Our New Zealand Top Ten! (and Bottom Five)

by Andy and Liza

Two weeks in NZ probably doesn’t make us qualified to review the entire country but THIS IS OUR TRAVEL BLOG so we can do what we want. Here's each of our takes on the ten best things and five worst things about our new favorite country.


Liza’s Top Ten

1.    Wellington

This twee wonderland was our final stop, but it was totes my favorite. Artsy, breezy, hilly and wine-y, Wellington reminded me of a tiny, tropical San Francisco with more outdoor dining and fewer American Apparels. Also, after 12 days of meat pie, it was great to finally get back into the small plates game.


2.    Milford Sound

Fjords! Rainbows! Waterfalls! Mountains! Boats! More rainbows! Rainbows ON waterfalls! Waterfalls you can touch FROM boats! This is hands down the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. It was so incredible that I almost forgot that in order to see it I had to sleep on a top bunk and share a bathroom with 40 German hikers. Kind of. 


3.   White wine

This is sort of cheating because white wine is already on my Top Ten Favorite Things In Life List, but whatever. NZ is crushing the Sauv scene.  


4.    Ortega’s Fish Shack, Wellington

Final meal in country, and it couldn’t have been better. This tip came from new travel friends we made thru this blog, which makes every ounce of oversharing-induced anxiety totally worth it. If you go to Wellington, please go here and order the cheese plate. It’s the kind of cheese plate you’ll want to go home and blog about.


5.   Glow Worm Cave Tour in Te Anau

So, this is basically a Disneyland ride, only it’s in a real cave and the Peter Pan stars are living creatures. Technically they’re maggots, but they’re still really neat.


6.   The shower I took in a hostel bathroom after an 8-hour hike

The water pressure was terrible, the bathroom was not attached to my room, and the whole place smelled like Cliff Bar poops… HOWEVER. I was so dirty and tired that this experience made it to #6. Thanks Milford Sound Lodge for not running out of hot water after 43 minutes.


7.    The Bathhouse patio in Queenstown

That thing when you just sit down at the perfect table with the perfect drink on the perfect patio with the perfect view in the perfect weather with the perfect person and you totally forget you’re out of clean underwear because maaaaan…. It’s just really nice outside and look at that boat! I didn’t go zip-lining or bungee jumping or luging in Queenstown (I think you’re supposed to) but I did have an outstanding happy hour.


8.    Coffee

We drank the best of it in Wellington, but it was good everywhere. I’m trying really hard not to make the joke once you go long black you never go back but it looks like I just did. Sorry. 


9.   Waterfalls

Literally everywhere. Pouring out of mountains. Cascading through jungles. Drenching us on the deck of the boat as we tried to Instagram them. #NOFILTER, obvi.


10. Ponsonby, Auckland

We were only in Auckland for 24 hours, which was enough time to chat up a museum docent (she looked like my mom) who sent us to a great dinner at Orphan’s Kitchen in Ponsonby—a cool nabes with tons of bars and cafes and people who looked smarter than me.


Liza’s Bottom Five

1.    Accommodations

This is not New Zealand’s fault, it’s my fault for letting Andy book them. JK. I knew this was gonna be a low-budge trip, I just didn’t remember what the word “hostel” actually meant. Woof.


2.    Sandflies

They’re everywhere and they’re the worst.


3.   Meat pies

Also everywhere, and while not the WORST, def not the best.


4.    Visa restrictions

This is old news. But I’m still annoyed.


5.   The whole driving on the left side of the road thing

OMG no I didn’t drive. But I watched other people do it and it looked super scary.




Andy’s Top Ten

1.    Milford Sound

New Zealand's hottest night club has it all: Sheer, tree-covered cliffs crashing into the water. Glaciers. Waterfalls. Seals. Dolphins. And at least 70 new photos you think will make the Shot on iPhone 6 campaign. (Spoiler: They won’t.) Besides taking the cruise, we also did a somewhat sketchy hike to the top of Gertrude Saddle with views straight down into the Sound. From up there, it felt like standing at the top of Yosemite Valley.


2.    Wellington… just, all of it

This place bills itself as the “Coolest Little Capital in the World.” Sounds like an overpromise. It’s not. Imagine the hilly, Victorian row homes of San Francisco, the funky design/art scene of Brooklyn, the foodie scene of West LA, the coffee shop scene of Seattle and the brewpub stylings of Colorado all rolled into one quaint, walkable city. Oh yeah, and it’s surrounded by jungle. Whaaaa?


3.   The Nine Great Walks

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has collected nine of their most beautiful multi-day hikes and made them accessible to all. Or, if you’re an ultrarunner, you just blow past everyone and run it in a day. I did the 32-km Routeburn Track. Spectacular.


4.    Venison pies

Red deer were introduced for sports hunting about a century ago, but those buggers chewed up the whole countryside and destroyed everything. Whoops. So the Kiwis recaptured all the deer and put them in jail. Nowadays venison farms dot the countryside. And more importantly, they make absolutely delicious, gamey hand pies.


5.   The Te Anau Glowworm Tour

Imagine the magical waiting lines for Disney World rides but for reals. You walk through underground caves filled with rushing rivers and waterfalls to eventually sit on a boat in darkness under a ceiling filled with star-like glowing worms. Forget you, Walt.


6.   Ben Lomond Peak

I got out my first full day in Queenstown and ran to the top of this 5,735-foot peak just above town. You go through jungle, pine forest and eventually make it above the treeline to an alpine peak with parrots and 360 vistas. It’s almost like NZ’s Department of Tourism set you up…


7.    Glaciers next to jungles

I’m still not totally sure how this one is possible. But the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers sit mere hundreds of feet above tropical rainforest. It was bizarre and amazing and confusing and also amazing again.


8.    Patios

I consider myself a patio connoisseur. And let me tell you, NZ’s doing it right. We were so inspired, we just added a Patios! section to this site.


9.   The donuts from Picnic's

This town is in the middle of friggin' nowhere (i.e. Franz Josef Glacier). But somehow this "European-style bakery" (whatever that means) had the best donuts in the world. Passionfruit custard? It's unfair that this place exists so far away from me. 


10. Sexy alpaca farms

This has absolutely nothing to do with New Zealand. But next door to our idyllic hostel in Te Anau there was an alpaca farm. All day and night these stupid sheep/giraffe things would fight and hump and scream. The hostel was great, but the alpacas were definitely the best part.


Andy’s Bottom Five

1.    Sandflies

These buggers are mean as hell and all over coastal areas of the South Island. The bites are finally starting to fade.


2.    Daily wifi allotments

A lot of hostels and hotels only give you a cap of 100 or 200 MB a day that you can use.


3.   $$$

The US dollar is still stronger at about 2:3, but this is by far the most expensive place we’ll be. My butthole was clenched most of the time.


4.    Trails measured by time, not distance

Nearly all trail signs and maps are listed by how many hours it takes to hike them. Maybe it’s for tourist safety, but if you’re looking to plan run, it's mighty annoying.


5.   Left-hand driving

Utterly terrifying. Even if you're just riding in the car.


And that's basically all you need to know about New Zealand. And you didn't even have to watch all 4,000 hours of Lord of the Rings.