With only 9 days in New Zealand, we squeezed in as much as could before embarking on our journey to Southeast Asia.

After 17 days at sea, we were so excited to disembark in Auckland. In fact, we made sure to be up bright and early to be part of the first wave of people to get off. Initially we had one night in Auckland with our rental car pick up being late the next day. However, when we made these plans we didn’t take into account the International Dateline, thus our dates were off. We only had the day to explore Auckland before picking up our car and driving roughly 3-4 hours to Rotorua. The biggest disappointment is that our original plans that had us arriving in Auckland one day before would have given us a night out with one of our friends who happened to be there on business, Miha. Luckily, we were able to meet late in the afternoon for a bit before we hit the road. Miha lives in Beijing, so we’ll actually get to spend more time with him in the following months as we make our way to China. We spent our day in Auckland walking to Mount Eden to take in the panoramic views of the city. We were blown away by the proximity of single family homes to the city center–in theory you could easily walk from these neighborhoods to the city center. We then headed over to the War Memorial Museum. Megan would have preferred to go to Waiheke Island to visit the numerous vineyards and wineries, but after a rave review from Miha about the museum and a somewhat convincing argument from Markus that we’d done enough wine tasting, we went to the damn museum. The ticket was a bit hefty for our budget at $25 USD each. Auckland residents are free and New Zealand residents are asked to make a donation, while we personally didn’t mind this, this article and included comments are quite interesting.

We arrived in Rotorua after hours for our hostel/motel and were surprised to find that their method of dealing with late arrivals is to leave the keys to their room in a shoebox in front of the building with a huge sign “Room Keys in here.” The next day we strolled around Lake Rotorua before driving south to Wai-O-Tapu thermal park. Here you can stroll through a network of geysers and pools. Afterwards, we continued south and made a stop at Huka Falls. We both argreed that after Iguazu, this is our favorite waterfall. The color is unreal, changing from teal to white and then a deep sea blue–it’s outstanding. We then made our way to our destination for the next two evenings, Turangi. The city is located near the inspiration for many of the Lord of the Rings scenes, we drove to the filming location for a lot of the Mordor scenes. However, our reason for being here was to hike Middle Earth, also known as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Despite the weather forecast being terrible, we only had one day to be able to make this happen, so we arranged with another girl from our hostel to take two cars and leave each one at the beginning and end of the trek. The trek first goes through bush, but than quickly opens up as you begin to traverse the mountain. Our hope that the weather may clear was fruitless. Not only could you barely see the next person in front of you, you also battled 70 km/h winds. On our descent back down, Megan took a particularly rough fall and landed on some rocks. Her left pinky finger appeared completely mangled, but since it was frozen she didn’t experience much pain. We made it down the mountain as fast as we could (stopped to take a few photos of Mount Doom). Unfortunately, our hiking buddy knew nothing of the injury and continued up Mount Doom, so we needed to find a ride to our car at the beginning of the trail. We eventually managed and drove to a hospital roughly an hour away. After having an X-ray it was discovered she had dislocated her pinky finger. After a hefty dose of laughing gas and some local anesthesia, the doctor snapped it back into place. We attempted to pay at the counter, but the nurse turned us away as it was covered–thank you New Zealand!

The next day was long. We drove 5 hours back to the Auckland airport, flew to Christchurch, immediately picked up another rental car, and drove another 5 hours to Mount Cook. Even though it was dark as we approached Mount Cook, the moon was bright that evening and we could see it glimmer of the top of the mountain–stunning. We were lucky to book some beds within a lodge located inside of the park. The next day we got up early and hiked basically all of the shorter hikes located in the park: Hooker Valley Track, Red Tarns Track and the Tasman Glacier Outlook. The Hooker Valley Track is the most bang for your buck. It’s only 3 hours round trip, basically completely flat, and has some of the most stunning scenery we’ve ever seen. While we worked hard in September on the John Muir Trail to get our views in, here they were just handed to us.

As we only had a bit of time in New Zealand, we were back on the road the very next day at 5am. We needed to arrive in Manapouri by 12pm in order to board an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound. This was our huge splurge in New Zealand and made all of the dorm rooms and endless homemade sandwiches worth it. The scenery was breathtaking, in particular the sunset as we made our way into the Tasmanian Sea. While we sadly didn’t see any of the elusive penguins, we did see an abundance of seals and albatrosses. The Albatross were a hoot to watch as they appeared to glide along the ship with us. The next day we had a cabin in Manapouri and chose to just relax. It felt a bit like taking a weekend trip on the coast outside of San Francisco. It was a cold rainy day, so we stayed in the cabin and just enjoyed the view. Markus cut some wood to put in the fireplace and we cooked lamb steaks and enjoyed some wine–it was a perfect day. We spent our last day in New Zealand in Queenstown and again felt like just relaxing and taking care of some errands (taxes). While Queenstown is known as a mecca for adventure tourism and sport, our only activity consisted of burger eating and waiting in line for said burgers. We ate at the famous Fergburger. While the line appeared long, it moved relatively fast (compared to what we’re used to in San Francisco). As we’re headed to Asia, we figured this was a good opportunity to get a delicious burger in and they certainly delivered.