Tag Archives: travel

Top free things to do around New Zealand

It’s true: New Zealand can be an expensive place to visit. But there are definitely some free natural attractions to add to your itinerary. Here’s 9 free things to do/sights to see that I can vouch for.

Tane Mahuta, lord of the Waipoua Forest in Northland, NZ - NZ Muse

Northland

See Tāne Mahuta, our largest living kauri tree

It’s just a short walk through the Waipoua Forest to Tāne Mahuta, aka, Lord of the Forest. Stick to the walking tracks; the environment is delicate.

It’s free to visit; that said, the Footprints Waipoua tour is quite amazing, with Māori guides sharing songs, stories and insights.
Mt Eden summit crater - Climb a volcano!

Auckland

Climb a volcanic cone

You can absolutely take your pick, but Mt Eden is a popular one close to the CBD, complete with panoramic views and a neat crater at the summit.

Cathedral Cove - a must-visit in the Coromandel

Coromandel

Cathedral Cove

Magical is the only word to describe this beach. It’s a bit of a hike to get to Cathedral Cove, but more than worth it.

And a little further down the Coromandel coastline lies Hot Water Beach. At low tide you can dig your own hot water spa pool in the sand. But get there early and stake out your patch. Maybe bring a gang.

Huka Falls
By: Rick Rowland

Taupo

Huka Falls

The Huka Falls are our most-visited natural attraction. The roar and spectacle of the thundering waterfalls are just spectacular.

Te Papa Tongarewa - National Museum of NZ in Wellington
By: Jodie Wilson

Wellington

Te Papa

Our national museum is an absolute must-see, and entry is free. DO IT.

Milford Road State Highway 94
By: macronix

Fiordland

Milford Rd/Milford Sound

The Milford Rd leading into Milford Sound is just bursting with amazing sights around every corner. Waterfalls, the Homer Tunnel, the Mirror Lakes, the Chasm … the journey itself really is half the pleasure.

That said, you really need to take a cruise to see the best of Milford Sound (or a scenic flight, perhaps?), otherwise you’re just chilling at the end of a really long dead end, picturesque as it is. More on that part of our South Island road trip.

Pancake rocks at Punakaiki - NZ Muse

West Coast

Punakaiki

At high tide, the ocean sprays up through blowholes at the ‘Pancake Rocks’. There’s a lovely cafe across the road, too. Then drive north along the Great Coast Road; the stretch between Westport and Greymouth has been voted one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world by Lonely Planet. More on that part of our South Island road trip.

The "Nuggets" at Nugget Point
By: Will Ellis

Catlins

Nugget Point

Around Nugget Point you can spot yellow eyed penguins if you time it right. Plus, the coastline is magnificent. More on that part of our South Island trip.

 

Baldwin St Dunedin
By: Stine Homann

Dunedin

Baldwin St

Said to be the world’s steepest street, the sheer angle of Baldwin St is a bit mind-boggling.

Introducing: The Blue Spring/Te Waihou (aka I live in paradise)

I had no idea this place even existed until recently. Know how I found out about it? Instagram! All in the name of work, of course.

Near the Waikato town of Putaruru, the Blue Spring is so ridiculously pure it supplies the majority of New Zealand’s bottled water. Photos don’t do the blue, clear water justice.

This was a quick stop for us on the way to Taupo so we parked at the Leslie Rd carpark to make it a 10 minute walk to the stream. (There’s another track from Whites Rd to the downstream part, which apparently takes 90 minutes to walk.)

Blue Spring Te Waihou near Putaruru

Blue Spring Te Waihou near Putaruru

Blue Spring Te Waihou near Putaruru

Blue Spring Te Waihou near Putaruru

 

 

How NOT to do the Tongariro Crossing

1. Have your husband pull his hamstring at rugby the week before. Nothing but pain can come from that.

2. Get lost driving to the shuttle pick up point and just about miss our ride. Bloody Aucklanders.

3. Fail to plan out a good lunch stop beforehand. Result: a teeth-chattering summit stop in freezing temperatures.

4. Forget that you have a terrible head for heights and that the ‘alpine’ part of the crossing does actually involve a mountain ascent. (Seriously, I always do this!)

Despite the mishaps, this was an epic experience from start to finish.

Hiking the Tongariro Crossing, April 2015

Tongariro Alpine crossing - NZ Muse

It all starts with a few kilometres of easy jaunts through fairly flat terrain in the Mangatepopo Valley. The sun is a scorcher, although as we wander in and out of sheltered valleys, the wind amps up to a pretty ferocious bite at times.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Mt Ngauruhoe

 

Why hello there, Mt Doom! (Mt Ngauruhoe, actually.) Those colours are REAL.

 

Tongariro Crossing - flat valley looks like Mars

 

Only a panorama could do this part justice. It was like an alien moonscape, down in a wide, barren flat.

 

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Mt Ngauruhoe

Clouds rolling in past the mountain peak. (No, we didn’t climb this one. It adds 3 hours to the trek and most definitely was beyond the ability of at least some of our group.)

Scrambling up the slippery earth and scoria slope toward the Red Crater summit did get slightly hairy; this is about the point when I remembered HEY I get dizzy at heights, and wind + fog only exacerbate that by infinity! It’s safe to say I didn’t really enjoy myself along this stretch.

This is also when it started to get seriously, seriously cold. We spotted a few slivers of ice along the ground up here.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Red Crater at summit

The Red Crater reveals itself at the summit. The colours, again, are out of this world.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Red Crater at summit

The sheer scale of it blew my mind. The enormity is humbling.

Then it was time to descend. Surprise #1: the big volcanic rock ridges were warm to the touch! Surprise #2: there was a whiff of that (un)lovely geothermal smell in the air. Surprise #3: those lakes!

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Emerald Lakes

The three Emerald Lakes are all slightly different colours, as you can see here: a deeper green, light green and a blue.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Emerald Lakes

 

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Emerald Lakes

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Emerald Lakes

You can see the wind rippling across the surface of the lakes.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - last stretches, volcanic landscapes and tussock

Fog was a near constant companion through the second half of the hike.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - last stretches, volcanic landscapes and tussock

 

T found it boring, but I was in my happy place. I love these muted reds, yellows, purples – volcanic, desert type landscapes are my absolute favourite in the world.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - last stretches, volcanic landscapes and tussock

The very last stretch (not pictured) turns into what looks exactly like West Auckland bush.  Every single one of us felt this part was neverending – it just seemed to go on and on forever! It felt like someone should be at the end to greet us with medals once we emerged into the carpark (or at least hand out Milo and cookies).

We lucked out with great visibility and no rain. I can absolutely see why this hike gained its reputation as the best one-day hike in NZ.

Would you pay for this? (Also: we’re going to Japan!)

We're going to Tokyo!
By: Luke Ma

I subscribe to a handful of travel deal newsletters, and among these is Jetstar’s weekly Friday flight alerts.

Normally I scan the subject line and delete right away. But one day in November last year, the phrase “2 for 1” caught my eye.

Even with all the add-ons that budget airlines slap you with, a 2 for 1 fare puts you well ahead! And thus, we’re going to Tokyo in September.

Assigned seats

Would you pay $5 to guarantee you and your travel partner could sit together on a flight?

Personally, I wasn’t sure at first. After all, on our flight from Reykjavik to New York, we didn’t get to choose our seats (either we checked in too late, or I missed that step somewhere along the line) and T and I wound up sitting several rows apart. And that was totally fine. It must be said, though, that this was toward the latter part of our trip , so we’d already spent a ton of time together.

But $10 (for both of us) per flight in the grand scheme of things is not a lot, so I stumped up.

Extra legroom

I am slightly toward the tall end of average for a woman and even I feel claustrophobic in economy class. So I have lots of sympathy for T.

I think it was on one of our short European flights that we got to change seats with another passenger in the exit row, and enjoy extra legroom for free. Let me tell you, that was a revelation!

Anyway, I balked at the $45 price tag for seats in the rows with extra leg room, but T‘s best sad face convinced me. And since it’s not possible to sit together and have only one person get extra leg room, that came to $90 per flight. (I would sit apart to save money, but apparently that wasn’t acceptable.)

It might even be worth it for me. I gotta say, the older you get, the more you’re willing to pay for comfort.

Hot food

The in flight meal menu looked absolutely dire. And this is where I drew the line. No way am I paying for what looks like a terrible attempt at a meat pie, or chicken and rice. Instead, we will fuel up and stock up at the airport before we leave.

Ridiculously beautiful New Zealand spots I want to hike

I love west Auckland’s bush and coast, but staring at epic landscape imagery all day at work has convinced me I really am missing out on other parts of the country.

Active is not a word you’d use to describe me – but there’s so much natural beauty here, and the best way to experience it is just to get out amongst it. And the best thing is our national parks are free to visit. Here are a few New Zealand hikes I’m pretty sure will be worth the walking.

Tongariro Crossing

Tongariro Crossing - Places I want to hike in NZ
By: Harry Lund

Aka the greatest one-day walk in New Zealand. Just look at the colour of those lakes. Middle-earth in real life. Just a few years ago I would’ve been all ‘Go walking for a full day? Are you nuts?!’ but here I am.

Mt Aspiring

Mt Aspiring - Places I want to hike in NZ
By: oh_jojojo

Glaciers! Valleys! Tussock! Boulders! This region really has it all.

Mt Cook

Lake Pukaki - Places I want to hike in NZ
By: Andrea Schaffer

I just reeeeeally want to see Lake Pukaki with my own two eyes.  Oh yeah, and the tallest mountain in NZ.

A day trip to Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove - a day trip from Auckland The last (and only) time I visited Cathedral Cove years ago, I barely even knew it existed. I’m so glad that my friends knew about it!

Whilt it was an easy outing from our base in the Coromandel then, this time around we made it a day trip from Auckland. It’s just over 2 hours one way, which, I think, is about the acceptable maximum for a day trip. I generally think you should be able to easily spend as much time at your destination as you do travelling (round trip), otherwise it’s a bit of a waste. Then again, I live in a tiny country so my standards when it comes to distance are skewed.

Everything was different from the moment we got there. Parking was impossible. Odds it’s not even worth driving up to the car park; just turn into the paddock on the right hand side off the road that’s full of cars, and take the bus up. The Cathedral Cove ‘park and ride’ shuttle bus costs just $3, and allows you to ride both there and back again.

The beach was absolutely packed – it brought to mind some European beaches – and there were so many commercial tours out on the water, from glass bottom boats to kayaks. But I think this made me appreciate Cathedral Cove even more, somehow. Losing myself in the turquoise waters, surrounded by limestone cliffs, I felt at peace for the first time in so long. The Coromandel region sells itself as “good for your soul” – and it was.

Cathedral Cove - a day trip from Auckland

The one thing that was just as I remembered it? The hike. The walk from the carpark down to Cathedral Cove is signposted as 45 minutes, but you can nail it in half the time – we always do. It’s crazy beautiful, though, winding through forest and over clifftops with amazing views out to sea and the islands, so maybe allow some time to stop for photos. The track has some climbs and dips but nothing too taxing; you can definitely navigate in jandals, though I wouldn’t recommend bare feet.

Cathedral Cove - a day trip from Auckland

I suppose it was inevitable that such a fabulous spot would only become busier, despite its secluded location (which, I think, is a real blessing). I can’t really resent others for wanting to enjoy it, too.

Waka time: Up the river with a dozen paddles

Taiamai Tours waka river journey - Bay of Islands
A photo from our trip, courtesy Taiamai Tours (Facebook)

Three unexpected things happened while I was in the Bay of Islands recently.

I was part of a team that successfully paddled a waka

There were probably around a dozen of us: a group from my organisation, plus four actual international tourists, a couple from the US and a couple from the Netherlands. We rowed a little way up and down the Waitangi River, singing and chanting as we went, as tradition dictates. Let me tell you, it is hard going; my arms were burning after just a few minutes.

We were invited onto a marae

We were lucky enough to have Taiamai Tours owner and tribal chief Hone Mihaka as our guide. Along the way, after he’d shared a few stories about the land and its history, he invited us to visit their marae, and we paddled over to the banks.

I’ve been on large, more ceremonial marae before, but never to one like this: intimate, raw, rustic. We stooped to ease past the low roof, making our way over the dirt floor to the simple wooden benches lining either side. What a sight we must have been, still swathed in our garish lifejackets, but honoured and humbled to be there.

The young boy who’d performed the welcoming ritual to invite us onto the grounds spoke for a little while, haltingly. Then it was our turn. Impressively, both the tourist couples also stepped up to say a thank you. We wrapped up with a waiata (song) – luckily, we’d been practising at work for occasions such as these.

I learned something about my neighbourhood

The last thing I expected was to learn something new about my suburb back in Auckland. I’d never given any thought to its name, but apparently it has a bit of a dark history. In anticipation of tribal uprising and potential war, a blockhouse was built down at the bay. On the plus side, it was never really needed.

My intermediate school was big on arts, culture, and music, led by a fantastic Maori teacher, and all this made me nostalgic for those days.

For me, this trip was a reminder that Northland isn’t just about dolphins, beaches, Cape Reinga and the Waipoua Forest; it’s also got a rich cultural heritage, including the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

Why take a RTW trip?

Why you should take a RTW trip
Next year, a coworker is heading off on a RTW trip – an extended honeymoon – sound familiar?

Particularly if you’re in/from New Zealand, this kind of travel makes sense.

It’s economical

A RTW ticket with multiple stops can cost the same as a single return ticket to, well, almost anywhere in the world. STA’s cheapest RTW tickets start at just under $2000 – that’s the same as a typical return flight to London.

Our currency is strong right now

So you get more bang for your buck. Our money basically gets halved in the UK and Europe, but it’s been a lot worse in the past…

It’s efficient

You can squeeze more out of your time away – experiencing more, staying longer.

And tying back to my first point, on a per day basis it’s cheaper. Your costs are lower when you travel slower, staying put in places rather than moving around like a speed demon cramming everything into a few weeks or a few days.

Plus, play your cards right and you can seriously cut down on jetlag. Another colleague reckons she loses a couple of days at either end of the trip every time she goes back home to the UK. On our RTW trip, though, we had zero jetlag. We worked our way around the world and it worked out perfectly in regard to time zones and flights.

Foodie Friday: Where to eat on the West Coast

Whitebait fritters - Donaldo's at Carter's Beach, Westport
Whitebait fritters at Donaldo’s at Carter’s Beach, Westport

I’m not much of a small town person, and one of the reasons for that is simply that I love food. And usually, cities are where it’s at for eating.

But the West Coast surprised me with amazingly simple, fresh pub grub and café eats. (I already raved about the degustation dinner at Te Waonui.) If you’re ever travelling up or down the coast, here are a few places I heartily recommend.

Freddy’s Cafe – Greymouth

We arrived in Greymouth around lunchtime on a Sunday on the TranzAlpine only to find most of the town shut. One place that was open was Freddy’s, tucked away upstairs on Mackay St. A couple of doors down was a chain cafe that we actually spotted first, but when faced with a franchise vs an indie? I’ll almost always try the local offering.

While the sweet treats in the cabinet looked tempting, what we really needed was a proper lunch. I went for the classic fish and chips and was not disappointed. Generous plate, with a side salad to boot. If I recall right, my lunch buddy had the whitebait fritter special – not as big but apparently excellent.

Coasters Bar – Hokitika

We decided to follow the path of least resistance and dine in. If you’ve got the dosh and the desire for a somewhat upmarket dinner experience, the Ocean View restaurant is the way to go. But we wanted something more casual and a little cheaper, so we opted for the Coasters bar (it’s in the building in front). There were locals winding down with a beer after work, and a wall paying homage to local sporting talent that have done the town proud over the years.

I ordered the paprika hotpot, which arrived steaming and topped off with a fluffy pie crust. I’m still not quite sure how you’re supposed to actually go about eating a dish like that, but I think a bit of mess is inevitable.

Afterwards, it was back to my room for a soak in the spa bath while listening to my happy playlist on Spotify.

Donaldo’s – Carter’s Beach, Westport

Donaldo’s is a neat spot in Westport – Carter’s Beach to be specific – looking out to the ocean that was humming with locals when we popped in for dinner.

I must confess, I don’t really get the appeal of whitebait. But I figured I’d give it another shot while I was here. It was prime whitebaiting season, after all – what better time to sample it? And while the whitebait fritters were crazy fresh, I can’t lie … I still think whitebait is plain and boring, no matter how much lemon or salt you add. But hey, a lot of people love it.

In short: whitebait ain’t for me, but this is a great place to eat whitebait if you do.

Denniston Dog, Westport

Denniston Dog, in the main Westport township, came highly recommended. We wound up eating here not once but twice – first, an early breakfast, then for afternoon tea in anticipation of the plane ride home.

I’m personally leery of anything Mexican down under, but my buddy had the breakfast quesadilla and had good things to say about it. I went for the breakfast stack myself and was absolutely blown away – every aspect was out of this world. I cannot fault the crispy hash brown, the perfectly poached egg, the hollandaise or any of the accompanying veggies. Also recommended: the cabinet snacks and the fresh fruit smoothies.