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Back from our trip to Sydney (short) and New Zealand North & South (long)

Back from our trip to Sydney (short) and New Zealand North & South (long)

Jan 31st, 2010, 02:42 PM
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Back from our trip to Sydney (short) and New Zealand North & South (long)

This was a very long trip in November/December 2009. I will try not to make the trip report quite as long though we saw so many wonderful places it will be difficult to keep it short.
Some background and our itinerary:
We are an Italian couple 40’s 50’s, this was our 3rd time in Australia and 1st time in NZ.
Week 1 – Sydney
Week 2-3 Kingdom of Tonga with 23 year old son (separate Trip report)
Weeks 3-5 New Zealand – Auckland, Raglan, Tauranga, Rotorua, Lake Taupo, Tongariro, Wellington, Blenheim, Christchurch, Invercargill, Milford Sound, Queenstown
Week 6 – Sydney - Hong Kong - Home
We flew Cathay Pacific from Rome. A happily uneventful flight and very speedy arrival in the evening in Sydney where we checked in to Fraser Suites. This is in a central downtown location near the Queen Victoria Building, Town Hall etc. It is slightly more elegant than similar all suite hotels in its category like the Meriton but nothing too special. We had a comfortable one bedroom suite with kitchenette and good living space but the business centre was not working for the whole of our stay, and the pool was not very nice. I probably would not stay there again.
Because this was our third time in Sydney we didn’t do much sightseeing but we did try out quite a few good restaurants:
Tha Mad Cow – in the Ivy building on George St – very hip and lively especially the bar. Great fun for people watching. Once inside the restaurant it is much quieter and sedate. The décor is fun and the steaks delicious. On the expensive side but a good night out.
Coast – Darling Harbour – We thought this was a seafood restaurant and were rather disappointed to find out it was Italian. However food was good and great views if you get an outside table. We really enjoyed the fireworks on the bay.
Café Sydney – In lovely Customs House Building. Outside tables have spectacular views of Harbour Bridge. Very fashionable and expensive, need to book ages in advance. Food was excellent!
We also tried the meat pies at Harry’s kiosk near Cowper Wharf, fun and tasty!
Other enjoyable things we did were taking a bus to beautiful Palm Beach (definitely my favourite beach), going to see the Pearl Jam Concert at Sydney stadium, day trip to Manly and old favourites the Botanic Garden and Museum of Sydney.
On our 6th day we flew to Tonga and spent the most amazing 10 days which I have written up in a different post.
Week 3 we flew NZ airlines from Tongatapu to Auckland and here begins our NZ adventure!
carrom is offline  
Jan 31st, 2010, 03:05 PM
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Waiting with bated breath...
Melnq8 is online now  
Feb 1st, 2010, 08:43 AM
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We arrived in Auckland on a wet morning with two days to visit which we found were more than enough. We stayed at the Langham which had great user reviews everywhere and we were not disappointed although we generally avoid the bigger brand establishments in favour of smaller places with more personality and local feel. However this was a good comfortable luxury hotel at a reasonable price.
Climbing up the sky tower was a good idea to get the lie of the land and even if the weather was awful the visibility was good. We enjoyed walking around but didn’t really get into the vibe of the city much. We did find two good eateries though – The Northern Steamship Co. Brewbar in Quay St , a great bistro with quirky décor and good atmosphere and at chic Cibo in St George’s Bay Rd, I had probably one of the best meals of the whole trip which is saying a lot!
On 4th Dec we picked up our rental car and left Auckland to visit friends in the region. First stop was in the very pretty town of Raglan with its gorgeous beaches. Here we got a taste of how the real kiwis live! We then went on to Tauranga where we stayed with Italian friends on a vast kiwi (fruit) plantation. We walked round Mount Wanganui but unfortunately it was still too wet to go sailing in the bay.

Rotorua turned out to be quite different from expected. I was afraid we would find crowds of tourists on a Sunday but there were very few people around anywhere. After a visit to the charming Maori village of Ohinemutu we did a tour of the historic buildings of Rotorua (don’t miss the thermal baths museum!) and then headed to the geothermal park of Waiotapu. This was fantastic and not at all “theme park” ish like I feared. It was a beautiful day and the sunlight combined with sulphorous vapours and bubbling mud was perfect photo material at last!
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Feb 1st, 2010, 01:56 PM
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In the early afternoon we drove towards Lake Taupo stopping at the small but very spectacular Huka Falls. At the Lake we were booked into a B&B called Acacia Lodge. This turned out to be just as lovely as its web site promised. A beautifully designed modern but cosy family home with charming hosts, a comfortable room with plenty of amenities and gorgeous views. Based on reviews we decided to eat in and did not regret it. The food was fantastically prepared and presented and the wine excellent. A lovely relaxing place to stay, would strongly recommend if not on a budget.
We spent most of next morning relaxing and visiting the area then slowly drove down towards National Park Village which we reached in the early evening. The weather was good but the two volcanoes Ruapehu and Ngāuruhoe were hidden by a shroud of clouds. Our accommodation the Tongariro Crossing Lodge was pretty and well appointed. Colin our young host was very professional and gave us a lot of advice about restaurants and the infamous “crossing”. We were very iffy about doing the Tongariro crossing – a 20 km hike around the base of the volcanoes – partly because we didn’t feel very fit and partly because of the weather. However having come all that way we decided to set our alarm clock for 7am and organize the pick up service….then decide. We spent the rest of the evening driving around visiting Whakapapa Village with its huge lodge and hoping the clouds would lift.
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Feb 1st, 2010, 02:21 PM
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>>The weather was good but the two volcanoes Ruapehu and Ngāuruhoe were hidden by a shroud of clouds.<<

Sounds familiar - we looked at the volcanoes, looked at each other and said, "Do we really want to do this?"

We woke to rain the next morning and decided to skip the Crossing. I'm looking forward to reading about your experience!

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Feb 1st, 2010, 02:50 PM
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Me too. The Tongariro Crossing is on my to do list (someday...)
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Feb 2nd, 2010, 12:42 PM
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We were lucky!
Next morning the sun was shining bright and we had no excuses so we set off confidently for the walk. We had been told to dress sensibly in layers but we probably overdid it as the sun shone all day and we were mostly too warm. The first hour and a half is easy and not too exciting then there is quite a steep climb for about an hour and the scenery becomes very different – red and volcanic with the peak of Rupuahreu as a burning but snowy backdrop. There were about 600 people on the walk that day, scattered around so you never saw more than a few dozen and quite often we were quite alone. This to me is very important as crowds and nature in my tastes don’t mix. The walk inside the crater itself is very flat and was a welcoming break after the climb and also very different from anything I had walked in before. After the second steep, hot climb we were quite tired and had only done about 7km but by now the scenery really was spectacular – even sinister I might say, with amazing colours and rock formations and those emerald lakes which are better than any photos can describe! Most of the rest of the hike was downhill but very tiring on the knees. Especially the first bit down to the lakes where you are practically skidding down vertically. In all we walked for over 8 hours but even with my husband’s dodgy knees we made it and felt very good about it too! It really was well worth the effort!
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Feb 2nd, 2010, 12:43 PM
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I wouldn't have done it in the rain though!
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Feb 2nd, 2010, 01:58 PM
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600 people? Yikes.

On second thought, my knees might not be up for that one. Thank you for the detailed description of the walk carrom.
Melnq8 is online now  
Feb 3rd, 2010, 11:54 AM
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In fact they told us 600 was very few - normally it is about double that in Spring/Summer. But as I said, they spread out over 20km and everyone walks at their own pace so you wouldn't know.
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Feb 3rd, 2010, 11:57 AM
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The next day after a well deserved sleep we started on our drive down to Wellington. Our first coffee stop was in the town of Whanganui which we thought was quite charming with its 1930’s cinema and Christmassy high street. We then drove on to Waikana Nga Manu Nature Reserve where we had a picnic lunch and met the Tuis, kakas, Keas and lots of other birds which I was looking forward to seeing. This was a very well run little park with plenty of information about the local wildlife and flora.
At about 4 pm we checked into our hotel Ohtel! In Wellington’s waterfront which was a real gem! We were upgraded to a bigger room for a very good rate and we absolutely loved the décor as well as the perfectly central location. We ran straight for the museum Te Papa which was just across from us and discovered we had quite a few hours left for our visit. It is a very good museum and shouldn’t be missed (I found the paintings section particularly fascinating and I think sometimes overlooked).
We had dinner in a very smart brasserie called Logan Brown located in an old bank. The atmosphere was very nice and the food ok. By this time we were getting quite spoiled by the very high standard of cuisine in New Zealand.
A short walk around the bohemian Cuba St area of town and our legs were killing us so we had to go back. This would last another couple of days – especially when going down stairs!
Most of next morning was spent wandering around Wellington’s CBD visiting the government buildings and Cathedral. The city has a good feel and we enjoyed our short stay.
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Feb 4th, 2010, 12:14 PM
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At 2pm we left our car and boarded the Interisland ferry. Check in and boarding was very smooth and easy. The crossing was nice but not as scenic as I imagined it. Couldn’t help comparing it with the Vancouver Island crossing.
After a few hours we landed in Picton which is a pretty town and immediately felt how much warmer the temperature was than in the North island. We picked up our new car from Thrifty quite effortlessly and proceeded towards Blenheim. The landscape here was gorgeous with an infinity of vineyards bathed in the evening light. We had booked dinner and cottage at Herzog’s winery, one of the most famous names in the NZ wine industry. Our cottage was simply lovely – a tiny home with everything you could possibly need, designed and furnished with great taste and style. We were taken on a tour of the winery which as winemakers ourselves was particularly interesting and we were allowed free range of the property. At dinner there were only three couples in all which considering they boast of being NZ ‘s best restaurant we thought was a bit too quiet. Probably it was a bad idea to pick the 3 course menu out of a 7 course option but this is what we did and I have to say were rather hungry by the end! Normally 3 courses would have been more than enough but here the portions were very skimpy though very good. The atmosphere was a little stuffy and we couldn’t help but feel that though the accommodation and wine were superb, the restaurant was a little cold.
In the morning we had a brief wine tasting and bought a couple of bottles before heading off in the direction of Kaikouria.......
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Feb 4th, 2010, 02:21 PM
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Now you've really got my interest carrom..the SI and wine...look forward to your next installment.
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Feb 7th, 2010, 03:54 AM
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Beer this time, Melnq8!

Towards Kaikouria......to begin with the scenery was quite rugged and bare but as we got closer to the coast it became very pretty with lots of broom in flower and interesting coastline. We stopped a few km before the town for a coffee in a really nice bar/restaurant inappropriately named The Store (I think). Later we regretted not having stopped there for lunch as it was much nicer than where we did end up eating. There were also lots of kiosks by the sea cooking lobster which looked really tasty. Instead we headed on but before long had to stop once more to watch a colony of seals. It was quite amazing to see them so close up playing and sleeping, swimming and fighting completely undisturbed by us. A little further on there was a place sign- posted as a seal colony but we had seen enough by then! Kaikoura compared to all this was a bit of a disappointment. The town is nothing special with touristy shops and all the places to eat were on the road and none near the sea. We still had our lobster though!
At about 6pm we reached Christchurch and had a quick walk around. The town is an interesting blend of modern and antique without any of the “ye olde Englande” affectation which for some reason I expected. We checked into Pomeroy’s on Kilmore – a really great little pub / lodge where we were immediately offered a degustation of locally brewed beers by the friendly owner and made to feel very much at home. We so liked the atmosphere of the crowded pub that we booked a table for dinner and pleasantly tipsy went for another walk. It took us an hour and a half to walk along the Avon River with all its pretty houses and beautifully tended gardens. We then decided we needed a rest and boarded an expensive ($15) but picturesque tourist tram which took us all round town. Back at Pomeroy’s we ate an excellent steak and burgher and finished our long day e mailing friends and family from the free wifi in our room. Another excellent day!
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Feb 7th, 2010, 12:51 PM
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Woke up bright an early for our proposed trip to the Banks peninsula and the weather was gorgeous! We had had several discussions on this forum about whether the Banks peninsula was worth the long drive or not and fortunately we were very happy with our final decision. We absolutely loved both the winding drive and the startling scenery along the way and the towns of Little River with its art gallery and Akaroa itself. It is such a distinctive bit of the country, so different from the rest. We had a very good meal right on the waterfront and even did a bit of Christmas shopping in the little boutiques. It seemed to be a place so far away and peaceful and at the same time not at all lonely evoking the same memories as the Scilly Isles west of Cornwall (but with much nicer weather)!
We drove back via Lyttleton Harbour which also has its charm as well as good ice cream and then straight to Christchurch airport for our evening flight to Invercargill.
Unfortunately I got it wrong and chose a seat on the wrong side of the plane. I was obviously in such distress that a very nice man allowed me to change places so I could sit by the window and see the mountains. It was a brilliant flight, completely clear and I felt it made up a bit for my decision not to drive down via Aoraki. At least I saw it from above!
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Feb 9th, 2010, 08:27 AM
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Southern Scenic Route.
In Invercargill we picked up our third car from Thrifty, once again easy peasy – in fact they were waiting for us, waved and called us by name as we approached the desk in typically friendly NZ fashion. Invercargill feels small even if it isn’t and we felt as if everyone knew we were coming! In minutes we arrived at our lodging – the charming old Victoria Railway Hotel where we were given a huge suite full of fifties furniture and embroideries. Outside it was pretty cold and the huge roads were completely deserted. It was Saturday but everything was shut at 8.30 pm and we thought this is one place where it won’t be easy to find a decent meal. We were wrong! After a short search we discovered Duo – an elegant (and crowded) restaurant serving delicious sophisticated local fare and an excellent wine list. They had a table for us. What a wonderful country!

Feeling a little guilty at staying such a short time in this friendly town we woke up very early to at least get a quick look at Queen’s Park and the Tuataras (you can see them even if the museum is shut by walking round the back). We then had to set off for the Southern Scenic Route towards Milford Sound in good time for our 4pm evening cruise. In fact the whole point of our night in Invercargill was that we wouldn’t have to rush this drive and a good thing it was too. First we stopped in a couple of pretty seaside villages towards Riverton. Then there was nothing for hundreds of kms but amazing fields full of lupins in bloom and rivers and hills. We eventually reached Manapouri where we saw some keas misbehaving and unfortunately it started to rain. It continued to rain in Te Anau where we stopped once more for some lunch and a walk. This was one of the first places we felt to be very touristy with not a lot of character though the lake was beautiful. From here it was another 2.5 hrs to Milford Sound – and they only tell you there are no more petrol stations once you are outside town – so beware! This part of the drive as most people know is very scenic and in November the flowers are really spectacular. It did continue to rain though , until it turned to snow which we could hardly believe. The waterfalls along the road were torrentially full and it was very cold when we eventually got out in the parking lot and had to reach the boat on foot.
More.....
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Feb 9th, 2010, 08:42 AM
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But I'll bet the cold kept the Sandflies down!!

Looking forward to the next installment.
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Feb 14th, 2010, 06:17 AM
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Yes! very few sandflies and I'd been carrying repellent around for the whole trip especially!
We boarded the Milford Mariner at 4pm and miraculously it stopped raining long enough to admire the scenery from the deck and take the dinghies out for a nature tour. There was lots and lots of water pouring out of the mountains and we saw a pod of dolphins. The atmosphere on board was very pleasant and the boat was half empty so everyone made friends. The other tourists were a mixed bunch of Dutch, English, Indians and of course New Zealanders and Australians. We shared tables and the food was surprisingly good. Everyone seemed to agree that the cruise was a bit too short – just a couple of km to the Tasman Sea and back didn’t really justify 15 hours on a ship. Still, it was restful and pleasant and we had been rushing around so much that a bit of passive movement was just what we needed.
Next morning after a hearty breakfast we disembarked and headed for the last destination of our trip – Queenstown.
The drive was once again very pleasant and we were glad that we only had to backtrack a little. This time the weather was sunny which made all the lupins and broom even prettier.
When we arrived at our B&B Queenstown House at 2pm we found it shut, much to our surprise. However we were not feeling too tired from the drive so we decided to take advantage of the sun and take the gondola up to Bob’s peak for the views…you never know what tomorrow's weather might do.
The views up there are really stunning with the Remarkables and Coronet peak as well as Lake Wakatipu of course, all laid out in fron of you. We decided to stretch our legs on a short walk – the Loop Track – which was just the right length before heading back down. Queenstown is as lively and fun as everybody says with lots of good shops, bars and restaurants. We didn’t find it crowded at all and in fact couldn’t believe how easy it was to park and drive around town. After eventually checking into our B&B which was very nice and close to everything we went for a meal at the very trendy restaurant Bunker which was nice and cosy and food was very good.
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Feb 14th, 2010, 06:19 AM
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Our last day in New Zealand!
After a delicious breakfast we went downtown to see the underwater observatory which I had read about in Joe Bennet’s book A Land of Two Halves. It was brilliant watching the ducks swimming underwater and feeding them from the slot machine. We then decided to drive to Arrowtown and on the way stopped to watch a farmer gathering up sheep with his dog. He was very friendly and let us go and pet the lambs and in the end he asked me to help out by bottle feeding a baby deer! I was falling more and more in love with New Zealanders by the minute! Eventually I managed to tear myself away and we reached the delightful little town where we had lunch, visited the Chinese settlement and went for a long walk on a track. On the way back we saw the bungy jumpers and admired some of the vineyards and wineries.
To close off our day and our stay we had dinner at Botswana Butchery, once more an excellent restaurant in all respects. They even allowed us (albeit for a large corking fee) to bring our own bottle of Herzog wine which we didn’t want to bring back with us. It was a very good complement to the delicious food.
And so ended our 18 days in New Zealand – one of the friendliest, most scenic, clean and hospitable countries I have ever visited. A pity it's so far away!
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Feb 14th, 2010, 08:39 AM
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Thanks for the report, I'm glad you enjoyed the back route via Manipouri, and also Invergcargill. Although it gets no respect from my Jafa friends, I do like if for a touch of friendly, untouristed NZ and some very good dining experiences.
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