When I tell clients that there’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” honeymoon, this trip report is exactly what I have in mind. Hollie and Matt worked with me to design an AMAZING two-week honeymoon in New Zealand that combined outdoor adventure, scenery, food, wine, beaches, their love of the “Lord of the Rings”, and more. It was the perfect fit for the two of them, and they were kind enough to send me their detailed feedback when they returned.
Overall, our trip was amazing. New Zealand was just as stunning as advertised. It is a gorgeous country, with very friendly residents and a lot of ‘Kiwi’ pride. It was a long trip, so I decided to organize this travelogue by cities rather than days in order to more easily summarize. My apology as it is still rather lengthy.
We arrived in Auckland on an early Wednesday morning (NZ time) after leaving at 11 am from Boston on Monday, with a stopover in San Francisco. We took Super Shuttle from the airport to our first hotel, the Sofitel at Viaduct Harbour. This hotel receives high marks for many things, but mostly for how we were treated upon check in. Since it was 7 am, I had assumed that the hotel would allow us to keep our bags at the desk until we could get into our rooms later that day. To our pleasant surprise, the hotel allowed us to check in immediately. This gave us time to get our belongings situated and for us to freshen up after two very long flights. We found this hotel to be in a great location. We had a room overlooking the harbor, so beautiful views of the water, yachts, and city. We were within walking distance of all kinds of shops and restaurants as well. Beyond shopping and eating, we visited the SkyTower to take in views of the city. We watched several jumpers take the plunge, but decided against the SkyJump (190 meters down) as we wanted to make sure we lived beyond the first day of our honeymoon!
We picked up our rental car the following morning and headed toward the Coromandel Peninsula. We took the Pacific Coast Highway for most of the drive which had great views along the water. We ate (and drank our first of many NZ beers and ciders) in Coromandel Town and stopped for a short hike at Long Bay. On the walk was a Kauri Tree – largest tree I have ever seen (see picture attached). After this, we headed to our next accommodation. NZ travelers should beware of the extremely winding narrow roads that will inevitably be encountered. Many roads are also gravel and run along steep cliffs with barely enough room for a car to pass. This adds to the challenge of driving on the opposite side of the road.
Our second night stay was at the Pauanui Pines Motor Lodge. Upon arrival, we knew we would like this place immediately. Before checking us in, the caretaker greeted us, asking about our day – where we had been (Coramandel), where we were going (Waitomo), what we were interested in seeing in Pauanui and where we might like to have dinner. She provided us with brochures that she had collected from other guests, as well as directions to the beach, info on the local eateries and “town center”, and offered up some golf clubs so that my husband could sneak on the golf course that the lodge backs up to. At this small establishment, they provided free internet, which I learned was a true bonus as we made our way to other hotels in NZ. The room was very comfortable; each one resembled a small cottage and included a kitchenette. Our favorite part of Pauanui was a shop in the town center called the Chocolate Pretzel. They had incredible muffins. The beach in Pauanui is also beautiful. We took a morning stroll there before heading to our next destination.
On our way to Rotorua, we stopped in Waitomo to check out the glow worm caves. We took the 4 hour Lost World tour where we abseiled 300 feet into a cavern. It was really great; the glow worms looked like stars in the pitch black caves. We would definitely recommend this tour, but be aware that the only way out of the cave is up, and that involves a 100 foot completely vertical metal ladder, which seems never ending when you’re climbing up it.
In Rotorua, we stayed at the Millennium Hotel Rotorua for two nights. This hotel was also in a great location, within short walking distances from the Visitor’s Info center, the Rotorua Museum, plus tons of shops and restaurants. We were able to park our car for most of the stay, which was a pleasant break. This hotel was okay, but could definitely use some refreshing. From Rotorua, we took a bus to Matamata to visit the Shire (Hobbiton Movie Set from the Lord of the Rings). I had been looking forward to this part of the trip for a long time, and I was not disappointed. Peter Jackson has made sure that every detail was accounted for, and it truly showed in the Hobbit houses, gardens, and the Green Dragon pub. I would recommend this tour to all LOTR fans. Also in Rotorua, we rode the Skyline gondola up to the top of one of the mountains; I took in the view while my husband did several Luge runs. Other adventures in Rotorua included ziplining with Rotorua Canopy Tours, and the Swoop Sky Swing at Agroventures. All were great. Lastly, Rotorua is known for its thermal pools and sulfur smell. You cannot escape it.
We left Rotorua and headed south. When planning our itinerary for NZ, we asked to see the real ‘Mt. Doom‘. We found ourselves literally at the foot of the famed mountain staying one night in the Chateau Tongariro. This stop helped break up the drive between Rotorua and Wellington. The hotel, upon arrival, is quite breathtaking, backing up against the snow-covered mountains. However, it is located (literally) in the middle of nowhere. There is one bar for skiers a few feet from the Chateau, which we walked to for a drink, but not much else. In addition to the location, upon entering the guest lounge/lobby, we felt as if we entered a time warp. At any moment, it felt like the ghosts of celebrities from years past could float into the room with their cigarettes and martinis. While the lounge has huge windows that gaze upon the mountains, we were really unable to move beyond spooky feeling for the rest of the stay. (I also likened it to the movie ‘Clue’ where all the characters fatefully ended up at a mansion only to be doomed.) The rooms themselves definitely require an update. We preferred not to use the shower, the doorknobs were awkwardly high (seemingly for giants), and there was no AC, which made sleeping pretty uncomfortable. WiFi was available only in the lobby/lounge, and there was a charge. The silver lining was the restaurant. We had a really delicious meal, with a pleasant server and a great bottle of wine.
After Tongariro, we had a 4 hour drive to Wellington, where we stayed for two nights at the Museum Hotel. We enjoyed the hotel overall – good location located directly across the street from the Te Papa museum and walking proximity to many stores and restaurants. We also enjoyed the quirky décor throughout the hotel. We tried to dine at the Hippopotamus restaurant onsite, but failed to make reservations (our fault) and missed out. Since we were all dressed up and still hungry, the host suggested that we check out the bar menu in the lobby/lounge area. This was a great idea. We ordered several glasses of wine and a few small plates. It rained most of the time that we were in Wellington, but it allowed us to rest for a bit and not feel guilty about spending our time indoors (eating, drinking and shopping).
We took a ferry from Wellington, through the Cook Strait to Picton on the South Island. We had premium lounge tickets for the ferry, which were worth every penny. The ferry takes at least 3 hours, and the lounge had tons of couches, blankets, pillows, beverages and food. It was much more comfortable than expected. After arriving in Picton, we picked up our next rental car and drove to Nelson where we stayed at the Grand Mercure Monaco Apartments three nights. We really enjoyed this hotel. It is a beautiful little village with overhung and overflowing flowers in every nook and around every corner. We had a one room apartment, which was quaint and comfortable. We also had an amazing meal at the restaurant on site, the Orangerie. Another plus is that this hotel is centrally located to dozens of wineries, and not far from Abel Tasman. On one day, we did a self-guided wine tour, visiting 3 different cellar doors, and on another, we drove to Abel Tasman National Park, taking a boat cruise from Wilson’s, and hiking around a loop at the Anchorage beach.
From Nelson we flew to Queenstown via Christchurch. Flying internally within NZ is very easy and very quick. We stayed at the Queenstown Sofitel for three nights. The Sofitel brand continues to impress us with their friendly service and top notch accommodations. This hotel is set back from the other main streets, but is within short walking distance to everything you would be interested in doing in Queenstown. I visited the spa during our stay and had a relaxation massage; I would highly recommend as it was literally the best massage I’ve ever had. Queenstown ended up being our favorite place in NZ. There are tons of shops, restaurants, and adventure activities. We hiked to the top of the mountain under the Queenstown Skyline. This was followed by a ZipTrek tour and mountain biking for my husband. We also took a bus to Milford Sound, where we got the real Middle-Earth feel. The Milford Mariner took us through the sound – it was beautiful ride but extremely windy.
We originally thought this was a once in a lifetime trip, but after visiting, we have no doubt we’ll be back again someday. Next time – we’ll reverse the trek, starting in Queenstown!