Just back from 21 days in NZ/South Island

Old Dec 3rd, 2004, 11:33 AM
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Just back from 21 days in NZ/South Island

Hi folks! We just got in this morning, fighting to stay awake and get back on schedule, but I wanted to say thanks to all who helped in the trip planning, and try to give a somewhat brief but informative trip report! (Will do this in a couple of posts so as not to get deleted!!!)
Flew direct from LA to Christchurch on Air New Zealand-- flight was completely full, and we had the 4 middle seats and were comfortable, and the food was decent and the folks were very nice-- I would not hesitate to use them again, and they are supposed to be getting the in-seat monitors this year.
We are 2 couples in our 30s, and the men are "tall timbers", so we rented a Prado from Affinity-- not the cheapest car you can rent, but it fit us very comfortable, was very reliable, and Bryn from Affinity was very accomodating. There was even a "chilly bin" in the armrest which came in quite handy! We stayed the first night at the Stonehurst Motel which I would recommend -- good location, we had a two bedroom suite with kitchenette, though I think they have a wide range of accomodations. We mostly wandered around town, got our fishing licenses, and had an awesome dinner at Little India (so good, in fact, we went back on our last night!!!!)

Day 2-- drove to Kaikoura-- unfortunately, there were very strong winds (I think we eventually heard about 70mph) and the whale watch trips were all cancelled, but we were able to swim with the seals from land (to choppy for the boat)-- and it was one of the highlights of the trip. Even with the water being a bit murky, watching the seals swim right by you is something not to be missed. (By the way, I have never snorkeled even in a pool before, and never had on a wetsuit, and I did fine. They even had goggles with a mild perscription so I could even see!!! It did help that my hubby had snorkeled before and could stay with me at first!) Our guide, Vanessa, took us one by one near the seals, and then they are so curious, they come within inches of you.
We stayed the night at the Bay Cottages, and they are wonderful units, very reasonable, and the owners are starting to build some luxury units as well. HIGHLY recommended. And the owners made reservations at Finz restaurant-- and I have to say the meal was first rate (though not cheap, it was worth every cent.) You will need reservations-- there are only about 8 tables. We had the mussel chowder, pumpkin chile soup, prosciutto wrapped monkfish, and citrus dusted bluenose-- all were just delicious!!!!
Oh! Forget to mention, we ate lunch at Hislops cafe and that was also had a great meal there (there desserts looked amazing) and they also serve dinner.

Day 3-- we learned just how high the winds were. The seal colony viewing area (where we went on the seal swim the day before) was COMPLETELY submerged-- I mean, you would have never known there were steps or a path there except for the signs that appeared to be out in the middle of the ocean. And we had walked out 400m to water the day before.
We drove to Blenheim, and we were supposed to do the wine tour by bike thing, but as it was pouring down rain, we cancelled (they were very nice about it). We visited Montana, Seresin, Cloudy Bay, Nautilus, Spy Valley, and Hunters. Our favorites were Cloudy Bay, Nautilus, and Spy Valley. But you have to try the lime olive oil from Seresin!!! We stayed at the Vintner's Retreat-- and it is absolutely gorgeous. We had a unit that overlooked the vineyards, and it was just a beautiful condo. We cooked dinner in just to savor the accomodations!

Ok, so I don't lost this, I will continue on another post.
Jonesie/Kate
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Old Dec 3rd, 2004, 11:55 AM
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Continued....
Day 4 - We went drove the Mudbrick Lodge in the Rai Valley/Marlborough Sound area. Tania is the host, and one of the nicest and most interesting Kiwis we met, and the lodge is incredible. It may be in the middle of nowhere, but you can be content just to hand around for a couple of days-- and her meals are to die for!!!!
We stopped in Nelson and wandered around a bit before going, had lunch at the Founders Brewery, and walked through the Japanese gardens. The boys also got a chance to go fishing, though the didn't catch anything!

Day 5 - Tania arranged for us to go fishing at the Tennyson Inlet. It was a very small boat, but our guide was awesome and we caught tons of blue cod (which Tania cooked up-- yum!!!!), and also collected some tasty green lipped mussels. We also got to see a weka (flightless bird--looks a little like a chicken) which was very cool as well, and almost caught a barracuda. They boys got to go on a wild pig hunt that night (the wild pigs are a nuisance), they didn't catch anything, but they chased one for a while. Honestly, I can't say enough good things about the Mudbrick Lodge-- if you can swing it, spend at least 2 or 3 days!!!

Ok, I have to go pick up the pictures, but I will try to finish tonight or tomorrow!!
Kate
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Old Dec 3rd, 2004, 02:19 PM
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Kate, what a lovely report! I'm looking forward to reading the rest of it.

Lee Ann
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Old Dec 3rd, 2004, 07:27 PM
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Hi jonesie,
You are on the ball with your report. Hope you are heading back on target as far as your sleep routines are concerned.
As a Kiwi I was really interested to read about the Mudbrick Lodge - had never heard of it until someone else on fodors mentioned it. Sounds like a dream. Am also going to look into the Stonehurst Motel - we have our motel sussed for December / January but are going to Chch for a wedding in Feb. Might be a good time to try another.
Blue cod is so yum when fresh, isn't it. Shame you didn't get to try wild pork - divine!
Looking forward to the rest of your trip report.
Dot the Kiwi
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Old Dec 5th, 2004, 05:38 PM
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OK, sorry it took a while, but I am back!

Day 6 - Went to Nelson (second time we visited, shopped some more), and we stopped outside Nelson at the Grape Escape, and the best part is the Prenzel Tasting Room (I think they have these in a couple of places, but the schnapps is very yummy, and they have other goodies too, and it's a great place to pick up some treats for the folks back home!!!)
Then we drove to Kaiteriteri, we actually rented an apartment across the street from the beck in Little Kaiteriteri, and it was very nice, very relaxing (we actually spent three nights here.) I will say if you are going to stay in this area, the restaurants are a little lacking, so we mostly cooked for ourselves, which was nice anyway.

Day 7 - we did the Seals and Remote coast kayak (8 hours) in Abel Tasman with Kaiteriteri sea kayaks-- great company and a lot of fun. I love to kayak, so I had a fabulous time, and we did get to see several seals.
Sidenote: I think I forgot to mention this earlier, but one of the BEST places to see the seals is just north of Kaikoura, the Ohau seal colony-- it's right on the side of the road, we saw probably 20 or 25 seals, and they are supposedly always there.
Back to the kayaking-- I would definitely use this company even for a half day tour (the guides are a lot of fun), and if I had to do it again, I would do the overnight kayak.

Day 8 - We visited Pupu Springs (worth a visit, only takes about 30 minutes, but has some nice spots to picnic and eat lunch. We had planned to drive up to Collingwood, but a couple of people weren't feeling so hot, so we just went back. I walked around the beaches, and it was quite a nice, relaxing day.

Day 9 - Drive to Hokitika. We stopped at the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge-- really just a place to get out of the car for a bit, but it's an entertaining 20-30 minute stop.
We went to Paproa National Park/Pancake Rocks, which is a really well done park, and the rocks are very cool. Unfortunately, we were there at low tide, so the blowhole isn't very exciting, but it's still a very worthwhile stop (allow about an hour).
We tried to stop at Monteith's Brewery in Greymouth, but we got there about 5 minutes after the last tour departed, and though the tour was still going on, no one seemed much interested in helping us or taking our money, so we left, a little disappointed.
In Hokitika, we stayed at the Shining Star Log Chalets (just north of town), and I would recommend these as well. They are right on the beach, and across the street from the Glowworm dell. We stayed in the self contained units, which were small, but had a kitchenette and everything you needed!
We went to see the glowworms after dark, which were cool. I am sure that they are no where near as impressive as they are in the caves, but they are free!
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Old Dec 5th, 2004, 05:52 PM
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OK, I forgot to mention where we ate in Hokitika-- Trappers was recommended by several people, but it was closed with a police line around the building (never did find out what happened there...) but we watched the rugby match (the All Black beat Wales) and ate dinner at Stumpers, which was very good - we thought it would be bar food, but it is much better than that. Though we did discover that in NZ a milkshake is not what Americans know as a milkshake-- it's flavored milk. Maybe the "thickshakes" are better.....

Day 10 - Franz Josef. We got up early to make the drive, as we had an early helihike booked. We got rained out. So, on advice we were given, decided to attempt the four hour return Robert's Point walk at the Glacier. This is not a 4 hour walk, and it is DEFINITELY not a four walk in the rain. The girls gave up about halfway into it, but the boys weathered on (nearly 6 hours) and said it was worth it, but by far the hardest hike they had ever done. I am sure the pouring rain and the fact that from the time we got back to the car, and they returned, the temp went from 19 C to 9 C!!! We did ask about the walk at the park information center later, and they admitted that it is one of the difficult hikes, especially in the rain.
We stayed 2 nights at Glenfern Villas, in a two bedroom unit, which was very clean and very nice, a little bit south of town.
And we ate dinner at the Alice May, which I have not seen mentioned on this board, but it is a wonderful place to eat. It has a pub atmosphere (and it was packed both nights we were there), and the garlic loaf is to die for (the best any of us had ever had), and the food is great, and large portions too. It was so good that we decided we would be back the second night, if that tells you anything!!!!!

Day 11 - Franz Josef-- tried twice more to do the helihike - morning and afternoon-- got all dressed up in our gear, told to go to the helipad, and both times the weather didn't cooperate. We ended up doing the walks to both glaciers (Franz Josef and Fox)-- Fox definitely had the more spectacular terminal face - huge ice cave with river washing under it)-- but I think if you were going to do the guided walk onto the glacier, Franz Josef would be better for that. (Keep in mind that the glaciers change constantly, so it may not be that way for long.) When we were at Fox, there is a side road that goes to a lookout, and we saw several Pukekoes on the roadside, so that was an added bonus.
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Old Dec 5th, 2004, 05:54 PM
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I am enjoying this-- thanks for posting!
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Old Dec 5th, 2004, 06:18 PM
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Oh! We saw our first Kea in the parking lot at Fox glacier-- they are fun to watch (and no, it was not eating any windshield wipers!!!)

Day 12 - We tried for a helicopter flight with a glacier landing-- and still the weather would not cooperate. Glacier 4, Us 0. ;(
So off we went to Wanaka, with lots of stops along the way - Knight's Point, Ship Creek, Gates of Haast, Fantail Falls, and Blue Pools (my favorite), but they are all nice places to stop and havea look around. The boys went fishing in Wanaka both afternoons-- they had fun, but never caught anything. We stayed at the Moorings (built by the same people as the Glenfern Villas, but now have different owners.) Very nice, though this unit was a little more "worn"-- but it does have a great location for an easy walk into town. The boys wished we would have spent more than 2 nights in Wanaka-- they thought it was just picture perfect.

Day 13 - Wanaka-- we had planned to do some of the wineries, but we started at the Wanaka Beer Works, and the boys loved it so much, we never got much farther!!! Next store to the beerworks is a wool shop that is the best we found in NZ-- I only wish I knew how to knit!!!!! Wonderful prices and scarves and such, we picked up lots of Christmas presents at this place!!! We went to puzzling world (touristy, but entertaining-- takes about an hour). There is also a shop called Christofer Robyn's Quilts in the area-- and her husband is a photographer (we had already bought some of his postcards in town)-- and she has his prints available there.
The boys then went fishing, and the girls did a little shopping in town. Then we ate dinner and saw a movie at the Cinema Paradiso-- which I think is a must do if you are in Wanaka!!! The food is surprisingly good (we made an dinner out of the appetizers, and it's a town hall converted into a theater, but you sit in old couches and recliners, even an old car, and during intermission they have homemade icecream and hot cookies! What could be better?!?!?!
(The night before we ate at Thai Siam, which is very good Thai).
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Old Dec 5th, 2004, 06:32 PM
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Day 14 - Te Anau. On the way from Wanaka to Te Anau, we did finally stop at a couple of wineries (Carrick - which is beautiful, and Mt.Difficulty - stunning locations, and Gibbstown for some yummy cheeses to snack on). Once we got to TeAnau, we embarked on the road to Milford Sound. (Yes, it was late in the day, and everyone was shocked that we were going to try it, but it was just fine.) The scenery is beautiful, and we stopped probably 6 times along the way (met another kea, and this one was much more photogenic, and I think he would have hopped in the car with us if given the opportunity.) And the Home tunnel is not nearly as scary as some people make it out to be-- the worst part was coming back, because for some reason the red/green lights were not on, so it was a brave decision to finally move forward, not knowing if anyone was coming. But it all worked out just fine.
And here is our dirty little secret:
Maybe it was the time of day (5pm-ish), and the sun not being in a very good place. Maybe that it was low tide. But the truth is, arriving at Milford Sound was kind of anticlimatic-- the view just wasn't that impressive. The drive was beautiful, and I am sure the cruise in the sound is far more stunning, but our view was just a little disappointing.

Day 15 - Doubtful Sound overnight cruise. Before we left Te Anau, we stopped at the Te Anau nature reserve. Now this place is not very well marked or publicized, we only went there because we read about it in the Footprint guide, but it is well worth a visit and a donation. It's not huge, but they have Pukekoes (even had some chicks), Takahes (once thought to be extinct), Morepork, Keas, Kakas, Parakeets, and some other animals too. It is a great place to see these birds if you have not been able to otherwise. I have never been particularly interested in birds, and I loved this place.
The Real Journeys overnight cruise is worth every penny you pay. I don't know what else to say. The crew is awesome, and we even were comfortable in a quad share bunk!!! We were very lucky, and got to see dolphins (the whole pod was together), fiordland crested penguins (saw them twice), and seals. We had great weather (no rain) so we did not get the stunning waterfalls, but at least the snowmelt provided some waterfalls to look at. And come hungry, the food is wonderful!!!
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Old Dec 5th, 2004, 07:43 PM
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I'm really enjoying your posts and they area getting me very excited!
I was particularly interested in what you had to say about the TeAnau Nature Reserve. I'd love to see the birds. Is it easy to find? and how much time should I allow there? Did you do it on the way to our overnight boat trip.
I'm doing the same boat trip and it's so good to read how much you enjoyed it. I'm glad I switched to the Doubtful Sound Cruise instead of Milford. I'm also doing the bunk thing, which will be an experience!!
Great report. I'm glad you had a good time.
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Old Dec 6th, 2004, 06:16 AM
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We are going in March, and your post is helpful. We have a Doubtful Sound overnight also, and hope the weather cooperates.
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Old Dec 7th, 2004, 05:11 AM
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Thanks guys! I don't have my notes with me, but I will try to post some more tonight.
Kodi - the bird sanctuary is not hard to find, but I can't say that it well marked either. If you go to the park visitor center, they can direct you, it's basically around the corner from them, but you do need to go slow or you will miss it. We went in the morning before we went to Manapouri, and we probably poked around for an hour and a half or so, but you could do it in an hour or less. If you are spending the night in Te Anau, the sanctuary is always open, and if I were to do it again, I would stop by in the evening to see if we could get a look at the morepork (it's an owl, so it's only out at night.)
Also, another thing that was recommended by several people (but unfortunately we didn't get a chance to do) is there is a movie playing in TeAnau by a local pilot, and it's footage of the fjiords, and it is supposed to be pretty incredible. I think it was playing at 5 or 5:30 in the evening, so if you get a chance, you may want to check that out. (I can't remember the name, but there are a lot of flyers in town.)
Jed- no worries about the weather. They told us to come back when it's pouring rain as the waterfalls are much more spectacular (though we had rain for about two weeks, so for us it was nice to see the sun ). I think you will be perfectly happy either way.
OK, more later.
Kate
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Old Dec 7th, 2004, 05:59 PM
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Jonsie,thanks so much for the added information on the nature centre.
I'm actually staying in Queenstown the night before , so I'll be sure to leave very early in the morning to get to TeAnau in time to go to the centre. I have to meet the Doubtful Sound cruise tour in TeAnau at 11:30 am.
I'm sorry I'll be missing the film. I wonder if they play it in Queenstown? I'll watch for it.
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Old Dec 8th, 2004, 09:42 AM
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Hi Kodi - Out of curiosity, can I ask a question? Why are you meeting the DS cruise at TA at 11:30, instead at Manapouri at 12:00? We will be driving in from QT also, and plan to leave the car at MP overnight.
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Old Dec 8th, 2004, 04:04 PM
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Hi Jed. On the Doubtful Sound cruise there were the 3 options... Manapouri, TeAnau or Queenston. And to tell you the truth, I'm darned if I know why I chose the TeAnau option. I suppose I must have had a reason at the time, but I can't think of any good reason to have spent the extra $16.
Perhaps because TeAnau is where their vistor centre is and maybe I thought the car would be safer there.
But if you can park at Manapouri, you probably made a better choice than me!!!Enjoy!!! When are you going on the cruise?
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Old Dec 9th, 2004, 06:06 AM
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We don't have a reservation yet, but I plan to make one soon.

I asked about parking at MP. and got this:

"Thank you for your enquiry. We do have a car park available, although it is off the road it is not lockable. To date we have never had any problems with cars left in our carpark overnight. However the luggage that you are not taking on board can be left in our alarmed lock up area which is located at our office. Most people drive down to our office and check in, leaving all luggage that they want stored away."

From TA they wrote, "There's also the option of locking gear in storage here in Te Anau, numerous accomodations provide gear storage."


We hope to go around April 1. Have a wonderful trip!
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Old Dec 9th, 2004, 11:56 AM
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OK, sorry for the delay, but I will try to post another trip segement! I don't have my notes with me, so I will attempt to do this from memory.

Day 16 - Still on the cruise, they took up to a remote arm of the sound, where the water is very still and you can get all the cool mirror image reflection pictures, and also experience "the sound of silence." I forget to mention-- after dinner on the boat, the nature guide (Richard) did an awesome (very humorous) slide show about fjiordland flora and fauna-- this is something not to be missed, though he said a lot of passengers don't always come (our entire boat did though, and it is well worth the hour or so!) We made it back to Manapouri right on time (noon). We then took the boring surface road to Nugget Point in the Catlins (we were concerned it would take too long, leaving at noon) to drive the whole Southern Scenic Route, so we decided to take the faster route through Gore to Balclutha, then backtrack a bit see the sights on the southern end.)
Honestly, if we had to plan the trip again, I would spend 2 days in this area. If you love getting close to critters, I don't think you can do much better than this. We stayed at the Nugget Lodge and it was simply superb! The rooms are lovely, and you are right on the beach, and Kath is so wonderful-- she is an honorary ranger, and a wonderful gardener as well, and just generally a wealth of knowledge that she is happy to share. She sent us up to the lighthouse, where we saw some seals frolicking, and then to get a bite to eat (not a lot of options here, but we did ok) and then out to the DOC hide to wait for the yellow eyed penguins to come ashore. This was one of our favorite experiences, even in the pouring rain and cold, sitting in a blind with a couple from Scotland and a family from Germany, and watching and waiting for your first penguin to come ashore. We watched this one for the longest time, could have sworn it was a duck, but sure enough, came right ashore and stood up, and viola, a penguin!!!! Such a treat, you almost don't ever want to leave.
Especially right now, knowing that they have lost most of the yellow eyed chicks this year to dyptheria. When we were there they had lost 60% of the chicks, but it sound like now it may be up to 80% in some areas. Very sad.

Day 17 - Got up, we were hoping to get a glimpse of pinky, her resident sea lion, and the only one in NZ with pink flippers, but no luck
We were able to see a sea lion up close and personal at Cannibal Bay-- very cool. I love the tracks they make in the sand. He always has one eye on you, and he put on a little show of making a sand pillow and burrow for himself. I could have sat and watched all day, but I don't think he would have liked it!!!!

Then off for Dunedin and the Otago Penninsula. First stop, the Royal Albatross Colony. Even though the weather was pretty nasty (longest hailstorm I have ever been in, and I live in the upper midwest!)we still never saw a flying albatross-- just a few sleeping on the nest. But an interesting tour nonetheless. And the gift store has some local nature photographers photos available for sale (just individually, so you can put them in a scrapbook), and I thought this was great, I really wish more places would do this! Only wish I would have bought a few more! After that we went to the yellow eyed penguin reserve. It's privately owned, but the penguins do come in freely, and can obviously leave if they so desire, and you walk through these tunnels to different blinds to try to see the birds. Feels a bit contrived, but I will say that it is probably as close as you can get to the birds, and we saw them wandering about and sitting on their nests. Again, still sad that they lost so many chicks - when we were there they had lost 3 of 5 already.
We spent the night in Dunedin at the Garden Motel-- a bit out of center city (closer to the university), and not our favorite place, but the host was very enthusiastic about the city, and gave us great information, and booked our tours for the next day.
For the life of me, I can't remember right now where we ate dinner, but when I figure it out I will post!
That's all for now!
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Old Dec 9th, 2004, 12:18 PM
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Oh, Jonesie, this all sounds wonderful!! I can't wait.
Just to be so close to the wildlife will be so great.
Thanks for such a terrific report.
It's such a shame about the chicks tho.

Jed, good luck with your planning. I'll post a report when I get back in Feb.

I must say, everyone on this Australia/New Zealand board is so helpful and so enthusiastic! I guess we are all so thrilled to be going there!
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