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Trip Report Four Weeks on the South Island. Report

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Thank you to all the Fodorites who helped plan this trip of a lifetime. Before leaving the US, we armed ourselves with New Zealand Frenzy South Island and the South Island Road Atlas. Glad we purchased them before arriving, although our rental car company had a loaner atlas and lots of maps. Still glad we had it, and brought it.

Arrived Christchurch Feb 11 12:30 pm. Free shuttle to Airport Palms Motel. Walked to local supermarket to stock up on a few food items. Went to sleep way before dark!

Feb 12. Teddy from Anzed Car Rental picked us up at 8:30 am. We were on the road by 9:30 am - first time driving on the left. Busy roads and hairy ride leaving the rental lot. Drove Rt 1 to Rakaia, detoured to Rakaia River Gorge, did only a few min of the walk. Got some nice photos of the beautiful turq blue water. Then Rt 72 to Geraldine, where the rain started pouring down. Walked the town, bad pizza for lunch, left by 3pm to Lake Tekapo. Missed the turn to the famous church, getting late so we didn’t try to find it. Drove off and turned around back to Tekapo to fill our little car with gas. Arrived at Mt Cook about 7pm. A long day of driving. Aoraki Court Motel. Very nice. Ate leftover grocery store chicken, celery, cheese and crackers for dinner.

Feb 13. Breakfast in room, oatmeal. Hiked Hooker Valley Track. 6 miles to Mt. Cook and glacial lake. Clouded in at top. Dinner at old mountaineers was ok. Loved this day’s hike.

Feb 14 Left Mt Cook 8:30 am for drive to Otago Peninsula. Gorgeous scenery along the way. Stopped at the nearby salmon farm and stocked up for dinners. Stopped at Omaru for gas, food shopping, visitor center and drove the coast road to Moeraki boulders and lighthouse. Saw seals, penguins. Drove on to Otago Peninsula. Portobello Rd is very winding and very little shoulder. A bit scary. Arrived about 6pm at our lodging for next 3 nts... The Outlook studio apartment. Lovely w deck overlooking the water across the road. Dinner salmon, salad and olive bread in our room. Portobello is very small and uncrowded.

Feb 15. Cloudy and rainy in the morning. Cooked eggs for breakfast in our room. Walked through Portobello, before driving to the end of peninsula. Toured the Albatross Center, didn’t do the guided tour but spent a great deal of time inside the center reading and viewing the informative video. Afterwards we drove to the southern middle of peninsula. Hiked the Chasm and Lovers Leap - about 1-1/2 hrs. Started to hike to Sandfly Bay but fog rolled in and some rain. Walked back to car and back to hotel. Salmon for dinner again. Cloudy all day except short bit of sun. Otago is quiet. 3 restaurants on the whole peninsula. While we attempted to eat out, we didn’t care for the menu options and preferred out salmon-farm salmon.

Feb 16. Sunday in Portobello. Still quiet here. Cloudy again this morning. Headed out for Victory Bay beach hike - took a wrong turn and walked about an hour in the wrong direction. Met a couple from North Carolina who was also lost. Eventually we found our way back and found the beach. Walked past lots of sheep, up close. The beach was isolated. We were the ony people there. Stopped off for our first NZ ice cream, then headed down High Cliff rd, - a beautiful drive, parked to walk to Sandfly Bay. By now it was sunny, but quite windy. The hike was Down - way down a cliff to a beautiful cove, beach. We hoped to wait until the yellow eyed penguins came ashore. Instead we saw two huge sea lions lazing on the beach. Very windy and a hard uphill hike back to the car. Walked to Ricks Take-Away for baked and fried cod, chips - he local specialties. Nothing special and definitely not healthy.

Feb 17. Time to leave Otago and drive the Southern Scenic Route to Catlins. Left 8:30 am and hoped for good weather to explore the southern coast. It rained for the entire drive - 31/2 hours to Curio Bay and our one night lodging. We’d hoped to stop at various sites and walks along the way but the rain prevented that plan. Stopped for lunch near Curio Bay at Niagara Falls Cafe. Lentil soup $25 for two. The cafe was packed, which surprised us considering how small towns were and how rural the whole southern coast was. Curio Bay Salt House is a great spot to stay, smack on the beach with drop dead views. It is a modern home, spacious and comfortable. We walked the beach, seeing what is called the Petrified Forest - the fossilised remains of an ancient forest exposed at Curio Bay during low tide. This is one of the most extensive and least disturbed examples of a Jurassic fossil forest in the world. Made salad with store roast chicken for dinner in our room. At 7pm we left for penguin viewing. Finally we saw them... Several baby penguins waiting for their parents to swim ashore and feed them. Watched them for an hour or two, saw about ten penguins total. Lots of travelers gathering to watch too.

Feb 18. Left Curio Bay at 8:15 am driving along the Southern Scenic Route to Te Anau. Planned to arrive at Kepler track car park early enough to hike for a few hours before heading to our lodging The Croft B&B. After 3 gas and pit stops, arrived at 1 pm. Each day we are surprised how long it takes to drive between locations. Much more driving than we thought. We hiked along Lake Te Anau w great views to Brod Bay 11.2 km round trip. By the afternoon the sun was shining, the sky blue and the weather perfect. Arrived a The Croft b&b. Wonderful cottage w great view. Grilled salmon on their BBQ, w fresh green  beans and potato for dinner. The sand flies we heard so much about were not so bad here today. My husband’s feet started to blister.

Feb 19. Doubtful Sound Cruise. Went with Go Orange because we found a discount ticket online tic at bookme. Picked up at 7 am, drove to Lake Manipuri for boat trip across the lake 50 min, toured the underground power station, then bus to start of Doubtful Sound. The weather was a bit cloudy with lots of low hanging clouds, but at least no rain. A little chilly outside so we went in and out all day. Saw lots of seals on an island at the mouth of the sound where it meets Tasman Sea. Returned to Te Anau arriving about 5 pm. Got tickets for 6pm showing of the fiordland film. Wonderful film. Chinese takeout at Ming Garden was very good.

Feb 20. Breakfast w Jane and two guests from Chicago. Left by 9am to drive Milford Road and hike. First a stop for gas and blister pads for Ed's hurting feet. Stopped for picture taking at Mirror Lake, hiked the Routeburn track to Key Summit. Then drove to the Chasm, Homer Tunnel to Milford Sound for pix and a drink at the Blue Cafe. Beautiful. Dinner at The Croft, salmon, salad again; getting rid of things in the fridge.

When we planned our lodging, we didn’t know how often we would use self-catering. We were just lucky that almost every lodging booked had cooking facilities and fridge. We used them almost every day, and enjoyed doing so. We actually preferred arriving back after a long day of driving and hiking; finding it more relaxing to eat at our lodging. Often we had outdoor space, lovely views and glad we took advantage of them.

Well muy husbands feet were blistered and calloused in many places. We walked around Te Anau looking for foot remedies when we were directed to the wool store on the main street. The owner normally has wool from her very own sheep that she gives to hikers, promising the wool helps relieve the pain. Well she didn’t have any with her that day and offered to deliver it to our B&B that evening. Amazing! She lived on the other side of town. How incredibly hospitable! Its an understatement to say NZ’ers are incredibly friendly and helpful. What she did was the epitome of kindness. Stop by and visit Silken Spindles for wool, gifts and great service.

Feb 21. Breakfast with Jane and her husband Russ. Packed up, leaving Te Anau and drive to Queenstown and Glenorchy. Before leaving Te Anau, we stopped for our first meat pie. Stopped at the Queenstown Isite for info. Then drove to Glenorchy... the most beautiful drive ever, anywhere. Stunning mountains against that gorgeous turquoise blue water. Made a few scenic stops. Then discovered our hotel is 30 min past Glenorchy in the town of Kinloch. We booked Kinloch Lodge because of the positive reviews and poximity to the other end of the Routeburn track. Its an old place, remote. Small room. Shared kitchen. More like a hostel. It was OK, not our favorite lodging. It poured rain that evening which might be why we didn’t love our stay here; couldn’t get out and walk around.

Feb 22. Not a great night sleep at Kinloch. Breakfast in the lodge, Cooked our orange yolked eggs, fruit. We had a great day of hiking the Routeburn Rrack 13 km. 8.1 miles. one of the best hikes ever. Turquoise blue stream and many waterfalls. Hiked to Routeburn Flats hut. Salad and chicken for dinner self catering.

Feb 23. We were happy to leave Kinloch Lodge. The room and bed were too small but we liked the lodge kitchen and room in the fridge for our stuff. Very well organized. We then drove to Arrowtown and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon walking the town. Had take away lunch. Ed a meat pie and me vege quiche from a little bakery at the beginning of town. Also walked through the Chinese village and learned a lot. From here we drove to Wanaka and were pleasantly surprised by how lively the town is. Picked up a few groceries and drove to Albert town to our B & B, 5 minute drive from Wanaka. I knew Riverside Terrace had great reviews (all of them 5* excellent) but wasn't prepared for how amazing and wonderful it is! A beautiful modern home, our room fabulous. We were welcomed by Pam and Peter with tea and home made baked treats. A little while later wine from a local vineyard and snacks with the other guests. Then our host (insisted) drove us to town for dinner and picked us up at a little later. What service! To top off the evening, we soaked in the outdoor spa under the stars. What a day. What a contrast to the 150 year old Kinloch the night before. Had a great dinner at Urban Grind... Chicken Tagine, Ed had salad and chicken kabobs. Yummy.

Feb 24. Pam and Peter had a beautiful breakfast for us. Fresh fruit from their trees - nectarines, strawberries and more, cereals, homemade nectarine almond muffins and made to order eggs. She even packed up muffins and fruit for us to take bike riding. They have two mountain bikes. We rode all day around the lakefront with gorgeous scenery along the stunning blue Clutha River to Lake Wanaka, then past town to Rippon Winery. We were nearly blown away by the viscous winds today. But it was otherwise blue sky and sunny. A fabulous day. Another delightful happy hour with homemade appetizers, enjoying the guests and conversation with Pam and Peter. Dinner out again tonight at a Japanese restaurant and hot tub under the stars again. You truly feel pampered at Riverside Terrace. Yes it is a splurge, but worth every cent at $250 NZ

Feb 25. Another wonderful breakfast. Left at 9 for the Rob Roy glacier track, one hour drive away. Started walking the wrong way on someone's sheep farm, so backtracked and found the right trail. 2 hours mostly uphill. A perfect weather day. Left about 11 am, arrived 1 pm at the top viewpoint. Returned back to the car park about 3:40. Lovely happy hour outdoors at the b & b w two other couples. Then drove to town to fill the car with gas and grocery store to find some dinner. Sad to be leaving Wanaka in the morning, wish we could stay longer.

While we were in the planning stage of our trip months ago, some people advised us against Wanaka. We found more to do than we had time and wish we would have stayed longer. Highly recommend Wanaka, especially if you enjoy hiking and bicycling.

Feb 26. After another wonderful breakfast of perfect poached eggs, and hugs to our hosts Pam and Peter, we left Wanaka to drive off to Okarito, with many stops along the way. We chose to stay here after reading how beautiful the lagoon and area are. We had only one night and thoroughly enjoyed it. We do like off-the-beaten places and since we opted not to see Fox or Franz Josef Glacier, we chose Okarito instead. On the way, we tried to hike around Lake Matheson but it was clouded in. Our lodging at Okarito Beach House was nicer than we anticipated. It’s considered a hostel, with a few cottages and ours; a 3 bedroom lodge with shared kitchen. New, meat and clean. (Warning - no hair dryer. It was the only lodging without one.) We cooked fresh salmon bought at the salmon farm in Lake Paringa. The only issue with the room was noisy plumbing. We met two women from England who we saw several times on the road north. This was the lowest cost lodging of our trip at 90 NZ. Walked the beach and saw a beautiful sunset.

Feb 27. We pre-booked an Okarito Lagoon early morning nature tour, leaving 7:30 am. A beautiful and perfect morning, misty and calm. We were the only two on the tour. We saw black swans, great white heron and a few others. A wonderful way to start the day. Highly recommend. About 10 am we took off to drive north along the west coast with stops at Hokitiki and Pancake Rocks. Nice afternoon, sunny day, long drive. We arrived at our one night lodging in Cape Farewell called The Steeples. Gorgeous location, flower gardens. Nice studio. Walked an hour to the lighthouse and coastal views, cooked chicken and sautéed spinach in our room.

Feb 28. Awoke to clouds and rain, lots of it. Not complaining since we didn’t have that many rainy days, and none yet on our hiking days. Drove to Nelson. We stayed at the Palms Motel in city center, walking distance to the Nelson Saturday Market, and next to a grocery store. And it had a pool, which we used for about an hour after we arrived for our one night stay. Afterwards we wandered around eventually going for pizza and salads. We arrived too late to see many of the art galleries. They close early - 5pm so plan accordingly if you want to visit them.

March 1. Got an early start 8am at the market. We planned out entire four-week itinerary so we could arrive and go to the Nelson market. We saved our gift buying for this day. The market is wonderful ... Arts, homemade goodies, produce, breads, candies, honey. We bought lots of gifts for our kids and left by noon for the drive to Pohara. (The drive up Takaka Hill which we’d heard horror stories about - was not bad at all. Not scary. Jsut go slow and it’s a.o.k.) We decided to stay on the "quiet" side of Abel Tasman so we could also explore Golden Bay and have some beach time. We stayed at Pohara Beachfront Motel for 3 nights. We were pleasantly surprised by our well furnished and roomy cottage right on the water with a deck. Reasonably priced too. Stopped at a salmon place and stocked up on smoked salmon for the next 3 nights. In the evening we walked to the tiny town checking out restaurants and ice cream. Pohara is beautiful. Highly recommend staying here.

March 2. Left by 9 for Whakaiki Beach and Farewell Spit. Spent the day hiking and ogling at the gorgeous beaches. Hiked for many hours,, seeing several washed up beached whales - very sad they are left on the beach. We hiked along Farewell Spit - the beach is beautiful, numerous birds enjoying the water. Returned by 5 to our cottage by the sea. We actually relaxed on the deck, first time in almost three weeks. We needed that. A beautiful weather day.

March 3. At last, the day to explore Abel Tasman park. Drove to Tortungari parking area and hiked an hour each way to the magnificent Tortungari beach. Most beautiful beach we've ever seen. From Pohara its about 50 min drive over gravel, but well worth it. Instead of hiking further in this area of the park, we drove to Wainui Falls and hiked about 40 minutes over an hairy, scary swing bridge and up a rocky trail to finally see this huge falls. Great hike. Went back to Pohara and ate the last of our salmon and salad.

March 4. Said good bye to beautiful Pohara beach for the drive to Picton. Arrived at Fernwood  B & B and checked into our loft room. Walked around town a little and re-packed our bags for the next days departure for the 4-day Queenn Charlotte great walk! Super excited! We booked our morning boat on Beachcomber Cruises. A great perk of Fernwood B&B is we could leave our car there while on the walk.
March 5. After a nice breakfast, our host drove us to Beachcomber Cruise office to check in for our 9:30 boat to Ships cove. We booked all our track lodging ourselves. Was a great cloudy day with bits of light rain. There were about 15 people on the boat, some planning to hike the whole track, others just a day portion. The hike this day was beautiful, a little rain on and off all day. Used our new waterproof jackets Arrived 3:30 pm at our lodging Cnoc na Lear where we had a nice studio room and view of Endeavor Inlet. Coleen and her hub cooked us a tasty dinner of chicken, potatoes, carrots and peas, and a homemade sticky apple cake. Very nice. If you stay here, order dinner ahead, as there is no where else to have dinner. Our luggage was transferred and at the lodge when we arrived, just as its supposed to be.

March 6. Left by 9 am to hike to Camp Bay. Beautiful sunny day. The hike is wonderful all along the way, sounds of the forest, birds chirping, very few people. Arrived at our wonderful Mahana Lodge. It is a beautiful lodge and setting, right on the water, Beautiful accommodation. Highly recommend staying here. Lounged around on our first chaise chairs in 3+ weeks in the warm sun by the water’s edge. Wonderful. We had dinner at Mahana... The best meal in nz! Made by John and Ann, our hosts. All foods home made and from the garden. Stuffed cucumbers, venison meatballs for appetizers, fresh smoked salmon smoked just 30 min before dinner, a salad chock full of veggies from the garden and home made peach cake with almond cream. John and Ann go all out to make great food. Oh and the best part was dinner served in a beautiful garden room decorated with grape vines and flowers and jazz music playing. After dinner and at dark we walked 5 min to see the glow worms. No need for a guided tour if you stay here. Love this place. Breakfast was delivered to our room. Eggs from their chickens, homemade yogurt and jams, muesli, etc.

March 7. Woke early, had breakfast in our lodge at Mahana. Left 8:15. This was the most beautiful day of the hike so far. High above the ridge overlooking the Sound is a once in a lifetime sight. Stunning! Today’s hike is almost 15 miles. With only one stop for lunch, we arrived at our lodging at Debretts about 4:30 pm, sore feet, back, etc. once again we were the only guests in a modern clean 3-bedroom house with incredible views of the sounds and a giant deck. The lodge is across the road from the Portage Resort so I walked some more to get us take-out dinner; fish and chips and salmon and salad, again. We ate on the deck watching a beautiful sunset. My husband's feet had numerous blisters, callouses and he was in great pain the last few hours of the hike, and at other times during our month here so we had no choice than to forego the last day of hiking the track. Sad but true. The fourth day of hiking would have been about 12 miles and needing to arrive for 3:30 Beachcomber pick up. Due to his pain, we did not hike. Instead our lodge host drove us about 11 am to meet the luggage boat back to Picton. A bee found my husband and stung him on the leg. Poor guy, more pain.

March 8. We are kind of sad to not complete the whole walk but we did walk 50 of the 71 km and glad we did. Highly recommend this great walk. We took an earlier boat back to Picton and drove on to Blenheim in wine country for the next two nights. Our lodging... St. Leonards Vineyard Cottages. We chose it for the swimming pool and complimentary bikes. We rented the Old dairy cottage, small and priced accordingly, very nice. Stopped at the chocolate factory and a few shops. Sat by the pool. Take out Chinese from Bamboo Garden for dinner.

March 9. Discovered there is a Sunday farmers market Blenheim so we won't.small local and very nice. Bought a breakfast item, some broccoli and tomatoes. Listened to some local music and witnessed a fun storytelling event for the children. After returning to our cottage we got on the rental bikes and drove around several vineyards for the rest of the day. Lots of fun. smoked salmon from the grocery store for dinner.

March 10. Left Blenheim for our last night stay in Kaikoura. Stopped at Ohau and a few other stops to see many seals. No seal pups at the waterfalls but many along the coast. Stayed at Bendamere B & B; beautiful room with full wall of windows overlooking the water. Before arriving, we drove out to the point and walked the peninsula walkway for about two hours. It's a beautiful walk, saw many seals. Although we'd planned a nice dinner out we were too tired and opted for Japanese sushi take away on our balcony overlooking the water. Winding down and sad to be leaving New Zealand tomorrow.

March 11. Made the drive from Kaikoura to Christchurch without a hitch. Our flight was late afternoon. Back to the US...

We were glad to have four full weeks in New Zealand. It was not quite enough! One more week would have allowed us to see and do everything we wanted. Now that we can reflect back on our planning, we would have liked at least another night in Mount Cook and Southland, and perhaps two days to see Akaroa. The only thing we didn’t care for in NZ was the food (and the high cost of gas). Our rental car was tiny, which helped the gas cost but didn’t feel all that safe. Next time I’d rent a slightly bigger one. It also helped that we mentally practiced driving on the left side of the road. “Right, left, right” was our mantra. We practiced in our head and watched a few Youtube videos to prepare. Planning our own trip (vs joining a tour) saved about half of the cost of a group tour, enabling us to stay longer. This trip could not have been planned without the helpful guidance, input and friendly feedback from you Fodor regulars. Many thanks! Hope you enjoy reading this!

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