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Trip Report NZ in 43 Days, 30 Beds and 3600 Miles

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First, a little about us. We a 50's - 60's couple who love to travel. We like hiking, wildlife, local art and rummaging around little towns. We are very bad at relaxing, ergo the 3600 miles on this trip. Still, we didn't feel rushed. I would have added a day here and there to our itinerary in a few places and will point that out as I go. P.S. If you like restaurant reviews, there will be only a few, as we did a lot of wine and cheese for dinner.

Day 1 - Christchurch

Arrived from SFO via Auckland on Air New Zealand. Flight was fine and I was lucky to get the middle section of the last row in coach to spread out and sleep. Picked up our car from Apex, and once the agent realised it was a 43 day rental, she gave us a different car that had just had new tires put on it. Apex was less than 2/3 the cost of the majors because they tend to use older cars. Ours was a 2004 Nissan Sunny and it gave us no problems through our trip.

We were only spending one night in Chch. Our lodging for the night was the Classic Villa, a B&B which I had booked through Wotif. Our room, one of the least expensive, was fairly small but fine for one night. They did offer free use of the sodas in the fridge and the cookie jar, as well as free internet, which is not that easy to find in NZ. Great location near the Botanical Gardens and Christ College; directly across street from the Art Centre and the trolley. We walked to Cathedral Square, where there was a market going on and street buskers entertaining. It was quite chilly, but still people were taking rides on the River Avon in punts steered by boatmen in full Oxbridge regalia. Loved the architecture in this part of town. It looked like we had just landed in England.

After changing some money and looking through a few stores, we rode the free shuttle bus just to get an idea of the town as it was too chilly to walk much more and started to rain. We had a late lunch/early dinner at Dux de Lux, a pub/restaurant across from our hotel. Decently priced and tasty and washed down with their own brand of beer. It had stopped raining, so we took a long walk in the Botanical Gardens and by the old Boat Shed before totally collapsing from a really long day.

Day 2 - Arthur's Pass

Up to the last minute we weren't sure if we should go to Kaikoura or up to the mountains for the next day, as the weather report was not great, but since all of our trips usually center around diving and oceans, we opted for something different and decided to splurge on the Wilderness Lodge at Arthur's Pass. We were served breakfast before we left and it was OK, but not great. They advertise a "mediterranean" style breakfast and my stomach was looking for something else.

The GPS we brought with us was invaluable for getting out of town and on our way. Stopped along the way in a little place called Springfield for something sweet to take with us. We found great homemade Florentines in a little wayside store. They lasted for 3 days. Stopped at Castle Hill where there are great rock formations to hike around. Apparently the area was used in the filming of Lord of the Rings. It started to rain again, so on we went.

We got to the Wilderness Lodge where there were fabulous views of the mountains from everywhere. Included in the price is a three course dinner, full breakfast, internet, laundry, and 2 guided activities. After a cup of the ubiquitous plunger coffee, we took Anne's suggestion to go to the pass and hike up to Devil's Punchbowl Falls. On the way, we stopped at the Visitor's Center where a group of keas, large alpine parrots with a reputation for curiosity, opportunism and destruction, were trying to share some peoples' snacks and sliding all over their back windscreen and roof of their car. Everyone nearby stopped to take photos as they are pretty irresistable creatures. We stopped at the pass for yet more coffee, the first of about 100 cappucinos for me, and watched more keas waddling/hopping across the road. They are hilarious. The sun came out, so the hike up to the falls was great - all 300+ steps!

Back at the lodge, all the guests gathered on the working sheep ranch to meet some sheep, give one a hug, watch the dogs muster them and then Neil, the ranch manager, blade-sheared one for us and taught us about merino wool and how it's graded by microns and answered our sheep questions. It was a lot of fun. For dinner, we had lamb from the farm (sorry if that sounds a little cannabalistic, having just met some); everything was delicious and the view of the sunset from our table in the corner was outstanding. They served coffee and sweets in the lounge and we chatted with he two other families there, in front of a nice fire. At around 10 pm we were taken down to the fields to look at the stars and the Southern Cross. We also saw the space station go by.

Day 3 - To Ashburton

After an outstanding cooked breakfast with another great mountain view, and served by a charming German waiter going around the world doing odd jobs, we took an hour self-guided walk on the farm's acreage, going through forest and overlooking a river with huge mountains in the background. They give you a pamphlet that explains all the flora and fauna you see. The weather was sunny, so on our way back down the pass we returned to Castle Hill for more exploring and climbing. Great place.

We met up with scenic highway 72 and went through back farm country to Ashburton. We got a bit lost trying to find Akanui, as we had no street address, but we found it and it was better than expected. It's a working family farm, MacKenzie Harvesting, on 1000 acres. The home itself is a historic farmhouseover 100 years old and on absolutely gorgeous grounds with a pond, a pool, tennis court, gardens, a greenhouse and the most beautiful flowering elm trees. Three sheep dogs were always lounging by the kitchen door. We were the only guests and we were treated very well.

Di and Ian were great hosts. Ian took us around the farm and fields, explained the crops (wheat, pak choy, peas and grass for seeds) and how he then brings in sheep the other part of the year for a 2nd crop. When we got back, Di had wine and hors d'ouevres for us and we relaxed and chatted about things to do and see in NZ.

For dinner we had roast pork from the farm and veggies Di grows in her greenhouse. It was more like being at a friend's home than at a B&B. We had a farm breakfast the next morning and then had to leave, but would happily have stayed longer.

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    Thanks, Melnq8. Here's a few more days.

    Day 4 - To Mt. Cook

    We left Ashburton and stopped in Geraldine. We had heard it was a cute little town, but coming from an area with a lot of cute little towns, Geraldine is so-so. We looked around the shops, bought some good jam from Barkers, and went on our way. We stopped at Lake Tekapo, a gorgeous glacial lake with the most unbelievable aqua color. Our photos couldn't capture the color and do it justice.

    We continued on to Lake Pukaki and the road up to Mt. Cook. Apparently you have a 50-50 chance of actually seeing the mountain and we picked a good day. We had coffee and split a slice of quiche up at the hotel overlooking the park and watched as the cloud hanging on to the tip of Mt. Cook blew away. With a clear view we went for a hike out to Kea Point, which takes about an hour and a half. It's mostly on a boardwalk with a dirt track and a hill at the end. The wind was blowing so hard sometimes that it stopped us in our tracks and almost knocked me over. But the views were gorgeous and kept changing around every corner. At the end of the track is a lateral moraine formed by the ancient glacier.

    We were expected at our next homestay by dinner time, so we picked up our hiking speed on the way back and went back down to Lake Pukaki and the Lakeview Homestay; and what a view! Their home is lovely and new and high up on a hill. We had the corner bedroom with a wall of windows loverooking both Mt. Cook and the lake. It was on the opposite side of the house from the main rooms and quite private with an ensuite. We were once again the only guests.

    Wendy and Rusty Houston greeted us with a nice glass of wine for me and beer for DH. They used to be farmers with lots of sheep, but they have recently stopped raising any sheep. We chatted while she cooked an enormous salmon dinner with the best mashed potatoes I think we've ever had. We collapsed fairly early.

    Day 5 - On to Dunedin

    After another enormous breakfast (thank goodness we hiked the day before) we were on our way to the east coast by way of Twizel to Oamaru. As we drove into Oamaru we saw a sign for a cheese factory and decided to stop there. It's called Whitestone and the cheese is great. Little did we know it's sold at many gourmet shops; we just happened upon it and took a little tour of the cheesemaking process and stocked up our cooler. In Oamaru there are lots of interesting limestone turn of the century buildings in the Old Town. We looked around some art galleries, had some coffee and changed more money.

    They also get yellow-eyed and little blue penguins there at dusk, but dusk isn't until really late at this time of the year, so we weren't going to be able to see them there, but would wait for the next day. We left and went on to Moeraki to see the spherical boulders on the beach. The boulders are created by a process called concretion and are almost perfectly round. I had read about a restaurant in Moeraki called Fleur's Place and we had one of our best meals of the trip there. DH had salmon encrusted with gremolata and kelp in a capsicum sauce and blue cod with a lime and caper sauce for me. Both were outstanding. Everything that went by looked great - the lamb shanks and seafood chowder and the ploughman's platter were tempting. No need for dinner tonight.

    We got in to Dunedin and the weather was getting rainy. The Bluestone on George was home for 2 nights. Very nice contemporary self-catered rooms with laundry (unimpressed - it looked great, but the dryer didn't dry very well) and a kitchenette that was very nice, and well stocked with all the utensils we needed. Each room had a huge spa bathtub. The hotel was within walking distance of the main drag and the Octagon, the hub of the town's action. We went for a walk downtown that turned into a long hike up a very steep hill, because I made a wrong turn. Beautiful Victorian stone buildings and churches lined the area. As was becoming usual, it started to rain. We walked back to the hotel for a little wine and cheese and video.

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    Great report, susncrg.
    Regarding the kea, its reputation for destruction is well-deserved. Their beaks are very sharp. The comical slithering and sliding on cars can soon turn into the shredding of rubber seals around doors and windows, pulling out the windscreen washer tubes and taking chunks out of the windscreen wiper blades. I am always wary of them when parking my car in alpine regions.
    As well, these birds will attack lambs and other livestock in ways that are not very pleasant, and this can put them offside with farmers.

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    I didn't know about the lambs, but we did see bicycle seats and furniture that had been pretty well destroyed. But...when they're not destroying your property, they sure are fun.

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    Day 6 - Dunedin and Otago Peninsula

    It was Saturday and that's when they have a farmer's market at the fabulous Victorian railway station, Dunedin's most photographed building. Really nice farmer's market and we picked up some lovely pastries for breakfast. We drove out to the Otago peninsula and had a great , but really windy day visiting the Larnach Castle, stopping for lunch at Portobello, seeing the albatross flying up above the Royal Albatross Centre. We did not go in, except to view the lobby exhibit, because you can't get right up to the birds and we had already had the experience of being a few feet away from them in the Galapagos. We ended up for the 4 pm tour at the Penguin Place, a conservation reserve for the yellow-eyed penguin, or hoiho. We had some really good views of the penguins including 2 chicks which were hilarious to watch learning how to be penguins and wobbling around. There were a few little blues, but in nesting boxes, so we only had a glimpse of them.

    Back to Dunedin for a drive up to Signal Hill for a view over the whole city and the harbor, as well as the Peninsula we'd just come from. It started to rain, so we headed home for wine and warmth.

    Day 7 - The Catlins

    Headed south, stopping in Balclutha for a little lunch, then on to the Scenic Southern Route. When we hit Kaka Point the weather was wet and windy, so we stopped for a cappucino with a view of some great waves. On to Nugget Point where we walked out to the lighthouse for for more good views, and then drove along a winding road to a penguin hide, which provided a good respite from the now pouring rain. One penguin was walking up from the beach, but was fairly far away.

    We got to the Salthouse near Curio Bay by 6 pm and our lodging , a nice self-contained unit, had a great view of Porpoise Bay - if we'd have been any closer to the water we'd have been in it. The waves were spectacular. Took a walk on the beach in the drizzle and then back to our studio apt. for wine and some dinner. Normally there's a pod of about 30 Hector dolphins that come into the shallow water of the bay, but when the waves are that high, they don't come in; the homeowner said she swims in the bay in the summer and often, the dolphins swim with her. If I were planning a trip today, I'd allot one more day to the Catlins, especially if the weather were more forgiving.

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    Thanks for the encouragement Lee Ann. I'm afraid it's quite long, but I had already written the first 13 days for myself and I'm too lazy to edit it - easier to cut and paste. Each day after that will be shorter if you can bear with me.

    Day 8 - To Bluff

    In the morning, after a tour of our host's incredible quilting studio, we headed off for the Petrified Forest, as it was close to low tide, the only time you can see the petrified remains of an ancient forest at the ocean's edge. Luckily, the sun came out for awhile and we had a great time wandering around the tidepools and petrified logs. Amazingly, you could still see the wood grain.

    While we were there, a yellow eyed penguin came out of his nesting area and stood around preening, while all of us humans stopped dead in our tracks and took photos and watched. We cleared a path for him and after a while he hopped and waddled around the rocks until he finally reached the ocean and swam away. Everyone cheered. He had put on quite a show.

    We followed the smaller unpaved back road that's closest to the coast and quite scenic, until it meets back up with Route 92 at Fortrose. From there we stopped at Invercargill and found a little cafe for coffee and pastry and to look for a bank. Errands done, we stopped off at the Southland Museum just before it closed and took in a little Maori art and an exhibit of tuataras, the rare and ancient lizards.

    Off to Bluff, where we were staying overnight and catching the ferry for Stewart Island the next day. We stayed at Land's End, a B&B at, you guessed it, the end of town. Once again, we were the only guests that night. We went into the (very) little town and split some fish and chips - one order was big enough for both of us. It didn't get dark until almost 11 pm, so at 9 pm we had plenty of time to do part of a long walking track starting near the hotel and going into a beautiful forested area along the coast. Got my first sandfly bite.


    Day 9 - Stewart Island

    We caught the 9:30 am ferry after a big home cooked breakfast at Land's End. The crossing was smooth and we saw mollymawks (a relative of the albatross) flying overhead. The van from the Bay Motel was there to meet us, give us a tour of the one block town and take us up a few blocks to the motel, which had a nice view of Half Moon Bay and the town of Oban.

    Since the weather was nice, we decided to go immediately to Ulva Island, since the water taxi was leaving in half an hour. The taxi driver was a kick and gave us little hints about what to do and see. We were really glad we went when we did. It was our first truly sunny afternoon. When you get to the island you can pay $2 for a little guide that shows the walking paths and tells you things about the flora and fauna you're seeing. Lots of wekas and tuis and other birdlife. The taxi picks you up again around 4 pm, which gives you plenty of time to go around the trails.

    When we arrived back in town it was time for a beer with a couple we met on the water taxi and then an early dinner since we hadn't eaten since breakfast. Since we were in NZ, we decided to try more lacal food. We split some seafood chowder and I had greenlipped mussels and Craig had salmon. It was all pretty good.

    Back to the motel to relax after about 4 hours of walking today. Lots more sandfly bites.

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    I remember all too well the sandflies on Stewart Island - they seemed to congregate around the little shop (Ship & Shore?) for some reason.

    Thoroughly enjoying your report - it's bringing back lots of fond memories.

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    WOW!!! What a great report. I'm sitting back reading your descriptive account of your activities, tracing your route with my map and actually feeling like we're back there. MORE, MORE. MORE!!

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    Day 10 - Stewart Island

    Woke up and two kakas were at the window. One was actually knocking on it with his beak, clearly looking for a handout. They are pretty sizeable birds and really similar to the kea. Just as entertaining and intelligent, too. We went down to the cafe by the harbor for coffee and a muffin and watched the boatmen on the pier.

    Decided to walk up Church Hill and then wandered along the beach, following a trail that turned pretty muddy for awhile and the up the hill to the cemetery. Why the cemetery? The walk was recommended in a tour book! Went back to town and bought a wrap sandwich to split while deciding where to walk next. Decided to go out to Acker's Point late in the afternoon, as sooty shearwaters are supposed to be out there and little blue penguins come in there at dusk, but we knew it was not likely they'd be there that early.

    We set out after 4pm and it was a little drizzly. You go down a road for awhile and then out to a trail through rainforest and along the water. Lots of stairs up and down. Got to the lighthouse at the end, after about 1 1/2 hours, and it started to rain really hard. The sooty shearwaters weren't crazy enough to be out in that weather, so we headed back, keeping our eyes out for penguins, but no luck. When we got our soggy selves back to town we stopped at the Kai Kart for some really good fish and chips wrapped in newspaper and went back to our place to eat and settle in for a wet night.

    Day 11 - To Kinloch

    Caught the ferry back to Bluff and headed back up to Invercargill where we stopped at a bakery and bought a sampling of NZ type breakfast pastries to take on the road. Stopped at the Anderson Park Gallery on the way out of town, an Edwardian mansion and art gallery on beautiful grounds with a Maori marae, a duck pond and a monkey puzzle tree (our favorite).

    Drove up the road to Queenstown, stopping to eat our pastries at a picnic table in the wonderfully named town of Athol. It's probably not pronounced the way I think it should be.

    The scenery gets really nice as you come to lake wakatipu on one side and the Remarkables, a really jagged range of mountains, on the other. To get to Kinloch you drive through Queenstown and up past Glenorchy, at the end of the lake. Although you can see Kinloch Lodge from Glenorchy and could be there in about 5 minutes by boat, it takes another hour to drive it - the last 25 km on unsealed road. The only thing there is the little lodge, built in 1886, and a backpackers accommodation and small campground. Oh, and sandflies!

    It was Christmas Eve and we didn't think the restaurant in the lodge would be open, so we had picked up some food for dinner, though it turned out the restaurant was open. We had a beer and a chat with Ross, the English barman who seems to have travelled just about everywhere while working his way around the world.

    The lodge has 6 tiny rooms with 2 large bathrooms to share, and bathrobes provided. Since there was only one other couple staying in the lodge it wasn't a problem. The lodge guests get the use of a lounge and a laptop with free internet, something we didn't find very often, as well as use of the backpackers kitchen and a hot tub too unappetising to get into. All in all, a cute little place.

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    Nice reporting! I also stayed at Kinloch Lodge for two nights in January. I didn't get any sandfly bites at all, as I was sure to use insect repellent. In addition to the historic lodge, there are the "Wilderness Rooms" which are about the same size, same comfortable beds, but you are in the attached wing rather than the old lodge. The website gives a good feel for the rooms. All rooms require use of shared bathrooms. The free internet was indeed a rarity.
    The dinner I had one night at the restaurant was quite good. Reservations are advised.

    I don't recall that much of the road being unsealed. Kinloch's website says it's the last 9km which is gravel, which jives with what I recall. They do offer a pickup service at Glenorchy for a small fee.

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    Mlgb - I remember your post about Kinloch and was hoping you'd see my post, since you'd just been there too. I practically bathed in heavy duty insect repellent, but I'm a bite magnet. You are right, it was a different road that was 25 km of unsealed road, up past Karamea, this one was less. We didn't mind the drive - in fact we thought it was prettier than the road from Q'town to Glenorchy.

    We did look at the "Wilderness Rooms" while we were there, and I think our heritage room, which was the biggest and had a queen bed, was quite a bit nicer, but also more expensive. The bathrooms are also fancier and quite roomy and the lounge was quite nice. It's really just a matter of what suits each guest, and I think it was good that they had each type of accommodation. We used the communal kitchen for the backpackers and that worked out well. Did you do any of the tracks around there? My next post will detail our experiences with the meals and the walks.

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    Day 12 - Christmas at Kinloch

    Continental breakfast was included with the room. It was very nice, but we didn't want to eat too much as we were having Kinloch's 6 course Christmas lunch that day with 10 other folks willing to fork over an extraordinary amount of moneyfor what turned out to be a real pleasure. We went out for a walk along the lake for an hour to prepare ourselves. Found a perfect little bird's nest that had fallen from a tree and gave it to Ross for a Christmas present. It was time for lunch and I'll just reprint the menu as it was quite impressive for such a tiny little place:

    Salad of seared venison fillet on dressed leaves with feta cheese, strawberries & balsamic reduction
    or

    Salad of pan fried haloumi cheese, roasted cherry tomatoes & marinated olives

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    Salmon fillet on steamed asparagus, sauce hollandaise
    or

    Soft poached egg on spinach stuffed field mushroom, sauce hollandaise

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    Carved turkey breast & home baked ham with orange sauce
    or

    Aubergine, courgette & mozzarella gratin


    Served with rosemary roasted potatoes, buttered carrots, steamed fine beans

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    Christmas pudding pavlova stack

    A tower of pavlova & home made Christmas pudding flavoured ice cream, served with berries, cream & chocolate sauce

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    Whitestone Windsor blue cheese, wafers, Otago pasture honey

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    Tea, coffee, mince pie & home made chocolate truffle

    The lunch will be served at 12.20pm

    The lunch was great and very leisurely; served through more than 2 hours. There were 2 tables of 6. We sat with a young English couple and another English couple who had been living in NZ for a year, determining whether they wanted to live in NZ permanently. They gave us Christmas crackers and we all sat around wearing the funny hats inside and reading each other the jokes inside. It was a great way to break the ice get to know each other. The wine helped too.

    After lunch, most sane people then went and had a nice nap. I, on the other hand, decided that a nice walk would be the way to go. Ross had told us that Glacier Burn was a great scenic walk that would take us an hour up and an hour back. Another couple said they had gone up and it was beautiful. The sign at the beginning of the track said 2 hours, but I didn't know if that was one way or return. We set out through a field and into the trees. A little way in, we started uphill. Very steeply uphill. No one had mentioned that the trail was narrow, full of tree roots, you had to find a way around fallen trees and the path went straight up. We hadn't brought our poles. It was a lovely forest, but about the hardest hill we'd climbed and it just kept coming. We gave it an hour and 20 minutes and realized we were nowhere near the end and it was going to be a really steep downhill. We needed to save some energy to get back, so we turned around and were thoroughly beat by the time we got back to the car. On the bright side, we really worked off the lunch and no dinner was required.

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    Now I'm glad I passed up the Glacier Burn walk after your description! That meal sounds incredible.

    I'm not sure if it was Ross, or one of the other nice employees, who suggested the Sylvan Lake walk which is on the way back toward Glenorchy. That was a nice flat walk thru the forest to Sylvan Lake. I gather there is incredible trout fishing there, I saw quite a few people walking back with their catch. Also, someone in business clothes walking quickly in toward the lake, probably on his way to get dinner.

    On the way back to Queenstown, I walk about an hour of the Invincible Mine trail, which is as you describe for Glacier Burn, quite steep from the beginning. After reaching the overlook I decided I'd worked enough and returned, since it was threatening to rain and I had crossed a small ford.

    For anyone interested in short walks in this area, here's the list from DOC.

    http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/otago/wakatipu-area/

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    Yes, Ross recommended Sylvan Lake, which we were going to do the next day on our way back to Q'town, but it was pouring, so no walking that day. I also was thinking about driving to Paradise, but again, the weather ruled that out.

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    Day 13 - To Queenstown

    Woke up to a lot of rain and after breakfast, took off for Queenstown. There was enough rain that outdoor activities like horseback riding in Glenorchy were vetoed. We checked into the Novotel Lakeside, our home for three nights, and had a nice, bright room overlooking Lake Wakatipu. It's in a good location within easy walking distance to everything, and sometimes you can get a deal on Wotif. Parking and internet are extra, but you get 20 minutes free internet on the lobby computers if you are willing to wait a long time in line. Unless you really like hotel breakfast buffets, I wouldn't bother, as there are lots of restaurants and cafes all around.

    We spent most of the afternoon ducking in and out of shops. We were fairly astonished at how expensive clothing and pharmacy items were. I had left my allergy stuff home because it was winter and I didn't need them anymore. Travel tip for northern hemisphere residents; remember, it's summer over here and all the hay fever you just got over will be back again in force!

    When the rain let up some, we went for a walk in the gardens along the lake that were very close to the hotel and then got thai takeaway from @Thai and stayed in with dinner and a movie.

    Day 14 - Queenstown, Arrowtown and Paragliding

    Today was a glorious day. Sunny and the clearest blue sky. We stopped for breakfast at Joe's Garage and then drove off to Arrowtown. The views were fabulous today. We wandered around the old Chinese miner's settlement and then into the town. Very upscale cafes and art galleries compared to what we had seen in other small towns. They were holding a crafts market in a park with food booths and an old-timey band was playing.

    On the way back we stopped at the Flight Park near Coronet Peak to check out the paragliding for a friend of ours who does this. After watching the paragliders and hang gliders coming in for awhile I decided it looked like a great day to try this out. They took me up in a van to the top at around 5000 feet, hooked me into the harness and attached me to the instructor's harness, told me to start running straight downhill and then, poof, we were in the air!

    The flight lasts from 15 - 20 minutes and it couldn't have been a better day for it. You could see the mountains all around, and better yet, you could see what the tops looked like from close above the peaks. It was probably as close as I'll ever get to feeling like a bird; you could feel the currents picking you up and gliding on them. DH was down below videoing the flight and landing, so I didn't purchase the photos the instructor takes of you while you are in flight. He has a camera on a long stick, so you can see yourself as you're flying, which is really cool.

    Still giddy, it was time to go back to town, which had totally transformed from yesterday. Throngs of people on the beach and in the water. Parasailing boats, jet boats and paragliders by the gondola - a real difference from the ghost town the day before. We had a beer out on the Wharf and dinner at the Coronet Bathhouse.

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    Day 15 - More Queenstown

    For breakfast we went to the Vudu Cafe, a place I had read about in Fodors. It did not disappoint. I had the best cappucino of anywhere we'd been and our food and every plate walking by looked fabulous, from the pancakes and eggs benny, to the pastries. Highly recommend this little place, and, they even have a free computer for customers to use.

    Today was the day to pick up our friends at the airport in preparation for the Milford Track. We had hoped to take them to lunch at the Amisfield Bistro, but unfortunately it's closed on Mondays! We picked them up and headed out to AJ Hackett's to watch the bungy jumping. No one had any desire to do it, but it was really fun watching the people who did. Some chose the dry route and some the "dunk my whole upper body in the water" route. We also watched the jet boats do their figure eights on the Shotover River.

    Our main goal for the day was the briefing for our Milford Walk. It got us both excited and apprehensive - sneaking peeks at the other walkers to see if we were going to be in the worst shape of anyone. After the briefing we had Thai food for dinner and wandered around the pubs - lots of music everywhere.

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    Days 16-20 The Milford Track

    The Milford Track was very challenging for me, but a truly beautiful walk and I'm very glad I did it. Ultimate Hikes provides an extremely well organized experience, and their lodges (I hesitate to call them huts) are very comfortable with a range of ensuite rooms to 4-bunk rooms with shared bath. Dinners are 3 course sitdown events, so you're not exactly roughing it. Every day starts with making your own lunch from a large selection of food, and a breakfast buffet to stoke you up for the track.

    You carry a 10-15 lb. pack with your lunch, water, raingear and your nighttime clothing, so not a really heavy load. I found hiking poles to be a lifesaver, as did DH and our friends. The trail ranged from fairly flat dirt tracks to really uneven boulders to clamber over and the second full day of walking takes you up 2400 ft. and down 2700 ft. as you go up and over the MacKinnon Pass. The waterfalls, mountains, glaciers and rainforest views were great, and I never tired of them (except when I was cursing and wondering when the next %&^$#ing lodge was going to appear). My favorite spots were the lush green forested areas with mossy stones and branches and gushing streams where it looked like a troll was going to appear any second. We were very lucky that the heavy rain forecast did not appear until the last 2 hours of the whole track. Then it poured like I have never seen before (2 days later we read in the paper that hikers had to be helicoptered over the flooded areas).

    The next morning was sunny, so our cruise of Milford Sound was really pretty and there were loads of waterfalls from all the rain the night before. We were bussed back to Queenstown through the Homer Tunnel and that was a lovely drive. If you can't do the track, at least you get to see some of the great scenery on this drive.

    We drove to Wanaka for the night at the Lakeview Motel, reasonably priced self-contained units with beautiful views of the lake. We strolled (make that hobbled, as my feet had had it)around the town and our friends went out for dinner while we got some takeaway and wine which we ate at our balcony table watching the sun go down over the lake.

    I highly recommend the whole Milford experience and would be happy to answer any questions about it.

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    You've definitely piqued my interest in the Milford Track susncrg. We've talked about trying it, but we tend to visit NZ in the off season (among other excuses). We walked part of it as a day walk and had a great time, but walking the entire track is a different animal altogether as you well know. I doubt my dodgy knee is up to McKinnon Pass from the sounds of it.

    I enjoyed your description of the track and I'm glad to hear you had good weather for the most part. You should be proud of yourselves!

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    Thanks! I definitely was proud of myself and hope you'll be able to do it yourself. I'm thinking of trying the Queen Charlotte, or just part of it. Have you done any of that?

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    susncrg -

    I've walked about 2/3 of the Queen Charlotte Track over the years, always off season, always on day trips (freedom walking). I've done the Ship Cove to Endeavour Inlet section a couple of times and would do it again tomorrow if I could. I love the Queen Charlotte Track - it just speaks to me for some reason. The views of the sounds are incredible - all of that glorious blue...

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    Day 21 - From Wanaka to ???

    Woke up to a rainy day in Wanaka, and after some good coffee and muffins at a cafe, we stopped at an upstairs art gallery down the street. We chatted with the owner about places to stop on our way to Franz Josef. She suggested a detour once we hit the coast, to Jackson Bay and the Cray Pot, a great place for fish and chips. We hit the road and going through Haast Pass saw literally hundreds of waterfalls caused by the heavy rains. Three of the waterfalls came down right onto the car and over the road! The river was an absolute torrent.

    We took the detour and her 15 minute estimate out there was at least double that, but the road was pretty and the lunch worth it. It's a funky little trailer right on the beach serving really fresh fish and huge portions. We got back on the road and stopped at the Visitor's Center at Haast, where we were told that the road had washed out just south of Fox Glacier and no one could get through. We called our hotel to cancel and they said the report was wrong. So we decided to see if we could get through, but quite a way up the road we found out that not only was it closed, but most of the motels on the road were filling up fast. We had made a tentative reservation at a really dreary little place near Haast as a back up plan, but didn't really want to stay cooped up there the rest of the day. The extremely expensive sister resort to the Wilderness Lodge at Arthur's Pass is at Lake Moeraki not far from Haast, and since we were likely going to miss the heli-hike we had reserved for the next day, we decided to splurge on this instead. I'm glad we did.

    Included in the price is dinner, breakfast and 2 activities. A terrific guide named Ben took us out on a glow worm hike that night (the rain had stopped for the most part) and a nature walk in the morning. He was extremely funny and informative and we all ended up happy with our choice. It turned out that none of the helicopters were flying the next day and my feet were still sore, so I'm not sure the hike would have been fun for me anyway. Just another item we can add to our list for the next trip.

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    Day 22 - Franz Josef

    The road north was opened promptly and we were able to get through with no problems; in fact, you'd never have known it was flooded the day before except that all the rivers were very high up the banks and it was still raining some. We went to Fox Glacier first, but could not walk the track to the glacier as it had washed out and was closed to all but the guided hikers.

    We moved on to Franz Josef and did 2 of the short nature walks to get good views of the glacier. We were staying that night at the Punga Grove Executive Suites (or something like that) and had a nice unit with kitchenette and free-standing fireplace. The balcony backed onto rainforest, but the sandfly situation was such that there was no way I'd sit out on the balcony. My only quarrel with the room was that it was pretty dark in there. We had pizza for dinner at a place that was revving up for some really loud rock music by a local band, so we got out of there before they started.

    Day 23 - To Punakaiki

    We stopped for breakfast in Hokitika and made a classic mistake. Thinking the town was smaller than it was and not doing a quick driving tour around first, we stopped at one of the first restaurants on the main drag. It was greasy to the max and the coffee was terrible - do not eat there! Of course, after breakfast we found lots of restaurants that looked much better and I would have eaten at Cafe de Paris if I'd seen it in time.

    DH had been smitten the whole trip with Pounamu, the NZ jade and also the Maori bone carvings, so we had to stop in about every store to peruse jewelry and learn about how to carve it and what tools to use. If we'd had more time, I'd have had him take one of the DIY workshops where you make your own carving under the direction of a carver. As it is, I think he's going to start doing it at home with tools he's gathering.

    We continued on to Greymouth where it was time to say goodby to our friends who were catching the Tranz Alpine train back to Christchurch. They told us later that they really enjoyed the train and the scenery they went past.

    We wandered around town a bit and considered doing the Monteith Brewery tour, but we really wanted to hit the Pancake Rocks at high tide, so we had to leave that tour for next time. The timing was perfect for the rocks and the blowholes were going like mad - the Chimney Pot was spouting water high up into the air every few seconds. We spent quite a bit of time there watching the waves and taking video of the blowholes. We were staying just down the road at Hydrangea Cottages. We had a great view from our cottage and settled in with a glass of wine and made dinner.

    Note: The folks at Hydrangea Cottages also run the horse treks on the beach and in the national park. It looked like it would be a lot of fun, but they were booked the next day. Another thing to add to the "next time" list.

    Day 24 - To Karamea

    We headed out after breakfast and as the weather had cleared, we walked the Truman Track through a bit of temperate rainforest down to a wonderful pebble beach. See Mlgb's photos in the link above, for this beach and for the pancake rocks, since I haven't got mine up yet.

    On to Tauranga Bay and the seal colony for a nice walk in the sun, at last. We had a terrific lunch at the Bay House. The salmon was perfectly done and accompanied by a lovely view of the beach. We kept seeing people in funny costumes all around and they were Morris Dancers from NZ and Oz travelling around giving performances. At 2 pm they were performing outside the Municipal Building in Westport, so we stopped by to have a look. and to visit the i Site to book a cave tour in Karamea the next day. As with all the i Sites we went to, the people were unfailingly helpful, polite and went out of their way to give us good suggestions.

    We continued up the road stopping at the tiny hippy town of Granity and driving out to the Gentle Annie track. This turned out to be farther down an unsealed road than I thought it would be, and after starting out it turned out to be really muddy and DH had not put on his hiking boots, so we turned back and went out to the beach instead. BTW, while the track was not super steep, it wasn't quite the gentle flat track I expected either. The road became pretty steep after that, as well, going up and over lots of hills.

    We had called the Last Resort for a reservation before, but they were full and in retrospect I'm glad they were. We stayed at the Karamea River Hotels and for a very reasonable price had a huge one bedroom unit with our own private cows in their field outside our windows. The owners were very nice and let us set up our laptop in their office to use their connection, since it wasn't strong enough to reach our unit out at the end of the property.

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    Day 25 - Karamea and the Honeycomb Cave

    We met our guide for the cave tour up a narrow, winding, unsealed, old logging road in the Kahurangi National Park. If you don't want to drive it, a shuttle van from Karamea unloaded the 4 others on the tour. We set off through the forest with our hard hats and lights on. Bill, our guide, explained the flora and fauna. The cave was interesting and a tad different from others we've seen and the addition of real Moa bones found inside and glow worms added to the fun. After the tour, Bill provided coffee, tea and hommade goodies.

    We were then free to walk the trail to the Oparara Arch, Mirror Tarn or other tracks in the area at our leisure. We really enjoyed it all.

    We decided to go out to the real end of the road where the Heaphy Track starts (or ends). I had wanted to walk a bit of it, but the wind was picking up and the rain starting, so we bagged that idea and headed back to town. We stopped at the local pub for a beer and my first attempt at a whitebait sandwich, a commonplace local treat. Well...it wasn't my favorite food, but the scoop of chips were pretty good.

    After a short tour of the town (there isn't a lot of town), we headed back to our motel to visit with our cows.

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    I'm glad you made it to Karamea - we were there in 2003 and took the Honeycomb cave tour and walked a portion of the Heaphy Track. It seems that few visitors make it to Karamea, other than to pass through after walking the Heaphy. I remember loads of arum lilies, a peacock in the middle of the highway and lots and lots of sandflies!

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    Days 26-28 - To Nelson and some relaxation

    Today we drove through the Buller Gorge and on to Nelson, our home for the next three nights. We spent our time visiting wineries, roaming the town, listening to live jazz, visiting the World of Wearable Art, picking incredibly sweet Pick Your Own raspberries and boysenberries, watching windsurfers and birds. They have a really good farmer's market on Saturdays with lots of fresh produce, artisan cheeses, jams and breads, food booths, crafts and music. I gave whitebait one last chance, but that was enough; I still didn't like it!


    Day 29 - Kaiteriteri and Abel Tasman

    We booked a full day tour and overnight accommodation through the i Site in Nelson, to get a little taste of Abel Tasman. This included kayaking from the beach at Kaiteriteri to Split Apple Rock with a stop at the beach there. We kayaked back, had lunch (either pack your own or order theirs)and took the water taxi up the coast, seeing the Anchorage, a seal colony, and getting off to walk a portion of the Abel Tasman Track for about 2 hours back to Bark Bay where the water taxi picked us up and took us back to Kaiteriteri. We had a good time but got totally soaked as it decided to rain at the end and the low tide route that the taxi man said would be passable at that time of day got me over my knees in water!

    We stayed in Kaiteriteri overnight at the Kimi Ora Spa Resort that the i Site had booked for us. We had a great view and warmed up in their indoor hot tub.

    Day 30 - To Blenheim

    Tonight is our last night on the South Island and we hate to leave. We traveled through Havelock, the Green Shell Mussel Capital of the World, as they call themselves, and sampled some for lunch at the Slip Inn down at the marina. They were quite good. We went to a few Marlborough wineries for tastings and even did a beer tasting at the Moa Brewery. The town of Blenheim itself was underwhelming and looked a little downtrodden. However, we had a very nice room at the Chateau Marlborough.

    The next morning we drove into Picton to take the ferry to the North Island.

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    I don't remember the name, but there are several right around the road with lots of wineries nearby. In fact, there were 2 right across the road from each other. Once you're in Nelson, I don't think you'd have a difficult time finding one if you ask around.

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