16 Days on the South Island

Mar 15th, 2017, 06:14 AM
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16 Days on the South Island

My wife and I are 57 & 59 and just got back from 16 days in the South Island, February 22 – March 12. We were blessed with warm and sunny conditions for most of our trip. The locals told us they hadn’t had a summer, January was cloudy and cool for the whole month so we were counting our lucky stars, we brought summer with us.

We started planning this trip by getting advice here, thanks to Diamantina and Melnq8 for all their itinerary suggestions,and ms_go for the html lesson! After selecting our dates and itinerary we then booked accommodations followed by restaurants, just so you know our priorities. The only tours booked prior to leaving were Mt. Cook glacier heli/hike, Milford Sound cruise and kayak, Canyoning in Wanaka and kayaking at Franz Josef.

So here goes. Departed RDU at 7pm on Wednesday 2/22 arrived LAX around 11pm and then off to Auckland at midnight. Arrived Auckland at 9:15 am on Friday 2/24. I have to confess we splurged and flew Business class so we were able to sleep on the long haul. We travel light, one roll aboard and backpack each. We exited the International terminal and was waiting for the bus to take us to the domestic terminal but it was beautiful out we so walked to the domestic terminal, follow the green line on the sidewalk, 10 minutes. We checked our bags with Air New Zealand for our quick trip to Blenheim. In Blenheim we got our rental car (Tiida, we upgraded on second leg) from Apex rental and asked the woman at the counter where we should go for lunch and she sent us to St. Clair Winery, Wow! We sat outside it was 75 and sunny and the food was fabulous. What a way to start! http://www.saintclair.co.nz/default.aspx

First Stop: Grove, Picton

We made our way to our B&B at the Grove, Picton via Picton, we found that the road via Havelock was much easier thanks to Linda and Steve our hosts at the Tanglewood B&B. http://www.tanglewood.net.nz/ Steve and Linda have been running this B&B for 21 years. Our room was nicely appointed and overlooked the Charlotte sound. We had a big comfy bed with a modern bathroom and there was a tiered garden to a hot tub. It was like being in a tree house. Our first night we had dinner with our hosts. They made us a turkey dinner with all the fixins. We met three other people there who were going kayaking the next day on the Charlotte sound and since the forecast was looking good we joined them.

2/25 We woke at 5am feeling rested, had a big breakfast that Linda prepared and then went kayaking for four hours. http://nzseakayaking.com/ We saw puple jelly fish, birds, fish and gorgeous mountains. The water is so clear. Our guide Lance, told us stories about the history of the area and the folk lore. It couldn’t haven more perfect. We said goodbye to our new friends and headed off to Havelock for lunch at the Slip Inn Café, right on the water. https://www.slipinn.co.nz/ The mussels were delicious. We overlooked the marina and got a kick out of the locals pulling their boats out of the water with tractors.

After lunch we headed back to the B&B and jumped in the hot tub. The B&B sign said no vacancy but we were the only ones there. Our hosts were giving themselves a break as it was Steve’s birthday. We then set off to Blenheim for dinner at the Hanz Herzog winery. The restaurant was amazing, gorgeous European style gardens overlooking the mountains. Very fancy, we had the 5 course with wine pairings, unbelievably delicious. http://www.herzog.co.nz/

2/26 This morning started off cloudy and drizzly, we went searching for a sunrise but it didn’t happen. We had breakfast and then drove to the Pelorus bridge and hiked the circle trak. The suspension bridge was so cool and was part of the filming of the Hobit. The weather cleared and it was a beautiful day for a hike. There is a café near the bridge but it was too early for lunch. We were headed to Mistletoe point but the weather looked better to the west so we headed to Nelson. It took about a hour and it was a beautiful ride. Nelson is on the Tasman Sea, we found the Morri St. Café and had a delicious lunch outside in the sun. We headed back to the B&B to do some laundry and get ready for our 5am departure the next day. We had dinner at the Mussel Pot in Havelock, the green lipped Mussels were Huge!

Next Stop, Mt. Cook

phishears is offline  
Mar 15th, 2017, 07:51 AM
Join Date: Sep 2012
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Thanks for sharing, phishears; I look forward to following along. Excellent photos too. I'm a bit surprised to hear about the cooler weather in NZ as it was very warm in Australia when we were there in December and January; I thought to heat would make its way across the Tasman but sounds like it didn't for a bit.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Mar 15th, 2017, 09:36 AM
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Setting in for more!

I always find the walk between terminals in Auckland just what I need after that long flight.

We had a Tiida on our last trip too - the locals call them Tiddles.
Melnq8 is offline  
Mar 15th, 2017, 11:33 AM
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Mt. Cook

2/27 We made our way to the Blenheim airport for an early flight to Christchurch on Sounds Air. It was a small one engine prop plane where you can see the pilot, 10 seats, perfect flight.

We were originally going to drive to Kaikoura and overnight but changed our plans due to the earthquake. Thinking back the drive from Kaikoura – Mt. Cook would’ve been a bear.

Arrived Christchurch at 8:30am got our upgraded rental car, ford Focus, Woo Hoo, but it was much nicer than the Tiida. We drove 4 hours to Lake Pukaki. The beginning of the drive was flat but once you got past Burke’s pass it got interesting. The southern alps are beautiful and the lakes are electric powder blue, so intense.

We got a bite to eat at the Hydro in Twizle and then checked into the Lakestone Lodge. http://www.lakestonelodge.co.nz/ The lodge only has 9 rooms. They all have the amazing view you'll see in the photos. The view out the room is Mt. Cook overlooking Lake Pukaki, just stunning. It must have been 80 degrees the day we arrived and not a cloud in the sky. We headed to Mt. Cook 45 minutes from the lodge and hiked the Hooker Valley Trak to the Hooker Glacier terminal lake. Took us about 2.5 hours, we had to rush as dinner was at 7pm at the Lakestone Lodge. Dinner is extra but it was well worth it. They served us Sweet corn soup, grilled lamb and chocolate mousse. We sat on our back porch that night and the stars were amazing as we had a new moon.

2/28 My birthday! Woke up to another beautiful day, the sunrise was over the top again no clouds. We had a delicious breakfast then headed to the Mt. Cook airport four our helicopter ride to the Tasman glacier. Alpine guides are a class act. http://www.alpineguides.co.nz/

There were 9 of us 5 in one helicopter and 4 in the other. They took us to the glacier where we strapped on our ice spikes and started hiking. The glacier was very uneven and the guide used his pick ax to create footholds. He took us to an ice hole that we were able to crawl down into and crawled into an ice tunnel. We loved it, the hike was 2 hours. We drove back to the lodge to change as the day had warmed up to around 80 degrees again! We drove out to the Mt. John Conservatory. The views of Lake Topeka were beautiful. That night for dinner the lodge served venison, perfectly prepared.

Next Stop, Queenstown

phishears is offline  
Mar 15th, 2017, 01:32 PM
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Following along!

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Mar 15th, 2017, 01:49 PM
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Tekapo, but close enough
Melnq8 is offline  
Mar 15th, 2017, 02:21 PM
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Melnq8 we're still getting back on east coast time and we both have dexlysia :-0 I meant to say up front we make no excuses for grammar or #alternativefacts Also, photos are all over the place as they're from 2 cell phones and an actual real camera (go figure).
phishears is offline  
Mar 15th, 2017, 02:34 PM
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Lakestone Lodge sounds like heaven. Glad you had the opportunity to enjoy the area in great weather too.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Mar 15th, 2017, 02:38 PM
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Glad I could help with the HTML (which is about the extent of my HTML skills) and looking forward to following along! If you were heading to Queenstown on March 1, then we were there at the same time. Where did you stay?
ms_go is offline  
Mar 15th, 2017, 03:08 PM
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Tripplanner001 the Lakestone Lodge was heaven. ms_go we stayed at the Glebe apartments, walking distance to the water front. Without further ado let's do Queenstown.
phishears is offline  
Mar 15th, 2017, 03:31 PM
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3/1 Saw Mt. Cook at sunrise but by the time we ate and left we were socked in with fog. Feeling very blessed to have two cloudless days.

Next stop Quenstown, the drive was beautiful, the fog lifted and we had another sunny day. Our hosts in Picton suggested we stop in Arrowtown for lunch and we’re glad we did. We ran into a local after lunch and she suggested we eat lunch at the Amisfiled Winery if we could, more on that later. We stopped and took pictures at the river on the way to Queenstown and ran into our very first sand fly, only one, but the sucker got me.

We checked into the Glebe apartments and since they’re privately owned they’re getting mixed reviews, as some owners keep their apartments up more than others. I emailed in advance that I’d appreciate a well maintained apartment and upon arrival found that we had been upgraded to a two bedroom, #404, with a lake view! Doesn’t hurt to ask. We got settled in and walked into town around the lake and bought some provisions at the four square grocery and Henry's liquor for wine, half the price than Betty's liquor.

The Glebe apartments are in a great part of town, we could walk to the harbor and dinner at the Jervois steak house. We ordered a big ass bone in rib eye that was cooked perfectly and had excellent service.

3/2Somewhere along the line someone mentioned biking to Amisfield Winery for lunch. http://amisfield.co.nz/

So I found an outfit who would shuttle us and bikes to Arrowtown and from there we biked the Queenstown trail to Amisfield for lunch. http://www.aroundthebasin.co.nz/ I was able to book a 9am departure the morning of!

I tried to reserve a table online but they were sold out so I phoned them and they gave us a table outside at noon. We did the wine tasting prior to lunch. Lunch and the views were over the top.

So we were dropped off at Arrowtown and given a trail map and made our way to Amisfield. Well we lost the trail in the first kilometer. Who knew we had to cut through a Golfing community and private homes to stay on the trail. We stopped and asked folks where to go and they’d say “follow your nose” a New Zealand saying we heard more than once. The ride and the view around Lake Hayes were breathtaking. The trail was steep in spots and mostly gravel. We got back on our bikes and headed for Queenstown. We underestimated how long it would take and we ended up biking over 30K!

Dinner at Rata’s was fantastic, you must have a reservation, we were seated at the bar, which was fun to watch the kitchen staff make it all happen. http://www.ratadining.co.nz/ again walking distance from Glebe apartments.

Did I mention we like to eat?

3/2 Our hosts in Picton convinced us we had to do a jetboat ride, so we did the Dart River Jet Boat and Funyak tour in Glenorchy http://www.dartriver.co.nz/?utm_sour...0My%20Business

These guys were a class act, you jet boat for an hour doing up to 90 knots in Mt. Aspiring National Park. They do 360’s but they always seemed to have things under control. After jet boating you’re dropped off on the river banks and given your funyak, a toss between a kayak and canoe. The river runs pretty fast so if you don’t pay attention you can get stranded on the banks or the shallows. They put out a great spread for lunch. They also took us to a chasm that was unbelievable. They suit you up in wet suits and although it rained on us this day we were very comfortable and warm.

Dinner at Gantley’s to celebrate Lynn’s birthday. The old home was fun and the food and service were great. http://www.gantleys.co.nz/

Next stop, Te Anau

phishears is offline  
Mar 16th, 2017, 02:49 AM
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Thanks for reporting back. So glad you had good luck with the weather. What fun adventures! The B&Bs you stayed in, Tanglewood and Lakestone Lodge, look gorgeous. Lakestone Lodge seems like a great alternative to the limited accommodation in Mt. Cook village and Glentanner. Tanglewood served you turkey! What a treat in New Zealand. You'll rarely find it in stores, generally only around Xmas and New Year's.

I agree Amisfield Bistro is wonderful, a must for "foodies" headed to Queenstown. Would you recommend would-be diners drive instead of cycle? The local "Connectabus" goes there as well. I enjoyed Rata, too, but found the portions a little spare.

Your report about Alpine Guides in Mt. Cook will be really useful for those who'd like to experience walking on a glacier, but won't be visiting Fox or Franz Josef. I had a look at the link. Was it the "single day guided hike" that you went on?

You were indeed fortunate to enjoy two perfect days and nights at Mt. Cook/Lake Pukaki/Lake Tekapo (Topeka should be so lucky to have such a lake). That view from Mt. John Observatory is one of my favorites. The clear starry sky during the new moon must have been wondrous.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your report.
Diamantina is offline  
Mar 16th, 2017, 03:26 AM
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Correction Diamantina, it was chicken with all the fixins' not turkey.

You should only bike to Amisfield if you want a work out before and after lunch, I would definitley recommend driving or the bus if available.

I could not find the helihike at Mt. Cook offered on the web page I posted but found it here, strange. I'm' going to let them know.

phishears is offline  
Mar 16th, 2017, 05:30 AM
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We can't seem to visit the SI anymore without at least one lunch (and several take away bottles of Pinot Noir) at Amisfield Winery.

It just annoys me to no end that Amisfield charges a 100% mark-up on bottles of wine consumed in their restaurant over the cellar door price, which is already pretty pricy. Maybe its to keep tables turning, by preventing folks from settling in too long.

We've made that trip around Lake Hayes several times as well, on foot. That's eight of of your 30K right there.

I've taken the Dart River Safari a few times, and absolutely loved it. A beautiful intro to Mt Aspiring for those who have never been. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it!

I'm thoroughly enjoying your report, especially as we have no current plans to return to the SI...yet.
Melnq8 is offline  
Mar 16th, 2017, 05:41 AM
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Thanks Melnq8 it's fun reliving the trip. Managing all the photos not so fun. Just finished Te Anau / Milford text now putting photos togther.

I was surprised with the wine markup as well, here in the states we often bring our own wine and pay a $10 - $20 corkage fee. We bought a case of the Amisfild wine, free shipping to US

We can't wait to go back and do all the things we missed this time.
phishears is offline  
Mar 16th, 2017, 05:47 AM
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The locals told us they hadn’t had a summer, January was cloudy and cool for the whole month so we were counting our lucky stars, we brought summer with us.

I heard it at least a dozen times, myself. And took credit for the sunshine most of the time, too!
mr_go is offline  
Mar 16th, 2017, 06:37 AM
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Te Anau / Milford Fiord

3/4 Moving day, we packed up and went to Fergburger to get a breakfast sandwich, I actually thought about having a burger for breakfast they looked so good. The egg and bacon sandwich was huge. Served on a hamburger bun like a burger with lettuce tomato and some ketchup sauce (which I didn’t care for). I would like to point out they know how to cook crispy bacon, something you don’t see very often. http://www.fergburger.com/fullscreen.html fun website just went there for the first time.

I’m not sure if I’m the last one to realize this, you can download google maps of the area you’ll be in to your smart phone and access them while offline. Cell service is spotty at best and the offline maps sure came in handy and saved on data usage. Google maps – settings – Offline areas – custom. It will download the area on your screen.

The drive from Queenstown to Te Anau along Lake Wakatipu is one of those drives that adds an hour or more to the trip. We stopped a few times for pictures. The scenery takes your breath away, we had another beautiful day. We drove along Lake Te Anau when we got into town and then went on to the Blue Thistle Cottages to check in. The owners Annette and Peter and their dog Lucy greeted us. Our cottage was perfect. Beautiful view of the mountains, private yard and garden 3k from town center. http://teanauaccommodation.kiwi/

Annette suggested we hike the Kepler Trak, which we did but first we went off to Lake Mistletoe as weather was going to move in the next day and I wanted to see some of what I’d read about on a clear day. We also went to Te Anau downs and saw folks preparing to depart on the Milford Track, maybe “we’ll” do that next time.

We had a two hour hike to Brod Bay on the Kepler track. We couldn’t get over how beautiful the forests were, at times they don’t look real, like it’s on a movie set.

Dinner at the Kepler, Lobster for 2, yum. You must have a reservation, they turned folks away all evening. We liked it so much they were able to squeeze us in the next night.

3/5 We had a 9am cruise / kayak with Southern Discoveries. We headed out at 6am and basically had the Milford road to ourselves. There were low lying clouds this morning and drizzling. We made really good time as we had time to stop at the Chasm before going on to the Milford car park. It was 7:40am and we had the Chasm to ourselves! It was just getting light. We passed another couple as we headed out, that was it.

We checked into our cruise and I’d say there were 40 or 50 of us. Southern Discoveries have several boats of different sizes and I was surprised they took us out on the biggest. When you board they have a buffet breakfast, you can eat on the first level or take your tray upstairs.

After breakfast we made our way to the top open air deck and we were the only people up there, again we were surprised. At the most 15 people were up top. The drizzle stopped and the clouds lifted some but this weather is what makes Milford as spectacular as it is.

After the cruise we were dropped off at the Underwater observatory and a guide gathered the kayakers and we suited up. As advertised the kayaking came with sand flies, we had our repellent and it kept them at bay.

I was disappointed with the kayaking as we stayed near the observatory and although it was beautiful we had just seen other kayakers right next to the waterfalls and that would’ve been more fun. I would suggest doing cruise only and kayak with http://www.roscosmilfordkayaks.com/ If you’re a beginner kayaker then the Southern Discoveries kayak would be fine.

The other disappointment was we were told we’d be done at noon and we didn’t get back to the docks until 1:15 and this cut into our exploring on our return trip. The observatory was just ok for me, I didn’t need that much time there. http://www.southerndiscoveries.co.nz/

After our picnic lunch we set off for Humboldt Falls, Lake Marion Falls, Mirror Lake and Henry’s Creek. There were many other stops as the weather had lifted and we had to take in all that we missed on the predawn drive. I probably took 1000 pictures on this day alone. Also as advertised it was a Long day, we made it back to our cottage at 6pm, grateful that we only had to go as far as Te Anau.

Dinner at the Kepler.

Next stop, Wanaka

phishears is offline  
Mar 16th, 2017, 10:08 AM
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Free shipping to the US! That's wonderful news!

I suggest this to people all the time, but most don't believe me.
Melnq8 is offline  
Mar 16th, 2017, 10:26 AM
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Your report just gets better and better - and tastier and tastier. You and the couple other travelers who've been posting reports about the South Island is really tempting me to seriously think about a visit next year.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Mar 16th, 2017, 11:35 AM
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3/6 Breakfast at the Sand Fly. On our drive we saw a herd of sheep being herded by 3 dogs, quite the spectacle. We stopped at Kingston for some photos, another sunny day.

We drove the Crown range to Wanaka, the views were amazing. Stopped in Cadrona at the Heritage Historic Church, which my wife said had the cleanest bathrooms ever.

Next thing I know I’m hitting the breaks and making a u turn to make sure I just saw what I saw. Sure enough there is a fence covered in bras out in the middle of nowhere. One young lady took her bra off and her girlfriend took a picture of her at the fence. The fence is called Bra-Drona and there was a donation box benefiting breast cancer so we contributed.

Lunch at Urban Grind and then onto the Riverview Terrace B&B. http://www.riverviewterrace.co.nz/ This was a fabulous place to stay. It was built as a B&B 8 years ago, there are three rooms with bathrooms for guests and the hosts live in the rest of the house. When we arrived no one was home but the door was open. We rang the owner and he told us which room was ours and that Nicky would be along soon. There was a guitar in the sitting room and I strummed a tune. Our hosts Nicky and James were wonderful. She used to own a bistro in town and James is a wine maker (our kind of people). He has his own label “Black Peak” and he makes wine for others as well. They pour his Pinot and Riesling in the evening. http://www.blackpeakwines.co.nz/

The home is 5k from Wanaka in Albert town at the base of Mt. Iron. After getting situated we did the Mt. Iron track. Beautiful 360 degree views from up top.

We had Pinot and Canape’s with our hosts and then off to Kika, no reservations but worth the wait.

3/7 I went canyoning. My wife is a good sport but she wasn’t interested in this and it’s a good thing. When I checked in, the trip I signed up for, Robinson Creek was cancelled. For two reasons, we had rain in the evening so there was too much water in the creek and it was chilly, 55, so we would’ve been too cold due to elevation. So they switched us to the Niger Stream trip.

We drove around 45 minutes out of town and geared up. This included wet suit, helmet, gloves, booties, tennis shoes and an abseiling or rappelling harness. You actually just get your gear together and then hike up the mountain for 45 minutes. After you get to the top you don all your gear. You’re shown how to abseil and off you go! Next thing you know we're abseiling like 20 meters down into the canyon. My heart was pounding, this was the most extreme thing I’d ever done and I probably should have done it 20 years and 20 pounds ago. We also slid down rock slides into pools of crystal clear water. We ziplined from one side of the canyon to the other. At the end you had the option of jumping 13 meters into a pool. What an adventure! There were 3 other couples along all 30 years younger than me but I held my own. The guy from Colorado told me to tell my wife I put him to shame, he struggled at first. The others were from Brisbane and Israel. So I asked the guide about our trip and it’s their introduction trip but he said in Europe this trip would be considered Advanced Intermediate, Yikes! I stayed warm but the ladies were chilled, they didn't have as much fat as I.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Nicky left a bike out for Lynn but she couldn’t adjust the seat and the helmet didn’t fit. So Lynn walked to town had a lovely lunch at Relishes and did some shopping. She was due for a day off. My rest days were my driving days. Lynn’s walk was 10k, our rainy morning had turned into another beautiful sunny day!

This evening we were joined by 2 other couples, 1 from Germany and the other from Raleigh, North Carolina 20 minutes from our home, small world. The German couple go to NZ every year and every other year they do both Islands, otherwise it’s the south.

Nicky made a reservation for us at the Whitehouse, we had reservations somewhere else but she said we had to go to the Whitehouse. Nicky doesn’t send everyone but she thought we’d like it because we’re foodies. The place is quirky could use interior and exterior maintenance. The owner is odd and you never know what might happen. He was on his best behavior this evening. The owner’s son is the chef and we shared the Rib Eye, yummy! Our server Ashlynn was a hoot, young and attractive, reminded us of Lady Gaga. It was suggested we get a couple of Bruschetta’s and then share the main.

3/8 Another beautiful day. We rode out to the Rob Roy Glacier Track, 30k is a gravel road. It was cool because we passed the area that I had canyoned. There were 6 Fords / streams that we had to drive through. The track was 11.5K with an elevation of 1558 feet and it took 3 ¾ hours. Lots of climbing but well worth it. The views at the top are amazing and there’s a creek that runs along a long portion of the track that is beautiful. We saw 2 Kia birds.

After the hike, we rewarded ourselves with a wine tasting at the Ripon winery. The most photographed winery in the country, so we’re told. What a beautiful setting!

At happy hour that evening the German couple told us about their flying lesson. He takes flying lessons because it’s cheaper than taking a sightseeing flight and his wife gets to come along for free. They flew out to Mt. Cook and the next day they were flying to Milford sound. These two were clever. The young couple from NC were still out gallivanting, we wouldn’t see them until breakfast.

Dinner at Bistro Gentile, located on a golf course with beautiful views of the lake. Our hosts wine was on the menu so that’s what we ordered and some food of course, delicious!

The next morning at breakfast we were catching up with the couple from NC and asked them about their adventures the day before. They said they went to puzzle world and got lost in a maze and then played Frisbee golf. So you’ve got that, the flying lessons and the hiking winos.

Next Stop, Franz Josef

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