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Chasing the Long White Cloud: A Winter Trip to the South Island of NZ

Chasing the Long White Cloud: A Winter Trip to the South Island of NZ

Old Jul 2nd, 2011, 05:35 PM
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Chasing the Long White Cloud: A Winter Trip to the South Island of NZ

June 2-25, 2011

The itinerary:

Geraldine – one night
Glenorchy – three nights
Wanaka – three nights
Franz Josef – two nights
Arthur’s Pass – two nights
Hope, Nelson – three nights
Takaka, Golden Bay – three nights
Whatamango Bay (near Picton) – three nights
Waipara Valley – two nights

Getting there, a lovely track, and a dining surprise…

The day is here, we’re going back to our beloved South Island of New Zealand. We booked flights months ago, each using 50K United frequent flier miles and paying USD $105.30 in taxes for the pleasure of flying in business class from Perth-Auckland-Christchurch and return on Air New Zealand.

The Perth Airport is oddly empty; we’re told by an airport employee that this is the absolute best time to be here (5:30-6 pm). We bypass the painfully long queue for Air Asia’s Bali bound passengers and waltz right up to the Air NZ check-in counter and pronto, we’re relieved of our luggage.

We feel we’re in the Twilight Zone as we enter the empty Immigration hall and walk directly up to the counter. We’re invited into the Qantas Lounge to await our flight, a wait longer than usual as we’d allowed extra time to fight traffic and clear the usual madness of the airport. The lounge is eerily empty too, nice and quiet. We have a glass of champers and a nibble.

We’re soon aboard our overnight flight bound for Auckland. Overnight flights of short duration are problematic for us. By the time meal service has finished and the lights are turned down, there’s not much time left to sleep, assuming one could.

The flight goes well. The seats are comfortable, but limited recline and a footrest that barely elevates makes an impossible sleeping arrangement. We settle for watching movies on the large entertainment screen and enjoying the fantastic Air NZ service.

We’re served an antipasto and warm nuts with some wonderful NZ wine, followed by an appetizer of shrimp, peppered tuna and salmon. I don’t eat seafood, so Bill gets a double portion, proclaiming the tuna fantastic. Dinner follows; macadamia nut encrusted salmon for him, chicken stir fry for me, followed by ice cream and passion fruit panna cotta. We’re too full for the proffered cheese, fruit and crackers, but we don’t hesitate when offered a glass of late harvest Muscat. Lovely.

Prior to landing they’re plying us with more refreshments, this time smoothies, coffee and pastry. Didn’t we just eat?

We arrive in Auckland ~six hours later, 6am local time, four hours ahead of Perth. We clear Immigration and Customs, and then roll our suitcases to the luggage transfer desk before walking to the domestic terminal. It’s dark and cold, but the fresh air feels wonderful. We go through security, surprised to see passengers walk through with cups of coffee and wearing coats; no strip search here.

We’re soon aboard another Air New Zealand flight, this one all economy and completely full. We land in Christchurch, greeted with 7c temps (45F) and an icy wind.

We make a call to APEX, board their shuttle and are delivered to their depot to collect our rental car. After a quick lesson in how to put on snow chains, we’re on our way in our high mileage (138,130 km) 2006 Toyota Corolla (22 days, $880 plus $25 for snow chains, which are never used).

We haven’t slept; we’re shattered, which is why we’ve booked our first night in Geraldine. Our modus operandi is to limit our driving on our day of arrival to about 2.5 hours, but that doesn’t mean we won’t take our time getting there. We head to Darfield, planning to take the scenic route via 73, 77 and 72. We notice that gas is $2.05 a liter…ouch.

In Darfield we stop for flat whites at a cute little café called Express Yourself, then pop into the local milk store for a couple scoops of Tip Top ice cream. We continue along the inland scenic route (72), making a stop at beautiful Rakaia Gorge, the icy wind quickly chasing us back to the car.

It’s not long before we’re detouring at Staveley, where a sign for Sharplin Falls has caught our eye; it seems we’ve stumbled upon a track. We’re not dressed for hiking; we haul out the suitcases right there in the car park and rummage for boots, hats and gloves. We’re soon walking a meticulously maintained path at the base of Mt Somers, wandering through beech forest to the falls. The knee crunching steps warm us up in no time. It’s a nice little hike, 45 minutes return.

Back on 72, we make the 12 km detour to Peel Forest, an area I’ve wanted to explore, but have never had the chance. It’s cold and getting late, or so the darkening skies would lead us to believe…this is June after all, when the sun sets around 5:15 pm. We take the short Big Tree Walk, which leads to several massive native totara trees, one of which is almost three meters across and thought to be 1000 years old. There are at least a dozen tracks here ranging from 30 minutes to six hours, but alas no time. We’ve barely arrived and we’re already talking about our next trip.

We pull into Geraldine some six hours after leaving Christchurch and check into Victoria Villa B&B, my review of which can be found here:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserR...th_Island.html

Our hostess suggests Taste for dinner and offers to make a booking, which we gladly accept.

http://www.tasterestaurant.co.nz/

We poke around town for a bit, but most places have closed, it being 4:30 pm (!). I’m pleased to find a chocolate shop (Coco), but just as quickly disappointed to discover that it closed two minutes before our arrival. I vow to return in the morning promptly at 10. We seek out and find Barkers, purveyors of fine jams, curds, sauces and chutneys, mere minutes before they close, but we’re able to sample the goods and make a few purchases. We also locate Talbot’s Forest Cheese, but decide to leave that for the following day.

Geraldine isn’t very big; our wanderings take us right past Taste. Our booking isn’t for another 45 minutes, so we opt to have some pre-dinner wine in their bar while we wait. I question the wisdom of this as I watch Bill’s chin sink to his chest and hear impending man sleep noises… The waitress agrees to seat us early, and we settle in for a leisurely meal by the electric heater.

Bill proclaims his Prime Angus Pure Beef Eye Fillet, topped with oyster, saffron & chive mascarpone, served with asparagus filled mini York, caramelized shallots & crispy ginger excellent, and well worth staying awake for ($33). My breast of chicken filled with bacon, cream cheese & spinach, served on corn & chive cakes, with roasted garlic, Roma tomato & basil cream sauce is very good ($28.50). The triple chocolate terrine, white chocolate mud cake and chocolate truffle tart with wild berry coulis sampler we share for dessert is less of a success ($13), but hey, we’re absolutely stunned to find a restaurant of this caliber in Geraldine in the first place. Who knew?

We drag our weary selves back to our B&B and sleep for the next 12 hours.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2011, 10:19 PM
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So pleased you have found the time to start your report, Mel, and especially starting with a great area I am familiar with. My husband Ted grew up not far from here, and we have family and friends in Darfield. It's a great little place.
Did you know Staverley has an ice-skating rink, and that a Japanese movie was filmed there about 4 years ago? Last time we were visiting friends who farm there I refused to walk across their swing bridge (I just don't do swing bridges, not even in Hokitika Gorge!) to the rink but I did have a great time walking around part of the film set left behind on their farm.
I just LOVE Barkers products. One favourite in particular is their Apricot Capsicum chutney - haven't been able to locate as yummy a recipe to make my own so just buy it by the litre pail.

Look forward to the next instalments of your report. You write so well and entertainingly.
Dot
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Old Jul 2nd, 2011, 11:17 PM
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Thank you dotty. We did see a sign for the ice skating rink, in fact we both commented on it, as it seemed an unlikely spot for one. I had no idea about it being a film site though.

No swingbridges? Are you sure you're a Kiwi 8-)?

Funny you mention Hoki Gorge..I'd stumbled upon it in my research and we made a point of going there this trip. We're forever finding new places in your beautiful country.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2011, 11:42 PM
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waiting quietly!
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Old Jul 3rd, 2011, 12:12 AM
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A nine and a half hour, six hour drive…

I dislike one night stays, I truly do. I can’t get settled, there’s no time to explore, and the hassle of having to rummage through luggage looking for this or that makes me crazy. I guess I’m a nester.

Regardless, we enjoy a good sleep and leisurely breakfast with our B&B hosts and other guests. I learn that the lilies in the Peel Forest grow up to seven feet tall in November, that riding ancient bikes across NZ is a popular activity, and I try my first feijoa, an experience I don’t need to repeat.

We check out and head to town, picking up some peppered Havarti and vintage cheddar at Talbot’s Forest Cheese, and indulging in a hot chocolate at Coco, made from Belgian chocolate, cream and milk, good but not mind-blowing ($6 each). There’s a winter market underway on this cold Saturday morning. I like it here.

We gas the car, surprised, as we’d forgotten they still have pump jockeys in small town New Zealand. I’ve estimated today’s drive at six hours, but figure it will take us longer as it invariably does. We set out on 79, wending our way along the curvy road through the green rolling countryside. Yep, we’re back in God’s Country.

We call in at the Fairlie Bakehouse, as recommended by our B&B hostess, to grab a loaf of sourdough bread. We next locate the Old Library Cafe, but find it closed. Shame, as we’d hoped for a coffee. We join 8, and eventually cross inconsequential tussock covered Burke’s Pass (709 meters), not my idea of pretty. Snow capped mountains loom in the distance, shrouded in low clouds. We enter Lake Tekapo, stopping for photos, a tee and a wee. The village is busy on this Queens Birthday weekend; it’s bigger than I remember (which I say a lot during this trip), and the wind is bitterly cold. We move on, next making the 12 km detour to Mt Cook Salmon Farm, which claims to be the “world’s highest salmon farm” at 677 meters above sea level. NOTE: There’s also a salmon farm near Twizel, conveniently located right off the highway. We purchase some cold smoked salmon, poke about and watch people fishing in the canal. We later learn that the fishermen on the fringes are hoping for salmon that escape the farm, apparently an accepted practice.

We continue on 8, the fog encased Southern Alps directly in front of us, opaque glacial blue Lake Pukaki to our right. The landscape greens up south of Twizel, pastures appear; yet there are few trees, just wind breaks. We pass through Omarama, also bigger than I remember, advertising hot tubs and a café with a smile inducing name, Wrinkly Rams.

We cross dry, tussock covered Lindis Pass, significantly more interesting than Burke’s Pass, but still brown and crunchy looking. We enter Central Otago, the sheep blending in with the surrounding reddish-brown, rocky landscape, the trees along the river valley stark and naked. We need a break, so we stop for an alfresco coffee at the Tarras Country Coffee Shop; it’s much warmer here, no icy wind. Caffeinated, we continue on 8 towards Queenstown. Lake Dunstan comes into view; we see a sign for Northburn Station Winery; we decide to investigate.

http://www.northburn.co.nz/

Lovely place this; we chat and sample the goods. It’s immediately evident that we’re in Pinot Noir country, a mighty fine drop. We leave with their Sauvignon Blanc and 2007 Pinot Noir.

We decide to drive into Bannockburn, spontaneously stopping at Bannock Brae Estate. We’re led through the owner’s home and out to a picnic table overlooking the vines and the glorious valley below, and treated to a taste. Friendly owners, excellent wine; we part with some Riesling and Pinot Noir.

http://www.bannockbrae.co.nz/aboutus.html

We resume our drive, now following SH 6 through the Kawarau Gorge to Queenstown, Bill confidently navigating his way through town as if he’d just been there last week. We stop for groceries and some tasty Indian food at India, Once Upon a Time ($48, two curries, rice, garlic naan, a glass of wine for the passenger). Stomachs full, we drive the remaining 45 kilometers to Glenorchy, along the very narrow and winding Queenstown-Glenorchy Road, me acutely aware that Lake Wakatipu is mere meters to my left, knowing if we miss a turn in the utter darkness we’ll be going for a very cold swim.

We have no chance of finding our B&B with my vague directions in the pitch black, so we pop into the Glenorchy Pub and ask for assistance. We arrive at Precipice Creek Station B&B at 8:30 pm, 9.5 hours after leaving Geraldine; so much for that six hour estimate.

What a find! My review can be found here:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Rev...th_Island.html
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Old Jul 3rd, 2011, 09:54 PM
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Hiking nirvana…

It rains throughout the night. We wake to a gloom that begins to lift as we head out to the start of the Routeburn Track, our chosen tramp of the day, an easy nine kilometer drive from our accommodation. A new shelter has been built since our last visit; unfortunately, the sandflies are still here and they really seem to enjoy Bill, they’re just a bit slower in the cold.

We follow the wide, well maintained track alongside the river and through the rainforest, catching glimpses of some pretty spectacular snow covered mountains through breaks in the cloud. Despite all our trips to NZ, we’re still amazed that rainforests can be cold, and that there’s nothing venomous lurking in the otherworldly tangle of vibrant green ferns, trees and vines. The river is near bursting, the waterfalls are thundering, yet the track is immaculate. Halfway in we find an outhouse, conveniently perched right off the track.

We walk as far as the Routeburn Flats Hut, where we picnic in the valley, overlooking a stream with a pair of talkative ducks, the mountains before us skirted by wisps of long white cloud.

Our reprieve is short; the sandflies find Bill. We pack up and return the way we’ve come, the beech forest feeling even more eerie as the winter sun drops, elongating the shadows, plunging us into semi-darkness.

We’ve logged over 15 kilometers, almost 10 miles in 4.5 hours. It’s been a truly enjoyable day, we feel as if we’ve discovered an entirely new track; we’ve not seen it before with all the waterfalls.

We consider making the drive to Kinloch Lodge to have a glass of wine and enquire about dinner, but we’re knackered, so we give it a pass, later discovering that the lodge is closed for three weeks.

It’s back to our lovely B&B, where we bundle up in our fleece, relax on the patio and watch the dark descend over the fogged in mountains. We sip wine and snack; so tired we can barely chew.
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Old Jul 4th, 2011, 03:43 PM
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Falling in love with Glenorchy…

Our 29th wedding anniversary dawns clear and cold. Rosie, the resident cat, perches on a patio chair, doing her best to charm her way indoors, which is against the house rules. As the sun lazily rises, there’s a sharp intake of breath as we’re treated to an incredibly clear view of the snow drenched Humboldt Range directly in front of us.

It doesn’t get light until nearly 8 am this time of year, so we find ourselves sleeping later than usual, forcing us to push back our breakfast tray delivery. Our hostess Vladka is happy to oblige, encouraging us to move as slowly as we’d like. She assembles an impressive continental breakfast – cereal, yogurt, croissants, ciabatta rolls, huge slices of homemade tarts, ham, fruit, juice…there’s so much food that we use part of it for our picnic lunch.

Vladka suggests we explore the Whakaari Conservation area, so we make the three kilometer drive along the Queenstown-Glenorchy Road and are soon hiking to Mt Judah. As the name suggests, this track goes up; it’s a steady climb with a 2,300 foot elevation gain. It’s well graded until just past Judah Junction, when it becomes a narrow, butt kicking sheep trail. The track leads past the State Mine and the Scheelite Battery, and continues on to several huts and the longer Mt McIntosh Loop track.

Our goal is the Bonnie Jean Hut, and we almost make it, or so we think. We’re within spitting distance of a hut when it becomes clear that there’s no way we can get to it, unless we want to swim across the stream. We picnic at the base instead, soak up our sandfly free surroundings, then turn around and work our way back. It’s a rewarding hike with some fantastic gorge and mountain views (8.2 miles, about 13 km, three hours up and two hours down). We’re later told we weren’t looking at the Bonnie Jean Hut, but a smaller hut that had been dropped in by the DOC mere weeks before. Oh well.

As we drag our worn out selves back to the B&B, it begins to rain. Good timing.

Glenorchy doesn’t have much on offer for a splash out anniversary dinner, so we dine at Foxy’s Café at the Glenorchy Lodge. We enter, ask where the restaurant is and are told “you’re in it”. Bill selects the Kiwi Heart Attack on a Plate. Actually, it’s called the Kiwi Mixed Grill ($30) and consists of a steak, sausages, bacon, grilled onions and tomatoes piled on a huge mound of French fries and topped with two fried eggs. I settle for the soup of the moment, creamed vegetable ($12) and help Bill with his fries, quickly reminded of how much we dislike Kiwi ketchup (too sweet).

Back at the B&B we cleanse our arteries with a celebratory bottle of Bannock Brae Barrel Selection 2009 Pinot Noir. Lovely.
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Old Jul 5th, 2011, 12:04 AM
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From serenity to insanity and back again…

It’s time to leave our lovely B&B, but we vow to return for a longer visit. We load up the car and seek out the Glenorchy Walkway, following the boardwalk through the lagoon, gazing at the black swans, then skirting the golf course, all the while surrounded by stunning snow covered mountains and bright blue sky (easy loop, 50 minutes). We aimlessly wander though a neighborhood, finally tearing ourselves away from our new favorite spot on the South Island.

We backtrack along the shores of beautiful Lake Wakatipu, feasting our eyes on the incredible views, which we can actually see this time. We’re soon entering the hustle and bustle of Queenstown, trying to find a parking spot in a town with more cars than places to park them. If this is low season, I don’t want to be anywhere near this place when it’s busy. We finally locate a spot, walk through Queen’s Gardens, dodge the Frisbee golfers, and wander through town. We revisit India, Once Upon a Time (Chicken Tikka Masala, Paneer Shimla Mirch, rice and naan – excellent - $41), and stroll the much-too-busy-for-the-likes-of-us streets. It’s only 2:30 pm, but we’re losing sun here in the valley and the temperature drops in a hurry. As we work our way back to the car, I spot Patagonia Chocolates; the chocoholic must have a look. Hot chocolate is on offer, so we pull up a chair and indulge in some pretty wonderful melted chocolate with cream and milk ($6 each).

There was a time I liked Queenstown, but now, the charm is gone, it’s become a victim of its own success.

We depart, turning onto SH 89 at Arrowtown to cross the Crown Range via Cardrona to Wanaka, choosing fewer kilometers over scenery. I’ve never considered this route even remotely pretty, but as the setting sun hovers over the barren mountains, it gives them a bright yellow cast, so a photo seems in order. The road is seriously squiggly, as so many South Island roads are, but it’s not nearly steep enough to warrant the brake riding of the car in front of us. We stop at the historic church in Cardrona, marveling at how even the tiniest towns offer public restrooms, just one more reason to love New Zealand.

The scenery improves as we approach Wanaka, then it’s too dark to matter. It’s no surprise that the estimated 2.5 hour drive has taken us twice that. Thanks to some decent directions, we easily locate our home for the next three nights, the Alpine View Lodge, my review of which can be found here:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Rev...th_Island.html

Pre-ski season, the atmosphere of Wanaka is markedly different than that of its famous neighbor; downright dead in fact, much more our style. Back at our accommodation, we prance half naked through the frigid night to the lodge’s outdoor hot tub, where we have a glorious soak, just the two of us under a gazillion stars.
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Old Jul 6th, 2011, 08:15 AM
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Enjoying your report as usual.

RE dinner at Kinloch Lodge...you can't just drop in, it's by reservation only. There is one guy that does everything. Even if you are staying there, you need a seating time so he can schedule everything! But it's worthwhile doing if in the area, for the drive and the food (even with sandflies).
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Old Jul 6th, 2011, 03:35 PM
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Hi mlgb - we'd planned to drop in to Kinloch for a glass of wine (which we've done before) and to look into making a booking for the following night.
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Old Jul 6th, 2011, 03:53 PM
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Beautiful views from a frustrating track…

It’s pitch black when we wake at 7 am. The sun finally rises…sort of…revealing overcast skies. We enjoy the continental breakfast delivered the night before, having a giggle over the toast rack, a serving piece I’ve always found amusing.

We find Mt Aspiring Road and begin the one hour drive to Raspberry Creek, located in the West Matukituki Valley of Mt Aspiring National Park. The low clouds hovering over the mountains look ominous, but a distant streak of blue keeps us optimistic.

The road turns to gravel after the turnoff to Treble Cone Ski Resort, then becomes progressively more rutted, rough and narrow. We bump along through the valley, mountains looming on either side of us, waterfalls seemingly everywhere. We pass deer farms, dodge loose sheep and cows, and hold our breath as we ease our way through each of the nine water filled fords. Just as I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll ever get there, we reach Raspberry Creek car park and set out on the track to Aspiring Hut, advertised as a nine kilometer, 2-2.5 hour walk (one way).

We pick our way through boggy, poop-riddled pasture, skirting the stream and passing the swing bridge to Rob Roy Glacier. The water in the stream is crystal clear, we can see trout. It’s only mid-day, but it’s dark and cold here in the valley. We slog through the mud and dung, cross five or six streams and crest a few bluffs. We picnic and soak up the wonderful views atop a sunny hill. Entirely too far in the distance we see what we believe to be Aspiring Hut. Winter days are short, we’re losing daylight, we doubt we can reach the hut and return to the car park before the valley is completely dark. We turn back, later learning that we were looking at the historic Cascade Hut. Apparently, Aspiring Hut is 20 minutes beyond it. We’re back at Raspberry Creek four hours after we began, covered in mud and grossness, wondering if there’d been an error in the track literature, or if we’re just slow. We estimate that we walked 10 miles, but we’ll never know for sure, as we’d misplaced our handy walking GPS.

Dinner that evening finds us at the Spice Room, partaking in some pretty good Indian food (two protein lacking curries, rice, garlic naan and one generous glass of wine each - $65). We manage to squeeze in some New Zealand Natural ice cream as well, but I’m not impressed. Has Australia’s Connoisseur ice cream spoiled me for all others? I’m afraid it has.

Our evening is topped off with another slightly less starry soak, and the discovery of our misplaced GPS buried deep in my backpack.
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Old Jul 6th, 2011, 05:54 PM
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Where’s the sun?

It’s cloudy, it’s cold; we lazily sleep until 8 am. We call to confirm our Okarito kiwi eco tour scheduled for the following evening, but the operator has the flu, so it’s off.

Our first tramp of the day is Mt Iron, the highest point in the immediate vicinity, conveniently located on the outskirts of Wanaka. As the name suggests, it’s a climb, 240 meters, the reward being the panoramic views from the flat topped summit, impressive even on a day as overcast as this one. We enjoy the trek and the birdsong, particularly that of a tiny green bird with an incredible vocal range. We find the descent via the east slope more difficult than the climb up from the west; the old knees protest loudly (1:45 return, 3.2 miles, ~5 km).

We seek out the Cheeky Monkey Café, Bill choosing the Full Monkey breakfast - streaky bacon, sausage, hash browns, eggs, grilled tomatoes and toast ($19). He declares it a good choice, but with this, his second go round with NZ sausages, he’s decided they’re not to his taste. I select the tomato chorizo soup ($12), which is very good; we top things off with some nice flat whites ($39.90 total).

We locate the Beacon Point Walk, a shoreline track that links Bremner Bay to Beacon Point. We walk the .66 mile track in 15 minutes, there’s not much to it.

Our efforts to find a more rewarding walk lead us to the Outlet Track, which follows the Clutha River from Lake Wanaka to Albert Town. This section of the Clutha River is world renowned for trout fishing; we’ve been told the trout literally jump out of the water. Not today. It’s an easy wide trail, used by bikers too, one of whom very nearly runs me down. I enjoy this mostly peaceful walk, but Bill isn’t as keen. We walk to Albert Town, turn around and walk back, 1:20, 3.38 miles return.

It’s still cloudy, it’s still cold, we’ve not seen the sun all day. We retreat to our accommodation, rug up in our fleece and sit on our patio to gaze at the sheep and the mountain range, indecipherable in the fog.

Dinner finds us at Bombay Palace (yes, we do like our Indian food) where the carnivore noshes on Lamb Vindaloo and I go for the Paneer Masala. The food is good, but similar to our experience the night before at the Spice Kitchen, both curries have a severe protein deficit, and boy-oh-boy, the heartburn! They do have the best garlic naan we’ve had to date though (two curries, rice, garlic naan and $8 corkage - $51). Our final soak follows, under a completely socked in sky.
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Old Jul 7th, 2011, 02:28 PM
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I am really enjoying your report and appreciate your details. So would you say, for planning purposes, that $40NZD is average for a lunch or dinner without wine? Are corkage charges in the $NZD 8-10 range?

It looks like you booked all your lodging ahead, even though it was not peak season. My husband and I are traveling to NZ in November. We would rather not pin ourselves down sometimes, but based upon your report, I am thinking that I better make those reservations.

Thanks for such a interesting report!
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Old Jul 7th, 2011, 03:58 PM
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Thanks steamboatsista, I didn't think anyone was reading.

We couldn't seem to get out of a cafe for under $35. That usually included one main (for Bill) one starter/soup(for me) and a couple of flat whites.

Dinners ranged from ~$50-60 without drinks, less for pizza. Our most expensive dinner was at Taste - $112 with a bottle of wine, two mains and shared dessert. Our most expensive lunch was at a winery in Waipara - $~86 for two meals and a bottle of wine.

I've seen corkage for as low as $5 a bottle in NZ, but I didn't really pay attention this trip as we only did BYO once, and that particular restaurant didn't officially offer BYO, but they made an exception.

I always book ahead, not because I need to, but because I just prefer it that way. Accommodation is a big part of our holiday, so I do plenty of research, select lodging that appeals to me and book in advance. It paid off too - every single place we stayed was very good.

You'll probably be fine winging it, particulary if you're not fussed about your accommodation. Some areas are busier than others though (like the glaciers) and have limited lodging, but I'd think you'd have no worries in November.

I plan to post our specific accommodation prices at the end of the report...prices ranged from $120-$230 per night.
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Old Jul 7th, 2011, 04:24 PM
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Wet, wild and ruggedly beautiful…

It’s raining. While checking out, we have a long chat with accommodation owners Craig and Michele. Earthquake ravaged Christchurch is on everyone’s mind.

We’re soon on SH 6 pointed north, Lake Wanaka to our left, Lake Hawea to our right, the Southern Alps poking through a layer of low cloud. We arrive in Makarora, a township that appears to consist of two cafes, a caravan park, a B&B, a petrol station and a school, completely surrounded by snow dusted mountains and a surprising number of waterfalls. I’m wondering if I’ve given Makarora short shrift, so we pop into the tourist center/café and quiz a bored looking young woman about what there is to see and do in the area. We’re told it’s a trampers and fisherman’s paradise. The Siberia Experience leaves from here, an “extravaganza” that includes a flight over the Southern Alps, a three hour bushwalk in native beech forest and a jet boat trip back to Makarora.

Our next stop is the frigidly cold unmanned Visitor’s Center. We peruse the track maps and make a few mental notes for ‘next time’ before rushing outdoors to warm up, our interest in Makarora piqued. Eight more kilometers brings us to the Blue Pools. It’s wet and cold, but we walk to the pools anyway; they’ve built a new bridge and added some tracks since our last visit. The pools aren’t as blue as they could be, but as luck would have it, the sun is out by the time we get back to the car (40 minutes return, just over a mile).

We resume our drive north. There’s some serious snow on the mountains through here. Cameron Flat beckons; we study the information board as we picnic, it’s too cold to sit still. We enjoy what we can see of the mountains as they drift in and out of cloud. The sandflies find Bill, we hastily retreat.

The landscape is lush and green, waterfalls course from the heavily treed mountains that envelope us. The weather changes every five minutes. We briefly see slushy snow on the side of the road as we approach Haast Pass lookout, but it’s gone in a flash. The pass is seriously squiggly, but not particularly steep; I don’t realize we’re crossing it until we make our descent. The road is eroded and damaged; the drop offs are scary. The highway appears to be falling into the gorges below. Yikes.

The Haast River appears; we ease our way through hairpin turns and across one way bridges, pleased with the lack of other cars. It’s so wet through here that moss is growing on the highway. Several sandflies cling to the exterior of Bill’s window…I wonder if they can smell him…

In time, we’re no longer entombed by mountains, the landscape opens up and the vegetation changes. The otherworldly green remains, but the trees are bizarrely bent and twisted. The sun is out, but it’s raining. We turn off at Ship Creek, recalling a couple of nice walks. It’s a bust. The Forest Swamp Walk is submerged in water, the Dune Walk infested with thirsty sandflies; Bill has had enough. We resume our drive, swatting at the sandflies that have gotten into the car as we go.

Hoping for a coffee, we stop at the Paringa Salmon Farm. It’s 3:30, they’ve just closed. Granted, it does feel much later in the winter gloom. As we wend our way along the squiggly approach to Fox Glacier, the skies clear. We can see the tops of mountains and snippets of blue sky above the blanket of trees. I feel as if we’re traveling through a tunnel. It’s wet, wild and ruggedly beautiful. I suddenly appreciate the effort involved in building roads across the South Island. It couldn’t have been easy.

We arrive in Franz Josef six hours after leaving Wanaka. Major road works are in progress, the bridge and approach to town are a mess.

We drive through the township and locate our home for the next two nights, Glenfern Villas. My review can be found here:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Rev...th_Island.html

Dinner time finds us at the Blue Ice, our favorite Franz Josef eatery from past visits. We’re not disappointed; we share a large ½ and ½ pizza which more than feeds the two of us; we’ll be having pizza for breakfast too (excellent - $33).

Back at the villa, we do some laundry and befriend the house cats, Smokey and Tigger.
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Old Jul 8th, 2011, 09:46 AM
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Oh yes, I am reading every word. Are there sandflies year round? Does bug spray work?
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Old Jul 8th, 2011, 03:24 PM
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In my experience, yes, sandflies are a year round problem, but there seem to be fewer of them (and they're slower!) in the winter months. Bill might disagree.

DEET is the way to go. We were only bitten when we'd not bothered to put any on.

Thankfully, they're not everywhere. You'll find them near water and on the beach, but you can lose them pretty easily by ducking into the forest.
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Old Jul 8th, 2011, 03:42 PM
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Sunshine on the West Coast…

We wake to the view promised by Cesar in reception; snow covered Elie de Beaumont, the 8th highest mountain in New Zealand at 9,233 feet, can clearly be seen from our expansive lounge windows. Fantastic! The ever present long white cloud hovers at ground level. We’re cozy and warm; Franz Josef feels downright balmy after Wanaka.

We drive to the Franz Josef car park and set out on the popular Glacier Valley Walk, following the Waiho riverbed to the terminal of Franz Josef Glacier. We never tire of this walk, it feels different every time. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, waterfalls course over the mountains…I feel blessed. With numerous photo stops and a few side trails, the easy walk takes us 1:45 return.

Our next walk is to Peter’s Pool where snow capped mountains can be seen reflected in the water (because the sun is out!). We continue on via the hilly Douglas Track (3.9 km, one hour loop), which leads us through the lush rainforest accompanied by birdsong (and sunshine!). En route we cross the Douglas swing bridge to the start of Robert’s Point track, a rough, rocky trail with an immediate river crossing. We turn back.

We’re soon looking for Canavan’s Knob Walk, passing it twice before we notice the huge sign and a rather obvious knob, right off of SH 6 towards Fox Glacier. We walk the 10-15 minutes from the car park to the trailhead and make the steady uphill climb; yep, it’s a knob all right, but it’s worth the effort; we’re rewarded with some nice upper glacier views, albeit a bit clouded over by the time we get there, one hour return.

Cesar, our enthusiastic accommodation host, has recommended The Landing or Alice May for dinner. We find Alice May closed until July, so The Landing it is. Bill goes for the Caesar salad with chicken ($22.50) and a pint of Guinness ($9.50). I predictably choose the soup, in this case tomato, capsicum and feta ($11). The food is good, but the atmosphere of the place puts us off a bit. Televisions and music compete at full volume, the bar is full of boisterous folks awaiting a sporting event; it’s basically a pub with restaurant prices.
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Old Jul 8th, 2011, 08:20 PM
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“Gosh it’s green”…

We gas the car - $2.28 per liter – and leave Franz Josef under another promising blue sky. We’re on SH 6 pointed towards Hokitika, the mountaintops clearly visible, wispy ground fog giving our surroundings a surreal, moor-like quality. As we clear the mist, our attention is drawn to countless spider webs stretched between the rails of wood fence, dewy tendrils shimmering in the sun.

We drive through yet another rainforest tunnel, surrounded by glistening wet green ferns. Low clouds dance above Okarito Lagoon. As we enter the one horse town of Whataroa, I have a sudden urge for ice cream. We’re soon spooning up Tip Top at the town’s milk store/pie shop, vanilla for Bill, passion fruit and apricot for me.

The squiggles are back with a vengeance as we work our way through Mt Hercules Scenic Reserve. We pass through sleepy Hari Hari, skirt duck-speckled Lake Ianthe, and cruise through one scenic reserve after another, feeling as if we’re in a jungle, surrounded by infinite shades of green. We make a quick stop in Pukekura to take a few photographs; a giant manmade sandfly, a goat on a leash, the Puke Pub. We zip through the nondescript, yet historic gold town of Ross and are soon entering Hokitika, New Zealand’s gold and greenstone capital.

I need a pharmacy, but Hoki is well shuttered on this Sunday afternoon. We walk around town, pick up a few groceries, then settle on Stumper’s Café for lunch. Still on his breakfast kick, Bill has the Big Breakfast, the usual fry up. He doesn’t care for it, and decides once and for all, that NZ sausages just aren’t his thing. I have the pasta special, a strange assortment of ingredients that sound good, but really aren’t. The flat whites are excellent, but the food is unsatisfying ($43 total).

As we leave town we pass Café de Paris, open for business. I kick myself. I knew about this café, but I had a brain fart and didn’t think to look for it. Oh well, can’t win them all.

We easily locate the road to Kaniere, and we’re on our way to Hokitika Gorge. It’s been touted as one of the most beautiful places in NZ, so we absolutely must investigate. We zigzag through the countryside fringed by mountains; a meandering journey, but well marked. Thirty-three kilometers later, we’re crossing the milky turquoise Hokitika River, making the short trek down to the riverside. The information board tells us that Hokitika Gorge gets an average of 2-2.5 meters of rain a year, setting a record in 1998 with 16.6 meters. That’s some serious rain. There’s no shortage of sandflies either.

This is incredible. It’s like the Blue Pools and Rakaia Gorge all rolled into one; well worth every single extra kilometer on an already long drive day!

The Tasman Sea comes into view as we work our way back to Hoki, feeling rather lucky to have had two sunny days on the West Coast. We ease our way north on SH 6, the Tasman to our left, bush and pasture to our right, turning at Kumara Junction and heading inland on 73. The landscape changes; it’s now mostly gorse and dry/dead/dying flora. We’re in the mountains now; the squiggles are back; we begin to climb. We eventually cross the 440 meter long Otira Viaduct, an elevated engineering marvel that spans a freakishly deep chasm, one of the most earthquake prone areas in New Zealand.

We enter the Selwyn District, rather drab and thirsty looking after the lush green of the West Coast, and begin our descent, arriving in the village of Arthur’s Pass 6.5 hours after leaving Franz Josef.

Our accommodation for the next two nights is quickly located; we check in to Cottage #3 at the Mountain House, my review can be found here:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Rev...th_Island.html

We’re welcomed with a much needed blazing fire; it’s mighty cold. We get settled and head out for an early dinner, suspecting that the few businesses up here close early. We share a Hawaiian pizza at the Wobbly Kea; it’s okay, but the Blue Ice certainly has nothing to worry about ($28). They do have an impressive single malt selection though, much to Bill’s admiration.

Our evening is spent curled up in front of the fire, listening to bizarre noises coming from the water heater, and the ominous howl of the wind.
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Old Jul 8th, 2011, 09:06 PM
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Have just caught up with the stage of your trip from Geraldine to Arthur's Pass, much of it through country I know well. You know, we have never stopped at Makaroa on our many trips but next trip (if there is one we can do without going through poor Christchurch even though we need to to catch up with family and friends) we will. I have the most amazing photo that I took of a very tall straight tree (can't remember what it is) with just a little vegetation at the very top which stands on the left side of the road to the Hokitika Gorge.
We stayed a night in Whataroa one trip in rather interesting accommodation - it used to be the maternity hospital, now converted into motel units!
The West Coast would have to be one of my favourite places for amazing scenery. So glad you are planning another trip already (from the other posting!)
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