New Zealand – Part 1: Trip Plans

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For years New Zealand hung out on my list of top three destinations. And for years it stayed unvisited. I think there were two big reasons preventing me from taking this trip: 1. New Zealand seemed so far away; 2. It’s expensive.

When I was living in Chicago, a friend of mine flew to Australia for vacation once. He later told me that it took him over 24 hours to get to Sydney. That unfortunate piece of information stuck in my head misguiding my senses for years. When I finally did my research on traveling to New Zealand and ultimately booked my flight, my travel between Seattle and Auckland ended up been 15 hours plus a two hour layover in Honolulu both ways. I don’t think it’s that outrageous for an international trip. The time difference between Auckland and Seattle is twenty hours or– to my biological clock– four hours. So when I landed in Auckland, I had little jetlag– which adds to the appeal of this trip.

A turquoise lake below Red Crater in Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

In terms of the cost of traveling in New Zealand, it is not a budget trip. When Tricia and I went to Peru, we paid about $900/person for the flights and maybe $300/person for the entire two week stay. When we went to Nepal for three weeks, we paid $1400/person for flights and probably around $400/person for the duration of our stay. Granted we were either camping in the mountain wilderness or sleeping in teahouses in the Himalayas costing $2-3/night. But you get the idea– we are usually thrift travelers. New Zealand, however, blew our budget wide open. It costed us over $1200/person for the international flights and over $2000/person for two weeks despite our occasional feeble attempts to stay thrifty.

Hot spring waterfall!! Kerosene creek near Rotorua in the North Island.

Since we were traveling in the shoulder season– first two weeks of November– the weather forced us to tweak our plans throughout the trip. The Great Walks– especially the Milford Track– top our initial list of must do’s. The Department of Conservation in New Zealand maintains New Zealand’s Great Walks (hiking trails), which are scattered on both the North and South Islands. People take multi-day hikes in the wilderness and sleep in huts at night on these Great Walks. Since we have a week in the South Island, we figured we’d add another Great Walk nearby called the Routeburn Track. Between the four days on Milford Track and three days on the Routeburn Track, we had basically made our plans for our first week in New Zealand. For our second week, we planned to take a mini road trip going clockwise in the North Island: Auckland, Hot Water Beach, Rotorua, Taupo, Tongariro, and Waitomo.

Heaven and earth closing on us like a startled oyster.

Our actual itinerary ended up being quite different than our original plans.


Day 0: Flight to Auckland

Day 1: flight to Queenstown; drive to Te Anau

Day 2: Kepler Track

Day 3: Kepler Track

Day 4: Kepler Track

Day 5: Te Anau

Day 6: Drive to Dunedin

Day 7: Otago Peninsula

Day 8: Gold panning in central Otago

Day 9: Flight back to Auckland; drive to Waitomo

Day 10: Waitomo caves

Day 11: Taupo

Day 12: Rotorua

Day 13: Tongariro

Day 14: Hamilton

Exploring glow worm caves in Waitomo.

It’s an imperfect itinerary since we had to change things around a lot to avoid the rain storms. But it worked out well for us in the end. I plan to write about the trip in three more parts broken down in five more posts:

Part 2.1: Kepler Track

Part 2.2: Dunedin and Otago Peninsula

Part 3.1: Caves and Hot Springs

Part 3.2: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Part 4: New Zealand- Thoughts and Tips

Hello Stranger!

If you are planning a trip to New Zealand, I hope these posts will provide you with some useful insights. Feel free to send me any questions.

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