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Trip Report South Island Trip Report

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Just returned from 3 weeks in New Zealand. Two plus weeks on the South Island, then Auckland for 5 days to attend a wedding. Weather, lodging, food, and the overall hospitality of the New Zealand people made this a trip we will never forget. First, about us and our itinerary. We are a fairly active couple in our early sixties. We geared our trip to maximize outdoor activities. I like to hike, husband (“DH”) is a swimmer. I also tried to reserve places with comfortable beds. We flew Air New Zealand San Francisco-Auckland on November 29. Left at 7:45 pm and arrived 6 am on Dec 1 (about a 13 hour flight). The flight was great, mainly because I flew business class (DH flew premium economy and had no complaints). On arrival, we transferred to the domestic terminal (easy), waited two hours, and flew to Blenheim. We were then picked up and transported to Picton. Arrived in time to catch the morning water taxi to Bay of Many Coves resort. Checked in early and spent 2 nights at the resort. Then spent one night in Blenheim at Stonehaven Homestay. Then two nights in Mapua (outside Abel Tasman) at Kimeret Place. One night in Hanmer Springs at Village Lake Apartments. Two nights at the Wilderness Lodge in Arthur's Pass. One night at Fox Glacier. Two nights in Wanaka at the Wanaka Homestead. One night in Queenstown. One night at Blanket Bay Lodge outside Glenorchy. Two nights outside Queenstown. Then Auckland for 4 nights before flying back to San Francisco.

Bay of Many Coves resort. Loved it. The managers (Nic and Pip) go out of their way to make sure guests are happy and comfortable. First day there (right off the water taxi), DH swam and kayaked while I had a latte (delicious) and wandered around. Then together we hiked up to the lookout behind the resort. This was a challenging uphill walk, maybe more so because we had been flying the previous night. The hike took an hour plus… we got back feeling good about ourselves. Dinner in the restaurant was pretty good. Next morning had breakfast (also good), and took the water taxi to Ship’s Cove for a walk on the Queen Charlotte track. The water taxi dropped us off around 9:30 am and picked us up from Furneaux Lodge around 3 pm. The resort packed us a delicious lunch and thus began my 3 weeks of nonstop eating. (Actually, I started on the plane which also had yummy food and champagne). The hike was about 15 km. Some uphill but overall on the easy side, which was good, because it is long. We saw beautiful vistas, and the walk through forest was just lovely. I brought new Keene hiking boots and wore a silk liner and wool socks. No blisters or sore spots which made everything that much easier. We hung around Furneaux Lodge at the end of the hike waiting for the water taxi, and that was also a very pleasant place to relax. Dinner that evening was tasty. I asked for more asparagus and got a huge plateful, compliments of the chef. The next morning on our way to breakfast (around 7:30 am..still on California time which is 3 hours later) Nic told us he saw dolphins in the Sounds and did we want to check them out. So off we went in a zodiac boat. We thought we had missed them but the ride in the Marlborough Sounds was so beautiful we didn’t care. Suddenly they appeared and wow! A whole school of dolphins swimming under and around the boat. Totally amazing. We returned to the resort, packed and waited for the noon water taxi to take us to Picton.

Blenheim. Arrived Picton and rented a car from Apex (had one reserved). Also rented a cell phone with the car which came in handy although probably could have lived without it. From Picton we drove to Blenheim which was an easy and picturesque drive. Checked into Stonehaven Homestay and then rented bikes from them for a cycle around to some wineries. Problem was it was already well past 3pm which did not give us much time for anything. Plus, the road we cycled on was busy (Friday afternoon trucks and cars zooming by) so in retrospect, I would have saved the $$ on bike rental and driven to a few wineries just to look at the architecture. Saracen Winery makes good lemon infused olive oil which is worth buying if that’s your thing. Stonehaven was nice but also a bit pricey for what it was. I thought we should have had the bikes free as part of our stay but we were charged $20 each. Oh well. The area is beautiful by the way, and worth seeing. Reminded me of Napa, California.

Mapua. The next morning we drove to Mapua via Nelson. It was Saturday morning and we stopped at the farmers’ market. One of the best items at the market were these hand dyed, wool, rainbow socks that I’m wearing right now. Very comfortable and cute. http://www.onyourfeet.co.nz/socks.htm Also had some good salmon sandwich wraps from a mobile vendor. (We thought the smoked salmon in New Zealand was far superior to what we get in California.) After the market, we drove to Mapua and checked in at Kimeret Place. Totally fabulous. A wonderful owner and very comfortable place. After dropping our bags we took a quick drive to Rabbit Island which was less than a fifteen minute drive from where we were staying. We walked along the beach, watched people swim and wind surf, and agreed we were having a great time so far. Dinner was at a beer bar called the Golden Bear. Had fish burritos and DH drank boutique beer made by the owner, Jim, a former cabinet maker from Santa Monica. He’s distributing his beer (many kinds) all over the island and says business is good. The next day (10am to 4pm) we took a charter boat along the Abel Tasman coast. This was one of the most perfect days ever. The owner of the charter is Rod Stuart. http://www.abeltasmancharters.co.nz His boat was stable and comfortable. He takes a maxm of 8 people at a time. We met 2 other couples on the boat so there were 6 of us. We cruised up the coast, hopped on his zodiac to see some of the coves (amazing green water and golden sand beaches), kayaked ourselves to a cove where DH swam (of course). We were dropped off at Anchorage Bay and hiked 45 minutes to Te Pukatea Bay where Rod picked us up. We were served a delicious lunch, saw penguins, learned about the area, and basically had one of those experiences we will always remember.
(to be continued)

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    I'm enjoying every morsel ez1.

    So glad you enjoyed BOMC! I remember that hike to the lookout all to well...we did it following rain, which made the hike down a wee bit tricky.

    Interesting you stayed in Mapua...we've stayed there, but otherwise, I never see it come up in trip reports. Did you visit the bakery there, the Smokehouse, Flax?

    Penguins in Abel Tasman, fantastic!

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    Great trip report ez1. The Farmers market you refer too is probably more of a combination of Farmers and craft market, probably the best one in New Zealand, but I am a bit biased.

    Melnq did you know the Smokehouse restaurant has closed. For many years it was owned by Tom and Vivienne Fox but the last few years the building has been leased to others. However the last lessee didn't agree to a rent increase and walked out. The Foxes have taken it back over and it has reopened under a new name. You can still buy smoked fish under the Smokehouse name though, see the article below.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/3874245/Smokehouse-Cafe-falls-victim-to-recession

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    Report continued... (Melnq8 looked for smokehouse but couldn’t find it, now I know why. Also did not see Flax. Kimeret Place had croissants from the bakery – fabulous.) Also, I forgot to mention the Museum of Wearable Art and Classic Cars in Nelson. We really enjoyed it. Definitely worth a visit. The next morning after a huge breakfast at Kimeret Place (salmon omelet, croissants and lattes) we headed out to Hanmer Springs via Lewis Pass. We drove around Upper Moutere first and thought the area was definitely worth a return visit. Also sorry we missed the Golden Bay area which I understand is laid back and beautiful. We stopped in Murchison for gas and DH ate a pumpkin and feta salad at the River Café on a side street. Very nice lunch place to stop and stretch. From there over the Lewis Pass to Hanmer Springs. The day was overcast and we didn’t stop much except for a few photo ops. We also remarked that driving on the left side of the road was a lot easier than we first imagined. (Of course, I did almost no driving so who am I to say.) Arrived at Village Lake Apartments and loved it. Very clean, tastefully furnished, washer and dryer etc… very luxurious bedding. The owner/managers, Cathy and Bryan Berryman, were the nicest people ever and gave us a lot of information about everything. We enjoyed talking to them and they reinforced our impression of New Zealanders, who are so friendly and will go out of their way to help you. That evening we booked a private room at the hot springs. The water temperature was a few degrees cooler than I would have preferred but the overall experience was fun. Had dinner at Cardammon, and Indian restaurant, that was not amazing but good. The town was almost deserted and we were happy something was open. We had a great night’s sleep on an exceptionally comfortable bed. The next morning we had breakfast at Mumbles (the soy latte was delicious and I was happy), before heading out to Arthur’s Pass. Another overcast day but no problem. We stopped at Pegasus Winery to look around. Beautiful place. I tasted two very good wines. Drove up a side road (Cass Station) which was also surprisingly beautiful. We stopped in Amberly for a snack at the Nor’wester Café. I thought it was pretentious and pricey. We then drove through Rangiora and Oxford, both very small but cute towns, on our way to the Wilderness Lodge.

    Arthur's Pass Wilderness Lodge. In one word, fabulous. The rooms are not fancy but you are not there for the luxury. Rather, it’s the surroundings that are totally unique and wonderful. The Lodge is situated on 6,000 acres and is a working sheep station. As soon as we dropped off our bags and checked out the room, we headed out for a hike on the property. Tess, the owner’s border collie, accompanied us on our one and a half hour hike through pasture and forest. It was glorious. The weather cleared up, the trail was pretty easy and we were happy to be hiking again. We had a map with us (courtesy of the Lodge) that identified the trail and many of the botanical sights. The beech forest was amazing. This time of the year (December) the beech trees have mistletoe (red flowers) that are unique and wonderful. The trail had a few lookout points. Tess waited patiently while we took photos. Later in the afternoon we watched the working dogs mustering sheep under the direction of Neil, the farm manager, who explained how it all worked. He also treated us to a sheep shearing demonstration. We learned a lot about the different grades of wool, how it’s sold and where it goes. That evening we mingled with the other Lodge guests and ate a delicious dinner in front of huge picture windows with a view of snow capped mountains that looked like a movie backdrop. The chef, Ross Harrison, emerged from the kitchen to talk to us. An incredibly talented person who makes everything from scratch. The next day we learned that we would be the only guests at the Lodge that night. Yipee! We decided to spend the day with the owner, Gerry McSweeney, who offered us a number of alternatives. Gerry has a Phd in plant ecology and was just the most wonderful and knowledgeable guide. We visited waterfalls, a kea parrot lookout, and hiked high up in the Otira Gorge where we lunched beside a rushing stream alongside waterfalls and snow capped peaks. The lunch, prepared by Ross, was just the best and I ate it all. At the end of the hike we visited a hidden waterfall and pool just off the road where Gerry encouraged DH to strip and jump in. Of course he did (it was freezing), and this allowed Gerry to make all sorts of anatomical jokes which were pretty funny and fortunately were not heard by DH. After arriving back at the lodge we rested, used the free computer and talked to staff. That evening dinner was set up in the lounge in front of a roaring fire, also with great views, and we drank wine and ate yummy food. Desserts were spectacular. The next morning we went on another longer hike with Tess, before leaving. We were sad to go. Our next stop, Fox Glacier.

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    Ez1-
    Thoroughly enjoying your trip report. We also enjoyed the World of Wearable Art and were at the Wilderness Lodge last year at the same time you were. The dinner was terrific and so enhanced by the view. The hike on their property was really lovely,too. We hiked up to the waterfall called the Devil's something or another. Is that the one Gerry took you too? Glad to hear Neil is still doing the sheep demo. It was very interesting and the only time I've hugged a sheep.

    Very happy to read of your experience on the Queen Charlotte as I am contemplating that for our next time in NZ.

    Can't wait to read more. Thanks.

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    Thanks for your comments. They encourage me to keep going with this. Susncrg – no, we didn’t hike to Devil’s Punchbowl Falls… although I know it is an impressive site. One of the smaller waterfalls we visited was one minute off the main road but completely hidden from view. We also visited Jack’s Hut, a local landmark alongside the highway near the summit of AP. It’s been restored by the Dept of Conservation and has an interesting history. There’s a small trail behind the hut with a tiny bridge that crosses over a stream and is lovely. There are photos of the Butler family inside, also of the railroad men from the 1890’s. Worth a stop. Here’s a site that explains some of the background. http://keteselwyn.peoplesnetworknz.info/site/topics/show/229-jacks-hut-arthurs-pass
    After we left Arthur's Pass (but not before giving Tess the border collie one last hug), our next stop (in addition to a tiny one street town we stopped in to look at a wood carvers bowls) was Hokitika. My impression was that the town is full of stores selling jade jewelry although I know it has an interesting history. If we had the time we would have taken the detour to Hokitika Gorge which I understand is great. We made numerous stops along the coast, beginning with a walk at Lake Mahinapua. The road down the coast traverses some amazing scenery. Imposing vistas of the Southern Alps rising straight up on your left as you proceed south from Hokitika, there are river mouth landscapes covered with stones deposited by retreating glaciers, glacier fed rivers, tidal lagoons, forested coastal wetlands, and some stunning vistas from lookout points along the way. I purchased a small book at the AP bookstore “Southwest New Zealand (Hokitika to Wanaka) A World Heritage Highway Guide” that was one of the best purchases ever. As DH drove I pointed out sites and read aloud from the book describing the history of what we were seeing. The book has gorgeous photographs and small maps so it made the drive very interesting and informative. Before Franz Joseph, we took a 13 km detour to the coastal town of Okarito. It was overcast when we turned down the road but sunny and beautiful at the coast. This is a tiny place that was once an important Maori settlement. It reminded me of Cape Mudge on Quadra Island, British Columbia and as a matter of fact, there were a number of areas on the South Island that reminded me of northern BC. There are two interesting coastal walks here but we didn’t take them. Instead, we walked far along the beach and then over to the lagoon area which seemed so incredibly untouched and peaceful. You can rent kayaks and canoes here to explore the lagoon area more extensively. The lagoon is a major feeding area for many wading and coastal birds. We watched and photographed white herons wading in the lagoon, so close to where we were standing. We were glad we made the small effort to see Okarito. .
    We arrived at Fox Glacier around 5pm. and stayed at Misty Peaks. The owner Dave is a really nice person who managed to get dinner on the table for a group of people, clean up, and maintain lively conversation. (His wife was gone for a few days doing Christmas shopping). The bed was very comfortable. We had dinner there but other lodgers told me they had good dinners in town so there are choices. Dave gave us a good rate which made me happy. As a sidenote, to the extent possible on this trip I went for the comfortable king size beds, mainly because we were hiking a lot, and I wanted to sleep well. (Which we did, and it made a difference.) The next day was overcast and that was fine. Had a good breakfast at the B&B and headed over to Lake Matheson for a walk on the trail. Yes, it’s popular and there are tourists there, but it’s worth doing. The trail around the lake takes an hour (more or less, can’t exactly recall) and it’s easy. You walk primarily through rainforest with views of the lake. We walked at a good pace and I was glad to get my circulation going before getting in the car for the drive to Wanaka.
    Our next stop was at Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge to deliver chair pillows that Gerry from Arthur’s Pass Wilderness Lodge had given us to be delivered to the Lodge at Lake Moeraki. Great place but very different from AP. This area is more rainforesty as opposed to alpine. We received a nice tour of the lodge from the manager and then set off down the road to hike the Monro Beach Track. As it turns out we didn’t do that. It was raining heavier than before, and there were sandflies buzzing around when I opened the car door. (I had netting but…) Also we were told that the tawaki (fiordland crested penguins) had departed 3 days earlier and we wouldn’t see them. (The tawaki are one of the world’s rarest penguins. 10-15 pair breed at Monro Beach, which is at the northern limit of their range.) I told DH I would go anyway (notwithstanding rain and sandflies) but one look at my face and he decided he was OK with getting back in the car. FYI, the track is clearly signed on the left side of the road. It is a 40 minute (each way) walk that takes you through a forest with ancient, moss cloaked, silver beech trees and huge rimu trees. The book notes that there was no road access to the Moeraki Valley until 1965, so the fertile alluvial soils between Lake Moeraki and the coast were never farmed and therefore carry forest of both “imposing stature and great antiquity.” If you are there before Dec 7 (to see the penguins), or if the sun is shining, or even if it isn’t, I think this would be a worthwhile hike.

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    Ez1-
    We ended up staying at the Moeraki Lodge too, though we didn't mean to. We were on our way from Wanaka to Franz Joseph and it was raining so hard that the road washed out and there were very few places to stay that night and most were already full of stranded tourists. So we ended up at the Lodge and though the food was not as good as in Arthur's Pass, probably because they had to take food out of the freezer for the 8 unexpected guests, we had a great time and a wonderful guided walk with a hilarious guide to see the glow worms.

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    (I’m back. … )After leaving the Lodge we continued along the West Coast on our way to Wanaka, stopping along the route for photos. We took two short walks before the Haast Pass to Thunder Creek Falls and Fantail Falls. Kind of misty wet weather so did not linger. The Pass itself is described as the lowest of the three passes that cross the Southern Alps. After crossing the Pass we descended through silver beech forest to Davis Flat, and into the Makarora Valley. Gorgeous. (There is a parking area and track at Davis Flat which leads to the swing bridge over the Fish River. We didn’t stop) We did take a short walk at Cameron Creek. Lovely mountain views across the golden tussocks of Cameron Flat. We also took the Blue Pools walk which was easy and interesting, and worthwhile,. I liked the plant identification signs along the way. There was a group of school children on this walk. They were all cute, although I was happy they were going to the pools when we were returning. There were also quite a few other tourists on the walk, which made me realize we were heading into a more populated tourist area (Wanaka, Queenstown) than we had encountered up to this point. From there we proceeded on towards Wanaka, stopping a few more times to take photos of the river valleys and the beautiful Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. We stopped by the side of the road at the southern end of Lake Hawea and took in the view of a mountain directly across the valley from the road. This is known as Grandview Mountain. Apparently it was from this summit that Otago surveyor John Turnbull Thomson named Mt. Aspiring in 1857.

    We found Wanaka to be a small and very lovely town. We stayed at the Wanaka Homestead and would definitely stay there again. It was relaxed, casual, friendly and the beds were very comfortable. The owner Ed had lots of suggestions. He also loaned us poles the next day for our hike to the Rob Roy Glacier. We ate at Relishes that night, which a number of people recommended but we found to be so-so. We had a much more satisfying dinner the next night at an Indian restaurant called the Spice Room. It was really good. As a side note, the population of many of the places on the south island ebbs and flows with the seasons, and it is obviously very hard to run a restaurant under these circumstances.

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