Thirteen Days in Sydney and Southern New Zealand – On a Budget

If you are keeping up with our blog, you might have seen our post on how we traveled to Australia and New Zealand for FREE! ALL of our flights and hotels were paid for through points via travel hacking.

The great thing is, once we arrived, the actual cost of the trip was relatively cheap as well, considering it was about 14 days. There is so much to explore by just walking around Sydney and hiking in New Zealand. If you are looking for inexpensive or free options in both cities, check out the below itinerary. (Note - if we spent money on an activity, it is noted.)

Day One: Arrive in Sydney

We arrived in Sydney mid-morning from a long flight from NYC and we were ready to conquer the day! Once we gathered our bags, we took the Sydney train to our hotel. This is a much cheaper option than a cab, and quite frankly the Sydney train system is very easy to use. We ended up taking the train a lot.

After leaving our bags at the hotel, we began walking around the city. First stop - the Opera House. So cool to see the iconic building in person.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the Royal Botanic Gardens. The Royal Botanic Gardens are open to the public and very close (walking distance) from the harbor area. The gardens are beautiful and pristine. Actually, all of Sydney is this way. Coming from New York City, is was amazing to see a city with clean harbor water, clean air, clean streets, and literally no garbage. 

Day Two: Explore Sydney

We spent day two continuing to explore Sydney. We walked around the Sydney Old Town area/ "The Rocks". Then we took a ferry to Manly Beach. The ferry system in Sydney is great and we took the ferry everywhere. One thing that surprised us was how sprawling the city actually was. The ferries connect many of the Sydney neighborhoods.

Day Three: Bondi Beach and Flight to New Zealand

We woke up early on day three to take the bus to Bondi Beach. (Yes, the bus - it was very easy and took about 30 minutes from our hotel.) The bus wasn't too busy in the morning. Mostly people were exercising or were surfing before work. Really these people are living the life over there.

We then spent the day in Sydney doing the Bondi to Coogee walk, which was beautiful!

At night, we were off to New Zealand on a 3.5 hour flight in which we were upgraded to First Class for some reason.

Day Four: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

We arrived in Christchurch very late at night. We thought we would want to check out the city, but honestly - no. Nothing really special here - use Christchurch as a place to sleep and move on. We realized this quickly and just immediately started driving towards Lake Tekapo. (Also, if you are accustomed to driving on the right side of the road, don't drive in the city for too long or you'll hit a lot of curbs like Mr. FIREat40.)

Driving to Lake Tekapo took about 3 hours. And once we arrived, I wasn't sure if we were going to leave because it was just so spectacular.

We spent the day walking around the lake and hiking different paths. But more importantly we spent the night star gazing.  It is extremely dark at night at Lake Tekapo, so it is one of the best spots in the world to check out the night sky.  

Day Five: Hooker Valley Hike

On day five, we left Lake Tekapo and drove towards Mt. Cook to do the Hooker Valley hike. The drive was breathtaking.

Then we started our 6-hour Hooker Valley hike. You can do the hike quicker, but we spent a lot of time taking pictures. But can you blame us!!?!?

Days Six and Seven: Queenstown

We arrived in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. And it really is. Queenstown is a neat place to walk around, but really it is made for activities. We will admit this is where we spent money on activities. You can do everything from bungee jumping, riding ATVs, speedboat rides, parasailing, paragliding, biking, hiking, etc. Pick you poison. And do so by your budget. The activities are not cheap, but they are worth it for a trip like this.

One free activity to do is to hike Bob's Peak. There is a trail that you can hike to the top or you can spend some money and take the gondola. Either way - it is definitely worth the trip up.

And don't forget to star gaze at night!

Day Eight: Milford Sound

On day eight, we woke up early to drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound. Again, another beautiful drive.

At Milford Sound, we spent some money again to take a half day cruise around the fiords. If you are there - you really have to do it. The half day cruise was about $90 for the two of us. And it was worth it.

Day Nine: Doubtful Sound

The next morning we woke up early for an all-day excursion to Doubtful Sound. Unlike Milford Sound, you can't drive to Doubtful Sound. You basically have to take a tour. The tour involves multiple ferries and buses to get to the sound itself. And then you are on the cruise for the day until you begin that same journey home. We packed lunches for the trip, so we didn't have to buy lunch on the boat or pay extra for it.

Since this activity is literally all day and also very complex, it was the most expensive thing we did (total of $530 for the activity.) This again was an amazing activity and one certainly to do. We would definitely spend the money to do it again.

Day Nine: Fiordland to Wanaka

We left the Fiordlands to head to Wanaka. Another beautiful drive to another beautiful destination. We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking around Wanaka and taking pictures of the Wanaka tree. (A rather slow day during an otherwise very busy trip.)

Day Ten: Fox and Franz Josef Glacier

Next up, we drove from Wanaka to the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. This is about a 3.5 hour drive. Amazing that you are literally driving along the coast, through a forest, and then end up at two glaciers.

We ended up hiking a trail to the Franz Josef Glacier. Really a very cool hike - hiking through what feels like a tropical rain forest to a clearing where the glacier was. I say was, because once you are out of the forest, there are markers of where the glacier was compared to where it is now. It's a pretty dramatic difference to see how far the glacier has retreated. You hike along the path to the base of the mountain where the glacier remains.

Day Eleven: Last Day in New Zealand

So sad as this was our last in New Zealand. We drove from Franz Josef Glacier back to Christchurch. (This is a five hour drive.) Along the way we stopped off at Hokitika, a very cute little coastal town.

And then again, we did a quick hike at Arthur's Pass.

Day Twelve: Fly back to Sydney

We were sad to leave New Zealand, but don't worry, we will be back. So much more to see and do! Ultimately, this is what our road trip looked like.

But the good news was we had a full day back in Sydney! We spent the rest of the day at Watson Bay!

Day Thirteen: Fly home

Sydney is by far our favorite city in the world. (Better than New York - coming from two New Yorkers.) And New Zealand is untouched and beautiful land.

Was so sad leaving it, but we are definitely coming back!!! :) And we are probably going to stay for a few months ;)