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Trip Report NZ: A Series of Bitter Disappointments -- a Songdoc Trip Report

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Note to self: send a really nasty letter to the NZ Tourism Board.
Complain that there were no dolphins in several places where they were clearly advertised; ditto—no penguins; and not one reflection in the so-called “reflecting” lake. Also … they need to move the most scenic spots closer to the highways—and not make them uphill! Add a P.S. that they need to do something about the crappy weather!

This is a work-related trip--for me to teach master classes in Nelson, Wellington, and Auckland. The plan was to begin with a nine-day drive from Queenstown to our first class in Nelson. FYI, this was our 7th trip to work and vacation in NZ.

We flew AA from Nashville to L.A. then Air New Zealand from L.A. to Auckland, leaving Oct. 15th – and arriving the 17th (because of crossing the international date line). The Air NZ coach seats were so exceptionally comfortable, that despite it being a full flight, I slept for 9 hours! (OK, I admit I had a little chemical assistance.) Then I watched a sweet movie (“The Dolphin’s Tail” that had me almost sobbing for the last 40 minutes), ate breakfast—and was amazed to have already arrived in AKL. The only bad part of the trip was being tired and having to deal with customs, collecting luggage, re-checking it, and having a 2-hour layover before boarding a flight to Queenstown.

We used Ace Car Rental. $500 NZD for 10 days with return to Picton. We’d pre-booked the Alexis Motel for two nights at $126/nt (NZD). It’s a pleasant, basic motel room with a kitchenette & an absolutely beautiful view of the lake. It was a 10-minute walk on the main road to town—or 30 minutes of breathtaking views along the lake. The staff were exceptionally nice and helpful.

As you read this report, you’ll see that we’re not “foodies,” and since we both have to be careful about what we eat (to accommodate our different health issues) it’s easiest for us to book places with kitchenettes so we can find a New World or a Four Square market and prepare most of our own boring food—with only an occasional splurge.

The only problem with starting in Queenstown is that it’s so impossibly beautiful —that every place that follows it has some seriously stiff competition to live up to. Thankfully, we’d seen Queenstown in all its glory on two previous trips, and had been to Skipper’s Canyon, Glenorchy, and up the mountain with the gondola, because much of the time, it was rainy, with cloudy, dark gray, dull skies.

But … the rain wasn’t constant, and between the showers we took walks along the trail that circles the lake and ended in town where we browsed in the shops, and sat on a bench in awe of the views. The beauty of those snow-capped mountains across the lake never stop amazing me.

Friends who live in Queenstown drove us to Old Cromwell, which was 45 minutes— and at least 100 years away. It’s not as large or touristy as Arrowtown, but it feels more authentic, with beautifully restored old buildings from the gold rush era, and lovely lake views. We really enjoyed looking in the shops then had a nice sandwiches and coffees in one of the cafes. We’d planned to go for a walk, but it started pouring, so we headed back.

The next morning it was time to pack up – but wait, what is that??? SUN!!! We took another walk along the lake and I got some great photos with those mountains backed by blue skies instead of clouds. IMO, Queenstown is about as good as it gets.

Next stop: Wanaka via the twisting, winding Crown Range road. En route we stopped at several lookouts, and in Cordrona. The Cordrona Hotel is a magical little oasis with lovely views, an old west feel, and a charming restaurant with outdoor seating, and a glimpse of a gold mine shaft. We’d brought a lunch and thoroughly picnicking while feeling we’d stepped back in time 150 years. It was a perfect way to break up the drive between Queenstown and Wanaka.

We’d pre-booked the Lakeview Motel in Wanaka for two nights at $150/nt NZD. The motel’s views alone were worth it, but the owner couldn’t possibly have been nicer or more helpful. The resident cat (included in the price of admission) sat beside me purring (the cat—not me) as we soaked in the beauty of the sunset on the lake with the mountains behind it.

Our first day in Wanaka, the sun shone bright and we strolled along the lake, enjoying the views, but I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that it was the step-child of Queenstown—absolutely beautiful—but only 80% of the “wow” factor of its more famous sister. Dinner wasn’t exactly according to our food plans, but it was delicious—yummy kebabs with views of the lake.

We woke the next morning to gray skies and drizzle, but didn’t let that deter our plan to hike Mt. Iron. I layered with thermal underwear, a T-shirt, sweatshirt, sweater, rain jacket and my alpaca knit cap. Locals were wearing T-shirts and shorts!

It was a strenuous 45-minute climb to the summit, but sooooo worth it. OMG. The views were stunning—and suddenly, Wanaka picked up lots of extra points. My photos suffered from the rain, but those views were still absolutely amazing. There were lots of bunnies along the trail, and that was an added bonus ☺. For those who can handle the climb, Mt. Iron is definite “must-see.”

Puzzling World was low on our list, despite the good reviews. From the photos and brochures, it seemed like a tourist trap, primarily for kids. But … by now it was pouring, and the only other option was stay in our motel room and read. So, we headed to Puzzling World with low expectations. We LOVED it—and ironically, we commented that most of it is not well-suited for kids. It was great fun, and the optical illusions, holograms, 3-D photos, and the faces that “followed” you were fascinating. We were SO glad we did it.

The next morning it was time to pack up and leave. The weather was GORGEOUS—bright, sunny blue skies! We strolled into town to buy sandwiches from Doughbins. DH had bought a meat pie there the previous day, and the pastries and breads looked amazing. Our sandwiches were excellent—and so were the photos I took of the lake now that we had a blue-sky background.

Our directions said it would take 3:40 to drive to our next stop—Franz Josef. But that didn’t factor in photo stops—and I’m a photography nutcase. Lake Hawea—and the Lake Hawea Lookout were gorgeous. Our next stop was the Blue Pools. About a 20-minute walk from the carpark brought us to a swinging bridge and LOTS more photos. Wow. They’re not kidding about them being “blue” pools! Such a beautiful spot!

New Zealand is a nature photographer’s dream destination. Queenstown, Wanaka, and the first hour of the drive between Wanaka and Franz Josef had me on beauty overload, and my camera got quite a workout.

We stopped for delicious coffee in Haast. There wasn’t much else there. As a side note, I think the coffees in NZ are exceptional—and so are the apples. In fact, all the produce seems terrific.

Our next stop was Ship Creek—because we’d been advised that it was an excellent spot for dolphin spotting. We climbed a lookout tower for views of what seemed like endless miles of rugged beach with intense crashing surf, but alas—no dolphins☹. But … I took some beautiful photos on the beach, and along the swamp trail boardwalk, and at the next lookout—Knight’s Point, which reminded us of views on the Great Ocean Road.

To be continued …

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