June 2-25, 2011
Geraldine – one night
Glenorchy – three nights
Wanaka – three nights
Franz Josef – two nights
Arthur’s Pass – two nights
Hope, Nelson – three nights
Takaka, Golden Bay – three nights
Whatamango Bay (near Picton) – three nights
Waipara Valley – two nights
Getting there, a lovely track, and a dining surprise…
The day is here, we’re going back to our beloved South Island of New Zealand. We booked flights months ago, each using 50K United frequent flier miles and paying USD $105.30 in taxes for the pleasure of flying in business class from Perth-Auckland-Christchurch and return on Air New Zealand.
The Perth Airport is oddly empty; we’re told by an airport employee that this is the absolute best time to be here (5:30-6 pm). We bypass the painfully long queue for Air Asia’s Bali bound passengers and waltz right up to the Air NZ check-in counter and pronto, we’re relieved of our luggage.
We feel we’re in the Twilight Zone as we enter the empty Immigration hall and walk directly up to the counter. We’re invited into the Qantas Lounge to await our flight, a wait longer than usual as we’d allowed extra time to fight traffic and clear the usual madness of the airport. The lounge is eerily empty too, nice and quiet. We have a glass of champers and a nibble.
We’re soon aboard our overnight flight bound for Auckland. Overnight flights of short duration are problematic for us. By the time meal service has finished and the lights are turned down, there’s not much time left to sleep, assuming one could.
The flight goes well. The seats are comfortable, but limited recline and a footrest that barely elevates makes an impossible sleeping arrangement. We settle for watching movies on the large entertainment screen and enjoying the fantastic Air NZ service.
We’re served an antipasto and warm nuts with some wonderful NZ wine, followed by an appetizer of shrimp, peppered tuna and salmon. I don’t eat seafood, so Bill gets a double portion, proclaiming the tuna fantastic. Dinner follows; macadamia nut encrusted salmon for him, chicken stir fry for me, followed by ice cream and passion fruit panna cotta. We’re too full for the proffered cheese, fruit and crackers, but we don’t hesitate when offered a glass of late harvest Muscat. Lovely.
Prior to landing they’re plying us with more refreshments, this time smoothies, coffee and pastry. Didn’t we just eat?
We arrive in Auckland ~six hours later, 6am local time, four hours ahead of Perth. We clear Immigration and Customs, and then roll our suitcases to the luggage transfer desk before walking to the domestic terminal. It’s dark and cold, but the fresh air feels wonderful. We go through security, surprised to see passengers walk through with cups of coffee and wearing coats; no strip search here.
We’re soon aboard another Air New Zealand flight, this one all economy and completely full. We land in Christchurch, greeted with 7c temps (45F) and an icy wind.
We make a call to APEX, board their shuttle and are delivered to their depot to collect our rental car. After a quick lesson in how to put on snow chains, we’re on our way in our high mileage (138,130 km) 2006 Toyota Corolla (22 days, $880 plus $25 for snow chains, which are never used).
We haven’t slept; we’re shattered, which is why we’ve booked our first night in Geraldine. Our modus operandi is to limit our driving on our day of arrival to about 2.5 hours, but that doesn’t mean we won’t take our time getting there. We head to Darfield, planning to take the scenic route via 73, 77 and 72. We notice that gas is $2.05 a liter…ouch.
In Darfield we stop for flat whites at a cute little café called Express Yourself, then pop into the local milk store for a couple scoops of Tip Top ice cream. We continue along the inland scenic route (72), making a stop at beautiful Rakaia Gorge, the icy wind quickly chasing us back to the car.
It’s not long before we’re detouring at Staveley, where a sign for Sharplin Falls has caught our eye; it seems we’ve stumbled upon a track. We’re not dressed for hiking; we haul out the suitcases right there in the car park and rummage for boots, hats and gloves. We’re soon walking a meticulously maintained path at the base of Mt Somers, wandering through beech forest to the falls. The knee crunching steps warm us up in no time. It’s a nice little hike, 45 minutes return.
Back on 72, we make the 12 km detour to Peel Forest, an area I’ve wanted to explore, but have never had the chance. It’s cold and getting late, or so the darkening skies would lead us to believe…this is June after all, when the sun sets around 5:15 pm. We take the short Big Tree Walk, which leads to several massive native totara trees, one of which is almost three meters across and thought to be 1000 years old. There are at least a dozen tracks here ranging from 30 minutes to six hours, but alas no time. We’ve barely arrived and we’re already talking about our next trip.
We pull into Geraldine some six hours after leaving Christchurch and check into Victoria Villa B&B, my review of which can be found here:
Our hostess suggests Taste for dinner and offers to make a booking, which we gladly accept.
We poke around town for a bit, but most places have closed, it being 4:30 pm (!). I’m pleased to find a chocolate shop (Coco), but just as quickly disappointed to discover that it closed two minutes before our arrival. I vow to return in the morning promptly at 10. We seek out and find Barkers, purveyors of fine jams, curds, sauces and chutneys, mere minutes before they close, but we’re able to sample the goods and make a few purchases. We also locate Talbot’s Forest Cheese, but decide to leave that for the following day.
Geraldine isn’t very big; our wanderings take us right past Taste. Our booking isn’t for another 45 minutes, so we opt to have some pre-dinner wine in their bar while we wait. I question the wisdom of this as I watch Bill’s chin sink to his chest and hear impending man sleep noises… The waitress agrees to seat us early, and we settle in for a leisurely meal by the electric heater.
Bill proclaims his Prime Angus Pure Beef Eye Fillet, topped with oyster, saffron & chive mascarpone, served with asparagus filled mini York, caramelized shallots & crispy ginger excellent, and well worth staying awake for ($33). My breast of chicken filled with bacon, cream cheese & spinach, served on corn & chive cakes, with roasted garlic, Roma tomato & basil cream sauce is very good ($28.50). The triple chocolate terrine, white chocolate mud cake and chocolate truffle tart with wild berry coulis sampler we share for dessert is less of a success ($13), but hey, we’re absolutely stunned to find a restaurant of this caliber in Geraldine in the first place. Who knew?
We drag our weary selves back to our B&B and sleep for the next 12 hours.
Chasing the Long White Cloud: A Winter Trip to the South Island of NZ
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