Thursday, June 22, 2017

NZ: From A To Z

Bird watching in Auckland, NZ

Not too long ago, a friend/former colleague who now resides in Auckland sort of invited me (I say sort of because it only happened once in one of our many online chit-chats) to visit New Zealand. Of course, I didn't take that to mean that she was serious about it, and also, I was short of funds (translation: i am poor. huhu!) . But one unsuspecting afternoon, a group of friends from work thought decided that I was to join them to NZ to visit our common friend/former colleague (yup, the same one who sort of invited me hehe!) because a Seat Sale promo via Philippine Airlines (PAL) was going on that very day and they wouldn't miss this for the world universe. I wasn't given much time to decide, but only a promise that they will purchase my tickets on loan payable at a later date (their way to entice me, heh.), So, without further ado, I was already dictating my birthday and all other needed information for the purchase of my tickets from Manila, PH to Auckland, NZ and vise versa.

As the day of the trip came nearer, first in the agenda was to prepare my luggage with what I was going to take to NZ; with this, I mean clothes. Coming from a tropical country where 30°C 32°C 35°C was quite "normal", I was going to a place where single digit temp was the normal. Our itinerary was for 12 days beginning May 28, and June 1 is when winter starts in NZ. I didn't have any winter outfits, and I have zero winter accessories. Because I am poor (and stingy!), I didn't want to splurge on winter attire. Fortunately, good friends and relatives started throwing in really thick jackets and stuff. Well hello, I wasn't taking with me 12 winter jackets when my tiny luggage can only accommodate a max of 3 (because there were other things to tag along; toiletries and personal effects, etc). We were told that "layering" is the key to equip ourselves against the freezing weather. Layering here means undergarments that would generate heat in addition to the thick outer jackets one wears. So there you go guys, if you're used to tropical weather and plan to visit NZ in winter, bring as many undergarments as you can because they occupy lesser space. I bought a pair of HeatTech's (really expensive!) but didn't provide the kind of heat I expected from the price it commanded. Heh. Later on that.

From Manila, we had a stopover at Cairns, Australia, where we waited for probably an hour before we resumed flying to our final destination, Auckland. Over all, it was estimated to have been a 12-hour travel. PAL served good food (and in overflowing amounts!) making the looong trip quite bearable. We arrived ahead of schedule at around 3:00 PM (NZ time) and were greeted with the expected biting weather (a little over 10°C, and coming from 30ΒΊC++, that was indeed cold freezing!) but the welcoming smile of our friend from NZ and her little boy instantly melted the cold right there and then.

Before I start telling you my rants and adventures (hehe!) let me say first that this is a rather long post so hang in there (if only for the pictures haha!) and second, if you're reading from your cellphone, you may click on the photos to enlarge them,  though I must say that they are better viewed on bigger screens.

Arataki Visitor Centre

Bulletin Board where announcements and other information for visitors are posted
Our first tour of Auckland brought us to the Arataki Visitor Centre, which is the gateway to the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, having more than 16,000 hectares of native rainforest and coastline. It's 250km of walking and tramping tracks provide access to beaches, breathtaking views, and spectacular rocky outcrops, including the Hillary Trail, black sand beaches, waterfalls and giant kauri trees. (source: So, if you are interested with all that when you visit NZ, you may want to visit the Arataki Visitor Centre for details. We weren't able to experience what the Centre had to offer, but we were lucky enough to have had the opportunity to just go around and enjoy the scenery and take some photos of the place.

Some important reminders and rules for visitors

Upon entering the Centre

Inside the Centre

I saw this inside the Centre and it was being housed inside a terrarium. Interesting subject but what got me further interested is the accidental reflection. The reflection wasn't there when I took the shot, so it wasn't planned. 

Breath taking view from the Centre's balcony

At the Centre's entrance

Piha Beach

This lovely scene greeted us on our way down to Piha Beach

After our short stop at the Arataki Visitor Centre, our friend drove us to see Piha Beach. The wind was chilly, as expected, but that didn't stop any of us from enjoying the view and breathing in some very much needed fresh air..

A cute little thing I saw on the ground on my way to Piha Beach

Taking in the fresh air at Piha Beach

I thought no one else was in the beach aside from our group, until I saw this cutie enjoying the beach as much as we were ;-)

Hobbiton Movie Set

Our next NZ adventure took us to the famous Hobbiton Movie Set located in Matamata. Pardon my lack of knowledge of the LOTR saga and so I cannot say much about the books nor the movies (I havent seen one movie or opened a page from the book!) but the tour was so awesome that you'd want to rush home and watch all the movies and read all of the books at the same time! Our friend arranged for our tour even before we arrived at NZ. If you want to visit the movie set, you can also book your tour online here: There are several tours to choose from, and we opted for the day tour. It was such fun and the place was nothing short of magical! Here are some pictures from when we were there, but believe me, these pictures don't do justice to what one actually sees in real life at the Hobbiton Movie Set. If you're an LOTR fan, then i strongly encourage you to experience it for yourself; put it somewhere in your bucket list of things to do and places to go.

Ushering us in is this welcome sign

Beautiful landscape

Street signs to guide tourists on their path

Hobbit house

Hobbit house

Finding shelter in one of the trees  near a hobbit house, and also, to give you an idea of  how small or tall a hobbit house is

And if you really want to get inside, well, you have to bend a little or much, assuming you're taller than a hobbit ;-)

Hobbit farms
If you're a true blue LOTR fan, then you must know where this leads to ;-)
Inside the Green Dragon Inn, which was the meeting place for all residents of Hobbiton, who would gather in the warm surroundings of the bar to chatter about the day’s events. (, Our day tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set ends here where we were treated to a mug of refreshing non-alcoholic ginger beer

Where one can enjoy his refreshments with friends inside the Green Dragon Inn

A fireplace to keep everyone warm inside the Green Dragon Inn


A last look of the Hobbiton Movie Set  before we finally bid goodbye to "The Shire"

Hamurana Springs
After our full and wonderful day at the Hobbiton Movie Set, next in our itinerary is a visit to the breathtaking Hamurana Springs. There really wasn't much expectation on my part as to what to find or see here. Although, I did expect a little walking and of course, a good time with my friends. I was right in both aspects, and much more. The walking was met with fabulous sights made more exhilarating by the cool, crisp NZ breeze. We entered via a wooden bridge and we followed a path that led the way to our sight seeing. Here are some pictures from Hamurana Springs, and seeing them now, I must say that I failed to capture the beauty I have thoroughly witnessed from being there personally.

Hamurana Springs. We entered via the wooden bridge, as you may see from the picture

Hamurana Springs. Lovely. Enchanting

Hamurana Springs. Breathtaking, crystal-clear waters

Hamurana Springs. This tree looked quite frail because its trunk wasn't as thick as most trees there. But it didn't move an inch when I tried to push it hehe!

Hamurana Springs. Signs to guide travelers on their path

Hamurana Springs.  Gigantic trees offering shade and beauty at the same time

On our way out of Hamurana Springs. I had to crane my neck for this. But it was worth it

We still had some stops along Auckland, but this post is already running long and I have yet to tell you of our trip to one of NZ's famous destinations, Queenstown. From Auckland airport, estimated travel time to Queenstown is 1 hour and 30 minutes. We booked a morning flight scheduled at 10:30 AM, and in no time, we were at Queenstown where a temp of 0℃ greeted us, sending shivers down my spine. πŸ˜›

Aboard Air New Zealand. Nearing Queenstown

Still aboard Air New Zealand. View from outside my window. Snow capped mountains!

After landing in Queenstown and settling in our respective hotel, we didn't waste any time and went straight to our next adventure. First in our Queenstown list is a gondola ride wherein an overlooking view of Queenstown can be seen at the top. We didn't book in advance for this and just queued to purchase our tickets in the nearby Skyline Queenstown, which was just a few steps away from where we were staying. Since it was already lunchtime, we decided to upgrade our gondola ride to include a buffet lunch, which was to be taken at a restaurant called "The Stratosphere". Gondola ride + buffet lunch cost 65NZD. That was a bit pricey for someone as poor (and stingy!) as me but heck, it was buffet! (The poor/stingy, who love buffet can make allowances once in a while hehe!)πŸ˜‹ .

The Queenstown Gondola is the steepest in the southern hemisphere and takes you 450 metres above Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. (source: The trip going up was a short and easy ride, it took only about 5 minutes, and we were already at the top.

I took this photo from inside the gondola

Another picture I took while inside the gondola


This is how a gondola looks like from the outside.  Suspended by cables, you will be transported going up to witness the overlooking view of Queenstown

This magnificent view awaits those who reach Bob's peak, and the easiest and most convenient way to get there is by taking the gondola

Wait. I knew I said buffet, so lest I forget, here's a pavlova topped with grape, some cream, an orange, and of course, kiwi from the dessert choices. Sorry I failed to take more pictures of the food as I was so famished that I never, not once, glanced from my plate (except to get more food! Hooray, buffet! hehe!)

Milford Sound Cruise

Next in our itinerary is the Milford Sound Cruise. Again, I had no idea what this cruise was all about. Basing from its name, you'd think there was going to be some sort of concert or dancing aboard the cruise 😜, but no. Milford Sound is actually a fiord in the south west of New Zealand's South Island and is acclaimed as NZ's most famous tourist destination (source: wikepedia). Our friend from NZ booked our Milford Sound Cruise in advance and if you want to do the same, you may want to check it here: Our tour started when our bus picked us up from Queenstown at around 7:30 AM. Going out of our hotel and walking to the bus stop at 7 in the morning was quite a challenge as the temperature had dropped to -4℃ (my tropical mind was then experiencing some sort of a brain freeze as we walked along the streets of Queenstown. 😝).

The bus tour was really enjoyable and quite informative! We had several stops along the way for photo opps before finally reaching the Milford Sound Terminal where a boat was waiting to take us for a cruise that would last for about an hour and a half. The bus ride took around 4 hours before reaching the terminal, but there was no dull moment as I looked out our window while listening to our bus driver making interesting comments about the places we were passing by and stopping on. I was only able to take a few pictures during our stopovers because aside from the biting cold, we weren't given much time in every stop. I was presented with an interesting challenge in every bus stop; to take as many pictures of: the location + selfies (with friends) + portraits (of 5 friends), all in 5 minutes!😜

One of our stopovers. It looked really bright as the sun was out, but this place was cold. For me at least

To prove a point that it was indeed cold out there: we were standing on a ground of what appear to be ferns or twigs covered in icicles. brrrrrrr ... 😝

Another stopover before reaching Milford Sound Terminal. There was a stream down there and according to our bus driver/tour guide, a sip from it is like having a drink from the fountain of youth. Pity I wasn't able to get a sample of the liquid or even a picture from the stream because we had to get back on the bus in 5 minutes. Or be left behind. No use staying forever young if you miss your bus, right? 😝

Mirror Lakes, I wish we had more time here.

Mirror Lakes. Definitely one of my favourite stops. "Return time to carpark 5 min"

Mirror Lakes. I am in awe of this place. I have no words to fully describe the scene I witnessed and the feeling I experienced 

Mirror Lakes. So calm. So beautiful!

Mirror Lakes

The four-hour bus drive seemed like a breeze, and before I knew it, we have already arrived at the Milford Sound Terminal! While waiting to go on board, I took a photo of the beauty right before my eyes:

While waiting to board our boat for the Milford Sound Cruise, right before us is this enchanting sight

Milford Sound Cruise. On board the catamaran. Enjoying the beauty of nature


Milford Sound Cruise


Milford Sound Cruise. Moving closer as though you could actually touch this majestic creation of nature. This is probably the closest we've gone
Milford Sound Cruise. Craning my neck to capture this. Could be a rock climber's dream climb ;-)

Milford Sound Cruise. One of the many waterfalls you'll get to see while on the cruise.

Travelling the lengths of Milford Sound. What a wonderful experience!

Milford Sound Cruise

We promptly went back to our waiting tour bus to take us back to Queenstown after our unforgettable Milford Sound Cruise. It was already getting dark and by around 7:30 PM, we have finally arrived, making the whole adventure a full 12 hours (no complaints though for it was a full day with lots of fantastic memories!). I was almost certain that by this time, the temperature was below 0℃ , and I was right, of course (it was -2℃!). The pair of Heat Techs (brand of undergarment to keep you warm; the "layering" I described a while back) I had on wasn't of much help. Perhaps I needed 10 of it all worn at the same time to feel any heat, but I can never be sure! Though I'm positive that my wallet would never approve (upper and lower Heat Tech undergarment cost around 1,000PHP or 20USD each, making it 2,000PHP or 40USD a pair). I had to keep my tropical brain from freezing yet again hehe! To do that, I had to fill my mind with warm, happy thoughts: recollecting our full day at the Milford Sound produced a warm, fuzzy feeling all throughout my being,brains included, and that just did the trick. ;-)

Next in our Queenstown adventure is a short stop at Arrowtown. And per usual, I didn't know what was in there hehe! Our friend from NZ simply said that it is a neat place with architecture from the glorious past. That sounded interesting enough. After our breakfast, we took a taxi straight to Arrowtown. Travel time to Arrowtown from Queenstown was around 2 hours, but the ride was pleasant and the 2 hours, a breeze!


Historic Arrowtown. I found this bit of information as we were strolling around Arrowtown and took a picture.

On closer inspection, this is what i learned: Discovery of gold on the banks of the Arrow River in late 1862. Wow.

About Arrowtown: One of the most picturesque settlements in New Zealand, Arrowtown sits alongside the gold-bearing Arrow River. The town was established in 1862, during the height of the Otago gold rush. The settlement grew quickly as pioneers constructed cottages, shops, hotels and churches, more than 60 of which can still be seen today. (source:

Arrowtown has obviously taken measures in preserving some of its structures from way back; you'll find that most of the shops and museums standing there today still resembled the structures as shown in the black and white photos above . Walking around Arrowtown felt like being transported back in time; it gave me a feeling of nostalgia, everything looked and felt like a scene straight out of an old movie. Here are some of the pictures I took of present day Arrowtown looking much like olden day Arrowtown :-)

Arrowtown Lakes District Museum

Arrowtown New Orleans Hotel

Arrowtown Pharmacy

Arrowtown. No flashy signs or big billboards. Just like how it was back in the day

Arrowtown shops, except for the newer car models, I'd say that this looks like something you'd see from the set of an old movie :-)

Strolling around Arrowtown


Walking around Arrowtown

Walking past the stores and other establishments to see the other side of Arrowtown

Exploring Arrowtown

I think my friends were going to where gold was found in 1862 hehe!

Could this be where gold was discovered back in 1862?!! πŸ€”πŸ˜œ  Sadly, I didn't find any hehe! We were in a hurry to return to Queenstown because in a few hours, we would be flying back to Auckland. Maybe I'll try my luck again next time hehe! In my dreams! 😝

Arrowtown. One last look before returning to Auckland

Before flying back to Auckland and returning to my home country, I took some pictures of beautiful Queenstown. Every street and corner is postcard worthy! I would've loved to take more but the cold and chilly wind made it very hard for me to click on my camera (blame it on my tropical self hehe!). I tried removing my gloves one time to adjust and change my camera lens and my hands/fingers surprisingly didn't feel the cold, it felt nothing but pain from the cold! Ahh.. I wish we had more time in Queenstown (or in NZ!) to get used to this winter weather (usual temperatures when we were there ranged from -4 to 0 C!).

Beautiful Queenstown

Queenstown. Water Taxi, anyone? 

Bird watching at Queenstown

Queenstown. What a cutie!


Queenstown. One of the girls complementing the beauty of the tree ;-)

Patagonia, one of my favorite stops and where chocolate is divine ;-)

Reese Street, Queenstown

And lastly, the girls and their epic selfie at -4°C  ;-) But who could resist? I wouldn't pass the chance, not while I'm at beautiful Queenstown, that's for sure :-)

All things, whether good or bad, will have to reach an end. With a heart full of gratitude, and a mind overflowing with lovely memories, we bid goodbye to the beautiful New Zealand after 12 fun-filled days. The experience was priceless, thank you, NZ. Until we meet again... πŸ’–

Cheers, NZ! At Titirangi Road, Auckland πŸ’“πŸ’–