We had an enriching and enjoyable time on the North Island of New Zealand but met with a crazy car crash on the first day in the South Island. (Read it here) This did not stop us from continuing our adventure and travels to the mesmerising alpine regions in the South Island!
Some KEY AREAS and ADVENTURE TOURS you can try out:
We visited the tallest mountain in New Zealand - Mount Cook! The mountain is 3724m and the summit requires some serious climbing. Fret not! You can still experience the majestic mountains and drive all the way up to Mount Cook Village which is at a more comfortable height of 750m. There is a 5 star hotel and a few other accommodation options! Visiting in Winter means you will get to see snow but do drive slowly and take your time when driving over ice and snow.
Things you can do:
1. Scenic walks
2. Glacier Trekking
2. Snow Angels/Snow Man
3. Scenic Flight on a plane or Helicopter that will land on the Glacier/Mountain
Be prepared for sudden weather changes, make sure you pack some emergency food and speak to the staff at the visitor's centre to get the best advice when going on an alpine adventure!
Mount Cook National Park and is pretty near to Lake Tekapo. These places offer breath taking views of the turquoise coloured lake and snowy mountains! If you like star-gazing, this is one of the best locations for that!
Our New Zealand winter adventure took us from the City centre of Auckland (Read about it here) to Rotorua and into the magical Hobbiton film set. We explored Christchurch and took a 4 hour journey on highway 80 towards Mount Cook Village.
As we drove along, the landscape started evolved from the grassy plains and tall trees to alot more barren, mountainous and snowy landscapes. We stopped by a cafe, filled up our tanks and the car's petrol tank and drove on towards Mount Cook. If you are visiting New Zealand, you must try the uniquely Kiwi L&P soft-drink. It will be good to stock up at a local supermarket in Christchurch before heading to the Mountains because food and supplies become very expensive in remote areas.
We took the drive very slowly up Mount Cook because the 4WD we were supposed to take up the Mountain was wrecked. We only managed to rent a Toyota Camry Hybrid which is a front-wheel drive vehicle not meant for such terrain. The Camry did AMAZING and we made it all the way up despite facing ALOT of ice and snow on the roads. We were quite lucky because we were stuck behind a snow plough clearing the road ahead of us. Our journey would have ended if not for the snow plough's help.
We chose to stay at the Aoraki Court Motel because it was cheaper but the room was amazing! It had a small kitchenette, a nice bed and hot tub! You don't need to pay more than double for a night at the luxury Hermitage.
The winds and snow made it impossible for us to get a scenic flight which we booked before hand. We were pretty disappointed but the weather is not something we can control. We will definitely want to come again in Autumn or Spring when the snow isn't this extreme. We only managed to go for walks and trekked around the place. Debra was delighted nonetheless because it was the first time she experienced snow-fall and the alpine environment.
If you are born in the tropical island of Singapore, this is a snowy winter wonderland you and your children will enjoy. You won't have to experience altitude sickness to enjoy the alpine mountain range and glaciers!
If you enjoyed this post do check out our London series here
The craziest 1677mile (2700km) road trip across 3 countries with an infant here.
After an awesome time in Auckland (Read about it here), we drove for 2hr 40 min to Te Puia, New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute in Rotoroua. This amazing place features Geothermal features like the Pohutu Geyser and Maori Cultural performances that gives you a deeper understanding of New Zealand's land and people.
The attraction is situated within the Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal valley. If you think that is a mouthful, it is important to note that the name has already been shortened. The full name of the place is.....
Since people do name their children after cool places like Paris and London, may I suggest Te Whakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao since this place is pretty cool too!
Upon arrival, the Maori people welcomed us with a Pōwhiri ceremony (Welcome ceremony) that starts off with a Haka dance. Those who watch rugby should be quite familiar with this because the All Blacks do this Haka dance before their matches too. The Maori men carry spears and make gestures and stick out their tongues. They shout pretty loudly and carry out intimidating challenges before leaving a token for a representative of the visitors to pick up.
There would be singing from a female elder to welcome the visitors before speeches are exchanged between the leaders from each group. It would end off with a Maori greeting called the hongi where two people would touch each each other's noses and foreheads together. The guide was humourous and said to touch once is to say we welcome you, two times meant we really welcome you and three times means you have to marry the person. HAHA!
We felt really enriched by the whole experience and was quite envious of the fact that the people here cherish their culture and spirituality a lot. The youths are also able to become apprentices and learn to be master craftsmen of traditional Maori arts and crafts. This continuation of the cultural roots helps future generations develop their understanding of the land they live in.
The day tour also took us to Geothermal features like a Geyser and boiling mud pools. The smell of sulphur is pretty strong but you'll get used to it after awhile. My take-away was more about the wondrous POWER of the earth but beauty conscious people will be happy to hear that they do sell a HUGE selection of skincare products derived from the mud! These products contain a myriad of minerals that are said to do wonders to your skin.
We continued our tour of New Zealand's north island by heading to the famous Lord of the Rings Hobbiton Film set.
This movie set is about 2hrs and 30 mins from Auckland and 1 hour from Rotorua. You may want to consider staying in Rotorua's hotels and visit both Te Puia and the movie set over two days.
It is here that I found myself lost for words. The attention to detail and the seamless combination of a man-made movie set and the natural setting will just blow your mind away. They actually grow and place REAL the vegetables and roots on the film set. The giant tree in the backdrop had its leaves painstakingly glued and put together to fit the director's vision of the set.
I'll let the pictures do the talking. You must really visit this place if you love the movies!
Remember to have a taste of the Ales and Apple cider at the Green Dragon Inn. Smoothest stuff we have tasted. Shop at The Shire Store to get all your movie related memorabilia. I bought myself THE RING. YES....MY PRECIOUSSSSS!
We headed back from Rotorua to Auckland to catch a flight to the South Island. Our flight to Christchurch was delayed and we sat around at the airport for a few hours. We read the news and saw that bad weather and really cold temperatures were awaiting us in Christchurch.
We spent some time in Christchurch and saw the earthquake damage that had so affected the locals. Our focus was however to get to Mount Cook (3724m above sea level). Our plans were temporarily stalled when we were involved in a VERY SERIOUS crash that destroyed the rental car totally.
I was driving the Toyota Highlander at about 50km/h towards the cross junction...I tapped the brakes lightly as the car approached the junction but there was silence and the car DID NOT SLOW down. I hit the brakes harder but it still didn't work. By the time I slammed on the brakes, it was too late. Everything went SLOW MOTION. Our car had hit a long trailer driving across our path at the junction. The bonnet crumpled over like paper and the engine parts flew everywhere. We spinned pretty hard because I hit my head on the window and Debra hit her knee against the door. Head on crash but the airbag didn't deploy.
By the time we became stationary, we were just a few metres from the train tracks. The car was smoking. Suddenly, both our doors opened and the locals who witnessed the accident had come out of their cars to rescue us from the wreck. We were immensely lucky and blessed to come out unscathed. The train rolled past 10 minutes later. If we had rolled any nearer, we would be appearing on national news.
We experienced great kindness from the locals as car after car that passed asked if we needed help. A local contractor even stopped his car, took out his broom and swept the road of debris. The soldier and local who rescued us waited till the police came before they left. These are just ordinary ppl who happen to pass by. They showed extraordinary kindness.
While we waited for the tow truck, the police man determined that I wasn't intoxicated and it was a matter of either aqua-planing or black ice (that could have melted away while we waited for him to arrive). He helped us retrieve our belongings and carried out luggage to put into his patrol car. He turned on the heating and allowed us to rest in the police car. It was the first time I sat in a police car.
After the tow truck had cleared up the mess, the police officer DROVE US BACK TO THE AIRPORT. He helped us with our luggage ALL THE WAY to the rental booth where we had to fill in insurance forms. Thankfully we didn't have to pay a cent because of the comprehensive insurance we bought.
The car was written off and scraped. The rental company was obviously not pleased. So we walked next door to get another car from another rental company. We did however take the entire day off to recover from the shock.
This accident highlighted the dangers of driving in winter and how bad it would have been if we were speeding or didn't wear our seatbelts. We never got to thank those people who helped us. It left a deep impression of the extraordinary kindness of New Zealanders. THANK YOU NEW ZEALAND!
Stay tuned for the next exciting part! Our exciting alpine adventure (Part 3 of this series) Conquering Mount Cook!
Our reviews of places, airlines, restaurants and shops are NOT sponsored.
Our opinion is entirely our own.
Aotearoa (Maori Name of New Zealand) is one of the most enchanting places we have ever been to. If you love nature and culture, New Zealand is the destination! We saw geysers, active volcanos, lakes, glaciers, alps mountain ranges, snow, ice, slush and met with the kindest, friendliest people in New Zealand.
If you are travelling from Singapore, you are travelling from the equator towards the Antarctic. A direct flight via Singapore airlines will take about 10 hours. We opted for a cheaper but slower route via Sydney, Australia on Qantas. It was an 8 hour flight from Singapore to Sydney + 2 hour layover + 3 hour flight from Sydney to Auckland.
Singapore Air and Air New Zealand for direct flights
Qantas, Emirates and British Airways for layovers in Australia.
We took a Boeing 747-400 to Sydney and a smaller 737-800 from Sydney to Auckland. It was a HORRIBLE night flight from Singapore to Sydney because we chose exit row seats and the galley was right beside our seats. When the cabin was darkened, we tried to sleep but the crew were busy attending to other passengers. Every single time they entered the galley, they moved the curtains and light would shine on my face. I don't even want to get started on the noise. It isn't worth paying extra for bulkhead/Exit row seats unless it is NOT near the toilets and galley!
If you are laying over in Australia, don't disembark with ANY fresh fruits or food from the plane. The border control officers will ask you to throw them away. We thought we wanted to munch on apples during the layover but was asked to dump them.
We arrived in Auckland at noon GMT +12. New Zealand time is 4 hours ahead of Singapore.
We collected our rental car from Hertz and upon check in at the hotel, we went to stock up on food and drink supplies from a local Countdown supermarket. We rested up for the night and tried to adjust to 4 hours of time difference.
We took a leisurely drive to One Tree Hill and Cornwall park, met with lots of sheep and had AWESOME breakfast at the bistro. (They have since renovated and offer a new menu!). We enjoyed the panoramic views of Auckland but the cold wind got our noses dripping. The 14 degrees Celsius temperature wasn't too cold but wind can really make it feel significantly colder. We drove towards Mission Bay and caught sight Rangitoto Island (Also an inactive volcano). You can also check out the eateries and relax along the beach!
We got to Mount Eden, for a volcano walk. This is one of the 48 volcanic cones in Auckland and the craters were 50 METERS deep. These are dormant volcanos so you don't have to worry about lava, fire and brimstones.
We forgot how nice it is to take walks! We can only dream about strolling with such amazing weather in Singapore. Recall the days when you held your girlfriend/boyfriend's hand and walked gleefully. Nice isn't it?
We spent the rest of our time in Auckland enjoying the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Actually, the museum has more than war relics! There are natural history collections, exquisite Maori cultural artefacts and of course war relics like a WWII Spitfire/Zero Fighter.
For a country of about only 4.7 million, it has an extremely rich history and culture.
If you are craving for Chinese food in Auckland, we recommend going to Sunworld Chinese Restaurant (2A York Street, New Market, Auckland). They serve mouth-watering Chinese food in HUGE portions. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves dining there!
If you are looking for NZ gifts/souvenirs and uniquely NZ/Maori crafts, we recommend this one-stop shop (The Elephant House) at 237 Parnell Rd, Parnell, Auckland. As business people, we applaud the amazing shop concept that show case New Zealand talents and products as well as serve the needs of tourists all under one roof. It is common to find a gift store in most countries that sell commercialised Made in China touristy T-shirts and soft toys. We were able to buy uniquely Kiwi authored kid's story books, NZ honey, NZ skin products and NZ craft made by local people.
If you need more details from our itinerary, please drop us a message or email!
Next post: Part 2 Geysers, Maori Cultural centre, Te puia (Geothermal Valley) and a massive road accident...
Vincent & Debra Kwan, Founders of Hiro & Jack and stay-at-home parents with the odd life.
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