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Trip Report Scenic Overload on NZ's South Island: November 2015

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Does the world need yet another trip report on the wonders of the South Island of New Zealand? Maybe not, but here’s one anyway. It’s a long description of part of the trip my husband (J) and I took in November and December 2015 to New Zealand, the Great Ocean Road, Tasmania, and Melbourne. I’ll post the Australia part separately so that folks who are interested only in Oz won’t have to wade through NZ to get to it.

This was our second trip down under—the first was ten years ago and was devoted mostly to Australia (5 weeks, in which we visited many parts of the country but didn’t get to Victoria or Tasmania) but also a week on the North Island of NZ. There we found a countryside reminiscent of the green, sheep-covered beauty of parts of England. The reputedly more spectacular South Island remained on our to-do list. Finally, this year, we decided to check it out for ourselves to see if it would live up to all the hype. It did.

Our NZ itinerary, designed to allow us to hike and kayak in a variety of spots:
Auckland – 3 nights
Abel Tasman area – 3 nights
Franz Josef – 2 nights
Arrowtown – 1 night
Milford Sound – 1 night
Te Anau – 1 night
Queenstown – 1 night
Routeburn Track – 2 nights
Queenstown – 1 night
Mt. Cook village – 2 nights
Christchurch – 2 nights

Pictures from the trip can be found here: https://aprillilacsphotos.shutterfly.com/8195. Click on “slide show” to see them full screen.

OVER THE PACIFIC, Nov. 3-5

We boarded a late evening United Airlines flight at SFO for the long journey to Auckland via Sydney, Australia. We had booked the flight months before using UA frequent flyer miles--thus the roundabout itinerary--but had had the good sense to upgrade to economy plus for a little extra leg room on the long leg to Sydney. As a result, we managed some sleep before arriving in Sydney just before 8:00 AM on November 5. November 4 had vanished as we crossed the International Date Line. After a 3-hour layover in Sydney (where we drank the first of many flat whites), we landed in Auckland about 4:30 PM and cleared customs in what seemed like a split second.

AUCKLAND, Nov. 5-8
Lodging: Great Ponsonby Arthotel, http://www.greatpons.co.nz/, $212 NZ/night

We had arranged for car service from the airport to our B&B for our three nights in Auckland. We had booked the Great Ponsonby Arthotel on Booking.com and expected something a little fancier but ended up very pleased with the laid-back nature of the place, the glorious wisteria that draped the front of the main house, and the friendly and gracious service by the young staff. Tired but hungry, we walked up the street to bustling Ponsonby Street to a newly opened Thai restaurant called Fuse, recommended by the staff. The place was empty but the food well prepared, if lacking in fire. Back at our room, we sipped a Montana pinot noir ($20 NZ = $13 US) and slept soundly in anticipation of our coming adventures.

I don’t usually describe our breakfasts in trip reports, but the next day started with what proved to be my favorite-ever morning meal--an open-face concoction of multigrain toast topped with sliced avocado, thick bacon, tomato, and plenty of pepper. It was so good that I had it the next day, too. J chose the delicious, rich New Zealand South Island smoked salmon over beautifully scrambled eggs. Perfection!

After breakfast we walked down Ponsonby Street to College Station, then downhill to the New Street stairs (Jacob’s Ladder), which took us over a footbridge to the Auckland Wharf area. It was immediately clear that New Zealanders love their boats, both from the boats docked and stored at the marina and from the many commercial outlets selling boats and related items. The crisp, clear morning was perfect for exploring the sunny wharf area, including its trendy-looking eating spots, some interesting sculptures and architecture, and a creative playground along the way. Eventually we crossed a drawbridge (which was raised shortly thereafter) and made our way to the ferry building. There we purchased roundtrip tickets to Devonport, which lies on the other side of the harbor at the southern end of a peninsula. The ferry ride took about 15-20 minutes and we were excited to see three orca whales in frolicking between us and the dock just before we landed.

We were ready for coffee so we first stopped in Devonport at the popular Bette’s café/bakery, where we enjoyed cappuccinos at a sidewalk table. Then it was on to our first walk of the trip, along a route recommended by both our hotel and Lonely Planet. It took us up to the end of Queen Street and then east through a neighborhood that contains charming heritage houses. Most were built in the early years of the twentieth century, and several had lovely gardens with wisteria and other flowers in full bloom—one place on a small hill had gorgeous, colorful plantings in full bloom. Our path eventually took us down to lovely Cheltenham Beach. We walked along the beach toward North Head, admiring the views and soaking up the sun. We spied a restaurant at the place where we had to leave the beach, but it was only serving an expensive buffet and was sadly lacking in customers (not a good sign for a buffet), so we passed and continued on our journey to North Head.

Our route took us to a road that headed to the top, but we instead took a series of grassy paths that wound around the hilltop, eventually giving us 360o views of the area. We sat in the grass at a couple of places to relax and revel in the water views across to downtown Auckland. Eventually we completed our circular journey and wandered back into town looking for a nice place to have a late lunch. The Platter, across the street, filled the bill—delicious fish and chips and seafood stew. After returning to Auckland by ferry, we rode the green line bus ($1.50 NZ each; pay onboard) back to Ponsonby Street. At a shop called Nosh we bought wine, cheese, salami, and crackers, which we consumed on the patio back at the hotel. What a lovely, relaxing first day—a perfect antidote for jet lag and a great introduction to surprising Auckland, which we had only skirted on our previous visit to New Zealand.

The next day we took the green bus to the ferry building, where we purchased combined ferry/bus tickets for a day trip to Waiheke Island. On the way over to the island we chatted with a local couple who were heading to a wedding there, and they recommended that we visit the Stony Ridge winery for its rustic charm and excellent wines. The ride out of the harbor was just as beautiful as the day before, and after disembarking we easily found the bus that would provide us with a morning tour of the major sights on the western half of the island. What a lovely island—now a bedroom community for Auckland, as well as a weekend getaway.

On the tour we spotted the entrance to Stony Ridge, so on the way back we asked the driver to drop us off there. A fairly long road ran uphill and then branched to a couple of wineries and an independent brewery. We took the branch up to Stony Ridge and, despite having no reservations, secured a prime spot on the terrace overlooking the trees and hills beyond. We settled on a shared tasting platter, a tasting flight (which included the winery’s premium Bordeaux-style blend), and some glasses of white wine and a glass of one of the red wines from the tasting flight. The tasting platter was huge and included smoked salmon, four kinds of salami, two cheeses, peppers, tapenade, hummus, nuts, olives, and premium olive oil, with plenty of fresh bread. It was more than we should have finished (we came close), and the ambience was wonderful. Another ideal cure for jet lag! We relaxed, ate, drank, and watched the colors change on the hillsides and in the valley below.

After lunch we meandered down the road toward the bus stop and sat on the grassy slope, where I sketched a lily pond and J read a little. Our ferry/bus tickets included an all-day free public bus pass, so we took the bus back to Oneroa, the main town, where we walked down to and along the beach. So nice, and surprisingly not overcrowded. Still early season, I think. From there it was only a km or so back to the ferry slip, mostly downhill, so we decided to walk. On the return ferry ride, about a 40-45-minute trip, we wove our way between islands that we would have explored had we had more days in Auckland.

Back in the city, we took the green line again to Ponsonby Street, but this time via the long route that wound through neighborhoods we wouldn’t otherwise get to, including Parnell near the imposing Art Museum (we’re sorry we missed it). Once again, we headed for Nosh for supplies to consume on the hotel patio for a light evening meal. Auckland had been a perfect place to restore ourselves after the trans-Pacific flight, and we are so glad we got to spend at least a few days there.

Next: we actually do get to the South Island

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    ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK AND SURROUNDINGS, Nov.8-11

    Lodging: Fraser Highlands Retreat, http://www.fraserhighlands.co.nz ($170 NZ/night)

    A taxi arranged by the B&B brought us quickly back to the airport early in the morning. There was much less traffic than there had been on the rush-hour Thursday coming in, so we had plenty of time at the airport. Our Air New Zealand flight was delayed, but eventually the small plane took off, flying over some of the large volcanoes on the very green North Island before crossing the narrow straight that separates the North and South islands and landing at Nelson Airport about an hour later. The airport is quite small, and the luggage was brought to the curbside outside the front entrance. We called our rental agency, Apex, for a pickup and the driver appeared shortly. The good service continued as we finalized the car details—we had booked a later-model car for 17 days for the very good price of $612 NZ ($2000 deductible or “excess”) and were wholly satisfied with everything about the experience.

    The friendly clerk at Apex recommended that we stop for lunch at the harborside village of Mapua, and we did just that. It had a park and wharf area set on a small estuary very near the coastline proper. We wandered around before selecting the Apple Shed Restaurant on the wharf, where we could sit outside and take in the views across the estuary. Seasonal whitebait was on the menu, but we opted for other varieties of seafood, washed down with a local sauvignon blanc. We never did get around to trying the whitebait in NZ, though it seemed to be a popular treat. Eating all those tiny fish just didn’t appeal to me.

    After lunch we drove north up the coast to Motueka, the last reasonably sized town before Abel Tasman National Park, to shop in the local supermarket since we would have cooking facilities at our accommodations for the next few days, the wonderful Fraser Highlands Retreat. We eventually found the turnoff to the lodging and wound up a steep hill for a couple of km. As we came around the final bend, a stunning view opened up below us, and our small cottage and the larger house/castle came into view (it was hard to miss a big Scottish-influenced building like that). We were greeted by the very friendly Jim and Sue, who had just finished cleaning our cottage--definitely a family operation. Jim showed us around the beautiful garden and discussed the history of the place. He grew up in the area and built the house himself, with contractors. Sue (from England) gave us a good map, and they both suggested ideas and offered information about the local area. Our cottage was built for them to live in while they constructed the large house/castle, so although it looked unassuming from the outside, it had a spacious and comfortable interior.

    We still had a good part of the afternoon available, so we drove over to Marahau, where we found the Sea Kayaks company, a kayak rental place that Jim had recommended. There we reserved a combined kayak/hiking trip along the Abel Tasman coast for the next day. Then we drove toward the town of Kaiteriteri, but seeing a sign for Split Apple Rock, we decided to detour there. We inadvertently overlooked the trail entrance but found an alternative (which turned out to be a private path) and made our way steeply downhill to the beach. The split rock is an intriguing feature seen on many a postcard--a rounded mega-boulder cleaved in two along a joint surface, the two halves both rotated about 40o. (J is a geologist, so I usually get more than enough detail on the rocks we see.) The adjacent pocket beach was beautiful as well. We walked along it, getting different perspectives of the rock, before locating the public trail and making our way back to our car. We drove on to Kaiteriteri to check out the lay of the land and then returned home, where J prepared spaghetti, my favorite easy-cook meal, along with a Morton syrah and a salad. We watched the constantly changing sky and water far below from the windows of the cottage, as the light dimmed and began to reveal the southern stars.

    The next morning we drove over to Marahou to hook up with our all-day tour of the Abel Tasman coast ($199 NZ each). The outfitter, Sea Kayaks, took us on a short van ride to the beach, where we caught a boat at high tide that took us to Onetahuti Beach. Here the kayaks were offloaded. After the usual briefing, we donned our supplied skirts, rain parkas, and lifejackets and scrambled into our double kayaks. We’re fairly experienced kayakers and strongly prefer single kayaks, but none of the kayak outfitters we went out with in New Zealand offered singles, so we had to get used to the doubles. It actually worked out fine, though singles will still always be my preference.

    Our excellent trip leader was Kim, and the other members of the group were two French couples. In a gentle, intermittent rain, we headed out across the bay toward Tonga Island, famous for its fur seal colony. As we rowed around the island reserve, we were able to view a dozen or more seals close up. Quite exciting at the time, but nothing like what we were to see later in the trip on Tasman Island! We also saw a single little blue penguin swimming in the ocean not far from our kayak. That was cool.

    After the invigorating paddle around the island, and a bit rain-soaked, we headed back across the bay, along the shoreline, and around a headland to Bark Bay, where we disembarked and found hot coffee and lunch waiting for us in Bark Bay hut (one of the many huts for campers/walkers doing the Abel Tasman Track). The Sea Kayak-provided brie and ham sandwiches were huge and delicious.

    There were still periodic showers, and a gray mist had descended as we picked up our day pack and started walking a section of the well-known Abel Tasman Track. How long the hike would be depended on the tides when we approached our destination of Anchorage Bay. If they were low enough, we could take a shortcut across the tidal flats and the hike would only be 8.3 km; if the low tide had passed, we would have to go around the flooded bay and it would be 12.2 km. Given the high tide when we started the trip, we were pretty confident of getting a low tide if we made good progress.
    It was a classic and wonderful bush walk through temperate rainforest, with ferns and mosses, and with the added bonus of views down to beaches from time to time. The route went up hills and down valleys, past Medlands Beach, over a swinging bridge, and past Sandy Bay, before descending to the little community of Torrent Bay. Our luck held and we headed across the tidal flat (muddy in places) to the far side, up over a small ridge and down onto Anchorage Bay beach. A nice walk along the beach took us to the trekkers’ cabin, in front of which we were to meet our prearranged pickup boat (part of the Abel Tasman Water Taxi service). Several boats were picking up hikers, but eventually we were able to board our assigned boat back to Marahau. Because the tide was so low, a tractor pulled our boat on wheels across the beach to the ramp.

    We bid good fortune to our fellow adventurers and headed back to Fraser Highlands for a well-earned dinner prepared by Chef J and washed down with local pinot noir. We had both expended some real energy and enjoyed the day immensely. More time in Abel Tasman would have been very welcome. Loved it, as we suspected we would. The skies were clearing at day’s end and the sunset was beautiful. The night sky that followed was spectacular, in a way it seemingly can be only in the Southern Hemisphere.

    Next morning, we permitted ourselves a leisurely start. At Jim’s recommendation, we drove north over the mountains toward Golden Bay and the northwestern tip of the South Island at Cape Farewell. We intended to either kayak in Golden Bay or walk in the Cape Farewell area. First we stopped in Takaka for a sandwich breakfast at the interesting Wholemeal café. It was mostly cloudy and windy, so we decided not to kayak but to head for the north shore instead. We drove past coves with dozens of black swans, then turned inland on a dirt road to a parking area for walks to Wahariki Beach, with its famous sea arch. Instead of taking the direct route to the beach, we decided to do a 5km loop. The initial path took us along a farm road that passed two lakes set in green fields. The path then turned toward the beach, crossing a style and winding through a pasture with dozens of sheep, who generally ignored us, eventually crossing another style and passing through flower-filled bushland down to the rocky shoreline at the west end of the beach. The scenery was stunning, with multiple arches cut into the buff-colored rocks.

    The tide was high and the waves vigorous, so we decided to relax in the sun on the rocks before attempting to go further along the beach. It was a wild and beautiful setting, and we even encountered a couple of seals close up. We kept an appropriate distance and all enjoyed the scene together. When the tide did eventually lower, we hopped off the rocks only to discover that yet another arch led to the upper part of the beach--access had been available to us all along. But we were glad we had spent the time where we did. As we walked eastward along the beach, the wind started to pick up and sand was blowing into our faces. At the far end of the beach we couldn’t find the direct track back over the dunes to the parking lot but soon ran into two German girls who led us to the place where we could see the trail off in the distance. After negotiating some very steep dune faces, we finally got onto the track and back to our car. A great hike!

    By now it was 2:30 so we drove back to the main highway and turned south toward the Mussel Inn, a funky brewpub with indoor and outdoor seating. There we had the house special, a meal of local green-lipped mussels and garlic bread washed down by maruka honey-infused ale. A very quirky place, worth a visit. Then we headed back over the mountains to Fraser Highlands and watched the day turn to night, fortified by pino gris and wine-appropriate snacks. Love those New Zealand wines!

    Next: Down the west coast to the glaciers

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    Thanks for sharing, aprillilacs. I'm enjoying your report and looking forward to your impressions of Tasmania. Like you, we only visited the North Island during our first trip to New Zealand; we only went as far as greater Auckland. Hope to see more of the country someday.

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    <<Does the world need yet another trip report on the wonders of the South Island of New Zealand?>>

    Absolutely! I'm enjoying your report immensely. Always fun to see my favorite country through the eyes of others.

    <<Eating all those tiny fish just didn’t appeal to me.>>

    I hear ya, especially since they're eaten whole, often being tossed into a blender and turned into fritters.

    Loved your photos, those lupines were gorgeous!

    Anxiously awaiting the next installment.

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    Thanks for following along!

    THE WEST COAST, Nov. 11-13

    Lodging: Aspen Court Motel, Franz Josef, http://www.aspencourtfranzjosef.co.nz/, $190 NZ/night

    We woke up in time for a spectacular sunrise over the sea below and then fell back to sleep until a more reasonable wakeup time. We finished packing for what we knew would be a long trip down the west coast, stopped by the main house to say thanks to our hosts, and headed down the hill, stopping for fuel in Motueka. Then we drove through hilly countryside swathed in bright yellow Scotch broom, stopping at Beechwood’s for a nice coffee break at an outdoor table. We finally reached the coast just south of Westport, continuing down to Punakaiki and its famous pancake rocks. We took a welcome break from driving to walk along the coast on a paved path that took us past subdued blowholes (it wasn’t high tide) and interesting layered dolostones with differential weathering effects that produced fantastic shapes, like stacked pancakes. It was a worthwhile stop, but cloudy skies and a light drizzle made for poor picture-taking conditions.
    Back in the car, we proceeded south through Greymouth (which seemed a little drab on this cloudy day) and along a California Hwy 1-type coastline to the former gold-mining town of Hokitika, which was featured in Elizabeth Catton’s 2013 Mann-Booker Prize-winning novel "The Luminaries." It was nicely preserved, but unfortunately we had no time to do it justice. Because it was the last sizable town we would be in for the next few days, we stopped at the supermarket to do some grocery shopping. As we left Hokitika the sun finally began to emerge from behind the clouds.

    The last stage of our 8-hour drive took us to Franz Josef, a small town that seems to owe its existence to the nearby valley glacier of that name. There we quickly found the Aspen Court Motel, which we had booked on Hotels.com. It was located conveniently just down the street from Glacier Country Kayaks, where we wanted to arrange a paddle for the next day. After checking into the motel were we would spend the next two nights (crisp, modern, with kitchenette and a spa bath to boot), we headed down to the kayak place and booked for the next morning. On our way back to the motel we passed the King Tiger restaurant, which was having a special Diwali celebration that very night. Why not? For $30 NZ ($20 US) each, we enjoyed a very good buffet-style meal and some Moncrief’s Original Ale. After dinner the mountains behind the town had cleared of their clouds, so we drove up the road to get some beautiful glacier views before returning to the motel and the sounds of Diwali fireworks.

    We were at the kayak headquarters by 8:45 the next morning to sign in for our paddle on nearby Lake Mapoureka. It was a gorgeous, crisp, clear day as we put into the calm waters of the lake with our leader Geghin, an energetic young guy from Wales, and five others. We headed across the lake with nice reflections from the mountains and entered a small inlet stream, where we paddled upstream surrounded by dense vegetation as far as we could before turning around. Back on the lake, the wind had picked up and we had to do a bit of work getting back to the starting point. This was a nice trip, as most kayak trips are, but our least exciting kayaking experience in New Zealand.

    We had learned that two of the other paddlers, Irish women currently living in the U.S., were going to be at Milford Sound Lodge at the same time we would be there a couple days later, so we made a tentative plan to meet up there for a drink in one of our rooms. Meanwhile, since they had already tried out a few of the restaurants at Franz Josef, they recommended that we have lunch back at a place called Blue Ice, which had been recently updated. The waitress, who had come up with the new design, was really proud of her work, and our Asian-inspired meals were quite good.

    Post-lunch, it was time to get as close as we could to Franz Josef Glacier. Getting onto the glacier itself was out of the question since we didn’t want to spend the money required for a heli-hike. (A week later we were dismayed to hear news reports that a sightseeing helicopter had crashed on nearby Fox Glacier, killing all seven people onboard.) So we drove up to the end of the road and took the trail past a nice waterfall to the best viewing point. The glacier has retreated rapidly in the past five years, and we could see the changing positions of successive viewing points that reflected that retreat. We really enjoyed the good, easy hike among the glacial rubble in the beautiful sunshine and spent some time at the trail’s end taking in the scene. Back at the motel, we cooked a light meal and couldn’t resist indulging in an episode from the final season of Downton Abbey, two months before it would be shown in the United States.

    In the morning we drove over to Fox Glacier, a small town that services visitors to that glacier, and then took a turn toward Lake Matheson, with stunning views back to Mt. Tasman and Mt. Cook, which was briefly visible. The countryside near Fox Glacier is beautiful, studded with sheep against the mountain backdrop—nicer than the area around Franz Josef, I think, but both towns are fairly similar. Lake Matheson itself is famous for its reflections of the two peaks, but it was way too windy on this day to get those reflections, so we decided to forgo the 20-minute walk to the lake and instead enjoyed breakfast at the highly recommended café there. The food and coffee were both excellent, and the views of the mountains were lovely as they were slowly covered in clouds. We then drove the bumpy 4-km road to Fox Glacier itself, but it looked like it would be a very similar hike to the one we had taken the previous day, so we turned around at the road’s end and headed down the coast toward Haast. We made short stops at Knight’s Point and a pretty beach area with a small tower overlooking the sea before turning inland.

    The road then climbed through more beautiful mountain scenery, crossed over Haast Pass and into Otago and the eastern side of the island. We drove along upper Lake Wanaka and then crossed a small range over to Lake Hawea, before passing through Hawea and then Wanaka, each located at the southern ends of their respective lakes. After refueling in Wanaka (had no time to spend here, though many people love the town), we headed south to Cornwall and then west through Gibbston wine country and narrow gorges where gold miners once plied their trade, to the tidy village of Arrowtown.

    We had reserved a night at the highly recommended Arrowtown Lodge back in April, but as we entered the premises the owner was coming out the front door, apparently not expecting us or any other customers. Unbeknownst to us, the place had changed hands a few months previously, and the previous owner had not mentioned our existence—or our reservation—to the new owner. In addition, the place was now undergoing a significant renovation, and the owner had friends staying over in most of the available units. Recovering from his surprise, however, he determined to make the best of a ticklish situation and led us to the back of the property, where he showed us a room that was completed, though surrounded by construction materials. After the six-hour drive, we were more than ready to stay somewhere (anywhere!), so we decided to stay for one night before heading on to Milford Sound the next day.

    After settling in, we ducked out the back way to avoid disturbing the owner and his guests and strolled the short distance to the cute main street of the town. There were lots of tourists in the afternoon, but soon the town emptied out and revealed itself as a charming place with some nice heritage buildings and a nice little museum. The shops displayed the kinds of goods typical of a tourist town, but happily we found Dorothy Brown’s theater up a flight of stairs, where an array of current films were on the schedule. We chose a film in the Den, which seated about 24 people in cushy lounge chairs and couches with tables for wine and food. What a perfect place to watch Kate Winslet ply her craft in the quirky The Dressmaker, a wild ride of a film set in outback Australia.

    On exiting the theater, we were surprised at the charm of Arrowtown sans tourists as we walked down the street to have dinner at The Postmasters, where we had made a reservation based on our host’s recommendation. The restaurant was set in an old, high-ceilinged room, and J thoroughly enjoyed his slow-cooked lamb with kumara (Maori sweet potato) and spinach and while I dined on batter-fried moki (fish). We shared a delicious NZ syrah and then headed back to our room for a good night’s sleep. We really enjoyed our half day in Arrowtown!

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    The Blue Ice is my favorite place in Franz Josef...please tell me they still make pizza!

    I'm glad you saw Arrowtown after hours - we prefer staying there to Queenstown as it's so peaceful after the daily tourist crush leaves. There are some fabulous hikes in the area too.

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    Thanks, Mel--I don't recall pizza offerings at Blue Ice but that doesn't mean that pizza isn't on the menu. As for hiking in Arrowtown, we would have loved to do that but, as you know, on a 3-week "survey" of the South Island there's only so much time you can spend in one place. Perhaps we'll get back there someday to explore in more depth.

    MILFORD SOUND, TE ANAU, QUEENSTOWN, Nov. 14-17

    Lodging: Milford Sound Lodge, https://www.milfordlodge.com/, $475 NZ/night, including breakfast and morning kayak on the Sound for two
    Explorer Motel, Te Anau, http://www.explorermotel.co.nz/, $180 NZ/night
    Novotel Queenstown Lakeside Hotel, http://www.novotel.com/gb/hotel-5308-novotel-queenstown-lakeside/index.shtml

    We left the Arrowtown Lodge fairly early (kind of slunk away so we wouldn’t disturb the owner or his friends) and headed into the nearly deserted town to the Arrowtown Bakery for take-out coffees, steak and mushroom pie, and vegetable quiche. We took the back way to slightly beyond Queenstown, then backtracked to route 6 and turned south along the lake, with wild mountains on all sides. Quite a panorama! We took the shortcut on route 97 to Mossberg and then route 94 west to Te Anau. It was a very windy day and the red tussock grass blowing in the wind in the preserve of the same name was stunningly beautiful—one of my favorite parts of the drive to Milford Sound. We drove around Te Anau on a little exploration, then headed north along the lake of that name as the skies darkened. Eventually we crossed the divide (which we would return to a couple days later to start the Routeburn Track), climbed to and through the Homer Tunnel, and encountered a major rainstorm as we exited the tunnel. The bonus was that there were dozens of towering waterfalls cascading down the walls of the valley on both sides, making for a dramatic scene unlike any we had seen before—even in waterfall-laden Norway.

    Concerned but undaunted, we drove down into Milford Valley to the rustic Milford Sound Lodge, where we had reserved a private double “backpacker” room with shared bathroom down the hall. The room was simple, a bit chilly, but equipped with a good amount of bedding and a heater. The bathrooms were shared by all the backpacker rooms, and we were fortunate that the walk from our room to the facilities was short. It was getting cold outside! We had coffee in the comfortable but lively lounge area and, ever hopeful, had the front desk reserve a discovery nature cruise with Southern Discoveries for 2:45. This being shoulder season, there was plenty of availability on the various boats, but the lodge staff recommended Southern Discoveries. Perhaps they have an arrangement, but it worked out fine for us.

    The weather was still rainy and the wind cold, but the cruise was sensational. Dozens of near-vertical waterfalls cascaded down the sides of the valley, and the boat captain maneuvered right up to (and under) a couple so that anybody so inclined could get the full experience. As we cruised the mist began to clear from the Miter and other peaks, giving some eerie depth to the views. We saw several fur seals and had a clear view of three penguins swimming behind the boat. We learned some history of Milford Sound to boot, before heading out briefly into the 4-meter swells of the Tasman Sea. Impressive!

    More waterfalls later, we drove back to the lodge, brought our bags to our room, and then sat down for a decent dinner of soup/stew with good whole grain bread, washed down with a bottle of Fjordland pinot noir. As well settled the bill, we encountered the Irish women we had met kayaking at Fox. They had, on J’s recommendation, opted for a chalet (which we had pass on because of the expense), which caused a great deal of laughter when we told them about our backpacker double. Fortunately, we got to have the chalet experience after all--we purchased another bottle of the pinot and took some snacks to their room, where we had a fun couple of hours sampling the hors d’oeuvres they had assembled, talking and laughing about travel and such, and taking in the views of the mountains and waterfalls through their large window. What a nice evening and a fortuitous encounter.

    The next morning we were up at 6:00 AM in order not to be late to our kayak date. Sadly, it was still raining outside. But the lodge had prepared coffee and an egg and bacon panini for us, even though the café wasn’t quite open yet, so we were well fortified. It was still raining when we arrived at the deep-water port from which our trip with Roscoe’s Kayaks would depart. We were very impressed with their operation: they provided rain gear, skirts, thermal base layers and overlayers, and even gloves that wrapped around the oars and kept our hands warm. We felt prepared for bad weather that might come our way.

    Our group of about 18 people had an orientation and got seriously outfitted, and by the time we slipped into the water at 8:15, the rain had miraculously stopped. We practiced making a raft with the kayaks and then headed out into Milford Sound, stopping at Bowen Falls as blue patches began to appear in the western sky. Our trip took us along the northern shore where we talked about landslides and had a great view of a penguin taking a bath in a small pool at the base of one of the falls. Later we saw another penguin and several fur seals as well. As the morning progressed the wind picked up, and we paddled hard to cross the Sound to the southern shore and back to home base, marveling at the view that opened up to us as the skies continued to clear. We arrived back at the deep-water port a little after noon and enjoyed the welcome energy snack provided by Roscoes. This was truly one of the best kayak adventures we have ever been on. The guides were great, the focus was on safety while having fun, and the scenery was incomparable. I would do this again in a heartbeat.

    Because the weather was now so good, we headed over to the cruise port and took lots of “classic view” pictures of the Miter and the rest of spectacular Milford Sound. It was time to move on, but we felt blessed to have seen the Sound in both drenching rain (with waterfalls and mist) and sunlight, with mostly blue skies during our short time there. We couldn’t have asked for a better scenario.

    Back in the car, we drove through the Homer tunnel, over the divide, and down into Te Anau, stopping briefly to walk along a boardwalk adjacent to some wetlands with reflecting pool. We had meant to make more stops on the storied road, but we were exhausted from our morning paddle and knew we would be driving the road again soon, so decided just to drive on. Our destination was the rather standard Explorer Motel, which we had booked at the last minute once we knew that returning to the Arrowtown Lodge was out of the question. It worked out well—a drive all the way back to Arrowtown would have been way too much. Besides, the motel had a laundry facility just when we really needed one. We did walk over to explore what little there was of the town to see and finally stopped for pizza at La Trattoria, which had been recommended by the motel manager. It wasn’t Italy, but the caper-chili pizza and spinach salad, plus a Hawke’s Bay syrah, did the job.

    Having beaten dawn the previous morning, we slept in a bit and got off to a leisurely start. It was a lovely sunny day and not too windy as we drove back through Mossberg, up along the lake, past all the cars parked on road outside the airport (much construction for an expansion, so less parking), and into Queenstown. It was tourist central compared to much of much of what we had experienced on our trip so far, but its lakeside setting and modest size provided a certain charm. We were able to leave our car at the Novotel, where we had received reduced rates as part of our Routeburn Track package with Ultimate Hikes.

    We were both hungry, so headed over to the famous Fergburger, only to find long lines outside. Darn! We had passed the also-recommended Devil Burger in one of the laneways on our way over, so we retraced our steps and enjoyed good and filling hamburgers and beer. Did they compare to Fergburger’s? We’ll never know. After our late lunch, we walked over to the Ultimate Hikes office in the Station Building to check out our forthcoming hike. J bought an IceBreaker Merino base layer ($100 NZ), which he loves, and then we had our 4:00 p.m. organizational meeting with most of our group. (There would be 16 hikers altogether.) We picked up the free gear offered for borrowing, which included a larger backpack for J with a rain sheet attached, single bed sheets (since we had opted for the “dorm room” in the lodges), and good rain jackets. In the end we would need only the backpack.

    From here we rambled slowly back to the hotel along the lakefront, photographing the ever-changing lake and the lovely, snow-capped mountains behind it. We ordered a couple of flutes of Cloudy Bay bubbly at a bar at the city end of the wharf, where we watched the historic Earnslaw approach and offload its tourist passengers, before crossing the street for our evening meal at Flame (recommended by one of the workers for Ultimate Hikes). There we enjoyed an excellent meal of filets with fresh potatoes and roasted veggies, enhanced by a Hawke’s Bay merlot. We’re not big meat-eaters, but it was a really good meal. We packed our suitcases (to leave with the front desk) and our gear for the Routeburn and were in bed early in anticipation of a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call for our 6:30 meetup at the Ultimate Hikes office.

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    May I share how much I enjoy your description of Milford Sound? It's always been high on our list but you moved it much higher. Did you do any day hikes from Milford Sound Lodge?

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    triplanner, we didn't really have time for hikes from the lodge, given the late afternoon boat ride and the all-morning kayaking, but we made up for that with our next adventure, as you'll see below.

    ROUTEBURN TRACK, Nov. 17-20

    Ultimate Hikes, http://ultimatehikes.co.nz, $2,798 NZ for two

    Time for a hike! When planning this trip, one of the motivators had been the opportunity to do one of the classic New Zealand Great Walks. J, an avid hiker (he climbed Kilimanjaro a couple of years ago) had always wanted to do the Milford Track, and though I’m not such a hiking enthusiast I was willing to give it a try, as long as I could avoid carrying a heavy backpack. Going on a guided hike was thus the best option since our lodging and food would all be provided and we would only need to carry day packs. We read everything we could about the various South Island tracks and finally decided on one of the alpine routes, the Routeburn Track. It’s a couple days shorter than the Milford (good for me) and spends more time in the higher mountains (good for J), as well as being less expensive than the Milford. So we reserved our spot with Ultimate Hikes and I got down to some serious (for me) training for what would be a 40-km (25-mile) mountain tramp.

    The morning of our hike we left our suitcases at the Novotel’s front desk and arrived at the Ultimate Hikes office a few minutes before 6:30. We eventually met the 14 other walkers in our group, several of whom had just completed five rainy days on the Milford Track--gluttons for punishment, I guess. All but two of the group besides us were Australians; the other two were French. UH caps their groups at 40 walkers, so we were pleased with the actual size. We were the oldest, at 66 and 73, respectively, and the youngest were four very fit women in their early forties, who not only had just come off the Milford but would be following the Routeburn hike with a half-marathon in Queenstown. Impressive or crazy?

    We all boarded the company bus and headed once again for Te Anau, where we stopped for coffee and scones and had a chance to start to get to know one another. From there we drove up along the lake and the river to the Divide (650 m), where we were to start our three-day ramble in a light drizzle. Most independent hikers start the trail from the other end, at the Routeburn Road end, but UH prefers to start at the Divide. This means that we encountered lots of hikers coming the other way—some doing the whole route in just one day--but few going our direction.

    We donned our day packs and, with more layers than we needed, started up a nice trail on a moderate grade through a silver beech forest. In under two hours we reached the turnoff for Key Summit, our first optional hiking opportunity. The sun was already peeking out from behind the clouds, which boded well for the trip. Though I knew Key Summit would off great views, I decided to opt out and instead wait for the rest of the group at Howden Hut—I didn’t want to make what I knew would be a long, tough first day even more difficult. J and the others headed up to the summit, set in alpine bogs and meadows between the heads of three major river valleys: Te Anau, Hollyford, and Greenstone. The vegetation was totally different from what we had seen in the beech forest, and the views in every direction were indeed beautiful (says J). I don’t regret not going—I knew there was plenty of amazing scenery to come, and I was glad for the chance to soak in the sun and relax at the hut—but I’m glad J did since it was surely a highlight of the first day. Many people do the Key Summit hike as a day trip up and back from the Divide.

    After eating our packed lunches (made by Fergburger!) at Lake Howden, we got back on the trail in glorious sunshine. A long, damp uphill section, again through beech forests, led to a glistening pool under the roaring Earland Falls. As for most of the day, I was the slowest walker and arrived at the falls later than everyone else. I was so happy to be able to go at my own pace! Since there were three guides, one stayed with the changing array of lead hikers, one was positioned in the middle, and one hung back with the slowpokes (often just me). The guides were both friendly and professional, full of information about the vegetation and trail. I never felt pressure to “hurry up” and could not have asked for a better experience. No heavy backpack—I was happy.

    After the falls the trail followed gentle, relatively even grades through more beech forests and an open area (from old landslides) called the Orchard, which really did have the look of an abandoned orchard. The last stretch was a steep, rough downhill stretch that required great care as it descended to Lake Mackenzie Lodge, our final stopping place for the day, built especially for the guided hikers. We had put 12 km (7.5 miles) behind us and were all tired. A hot shower literally never felt so good.

    To save some money, we had booked a shared dorm room rather than one of the private rooms. Luck was with us: our group was small and we were the only ones to have chosen the dorm room, so we had what amounted to our own private room. A couple of glasses of wine, delicious hors d’oeuvres, an excellent meal prepared by the resident chef, and good conversation with our fellow hikers into the evening reinforced the sense that we were all very fortunate. (One of the independent hikers passing the lodge on his way to the other huts commented that our lodge was "for the rich people." We smiled.)

    The next morning was frosty so we bundled up after a hearty early breakfast and headed over to the lake for a group photo before starting off on the trail again. First we watched as one of our guides, who had lost at some game between the guides the night before, had to take his punishment by diving into the ice-cold lake. Cold just to look at! From the lake the trail rose steeply up a ridge with views down to the lake before cresting and sloping gently downward to our first rest stop at Ocean Peak Point, so named because one can look down the Hollyford Valley all the way to Martins Bay on the west coast. By this time the sun had started to warm things up and we had peeled off various layers, which we kept off for most of the rest of the day. Ah, to think that we just as easily might have been slogging in the wind and rain! Our luck was holding.

    The next section traversed the Hollyford Face and was largely above the tree line. The grades were fairly gentle and the alpine views across the Hollyford Valley to the snow-capped Barren Range (to 2700 m) were spectacular. Eventually the grade steepened as we turned eastward to climb toward the high point of the route, the Harris Saddle. We stopped for lunch at the Harris Saddle Hut, where there was hot coffee awaiting the guided hikers (but not the crowd of independent hikers at the hut next door—the discrepancies were starting to bother me a little). As usual, I was the last to arrive, and most in our group had already left the hut for the next section by the time I got there. J had waited for me, though, to make sure I didn’t feel abandoned (I didn’t), and then headed off to the trail high point (1310 m). The optional hike up Conical Hill was actually not an option on this day—too much snow along the trail meant it was unsafe and off limits for all hikers. (Do you think I was disappointed?)

    The high point revealed a spectacular view across Lake Harris and up the Valley of the Trolls—our favorite view of the entire track. Then the trail began to descend steeply across a snow patch and continued down to a pretty meadow. The view back across to a waterfall spilling from Harris Saddle was also grand. Psychologically, the fact that we wouldn’t have any more long uphill stretches probably added to our enjoyment of the scene. From there we continued to descend along one side of Routeburn Falls, with more great views down the valley, to our lodgings at Routeburn Falls Lodge (for special people). Another 11 km (6.9 miles) done!

    Once again we had our own “private room.” As on the previous day, highlights of the evening included wine, appetizers, a delicious dinner, and delightful conversation. This was absolutely the best day of the Routeburn and was simply a great high-country day enhanced by perfect conditions. How did we get so lucky?

    The next morning dawned cooler but still mostly sunny. We were out of the high mountains by now, and our route led down past the falls and then up to parallel the Route Burn below, before dropping down to Routeburn Flats where we took a short break. For once I was able to keep up with the rest of the group as we walked a mostly level trail through red beech forests to our lunch stop at Forge Flats, where some (not I) swam in the clear blue but frigid river. We were all now ready to wrap up the hike and were puzzled when the guides directed us to a “nature walk” that detoured from the main trail over to the river. It was a bit of a waste of time and required climbing steeply to get back to the trail and finally across a swing bridge and out to the parking lot at the road’s end. Mission accomplished!

    The company bus met us at the road and headed for the village of Glenorchy (which we would have missed otherwise—looked like a nice place). We stopped at a pub there for chips and drinks. It’s always nice to stop in a pub after a long hike, and several of us ordered local ales at the bar. We were back in Queenstown by 4:30, where we dropped off borrowed items at the UH office, thankful that we never had to use the raincoats. During good-byes, one of the Australian couples invited us to visit their 7,200 hectare farm near Hamilton in western Victoria on our way to the Grampians, and the hiker from Melbourne suggested that we have lunch together when we got to that city. Yes, indeed.

    J and I walked back to the Novotel for a short rest before going out again for a light meal. We followed a recommendation we’d read somewhere and found a little Venezuelan place called Caribe, where we sat on stools at the sidewalk and shared spicy wings, arepas con carne, and chicken quesadillas. No alcohol served there, so we washed it down with sodas from Mexico. Not a bad meal, and different from anything we’d had on the trip so far. We strolled back along the lake to the hotel and soon were asleep. Rain arrived overnight, but wet weather was no longer a concern for us.

    Next: Up the coast to Mt. Cook village

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    triplanner -

    Because of the steepness of the mountains at Milford, there aren't any hiking tracks - there's a short walk near the ferry terminal, and that's about it.

    There are some fabulous walks on Milford Road, as you drive towards Te Anau however.

    You can find a comprehensive list on the DOC website - I'd post it here, but it's a PDF. Here's the DOC site link:

    http://www.doc.govt.nz/

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    Good on you Aprillilacs - I hope I'm still hiking when I'm 66 (and 73!). We've hiked to Key Summit a couple of times and have hiked to the first hut from the Glenorchy side several times, but have yet to hike the bits in between.

    <<but not the crowd of independent hikers at the hut next door—the discrepancies were starting to bother me a little>>

    Ultimate Hikes - $1,325 and up, per person, independent trampers, $18-54 for camping sites/hut fees.

    You paid well for those discrepancies:)

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    Ha ha, Mel, you are so right. The price was slightly lower in November 2015, and we did think twice about paying the big bucks (and, as I mentioned, trimmed the cost a bit by staying in the bunk rooms). Remember that the price included transportation to and from the track, wonderful guides, all meals, and two nights in very nice lodges, but one can indeed experience the awesome scenery and the camaraderie with other hikers at a significantly (!) lower cost, though more than $18-$54 if you factor in food and transportation. There's no real need for a guide, and a pack laden with extra layers, supplies, and warm bedding is all you really need for the three-day walk. We even met a few people who were doing the entire track as a one-day through-walk--now, that's a way to really cut the costs. But any way one does it, I highly recommend this beautiful hike.

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    AORAKI/MT.COOK, Nov. 20-22

    Lodging: Aoraki Court Motel, http://www.aorakicourt.co.nz/, $166 per night

    In the past week we had experienced some amazing scenic highlights of New Zealand, but the country’s highest mountain still awaited us. So we retrieved our car from the Novotel lot and drove east past Arrowtown and up the Gibbston Valley to Cromwell, where we hooked up with route 8. After a short jaunt north, we stopped at Mary’s Café for a Mediterranean tart, long black, and flat white at a sunny outside table. The wind picked up as we headed up through tussock fields over stark Lindis Pass and down into the Omarama Valley. As we descended parallel to a small river, we began to spot beautiful fields of lupines in full bloom. We had to stop for photos—our first NZ lupines!!—not realizing that much more awesome swathes of lupines were yet to come.

    From Omarama we turned north toward Twizel, a town built in the 1970s to house workers on a major hydroelectric project. It definitely had the look of a new town. We stopped to buy groceries, mail some postcards, and look around the town (a wrong turn gave us the complete but brief tour). As we proceeded toward our destination, Mt. Cook Village, we past a salmon farm where the water had an unnatural-looking, brilliant powder blue color--we thought it had to be the result of some environmental problem. When we reached Lake Pukaki and turned off the main road onto the Aoraki/Mt. Cook highway, we realized that all the water in this area had this fantastic color, and our geologist theorized that it must be due to the glacial flour entering the lakes (later confirmed as true).

    As we drove up the lupine-lined road along the lake toward the mountains at its northern end, the views became progressively more spectacular, even though the highest peaks were embedded in clouds. Mt. Cook Village, at the end of the road, is small, so we easily found our motel, the Aoraki Court, and checked in to one of its modern-style “executive spa rooms.” This motel is in the same group as the one we stayed in at Franz Josef, and they were very similar in style. There are several lodging options at Mt. Cook, this being one of the more affordable.

    With the clouds lifting, we went straight to the Information Center. Spectacular Aoraki/Mt. Cook was now intermittently visible and was nicely framed through the center’s windows. From there we walked up the hill to the historic Hermitage Hotel and the Sir Edmund Hillary Center, which is housed inside (entry to the center $20 NZ each, good for the duration of our stay, and worth every penny). Here were some very engaging museum displays and numerous films that dealt with both the life of the first person known to have climbed Mt. Everest and the history the Mt. Cook area. The displays and films on the early mountaineers on Mt. Cook, HIllary's early climbs in the southern Alps and his Himalayan climbs, Tenzing Norgay’s life as narrated by his son, and Hillary’s long-term philanthropic efforts in Nepal were of great interest and showed the triumphs and shortcomings of this shy, awkward, tough, and seemingly humble New Zealand bee-keeper. Well worth spending time here. We also walked through the public areas of the Hermitage--lots of tour groups checking in and out. This hotel definitely has the best Mt. Cook views, but we were just as happy to be at our quiet little motel down the road.

    From the Hermitage we walked down to the Old Mountaineer (a café and adventure center) to book a kayak trip on Lake Tasman at the foot of the Tasman Glacier. The lake has formed over the past decade or two as water from the retreating glacier has been naturally dammed up behind the old end moraine. With luck there would be icebergs to kayak among. The chances of actually going were a bit iffy, though, given the high winds predicted for the next morning. Back at the motel, we cooked a simple dinner and watched the sky darken. Though there were clouds around, the night sky revealed some wonderfully bright stars.

    It was quite cold when we arrived at Old Mountaineers for our kayak trip the next morning. No one was there yet, and no messages were posted. We walked over to the I-center and bought some snacks in case we did get to go out; back at the meeting place, there was now another couple who had signed up for the trip, and finally two guys emerged from the building carrying a sign about flights. Oh yes, they said, casually, the kayak trip was canceled because of the wind. All in all, we felt that the situation was rather poorly handled. There would be no kayaks for us on this unsettled day.

    We decided to instead spend part of the morning back at the Hillary Center in hopes that the weather would clear a bit. There we watched a couple of interesting films (“Hillary on Everest” and one in which a man climbed Aoraki and then skied down to the glacier below; another flew a glider over the summit--amazing footage!). Afterward we had brunch at the café in the hotel adjacent to ours, did some much needed laundry, and wrote some postcards. It was time to stretch our muscles but was still too blustery and wet to set out on the highly recommended Hooker Valley hike. Instead we drove the short distance to the seemingly sunnier Tasman Glacier end moraine and scrambled up the hill (mostly on wooden stairs that were still under construction) to the top. The view up to the glacier was fascinating, but there were only a couple of tiny icebergs in the white/brown/blue lake and the wind was ferocious, making us very glad that we hadn’t gone kayaking. Later, for dinner, we tried the Old Mountaineer (food OK, Speight’s Ale excellent).

    Only two more days remained for us in New Zealand, so I'll wrap up this exceedingly long report in the next posting.

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    Thank you, triplanner! It's so nice to know that someone actually has read this report and enjoyed it. And now for the wrap!

    CHRISTCHURCH, Nov. 22-24
    Lodging: Classic Villa B&B, http://www.theclassicvilla.co.nz/

    Before driving north the next morning we stopped by the Hermitage for one last attempt to get a clear view of Aoraki/Mt. Cook. We were rewarded with superb views of the mountain, with a cloud stream off the north side of the summit. It had a Himalayan feel to it, and the mountain would surely look right at home anywhere in the European Alps.

    The sun shone brightly as we headed back down the western shore of Lake Pukaki, stopping several times to photograph the bright blue lake, the mountains, and the emerging lupines. Back on the main highway, as we drove north toward Lake Tekapo, we got one last amazing view of Mt. Cook standing high above the Pukaki Valley. As we approached Lake Tekapo, we began to spot even more stunning fields of lupines in full flower—the ultimate lupine experience!

    At Tekapo we joined busloads of mostly Chinese tourists around and in the tiny, picturesque stone church on the side of the lake. The church attendants were doing their best to maintain decorum inside the building, with greater or lesser success (everyone seemed to insist on taking a forbidden picture). Perhaps the interior should be off-limits to tourists. The dog statue near the church was equally surrounded by camera-snapping visitors.

    Tekapo seemed to have little else on offer so we doubled back a short way to the turnoff to Mt. John just outside of town. The small cafe on the mountaintop, the Astro Café, is part of the Mt. John Night Sky Observatory complex, which houses several separate telescope facilities. There were 360-degree views of the lake and landscape below but also almost gale-force winds, so we enjoyed toasted ham and cheese and ham salad sandwiches and excellent coffee at an inside table. This was a great place to stop along the way to Christchurch.

    A long drive to Geraldine took us to the main east coast highway and a long, relatively flat stretch into Christchurch—the scenery had taken a decidedly mundane turn. When we arrived in the city we easily found the lovely, bright pink Classic Villa B&B, ideally located between the botanical garden and the reconstruction underway downtown. After checking in and getting recommendations from the friendly staff, we walked into the rather sobering town center. Christchurch is heavily under reconstruction following the devastating series of earthquakes in 2010-11. (The one in October 2010 was a magnitude 7.0 and caused considerable damage, but the real heart-breaker was the 6.3 earthquake in February 2011, which was closer and much shallower and essentially destroyed the city center.) There are vacant lots everywhere, many still containing uncleared debris. Buildings that did not totally collapse are undergoing reconstruction, with timelines of 5-10 years not uncommon. The town will definitely look a lot different 10 years from now.

    The buildings that took the worst hits were the Gothic revival stone buildings for which Christchurch was famous. The Cathedral is in shambles and has been deconsecrated, awaiting the resolution of a controversy over what to do with it. The whole Cathedral Square area is saddening, despite all the new artworks designed to reinvigorate the area. The promising ReStart mall houses dozens of small businesses, all housed in shipping containers. The large department store, Ballyntines, is back in business and had Christmas displays in the windows, but it’s readily apparent that, despite their courageousness in the face of adversity, the citizens of Christchurch still have a long road to hoe.

    The earthquake severely damaged the job market, and many people were forced to leave for the long term, further devastating the economy. However, there are some wonderful restaurants to serve residents and tourists who continue to come and are contributing to the economy’s recovery. At the recommendation of our B&B, we decided to try Fiddlesticks, just down the street from the B&B. The meal was one of the best of our trip, and the restaurant happily had many patrons.

    We shared breakfast the next morning with couples from Switzerland/Germany and Oregon, then hit the road for the Banks Peninsula and the charming village of Akaroa, founded by French immigrants in the 1840s. The inhabitation of this area by the French prompted the English to found the port of Lyttelton and then Christchurch shortly thereafter. The hourlong drive went through picturesque countryside with sheep farms and views of the coast and plenty of black swans. The route eventually climbed over the aptly named Hill Top, from which views of Akaroa Harbor opened up as we descended on highway 75.

    Once we arrived in town we walked around for a bit, speaking with some very friendly people in the shop/information center. We thought about kayaking but instead made our way over to the lighthouse so I could do some sketching. We settled into a quiet corner of the Yacht Club just below the lighthouse and soaked in the ambience on the beautiful, warm day. Later we walked a short distance to the Trading Rooms for lunch under the patio umbrellas.

    Just outside Akaroa, we followed a road sign indicating the “tourist route,” which turned out to be a pretty but exceedingly long and twisty drive along the ridges overlooking Akaroa and the sea. By this time I was tired of driving the narrow, winding roads of New Zealand and was happy when we finally got to the end of that route and made our way more directly back to Christchurch, arriving shortly after 4:30. We walked into town for another look around before stopping at Fiddlesticks for drinks on the way back to our inn.

    Since our flight to Wellington was not until 8 p.m. the next day, we could keep the car parked in the B&B lot until 2 p.m., when new guests normally start arriving. (Parking near downtown can be an issue.) So after breakfast we walked down the block to the wonderful botanical garden, the most impressive features of which were the huge, mature trees, including beeches, cypresses, and gum trees, and even a couple of redwoods. We walked most of the park, enjoying the rose garden and the flower borders and the stream that defines the edge of the park. Afterward we spent time at the Christchurch Museum, which has nice displays about the extinct flightless bird called the moa and about the arrival and cultural development of the Maori and their eventual interactions with Europeans. Then we returned to the ReStart Mall for a late lunch at one of the outdoor stalls. The area was teeming with visitors, which in this case was so nice to see. Eventually we picked up our car and made our way to the airport, where we dropped the car at Apex. Checking in, we were once again surprised at the lack of security checks for domestic flights in New Zealand—no one even checked our IDs.

    Our flight to Wellington was short, but the wind-buffeted landing was a little scary. Made it in one piece, though! We spent a very short night at a nearby motel and took the first flight out the next morning, the 6:15 Air New Zealand flight to Melbourne. It was farewell NZ, hello Oz! I’ll report separately on our 3 weeks in southern Australia, but will close here by saying that our time in the South Island had been a pure joy. Traveling to New Zealand—especially from North America—requires an investment of time and money, but if you love the outdoors and magnificent scenery, it’s a must-visit destination. I can’t think of anything we would have done differently, except perhaps to add another week or two to the journey.

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