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Trip Report Travelogue - NI [7days] / SI [16days]

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We have never documented our travels before beyond taking pictures. In writing these highlights, I can now see how it will allow us to relive the trip when our memories of it have begun to fade. Our visit to NZ was from the end of February to the latter part of March.

Day 1
Wife and I arrived in Auckland from LAX at 7am and made it through the international arrival maze without a problem. Once through, the first order of business was a visit to an ATM. With cash in hand, we exited the terminal in search of local transportation. Since the hotel was on the route, we decided to take the Airbus Express service into central Auckland and arrived at our hotel [Langham on Symonds St] shortly after 9. Our intentions were to store our bags but the hotel was kind enough to let us check-in early.

After a short pause in our room to refresh, we headed out hoping to walk-off our jet lag. Went into the dick smith electronics store on Wyndham St to purchase a 2degreesmobile SIM card for my cell phone. The young lady who waited on us was very helpful in the activation process. Our next stop was the AA office where we picked up maps of the NI and SI [free to USA AAA members]. With our 2 logistical tasks out of the way, we walked down to the waterfront.

Stopped by the Explore NZ kiosk to inquire about cruises in the Bay of Islands for day 4/5 and the Fullers store to inquire about Waiheke Island wine tours. While at Fullers, we purchased return tickets and took the next ferry to Devonport. On arrival, we visited the TI office and picked-up a walking tour brochure before deciding to follow the suggestion of a local on the ferry and climb Mt Victoria. The climb was steep but not excessively long and the peak provided a panoramic view of Auckland and the bay. Also took a look at the disappearing gun emplacement before heading back down to continue the walking tour.

Following a late enjoyable lunch at the Manuka restaurant, we returned to Auckland and having made up our minds about Waiheke, we purchased tickets for the "Wine on Waiheke" tour. With the next day's activity booked, we embarked on the steep climb up Queen St to our hotel and a much deserved rest.

Not wanting to make the climb up Queen St a second time, we decided to eat a light dinner in the SPE Bar and Restaurant which was part of but remote [external entrance is on Karangahape Rd] from the main part of the hotel.
My wife didn't like the pizza [wafer thin crust with minimal toppings] we ordered but I enjoyed the NZ beer [Monteith's] that was available. Following a short stroll on Karangahape [commonly known as K' Road ] in search of dessert for me, we returned to our room and called it a day.

Day 2
Exhausted from our 26hour journey to Auckland and the first day's activities, we decided to take the morning off. Arose late and had breakfast in the hotel. With our batteries semi-recharged, we ventured back to the waterfront. Returned to the Explore NZ kiosk and booked the 9am Discover the Bay - Hole in the Rock cruise for day 5. With our late start, we only had a short wait to board the ferry for the wine tour. For tour details, visit - http://www.fullers.co.nz/destinations-tours/waiheke/wine-of-waiheke.php . The views from the vineyards were pretty and we liked most of the wines. Not sorry we took the tour, but it was a little pricey and if we had it to do over, would probably tour the vineyards on our own or take the "Taste of Waiheke" tour which includes a light lunch.

At the end of the tour, we chose to return to Auckland rather than spend the evening on the island. Back in Auckland, we strolled up Queen St stopping in the souvenir stores to see what was available. On reaching Wyndham St, we walked over to the Shakespeare Brewery to sample the beer of NZ's first microbrewery. It was here I encountered for the first time the term "handle" when I asked about the sizes of the beer they served.

Following the short detour, returned to Queen St and continued our souvenir store browsing on the way back to the hotel. Once again we chose to eat dinner at the SPE. Since the pizza had been a disappointment, we decided to give their sandwiches a try and found them to be acceptable. It was Saturday and the bar was very crowded with the participants from 3 bachelorette parties. Bartender was as surprised as we were to see 3 there at the same time. Took another stroll on K' Road and retired to our room for the night.

Day3
Our plans for the day included a visit to Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter / Underwater World and the Sky Tower. Following breakfast at the hotel, we once again headed toward the waterfront. Since day 2's souvenir browsing on Queen St had been unproductive, we stopped first at The Great New Zealand Shop in the Westfield Shopping Center. Success at last, wife was able to find something for the female members of our immediate family.

Instead of waiting for the next shuttle, we decided to take a bus to Kelly Tarlton's. We were enjoying the view of the harbour so much, we missed our stop. It wasn't until everybody else on the bus decided to get off at the same stop that I questioned the driver and discovered our misstep. We were at Mission Bay, so we took the opportunity to do a little sightseeing along the beach before walking back to Kelly Tarlton's.

The exhibits at Tarlton's were only mildly interesting and the facilities could really use a facelift. When I mentioned this to a young man working in the ticket office at the Sky Tower, he seemed quite surprised since he had a very favorable memory of the place from his childhood. In its current condition, however, it is definitely not an activity we would recommend.

A visit to the Sky Tower was our next stop. The views from the top are very picturesque and provided us a birds-eye look at the sites we had visited previously. For whatever reason, only one person took the opportunity to do the sky jump while we were there. The sight of Albert Park led us to make a visit to the park our next activity. Unbeknownst to us, they were having a Chinese lantern festival in the park which reinforced our personal observations of the strong Chinese presence on Queen St.

Since we were departing Auckland in the morning for Paihia and the Bay of Islands, we decided to search out a restaurant for an early dinner. Having previously noticed a fairly large number of restaurants along the waterfront, we headed in that direction. Wandered up and down Princes Wharf checking out the menus and finally settled on the Y Not Restaurant & Bar. Knowing it was a touristy area, we didn't have very high expectations. But as it turned out, the value and quality of the meal was one of the better ones on our trip. We shared their special of the day, a seafood platter for two, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Day 4
Our car rental reservation was for 9am, so we were up early. Ate a light breakfast of fruit and yogurt in our room, checked out of the hotel and took a taxi to the Hertz location on West Victoria St. Drove by the Westfield Shopping Center so my wife could exchange a mismarked item purchased the day before, then we were off to Paihia. Stopped at the BP service area on the Northern Motorway to prepay tolls and pickup some munchies for the rest of the trip.

Arrived in Paihia around half12 and stopped in the town center for lunch and a quick look around. After checking into the Ash Grove Motel [located close to Haruru Falls], we backtracked to visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. While the historic significance did not go unnoticed, was more impressed with the beautiful views of the bay available from the grounds. Since we were staying in a 1 bedroom unit with cooking facilities available, we decided to self-cater dinner and breakfast during our 2 night stay. Stopped at a very busy Woolworths to pick up the necessary supplies and returned to the motel for dinner and relaxation.

Day 5
Following an early breakfast, we headed into Paihia to take the 9am cruise we had booked while in Auckland. Parked the car in the town lot and joined the already long line waiting to board the boat. Even though it was overcast, we enjoyed the tour of the bay, the passage through the "hole in the rock" and the dolphin sightings. The cruise also included a short stop early on to allow those who were spending the day on one of the islands to transfer to a smaller boat and toward the end on Urupukapuka Island for light refreshments available for purchase at Explore NZ's Otehei Bay Resort. The bay's claim to fame is that the novelist Zane Grey used it as a fishing base during his visit to New Zealand in the 1920's.

Arrived back in Paihia around 1pm and immediately purchased return tickets for the ferry crossing to Russell. The cruise normally stops in Russell where we had intended to disembark, but since no one had boarded there in the morning and we were running short on time, the captain had made a beeline back to Paihia instead. On arrival in Russell, we walked along the waterfront to Sally's Restaurant for lunch. Reviews on Sally's seem to be mixed and without getting into the details, you can add us to those who say try somewhere else.

After taking a self guided walk about town [today's quaintness belies the town's notorious beginnings], we decided to return to Paihia and take advantage of the motel's pool. Unfortunately what had been an overcast day turned into a wet late afternoon and an even wetter evening. Since we were leaving in the morning for Rotorua, we decided to stay in and rest up for the long drive ahead.

Day 6
Experienced a later departure than we planned, when the guest before me was unable to check out due to a malfunctioning EFTPOS terminal. After a lengthy attempt at repair, the motel owner finally resorted to the paper credit card process. Once on the road, we made only one stop at a Southern Motorway service area to refuel the car and our bodies and reached Sandy's B&B outside Rotorua around 4pm.

Received a briefing from Sandy on things to do and places to eat. Not wanting to waste the evening, we ventured out to visit volcanic activity sights in Kuirau Park and to check out the Rotorua Museum of Art and History. The museum is located in the historic Bath House building located in the Government Gardens. The exhibits were informative and they have a small theatre where the seating shakes vigorously to coincide with the eruption of Tarawera Mountain in their Rotorua Stories film. Also took advantage of their roof top platform which provides panoramic views of the city, the gardens and Lake Rotorua. Left the museum and drove around sightseeing before stopping to enjoy dinner at Zanelli's Italian Restaurant [one of Sandy's recommendations]. Afterwards, we went to a Countdown to purchase liquid refreshments before returning to the B&B and calling it a day.

Day 7
Sandy brought breakfast to the "white house" [our accommodations were external to the main part of the B&B] at the agreed upon time. Sandy is quite the talker and stayed while we ate. She inquired about what we had done the night before and what we planned on doing that day. She gave us a 10% off coupon for our planned morning visit to the Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland [located off SH5 about 30km south of Rotoura] and agreed to make reservations for our visit to the nearby Mitai Maori Village later that evening.

Arrived too late at Wai-O-Tapu for the daily soap induced eruption of the Lady Knox geyser. We did partake in the walk through the very interesting thermal area - see http://www.waiotapu.co.nz/attractions/thermal-area/ for details. Returned to Rotorua and went to the Fat Dog Cafe for what could only be called a life sustaining lunch. Not sure why, but the Fat Dog seems to be a tourist attraction in itself. Rather than visit another thermal area [Te Puia is located on the outskirts of town], we decided to take our own walking tour of Rotorua along with some souvenir browsing. Wandered down to the lakefront where my wife took some great pictures of the black swans. The swans quickly moved on, however, when they realized she wasn't going to feed them.

Returned to the B&B to relax and wait for the Mitai shuttle to pick us up for what in reality is only about a ten minute walk to the village from the B&B. To quote their website, our evening experience included "the world famous Fairy Spring, the Maori war canoe (waka) paddle-by, Maori song and dance (haka), traditionally cooked hangi meal, glow worm tour and an evening bush walk and talk about Maori medicines". The low point of the evening was my wife forgetting her camera. The high point was the conversations with those sharing the table with us at the hangi [a young couple from the Netherlands and Aussies from Queensland].

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    "Went into the dick smith electronics store on Wyndham St to purchase a 2degreesmobile SIM card for my cell phone."

    What does that do? I'm wondering if I should get one when I travel to NZ later this week.

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    Songdoc
    I have an unlocked international cell phone. By purchasing the 2degreesmobile SIM card, I was able to use my phone and their service with a NZ tel # to make calls at a much cheaper rate than paying my home company's roaming charges. For more info refer to this thread - http://www.fodors.com/community/australia-the-pacific/cell-phone-sim-card-in-new-zealand.cfm - which also suggests an alternative.

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    and now the SI
    Day 8
    Our flight to Christchurch was at 9:15am, so we were up early, ate the breakfast Sandy furnished, and left for the airport around half7. Stopped on the way to refuel the rental car and was at the airport by 8am. Nobody was at the Hertz counter and I had to eventually write down the rental details and leave the rental agreement and car keys in a drop box in order to not miss our flight.

    Wish I could say the flight to Christchurch was uneventful but such was not the case. For the first time, had the thought - "this is it - we're going to crash and die". We were on final approach to CHC when the plane suddenly banked about 45 degrees to the left followed by an over compensating jerk to the right before the pilot was able to level off the plane and land. While this was happening, another passenger was vocalizing his displeasure of the ordeal and the flight attendant sitting with her back to the cabin door was not reacting in the slightest. On exiting the plane not a word was said about what we had just experienced. All I can say is, if this was a normal landing for that pilot, remind me never to fly Mt Cook Airlines [owned by Air New Zealand] again.

    With feet finally firmly on the ground, we retrieved our bags and dropped by the Hertz counter to see if I could get a receipt for the car rental. No such luck, as evidently the Hertz counter at ROT was still vacant over 2 hours later. Left the terminal and called the Apex Car Rental number on my reservation. Was given instructions on where to meet their shuttle which arrived shortly after we reached the meet point. Kudos to Apex, the gentleman at the rental office was extremely nice and took the time to make sure we understood everything we needed to know while using their car - including but not limited to where to have tires repaired or replaced.

    With maps and GPS navigator in hand, we hit the road for the drive up the coast to Blenheim. Stopped in Kaikoura but only took time out for lunch before resuming our drive north. The drive provided excellent views of the Pacific but my wife didn't see one she deemed worthy of a stop. She was more attuned to the hilly/curvy and sometimes narrow road which was the norm for a lot of the SI [she never really grew comfortable with those conditions]. Arrived in Blenheim at a time when most people seemed to be trying to escape. Probably the most aggressive driving we experienced anywhere in NZ and that includes Auckland and Christchurch.

    Checked in to the Sundowner Motel and walked to the Fresh Choice [conveniently located across the road] to purchase something for breakfast. Later we drove around town [not much of interest to see] before going to Rocco's Restaurant for dinner [a favorite of the motel owners]. The quality of the Italian dishes we had were equal to those we had enjoyed at Zanelli's in Rotorua. It was raining pretty heavy when we left the restaurant so we decided not to check out the nightlife in Blenheim and returned to our room for a nightcap.

    Day 9
    Had originally planned on doing a Marlborough wine tour before heading to Nelson but decided to visit Picton and explore Queen Charlotte Drive instead. A short walk and a few photos was the extent of our visit to Picton. It was still overcast after the overnight rain so the views along Queen Charlotte Drive weren't as pretty as they could have been but we enjoyed the drive anyway. Especially at the end, when we stopped for a lunch of green lip mussels at the Mussel Pot in Havelock. Also had a delicious local ice cream based dessert the name of which escapes me.

    The skies had cleared and the sun was shining by the time we reached the Palazzo Motor Lodge in Nelson. After a short rest in our room, we left to explore the town on foot. Took time out from our sightseeing to check e-mails at the Boots-Off on Bridge St. There was an e-mail from Sandy in Rotorua confirming what my wife had already realized - we had left the B&B in such a hurry that she had forgotten to pack her pajamas. Sandy was very gracious and offered to forward the clothes to us even though we were on that "other" island.

    By now we were ready for dinner and walked to the Sprig & Fern Tavern. The lodge owner was from N. Ireland and thought the Milton St location was more pub like than their location on Hardy St. Can't say it was like the pubs we have visited in Ireland but it was definitely popular. Not being able to find a place to sit, we continued on to the location on Hardy. Hooray, a bar that serves draft beer in imperial pint glasses instead of handles. The taverns serve the beer brewed by the Sprig & Fern Brewery located in Richmond. Liked their beer better than that brewed by the national breweries, so if you're ever in Nelson and so inclined, check it out and see what you think. Fortunately, we had reached the tavern before the kitchen closed and were able to order appetizers to go with the beer. Wife wasn't crazy about the food but I didn't have a problem with it since the beer more than made up for it. With no room left for dinner, we headed back to the motor lodge stopping at a food mart on the way to pick up something for breakfast.

    Day 10
    We were up early and left for Able Tasman around 9am. Stopped for fuel in Richmond and reached Marahau shortly after 10. Booked the half10 water taxi to Bark Bay with a return trip from Torrent Bay for 3pm. Hurriedly, purchased sandwiches from the cafe next to the Able Tasman Center and walked to the taxi meet point.

    After a short wait, we boarded the taxi and headed for the water. It was low tide and the taxi had to be pulled to the water's edge by a tractor. The sea was very choppy and we received a welcome aboard semi-drenching splash during the launch process. Once underway we headed for a look at the Split Apple rock before proceeding to Bark Bay. After a very rough "jet boating like" ride we arrived at the bay around half11 - wife picked a fine time to not take her dramamine but she was able to survive without incident. It was still low tide so we had to wade for about 25 feet to reach the beach.

    Using a picnic table that was available, we ate the sandwiches purchased at the cafe before starting [shortly after 12] the estimated 2-3hr hike back to Torrent Bay. The hike provided a few photo ops but the heavy vegetation limited the views of the coast line. The most difficult part of the hike was the climb after crossing the Falls River swingbridge - seemed like we would never reached the top. Turns out the journey wasn't nearly as long as advertised and we reached Torrent Bay around 1:45. That gave us plenty of time to explore the area while waiting for the water taxi to pick us up for the return journey to Marahau.

    By now, it was high tide and the wading distance to board the boat was only a couple of steps. The sea had also calmed down, so the ride back was pleasant and relaxing. Hide tide also allowed the boat to be pulled from the water so we didn't have to wade ashore in Marahau. After taking time to clean-up a little we hit the road for Nelson arriving back at the motor lodge around 5pm.

    With laundry facilities available, we took the opportunity to partially replenish our supply of clean clothes before going to dinner. Chose to return to the Sprig & Fern Tavern on Hardy. Kitchen was closed but the tavern allows you to order from the adjacent restaurant's menu. They in turn deliver your food to your table in the tavern. My wife ordered a salad and since the name of the restaurant was "When in Rome", I thought I would give their pizza a try. Big mistake, their pizza made the one we had in Auckland look like a bountiful feast. Oh well, as the slogan on the servers' shirts at a microbrewery back home says - "Beer Is Food".

    Like other food service establishments we visited in NZ, not all of the servers/bartenders are locals. In this case , one was from Dublin, Ireland and another from Bristol in the UK. To me, part of the enjoyment of traveling is the conversations you have with people from other countries you have visited or hope to visit one day as well as the locals.

    Day 11
    With a long day of travel ahead of us, we again arose fairly early and left for Hokitika sometime after 9am. Our route took us through the Buller Gorge so we took a stretch break and stopped at the Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure and Heritage Park. We limited our visit to a walk across NZ's "longest swingbridge" and a look at the White's Creek faultline which was the epicentre for the 1929 Murchison earthquake. Wanting to visit Punakaiki, we chose the coastal rather than the inland route to Hokitika.

    It was after 1pm when we took a detour into Westport in search of sustenance for our bodies. For some reason, Westport reminded me of some of the worn out looking towns we've passed through when traveling in the western part of the USA. Nevertheless, we were able to locate the Denniston Dog Restaurant & Bar on Wakefield St where we had a very satisfying late lunch.

    Adequately nourished, we continued our journey to Punakaiki. Once there we took the "pancake rocks and blowholes" walk. We were able to see the interesting rock formations but it wasn't high tide so we didn't get to witness the blowholes in action. After our short visit, we resumed the trip to our final destination. Along the way [outside of Greymouth] we went over a one-lane bridge [not unique] with train tracks running down the middle [definitely unique]. Guess we know who has the right of way on that bridge.

    Arrived in Hokitika shortly before 6pm and went straight to the Annabelle Motel. When I went into the office, I received a rather puzzled look from the owner. When I showed him our reservation, he acknowledged he had indeed sent an e-mail confirming our arrival on that day but for some unknown [even to him] reason he had logged our arrival on his desk calendar for the day before. Bottom line - the motel was full and we were without a room for the night. While he was calling other motels in Hokitika, I called ahead to Fox Glacier to see if we could add a third night to our reservations at the Rainforest Motel. No such luck as they were also at full occupancy but at least was able to confirm they were expecting us the next day. On returning to the motel office, discovered the owner had been successful in finding another motel with one room still available. After receiving verbal directions, we drove to the Aneden Motel on the other side of town. Lesson learned - don't rely on a confirming e-mail from the Annabelle Motel, call and have them double check their desk calendar.

    In the end, I guess things probably worked out for the best. While checking-in, I asked the Aneden owner what the better time of day was for taking a walk on fox glacier. His recommendation was a morning walk but he went on to say anytime the next day would be better than the morning of the second day hence. Based on his weather watching experience on the West Coast, he predicted the weather for the next day would be significantly better and his prediction turned out to be accurate. After unloading the car, followed his recommendation and called Fox Glacier Guiding to reserve space on an afternoon walk for the next day.

    With the booking secured, we walked to Stumpers Bar & Restaurant for dinner. Enjoyed the food and as a bonus was able to use coupons the Aneden owner gave us which were good for a free drink with each of our meals. Following dinner we walked to sunset point to watch the sun set over the Tasman Sea. It was cloudy and the sunset wasn't very spectacular but still worth the walk. Afterwards, we walked back into town and stopped at an establishment on Revell St to check e-mails before returning to the motel.

    Day 12
    After a self catered breakfast purchased the night before at the local Four Square, we headed out for Fox Glacier. The morning was very overcast with either a fog or some very low hanging clouds, not sure which. Conditions were still the same when we reached Franz Josef and I was beginning to have doubts about the Aneden owner's weather forecasting ability. But after we passed over the first major hill south of town, the skies were clear and the sun was shining brightly. - guess the owner knows his stuff, weather wise anyway. On arrival in Fox Glacier, went by Fox Glacier Guiding to settle up and to get the details for our afternoon glacier walk.

    We had an early lunch at the cafe in the ....Guiding Building and afterwards drove out to Lake Matheson where we were able to get a better view of the mountains. It was a beautiful day and the peaks of Mt Tasman and Mt Cook. were clearly visible. By now, it was after 12noon so we returned to town and was able to check-in at the Rainforest Motel. The owner furnished a map of the area and pointed out the best spot to view the mountains. Still had a little time before the glacier walk, so we followed the owner's suggestion and was able to get some great photos of the mountains. On the way back, we were also able to stop and take pictures of the glacier.

    Parked the car at the motel and walked to the ....Guiding Building. After a short briefing and being outfitted with socks, hiking boots and crampons, we boarded a bus for a short ride into the glacial valley. From there, we walked along the river bed to the start of the track which climbs "steeply" up the valley wall. There were only three other couples on the walk - a young couple from Tel Aviv, an older couple from Norfolk in the UK, and another couple from I believe the USA. Didn't get the opportunity to talk with them as the wife found the steep climb more than she could handle. Fortunately, when they finally made the decision not to continue, there was another group returning from their walk and the guide for that group was able to escort them, allowing us to press on without any further delay. From the high point of the track, we wound down to the edge of the ice where we stopped to attach the crampons to our boots before finally getting to venture onto the glacier. Spent around an hour tramping about before reversing the process and returning to town.

    Went to dinner at the Cook Saddle Cafe and Saloon - a favorite hangout of the glacier guides. After a lengthy wait, agreed to be seated outside on the deck. Based on the hostess' recommendation we both tried their "world famous" ribs. May be world famous but hardly worth ordering.

    Day 13
    We had booked 2 nights in Fox Glacier to increase the odds of having a good weather day for the glacier walk. With that already accomplished, we chose to use this day as a down day to mostly rest. After a morning doing laundry, we went back to Lake Matheson, to take a stroll around the lake. It had rained overnight and the clouds were still lingering making pictures of the mountains reflecting in the lake impossible. In fact, unlike the day before the mountain peaks weren't visible at all.

    When we arrived at one of the viewing points, there was an Aussie couple from the Brisbane area already there. We struck up a conversation with them that lasted for the rest of the walk and for well over an hour back at the starting point. The topics included among other things, us inquiring about vacationing in Australia and them wanting to know about Canada and the northwest part of USA. We eventually went our separate ways with a "maybe we'll see you again on the streets of Queenstown" farewell. We had been standing and talking with them outside the Matheson Cafe, so we decided to go in for a light lunch.

    Later, looking for something to do we drove back to Franz Josef and started down the glacier valley track. Paused at the end of "forest walk" for pictures before continuing on to the riverbed. We had gone about a kilometer when I decided it wasn't worth getting drenched just to see another glacier face up close. Once back in Fox Glacier, we opted to go to dinner at the Plateau Cafe and Bar. The food was better than the night before but the wait was longer. Guess we should have expected it, since I had counted four large tour buses parked in town earlier. In retrospect, probably should have taken advantage of our room's facilities and self catered dinner in addition to breakfast. The only roadblock is the town is too small to warrant a Four Square and the country store closes early - so plan ahead if you want to self cater when staying in Fox Glacier.

    Day 14
    Experienced a lazy start as it was shortly after 10am before we finally managed to get on our way to Queenstown. We had started through Haast Pass when we came up behind the South Island Tractor Trek which was nearing the end of its Bluff to Blenheim and back to Bluff trek to raise money for kids with cancer. After perilously passing close to 40 tractors and their support vehicles, we stopped in Makarora for fuel and lunch. It was there I tried my first NZ milk shake - definitely not what I was expecting. It was literally syrup flavored milk without even a hint of ice cream.

    Back on the road again, we made it to Wanaka shortly after 2pm and took time out for a look around and a few photos. Wanting to check out bungy jumping, we returned to SH6 and took the route to Queenstown that goes through the Kawarau Gorge. After a "get out of the car and stretch" delay caused by the Nevis Bluff blasting project, we reached the Kawarau Bridge sometime after 4. We were about ready to leave when my wife inquired as to whether anyone was going to be jumping any time soon. Fortunately, a young man was being outfitted for a jump so we stayed to get pictures of his backward head first submerging plunge into the river below.

    From there, it was a short drive to the Milestone B&B located on SH6, east of where the road crosses the Lower Shotover River. After getting settled, we drove into Queenstown for an initial look around and went to dinner at the Dux de Lux on Church St. Wife chose the fish & chips and being a glutton for punishment, I went for the smoked salmon and cream cheese pizza which was surprisingly quite tasty. Liked the beer [brewed onsite] but not as much as the Sprig & Fern in Nelson.

    The restaurant had become crowded so I invited a newly arriving couple to share the other half of our table. They were reluctant at first, but I assured them we would be leaving soon. Once seated, I mentioned it was normal in some parts of Europe to table share but as it turned out they were from England and indicated that was definitely not the case there. Continued a cordial conversation with them while we were finishing our beers and then left to take a stroll about town. Stopped on Shotover St at the YHA Central Hostel's internet facilities [very well equipped and maintained] to check e-mails. Later, we purchased a bottle of wine and some snacks before returning to the B&B.

    Day 15
    Milestone is a small B&B and breakfast was served at a common table. There was a couple from London and a threesome consisting of an Irish physician currently living in Melbourne and family members from back home in Ireland. The diversity of the guests and hosts created the environment for interesting conversation to go with the good food resulting in a very lengthy breakfast.

    Before starting our planned activities, went by the Queenstown Airport and was finally successful in getting a receipt for the NI Hertz Car rental. Arrived in Arrowtown around noon and took a slow stroll about town with my wife taking the opportunity to continue her quest for a sterling silver charm representative of NZ. Being a former gold mining town, we didn't hold out much hope but after going into several jewelry stores she found a silver charm in the shape of a kiwi bird. - glad that task's finally completed. Had a light lunch at Arrow Brewing located in the Royal Oak courtyard on Buckingham St and then drove through Arthurs Point on the way to Queenstown.

    Parked the car on Brecon St to take the skyline gondola ride up to Bob's Peak. Bad timing on our part as a tour bus had just unloaded resulting in a line a lot longer than it would have been otherwise. Took great pictures on way up as well as at the top. Somehow, wound up in line behind the same tour group on the way down. Parking on Brecon St was limited to 2hours so we moved the car to Henry St before beginning our exploration of Queenstown. It is worth noting that parking restrictions end at 6pm and if you're lucky enough to find a desirable spot after 4 [later if the limit is less than 2hrs], you're good for the rest of the evening.

    Interrupted our walking tour and souvenir browsing long enough to have an early dinner at the Fishbone Bar & Grill on Beach St [recommended by the B&B owner]. Enjoyed the food and finally tried pavlova, a favorite NZ dessert. It's good but definitely not for those who are watching their sugar intake. Resumed walking/browsing before eventually dropping by the Dux de Lux for a nightcap.

    Day 16
    Experienced deja vu at the breakfast table - same set of guests, more good food and stimulating conversation. Finally left the B&B shortly before 11am and returned to Queenstown to visit the Kiwi Birdlife Park. Arrived in time to catch the last part of their Conservation Show and the 12noon kiwi bird feeding. The park uses dark housing and artificial lighting to reverse the nocturnal bird's day. After the feeding, we followed their native trail to observe other NZ wildlife. For park information, visit - http://www.kiwibird.co.nz/kiwi/welcome/ .

    Left the park and took the scenic drive along Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy. Using a map picked up at the info center, we decided to drive to the remote area where scenes from the Lord of the Rings were shot. Eventually, the road turned from paved to corrugated gravel. Not wanting to damage the rental car and with a lower back that couldn't take the pounding, we decided not to continue. Took a few pictures on the return trip and arrived back in Queenstown around half3. The views along the lake are pretty but in our opinion not sufficiently different from others on the SI to warrant the drive just for the views.

    Having read so much about the place and noticing the large crowd out front during our stroll the first night in town, we decided to go to the Fergburger on Shotover St for a late lunch. Since it was mid-afternoon, we were able to find seating at the counter. Wife ordered the Bun Laden and I went for the Sweet Bambi. Both were good but nothing out of the ordinary - wonder why the place has such a cult like following? We were about ready to leave when one of the servers approached us and initiated a conversation. She was from New York state USA and was traveling around New Zealand on a working holiday visa. We think she might have been a little homesick as we eventually had to bring the conversation to an end for fear she might get in trouble for talking instead of working.

    One of our talked about activities was a cruise on the TSS Earnslaw, so we walked down to the lakefront. Since the next cruise wasn't until 6pm and the lighting for pictures wasn't the best, we decided to skip the cruise. After moving the car to a parking spot closer to the area, we took a walk around the Queens Gardens.

    Having grown tired of the restaurant scene, we decided to visit the Four Square and pick up something to take back to the B&B for dinner. One of the owners of the B&B was at the door when we arrived and offered to store our food until we were ready for it. She even went so far as to furnish place settings in their library so we would have more room to eat.

    Day 17
    Having booked one of Mitre Peak's afternoon cruises on Milford Sound, we were up early, limited ourselves to a continental breakfast and were on the road by 9:15am. As luck would have it, we once again came up behind the South Island Tractor Trek. This time, however, the road was flatter and straighter which made it a lot easier and safer to get around them. Arrived at the Antler Lodge in Te Anau around half11 and was able to check-in and unload our belongings. Before continuing our journey, we went by the Four Square and purchased sandwiches/chips to eat at a later time.

    Upon arrival in Milford Sound, stopped at Mitre Peak's desk in the visitor terminal to pay and get departure details for the 3:25pm cruise, before proceeding to one of the parking areas. The drive wasn't as long as we had thought it was going to be, so we had plenty of time to eat and relax. Before walking back to the terminal, we applied the insect repellent we had purchased at Outside Sports in Queenstown. It was a DEET free product and it worked very well - never saw a sandfly let alone have one bite us.

    Having booked the mid-afternoon cruise, the boat wasn't very crowded which made for better picture taking opportunities. And the cruise was very enjoyable because the rain that had been forecasted didn't happen. Left immediately after the cruise and headed back to Te Anau. Went by the Four Square again to pick up items for a self catered dinner before returning to Antler Lodge. A short walk about town after dinner brought another day to an end.

    Day 18
    Continental breakfast provisions were included in the price and were already in the room when we checked-in. As seems to be common in NZ, check out was 10am so we were on our way to Dunedin shortly there after. Stopped in Gore for a light lunch and on the way out town noticed a sign proclaiming the road to Clinton as the Gore-Clinton Presidential Highway - subtle humor on the part of the locals I presume.

    It was mid-afternoon when we arrived at the Dunedin Palms Motel on High St. After getting settled, we took a short walk to the Speight's Ale House on Rattray St. Tried the Czech style pilsner which was very tasty and then went into the Brewery's gift shop [a couple of doors further up the street] to look for a brewery shirt as a souvenir. Even though they had a limited selection, I purchased 3, one for myself and 2 as gifts for others.

    Dropped the shirts off at the motel and began a self guided walk about town. Went first to the Octagon and then to the railway station - very pretty architecture. Walked over to Cadbury's but it was already closed for the day. After checking out the queens gardens [turned out to be nothing more than a street enclosed grassy area], we took the long walk up Cumberland St to the University of Otago. The architecture of the older buildings on campus made the walk worthwhile.

    It was getting late so we walked back to Speight's Ale House for dinner stopping on the way to take pictures of the First Church of Otago [1848]. Wife had the fish special and I tried the lamb shank. The food was good and the best part was it was brought to the table in less than 10 minutes. By far, the best service we experienced in all of NZ.

    Day 19
    Following a self catered breakfast [purchased at Countdown], we walked back to the Octagon to take pictures that were not possible the previous evening due to the angle of the sun. Returned to the motel to get the car and take a drive on the Otago Peninsula. Our first stop was Harington Point [northern most point of the peninsula] where we visited the Royal Albatross Centre. We chose the Unique Taiaroa tour which combines colony viewing from the Richdale Observatory with a walk through the tunnels beneath the colony to Fort Taiaroa and the 1886 Armstrong Disappearing Gun. Were able to see 3 nesting chicks but not lucky enough to see any of the parents whose wing spans can exceed 3 meters in length. And unlike the disappearing gun emplacement in Auckland, this one is actually in working order.

    After the tour, we had a light lunch in the centre's cafe. A sign on the wall indicated their milk shakes were made with ice cream so I ordered one. Another disappointment, it also had the consistency of milk like the one in Makarora. By the time we left the centre, it had started to rain ending our streak of good weather for sight seeing activities. Before returning to Dunedin, however, we decided to drive by Larnach Castle, NZ's only castle built in 1871 by William Larnach. Not very castle like, but the grounds and views were very beautiful even in the light rain.

    By the time we made it back to the motel, the on-again off-again light rain had turned to steady and heavy so we decided to end our sightseeing activities for the day. Later we endured the rain to return to the nearby alehouse for dinner.

    Day 20
    Having booked the 2pm Glacier Explorer Tour at Mt Cook, we were up early and on the road by 8am. The traffic was light and we reached Twizel around 11. Stopped by the Aspen Court Motel, but the room wasn't ready so we went by the Four Square and purchased sandwiches/chips for lunch. After checking in and unloading the car, we headed for Mt Cook. Pausing along the way to take pictures of Lake Pukaki and the mountains, we reached the Hermitage Hotel around 1pm, giving us plenty of time to take pictures before the tour. The sky was clear and sunny allowing us to get pictures of Mt Cook from the east side to add to those we took in Fox Glacier - to paraphrase song lyrics, "we've seen Mt Cook from both sides now".

    The tour consisted of a short bus ride followed by a 30min walk to reach the lake at the terminal end of the Tasman Glacier. Floating about the lake and getting up close and personal with the icebergs that had been calved from the glacier was an unique experience for us. Spent almost an hour and a half [80 minutes between first and last photo] on the lake before reversing the land trek and returning to the hotel. Back in Twizel, we went by the Four Square to purchase items for a self catered dinner and breakfast. The smoked salmon from a local salmon farm was very good. Took a short stroll about town after dinner - definitely not much going on in Twizel.

    Day 21
    Left around 10am for our trip's final destination - Christchurch. Made a short stop at Lake Tekapo to add to our picture collection. Instead of going straight to Christchurch from there, we took a slight detour to make a stop in Pleasant Point. Our son has a friend who immigrated to NZ from Mississippi USA in 1998 and is currently living in the area. She met us in town and we followed her to her house which was about a 10 minute drive northwest of Pleasant Point. Met briefly with her husband before she took us to lunch at the Opihi Vineyard Cafe - good food and wine. Returned to her house and continued our visit until after 4pm. Not wanting us to get lost, she graciously guided us over the back roads to Temuka and SH1 saving us some time on the remaining part of our trip to Christchurch.

    Reached the Roma on Riccarton motel shortly after 6. As a side note, the clothes my wife had left in Rotorua on day 8 were waiting for us on our arrival. Kudos again to Sandy of Sandy's B&B for offering to forward them to us on the SI. Once settled, we chose to walk rather than drive into the CBD. We walked through North Hagley Park and along the River Avon before going to The Twisted Hop on Poplar St for dinner - what can I say, I have a weak spot for brew pubs. As part of her meal, wife had what she said was the best pea soup ever. I had one last pizza [never gave up hoping] which was only okay and beer that was comparable to the Sprig & Fern in Nelson. Based on the motel owner's recommendation, we stayed outside the park on our walk back to the motel, stopping to pick up breakfast food on the way.

    Day 22
    Walked toward the CBD, stopping along the way to stroll about the Botanical Gardens. Continued our exploration of Christchurch with visits to Cathedral Square, Victoria Square, Bridge of Remembrance and Christchurch Cathedral. Somewhere in the meandering, took the time to purchase last minute gifts at the Simply New Zealand Gift Shop and to check e-mails for any changes to our flights for the next day. Having worked up an appetite, we went to the Dux de Lux Aquatarian Restaurant located at the Arts Centre for lunch. Tried their vegetarian fare which was quite good.

    Afterwards, we walked back to the motel to retrieve the car and drove to Akaroa - NZ's sole French settlement and the oldest colonial town on the SI. It was late afternoon when we arrived and the town was pretty quiet with only a few tourists milling about. Started our visit by exploring the harbour area followed by a stroll about town. When it became apparent that anything of interest had already closed for the day [guess we should have reversed the order of our activities for that day], we decided to return to Christchurch for our final dinner in NZ.

    Wanting a place within easy walking distance, we followed the motel owner's recommendation and went to Robbies Bar & Bistro on Clarence St. Once seated, the server let us know they were expecting a group of 50 and we should order fairly quickly since such a large group would overwhelm the kitchen - we certainly appreciated the heads-up. I would classify the restaurant as affordable casual dinning and we found the food to be nothing special but entirely satisfactory. Back in our room, we had a bottle of Opihi Riesling for dessert - our son's friend had given us the wine as we were parting company the day before.

    Day 23
    Where had the time gone? The day to leave had arrived and we were not looking forward to the hassle of dealing with airports and the long flight back to LAX. No different than what we had experienced getting to NZ but somehow the excitement of the trip ahead makes "going" more bearable than "returning".

    Our flight to Auckland didn't leave until mid-afternoon, so we decided to drive along the summit to Lyttleton before returning the car. Never did get to see the views from the summit as the Apex map I was using to navigate didn't include the intersection of Dyers Pass and Summit. As luck would have it, I chose right when left was the right choice. We did get to dodge participants in a bike race before reaching an intersection that offered no clue as to which way we should turn. At this point we were running short on time, so I decided to use the GPS navigation device to get us where we needed to go. Had to endure the wife's reminder that "the GPS is to be used to keep from getting lost and not after you're lost" - we all know it's a man thing not to ask for directions. Later figured out the unknown intersection was around Governor's Bay and we had wound up west of Lyttleton instead of east where we had wanted to be.

    Oh well, we made it back to Apex Car Rental on time and arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. After checking in for our flights, I was puzzled and concerned that the boarding time for our flight from AKL-LAX was before our flight from CHC was scheduled to arrive in AKL. So on arrival in AKL, we hurriedly walked from the domestic terminal to the international terminal. Made it through the normal security check point and went straight to the gate. Much to our surprise there was another security check point where we had to endure a full "pat down" followed by a hand search of our carry-on bags. It was at that point that I understood why the boarding process was started 90 minutes before our scheduled departure. Getting back to the USA has become far more burdensome than leaving it.

    In conclusion, we enjoyed our time in NZ and are ready to return to explore more of the NI. For those who might be interested, below is this trip's itinerary and lodging choices. The number after the lodging is my wife's overall rating for the establishment. She rated Service/Cleanliness/Location/Rooms/Value on a scale of 1-5 [with 5 being the highest] and then averaged the individual ratings.

    Days1-3 Auckland [Langham Hotel - 5.0]
    Hertz Car Rental
    Days4-5 Paihia [Ash Grove Motel - 4.6]
    Days6-7 Rotorua [Sandy's B&B - 4.4]
    Flight to Christchurch
    Apex Car Rental
    Day8 Blenheim [Sundowner Motel - 5.0]
    Days9-10 Nelson [Palazzo Motor Lodge - 4.6]
    Day11 Hokitika [Aneden Motel - 4.4]
    Days12-13 Fox Glacier [Rainforest Motel - 4.6]
    Days14-16 Queenstown [Milestone B&B - 4.4]
    Day17 Te Anau [Antler Lodge - 5.0]
    Day18-19 Dunedin [Dunedin Palms Motel - 4.8]
    Day20 Twizel [Aspen Court Motel - 4.8]
    Days21-23 Christchurch [Roma on Riccarton - 4.8]

  • Report Abuse

    Nightlife in Blenheim? LOL.

    "Also had a delicious local ice cream based dessert the name of which escapes me."

    Hokey Pokey maybe?

    Nice report freetoroam, thanks so much for posting.

  • Report Abuse

    Melnq8
    You're right, name of dessert was the hokey pokey. Recall now making a comment to the server about being familiar with a song by the same name. Server didn't seem to know about the song.

    Thanks for jogging my memory.

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