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Trip Report Good onya Fodorites: Trip Report for NZ 2011

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First of all, thanks to all of you Fodorites on the Australia & Pacific Forum for your aid during the planning of this trip. It still amazes me that Fodorites give so much time and knowledge to traveling strangers. It really is a wonderful world.

My husband and I are retired Americans. We started the trip in Wellington, NZ in mid-November and ended it in Sydney, Australia just before the new year. We had almost a 1 month in NZ and 3 weeks in Australia. I will post the NZ part of the trip here and post the Australia trip in a separate trip report. This summary will be augmented with details over the next few dayss.

Wellington-1 night at the Rydges Wellington. We took the Bluebridge Ferry to Picton where we picked up our Apex rental car and drove to Abel Tasman National Park.
Marahau-4 nights at Abel Tasman Marahau Lodge.
Blenheim-2 nights at Argrove Lodge
Kaikoura-1 night at Anchor Inn Motel
Akaroa-3 nights at Coombe Farm B & B
We dropped our car at the Christchurch airport and joined a cycling tour with Vermont Bike Tours (VBT). The Tour took us on the TransAlpine Express over Arthur's Pass. We biked for 8 days, generally from Hokitika to Queenstown. On our own again, we picked up another Apex rental car in Queenstown
Te Anau-3 nights at the Fiordland Lakeview Hotel
Glenorchy-3 nights at the Glenorchy Lake House
We dropped our rental car at the Queenstown airport and flew to Auckland.
Auckland-1 night at the Sudima Hotel Auckland

Although we had almost a month in New Zealand, we decided that we only had time to see the South Island. In retrospect, I think this was a good decision. We also decided to concentrate on the rural parts of New Zealand and only spent a few days in cities. We tried to stay at least 3 nights in most locations. This enabled us to feel more relaxed and that we had a good look around. This worked well except that we would have liked more time in the Glenorchy area. Thanks to all the Fodorites who provided budgetary details, costs were what we expected. Except for desserts. It seemed like NZD$11-14 was the range for desserts in restaurants. Luckily, we knew about TipTop ice cream at the local convenience stores. And although the flat whites were routinely NZD$ 4.00-$4.50, we gladly paid it . We left NZ hungry for more which is a good place to be after such a lengthy visit.

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    That is, that we were hungry for more of NZ AND flat whites!

    Wellington-We arrived on a sunny Sunday afternoon and the waterfront in Wellington was buzzing with activity. We made tracks for Te Papa museum and it was a good introduction to some of the Maori aspects of the culture (and much more). We were jet lagged, so ate dinner in the hotel (Rydges Wellington Hotel) which was good. The hotel was chosen because it is a 10-minute walk to the Bluebridge ferry terminal. The room was very comfortable and the staff tried hard to please. The ferry crossing from Wellington to Picton was smooth and very entertaining. Apex car hire was easy to find and they sent us on our way. We stopped for lunch in Havelock at the Mussel Pot. The mussels were impressive but the bread was not. Pricy. We later discovered that we had missed the Slip Inn because we didn't go right down on the Havelock waterfront. We had our first flat white at the Wakamarinian Coffee Shop on the main drag in Havelock. Quite an interesting place.

    Abel Tasman National Park-we stayed at the Abel Tasman Marahau Lodge. Owners Don and Robyn have a great place here. There was a coin operated computer that guests could use. Lots of visitors from all over the world at the Marahau Lodge and it was one of the few accommodations which was full during the off-season. We had stopped in Motueka at the New World grocery on the way and picked up what we needed to stock our kitchen. This was one of the best equipped kitchens on the trip. We had a one-bedroom unit that overlooked a quiet horse pasture. We ate out one night at the Park Cafe where we had excellent fish and very reasonable carafe of wine. During the day we did day hikes in the Park. Don reserved our space on a water taxi which dropped us off and then picked us up further down the trail. We were so surprised the first morning when we were loaded into a 10-passenger boat which was towed by a tractor through the mud flats to the bay. Then the boat dropped its outboard motor and off we went to some pristine beach in the Park. Be sure to wear flip-flops and carry your hiking boots! The trails are perfectly maintained and very gentle and shaded. Incredible sea views as well. We also did some kayaking. Our last day, we took a day trip to Golden Bay. We had a great lunch at the hard-to-find Mussel Inn in Onekaka. This is the brewpub that has a telephone post with cellphones nailed onto it. Big-mouthed cell phone users be warned! Food and beer were excellent. We enjoyed our walk to Te Waikoropupu Springs (reportedly the clearest springs in the world). We thought that Marahau was a good base to explore the region and that the Abel Tasman park was a highlight of the entire trip.

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    Woo-hoo! What a great read - more, more!

    <<<<<Although we had almost a month in New Zealand, we decided that we only had time to see the South Island We also decided to concentrate on the rural parts of New Zealand and only spent a few days in cities. We tried to stay at least 3 nights in most locations>>>>>>>That is, that we were hungry for more of NZ AND flat whites!>>>>>

    Brilliant minds think alike :)

    I was surprised at the cost of desserts too, although after living in Australia for 3.5 years I thought I was prepared. Thanks goodness for Tip Top.

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    Bleinheim-We missed the turn for the short route to Blenheim from Marahau and we ended up at Nelson Lakes National Park. Yes, we had our GPS, but there just aren't that many roads! Nelson Lakes are two pristine glacial mountain lakes. On the day we were there, it felt like we regressed to winter after springtime in Abel Tasman National Park. This was a place where the Maori's had their rendezvous as they made their nomadic trips to the west side of the island for greenstone and back. No tourists (but us) were there and no restaurants were open. But we recollected the Fodorite advice to seek out the convenience store. And there was the adventure of the morning: meat pies! We grabbed a chicken curry pie and a chicken/brie pie and we were on our way. The road to Blenheim via St. Arnaud was eerily empty. We could see from the hillsides that a lot of logging goes on (carefully farmed, of course) but there were not even logging trucks on the road. The broom plants were in bloom never mind that it is one of those noxious weeds introduced by the British)...it is quite lovely in the spring. We arrived in Blenheim mid- afternoon. Our reservation was at the Argrove Lodge which is actually in Renwick. Argrove Lodge was slightly over our budget except they offered a bonus for a two night stay that we could not resist: bike rental for 2 for a wine tour. Wine Tours by Bike is a sister business to Argrove Lodge and the tour is a whole lot of fun even if you are not an avid cyclist. The vineyard area is totally flat and you have all day to see the area. We visited Wither Hill, Fromm, Cloudy Bay, Huia, Moa Brewery, Bouldevines, George Michel and Villa Maria wineries. We managed to stay vertical the entire time! We had lunch at the George Michel Winery's restaurant, La Veranda. This was exquisite with a tasting platter for white and red wines. The best part was that the paniers on the "Wine by Bikes" are shaped to hold wine bottles. We felt compelled to fill the paniers and then managed to drink their contents on the rest of our New Zealand trip. I can also recommend Hotel D'urville in Blenheim for an excellent meal and service. Argrove Lodge was a very nice B&B. The rooms are quite comfortable and overlook the vineyards and a lovely English garden. There was also a computer for guests to use (although no WiFi). As we left Blenheim on our way to Kaikoura, we spontaneously stopped at a Farmers' Market which was great fun. Spring produce and bedding plants were for sale along with lamb, cheeses, fresh baked bread and manuka honey. Manuka is a tree which grows in the northern and central parts of the South Island (and maybe North Island too) which has a distinctive, almost smoky flavor when the bees get a hold of it. It is delicious! The local farmers were entertaining to talk with and like all New Zealanders, seem to genuinely like to chat with the curious foreigners.

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    Kaikoura-We stayed one night at the Anchor Inn Motel which was a sweet place with a big room and great kitchen. They charged NZD$5/hr for WiFi which they added to the bill. The Anchor Inn is located across from the shoreline for nice views, but you do need to drive to get into Kaikoura proper. We walked the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway which was splendid (3-4 hour loop)for both mountain and seaviews. There was no whale watching during this time of the year, so we thought one night there was fine.

    Akaroa-On the road again, we had lunch at the NorWester in Amberley which was excellent both in food and service. We spent 3 nights at the Coombe Farm B & B outside of Akaroa. Hugh and Katherine are wonderful hosts and Katherine makes an awesome breakfast. They have a computer for guests' use, but it wasn't working while we were there. We did some hiking and shopping and even played a round of golf at the Akaroa Golf Club. We enjoyed dining at Bully Haze's and Ma Maison. The cruise ships have discovered Akaroa, unfortunately. Since the Christchurch earthquakes, they come into the Akaroa harbour and then buses take the passengers over the hill and into Christchurch where most of them get on the TransAlpine express. Despite the crowds mid-day, the town is still a charmer.

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    • The VBT Bike Tour was really excellent. We had three wonderful New Zealander guides.Lots of flexibility to ride as much (or little) as we wanted. New Zealander drivers are generally very courteous to cyclists. Since this forum is generally for independent travelers, I won't go over the itinerary point by point, but I do want to point out some special locations. When in Franz Joseph, we stayed at the Franz Joseph Glacier Country Retreat. The rooms are just OK, but the food is really great. We rode our bikes to Okarito Lagoon and spent most of a day there. We rented kayaks and saw a wide variety of birdlife. Okarito lagoon is a hidden gem along the West coast Be sure to get a flat white at the little coffee shop in town (there is only one).

    Wilderness Lodge Lake Moereki was a standout as well. Morning and evening walks with Michael, a naturalist (plus a nightime walk to see the glow worms)were impressive. The food was excellent, particularly when you consider how far the food has to come to this isolated location. My husband caught a nice German Brown trout in Lake Moereki which the chef smoked and served as an appetizer.

    We also had a homestay on a sheep farm near Wanaka that was great fun and very educational (and the views were breathtaking as well). I would definitely recommend a homestay or farmstay at least once during a trip to New Zealand.

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    Thanks for this very good report.

    I had a chance to have a farmstay when I visited the South Island almost 20 years ago. It remains very strong in my memory. Best of all, I brought a book on Antiques written by a friend who lives in my hometown, as a hostess gift. And wouldn't you know, the wife/mother of the family knew the book, because her mother-in-law had received a copy as a gift. She was thrilled to have her own copy.

    Getting to know this sheep growing family certainly was a highlight.

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    Back on our own again, we picked up another Apex rental car at the Queenstown office. We were quite pleased with Apex (another Fodorite tip). The cars were 5-10 years old but in good shape and the price was significantly better than the big car hire companies. We bought all the insurance we could and fortunately, didn't need it.

    We took a little side trip to Arrowtown which is an old gold mining village. It is located about 40 minutes east of Queenstown. There are some charming walking trails in and around Arrowtown. I would have liked to have lunch here as there were many appealing restaurants. We especially enjoyed the Chinese immigrant neighborhood. We stayed for 2 hours. We did find a produce stand selling Cromwell cherries which were a treat for the rest of our New Zealand trip.

    The drive to Te Anau is incredible. As beautiful as it is, I would not want to be on one of those one day bus trips from Queenstown to Milford Sound and back again. We stayed in Te Anau at the Fiordland Lakeview Motel. We had a one-bedroom lakeview apartment which was gigantic. We really enjoyed our time there. Free, unlimited broadband and wireless! The only place in NZ that we found this feature. Good laundry facility. We ate in the apartment most nights. The motel is a short walk along the lake into the town of Te Anau which is quite pleasant. There is a cinema in Te Anau which shows "Ata Whenua-Shadowland." We didn't make it to a showing, but we purchased the DVD and would definitely recommend it. It evidently took three years to produce and the cinematic results are magnificent. The receptionist at the motel booked our tours for us. By booking two, we got a 20% discount.

    We took the Manapouri Hydroelectric plant tour which starts with a great boat trip across Lake Manapouri. The tour took most of the day. The hydroelectric plant tour takes you deep into the workings of a hydroelectric plant which was something new for us. Probably not everyone's cup of tea, but we enjoyed it. Our bus driver took us on a short detour across Wilmot pass so we could see a bit of Doubtful Sound.

    The next day we packed a picnic lunch and headed north from Te Anau. We stopped at the Divide, which is the west trailhead for the Routeburn track. We hiked to Key Summit which was a fairly easy climb of about 1.5 hours. Views at the top are eye-popping. The trail is beautifully maintained and is built upon the famous greenstone of the area. There is a short nature hike at the top which we felt was worthwhile. Moving on toward Milford Sound, we were glad that we had left Te Anau early and had booked a 4:00 Milford Sound Cruise so that we could stop anywhere we wanted to take photos and gawk at all the waterfalls. We had beautiful weather at Milford and the cruise was memorable. There was very little traffic on the way back from Milford to Te Anau as the tour buses had all ready gone.

    We left mid-morning to head back to Queenstown and then on to Glenorchy. We had been introduced to a fishing guide out of Queenstown who agreed to rent DH some flyfishing gear. DH was really looking forward to fly fishing in NZ but didn't want to pay for guiding services. Our contact gave DH some tips about where to fish in the Glenorchy area and even found some size 13 waders for him! So we picked up the fly fishing equipment, both got much needed haircuts and had lunch at a nice little local place called Vudu's which (of course) had a scrumptious flat white.

    Glenorchy is a 1/2 hour drive from Queenstown north along Lake Wakatipu. Glenorchy actually sits on the lagoon where several big rivers flow into Lake Wakatipu. We were told that it is only 27 km between Glenorchy and Milford Sound, as the crow flies. We had just driven 217 km from Te Anau! Kinloch which is a village on the west side of Lake Wakatipu near Glenorchy is the east trailhead of the Routeburn track.

    We stayed at the Glenorchy Lake House which is owned by John and Toni Glover, who also own the Kinloch Lodge. The Glenorchy Lake House was simply wonderful and Toni did everything possible to make our stay memorable (including the preparation of some of the best flat whites on the trip). There was no WiFi but there was a computer for guests' use. We had contracted to have a personal chef while there and we were glad we did as the dining options in Glenorchy were very limited at that time of the season that we were there (early December). Chef Debbie Crompton prepared two dinners for us and they were delicious. I would recommend this service if it is offered. We also ate one meal at Kinloch Lodge. It was a pre-fixe three course meal and quite good.

    We explored the fishing opportunities around Glenorchy and hiked up a bit of the Routeburn track. The red beech forests will remind you of "Lord of the Rings" with their huge spookiness. The new JRR Tolkien movie, "The Hobbit" was being filmed in Paradise, a town just a few miles to the north of Glenorchy. We had excellent weather and enjoyed being outside. DH,unfortunately, caught not a single fish. I think he now has an appreciation for how difficult fly fishing can be in NZ. Access to fishing streams is generally more open than in the US. He did have to scrub his waders when he went into a new watershed as didymo and another nasty botanical creature have invaded the waters and are threatening trout habitat. We heard that it was an American who brought didymo to New Zealand. How embarrassing! We really loved Glenorchy and would love to return for another try at the trout (and maybe to walk the entire Routeburn track).

    I want to just make an observation about Pavlova's. Pavlova is the national dessert for both New Zealand and Australia. They have a meringue base and then have fruit and whipped cream in many variations. I bet I had ten different Pavlovas during the trip. My favorite one was at Taff and Pene Cochrane's farm station on Lake Hawea, New Zealand. Pene actually rolled the meringue around the fruit (which included fresh grapes and oranges) and dusted it lightly with some kind of crunchy topping. Is it the friendly competition between New Zealanders and Australians which has generated all these unique recipes?

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    After 3 nights in Glenorchy, we drove back to the Queenstown airport and dropped off our rental car. We had a short flight to Auckland and stayed one night at the Sudima Airport Hotel. This was a perfectly fine option for the purpose, quick access to the airport for our early morning flight to Australia. When we arrived at the hotel, we quickly checked in, dropped our bags and caught the free shuttle back to the airport to catch the city bus. This was very easy and we ended up at the waterfront in Auckland in about 45 minutes. We wandered around for awhile (another sunny day) and ended up at the FoodStore in the Viaduct section of the waterfront. The food and wine were good but the people watching was out of this world. We retraced our steps back to the hotel and hit the sack early. We were ready to see the "West" island of New Zealand, as the New Zealanders put it....Australia. Please see my (upcoming) similarly titled trip report for the Australian portion of our trip.

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    <<<As beautiful as it is, I would not want to be on one of those one day bus trips from Queenstown to Milford Sound and back again>>>>

    I hear ya sista!

    Glad the late Milford Cruise worked out for you - I always recommend that one as it's so nice to be there when the buses have left.

    I'll be following along with your OZ trip. I'm interested to see who won the Pav war.

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    Hi, steanboatsista,

    I have enjoyed your report. It is always great to read what people think of places you know well, and encouraging how often they agree with your thoughts! We chose the first Milford cruise to avoid the bus crowds, and it was wonderful. That was about 9 years ago in January, and the day was cold and overcast but did not detract from the trip. Same as when we did the Doubtful Sound cruise in January about 7 years ago! In fact, the whole area was closed a few days later because the continual and sometimes torrential rain caused terrible slips especially around Wilmot Pass. I did however get some wonderful photos despite, or perhaps because of, the weather.

    I always suggest people stop at the Mussel Pot in Havelock. That is our 'halfway' stop when travelling from Picton to Motueka. We always share the mussels in wine and a ploughman's lunch.

    I too look forward to your OZ report, and the continuation of the pavlova debate!! Dot

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    Thanks melnq8! You and I are foodies who think alike and your help was invaluable. It was a blessing that we were so active, because I didn't gain any weight with all the Pavlova's and TipTop. Now one NZ delicacy we couldn't get our heads around was whitebait. Very strange.

    Dottyp: The green-lipped mussels we get in the states are about 1/2 the size of the ones at the Musssel Pot. The shells are big, but the morsels of mussels are gigantic.

    So, does anyone have a special Pavlova that they prepare???

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    Pavlova is a taste I haven't managed to acquire while here in Australia. Maybe I should try the NZ version, see if it's more to my liking?

    I don't eat fish, but even my spouse couldn't bring himself to try whitebait, especially after hearing how they prepare it (put entire fish into a blender, make a paste, form into patties and fry).

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    Oh my goodness, that is not the correct way to prepare a whitebait patty. No wonder your DH couldn't face trying one. You make a very light batter and add the whole whitebait, place spoonsful into a hot frypan and quickly cook in a little butter. Or better still, if you have plenty of whitebait, you just beat an egg instead of making a batter, add the whole whitebait and cook as above. They are really delish just as is, or with a squeeze of lemon juice.

    However, I do understand people can be put off quite easily. My own DH doesn't eat them! As a child I couldn't understand why the eyes were left in - that was before I saw my first whitebait!

    Dot

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    I enjoyed your trip report steamboatsista, it is a long time since I have been to Milford Sound, and the Manapouri power-station, 34 years to be exact we went there on our honeymoon.

    I am ashamed to say that even though I live in Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park is only an hour or so away we normally just go to Kaiteriteri and not into the park iteself. I am determined I am going to do some walks this year.

    Pavlova is the dessert I make for special occasions, like birthdays and Christmas it always goes down well. I don't think there would be many households in NZ that wouldn't have a pavlova as a dessert choice on Christmas day.

    Whitebait is my favourite food, don't get to eat it very often as it is very expensive. Like Dottie says just add the whole whitebait to a batter.

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