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Trip Report Chasing the Long White Cloud: A Winter Trip to the South Island of NZ

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June 2-25, 2011

The itinerary:

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:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g658478-d1845490-r114748018-Victoria_Villa-Geraldine_Canterbury_South_Island.html

Our hostess suggests Taste for dinner and offers to make a booking, which we gladly accept.

http://www.tasterestaurant.co.nz/

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.

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    So pleased you have found the time to start your report, Mel, and especially starting with a great area I am familiar with. My husband Ted grew up not far from here, and we have family and friends in Darfield. It's a great little place.
    Did you know Staverley has an ice-skating rink, and that a Japanese movie was filmed there about 4 years ago? Last time we were visiting friends who farm there I refused to walk across their swing bridge (I just don't do swing bridges, not even in Hokitika Gorge!) to the rink but I did have a great time walking around part of the film set left behind on their farm.
    I just LOVE Barkers products. One favourite in particular is their Apricot Capsicum chutney - haven't been able to locate as yummy a recipe to make my own so just buy it by the litre pail.

    Look forward to the next instalments of your report. You write so well and entertainingly.
    Dot

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    Thank you dotty. We did see a sign for the ice skating rink, in fact we both commented on it, as it seemed an unlikely spot for one. I had no idea about it being a film site though.

    No swingbridges? Are you sure you're a Kiwi 8-)?

    Funny you mention Hoki Gorge..I'd stumbled upon it in my research and we made a point of going there this trip. We're forever finding new places in your beautiful country.

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    A nine and a half hour, six hour drive…

    I dislike one night stays, I truly do. I can’t get settled, there’s no time to explore, and the hassle of having to rummage through luggage looking for this or that makes me crazy. I guess I’m a nester.

    Regardless, we enjoy a good sleep and leisurely breakfast with our B&B hosts and other guests. I learn that the lilies in the Peel Forest grow up to seven feet tall in November, that riding ancient bikes across NZ is a popular activity, and I try my first feijoa, an experience I don’t need to repeat.

    We check out and head to town, picking up some peppered Havarti and vintage cheddar at Talbot’s Forest Cheese, and indulging in a hot chocolate at Coco, made from Belgian chocolate, cream and milk, good but not mind-blowing ($6 each). There’s a winter market underway on this cold Saturday morning. I like it here.

    We gas the car, surprised, as we’d forgotten they still have pump jockeys in small town New Zealand. I’ve estimated today’s drive at six hours, but figure it will take us longer as it invariably does. We set out on 79, wending our way along the curvy road through the green rolling countryside. Yep, we’re back in God’s Country.

    We call in at the Fairlie Bakehouse, as recommended by our B&B hostess, to grab a loaf of sourdough bread. We next locate the Old Library Cafe, but find it closed. Shame, as we’d hoped for a coffee. We join 8, and eventually cross inconsequential tussock covered Burke’s Pass (709 meters), not my idea of pretty. Snow capped mountains loom in the distance, shrouded in low clouds. We enter Lake Tekapo, stopping for photos, a tee and a wee. The village is busy on this Queens Birthday weekend; it’s bigger than I remember (which I say a lot during this trip), and the wind is bitterly cold. We move on, next making the 12 km detour to Mt Cook Salmon Farm, which claims to be the “world’s highest salmon farm” at 677 meters above sea level. NOTE: There’s also a salmon farm near Twizel, conveniently located right off the highway. We purchase some cold smoked salmon, poke about and watch people fishing in the canal. We later learn that the fishermen on the fringes are hoping for salmon that escape the farm, apparently an accepted practice.

    We continue on 8, the fog encased Southern Alps directly in front of us, opaque glacial blue Lake Pukaki to our right. The landscape greens up south of Twizel, pastures appear; yet there are few trees, just wind breaks. We pass through Omarama, also bigger than I remember, advertising hot tubs and a café with a smile inducing name, Wrinkly Rams.

    We cross dry, tussock covered Lindis Pass, significantly more interesting than Burke’s Pass, but still brown and crunchy looking. We enter Central Otago, the sheep blending in with the surrounding reddish-brown, rocky landscape, the trees along the river valley stark and naked. We need a break, so we stop for an alfresco coffee at the Tarras Country Coffee Shop; it’s much warmer here, no icy wind. Caffeinated, we continue on 8 towards Queenstown. Lake Dunstan comes into view; we see a sign for Northburn Station Winery; we decide to investigate.

    http://www.northburn.co.nz/

    Lovely place this; we chat and sample the goods. It’s immediately evident that we’re in Pinot Noir country, a mighty fine drop. We leave with their Sauvignon Blanc and 2007 Pinot Noir.

    We decide to drive into Bannockburn, spontaneously stopping at Bannock Brae Estate. We’re led through the owner’s home and out to a picnic table overlooking the vines and the glorious valley below, and treated to a taste. Friendly owners, excellent wine; we part with some Riesling and Pinot Noir.

    http://www.bannockbrae.co.nz/aboutus.html

    We resume our drive, now following SH 6 through the Kawarau Gorge to Queenstown, Bill confidently navigating his way through town as if he’d just been there last week. We stop for groceries and some tasty Indian food at India, Once Upon a Time ($48, two curries, rice, garlic naan, a glass of wine for the passenger). Stomachs full, we drive the remaining 45 kilometers to Glenorchy, along the very narrow and winding Queenstown-Glenorchy Road, me acutely aware that Lake Wakatipu is mere meters to my left, knowing if we miss a turn in the utter darkness we’ll be going for a very cold swim.

    We have no chance of finding our B&B with my vague directions in the pitch black, so we pop into the Glenorchy Pub and ask for assistance. We arrive at Precipice Creek Station B&B at 8:30 pm, 9.5 hours after leaving Geraldine; so much for that six hour estimate.

    What a find! My review can be found here:

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g1025721-d1784165-Reviews-Precipice_Creek_Station_Bed_Breakfast-Glenorchy_South_Island.html

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    Hiking nirvana…

    It rains throughout the night. We wake to a gloom that begins to lift as we head out to the start of the Routeburn Track, our chosen tramp of the day, an easy nine kilometer drive from our accommodation. A new shelter has been built since our last visit; unfortunately, the sandflies are still here and they really seem to enjoy Bill, they’re just a bit slower in the cold.

    We follow the wide, well maintained track alongside the river and through the rainforest, catching glimpses of some pretty spectacular snow covered mountains through breaks in the cloud. Despite all our trips to NZ, we’re still amazed that rainforests can be cold, and that there’s nothing venomous lurking in the otherworldly tangle of vibrant green ferns, trees and vines. The river is near bursting, the waterfalls are thundering, yet the track is immaculate. Halfway in we find an outhouse, conveniently perched right off the track.

    We walk as far as the Routeburn Flats Hut, where we picnic in the valley, overlooking a stream with a pair of talkative ducks, the mountains before us skirted by wisps of long white cloud.

    Our reprieve is short; the sandflies find Bill. We pack up and return the way we’ve come, the beech forest feeling even more eerie as the winter sun drops, elongating the shadows, plunging us into semi-darkness.

    We’ve logged over 15 kilometers, almost 10 miles in 4.5 hours. It’s been a truly enjoyable day, we feel as if we’ve discovered an entirely new track; we’ve not seen it before with all the waterfalls.

    We consider making the drive to Kinloch Lodge to have a glass of wine and enquire about dinner, but we’re knackered, so we give it a pass, later discovering that the lodge is closed for three weeks.

    It’s back to our lovely B&B, where we bundle up in our fleece, relax on the patio and watch the dark descend over the fogged in mountains. We sip wine and snack; so tired we can barely chew.

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    Falling in love with Glenorchy…

    Our 29th wedding anniversary dawns clear and cold. Rosie, the resident cat, perches on a patio chair, doing her best to charm her way indoors, which is against the house rules. As the sun lazily rises, there’s a sharp intake of breath as we’re treated to an incredibly clear view of the snow drenched Humboldt Range directly in front of us.

    It doesn’t get light until nearly 8 am this time of year, so we find ourselves sleeping later than usual, forcing us to push back our breakfast tray delivery. Our hostess Vladka is happy to oblige, encouraging us to move as slowly as we’d like. She assembles an impressive continental breakfast – cereal, yogurt, croissants, ciabatta rolls, huge slices of homemade tarts, ham, fruit, juice…there’s so much food that we use part of it for our picnic lunch.

    Vladka suggests we explore the Whakaari Conservation area, so we make the three kilometer drive along the Queenstown-Glenorchy Road and are soon hiking to Mt Judah. As the name suggests, this track goes up; it’s a steady climb with a 2,300 foot elevation gain. It’s well graded until just past Judah Junction, when it becomes a narrow, butt kicking sheep trail. The track leads past the State Mine and the Scheelite Battery, and continues on to several huts and the longer Mt McIntosh Loop track.

    Our goal is the Bonnie Jean Hut, and we almost make it, or so we think. We’re within spitting distance of a hut when it becomes clear that there’s no way we can get to it, unless we want to swim across the stream. We picnic at the base instead, soak up our sandfly free surroundings, then turn around and work our way back. It’s a rewarding hike with some fantastic gorge and mountain views (8.2 miles, about 13 km, three hours up and two hours down). We’re later told we weren’t looking at the Bonnie Jean Hut, but a smaller hut that had been dropped in by the DOC mere weeks before. Oh well.

    As we drag our worn out selves back to the B&B, it begins to rain. Good timing.

    Glenorchy doesn’t have much on offer for a splash out anniversary dinner, so we dine at Foxy’s Café at the Glenorchy Lodge. We enter, ask where the restaurant is and are told “you’re in it”. Bill selects the Kiwi Heart Attack on a Plate. Actually, it’s called the Kiwi Mixed Grill ($30) and consists of a steak, sausages, bacon, grilled onions and tomatoes piled on a huge mound of French fries and topped with two fried eggs. I settle for the soup of the moment, creamed vegetable ($12) and help Bill with his fries, quickly reminded of how much we dislike Kiwi ketchup (too sweet).

    Back at the B&B we cleanse our arteries with a celebratory bottle of Bannock Brae Barrel Selection 2009 Pinot Noir. Lovely.

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    From serenity to insanity and back again…

    It’s time to leave our lovely B&B, but we vow to return for a longer visit. We load up the car and seek out the Glenorchy Walkway, following the boardwalk through the lagoon, gazing at the black swans, then skirting the golf course, all the while surrounded by stunning snow covered mountains and bright blue sky (easy loop, 50 minutes). We aimlessly wander though a neighborhood, finally tearing ourselves away from our new favorite spot on the South Island.

    We backtrack along the shores of beautiful Lake Wakatipu, feasting our eyes on the incredible views, which we can actually see this time. We’re soon entering the hustle and bustle of Queenstown, trying to find a parking spot in a town with more cars than places to park them. If this is low season, I don’t want to be anywhere near this place when it’s busy. We finally locate a spot, walk through Queen’s Gardens, dodge the Frisbee golfers, and wander through town. We revisit India, Once Upon a Time (Chicken Tikka Masala, Paneer Shimla Mirch, rice and naan – excellent - $41), and stroll the much-too-busy-for-the-likes-of-us streets. It’s only 2:30 pm, but we’re losing sun here in the valley and the temperature drops in a hurry. As we work our way back to the car, I spot Patagonia Chocolates; the chocoholic must have a look. Hot chocolate is on offer, so we pull up a chair and indulge in some pretty wonderful melted chocolate with cream and milk ($6 each).

    There was a time I liked Queenstown, but now, the charm is gone, it’s become a victim of its own success.

    We depart, turning onto SH 89 at Arrowtown to cross the Crown Range via Cardrona to Wanaka, choosing fewer kilometers over scenery. I’ve never considered this route even remotely pretty, but as the setting sun hovers over the barren mountains, it gives them a bright yellow cast, so a photo seems in order. The road is seriously squiggly, as so many South Island roads are, but it’s not nearly steep enough to warrant the brake riding of the car in front of us. We stop at the historic church in Cardrona, marveling at how even the tiniest towns offer public restrooms, just one more reason to love New Zealand.

    The scenery improves as we approach Wanaka, then it’s too dark to matter. It’s no surprise that the estimated 2.5 hour drive has taken us twice that. Thanks to some decent directions, we easily locate our home for the next three nights, the Alpine View Lodge, my review of which can be found here:

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g612500-d796680-Reviews-Alpine_View_Lodge-Wanaka_South_Island.html

    Pre-ski season, the atmosphere of Wanaka is markedly different than that of its famous neighbor; downright dead in fact, much more our style. Back at our accommodation, we prance half naked through the frigid night to the lodge’s outdoor hot tub, where we have a glorious soak, just the two of us under a gazillion stars.

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    Enjoying your report as usual.

    RE dinner at Kinloch Lodge...you can't just drop in, it's by reservation only. There is one guy that does everything. Even if you are staying there, you need a seating time so he can schedule everything! But it's worthwhile doing if in the area, for the drive and the food (even with sandflies).

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    Beautiful views from a frustrating track…

    It’s pitch black when we wake at 7 am. The sun finally rises…sort of…revealing overcast skies. We enjoy the continental breakfast delivered the night before, having a giggle over the toast rack, a serving piece I’ve always found amusing.

    We find Mt Aspiring Road and begin the one hour drive to Raspberry Creek, located in the West Matukituki Valley of Mt Aspiring National Park. The low clouds hovering over the mountains look ominous, but a distant streak of blue keeps us optimistic.

    The road turns to gravel after the turnoff to Treble Cone Ski Resort, then becomes progressively more rutted, rough and narrow. We bump along through the valley, mountains looming on either side of us, waterfalls seemingly everywhere. We pass deer farms, dodge loose sheep and cows, and hold our breath as we ease our way through each of the nine water filled fords. Just as I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll ever get there, we reach Raspberry Creek car park and set out on the track to Aspiring Hut, advertised as a nine kilometer, 2-2.5 hour walk (one way).

    We pick our way through boggy, poop-riddled pasture, skirting the stream and passing the swing bridge to Rob Roy Glacier. The water in the stream is crystal clear, we can see trout. It’s only mid-day, but it’s dark and cold here in the valley. We slog through the mud and dung, cross five or six streams and crest a few bluffs. We picnic and soak up the wonderful views atop a sunny hill. Entirely too far in the distance we see what we believe to be Aspiring Hut. Winter days are short, we’re losing daylight, we doubt we can reach the hut and return to the car park before the valley is completely dark. We turn back, later learning that we were looking at the historic Cascade Hut. Apparently, Aspiring Hut is 20 minutes beyond it. We’re back at Raspberry Creek four hours after we began, covered in mud and grossness, wondering if there’d been an error in the track literature, or if we’re just slow. We estimate that we walked 10 miles, but we’ll never know for sure, as we’d misplaced our handy walking GPS.

    Dinner that evening finds us at the Spice Room, partaking in some pretty good Indian food (two protein lacking curries, rice, garlic naan and one generous glass of wine each - $65). We manage to squeeze in some New Zealand Natural ice cream as well, but I’m not impressed. Has Australia’s Connoisseur ice cream spoiled me for all others? I’m afraid it has.

    Our evening is topped off with another slightly less starry soak, and the discovery of our misplaced GPS buried deep in my backpack.

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    Where’s the sun?

    It’s cloudy, it’s cold; we lazily sleep until 8 am. We call to confirm our Okarito kiwi eco tour scheduled for the following evening, but the operator has the flu, so it’s off.

    Our first tramp of the day is Mt Iron, the highest point in the immediate vicinity, conveniently located on the outskirts of Wanaka. As the name suggests, it’s a climb, 240 meters, the reward being the panoramic views from the flat topped summit, impressive even on a day as overcast as this one. We enjoy the trek and the birdsong, particularly that of a tiny green bird with an incredible vocal range. We find the descent via the east slope more difficult than the climb up from the west; the old knees protest loudly (1:45 return, 3.2 miles, ~5 km).

    We seek out the Cheeky Monkey Café, Bill choosing the Full Monkey breakfast - streaky bacon, sausage, hash browns, eggs, grilled tomatoes and toast ($19). He declares it a good choice, but with this, his second go round with NZ sausages, he’s decided they’re not to his taste. I select the tomato chorizo soup ($12), which is very good; we top things off with some nice flat whites ($39.90 total).

    We locate the Beacon Point Walk, a shoreline track that links Bremner Bay to Beacon Point. We walk the .66 mile track in 15 minutes, there’s not much to it.

    Our efforts to find a more rewarding walk lead us to the Outlet Track, which follows the Clutha River from Lake Wanaka to Albert Town. This section of the Clutha River is world renowned for trout fishing; we’ve been told the trout literally jump out of the water. Not today. It’s an easy wide trail, used by bikers too, one of whom very nearly runs me down. I enjoy this mostly peaceful walk, but Bill isn’t as keen. We walk to Albert Town, turn around and walk back, 1:20, 3.38 miles return.

    It’s still cloudy, it’s still cold, we’ve not seen the sun all day. We retreat to our accommodation, rug up in our fleece and sit on our patio to gaze at the sheep and the mountain range, indecipherable in the fog.

    Dinner finds us at Bombay Palace (yes, we do like our Indian food) where the carnivore noshes on Lamb Vindaloo and I go for the Paneer Masala. The food is good, but similar to our experience the night before at the Spice Kitchen, both curries have a severe protein deficit, and boy-oh-boy, the heartburn! They do have the best garlic naan we’ve had to date though (two curries, rice, garlic naan and $8 corkage - $51). Our final soak follows, under a completely socked in sky.

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    I am really enjoying your report and appreciate your details. So would you say, for planning purposes, that $40NZD is average for a lunch or dinner without wine? Are corkage charges in the $NZD 8-10 range?

    It looks like you booked all your lodging ahead, even though it was not peak season. My husband and I are traveling to NZ in November. We would rather not pin ourselves down sometimes, but based upon your report, I am thinking that I better make those reservations.

    Thanks for such a interesting report!

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    Thanks steamboatsista, I didn't think anyone was reading.

    We couldn't seem to get out of a cafe for under $35. That usually included one main (for Bill) one starter/soup(for me) and a couple of flat whites.

    Dinners ranged from ~$50-60 without drinks, less for pizza. Our most expensive dinner was at Taste - $112 with a bottle of wine, two mains and shared dessert. Our most expensive lunch was at a winery in Waipara - $~86 for two meals and a bottle of wine.

    I've seen corkage for as low as $5 a bottle in NZ, but I didn't really pay attention this trip as we only did BYO once, and that particular restaurant didn't officially offer BYO, but they made an exception.

    I always book ahead, not because I need to, but because I just prefer it that way. Accommodation is a big part of our holiday, so I do plenty of research, select lodging that appeals to me and book in advance. It paid off too - every single place we stayed was very good.

    You'll probably be fine winging it, particulary if you're not fussed about your accommodation. Some areas are busier than others though (like the glaciers) and have limited lodging, but I'd think you'd have no worries in November.

    I plan to post our specific accommodation prices at the end of the report...prices ranged from $120-$230 per night.

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    Wet, wild and ruggedly beautiful…

    It’s raining. While checking out, we have a long chat with accommodation owners Craig and Michele. Earthquake ravaged Christchurch is on everyone’s mind.

    We’re soon on SH 6 pointed north, Lake Wanaka to our left, Lake Hawea to our right, the Southern Alps poking through a layer of low cloud. We arrive in Makarora, a township that appears to consist of two cafes, a caravan park, a B&B, a petrol station and a school, completely surrounded by snow dusted mountains and a surprising number of waterfalls. I’m wondering if I’ve given Makarora short shrift, so we pop into the tourist center/café and quiz a bored looking young woman about what there is to see and do in the area. We’re told it’s a trampers and fisherman’s paradise. The Siberia Experience leaves from here, an “extravaganza” that includes a flight over the Southern Alps, a three hour bushwalk in native beech forest and a jet boat trip back to Makarora.

    Our next stop is the frigidly cold unmanned Visitor’s Center. We peruse the track maps and make a few mental notes for ‘next time’ before rushing outdoors to warm up, our interest in Makarora piqued. Eight more kilometers brings us to the Blue Pools. It’s wet and cold, but we walk to the pools anyway; they’ve built a new bridge and added some tracks since our last visit. The pools aren’t as blue as they could be, but as luck would have it, the sun is out by the time we get back to the car (40 minutes return, just over a mile).

    We resume our drive north. There’s some serious snow on the mountains through here. Cameron Flat beckons; we study the information board as we picnic, it’s too cold to sit still. We enjoy what we can see of the mountains as they drift in and out of cloud. The sandflies find Bill, we hastily retreat.

    The landscape is lush and green, waterfalls course from the heavily treed mountains that envelope us. The weather changes every five minutes. We briefly see slushy snow on the side of the road as we approach Haast Pass lookout, but it’s gone in a flash. The pass is seriously squiggly, but not particularly steep; I don’t realize we’re crossing it until we make our descent. The road is eroded and damaged; the drop offs are scary. The highway appears to be falling into the gorges below. Yikes.

    The Haast River appears; we ease our way through hairpin turns and across one way bridges, pleased with the lack of other cars. It’s so wet through here that moss is growing on the highway. Several sandflies cling to the exterior of Bill’s window…I wonder if they can smell him…

    In time, we’re no longer entombed by mountains, the landscape opens up and the vegetation changes. The otherworldly green remains, but the trees are bizarrely bent and twisted. The sun is out, but it’s raining. We turn off at Ship Creek, recalling a couple of nice walks. It’s a bust. The Forest Swamp Walk is submerged in water, the Dune Walk infested with thirsty sandflies; Bill has had enough. We resume our drive, swatting at the sandflies that have gotten into the car as we go.

    Hoping for a coffee, we stop at the Paringa Salmon Farm. It’s 3:30, they’ve just closed. Granted, it does feel much later in the winter gloom. As we wend our way along the squiggly approach to Fox Glacier, the skies clear. We can see the tops of mountains and snippets of blue sky above the blanket of trees. I feel as if we’re traveling through a tunnel. It’s wet, wild and ruggedly beautiful. I suddenly appreciate the effort involved in building roads across the South Island. It couldn’t have been easy.

    We arrive in Franz Josef six hours after leaving Wanaka. Major road works are in progress, the bridge and approach to town are a mess.

    We drive through the township and locate our home for the next two nights, Glenfern Villas. My review can be found here:

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g609170-d320494-Reviews-Glenfern_Villas_Franz_Josef-Franz_Josef_Westland_National_Park_Te_Wahipounamu_South_Island.html

    Dinner time finds us at the Blue Ice, our favorite Franz Josef eatery from past visits. We’re not disappointed; we share a large ½ and ½ pizza which more than feeds the two of us; we’ll be having pizza for breakfast too (excellent - $33).

    Back at the villa, we do some laundry and befriend the house cats, Smokey and Tigger.

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    In my experience, yes, sandflies are a year round problem, but there seem to be fewer of them (and they're slower!) in the winter months. Bill might disagree.

    DEET is the way to go. We were only bitten when we'd not bothered to put any on.

    Thankfully, they're not everywhere. You'll find them near water and on the beach, but you can lose them pretty easily by ducking into the forest.

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    Sunshine on the West Coast…

    We wake to the view promised by Cesar in reception; snow covered Elie de Beaumont, the 8th highest mountain in New Zealand at 9,233 feet, can clearly be seen from our expansive lounge windows. Fantastic! The ever present long white cloud hovers at ground level. We’re cozy and warm; Franz Josef feels downright balmy after Wanaka.

    We drive to the Franz Josef car park and set out on the popular Glacier Valley Walk, following the Waiho riverbed to the terminal of Franz Josef Glacier. We never tire of this walk, it feels different every time. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, waterfalls course over the mountains…I feel blessed. With numerous photo stops and a few side trails, the easy walk takes us 1:45 return.

    Our next walk is to Peter’s Pool where snow capped mountains can be seen reflected in the water (because the sun is out!). We continue on via the hilly Douglas Track (3.9 km, one hour loop), which leads us through the lush rainforest accompanied by birdsong (and sunshine!). En route we cross the Douglas swing bridge to the start of Robert’s Point track, a rough, rocky trail with an immediate river crossing. We turn back.

    We’re soon looking for Canavan’s Knob Walk, passing it twice before we notice the huge sign and a rather obvious knob, right off of SH 6 towards Fox Glacier. We walk the 10-15 minutes from the car park to the trailhead and make the steady uphill climb; yep, it’s a knob all right, but it’s worth the effort; we’re rewarded with some nice upper glacier views, albeit a bit clouded over by the time we get there, one hour return.

    Cesar, our enthusiastic accommodation host, has recommended The Landing or Alice May for dinner. We find Alice May closed until July, so The Landing it is. Bill goes for the Caesar salad with chicken ($22.50) and a pint of Guinness ($9.50). I predictably choose the soup, in this case tomato, capsicum and feta ($11). The food is good, but the atmosphere of the place puts us off a bit. Televisions and music compete at full volume, the bar is full of boisterous folks awaiting a sporting event; it’s basically a pub with restaurant prices.

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    “Gosh it’s green”…

    We gas the car - $2.28 per liter – and leave Franz Josef under another promising blue sky. We’re on SH 6 pointed towards Hokitika, the mountaintops clearly visible, wispy ground fog giving our surroundings a surreal, moor-like quality. As we clear the mist, our attention is drawn to countless spider webs stretched between the rails of wood fence, dewy tendrils shimmering in the sun.

    We drive through yet another rainforest tunnel, surrounded by glistening wet green ferns. Low clouds dance above Okarito Lagoon. As we enter the one horse town of Whataroa, I have a sudden urge for ice cream. We’re soon spooning up Tip Top at the town’s milk store/pie shop, vanilla for Bill, passion fruit and apricot for me.

    The squiggles are back with a vengeance as we work our way through Mt Hercules Scenic Reserve. We pass through sleepy Hari Hari, skirt duck-speckled Lake Ianthe, and cruise through one scenic reserve after another, feeling as if we’re in a jungle, surrounded by infinite shades of green. We make a quick stop in Pukekura to take a few photographs; a giant manmade sandfly, a goat on a leash, the Puke Pub. We zip through the nondescript, yet historic gold town of Ross and are soon entering Hokitika, New Zealand’s gold and greenstone capital.

    I need a pharmacy, but Hoki is well shuttered on this Sunday afternoon. We walk around town, pick up a few groceries, then settle on Stumper’s Café for lunch. Still on his breakfast kick, Bill has the Big Breakfast, the usual fry up. He doesn’t care for it, and decides once and for all, that NZ sausages just aren’t his thing. I have the pasta special, a strange assortment of ingredients that sound good, but really aren’t. The flat whites are excellent, but the food is unsatisfying ($43 total).

    As we leave town we pass Café de Paris, open for business. I kick myself. I knew about this café, but I had a brain fart and didn’t think to look for it. Oh well, can’t win them all.

    We easily locate the road to Kaniere, and we’re on our way to Hokitika Gorge. It’s been touted as one of the most beautiful places in NZ, so we absolutely must investigate. We zigzag through the countryside fringed by mountains; a meandering journey, but well marked. Thirty-three kilometers later, we’re crossing the milky turquoise Hokitika River, making the short trek down to the riverside. The information board tells us that Hokitika Gorge gets an average of 2-2.5 meters of rain a year, setting a record in 1998 with 16.6 meters. That’s some serious rain. There’s no shortage of sandflies either.

    This is incredible. It’s like the Blue Pools and Rakaia Gorge all rolled into one; well worth every single extra kilometer on an already long drive day!

    The Tasman Sea comes into view as we work our way back to Hoki, feeling rather lucky to have had two sunny days on the West Coast. We ease our way north on SH 6, the Tasman to our left, bush and pasture to our right, turning at Kumara Junction and heading inland on 73. The landscape changes; it’s now mostly gorse and dry/dead/dying flora. We’re in the mountains now; the squiggles are back; we begin to climb. We eventually cross the 440 meter long Otira Viaduct, an elevated engineering marvel that spans a freakishly deep chasm, one of the most earthquake prone areas in New Zealand.

    We enter the Selwyn District, rather drab and thirsty looking after the lush green of the West Coast, and begin our descent, arriving in the village of Arthur’s Pass 6.5 hours after leaving Franz Josef.

    Our accommodation for the next two nights is quickly located; we check in to Cottage #3 at the Mountain House, my review can be found here:

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g658475-d945755-Reviews-Mountain_House_YHA-Arthurs_Pass_Canterbury_South_Island.html

    We’re welcomed with a much needed blazing fire; it’s mighty cold. We get settled and head out for an early dinner, suspecting that the few businesses up here close early. We share a Hawaiian pizza at the Wobbly Kea; it’s okay, but the Blue Ice certainly has nothing to worry about ($28). They do have an impressive single malt selection though, much to Bill’s admiration.

    Our evening is spent curled up in front of the fire, listening to bizarre noises coming from the water heater, and the ominous howl of the wind.

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    Have just caught up with the stage of your trip from Geraldine to Arthur's Pass, much of it through country I know well. You know, we have never stopped at Makaroa on our many trips but next trip (if there is one we can do without going through poor Christchurch even though we need to to catch up with family and friends) we will. I have the most amazing photo that I took of a very tall straight tree (can't remember what it is) with just a little vegetation at the very top which stands on the left side of the road to the Hokitika Gorge.
    We stayed a night in Whataroa one trip in rather interesting accommodation - it used to be the maternity hospital, now converted into motel units!
    The West Coast would have to be one of my favourite places for amazing scenery. So glad you are planning another trip already (from the other posting!)

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    “If this is an easy track, I’ll eat my shorts”…

    It’s funny how starting at sea level skews one’s impression of elevation. Arthur’s Pass is situated at 920 meters, some 3,018 feet, half the elevation of our hometown in Colorado, yet somehow it feels much higher.

    Our first stop is the Visitor’s Center, where we collect a walking map and watch the antics of a Kea in the parking lot.

    We’re soon walking the track to Devil’s Punchbowl Falls, just north of the village. It’s cold and windy; the sun hasn’t yet crested the mountains; I’m wondering if I should have worn my long underwear. Three hundred and forty-four steps later, we’re at the base of the 131 meter waterfall, peeling off our jackets. It’s a nice path, steep, but immaculately maintained (~one hour return, 1.3 miles).

    By 11 am the temperature has risen to a whopping 5c (41F). We drive three kilometers north and set out on the Bealey Valley Track, under the impression it will be easy. The track begins innocuously enough, leading us across the Bealey River at the Chasm and through a tussock clearing, complete with boardwalk and stunning mountain views, before disappearing into the forest, where things get a bit rough. Here we scramble over wet roots and rocks, wondering if we’ve lost the track. We slowly pick our way across the river again (no bridge) and picnic at the base of gorgeous snow covered Mt Rolleston. A marker further up the riverbed suggests that the track continues, but I’ve no interest in breaking an ankle climbing over river rock, so we call it good. This track is puzzling...it’s a real mixed bag; it doesn’t match its description, perhaps due to the upgrades and repair work in progress.

    On the way back we detour, exploring a couple of unmarked spurs, one of which climbs straight up and offers fantastic views of the entire mountain range.

    As we return to the car park we see a sign for the Dobson Nature walk, so we follow the easy path through the forest, alongside and over the highway and back. The views are great, but roadside tracks don’t interest us much (total walk time for Bealey Valley and Dobson tracks – 2.5 hours, 4 miles, ~6.5 km).

    Next up is the Otira Viaduct lookout for some dramatic views. Seeing the viaduct from above makes me appreciate what an engineering feat it truly is. The wind is blowing like mad up here, it’s icy cold.

    After a coffee at Arthur’s Chalet it’s back to the cottage to start the fire. We’d freeze our tails off without the fire.

    Dinner finds us in the Wobbly Kea again; customers glued to the television, reading the news crawl. Christchurch has had two more aftershocks today, 6.0 and 5.5. It’s cold inside too, everyone in the restaurant dines with their jackets on. Bill wisely chooses the chicken curry, spicy and excellent ($22.50); it’s tomato soup for me, also good ($10).

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    Wonderful report, Mel! May the sun continue to shine on your travels. Our trip, quite a few years ago now, was done the other way round - your report makes me want to go back soon. Thank you.

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    Yet another pretty drive…

    The wind howls throughout the night, drowning out the sound of passing trains; I almost expect snow. We leave Arthur’s Pass under gloomy skies, thankful that our tramping day was sunny. The road is sanded; it’s a wee bit frosty. Visibility is poor as we drive west on 73, directly into the fog and rain. The clouds begin to lift and it greens up significantly as we re-enter the West Coast, turning onto Lake Brunner Tourist Drive at Jacksons. We cross a wide river; thin wispy clouds hover above and cling to the tree covered mountains along the fringe, the sky a pale blue…I love this; I can’t seem to get enough photos.

    Lake Brunner appears to our left, and we’re soon passing through Moana, not sure if we’ve been on this road before. At Stillwater we turn onto SH 7 towards Reefton, the Grey River to our left, everything else green, green, green, the clouds overhead constantly moving and endlessly fascinating. We enter the Buller District at Ikamatua, one of the driest places on the West Coast, boasting 300-500 mm less rain per year than any main coastal town. My hometown gets 411 mm of rain and snow a year…if it’s lucky. Funny thing about the SI…if they go without rain for 3-4 days, they think they’re in drought.

    I’ve got a hankering for ice cream, so we stop in Reefton for a bit of Tip Top, the same old boring vanilla for Bill, chocolate and Hokey Pokey for me ($7, two scoops each). Craving satisfied, we move on, joining SH 6, easing our way along the Buller River to Murchison, passing New Zealand’s longest swing bridge. We knew this place long before it became a paid attraction; to us it will forever be the Sandfly Bridge, where we both got chewed to bits many moons ago. We stop at Beechwood Café in Murchison, nothing on the menu appeals, so we round the corner and luck into Rivers Café. Cute place this, eclectic and full of character…good food and coffee too. Breakfast Bill goes for the Eggs Bennie ($14), chicken noodle soup for me ($12).

    http://www.rivers.co.nz/cafe.htm

    Back on SH 6 we drive through Kahurangi National Park, sections of forest bare from logging, others replanted in rows of identical trees, symmetrical and odd. Hope Saddle predictably brings more squiggles and hairpin turns. We’re soon entering the farming community of Korere, once again amongst rolling hills and bright green countryside. The traffic picks up as we approach Wakefield, passing fruit producers and olive groves. Six hours after leaving Arthur’s Pass we pull into the driveway of Milcrest Estate in Hope, our digs for the next three nights. My review can be found here:

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g1777199-d1774139-Reviews-Milcrest_Estate-Richmond_Nelson_Tasman_Region_South_Island.html

    Once settled, we set out to explore, a bit overwhelmed by the traffic and general busyness, which is funny considering urban Richmond/Nelson only has a population of about 60,000. We wander the streets going everywhere and nowhere. We find Nelson city center, park and wander some more. We have dinner at an old favorite, Little India (yes, Indian again). The food is excellent. Bill proclaims his Chicken Tikka Masala the best of the trip and my Paneer Shimla Mirch is pretty darn good too (two curries, rice, garlic naan, one glass of wine each - $54). The ‘busy’ streets of Nelson have rolled up by the time we leave town at 6:30 pm.

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    Live the day…

    We wake to a clear sunny day and a nice view of the estate’s vineyard. We’re out the door by 9 am; we’ve got a long drive ahead. The plan is to drive to French Pass on the western side of the Marlborough Sounds, described as “the most scenic drive in the country”. The idea came about while studying my South Island map looking for places we’d not yet visited. We hemmed and hawed about where to base ourselves for a visit to French Pass, finally settling on Hope.

    We locate SH 6 and head to Nelson, soon driving along the pretty waterfront. We leave Tasman Bay behind and head inland towards Hira and Whangamoa, winding through mountainous Hira Forest along new blacktop, smooth as a baby’s butt. The highway feels like a tightly wound spiral; we’re tossed from side to side as we work our way up to the Rai Saddle summit, once again appreciative of New Zealand’s banked roads. I’m reminded that we’ll be making this drive again when we head to Picton in a few days.

    We stop at Mt Richmond Estate near Rai Valley. I’m anxious to check the place out, as it was one of the contenders for our three nights in the area. We enjoy a flat white in their café, Foresters, and thumb through the reading material, a copy of Pig Hunter magazine. Hmmm… The proprietor is kind enough to show us through one of the units, which would have worked out nicely.

    Forty-five minutes after leaving Nelson, we turn off towards Elaine Bay, where we study a sign of myriad confusing options. It appears that French Pass is a one hour, 40 minute drive from here. We continue through pastures, rolling hills, and some areas completely devoid of trees due to logging. The road is typically curvy; it quickly becomes seriously narrow, clinging freakishly close to the edge of the road. The sheer drop offs on the left side of the car wig me out.

    Spotting a track sign, we pull off and walk the Goat Hill Track, an undulating path that leads to an overlook and gives us a taste of what’s in store (30 minutes, one mile return). We continue our drive to Okiwi Bay, amazed at the 100 kilometer per hour speed limit signs back here; we’re barely doing 50 and still have to slow for the countless tight turns. Okiwi Bay is a quiet little community with pretty bay views, but bigger than either of us expected given the challenges of getting to it. We continue, driving 17 kilometers to Elaine Bay via the Moncreiff Scenic Reserve, passing the sad remains of a forest that has been logged to death. Apiaries are everywhere; we pass two men wrapped head to toe in protective clothing collecting bee hives and putting them on a truck. I wouldn’t want that job.

    We reach a fork in the road; one tine leads to Elaine Bay, the other to French Pass. We head down to Elaine Bay first, finding yet another peaceful bayside community. We turn back and take the unsealed road to French Pass, soon dodging large rocks, worried we’ll puncture a tire, and wondering what we’ve gotten ourselves into. We continue anyway, ever curious about what lies ahead. We break free of the forest, finding ourselves on roadway which has been cut into the side of the peninsula, its tentacles stretching deep into the sounds. We’re precariously perched on the edge of the terraced hillside, it’s freaky, but the views are spectacular. We’re surrounded by deep blue water, lush green pasture and perpetually bent trees. It’s so windy that I can’t open the car door at one point, not that I really want to, considering the drop off on the other side.

    The road is paved again as we make our stomach dropping descent into the tiny village of French Pass, home to the narrow and treacherous stretch of water separating the mainland from D’Urville Island. If you’re looking for remote and isolated, this is the place. The wind is fierce and icy. We chat up a friendly Kiwi on the dock awaiting his boat to D’Urville Island; he’s going there to conduct pregnancy tests on sheep.

    To get a sense of this drive, take a look here:

    http://www.wises.co.nz/l/Croisilles-french+Pass+Road/#c/-40.928478/173.842485/16/

    We make the long journey back, sighing in relief when we reach the asphalt of SH 6. I’ve had my fill of squiggly roads, but we’re curious about the Cable Bay Walkway, so we take the turnoff to Happy Valley to investigate. Eight kilometers of skinny winding road later, we’re studying the Cable Bay Walkway information board and watching the full moon rise over the mudflats of the bay.

    It’s been a long day; our explorations have taken us 8.5 hours, most of it driving. This being a tourist is hard work.

    A cheerful sign that says “Live the Day” greets us as we re-enter Nelson. We park the car (.50 an hour, what a deal!) and have a nice dinner at the Indian Café on Collingwood Street. The place is hopping, the food and service is very good; we leave completely stuffed (one appetizer, two curries, rice, garlic naan, two beers and two glasses of wine - $63).

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    I am loving your trip report Mel it is bringing back lots of memories. I lived in Darfield for three years when I was a teenager, my Dad was the local Postmaster at the time. My Mum was born near Staveley and often talked about ice-skating there as a kid.

    My DH and I live in Richmond, 5 minutes walk from the shopping centre, and my son in law's grandmother and great grandparents farmed on D'Urville Island for many years. His great grandfather came from the island of Stromboli off the coast of Italy to be a fisherman at D'Urville but also farmed there as well. My SIL's great grandmother came to D'Urville from Strombolli as a 16 year old to marry her 2nd cousin who was 33. My SIL's father Gerard Hindmarsh has written a book called Angelina from Strombolli to D'Urville Island about his grandmother and her life on D'Urville Island it is a fascinating book.

    A lot of Nelson/Tasman residents have holiday homes at Okiwi Bay, and Elaine Bay.

    Looking forward to the rest of your report.

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    Thank you nelsonian. I actually thought of you when we were in Nelson - I knew you lived there, but I didn't realize it was Richmond. Heck, we should have met up for a coffee.

    Just today I saw a reference to Angelina on the French Pass Sea Safaris website. I just might have to add that to my reading list!

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    Whose bright idea was this?

    It’s a cold, crisp 6c as we work our way via SH 6 to the community of Glenduan, some 30 minutes from our accommodation and 12 km from Nelson City. The information board at Cable Bay indicates that the walkway can be accessed from either end, so we figure we’ll walk from Glenduan to the airstrip and return, making a loop. We park at the beach and walk up through the neighborhood to the start of the Cable Bay Walkway. Holy Moly…this track doesn’t mess around; it immediately begins to climb. We walk at a 45 degree angle up grassy sheep pasture, huffing and puffing. Those innocuous looking rolling hills suddenly don’t look so innocuous. As we climb, we’re rewarded with views of the coast, farmland, mountains, and a wee bit of Nelson City. From the lookout above the airstrip, it gets even better – 360 degree views - lovely. We return via a much-less-challenging 4x4 road, still through pasture, but not nearly as steep, for which my knees are eternally grateful (2:45, just over four miles, ~6.5 km).

    We’ve earned a treat, so it’s back to Nelson for a hot chocolate at Cocoa on Hardy Street ($6 each). We’re told their hot cocoa is made with 1/3 melted chocolate and milk - full cream no doubt. It’s wonderful, how could it not be? We poke around town for a bit - check e-mail, get a haircut, etc. Bill’s craving a late lunch at Little India; I don’t have any better ideas, so that’s where we go, more Chicken Tikka Masala for him ($18), a Paneer Aloo Tikka starter for me ($9). It’s still good. Then it’s back to our accommodation to relax in our cozy digs. We have a nice chat with co-owner Terry, who’s been out in the vineyard pruning the vines. He shows us his pruning equipment and demonstrates exactly how it’s done. This is a privately owned boutique vineyard and the bulk of the work falls to him; operating a vineyard is definitely a labor of love.

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    Squiggles, cow poop and wood smoke…

    We’ve arranged a wine tasting with our host before our departure. We’ve already established that I like their Sauvignon Blanc and Bill likes their Pinot Noir, but we’re anxious to try their other wines as well. Terry treats us to a personal wine tasting and another long chat, giving us the low down on the business. We leave with their Pinot Noir and Syrah; the Pinot actually makes it back to Perth with us.

    We take SH 6 to 60, pointed towards Motueka. Before long we’re detouring to the cellar door of Te Mania/Richmond Plains, a short visit that has us leaving with a bottle of Te Mania Reserve Pinot Noir, which is stashed away for a special occasion.

    Back on 60 we forge on, but not for long, quickly distracted by the Ruby Bay/Mapua Scenic Route. We park at the Mapua Wharf and explore for a bit. We buy some hot smoked salmon at the Smokehouse (which Bill enjoys more than the cold smoked salmon from Mt Cook) and call in at the Naked Bun Bakery for coffee and calories. Bill tries the Spanakopita, which he says is excellent. I predictably go for something chocolate, in this case an éclair with a decadently dense chocolate filling, oo-la-la…no complaints here ($20.80 total with two flat whites). We take a couple of their chocolate filled croissants with us for the next day’s breakfast ($5 each and worth every penny).

    We ramble on, taking the turnoff at McKee Memorial Reserve to soak up the bay views and admire an eclectic assortment of campers, most of which have smoke billowing from their chimneys. We pass art studios, orchards, and honesty fruit stands, eventually re-joining 60. A giant manmade kiwi catches our eye; we flush it out, a sign advising that it’s Prowdaby, the world’s largest permanently sited kiwi.

    Our meander resumes, taking us through Motueka and past mandarin laden trees. We make the six kilometer detour to Kaiteriteri, only to be distracted by a sign to Little Kaiteriteri, which we follow down to the beach. Neither of us remembers being here, we’re a bit surprised by all the humongous homes. We park at the beach and follow the path to Stephen’s Bay, taking in the views along the way (35 minute return, uphill both ways).

    We’re soon driving through Kaiteriteri and continuing on to Marahau. The unbanked roads are squiggly as all get out, yet the speed limit is 100 kph. Yikes. We notice several B&Bs as we pass through woodsy and gorse-strangled Kaiteriteri Forest.

    That this area has one of the largest tidal ranges in NZ is glaringly obvious, the tide is out; the boats stranded in the sandy bay look sad and forlorn, particularly in the somber flat light. There’s more to Marahau than I remember, several homes and bachs, a camping area, water taxi operators, even a café.

    Back on 60, we complete our loop as we turn right and work our way towards Takaka, soon crossing Takaka Hill, aka Marble Mountain, tossed from side to side as we work our way through the seemingly endless curves and hairpin turns. There was a time that this drive made me miserably carsick, but oddly, I’ve not had any problems this trip.

    Poor weather discourages us from exploring any tracks along the way. Instead, we plug along, cresting the 791 km summit of Takaka Hill, and then making the squiggly descent to Golden Bay. On a clear day the views are fabulous, but unfortunately, not today.

    Crossing Takaka Hill takes us 30 minutes. The road mercifully straightens out as we drive through Upper Takaka, spotting a shoe fence and some rather scrawny cows. Rain is predicted for the next two days; we optimistically collect some walking maps from the Visitor’s Center, and then set about locating our accommodation. Although we’ve not been here for over three years, Bill sniffs out Ashlea Downs in no time; he must have a built-in compass.

    I’ve not been able to get Ashlea Downs listed on either Fodor’s or TA, so here’s an overview:

    http://www.ashleadowns.co.nz

    ---

    This was our fourth stay at this peaceful self-contained cottage, which is located on a beef and dairy farm above Takaka. The cottage has two bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen and a wood burning stove in the lounge. It’s well fitted out with plenty of reading lamps, a washing machine, electric heaters, and a large shower in the bathroom. It’s clean, warm and comfortable and has a patio that offers expansive views of the countryside and valley. Owners Stuart and Lynley are helpful and friendly while completely respecting the privacy of their guests.

    ---

    We had a good meal at the Brigand on a previous trip, so that’s where we go for dinner. Bill has the fish of the day, salmon, which is served with some type of sauce and vegetables ($31) – he says it’s excellent. I opt for the vegetarian curry, also excellent, and surprisingly spicy ($24). As we devour our dinner we discuss how good the food has been on this trip. We recall some decidedly mediocre meals during previous visits; we both have memories of tearooms, spongy white bread sandwiches, endless piles of chips and nachos, too sweet ketchup (okay, so that hasn’t changed), and an overall lack of flavor. Has the food improved, has our budget increased, or are we just making better choices? Hmmm…

    The smell of cow poop and wood smoke permeate the air. We retreat to our warm cottage to hunker down for the night.

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    Rainy day noshing…

    We wake to rain and wind, as promised. Not your average rain and wind mind you, but torrential, satellite disrupting rain, and patio-furniture-launching wind.

    We heat up those chocolate croissants from the Naked Bun; they may be a day old, but boy are they good! Not only are they iced with chocolate, they’re generously filled with chocolate, which when warmed, oozes out with every buttery bite. The chocoholic is in heaven… We need to burn off some of those calories, but this isn’t the kind of weather one wants to venture out into. So, we stay indoors and read, flinching every time another patio chair takes flight.

    When the storm finally abates just a wee bit, we wander out for lunch, ending up at an old favorite, Penguin Café in Pohara, entertained by a chatty waitress who fills us in on local dairy prices, organic farming and self-sufficiency. She also tells us it doesn’t rain much in Takaka, just two or three times a week. Huh. I guess that’s not much for a country that measures rain in meters.

    Bill’s back on his breakfast kick, ordering Eggs Bennie, I have potato leek soup – both are good ($34 with a beer and a coffee).

    We wander around town, but most businesses are closed on this Saturday afternoon. We luck into an open video store/internet café, so we catch up with e-mail. Our last stop is Wholemeal Café, where we warm up with coffee and a shared slice of cake, chocolate of course - $14 total – yum. It finally stops raining, just in time to get dark.

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    The weather has changed much in Golden Bay over the last few weeks. Heavy rain, strong winds, thunder and lightening. Yesterday there was a light dusting of snow on Takaka hill.

    Little Kaiteriteri and Stephens Bay are where all the rich people live Mel!!!!

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    Yeah, I figured nelsonian, although Stephen's Bay looked much more moderate. We only saw it from the beach though.

    The owner of Ashlea Downs told us the weather had been weird in Golden Bay this year - he said a friend of his in Bainham had reported three meters of rain. No wonder it's so green!

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    New discoveries…

    A ferocious turd floater during the night doesn’t bode well for walking, but by morning it’s merely wet and overcast. We optimistically don our rain gear, stop at Wholemeal Café for a pre-walk breakfast, and then head 20 kilometers northeast of Takaka to Wainui Bay via Abel Tasman Drive. Our plan is to walk the 30 minute Wainui Falls track; we figure the falls should be impressive after all the rain. But it’s not to be; five minutes in we come upon a ford that’s impossible to cross without getting our feet soaking wet, so we turn back. We drive back towards Pohara, turn at Clifton and explore the Grove Scenic Reserve instead. Here an easy track leads through a tunnel of limestone rock to a viewing platform. It’s wet and a bit creepy, but it’s a nice little reserve (15 minutes, ½ mile loop).

    We next head towards Collingwood, noticing cows in the yard of the high school as we pass through Takaka. The pastures are full of standing water; the rivers are swollen to near bursting. There are a lot of arts and crafts studios through here, and of course sprawling Fonterra Diary, which is pretty hard to miss.

    We drive 22 kilometers north of Takaka and locate Milnthorpe Park, a scenic reserve and reforestation project where non-native trees have been planted in an attempt to quickly regenerate the area. We have a walking map that I printed before we left Perth; it really comes in handy. There are about 30 intersecting tracks through here; we walk 11 of them, most of them easy, but the odd track is muddy, slippery and treacherous due in part to the wet conditions. As we work our way through the jungle-like forest, we can’t help but think if that we were in OZ, we’d be covered in leeches. (2.5 hours, ~four miles – Mitch’s Loop and Bellshill are the most challenging of the 11 we walked).

    Back in the car, we drive to the thriving metropolis of Collingwood, and drive right back out, there’s not much to it. We see a sign for Rockville and Bainham; the vet we met in French Pass had mentioned a café near Bainham and we know that the Kaituna Track is back here, so we decide to investigate. We wander through the country, alongside flooded pasture, through intermittent rain. We turn off onto unsealed road, and follow the signs to the Naked Possum Café, situated on the edge of the Kahurangi Forest, directly across the road from the Kaituna Track. The Naked Possum’s mission is to eradicate the brush tail possum and restore the rata forest – it’s an intriguing place in a gorgeous area. We relax on the deck with flat whites and a bowl of chips ($14) and soak up the atmosphere. Our visit takes places 10 days after the death of one of the owners; a lovely tribute to him is on display at the cafe.

    http://www.nakedpossum.com/

    It’s raining, but we can’t pass up the opportunity to walk at least a bit of the track, so we walk as far as the old Kaituna gold workings. We both almost fall on our butts as we cross the wooden footbridge; it’s wet and slippery as ice. The track leads through native forest past a cave, water races and former gold sluicing operations. It’s a nice walk, incredibly green and dark (no sun) and rather muddy (45 minute return, 1.7 miles).

    It begins to rain in earnest as we drive back to Takaka, effectively ending our walking day.

    It’s back to the Brigand for an encore dinner. Bill has the house specialty, barbecued ribs in a sickly sweet plum sauce ($26.50). I ask how they are and get that familiar head bob which translates to “eh, so-so, could be better”. I feel the same way about my potato, bacon and leek soup ($11). The Brigand fails to impress tonight.

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    A vanishing road….

    We leave Takaka the way we came, the valley seeming even greener than when we arrived. It’s Round #2 for Takaka Hill, which hasn’t gotten any straighter in the past two days. The storm has caused several landslips; debris is scattered across the highway and rocks continue to fall as we pass; a highway crew works its way up from Motueka as we work our way down. Highway maintenance on the South Island must be an endless task.

    The Motueka River is running fast and full, logs float downstream. We putter along 60, past kiosks selling apples and kiwis. Clouds can be seen reflected in the estuary to our left; the sun is out! Names and messages have been spelled out with rocks in the sand, only visible because it’s low tide.

    We detour onto the Ruby Bay/Mapua scenic drive again, dodging yet more storm debris. The Naked Bun is calling; we can’t pass up the opportunity to stop in one more time. It’s Spanakopita again for Bill, a Cointreau éclair for me and two more of those fantastic chocolate croissants for later (total $30.50 with two flat whites). Still good!

    Back on 60, we work our way towards Nelson, passing vineyards and orchards as we enter Richmond for the second time. We turn on SH 6, retracing our steps to Nelson City and alongside Tasman Bay, completely calm with a surface like glass. We pass the not- so-innocuous rolling hills above Glenduan and wind our way back through the mountainous Rai Valley Forest.

    We’re in and out of tiny Canvastown in the blink of an eye and entering Havelock, the “Green Lipped Mussel Capital of the World”, some 10 kilometers later.

    Our meander continues as we turn left onto Queen Charlotte Drive and ease our way through native forest, alongside the Marlborough Sounds and past several sleepy bays towards Picton. The views from here are spectacular, particularly on a pretty day, but today the sounds are a bit muddy due to all the runoff from the recent deluge.

    The road is a mess; several landslips have wreaked havoc. Large chunks of asphalt are sunken or missing; in one instance ¾ of the road is gone. Trees have fallen onto the road, blocking entire lanes. I have to wonder if Queen Charlotte Drive will slide right into the sounds.

    I feel like I have whiplash from all the squiggles. We pull over at a lookout above Shakespeare Bay; smelling freshly logged wood the minute we step out of the car. The viewpoint overlooks a busy logging port and Kaipupu Point, a bird sanctuary with an impressive predator proof fence.

    A quick stop at the Picton Harbor overlook follows; we’re soon driving into the pretty town of Picton, situated at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound. We stop at the Countdown grocery store, specifically to buy some Rush Munro’s ice cream, which I’ve been told is very good, but I don’t care for it (vanilla).

    We drive through Picton and continue north east via Waikawa/Port Underwood Road, passing Waikawa Bay, home to one of New Zealand’s largest marinas. The road is typically narrow and unfortunately used by loggers, one of which barely squeezes by us, hogging the road. Another couple of inches, and we’d be swimming in the sounds.

    Before long we’re at Whatamango Bay, easing down the freakishly steep driveway of Whatamonga Homestay, our base for the next three nights. We’re warmly greeted by owner Colette and her big fluffy ginger cat, Benji.

    My review of this lovely accommodation can be found here:

    http://www.fodors.com/world/australia-and-the-pacific/new-zealand/upper-south-island-and-the-west-coast/review-193270.html

    We while away the rest of the afternoon on our balcony, soaking up the fantastic views of the Marlborough Sounds and watching the Interislander ferries pass in front of us.

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    An aimless day…

    I’m not feeling well. Colette is kind enough to help arrange a doctor’s appointment. We enjoy a leisurely breakfast with our hostess in her home, and then we head to Picton. After my appointment we drive to Anakiwa, via Queen Charlotte Drive. We’d like to walk a section of the track from this end, so we’re curious. As we approach Anakiwa, we see several mud-covered bikers fly off the track; Queen Charlotte Track is open to bikers during the winter months; during peak season they can only cycle from Camp Bay to Anakiwa.

    We see signs advising of a shellfish ban in the Marlborough Sounds due to Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. We later learn that the ban was lifted that very day; apparently, an algae bloom was responsible for the toxin.

    We return to Picton, stopping to photograph mailboxes en route – mailboxes shaped like cows, cats, milk jugs, campers, delivery trucks, fish – I wonder if they held a contest for most interesting mailbox…

    Back in town, we wander the streets in search of lunch, settling on the Flying Haggis, where we’re chatted up by our Scottish waitress. Bill chooses the sweet and sour chicken ($12.50); I go for the kumara and vegetable soup ($8.50). Then it’s off to the Visitor’s Center, where we determine that due to limited water taxi schedules, it’s just not logistically feasible/cost effective to walk the sections of the QCT that interest us. Employee Chris is very patient and helpful; she suggests several alternate tracks. Picton is much more than a gateway to the Marlborough Sounds; there’s a quite a bit to do here.

    The low fog is back, there’s a chill in the air. The short winter day has gotten away from us, but we still want to walk, so we seek out Esson’s Valley and walk to Humphries Dam. The track is easy, but dark in the sunless rainforest and incredibly muddy (90 minutes return, ~3.5 miles).

    We return to Picton, check our e-mail at Atlantis Backpackers ($2 for 30 minutes) and peruse the dinner menus. We end up at Plaza India; both surprised to find an Indian restaurant in a town the size of Picton, and surprised at how good it is. Bill predictably orders the Chicken Tikka Masala, I try the Dal Makani; good food for a cold winter’s night ($36 including rice and naan).

    We ease our way back along Waikawa/Port Underwood Road to our homestay; it’s pitch black and misting, it feels like it might snow!

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    Walking the Snout…

    We join Colette for another breakfast in her home. Resident cats Benji and Muffie curl around the electric heater and ignore us. It’s gloomy again, but at least it’s dry.

    We drive to Victoria Domain, located between Waikawa and Picton; we’ve been told there are several walks through here offering views of the harbor and the sounds. We follow the one way road from Victoria Domain to where it ends at the Snout Track car park.

    The first section of the track leads to Queen Charlotte View, which as the name implies, offers fabulous views of Queen Charlotte Sound; there’s a picnic table and an overlook at the top. This section is well graded and nicely maintained; as we climb, we see Picton Harbor behind us and the Interislander ferries crossing the sounds to our left. The track then descends to the tip of the headland, aka The Snout. Several long black skids and a few butt prints indicate how slippery the track is; it’s a muddy mess, we creep along, not wanting to slip and break our necks. We’re enclosed by native bush; there are no views until we reach the tip of The Snout, where we find ourselves surrounded by the water of Waikawa Bay…and a lot of really big bees.

    Other than the mud and slippery bits, we enjoy this walk (just over three hours, ~5.5 miles return).

    We next drive to Waikawa Bay for lunch at the Jolly Roger in the marina, toasted cheese and onion for me ($6), an open face burger with bacon and salad for Bill ($19.50), nice location, average food.

    Back on Waikawa Bay/Port Underwood Road, we stop to explore Karaka Point, east of Picton. Here we walk a path alongside the remains of a Maori settlement and down a steep embankment to the beach.

    Intrigued by an area we’ve never visited, we decide to continue along Port Underwood Road towards Rarangi. We’ve been warned that the road is challenging, although supposedly not as challenging as the one we’ve already driven to French Pass. This is the longer, more rugged route to Blenheim, taking about 1-1/4 hours vs. the 20-30 minute drive along SH 1 from Picton.

    Watching for errant logging trucks we work our way to Oyster Bay, where the narrow and winding road turns to gravel. Clear felling is obvious and widespread, but we encounter no loggers, just a highway crew cleaning up a substantial landslip; we must wait several minutes for the crew to clear the road. We stop at a hill to soak up the fabulous view of the sounds. The road narrows even more as we pass through Cole’s Bay and Tom Cane’s Bay. As we skirt yet another massive slip, we question the wisdom of attempting this drive after so much rain. We continue on through the former whaling station of Kakapo Bay, named after a rare flightless New Zealand parrot, the area now completely fenced in, presumably for deer farming. We enter Ocean Bay, amazed (not for the first time), to see houses back here; it seems Kiwis build their homes in the most challenging places. We’re surrounded by undulating forest, some areas logged into oblivion. We turn back at Robin Hood Bay; it’s getting dark, the drop offs to the coast are unnerving, and there’s no signage to indicate distances or what lies ahead.

    To get a sense of this drive, take a look here:

    http://www.zoomin.co.nz/map/nz/marlborough/rarangi/port+underwood+road/

    Our friendly hostess Colette has invited us to drinks and snacks in her home. We chat and catch up with the local news; the ash cloud from Chile continues to disrupt flights in and out of New Zealand. We may not be leaving in a few days after all.

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    Culinary disappointment…

    After a final breakfast with our charming hostess, we leave our comfy digs and head to Picton, joining SH1 for the 26 km drive to Blenheim. We’re in New Zealand’s largest wine growing region, resistance is futile. We seek out Villa Maria for a wine tasting and a chat with Michelle, who is minding the cellar door. Our on-the-ground wine drinking days are numbered; our luggage is dangerously close to the airline’s weight limit, shipping costs to Australia are high…we must control ourselves…yet we fall in love with Villa Maria’s reserve wines, so we purchase a bottle of their Reserve Wairau Valley 2010 Sauvignon Blanc and bottle of their Reserve Marlborough 2008 Pinot Noir – fantastic.

    On Michelle’s recommendation we have lunch at Wairau River Winery. The venue is nice, with a blazing fire and casual atmosphere, but the service is perfunctory and almost unfriendly. The sauce of my Green Chicken Curry ($23) is very good, but it’s made with dark meat (which I dislike, I should have asked). Bill really enjoys his Mussel Chowder ($19.50) and helps with my chicken ($48 total with one glass of wine each).

    It’s taken us 3.5 hours to go 36 kilometers; we need to get a move on. We locate SH 1, and work our way through flatter-than-a-pikelet Blenheim, passing acres of naked grape vines and bare cherry trees. The topography quickly changes; the road becomes squiggly as we wind through undulating hills the color of wheat. We catch glimpses of turquoise sea, black sand and the dark blue backdrop of the Kaikoura Range. It’s raining as we approach Kaikoura…neither of us remembers being here when it wasn’t…We scan the black rocks, looking for black lumps. We pull over when we spot them, dozens of seals on the rocks directly below us, some fighting, most dozing.

    Kaikoura is surprisingly busy for June and bigger than I remember (imagine that). We pass yet another large landslip south of town, this one right next to the railroad tracks.
    There’s been a substantial increase in traffic since we left Blenheim; it picks up even more as we work our way down the east coast.

    We wind through the hills of the Hundalee Forest and enter the Hurunui District, once again amongst lush farmland. Low clouds hover over the green fields like smoke, the pungent stench of livestock fills the air. It’s getting dark, but we see limestone cliffs to our left. Some 20 kilometers later, we pull into the driveway of Dunnolly Cottage in Waipara, our accommodation for our last two nights in New Zealand.

    My review can be found here:

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g658487-d2141763-Reviews-Dunolly_Cottage-Waipara_Canterbury_South_Island.html

    We get settled in our lovely cottage and drive to Amberley in search of the much touted Nor’Wester Café. I’ve read good things about this place, and it also comes highly recommended by our host, who suggests the duck. We don’t eat duck, so I order the cracked pepper pappardelle, with pumpkin, olives, spinach, radicchio, Parmesan and pine nuts from the Casual menu ($22.50). What a disappointment. The pasta is undercooked and the whole dish is bland. I’ve never had pumpkin with pasta and I now know why…it’s not a good combination. Bill orders the sirloin with potato gratin, spinach, semi-dried tomatoes and green peppercorn sauce from the Dine menu, but he receives the sirloin open sandwich with fries from the Casual menu instead ($26.50). It’s an honest mistake, which never gets sorted as the waitress disappears. He eats it anyway and proclaims the sirloin excellent, although he’d preferred just about anything other than fries.

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    Winding down…

    It’s our last full day in New Zealand, cold but sunny. The Waipara map I printed before leaving Australia indicates there’s a walking track about three kilometers from our cottage, so off we go to explore Mt Cass Walkway.

    At the start of the track there’s a sign advising “NO DOGS, Dogs Found On This Walkway Will Be Shot” …wow, this guy is serious. We work our way up the moderately steep track which traverses a working farm. Before long we’re slogging through gumbo, the type of mud that sticks to your boots like glue and won’t let go, every step weighing us down. We think it’s mud anyway…it might be poop…every square inch of the ground here is covered in poop. The 360 degree views of Pegasus Bay and Waipara from the top make the trek well worth the effort. As an added bonus, we see a farmer and his dogs rounding up sheep and moving them to a different pasture, which is always interesting to watch. It’s a messy walk, but we enjoy it, 2.3 hour loop, 4.6 miles return.

    We’re hungry, so we head to Pegasus Bay Winery, hoping for some lunch, but the restaurant is closed until July. We have a mini wine tasting and wander the grounds instead; they make a lovely Pinot Noir.

    Still looking for lunch, we stop at the Mud House, but find a full car park and a sign advising that they’re fully booked (it’s Friday after all), so we move on, ending up at Waipara Springs Winery. We taste their wines ($4 per person, six wines), both liking their Pinot Noir, Syrah and cool climate Merlot, and settle in for a leisurely lunch in their near- empty café. Bill orders the Cheviot ribeye, served on a potato and leek sour cream pancake, surrounded by a red wine, smoked bacon and green peppercorn jus ($30). It’s huge; he’s a wee bit disappointed in the steak which is just “okay”, but he still manages to clean his plate. I order the vegetarian blackboard special, crisp filo pastry filled with potato, kumara, sundried tomatoes, spinach and feta, topped with sunflower seeds and a tomato basil sauce ($18). It looks like a huge filo burrito; it's good, I clean my plate too.

    Having shared a bottle of Waipara Downs 2009 Merlot over lunch, we’re pretty much ruined for the day. We return to our cottage to wash our boots and hiking sticks, wander the vineyard, and relax in our lovely surroundings.

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    Going home…

    We’re up and ready by 8 am, inadvertently waking our hosts when we ring the bell to check out. Oops. It’s cold, there’s frost on the car windows and no ice scraper in our rental. We reluctantly leave Waipara and drive south on SH 1 towards Christchurch, steam rising from ponds as we pass.

    Forty-five minutes later we’re at the APEX depot near the Christchurch Airport. We have plenty of time before our flight, so we aimlessly drive around looking for a café for breakfast. We eventually end up at the Native Garden Café in the Untouched World clothing shop on Roydvale Ave, near APEX. Bill orders the Eggs Bennie with bacon ($17.50), I select the potato and onion fritter with bacon and relish ($14.50), both are excellent, as are the flat whites ($39.40 total). This is a nice little café, complete with linen tablecloths and napkins, a really good find.

    http://www.untouchedworld.com/native-garden-cafe/Information/

    We return the car and take the shuttle to the airport. We’ve driven 3,625 kilometers during our three weeks on the South Island.

    Air New Zealand is the only airline flying due to the ash cloud from Chile; I’m not sure if I should be relieved or nervous. We’re checked in within minutes; despite our wine purchases our suitcases only weigh 21 kg each. There’s momentary panic as I’m flagged down before entering security and our shared carry on bag is weighed; it’s not full, but it’s heavy - 10.7 kg – they check my boarding pass and wave me through. I ask if I can carry my 1.5 liter bottle of water through security and I’m told "no problem". We await our flight in the well-appointed Koru Lounge.

    We’re onboard our full flight to Auckland and pushing back at 11:15 am. Good thing we were at the airport early, I’d mistakenly thought our flight was scheduled to leave at 11:50.

    Upon arrival in Auckland we walk to the international terminal; 10 of the 16 flights listed on the departure board are cancelled. We spend an hour in the Koru Lounge and then board our flight to Perth. We’re told the flight will take eight hours and will be a bit turbulent, as we’ll be flying at a lower altitude to avoid the ash cloud.

    Once again we’re treated to that fantastic Air New Zealand Business Class service. The food is excellent, the service attentive and friendly, the Muscat divine. Oh, I’m going to miss this…

    The Perth Airport is chaotic. Several international flights have arrived simultaneously, the arrivals hall and Customs/Quarantine area are packed. We have hiking gear and a bit of food, so we’re directed to the longest queue for inspection…our trip is officially over, back to reality…

    --------------------

    Anyone still reading will be glad to know I’m finally finished. Here are the numbers:

    Total spent on petrol - $563.83, $2.05-$2.28 per liter

    Accommodation, per night:

    Geraldine - Victoria Villa B&B - $130, Tui Room, inclusive of cooked breakfast
    Glenorchy - Precipice Creek Station - $230, inclusive of generous continental breakfast
    Wanaka - Alpine View Lodge - $135, split level studio, inclusive of continental breakfast
    Franz Josef - Glen Fern Villas - $153, one bedroom villa, no breakfast
    Arthur’s Pass - Mountain House Cottage #3 - $120, no breakfast
    Hope - Milcrest Estate, Pinot Noir Suite - $159, inclusive of continental breakfast
    Takaka – Ashlea Downs Cottage- $120, no breakfast
    Picton – Whatamonga Homestay - $125, inclusive of cooked breakfast
    Waipara – Dunnolly Cottage - $175, inclusive of continental breakfast

    All the accommodation was lovely, not a dud in the bunch; we’d happily return to all of them.

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    I enjoyed your trip report and read all the way through. We didn't make it to the north part of the south island at all. There was just too much to fit in and not enough time.

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    Hooray! I finally had time to read all of this. So many memories in here, and so many new places to check out next time we go.

    I would never be able to wait so long for our next visit to NZ without these wonderful reports, Mel. Your fearless winter trip has made me think it might not be so bad to go during the "low" season. Except of course for the sandflies. It didn't even occur to me that they would be bad in the WINTER......

    We're trying the Maritimes this year, but we want to get back to NZ next year. It's been too long! Thanks for these wonderful reminders of why we need to go again.

    I can't imagine driving some of the roads you did in the winter. But sitting in the car while they clear away debris from the road is always a good time to read up on what's next and to study the map for other possibilities....especially if there is coffee in the car.

    Too bad you didn't get to see any snow up close. It must be hard to go so long without it.

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    Thank you Kim, I'm happy to hear at least two people managed to read the whole thing!

    We love off season travel...in fact we actively avoid peak season. As for the sandflies, well, they're not bad in the cooler months, but they're definitely still there. Fortunately, there are fewer of them and they seem to be slower.

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    I read it Melnq8. Feeling rather depressed at the prices for eating out and not convinced it's worth returning for an 8th(?) time. I've now discovered Peru which satisfies my culinary and travel desires at a lesser impact on the wallet. Always good to look at your photos though.

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    I can relate mlgb. New Zealand certainly isn't the deal it used to be and the state of the US dollar is downright scary (we remember a few trips when the NZ $ = .40 US). From an American point of view, NZ has Australian prices with a better exchange rate (for the time being anyway).

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    I thoroughly enjoyed your trip report Melnq8. I am planning a trip to NZ in the next month. I will be flying into Christchurch and was wanting some advice. I am spending 2 weeks total, and am thinking about taking the Trans Scenic to Greymouth, then taking a car from there. When I went to NZ last year, some of the roads were challenging and a bit unnerving for me, specifically the drive toward Glenorchy from Queenstown. Also the drive from Auckland to the black sands beach was particularly scary. Alot of winding roads, with drop-offs on one side, and rock walls on the other side, and sometimes these roads narrow down to a single lane! My question to you is, did you encounter roads like this on your trip? It sounds like driving to Takaka was long and challenging. I want to explore the West Coast, Nelson, and Marlborough regions, but I want to avoid some of those long and treacherous drives. Thanks in advance!

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    The drive from Glenorchy to Queenstown is relatively mild as things go! I think you will find ANY road that crosses over a mountain range unnerving if those two bothered you (and most do to get anywhere scenic.) I'm not sure where to send you!! Maybe Melnq8 can help.

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    Hi aggie15 -

    I agree with mlgb that the road to Glenorchy is pretty mild. It was a bit freaky driving it at night, but that's because I knew the lake was mere meters away (on my side of the car) and it was so incredibly dark. During the day, the greatest hazard is losing one's concentration by getting distracted by all that incredible scenery.

    If winding roads with drop offs unnerve you, you're doing the right thing by taking the train over Arthur's Pass, as the road could be a challenge for you.

    The road over Takaka Hill is very winding, but it's not particularly long and the drop offs are more gradual than sheer - the curves are very tight, so you can't drive it particularly fast - it takes about 30-40 minutes to cross. After crossing the hill, the road is straight and pretty much flat as a pancake. The same holds true for the approach to the hill from the Motueka/Nelson side - the roads through there aren't bad, as long as you stick to the main ones.

    I'm not a huge fan of curvy roads myself (I tend to get ill), but I've found I handle them better when I'm the driver, not the passenger.

    Gosh, I don't know what to tell you. The SI is chockablock with narrow, winding roads. You'll want to avoid some of the areas we intentionally seek out, like French Pass, roads up to ski areas (like Mt Hutt) and the road to/from Waikawa Bay/Port Underwood. But those are roads the average tourist wouldn't drive anyway - they're well off the beaten path - we just tend to seek out obscure places that others wouldn't.

    The West Coast has plenty of winding roads, but they're so worth it - it's gorgeous.

    The most level, straightest road on the SI that I know of is the road to Karamea.

    I don't think I've helped you much, aggie, but good luck, I hope you have a fantastic trip.

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    You helped me indeed, and thank you for taking the time to reply. I travel solo, and I like the same activities that you do, i.e. hikes and out of the way places. I just found that after tramping on the order of 8 to 10 hours per day, then trying to drive somewhere solo the next day was a bit much on particular roads, particularly where roads have blind spots and narrow down to a single or a 1 1/2 wide lane. Thanks again you two, mlgb and Melnq8. It was you two that inspired me to go to NZ for the first time last year!

    Basic rough itenerary so far:
    Fly into Christchurch
    Trans scenic from Christchurch to Greymouth
    Greymouth to Hokitika
    Hokitika to Westport (maybe to the first leg of the Heaphy Track)
    Westport to Murchison
    Murchison to Golden Bay (town undetermined)
    Nelson Region (town undetermined)
    Marlbourough Region (Blenheim?)
    Kaikoura
    Christchurch and fly out.

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    I don't think I'd be up for any kind of driving after 8-10 hours of hiking!

    I assume you know that the Heaphy Track starts at Karamea and ends near Collingwood (or vice versa). It's a 1:20 drive from Westport to Karamea.

    A stay in Murchison is on my wish list for our next visit to the SI - there appear to be several tracks in the vicinity and it's such a pretty area. Do you have your eye on a specific track?

    I highly recommend walking the Abel Tasman from Totaranui towards Wainui. Most walkers stop at Totaranui as that's the end of the line for water taxi services, but the track keeps going. And don't miss a 4x4 tour of Farewell Spit (from Collingwood)- most visitors never get that far north and it's well worth the time involved.

    For track access, I'd suggest Picton or a place within the sounds over Blenheim, which IMO is an uninspiring town (but full of lovely wineries!)

    I ran across several obscure tracks within the Marlborough Sounds while researching our last trip, but most have some logistical issues and no doubt some narrow squiggley roads.

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    I just picked Blenheim because I found an accomodation in the Lonely Planet guide that lets you rent bikes to visit the various winery's in the vicinity. Thanks for the drive time from Westport to Karamea! It is difficult to find drive times in the various travel guides. On the Heaphy, I would probably drive to Karamea and hike for one day, camp, and then walk back out in the other direction. If I do the full lenght of the Heaphy I think it would take too much time since I'm trying to cover alot of ground on only 2 weeks. I will let you know the particular hike I take out of Murchison once I decide or get back. Funny you mentioned Farewell Spit, I thought about doing that too, but I may save that and Collingwood for the next trip due to time constraints. I'm thinking about driving to Picton, and renting a mountain bike for the Marlborough Sound track to be able to cover the full length of the track in a shorter time. I thought of renting a kayak and finding a semi-remote island in Marlborough sound to camp for a night. I enquired to an outfitter via email but haven't heard anything back yet. I also thought about D-Urville island as one of those out of the way places. Also thinking about the Nydia track. Decisions, decisions! Which tracks were you thinking of in the Marlborough Sounds?

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    Back to those squiggly roads...access to D'Urville Island is via French Pass, which is probably the most squiggly road I've been on in NZ...and it's a long drive, about 1:45 on unsealed roads (rough and rocky). I'm not aware of any other way to get there. It's most likely a rental car violation too.

    The drive from Picton to Anakiwa (for access to the QCT) on Queen Charlotte Drive is also a winding road and it's not short, but you can get there via water taxi, which might be what you're planning to do (?)

    I'll look to see if I can find the details on the Marlborough Sounds hikes I ran across. Nydia was one of them.

    I'd also looked into Arapawa Island, but there were just too many logistical issues.

    I use this travel distance calculator when planning my trips to the SI and I've found it fairly accurate:

    http://www.aatravel.co.nz/main/td-calculator.php

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    The travel distance calculator is exactly what I need to nail down the rest of my itenerary, thank you! I am not totally adverse to squiggly roads. The main thing that can be frustrating is starting out on what looks like a 2 hour drive, and it winds up being 6 hours! I may wing the 2nd 1/2 of the trip, and just naild down the first 1/2, starting on the west coast. I am pretty sure I am going to bring hiking equipment into the country to do camping and multi-day hikes. This will involve more planning, but I think it will be worth it.

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    aggie15, for squiggly roads I find a realistic calculator is about 50 to 60 kilometers per hour, depending on weather and how often you get lured to stop and snap a few photos.

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