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Trip Report Highlights From Recent Trip to New Zealand (Mostly South Island)

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My husband and I just finished a one-month vacation in New Zealand. We had an absolutely wonderful time – what a beautiful and stunning country. We got such good ideas from this forum for this trip (as well as our original trip to New Zealand two years ago) so I wanted to post a trip report, hoping others could use some of our ideas as well.

A little background on us – we’re a late 30s/early 40s couple who like to do lots of hiking and kayaking. We live in a big city, so tend to avoid them while traveling, so you’ll see most of our itinerary hits smaller places. On our first trip to New Zealand (our honeymoon two years ago) we stayed just on the South Island, hitting Abel Tasman, West Coast, glaciers, Queenstown, Routeburn track, Marlborough Sounds, and Kaikoura. This time we repeated a few of our favorite spots like Marlborough Sounds and Kaikoura and tried new areas.

Day 1 (February 6th). After a long flight from Chicago via LA and Auckland, we landed around 9:30am in Blenheim, in the South Island, a beautiful area full of rolling hills, mountains, and vineyards. We chose this as our first location as we thought “what better way to get over jet lag than to relax with a few glasses of wine…” We picked up our rental car (a grey Toyota RAM, which appeared to be a popular choice – we saw them all over NZ). The B&B we stayed at – Straw Lodge – was a short ten-minute car ride away. Right away, we felt at home – it was a very pretty lodge with three rooms facing the vineyard, and several courtyards to enjoy the views from. Nettie, one of the owners, had already cleaned out our room for us, despite the early hour, so we were able to shower and rest a bit before heading out on the mountains bikes they provided to us, along with water bottles and directions to several vineyards. Nettie gave us a back way to get to the vineyards, so we avoided the main roads and took a pretty (but quite bumpy) gravel road. Our first stop was Herzog, a vineyard with a well-known restaurant. They also serve lunch in their garden, so we opted for that (much cheaper than dinner, but still really great food). We had some delicious shrimp curry soup and onion tart, as well as a glass of their pinot noir and sauvignon blanc wines. We ended up staying a couple hours here, relaxing in the sun, so we skipped the other vineyards and headed back to the B&B, stopping at a swimming hole on the way that Nettie had told us about, where we had a quick swim and befriended a local dog (and his owner, a farmer who owned the local orchard) who seemed to swim endlessly back and forth across the river/swimming hole.

For dinner that evening, the B&B provided glasses of their excellent wine, as well as dinner platters that we had ordered earlier. We sat in the courtyard in the setting sun and enjoyed our wine and platters – which contained tons of cheeses, cold meats, fish, vegetables, fruit, and more. The perfect end to our first day! We managed to stay awake until about 9:30pm, then crashed until about 8am the next morning.

Days 2 - 3. After breakfast (best bacon ever – apparently they get it from a local farm), we headed to Picton, to catch the water taxi to Craglee Lodge, in the Marlborough Sounds. The water taxi ride is about 45 minutes or so – all of which is through beautiful bays surrounded by mountains, hills, and trees. It’s one of our favorite places in New Zealand. We had stayed at Craglee Lodge on our first trip, and loved it, so wanted to return again. One of the owners, Steve, met us at the dock and we caught up on news since our last trip, including the antics of their black lab George, who was just a puppy last time we were there. That afternoon, my husband and I took the kayaks out for a couple hours and enjoyed the nice weather. The Lodge overlooks a beautiful bay, where you can often see stingrays, so we carefully watched while having our pre-dinner drinks and were able to see several near the dock. Met another American couple at dinner, who were there with their daughter and her boyfriend. They reported to us that many parts of the US had just received several feet of snow – so we were very happy to be sitting in summer clothes enjoying the New Zealand weather!

Jet lag got us up early the next day – about 6am, so we showered and sat with our coffee (well actually coffee for the husband, Dave, and Diet Coke or me) and sat on the deck and enjoyed watching morning in this gorgeous bay). Today we were headed out to hike part of the Queen Charlotte Track. After breakfast, we were picked up by a water taxi and dropped off at Ship Cove. We were going to be then picked up later that day at Furneaux Lodge, giving us about five hours to complete the hike. It was a brilliant sunny day and we began our hike. Almost immediately we had to actually climb over a huge tree that had been knocked down – so we have some excellent pictures of me atop it while climbing over to get to the rest of the trail. There was so many scenic views of the water and forest, that we stopped almost every few minutes it seemed to take pictures. We ran into a few wika, but remembered to keep our lunches close, so they wouldn’t make off with them  We finished the hike about an hour early, so relaxed on the grounds of the lodge while waiting for our boat. My husband snuck inside as well to sneak a peak at the score for the Superbowl Game, which was going on at the time. Once back at Craglee Lodge, we both went swimming off of the dock before drinks and dinner. Luckily I went for the swim BEFORE Steve, the B&B owner, told me about the mako shark he had seen swimming right near the dock a couple weeks earlier :)

Days 4 - 5. We left Craglee Lodge – getting another scenic water taxi ride – and picked our car back up in Picton and headed to Kaikoura. We stopped several places along the way to walk on the beach and take pictures. We dropped our bags off at Hapuku Lodge and then headed into town to do the whale watch tour. I had heard mixed things about this before, so was a bit hesitant to do it, but we enjoyed it and saw two huge sperm whales while on the tour. They were about the length of the boat, which was amazing, and we saw them do the dive into the water, where their giant tail flops up – amazing. We also learned quite a bit about whales in general. Back at Hapuku Lodge, we settled into our room. We were staying in one of their Treehouses, which was really neat. From the room, which is built into a grove of olive trees, you can see the ocean and mountains. Dinner that evening was in the main lodge – I had the crayfish that Kaikoura is known for – delicious! It was probably one of my favorite meals of the trip. It’s a small lodge, so our waiter was the same person who had checked us in earlier and helped with our bags – and helped us throughout the rest of our stay as well. I’d definitely recommend staying here – we had an amazing time.

The next day in Kaikoura (we stayed two nights) we got up early, had a quick breakfast in the lodge, and drove back into town for our dolphin swim! This was the main reason we came back to Kaikoura. On our first stay my husband and I had done the dolphin swim, but the sea was quite rough – and I hadn’t snorkeled before – so I stayed on the boat most of the time (after a little panic attack in the water, which I tend to skip over when describing it). I wanted a “do-over” as Dave put it, so I had practiced snorkeling last summer in Michigan (not much to see in the water there, but I got comfortable snorkeling anyway). It paid off, as I was able to comfortably jump right in the water this time. It was FANTASTIC – literally my favorite experience of the entire trip. The guide estimated that there were over 500 dolphins in the water that day, and they seemed to surround the boat as we make our first stop for snorkeling. The 12 or so people on the boat all jumped into the water with our wetsuits and snorkelgear. I immediately saw about 10 dolphins swim right under me! I turned my head and more swam right by. I can’t describe how amazing it was to be swimming with literally hundreds of these beautiful creatures going around you, under you, next to you, and in front of you. As one swam by, it looked right at me – I would have been stunned, if another eight hadn’t swum quickly by as well, capturing my attention. They will also “play” with you sometimes – for example, circling around you if you spin in the water. I couldn’t quite do that, but Dave seemed to get into it, and had several dolphins swimming around him in a circle.

After the swim, the boat followed the dolphins for a bit longer, to let everyone take pictures. Once back on land, we saw several very cute seal and then got some lunch before doing part of the Peninsula Hike. Quite pretty, but it started raining heavily, so we headed back to the car and drove out to a point about 20 – 25 minutes north of Kaikoura (past our lodge) where a lot of seal pups congregate. We got lucky and there were probably 50 or 60 pups hanging out on the rocks and we spent an enjoyable hour or so watching them. We also hiked back to a waterfall, on the opposite side of the road (I can’t remember the name, but it is marked well).

Dinner that night again back at the lodge – whitefish for me and lamb for Dave. After tasting his entrée, lamb became my new favorite food in New Zealand, and I ordered it during many upcoming dinners.

Days 6 – 7. I got up early (still a bit of jet lag) and went for a nice run along the ocean, before breakfast. Saw lots of surfers catching some waves before their days began. After breakfast, we said goodbye to Kaikoura and headed to our next destination, Centre Hill Cottage – a small cottage on a farm, about 20 minutes from Geraldine. We decided to take the scenic inland route. It takes longer, but was quite pretty – we got stopped twice in the car – once by a flock of sheep and another time by about 30 steer crossing the road! A far (and much preferred) cry to traffic jams in Chicago  We unfortunately got derailed from the scenic route, though, by an overturned lime truck right before one of the big rivers, so had to detour back part of the way we came from. We arrived at the farm house around 6pm and were met by Ian, the farmer who lives nearby. It was very peaceful and quiet and provided a nice base to explore the area. It also gave Dave the chance to try out his cooking skills abroad – we did a quick trip to the grocery store in the nearby small town for lamb chops (my new fav), fresh salad vegetables, and fruit. Coupled with the wine we had bought in Blenheim and the potatoes that Ian had given us (grown on his farm) we had a delicious dinner – presided over by the resident calico cat, Tango, who made himself at home in the cottage.

The next morning I went for another run (albeit quite slowly – there were some huge hills in the area) and got back in time for Ian to deliver just out-of-the-oven bread, fresh honey, jam, fruit, and farm-fresh eggs. Living in the city where nothing is really “local” in the grocery store, we were super happy to be eating such fresh food everywhere we went. That day we set out for Lake Tekapo and did the hike up to St. John’s Observatory. You can extend the hike by hiking down to the lake and back to the parking lot, which we did. Fantastic views from the top of the glacial lake, which is a brilliant blue. After the hike, Dave did his first of many freezing cold swims on our trip – in Lake Tekapo. I waded, which was plenty cold, but refreshing. Overall, we both liked the hike, but weren’t big fans of Lake Tekapo in general – it was very touristy and pretty crowded. If we did it again, we probably would just drive through there, rather than spending the day.

Days 8 – 10. After another short run and breakfast at the cottage, we hit the road again and headed towards our next destination, the Otago Peninsula. We stopped along the way at the Moeraki Boulders (outside of Oamaru). We parked in the Park lot, instead of the café lot, which was nice, as you got a good walk along the beach leading up to the boulders. They are quite interesting and worth the stop. We had a picnic lunch near there, on the beach and then checked the boulders out, taking several pictures as well.

From there, we drove through Dunedin and out onto the Otago Peninsula. We chose the low route, which took us right along the water into Portabello. From there, we made our way to Kaimata Lodge, which was about 15 minutes away, along twisting, very narrow roads, next to various inlets and bays. We were quite happy as we got to the lodge – the setting was stunning. It was on a hill overlooking Papanui Inlet and the rooms all opened onto a deck where you could relax and soak in the views. Almost immediately upon walking onto the deck, we saw a huge seal swimming in the inlet! The owners told us they had built the lodge themselves over the course of a couple of years, using native timber from their land.

The first full day we were there we did a kayaking trip with Pat Curtin’s Bike and Kayak company - small outfit based out of Portabello. He was excellent and spent more than 4 hours with us, taking us up and around the head of the peninsula. We saw baby seals, seal lions, albatross, and hundreds of shag birds. We also saw a seal swimming quickly across the bay in front of us, leaping in and out of the water (I have actually only seen that before on Planet Earth, when the seals were escaping a predator pursuing them, but I decided not to think about that while we were in the kayak). After the kayak, we had some lunch at a little café in Portobello (one of the first buildings when you enter the town) and then headed up to the Albatross Center at the top of the peninsula. There, we did a very interesting 90-minute tour, where we saw an albatross chick through the viewing center, as well as the two “parent” birds switching spots to guard the chick (they take turns). Probably the best part was just standing in the parking lot, though – as you got to see several of the giant albatross flying around. They literally just glide through the air with their giant wings.

Dinner that evening was back at Kaimata Lodge, where we had some excellent venison stew. Fantastic star gazing that night – we could see the Southern Cross and the Milky Way.

The next day we woke up early and after breakfast (rhubarb compote and scones with fresh jam – yum!) – we were picked up by a local sheep farmer who runs a conservation program on his private land and beach for penguins and sea lions. He took us, as well as a Dutch couple staying at the lodge. The drive up to his farm was already beautiful – great views of the ocean and inlets. Upon arriving at his farm, we went through several gates and drove to the edge of the land. From there, we hiked down the large hill to the beach where we encountered three huge sea lions lounging in the sun. Our guide studies the animals, so assured us they were not interested in us, so we walked carefully by, getting some good looks at these interesting animals. Down the beach aways, we then hiked up into the hill area, where we began to see small groups of yellow-eyed penguins (as well as a few by themselves, who were molting). The penguins were very cool – beautiful creatures who didn’t seem scared of humans (as very few people go into this area, since it’s a private farm). The penguins we saw were juveniles, waiting for their parents to come home from the sea later that day with food for them. One particular penguin seemed quite interested in us and ventured about a foot away from us, then turned to each side and flapped his flippers – almost as if he was “walking the catwalk!”

After the eco-tour, Dave and I did some hiking – our favorite spot was an area with The Chasm and Lover’s Leap. It’s about a two-hour hike in total, over very pretty farmland, with sensational views of all the surrounding inlets in the area, as well as the ocean.

For dinner that night, the owners had prepared a real treat – fresh seafood including abalone, crayfish, and mussels. All had been caught that day, so was delicious, especially with some New Zealand sauvignon blanc!

Days 11 – 13. Our next stop was Steward Island, so we set out early and took the Southern Scenic route, to get a taste of the Caitlins on our way. Our first stop was Nugget Point, where we did the walk out to the lighthouse. Very peaceful – makes you feel very small to stand at the platform, surrounded by ocean on all sides. We could see seal pups on the rocks ahead. We didn’t stop very many other places along the way, just because of time – but if we had more time, we would have stopped at Cathedral Caves and other scenic locations. We arrived in Bluff in the late afternoon, in time to catch our one-hour ferry to Steward Island. I had read a lot about how rough the ferry crossing was, but I found it to not be too bad. If you are prone to sea sickness, though, I would take Dramamine, there were some pretty big swells coming out of the harbor.

Upon arrival, we were met by Jo, one of the hosts at Stewart Island Lodge, where we were staying. She gave us a quick tour of town – it’s a very small, but nice village with just a few hundred full-time residents. The lodge was up on a hill with some great views of the harbor. We had a drink with the other guests and then hurried down to the harbor again (stopping by the kai cart – an outdoor food cart with fantastic fresh fish – for some blue cod and chips) to catch our evening “kiwi tour.” I had read in a few guides that this was a neat thing to do (it was called Bravo Adventure Cruise), so we had signed up previously. We jumped aboard the boat (which, as my husband Dave pointed out, looked a lot like that old fishing boat from the movie Jaws) and joined 14 other people for a 30-minute boat ride over to a secluded bay, where we were loaded onto a Zodiac and ferried to the beach. From there, we hiked about 15 minutes through the woods (with our flashlights, as it was quite dark by then) and came out on a very remote beach. Along the way we could hear a kiwi calling out quite loudly (the guide had played a recording on the boat ahead of time so we would know what it sounded like). Once out on the beach, we almost immediately saw a kiwi hunting through the kelp for bugs. We checked this one out for about 15 minutes or so – they are almost comical creatures with their big belly, long beak, and wobbly legs. Very fun to watch. We wandered down the beach some more and saw another one, so checked them out as well. After some more exploration, we headed back to the other beach, boarded the Zodiacs, and headed back to the harbor. A very interesting evening! We were quite happy to have seen the kiwis, as they are rather elusive.

The next day, Dave had to do some work in the morning, so I did the hike from Golden Bay back to Half Moon Bay. It was a pretty hike and took less than 2 hours. I also managed to get some shopping in – picking up some t-shirts and marino wool jumper. That afternoon we did a bird-watching tour on Ulva Island with Ulva Eco-Tours. Ulva herself guided our tour and we thought it was very interesting. We saw about 10 or so different types of birds, including the saddleback which is fairly rare. The other good part about the tour is that she taught us how to recognize not just the birds, but their calls – which we found useful for the rest of our vacation, with all the hikes we did. That night we hit the Churchill Restaurant, which found to be ok – a bit pricey we thought, though.

The following day we got up early for a day of hiking. On the recommendation of another couple staying at the lodge, we flew to Mason Bay, got dropped off on the beach, then did a four-hour hike through the forest where we ended up at FreshWater landing, where we got picked up by water taxi (Ian). The highlight of the hike for us was seeing another kiwi bird! We heard some rustling in the woods, so paused for a minute and soon saw the kiwi stumble out and move right near us looking for food for about 10 minutes. The rest of the hike was nice, but the boat ride was probably the neatest part. Ian picked us up at the designated site (had to be high-tide when he picked us up on the fresh water river that cuts through this area). He asked if we minded swinging by and picking up another couple from another hut. We said sure – and sat back for a fantastic boat ride into a very remote area of the island – going through several secluded bays, another freshwater river – all with green mountains in the background. After finally arriving back at the lodge, we were met with glasses of wine and fresh blue cod that another guest had caught on a morning fishing trip. We joined two other couples in extending the lodge’s cocktail hour until about 10pm that night – rationalizing that the blue cod and appetizers we had were just as good as having gone to dinner.

Day 14. Today we took the ferry back to Bluff and traveled on to Queenstown. We did some exploring about town, had lunch outside to enjoy the sunshine, and attended the Ultimate Hikes briefing for the Milford Track – the five day guided hike we were beginning the next day.

To be continued....

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    Ah, sweet torture...I'm soaking up every morsel, feeling as if I were there myself. All that's missing as I read this is a glass of of NZ grape...I'm suddenly craving a nice Central Otago Pinot and a hunk of NZ smoked cheddar...thanks for the fabulous report and the lovely details.

    I've toyed with spending time in Geraldine on previous trips, and here it is again, calling to me.

    Do continue, please!

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    Thanks for the comments! I've only been back home for five days, but already miss New Zealand - and want to plan another trip :)

    Days 15 – 18
    We had both read all sorts of articles about how unbelievable the Milford Track was, so this was one of the focal points of our trip. Our trip began the next morning with a bus trip – with all of the other guided hikers – and then a boat ride to the start of the track. The boat ride itself was fantastically scenic, with mountains looming in the background of peaceful lake views. We knew the hike was going to be amazing with scenery like that already at the beginning. From the boat dock, it was a short (less than a mile) hike up to our first lodge – Glade House. The next three days would be hikes of 8 – 13 miles, so they encouraged us to relax and enjoy the easy first day. Before dinner, a group of us along with a guide did a short nature walk, as well as a swim in the lake. Several – including my husband – jumped into the ice cold water – so not to be outdone, I leaped off the dock into the water as well. Only later did I find out that one of the guides was bitten by an eel right near the dock earlier that summer – yikes! (as you can tell I have an overactive fear of things in the water!)

    The hike group was a good mix of all ages and countries – from a group of young 20s there with their parents to a brother/sister team in their late 60s. People were super friendly – and we even discovered that one of the hikers knew my husband from years ago back in Chicago! What a small world.

    You can also hike the Milford Track as an independent walker (they allow 40 to set off on the track each day), but we opted to do the guided hike with Ultimate Hikes, so we could avoid lugging sleeping bags and food with us (as well as Diet Coke…my two-can a day habit would have not boded well walking independently on the path – luckily Ultimate Hikes stocked Diet Coke, as well as wine, beer, coffee, and more). The guided option gives you two accommodation options – bunk share rooms with 4 individuals – or private ensuite rooms for two with your own bathroom. For independent walkers, there are huts as well, but I don’t believe there are showers.

    The next day we woke up early, packed lunches from the spread set out by the guides, had some breakfast, and set off on the day’s hike. The scenery on the first day was as pretty as we thought – with lots of rainforest ferns, lichen, and great views of the river filled with trout. We even did a very short swim by a waterfall along the way. We were one of only a few in our group brave (ie stupid) enough to do it, as the water was super cold. We did get a great pic of us standing in the water in front of the waterfall though. We saw lots of birds along the way – and with our newfound knowledge (gained on Ulva Island, part of Stewart Island), we were able to identify several rifleman, parrots, and fantail. Lots of bush robin as well, who will land on your foot and grab your shoelaces!

    After the hike that day, we played what would be the first of several competitive Scrabble and Jenga games over wine with our fellow hikers back at the lodge.

    The next day (our third day on the hike), we set off on what is considered to be the hardest day of the hike, as it goes over McKinnon Pass. It began with a short uphill and then kept going up and up and up – I think 11 switchbacks? Very pretty scenery, though – of the mountain valley. It had rained the night before and began raining again mid-morning, so we saw waterfalls all around the mountains – fantastic. Although by the time we go to the top of McKinnon Pass I was pretty soaked, it was still a fun hike. It was fogged in when we got to the top, so we couldn’t see the full view, but as we descended the pass, the clouds cleared and the rain started to subside a bit. And we hit the first of several decent-sized regular waterfalls. Brilliant things – with lush green ferns in the background. Everyone said that if we liked those, we were going to LOVE Sutherland Falls, which you hike to at the end of that day (side hike from the lodge). Once we got to the lodge that afternoon, we dropped our backpacks at our room, grabbed some snacks, and did the 45-minute hike up to Sutherland Falls. Part of the hike is up these almost stair-like steps almost covered in bright green lichen. Very cool to see, although as we neared the top with our tired legs and we saw another set, the beauty did start to fade a bit  We were rewarded, though, at the falls – it had become clear and sunny and we had full view of the tremendous falls. They are the fifth highest in the world, and fall down in three kind of steps or stages. The mist was going out quite a ways and you could hear the thunder of the water falling from fairly far away. We took some pics, wandered around it a bit, and then headed down to the stream to soak our leg muscles in the cold water.

    The next morning was the longest day (13 miles) but almost completely flat, so was quite enjoyable. The weather forecast had been for rain – but as soon as we headed out the door the skies cleared up and it became warm and beautiful. A good start to the day! Thanks to the rain the day prior, there were still lots of waterfalls along the mountains as we walked along. This day of walking was through a lot of rainforest, so we had good scenery and saw lots of birds. Two of the highlights of the day were Mackay Falls and Giant’s Gate Falls. Mackay Falls is the waterfall that is featured in a lot of the 100% Pure New Zealand ads – it’s kind of a staggered waterfall with green lichen and ferns surrounding it – looks like what you might picture when envisioning a lush rainforest. When we arrived there, we knew why it got picked by the promotional ads – it is stunning. So much of the scenery we saw on the whole trip was really beautiful, but this was probably one of my favorite sites. Giant’s Gate Falls were also pretty – we walked out on the rocks surrounding it with some of our fellow hikes and ate our lunches – after filling our water bottles with the cold rushing water. In keeping with his crazy swimming pattern, Dave dove into the glacially cold water there after one of the guides offered to buy him a Bailey’s that night. I stayed on dry land on the rocks and finished the rest of my lunch 

    The end of the hike led us to Milford Sound where we were picked up by a small boat and taken to another dock and then transported to our hotel in Milford for the night – Mitre Peak Hotel. We would stay here overnight and then take a boat trip the next morning on the Sound. When we walked into our room, I couldn’t believe what a good view it was out the window – the room looked right at Mitre Peak. I relaxed on the bed and soaked in the view and tried not to fall asleep before the evening’s dinner. They provided a great dinner for us – shrimp, lamb chops, and chocolate soufflé – as well as NZ wine – and even gave out certificates to everyone for completing the track. It was a good end to the hike.

    Day 19
    The next morning we all boarded one of the Real Journeys boats and did a 2.5 hours cruise around Milford Sound. It was fairly early in the morning, so the Sound wasn’t too busy with boats. We really enjoyed it – we had been to Doubtful Sound on our last trip and loved that, but we liked Milford as well. They are quite different from one another – but both were beautiful in different ways. Doubtful is more isolated and serene, while Milford feels more majestic in a way. After the boat ride, we headed back to Queenstown.

    Once we got back to Queenstown we picked up a rental car and set out for the hour or so drive to Wanaka for the next leg of our trip. We took the Crowne Range road through the mountains which was a bit scary, but Dave seems to love driving on the left-hand side of the road and in high areas (and usually very fast – resulting in much of our car conversation consisting of me yelling SLOW DOWN and him trying to cover up the speedometer).

    We arrived at our destination around dinner-time – a small lodge called Silverpine which is about 20 minutes past Wanaka. It was a really neat place up on a hill overlooking Lake Hawea. It was at the neck between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea and had post-card like views of Lake Hawea as well as the mountains. I knew we would like the place when we got out of the car and saw three dogs. My favorite was Roy – a dog who was bred to herd both cattle and sheep but didn’t care for sheep (only liked cattle), so apparently he would just turn around and walk home if they showed and wanted him to herd sheep.

    The lodge seemed to fit the area perfectly – lots of huge windows, open space, stone floors in the hallway, etc. All of the rooms had the very calming view of the lake and were super comfortable. We really enjoyed the hosts – Sue and Mike – who went out of their way to make sure got settled in. We were the only guests staying, so they joined us for dinner that night and helped us with planning our time there.

    Days 20 – 21
    After a good breakfast and some time with the lodge dogs (who left us after figuring out we weren’t going to give them any breakfast scraps) we gathered our lunches that Sue had made for us at the lodge and set out towards Makarora to do the Wilkin Jets Siberia Experience. Our hosts had highly recommended it. It consisted of a short helicopter ride through Mount Aspiring National Park where you then got dropped off in the Siberia Valley, did a three-hour hike, and then got picked up by jet boat. Our helicopter pilot, Darby, was quite knowledgeable and gave us a lot of details on the area. I have only been in a helicopter a couple times before, so it was very neat – the view that you get in an area like that is fantastic from a helicopter – as you can see the entire valley, as well as mountain peaks, glaciers, etc. We landed in a meadow, where Darby pointed us to the trail we would take to the river landing where we would get picked up later.

    The hike was scenic and not too hard – a lot of downhill. Some great views of the rivers and rapids below. We arrived at the landing with a bit of time to spare and were quickly bombarded by sand flies. Luckily the jet boat arrived quickly and we boarded with a chuckle after noting that the jet boat driver was the same person who flew the helicopter. He gave us a very fun ride, spinning around rocks and logs and doing several 360 turns. It gave us a good chance to check out much of the river valley area.

    After arriving back at their office, we headed about 15 minutes down the road to the Blue Pools. We did a short walk up to them, walked a bit past on another trail, and then had our picnic lunch before heading back to the lodge. I relaxed and read one of my “beach read” books that I had brought and had a glass of sauvignon blanc. Dinner was venison and we had a bottle of a NZ pinot noir that they recommended which was really liked a lot – Valli I think it was called. It was a Central Otago wine and we decided to try and find more of it before we left.

    The next morning we woke to find that Sue and Mike had set up a table outside for us to have breakfast as it was a bright, sunny, and warm day. We had a tasty breakfast with a view of Lake Hawea – I could have hung out there all day, but we had a mission – do the Rob Roy Glacier walk, which we knew about thanks to several people on this forum. It’s about 45 minutes or so outside Wanaka – and down a gravel road with lots of cattle stops and bumps, but an interesting drive. What a great hike – we had perfect weather so had some excellent views of the glacier – which had many waterfall running off of it. We could actually hear ice/snow breaking off of it at one point – pretty neat. We had lunch at the top of the trail looking up at the mountain and glacier. There were some tough uphills, but definitely worth it – the views were spectacular. One warning – don’t leave anything valuable in your trunk if you go – apparently the parking lot for the hike gets hit by thieves a lot.

    It was a really warm day, so after the hike we headed back to Wanaka and did a swim at the beach. Not a lot of beaches where you can float around while looking at the mountains….we relaxed and then headed back to the lodge for dinner and another bottle of our new favorite wine. The next morning we were headed back to Queenstown to fly up to the Bay of Islands and Northland in the North Island – the final leg of our journey.

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    <Dave seems to love driving on the left-hand side of the road and in high areas (and usually very fast – resulting in much of our car conversation consisting of me yelling SLOW DOWN and him trying to cover up the speedometer).>

    Sounds familiar. Those banked NZ roads tend to bring out the Mario Andretti in my spouse.

    What a wonderful trip you had - I love your description of the Milford Track - we've walked from Glade Wharf to Clinton Hut and back as a day walk, but I doubt my knee is up to walking the entire track.

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    Chicagorunner - Amazing trip. You've given me a ton of new ideas. Is there any place in the South Island that in retrospect you could have skipped? And also, are you going to write about your adventures in the north island? (hope so)

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    Hi ez1 - thanks for the comment - glad to hear that you will be able to use some of the ideas. I think if we had to do it over again (which we hope to in 2012 - yah!) - we would skip Lake Tekapo. It was ok, but not as interesting as many of the other places we went. We would have probably just stayed one night in the Geraldine area, to break up the drive to Otago Peninsula, instead of two nights. Everything else, though, we would definitely keep in. Some things from our first trip to NZ two years ago that I would also definitely recommend to you would be Fox Glacier (the heli-hike - with Flying Fox - to the top of the glacier was incredible - my husband's favorite part of that trip) and the overnight boat trip with Real Journeys on Doubtful Sound (my favorite part of that trip).

    I'm writing the final part of the trip report to the North Island as we speak - this whole being back at work thing is getting in the way :) Enjoy your trip planning!

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    Days 22 – 24
    After waking up to another nice sunny day, we had breakfast outside at Silverpine Lodge and finished packing up our luggage. We said goodbye to our wonderful hosts – who even gave us a goodbye present to remember our stay by – a very cute potholder with sheep on it. We set off for Queenstown – heading over the Crown Range road again – and arrived at the airport with time to spare. From Queenstown, we flew through Auckland and up to the KeriKeri airport near the Bay of Islands. We picked up our rental car and drove to Bay of Islands Lodge in Opua, which is outside of Paihai in the Bay of Islands. I never quite mastered how to say Paihai – every time I tried to say it, it ended up coming out sounding like paella, which is an excellent Spanish dish, but I don’t think how I was supposed to say the town name.

    We were staying in Opua/Bay of Islands for three nights and then driving one hour north to another lodge in Whangaroa for our final two nights. We loved the place we stayed in Whangaroa for our final two nights of the trip – and thought that area of Northland was gorgeous and very relaxing. We weren’t crazy about Bay of Islands, though. After staying in fairly remote areas for most of the rest of our trip, Bay of Islands seemed really touristy. I heard that Russell, another town in Bay of Islands, is a little more secluded and nicer – but I think when we go back to New Zealand again, we will skip it.

    For our first full day in Bay of Islands we woke up, had breakfast and gathered our things for a snorkel/boat trip from Paihai. Right before we left, though, the B&B owner got a call from a neighbor to turn on the news – where he heard the news about the tsunami warning, triggered by the Chile earthquake. With the warning – they evacuated the town of Paihai for a few hours – not Opua where we were though, which is higher up on the hill. We hung out at the lodge with the other guests and watched the news and sat out on the deck. The warning was fortunately lifted for countries in Asia Pacific within a few hours, so we headed back into town and had lunch. Afterwards we stopped in at the information center on the bay and decided to sign up to go parasailing. I’m a bit of a chicken, so this was a big deal. I only did it after Dave assured me that there was no landing in the water – rather you land back on the boat. We did the tandem option and it was actually pretty neat – you could see the entire area from up there and could appreciate how pretty the water and coastline were. I did, however, get a little worried…maybe hyperventilate for a couple seconds…when after we were ascending about 100 feet or so and I commented to Dave, “Wow, this is nice – doesn’t seem so high” and he told me that we were only at 100 feet and were going up to 800 feet.

    That night we had a great dinner at the lodge. The owner, Peter, is an excellent chef and prepared a really nice meal for everyone with shrimp, fresh salad with avacodo, salmon, and pavlova. The next morning we got up super early and headed out the door by 7:00am to drive down to Tutukaka for a day of diving and snorkeling in the Poor Knight’s Island. We drove the hour and fifteen minutes to Tutuka – the last 30 minutes of which was through very pretty wooded area and the coastline. Once in Tutukaka, we found the Dive Tutukaka shop and signed in, got our equipment, and jumped aboard one of their two boats headed out. I was snorkeling and Dave was going to scuba dive, one the reasons we wanted to head up to this area of the North Island. Poor Knights – which is designated as a marine reserve - were rated as one of the top ten places to dive in by Jacques Cousteau, and it didn’t disappoint. It was about an hour boat ride from Tutukaka, during which time our guide filled us in on the Poor Knight’s Islands and what we would be seeing.

    The snorkeling was really interesting – I could see all kinds of fish – most of which I’m not sure the names of – but a few I remember were the parrot fish, goat fish, scorpion fish, sting ray, and snapper. Dave said the diving was spectacular – kelp forests in many places, as wall as interesting walls, caves, and cliffs.

    We got back to the B&B around 6pm and hung out on the deck with a glass of wine and chatted with the other guests, including a couple who were taking a whole year off of work to travel around the world – how incredible would that be! Dinner was tasty again, with my favorite new dish – lamb, and an appetizer of huge scallops in butter and garlic – yum!

    Days 25 – 27
    After breakfast and checking out, we took off for Whangaroa, with a short stop in KeriKeri to pick up sandwiches for our kayaking trip that afternoon. We drove up towards Tauranga Bay, where Richard, the kayak guide, was based out of. Getting there was interesting – we wound through several back roads, went through multiple gates and ended up at his house/kayak shop up on a huge hill overlooking the ocean, with views of stunning rock formations on the coastline and off the coast. After another couple who were going to kayak arrived, he showed us some pointers and we set off on our half-day excursion.

    We spent about four hours kayaking up the coast and back, shooting through gaps in the rock formations, which was quite fun – even with getting hit by a few waves! We did a landing on one of the rock formations/small islands for some hot chocolate and coffee. The coast was very different from Bay of Islands – much more remote and rugged looking, with the rock formations and pounding surf. We really liked the area and thought the kayak trip was a good way to check it out. Although we didn’t see any whales or dolphins on our trip, Richard said that he often spots Orcas and other marine animals while he is out.

    After the kayaking, we headed towards the lodge we would be staying at for our final two nights, Cavalli Beach House, which is outside Whangaroa. We loved it immediately – a very cool-looking house up on a hill overlooking a beautiful bay and the Cavalli Islands. There’s a short path down to the beach, so you can easily go down there to swim, kayak, or relax. We were met at the lodge by the managers who got us settled. After cleaning up we joined the other two couples at the lodge for appetizers and wine before dinner. Another excellent dinner and dessert – we seemed to be on a good streak!

    We decided that the next day – our final full day – would be a relaxation day. The Cavalli Beach House had kayaks and snorkel gear, so we thought we’d try those out, as well as just chilling out and reading on the beach. After breakfast – we went down the short path to the beach and hung out on the deck chairs reading for a bit before taking the kayak out for a couple-hour spin. We kayaked close to the shore line and checked out several cool beaches, small caves, and more rock formations out in the water. Back at shore, we put the kayaks away and went for a swim. We spent the rest of the day doing pretty much the same – reading, a little more kayaking, and lots of swimming – as it was a sunny and warm day.

    Another good dinner and bottle of pinot noir – looking out over the water at the lodge – with apps and wine out on the deck ahead of time where we caught up with the other guests. After dinner we headed up the hill a bit where the lodge had a Jacuzzi, with views of the night sky. A glass of wine, listening to the waves and night sounds in the background, looking at the stars, and relaxing in the jacuzzi – a great final night of our trip.

    The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast. We were flying out of KeriKeri at 5:15pm that afternoon, to connect with our international flight from Auckland back to Chicago via LA. So, luckily we had most of the day to enjoy before having to head back. On the advice of the lodge managers, we headed to Maitai Bay, about 90 minutes north of where we had stayed. It was supposed to be a very beautiful bay with a stunning and usually empty beach. On the way we stopped in the town of Mangonui for fish and chips and also for a little shopping. The managers of the Cavalli Beach House had recommended we stop at the Flax Shop for interesting and artsy New Zealand gifts. We found several good things there, including some unique flax photo albums for all of the photos we took! We also used the stop at Mangonui as a chance to go into the supermarket and buy four bags of RJ’s black licorice to take home. It’s our favorite and tough to find back home.

    From there, we drove up to Maitai Bay. The water was that beautiful crystal blue of tropical waters and as the managers at the Cavalli Beach House mentioned, despite the gorgeous day, there were only two other people on the entire huge beach. We swam for a bit, walked on the beach, and then decided we should start to head to the KeriKeri airport….sigh. We arrived at the airport, sat for a bit with a delayed plane, then sprinted through the Auckland airport to catch our connection to LA. We managed to just catch it and headed back home….saying goodbye to the country that we had spent such a wonderful and magical month in.

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    What a great trip report, thanks for posting! I am curious about Mitre Peak Hotel, is it only available to guests who do the Milford guided trek? I can't find a website for the hotel... It's too bad you weren't crazy about the Bay of Islands, we are working on an itinerary for our first trip and are including it...

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    Hi britomart! I think the Mitre Peak Hotel is only available for the guided hikers - but I've heard good things about the Milford Sounds Lodge, which is also nearby (the chalets are supposed to be nice, which are the private accommodations with ensuite bathrooms) - that link is http://www.milfordlodge.com/. For Bay of Islands, I've heard several people since we got back (including some of my in-laws) say that they loved it - so it might just have been us who weren't crazy about it. Good luck with your trip planning and enjoy your upcoming trip!

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    I can only say, I wish I could afford to spend $700 a night for my lodgings.

    In Northland, I also prefer the far north, around Doubtless Bay and the Karikari Peninsula where the Matai Bay is located. I don't know if there are any luxury lodges other than perhaps the Carrington Resort, and even those are "only" $450/nt. But there are lots of choices for mere mortals.

    It's not really on the tourist's beaten path as is Paihia/Russell.

    Doubtless Bay has a website with lodging options.

    http://www.doubtlessbay.co.nz/index.htm

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    And dinner is $100 NZ..so I hope it was good! I think I looked at it on my trip prior to the most recent and Gacked at the price.

    Heck I could survive a week on US$700 for lodging!

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    Hi mlgb - I agree, it was pricey - but actually it was $650 New Zealand which I pre-booked almost a year ago when the exchange rates was at its best in a long time - so it was not the price you mentioned of US $700 a night. I know that is still pricey, which is why I tried to spend a lot of my trip report focusing on the things we did - like hiking and kayaking, not the places we stayed for people to benefit from. We did splurge on this trip - for a number of very personal reasons - but it was money very hard-earned (I work very long hours and my husband owns his own business so works even longer hours) - so I'm glad we did it. I'm sure if we go again, it will be at much more reasonable locations.

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    It's a nice itinerary for a luxury trip and I'm sure there must be other Fodorites out there who could afford to spend $50OUS a night for a month...or NOT!

    Congratulations on your good fortune!

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