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Trip Report Addicted to New Zealand - Trip Report

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We’ve just returned from a two week trip to the South Island of NZ. As many regulars on this forum know, my husband and I just can’t seem to get enough of the SI.

The travelers:

Bill & Mel, rapidly aging Americans who currently reside in the backwoods of Indonesia. We enjoy the great outdoors, long hikes/walks, peaceful surroundings and wine. We both have a penchant for Indian food and New Zealand ice cream.

We’re fans of cool weather and we prefer to travel during the low/shoulder seasons. However, three local holidays in the course of two weeks was just too good to pass up; so, we went in March, the first time we’ve ever visited NZ during high season.

The itinerary:

Singapore – one night (transit)
Oamaru – one night
The Catlins – three nights
Te Anau – four nights
Arrowtown – five nights
Christchurch – two nights
Singapore – one night (transit)
Pekanbaru, Indonesia – one night (transit)

International flights from our remote corner of the world go through Jakarta or Singapore.
We prefer to take the path of least resistance, so we flew Garuda Airlines from Pekanbaru, Indonesia to Changi Airport in Singapore. This flight only operates three days a week and invariably doesn’t connect well – no matter where we’re going - so we spent a night and most of the following day in Singapore prior to leaving for Christchurch.

We each redeemed 75,000 United Airline miles and paid about US $25 in taxes to fly from Singapore to Christchurch in business class on Singapore Airlines. This was our first flight from Changi’s new Terminal Three, a massive, cavernous terminal built to accommodate the new A380 aircraft. It was also our first chance to visit SIA’s new SilverKris Lounge – big, quiet and comfortable, with soft lighting, an extensive business center, loads of hot food and beverages and some lovely “rain” showers to freshen up.

We had no trouble getting tickets for the direct Singapore-Christchurch flight on SIA, but there weren’t any reward seats available on the return flight. So, we did the next best thing and flew back to Singapore on Air New Zealand via Melbourne, then flew SIA from Melbourne to Singapore.

The 9.5 hour outbound flight was uneventful, with the notable exception of some stomach dropping turbulence. For this nervous flyer, it was an excruciating 20 minutes. My travel buddy seemed oblivious to the roller coaster ride and patiently allowed me to impale his arm with my fingernails. The pilot announced that we were encountering some strong winds and assured us that we were perfectly safe. I wasn’t entirely convinced…

It was sunny and warm when we arrived in Christchurch the following morning. We took the shuttle to pick up our APEX car rental – NZ $870 for 15 days, plus a $25 surcharge to leave the car at the airport, due to our ungodly 6:55 am departure.

Overall, I was happy with APEX, but we did have one small issue. It seems they’ve jumped on the dynamic currency conversion bandwagon, and they initially charged us in US dollars instead of NZ dollars without asking our permission. This practice annoys me to no end. When I fussed, the clerk was more than happy to credit our account and recharge us in NZ dollars, but in the process she got confused, made a few errors and it took awhile to get sorted out.

Car finances resolved, we were off in our Toyota Corolla bound for Little India on Gloucester Street in the CBD for our first vindaloo and paneer fix. Good eats.

Sated, we drove south on SH 1, bound for Oamaru. We try to limit our driving to about three hours on our day of arrival, and since our destination was the Catlins, an overnight in Oamaru made sense (3:30 from Christchurch).

As we worked our way towards Oamaru, we were reminded of why we don’t particularly care for the more populated east coast of the SI. There’s a lot of traffic, it’s industrial, flat, and not particularly pretty. There was also quite a bit of smoke coming from the controlled fires burning in the fields. And here I thought I’d left the smoke behind on Sumatra…

We stopped in Temuka for our first Tip Top ice cream of the trip – its official – we’re in NZ!

We finally arrived in Oamaru, checked into our motel, and made a quick run to the Blue Penguin Colony gift shop to look for penguin charms – a special request from my sister. The penguins come ashore at dusk, in this case 8:15 pm. We doubted we could stay awake that long - in fact, we were too tired to even consider dinner - so we returned to our motel, pulled the drapes and crashed.

Our lodging –

Bella Vista Motel – www.bellavistamotels.co.nz/ - NZ $115 per night, superior studio unit.

This motel chain is firmly entrenched on both islands of NZ and we’ve stayed at several Bella Vista locations on previous visits. We’ve found the rooms to be a bit small, but clean, comfortable and perfectly adequate.


Day 1 –

In the morning we felt human again. It was refreshing to sleep with the windows open; a simple pleasure we miss living in the wilds of Indonesia.

As we left Oamaru on SH 1, the landscape became much prettier; there was more relief, the road was no longer straight and flat and there was considerably less traffic. We made a quick stop at the Moeraki Boulders before continuing on to Dunedin, where we stopped for lunch and groceries, as we’d be self-catering in the Catlins. We found Dunedin busy and congested. It’s not really our kind of place, but we could certainly appreciate the rolling hills, which reminded us both of Hobart, Tasmania.

At Balcutha, we left SH 1 and joined the Southern Scenic Route. We stopped at Nugget Point, walked to the lighthouse (20 minute return) and watched the seals on the rocks below. We also stopped at Roaring Bay, where we walked to the Yellow Penguin hide – too early though, so no penguins.

We continued on to Owaka and beyond, detouring at Purakaunui Falls, where we took a 10 minute walk through the rainforest to some rather impressive falls.

Some nine hours later we arrived at our home for the next three nights, Fortrose Retreat.

Our lodging –

Fortrose Retreat – www.fortroseretreat.co.nz - $150 per night

This is a secluded, fully self-contained two bedroom cottage perched on a hill halfway between Fortrose and Tokanui. It’s situated on an 850 acre farm owned by Ian and Jeanette. The closest neighbors are almost two kilometers away - it was just us, the wind and some 3,000 sheep. I was in love.

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