Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Australia & the Pacific (
-   -   New Zealand South Island and Sydney Trip Report (

zxcvbnm Jan 26th, 2019 09:13 PM

New Zealand South Island and Sydney Trip Report
We just came back from a beautiful trip to the south island of New Zealand and had a 6 hour stopover in Sydney, Australia as well! Originally, we were supposed to go 2 years ago, but it didn't work out then. I was a little worried about driving on the other side of the road--but that was actually easy, the hard part was that 85% percent of the roads we traveled were winding, curvy roads, more than I think any other place I've been to.

Day 1- (well technically day 3 because of the travel and time difference.) We landed in Sydney for a 6 hour stopover. Originally Qantas had told us- twice- that our bags would be checked all the way to Queenstown, but when we asked at Sydney, the customs official wasn't sure, he said he thinks we have to pick up our bags. So we waited for our bag to come- only 2/3 bags arrived. We made our way to the Qantas office at the airport and told them 1 bag didn't arrive and they said don't worry that bag probably came out downstairs-- whatever that means-- and that she would ensure that it would get on the next flight. So we left it where she told us, and those 2 bags didn't end up making it.

Anyway, we took a train from the airport to circular quay (took 20-25 minutes each way). Got off and walked to the opera house, saw the bridge, and went through part of the botanical gardens that are right near each other. No time for a tour of the opera house, but it was a beautiful sunny day 86 degrees and we enjoyed our short stop.

We took the train back to the airport and boarded our jetstar flight to Queenstown. In Queenstown, 2 of the bags we had seen at Sydney didn't make it. We took a taxi from the airport to Scenic Suites Queenstown where we would stay for 2 nights. We chose it since it had a 24 hour front desk and we landed around 8 pm. It's a nice hotel but compared to what we paid, poor value. I didn't realize this when booking, but you have to leave the building that has the lobby in order to get to the building with our room. The plus is that there's a free washer, dryer, and detergent use which we needed since most of our clothes hadn't made it.

Day 2- We had pre-booked a tour with Intercity, that contracts with Great Sights, to offer tours of Milford Sound / Fiordland National Park. It's much cheaper to book through intercity than great sights or any other company, although, they don't offer pick up from the hotel like Great Sights does. But still worth saving $50 a person. Our hotel was maybe 10 minutes or less walk to Athols Street in the downtown area where the tour (and other tours) leave from. On the way to Milford Sound we stopped at Mirror Lakes- 5 minute walk one way, to a nice reflective small lake. We made several bathroom breaks along the way and stopped in Te Anau to pick up other people. The cruise was ok, but it was a little overcast, although it didn't rain. Some of the falls we saw were nice, but overall, not one of my highlights of the trip. This day trip was long: 7:20 am until 8 pm, but we figured we'd be too tired to drive the second day we got there. Overnight in Scenic Suites. Finally our luggage came after more than 24 hours.

Day 3- We rented a car with Hertz and drove to Mount Cook National Park. Close to Mount Cook we saw this beautiful turquoise lake that was absolutely gorgeous, I think it was Lake Pukaki, but there were no signs (not even at the lookout we went to). We drove to the Tasman Valley Glacier Park- but it was steep with lots of steps, and the person I was traveling with felt it would be too much, so we skipped it. So we headed for the Hermitage Hotel, saw nice views of the mountain from there. We were supposed to see Lake Tekapo, but we were too tired, so we skipped it.

And then we headed for Twizel where we stayed at the Lakes Motel, which was great, but also expensive compared to other accommodations. But the owners were friendly and we were able to check in late (after hours).

Day 4 and 5- We went to the Lake Hawea lookout which we passed on the way- was pretty. Then went to fantail falls and thundercreek falls (which were 2-5 minute walk from where we parked our car), and worth a stop. Then we drove to the blue pool walk in Mount Aspiring National Park- which was absolutely beautiful and one of the highlights of my trip. There's a shaky suspension bridge to cross to get to the pools, which again have a turquoise color of unimaginable beauty. Some people went down into the water, but we didn't.

Our overnight accommodation that night and the next was at Lake Matheson Motel in Fox Glacier Village. We got a 2 bedroom suite, it was fine, but freezing and we didn't realize that there were bed heaters and portable electric heaters in the closets till the cleaning crew told us the next day. The next day was raining the entire day and we had anyway planned to relax that day, so we stayed in.

Day 6- We set off to Lake Matheson which is a few minutes from Lake Matheson Motel. The water was not still so it wasn't reflective. We walked to the first point and skipped the rest of the hike. I could imagine its beautiful when reflective, but since it wasn't, it was not impressive- and was brownish colored, not like the beautiful turquoise waters we had previously seen.

Next, we drove to Franz Josef Glacier and did the Peters Pool Walk and continued a little further on Douglas walk. Peters Pool had a nice reflective pond. There was a good view of the glacier from the car park, but not from the walk we went on.

Later, we headed to Hokitika Gorge- which was beautiful, even though the waters were a milky gray and not the usual turquoise--I can just imagine how much more gorgeous it is when the water is turquoise. There was an explanation of why the water is sometimes turquoise or not. Regardless of the color, it's worth going to. There's a small walk to get to the gorge: about 15 minutes roundtrip. There was also a shaky suspension bridge on this walk.

We overnighted in Fitzherbert Motel in Hokitika which we didn't like as much as the previous places we stayed at. It was ok, but very buggy, and for some reason the motels in New Zealand don't have screens on the windows. This motel actually had a real door with one lock.

Day 7- Our first stop today was Devils Punchbowl falls in Arthurs Pass National Park. It was rainy and cold 48 degrees F, 9 celsius, but worth walking at least to the second bridge to see the falls (about 5 minute walk each way.) There are 370 steps to the top so we skipped the rest of the hike. The first part of the the walk is very gravely/rocky, you really have to be cautious.

Then we drove to Punakaiki. On the way we stopped at a lookout of the coast which was scenic. Then we went to Punakaiki to see the pancake rocks in what I belive is Paparoa National Park. It was about a half hour walk along the water to see the interesting and unique rock formations on a paved trail. One part at the end had a few steep steps, but you don't have to go all the way around, although we did. It's definitely worth going to.

We overnighted in Westport at the Westport Spa Motel where we had a cute small room. The bathroom was cold because it had a fan and air from the outside can come right in. Was clean, pleasant owner.

Day 8- We drove from Westport to Lake Hanlon- where there is a moderately difficult rocky path about 30 minutes round trip to a reflective lake. It was nice, even though it was rainy and cold, but it is very isolated (two others were leaving as we arrived and no other humans around).

We wanted to go to Operara Basin in Kahurangi National Park but we read online that it's a gravel road and rental cars don't allow it. So we turned back to Westport and started driving to Lake Rotoroa of Nelson Lakes National Park. We wanted to take a short walk, but for the first time we experienced sand flies--tons of them and bees, and we just couldn't deal with it even though I sprayed insect repellant on my skin and clothing. So we just went to the Lake took a picture and drove to Nelson. We didn't bother stopping by the other Lake because of the flies.

We stayed in the Hotel Nelson, which was a fancier motel then we had had till now, but since we booked through Expedia, they gave us a room that's small, and isn't as nice, with 1 bed, parking around the corner to the front door. We bought it up to the front desk, and then finally the manager agreed to move us to a different room-- which was nicer and larger with two beds and parking pretty close to it, so it would be more easily accessible. The only downside was that the wifi was not working.

Day 9- We left early and drove to Kaiteriteri to the pickup point of a tour- Wilsons, we had booked to Abel Tasman National Park. You need to get there before 9 otherwise parking is hard to find. We had a half day boat tour booked to Anchorage where they would drop us off for about 1.5-2 hours and then pick us up from there. It was a beautiful sunny and first non rainy day of the week. The captain of the boat provided commentary and we stopped off at several points in the park where some travelers got off to go on their full day trips or kayaking tours. We were let off at Anchorage bay. Here again the water was a beautiful sea green/dark turquoise color, was beautiful with the green mountains in the back. Originally we had planned to walk the Pitt Head Loop, but the person we had checked in with at Kaiteriteri, said there may not be enough time to do it. So we walked until Te Pukatea beach, which was just as beautiful as Anchorage beach (around 20 minutes each way). Abel Tasman National Park was one of the highlights of my trip--definitely the most beautiful national park I had visited in New Zealand. About two hours later the boat came to pick us up at Anchorage Bay and we went back to Kaiteriteri.

In the afternoon we headed for the airport at Nelson, dropped off our car, and flew to Auckland. We stayed overnight in the Auckland Airport Kiwi Hotel- which was a few km from the airport and offered free round trip shuttle to and from the airport with yellow bus shuttles. This accommodation actually had a hostel, motel, and hotel on its grounds, and we stayed in the hotel part which was decent. There are two levels without an elevator, but we were able to get switched to a room on the first floor. It was basic and clean and good value for what we paid. We were considering going out to the sky tower when we arrived in the evening, but were too tired and it would be a half hour taxi ride each direction there and we only had about 6 hours to sleep that night before waking up at 2 am for our flight the next morning, so we decided to just stay and sleep.

Day 10- We flew from Auckland back home, via Melbourne where our plane was delayed for more than 3 hours due to mechanical trouble. Many people including us were going to miss our connection, and Qantas rebooked us, but were very unaccommodating with our requests. Then our next flight was also delayed and we finally made it back after 38 hours of traveling.

Overall the highlights of our trip were: Abel Tasman National Park, Punakaiki pancake rocks formation walk, Hokitika Gorge, Blue Pool Walk in Mount Aspiring National Park, Lake Pukaki. Places that were not impressive and we would skip next time: Milford Sound, Lake Matheson.

A little info about the motels we stayed at: Most had parking space right in front, some had no reserved spots so you could park anywhere. Some places had two levels without an elevator- such as Westport Motel, Auckland Airport Kiwi Hotel (the hotel part of it). Most places had electric heaters, kitchenettes, heated towel bars- which was a nice touch, and heated lights in the bathroom. The part I didn't like as much were that most motels had sliding glass door with only 1 lock to the outside. I'm used to even motels having at least 3 locks: the regular lock, a deadbolt, and the chain that keeps if from opening. We also didn't like that all the motels had windows without screens, so we couldn't open it if we wanted fresh air because all the bugs would come in. Also, when I booked the motels through expedia, there was no mention of not cooking fish or spicy foods, but when we got to certain motels-- maybe all of them-- definitely remember the westport and nelson motels at check-in making us sign forms, that we wouldn't cook anything spicy or fish in the rooms otherwise there'd be a cleaning fee of a few hundred dollars. While I kind of understand this, and although we weren't even planning on cooking fish or spicy foods, you really have to be upfront about this before booking. It isn't fair to tell people on check in- oh by the way here are additional rules. Also, most accommodations I've been to in the past in other parts of the world have no such rules.

Another thing we found interesting was that the produce section in the supermarkets were very small- even the one in Murchison where we stopped off at one day which had a larger supermarket, had a small vegetable and fruit section. Why is that?

I drove about 1818 km all together and we did it in about 5 days of driving (with an hour and 45 minutes of driving on the 6th day). Our days were packed, but well worth it given the limited time we had.

Thanks to everyone who had advice for us and trip suggestions!

Overall, we really had a wonderful trip and enjoyed seeing a beautiful part of the world!

dcd Jan 29th, 2019 04:43 AM

Thanks for the report. We'll be there soon. Appreciate the effort to record all this.

zxcvbnm Jan 31st, 2019 02:06 PM

no problem, enjoy your trip!

nelsonian Jan 31st, 2019 02:22 PM

Murchison is a very small place, and fresh produce has to come from either Christchurch or Nelson. Most probably Christchurch which is four hours or so away.

Abel Tasman Park is beautiful. I live in Nelson and only recently have done some of the walks. I think if you have seen other fjords in the world, then Milford Sound is a bit underwhelming. Love the pancake rocks, and Lake Matheson.

tomarkot Jan 31st, 2019 03:54 PM

Enjoyed reading of your adventures in the South Island. We've enjoyed some of the places you described, so your report brought back memories, Thanks!

mlgb Jan 31st, 2019 04:05 PM

I'm not sure it's true that rental cars aren't allowed to Oparara Arch but if it was part of your plan, I would think you'd ask the company, rather than guess. Not sure you all would have tolerated the hike, either, from other comments.

As much as I liked Karamea, I probably would not have suggested it for such a short trip covering so much distance, most of it on the west coast coast, which does get a lot of rain.

At MIlford Sound, did you see Mitre Peak, or was it covered in cloud? That's really the attraction, not waterfalls.

Anyways thanks for the report.

zxcvbnm Feb 4th, 2019 03:34 PM

maybe it was too cloudy to appreciate Milford Sound? Haven't been to other fjords. but my travel buddy has been to Norway which I hear is beautiful.
It wasn't part of our original plans, but we had some time, so I thought about fitting it in, but then I read something about a gravel road, so I figured we'll skip it. Didn't realize it was a strenuous hike, I guess my travel buddy may not have been able to anyway. Hmm, not sure if we saw Mitre peak. It was hard to understand the captain through the mike, so we may have missed it or not understood what he was pointing out. But, it was a cloudy day, so it's possible we may not have seen it anyway. Interesting on the way, the tour guide told us that 2 out of 3 days it rains, and we went on the one third day that it doesn't rain, but it still was cloudy. I guess you have to have an absolutely perfect sunny day to enjoy Milford Sound.

docdan1 Mar 15th, 2019 06:48 AM

Thanks and a question
Thanks for the trip report. You are well complemented for making the most of a few setbacks and soldiering on. Question: I am planning a trip to Queenstown and Doubtful Sound. We will spend one day winery hopping, and then have another half day to fill. Now that you have been to Queenstown, if you had an extra half day, what would you do? ( we are adventurous and athletic 50-somethings, no bungy jumping, please. )

Melnq8 Mar 15th, 2019 08:26 AM

Are you walkers docdan?

If so you might enjoy this walk:

Or make the drive to Glenorchy, which is about 40 minutes from QT. Lots of walks there too, a few suggestions here:

Or, if you're more energetic you might consider walking to/from the first hut on the Routeburn Track, which can be done in about four hours from the Glenorchy side:

If walking isn't your thing, you could just hang around Glenorchy, have a coffee, poke along the lake, check out the boathouse, maybe take a drive into the surrounding countryside or over to Kinloch:

I suspect you'll wish you had a lot more time than you do.

docdan1 Mar 17th, 2019 02:39 PM

yes, thanks - many ideas now . . .

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 10:44 AM.