Seven Days in New Zealand

By Kate Riley January 13, 2016

Hello! I’ve been waiting to share some of the pictures I took of our trip to New Zealand in November, today’s the day. When we visited we were fortunate to have perfect weather, it was mid November so the equivalent of May weather here in the states. At the time it was late spring, the hills were green and all the flowers were in bloom. We saw as much as we could with the week we had.

We limited the trip to the South Island this time and I followed much of the advice from readers when I asked you all where we should go. I can honestly say New Zealand is one of the loveliest places on earth. “Scenic” barely captures in words what’s in store for your eyes if you’re ever lucky enough to visit or live there.

We rented a car in Christchurch on arrival and drove all the way to Queenstown over the course of the week, making several stops for lodging at some lakes in between. The one thing I’ll never forget is the color of the lakes, they are bright turquoise which took my breath away! A shade of blue far brighter than the slate blue color of many of the lakes in the United States.

nz drive


 nz drive 2



Like I said, New Zealand is one of the most scenic places you will EVER visit, around every turn in the road is something beautiful to take in with your eyes, a green meadow filled with sheep, rolling hills, mountain peaks, majestic lakes, it was so spectacular. And yes Matt did quickly adapt to driving on the left side of the road (me too), it was bizarre at first but you get used to it!

The family spent half a day in Christchurch but before we left for the mountains we visited the Botanic Gardens in Hagley Park in the heart of the city, definitely worth the visit. We walked the garden paths with rose and herb gardens and azalea bushes two stories tall in full bloom. There’s a meandering river and cultivated gardens around every bend in the path. The conservatory was lovely and the Canterbury museum was so interesting, it was filled with amazing artifacts from the country’s history and also a large display of animals indigenous to the country.

 nz fam

 nz botanical


 nz fountain

Our first of four stops during the week was Lake Tekapo, and we arrived just when the lupines were in bloom, I took a long walk just to enjoy the beauty of it all, the scenery is so beautiful it feels fake at times!

 lake tekapo

 lupines lake tekapo


 tekapo lupines


Lake Tekapo has an observatory on Mt. John and is known as one of the best stargazing spots on earth. We didn’t spend the money on a tour (they’re pricey) but the locals told us of a place down the road to pull over and see the stars, it was pretty spectacular on that clear night. There’s an app you can use an point at the sky and it will tell you exactly what planet or constellation you’re looking at, and we really could see everything!

The next place we visited was so charming, Lake Wanaka, a beautiful lakeside town, filled with great restaurants along the waterfront and plenty of outdoor activities, I could definitely live here!

In Wanaka we splurged on a 2 bedroom lake view room at the Edgewater Resort. While we were there a wedding was taking place and a helicopter landed a hundred feet from our room we watched the groom surprised his bride with the getaway between their service and reception, so sweet! (I loved his blue tux too.)

nz flowers

 nz kate

  downtown wanaka

 kids lake wanaka

 lake wanaka view

 wanaka wedding

We have some beautiful wineries here in Sonoma and Napa but I also loved taking in the view of the mountain vistas and lake from Rippon Winery in Wanaka.

 rippon winery

rippon car

 rippon winery view

We spent our last 3 days in Queenstown which was pure bliss, it was one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever been in my life. We stayed at the Platinum Queenstown Villas with giant folding doors we would open to enjoy the view of the lake, I didn’t want to leave! Queenstown is nestled on Lake Wakatipu with a quaint downtown filled with fabulous shops and so many great restaurants.

 queenstown lake view

 queenstown villa

 queenstown dock


One clear morning the family stayed behind and I took a tiny plane to the Milford Sound, the plane was a little scary but thrilling too. It was more expensive to see it this route, the only other alternative is to go on an all day bus ride (4 hours to get there, 4 hours to get back) so I opted for the 30 minute flight over the mountains and it did not disappoint.

As many of you know the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies were filmed here so up in the air I caught glimpses of the beautiful fiords and mountains that were in parts of the films.


 nz mountains

The Milford Sound is idyllic, some fog had settled in and it was getting ready to rain later that day, but luckily not during my 90 minute boat tour so I was able to see all the waterfalls and wildlife.

 milford sound

 milford sound waterfall

   sleeping seals


When in Queenstown, be sure to take the Skyline Gondola for spectacular views. The restaurant is jam packed with patrons and tourists so we sat in the lounge and had a drink and rode the luge while we there, such fun!

 queenstown lake gondola view

There is no shortage of outdoor activities to take advantage of when in New Zealand (shown in New Zealand dollars), everyone we spoke with was always off on some adventure somewhere. Matt and my stepdaughter spent a day canyoning, we heard great things about white water rafting, and we saw plenty of paragliders coming down off mountains.

 activities nz


The one outdoor adventure I highly recommend is jetboating, we did a 30 minute tour on jet boat with Shotover Jets in Queenstown and the only way I can describe it is that was like a simulation theme park ride but it was REAL. It was so thrilling I was laughing out loud the entire time while the boat driver took us at high speeds through canyons and spun us around 360 degrees many times while jetting up and down a river, I swore we were going to hit the rocks many times but never did, it was SO much fun!

 jet boat queenstown


 jetboat queenstown


While there we ate the most delicious food, we ate wild salmon and lamb shanks with fresh vegetables, fish and chips, and the most delicious hamburger at Fergberer in downtown Queenstown (not to miss). We loved the dense sausages and meat pies, the fresh vegetables and flavorful eggs. Their juices were unfiltered so I thought they tasted better than our filtered often watered down versions. New Zealand’s dining experience truly was a culinary delight.

All the coffee they serve is similar to European style and made with espresso. We had French Press in the hotels but in the coffee shops there is no brewed coffee like we’re accustomed to in the States, but we adapted to that quickly choosing the ‘Americano’ or ‘Tall Black’ then adding cream.  Another thing I loved was that there was clean water ready to drink everywhere you go, in fact a help yourself at any time water station with glasses was very common in most coffee shops and restaurants.

New Zealand is famous for its sheep (and wool products) and it’s true, there are fields of them everywhere you go. I once got a crazy idea I could kiss a little lamb and even tried to (crazy I know, see picture of me chasing one below) I was so charmed by them all but they are fast and they run so it was not meant to be. I did come home with a beautiful wool beanie which I wear all the time. :)

 nz sheep

 sheep new zealand

If you’re curious about the camera I used to take most of these pictures (a few are from a cell phone) I don’t bring my bulky Nikon D7100 since the whole point is to travel light. When I travel I bring something smaller and more portable, I wrote about my travel camera here. Also I made this map which shows the route we drove over those seven days.

We had the most gorgeous weather, November was a perfect time to visit! It was a bit chilly in the mountains but we managed with a few layers we brought along. Most of the days were sunny and cool. Each family member had one carry on suitcase, we lived out of them for the three weeks as we toured Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia. I’ll share the final leg of the trip soon and some tips on international travel with family later this month.

I feel so fortunate to have visited this beautiful country and I cannot wait to return someday. I believe so much in the benefits of traveling to foreign places, to seeing and tasting new things, and meeting residents of other countries. The people of New Zealand are so happy and so kind! We came to the conclusion that when you’re surrounded with that much beauty it translates to a feeling of serenity that penetrates the soul and radiates from within, and we saw it was present in the people that live there. How fortunate they are!

Isn’t New Zealand gorgeous? Add it to your list of places to visit someday!


  1. I’ve always wanted to visit New Zealand so I really loved this photo tour. That water is incredible – its as blue as the sky! I was waiting to see the sheep in your photos. Too bad they were too quick for a kiss ;)

  2. Wow – thanks for posting the photos of your trip…they are breathtaking. I may never get there, but seeing the photos of the beautiful scenery sure makes me want to travel there soon.

  3. This is certainly going into my “wish list travel folder!!” Wonderful photos!! franki

  4. Absolutely gorgeous! I lived in New Zealand for a year and never got to the South Island, so a trip there has been on my list for some time. Your photos make me want to move that trip to the top of the list. And since you mentioned coffee, what I wouldn’t give for a flat white (a real one, not the Starbucks version) right now!

  5. This is so helpful! I’m planning a trip for December to Queenstown for 3-4 days and then hopping over to Melbourne for 9 days to visit a friend. Can’t wait to hear about your OZ experiences!

  6. amazing. gorgeous. quick question-did you have your hotels ahead of time, or did you wing it as you drove from place to place? thanks!

  7. My daughter will be back Friday – she is 18 and left the 29th of December to meet “family” that lives there.
    She has only sent me some pictures but they have all been beautiful – I can’t wait to hear of her adventure!! :)

    Beautiful pics!!

  8. HOLY WOW!!!!! So beautiful, you are correct,it doesn’t seem real, in fact a lot of your landscape photos seriously look like paintings!! What a wonderful trip, and a great experience for all of you! Thanks for sharing, it was neat to see!! New Zealand is on the bucket list for me….

  9. I have been to NZ a few times and never ceased to be amazed at it’s beauty. Wanaka is just so stunning, would never tire of looking across it’s expanse of water.

  10. So thrilling to see photos of my part of the world and hear that you had a wonderful time. There really is so much to see in NZ, and your trip only covered some of the southern part of the South Island. You took some incredible photos that truly showed the actual colours of NZ. Hope you get another chance to see the top of the South Island sometime, if you haven’t already been. C

  11. Thank you so much for sharing your gorgeous travel pics! A trip to New Zealand has been on top of my bucket list for longer than I can remember! Until then I will live the dream through others like you, who have already visited what I consider paradise!

  12. This is where I was lucky enough to live for the first 43 years of my life – the Mainland, as true South Islanders call it, lol. And even we are not immune to it’s beauty – I once nearly drove off the road as I rounded a bend by Lake Tekapo and was awestruck by the blue of the sky, the greeny-blue mirror-like majesty of the lake, and the gorgeous Lupines in bloom. We now live in Melbourne (since 2012, as a consequence of the Christchurch earthquakes) and seeing your fabulous photos and generous write-up has given my Kiwi heart a wee boost tonight. Xx

  13. It’s my favorite place on earth… As beautiful as your pictures are, they cannot begin to describe it. We stayed in Queenstown and got to go to Milford Sound where we were chased by Dolphins… It was so incredible. Unfortunately my husband got sick and had to take a 5-hour ambulance ride to Dunedin. All ended up fine and it turned out Dunedin is another great town – especially if you like rugby!

  14. We went to NZ and only did the North Island! Auckland, Coramandel peninsula and Bay of Islands on the northern tip. Our fall here is perfect time to visit there. We decided the green spectrum of our eyes and brain had totally burned out, and we lived in the Pacific Northwest so know green! It was just more! So beautiful and wonderful, welcoming people. A college friend of our son was from Auckland so his family hosted a dinner for us. Great opportunity to lean about the country. We plan on going back to do the South Island, If not for the long flight, I’d visit more.

  15. Beautiful pictures and what a trip to such beautiful places. You look great and your children are growing up! Thanks for sharing.

  16. Another New Zealand reader here! I’m so glad you enjoyed your time here. The part of NZ you went to is one of my favourites. This year we’ll scatter my mums ashes near Lake Tekapo. It’s a very special spot.

  17. So glad you enjoyed your trip around our beautiful country. We did a similar trip from Christchurch – Tekapo – Wanaka – Queenstown last March then went back to Queenstown again for my birthday weekend in September! I can’t get enough of the view from the skyline, or Mrs Fergs gelato for that matter… did you try it?! Maybe next time you visit you will have the chance to come to my home town, Auckland :-)

  18. What a large slice of heaven! Time to re-think my list of travel destinations. Thanks for sharing these stunning photos and your impressions of this magical place.

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