My Most Epic New Zealand Experiences (That Money Can’t Buy) From 6 Months Here!

girl omarama autumn fall new zealand

There is no way I can start sharing about my adventures in New Zealand without being asked what my best experiences are.

As I sat on the TranzAlpine train admiring the scenic views from Wellington to Auckland to catch my flight out of New Zealand back to Singapore, I began to list my best memories of the past 6 months in New Zealand.

tranzalpine new zealand, new zealand

I tried ranking them based on my favourite, most memorable and crazy experiences, and there was one thing I found in common – the most unforgettable adventures are the ones that money can’t buy.

And they are definitely the ones that I would not have been able to personally experience if I had chosen to visit instead of live in New Zealand.

My Top 16 Most Epic Adventures in New Zealand

1. Spending a night on top of Fox Glacier

fox glacier victoria falls waterfall edge, new zealand

Well, you can spend an enormous sum of money to have a qualified guide bring you up the glacier and spend the night overnight on the hut, but no way in hell can you pay for an experience to sleep on the ice on a clear day and night.

sunrise fox glacier, new zealand

Being able to freely roam the glacier is something that only the staff of a glacier company is privileged to be able to get the chance to do, and even then, you’ve got to have the company of the experienced ice guides to go along with you. Imagine all the logistics you have to do, like coinciding with the helicopter pick ups and drop offs, all the gear you have to bring, layers to keep warm, and first aid. No way in hell would I be able to do it alone!

fox glacier hiking, new zealand

It was a surreal experience being able to roam off the designated safe tourist track and go exploring the more – as the kiwis would say it – dodgy ice formations. Think walking under thin ice bridges which could break and fall on you anytime. Sliding through caves, which are essentially gaps between layers of ice which is large enough for a person to slide through one end and emerge from the other.

fox glacier ice wall, new zealand

It was nice and warm when there was still daylight, but as night fell, the cold winds were too much for me to bear. I was incapable of moving and watched as my companions set up tent and prepare dehydrated food for dinner, after a bottle of ice cold beer.

As we went into complete darkness, the most magnificent view came into sight. Gazing up above into the cloudless sky, we watched billions, and I mean billions, of stars twinkling. I have never in my life seen that many stars in my life. It was incredible.

Thinking it would be a fine idea to sleep under the stars without a tent, I froze my ass off as I squeezed as much of myself as I could with my companion in a single sleeping bag as the howling ice winds blew wildly around us.

sunrise fox glacier chop ice, new zealand

Waking up as the sky lightened, I opened my eyes to a painting of pastel hues in the sky. I’d survived the freezing night! Relief filled me, as we scurried to pack our things and prepare for the morning’s adventures.

2. Experiencing a cyclone for the first time, complete with total power outage

Our whole town experienced a complete epic power outage on 1 February 2018 as a result of a cyclone that hit. Because of the storm that was ongoing for a whole two consecutive days, the fierce rain and strong winds caused power lines to be cut.

cyclone power outage candle fox glacier new zealand
Setting up candles from the power outage

Food had to be rationed since we couldn’t cook, hot water was limited, and all the food supplies in the freezer were under the threat of turning bad.

Phone signals were lost, which meant we were cut off completely from the world.

All means of transportation into and out of the town were impossible. Roads into and out of Fox Glacier were closed because of landslides. Trees had buckled and fallen, blocking the roads. As such, tourists were trapped in town.

cyclone road damage, new zealand

Water was left untreated, so E.coli bacteria started appearing in tap water, rendering it unsafe for drinking. The whole town ran on generators.

The next day, we found the roads leading to the base of the glacier were broken as a result of the river surge, making it highly dangerous.

3. Skinny dipping

I watched the exhilaration of my new friends as they decided to go on a spontaneous dip in the nearby swimming hole while waiting for our dinner table at a restaurant in Franz Josef to be ready.

This involved stripping down to their underwear and dunking themselves in the cold New Zealand water, or simply, skinny dipping.

I finally experienced the thrill myself when I was peer-pressured to skinny dip for the first time at Gillespies Beach and Lake Hawea in the freezing cold. Of course, the conditions were right – no one in sight and crystal clear waters! It was then did I understand why people would rather choose to be freeee…!

4. Overnight hiking on Breast Hill

This was quite unplanned for. I only knew I had to go hiking in New Zealand at least once and experience real camping, or my trip to New Zealand would not be complete.

Little did I know what I was in for on my first real camping experience.

breast hill hiking girl, new zealand

Who knew that only after 35 km, 24 hours of hiking (including sleep) and ascending 2000+ metres high in elevation  did we finally see civilisation.

We almost ran out of food rations and the track had limited water supply, that we had to refill our bottles from a river on the second day when our water supplies that we brought ran out. I also had to hold my poop for hours until we found a proper toilet! (Ain’t nobody gonna poop in the wild!)

breast hill river crossing wanaka, new zealand

At one point leading to the river and along it, we felt really lost as the trekking markers were suddenly nowhere in sight. Good on my experienced outdoor companion to get our bearings right, even if it involved multiple river crossings and, of course, getting our shoes saturated in water.

5. Gliding at Omarama

girl omarama autumn fall new zealand
In Omarama during autumn <3

My best experiences are often done from the air (such as skydiving!), and gliding is no exception. Especially when my pilot was as excited about doing aerobatics (read: stunts) in the air as I am.

Gliding involves a plane with no engine, and flying is based on the force of the wind. The plane is first towed up to 5000 feet above sea level, and that’s when we are released from the power plane. It drifts and moves along based on the wind direction, speed and all sort of aerodynamics craftwork that only an expert can understand.

Most exhilarating of all was when we did a 360º flip and a loop and stall turn. What amazed me was how not one strand of my hair got messed up from the somersaults, the kind I thought you would when you hang upside down. That’s how fast we were flying for!

Here’s a preview caught on video:

6. Skydiving at Taupo

A bucket list item I’ve always wanted to check off!

I’ve found skydiving to be less scary than bungee jumping, and that the real fear comes from free falling. With a tandem jumper strapped on you (and I had a very handsome one), not once did it cross my mind that I might die.

There are skydiving companies everywhere around New Zealand, and apart from NZONE in Queenstown which I felt was too touristy, I believe every town that offers skydiving gives you an excellent experience.

I went with Skydive Taupo, and you can read all about my experience with them here.

7. Ice climbing

For a climber who’s been climbing rock for 7 years, this is huge to check off! It certainly was similar, yet different to climbing on hard rock.

For one, you use crampons to stick your feet into the ice, not your toes. Second, you can’t grip ice with your fingers, can you? So mastering climbing with ice axes is vital. Instead of pointing your knees outward when you climb like you would on rock, ice climbing requires you to climb with your knees facing the ice wall so that your crampons would stick in the ice.

ice climbing girl, fox glacier, new zealand

It was a fun day out trying to master ice climbing, an opportunity I would never get to have had I not worked with Fox Glacier during my Working Holiday experience!

 

8. Rock climbing on natural rock in Wanaka

Another big one for a rock climber – climbing on natural rock amidst a backdrop of gorgeous landscapes in Wanaka!

rock climbing wanaka, new zealand

9. 4WD at Queenstown

I went on a tour with Nomad Safaris and they brought us – parents included – to try out gold panning and bounce in a 4WD through the uneven rocky riverbed at Arrowtown.

Arrowtown is a beautifully preserved gold-rush settlement that has retained most of its original character and charm.

Nomad Safaris new zealand queenstown
Making tea before his gold panning demonstration

The Arrow River is said to have one of the world’s richest sources of alluvial gold. Because of that, these deposits led to the goldfish in the 1860s. It was on this river that our guide demonstrated to us how gold was panned on the river bed, and how the miners used to patiently pick the little pieces out amidst the debris and mud.

10. Cycling 35 km at Clyde and Alexandra

bicycle cycling otago central rail trail clyde, new zealand

Otago Central Rail Trail is New Zealand’s original Great Ride. a recreational passage of discovery, revealing truly breathtaking treasures not readily accessible by any other means except through cycling.

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Cycling the entire journey of it – all 152km – usually takes 3 to 4 days. It is a former railway route, with trains riding on it filled with coal for mining.

cow farm central otago new zealand landscape

35 km was a huge feat, considering I had never biked longer than 2 hours in my entire life!

It was a bonus that the views along the way were breathtaking, and the weather had been cooling. Bless Otago!

11. Wine tasting on a bike at Blenheim

waiheke new zealand wine tasting

If you’re a connoisseur of food and wine, you’re in heaven in Blenheim.

With 2,400 of happy sunshine hours in a year, and a climate where it cools at night and is warm in the day, these are the perfect conditions for the right amounts of acidity in wine. The wind prevents moisture and germs, making it ideal for producing fine wine, including its speciality sauvignon blanc.

Blenheim itself has more than 30 wineries, with 20 cellar doors within a 5km radius.

nelson great taste trail cycling wine tour, Great Taste Trail Nelson, New Zealand

Going on a self-planned wine tasting tour around Blenheim on bike is but the best way to explore the best of Blenheim!

12. Unlimited mussels on the Seafood Odyssey cruise at Picton

My oh my. Isn’t seafood a delicacy to everyone’s tastebuds? Imagine being on a cruise ship where you’re served unlimited amounts of mussels on a boat trip!

Seafood Odyssea Cruise offers premium seafood cruises departing from Picton Marina that are half-day-long from 1:30pm to 5pm.

We were on board the MV Odyssea, a 21m premium catamaran over two levels, allowing for a maximum of 90 people for cruises.

Along the way, we took in the stunning and unique natural beauty of Queen Charlotte Sound, learned about the region’s diverse aquaculture industry, and stopped by a Regal salmon farm.

regal salmon Seafood Odyssey cruise picton, new zealand

Regal salmons are bred in an ancient spring of the world’s clearest water, and continues in the cool depths of the Marlborough Sounds. Here, in custom-built farms, the salmons are left to grow in natural waters. The salmons here are celebrated for the incredible flavour, colour and texture.

mussel Seafood Odyssey cruise picton, new zealand
Cloudy Bay clams and Greenshell mussels

Sometime midway through out journey, we were treated to unlimited Cloudy Bay clams and Greenshell mussels, paired with Marlborough sauvignon blanc for the ultimate wine/ food match.

Talk about being in heaven on Earth!

13. Mud Spa at Rotorua

mud Hell's Gate Geothermal Park Mud Spa, Rotorua, New Zealand

Unglamorous, smelly and slimy.

Nowhere else would anyone choose to be covered in mud than in Rotorua. Known for its healing properties, the mud derived from the active geothermal interactions underneath the ground in Rotorua makes for one of the town’s highlights.

Apart from smelling like rotten eggs for a couple of days afterward, this made for a memorable experience, if only to see the amusement in my parents’ eyes as they covered themselves with mud just like how a mummy would be wrapped in bandage. :’)

Full story on this post: Mud Attack at Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park; Mud Spa, Rotorua, New Zealand

14. Crawling through dark tunnels and beyond fenced paths at Franz Josef’s Tartare Tunnels

If not for a local daredevil to peer-pressure me to cross beyond fenced gates, I wouldn’t have discovered this secret beauty.

tartare tunnels franz josef, new zealand

It involved walking through cold, pitch black underground tunnels in freezing waters, climbing over abandoned fences that were covered in mud, and climbing up rusty rungs through a hole in the ground to get here.

The hole was only about an forearm-long in width! Watch our mini adventure in this video below:

15. Scenic helicopter flight

One fine sunny day in Fox Glacier on the day I wasn’t working, I hopped on a scenic helicopter flight with Heliservices and was rewarded with this out-of-the-world view.

Really, only these pictures can do the views justice.

scenic helicopter flight snow mountain franz glacier fox glacier new zealand

 

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16. Riding my own horse in Glenorchy

It may not sound like a big deal riding a horse, but it was my first time handling the horse without any external support!

horse riding glenorchy new zealand

It was made all the more memorable being set in Glenorchy, where you have the mountains surrounding me, the scorching summer sun beating down on my skin, and the lupins blooming all around the grass plains.

horse riding glenorchy Dart River Stables new zealand queenstown

Watching the horses crossing the shallow waters of the river, it looked just like the scene of Lord of The Rings, so mighty, so imposing.

Read all about my fear of falling of the horse or my phone dropping out of my pocket as it galloped in this post.

New Zealand Experiences I Missed Out On

1. Hitchhiking

2. Jumping off swing bridges

hokitika gorge, new zealand
Swing bridge on Hokitika Gorge

I find it takes immense courage to do either. One comes in the form of real, raw courage, to be able to leap off and free fall down a water abyss where you won’t know if you’ll sink or survive; the other comes in the form of entrusting your safety to the drivers who are strangers to lead you to your destination.

Though, I believe my lack of courage to hitchhike stems more from the multiple rejections I will have to face, and the judgements these drivers may make as they drive my thumb by.

Who does she think she is? Too poor to get transport? A real traveller doesn’t travel with a luggage!


NZ will forever hold a special place in my heart. I’ve run my first overseas race here, celebrated Christmas away from home (Singapore) for the first time, and this is the first country where I’ve spent the longest time away from home. The last long trip I had was to Europe in January to June 2015 when I did my international student exchange in Rouen, France.

It’s also a heartwarming place where I’ve received countless of kindness and support for which I’m incredibly grateful for. From the tourism board to Air New Zealand and all those who worked to make this happen.

air new zealand flight view from plane town
Goodbye New Zealand… 🙁

I think I’ve experienced more in New Zealand than anyone might have thanks to all the generous sponsors. I’ve made four trips in NZ, over a span of these 6 months while on my Working Holiday Visa, covering most, if not all of the major towns around NZ.

I’ve had experiences I swore never to try again, cute towns I wish I stayed longer in, things I did which surprises me even til this day.

olivers clyde central otago new zealand
Olivers Lodge & Stables, Clyde

I actually like New Zealand the way it is now. Elusive, away from most of the world, peaceful, quiet.

Being based in Japan now (from June to July 2018), I can draw similarities between New Zealand and Japan’s hospitality and service quality. While I attest to how excellent, albeit formal, Japanese’s service quality is, the Kiwis’ warm hospitality is one I will always feel welcome to return to. It’s the kind where you will find yourself a friend from the very first sentence you speak to them.

Working at the front desk of Fox Glacier during my working holiday period definitely also raised the bar of customer service standards!

lake matheson, fox glacier, new zealand
Lake Matheson, Fox Glacier

Through these 6 months of travelling and living in New Zealand, I’ve turned travel into a way of life rather than a form of relaxation. I’ve always held this belief that all of us should be brave enough to pursue what makes us feel alive, feel happy, feel fulfilled.

I’m a person very much led by my heart, and that was part of what gave me the courage to live 6 months of my life differently.


Other useful posts on New Zealand:

 

 

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