A month in New Zealand! My husband and I could hardly wait. It would be our first really loooong journey, preceded by a week in Hong Kong. In our early 60s, we had both retired and were relishing the opportunity to go somewhere for more than two weeks. We are in good shape but don't do much more physical activity than walk a lot and do some casual biking and kayaking.
We decided to rent a car for flexibility. I truly appreciated all the planning help I gleaned from the Fodor community trip reports. Besides restaurant and lodging tips, it was helpful in figuring out how long it takes to get places and how long to stay. There are too many writers to thank, but I found indiancouple's report and Mel's reports and changemaven's reports especially helpful. Indeed, it was the forum that persuaded us that we needed to spend an entire month in NZ if we could, and helped us decide on a week in the north and three in the south. We skipped the far north because we live in both Rhode Island and Miami Beach now and have lots of beach opportunities. FYI, we had stockpiled IHG hotel points and so we stayed in Holiday Inns and Crowne Plazas wherever we could to trim our costs.
Our route: We flew into Auckland. We went to Rotorua (2 nights), Napier (1), Wellington (2), Kaikoura (3), Christchurch (2), Mt Cook (1), Oamaru (1), Dunedin (2), Te Anau (1), overnight Doubtful Sound cruise, Queenstown (5), Fox (1), Westport (1), Little Kaiteriteri (2), Collingwood (2), Nelson (1), Auckland airport (1).
This will be long, but I hope it helps others as you have helped me. I found it funny to see how travelers' opinions of a place could be radically different because of the weather! Sometimes it takes "a village" full of reports to get the complete picture. Here's the beginning of mine.
SUNDAY 3/15/15: Touring Auckland as the cyclone looms
When we landed in Auckland we saw what we hadn't seen for a week in Hong Kong: blue sky in the early morning. But we were also aware that Cyclone Pam, called the worst cyclone seen in the Pacific in 20 years, had just devastated Vanuatu. It was headed toward the north island of NZ. Customs folks were true Kiwis, ie, not all that serious. Very welcoming.
By the time we grabbed the Airport Express ($16 each) and rode a half hour to the Crowne Plaza in Auckland, it turned cloudy. We crashed for a few hours in our room, which we reserved with IHG points; it was upgraded to a view room on the 26th floor. We could see the harbor, and the gathering clouds. It was so warm people were in shorts. In the lobby, we asked the concierge to call Apex, our rental car company, and help us figure out how we pick up our car tomorrow. She said they will meet us at the hotel at 10:30 am. Now it was spritzing a bit, but not enough to derail our exploring of the city. The very first thing we saw on our hotel's street was three guys going up in the "scream machine", a sort of reverse bungee jump that hurls you into the air at breakneck speed. It was our intro to NZ's adrenaline obsession.
We cruised down Queen Street, finally understanding via a fur store what possum fur is. Sounded pretty skanky in the guide book, but it's fur from a marsupial related to the koala. Super fluffy and soft and super expensive. Good thing it's so pricey; we wouldn't have to make any decisions on political correctness. We went to the Vodafone store and picked up a pay-as-you-go NZ smart phone for $59 including $20 in juice. Data use is cheaper than our US phone and calls in NZ are free so we can call ahead for reservations etc, and we can use the GPS out in the hinterlands. Plus, I lost my iPhone in Hong Kong a few days ago!
We walked around the harbor where several raucous St Patrick's Day celebrations were taking place. Lots of tall green hats. We wanted a beer and a snack and we ended up in the Hula Hut on the water for nachos ($10) and a couple of beers ($10). Someone tried to give us tips on the World Cup cricket game that's being watched all over town (Ireland vs Pakistan), but cricket is still a mystery. We walked around a bit more, seeing tributes to Dennis Conner and the '80s Americas Cup races and a WWI memorial mentioning Gallipolli and other legendary war names, with a note that it was restored recently by a "grateful refugee from Nazi Germany."
We stopped in a NZ product store where a young college guy couldn't talk to us enough about the States. He and his colleague suggested we could find a burger and a beer at nearby Velvet Burger ($45). The burgers were delicious; the velvety name seems to come from the light-as-air buns. And they have choices like burgers made with venison and lamb. But they were out of many things such as buns for the mini burgers so I had to order a regular size one, half of which I took home; all white AND red wine, so I had rose; and even sweet potato fries. Even the toilet paper wasn't in two of the three johns! The spacy waitress says, we've been so busy this weekend. Really, to run out of wine? I don't think that's EVER happened to me before. But the Kiwi humor in the menu saved them. The description of the chicken burger: the one that everyone wants but it's still as classy as your Mum. (Later we found out the sailors from the Volvo Around the World Sailing Race had landed in Auckland for a party around the harbor the day before; but still!) We went back to the hotel to do laundry at $2 a wash and $2 a dry.
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