Day 10 | Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

This has got to be one of my top 3 favorite/most memorable days on this trip. As I commented before, instead of following our original itinerary (which would’ve put us in Day 16 for Mount Cook), we decided to chase the good weather. We were supposed to be headed to Wanaka (southwest of our destination) by now, but we decided to go northeast again just to get another good hike in.

Of course, heading in, we had to pull over for scenic stops…


Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park; Hooker Valley Track

We originally wanted to do the Mueller Hut track, but it required booking in advance during the months of November-April, and not everyone in our party was equipped to do such a strenuous hike. After looking through our options at the visitor center in the village, we decided on Hooker Valley Track, which put us at a good 3-hour turn around time, in time to make it to Wanaka by mid afternoon.

The track itself had little elevation change, but it had A W E S O M E lookout points including the Mueller Lake one. I see so many movies and advertisements with snow capped mountains and turquoise lakes, thinking, oh they’re just green screened or photoshopped, no way they could be real. THIS IS THE REAL DEAL, FRIENDS.

Unfortunately, shortly after, we had to cross a suspension bridge…which…I…extremely…dislike…if you remember from my post about the Blue Pools. It was windy and once again had a maximum of 10 people at a time. Everything between the first and second suspension bridge was full of twisty elevation changes and flat lands. Once we got off the second bridge, we got to a little shack aka “rest stop” for people to take a breather, go to the bathroom, or just enjoy the open window view. From our understanding, that was a mark of 2/3 of the way. Being completely transparent, I was ready to turn around and go back at that point.


…and so we did, about 10 minutes later. I wasn’t feeling too great, and we were all getting pretty hungry, and we were told that there wasn’t a “must-see” view later on in the route. (I know, there wasn’t the satisfaction of finishing the hike, but our bellies were calling) plus the weather was already making a turn for the worse at the time.

Hill Country Salmon Farm

We had passed by this farm several times now, first time from our first Christchurch->Omarama drive, then the day in Lake Tekapo, then now we’ve all made up our minds to get some salmon sashimi for lunch. The farm had salmon feeding, sashimi, and pre-packaged salmon to cook later. After reading so many great reviews on TripAdvisor, I’m not sure that I was quite as impressed. It was “ok” sashimi, and I feel like we’ve had better in Auckland and definitely better now that we’ve eaten another 3 pounds in Akaroa.

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We AirBnB-ed a holiday lake house from this lady and it was a huge home! There were 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a giant kitchen, and wonderful lake views from the balcony. As always, we like to cook a meal at home, so we used all the necessary items – oven, electric wok, pots, and pans to make mac and cheese and lamb bake.

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Day 9 | Mount Aspiring National Park + Wanaka

HIKING. What everyone tells you to do in New Zealand and one of the biggest parts of our trip! I’m so excited to be able to share this post with everyone, finally, after putting it off for half a week (hey, I needed the rest).

Mount Aspiring National Park; The Blue Pools

We drove out 2 hours to head to the Blue Pools (something that’s been on my Pinterest travel bucket list). Every scenic drive is worth staying awake for, even at 8am, and we stopped twice to take some pictures before heading into the park. Below is a 10am picture of Lake Wanaka:


The Blue Pools track itself only takes about 25-30 minutes each way. I had such a hard time staying on the correct side of the road (the left side) and kept running into people who were heading out. The air quality was so pure, and one could hear birds chirping and the nearby waters rushing. It was truly a peaceful and calming experience!

There were two bridges we needed to cross before getting the view of the final destination, and I AM NOT A FAN OF SUSPENSION BRIDGES! First off, the max number of people that could be on one was 10…so I kept counting us and making sure there wasn’t another 5+ people coming behind or ahead of us.


After two wobbly bridges, we made it!! The scenery was so rewarding, and it was everything I’ve seen from online and more! The water was so blue due to the glacial waters and since it hasn’t rained in a few days, nothing has been tossed around and it was so icy and clear. We saw a group of German boys do bridge jumping into the waters, and it reminded me of the (once in my lifetime) experience when my friends and I cliff dived in Hong Kong.

Lunch Break in Wanaka: Kai Whakapai

Our first time in the little town of Wanaka was rewarded with a sunny, outdoor lunch, and unique food many of us have never tasted! Our group does the whole “5 people share 4 plates” kind of thing, and I make the decisions 99% of the time, so I always get full say in what we eat. This is what I ordered for everyone:

1. Kumara Fritters with Saute Spinach, Haloumi, Poached Eggs, Roast Pepper and Tomato Salsa
2. Turkish Lamb Skewers served with warm flat bread, spiced Moroccan style couscous, beet root, feta salad, and tzatziki dip
3. Ciabatta French Toast with Central Otago roasted stone fruit, vanilla mascarpone, and sweet, raspberry, and almond toasted dukkah
4. Soft Tacos with chimichurri marinated fish, black bean & quinoa salad, coleslaw, and tomato chili & lime salsa

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It isn’t over until we get dessert! Black Peak Gelato is pretty popular in the area, and we opted for the Chocolate and Tim Tam flavor, while our friends chose Central Otago apricot and chocolate.


Mount Iron Track

We figured we would squeeze in a short 1.5 hour hike before heading back for the day. The first 10-15 minutes or so of the hike was zig zag, gaining elevation, and it was so tiring! The trail was very dusty, the weather was extremely hot that day, and we were wearing winter clothes…that combination made the first half of the hike almost miserable, but the views = always worth it! Recommendation and note to self for future: wear short sleeve shirts and cotton pants along with the outwear. Otherwise, your wardrobe will forever be in winter mode.

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Extremely thankful to have had great sleep that night…and onto the next one the next day, Mount Cook!

Day 8 | A Day in Lake Tekapo

Before I get in depth for the next few posts, I just want to prelude with the fact that I did A LOT of research before we arrived to New Zealand. We didn’t magically know where to go all the time and where to see, so I mainly read up on TripAdvisor, Pinterest (yes) and fellow avid travelers’ blogs. That being said, I had a very good idea of what I wanted to see and do and how to allocate our time wisely. Though, I did not have an itinerary (for all of you that are wondering and asking if I can send you mine); we planned day by day according to weather and availability of excursions. 

We woke up early at 8am on the 19th (and I can’t even tell you which day of the week it was) to drive ~an hour and half to Lake Tekapo. There were plenty of things to do – from the hot springs to hiking to horseback riding. Our first stop was at the Church of the Good Shepherd. Of course, it was filled with tourists, but it remained so serene even with all the background noises while it sat on Lake Tekapo.

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Then, we walked around the lake, took some pictures with the selfie stick, and enjoyed extremely good weather. These are non-filtered photos!! What you see is almost as breathtaking as what we saw in person. The Lupin was already starting to bloom (apparently full bloom by April) and I wish we could’ve stayed here a bit longer!

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For lunch, we headed to the #3 ranked restaurant by TripAdvisor, Reflections Restaurant. 1) The view was one of THE best! 2) I had no idea what to order, so I just ordered all their lunch specials… It was really nice to soak up the sun while sitting outside by the lake and waiting for our food. I don’t quite remember what we ordered…except I remember the sirloin steak on top of waffle fries. THAT WAS DELICIOUS.


Then, we headed off to Mackenzie Alpine Horse Trekking, ranked #2 in Lake Tekapo to-do! We picked the 2-hour Mountain Top trek, that took us to the top of Mount John (perfect – we were going to hike it anyway) and downhill to the lake, and finally through the forest back to the stables. I heard plenty about it being a phenomenal view and trek, but WOW my pictures did not capture the full effect whatsoever!

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BTW all 5 of us woke up really sore the next day…also a little bit about my horse: his name is Jeff. He apparently is their ‘cheekiest’ horse…he loved eating and being distracted and he could never keep still. Everyone else’s horses were just chillin’ and mine was running around the stables before we even began. He pooped all the time on the trails and slowed me down while everybody went ahead.Thanks for being my friend for 3 hours, Jeff.

We headed home after what became a 3-hour trek, and the men cooked for us that night! Dad’s fried rice and Mr. Huang’s stir fry brussel sprouts (a close rendition of mine). Starved and exhausted, we ate and rested early for the next day: Mount Aspiring National Park!

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Day 7 | Christchurch –> Omarama

After three days in Auckland, we flew to Christchurch to spend the next 10 days in the South Island. We laanded around noon and headed straight for lunch in the city…Abalone Thai Restaurant! I ordered myself an egg wrapped Pad Thai (my second time eating it!) Oh, and the airport is also where we met up with an additional 2 members of our party: Dad’s high school best friend and his wife. We used to travel with them when I was little, so this was nothing new.


When we finished lunch and grocery shopping, we headed 194 miles southwest to Omarama, where we would be staying for the next 3 days. Since New Zealand roads are paved according to mountains, there was room for plenty of windy roads, low mph, and scenic stops.

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We arrived at our little abode around 7:30pm, and it was still bright! The boss lady welcomed us and offered us New Zealand milk and showed us to our apartment and even provided us with a rice cooker and electric wok! She showed us the way to the nearest supermarket where we could load up on groceries for dinner and breakfast.


It was exciting to shop limited options and still be able to pull off ground beef elbow pasta and brussel sprouts for dinner. That marked our first day in South Island, and I deemed it…relaxing yet productive.


Day 6 | Rotorua, New Zealand

We left Auckland dark and early in the morning at 6am to head to Rotorua, a town a 3 1/2 hour drive away to go to the Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland. This was still Dad’s second day driving on the opposite side of the road, so the ride was a little bumpy and windy. The view was phenomenal (sunrise) along with the many sheep we saw along the way.


We arrived at Wai-O-Tapu just in time for the Lady Knox Geyser demonstration. Apparently, “Lady Knox” has nothing to do with the geyser itself…she just felt like naming it after herself. It happened (insert however long ago) when the Maori people were washing their clothes by the creek, and one of them was dumping soap in the geyser hole. Soon after, it started bubbling, and it wasn’t long before until the geyser shot up 50 meters. The park tour guide did a demonstration with a pack of ‘environmentally safe’ soap.


Afterwards, we walked to the park where there were 3 trails, color coded and separated by distance. The entire loop took about an hour and half, give or take 30 minutes for photo stops. To me, the entire place smelled like rotten eggs + burnt popcorn…not the best kitchen aroma one can give.

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I won’t walk you through all 25 spots, but I’ll walk you through some of my favorites (no filter!) 🙂

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This is stop #5, also the “Artist’s Palette” All these different colors signify a different chemical.

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Stop #21: Champagne Pool! This is everywhere all over “must-see” of New Zealand and Pinterest, and of course, we had to go! I couldn’t figure out why it was so…smoky, and it only got worse throughout the day because we came back at the end of our walk, and it was even more covered.


Devil’s Bath – this was…oddly breathtaking. The entire was a mixture of a lime green version of the corn starch we used to play with in elementary school. The picture does not do it justice! This was the last stop on our route.


Ended the day at Pig & Whistle and had the BEST seafood clam chowder I’ve had in my life. That was a great prelude to a 2 hour nap on the way home ^_^

Day 4 & 5 | Auckland, New Zealand

After three days in Tahiti, we decided to trade in paradise for a bit cooler weather. We landed in Auckland, essentially skipped 23 hours ahead and straight into a typhoon. Oh, and then there was the getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road…

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During the three days, we stayed with my mom’s college friend and her maid of honor. She and her husband picked us up met us at the airport and took us to eat Chinese noodles (yay Auckland!) before heading to One Tree Hill. To me, it was the Twin Peaks (SF) of Auckland. Sadly, the rain was already hitting and we were being blown away at the top of the mountain. Nevertheless, checked off the bucket list.


Then, we met one of Dad’s past colleagues from China, and his family invited us to eat with them in SkyCity (the sky tower in the middle of downtown). The SkyCity had a bunch of restaurants on the 1st-3rd floor and the Orbit 360 dining at the top; I particularly enjoyed stir fry lamb and the firecracker prawns. We were just making up for the lack of Asian food from Tahiti, heh.

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Afterwards, we walked on Queens St., where most of the things were ‘happening,’ but it just seemed like everything was closed by 9pm and no one was really out and about like they were supposed to be…

Our second day in Auckland was brightened by a few hours of sunshine. We woke up early to steady rain and marmite for breakfast. WOW. I don’t know that I have words to describe it…but you’re supposed to put it on toast, and it’s pretty similar to Australia’s Vegemite.


We were able to locals and do some grocery shopping with the family and have lunch at home. Before that, we went house hunting (for fun) with the family! They took us to Long Bay, where a new subdivision of houses were being built / ready to be designed. I’m a huge fan of the glass balcony stuff! Here are some pictures in case anyone feels like investing in a million dollar home in Auckland…

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Everything is measured in KG and that threw me off! The fruits and vegetables were super colorful, and the seafood/meats were extremely fresh. The lunch menu included fresh mussels, salmon sashimi, tomato and egg, and bak choy.

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By mid-afternoon, the sun was out and we headed to Devonport, the small town across the bay. The views are incredible, and the grass is lush, and the waters were so blue! The little town had a European boardwalk vibe and I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon before the clouds and rain came back.

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We finished the day by having some steak, Blue Cod, and red wine at home before calling it early for a 5am wake up tomorrow for Rotorua!