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    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
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Trip Report An Autumn Month in NZ

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OVERVIEW

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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    MONDAY: HEADING TO ROTORUA

    I would agree with those who say one flight-recovery day in Auckland is enough. Lots more to do elsewhere in NZ. A young man from Apex picked us up promptly at 10:30 and drove us a few miles to the Apex office to sign out our car, a Sunny Nissan with about 130,000 kilometers on it. By using an older car we reduced our fee from $58 to $38 a day. We called it The Tin Can, but it served us well all month. About two weeks in, the trunk stopped opening with the key; we had to open the trunk with the inside release. That was our only problem.

    It was drizzling, but that seemed to be the only effect of Cyclone Pam, which had been a bit of a fizzle in NZ, thank goodness. We had a drive of several hours to Rotorua, today's destination. We didn't know it but these would be the biggest and busiest roads we would travel for the next month. At least they were straight and fast for Chris to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road. Every time he went to turn on the blinker, he turned on the windshield wiper instead. That would continue all month. We stopped for gas and a bite to eat in tree-lined Cambridge, a town with an English feel. We browsed through a store on the main highway called Cambridge Country Store, housed in a 100-year-old stone church and loaded with NZ products from kitchenware to possum gloves; there's also a cafe. We stopped in Tirau, famous for its corrugated iron art. As you pass through you can't miss the giant sheep head and the giant dog head on the side of the road; the dog holds the information center.

    By 4 we were sailing into Rotorua. We stopped at Rainbow Springs to get some info on seeing kiwis there; they suggested coming tomorrow for the 10 am tour, but if we wanted to come tonight to see the nocturnal kiwis rambling around in their night enclosures, we could do that, or we could do it tomorrow night. We found the Holiday Inn and checked in. It's a big modern place with a brand new wing that overlooks some thermal pools; we were upgraded to one of those view rooms thanks to our platinum IHG status. The Rainbow Springs guide had told us about thermal activity that you can see for free in the middle of town, so we drove out and walked from bubbling pond to bubbling mud puddle. A strange thing to have in your town park!

    By now the sun was shining and it looked like there would be a nice sunset, so we headed to the lake that the town is situated around. The lakefront is picturesque with cruise boats and pontoon planes and lots of birds. We saw our first black swans, which were plentiful. We decided to follow a path along the lakefront, past the Government Gardens and then back to our car. It was a good long walk in beautiful golden light. There were quite a few folks at the lakefront, but almost none on this path, which followed the lake for quite a while and offered great views of waterbirds that were unusual to us. The Government Gardens were quite elaborate, with gorgeous roses. They back up to a magnificent Tudor-style building that was a bathhouse and is now the Rotorua Museum. There's also a moving WWI memorial.

    From there we walked back past stores and restaurants to the lake, picked up our car, and headed to the hotel. Chris had seen the hotel staff preparing a dinner buffet before we left. It was about $45 NZ, but when we saw the array of appetizers and salads and roasts being carved, we decided to go for it. It was delicious. It was our first taste of green-lipped mussels, and I loved the smoked fishes and a couple of wonderful Indian dishes. Of course the roast lamb was very good and we were delighted to see Pavlova on the big dessert table. When we finished it was all we could do to roll ourselves back to our room. No kiwi-watching tonight!



    TUESDAY: Kiwis and Maori in Rotorua

    We were on the road by 9:15 because we had lots to do today. We wanted to be at Rainbow Springs for the 10 am tour because that's when any chicks are weighed; an egg had hatched in the past couple of days. After we'd paid our $47 NZ for the run of the park plus the behind-the-scenes kiwi tour, we headed to the kiwi house. The guide explained everything we wanted to know about NZ's national symbol, including that they're so endangered that private funds are raised for this program to rescue eggs from the wild, hatch them, and release the birds into the wild. This increases the survival rate from 5 percent in the wild to more than 90 percent. It costs about $2500 per bird. We were glad $10 of our entry fee was a charitable donation. The science of it all, including that the kiwi has been named an "honorary mammal" because it has at least as many of those characteristics as it does that of a bird, was quite interesting. Sure enough, in one room a worker was waiting for us and brought out an unexpectedly large chick, whose hairy feathers still looked like they were drying out, and curled him with his long beak into a bowl to be weighed. No photos. We were delighted. We spent 45 minutes with the guide and perusing all the kiwi info. The guide took us into the daytime kiwi area which was darkened to be nocturnal, where we saw one kiwi scurrying about. Our ticket allows us to return at night after 8:30 to the larger kiwi enclosure, and we hoped we'd have enough energy to do that!

    Afterwards, we walked around the park. Got a peek at lots of NZ's birds and reptiles, and the signs about the trees and ferns were informative. We stopped at the 11 am bird show, but it's about non-native macaws and parrots, and we felt we could have skipped that. We were struck by the fact that NZ had no mammals until the Europeans arrived, and by what havoc can be wreaked when man interferes. The stoat and possum are still destroying native birds.

    By noon we were off to Wai O Tapu, the thermal park 20 minutes south of Rotorua. A few of these exist, and we picked this one because Fodors described its freakish colors. It was well worth the $30 NZ fee. Visitors can do all three trails or just one or two depending on their time. We chose one and two and felt like we'd seen plenty in a couple of hours. Steam rises across this land, and you see gaudily colored craters and goopy, bubbly pits. A boardwalk takes you across a wide steaming area that makes you wonder what the Maori could possibly have thought when they encountered this. The colors are vivid behind the steam. (The geyser there erupts at 10:15 am every day.)

    We were back at the Holiday inn by about 3, for a rest before our visit to Te Puia for a tour of their thermal lands and geyser, a cultural show and a hangi, a traditional meal cooked in the earth like a clambake. This was $150 NZ apiece -- an expensive day! But they would pick you up at your hotel and return you after 9.

    We were at Te Puia by 4:30 and our Maori guide named Paul was full of info and stories, much of which answered questions we'd had since arriving in NZ. He explained how the Maori came here from Hawaii with most people staying on the north island. One scout came inland and thought other people were there because he saw so much smoke. He was seeing the thermals. He thought Rotorua with its big lake and warm rocks and pools for bathing and cooking a perfect place to settle. The island was covered with birds, no mammals. When Captain Cook stopped by he was afraid to go ashore because the birds were so loud. One Maori canoe went to the South Island and they saw a 12-foot eagle. They had to live in caves so they wouldn't get picked off. They didn't like that so they wanted to get rid of the eagles. The eagles ate moa, a flightless bird twice as big as an ostrich. So they penned moa at the bottom of the gorges, and when the eagles soared in to get them, they couldn't spread their wings wide enough to get out. So the eagles died off and the Maori promptly hunted the moa to extinction. Paul was full of stories like that. And jokes about Australian rugby players.

    He then took us through the thermal area to the geyser which was erupting, which it does once or twice an hour for quite a while. It's called Pohutu and you can apparently see it from the other Maori village as well, but this is very close. This is not really enough thermal area to see all the wonders, so I was glad we had been to Wai O Tapu earlier. We did see neighborhood kids coming to swim in the thermal lake. Looked like great fun! We finished with the Carving School, where young guys were working on big statues, and the Weaving School, where women were working on creations, mostly things to be worn, made from palms and other leaves.

    Next came the well-done cultural show; the ticket-selling women were singers, we noticed. Our guide for this part -- I think Guy -- was also suddenly part of the show. No one looked like they were phoning it in, as I had read in reviews of some other shows. The audience got to participate too with some of the singing games. 45 minutes and quite entertaining. Dinner started with delicious corn on the cob and green-lipped mussels. Next was the hangi food and salads, then desserts. At 8:15 we could board trams to see the geyser erupt under the stars, which most people did.

    After Te Puia, we drove back to the kiwis at Rainbow Springs. A handful of us quietly paraded in the dark in front of about 6 largish enclosures, whispering when we'd spot a kiwi on the hoof. They're much larger than anyone expected. We felt grateful to be able to see these little fellows in action thanks to this fine organization. After that, we were happy to finally go to bed.

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    <driving on the wrong side of the road.>

    Ahem, that should be the 'other' side of the road:)

    <Every time he went to turn on the blinker, he turned on the windshield wiper instead.>

    I'm currently doing the same thing in reverse, having just returned to the US after almost seven years in Australia.

    Thoroughly enjoying your report. Look forward to more.

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    WEDNESDAY: Napier and Hawke's Bay

    We were on the road to Napier by 10:30; stopping at the BP for petrol (40$ NZ) at $1.79/liter, and an excellent rich egg and bacon pie $3.50 that we shared along with the usual $5 flat white. The steep, Hobbit-like hills began to flatten out as we headed toward Taupo. We had seen cows way up on a hill so steep it seemed like they might just tumble off. At the turnoff to Napier, a sign noted that the next gas was 136 miles away -- in Napier! Lots of logging in the area. The Maori had told us this is the Southern Hemisphere's largest manmade forest, with cutting and replanting. The road, which looks straight on the map, runs steep and twisty through a mountain range. Chris was in his best James Bond driving mode in our little tin can.

    The Esk Valley Winery was a welcome sight at the end of that crazy road as we were heading into Napier at 1:30. From its perch you could just see the pale green-blue waters of Hawkes Bay. A sign said that if you don't buy, a tasting is $5. We loved the white wines, and the Syrah. The very nice manager told us they'd started buying some grapes from Marlborough because that's what foreign distributors want to hear. We also concluded that no matter how much we like a wine that we discover, we aren't going to be able to bring much back to the US or find it there. But at least we have a month here to drink it. We bought a bottle of late harvest dessert wine ($30) and 3 bottles of Chenin blanc for $48.

    We headed the few miles to Napier to drop off our bags at the Art Deco Masonic Hotel, which was right on the Main Street facing the bay. Our superior queen room for $101 plus tax via Expedia netted us a nice room with a window looking across the street to the beach. It's a Beautiful old Deco building rebuilt after the other one fell down in the earthquake of 1931, when the whole town was rebuilt in Art Deco. By 3:30 we were back on the road because all the vineyards cellar doors, or tasting rooms, close at 5. We headed to the Te Mata Vineyards, which have produced many award winners. The problem with that is their wines are meant to age a bit or a lot, and so don't taste that amazing right now. They had their Colerain red blend available for tasting which was $99 a bottle, but it was meant to age up to 15 years. The drive out there was gorgeous, full of ripe red apple trees, with great rows of wooden crates lining the orchards -- one type of crate even had Johnny Appleseed stamped on it. Other fields were full of long rows of dug-up yellow onions.

    We thought we might have a sunset drink at Elephant Hill Vineyards, which supposedly overlooks the Pacific, but it turned out to be across the beach road and at sea level, so we just went over to the beach. Chris met a fellow named Frank, who said the waves were pretty wild because of the cyclone. I walked the beach, which was tiny black stone, called shingle, and picked up shells and took photos. Some broad little sea stars had washed up, different than our with longer legs. A couple of pretty intact whelk-type shells still had the critter in them. Chris was still talking to Frank, whose camper van was near by. He said he was SKI-ing: spending the kids' inheritance. He said he and his wife Pam, who live in Hamilton, south of Rotorua, take two trips abroad every year. They were in Quebec and upstate New York and Vermont last fall. He noted that America serves such large portions he and his wife usually just share a plate.
    It was cooling off and he offered to continue our long conversation ( it was at least 20 minutes already) in his camper, but we were hungry and declined.

    It was 7-ish so we drove back to Napier. The menu for our hotel's restaurant, The Emporium, sounded so tempting that we opted for convenience. If Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip could eat here on her coronation tour (in 1954) why not us? Our young waitress recommended the fish special of bluenose ($32), a delicate fish that she said was her favorite NZ fish. She said the fish and chips ($25) was done with gurnard, a local fish, and that while Chris's dinner didn't come with much, mine came with enough chips for both of us. It was the lightest, most delicious fish I've ever had, and Chris's was very good too. We bought a bottle of the Three Bridges Dry Reisling from Waipara ($40; she didn't know where Waipara was, and it turned out to be on the South Island) and it was truly wonderful, like a very good German. The manager came over to talk to us and he wryly thanked us for coming to NZ even though we hadn't seen any hobbit movies. After dinner, we took a walk around town, admiring the Deco architecture. By 10 or so we were back in our room.



    THURSDAY: Art Deco tour then a drive to Wellington

    By 9 we were at the Art Deco Center across from the hotel to buy tickets for the 10 am walking tour ($17; there are a range of tours to choose from). We grabbed flat whites ($10) and croissants ($9) at the cafe on the corner. So many people had signed up that they needed two volunteer guides with 12 each. The tour was about an hour, walking all over the compact downtown and telling us about the earthquake and fire that caused the whole town to be rebuilt, in two years, in the popular styles of the times, primarily Art Deco. The Art Deco Weekend each February sounds like a blast, with many people dressed up in '30s style. The Art Deco Center boutique was well stocked too. At the end of the tour, we watched a 20-minute film about the earthquake with actual photos and footage which was very interesting.

    About 12:15 we took off for Wellington, after sending an email to our b&b hosts so they could estimate our arrival. The drive on this sunny day took about 6 hours with a few short stops. We bought fruit at a lovely produce store on the main street in Dannevirke, with a foray into the grocery store for NZ cheese (the best was a goat and cow variety called Five Forks by Whitestone; we bought that regularly the rest of the trip) and bread to eat in the car. We had delicious black peaches. It's great traveling in the fall when everything is ripening. It was a lovely ride, with sheep- and cattle-covered hills, riding alongside the two mountain ranges that run down the center of the south part of the island. In one tiny town, we even saw sheep on a very green golf course. When we passed through Masterton, it looked on the map like it would be 45 minutes "over the hills" to Wellington but it was more like an hour and a half. The road over the hills was a steep twisting one that went on for miles. The guidebook says Wellies love to go over the hills for wine tastings at the many wineries that have sprung up up in the region in the past 10 years. But I can't imagine driving through these heavily forested mountains without a clear head!

    We arrived at the Carlton Gore House, our B&B, and met Janice, who showed us to our room, 1 of 3 on the ground floor. Her living quarters are upstairs. No one else was staying, so she had upgraded us to a room with a partial harbor view and an ensuite. Quite pretty in pale green with two terry cloth robes and candy snacks on the nightstand. We chatted a bit, and she recommended a "cheap and cheerful" restaurant down the road but said there were plenty within walking distance. Her neighborhood is called Orient Bay and it is straight up the hill from the harbor with houses clinging to the steep hillside. Reminded us of San Francisco. Long sets of stairs lead pedestrians down to the harbor with views of gardens and quaint houses as you descend. We passed the Bluewater Grille which was the "cheap and cheerful," right on the water with entrees in the 20s. By now it was after 7 and we didn't need to spend money for a view we couldn't see (tho there is a tall lighted fountain spraying out of the middle of the harbor, quite unusual).

    We decided to check out Cuba Street, a newly funky street full of restaurants and boutiques that is supposedly helping turn Wellington into "the capital of Cool." Apparently the city used to be a bit stodgy. We felt a bit cooped after our long ride, so we were up for an urban tramp. As we walked along the harbor, we saw two young Maori boys swimming, one with a snorkel. They tossed sea urchins up to their parents seated on the sea wall. We passed lots of stores and ethnic eateries. Cuba Street turned out to be funky indeed, with lots of independent shops (closed in the evening) and even more ethnic restaurants, and music pouring out of some places, and lots of pub tables on the sidewalks and street in the pedestrian area. Entertaining.

    But on the way there, we had spotted a contemporary 2nd floor restaurant at 45 Tory Street called Chow whose Asian fusion menu appealed to us, so we hiked back there ( we had stopped in and asked what serving til "late" meant on their sign and they said 9:30 would be fine. Many restaurants in NZ seem to close at 9). We ended up loving it. The menu had a tapas concept with just the kind of interesting combinations that appeal to us. We had Pekin Duck in lettuce cups, tarahiki fish wrapped in banana leaves (our kind waiter told us to not eat the leaves) with coconut sauce, and blue cheese and peanut wontons in berry coulis. Each dish was $10-$15 and we were happy sharing three. For dessert we had carmelized pineapple on sticky rice. Simply delicious. Not that wild about the Babich Riesling, a bit bland. $91 for the meal. Janice had said we could take a city bus right up to her street or a cab for $12. We opted for the cab as by now it was almost 11.

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    FRIDAY: Wellington's many sides

    We were upstairs by 8, the time we had agreed on for breakfast. Janice had to go to a funeral, but said she had plenty of time to make us bacon and eggs. The dining room overlooked the harbor in the distance. Her husband Brent came in and had coffee with us. We talked about cars, our various national health insurance woes, and the racial troubles in Ferguson, MO. I was surprised how up on American news they were. They said they have run the b&b for six years, but they were planning to close for a while because Janice has to help out with an ill family member in Australia.


    By 10 we were out the door. We had seen planes flying into the airport on the other side of the hill, so we decided to take a drive out that way. We were surprised to find that the capital city has beautiful streets to drive/bike/walk along every inch of the peninsula. We parked at the end of the runway and Chris watched the planes and I walked the beach. It was a blue sky day so lots of people were walking their dogs; surfers were out in the waves.

    We decided to follow the waterfront road and practically screeched to a halt at one bay with stunning views out over the next point, two faraway lighthouses and magnificent rocky outcroppings at low tide. There were even signs to be careful of blue penguins, the world's smallest, that come ashore at dusk all along the coastline. Could anything be better? I took a million photos and we walked the coastal trail and hunted shells and watched planes for at least an hour. Who could imagine this wild stuff would be minutes away from the Houses of Parliament? What a city. (Later we learned that orcas occasionally show up in the downtown harbor, hunting stingrays.) We ended up driving all around the peninsula, stopping at a couple of shops and art galleries near the colorful Chocolate Fish Cafe, which specializes in seafood, on Shelly Bay.

    Before 3 pm we were in our free-on-points room at the Wellington Intercontinental Hotel. Hurray, our new BOA credit cards were in our room, along with my new ATM card. Back in business! We allegedly had been upgraded but we saw nothing special other than the usual IC luxury. No real view. We ate our bit of remaining cheese and bread and took off for the waterfront, where popup shops were housed in corrugated iron containers. Our destination was The Te Papa museum, often called the best in NZ, which turned out to be free. We started with entry into the feel-an-earthquake house and the colossal squid exhibit with a real squid. Critter was caught off the coast of Antarctica and preserved for the museum. It has the largest eyes in the world, as big as soccer balls. Chris went to the Air NZ 75th anniversary exhibit while I had a cappuccino with a beautiful fern design in the foam. After that we browsed exhibits about life at home during WWI and also about New Zealanders' devotion to the queen. At the end we saw the incredibly elaborately carved wooden Maori meeting house, as well as an example of of the small boats they used to cross the ocean to arrive from Hawaii. By then it was 6 (gift shop was good) so we walked back to the hotel and on our way had an Allan Scott Riesling from Marlborough at a bar with tables on the sidewalk for good people watching.

    After a short rest at the hotel, we headed back up to Cuba Street to look for something to eat. We read that there is a Night Market every Friday night. It was on a narrow pedestrian street off Cuba, and dozens of food kiosks had been set up along it. Lots of college students were eating and socializing, but there was really nowhere to sit once you had food. And it was only in the 50s by now. So we ducked into a little Vietnamese restaurant and sat down for some ok food and beer. Afterwards, we enjoyed some time in Pegasus, a colorful store that had both used and new books. We scored a used copy of a biography of Captain Cook, since we were now so intrigued by his exploration of NZ.

    SATURDAY: Ferry to the South Island, aviation centre, Kaikoura

    Left the Intercontinental and headed 10 minutes down the road for our 10:30 am car ferry to Picton and the South Island. The ferry was delayed a bit out of concern over roughness at the mouth of the harbor. But it was beautifully sunny weather. The ferry was large, with plenty of lounging space both indoor and out. The cafeteria served up a big breakfast with lots of meat at a reasonable price, so we indulged. As we entered the Marlborough Straits everyone was out on deck snapping photos of the islands and coves and fjords, some covered with trees, some smooth and dry like California. We saw a few boats and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

    We were about an hour late arriving, which was squeezing us on time for getting to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre near Blenheim (in addition, the signage to this place is not the best). We raced into the museum and were blown away by its elaborate recreation of WWI airplanes and air scenarios. Thanks to the enthusiasm and money of LOTR and Hobbit director Peter Jackson, some early planes of WWI that no longer exist at all have been painstakingly replicated here. Others are the real planes that have been restored and may no longer exist outside of a couple of museums in Europe. Some replicas have even been flown. Some historic moments are recreated in fancy movie fashion, such as the crash of the plane and death of the Red Baron, who is being carried on a stretcher. In addition to planes, much war memorabilia is also displayed, including Rickenbacher's uniform and Goering's uniforms and his diary. My husband is an airplane buff and we have been to a few small air museums and this is a don't-miss for enthusiasts.

    We spent more than an hour there but easily could have spent longer. We were trying to hit at least one of the Marlborough wineries before they closed. We screeched in to the Allan Scott Winery at 4:50 but the hours had changed since the guidebook was published and the cellar door closes at 4:30. None stay open past 5; Kiwis like their private life, and tourists had better squeeze in what they can between 9 and 5, we found. So we drove down the road to The Vines Village, a conglomeration of local crafts and home and food shops where one stayed open long enough for us to try some local olive oils and taste and buy some butterscotch and cream liqueurs. Another shop stayed open to give us ice cream cones. Then we were off to Kaikoura.

    The weather had held, and the drive was increasingly beautiful in the golden light. But the most spectacular part came when the road hit the beach. The waves were wild, the sand was pure white and the driftwood was abundant and sculptural. It was enchanting, like a movie. I was so jealous of people in campers pulling up to spend the night on this wildly exotic coast. But we wanted to be in Kaikoura before dark, around 8. We pulled off as often as we could afford to gaze at the beach, and I had to walk on it. At a lookout point, a young couple excitedly called to us that there were tons of seal pups on the rocks below. It was Oahu Point, 20 minutes north of Kaikoura where a major seal colony was at rest and seriously at play. It was great fun to watch the younger ones playing in pools and waves while their mothers lounged.

    We pulled into The Kaikoura Boutique Hotel a little before 8, and the owner suggested the best restaurant in town was The Green Dolphin, which I remembered from Indiancouples trip report. He called and found the restaurant could squeeze us in at this late hour, so we hastily put our bags in the room and went to dinner. It was excellent, with green-lipped mussels steamed in coriander, lime, ginger and coconut creme and lamb from a local farm with pea purée. We loved the wine that the staff recommended -- I believe it was Georges Road Riesling from Waipara Valley -- and loved chatting with our young waitress from France who was in NZ having an adventure with her boyfriend. We found that tho individual glasses of wine were invariably $10, a whole bottle was often in the $30s. Leading to overindulgence!

    We drove back to the hotel, maybe four minutes away. Our room, like the others, was gathered around a flower-bedecked patio, which would have been lovely to sit in had it not been chilly. The room was quite nice, with everything we needed tho not a kitchen since it's not a motel. The owner had been quite helpful with things to do, and suggested that at some point we might want to do the walk around the peninsula with good views and seal encounters. We were in bed by 11.

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    Wonderful report. We are in Greece at the fag end of our holiday and we decided next year was going to be NZ for us for our 10th anniversary and celebrate turning 40! Keep going.

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    SUNDAY: Peninsula walk, net ball, and one gorgeous Pavlova

    We were up early and at the Owl coffee truck and the Kaikoura bakery, both excellent, by 9ish, but our 10 am whale watch was cancelled because the seas were rough and the whales were too far out. We could hang around for the noon cruise in case things settled down, they said, but we opted to switch our reservation to tomorrow as we had built in an extra day just for this reason. Apparently the boats hadn't been able to go out all week thanks to the cyclone.

    We decided to take our hotelier's suggestion and do the peninsula walk from the hotel into the hills, then around the cliffs, down to flat rocks and seals and back out the main road returning to the hotel. It is suggested that this is possibly a 3-4 hour walk; it took us five. And though we quite liked most of it, the walk down the road back to town was tedious and we were tired. I needed a taxi! Fortunately, a well-known seafood truck, The Original Kaikoura Seafood BBQ, was there serving food to revive our spirits, and we had a hearty snack of whitebait patty and a garlic scallops sandwich. The cliffs portion of the walk provides beautiful vistas, and at two points in the walk you see fur seal colonies (mostly sleeping). Toward the end you walk on a fascinating expanse of flat rock where some fur seals were, and we were wondering where all the people suddenly came from since we hadn't encountered many on our hike. It turns out a big parking lot is right there and people walk out to see the seals. That would have been easier! So if you don't have much time, the parking lot is an option. One fur seal was hamming it up right in front of the parked cars.

    Back at the hotel, since the weather was still holding, we jumped in our car and went back to see the seal event that we had missed at Oahu Point, which was a waterfall across the road where pups climb up an amazing length of rocks to reach a waterfall where they can play in the pool. We saw just two pups but at other times of year many more are going at it.

    By 7, the weather had deteriorated into a depressingly cold drizzle, so we found our way to the Pier Hotel at the end of town. The dining room was busy, so we retreated to the bar, where a lad from Minnesota was behind a gorgeous vintage wood bar. We had appetizers and wine and beer and then took advantage of the homemade Pavlova special. It came out wreathed in hard meringue and was a beehive-shaped vision that elicited many comments when I posted it on Facebook. The entire month, we would never have pavlova that looked the same way twice. We ended up watching a women's quarterfinal net ball game on tv with four women who were here on a golf long weekend and were huge fans of one of the teams. They explained the game to us -- mainly, basketball with no dribbling. One of them had spent quite a lot of time in the US last year, including a bus trip following Route 66 from Chicago to LA. Kiwis continue to amaze us.

    MONDAY: Whale watch, wine tasting, Governors Bay

    Woke up to no rain -- yay! Stopped again at the Coffee Owl for flat whites and at the bakery across the street for pastry. This time had a "split" piece of bread filled with tomato and olives plus a raspberry cream cheese muffin with a deposit of cream cheese at the bottom. Delicious. $12 for both. The whale watch departed on time at 10 with what they called ideal sea conditions. Very organized. For the three-hour trip you're on the water about an hour and a half but you see plenty. A spotting plane was flying overhead, plus the captain was using some sort of hydrophone to locate the resident sperm whales, and soon they were on to one. A big sperm whale had surfaced and we and another boat circled it, watching it spout then turn tail and dive. Our mission was accomplished; we'd seen the guaranteed whale and they wouldn't be refunding any money.

    We took off for an area where they hoped to spot dusky dolphins, and we saw probably 40. Some were jumping, putting on a show. Much more entertaining than the whale. Since they hadn't had any news of more whales, we went to a big rock island where some NZ fur seals hang out and saw babies playing in a pool. Back in port, we had lunch in the whale watch cafe and made a hotel reservation for that night.

    We left a little after 2, heading toward Christchurch thru a mountain range with a million hairpin turns. This is the main drag down the coast, Route 1, with a ton of giant trucks on it. They don't tell you this why it takes so long to get anywhere here: There's always only one two-lane road. Not even a shoulder most of the time, but there usually are a decent night number of designated passing lane opportunities. Nevertheless, you see a sign that says "give way" and suddenly you're passing over a 1-lane bridge!

    Since we were passing thru the Waipara Valley at the decent hour of 3:30, we decided to stop for a couple of wine tastings before 5. Georges Road, home to my new favorite Riesling, did not appear to have a tasting option, so we stopped at Waipara Hills, which is on Route 1. They have an imposing stone European-type building with cathedral ceilings, and plenty of folks were stopping in for a tasting (or the coffee option) in a pretty outdoor area with views of the now sun-washed mountains. Loved their Riesling and their Chardonnay. Resisted the urge to buy as we have two more bottles of Chenin blanc in the trunk and we haven't cooked or had time to sit around and drink yet! We moved on to the most famous of the vineyards (apparently), Pegasus, which was maybe a mile away down the next road. At this elegant property, the restaurant was gourmet and the tasting room was friendly and dark; huge barrels of wine were visible in the next room. We chatted with a guy who seemed to be their barrel maker, and he has known the family who owns the winery forever.

    We pushed on in the sunshine, leaving the flatter lands of the vineyards for more dramatic mountains. We bypassed Christchurch heading toward Lyttleton and Governors Bay at the start of the Banks peninsula. As we entered Lyttleton on a road high above the harbor we saw a huge ship and realized it's a working port, in fact the main port for the South Island. The next 8 km to Governors Bay were just as scenic. The Governors Bay Hotel, on the main road, is a clapboard antique that looked straight out of New England. The deck in front had a great view of the bay and if it weren't chilly and 7 pm I'm sure more than the two tables would have been occupied. There was no lift to the rooms upstairs, so Chris dragged my suitcase up. We checked out the very weak wifi, and headed downstairs for dinner.

    It's something like one of two of the oldest continuously operating pubs in NZ. Somehow we suspected the food might be average so we skipped the $32 salmon and $35 beef Wellington and ordered fish and chips ($20) and the pasta special with chicken ($23). The fish was the typical fried crunchy fish, plus a nice salad with loads of cukes and tomatoes. Chris's chicken pasta was just ok. The folks next to us ordered the beef Wellington special and it looked rare and awesome. We lingered, trying to send friends some pix with the stronger wifi in the dining room. By 9:30 we were upstairs, being frustrated by the lack of Internet connection in our room.

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    TUESDAY: Godley Head, earthquakes and Christchurch

    My side of the bed was curiously slanted and I had a rather uncomfortable night. Turned out Chris's side wasn't slanted at all! We didn't even attempt to use the shared shower ( tho we should have used the washing machine which was in one bathroom). I went out on the balcony that the four front rooms share and saw boxes of blankets and hot water bottles for sitting out at night. Would be fun for a group I bet. But room 5 had no outstanding attributes. Bed was big but there was no room for night stands to put your stuff on. Sink in room tho. We ate a continental breakfast in the small breakfast room next door, with coffee and toast and cereal, as well as a bowl of apples and oranges and a Nespresso coffeemaker. No one was manning the reception desk, and there was a plate to leave your keys on so we considered ourselves checked out. Hope they charged us the right price! The hotel with its purple window boxes looked quaint in the sunshine. She, a business across the street that supposedly makes great chocolate, was not open yet when we left.

    We had the choice of going about 50 miles into the Akaroa peninsula to the town of Akaroa, but we decided against pretty shops and galleries and fine dining in favor of a drive out to Godley Head at the very top of the peninsula. On the map it appeared that the legendarily twisty and beautiful Summit ridge road went all the way out, but after we drove part of it, the rest was closed. It was a beautiful day and many people were out walking, running and cycling. One runner told us that the road no longer goes through because of the 2010/2011 earthquakes. Hmmm. So we headed a few miles away to Lyttleton, which we had seen from on high the night before. We love a good working port anyway.

    We stopped at the tourist center off the small Main Street to ask about getting out to Godley Head. There we were enlightened about the earthquakes. Lyttleton was the epicenter of the fall 2010 one. Much was destroyed, and the town is still rebuilding, which was obvious all over the main section. The tourism lady said in addition to the 2011 quake which destroyed the downtown of Christchurch, the area endured 14,000 aftershocks. She said it brought everyone together and made them all realize that nothing but each other was important. She said they weren't afraid after the first one, because nobody died. It was at 4 am and rolled like jelly. The second was straight up and down and 185 people died, mostly in Christchurch. It was at 12:50 pm. Buildings weakened in 2010 fell apart in 2011. About 70 people died in the collapse of a television station building, whose floors pancaked. And yes the Summit Road collapsed and is not yet fixed. However, she said, we could go thru the tunnel toward Christchurch and then go up to Godley Head on a road from Sumner town.

    So we visited the port and saw one of two steam tugs left in the world (rides only on Sundays) and where ferries leave for nature walks on Quail Island. We admired the huge ocean-going freighter in port -- we'd seen a car carrier glide out majestically the night before -- and inhaled the good wood smell from thousands of logs piled up waiting for a ship to take them away. A long train came through with open-topped cars filled with coal. We stopped at the town bakery for bread, but no more bread was available so we went up to the organic coop on Main Street and got three kinds of local cheese and a loaf of wheat stone ground that had been delivered two days ago but was still good. We needed gas, but there was none in Lyttleton, so we went thru the tunnel to where the tourist lady told us the nearest station was, but they were out of gas -- expecting a delivery in the afternoon. The gas fellow sent us off to a station in Sumner where we did find some, thank goodness. That gas fellow directed us around the beach road where the tide was out and the hugely wide beach was stunning. I was tempted to stop there but I wanted to get to Godley Head while the sun held. We started climbing up up up and at every turn it was more beautiful. Finally at one turn we could see the bay below and a huge sweep of coast, edged in crashing waves. Breathtaking. We were confused a bit at the forks on this astonishingly steep, no-guard-rails-anywhere road high in the sky, but friendly bikers helped us out. We told one middle-aged fellow that we were surprised to see so many bikers on this tough route but he said it wasn't that difficult if you arranged your gears right. "Anyone can do it if you do 10 miles at a time. Even my Mum still does it at 75." Something to live up to!

    So we pressed on, hoping no other car was coming around these sharp one-lane curves, very nerve-wracking. Finally we were at the top at the Godley Head Reserve with a parking area and a few picnic tables. By now it was 2 pm and we were starving so we brought our cheeses and bread to the picnic tables. We ate, gazing at the long NZ coast on one side, and the milky blue fjord on the other. We saw just two sailboats lost in the fjord's immensity. A bicyclist had told us to make sure to go the 300 extra yards to the "goonery" which we figured out was the gunnery. After our lunch we set off for what the sign said would be an hour trek thru the gunnery and coastal trail. We headed down down down, which meant we'd have to come back up, and inspected several different gunneries from where the Kiwis (often the Wacs) kept watch day and night but never had any action. The Americans had come to NZ to protect it while the NZ soldiers were in Europe. Also, the U.S. ran some of the South Pacific operations out of Wellington. Going back up, we came to a fork in a meadow and fortunately chose the right path to the mountaintop parking lot. The other would have gone way down to the town called Taylor's Mistake. We've noted that the signage is not always obvious to us foreigners.

    We carefully drove back down the cliff side to the beach at Sumner. The tide was still out but the light was not as good for photos. Still, we parked and walked in across the huge sands and Chris looked at his email and realized our realtor had sent us a message that there was an offer on our house, which we had been trying to sell. As Chris was dealing with the email, the sun came out and I took lots of photos in the clear light. Teenagers, families, just folks were all scattered on the beach doing their thing, running in the waves, playing around the rocky outcroppings in some hobbit-like caves. A very striking wall of containers runs for several blocks at the bottom of the high cliff facing the beach to hold back quake rubble from the busy beach road; some were decorated with artwork. Apparently some of the houses high up on the cliff had fallen during the quakes.

    By now it was 5. We broke out the phone GPS to help us find Designer Cottage B&B, which would be our home in Christchurch for the next two nights. It was quaint and stylish. The owner, Chet, has bought several small houses and has them in a compound to rent. Simple but well appointed rooms, very attractive. The courtyard was handsome too, showing Chet's gift as a landscape designer and the influence of Asian style. Chet took us into the breakfast room building, which was fashioned out of corrugated sheets. He gave us a map that he had put together himself for his guests and succinctly pointed out all the places he liked to eat between the house and downtown a mile away, as well as sights along the way. This was the nicest presentation by an owner that we've ever seen in a b&b. So helpful!

    We took a little rest and then walked into town to eat at Beer and Burger. We weren't that hungry yet, so we walked farther on to make reservations for tomorrow night at Cafe Valentino which Chet had recommended for good reasonable lamb. Then we came back to the burger place, which sells wine and beer too. The burgers were even better than the ones we had earlier in NZ. Once again the buns were amazing, like real bread, almost English muffins, instead of boring like in the US. I had the burger with bechamel sauce and onion rings; Chris had the lamb burger. Totally delicious. The burgers were $13 apiece, so dinner was about $40 NZ. We walked home and hit the sack at about 11.

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    WEDNESDAY: The Christchurch experience

    The breakfast table was stylishly laden with fruit and continental breakfast goodies. Chet was directing all the action, seating guests, making coffee, suggesting locally made lemon-line jam and other items we might not be aware of. We chatted with two couples from Holland about our experiences so far. Chet made suggestions re our plans for the day and generally helped keep the gabfest going. Sometimes the b&b breakfast experience, like this one, is so entertaining and relaxing that you don't get going quite as quickly as you had intended! We finally were off, walking downtown and noting all the artistic touches resulting from the earthquake recovery. My favorite was a beautiful armchair made of a mosaic of broken China in a tiny garden. Huge wall murals were here and there on the street.

    We ended up in the container shopping center, made from metal shipping containers to house retail outlets that had to be relocated when their buildings were damaged. Very fun and funky, with lots of small places to eat and to sit outside. The arch of remembrance (a war memorial) was shrouded in scaffolding, being bolstered. We continued on to the city center where it finally dawned on us: 70 percent of the downtown had been destroyed by the earthquakes. Big buildings still sit there condemned; others have been torn down into empty spaces; new ones are being built. The huge cathedral the square is named for lays half in ruins. It's a dramatic sight.

    The info center in Cathedral Square told us we'd missed both the hour-long bus tours that explain to tourists what happened in the quakes (11 am and 1 pm). A more general tour was available in an hour but we decided to mount our own. We walked along various streets to get to the Cardboard Cathedral which is basically taking the place of the ruined cathedral. After the earthquake, Christchurch citizens contacted a Japanese architect who had built a cardboard cathedral in Japan after the earthquakes there. He came to Christchurch. The result is astonishing: a huge church with a soaring peaked ceiling, all made of cardboard. The roof structure looks like gigantic paper towel tubes. The church has stained glass too. It's just beautiful. I found the spirit and effort of this quite emotional, tho I felt that way about the whole city. A 70-ish volunteer inside told us that she had moved to Christchurch from London several years before the quakes. When the second quake struck, she was walking outside, having just come from the doctor. She couldn't retain her footing; neither could those around her. She was not injured in her fall, and she went home and checked on a 90-year-old neighbor who said she knew she'd be all right because she had gone thru this before: as a child, she lived through the Napier earthquake! The volunteer said she didn't yet know all her neighbors but the earthquakes quickly brought everyone together. We heard that over and over again; it taught people what was important in life, and it's people, not houses.

    We decided to go back to the container shopping area to see "Quake City," a small museum and movie dedicated to the quakes. On the way we stopped at an info center and asked if they knew the location of a statue representing a fellow named Godley, who was an ancestor of our neighbor back home. "You mean John Godley, the founder of Christchurch? He's right over there; he's just been put back up," she said. Apparently the statue had fallen during the quakes. Now it was back up, tho still shrouded in scaffolding; we snapped a photo for our pals. We took a quick pass through the elaborate Botanical Gardens (the redwood trees and the roses were enchanting) and consumed a flat white in the cafe. I would have loved to go "punting" down the Avon River (in a kayak or the more traditional boat), which winds through the middle of everything as tho this were England, but not enough time (geez, aren't we here for a month?!).

    Quake City is well worth about two hours, which is longer than the hour we had (like everything in NZ, it closes at 5; why were we surprised). The museum desk person offered to let us come back the next day but we were scheduled to leave, so we saw what we could. The exhibits are so enlightening about earthquakes and their effects; one video shows a street security film of about 40 seconds of the quake, with a building falling apart, people falling to the ground, and a sidewalk cracking open. This was just one block and it was not Hollywood or Peter Jackson! In an hour-long film that I would love to have finished watching, residents are interviewed about what happened to them when the 2011 earthquake struck. One woman was in a tower of the cathedral in the square and was buried; another lost her fingers trying to get out of a collapse; another told of trying to find the husband she was meeting downtown for lunch. It was riveting.

    We walked back to the b&b, relaxed, and returned to town for our 7:30 pm reservations at Cafe Valentino, which was lively with after-work types. It looked perfect now, but a menu picture showed how the restaurant had been damaged by the quakes and then repaired. We had the lamb shank and the filet of lamb from a menu more varied then our choices would indicate! Both were delicious. I told the waitress I loved the unusual flavoring on the filet, and she said, "It must be star of anise; they love star of anise here." But she went back to the kitchen to make sure, and indeed it was, plus cinnamon. We were home by about 10.

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    So glad you enjoyed Christchurch - I found Quake City fascinating - we had a few hours there and it still wasn't enough. I personally find post-earthquake Christchurch much more interesting than before - such a testament to the Kiwi spirit.

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    just found this pthomas, and enjoying it very much.

    We did a not dissimilar trip albeit with some of Oz thrown in about 18 months ago, and I'm afraid that you have put me to shame as my TR hit the buffers somewhere between Oz and NZ!

    keep it coming!

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    THURSDAY 3/26: FROM CHRISTCHURCH TO MOUNT COOK

    We had breakfast with a young Swiss couple who were traveling around NZ for 8 weeks, the first 3 by rental car and the next by camper van. They said it was a good deal at the end of the season to drive a camper van up from the South Island (Queenstown) back to Auckland. Who knew? We also met a young Irish lad, a plasterer, who had arrived in town with a two-year visa to work rebuilding Christchurch. He needed to find a job but we suspected that wouldn't be hard. We said we were surprised by how much work there still is to do four years after the quakes, and Chet said it has been taking a long time to get insurance payments. He had just recently received a payment from one of the claims he had placed.

    After we packed up we said goodbye to Chet and promised good reviews. He gave us pears from his tree. Then we were off to drive thru the eastern section of Christchurch along the river where 5,000 houses had been condemned and demolished. Chet had told us about it, and the Dutch couples said they had been driven thru on the quake bus tour. It was a weird sight: all you see are driveways on overgrown lots-- no houses anymore. The government won't let the lots be rebuilt on because the ground is too soggy underneath and liquefaction would just occur once again in another quake. The ground, which had been filled-in wetlands, turned to mush and destabilized the homes. Sobering.

    By 11:30 we were looking for our way out of town and onto Route 1 to begin our trip to Mt Cook. The plains of Canterbury were easy to drive thru, stopping for coffee and an awesome chocolate chip and caramel bar, plus flat whites of course, at a Robert Harris Cafe. By 2 pm we were at Geraldine, a quaint touristy town that is kind of the gateway to inland Mt Cook. While Chris filled up on gas, I was waylaid by a small shop called Curds and Whey (I think). It turns out they make Talbot Forest Cheese in the back portion of the store; through the windows of the back are white wheels of Brie and thick chunks of everything else. They've won plenty of awards too, so I picked up a gold-medal blue and a vintage cheddar along with some pork and venison salami. Their ice cream flavors were unusual, such as nectarine and muscavado and fig, but I went with plum and creme fraiche when the salesperson said it reminds her of her grandfather's backyard plum trees. By 2:30 pm we had passed Fairlie, and the green mountains were closer to the road and sheep covered the fields. We stopped at one particularly crowded pasture where by now I had learned I had to sneak out of the car and up to the sheep with my camera so they wouldn't bolt.

    The landscape grew hillier and more dramatic. When we got to Lake Tekapo, we stopped to see the little stone Church of the Good Shepherd and the sun began to break through. We brought out cheese and bread and sat at a picnic table near the statue that is a tribute to farm collies everywhere (which of course looked just like my old English Shepherd Angel). The sun just kept getting brighter. We stopped in town for gas and flat whites, and I picked up a Wild Kiwi fleece ($20 NZ) at the info center. A woman came in to ask where to see the lake at its best blue vantage point, and the worker said to go up to the nearby Mt John University Observatory and look down.

    That sounded intriguing so we took the observatory road as well, which was just a couple of miles away. For four kilometers we wound through lovely golden hillsides with beautiful views of the lake and an especially great vista with hay wheels in front. At the top was the promised 360-degree panorama in gorgeous golden light with big puffy clouds. Just stunning. The Astro Cafe at the top was described by Lonely Planet as the best place ever for a cafe--so right! Took pix and we were off again. The light held all the way to the giant Lake Pukaki where the snow-capped mountain range was in view all the way to Mt. Cook. We kept stopping to take pix in case the clouds descended but they never did. We couldn't tell if one of the peaks was Mt Cook or whether it was behind the few clouds at Mt Cook village.

    By 7 pm we arrived at the village, the last guests to check in to the Akira Court Motel. They say it's a four-hour drive if you go straight from Christchurch to Mt Cook, but who ever doesn't make stops in NZ? It took us 7, tho our stops were not long. The motel gave us a spacious room with an extra single bed, a kitchenette, and a nice view up the mountains. We dashed over to the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center at the fancy Hermitage Hotel and for $20 saw the last movie of the day, a spine-tingling one about soaring over and around Mt Cook in 3-d. Browsed thru the museum devoted to Hilary's exploits and Mt. Cook while waiting for movie to start. The center's only other option for the night was the star-gazing program, which for $62 we thought we didn't need. After the movie we went up to the Snowline bar at the Hermitage and got a couple of beers on tap for our intrepid driver along with a bag of crisps for me. Chatted with bartender about bourbon; he said he likes to drink his with lemonade! Yikes! Back at the motel, we had a snack of sausage and cheeses with our half bottle of Chenin blanc from Esk Valley. By 11 we crashed.

    FRIDAY 3/27: PICTURE PERFECT DAY IN MT COOK

    At 7 am I woke up and got a shock: the sky looked clear. The weather report had said clouds and rain. We hustled around to get our Hooker Valley tramp underway while the weather was still good. By 8 we were looking for the Old Mountaineers Cafe which the guide book had said had " breakfast all day." Maybe so, but it doesn't open til 10! But in the meantime we realized we could see Mount Cook! Victory! Most tourists come and don't see it out of the clouds. The Hermitage of course has a perfect view of it. We went to the Hermitage and prepared to pay the big bucks for the breakfast buffet. They had continental for $20 and full for $39. We opted for continental which appeared to have cheese and very good ham, tho we weren't absolutely sure we were supposed to have that protein option. Nevertheless we filled up while gazing through a giant picture window at Mt Cook, and our waitress, a girl from South Africa, confirmed how lucky we were to have a day like this. We then visited the Activities center and determined that the Hooker Valley trail at 3-4 hours was perfect for us tho there were several shorter options. By 10:40 we had driven to the car park and were on the trail.

    It winds through a scenic combination of flora and mountains and is almost flat with just a small ascent. Perfect for my stupid hip bursitis. In some spots stairs have even been added. Hence this is the most popular trail and plenty of folks, both young and our age, were doing it. Everyone was thrilled with the clarity of the snow-capped mountains all around. Still, even in clouds it would have been interesting because the mountains are so close. The first dramatic point came at a swing bridge across the pale blue boulder-strewn river far below. It moves like crazy when anyone at all is on it but at least it was held up by metal wires (as opposed to the rope and wood ones I remember from Peru) and it had some side wires too so you couldn't fall down and slip off. We kept expecting Mt Cook to slip behind a cloud, but it remained majestically in evidence. The second swing bridge looked just as strong, tho it was even higher. The scariest part was Chris giving me his iPhone from up there to take a picture. If I dropped it, it was a goner in the river down below. The flora was a bit different as we went higher, with some wild flowers appearing here and there. Some of the mountains had a ton of gravel that had poured down a side, somewhat mysterious. Giant boulders were scattered everywhere. The glacier right in front of us looked a bit blue, and part of it was covered with dust. We wondered whether anyone walked on it; we couldn't see anyone. Two helicopters buzzed overhead. One seemed to be flight seeing but the other was ferrying things from the other side of mt cook back to somewhere in the valley. One time it was a giant tube. By the third swing bridge I knew the walk must be close to the end. Shortly we came to a lake that had formed from the melting glacier above and it had icebergs! Nice ending. They dotted the pale green lake like ice cubes in a drink. It was so still that we could see Mt Cook's reflection in the water.

    It had taken us about the predicted amount of time to get there: 1 hour 35 minutes. We hung out at the lake for about a half hour, eating a peach from breakfast and walking down to inspect the icebergs. Then we headed back, stopping at the Alpine Memorial to all the mountaineers who had lost their lives in this area. Very moving, and appropriately a bit hard to scramble up to. It took about the same amount of time to return tho the descent was easier! The sun came out in full force about halfway back and we were hot. We found our car and rewarded ourselves with a beer and a coke in the Hermitage's cafe, where we saw sir Edmund Hilary's statue on the terrace. He looks right at Mount Cook which was still gleaming away in the sunshine. What a day! Great walk, everything we could have wanted. We made a quick trip to the activity center for a few souvenirs then were off around 4, heading for Oamaru. We realized as we drove away down the side of Lake Pukaka that Mt Cook had been right in front of us the whole drive the day before, but it was in the clouds. We didn't even know it was there!

    I had changed our hotel reservations so we would stay in Oamaru instead of Dunedin on Friday night. I figured it was too much driving after a long hike, and Oamaru is at least 90 minutes closer to Mt Cook. That's when I discovered Expedia's Achilles heel. If you want to modify an existing reservation, such as changing our 3-day Dunedin reservation to two days, you have to cancel the whole thing and rebook. I had booked the three nights some weeks ago at $139 a night. The hotel was now (on Tuesday, five nights before we would arrive) at $207 a night for Saturday and Sunday. In addition, I had to call the us Expedia to find this out, because expedia.co.nz said they were not the ones who had the reservation. This was at $2 a minute. Very annoying. If I had known it worked like that, I would have made 3 separate one-day reservations and then I could have cancelled whatever part I wanted. So I found another Dunedin Hotel in Fodors, the Farry Motel in a good location in the city and booked that for $150 NZ, which was less than the Expedia hotel per night. And I cancelled the Expedia booking online. Take that!!

    We stopped for flat whites at 5 at Oamarata, a crossroads with some good venues, including an historic hotel and cafe, a sheep shearing cafe and another place selling milkshakes and ice cream; we had just passed a busy salmon fishing lake that was stocked. We took our coffees outside in the sunshine and watched the passing parade, one road going west to Queenstown and the other east to Oamara. The guidebook described state highway 83 as little traveled but passing thru stunning scenery and that was so true. A series of dams were between the big bluest lakes imaginable and there was nobody there. And no services around. Mountains, big golden hills coming right down to the water, lots of sheep. No people. It was like that all the way to the coast. As we got closer we drove into clouds and by the time we got there at about 7, it was cold and gloomy.

    We found our hotel in an amazing section of Oamaru -- a well-preserved few blocks of Victorian architecture. In the late 1800s, the town was booming and all kinds of elegant buildings were going up. Eventually it hit the skids, but nobody was ever interested enough in Oamaru to knock the buildings down and start over. So it's all still there. Hotel Criterion is on a prominent corner and was recently renovated. The rooms are all upstairs and decorated in Victorian style, lots of burgundy. We had an ensuite for $120 NZ. There's a nice pub downstairs and when I called for a reservation I was told that they have live music on Fridays til 12 and it can be heard all over the hotel. Band hadn't started but the pub was jumping with local folks from both a private function and other events.

    The person in charge took our credit card, gave us a menu when we asked about dinner and sent us upstairs to settle in. But when we came back down at 8, they said it would be at least 40 minutes until we could eat. So they sent us over to the Star and Garter whose kitchen just closed. They then sent us to Cucina 1871, which was happily full of diners. We settled in there and had the best dinner in NZ so far. A nice waitress and the owner took care of us. We started with Bluffton oysters on the half shell, which we have seen advertised and have been dying to try. In some places they were quite expensive but here a half dozen was $18. They were big and very tasty. We almost wanted more! The owner said we'd never have a better steak than there, and it came perfectly cooked and on a pile of veggies with sauce. I had the forest mushroom risotto and it was marvelous. The owner's biz partner was going to NYC for the first time so we gave her some advice. Very nice folks who have owned the place not terribly long. After dinner we went back to the hotel and collapsed at about 11.

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    SATURDAY 3/28: DUNEDIN AND THE WILD OTAGO PENINSULA

    Breakfast was disorganized. Had to hunt around in the little guest kitchen/breakfast room to find everything. Not sure if the food in the fridge is for us or belongs to other people. No napkins that we could find. Very odd. Seems like it wouldn't take much effort just to set it up well for guests. Managed to have some toast and coffee and checked out. Walked around town, lots of interesting shops in interesting spaces in the old Victorian buildings. Tons of art. Especially liked Lazy Cat with all NZ artists. Funky playground with swings hanging from a giant penny farthing right on harbor. Got flat whites at cool rusted metal cafe on the harbor. Got on board a big penny farthing on one of the streets that helpfully had a step stool to get you up there. On way out of town spotted Whitestone Cheese Factory and we couldn't resist. Turned out this is who made the 5 Forks sheep and cow cheese we loved on the first day in SI. We tasted a few things and got a lesson in mutton vs lamb from the lovely ladies working there. Apparently mutton is more flavorful and more expensive. Also said NZ is more cattle- than sheep-oriented now. Bought award-winning Brie and vintage 5 forks.

    We almost missed the Moreksi Boulders, strangely round spheres of rocks on the beach, which wouldn't have been a tragedy, but then we would have missed the thick, creamy seafood chowder at the Boulders Cafe at the top of the beach stairs. The large bowl was $18 but it was packed with seafood (lumps that we figured were potato fillers were pieces of fish). It was topped with two scrumptious green lipped mussels in the shell and came with a crunchy roll. It was enough for two of us for a light lunch overlooking the light green sea. The gift shop there had a nice selection of stuff, especially jewelry.

    We drove down 1 through mist and clouds and downright thick fog, and just as we came over the hill to the Dunedin welcome sign it cleared up. Bright and sunny! Dunedin exudes a Scottish flair. Great old elaborate Victorian architecture, lively streets with lots of students, quaint little single family homes with tons of flowers. Fairly easily found our motel with our Fodor guide map, right on George Street, a main shopping and restaurant avenue. Heart of student culture. First time in an NZ motel and the amenities at 858 George Street were great. Owners are clearly quite thoughtful, with little touches like a sewing kit and one day of complimentary breakfast that they brought to our fridge. Fridge even has a freezer, good for my ice bag. Has a separate bedroom and dining room plus a galley kitchen along one wall. And the first microwave we've seen. This proved handy when what we thought were the hardboiled eggs they brought us turned out to be raw. Made nice poached eggs on toast. Spotlessly clean and free parking tucked in with the motel as well.

    Though people were sitting out in the sunshine in sidewalk eateries, we decided since it was only 4-ish that we would skip a city walk and head to the Otago Peninsula since it would stay light til at least 8. It was about 15 minutes out there and another 45 to the point. Incredibly gorgeous. Hilly, clouds and sun chasing each other, stunning views of coast and hills. So wild it's hard to believe NZ's seventh largest city is only minutes away. We drove down the west side and took the road inland to Larnach Castle. We thought maybe we could see it from the outside but you have to pay to do even that (the last house tour was admitted at 5) so we skipped it. We headed to the gravel roads of the east side hills. The views of sea and cliffheads and was spectacular. It reminded me of the Isle of Skye in its wildness. So many roads ended in a tramp to the sea. Wish we could have stayed a few days out here!

    By now it was getting late, 7 pm, so we decided to head over to Penguin Place where you could supposedly see some penguins coming in from the sea at dusk. But when we got there, all was locked up tight, couldn't find a soul. Maybe they were all out somewhere viewing penguins. Chris suggested we drive the few miles to the Royal Albatross Center and see what was happening there. Good move. The albatross tours were over for the day but at 7:45 they were taking a group to the beach to watch the blue penguins, the smallest ones in the world, come in from the sea. It was $25 apiece and I could see that Chris could have lived without this experience. But we were right here and I love penguins so we paid up. It's all for a good cause but it is expensive to view NZ's wildlife on organized adventures. You have to pick and choose. I was glad we had already seen albatrosses on our whale watch.

    The center was informative for wandering around, as was the talk at the beginning of the tour. Lots more pairs of breeding penguins exist now since the center began its work of having protected hides for them to breed in and keeping the egg predators out (with an elaborate fence). The land is being turned back to the Maori soon; the tour lady said her boss, I assume the director, is a Maori. Our group of about 15 trooped down a barely lit walk and stairs about 8 pm to a wide observation deck. It was lit up more than I expected. A little group of blue penguins had already washed up on the beach and were preparing to head up the rocky hill toward us.

    We spent about a half hour watching various groups of penguins scramble up the hillside path to their hides. Some came right up to the viewing platform. We left ahead of the others so we could tackle those lengthy stairs at leisure (stupid hip bursitis!) which turned out to be a blessing. Walking quietly alone, we could hear the wacky sounds the Penguins make to talk to their buddies. Other-worldly! I never would have imagined they sounded like that.

    We made the long dark drive back to Dunedin and ended up eating at The Lone Star restaurant a block from the motel because it was 10 pm by now and we were afraid kitchens were closing. The theme of this chain is New Zealanders' interpretation of Texas, which must be pretty appealing because there's 27 of these now in NZ. It's decorated with Clint Eastwood-with-a-gun photo enlargements, that sort of thing. The menu was meat-oriented but I had the salt and pepper calamari starter as an entree, which was good and chewy. Nice hefty portion on a little lettuce for $16. Excellent Chardonnay, Whither Hills I think. Chris had orange roughy, which was fine but kind of glopped up with stuff like a mediocre American meal. Had a good interesting chopped veggie salad with it. Our young waitress said she'd done a home switch with some Americans and got to go skiing in Breckinridge. She said she was amazed by how friendly Americans were to her there. I told her I was glad to hear that because we think NZ-ers are really friendly. She insisted on taking our picture eating our pavlova dessert when she heard I wasn't in many of our vacation pictures (being the photographer). She said even tho pavlova is NZ's best known dessert it's not the thing you ask for on your birthday or anything. And pavlovas are all different. The Kaikoura pavlova was big and surrounded by hard meringue. This one was small and topped with soft meringue and ice cream, with whipped cream on the side. Walked home about 11.

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    SUNDAY 3/29: BEACH, PORT AND THE STEEPEST STREET IN THE WORLD


    We did laundry, which was free except for soap powder, $2. Grateful to find laundry facilities after at least a week! This was a great apartment. Fodor's had cited slightly outdated bathrooms as a "con" but ours seemed so new I felt like I was the first one to use it. Excellent shower. I could have spent 4-5 days in Dunedin area I think; the Otago Peninsula was actually my favorite place in our whole trip.

    We drove about a half hour north to have lunch at the home of PJ and Jenn, folks that we had met six months ago on a schooner trip in Camden, Maine, while they were doing a lengthy tour of the U.S. They suggested we run down to the nearby Orokunui Eco Center since we left them just before 4, but when we got there we decided we had too little time to really tour what looked like a great refuge. They've built another one of these incredible anti-predator fences all around the place to keep the birds safe -- it amazes me that the Kiwis can do that.

    We saw on the map that a beach walk could be had at Long Beach down the road; we couldn't go all the way to the beach on the trails at Otago yesterday. We marveled at the beautiful access trail from the parking lot, 300 meters of lush tropical forest and towering cliffs -- one of which was being climbed by someone, so we watched that for a bit before walking the beautiful, broad beach that was almost deserted in this golden late afternoon light.


    To get back downtown, we chose the route through Port Chalmers, a port town. We parked and took a walk to ogle the action in the shipyard. We ended up talking to a German member of the crew from a huge container ship that we watched being loaded. He and his mates were going to dinner around the corner tonight and shoving off tomorrow; fun to talk to. After the port, with some effort, we located Baldwin Street in Dunedin, billed as the steepest residential street in the world. We drove down it and it was actually kind of scary. I wouldn't want to live on it!

    We made a quick stop at the motel and then walked to the Irish Bog pub to watch part of the World Cricket Cup championship game, which NZ was playing against Australia. It was a huge national event. We sat at the bar and watched and we were still confused. They'd been playing for hours and Australia still wasn't up to bat. At the bar, we talked to some kind of pro Ira Scotsman -- almost as confusing as cricket -- who now lives in NZ. We soon had enough of both cricket and incendiary politics, and went to dinner at the Golden Dragon, which was relatively busy on this late Sunday night. We had delicious lamb with cumin and beef with veggies. Grabbed an ice cream cone at the Dairy Bar near the motel. They had the Kapiti Island ice cream that I had enjoyed in Geraldine and it was a premium price. I loved the fig and honey. Chris had regular Hokey Pokey with honeycomb in it, which is NZ's favorite flavor. The small version was called "learner's" and was only $2. Glad to get in bed by about 11.

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    We found our hotel in an amazing section of Oamaru -- a well-preserved few blocks of Victorian architecture. In the late 1800s, the town was booming and all kinds of elegant buildings were going up. Eventually it hit the skids, but nobody was ever interested enough in Oamaru to knock the buildings down and start over. So it's all still there. Hotel Criterion is on a prominent corner and was recently renovated. >>

    pthomas - we stayed in the same hotel! amazing! and not only that, we also ate at Cucina 1871 too and had about the best dinner we had in NZ if not on the whole trip. [which is saying something].

    the only difference is that for us, it was our 2nd to last night in NZ, for you it was your second. We were lucky enough to see the little penguins in Oamaru [very lucky, as we never made it to Dunedin] and also had a walk round the town which is fascinating - including a great botanical garden, those wonderful victorian buildings and an opera house where we had a guided tour by a very bored barman who latched onto us like a drowning man does a life-raft.

    great report - please keep going.

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    This is an absolutely fabulous report. I am able to 'do' things vicariously we didn't have time to do ourselves, like the kiwi centre, and things we didn't even know about, like the Aviation Heritage centre. Really appreciate all the effort.

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    Annhig, so glad you liked Cucina so much too. I hope the ladies who own it see this report and these comments! Wish we had stumbled into the opera house tour. And no, kwaussie, we did not have augmented bourbon tho I am not a purist and probably would have liked it better than plain.

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    MONDAY 3/30: TE ANAU AND A BEAUTIFUL B&B

    Actually got up early by setting alarm, still didn't leave for Te Anau until 9:15! By 11:15 we were gassing up in Gore, stopped for flat whites at Shelby's Cakes and enjoyed a marvelous apricot crumble -- I was already eating a Magnum ice cream bar, which I had been eyeing in every gas station. Rich like a Dove Bar. Beautiful sunny day and tho we are on the "unscenic" route -- the scenic one swings down to the other side of the Catlin Mountains -- we are driving through the usual NZ beauty of green hills, twisty main roads, sheep and cattle. I'm not sure New Zealanders have ever seen unscenic! Every little town looks like you would love to stay in the town hotel, visit Luzzy and Wayne's Curio Shop, have a handle at the outdoor pub. But others put it in perspective: Shelby at Shelby's Cakes says she loves Te Anau but hasn't been there in years. Her husband wants to go the U.S. for Steve Earle's songwriting camp but she says they need to wait until they can go for a longer time.

    Starting to see leaves turn a bit. Especially the very occasional maple! We pass numerous deer farms including one where the deer had big antlers. Eventually we found a place to take a picture of them, and there were deer on one side of the road making noise and big black milk cows on the other side mooing at us interlopers. Hilariously cacophonous. We drove into Te Anau and asked the visitors center where our b&b was. A few miles back out the way we came. Te Anau is very tiny on a beautiful lake with a collection of restaurants and a supermarket and drugstore, etc. We stopped at the market for wine and bought a dozen Bluff oysters for $25, already shucked like our friends Pj and Jen had at their house at lunch. Then we headed out to Kakapo Road to find Dusky Ridges B&B.

    Loads of sheep were scattered over the fields as we drove down the road leading to the B&B. It was a lovely, modern house with an extension and another separate cottage for visitors. The owner, Wynn, had to step out but she left us a welcome note saying to go inside where we found a fresh loaf of bread and butter, homemade brownies, an enormous amount of breakfast food -- fabulous. The downstairs had a living room, a dining area and a little kitchen with a laundry. What a great setup. Upstairs were 2 bedrooms and a bathroom. Lots of books about NZ, lots of little touches such as local hand lotion, a small bouquet of flowers. Outside in a pen across the yard were sheep and llamas, and next door to them were deer. Took lots of photos. When Wynn came in, she was just as lovely as her welcome. She and her husband Henrik from Denmark bought this property seven years ago when their property elsewhere was bought out by a big German farm. That's why everything is new. She suggested we might like to walk on the property to a big stand of trees where a hill affords a good view of the lake, especially at sunset.

    So we got out our wine and oysters and cheese and with some of Wynn's bread and made ourselves a picnic in the backyard. After that, we took a walk back down toward the road to visit the sheep, then back up to the stand of trees. Beautiful views everywhere. Between the hill and the lake, way in the distance, we could see their herd of deer. And we could hear them very clearly because it's mating season. A hilarious amount of bugling. We stayed quite a while then walked back and relaxed some more. We decided the property was so lovely that we'd rather stay there than go back into town for dinner (tho Wynn had given us dining suggestions). We still had oysters and cheese, so who wanted to leave? As sunset approached we walked back up to the stand of trees, this time accompanied by the elderly male buck that Wynn said had to be separated from the yard herd into his own pen because he was giving the others trouble. Then we walked back, got in bed and read and went online. Very relaxing night thanks to our beautiful surroundings. (Paid $180 US)

    TUESDAY 3/31: OVERNIGHT CRUISE IN DOUBTFUL SOUND

    We were woken up at 7:45 by our neighbor and house caretaker Arlene calling to update us on Rob the repairman coming to fix the furnace -- an important event because the house we had moved out of in Rhode Island had gone under contract while we were in Christchurch and we were supposed to have a house inspection on Friday. These house negotiations are a bit nerve-wracking from 10,000 miles away!

    We scrambled around to make breakfast from the four eggs and lots of venison sausage and bacon that Wynn had left us. You can tell she wants her guests to have the same level of service she likes. We were ready by shortly after 10 to check out. We met Henrik, Wynn's husband. He and their four dogs had mustered the sheep to the area where they would go through a dipping process for lice. Good thing I took sheep pix yesterday! We paid Wynn our $250 NZ by credit card with her phone; she says she wants to get a Square to make things easier. Then we were off the few miles to Te Anau to wait for the boat that would kick off our overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound.

    The bus wasn't boarding until 11:30 so we went off to get a flat white and pop round the shops near the cafe. We took the bus the short way to Lake Manapori, where we picked up our box lunches ($25 each, a little pricey for a sandwich and some cheese and crackers and an apple) and boarded the boat. We went to the top deck, which turned out to be a freezing wind tunnel tho it was nice to be in the open. So we stayed up there the whole time, a little less than an hour. A big group of kids was with us. At first we thought they were NZ-school kids off for an overnight field trip. Later we found out that they were from an international school in Singapore. They were of all ethnic groups but they all spoke perfect English. They were on a 10-day trip and the next day they were going on helicopters! Must be an expensive school!

    At the end of the lake we boarded another bus to go across the Wilmot Pass to Doubtful (named that by Captain Cook who was unsure of its usefulness). It was brilliant green and wet with clouds of ferns and twisty beech trees. We passed a couple of waterfalls that even I thought were beautiful, and I tend to think waterfalls are overrated as a sight. After about 20 minutes we arrived at the Fjordland Navigator, a gleaming navy blue cruising boat with sails. Looks modern enough to have heat! They showed us to our double cabin, quite neat and basic, not too small. After a bit of cruising, water activities began to happen. I had wanted to kayak, but there were only 28 kayaks and at least that many kids. So we opted for the small tender ride, which was fine. We got close to shore and talked about the few birds we could see and some of the trees. The kids on the tender were hilarious, ages 11-13. They wanted to go faster. One kid grabbed a sandfly and smashed it against the knee of one of the girls; some things never change. The boat looked beautiful against the steep islands. A fjord is a passage carved by a glacier so this is one; a sound is carved by a river. Doubtful is big, somewhat wide compared apparently to Milford. Looks similar to the fjords of Norway but even more to Patagonia and our expedition ship trip around Cape Horn. After we got back to the ship, apparently a few adults headed out to kayak but I missed the memo on that. Then anyone who wanted (the kids!) went swimming. The water was cold but the kids jumped off the boat, did flips, etc. The water is mostly fresh; I tasted it. It has lots of tannin so the wake can look a little brown.

    About 6 pm we had a glass of wine (Rabbit Run Pinot Gris, delicious) and a Tui beer, and it seemed dinner was beginning so we had some tasty leek-potato-cauliflower soup. We sat with a nice couple from Sydney. But after soup, there was a cleaning up and they said we were heading out to see seals, which was great because it was golden sunset light. The ship headed out the mouth of the Tasman Sea, very dramatic with lots of rocks and rocking and rolling seas. Quite sunny breaks in the clouds, beautiful light. They hoisted a few sails, which they said was mostly for show, but it was quite a show. One of the rock groups, maybe shelter islands, had the seals which were mostly sleeping as wild waves crashed around them. The young ones were clambering around jumping into pools. Very, very beautiful. Great light on the sails for photos. This moment alone would have made the whole cruise worth it! This was where Cook sailed in and didn't think much of this piece of geography. He did a good job of representing it on a map tho.

    After that the sun was slipping away, and about 8 we headed in to dinner. Great buffet with a wonderful lamb roast carvery. Salmon, curry chicken, good veggies and a terrific beet salad. We sat with the fellow from Sydney; his wife Florence didn't feel well, maybe the soup, maybe migraine. We discussed the state of golf in the world. Pavlova appeared for dessert, along with lots of others including hot apple pie. After dinner we saw a 40-minute nature slide show by the boat naturalist, and by 10:30 we couldn't wait to get to bed. By then the captain had taken the ship into a channel called Crooked Arm, part of which we had been in when we kayaked. He went down to the end where it's very still. No rocking at all but Chris said his side of the bed was slanted and he only slept medium well. Mine was not slanted.

    One price note: the price on this trip drops steeply on April 1. We would have saved a bundle if we could have waited one more day to go but that didn't work out!

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    WEDNESDAY 4/1: MAKING OUR WAY TO QUEENSTOWN, THEN A BIG ERROR!

    The crew started the boat engines at 6:30, a wake up call for breakfast from 7 to 8. Loads of food in the buffet, including hard poached eggs. Just at 8 as we were supposed to get out of the dining room, the captain conveniently spotted bottle-nosed dolphins and everyone rushed out into the gloomy mist. Sure enough a dozen or so dolphin fins could be spotted going in and out of the water and pretty soon the critters started swimming right next to the boat in the wake. Then they did a few leaps and twists tho the nature guide said they aren't as acrobatic as the dusky dolphins we saw in the whale watch at Kaikoura. Next up were a small group of crested penguins swimming in the middle. Their little heads would poke up and they would AWK. Very cute but we couldn't get too close. At one point the captain asked everyone to find a place outside and not to make noise. He turned off the engine and everything on the boat and we listened to the sounds of Doubtful Sound. Suddenly we could hear birds, tho we still couldn't see them. The wisps of clouds drifted along. Waterfalls rushed. Very peaceful. This is what it would be like if you're Jane Gooddall, say, and you lived in nature all the time.

    By 10 we arrived back at the bus to go back over Wilmot Pass. One of the school chaperones said the kids were from the United World College of Singapore. A teacher said he was from Spain but he had spent the last eight years teaching around the world, including a year in North Carolina, and he didn't care as much about money as he did about living and having experiences. He quite fancies Asia and said he thinks he'll stay there a while. He said if we go to Singapore no need to spend more than a weekend; not that much to see. On the boat we chatted with a couple from London. It was her second trip to NZ to fill in the gaps from the first. It was his first. She travels a lot with a couple of women whose husbands don't like to go. She wants to go to the Galapagos but he is leery of boats. This was his first overnight boat trip, which he loved. She had been to Milford sound and said Doubtful is much bigger and more dramatic. She said they didn't see any animals in Milford (tho others later said they did). I was glad to hear it because Chris has sensibly persuaded me that now that we have done Doubtful, we don't need to make the forced drive to Milford today, and instead can go right to Queenstown. We have seen a lot of fjords In the past half dozen years, but I feel compelled to see ones that are so famous!

    Back in Te Anau, we did some more fruitless shopping for a very large hat for Chris (getting closer, he points out). Then a hokey pokey ice cream later plus some downloading of email at the Pop In Cafe, we were off to Queenstown at 1:50 through a sheep-filled valley hemmed in by beautiful green hills. The closer we got to Queenstown on this gorgeous sunny day the more rugged the mountains became. Then hit Lake Wakatipu and had to stop several times for photos. These mountains are remarkable! Wish we could see them with snow. What makes them so unusual is that they appear to have absolutely nothing manmade on them and they drop dramatically right down to the lake. Qtown is bigger than we imagined, tho later somebody pointed out it only has a couple of stop lights; the suburb of Frankton (?) makes it seem bigger. Found the Crowne Plaza Hotel (thank you IHG points!) perfectly located on the waterfront in the heart of everything, and they had upgraded us to a lakefront-view room on the second floor with a balcony. Perfect!

    It was a beautiful day, so we decided to take advantage of it by going up the mountain in the gondola, which was within walking distance. It was a hefty $32 apiece to get up there (round trip), but it was an amazing view all around from the viewing platforms. Really looks like Colorado without the development. The cafe was closed and we didn't want to have a big dinner up there, so we got drinks and a fish bites appetizer at the bar. We sat at a window with a perfect view of everything including the gondolas passing by.

    At about 7:15, we decided to walk down the Tiki Trail back to town. The brochure said it takes an hour, and it was staying light until about 8:15. What we didn't realize is that the sun sets at 7:30, and if you're on a trail in a thick forest it's much darker than being on the street. We kept seeing people walking up, which is of course harder, and we worried about them being in the dark. We should have been worrying about US. With about a third of the trail to go, darkness descended and we couldn't see a thing! Scary. And the trail was a scramble over tree roots in part, not the nice smooth path it had started out (later we realized the trail was graded medium, not easy). Fortunately Chris had the flashlight on his cell phone, because the only way to get down was for him to see the path, walk it, and then shine the light on the path for me. We were stressed and exhausted by the time we finally got to the bottom. We plunked ourselves down at the Coyote Grill for a margarita (excellent) and some beer. We also had chips and three dips. Hit the spot. Then we collapsed into bed, vowing not to be such dumb tourists again!.

    THURSDAY. 4/2: TRYING THE ROUTEBURN TRACK

    Our hotel room came with the breakfast buffet, so we found ourselves dining with the South African Stormers rugby team, which had been staying at the hotel. Very large men! And they were very fond of throwing all kinds of fruits and veggies into the industrial-sized juicer. Our plan for the day was to make the gorgeous drive north of Queenstown to Glenorchy to do the first day of the multi-day Routeburn Track. Even tho Milford is more famous, a lot of people say they like this one best. And while we had not planned to do any of the multi-days, we were curious to see what at least part of one was like (and whether we could do it).

    The drive is indeed dramatic, ending in a lovely valley where we picked up some cheese and bread for the trek. The Routeburn section was a bit surprising. It's almost all in the woods. And while the woods is beautiful and quirky, with so many places where it looks like a hobbit could step right out onto the path, it would have been nice to have an occasional view. The stream running downhill next to the path (which was smooth but had its share of uphill) was an incredible shade of pale blue, almost unearthly. We have found that we hike slower than the estimated time to do hikes, probably thanks to my picture taking, and after almost four hours, we still hadn't come to the hut that marks the end of the first-day trek, so we decided to head back. Later we found we were almost there and our reward would have been a magnificent vista. (It would be nice to have signs that indicate how far you have left to go.) But at least we did it and felt like we could handle it if we want to do a multi-day next time we're here.

    Back at the hotel, we used our free drink vouchers to relax on our balcony overlooking the lake and the Remarkables. Love this view. Afterward, we went down to talk to the concierge about our plan for the next day, which was to visit wineries in the Central Otago. Unfortunately for us, the next day was Good Friday, and all wineries and liquor stores and bars are closed. When you plan your trip yourself, sometimes your research is not perfect! Who knew? We headed for a walk around town -- bagpipers were playing on the waterfront, drawing a crowd -- and had a fast-food dinner at Devil Burgers to discuss our alternatives.

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    yes -certainly luckier than us with the weather at Doubtful, where after a lovely ride across the lake, the weather got increasingly worse and we had almost unrelieved gloom on the Sound. perhaps an overnight would have been better but it didn't fit into our already over-crowded itinerary.

    enjoying your trip with you- almost literally - though i seem to remember that we got the gondola down too .

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    I feel your pain regarding the gondola walk - one year we walked up AND back down...after having walked the 4.25 mile Mt Crichton Loop the same morning.

    What were we thinking?

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    FRIDAY (GOOD) 4/3: ARROWTOWN

    Indulged again at the breakfast buffet at hotel. Took it easy, no place we have to go. Called Siberia Air Experience and switched our planned plane/hike/jet boat adventure from Saturday to Sunday when the weather was looking better; luckily they had two slots available for us. Talked to concierge who made us reservations for tonight at Captains so Chris can have venison, which he had been looking forward to in NZ. She also tried to make us reservations at Mt Difficulty winery for tomorrow lunch but they were closed today so she left a message. Then we took off for Arrowtown. Just outside of town we saw the Shotover Jet Boat running so we stopped to take a look. It can go in surprisingly shallow water! Continued on to Arrowtown where we parked with masses of other cars. Quaint historic little town where gold rush was centered. However, now it's mostly about shopping and eating, and we've been in this kind of town before.

    We paid $1 for a walking trails map and decided to do the Anniversary Walk, a 4.2 km loop around the river right in town. We weren't up for anything big after the last two days! Unfortunately, it was quite difficult to tell from this map where the walk begins as several walks begin in the same place and the map indicates the walk goes south when actually it goes north. So we went for about a mile in the wrong direction along the river until we asked a family and they said it's the other way. The trail we were on was part of a 6-8 hour deal. So we went back the other way and began the route properly. Very pleasant, shaded by big trees, mostly flat with lots of folks and kids strolling and biking. However, it was a little too much of the same stuff, we'd already done a couple of miles in the wrong direction, and it was quite a warm sunny day! We were happy to find the end but not happy that there was no beer (Good Friday) as a reward. We had bought a beer and a bottle of wine last night that was in the car so we decided to go back to the hotel and have those. Stopped at Apex at the airport to tell them we were having problems with our trunk lock but their mechanics were already left for the day.

    Went back to hotel and relaxed. We had had to switch rooms because other paying customers wanted our straight-on lakefront room so we assumed we would get kicked to something in the back with no view. The word on IHG rewards is that ANY paying customer is better than a platinum member there on a hard-earned free room. But we only got moved from 214 to 208 which still has a balcony looking at the lake and Remarkables, just a few rooms down, so a lake view. We are happy!!

    By 7:45 we were at Captains on the pedestrian mall, where Chris had very good venison and I had a delicious ribeye with small boiled potatoes, lovely toasted onions and wilted spinach. I had chosen blue cheese and shallot sauce, which was a thick slice of cheese slightly melting on top of the steak. The taste was a bit much for the steak, but it was easy to take off and dip into with the potatoes. We ended up talking to the couple next to us, Lizzy and Richard, about 10 years older than us from Christchurch who had flown in for the long weekend. I liked them because they talked to each other the whole meal like we do. They are world travelers; pretty much just rich. Very fun. I love that New Zealanders are so friendly that they end up engaging us in restaurants! The couple across from us were very young and had just gotten married in America a few days before. They were talking to their waiter (who was from Ireland) about getting a visa to work here. Stopped at an English candy store and got Finnish licorice, not as good as Aussie. Back at hotel around 11. Could hear kids out on the waterfront making noise into the night but it was no big deal to us.

    SATURDAY 4/4: THE HEAVENLY OTAGO VINEYARDS

    Woke up in leisurely fashion; today we hadn't even signed up for breakfast. About 10 we went down the street to the waterfront park where there's an arts and crafts fair every Saturday. Pottery, jewelry, kids clothes, cutting boards, the usual. Didn't see anything I couldn't live without. Went back to the hotel, made reservations for kayaking Abel Tasman next Thursday, got the car, and took off for the Central Otago wineries. The concierge called to say that Mt Difficulty confirmed our reservations for 2 pm, so we had 3 hours to get out there.

    We headed out to Chard Farm in Gibbs Valley, the closest. I had read an nyt article about a writer who was watching bungy jumping from the nearby bridge while drinking a glass of wine. The winery is in a dramatic setting down a long gravel road along a gorge. Colors were changing so the trees lined up like sentries along the road were golden yellow with the giant rugged mountains behind. Just gorgeous. But the bungy jumping is a bit down the road! The winery was the finish line that day for a big bike race so lots of people were in the front yard and there were tents selling sausages etc. We went to the cellar door and tasted half a dozen wines. Not crazy enough about them to buy, but enjoyable. We turned left out of the driveway and went down to the bungy jumping bridge, which is apparently where the sport started. Quite an elaborate operation. It didn't look as terrible as I imagined to jump off a bridge with water (not pavement) below. We watched a few people jump, great fun, and in the gift store bought my daughter's forthcoming baby a couple of NZ shirts (one labeled "free range chick"). Then we were off to lunch at Mt Difficulty, which is near Cromwell about a half hour from there.

    The drive down Route 6 thru wine country is absolutely stunning. Two lanes, the usual fast clip and Saturday traffic. Lots of pulling off onto the lookout points to admire the mountains turning gold in the sunny autumn light or the sheer craggy ridges. The view is wide open, like the western US. Roarin Meg's is a postcard stop with a view of the aqua river gushing downstream. Lots of trees appeared to have lost their leaves but a sign at the lookout says NZ is taking the unusual step of killing off all the wildings, or non-native trees that are negatively affecting native trees and birds. If you don't stop at the lookouts, you don't see the river, which is far, far down in the gorge below, all along the road.

    We saw the turn for the Bannockburn Wineries, and very quickly we were on Felton Road. A sign mentioned something about the desert, and sure enough, up on the hillside were rock formations that looked like Monument Valley in the western U.S.! So beautiful. The building on the hill next to the formations was Mount Difficulty vineyard. The vines were planted in rows all around, but magnificent rocks and the entire valley and mountains could be seen from the dining terrace. A vintage truck up there just added to the scene. It was so magnificent and the light at 2 pm was so clear and beautiful that I had to walk up the hill to take photos; Chris went in to tell the restaurant, quite busy, that we were here for our reservation.

    We sat on the terrace where no umbrellas obstruct the view. They give you straw hats for the sun. The menu was short but tempting. There was an antipasto-type platter to share which most NZ vineyards with eateries have available. But we wanted to see what the chef could do. We ordered duck with a fruity sauce and linguine with forest mushrooms. The linguine reduction sauce was so flavorful we had to ask for bread because we didn't want a smidge of it to miss our mouths. It was a new item menu and we suggested to them at the end that more pasta would be welcome. NZ restaurants don't seem to give bread unless requested which is good for the waistline. The duck too had fabulous sauce. Four pieces and all had crispy skin. The presentation was especially striking because the courgettes had their dark green skin on, next to the wonderful Kelly green curly lettuce (dressing was great). For wine, Chris had a Reisling and I had the Pinot Gris trio selection, which was a deal at $12.95. I loved all three. This was one of the best meals in combination with a setting (including the weather) that I have ever experienced. We bought one of the Pinot Gris and the dessert wine I had had as part of my trio.

    We finally dragged ourselves away so we could hit one more winery. First we stopped at the bottom of the road to read about how the terrain had changed during the hydraulic mining and sluicing during the Gold Rush days. Then we realized workers had arrived to begin picking the grapes, the first time we had seen that. Apparently the weather has been so good that vineyards had delayed picking. It was fun to see, but we noticed the workers had very dark skin. We had seen no dark-skinned people in NZ. Where did these folks come from? (Later we learned that residents of far-flung islands come in to pick grapes.) We moved on to Peregrine Winery, where it was 4:45 and we had 15 minutes to taste. Very nice folks, not rushed. The winery building is in the shape of a falcon wing, and they have an interest in preserving raptors. Loved the dessert wine, which was a little less sweet that Mount Difficulty's. Bought that too.

    Went back to the hotel and relaxed, did emails, etc. Had a quick dinner at Saigon, the Vietnamese restaurant right across the street. Had an interesting crispy crepe that looked like an omelet but apparently was some kind of fried noodle crust. Nice modern place, reasonably priced.

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    SUNDAY 4/5: SIBERIA AIR ADVENTURE

    Up early on Easter morning. Left at 6:35 am for our fly-hike-boat adventure with Siberia Air into the Mount Aspiring World Heritage National Park. We decided to take the Alpine road through Cardrona to Wanaka even tho we wondered how that would be in the early morning duskiness, considering how scary some of these NZ mountain roads are. It was fine but it started out with lots of hairpin turns. From Wanaka to Makarora it was another hour. It was cloudy and foggy and a little rainy and we wondered if the plane would even take off. But the pilot said he'd already been up in the air taking some hunters somewhere. Indeed, as we waited we started to see patches of blue sky and quite soon it was a beautiful day.

    The yellow Cessna plane whisked us and another couple up into the air over the remote Siberia Valley with lots of great views of the Southern Alps tho one snowy peak was too clouded in to fly over. The flight lasted about 25 minutes. We were dropped off in the valley near Siberia Stream. It was clear and cold and we had been warned to bring extra shoes do we could ford it. Tho we thought this was to be a flatter valley walk, the beautiful trail quickly headed up into the mountains. It was quite an ascent with lovely views along the way and lots of birds.

    We had been told to be at the end of the trail to meet the jet boat about three hours later. We hike a bit more slowly than others (we always find!) and in spite of the fact that we didn't spend much time sitting around picnicking, we found it a bit of a struggle at the end to meet the deadline! But we did, and we met up with several other folks who were also picking up the boat.

    The jet boat was piloted by a cheerful young guy who clearly knew the river, as he darted around in often shallow water, giving us plenty of bursts and whirl-arounds. The cattle grazing along the shores barely gave us a second look. At the end, after about a half-hour ride, we were picked up by a van and driven back to our car. Then we faced another two-hour drive back to Queenstown and our hotel. It would have been more convenient if we could have planned this so we were heading for the West Coast, where we were to go tomorrow, but that's not how it worked out! The whole adventure cost about $350 apiece, which we felt was well worth it. http://southernalpsair.mobi/site/siberia_experience_flight_walk_jetboat.html

    We hung out in the hotel for a while, feeling justified by all our hiking that day. We opened our bottle of Peregrine Sauvignon and people-watched from the balcony. We headed out about 8 to find dinner. We ended up at Surreal, Chris attracted by the $15 rump roast special. I had the $15 Thai curry ( looks a little like dog barf but tasty). We were going to order the cheesecake, but one of the waiters suggested that that Jaffa cake was more traditionally NZ. It was very good with orange zest.


    MONDAY 4/6: THE WILD WEST COAST UP TO FOX

    Took off at 9:30 am to head up the west coast, our first day this trip without reservations! We noted that in spite of all the nights we spent in Queenstown, we never made it to Queens Gardens. Never made it to The Winery, a place downtown where you can get tastes of 84 local wines or something. We were either too busy or too tired after being busy. In retrospect we would have skipped Arrowtown and that walk. Might have done another winery area day plus the desert walk at Mt Difficulty. Or, once I had seen the upcoming beaches, I might have wanted a day at Haast Beach.

    Took Route 6 to Wanaka instead of the twisty alpine road through Cardrona that we took yesterday but it was at least 20 minutes longer. By the time we stopped for gas at Lake Hawea, it was 11:15. Not good on a day we needed to make tracks. In spite of the usual prediction of rain, it didn't rain a drop and was getting bluer the farther west we headed. The mountains here are like paint-by-number perfection, every inch craggy and dramatic, with grand, sweeping vistas of peaks and lakes. Everything untouched, barely anyone lives out here. The lake is so gigantic that when we saw a beach we wondered whether it was low tide, forgetting it's not the ocean, and yet we saw just one boat. In the sunshine it turned cornflower blue. Sigh.

    We stopped at Makarora Country Cafe for a quick and delicious lunch of steak and mushroom as well as lamb and mint pie. Such flaky pastry!! As we headed for the Haast Pass it clouded up and began to rain. So no stopping for big views at the Gates of Haast. When we got to the village, we turned left to go to Haast Beach which was 4 km away. But we didn't see any sign so after driving a bit Chris just turned into one of the gravel roads on the right, which we figured had to be along the beach. Sure enough, a huge beach heavily decorated with twisted pieces of driftwood sculpture unfolded before us. It had stopped raining so we walked a bit on that. The beach was all small stones of varying colors and designs, some green enough to be greenstone maybe. The waves were rolling in wildly. Just magnificent. I wish we were staying here; nobody really gives you info on the craziness of beaches here. Maybe nobody likes this kind of wild driftwood sort of thing as much as I do.

    When Chris realized we weren't too far from Jackson Bay, the town at the end of the line on this road, he said let's go. So we did. Our guidebooks suggested estuary walks, etc but we ignored those because it sprinkled on and off. The very straight road was lined on both sides with lush fern trees and thick leafy vegetation that made us feel like we were somewhere in the warm southeast of the US, like Florida or the Carolinas. Warming and tropical. Several bridges crossed wide, mostly dry riverbeds with pale blue water trickling through them.

    After maybe 45 minutes we finally came to the end of the line: Jackson Bay. It isn't much. Just a long wharf with fishing boats bobbing wildly in the crashing sea. By the wharf was a welcome sight: the Craypot Restaurant. One of Chris's favorite books is The Restaurant At the End of the Universe and now he would get to eat in a real one, at the end of the only road on the West Coast of NZ. It's a tiny but cute little building with a huge orange umbrella covering a few tables outside. This was an indoor day tho, so we sat at one of the half dozen booths and ordered a flat white, a bowl of seafood chowder ($18 NZ) and some chips. No wifi unless you pay for it. The chowder came out in a funky ceramic fish bowl on a fish plate. The chips were served in a metal basket with a handle. So stylish I had to take a photo which got a laugh out of the two ladies running the place. We ate while gazing at rain sluicing down the windows and the boats rocking on the sea. It really did feel like the end of the earth. We bought Chris a tshirt for $43; they know their market: people who like weird places. And the edges of things.

    It was about 3 so we thought we'd better get going. It would end up taking us until 5:45 to get to Fox Glacier, with only a couple of brief stops as it was raining on and off much of the way. We stopped at Ship's Creek where a boardwalk led to another wide wild beach. The first people I saw said they had spotted some crested penguins swimming off shore; they don't usually come in until twilight. The next people coming up the beach with hiking sticks said they'd seen Dolphins playing. Of course tho I walked a ways, I saw none of these. But I did see beautiful smooth rocks of different types covering the beach, including greenstone. The only shells seemed to be clams. As I started back it began to rain hard. Chris was up at the interpretive signs ( look southwest across the Tasman Sea and the only thing from here is Antarctica) so we both made a run for the car. Our only other stop was at Knights Point, which Lonely Planet had advised to see "if humanly possible." We noted the (only) road up the coast had been rerouted because the old one had washed out or something, and when we got to the lookout, the observation deck was closed because of cliff erosion. You could still see over the bushes however, to a beach below the cliffs with rocky outcroppings dotting the sea. On the north side near the bathrooms another lookout afforded a beautiful view down the rocky coast.

    We put pedal to the metal then, arriving at Fox in the gloom at 5:45, 45 minutes to go til sunset. We had no internet connection or phone service as we went up this remote coast (didn't plan for that!) so we couldn't call ahead for a reservation. Finally in the middle of town, the service worked and Expedia showed us which hotels were available. A couple of the dozen accommodations had no vacancy signs, but the Whitehaven Hotel, mentioned in Fodor, had a king room for $130, the owner said. We signed up, and the owner was quite efficient about showing us on a map where things are in town, from how to walk up to the glacier from town, to how to see glow worms on an 8:30 pm walk to where to go to dinner. The room was spacious and outfitted with a sofa and coffee table plus a microwave and fridge. It really started to rain a lot, so we just hunkered down, still full from our chowder. Later I had microwaved popcorn and Chris had his leftover French fries and we snacked on almonds and opened our bottle of Mount Difficulty Pinot Gris. The internet wasn't working great, and they only give you 150 MB free, but we did manage to use it some. We read and went to sleep early so we could get up early tomorrow..

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    TUESDAY 4/7 HOKATIKI TO WESTPORT

    We were up at 6 and the sun doesn't rise til 7! Still raining a bit. By 7 the rain stopped but the clouds were close to the ground. We packed up. We were skipping the glaciers as we have done glaciers the past few years in Patagonia and Norway and we have already been to Mount Cook. Next stop will be Hokatiki for lunch perhaps. By 8 we can see a bit of blue sky peeking out at the mountain tops and when we leave at 8:30 it is sunny in Fox. Helicopter pilots are predicting clearing by 10:30. The road between Fox and Franz has two passes and several hairpins and it is lush, covered with rainforest ferns and fern trees. We stop at Franz Josef for gas and a little bread and cheese and then by the river bridge where everyone has stopped to take pix of the rushing milky gray river and the glaciers emerging from the clouds. Beautiful light at this hour. Then we're off. On the way to Hokatiki we pass many vintage mini Coopers doing the "Pork Pie charity Run", it says on each of them. By 12 we are in Hokatiki.

    Hokatiki turned out to be much cooler than I imagined. I had thought it would be slick, but it's several streets of down-home businesses, lots of artists and jade shops, some historic buildings
    and places to eat. But the best part is the beach. The access to it has "Hokatiki" written in driftwood in an arch. You pass through, and there is the wide beach, heavily littered with driftwood and possibly the remains of driftwood art projects concocted for the Driftwood Art Contest in January. Today it was very misty, and numerous people were strolling the beach, having fun on the driftwood, running around, taking photos. We walked all the way down to sunset point, which is the mouth of the river. In drier moments it's a great sunset beach apparently.

    We headed back toward town and turned up Revell Street, the main drag which during Gold Rush days had 102 hotels wedged in there. Hard to imagine. Now some historic buildings remain. One is an art gallery where you can see how all those stones on the beach look when they're polished. Lots of wood and stone art. One particularly fun store is the book store where I bought 3 posters. I asked if they had a tube to put them in and they said they just happened to, and promptly charged me $7 for it. Nothing in NZ is free! We noticed that the guy running the place is the same guy we saw a bit earlier on a beach before Hokatiki who seems to have stopped there to close the gate to the side road. Funny confidence. He said he was checking on erosion from all the rain the night before. I am interested in buying the book "Luminairies" by an NZ author, which a sign announces that they have, but when I see how thick it is in paperback I rather guiltily think I'd rather read it on the iPad than carry it around.

    We were in the mood for fish and chips, so we drove back to where we entered town to Porky's Takeout. The salesperson said Blue Cod was the special, Elephant fish was what they usually had, and her favorite was Rig fish. So I said let's have your favorite. A poster on the wall described all the different kinds of fish. Rig is caught in coastal waters in long nets 50 meters deep and is a firm texture (cod is medium firm). We got one order for two of us, which was plenty. It was truly delicious, all wrapped in newspaper, and we ate it at outdoor picnic tables. The tartar sauce was an extra $2.20. A sign said "sauces are not free. Dont hassle the staff." I'm telling you, nothing in NZ is free!

    We left Hokatiki a couple of hours later and made occasional stops to view the wild beaches, but that wasn't always easy. Not a lot of beach access even tho the only road runs right down the coast. When we pulled into the busy area at the Pancake Rocks blowholes, we weren't expecting much since it was heading to low tide. But they are very cool, geologically, and the path accessing them is extremely well done, snaking around to best advantage. It was still fairly foggy and misty, but not raining at least. We stopped for a flat white at the cafes across the street, and then were off to Westport. I was glad I made a motel reservation that morning (when we had good internet connection) so we didn't have to worry about finding a place. The road north after the pancakes is one of the Great Roads Of the World, and it is stunning. Fortunately, the traffic all seemed to be going the other way and we could go as slow as we wanted. The limestone rock croppings in the water were dramatic. The sun made an occasional milky appearance and we stopped numerous times. Now that I've seen this, I would definitely have stayed on the water here somewhere, maybe the Punakiki Resort. You just want to spend time on this beach! However, probably in sunnier weather.

    We pressed on as the fog grew more opaque. At 5:45 we turned onto the road to Cape Foulwind instead of the more direct road to Westport even tho it was quite misty. Immediately saw a farm full of deer staring at us and swamp hens crossing the road. Huge farms and lots of fog out to the lighthouse turnoff, so we took a pass and turned toward Westport at a little after 6. No west coast sunset for us -- again! We found our hotel, the Buller Bridge Motel, which is small and nice. The owner is an affable fellow who suggested The Town House for dinner and gave us free drink coupons. The unit was a typical motel unit with kitchen, very clean and nice for $130. For some reason, the bed linens have a Parisian theme, but we like them. We settled in and tried to download our email, but the connection was poor. We drove to the restaurant, way at the end of the main drag. In the gloomy, drizzly night, the town looked a little threadbare. Not much open in the evening. But The Townhouse was lit up and lively. We ordered salmon in parchment and the fish special jurnatd on pasta. Both delicious. Profit margin on the salmon must be pretty high as it's one slice on some scallions! House wine was good. We downloaded our email on their system, had a flat white and a dessert wine, and were at the hotel and in bed writing this at 10.

    WEDNESDAY 4/8 ON TO ABEL TASMAN


    Our drive northeast to Kaiteriteri near Abel Tasman National Park began with something new: a one-lane river bridge with a hairpin turn and no sight line. Thank goodness there was a traffic signal! But the next one-laner had no signal and it was almost as bad, tho it mostly had a sight line. The scenic road twists along the wide, brown Buller River with rainforest foliage hanging from the mountains and cliffs on either side. Clouds and mist hung low, but we could still see the river rushing along. Waterfalls spurted out. Is this what the Amazon is like, a jungle river? We had left about 10 because it was a drizzly day; we've learned that NZ sometimes takes a while to get going in the mornings, with all that burning off. Luckily, we are driving inland because the Westport coast was total pea soup. None of the trees here seem to be turning gold as they were in Queenstown. We were glad to get to Murchison at 11:45 because that whole road from Westport was mountain driving. Time for flat whites. Stopped at The Beechwood Cafe and split the $20 NZ plate of ribeye steak, chips and salad. Very tasty and just enough for both of us. On the road again by 12:45.

    As we drove into Kaiteriteri, we saw a golden sand hill that reminded us of Roussillon, France. We rounded the corner and sure enough, the beaches were that same striking golden color. We found our motel, the Torlesse, which is just a bit out of the hubbub in Little Kaiteriteri. The owner was a real sweetheart and showed us everything in the very nice studio with a little balcony and a sea view. Maybe $145 NZ? We had to park a bit down from the door and she said a view is always worth the extra walk. So true! We could see the sea over the houses, although it didn't look like much in this gray day. We got organized and walked to the main beach. We tried to go via the picnic area at the bottom of the hill but it was cut off by the high tide at this time so we took the alternative stairs up and trail over. The rich color of the beach was awesome even in the gloom. One girl was out in the middle of the wide curving swath and she made quite a picture herself, alone out there.

    The "nicer" restaurant that was open earlier when we passed by was now closed (5 pm). So we went to the only game in town for a beer and a wine; we sat outside under an umbrella in the rain because it was so hot in the packed restaurant, which was attached to the camper park. We listened to a young English guy talk on the phone to somebody at home. He had come by bus and he told his caller, "these roads are fookin' dangerous!" He was waiting for Trivia Night to start. All these foreign kids over here, making their way. Very brave. We walked back in the dark, me grateful for Chris's sense of direction. It was too wet to look to see if penguins might be coming into the beach as a sign indicated. Really, how can I be so blasé about penguins? Back at the motel, we drank wine and ate the stuff we had picked up earlier in Moteuka at the grocery store on the way here.

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    THURSDAY 4/9: EXPLORING THE NORTH THRU NELSON

    Woke up to rain, which stopped by 8:30 and the day dried out a bit, but no sun to light up the lovely ocean water. We watched a hilarious version of the Today Show, after which all of daytime tv appears to be infomercials. By 11 we were in the car, driving around the estuary next to us, where we saw Pukeke hens and a heron. Stopped by the Wilson's kiosk on the waterfront to check on tomorrow's kayaking and they said today's had been cancelled because of rough water. Said if it's the same tomorrow we can switch to a cruise and walk. Chris had said today he was not interested in doing a wet forest walk! We took off for Moteuka, the bigger town nearby, where we had a flat white and great snack of pig ear, a pastry dipped in chocolate, at the European Bakery and picked up some 7-grain bread.

    We got a craft beer trail map from the I-site and pressed on to Mapua to have a go at the Golden Bear Brewery, but it was closed because the California owner went to the US for a few weeks. It was right at The Wharf, which was so busy we had to park in the little annex parking lot. It has a few restaurants and cafes right on a marina. We bought some smoked fish at a specialty smokehouse where they were also selling fish and chips. We toured half a dozen artsy-crafty galleries and shop that we quite liked, some original stuff. Our last stop was a hat store, selling both its locally made hats and all kinds of others, plus fascinators, very British. The sales lady was very fun and delighted that we lived in Miami Beach, which she thought sounded "fast." She knew her stock and we FINALLY found Chris a hat that we liked and was big enough for his head. We even got to pick between a Panama type and the more usual NZ with a brim and a ventilated top. Went with the latter for $90. Just perfect.

    Next up was the little town of Stoke, where we tasted 5 beers for $10 at McCashins brewery on the main street. Eclectic cafe and tasting bar with free wifi where we tended to email while we sipped. Good Porter, Amber and Oatmeal Stout. The outside was draped in hops vines, picturesque. We decided to continue on and take a swing through Nelson, and ended up getting ATM money and some more wine at a liquor store there. Looked like a fun little town but we liked being out in Kaiteriteri in nature. Couldn't find anywhere that sold local cheese and couldn't remember where the cheesery was that we saw on the way in. Maybe Stoke? Stuck with Route 6 on the way back and didn't see it. Stopped in Mateuka at the New World grocery for cheese, ended up buying two teeny rib eyes, a fejoia fruit, some sheeps milk cheese, mocha tomatoes, Blackball salami from the west coast and a little butter. Big bucks! They were tasting wines and chicken tortellini in there. But we had a great dinner of ribeyes, tomatoes, cheese and Reisling. Watched Anzac show on Maori TV about war. Nice and cozy. This is the first down time we've had since we left the US, where we're just winging it. We've seen and done so much already it doesnt really matter what we do now.

    When we came back to the motel, Chris went to the office to get more internet vouchers. The owner wanted to say hello to me; I was sitting in the car deleting photos. She's so nice. NZ is a nation of small business people, like RI. Each motel is owned by a real person who puts their stamp on it. Same for each B&B. Same for every plane and helicopter that whisks you off on adventure.


    FRIDAY 4/10: A FINE PADDLE AND A FRIENDLY DINNER

    We reported to the Wilson's stand at Abel Tasman at 9. It was quite a gray day, but the wind had died and it wasn't dangerous like yesterday so the trip was going. Chris changed into shorts and I brought along my quick-dry capris when we saw what others were wearing. Tim, our guide, said he doubted we'd get wet except for maybe a wet bottom. I had light tennis shoes and Chris had sandals. We could take a day pack and they gave us our $25 preordered lunches. We boarded one of the cruise boats with a lot of other people and sat inside since it was not gorgeous ( but dry, and that's what we needed). Frankly, Abel Tasman looks a lot like Maine when the sun isn't shining enough to turn the water turquoise and transparent. At Wilson's Aworoa Lodge Tim got us our kayaking gear (including paddling jackets since it looked like rain) and gave us some basic instruction. Then 8 of us piled into double kayaks and we were on our way.

    We paddled almost a couple of hours, including out to two islands to see fur seals which Tim admitted basically looked like rocks in spite of his vocal efforts to get them to wake up. He told us about their breeding season and how the males have left now and the ladies are relaxing as much as they can with their older pups. Then he led us into a lagoon with a lovely sandy beach where we landed for lunch. Hilariously, he made us coffee and hot tea; I told him I'd like to be on his team on Survivor! We ate quickly so we could go way back into the lagoon where it got narrower until we could barely turn around. We saw a kingfisher and other birds. Then Tim sent us out two by two so it could seem like we were in the wilderness on our own and we could really hear the birds in the quiet. At one point, he tried to find us sting rays but it was high tide and too murky to see. After another hour or so we ended up back at the lodge at 3. The others were hiking for a couple of hours but we were taking the cruise boat back so we wouldn't have to drive over the Takaka hill in the dark. We're trying not to push it as much as we have been right down to the last minute for everything!

    We drove over the mountain to Takaka at about 4 and were very glad we weren't doing it in the dark. Lots of hairpins and completely fogged in at the top. Got to Collingwood about 5:30 and found the Collingwood Park Motel. It was a one-room studio with sofa, table and chairs, little kitchen, right on Main Street, which is the only street. Just right. Alan, the owner, has a big world map where you put a pin for where you live. There were so many pins in there and it's only for 2015! He said we could use as much internet as we needed but he had to give it out in chunks.

    After consulting with Alan, we went to the Mussel Inn for dinner, about 12 minutes down the road, and basically dined with the three nice folks from Christchurch sitting next to us. The couple owns a family bach with her siblings in Paripari Beach that they're renovating. We discussed our mutual justice systems, Christchurch's earthquakes, kids' propensities for tattoos. The other guy, a contractor, said he was in NYC last year and was amazed he could go outside at 11 pm and there were still people on the streets everywhere and places to eat were still open. We closed the place down with them at 10, and they invited us to drop by the next day. The inn has been owned by the same people for the past 23 years, they said, and the menu has never changed. They make their own very good varieties of beer, including Captain Cooker. It's part farmhouse and part hippie restaurant. We drove the very dark road home by about 10:30.

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    One of Chris's favorite books is The Restaurant At the End of the Universe and now he would get to eat in a real one, at the end of the only road on the West Coast of NZ.>>

    brill - hitch hikers rule!

    we did this route the opposite way round about 2 years ago so it's fun reading what you thought about it. we did that 'wet forest walk", BTW, but it wasn't wet. Still not the most fun I've had as we felt [like you on Mount Discovery] that we had to keep going in order to meet up with the boat at the right time. it turned out that we had plenty of lee-way, but you never know the first time, do you?

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    Annhig, you are right about the first time! I guess that's the gap that trip reports can fill in a bit. I wish it had been sunnier for us in Abel Tasman on the water; I never saw it the way all the photos look turquoise online. It really did look way more like New England than I desired! But NZ is so outdoors-oriented that everybody has a different trip depending on the weather.

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    SATURDAY 4/11: EXPLORING COLLINGWOOD

    It dawned gloomy. We took our time getting up, eating cheese and bread and smoked fish for breakfast. We were on the road to Wharariki beach at 10. It's a ways out to the point where the Wharariki beach is one way and Farewell Spit is the other. The farms on the way are incredibly green. On the small road to the beach we were stopped by a young couple herding their cows down the road from one pasture to another. He was walking in front with a big stick that looked like a bow from a bow and arrow, the width of the road. She was in back on a gator or something. We were able to pull off the road so they could get by. Next we saw a bit of road kill that I thought looked like a hedgehog, so I went back and checked. Sure enough, a tiny guy, dead and perfectly intact. Nobody mentions hedgehogs here.

    We parked at the beach parking lot and then were confused about which trail to take as we looked at a big tourist sign. One was 20 minutes, the other an hour. We took the hour one, and it started to drizzle. It runs along an old grass track, and then seems to disappear into farm land. Typical of NZ trails; one sign, and then nothing! We finally figured out that we were supposed to follow some red signposts, go over some stairs, cut through a sheep pasture, and then go over more stairs into woods. We could hear the ocean but it was a trial figuring out how to get there. It opened onto a beautiful beach with gigantic rock formations and big caves, and out in the sea, a big stone arch. Unfortunately it was too close to high tide to be able to get around the rocks to the other part of the beach, so we went back the way we came. Still drizzling, and a rather nerve-wracking descent to the beach on what looked like lava flows hardened above rock-filled ground. Interesting geology. The pastures on the way back were pretty soggy, and so were our feet by the time we got back to the car. Then we looked at the map in the lot again and realized we should have taken the 20-minute walk, which would have accessed the bigger portion of the beach at high tide. Damn. But we were too wet to do that trail too.

    We drove back to the hotel and changed into dryer clothes and ate some lunch in the room, along with a fortifying glass of Rabbit Ridge Pinot Gris. Yum. Suddenly, at about 4, the sun came out! What a shock. We put on dry shoes and went out to walk around town. Not much there of course, and what was there was mostly closed. We walked along the beach road but the tide was too high to go out on the beach. So we got flat whites and got into the car to see what interesting side roads we could find.

    We turned down a couple and saw a good rainbow. The weather was continuing to clear. By 5 we had turned down Milnthorpe Quay which ended in a great beach walk that would have come out in Collingwood if we kept walking. By this time the shallow, fast-moving tide had already receded a lot. We saw a woman doing tai chi or something out on a point of sand. Other people were starting to come out into the sun with dogs, etc., found some great scallop and whelk shells, saw oystercatchers, enjoyed the light. Met some campervan folks who had brought their chairs out onto the beach for 5 pm cocktails. They were joking about being retired and said their favorite story was telling people they were going for a SCAN: senior citizens afternoon nap!

    At 6 the sun was setting and we headed back to the hotel, paid the bill for tomorrow since we were going to be leaving at 5:30 am, and Alan told us to put all our stuff in the car and then leave the car at the motel. I looked at the map he has in the office with pins for all the places guests had come from this year. Lots of Australia, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, and US. And of course the UK and Ireland. Collingwood doesn't get tour buses, so he's more likely to get guests from countries where people travel independently, which he says is not true of Italy or Spain. He speculates they feel their English isn't good enough for independent travel.

    We repacked the car, and then went to dinner at the Collingwood Tavern, which was the only place open. Had roast mutton (very flavorful) and lamb liver (interesting, Chris said). Peach and black boy crumble for dessert with ice cream and whipped cream. About $60. Our waitress/the manager was at least our age and said she'd moved here from Christchurch after the earthquakes. Not so much because of the earthquakes but because they have property here. When they sell it, they'll move back because her daughters are there. But she says when a door bangs or something like that, she jumps because she's afraid it's an earthquake. Her daughter said there'd been a rolling 3.5 last week. There are web sites listing all the shaking and quaking that goes on in NZ. There is a 2 or 3 point shake virtually every day!


    SUNDAY 4/12: SPECTACULAR FAREWELL SPIT, THEN NELSON

    Woke up at 5:30 to not only to start our 6:15 Farewell Spit Ecotour but to pack the car. Of course we had stayed up late the night before repacking, trying to round up our souvenirs and gifts. Ate a little breakfast from the fridge, and we walked over to the ecotour office across the street. The weather forecast had said rain so it was a big surprise when the clouds began to lift for a sunrise once we'd piled into a quite high-off-the-ground bus.

    Kirsten our guide introduced himself and he would prove to be the most charming Kiwi we met in a month in this land of charming people. Part poet, part philosopher, part comedian, he clearly loves to show people the countryside that he worships. The tour, while wonderful, wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining without him (I hope his company rewards him appropriately; you can't just go out and hire a person like this.) We drove down to a parking area near the spit parking area where we collected more people until the bus that seats 35 was nearly full. This was the first day since Monday that they had been able to run the tour because of the timing of the tides. They need to be able to operate the bus on either side of low tide to get the six-hour tour in. Low tide was at 9:30 this day.

    Anyone can hike onto this narrow sandy spit for the first 4 kilometers; after that, you need a permit, and these folks are the only licensed tour operators. After we had driven a bit down the wide, wide sand, the sun broke out and I asked Kirsten if we could stop for a few photos while the light was good. He said sure, and everybody piled out into the beautiful sunshine. It made for wonderful photos with dramatic clouds. Several people told me they were grateful that I asked, and I had known people wanted out because I could hear them taking photos thru the windows, which were nicely clean. Kirsten was happy too, and soon stopped for another photo opportunity around a big driftwood tree. By now the weather had completely cleared! We were very lucky. Kirsten continued to point out birds such as pied oystercatchers, and when we happened upon our first seal, he stopped to let us photographers out. We saw a lot of lone seals taking naps in the sun.

    Eventually we stopped at the big orange lighthouse near the far end. Kirsten dropped us off at the lighthouse and then drove over to one of the three former keepers houses and made coffee and tea and brought out muffins and cookies; there's also a toilet there. Kirsten said we weren't allowed to go up the lighthouse, but once he headed to the house some of us did. Beautiful views of course.

    After we'd all had tea and relaxed in the sun and listened to Kirsten answer questions (the tide goes out about six km, which is how whales get stranded on the inner beach. He said they put out a distress call and then others come to help them and get stranded too), I asked if those of us who wanted to could walk out to the beach and get picked up there. He said that's fine, so about a dozen of us headed out. This was the best yet, because the wind near the ground had picked up and was blowing the sand in lines at our feet. It was otherworldly out there. Kirsten picked us up and eventually we stopped at a huge sand dune area, where the tour is allowed to let people climb. We all climbed up high into this moonscape, this desert landscape, and ran or slid down or just marveled at the beauty. Wind was still blowing on the ground. We were running late, but we still stopped at the beginning of the spit to see fossils in the cliffs. By now we'd been out six hours, and we still had one more stop. Kirsten let off those guests who were being picked up at the parking lot and then took the rest of out to see a rock arch off Wharariki Beach that is off another spit parking lot. This appeared to be the other end of the beach we were on yesterday when we couldn't get around because of high tide!

    As soon as we began driving back to Collingwood, it clouded up and began to rain. Unbelievable timing. We left Kirsten back in town at 1:30 with many thanks for a great day and dashed for a flat white and to pick up the car at the motel. I got the directions for Harris Hill Cottages online, and then we downloaded our email and we were off. Chris ate a leftover quiche from our kayak lunch the day before. Before we got to Takaka the rain stopped, and we popped in for an ice cream cone. Then we drove back over the hairpin road over the mountain. It was clearing up nicely and was a completely different trip than the one we'd made in pea-soup fog on Friday. Beautiful views everywhere. We stopped in Moteuka at the I-site for a last tshirt run. I heard groups of kids in there trying to plan their next adventures and I realized I was actually glad to be going home now and not having to do any more planning!

    By 4:45 we were at the entrance to Harris Hill; it's just a little outside of Nelson. At the foot of this huge hill are rather normal suburban houses. But the road goes up and up, narrow, twisting and no guard rails of course, until the very top, which is where our lodging at Sue's farm is. Astounding views! We had made a mistake by not stopping to get a beer for Chris because he said he wasn't up for going out to dinner and having a beer then having to negotiate that road in the dark. (Friday night when we were in Collingwood, he had pointed out that sometimes he likes to stay in bigger towns where we can just walk to dinner and he can have a couple of beers and not worry about driving, like back to the Mussel Inn. So we did eat in town on Saturday. But I had no idea this B&B would be like this!).

    Sue, who was delightfully welcoming and had upgraded us to the City Lights 2-bedroom cottage, assured Chris that no one had driven off the road yet! But instead of going out to find dinner, we ended up just staying there since sunset was only an hour away and it would be a shame to miss it on our only night here. We fashioned a meal from our leftover food of pate and crackers and apples and my favorite Rabbit Ridge Pinot Gris. I walked around and took pix of the great views over Nelson and Tasman Bay (no boats out even tho we'd passed a huge marina full of sailboats). I also visited the two ponies and all the sheep and goats grazing all over Sue's steep terrain. No wonder Indiancouples from the Fodor forums had raved about this place. It would be the perfect several-day stay on longer summer days when you could do day trips and then come back here and cook and watch the sunset. The clouds completely filled in over the hour, so we got no sunset, but after our lucky weather on the spit we weren't complaining. We watched some TV (Friends reruns, the news shows) and I kept falling asleep because of our early morning so I went to bed. Chris was on the free wifi. Long fabulous day!

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    But NZ is so outdoors-oriented that everybody has a different trip depending on the weather.>>

    you're not kidding. mainly we were pretty lucky, with the only wet weather being round Napier, and very windy weather in Wellington [which i suspect is not unusual]. The bit that was most spoilt by weather was our trip to Doubtful Sound- the day and started well with lovely bight blue skies which held all the way through the boat trip to the end of the sound but then it clouded over and the boat trip round the Sound took place in stygian gloom.

    but given we were there for about 17 days, 3 poor ones wasn't a bad ratio!

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    MONDAY 4/13: FROM NELSON TO THE AIRPORT TO AUCKLAND

    Woke up to a cold snap. The mountains across the bay suddenly had snow on them. But it was clear as glass and we could see forever, right from bed. We made coffee and tea and ate the last of our bread and pate and peanut butter for breakfast. We repacked everything into our regular suitcases and our new little tiger bag. Barely fit! Took lots of pix of amazing view, including the unusual Boulder Beach that snakes across the harbor. It was low tide and so it was really obvious. Such interesting tides to watch. We noted that this cottage provides a few herbs, tin foil, etc, helpful to travelers. It's a really good setup.

    We saw a note on our car to leave payment in the cottage because no one was home right now. We were so used to using credit cards at b&bs I had forgotten this one was cash only. I wasn't even sure how much it was, but I found an old email that said $155 plus a 20 percent up charge for a single night. So we had to drive down the hairpin road back to Nelson to the ATM. When
    we drove back up with the cash we found that Rachel, Sue's daughter, who helps manages everything, had arrived, and we gave her $175. She is so terribly nice, typical Kiwi! She said they've owned the farm for ages, she has four sibs and they were all brought up there. Her two brothers work on a commercial fishing boat (factory) and go as far as Antarctic waters for 6-8 weeks at a time, so her dad who is 74 runs the farm with the girls' help. He was gathering the sheep this morning for dipping, I think she said. She said it never freezes there, just a little frost on the grass sometimes, but nothing to bother the palms etc. She pointed out the historic baches on the Boulder beach in the bay and said the owners can only fix them minimally and when they collapse they're gone, by council order. She thinks it's a shame. You can walk out there all along, but it's miles and the footing is tricky. Looks cool tho for those with more time than we had here.

    We made our way back down the hairpins again and of course now had nothing to do until our flight at 3:30. We looked for a cafe for a flat white and found one with a parking lot where I could sort out the shells and rocks I collected in the past month. I'm thinking I don't have to take them all! On the day we have a flight we don't seem to be able to do anything useful, especially since it was sprinkling. Then went to the little Apex car rental place nearby where the office person simply drove us in our car to the airport and dropped us off. The thing I appreciate a lot about NZ is the feeling that everybody will do everything to make sure you get what you need or where you want to go. It's as tho it's their job to make sure you're ok in their country, but they also take care of their fellow countrymen.

    At the airport we had to pay $60 NZ for our extra bag. What a lot for a few hundred miles of air space to Auckland. Then we had to kill some time there, fortunately over Middle Earth Chardonnay and Nelson Airport's free hour of wifi. The propellor plane, which we entered after absolutely no security precautions at all (!), left on time providing a lovely view of both the snow-covered mountains and the end of Farewell Spit.

    It was raining and blowing like crazy in Auckland. We paid $6 each to ride the yellow shuttle to the airport hotels. The Holiday Inn Airport was efficient and modern but oddly had no elevator. We had to drag our stuff up 11 steps to the second floor. Staff was very nice and told us we'd need a 3:30 am wake up call for the 4 am shuttle to the airport to be there at 4:30, two hours before our flight to LA. We dropped our bags and went down to the restaurant (tho the cafe looked good too) for our farewell dinner. Chris had the $41 NZ buffet; I had the scotch fillet. Both yummy, accompanied by a bottle of Settlers Hill Pinot Gris $38.

    On our last night of vacation, we like to evaluate it. What did we think of NZ and our trip?

    We concluded that while you can find a lot of what New Zealand offers in other places -- glaciers, beautiful countryside, vineyards, magnificent harbors -- the whole package together in these two islands is what's impressive. And the NZ culture is so welcoming and easy, perhaps, we thought, from being an island in isolation. Then it's sprinkled with all the quirky stuff: The emphasis on WWI, the land that looks like Hobbits live there, the struggle to save the birds, the inclusion of the Maori culture, the desire to be just plain nice. Chris said his favorite place was Mt Cook; mine was the Otago Peninsula. We both liked Queenstown; we both would have skipped Arrowtown. And we both loved going to Farewell Spit.


    TUESDAY 4/14: GOODBYE NZ, HELLO AMERICA

    We were waiting for the shuttle bus promptly at 4 am. The driver came into the hotel lobby and helped me buy the tickets from the machine. These kind Kiwis! At the airport, we were a little early again; we had no gate and the international area we had to go to wasn't even open. I shopped around for a sheepskin but they didn't have much to offer. Bought another tshirt and a fantail bird bowl for sushi soy sauce. The plane left promptly but took over three hours to get to Sydney, and we're just going to fly right back the same way. Waste of six hours, but the frequent flyer tix were free on Qantas! We didn't have much time in Sydney but I managed to scoop up a sheepskin. On the plane I watched an Australian movie called Water Diviner where Russell Crowe goes to Turkey a few years after Gallipoli to try to find where his sons died. Then I watched Wild. Both movies were a fitting end to a great trip!

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    Thank you so much for your informative and entertaining recount of your trip. My husband and I will have 3 weeks with our 11 year old twins in December. As you can imagine, we are planning a little differently for a family and will have a motorhome. Your comments have still given me new information on some locations (and will happily skip Arrowtown if time is tight).

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    Thanks again so much for sharing your experiences with us. I only got as far as the Auckland region during my visit to NZ two years ago and hope to get back soon. The information you provided has given me some good ideas.

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