $6-$40 NZD. Prices are often per person in New Zealand, so check before you go.

Freedom Camping: Our favorite option, especially if you bought or rented a car or campervan. You’ll need an app like Wikicamps or Campermate to tell you where to go (on- or off-line), but you can find free camp sites all over New Zealand for all kinds of camping. The apps will also tell you where to find Wi-Fi, water, showers and the like. But be sure to follow instructions as some sites are only for self-contained vehicles (ones that have a toilet on board) or don’t allow tents and you could get fined.


Save on Attractions in New Zealand

            
OnlineGrabOne.com and Bookme.com are useful for Groupon-esque deals from skydiving and jet boat tours to Maori experiences and thermal spas. Sometimes they offer pretty big discounts. The catch sometimes being that the deals are only good for a certain day of the week or time of day.
            
Tuesdays: I realize this isn’t an actual resource, but most movie theatres offer discount tickets on Tuesdays. Unlike in the US, most do not offer reduced price tickets for matinees, so don’t hold your breath for a cheap afternoon flick.
            
Coupons: Even if you’re not staying at a hostel, it’s not a bad idea to pop into one or two as they often have racks of brochures and discount coupons available for local attractions.


Save on Food in New Zealand

            
FirstTable.com: If you’re prepared to eat early, as in the very first table of the night early, this site will let you pay half price for meals. Not bad for a night out!
            
Groceries: Obviously cheaper than eating out is cooking for yourself. Whether camping or staying in a hostel, save money by buying groceries and cooking your own meals. Pak-N-Sav is supposedly the cheapest option, but Countdown often has a reduced section where veg and packaged goods are nearing their expiration and on sale.
            
Farmers Markets: Not all markets are created equal. We went to one in Hamilton where everything was priced pretty high (granted it was good local produce, bread, etc.) and we went to one in Wellington that had amazing deals on fruit and veggies, even tofu. If you’re in a mid-size to big city over the weekend, checking a few markets out could save you a wad of cash.


Save on Fuel in New Zealand

            
AA Smart Fuel Card: If you’re driving yourself around the islands, pick up one of these at a gas station that has the yellow AA logo on their sign. It will save you $.06 off per liter when you spend at least $40. You can also choose to bank your savings for later use if you prefer.
            
Supermarkets: Countdown and Pak-N-Sav both offer fuel discounts when you shop with them and your receipt will indicate that you get $.04 or $.06 off per liter.
           
Fill up farther north: It can’t be avoided, but generally speaking, the farther south you go, especially on the South Island, the more expensive fuel becomes. So if you’re traveling south, don’t wait to fill up to see if it’s cheaper at the next place. It won’t be.

Enjoy New Zealand on a budget!

New Zealand's South Island as seen from the Ferry on Cook Straight.
The South Island of New Zealand may have one third the population of the North Island and fewer big cities, restaurants, and public transportation, but what it lacks in people and scads of modern infrastructure it more than makes up for in natural beauty. The South Island, simply put, is spectacular. There’s not a corner you'll drive around without being awed by some new natural thrill. There are waterfalls, glowworms, mountains, coastal drives and jagged sounds that will blow your mind. And the only way to see it all (in our opinion, anyway) is to pack the car and hit the road, which is exactly what we did.

We started on the North Island, which you can read about HERE if you haven’t already, but allow us to pick up where we left off.

The rocky outcroppings of Marlborough Sounds welcome you to the South Island from Cook Straight.
We took the ferry from Wellington to Picton and set off from the small town terminal straight away with plans to hike in Abel Tasman National Park later in the afternoon. We stopped in Nelson a couple hours later to grab some maps and info and such, do a little souvenir browsing at the info center (you know how it is), and found out the hike we wanted to do was several hours farther away than we had originally thought. So we decided en route to head to a closer section of the Coast Track and walked as far as Tinline Bay. As for Nelson, you could easily spend an afternoon if not a day or two in the bright little backpacker town, so if you can, set some time aside to appreciate it's cafes and such. We didn't for lack of time (and an encroaching magazine article deadline), but wished we would have.

Tinline Beach on the Coast Track in Abel Tasman National Park.
After the hike we retraced our steps and freedom camped at an I-Site in Motueka, a small town nearby. It had just enough to appease us: a supermarket, park, well-lit parking lot, cafes, and car repair shops, which was fortunate because the next morning our car wouldn’t start. We paid $65 for a mechanic to look at it, declare that nothing was wrong, and start it back up with no problem. Go figure. Turns out, there was something wrong, but more on that later. As it also turns out, we should have purchased an AA membership (like the US's AAA membership) for $80 and gotten the van looked at for free, but you live and you learn.

So after a bit of panicking and several hours of waiting (do mechanics enjoy making people wait?), we were a bit behind schedule, but we still made it to Fox River Cave in Poparoa National Park where we walked through an ancient forest and explored the cave with our cameras and headlamps. Of course, the drive there is nothing to gloss over. The west coast coastal drive was sensational with its cliff faces, rocky outcroppings, sandy beaches, and mountainous backdrops. I kid you not, it was all we could do not to pull over every 3 minutes to take a photo of the landscape. So we limited it to every 6 minutes. Would you expect anything less from photographers? If you can manage it, drive along at sunset for a gorgeous sunset.

Don't forget your head lamp for Fox River Caves. Wellies wouldn't hurt, either.
The drive on the west coast of the South Island offers stunning scenery.
Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier were next. We were told we were amazingly lucky to have a beautiful, clear, sunny day to view the glaciers. Apparently the west coast gets over 3 meters (Meters! That's over 10.5 feet!) of rain a year, so a sunny day is practically a miracle. Actually, nearly our whole trip was miraculously rain-free, but that’s beside the point. In the backpack-friendly little towns you can shell out for an air-drop hike on the glacier if you want, but you can walk to the terminus for free. There is also an abandoned mining tunnel (for eerie afternoon walks) near Franz Josef and a lake where visitors can see glowworms at night (we only saw one in the tunnel). That night we freedom camped at Gillespie Beach, which we highly recommend for sunsets and stargazing.

Franz Josef Glacier
Taking a moment to appreciate nature on the way to Franz Josef Glacier.
Not only can you camp for free at Gillespie Beach, but you'll be treated to vibrant sunsets, too.
New Zealand's South Island is the perfect place to stargaze.
The drive to Queenstown the next day was just as lovely as every day previous. Lake Wanaka and Hawea were fantastically blue, The Remarkables, the mountain range outside the city, were, well, remarkable, and the small tourist-centric town was a welcome diversion after basically being out in the middle of nowhere for the last three days. Queenstown is for souvenirs, hiking and adventure tours (Skydiving! White water rafting! Bungy jumping!), so we browsed for the day, enjoyed the waterfront, and relaxed, more or less. There was a Hell Pizza, which had already become our favorite restaurant for vegan pizza in New Zealand, so we were pretty happy campers.

Brilliant blue lakes and jagged peaks welcome you back to civilization as you head to Queenstown.
The Kawarau river outside of Queenstown. Bungy jump from the bridge or just enjoy the scenery.
Which was good because the following day was about as irritating as it gets. We decided to go ahead and make the drive to Milford Sound, which comes highly recommended by brochures, adverts and visitors all over the place. We should have checked the weather before we went because the Sounds basically have a weather pattern all their own and we essentially drove four hours one way (read: out of the way) to look at fog in the rain. Not cool. So if you go, make sure the weather forecast is clear or there’s really no point. We did stop around Te Anau to explore a bit of the Lord of the Rings’ filming location for Fangorn Forest and the Dead Marshes on the way there, though, so it wasn’t a total waste (I guess).

Apparently Milford Sound is somewhere behind all that fog. 
About the clearest view we had of the Milford Sound area.
Mount Cook was next on our list. Another one of those places that has its own weather. Beautiful and clear 5 miles away, Mt. Cook was shrouded in cloud and no coaxing from us could lure it out (I’m the mouse whisperer, not the mountain whisperer, after all-but that’s another story). You can see floating glaciers on the lake next to it, though, and camping on Lake Pukaki was extraordinarily picturesque, especially while watching the sunset behind the mountains while lounging in a camp chair and strumming away at a ukulele.

The Mount Cook Mountain Range from the west.
Mount Cook may have been in hiding, but the view from across Lake Pukaki was fabulous.
Nothing like a bit of ukulele music while watching the sunset over Lake Pukaki.
This is where our car troubles flared up again. Told you I’d get to that. Our car just decided to turn off as we cruised into Twizel, the town just south of Mount Cook. Just went dead turning off the main road. Scary. So after much fiddling, deliberating, googling, and calling our dads (aren’t dads great?), we came to the conclusion that it was probably the starter. But small towns and Saturdays don’t bode well for car repairs, so Josh prepared himself to basically drive the three hours to Christchurch the next day holding the key in the “on” position. We even started looking for a tree branch that we could carve to jerry rig a key-holding contraption, Macgyver style.

Fortunately, after about an hour the key decided to stay put on its own and we made it to the city safely (phew!). Of course, repair shops were still closed (It was Sunday, after all, and this is New Zealand), so we went to the Sunday markets, picked up a uke case and some kettle corn, explored the Botanic Gardens, museums, cafes, you name it (vegan chocolate beet cake at Beat Street Café, yummmm). We’d worry about the car tomorrow.

The Christchurch Art Gallery is sweet as on the outside and in.
The city is still rebuilding after the 2011 earthquake.
The ReStart Mall is a great place to grab a quick bite, recaffeinate, or do a bit of shopping. It's a shipping container mall set up after the 2011 earthquake.
And the next day, while we perused the ReStart Mall, got some more tasty vegan treats at a local health food store, and wandered through the Christchurch Art Gallery (which has blazing fast Wi-Fi in addition to cool art, btw), our car did get fixed. It cost $260 NZD for a new starter and labor, which was actually less than Josh and I both feared (and we didn't have to pay for parking that day!). And so ended our concern that our car would decide to just turn itself off again while we were driving and we could leave Christchurch in peace.

There was one last thing to do on the South Island before we headed back to the North Island on the ferry: Kayaking in Marlborough Sound. We opted for a full day of it (6 hours) with Sea Kayak Adventures. They gave us all the gear, dropped us off and picked us up, and we cruised the sounds for the day marveling at starfish, sting rays and eagle rays right below our boat, a fur seal napping on the rocks, birds galore, a mountainous landscape surrounding us, and a family of very friendly ducks. Totally worth the price ($100+ NZD). It was the perfect end to our South Island adventure and we were totally wiped for our late night ferry crossing back to Wellington that night after dinner, drinks, and a bit of browsing in Picton. Which, by the way, was a practically empty sailing so we had all the Wi-Fi to ourselves, though we paid for it with a choppy crossing. Didn't bother us. Rocking boats put me straight to sleep.

Treat yourself to some outdoor adventure with a day of kayaking on the Marlborough Sounds.
Mountains and wildlife abound on the Marlborough Sounds.

But back on topic, if you’re heading to New Zealand and having the North Island/South Island debate with yourself (we think that’s silly; you should just do them both), opt for south if it’s majestic scenery and breathtaking landscapes you’re after. But seriously, just do both. ;-)


Every bit of New Zealand's landscape is breathtaking.
New Zealand’s not that big. Just a couple little blips floating out there off the coast of great big Australia. Just a little country, really. Or is it? True, you can drive from Auckland to the southern coast of the North Island in about 6 hours, but when you look at all of the shining destinations between point A and point B, you’d be hard pressed to make that journey in under 6 days. We took 5 weeks. Ok, 4, really, when you consider we spent the whole first week in Hamilton preparing for a wedding. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning.

Spend some time stargazing in New Zealand.


As is sometimes the case with Terradrift’s adventures, ours started a bit rocky. Not too rocky, mind you, just enough to remind us to screw our heads on straight. We showed up at the Brisbane, Australia airport all ready to catch our flight to Auckland, New Zealand. We knew we didn’t need any special visas to get in as we weren’t planning on working while there, so we didn’t have one. What we didn’t know (but should have if we weren’t suffering from an acute case of travel brain) is that without a visa, you do have to have a return flight scheduled. We did not. Common sense, right?

So quick draw, pull out the laptop, find the cheapest flight back in, what do you think, Josh? Five weeks? We decided on five weeks, right? Book it, pay it, show the nice lady at the check in counter with a bad case of pinkeye our booking confirmation so she’ll let us on the plane. But because we booked so quickly, selecting our return flight to Brisbane from Auckland because it was quite a bit cheaper, we didn’t know we’d actually be costing ourselves more in the long run. But more on that later.

But we got there. Arrived in Auckland in the evening, grabbed a bite to eat in the airport, and caught a coach into Hamilton that took 2 hours and cost $20 NZD per person. We booked it the night before. It was pleasant. There was Wi-Fi. I like free Wi-Fi.

We had also booked a hostel room for a couple nights, at Eagle's Nest Backpackers (loved this place), with hopes that we’d be out of there before long as we had plans to buy a car as soon as we arrived. Our last hosts in Brisbane had recommended it as backpackers are buying and selling vans all the time and we were likely to get a cheap one, maybe even as cheap as a rental, the problem with a rental being that you can’t sell it when you leave and recoup some of your cost. *Read about buying a campervan in New Zealand HERE.

There is freedom camping all over New Zealand whether you have a car, campervan or tent.


So we bought one for $1,750 NZD and lived in our van for the last few days until our friends’ wedding, which we happened to be filming and photographing (we are travel photographers, remember). It was a great wedding, camp friends were everywhere, we had a great time. But afterward we were ready to move on. So we took our van and headed out.

Hobbiton is a magical place for Lord of the Rings fans.

We started with Raglan Beach in the morning where we spent an hour or so walking along on the black sand beach and snapping photos from spectacular lookouts. From there we headed to Hobbiton in Matamata where we spent the afternoon admiring Hobbit holes and learning interesting facts about the movies. (Did you know that in The Fellowship of the Ring Gandalf hitting his head on a beam upon entering Bilbo’s study was a mistake, but Peter Jackson liked it so they went with it?) The tour was expensive. It was cool but it was expensive. Almost too expensive. But Josh is a big fan (I like the movies, too), and there was no way he was missing it. Plus, having a drink at the Green Dragon is pretty exciting. So we paid the $80 NZD and tried not to think about it. I’d only recommend it if you’re a big fan.

Trollshaw Forest is just one of the many Hobbit filming sights you'll see on a tour with Hairy Feet Tours Waitomo.

Day two we had scheduled a tour with Hairy Feet Tours in Piopio so we headed south. Now that was a tour. Small and personal, Suzie, the guide and owner of the farm where it took place called everyone by their first names all afternoon as she took us around their farm where much of the first Hobbit movie was filmed (18 minutes of screentime!). Trollshaws Forest was there and we got to take photos with replicas, stand where actors stood, and hear many, many more stories of her and her family interacting with the actors and Peter Jackson, how their farm was transformed into a movie set, and a plenty more facts about the movies. (Did you know nearly every stone and building was made out of nothing more than polystyrene?) This tour was way more enjoyable and relaxed than Hobbiton and only cost $50 NZD. Totally worth it.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing has been called the best day hike in New Zealand. They weren't joking. Just look at those lakes!

Farther south-east we went the next day, to Tongariro National Park, where, you guessed it, more LOTR nonsense. But in nature this time! We were going to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 6-8 hour hike around Mordor and Mount Doom. But movie stuff aside, this is just an amazing (and amazingly tough) walk. You’re surrounded by volcanoes, there are emerald lakes, craters, flowers, it’s beautiful! Spectacular! But don’t go into it thinking you’ll just breeze through. True, we haven’t been working out a lot lately, but we’re still pretty fit people and it was quite taxing. Our legs were sore the next day.

From there we headed south, toward Wellington with a pit stop in Wanganui. It’s a nice mid-sized town with local shops and markets and everything you might need, including a library with Wi-Fi and a café. We stayed there for an hour or two, got some work done, and continued on our way to Wellington.

And here’s a little note about Wellington: it’s absolute hell to drive around. No joke. I’d rather drive around during rush hour in New York City than Wellington. Here’s why: None of the streets are straight. None of them. Every time they curve the street name changes, street signs are rarely present and when they are they are pointing the wrong direction, not a single intersection is a straightforward cross section so you often have no idea which street you’re actually supposed to “turn” on, and some streets are so narrow and winding you can never tell whether you’re about to experience a head-on collision. It’s just the worst.

But driving aside, there’s plenty of free stuff to do in the city, which is why it’s packed with tourists. Well, that and there’s a cruise port. But we don’t tend to like places with too many tourists (we’re travelers, not tourists), so we spent two days there, the highlight of which was the WETA Workshop (the tour is $20 and great for silver screen fans) where we saw costumes and movie props from movies like LOTR, District 9, and Chappie up close and learned about the magic of movie making, then booked it out of the city.

Outside WETA you'll find the trolls from The Hobbit. Not for much longer, though. When we were there we met one of the folks responsible for designing their replacement when they wear out.


We then proceeded to spend 2 weeks on the South Island, which you can read about HERE.
When we returned to the North Island, we headed up the East Coast this time. From Wellington, where we spent the night after disembarking the ferry at 1:00 am, we headed to Kaitoke Regional Park where part of Rivendell and the Fords of Isen were filmed in The Fellowship of the Ring. The local council even erected signs and rebuilt the archway to help visitors feel the magic.

The Putangirua Pinnacles are crazy cool rock formations.

A few more hours saw us at the Putangirua Pinnacles, massively impressive rock formations that would have been spectacular to see even if they hadn’t been the location of the Paths of the Dead in Return of the King. They were absolutely worth the 45 minute detour.

We parked our van in a very full lot on the edge of Napier that night and explored the small town the next day. There’s not really that much to do or see unless you’re really into 1930’s architecture (the whole town was rebuilt in art deco style after a devastating earthquake), but it provides some pleasing diversion (and several options for vegan treats) among the streets named for famous writers.

The beautiful turquoise waters of Huka Falls in Taupo.


Just under the bridge are the beautiful and free thermal spas where locals and backpackers flock for a soak in Taupo.






Lake Taupo was up next so we drove there that same afternoon. We went straight to a free thermal pool in Thermal Spa Park where we found dozens of other locals and backpackers relaxing in the nook where hot water bubbing from waterfalls met the cool river, providing soakers with the opportunity to move around until they found their perfect temperature. Just like Goldilocks: not too hot, not too cold. And while this was lovely, we enjoyed it even more when we returned the following morning around 8:30 and had the whole place to ourselves. Priceless. And fabulous on a cool morning! We also checked out Huka Falls before we left town headed toward Rotorua. The falls were lovely and the water so turquoise!

We were less than impressed with Rotorua and its expensive tourist attractions, but we thought we’d stop by the Redwood forest and another free hot pool a local had told us about. Unfortunately, the forest was not only tricky to locate, but far from awe-inspiring, and the pool we were told about didn’t exist, apparently, so we moved on and that evening walked to the summit of Mount Maunganui farther north.

The view from the top of Mount Maunganui.


It’s in a cute little town, nice and more sophisticated than the tourist traps of Taupo and Rotorua. The kind of town that makes you want to catch a flick, picnic on the beach, and grab dinner on a patio somewhere, lazily watching the world go by. In any case, the hike to the top provides spectacular views and walkers get to wave at sheep as they ascend. The wooly fellas are just running all over the place up there.

You just can't stop Josh from climbing on rocks. These are at the base of Mount Maunganui, on the beach.


Next on the map the following day was Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach, just a few minutes’ drive from one another. At the Cove, be prepared to walk! The designated parking lot is far too small for all the people trying to spend the afternoon there, especially on the weekends, and cars were parked every which way where they weren’t supposed to be. I do not recommend this as very large coaches take turns around that parking lot and are very likely to take off mirrors and scratch doors in an attempt to escape. So we parked outside of town in a big free lot with a shuttle to the Cove, which we did not take because they were charging $10 per person each way. So we walked. It was only a 5 minute walk to the beach, then a very pleasant and picturesque 45 minute trail to Cathedral Cove. And come to find out, those parked in the lot still had to walk 30 minutes, so we weren’t so bad off.

Cathedral Cove is a beautiful spot for a refreshing dip.

Relaxing at Hot Water Beach at low tide. Don't forget a shovel (or at least a bowl)!

The walk to Cathedral Cove on a beautiful sunny day.


The cove was lovely and we spent some time sunning on the beach and not swimming in the icy water before we went to Hot Water Beach, which was packed! We did go on a Saturday, after all. It was very difficult to find a spot in the sand where we could dig a hole and enjoy ourselves; the water was either scalding hot or ice cold. People who had been there longer had already staked a claim on the Goldilocks spots, so we had to carefully situate ourselves so as not to burn our skin. It was still pretty cool. I mean, where else in the world can you dig a hole on the beach during low tide and have your own personal, if not private in the least, waterfront hot tub?

The next day saw us at Goat Island Marine Reserve north of Auckland. We had been told by a local friend that it was a good place to spend an afternoon and do a little snorkeling. So we rented snorkel gear for $20 per person for 2 hours. Turns out I should have shelled out the extra cash for a wetsuit, because I only made it about 45 minutes and was so thoroughly frozen I couldn’t stop shaking. But Josh went back out and we did see some cool fish during our swim.

We drove a couple hours north to Whangarei the next day. And until we were on our way we had no idea we’d be spending most of the day there. We were going for Kiwi North, where we would see kiwi birds and other native critters, but ended up doing much more. Kiwi North was great. It was the cheapest place we found to see the native bird ($15 compared to $30-$45 at some places), and very charming. They had a pair of birds that were a thrill to watch scurry around their nocturnal enclosure and we learned quite a bit about the curious little guys (did you know they lay eggs that are 20% of their body mass?!). There was also a small museum attached where you could learn about the extinct Moa, Maori customs, the Great War, and more. There were gardens and historical buildings to investigate, too, but we had glow worms on the brain.

The national bird can be spotted at Kiwi North in special nocturnal enclosures a couple times a day. Too cute. 


You can see glowworms at Abbey Caves on the edge of town, so we donned our head lamps and headed into the dark where we trudged through calf-deep water and did indeed see glowworms. We were very excited. We also made a quick stop at Whangarei Falls before heading north toward the Kauri forests, outside of which we camped for the night.

Tane Mahuta. Awe inspiring.

Yakas. Impressive. Reminds us how small we are.


The following morning we got up early to pay our respects to Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, the largest living Kauri tree in New Zealand. The name is no joke; it’s hard not to be in awe in the presence of this tree that may be as old as 2000 years. Just down the road is Yakas, the 7th largest Kauri, and Cathedral Grove where you can sit and pay homage to these regal kings of the wood. It was an amazing sight to behold before we turned back south headed for Auckland where we would spend the last few days of our trip and, hopefully, sell our car (spoiler: we did).

Our favorite towel makes an appearance in front of the Sky Tower in Auckland.

We managed to score a couchsurfing host for the length of our stay and from his place we set out for the next three days to explore the city, including Mount Eden, The Domain, the art gallery, and much of the CBD. Too many vegan desserts were eaten (try TartBakery in Grey Lynn), much walking was done as we succeeded in paying for parking only twice, and we generally took it easy, ate good food, and unloaded our van on the next backpacker to call it home. Wrap it all up with an Uber to the airport and we had ourselves a trip! A really good trip with some amazing memories.

We can’t recommend more highly that you get yourself on a plane, take a few weeks off, and get thyself to New Zealand!

*We booked our Cook Straight ferry crossing with Bluebridge. And this is where that plane ticket we had to book at the airport came back to bite us. A ferry crossing for two people walking aboard is $100 NZD. A ferry crossing for two people and their car is $226 NZD.  And we had to pay that twice now, since we bought plane tickets out of Auckland instead of Christchurch. If we would have flown out from the South Island, we could have toured the North Island, crossed the strait once, toured the South Island, and flown back to Australia, saving ourselves a few bucks. But we weren’t aware the ferry was so pricey. So it goes. We learn the hard way so you don’t have to.


Regarding Bluebridge, I was pretty stoked to have 3 solid hours of free Wi-Fi so we could get some work done, publish some posts, but once aboard, the Wi-Fi was so slow, and there were so many people using it as to make it totally unusable. Boo. Also the boat was packed. You had to practically fight for a seat. On the way back we took the InterIslander ferry, the late crossing at 10:00 pm, and it was much emptier, so we had our pick of seats and all the wireless bandwidth we could hope for. You don't get the views at night, but it's much more comfortable.