My Ultimate New Zealand Bucket List – South Island

My recent trip to New Zealand was literally the trip of a lifetime. I planned it start to finish based on reading blogs and travel websites to ensure I was getting the best of New Zealand. In the process, I learned a lot about the history, people, and just what New Zealand is known for. Along the way, I found some hidden gems and even some areas to avoid. I’ve always been a planner but this trip took my love for travel and planning to a whole new level. I planned thirteen full days start to finish, which included the flights, hotels, transportation, activities, road stops. I know I sound like I am bragging and it’s because I totally am; a lot of love, frustration, planning and re-planning went into this trip to make sure it was perfect.

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In 13 days, we saw so many beautiful places and did so many incredible things. There were things that I never thought I could do just based on the fact I have limited myself so much on past travels. I came up with the list of things that you must do while in New Zealand, which could be an activity, visiting a place, or just something you can’t miss. When you go to New Zealand, none of these things should disappoint. With New Zealand having so much to offer, I will be dedicating one post to the North Island and one post to the South Island. This post will be about the South Island and everything it has to offer.

Christchurch

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Going to Christchurch was quite an interesting experience because this city endured a lot of damage from the 2011 earthquake, a lot of which you can still see while you are driving and walking around. Due to the damage, there is not much to do except just walk around the city, but it is incredibly fascinating; there is beauty surrounded by destruction. The whole city is a piece of art.

  • Walk the Streets – You will find yourself in awe and shock walking through the city’s streets because not only will you see all of the pain and suffering this city and it’s people has gone through, but you will see how they are trying to pick themselves back up. While walking through the streets, you will see buildings that once were home to large companies and corporations with the windows missing and graffiti covering the buildings, you will see storefronts that have graffiti on the windows and inside you see the remnants of what used to be in there, and you will walk by you will be surrounded by beautiful street art that has covered abandoned buildings. It is quite sad to walk around and see all of this, but at the same time it makes you realize how our earth and the people living on it can endure so much pain and suffering and yet they can still pick themselves back up.
  • Re:START Mall – A small outdoor shopping mall made out of shipping containers. All of the decorations and physical buildings are made out of recycled materials, which makes this especially fascinating. This is a great place to look for souvenirs, but also a great way to support the local economy. This little mall is the only part of the city we found to be lively while they work on rebuilding the rest of the city, so make sure to check it out!

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  • 185 Chairs – This art installation is a beautiful tribute to those that died in the 2011 earthquake. Each white chair represents a person who lost their life, with each chair being unique to each person; there were high chairs and car seats representing the babies and children, rocking chairs representing the mothers, and so on. The visit here is a little solemn but I think it is important to pay respects to those that were involved in such a terrible disaster.

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  • Cardboard Cathedral – Just around the block from 185 Chairs, you will find the Cardboard Cathedral with its vibrant colors and unique architecture. A lot of the cathedral is made of cardboard and was built for those to have a place of worship since the Christchurch Cathedral was destroyed during the earthquake and was too expensive to fix.

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  • New Regent Street – This street is for pedestrian use only and is absolutely adorable! The street is lined with shops and cafés, which are below colorful buildings that look like houses. It is very small and quaint, but it is a great place to walk around for a bit while you get acquainted with the area.

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Lake Tekapo

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I am not even sure where to start with Lake Tekapo as it was hands down my favorite place in New Zealand. It is about a 3-hour drive from Christchurch and a MUST VISIT during lupine season! I knew before we went on this trip that this would probably be my favorite part and I couldn’t have been more right; I can’t even put into words the beauty of this place! Prime lupine season is mid-November to end of December and if you can, plan your visit to New Zealand (especially the South Island) during this time frame.

  • Lakeside at Dusk – We happened to arrive into Lake Tekapo as the sun was setting and the colors of sky mixed with the colors of the flowers, and it was stunning; I fell in love with Lake Tekapo at first sight. We stayed there and took tons of photos and it happened to be the night that my fiancé found his proposal location. This leads me right into my next point…

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  • GET ENGAGED HERE (If you can help it) – Your friends and family will talk about it for months, and you can’t help but brag and want to show everyone a picture, including people you first meet! Make sure you have someone around who can take pictures for this special moment because I promise you want it captured. I have the best sister ever who can keep secrets and take amazing photos!

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  • Take a hike – there are quite a few trails in the area and I could not tell you which one we did, but it was still beautiful. This was not the trail I planned on us doing, but it still turned out to have amazing views!
  • Stay at Lake Tekapo Motels & Holiday Park – If you are lucky, you will get the perfect view of the lake to wake up to and it will make your day start off in an amazing way. If you are renting a campervan, they provide a picnic table for you to use, electricity, and running water. When renting an RV, this is SUPER important. The park itself not only had very clean facilities, but like I said before, the location is very convenient.

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  • Stay up to see the stars – We were so exhausted and did not stay up to see the stars, and I regret it so much. I have seen so many incredible pictures of the stars in Lake Tekapo and months later I am still mad at myself.
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Photo Credit: Concrete Playgound
  • Church of the Good Shepherd – Unfortunately we missed this too, so don’t make the same mistake! We got so wrapped up in the beauty of the lake and its surroundings (and the engagement!) that I completely forgot about the church! This is an icon in the area and you shouldn’t miss it.
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Photo Credit: Dream Weddings New Zealand

Lake Pukaki

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Another picture perfect spot to spend some as little or as much time as you want. It can be a place for you to spend the night or a stop along the way. For us it was just a stop but it was worth every second. Crystal clear blue waters make for unbelievable pictures. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen as although it may not be hot, the sun is still shining and you can get some color in a matter of minutes.

Queenstown

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Queenstown is the definition of perfect; it is not overly crowded and it has so much to do. You can enjoy the shops, restaurants, and cafés downtown or you can book an adrenaline rush. There is a feeling of belonging in Queenstown, no matter where you are from.

  • Be Adventurous – There are endless opportunities to live on the edge in Queenstown; you can bungee jump, swing over a canyon, zipline, skydive, hang glide, paraglide, do the Shotover jet, the list is endless! My fiancé and I booked the Nevis Swing (largest swing in the world) and it was amazing! This is good for someone who isn’t quite ready for the bungee jump but still wants an adrenaline rush. My sister and her friend Jessi, on the other hand, bungee jumped and said it was crazy. No matter what you decide to do, the team at AJ Hackett take really good care of you and make you feel safe.
  • Hangout Downtown – As I touched on a bit already, downtown is full of life and is right on the water. It can make for a fun evening with the family or a romantic evening for you and your significant other. When the sun is shining, there are plenty of spots to soak up the sun and enjoy being in the moment.
  • Check out The Remarkables – This is the iconic mountain range that surrounds Queenstown. It makes for great photographs and allows you to be one with nature while still being in a city.

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  • Stay at Pounamu Apartments – This would be a splurge when it comes to accommodations, but it was worth every penny. It is a full apartment with 2 bedrooms that have king size beds and private bathrooms. It also has a full kitchen, a living room with a fireplace, and floor to ceiling windows with a view of The Remarkables. Shout out to the staff for leaving a bottle of wine, chocolate, and a card congratulating us on our anniversary!

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Milford Sound

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Magical. That is the best word I can use to describe Milford Sound as it looks like you just stepped into a scene of Jurassic Park or Avatar. The fjords shooting straight out of the water creating this perfect view. There are a few ways to get to Milford Sound, but let me tell you the best way to experience Milford Sound:

  • Fly – Through Air Milford you can fly Queenstown to Milford Sound round-trip and get stunning views; you fly through the mountains that are covered with snow, and you fly so close to the mountains that sometimes you wonder if you can touch them. It is totally worth the extra money you pay for it because you save a lot of time so you can explore more of Queenstown while still getting the experience of Milford Sound. Air Milford is owned by a father and son and they do such an incredible job; they are friendly, outgoing, and make the whole experience perfect.

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  • Cruise – if you go to Milford Sound, you have to take one of the cruises. Through Air Milford, they book the cruise for you, reserve inside seating, and give you a complimentary drink and cheese platter on board. Fortunately for us, we had amazing weather, but apparently that is extremely rare so make sure you are prepared for bad weather and high winds. Toward the end of the cruise, the staff will tell you to go outside and go to the front of the boat to see a waterfall, DO IT! Make sure you don’t have any electronics exposed, though (hint, hint).

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Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes

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There is not much to see or do here, but it makes for a quick stop while visiting the South Island. Here you can see some fascinating rocks that look like limestone pancakes stacked on top of one another. You can do the loop in about 20 minutes and it is worth your time.

Abel Tasman National Park

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I have to say I wasn’t super impressed with Abel Tasman, but the weather was also miserable. Before we left on our trip, I saw all these beautiful photos of the water being so crystal clear to the point of it being transparent. I am by no means saying don’t visit because I would have loved to have spent more time here.

  • Kayak – We booked a 3-hour kayak/hiking trip with Kahu Kayak for our time in Abel Tasman. I was banking on sunny and warm weather, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. Unfortunately the water was a bit choppy, but the experience was still a ton of fun thanks to our guides and the other people on the trip; our guides were full of humor and down to earth. Be ready to kayak for 1.5-2 hours and then prepare to walk for about another 2-3-hours back to the kayak base. I wasn’t expecting the hike to be so crazy and the weather to be so awful so we were extremely unprepared. We ended up having one of the guides book us a water taxi back to the main island, so if it is raining that day, remember this because the taxi wasn’t a promise.
  • Eat a burger at The Fat Tui – SO GOOD. The burgers are huge, the prices are great, and the staff members are incredibly friendly. Our guide from the kayak tour actually recommended this place to us, which was great because this place was conveniently located right next to Kahu Kayaks and we were starving by the time we got back to our RV.

New Zealand’s South Island surpassed all my expectations I had. There is still so much to see and do and the day I get to go back to the South Island will be a dream come true. I cannot thank the universe enough for creating such a beautiful country.

Since I have posted about our adventures on both the North & South Islands, who is ready for a North vs South?! Stay tuned for that post.

Ready to plan your adventure to New Zealand and need some help or someone to do all the dirty work for you? Contact me here and I am happy to help you out!

20 Photographs That Will Make You Fall In Love with New Zealand

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Lake Tekapo
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Hobbiton, Matamata
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Lake Tekapo
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Air Milford Flight: Queenstown to Milford Sound
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Cathedral Cove, Coromandel
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Lake Pukaki (Photo Credit: MVPhotography)
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Air Milford Flight: Milford Sound to Queenstown
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Lake Tekapo (Photo Credit: MVPhotography)
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Milford Sound
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Arrival into Auckland
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Lake Pukaki (Photo Credit: MVPhotography)
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Stingray Bay, Coromandel
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Christchurch
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Hobbiton, Matamata (Photo Cred: Dan Forde)
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Lake Tekapo
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Coromandel (Photo Cred: Dan Forde)
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Lake Tekapo
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Lake Pukaki
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Gemstone Bay, Coromandel (Photo Credit: Dan Forde)
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Milford Sound (Photo Credit: Dan Forde)

 

My Ultimate New Zealand Bucket List – North Island

My recent trip to New Zealand was literally the trip of a lifetime. I planned it start to finish based on reading blogs and travel websites to ensure I was getting the best of New Zealand. In the process, I learned a lot about the history, people, and just what New Zealand is known for. Along the way, I found some hidden gems and even some areas to avoid. I’ve always been a planner but this trip took my love for travel and planning to a whole new level. I planned thirteen full days start to finish, which included the flights, hotels, transportation, activities, road stops. I know I sound like I am bragging and it’s because I totally am; a lot of love, frustration, planning and re-planning went into this trip to make sure it was perfect.

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In 13 days, we saw so many beautiful places and did so many incredible things. There were things that I never thought I could do just based on the fact I have limited myself so much on past travels. I came up with the list of things that you must do while in New Zealand, which could be an activity, visiting a place, or just something you can’t miss. When you go to New Zealand, none of these things should disappoint. With New Zealand having so much to offer, I will be dedicating one post to the North Island and one post to the South Island. This post will be about the North Island and everything it has to offer.

Hahei, Coromandel

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Hahei is locate on the Coromandel Peninsula is located just a short 2.5 hours away from Auckland and the perfect beach paradise. White sand beaches, incredibly pleasant people, and beautiful weather will make sure that Coromandel will not disappoint. We spent an entire day exploring Hahei, one of the most popular towns on the peninsula.

  • Gemstone Bay – Rent some snorkel gear from Cathedral Cove Dive & Snorkel and head down to the Gemstone Bay to have a chance at seeing some of the sea creatures of New Zealand! We unfortunately did not see much but we were able to spot some sea urchins. It was still Spring so the chance of it being too cold for a lot of the sea life is increased.
  • Stingray Bay – Spot some stingrays swimming near the shore and enjoy the beautiful beach that is secluded from the rest of the attractions.

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  • Visit Cathedral Cove – A rock formation that looks like…you guessed it!… a cathedral! The beautiful spot makes for some dramatic photos and a place you just can’t miss if you visit Coromandel. It is quite the walk/hike as it takes about 40 minutes from the car park but I promise it is totally worth it. Pack a snack and water!

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  • Hot Water Beach – Rent or buy a spade and head over to Hot Water Beach on either side of low tide. The rule of thumb is 2 hours prior or after the low tide time. You can find that information online. You dig a hole in the sand and feel the naturally hot water. It is like a hot tub without the bubbles! Be sure to have good timing as it gets crowded and you also don’t want to miss the opportunity to soak up all the heat! In addition to the hot sand baths, the views from the beach are beautiful.

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  • Stay at Tahiti Lodge – the perfect accommodations for those staying a night or a week. The woman who owns the lodge also takes really great care of it. She keeps everything very clean and perfect and from what her staff was saying, she would not accept anything less! They have mostly 2 bedroom accommodations, which are great for couples or friends traveling together. They also provide a spade to use at Hot Water Beach!
  • Eat at The Pour House Bar & the Coromandel Brewing Co. – They brew their own beer and they have magnificent food. We ate here our first night in New Zealand and it was fantastic.
  • Grab Breakfast at Colenso. It is a family owned café with the most delicious food and the cutest gift shop. If you are one that cannot disconnect from the world while traveling, they offer complimentary WiFi too!

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Hobbiton

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For any Lord of the Rings fan, this is a must do. I am not a huge fan as I watched the trilogy weeks before we left (should I even admit to this?) but Hobbiton was incredible. If you just close your eyes, you can imagine the scenes being brought back to life and you are standing right there. Who wouldn’t want to visit “Middle Earth”?!

  • Take a movie set tour – it is the only way you get access to Hobbiton as it’s protected by the tour guides and there are strict rules about where you can and cannot go. Whether you are a big fan of the movies or not, the tour is really interesting. This movie set is so well done and permanent! They have real plants that sometimes need to be replaced on a regular basis during seasons when those plants can’t survive. They want the set looking just like it does in the movie and you can see the amount of care and time they spend to do just that.
  • Have a drink at the Green Dragon Inn – Included with your admission ticket is a drink from the Green Dragon. They brew their own beer and have some delicious apple cider. If you aren’t a drinker, don’t worry! They have a non-alcoholic ginger beer.

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  • Take a picture with/of Bilbao Baggin’s House – You can’t go on this tour and not take a picture with the infamous green door. Since you are with a tour everyone else wants their picture taken too, so just be patient… Your turn will come!

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Waitomo

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Photo Credit: Around de Globe
I do not have a whole list of things to do in Waitomo, but you can’t miss what is available.

  • Book a Glowworm Cave Tour – We booked the Black Labyrinth tour, which was 3 hours long and involved tubing through a cave. We got all geared up in super smelly wetsuits with squishy shoes and then got into a van that brought us to our tubing location. You MUST be in decent shape to do this particular tour. You also must be okay with tight spaces and listen to the tour guides as parts of the tour can be dangerous. With this being said, this was one of the highlights of our two week trip. These glowworms illuminate the caves and it’s breathtaking. Not to mention the tour is a lot of fun; you get to jump over waterfalls and tube through a cave. The tour is well worth the time and the money. For those who want to see the glowworms and do not want to tube and walk through the caves, you can take a little boat and see the glowworms without much work.
  • Buy the photos taken by your guide – Don’t plan on bringing any type of camera with you as you will more than likely lose it. They take photos for you that you can buy at the end.

Rotorua

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You can do and see so much in Rotorua. Culture, education, and adventure awaits you. Rotorua is a city you could spend days doing all there is to offer.

  • Whakarewarewa Forest – A redwood forest offering a few different trails that you can hike. The trail you choose should depend on your activity level and time. We chose a moderate trail that was expected to take about 3 hours. We ended up finding some shortcuts as the forest turned into a mountain bike trail and looked like a dead forest. There are aspects of the forest that are breathtaking and worth the visit. If you have time to kill and want to get some hiking or mountain biking in, this is your place, but if you are there just to see the trees, you don’t need to go far once entering.

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Photo Credit: Mallory Van Ness
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  • Skyline Luge – SO MUCH FUN. This is one way to get in some excitement without too much work. You have to buy a lift ticket and then a luge ticket based on the number of times you would like to ride down the mountain. We did 3 and felt like it was not enough but time was also limited. I don’t want to say too much because this is something you would need to experience for yourself, but just know it’s a lot of fun by yourself or with friends.

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  • Visit a Geothermal Park – This is why the city smells like rotten eggs (or Sulfur). There are multiple parks throughout the city but the one that will be most convenient is Kuirau Park, which is located right in the city center. You will be able to get your fix of bubbling mud. You can also visit Waimango Volcanic Valley. I personally did not visit a park with thermal activity as we already experienced a lot of it while visiting Iceland! If you have never seen it, I highly recommend you take the time to visit a park.
  • Go Whitewater Rafting with Rotorua Rafting – The crew was excellent and the fun was never ending. Never in a million years did I see myself whitewater rafting, but it was such a great experience. You even get to raft down the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world! You can purchase photos taken by professionals at the end of the tour that capture some of the best moments of your time on the raft.

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All Photos were taken by Rotorua Rafting

  • Tamaki Maori Village – This is a must-do if you are interested in learning about the Maori culture and history. While the Tamaki Maori Village is a bit touristy, they could not do a better job of educating you on everything there is to know while giving you the Hangi Dinner experience that is so important to their culture. They do a traditional dance and song performance, teach you the games kids played, and tell you the meaning behind their tattoos that cover their faces & bodies.
  • Eat at Terrace Kitchen – We had the best breakfast and dinner here. It was close to our hotel, which is how we stumbled upon it, but the food was also amazing. The acai breakfast bowl was incredible and had so many flavors; I am still craving it 4 months later! For dinner, we each got something different and we all enjoyed what we ordered (the french-fries are delicious!).

Auckland

  • Devonport – Take the ferry from Downtown Auckland and walk the streets of the quaint coastal town. From cute little cafés to independently owned shops, it makes the perfect day trip on a beautiful day. You also get the perfect skyline shot of Auckland from a distance, and unfortunately it happened to be foggy and ready to rain when I was able to capture this shot.
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Photo Credit: Visit Devonport
  • Queen St – Walk the main street in the city and check out the shops and restaurants. You will find a lot of the country’s chain stores that you won’t find in most others.
  • Stroll on the North Wharf – Create a relaxing aspect of your day by admiring the beautiful boats in the harbor and eating at one of the best restaurants in the city. Not to mention you get to eat with a view of the water.
  • Visit the Sky Tower – Auckland’s tallest building that you can suit up and jump off! We already had quite our adrenaline rush in Queenstown so we did not take part in this but it is one of the top attractions. If you do not feel like jumping, they also have the SkyWalk where you walk around the outer room and see all of Auckland below your feet. If you make reservations ahead of time, you can even dine in the rotating restaurants towards the top.
  • Eat at Depot – Known for the oysters but has delicious food in general. They offer small plates to be shared with friends or family. This works out for those who want to try different things off the menu. You really cannot go wrong with anything you order as everything was delicious. The staff was efficient and super friendly. Make sure you get there earlier rather than later as they do not take reservations.

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Photo Credit: Heart of the City
I wish I had the opportunity to spend some time in Wellington and to hike Tongariro National Park, but with New Zealand, you have so much do and so little time. The North Island had so much to offer and soon you will see what the South Island brought to the table. Stay tuned for part 2 for all must-do’s on the South Island!