Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Honeymoon Adventures: New Zealand

Blogger's Note: After our experiences in Queensland, Australia we actually headed south to Melbourne for a few days before heading over to New Zealand.  But for the sake of keeping my honeymoon posts organized by country, I'll talk about Melbourne in the next post.

After a short 3 hour trip, we were in Queenstown, New Zealand where the weather was drastically different from what we experienced in Australia.  While it was in the 80s and 90s in Port Douglas and the Daintree Rainforest in Australia, it was barely 40 degrees when we got to Queenstown.  But despite the frigid weather (and me having a cold during this part of the trip), we were awed by the majestic beauty of Queenstown.

All photos personal unless otherwise noted.

View from in front of our hotel
The Remarkables--famous mountain range in Queenstown
We only had 3 days in Queenstown and like the majority of our trip, every day was jam packed with an excursion.

What We Did
  • Scenic Cruise of the Milford Sound  
Entering the fjords; huge waterfalls
Clearly it was cold!
We took a 5 hour ride in a glass roofed coach bus to get to the Milford Sound, but luckily not only was the drive very scenic, but we made quite a few stops along the way, including one at a stream with water so pure, we were able to fill our water bottle and drink from it.

Mr. M filling our water bottle with delicious stream water
Unfortunately it was a super cloudy day that eventually turned into light rain on the Sound, but nonetheless, the fjords, waterfalls and wildlife we saw on the 2 hour cruise were majestic and almost otherworldly.
Mr. M is king of the world; I kept holding cups of hot water to warm my hands
More sights from the Sound, including some seals
  • Lord of the Rings Safari of the Scenes Tour  
While we are not rabid fans of the LOTR trilogy, there was no way we could go to New Zealand and not take a tour of where Peter Jackson filmed his famous movies.  So the day after the Milford Sound tour, we did a tour with Nomad Safaris and saw more of the beautiful areas surrounding Queenstown--this time with much better weather!  We were picked up by our tour guide and drove about an hour out of Queenstown.  We made a few stops along the way to take some photos of Lake Wakatipu.

Beautiful forest where several battles scenes from LOTR were filmed
Where We Stayed & Ate

Hotel lobby / Image via New Zealand
We stayed at the Hotel St. Moritz in the heart of Queenstown, on Lake Wakatipu.  It's a beautiful hotel which feels like an upscale ski lodge.  The breakfast buffet offered there was actually pretty good and helpful when we had a 6:45am pickup time for our Milford Sound excursion.

We also had some truly excellent meals in Queenstown, particularly at Botswana Butchery (excellent steakhouse), the infamous Fergburger (amazing burgers), Fergbaker (AMAZING meat pies--we had the venison & mushom pie which was to die for) and dessert at Patagonia chocolates (where we had the famous hokey pokey ice cream). 

At Patagonia Chocolates for a Hokey Pokey ice cream
 After our short stay in Queenstown, it was time to head to the north island to Hawke's Bay where we would be spending the next 4 days.  We decided on Hawke's Bay because we wanted to spend part of our trip in wine country.  And while Hawke's Bay is less popular (in terms of tourism) than New Zealand's other wine country, Malborough, the wineries there are excellent and rival anything that Malborough has to offer, with less crowds.  Luckily the weather was gorgeous up here--sunny and in the 60s, a nice change from Queenstown.

For this portion of our trip, we had a car and it was very interesting trying to get used to driving on the right side of the road.  Luckily Mr. M is a driving pro and despite it being his first time driving on the right, he mastered it and got us safely to each stop along the way from Hawke's Bay to Auckland, driving nearly 350 miles in total (spread out over 3 days).

Mr. M driving like a pro on the other side of the road
What We Did
  • Self-Guided Bike Tour
Beautiful day for a bike ride through wine country
We rented bikes through Bike Devine and the owner Zoe equipped us with water, maps and a pickup location and time (so that we wouldn't have to bike all the way back).  At first I was a bit skeptical on doing a self-guided bike tour, but the coutryside of Hawke's Bay was super easy to navigate (along with miles of beautiful bike trails).  During our ride, we stopped at some wineries along the way, including Black Barn, Te Mata and Elephant Hill (where Fiona picked us up).  Despite being tipsy from all the free wine tastings, we managed to bike about 12 miles in total :)

Where We Stayed & Ate

Beautiful sunset sky from our living room at Millar Road
We stayed at the incredible Millar Road, comprised of 3 different villas nestled in a vineyard.  This was easily the best accommodation on our entire trip.  We lucked out and got the 2 bedroom villa so had plenty of space.  The villas came equipped with a full kitchen (stocked with breakfast foods for the first day), a living room with TV, a pool (although it wasn't warm enough out to enjoy this) and on-site laundry facilities.  Being able to do laundry after carrying around 2 weeks' worth of dirty laundry was a godsend!

We had some pretty amazing meals while we were here, most notably at Craggy Range winery for dinner, Black Barn Bistro for lunch, Vidal winery, Pipi's (yummy pizza), Indigo (Indian) and Rush Monro's for more hokey pokey ice cream.  After days of lazing around, having incredible wine, and a few spa treatments, it was time to move on.

We drove east to spend a night in Taupo, then drove further east to get to our last excursion in New Zealand--the Waitomo (aka Glowworms) Caves.

What We Did
  • Black Water Rafting in the Waitomo Caves
This was by far the most adventurous, crazy activity we have ever done.  It was a 5 hour excursion that we did with the Black Water Rafting Co. that involved abseiling 100 feet into a cave, zip lining in the dark, jumping 10 feet into icy cold water, and climbing two waterfalls, but it was all worth it because in between these crazy activities, we got to see thousands of glowworms lighting up the ceiling of the caves.  It was like looking up at the night sky, 100 feet underground.  It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my life and photos don't do it any justice.

Just to give you an idea of what the glowworms look like / Image via New Zealand
 We weren't able to bring our own cameras into the caves, so our guide ended up taking all these pictures.

We were taught how to abseil right outside the cave entrance
You can't tell by my face, but I was absolutely terrified to abseil 100 feet into this cave!
Jumping about 10 feet into freezing water; taking a ride down a mini water slide
This adventure was definitely not for anyone who was claustrophobic
We attempted to spell "Waitomo" with our headlights and colored cups, but it didn't quite work out lol
Everyone in our group looking shell-shocked when we were finally done.  Talk about an adrenaline rush!!
Immediately after this excursion, we had to drive about 3 hours north to get to Auckland, where we would only be spending one night so that we could hop a plane back to Sydney.  I had never traveled so much in a 3 week period in my entire life!

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