The primary reason for our Down Under journey was to go on a two week cruise around New Zealand. I have never seen a country so clean and people who care so much about their environment. This was definitely something that stuck out to me. Our cruise, departing from Auckland, was to make 12 stops. Unfortunately, after two days at sea, our only stop in Australia, Kingston, was canceled due to weather. Therefore, we had four full days at sea in rough water. And I got quite seasick. However, after the early setback, our trip went pleasantly smooth.
Russell – We took a guided walk through the gorgeous Puketi Rainforest and learned about the Kauri Trees and other local flora and fauna. We also had an incredible experience where we got to meet with the locals and participate in a Maori celebration. This was a great way to start off the cruise, for the Maori people are a huge part of this country’s culture and history. And it was an unforgettable experience.
Milford Sound – We did not get off the ship here, but I highly recommend cruising through or visiting at some point. Our ship cruised through on a gorgeous, but chilly, day. This has got to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
Oban – Here we took a short boat ride over to Ulva Island. It is small and part of a National Park. There are some incredible indigenous birds on this island. We were able to see a few species up close while learning from some of the most dedicated wildlife specialists I have ever encountered. This was definitely a highlight of the trip for my bird-lover, Brian.
Port Chalmers – Brian took a Kayak cruise and loved it! There are many great Excursions for this. I took a relaxing tour around Dunedin to visit the Olveston Home, Otago Museum, and Dunedin Train Station (take a historic ride if time allows). Then, we stopped in town to have a local lunch before heading back to the ship.
Akaroa – Here, we traveled to Middle Earth! This was one of our favorite excursions, because we got to tour some of the Lord of the Rings locations, primarily Edoras! It is a gorgeous area (yet quite windy) and is incredible to see how they transformed this mountainous area into the set.
Kaikoura – We took a 3 hour guided walk around the Peninsula and finished with some yummy scones and tea at a hospitable local’s house! Along our journey, we saw a pod of dolphins playing in the water. You may even see seals and their pups. This is a list of a few places to visit while in Kaikoura.
One thing of note was that our guide often stopped periodically to pick up (the limited amount of) trash along the trail. She never commented; it just seemed routine. Again, I was amazed at how the communities here view themselves as a part of nature, not just looking at nature as something to be used but to be rather cared for and protected.
Nelson – We took a mini cruise along the coastline of the Abel Tasman National Park. We saw adorable seals playing in the water. Along the way, there are many great places for photos. At the end of the ride, we took a hike through the park, while others were able to relax by the beach.
Wellington – Here, we created our own walk around town. A couple of highlights were the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, the Parliament Buildings, and cafes. Of course, Brian and I got lost (Brian would not listen to my directional skills, but chose to follow his own incorrect GPS), and we got a much longer tour of the city. It was a great walk, however! We saw some of the town we would not have seen otherwise.
Napier – This is a great spot to visit local wineries! Their street signs even point you in the direction of ones you might want to stop at. Here is one tour to check out in Hawke’s Bay.
Tauranga – Brian took another fabulous Lord of the Rings tour to Hobbiton. I took a tour to visit the Geothermal Landscape in Rotorua in Tikitere. Along with some incredible sites, we learned more about the Maori culture. We also took a peaceful ride on a catamaran along The Bay of Plenty. On our way back we visited a kiwi farm. Due to time, we were unable to visit Hell’s Gate nearby, but I would love to see this if I ever make it back.