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Trip Report 3 weeks in NZ

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Since I asked many questions before my recent trip to New Zealand and received much helpful advice, I'm posting my trip report even though most of it was a tour.

My college roommate (from many years ago) and I met at LAX and did 4 nights in NZ on our own before joining Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) for a 15 night group tour. Although I have always planned and traveled independently, OAT does a good job of providing experiences with meeting the locals, which may not have occurred on my own. I definitely would have preferred to spend less time in Wellington and Auckland and more out in the countryside, which is one reason why we explored Marlborough Sounds area prior to the trip.

Another reason to post this report is perhaps to give others planning a trip to NZ a bit more perspective. I've seen many questions about "seeing all of NZ in 10 days or 2 weeks." In almost 3 weeks, I feel as though I barely scratched the surface of all there is to see. We flew between places so I don't know how one could begin to really experience the whole country if driving. It would be very long driving days and just enough time in a place to say you were there.

Onto the actual trip:

My first comment would be that it was a fantastically, beautiful country with wonderful laid back people who had a great sense of humor in almost all things. Weather was good; 60's-70's; only rain, actually a drizzle, was during our 2 days in Queenstown. Besides our 4 flights to/from US east coast and Auckland, we had 7 domestic flights. So nice to fly the way we used to, with little security.

Driving on the left side of the road was much easier than anticipated although even after 4 days, my windshield wipers got turned on more than my signals.

Arrived in Auckland with a connecting flight to Blenheim. After roughly 26 hours of traveling, we decided to stay at Anglesea B&B in Renwick rather than venturing further. (Thanks for that suggestion Melnq8) Our first conversation with Brits and Scots about Trump and other world affairs. Always great to hear and share views.

Next morning stopped at Giessen and Cloudy Bay wineries just to look around their cellar door (love that term) and lovely outdoor areas. Followed by a brief stop in Picton for supplies, info and a visit to the Backerie some suggested. Bought lunch, dinner (Moroccan Lamb pies) and the next day's breakfast there. No problems with parking; lots of diagonal spots available.

I rather liked the curvy Queen Charlotte Road and on into the sound, but my passenger was less appreciative as she looked over the drop offs on her side. Made our way to Te Mahia resort, which was lovely and very peaceful for 2 nights. The owners were away and although the young man at the desk was very helpful, we weren't sure we were really getting all the info we desired. Much to our disappointment, we were unable to do any sort of boat trip on the sound. We tried to do some of the ones recommended to no avail. One company stopped running as of March 1, our arrival date, the other had their boat in for repairs on the first day and second day were booked for a large group and we weren't there for the right day on the mailboat.

So we made some sour lemonade the next day and drove to Punga Resort for lunch. Our first real meal in NZ was a disappointment for both of us. Only the boathouse cafe was open and not very good. ( I did remember Melnq8's comment on this, but it was about our only choice) We sweetened the day up with a 2 hour walk along the Queen Charlotte Track accompanied by a couple from Wellington. Back at Te Mahia, Trevor had returned and he told us of a spot, 2 minute walk from office, where we could see glow worms all along a hillside. We thought that seeing them "in the wild" was so much cooler than the tour the group later took into a cave. Also loved being able to see so many stars, but unfortunately, couldn't find the Southern Cross even though Trevor told us where to look. Guess he needed to actually point it out.

After our second relaxing day at Te Mahia, we headed to Havelock with walks on Peninsula Trail at Mistletoe Bay and out to Davis Bay at Anakiwa along the way. Looked forward to having the huge green lipped mussels in Havelock and weren't disappointed.

Time to return car (yay, no incidents, other than Jersey girl not knowing how to make gas pump work. Actually, we asked for help from locals, who also couldn't do it. Pump wouldn't take either credit card, but finally worked with debit card.???) On to Wellington for 3 nights and meet up with our group of 16. Will mention just major places we visited with tour unless it warrants more. Flew between all places unless noted otherwise.

Wellington: Maori boat house and paddling large canoe on harbor, Parliament tour and Te Papa, the national museum which we found very interesting.

Nelson: Three nights. World of Wearable Art, which has to be seen to be believed the variety of materials used, visits to local artisans, best was the lovely outdoor lunch at Mahana Winery. We were supposed to have one day of hiking at Abel Tasman National Park and another of kayaking and hiking. Because of coastal gales, boats didn't run so it got condensed into 1 day of kayaking and hiking. So disappointed.... First time sea kayaking and loved it. Even saw a blue penguin, which I think are rare. Park was so beautiful and the blue waters indescribable. Think Abel Tasman was my highlight of trip. Definitely could have spent more time there.

Te Anau, Milford Sound and Queenstown: Flew to Queenstown, but so glad we stayed one night in Te Anua instead of doing a very long round trip from Queenstown. We started out at 7 AM to get ahead of traffic. Wonderful to have several prime scenic walks at Mirror Lake, the Chasm and Homer Tunnel to ourselves. I think it was also so fortunate to have a sunny day to visit Milford Sound. We kept hearing that there'd be tons more waterfalls on a rainy day, but personally I still saw plenty and didn't need one running down the back of my neck. Saw the usual seals on rocks and bottle nose dolphins along the bow wake. Reminded me so much of Westbrook Pond in Gros Morne NP in Newfoundland. Our guide was very insistent that we were all buckled in as it is considered a dangerous road. As they always say, it's not the road, but the drivers and we saw lots of cars passing where they shouldn't have. After we left NZ, we learned of a terrible crash that killed two people when their car hit a tour bus and burst into fire. So be aware when driving this road.

Had our two drizzly days in Queenstown so couldn't see or appreciate the beauty there. Bad news-good news. Our first flight leaving Queenstown was cancelled and rebooked for 4 hours later so we did have some of the morning in town to at least see it on a clear day. Went to an interesting sheep station--100,000 acres--in the drizzle and also to Arrowtown. Liked learning about the Chinese gold miners camp there; would liked to have had time to hike on some of the trails in that area. Although some say the main street is commercial, I found it interesting that the same buildings were still being used. Not being a shopper, I also like to poke around the back streets and found some interesting spots. Walked around pretty botanical garden along lake in Queenstown. Although we stayed at the lovely St Moritz, the town didn't impress me, but can appreciative that it would be a good base to get out to Glenorchy and other areas for day trips/hikes.

Taupo: As I said, we arrived 4 hours late into Rotorua so missed going to Kiwi Encounter, but did go to Te Puia Maori Centre to learn more about their carving. This is the only national carving school. Think the kiwis would have been more interesting at this point. Enjoyed dinner at The Vine Restaurant. Different type of scenery here, but loved the many bright green hills popping up all over the landscape as well as the very large herds of dairy cows, sheep and red deer. Rest of activities in area didn't blow me away--Orakei Korako Thermal Reserve, Huka Falls, water release on Waikato River and Spa Road Hot Pools. Mangatautari Sanctuary Mountain would be very interesting for anyone interested in birds. It's surrounded by a 29 mile mammal proof fence so both native plants and birds can flourish there. Great closeups of birds.

Auckland: 2 nights; went there by bus. City activities that easily could have been missed to stay in the natural countryside longer.

How did I ever forget to mention all the great wine we tried--perhaps it's because we sampled so much! Never a fan of Sauvignon Blanc, but had some nice Pinot Gris and even Chardonnay.

Would definitely have done more hiking if on my own, but this was my option at this point so enjoyed what I did and experienced a great new country.

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