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2 FABULOUS WEEKS IN SOUTH ISLAND – NZ trip report Pt 1 (Warning: It’s quite long!)

2 FABULOUS WEEKS IN SOUTH ISLAND – NZ trip report Pt 1 (Warning: It’s quite long!)

Nov 5th, 2007, 08:13 PM
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Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 30
2 FABULOUS WEEKS IN SOUTH ISLAND – NZ trip report Pt 1 (Warning: It’s quite long!)

I owe this report to all of you wonderful people who have helped me plan our recent family holiday to the South Island last September/early October ‘07. We had a fantastic time – god how I envy the New Zealanders – they are so lucky to be blessed with such gob-smackingly beautiful landscape, lovely, friendly people and great food! I’d love to retire there some day.

Rather than do a day-to-day account, I will format this report based on the key locations in our itinerary. Okay, here’s a quick intro to our family of 4. We are two 49’ers with 2 kids, a 12-yr old boy and 16-yr old girl, all seasoned travelers but only our 2nd time in NZ (did Christchurch and North Island in 2003). Husband: typical academic, a cranky couch potato, kids: typical teenagers, technology savvy. Me: typical mum, loves food and running.

CHRISTCHURCH (2 nights, weather: generally cloudy and cool with a bit of sunshine)
We love this city, it is very pretty and the pace is comfortable.
Accommodation: Airport Motor Lodge, 2-bedroom unit, NZ$160, great value, spacious and clean, very close to the airport, 10-minute drive to the city through cherry blossom-lined avenue and lovely suburbs, yet very easy access to roads out of Christchurch
Our favourite hangout: Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens. We visited the gardens in Spring 2003 and were bowled over by the beauty of the place, daffodils and bluebells everywhere, rhododendrons and all sorts of flowering plants in bloom, we had to go back in 2007. It was lovely to take exactly the same photos of the kids sitting amongst the daffodils and on the same branch of our favourite tree – my, how they’ve changed in 4 years! Must have spent a couple of hours walking round the gardens, it was such a beautiful day, lots of families on picnics, weddings, old folks soaking in the sun. Also visited the Canterbury Museum again, great displays here, particularly the Antarctic section. By the way, there is great all-day parking near the hospital at the end of Tuam St., very central to everything, entry via Antigua St.
Favourite place: The Arts Centre! What an interesting place! It used to be the old University of Canterbury and the building layout reminded one of Oxford and Cambridge, and it still had that same ambience today even as the rooms are now converted to shops, craft galleries and cafes. There was a craft market outside on the Worcester Blvd. side and international food stalls on the Hereford St side. We loved wandering round the shops and hanging out in the quadrangle, listening to a wandering Serbian choir, watching a wedding. We kept eating stuff from the food stalls all day, lunch segued into afternoon tea then we bought heaps of leftover satays when the stalls were closing and took them home for tea! My daughter bought the most divine fudges from the Fudge Cottage, thought they’d last for several days, they went in two! If you like fudge, this is heaven for you, we think it is the best in New Zealand, we’ve tried other places and they really don’t compare. Hmmm, I wish I could have one now!
Favourite shop: Smith’s Bookshop. What a discovery! We stumbled on this bookshop on Manchester St. on our first day while waiting for the nearby Lone Star restaurant to open (great comfort food, humoungus servings) and we loved it. Second-hand books in 3 floors, bookshelves up to the ceiling, it had the air of an old English bookshop in Notting Hill, classical music in the background, it was excellent! We had to go back there the next morning to give it a really good look and realized that this shop was on a street with antique and collectible shops around, just our kind of area! Smith’s Bookshop is a great place to browse and look for antiquarian books, old prints, etc… it was like stepping back in time and getting a picture of what New Zealanders had in their shelves 50-100 years ago. My husband bought a couple of history books, daughter found herself some poetry books, my son and I had fun digging through piles of old sheet music till we found some solo cornet pieces (his teacher thought they were absolutely good value).
bellytoo is offline  
Nov 5th, 2007, 08:19 PM
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WEST COAST (4 nights, weather: mostly glorious sunshine, believe it or not!)
Boy, we were so lucky to have such beautiful weather on the West Coast at this time of year. We were already mentally prepared of the fact that it will be wild, wet and windy, especially as we had driven over Arthur’s Pass from Christchurch in just that kind of weather (still, the Arthur’s Pass drive is truly worth it even in such wet conditions, the scenery in fact is quite dramatic when the skies are grey and brooding, our stop at the Otira viaduct lookout was wet and wild, yet we were entertained by a kea who had to walk sideways because of the wind! Also stopped at the Arthur’s Pass village for some yummy soup at the Wobbly Kea café.). When we got over the range, we were met by lovely sunshine all the way to Greymouth. We stopped at Greymouth for a while just for a look, found yet another antique shop on the quayfront and walked up and down the floodwall by the Grey River watching whitebait fishermen cast their nets. We had a chat with some locals who eagerly briefed us on the art of catching and cooking whitebait, one of them even scrambled down the rocks to borrow a bucketful from the fishermen to show us some freshly caught whitebait.

Punakaiki (1 night)
When my kids say “Why can’t we stay here longer?”, I know we’ve found a magical place. We love this place. Only stayed for 1 night and wish we made it longer, the scenery is simply stunning. The drive to Punakaiki from Greymouth is supposed to be 40 minutes but it took us longer as we kept stopping along the coast to take photos and play on the pebble beaches. My son and husband had a stone skipping competition throughout our trip so we always had to have these stone skipping stops. Fabulous pebble beaches all along the coast, excellent photo opportunities for us and perfect stones for my son. And guess what, no sandflies, contrary to all the warnings, we were not bothered by any at all! We’re we just lucky?
Our accommodation: Punakaiki Cottage Motels, family cottage right by the sea, NZ$140, this was our greatest find, it was beautiful, rustic yet modern and very spacious (you could fit 6-7 people easily), it was basically a house! My husband said he didn’t care if it rained at all, he would just sit in that house and read and listen to the waves. Our bedroom had a fabulous view of the sea – it did rain that night, the sound of rain on the tinroof along with the waves crashing 30 meters or so plus the occasional flash of lightning was a great sensory experience.
Favourite walk: to the Pancake Rocks, of course! High tide was at 8:30 in the morning so I promised the kids that if they got up early to walk to the Rocks, we could have pancakes for breakfast at the West Coast Café. Earlier that morning I had gone for a run up to the Rocks (only 10 minutes from our cottage) and saw a family of wekas on the road. Unfortunately, I heard one of them get run over by a speeding car – I guess it was inevitable as these birds are quite slow moving and rather blazé about traffic (though why one would speed through this pretty stretch of road baffles me). The Pancake Rocks are as awesome as everyone says on this forum, they certainly performed beautifully on the day, we saw some spectacular blowholes as the sea rushed through the rocky passages. The walk round the Rocks is about 20-30 minutes but once again, we took our time as the scenery was just gorgeous.
Favourite treat: Pancakes at the West Coast Café – my kids thought they were the best they’ve ever tasted (what about the ones I make, eh?).
Favourite find: fossils on rocks – the seawall in the front of the township is made of sedimentary rocks cut from the nearby cliffs – as we walked amongst the rocks, we noticed that some have been eroded and split into layers which one could crack open and to our surprise, contained fossils of leaves and branches! Our family loves fossils and we were so excited to find heaps of them in one place. Cracking a rock was like opening a Christmas present, we did not know what sort of fossil we would find. Reading up on the geology of the Punakaiki area, it appears that these fossils may be from the forest vegetation which accumulated on the low lying landmass 45 million years ago before the sea advanced over the land. Awesome! And all these just from rocks on a seawall! It’s yet another proof how truly ancient the landscape in this area is and it is such a humbling feeling.

Sadly, had to leave Punakaiki and drive south. Stopped for fuel at Greymouth and food at Hokitika (not much here, missed the Gorge turn-off, couldn’t find it signposted, ate whitebait fritters at a café on Tancred St, so-so, very eggy, custard slice was rockhard). Also stopped at the Pukekura - great photo opportunity here, at the Puke Pub, get it? If you stop, you must visit the Possum Café opposite with an interesting display featuring that quirky sense of humor only New Zealanders would have, you can’t miss it, it has a giant sandfly in front! Rockskipping stop at Lake Ianthe where I had to take my jumper off as it was 23 degrees!

Franz Josef (2 nights)
We also liked this place, had that alpine village atmosphere, bustling in the middle of the day but relaxed any other time. Great walks all around the place. One morning I ran from the village to the glacier terminal carpark (1-hr return), the road was empty, I felt like I owned the place!
Our Accommodation: Alpine Glacier Motor Lodge, king studio, NZ$120, great value for money, king size bed and so close to everything! Lovely proprietors (I commented to Billy how I had a dry custard slice at Hokitika, he promptly took out a custard slice from the fridge that he was saving for a snack and gave me a taste – it was delish! Told me to get some from Cheeky Kea on the main street, he was right, they’re so yummy!). The water pressure dropped in the mornings so we had very little hot water coming through, when we mentioned this to the office, they were there within seconds to fix it (even gave us a key to another studio where we could use the shower).
Favourite experience: Half-day hike up the Franz Josef Glacier, of course. Need I say more, it was brilliant, it was awesome, it was so much fun! Our guides were very, very good and extremely helpful. My son was the youngest in the group and they kept a good eye on him. The climb up the terminal face was just amazing, within 10 minutes of climbing on ice, we were 25 metres up on the glacier with a great view of the valley below. As we kept walking, the view got better and better and ice got bluer and bluer, it was sheer magic. Strangely enough, we did not feel cold at all, I guess it was all the energy we were burning and the exhilaration and the thrill of the climb that kept us warm. On our way down, we met some of the full-day walkers coming back with big smiles on their faces. So glad we did the half-day walk though, those boots and crampons were pretty heavy on our feet (when we took them off, our legs flew up as we walked!) – lost two toenails in the end but it was worth it!
Favourite restaurant: The Landings. After such a horrid experience at one other restaurant in Franz Josef (see report below), our dinner at The Landings represented the other end of the service spectrum: it was brilliant, friendly and efficient – and oh, the food was great! Our waiter was perfect, advised on our choices (where would one find a waiter who would tell our daughter not to bother with the garlic bread as the servings are so huge she won’t be able to fit in her chicken burger afterwards! And he was right!). Our food came on time and they were delicious! My son had a meat lovers pizza, I had a roast lamb and kumara pizza (hmmm, heaven!) and my husband had his lamb shanks fix. My kids’ comment: wish we came here earlier.
Our least favourite restaurant: Monsoon Restaurant – avoid this one like the plague! The kids wanted comfort food and the menu seemed good value for money so we went on our first night. We arrived at 6:30 pm, bought drinks from the bar and sat down to read the menu. At that time there was one other group already eating their meals and another family having their drinks. By 6:45 pm we placed and paid for our orders at the bar. Bangers & mash (x2) for the kids, lamb shanks (x2) for us.
At 7:00, a crowd of young people came into the restaurant, looks like they were a coachload from Kiwi Experience (based on the logo in one of the leaders), and they all sat down and had drinks. After some time, the waiters came out and brought out pizzas for the group which they all ate. Our food still hadn't arrived, nor the food of the family in the other table.
By 7:30, the kids were getting anxious so I called the waiter to ask how long our food will be. The waiter was of European origin and could hardly speak English (obviously a backpacker on casual employment), after 15 minutes she came back with a confused look and said that our order is number 12 on the list (what??? we asked her to explain, she just looked stunned, and apologized that it was her first day at work!!!). By this time, my husband was irate and went to the bar to ask for the manager only to be told that she wasn't around. Not acceptable, my husband asked for the manager to be called.
8:00 pm, 1 hour and 15 minutes since our food was ordered, the manager came all huffy and puffy and told us that she's been working all day and this is the first time that she's been called back at THAT time of night. We told her that we have been waiting for more than an hour for our food and her reply was "what do you want me to do about it? do you want a free bottle of wine?" What an insult!!! We told her, no, we just want to know when our food was coming. So off she went to the kitchen and came back to tell us that our food will be ready in 10 minutes and left. By this time, we were so starving that to leave the restaurant and look for alternative meals somewhere would take more time - and besides we had already paid for our meals (on hindsight now, I wish we asked for our money back). Looking around I noticed that the other family was only just being served and so I jokingly asked them how long they waited and like us, they also waited for more than 1 hour!
8:30 pm when our food came, our appetites were already ruined by the wait that no matter how hearty the servings may have been it was all wasted on us. The kids ate only half of the sausages and my husband was so angry that he could not enjoy his favourite meal of lamb shanks.
All in all, a nice family dinner ruined by a greedy restaurant who could not be honest with their customers about the time it will take for food to be served. It appears that the earlier booking of Kiwi Experience was the cause for the delay. Well, they knew that the coach was coming in at 7:00 for their pizzas, they should have warned people ordering before then that there may be some delay so we can make our decision whether to stay or not. They didn't and left us wondering whatever happened to our orders. A truly awful restaurant. If you want to eat with a coachload of backpackers, served stock-standard cheap food and be treat like dirt when you complain, then this restaurant is up there on the recommended list. (p.s. when my husband went to the toilet he said it was full of women’s underwear – a backpacker prank perhaps?)
Favourite timefiller: A walk on the Terrace Track (30 min return), across the road from the DOC, lovely rainforest walk, my kids called it the Ent Forest, it was a botanical paradise, a bewildering variety of liverworts, mosses and lichens competing with ferns and other trees.

Haast (1 night)
The drive between Franz Josef and Haast is supposed to be only under 3 hours, but why hurry? We stopped at Fox Glacier (walked up to the terminal face, 30 minutes one way, very easy track, the valley walls are more spectacular than Franz Josef, really sheer and quite imposing, reminiscent of Helm’s Deep, great view of the glacier within 5 minutes of walking and you get as close as 40 m from the terminal face), the Fox township (lunch at Café Neve, my husband was delighted to order a gammon sandwich, the only place in NZ to have it on the menu, I had a delicious kumara, zucchini & bacon soup which my kids kept dipping in), Lake Matheson (a relaxing 30 min walk to the View of Views lookout and boy, it is truly magnificent, those calendar photos are not wrong, the reflection of the mountains on the lake was awe-inspiring – proof: my kids went quiet as they stood to admire the view as if they were inside a church, the last time they were like this was at the Pantheon in Rome!) and Lake Paringa (small salmon farm with a lovely little café with great views of the mountains on the deck, had afternoon tea here).
Our Accommodation: Wilderness Accommodation, family unit, NZ$120, great value, very very spacious (you could fit 8 in our unit!) and right in the middle of Haast township (the supermarket is right behind and Fantail Café is right next to it). We met a local family who has been visiting Haast for the last 5 years to go whitebaiting.
Our favourite treat: Collecting mussels at Jacksons Bay, oh, this rates very close to the top of our favourite holiday memories. We drove to Jacksons Bay with the intention of eating at the Cray Pot (touted to be the best fish&chip on the West Coast), it was a very pleasant drive, straight roads, no traffic, lovely scenery, coastal rainforest interspersed by views of the windswept coastline, the afternoon sun streaming through the canopy was just glorious. When we got to Jacksons Bay, we found the Cray Pot shut with a sign “Closed for 3 days due to power outage” – oh dear, after promising ourselves the ultimate fish&chip treat, what a letdown! However, one can’t really get in a sad mood after such a beautiful drive, so we all decided “it just wasn’t meant to be” (ps. My family lives by the old adage: when one door closes, another one opens). We actually like the feeling of Jacksons Bay, a real sleepy fishing village. On our way back we saw a number of cars parked by the sea so we thought we’d stop and check what they were looking at. Well, they turned out to be locals collecting mussels on the rocks! There were family groups with buckets walking up and down the rocks picking mussels so we joined them and what a treat that was! There were heaps and heaps of greenlipped and blacklipped mussels all stuck on the rocks and big ones too! After 30 minutes, my son had a bag full of mussels, more than what we could afford back home! So off we drove back to Haast to cook them in our unit (steamed the mussels in white wine bought from the supermarket – yummmm!). Up to now, our family still talks about the time we collected mussels on Jacksons Bay, it was such a fun family activity. It was easily one of the best meals we’ve had on this trip, the freshest seafood ever – and it was free! Thanks NZ!

Our last night on the West Coast was spent at Haast. We’ve had such a great trip so far. That night the whole family went outside to look at the full moon rise over the mountains, it was a magical moment.
bellytoo is offline  
Nov 5th, 2007, 08:27 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,105
She's baaaack! I've been anxiously waiting to hear all about your trip bellytoo. Fudge? How did I miss fudge?

Keep it coming, please...
Melnq8 is online now  
Nov 5th, 2007, 09:38 PM
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 8,043
Fabulous report, it makes me want to spend more time looking at my own country. I have been to Pancake Rocks several times but only spent an hour or so there each time. I think DH and I might have to spend a couple of nights there based on your report.

Have not done the full Haast route yet either, have only been as far as Lake Mathieson.
nelsonian is offline  
Nov 5th, 2007, 10:39 PM
Join Date: Dec 2004
Posts: 3,254
bellytoo: I've been enjoying having a quick browse through your delightful trip report, though I promised my husband I wouldn't be late on the computer tonight! Too bad you missed the fish and chips since the Cray Pot was closed, but I know what you mean about figuring, something either was or wasn't meant to be. It's better than stewing about it! How fantastic you ended up on an unexpected mussel-collecting venture, with a tasty meal to follow!

I must applaud your husband, the academic "cranky couch potato", for his good nature in being willing to accompany his family on such a wonderful trip. I know some unhappy wives whose husbands refuse to travel out of their home towns!

Isn't it true that you've never seen a full moon rising over the mountains until you've seen that happen out in the gorgeous wilderness, away from all the usual city lights? Thanks for sharing!

Melissa5 is offline  
Nov 6th, 2007, 12:11 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 11,480
Great report - we *must* go to the South Island one of these days!

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Nov 6th, 2007, 09:02 PM
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Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 30
Thanks for the comments folks! Writing this report is a wonderful way of reliving those great memories. Mel & Melissa - I had printed out your past reports and took them with me on our trip - infinitely better reading than Lonely Planet I tell you! It was such a good feeling to experience or see something that I know you would have done also in your past travels. Mel, I envy you for the opportunity to go back there next year. Pt 2 of my report in another post.
bellytoo is offline  
Nov 6th, 2007, 09:17 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Hi bellytoo -

Did you manage to squeeze in the Truman Track at Punakaiki? Sounds like you were successful in getting the couch potato and the kids out for some walks!
Melnq8 is online now  
Nov 6th, 2007, 09:22 PM
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Hi Mel,

Sadly we decided not to do the Truman Track as it was high tide when we were there (hence not much beach and cove to walk on). I wasn't too worried as I had already managed to sell Punakaiki as a "must return to" place to the family so I'm confident that we'll get to do the track somehow in the future!
bellytoo is offline  
Feb 18th, 2008, 05:19 PM
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 3,849
I have a newfound interest in New Zealand, as my son has accepted a job & plans to relocate to Queenstown in a few months.

I found your report to be very interesting! The country sounds wonderful! I learned a few new terms from your report: kea, weka, gammon, & kumara.

Thanks for posting!
olesouthernbelle is offline  

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