Guest post: Highlights of a perfect New Zealand road trip

This is a guest post by Meagaan Irish, my fantastic travel buddy on the big New Zealand road trip, and today she’s sharing her favourite memories of our recent trip to the land of the long white cloud. You can follow her on Twitter (@meagaanirish) and Instagram.

Where do I even begin? When I first heard I had an opportunity to go back to New Zealand I almost fell out of my chair… quite literally. I had had a few drinks at a friend’s Labor Day party and was overjoyed with excitement when I received a text asking if I wanted to take part in Christina’s Blog4NZ fundraiser and return to NZ. It was a bit of a short notice but I was up for adventure. I had already fallen in love with NZ when I spent 3 months there in 2010 and knew right away that I was ready to put everything in my life on hold to return for this amazing opportunity. Not only was I super-excited about all the totally awesome vouchers that Christina received from Tourism New Zealand for winning the Blog4NZ competition but I was stoked we would be raising money to help Christchurch.

Driving on the South Island of New Zealand

Driving on the South Island

For the weeks leading up to my departure I lost countless hours of sleep over anxiety about all the daring feats I would need to preform to encourage people to donate to the fundraiser. Would I finally skydive? A part of me always wanted to but I am extremely terrified of heights and when it came down to it I told myself I wouldn’t have the courage. Could I actually bungy jump? When I had visited New Zealand prior to this trip I remember standing at the Kawarau bridge with sweaty palms thinking I would never have the nerve to bungy. Just the thought made my blood turn cold and my heart race. What was I getting myself into?

Christina will be writing full, detailed articles about all the places, people and action that happened in New Zealand, but in the meantime here is just a quick look and recap of what I got myself into and some of my personal highlights of the trip…

Getting in the shark cage at Kelly Tarlton’s

Seeing sharks up close and personal was awesome! Especially as a surfer I have a new appreciation and understanding of sharks (not sure if my fear is gone though). Big thanks to Matt our guide who was very knowledgeable and actually made it fun to get into some pretty cold water.

Our tour of Whakarewarewa, the living thermal village

Whakarewarewa village in Rotorua

View over Whakarewarewa Maori village in Rotorua

Such a unique and remarkable place. I’m so glad that we were able to learn more about the Maori culture and history here.

Maori cultural performances

Seeing a Haka at Te Po, our indigenous evening experience at Te Puia, was intense! I really enjoyed all the performances and the traditional hangi banquet (food cooked in a geothermal oven, awesome!).

Kaitiaki white-water rafting wins in O for Awesome!

White-water rafting with Kaitiaki Adventures, Rotorua

White-water rafting with Kaitiaki Adventures, Rotorua

This was my first time white-water rafting and it was everything I hoped for. Terrifying, thrilling, and fun, this is a NZ must-do! Our guides Toni and Joel were so fun and hilarious while at the same time keeping you safe and having a good time. I couldn’t have asked for better! Plus who doesn’t like bragging rights…did I mention we went over a 7m waterfall?!

Polynesian Spa in Rotorua

Polynesian Spa, Rotorua

Rainbow at the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua

I can see why it was rated one of the world’s top 10 spas! Overlooking Lake Rotorua while sitting in the naturally heated healing waters we saw a rainbow! It was magical!

Skyline Gondola in Rotorua

View from the Skyline Gondola, Rotorua

Amazing views from the top of the Skyline Gondola, Rotorua

Skyline Gondola and luge in Rotorua was a perfect way to spend a sunny spring day in NZ. The ride up is beautiful and riding the luge down you can choose fast, slow or scenic. I love the luge because you can be looking for a thrill or just a fun scenic way to ride down a mountain and be any age and have a blast!


Hobbiton movie set near Matamata

Great hospitality and open doors at Bilbo’s in the Shire, of course.

Enough said! It was a beautiful sunny day and I had a blast getting lost in the Shire!

Snowy Waters Lodge, Raetihi

The Snowy Waters Lodge in Raetihi was incredibly charming and adorable. Our host Sandy was so thoughtful and told us so much about the history of Raetihi and New Zealand. I’m glad we ended up here and were given a crash course in history!


I had the opportunity to go on a few runs while in NZ. One of my favorite spots was definitely Oriental Parade in Wellington! I have to admit the weather was not 100% cooperative during our time in NZ but I’m so glad that we went for a run on Oriental Parade. Even though it was cold and raining it was amazing so I can only image what it would be like on a beautiful day to run along the waterfront, past all the sailboats and homes on the hillside. I also really enjoyed my run in the Queenstown Gardens in Queenstown. A great way to see the park and enjoy the view of The Remarkables!

Punting on the Avon in Christchurch

This was the perfect way to end my journey through NZ. After all the adrenaline from Queenstown it was so nice to sit and enjoy the botanical gardens in the warm spring sun and reflect on my travels.


Driving on the South Island, New Zealand

Our Nissan Juke, courtesy of Europcar, taking a break at Lake Pukaki on the South Island

We did a lot of driving, and we reminded ourselves often to KEEP LEFT! When you’re exploring NZ you’ll probably not come across to many dull drives. There is always amazing scenery all around you and unlike your typical boring long stretches of highway that you would find in a country like the states. New Zealand always seems like an adventure, not a chore. Some of my favorite drives include State Highway 1 from Picton to Christchurch, The Lindis Pass and Simons Pass, that first peak of Lake Pukaki’s stunningly blue water is literally shocking. I am so very thankful for our sponsors Jucy and Europcar for providing us with great rental cars and fabulous customer service.

Wanaka Wanaka Wanaka!

I just wanna say Wanaka all day long. A beautiful little town and in my opinion one of NZ’s best kept secrets. The town has a very laid-back feeling and seemed mostly to have lots of chill Kiwi’s kicking back and enjoying the local pubs serving locally made and delicious beer.

Skydiving at Lake Wanaka

Meagaan skydiving with Alex at Skydive Wanaka

Wanaka will forever and always be dear to my heart because it is also the place that I decided to finally try SKYDIVING! I have always wanted to and before my trip I was kept awake by the shear fear that I MIGHT actually have to force myself to do it, all in the name of charity of course! I am so glad I went to Skydive Wanaka. They really have an amazing staff that made me feel very comfortable and almost (I have to stress the word almost here) made me forget that I was about to throw myself from a perfectly good and, might I add, stylish airplane, or at least they gave the illusion that it was no big deal, which helped calm the nerves. My tandem jumper’s name was Alex and he was the nicest guy. He made conversation with me as we climbed to 12,000 feet and made sure I was feeling okay and kept me excited about jumping. The jump was epic. I’m actually finding it hard to write about because it is something you just have to experience. Brilliant, spectacular, unforgettable, awe-inspiring the list of adjectives could go on forever!

Bungy. Oh Bungy.

The Ledge Bungy in Queenstown

Pure terror at the Ledge Bungy 400m above Queenstown

Bungy jumping for me was not like skydiving. I never saw myself bungy jumping but when Christina asked me to do the AJ Hackett Ledge bungy with her I for some reason said yes (perhaps it was because I begged her to skydive with me which she did bravely, and loved, so I thought okay now its my turn to do something I’m really scared of). I still had adrenaline coursing through my veins from the skydive that morning and I thought that it would get me through, but as we were carried to the top in the gondola as Christina describes here, I grew increasingly nervous. By the time they weighed me in my legs felt a bit shaky and I forced myself to put on a brave face and walk out to ‘the Ledge’ where our bungy instructors awaited us. I was REALLY nervous by this point and Christina insisted I go first. It took me a few tries and some words of advice from the people around me but I’m proud to say I did it!

What is New Zealand like?

New Zealand is a traveler’s utopia. Everyone knows New Zealand is a beautiful country, well not just beautiful but breathtaking. Not only is the scenery amazing but it’s all condensed into such a small space. The geography of NZ is endlessly overwhelming. When was the last time you looked to your right to see giant snow-capped mountains then looked to your left to see beautiful blue ocean and palm trees? How about a glacier in the middle of a rainforest? Found yourself in a desert after driving through the greenest grass you have ever seen? I sometimes felt like I had stepped into a Dali painting. The surreal nature of my surroundings sometimes left me speechless.

Driving on SH1 between Picton and Kaikoura

Driving on SH1 between Picton and Kaikoura

I know it’s not good to stereotype a group of people but when I think of New Zealanders all that comes to mind is the worlds warmest and most welcoming people. Most people who live in a tourist area grow to loath travelers clogging up there motor-ways and side walks, asking silly questions and not understanding simple idiosyncrasies. These situations can sometimes make for some disgruntled locals but my experiences in NZ all consisted of extremely helpful and cheery people who seemed to genuinely want to help me enjoy my time in their country.

Traveling in New Zealand has been made pretty fool proof by heaps of easily accessible i-Sites. Check out their website or just pop in to any of their numerous locations while you’re in NZ and find all the info you need. I felt safer traveling in New Zealand then I do in my home country. Not only is there very little crime but also nothing poisonous or scary that well bite or eat you, one less thing to worry about when you’re on your holiday!

There are endless possibilities while traveling in NZ whether you’re looking for some adrenaline thrills or laid back hikes and camping. I have been lucky enough to visit twice and I strongly encourage anyone who might be thinking of traveling to NZ to DO IT! Take a chance, buy your ticket, get out there and have fun 🙂

Kia Ora!


Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  2 comments for “Guest post: Highlights of a perfect New Zealand road trip

  1. 3 January, 2013 at 13:25

    I never had experienced in rafting but it’s my dream to do so, I’ll definitely gonna try this for sure and this post makes me so inspire to do all this things. Can you please tell me how it would be feel after rafting.

  2. 27 January, 2013 at 23:55

    What an awesome post!! Love it.
    New Zealand is truly a great place, whether you are visiting or living. We immigrated to NZ 8 years ago and love every moment (yes, there are the negatives too but I think the positives outweigh the negatives). For those who would like free information on everything Middle-Earth, from immigration, cost of living, employment etc. have a look at

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