12 yo Colby Binders New Zealand Family Adventure

Binder Family


Are you seeking inspiration for the ultimate New Zealand family holiday? Wouldn't it be great to read a genuine kid's-eye view of what New Zealand is REALLY like, in their own words?

12 year old Colby Binder and his family recently spent 27 days on a New Zealand self-drive adventure we created for them, and he documented the highs (and occasional lows) on his outstanding travel blog. Follow Colby as he hikes, zip-lines, cruises and mountain-bikes around the country with mom, dad and sister Sierra in tow. Find out what he thinks of the local delicacies (including the ones that looked like worms), natural hot springs, waterfalls, fiords, and the native seals & dolphins he gets up close to.

Colby's brilliant, unedited, no-holds-barred account of his trip is a must-read for anyone planning a New Zealand tour and wondering which locations & activities will delight the whole family.

THE FAMILY: Jon Binder, Tania Binder, Sierra Binder  (10) and Colby Binder (12)

Thanks, Colby!

It's only our first day....

The Flight

Our 13-hour red-eye flight to New Zealand didn’t go quite like we expected. We boarded at 10pm hoping our plan of booking the seats with empty seats in between us would let us stretch out and sleep but that wasn’t the case

We get on, sit down and soon realize that it’s going to be a full flight. How did all these people book seats in the past few hours? We take off and only 30 minutes in, the flight attendant comes on the PA and asked if there was a doctor on board and flight attendants rush by. Not a relaxing way to start.

They serve dinner at midnight (which none of us have). We try to get some sleep but it is hard because the flight attendant keeps talking and the lights are on. They finally turn off the lights at one AM we keep trying to sleep for the next six hours. We look outside at the stars which are everywhere, and when it finally starts to get light out (interesting outside), the flight attendant asks us to close the window shades. 

We try and find something interesting to watch. I do 1.5 hours of homework. They serve a mediocre breakfast. We land. We sit on the tarmac for fifteen minutes and they don’t say anything. 

We get off the plane, clear customs and get in a nice van, Everything feels backward (we are sitting backward, they are driving on the wrong side of the road and the driver’s seat is where the passenger seat should be. Finally, we make it to the hotel.

New Zealand!

Day 1

Auckland is a great city, a great place to start our New Zealand adventure. There are a lot of cool shops, cafes, restaurants, and more. We put our bags down and go get lunch at a nice cafe. All the food is good, but kind of cold. After that, we start walking around, kind of confused because everything is backward; when crossing a street, you look, right, left, right and all the cars seem to be driving on the wrong side of the road. 

Ferry to Devonport

We talk to an Auckland tourist volunteer and she tells us that we should take a ferry to Devonport. We get on the ferry, and twelve minutes later, we are there. We walk down the street which is really cute with a lot of shops and cafes. There is a place called Sierra and it is a coffee place. The sign there, says, roasted daily which we find funny. After that, we head over to an ATM to get some cash. The money is so cool in New Zealand, it has a see-thru windows and there is two of every type, what I mean by this is that there are two (for example) fifty dollar bills that look different. Come on America, you can do better. 

Next, we climb a hill (that is an extinct volcano) and get aerial views the city and suburbs. There is also a old naval base that we play at. We walk down the hill, get some ice cream and head back to the ferry. 

On the ferry, we talk to some people that are in from Christchurch that are in Auckland for a cheerleading competition. After we got off the ferry, we went to an electric bike convection. We made smoothies by pedaling and got to ride some electric bikes/scooters. It was really fun. After 5.5 miles of walking, we headed back to the hotel and went to our room to rest.

After resting in our room for two hours, we decide to go to the Auckland Sky Tower (the tallest building in the southern hemisphere). Along the walk, we stop at Sierra Coffee, to get some banana bread (which is really good). We see some seagulls and pigeons. The seagulls are pretty cool; smaller, and all the yellow parts (beaks and legs) at home are a cool blood orange. The pigeons are the same; still the rats of the sky. We then go to the Street Market which had some amazing street food. It was like a farmers market but all the places were selling really good food to eat: dumplings, crepes, asian style tacos etc. 

The Sky Tower

We then walked over to the Sky Tower. We went up the elevator (which had a glass floor and glass doors) to the main observation deck. You could see miles in every direction. There were also glass floor panels that you could stand on. The glass was thirty-eight millimeters thick, which they claimed was as strong as steel. We then went up to the upper observation deck (which was 123 feet higher). You could see even farther in every direction. 

The Sky Tower was great, but we needed dinner. We went to a really good Greek place. Everything was so fresh and tasty. After 9 miles of walking (20,372 steps) we went back to the hotel to catch some well-deserved sleep.

Two days around the Coromandel 

Day 2 and 3

We really enjoyed Auckland but we were ready to get some real adventure in. After leaving Auckland, we headed two hours away to do a hike called Cathedral Cove.

We got a good lunch at the brewing company (they didn't have that many options seeing as it is a town of 700).

We then hiked for forty-five minutes to the Cathedral Cove beach. The hike was amazing, tons of wildlife and amazing views. The hike had rollercoaster-like hills. We then made it to a beautiful beach with amazing archways and cool caves.

After the beach, we drove back to the place we were going to be staying for two nights. It is a really cool bed and breakfast, with six different cottages up on a hill, overlooking the town of Thames. It is owned by a really nice family that has their house on the property. They have a really cool reception desk area and two trampolines.

The Bike Ride

The next day, we went on a rainy, forty-mile bike ride. We went through pastures of cows. There are 10.4 million cows in New Zealand (compared to the 4.7 million people).

The second half of the ride consisted of biking through canyons and a one-kilometer long tunnel, that was only lit by very-dim orange lights, giving the tunnel a creepy feel.

After the ride, we went back to the place that we were staying and got in the hot-tub. Our two days in (and around) Thames, were action-packed and not for the for the light-hearted.

You Gotta Goto Rotorua!

Day 4 and 5

Rotorua was another very cool adventure spot. We started our day in the cool town of Thames, got breakfast, and headed out on our two-hour drive to Rotorua.

Learning about the Maori 

Once in Rotorua, we went to Te Puia (a Maori culture center). We learned about the culture and ways of life as a Maori. In the park, we saw the tallest geyser in the southern hemisphere erupt (it seems like everything in New Zealand is the tallest or best in the Southern Hemisphere). We also saw mud-pits and learned about the endangered Kiwi bird (ever wonder why New Zealanders are called Kiwis?).

After checking in to the hotel, which was pretty nice, with a bathtub bigger than most hot-tubs, we went back to Te Puia to watch a Maori culture performance and have dinner. We learned about how they say “kia ora” which means 'good health' and 'hello'. They also touch nose to nose to show as a sign of respect. We watched them perform the haka which was really intimidating and perform a handful of other cultural dances. Tania and Sierra even went on stage to perform.

After, we then got a really good dinner. It was probably the best buffet meal that I had ever had. They cook the meat by heating stones, putting them in a pit, and then cooking the food over it. All the flavors were on point, and everything tasted very fresh.

Shortly after dinner, we headed back down to the geyser and saw it erupt again. It was really cool when it was dark out because some there were blue and green lights pointing at it giving the water a very cool glow.

Ziplining and Mountain Biking

The next day was a very adventurous day. We woke up, got a breakfast of meat and egg pies (which they have a lot of in New Zealand) and headed out to Rotorua Canopy Tours. After checking in and getting all geared up, we drove fifteen minutes into the rainforest for our ziplining tour. Before we even got onto the path, they handed me a worm. I held the worm in my palm and all of a sudden, a bird swooped down and took the worm straight from my hand. It was so cool.

We walked into the forest, (which was absolutely stunning) stopping along the way so the guides could point out plants and animals. Throughout the forest were animal traps which they told us were for possums and rats. Possums are at the top of the food chain in New Zealand and have destroyed a lot of the forests since their introduction in 1837 when the Australians brought them over. They have thrived here with no predators and they grow to three times the size as they were in Australia (twelve pounds). Just a few years ago there were over 80 million possums and over 40 million rats. Rats can have twelve babies every twelve weeks and start reproducing at twelve weeks. Now, trapping and killing efforts have started and they cut their populations in half. The long-term goal is to kill all the possums and rats in New Zealand. The harm that possums bring is very bad. They eat a lot of tree leaves and end up killing the trees, they eat a lot of the eggs of the birds, and in turn, kill much of the natural forest.

The tour was amazing, there were amazing swinging bridges, ziplines. All of the features had picturesque views of the forest. The longest zipline was over 1,200 feet long. It was definitely a very amazing, (and exhilarating) experience.

After the canopy tour, we went for a decent lunch (but it definitely was not worth the price) and then went mountain biking in the Whakawareware forest. It was so cool. The entire park is a mountain biking paradise. The downhill singletrack was so flowy and really fun. It was one of the best downhills that I had ever done. The uphill, on the other hand, was not that fun (for me). The bike that we rented for me was a one by ten but the easiest gear did not work and the shifting was pretty bad so my chain fell off five times. Once we got to the downhill though, it was all good, the bike was full suspension and had a lot of travel, making it a great downhill bike.

There were so many cool trails and many of them through California Redwoods that they planted over 100 years ago

These two days in Rotorua were amazing, spectacular even. All the activities were amazing and it was absolutely beautiful. Rotorua is definitely somewhere I would go again. My family and I had a great time.

Cool Hot Springs and the Tongariro Crossing

Day 6 and 7

We started in Rotorua, sleeping in until 8:00. We woke up, did some homework, and then headed out for breakfast. It was the same spot that we had gone the day before. We got a chai latte and some egg pies (the savory pies are a big thing in New Zealand).


After driving just over an hour, we stopped at a park in Taupo to begin our 3K walk to the Taupo Falls. In the park’s playground, there was a zipline that was well over 100 feet. I am telling you, the parks in the United States are totally lame compared to the parks in New Zealand. In the U.S. you would definitely have to pay but it was free and nobody was there (other than ourselves).

Along the hike, there was a really cool spot. It had a natural waterfall of hot water from a thermal spring with hot-tub temperature water. Under the waterfall was a natural hot-tub that felt really good and beyond that, the water mixed into the river water. It was the perfect temperature. We did not even know that that was going to be there. It was a very cool surprise.

The hike was supposed to be our “warmup” for the next day’s Tongariro Crossing. It felt more like a separate hike to me, four miles with a lot of hills. Nonetheless, it beautiful. Where we were going was supposed to be a waterfall but “waterfall” is not the word I would use to describe some strong rapids. It is (apparently) the most visited natural attraction in New Zealand but if people want to see a waterfall, that is not where I would tell them to go. It is along the Waikato River which is the longest river in New Zealand. The river starts in Lake Taupo and flows north, towards Auckland (remember that we are in in the southern hemisphere, and rivers flow to the equator). The causing of the “waterfall” is that the river is 300 feet wide and then it gets down to 40 feet wide. Now I know I sound pretty negative about this whole “waterfall” thing, so I will tell you, it was one of the coolest rapids that I had ever seen.

After the hike, we went into the town of Taupo for some dinner. We went to an amazing Indian place. All the food tasted so good and it was very authentic. We were litteraly, licking the plates clean

Tongariro Crossing, the biggest and coolest hike of my life

Once dinner was over, we drove to Tongariro, where we were going to be doing our hike the next day. The hotel was fine, the only problem was that our bedroom door was so squeaky. You could not open it without a horrible sound. Now that is not usually a problem, but when you are sleeping with someone that gets up a lot in the middle of the night (my sister) it gets a little annoying.

The next day, we woke up, got breakfast, and got on a bus to take us to the start of the Tongariro Crossing hike which is supposed to be one of the best one-day hikes in the world.

I haven't done a lot of hiking in my life but this hike was amazing. It did not feel like we were on Earth for most of it. The beginning felt like we were on the moon, and the middle part felt like we were on Mars.

On the way back down the other side, there were very cool thermal pools that had a turquoise color to them. I am very proud of what we accomplished. The sign at the beginning said it would take 6.5 to 8 hours to do the hike (without stopping) and we did it in 5:45 with a twenty minute stop for lunch and at least four other five-minute snack stops.

The hike was amazing, undoubtedly one of the coolest experiences of my life. 

To Wellington, and Beyond!

Day 8 and 9

These two days were full of travel. We started in Tongariro and quickly got up, packed and embarked on our four-hour drive to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. The drive was nothing special, a lot of sheep and windy roads. The one cool thing was that along the way, we drove by an Icebreaker outlet. We ended up stopping there for a while. Everything was 60%-80% off. Usually, it is hard to find something that is not upwards of $100, but the most expensive thing we bought was $96. My dad was very happy (as it is his favorite brand). We made it to Wellington and checked into our hotel. It was a HUGE room. There were two bathrooms and two bedrooms. The room that my sister and I stayed in was bigger than a normal hotel room. It even had its own bathroom.

We headed out to explore Wellington and found a cool market set up in an underground garage and got some snacks. Then we checked out Te Papa, a cool New Zealand history museum, with an amazing WWI exhibit that had 2.4x lifesize wax figures with so much detail (I mean there was hair on their arms). It was really interesting to see how much New Zeland was involved and affected by WWI (especially because we are here at the 100th anniversary of the end of the war).

After the museum, we went to a really good Malaysian place for dinner. All the food was delicious. The only problem is we did not get enough vegetables (yes, you heard me right, I am a kid saying that there were not enough vegetables). This problem is consistent around New Zealand. The side salads are barely only three pieces of lettuce.  One place we went did not even have any vegetables on the menu - only pizza. This is something that you will hear about when I talk about the next day.

The next morning, we got up early and headed out to the ferry terminal. We were going to be taking a ferry (which is like a small cruise ship) from the north island to the south island.  We got on the ferry and headed on our way for the 3.5 hours we were going to be spending at sea, crossing the Cook Straight. We were lucky, the water was very calm when we went. The ferry ride was pretty boring on the first 3/4, but once we got to the islands off of the South Island, it was really cool. I would have still flown on a twenty-minute flight and saved four hours of travel.

The drive to Abel Tasman was beautiful but we were distracted by our podcast (The Young Ben Franklin - great story for the whole family).  Once we got there, we went to Park Cafe, a pizza place. All they had there was pizza. No vegetables. They had two salads, a pasta salad (with no vegetables) and a quinoa salad (with no vegetables). Other than that, was all pizza. The pizza was actually, pretty good. It was just ruined by the fact that it took over an hour for the pizza to come out.

The place that we are staying is really nice. It is a modern, small hotel, with an amazing hot tub and horses in the backyard. We actually got to pet them. The travel was not fun, but once we got there, it was totally worth it.  We are excited to start our Abel Tasman adventures tomorrow!

Let's spend some time in Abel Tasman 

Day 10 and 11

Able Tasman National Park is a very fun place to spend some time. We stayed there for three nights and there was more than enough to keep us entertained.

Hiking & Kayaking

We started our first day, getting up early to start our 7-mile hike to Observation Beach. It was a beautiful hike with tons of cool trees and amazing birds the whole time. Once we got to the beach, we played in the sand and on the rocks, before the guide finally getting here at 12:00. Our tour was a hike out, kayak back.

The guides give us a delicious lunch with great sandwiches and a very good brownie for dessert. The coolest part though was one of our guides got a couple fresh mussels from a rock. He opened them up and we ate them raw. It was very salty but I thought it was very good (though my sister spit it out when she ate it). I was one of the coolest things that I had ever eaten.

After finishing lunch, we got our life jackets and water skirts on and got ready to head out on our kayaking adventure. I had never been in the type of kayak that your legs were covered so it was really cool. It was like a cocoon of warmth for my legs.

Along the tour, we saw New Zealand Seals which are actually sea lions. There was already an animal called a New Zealand Sea lion so they just named the new animal "New Zealand Seal". We also stopped at a sand outlet off of an island. You can only see it/stand on it at low tide. It was very cool and we had good views in every direction. After we got off of the island, we got back on our kayaks and started our longest section of the kayak journey back to the base. Along the way, it started to rain. It was so nice because our legs stayed dry. It was so satisfying watching the rainfall on our kayaks.

We arrived back at the beach at low tide which is a kilometer out from the shore.   The difference between high tide and low tide is over 20 feet in height.  (The highest in the world is in Canada at 50 feet.)  They had to bring out water tractors to bring us to shore.

When we got back to the room, we took an amazing hot tub and Sierra and I played outside with the horses.  And dinner was really good; we finally got some vegetables!

Super Low Tide 

The next day (Tuesday), we took a water taxi to another part of the National Park called Bark Bay. The ride should have just taken 15 minutes but they managed to make it take an hour because of various stops, etc. along the way. The hike to Anchorage (New Zealand, not Alaska) was through a native rainforest and was very beautiful. 

We went very fast on the hike so we could make it to Torrance Bay in time to cross the beach during low tide (if we had to cross during high tide, it would take an extra one hour and a half). It felt like it was about to be a tsunami because all the ground was really wet and there were boats just sitting on the sand. Every square inch of the enormous beach was covered with open clamshells.

Feeding Eels & Nelson

The next two days were filled with unexpected fun and interesting travel.  We started our day in Abel Tasman and drove to Nelson (an hour away).  Along the drive, we stopped for breakfast at a funky and unusual restaurant called the Jester Cafe.  We got a decent meal but the highlight and surprise was feeding eels at the creek.  Yes, I said eels...and some were over 2 feet long.

The Best Flight of My Life

Day 12

We had a quick dinner at a burger place and then headed to the airport for our forty minute flight to Christchurch. After checking in at the kiosk and putting our bags on the conveyor belt to check them, we sat down at a cafe to do homework. When it was time to board, we scanned our tickets, and headed out onto the tarmac to board the small turboprop plane from the back (the cargo was in the front. Now if you were reading the whole section, you noticed that I never mentioned security. I probably did not mention that because it is boring right? Wrong. There was absolutely no security. I mean none. No metal detectors, no guys checking out bags, no nothing. It was like boarding a bus. But we were not boarding a bus. We were boarding a plane. I was so confused the whole time. After checking in, I thought we would go through security but all the restaurants were at the front of the airport. I thought that you would go through security before you boarded the plane but we did not. It was so weird. I guess they trust people here.

The flight was amazing, unlike any flight that I had ever been on. After boarding, we quickly took off. The flight attendants were the best that I had ever had, on any flight, ever. There was one that talked to us for twenty minutes (the flight was forty minutes long). We talked about what we had done and what we were going to do. She gave us recommendations of places to go. She asked us where we were from and we told her that we were from right north of San Francisco. “Do you live near Mill Valley?” she asked. We told her that we lived right north of there (keep in mind that she is from New Zealand). Turns out that her dad is really into music so he had taken her to Mill Valley to go to Sweetwater. She said that she has been there three or four times. It was such a coincidence.

After we arrived in Christchurch, we rented a car - which was unfortunately not a Toyota Highlander like the others we had rented.  We made our way to our hotel in Christchurch which was pretty nice.

Mt. Cook Here we Come!

Day 13

The next morning, we got a quick breakfast (at one of the many shipping containers that are all over Christchurch post the earthquake in 2011) and then headed on our way to Mt Cook/Aoraki, the highest mountain Australia/New Zealand.  The drive was boring relative to other drives in New Zealand until we reached Tekapo which sits on the bluest lake I’ve ever seen.  And as a bonus, they had another zip line.

Hooker Valley Hike

We drove another hour to our hotel, The Hermitage, at Mt. Cook. This hotel was surrounded by beautiful, snow-capped mountains. Since our hotel room wasn't ready we went for a hike through Hooker Valley. It actually ended up being nice because we got $80 to spend on food at the hotel and we ended up going to a really nice Thanksgiving dinner because of it. (Note that the dinner was still $92.)

Tasman Glacier Tour

After waking up early, we headed down to the activities desk to check in for our Glacier tour around Mt. Cook. 

We hopped on a bus and they told us about the land around it. We learned about the glacier that we were going to be seeing. It was a super glacier, spanning 130 kilometers (81 miles), it was one of the longest in the world. Now it is still the longest glacier in New Zealand but its twenty-four kilometers (14.5 miles) seems pathetic compared to how it used to be. 

After a short walk, we got life-jackets on and boarded our small boat that went pretty fast. They showed us some icebergs that came off of the glacier and told us about the 10-90 rule with icebergs. This means that 10% of the iceberg is above water and the other 90% is below. In our small boat we got to touch the icebergs and even got to pull some ice out of the water and eat it (which was really hard). 

Sheep Shearing in under 2 minutes

The tour was amazing but we wanted to start our three-hour journey to Queenstown, the ‘adventure capital of the world’. Along the way, we stopped at a sheep farm. They had a sheep-shearing show and we got to see how they shear the sheep. It is so cool, the wool comes off like a blanket. Professionals can sheer a sheep in under 2 minutes and average over 150 sheep a day. Tough way to make a living.

We also got to pet the sheep, feed the lambs milk and the adults some normal food, and watch Border Collies herd the sheep. It was so cool. My mom, sister and I agreed to never eat lamb again (notice how I did not mention my dad - shame on you!).

4 Adventurous Days in Queenstown

Day 14 to 17

After finally making to Queenstown, we dropped our bags at the hotel and headed to downtown. The downtown of Queenstown is hustling and bustling-the largest downtown that I had ever seen for a town of 25,000 (though they predict that in ten years, the population will be ten times larger at 250,000 people). We got a good dinner at a Malaysian place and then got some ice cream at a really good ice-cream place called Mrs. Fergs, it is owned by the same people that own the world-famous (just kidding) burger place called, Fergburger.

E-Mountain Biking & Escape Room

The next morning, my dad and I went mountain biking. while mom and Sierra checked out the town. I rented an electric mountain bike. It was awesome. We biked over 20 miles on really technical single-track so it was still a big workout. After we went to the famous Fergburger. It was really good but I like Belcampo better.

Luge & Zip

The next day my mom, Sierra and I hiked up to the top of Queenstown mountain and did luge rides and ziplining (yes, I love ziplining) while my dad went downhill mountain biking. The luge riding was super fun and the zipline had the steepest tree to tree zipline in the world.

Jet Boating

Our last day in Queenstown we went jet boating up a river. It was really fun and the driver did a lot of spins. After an hour of jet boating, (over twenty miles) We hopped off and boarded our Funyacks. They are inflatable kayaks.

Doubtful Sound & 3-Day Routeburn Track

Day 18 to 21

These four days were full of adventure and the amazing natural beauty of the world.

We started early in Queenstown and got on a bus to start the three-hour drive to Lake Te Anau. The drive was full of a lot of sheep and cows but nothing past that. The driver was very funny.

Doubtful Sound Cruise 

Once we got to the lake, we hopped on a ferry to take us to the Wilmot Pass. The ferry was pretty cool, but not very exciting. Once we got to the Wilmot Pass, we took a bus over it and saw a lot of waterfalls along the way (this is still all part of our journey to get to Doubtful Sound).

The bus ride was beautiful but we were all ready to get to the sound. We got on another, larger, boat that we would be touring Doubtful Sound in. The ride out to the ocean was stunning but it was mostly the same the whole time.

After getting out to the ocean though, that was a different story. We saw penguins swimming in the water, we saw sea lions on some rocks, there were big humpback whales going so close to the boat that if I were lower down to the water, I would have been able to touch them. The captain cut the engine and said that was the first time that he had ever done that. He also said that this was the calmest day that he had ever had in his twenty-seven years of being a captain. We did the math and we assumed that he works 300 days a year and three trips a day and then we multiplied that by twenty-seven and got 24,300 (check the math if you like but I am pretty sure that that would be a waste of time). We started moving again but shortly after a pod of over forty dolphins started surrounding the boat. One jumped so high it was crazy. It felt like they were putting on a show for us. One swam around the boat for so long. It was the coolest thing that I had ever seen in the wild. It 100 times better than the whale-watching that we did in Maui (though that was still amazing).

The captain started the engine again after the dolphins left and headed back into the sound. We saw some amazing waterfalls but we were all really satisfied with what we had seen. We were definitely not expecting to see some more dolphin, but we did. Deep into the sound, the captain got on the loudspeaker and said, “You’re are not going to believe me but there are some more dolphins at nine o'clock.” His voice said this with surprise, “I have never seen dolphins this deep in the sound before.”

We went back to the dock, over the Wilmot pass, back onto the ferry, and then finally back on a different bus to the town of Te Anau. We looked around for dinner for a little while and found a sign leading to an escape room. We followed the sign to the building which looked really run-down. We got in the lobby and booked a slot. We were all expecting nothing special from this one but it would be something to do.

Routeburn Track

Now, I am not going to get into too much detail in case one of you end up doing this at some point but it was amazing. All the details were amazing and they definitely put a lot of detail into it. It was the best escape room that I had ever been in. (and I had been in four before that one).

Routeburn Track Day 1

The next morning we slept in a little because it was our last night of sleep before our Routeburn Track. We headed down to their office for some breakfast and met our guides and the other people that we were going to be hiking with. The first day of hiking was amazing. It was 11 miles long but so beautiful. We started in a forest and then got over the tree line and got amazing 360 degree views from the top of Key Summit. We then went back down for lunch. We then hiked to a waterfall and then onto our lodge. The lodge was amazing. It was like a nice hotel. Much nicer then I thought it would be. In the lodge, they have a nice dining room and professional chefs. For dinner, we had the rib-eye and a big desert, which was delicious.

Routeburn Track Day 2

The next day, was a 9-mile hike with lots of climbing. We started at 9:15 and went to lake Mackenzie. After that, we hiked up for a little while before going over the tree line. There were amazing views and we could see the ocean really far away from the top of the mountain. Sierra and I were at the front of the group with a guy from Spain that climbed Nepal for fifty-three days. We had lunch and saw a helicopter land to drop off supplies at the hut. 

After a nice lunch, we walked and reached the highest point on the whole hike. We then hiked down the hill for a while. After that, we went up an optional hill that, at the top had killer views. It was amazing. After that, we hiked down for a few miles to the next lodge. This lodge was really nice. After a delicious dinner, we played games and my mom and Sierra played Twister.

Routeburn Track Day 3

The next day was the shortest of the hiking days. It was all downhill and pretty easy. We set a slow pace and gradually went down the mountain. This day was not as hard or stunning as the other days but it was still beautiful.

The end of the track was bittersweet. We were happy because we had completed the Routeburn but sad because we had really enjoyed the experience-we met a lot of cool people. We were one with nature for three days. It was also weird seeing cars. We had been away from the modern world for almost three days. There was no wifi, no cars, no nothing. It was really sad to see on the bus when people got cell service. Everyone just looked at their iPhones to see what they missed. I wish the world was always like it was with no phones. People were playing games, talking to each other, and everyone felt very present. Those were some of the best three days of my life.

These days were definitely some of the best of my life. The Routeburn was so satisfying to complete and I am so grateful that we got to do this.

Going back to Queenstown felt so weird. I had been there, but everything felt different. I felt like I had just gone into the future. It was so modern and everyone was on their phones. I can’t really describe it. For dinner, we went to the Malaysian place that we went the first night. The fire alarm went off and we all had to evacuate. The fireman came in full gear running, getting the fire-hydrant ready. It turns out it was caused by burnt seeds but it was still really exciting.

That night we went to and ice bar which is a bar made out of all ice. I mean everything. The walls, ceiling, glasses that the drinks are in, the seats, etc. It was amazing but really cold. 10 degrees F to be exact. They gave us fur coats and gloves but that was not enough. We were all cold. The drink glasses were all ice. It was so amazing. Sierra loved it and was dancing. I took off my sweats and jacket and sat in the ice throne.

Lake Wanaka

Day 22 and 23

Climbing Waterfalls in Wanaka

These two days going to and in Wanaka were full of adventure. We woke up in Queenstown, got breakfast and headed out to Queenstown's little sister, Wanaka. The drive was quick, only one hour. Along the way, we stopped to see where bungy jumping was invented. My mom did it 20 years ago and she will be the one to tell you, it is so much different. There are crowds of people watching daredevils jump off a bridge. My mom said that it was $70 when she did it but now it is $250. I don't know why someone would pay that much for a fifteen-second jump but they do, and it means free entertainment for me.

After arriving in Wanaka, we got lunch at Big Fig, a place that we would go three times in two days-once for breakfast, once for lunch, and once for dinner. It was really good, healthy food, with a make-your-own meal style. We want a place like this to open in Marin.

After we had lunch, we walked around the cute town of Wanaka. It is a lot calmer than Queenstown and seems more like a liveable place. It is not as majestic though. In Queenstown, the mountains shoot up from the town, with the tops, just rock. Wanaka does not have the same feel. There are rolling hills around the town but it does not compare with the feel of Queenstown. If you are in New Zealand for enough time, I would go to both towns.

 Puzzle Museum

We then went to a really cool "puzzle museum" right outside of town that claims it has the worlds first super-maze. It took us an hour to complete, then we went inside the museum to check out the optical illusion exhibits. There was a tilted room that was so weird because the water looked like it was going uphill. There was also a chair, that was on a track and it looked like it was going up but it rolled up the track. Afterward, we went into a room with faces that looked like they were always looking. They seemed to be 3D but in reality, they were holes in the walls.

The museum was really cool but we were all tired so we checked into the hotel. We realized and did homework for a while and watched some shows. My dad and I went to pick up some burritos and tacos which was so nice because I had been craving a burrito for a while and they are not common in New Zealand.

Waterfall Climbing

The following day, we got up and headed out to do Via Feratta. Via Ferrata is rock climbing up a mountain using ladder rungs that are drilled into the rock the whole way up. Along the route, there are swinging bridges and tightropes. There was one point where I hung off the side of the bridge and the ground below me was over 100 feet. There were three carabineers and two were always attached so it's totally safe, but it was the first time that I was responsible for clipping myself in and out (unlike ziplining where they do that for you). I felt safe the whole time even though it would not have been too hard to detach completely. Every now and then, I would get tired and I could use the short-lined carabiner to attach to one of the rungs. This could allow me to lean back and not use my hands. It was one of the most exciting things that I had ever done in my life.

Goodbye New Zealand!

Day 24 to 27

The next day, we got up, had breakfast, my dad tried to go Mountian Biking but they were out of bikes. We decided to start our drive to Franz Josef glacier. Along the way, we stopped at a national park and did a short walk to Blue Lakes. There were some suspension bridges and it was pretty cool. All of us skipped rocks for a while before heading back to the car. Further down the road, we stopped at this place for whitebait. Whitebait is a type of fish that is as big as a worm and tastes like trout. It looked gross but tasted good.

Once we got to the town of Franz Josef, we checked into our hotel, got dinner, went on a walk and saw some cool glow worms, and headed home. It was definitely not one of our more exciting days. The next day we got up, and to our disappointment, the helicopter flight to the glacier was canceled.

We ended up doing a walk to the glacier. The walk was beautiful, with some waterfalls along the way. It was sad to see how far out the glacier used to come.

The following day was our journey to Christchurch. We got up and headed out to a town along the way to the train. It was a cute, small town that sold a lot of jade jewelry. We got a delicious breakfast at the Kitchen Restaurant. 

We then drove to the train station to go on the Trans Alpine Train from Greymouth to Christchurch. It is the sixth most scenic train ride in the world. It was definitely better than driving.

New Zealand was amazing. It's the best country that I have ever been to.   They try to right all their wrongs and the people are truly the friendliest in the world. They are trying to bring back native forests that were here before the humans came. They have a female president and were the first country to allow women to vote. It was so hard to leave New Zealand, but the memories will always be with us and I hope to come back someday. 

Colby Binder


We hope you reading Colby's travel diary as much as we did. If you're interested in following a similar itinerary, our Kiwi Family Self Drive Adventure - Kids 8 to 14 Itinerary follows a similar route, and we have more family-friendly self-drive suggestions here.

Our experienced Travel Specialists understand that each family is completely unique - tell us all about your New Zealand dream holiday and we'll design a tailor-made itinerary that will even impress the teenagers!


Colby Binder
Colby Binder
: 4 Jan 2019 (Last updated: 10 Mar 2020)

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