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27 Nights in South and North Islands via Bus and Rental Apartments

27 Nights in South and North Islands via Bus and Rental Apartments

Old Mar 27th, 2018, 07:50 PM
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27 Nights in South and North Islands via Bus and Rental Apartments

My wife and I just returned from a 27 night trip to both the South Island and the North Island. Since neither of us wanted to drive on the left side of the road, we decided to travel by bus instead of renting a car.

Our itinerary was as follows:
Christchurch – 4 nights
Queenstown – 4nights
Franz Josef – 3 nights
Nelson – 3 nights
Wellington – 4 nights
Rotorua – 3 nights
Paihia – 2 nights
Auckland – 4 nights

InterCity seems to have the best bus coverage for both islands. They offer two types of passes; the TravelPass and the FlexiPass. The TravelPass has a preset itinerary and includes several attractions. The Aotearoa Explorer version of the TravelPass covers both islands and costs NZ$1045 each. The FlexiPass covers a set number of hours of riding. I didn’t think that the TravelPass offered enough of a savings to be locked into a preset itinerary, so we bought the 60 hour FlexiPass for NZ$459 each, It covered the above itinerary, plus round-trip from Franz Josef to Fox Glacier (which we later cancelled) with about an hour to spare.

You can use hours from the FlexiPass to pay for the Interislander Ferry, the Tranz Alpine Train and several tours, such as to Mount Cook and the Waitormo Caves. The InterCity busses are equipped with wi-fi; however, the wi-fi wasn’t working on two of our trips. The InterCity busses are not equipped with toilets, but they do make restroom/food stops every couple of hours or so. On some routes they also make photo stops, as I’ve noted below in my daily write-ups.

We also prefer rental apartments over hotel rooms. We like having a kitchen for breakfasts and an occasional dinner, as well as for preparing lunches to take on the bus. We also like having a living room to hang out in, especially if one of us is awake while the other is still sleeping.

I found HolidayHouses, which I learned out about on this forum, to be the best source for apartments in New Zealand; I found five of our six rental apartments rentals there. The other rental apartment was through Airbnb; we stayed in motels at two locations (Franz Josef and Paihai), where I couldn’t find rental apartments. One apartment owner told me that he lists his place on both HolidayHouses and Airbnb, but that he has to charge more for the same listing on Airbnb because of the commission structure. I also liked the fact that three of my five rentals from HolidayHouses did not require advance payment; that is, you pay upon arrival. Thus, there is no cancellation fee. I also looked at Bookabach, but I had no success finding a place on that site.

Before coming to New Zealand, I booked those tours, which I wanted to be sure that we would be able to get space on, since we were going during the busy season. Those tours, that I booked ahead, included a Milford Sound bus/cruise from Queenstown and an Abel Tasman bus/cruise/walk from Nelson. While we were in New Zealand, I used BookMe, which I also learned about on this forum, to find last-minute discounts on other tours and attractions.

Day 1 (Thur. Feb. 22) – Arrival at Christchurch
We arrived in Christchurch around 12:30 pm after flying from Tampa to San Francisco, where we had a 12-hour layover, then to Auckland and on to Christchurch. I had not been aware that we would have to get our luggage before going through customs at Auckland. Fortunately, we had left our hiking boots and hiking sticks at home, so we didn’t have to deal with getting them inspected and cleaned, as others have reported on this forum.

We took a cab from the airport to our rental apartment, which was near the Art Gallery. We got a bite to eat at Fiddlesticks, where we asked the server for directions to the closest supermarket. She directed us to a New World store, which was about a 15-minute walk. In addition to getting some groceries, I bought a Skinny sim card for NZ$2.

Luckily, I had remembered to bring a paper clip, so I could replace my sim card with the Skinny sim card. At the apartment, I installed the sim card and purchased their 4-Week Core Combo, via text messages, for NZ$16; this combo includes 200 NZ and AU minutes and 1.25 GB of data. We crashed early and went to bed.

Day 2 (Fri. Feb. 23) – Christchurch – Canterbury Museum, Botanical Gardens, Cathedrals
Not being able to figure out how to use the espresso machine in the apartment, I went out in search of coffee. I found a nearby restaurant called The Villas, where I was able to get take-out coffee and muffins. This restaurant opens at 7am on weekdays and at 8am on weekends.

We spent several hours in the Canterbury Museum, which we found to be quite interesting.

We then took a guided tour through the Botanical Gardens. Our driver/guide described the various plants which we saw.

We walked into the central business district and saw the remains of the Christchurch Cathedral, which lost its bell tower and suffered a lot of damage due to a February 2011 earthquake.

We then walked over to the Transitional Cathedral, also called the Cardboard Cathedral. I had heard about the cardboard tubes that were used, but I couldn’t visual their usage until the saw the actual cathedral. There are 86 cardboard tubes, 43 on each side, which support the A-frame roof. The cathedral tops off at 78 feet, about the same height as the bell tower of the original cathedral. We stayed at the cathedral for the Evensong service, where the boys’ choir sang. It was a very pleasant experience.

Day 3 (Sat. Feb. 24) – Christchurch – LOTR Edoras Tour
We took an all-day tour to Edoras, the capital city of the Rohan people in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The tour was offered by Hassle-free Tours, and our excellent tour guide/driver was Mike. The set for Edoras was built on Mt Sunday in the foothills of the Southern Alps, a couple of hours out of Christchurch. There was snow on top of many of the foothills, so it was our first chance to see snow in New Zealand.

Mt Sunday is much smaller than I would have thought it would be. We had about a 20-minute walk to its top. Mike had brought along some swords, so we were able to get some photos of ourselves with the swords. The tour included lunch, which consisted of a sandwich, a glass of champagne and/or orange juice and a piece of cake. All in all, it was a lot of fun.

Day 4 (Sun. Feb. 25) – Christchurch – Container Mall Food Court, Art Gallery
As noted recently in this forum, the ReStart Mall (aka the Container Mall) has been closed, and only “A few food caravans would remain on the corner of Cashel St and Oxford Tce.

There are about 4 or 5 food vendors and a bar, along with picnic table seating. We went there and each of us had a lamb souvlaki from Dimitris restaurant, along with something to wash it down. It was quite enjoyable as the food was very good.

We then spent a couple of hours at the Art Gallery, which we enjoyed.

Day 5 (Mon. Feb. 26) – Christchurch to Queenstown via Mt Cook
We got an early start and took an Uber ride to the Bus Station, where we boarded a GreatSights tour to Queenstown via Mt Cook; this tour was paid for with hours from our FlexiPasses. GreatSights apparently is a subsidiary of InterCity. In addition to free wi-fi, which is also on all the Intercity buses, the GreatSights tour buses also have a toilet, although they still stop regularly for food and toilet stops.

The driver provided an ongoing commentary. We made photo stops at Lake Tekapo, the site of the Church of the Good Shepard and at Lake Pukaki, which the driver said, was the site of Lake-town in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

We made about an hour-long lunch stop at the Hermitage Hotel in Mt Cook Village. We ate lunch on the porch overlooking Mt Cook. We were quite lucky in that while it was raining when we boarded the bus in Christchurch, it was clear and sunny at Mt Cook Village. We had a great view of Mt Cook with just one narrow cloud across the left side. We made a couple of other stops on the way to Queenstown.

Since this was a tour, we were supposed to be dropped off at our Queenstown hotel. In Christchurch, we indicated that we would like to be dropped off in Queenstown at the Copthorne Hotel and Apartments Lakeview, which was about a five minute walk from our rental apartment on the hillside above this hotel; however our luggage got tagged for the Copthorne Hotel and Resort Lakefront, where we ended up being dropped off, which added 5-10 more minutes to our uphill climb with our luggage.

After getting settled in at our apartment, we noticed that the clostest supermarket was about a 20-minute walk from our apartment. I tried to get an Uber ride, but Uber did not seem to be available in Queenstown, so we used a local ride-sharing app, called TakeMe.

TakeMe is not as user-friendly as Uber. First, drivers seem to try to call you, and if they can’t reach you, they tend to cancel the ride. If you are going to get a New Zealand sim card, don’t download the TakeMe app until you have the sim card and a New Zealand phone number. Second, TakeMe schedules the pickup for about 20 minutes after you request a ride. Therefore, it pays to request the ride about 15 minutes before you’ll need it, assuming of course, that if the driver appears early, you can hustle everyone into the car.

Day 6 (Tues. Feb. 27) – Queenstown – Fergburger, Boat Cruise
We walked into Queentown’s central business district, which was about a 20-minute downhill walk from our apartment. Mike, our guide/driver on the LOTR Edoras tour, had told us that we should try a Fergburger. Unfortunately, I didn’t follow his full instruction, which was to avoid the line by calling in a pickup order. When we went by the Fergburger location, the line didn’t look too long, so I went ahead and waited in line. Sure enough, it only took about 15 minutes to get my order taken; however, it took another 45 minutes for my food to be ready to be picked up. The Fergburger was unique and was very good, but I would second Mike’s recommendation that you do a phone order.

We then took a 90-minute cruise on Lake Wakatipu via the Million Dollar Cruise. It was narrated and was very informative.

We picked up some more groceries and took a TakeMe ride back to our apartment.

Day 7 (Wed. Feb. 28) – Queenstown – Milford Sound Cruise
We were picked up around 9am at the Copthorne Hotel and Apartments Lakeview for our Milford Sound Cruise with Jucy Cruise. We made 4 or 5 photo stops on the way. The cruise was great; the scenery is outstanding. We saw several waterfalls, including a large one near the end of the 90-minute cruise, where the captain placed the front of the boat directly in front of the falls, so that everyone on the open front of the boat got soaked.

We also saw a couple of small seals. Our weather was great. Rain had been predicted, but all we got were a few raindrops on the windshield near our return to Queenstown. The rain had stopped before we walked to our apartment. It was a 12.5 hours long trip, but it was well worth it.

Day 8 (Thur. Mar. 1) – Queenstown – LOTR Tour
We managed to find a BookMe discount for the Glenorchy Lord of the Rings tour offered by Nomad Safaris. After a restful morning, we walked into Queenstown, where we met up with our LOTR Tour.

The tour was great. There were two Land Rovers, each one came with a driver/guide. We made about five stops during the half-day tour, including Glenorchy and Paradise. The driver/guides each hard a three-ring binder filled with scenes from the LOTR movies. At each stop, they would show us the pictures of the scenes that were filmed at that location.

Near the end, we stopped at a forest, where some of the scenes were filmed. We had coffee, tea or hot chocolate, along with a chance to wear a cloak and wield a sword.

After the tour, we had dinner at the Pig and Whistle pub. Unfortunately, our server delivered our order to another table which had a similar, but cheaper order. A manager came out and explained to us why our order was delayed and gave us a free round of drinks.

NEXT: Franz Josef
Larry123 is offline  
Old Mar 27th, 2018, 08:37 PM
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I love reading about other Tolkien fans' experiences in New Zealand! All of our excursions were self-guided except the Dart River jet boat tour, though. We also went to Mt. Sunday, which was one of the highlights of our last trip.

Lee Ann
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Old Mar 28th, 2018, 12:52 AM
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Larry, how great you had good weather for Aoraki Mt. Cook and Milford Sound! Sounds like you had no problems getting around by bus.
Thought I'd let you know that Uber is expanding to Queenstown and Dunedin (should you return):
Uber expands to Dunedin and Queenstown | Newshub
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Old Mar 28th, 2018, 09:51 AM
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Thank you for sharing your trip with us. I'm planning a trip to the South Island for next year and intend to do it by public transport and tours as you have. Were the buses comfortable? Looking forward to more.
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Old Mar 28th, 2018, 01:52 PM
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Enjoying your trip report Larry - lucky you having good weather in both Mt Cook and Milford!
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Old Apr 1st, 2018, 05:11 PM
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Lee Ann - We enjoyed finding out about where different LOTR scenes were shot in NZ,

Diamantina - Thanks for the info on Uber's expansion.

Tripplanner - The GreatSights tour buses, which were used on our Queenstown to Franz Josef leg, our Mt. Cook tour and our Waitomo Glowworm Cave tour, were very comfortable. The actual InterCity buses are not quite as comfortable, as the seats are smaller and a little closer together. For most of our trips on the InterCity buses, it was not very crowded and both my wife and I each had a double seat to ourselves, which made it more comfortable. I looked up your thread, and it looks like you'll be in NZ during a less crowded time than we were, so you stand a good chance of being able to spread out also if you want to. The frequent restroom/food stops also ensure that you can get up and stretch regularly. All in all, the buses were comfortable enough that we would certainly use them again on a return trip to New Zealand.

Melnq - We very very lucky with the weather for the entire trip.
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Old Apr 1st, 2018, 05:59 PM
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Day 9 (Fri. Mar. 2) – Queenstown to Franz Josef
We woke up early for our 8:05am bus to Franz Josef. We tried to set up a TakeMe ride to the Intercity Bus stop in Queenstown; however, after the 20-minute delay, we got a text saying that there was no driver available. So, about a half hour before the scheduled departure time, we started walking into Queenstown with our luggage. As we were walking along Frankton Road, I looked over my shoulder and saw a public bus behind us. Fortunately, we were near a bus stop, and we were able to ride that bus the rest of the way.

We were successful in getting to the Intercity Bus stop on time, and we made our bus. In addition to restroom and food stops, the bus made a photo stop at Thunder Creek Falls where we were able to take a five minute-long walk to see the falls, which were quite big. The bus also stopped at a salmon farm, where I had a bowl of salmon chowder, which was very good.

The bus dropped us off at our motel, Aspen Court Motel, in Franz Josef. We walked to the Four Square Supermarket and got some groceries.

We had planned on taking the 8am Intercity bus to Fox Glacier on Saturday, spending the day at Fox Glacier and returning to Franz Josef on the 3:25pm bus; however, the lady, checking us into the motel, informed me that the access road from the town of Fox Glacier to the glacier itself, had been closed for about a month. The lady, at the i-Site office, confirmed that the Fox Glacier access road was closed. She also told me that the rains on Saturday looked like they would subside in the afternoon and that we should put off visiting the Franz Josef Glacier until the afternoon. We then canceled our bus reservations for Fox Glacier and had a fairly relaxing weekend in Franz Josef.

By the time we wanted to eat, it was really raining hard, but we went out anyway and got soaked, walking to the Alice May restaurant. This restaurant has an interesting history, as it was named for a lady (the grandmother of the owner), who was tried, convicted and served prison time for killing her lover. I had the lamb shank and my wife had a steak. Both meats tasted good, but my wife's steak was not as tender as a steak that I had previously in Queenstown.

Day 10 (Sat. Mar. 3) – Franz Josef – Glacier
It was still raining when we woke up, but as the lady at the i-Site told me would happen, it quit raining shortly after noon and stayed dry until around 10pm. I called the Glacier Shuttle (0800 999 739) and arranged for a pickup at our motel. The shuttle costs NZD12.50 RT/per person for rides from town to the glacier, and basically runs once every two hours.

The hike to the glacier was awesome. We knew that we would get a good view of the glacier, but we had not expected to see so many waterfalls along the way. It was a mild-moderate hike, but was a little steep in some places. It was advertised at 1.5 hours, but, with our frequent stops to take pictures and enjoy the views, It took us just over 2 hours. We had just missed the 5pm return shuttle, but we were told by several persons, who were waiting, that the 5pm shuttle was full and that the driver would be returning as soon as she dropped off the current riders in town. She did come back as promised.

We had diner at The Landing restaurant. I had pork roast, and my wife had chicken Parmesan. We both enjoyed our dinners.

Day 11 (Sun. Mar. 4) – Franz Josef – West Coast Wildlife Centre
We visited the West Coast Wildlife Centre, using discount tickets from BookMe. The center has two Rowi Kiwi in a nocturnal exhibit, which, of course, was dark. I t took awhile to get our eyes adjusted, but then we were able to see the Kiwi, which were the only Kiwi birds, that we would see on the trip.

The center also has two tuataras, which are about a foot long and look similar to a lizard; however tuataras were on earth during the time that dinosaurs roamed the earth, according to the exhibit. The center also had exhibitions on glaciers. I think that visiting the center was very worthwhile.

Day 12 (Mon. Mar. 5) – Franz Josef to Nelson
The rain was only coming down as a drizzle as we walked the four blocks or so to the Intercity bus stop. The bus made a 30 minute-long stop at Hokitika Beach, so we were able to walk to the beach itself and watch the waves for a few minutes. We switched buses at Greymouth

We stopped at Paparoa National Park for a 40 minute-long stop, which gave us more than enough time to do the 20 minute-long Pancake Rocks Blowhole Walk. The walk has many stops,where you can see various rock formations, right off the coast. Unfortunately, the tide action was such, that we were not able to see the blowhole effect, but the rocks themselves are amazing to see.

The road from Greymouth to Nelson is very scenic. There is a long stretch, where you are riding high above the coastline. This part of the ride convinced me that we made the right decision in taking the bus, instead of renting a car and driving. As we were riding on the outer edge of the road high above the coast, I was happy that I could enjoy the scenery without being told to keep my eyes on the road, and of course, my wife was very happy to be driven by a professional driver, who drove this route on a regular basis. After we left the coast and started northeast to Nelson, there was another long scenic stretch, where the road goes right along the river.

As was prearranged, our Nelson rental owner met us at the bus station and took us and our luggage to her house, where our apartment was located. Our rental apartment was located close to the cathedral, right above Trafalgar Street, which is a closed off pedestrian street. We ate outside at Ford's, which is one of the many restaurants on Trafalgar Street. We started with “breads and spreads,” which included a nice smoked salmon spread. I had a duck leg, while my wife had a lamb rump; both of our meals were very good.

Day 13 (Tues. Mar. 6) – Nelson – Wine Tour and Cathedral
We took the half-day Twin Region Wine Tour, offered by Bay Tours of Nelson. Our driver was Owen, and he picked us up right outside where we were staying. There were eleven of us on the tour. We visited two wineries before lunch (Brightwater Estate and Kaimira Estate). We had lunch, at our own expense at Mapua Wharf. Then we went to two more wineries (Seifried Winery and Richmond Plains/Te Mania). All in all, it was a very enjoyable wine tour.

After the wine tour, we visited the Nelson Cathedral. The cathedral is well worthwhile seeing, and the flowers on the grounds are very beautiful.

Day 14 (Wed. Mar. 7) – Nelson – Abel Tasman National Park
We had a 7:30am pickup at a nearby inn for a bus-cruise-walk at the Abel Tasman National Park with Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles. The bus driver provided some commentary as he took us to Kaiteriteri, where we boarded a boat at 9am. We had signed up for a cruise up along the coast of the national park to Totaranui, where the boat turned around and headed back south towards Kaiteriteri,

The ride up the coast was fine, but there were a lot of swells on the way back causing both of us to almost get sick and vomit, although neither one of us did. When we had left Nelson, it didn't seem like it would rain, so I didn't bring a raincoat, but my wife had a disposable raincoat for herself. As we were getting close to where we would leave the boat, it was raining, so I went to the snack bar and asked the guy there, if he had any rain gear for sale. He looked in a drawer and found me a disposable raincoat, which he sold me for NZD3. I was very happy.

The boat dropped us off at Apple Tree Bay, where we started walking along the Abel Tasman Coast Track to Anchorage, which is a distance of 7 km. The walk was supposed to take 2:15, but with our photo stops, etc, we took about 2:40. That was fine, since we still had another 1:20 before the boat would come to pick us up on the beach at Anchorage.

The rain stopped shortly after we started our hike, and the sun came out. The hike was in the woods on the hillsides above the coast. Every now and then you would reach an opening, where you could see the pretty water below. Those were nice places to stop and take a photo. We saw a couple of wekas, which are flightless birds, about the side of a chicken.

The boat came by on schedule and dropped us off in Kaiteriteri, where we took the return bus to Nelson. I had thought that taking the complete cruise along the park would be worthwhile, but once you've seen the Split Apple and some seals, just a little ways north of Kaiteriteri and some of the beaches, there is not much significance in seeing the rest of the park's coastline. I would definitely recommend walking part of the Able Tasman Coast Track, but you only need to take a cruise or sea taxi to get you back and forth from the part of the track that you are walking.

After we got back to Nelson, we rewarded ourselves with dinner at La Gourmandise, a French restaurant. I had the veal ragout, and my wife had the duck confit. Both of us enjoyed our meals, and I topped mine off with a killer dessert special. It was vanilla ice cream in a thick chocolate cup with toppings; it was very good.

NEXT: Wellington
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Old Apr 2nd, 2018, 04:17 PM
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Glad that the rain did not deter your travel plans. Did you feel that the bus ride from the glaciers to Nelson, even with the breaks, was too much for one day?
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Old Apr 2nd, 2018, 05:59 PM
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tripplanner - It was not too much for either one of us. On the bus, my wife reads a lot, while I alternate between looking out the window, taking naps, reading or using the wi-fi. The afternoon bus ride (Greymouth to Nelson) was broken up by the beautiful scenery and the Pancake Rocks walk. Looking back, I guess that it was one of our longer days on the bus (10:15 from start to finish), but at the time, it didn't seem overly long to either one of us, since someone else was doing the driving.

Last edited by Larry123; Apr 2nd, 2018 at 06:01 PM. Reason: fix typo
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Old Apr 3rd, 2018, 05:35 PM
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Thank you for the feedback, Larry. I must admit that the long bus rides is one of my biggest apprehensions as I plan my trip. Glad to know that it wasn't too bad for at least one pair of travelers.
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Old Apr 9th, 2018, 08:39 AM
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I did a lot of bus and train touring on my first few trips to NZ. Would rent a car for a week, and use public transfers and tours plus city days for the balance. Unfortunately the train services are much reduced. They have been replaced by inexpensive saver flights if booked far enough in advance, shuttle services (such as Atomic) and tours.

The Intercity bus drivers between Auckland and Rotorua were famously entertaining.

Also one of my early trips you could fly into Mt. Cook (Mt. Cook Airline was independent) . That was entertaining. Then for a while the internal flights got super expensive while car rentals weren't.

That changed for my latest trip and I used a cheap fare to fly Auckland to Wellington. Then took the trains and buses between Wellington and Paraparumu and then another leg to the wine country around Martinborough (which is great to visit on foot between the wineries with enough time to slightly sober up between tastings).
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Old Apr 9th, 2018, 07:06 PM
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Day 15 (Thur. Mar. 8) – Nelson to Wellington
The owner of our apartment was kind enough to have her husband drive us to the bus station with our luggage. We caught a bus to the Picton ferry terminal. As we drove on the bridge over the Pelorus River, our bus driver pointed out that this river was the location for the scene, where Bilbo and the dwarves went down the river in barrels in the movie, “The Desolation of Smaug.” The driver said that the actual barrel scene was filmed in the studio, but the background was filmed here.

We arrived at the ferry terminal at 12:15pm and took the 2:15 ferry to Wellington. At one point we passed tens of dolphins in the water; it was quite a scene. The ferry arrived pretty much on time around 5:15pm. The ride was pleasant. After gathering our bags, we took a cab to our rental apartment. After settling in at the apartment, we walked about 15 minutes to the nearest supermarket and stocked up on some groceries.

Day 16 (Fri. Mar. 9) – Wellington – Guided Tours of Wellington and Te Papa
We went to the i-Site and signed up for a guided tour of Wellington, operated by Hammonds Wellington Tours. The tour turned out to be a good one. We started out by taking the cable car (which cost us an extra NZD4 each) up towards the Botanical Gardens. We then spent some time in the Lady Norwood Rose Garden in the Botanical Gardens. We also stopped to take pictures of the Beehive (parliament office building), Old St. Paul's Church (built entirely of wood), Lyall Bay and Mount Victoria, where we had great views of Wellington. At Mount Victoria, our guide showed us where the Hobbits got off the road as they were being chased by the Black Riders. All in all, it was a very efficient way to see the major sites of the city.

We had just about an hour left before the Te Papa Museum closed, so we went over there, where we took a 45-minute-long tour, that gave us an overview of the exhibits in the museum.After touring Te Papa, we went to JJ Murphy & Co, which is an Irish pub. My wife had lamb shank, while I had pork roast, which I really liked.

Day 17 (Sat. Mar. 10) – Wellington – Wellington Museum and Te Papa
We had a nice breakfast at the Bresolin, a restaurant which was right across the street from where we were staying.

We then toured the Wellington Museum. One of the highlights was listening to a woman play the Parekowhai Piano, which is a red sculpture, built around a Steinway grand piano. Apparently, they have three time slots each day, when people can sign up to play this special piano.

We then walked along the waterfront, which was very vibrant, as they had some crewed races going on, and people were cheering for various boats.

Then we spend a couple more hours in the Te Papa Museum. I especially liked the exhibits about the Maori culture and the ones about earthquakes.After touring Te Papa, we sat outside St. Johns Bar on the waterfront and had drinks and hamburgers as we watched a couple of performers in a Buskers Festival.

Day 18 (Sun. Mar. 11) – Wellington – Ferry to Day's Bay
We visited St. Mary of the Angels Catholic Church. The church is very beautiful with a blue background behind the altar.

We then took a ferry to Day's Bay. It was a sunny afternoon, and the ferry ride was nice. There's not much in Days Bay; there's just a single restaurant, called the Days Bay Pavilion.We then walked 1.4km to Eastbourgh, which had a few restaurants and stores. Then we walked back to Day's Bay and had a drink in the courtyard of the Days Bay Pavilion, which overlooks the water. It was quite nice.

After taking the ferry back to Wellington, we took an Uber from the wharf back to our apartment.We went back across the street to the Bresolin, which had advertised a special roast beef rump, starting at 5pm. We got there around 7pm, only to be told that they had ran out of the special around 6pm. Since there were no other nearby restaurants, we stayed and ordered something else, but we were very disappointed. We found the meal that we ordered (brisket) to be much too spicy, even though we we had told our server that we didn't like spicy food, and we had already eliminated some items that we thought would be spicy.

Day 19 (Mon. Mar. 12) – Wellington to Rotorua
We had a leisurely morning, as our bus to Rotorua didn't leave until 11am. We took an Uber to the Railway Station, from which our bus left. Luckily the bus was not that crowded, and we each had a pair of seats to ourselves. The weather was good until about an hour before we got to Rotorua, when it started raining.

We took a cab to our rental apartment, which otherwise would have been about a 20-minute-long walk in the rain from the i-Site center, where our bus stopped. Our apartment did not have wi-fi, which is the first time for quite a while, that we stayed somewhere that didn't have wi-fi. I now know that I need to check to see if a place has wi-fi, the next time that I look for rental apartments.

Day 20 (Tues. Mar. 13) – Rotorua – Hobbiton
We had breakfast at the BakeHouse cafe, where I had fried eggs and rump steak, which I really enjoyed. My wife had fried eggs and “streaky” bacon, which she thought was too greasy. We spent some time in the i-Site, using their free wi-fi.

At 1pm, we boarded a bus for a tour of Hobbiton, which is about an hour away. On the way, they played a lot of videos, including ones in which Peter Jackson, the LOTR director spoke. They also played videos showing scenes of the Shire from Hobbit and LOTR movies.

At Hobbiton, there are 39 hobbit holes. The hobbit holes are only built on the outside, as all of the inside filming was done in the studio.Our tour consisted of walking past all of the hobbit holes. As we walked, our guide told us various things about the locations of different scenes and about some of the efforts they went through to satisfy Peter Jackson. After the tour, we had about 20 minutes to enjoy a beer or other drink (included in the cost of admission) in the Green Dragon Inn. All in all, it was an enjoyable tour.

After we got back to Rotorua, we had dinner at CBK (Craft Beer Kitchen), where we split an order of fish and chips and an order of bacon-wrapped chicken on fettuccine with an Alfredo-type sauce. The chicken disk was especially delicious.

Day 21 (Wed. Mar. 14) – Rotorua – Duck Tour, Whakarewarewa Maori Village
While we were at the i-Site yesterday, we found out that Rotorua has a Duck Tour. Since we have enjoyed four Duck tours in the states, we signed up yesterday to go on the two hour-long Duck Tour today. The Duck Tour was a lot of fun. Our driver, Marcus, gave us a lot of information about the volcanic activity in the area.

We went into Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake), Lake Okareka and Lake Tarawera. At Lake Tarawera, we had a good view of Mount Tarawera, which ia volcano, that last erupted in 1886 and put out twice as much ash as Mount St Helens did, according to Marcus.

After the Duck Tour, we took a cab to Whakarewarewa, “the Living Maori Village,” so that we could make the 2pm cultural performance. The performance lasted about 25 minutes and was quite impressive; it included a Haka. The performers were quite impressive, particularly when they threw batons or sticks from one to another in a synchronized performance. After the show, we were able to get our pictures taken with the performers, using our own cameras and phones.

After the performance, we took a tour led by a young man, who had grown up in the village; his Maori name sounded somewhat like “Michael,” which he said we could call him. His tour was very interesting because he told a lot of anecdotes about his life growing up in this village. The Tuhourangi-Ngati Wahiao people live in this village.

The village is set among an area of constant geothermal activity. There are bubbling mud pools, boiling mineral springs, silica terraces and erupting geysers. Our guide explained how the villagers used the boiling mineral springs to cook their food.The Pohatu Geyser and the Prince of Wales Feather Geyser erupt more than 15 times per day and were erupting while we were there. I would say that the tour of this village was one of the highlights of our trip.After the tour, we took a cab back to the i-Site.

After the tour, we took a cab back to the i-Site.

NEXT: Paihia
Larry123 is offline  
Old Apr 12th, 2018, 06:26 PM
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Day 22 (Thur. Mar. 15) – Rotorua to Paihia via Waitomo Glowworm Caves
We got up early, ate breakfast and called a cab to take us to the i-Site to catch the 7:45am GreatSights tour bus that would take us to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, and then on to Auckland, where we would catch another bus to Paihia (Bay of Islands). This GreatSights tour itself was paid for with miles from our FlexiPass, but we had to pay extra for the admission to the Glowworm Caves.

We got to the i-Site about 45 minutes early. I went to find coffee, but the Starbucks was not going to open until 7:30am and the Dunkin Donuts was still dark. I found coffee at the Kai Café (1240 Fenton Street), a block or two from the i-Site.

The driver gave us a lot of commentary along the way. The Glowworm caves were interesting. There were a lot of horizontal lines, which our guide said were due to the layers of limestone being compressed. There were stalactites and stalagmites in the cave.

We had about a 30-minute-long guided walk through the cave, during which we saw some glowworms on the ceiling. After the walk, we had about a 15-minute-long boat ride during which we saw thousands of glowworms on the ceiling.

We then took the same tour bus to Auckland, where we had about a 1 hour, 45-minute-long wait until our next bus left for Paihia. At a rest stop on the way to Paihia, I called the motel, where we had reservations in Paihia, to tell them that we would be arriving around 8:30pm. Unfortunately, the motel owner told me that he didn’t have a reservation for me and didn’t have an available room. Due to road noise and having to get back on the bus, I couldn’t get any more information from him until we got to Paihia.

When we got to Paihia, it was dark, and it was raining. We started walking, but unfortunately, we went in the wrong direction. When I realized that we were lost, I called the owner, who came and picked us and our luggage up. He blamed the mix-up on the OTA (online travel agency), Agoda. Lesson learned: When you don’t book directly through the motel, contact the motel before the trip to verify the reservation.

The motel owner had arranged for us to have a room at another motel, the Admirals View Motel, which did work out fine for the two nights that we stayed there. The owner of the Admirals View Motel gave us directions to a restaurant. We could only get a hamburger since they were closing their kitchen, but that worked out fine.

Day 23 (Fri. Mar. 16) – Paihia – Ferry to Russell
After a lazy morning, we took the ferry to Russell and walked around the town. We had lunch on the porch of the Duke of Marlborough Hotel, which is an old, historic hotel. My wife had a chicken caesar salad, and I had a hamburger and fries. Both of us were happy with our meals and with the setting.

We then took the ferry back to Paihia and walked around and shopped at some of the stores. It was overcast most of the day with a forecast for rain starting around 1pm. We had a few drops at times, but we avoided any heavy rain.

We had dinner at CBK (Craft Beer Kitchen), where we each had the bacon-wrapped chicken on fettuccine with an Alfredo-type sauce, that I had at the CBK in Rotorua. The chicken dish again was very good

Day 24 (Sat. Mar. 17) – Paihia to Auckland
We had breakfast delivered to our room. We each had a cheese, ham, and mushroom omelet, along with hash browns. The breakfast was very good.

After breakfast, the motel owner drove us with our luggage to the bus stop for our final 4½ hour-long bus ride to Auckland. It was an overcast day. It rained some during the bus ride, but there was no rain at our start, at the finish or during our rest stop.

We took a cab from the Intercity bus station in Auckland to our rental apartment, which was on a wharf near Viaduct Harbor. After settling to our apartment, we set out to explore the nearby area. The Viaduct Harbor area is a very vibrant area with many restaurants and bars. Since it was a Saturday and St. Patrick’s Day the area was really hopping. Our apartment had both a grocery and a liquor store, so we were able to stock up on life’s essentials.

Since my wife is of Irish ancestry, she was anxious to find a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. We found one nearby at O’Hagan’s right across from the Viaduct Harbor. They had a tent in front of their restaurant, where a band was playing Irish music. They apparently started celebrating at 7am with a special, “breakfast and a pint.” Then the Irish music had started at 11am. When we were there around 5pm, both the tent and the restaurant were standing room only, and it would cost NZD20 to get into either one.

We stood outside the tent for a few minutes listening to the music and watching people dance. Then we went to a nearby restaurant, Fokker Bros, which has an open front, so we could still, sort of, hear the music. I had a hamburger and my wife had a chopped lamb sandwich. Both of us enjoyed our meals.

Day 25 (Sun. Mar. 18) – Auckland – Art Gallery, Civic Theatre
We decided to take a city walk that was described in the Lonely Planet New Zealand Tour Book. We started by taking a cab to St. Kevin’s Square, where there are a lot of small boutiques. Then we walked through Myer’s Park, where they have a large reproduction of Michelangelo’s Moses sculpture.

Then we went to the Auckland Art Gallery. They have a good selection of portraits of Maori chieftains by Charles Goldie. They also had a lot of abstract art, to which I don’t relate well.

We then went to the Civic Theatre, which was built in 1929. We saw a performance of Ao Lang Pho by the Cirque du Vietnam. The performers were basically acrobats and jugglers. The first part of the performance, which basically symbolized a rural village, was action-packed with a lot of acrobatics, but it slowed down a lot in the second part, which was supposed to symbolize city life. There was no grand finale, and I thought that the ending was lame.

It was neat being in the Civic Theatre, which is a example of the atmospheric theatre style, where lighting and interior design create the illusion of an open sky complete with twinkling stars, giving the audience the impression of being seated in an outdoor auditorium at night, even though you are inside a building.

After the performance, we took an Uber back to our apartment. We had dinner at Neptuns, a restaurant in the complex in which our apartment was located. We both had lamb shanks, but they were in a gravy that had many sliced olives, which I liked, but I wife didn’t appreciate because she doesn’t like olives. We were seated outside before sunset, but after the sun had set, there was not enough light to see what we were eating without the use of the lights from our cell phones.

Day 26 (Mon. Mar. 19) – Auckland – Maritime Museum, Sunset Cruise
We went to the Maritime Museum, which was located across the wharf from where we were staying. The exhibits cover all the way from the canoes, used by the Maori when they first came to New Zealand, to the America Cup yachts. We were surprised that we had spent three hours at the museum. It was very interesting.

We had booked a sunset sailing cruise, using a Bookme discount. We boarded the 50-foot-long sailboat, along with ten other passengers and three crew members. Upon boarding, we were served a drink; a cash bar was available for any additional drinks. They then served us various canapes.

We motored out to a calm area, where they served us dinner. We had pre-ordered our meals. My wife had lamb shepard’s pie and I had salmon. Both of us enjoyed our meals.

After dinner, they raised the sails. I got a chance to take control of the steering wheel, as did anyone else who wanted to. We saw the sunset as we sailed; then we enjoyed the night lights as we continued to sail. We got back to the dock around 8:30pm. It was a great sailing experience.

Day 27 (Tues. Mar. 20) – Auckland – Waiheke Island
After a restful morning, we took a ferry to Waiheke Island. When we got our ferry tickets, we also bought all day bus passes. After the ferry landed, we took the bus to Onetangi, about 11km away. We had a late lunch, facing the 2km long golden sand beach, on the deck of the Boatyard restaurant. My wife had a chicken Caesar salad, while I had (yet another) hamburger. My wife liked her salad, but while my hamburger was very lean, I didn’t think that it was very flavorful.

We then walked along the beach to another bus stop. We took the bus to the Stony Ridge Winery, where we sampled some of their wines. It was a long walk up the hill from the bus stop to the winery, but the views and the wine made it worthwhile.We then took the bus back to the ferry terminal and took the ferry back to Auckland.

Day 28 (Wed. Mar. 21) – Auckland to Tampa, Florida (USA)
Since we had a 2:30pm flight, we had a restful morning. Our apartment’s checkout time was 10am, so we checked out then and took an Uber to the airport.

We flew on United from Auckland to San Francisco, then on to Houston and finally home to Tampa. Our last flight was delayed 1.5 hours, which wasn’t too bad, considering that all our previous flights were on time.This wraps up my trip report. We certainly had a great trip to New Zealand, and we have many great memories and pictures.
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Old Apr 13th, 2018, 03:01 AM
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Thank you again for sharing. I appreciate your helping me thinking about how my trip via public transport will look like.
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Old Apr 13th, 2018, 05:23 AM
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Thanks for posting Larry. I'll refrain from scolding you about Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts.
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Old Apr 14th, 2018, 07:01 PM
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Thanks again for posting, Larry. This will be so helpful for others planning on traveling around on public transportation, including myself!

Tripplanner001, you might also enjoy Auntie_Em's 2016 trip report. She also took public transportation:
45-ish days Solo NZ Trip Report
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Old Jun 29th, 2019, 10:08 AM
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Thanks for taking the time to write to great TR. It's very helpful as I plan our time in NZ this winter. If you were doingit over again, what would you change? And what would you not miss? thanks!
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Old Jul 1st, 2019, 05:39 PM
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Thank you, Yestravel. If I were to do it over again, I would skip the two nights in Pahia, as we didn't think that the Bay of Islands area was worth the effort that it took to get there.Instead, I would spend a night in Mt. Cook Village and another night near Paparoa National Park. My original plan was to spend a night in Mt. Cook Village, but when I was trying to make reservations a few months before our trip, there were no accommodations available in Mt. Cook Village.Staying in Mt. Cook Village would have allowed us to do a short hike there, while staying near Paparoa National Park would have allowed us to do the Pancake Rocks Blowhole Walk during high tide when we would have had the best chance of seeing the blowhole effect.I would definitely not miss doing a hike in Abel Tasman National Park. As I had mentioned in my TR, I wouldn't do the complete cruise along the coast. I would only take a boat ride to and from the part of the track that I was walking.My wife is an LOTR fan and she would not have missed Hobbiton, which both of us enjoyed. Good Luck with your trip. We really enjoyed New Zealand, and I am sure that you also will.
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Old Jul 1st, 2019, 10:45 PM
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Larry123 the main reason people go to Pahia is to visit the Treaty Grounds where the Treaty of Waiting is signed. They also tend to do a tour of Northland from there rather than just being a destination in itself. We did this a few years ago, an thought the scenery was fabulous at the Bay of Islands.

We live in Nelson and have only done a walk on the Abel Tasman twice and that was in the last three years. We are the typical local who goes to other parts of NZ and the world to see the sights, but don't do enough sight-seeing in our local area. We used to go to Kaiteriteri a lot when our children were small.

We have been to Pancake Rocks quite a few times and have only once seen the blowhole working properly. It is still a great place to visit though.

I really enjoyed your trip report, and amazed you could cover large parts of NZ using the public bus system.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2019, 05:29 AM
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A couple of questions for you. What type of shoes did you wear for the hiking you did? Were you ok without your hiking boots? Did you get discount coupons in advance or when you got to NZ? How did you pick your hikes? what sites/books did you use? Again, thanks for doing this TR.
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