This post is about one thing: The best sunset I have ever seen in my entire life.
I’ve seen a lot of sunsets in my lifetime but none was ever so #earthporn worthy as the one I saw with Jono back in March when camped on the 90 Mile Beach in New Zealand.
Instead of talking about it, I’ve decided to simply post the photos and allow the sunset to speak for itself. My camera brings out colors as opposed to dulling them like most lenses. Otherwise, there was absolutely no enhancing or filtering done to them. Enjoy!
Like most Westernized countries, New Zealand has many domesticated horses. On any given drive across the country you’re bound to see them fenced in on grassy hillsides, being ridden by tourists across a country road, or jumped by locals for prizes at field day events.
Wild horses, on the other hand, are a rare sight to see. I was lucky enough to track some down and witness their majestic beauty as they freely trotted through the Te Aupouri Forest and galloped across the dunes behind the 90 Mile Beach.
The Ninety Mile Beach is one of the most unusual highways I’ve ever driven. At low tide it becomes a legitimate highway. It’s an alternative to state highway 1 and often a scenic route for tour buses.
But the 90 mile beach can be as dangerous as it is beautiful.
The tide can catch tourists off their guard resulting in their vehicles stuck in the sand and an unexpected overnight stay in the dunes behind the beach. Luckily, my kiwi friend, Jono, and I had deliberately worked an overnight stay into our Ninety Mile Beach plans. With plenty of fish to catch from the beach and another food source under our feet in the sand, we had all we needed to survive several days on one of New Zealand’s most beautiful and remote beaches.
The Northern point of New Zealand’s North Island has great significance among the native Maori people. The land there is predominantly Maori owned and untouched with plenty of native vegetation growing wild.
Once we passed through the last town of Kaitaia and began the 100km drive up the Aupouri Peninsula, I could already see and feel its sacredness.
Finally, I get to tell you about my favorite place on the South Island: The heart of the Mackenzie Basin from Lake Pukaki to Lake Tekapo. By this point in my travels around New Zealand, I had circled the entirety of the South Island. The weather had cleared up and we were on our way to a location I had been anticipating for days.
Soon, we would be swimming in milky blue glacial waters and viewing constellations through telescopes which would lead to one of the deepest reflections I would have during my many months of travel.
I had no idea what was in store for the next few days. In order to escape constant rainy weather in the Otago region, Carolina and I decided to drive south until we hit ocean. Unfortunately, we ended up right in the middle of the storm anyway!
All was not lost. We got to witness amazing windswept coastal scenery and a show of rainbows against the storm as we set up camp. The weather broke when we headed up the east coast and camped near the Moeraki boulders. From there, I executed a mission to see wild penguins for the first time.
Did I succeed in my mission?
“Oh, just wait until you get to the West Coast of the South Island.”
“Why, what’s there?”
“You’ll see. It’s stunning.”
I had been hearing about the West Coast of the South Island for weeks. The stretch of shoreline between Westport and Greymouth was argued to be one of the most gorgeous drives in all of New Zealand.
I first arrived there with Birgit after we had trekked the Abel Tasman. Black sand beaches, dinosaur egg-looking boulders, sunbathing seals, unbelievable rock formations, and spectacular sunsets are just some of the highlights we had the chance to witness. But the beauty of this place was deceiving. A flesh-eating evil was lurking right outside our car windows, ready to lunge at us from all directions for a taste of our warm, sweet blood.
The tent was packed and our bellies were full with a carb- and protein- packed breakfast by the time dawn broke. The 2-hour drive ahead would take us on the scenic Takaka Valley Highway to the car park for the Abel Tasman hike—one of 9 New Zealand “Great Walks.” Birgit and I decided to walk in part of the way from the end of the track to spend the night at one of its pristine beaches on Anapai Bay.
The two days we chose to do the hike were sunny and hot. Despite the sweaty conditions, the hike was enjoyable due to native bush shading the trail and sandy beaches with cool ocean water toeing at our boots. The paradise-like features of Anapai beach and the comfortable camping conditions made Anapai Bay the best beach I have been to in all of New Zealand.
A ferry ride, hitch-hiking, housesitting and couchsurfing had brought me not only to the South Island but to a point where I was ready for another road trip adventure! Many camping road trips around the North Island had made me an expert at this point. I had all the gear necessary. I even lined up my mode of transportation for the next month—a funny green car begging for a pet name. The only thing I had left to do was find a travel partner!
Once I found one, the first road trip of New Zealand’s South Island began. We jumped in the waves at a beachside campsite, drove on the scenic route overlooking the Northern fjords, and wild camped beside a cool, clean river behind farmland. This was the beginning of my adventures with Frogger the car.
Thinking about flying into Auckland near the top of New Zealand’s North Island? Only have a short amount of time to spend traveling New Zealand? Maybe you’re flying out of Wellington or from somewhere on the South Island and need to plan out your itinerary to get you there from Auckland. You deserve to see awesome things no matter how much or how little time you have!
Luckily, my best friend and I did all of the following (and more!) on a road trip from Auckland to Wellington in just 10 days. It’s perfect for someone looking to get a good taste of New Zealand on a time budget. Included are some tourist favorites as well as some spots requiring a bit of deviation.
Tall peaks and steep valleys covered in native plants and trees with huge rocky outcrops sticking up out of forested mounds stretched from either side of the winding highway 25. I could see the Bay of Plenty on the Pacific Ocean running along the horizon ahead. We had made it from the West Coast Taranaki region to the Coromandel Peninsula. Famous for its beaches and ecotourism, the Coromandel is a popular vacation spot for kiwi locals and foreign tourists.
Today, we had driven all day to make it to Hot Water Beach where visitors dig holes in the sand which fill with thermal water from hot springs underneath. Tomorrow we would find an overnight hike to do in the steep inland tropical forest. With nowhere to camp for free on the Coromandel itself, we ended up pitching tents just south of the Coromandel on district land with one of the most unique and hilarious public toilets I’ve ever encountered.
A biting chill set in as we tucked into our tent for the night on the first day of our 2 day hike in the Tongariro National Park. I shivered most of the night despite my 10 layers of clothing, sleeping bag and silk liner. I am surprised I managed even 3 hours of sleep between the cold and the pain in my feet from the tendonitis and blisters I developed during the day’s hike.
In the morning, I was simultaneously dreading and looking forward to the walk ahead. We would be reaching the highest peak at the Red Crater where outstanding views awaited us. The views turned out to be more spectacular than I could ever have imagined! The surprise of the landscape was the perfect distraction from my aching feet. But my excitement got the better of me—an additional hike up the Tongariro summit led to my utter defeat.
There I was, a German man and a Czech man in tow, approaching the crest of the hundredth hill I had climbed in the previous 8 hours. “Just one more, guys. Then we’ll see our campsite!” Peering over the top, I was greeted with yet another rocky valley with a steep hill to mount on the other side. “Okay,” I breathed deeply, “don’t hate me but there’s another one.” A long sigh of “UUUUUUGGGGGGGGGH” came from behind.
This was the Tongariro Northern Circuit. Sounds like a nightmare—and perhaps that’s the right description considering we were tramping all day in the shadow of “Mt. Doom” through film locations for Mordor, the dark, treeless setting for the evil enemy Sauron’s base in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) films. As 1 of 9 New Zealand “Great Walks,” the Tongariro circuit turned out to be equally as beautiful as it was challenging to hike.
Harald the German and I were all set for our road trip across the North Island. We had 15 days before I needed to be in Auckland. We kicked off the journey around the Lower and Upper Hutt areas of Wellington staying at a few campsites. taking a few short hikes, then heading to the east coast.
Not long after our departure from the city, we glimpsed green pastures calling to be rolled down, winding mountain side roads frighteningly steep, and deep river valleys cutting through the hills. Everywhere we turned there was something beautiful to see. In just the first few days of our journey, we saw tons of gorgeous scenery, resisted rolling down a very poo-y hillside, and then found a new way to deviate the norm: showering at a library.