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Melnq8 Mar 14th, 2015 04:31 PM

No Snakes, No Worries: A Summer Trip to New Zealand
The Plan:

Escape as much of the sizzling Perth February as humanly possible. Visit Martinborough in the Wairarapa wine region, home to the best Pinot Noir Bill claims to have ever put to his lips. Spend some time in Wellington just because it’s there and easy to combine with Martinborough. Spend a couple of weeks in two locations on the South Island, the goal to drive less and relax more.

The Flights, all on Air New Zealand:

1) PER - AKL – purchased Premium Economy tickets; placed a bid (One-Up) for Business Class, which was accepted on the outbound flight. Not crazy about the seats, felt confined, layout strange (787 Dreamliner). Food, wine, entertainment system and service = excellent.

2) Wellington to Queenstown - incredible views from the right side of the plane as we approached Queenstown

3) Queenstown to Auckland

4) AKL - PER - Premium Economy, awesome. Best food we’ve ever had on a plane, hands down.

I never will tire of the barista service in Air NZ’s Koru Lounges.

Where we slept:

Auckland Airport Novotel – day room following our overnight flight from Perth (to sleep before late afternoon flight to Wellington).

Car Rental: APEX – our usual – had an issue with the car while in Wanaka, but APEX came through bless ‘em – sent an employee from Queenstown to drop off a replacement car. Struggled a bit in Wellington Airport though, had trouble locating free phone, and then our call went to voice-mail, which did not bode well, but we got it sorted. We logged a total of 2,241 kilometers between three cars on both islands over 20 days...a fraction of what we usually drive, which was pretty much the whole idea in the first place.


A sleepy small town (our favorite kind) in Pinot Noir country, 65 km north-east of Wellington. We were here to eat and drink; the restaurants/cafes have staggered opening days, so we booked several places in advance; can’t be going hungry in wine country! Cafes don’t open until 8:30 am, which is late for us.

Where we slept:

Pinot Villas – three nights, perfect, exceptional location, easy walk to town square.

Where we ate and drank:

Cool Change - mellow retro bar and eatery, beautiful atmosphere in former post office, great place for a glass of grape and tapas, loved our light nosh of heated olives with feta, regret we didn’t have time for an encore ($37.50 with wine).

Village Café – filling breakfast, but Huevos Rancheros was heavy on the beans, chintzy on the huevos. Smashed avo and tomato on toast with haloumi was a match made in heaven, but too much food for me ($50 with flat whites), made a return trip for their excellent coffee.

Bloom @ Murdoch James Estate – splash out winery lunch, booked in advance. Bill loved the Monkfish, my vegetable fritters were less of a success, a shared white chocolate poached pear brulee and affogatos were delicious, wine lovely ($111). Nice views, beautiful décor, accommodating service.

Poppies – my favorite Martinborough winery, adored Poppy, her wine philosophy and her contagious enthusiasm – no menus here, just asked if we had any food issues, then served up a nice varied platter of house made products on their patio. Pigs that we are, we ordered dessert too, a fabulous lemon coconut tart for Bill, a so-so chocolate chili tart for me, excellent wine and service, two thumbs up ($122).

Tirohana Estate – Just WOW. Owner came to pick us up, all part of the service. Fixed price three course dinner $59 each ($167 with nice bottle of Leslie Reserve Pinot Noir). Cream of roasted tomato soup, spinach and ricotta pasta for me – can’t remember the last time I consumed so much butter, thought my arteries would clog on the spot, rich and decadent. Salmon fishcakes and a perfectly cooked rare sirloin made Bill’s night. In lieu of dessert we asked for affogatos, they were happy to oblige and even included a shot of Kahlua, which the waitress struggled to pronounce. Beautiful food, elegant surroundings, relaxed service, brilliant all around. FWIW, Tirohana is situated on Martinborough’s ‘golden mile’.

Café Medici – Bill enjoyed their Eggs Bennie, I had a nice savory muffin, but we weren’t crazy about their flat whites ($32.50)

Vineyard Café at Margrain - they don’t open until 11, so we had brunch here the morning we left for Wellington. Spanish eggs for Bill, corn fritters and manuka smoked bacon for me, glass of wine for both. Good food, nice alfresco area overlooking the vines, $52.50.

Our villa patio – perfect place to sample some of the numerous bottles of wine we purchased. Nice makeshift platter made from goods sourced at the local 4 Square market.

Cellar doors we visited not mentioned above:

Martinborough Vineyard, home to that much anticipated Pinot Noir, unfortunately 2006 was an exceptional year, and subsequent vintages can’t compete, much to Bill’s disappointment. Never mind, we bought some 2012 Burnt Spur anyway.

Palliser Estate

Ata Rangi – beautiful Riesling (which is Mel speak for bone dry)

What we did (besides eat and drink):

Drove to Lake Ferry and Cape Palliser on the recommendation of our accommodation host - he’d also mentioned Ngawi, a small fishing village, but we failed to see the allure. We climbed the 250 steps to the Palliser Lighthouse, explored Onoke Spit and visited the seal colony. The scenery paled in comparison to the South Island and frankly, it didn’t do much for us.

We’d hoped to take the Palliser Vineyard Walk, but it was closed due to bird shooting. No, they don’t actually shoot the birds, but they fire gas guns to scare them away from the grapes. We heard gas guns on a regular basis throughout our stay. Oddly, we didn’t hear a single gas gun on the South Island.

We took the Rapaki Hillside Walk, a 2.5 mile trek through farmland and up a hill for some nice views; it took us about 1:15.

We mindlessly wandered the back country roads, convinced at one point that we were utterly lost, but eventually found our way back to Martinborough.

The weather ranged from an overnight 7c (cold enough to make us wish we’d packed our down slippers) to 32c.


We really enjoyed Martinborough, it’s our kind of place. The food and wine on offer in this town of 1,326 people is pretty amazing and its proximity to Wellington makes it easy to reach. We found the people friendly, helpful and relaxed. The landscape reminded us of Blenheim, and while pretty in its own way, the scenery certainly didn’t knock our socks off

Photos here:

Up next: Wellington

Melnq8 Mar 14th, 2015 04:55 PM


As NZ’s second most populous city, Wellington is the polar opposite of Martinborough. We last visited Windy Wellie in 1996 for all of one night; figured it was time to give it another go. And yes, it’s still windy.

The drive over the Rimutaka Range (Wellington’s own Takaka Hill) is very pretty, but busy with logging trucks, which incidentally is what I best remember from that NI visit years ago, logging, logging, and more logging. Beautiful views from the overlook at the top; rolling lush green hills; we’d left the brown fields and thirsty vineyards back in Martinborough.

Where we slept:

Ava Lodge (inner ‘burbs of Petone, Lower Hutt, five nights) - quite good really, although location-wise, it was pretty much everything I was trying to avoid (noisy area, busy street outside our window). Compact room, great shower and thick posh carpet, well-equipped, fresh and clean, walking distance to Jackson Street restaurants, bus stop nearby...all-in-all a good compromise to staying in the city.

Where we ate and drank:

Tulsi (Jackson Street, Petone) - truly horrible, worst Indian food we have ever had, borderline insulting. ‘Nuff said.

Sprig & Fern (Jackson Street, Petone), tasty craft brews and ciders (and not too sweet!), friendly service, relaxed pub vibe.

Joes Garage (Tory Street, Wellington) – loved this place, recommended by a kind young woman who overheard us musing about where to go for coffee. Eggs Bennie for Bill (but of course), savory roll for me, excellent flat whites, lively atmosphere, slow service ($32).

Little India (Cuba Street, Wellington) – awesome, Little India never lets us down, no matter which NZ location we visit ($59 with wine). Excellent food, nice atmosphere, good service.

Caffiend (Jackson Street, Petone) – great little café, ate breakfast here twice, eggs Bennie for you-know-who, baked goods for me, great coffee ($28 & $36). This place gives Petone hope.

Raumati Beach Bar and Kitchen (Paraparaumu) – pretty darn average, certainly not worth going out of one’s way for (Thai chicken salad, chips, beer, wine, $53).

Ripples (Paraparaumu) – Kapiti ice cream, impossible to mess that up.

Maharajas (Petone) – I feel for the people of Petone if this is what passes for good Indian food. While better than the miserable Tulsi, it wasn’t particularly good. My curry was sweet (huh?) and although they replaced it, it was still like eating dessert. The bhajees were okay, but they were red, which when asked why, I was told, ‘oh, that’s food coloring”. Is that really necessary? ($62 with corkage).

What we did (when we weren’t eating and drinking):

We caught the Valley Flyer #83 bus to Courtney Place ($5.50 each one way), walked to Te Papa, the museum of New Zealand, where we spent hours...this place is HUGE, lots to see, free admission. We wandered very busy (and hot) Oriental Bay, and after collecting maps at the I Site, we opted to follow the Beer Trail to the Wellington Cable Car Station. Enter Bruhaus on Williston for a bit of refreshment and a bowl of chips (oops, seems we’re eating and drinking again).

We next took the cable car to the Kelburn Lookout (takes like three minutes, $4 each one way) to soak up the views, and then began the rugged search for the Kelburn Village Pub, where we had a nice chat with a fellow American expat recently relocated to Wellington. Afterwards we retraced our steps UP...Wellington is very hilly mind you...then worked our way back down to the city via the Botanic Gardens and on to Cuba Mall for dinner before returning to Petone via bus (which was 40 minutes late) and oh yeah, popped into a convenience store for more Kapiti ice cream. It was an exhausting 12+ hour day, made more difficult by the heat, a troublesome back and prolonged walking on concrete, but we survived our foray into the Big Smoke...just.

We spent some time driving along the Eastbourne Bays, where we admired the character homes dangling precariously from the hillsides, me wondering about the building challenges involved and the potential devastation should an earthquake hit. The houses are chockablock due to the terrain and obvious space issues, the streets narrow, steep and difficult to maneuver. It was charming yet claustrophobic.

We walked the gravel road alongside the bay from East Harbour Regional Park towards Pencarrow Lighthouse, a monotonous walk if there ever were one. It’s 8 km to the lighthouse, one way, so we weren’t even tempted; we settled for half, two hours, 4.5 miles.

We drove up the Kapiti Coast as far as Waikanae, but we didn’t care for it much, too many people, too much traffic, not particularly scenic. Perhaps we missed something? We turned back south at Waikanae via Akatarawa Road in an attempt to increase our chances for nice scenery by making a loop; leave it to us to find the most narrow, winding road in NZ. It was surprisingly busy for a skinny little country road, and rather scary when cars going the opposite direction would suddenly appear, some driving quite fast, and of course, the sheer drop offs were on my side of the car.

We walked the Korokoro Dam Loop in Belmont Regional Park, a nice trek, but harder than expected; my back rebelled and it was very humid (two miles, 1:20, getting old is hell). We explored all the entrances to the park, walking to the top of a hill at the aptly named Hill Street entrance for some views over Hutt Valley.

Our stay coincided with the Petone Rotary Fair, held on Jackson Street and touted as ‘ Hutt Valley’s biggest summer event and the highlight of the summer season’; we’d have been remiss had we not walked up the block from our motel to check it out. Carnival rides had been set up in the street, vendors were selling all manner of goods, people were virtually everywhere. The street food offerings were impressive and varied; this was not your standard corndog and funnel cake event. So, we did what everyone else was doing; we ate... Indian food no less, difficult to do standing up, $5 each, quite the bargain, and not half bad.


Wellington is pretty, yes, but it’s just too busy and congested for our tastes; but then, we’re not city people. To me, it felt like a once manageable city that has outgrown its infrastructure. Parking appears to be a major issue; parked cars lined every street in the vicinity of the airport. We were told this is normal for that area, they’ve just run out of space. We found that buses run more frequently and are easier to navigate than trains, yet neither bus we took was even remotely on time.

Apparently Jackson Street in Petone is heritage-listed and well known for its galleries, cafes and shopping. Frankly, to us it felt more like a failed urban development; the shopping consisted primarily of Salvos, the city center was surrounded by industrial areas and highway. We didn’t quite get the appeal of the Kapiti Coast either, but freely admit we might have missed something.

Our visit coincided with the third fruit fly found in Auckland, creating a media firestorm.

Photos here:

Up next: Wanaka

Melnq8 Mar 14th, 2015 08:06 PM


Wanaka has always struck me as smaller sedate version of Queenstown, but this was the first time we’d experienced it during summer...and it wasn’t particularly sedate. A triathlon was in progress when we arrived; roadblocks and detours, cars parked everywhere. In a word, it was a zoo.

What we didn’t know until we arrived was that it was also Chinese New Year, more specifically the Year of the Sheep, which attracted a gazillion Chinese tourists to sheep abundant New Zealand.

Where we slept:

Black Peak View (apartment) – six nights, least favorite accommodation of the trip, difficult to locate, too small for us, particularly the bedroom, creaky bed, pitiful shower, huge, non-absorbent bath sheets that never dried, weird layout, Internet issues, but...clean, relatively well equipped, nice patio and lovely owners.

Where we ate and drank:

Lake Hawea Hotel (Lake Hawea) – nice place for a relaxed cold drink, views over the lake

Freeway Orchard (Cromwell) - one of our usual haunts for fruit ice cream - $5 per cup

Jones Fruit Stall (Cromwell) – another of our fruit ice cream stops, $5 per cup, on the tour bus route, teeming with obsessive fruit washing tourists both times we visited – we had an enlightening chat with a tour bus driver here.

Patagonia Chocolates (Ardmore Street, Wanaka) - for ice cream and sorbet (are you seeing a pattern here?) – I love this place, Bill doesn’t

Mt Difficulty Winery (Bannockburn) – one of our favorites, we ate here twice, booking several days in advance each time as they quickly fill up. We adore their dry Riesling. Bill went for the fish of the day each time, yellow fin tuna with mango salsa the first, grilled swordfish with potatoes, broccolini and scallops the second, both excellent. I opted for the grilled chicken breast with bacon and grilled nectarines the first time around, risotto with grilled leeks, sundried tomatoes, Persian feta, toasted macadamia nuts and pesto grilled onion the second time– fabulous ($125 including wine + takeway bottle first visit, $96 with wine second visit).

The Spice Room (Helwick Street, Wanaka) – much better than the last time we visited. It felt cleaner and more loved, the food has improved, the protein more generous; Chicken Jalfarezi, Dal Makhani, garlic naan and rice, well prepared and tasty ($49, no drinks).

Ritual Espresso Café (Helwick Street, Wanaka) – we went here twice for coffee, busy little place, opens later than we’d like, but the flat whites were excellent, the service friendly and accommodating. This is where I learned to say ‘trum’ instead of ‘trim’ when ordering a skinny flat white.

Lazy Dog (Queensberry) – a new discovery for us – we did a tasting the first time ( $10 each) and then returned the next day for some Pinot Noir on their patio overlooking the garden – we had it entirely to ourselves both times due to time of day – mellow and relaxed, lovely owners, must try the food next time.

Lot 3 (Dunmore Street, Wanaka) – fun and funky café/art gallery, had a nice lunch here, egg burrito for Bill, toasted sandwich for me ($41 with beer and wine), friendly service

Fitzpatrick’s Pub (Helwick Street, Wanaka) – we went here twice for a late afternoon beverage, much quieter than establishments on the waterfront.

Amigos Mexican Grill (Ardmore Street, Wanaka) – yeah I know, friends don’t let friends eat Mexican food in places like New Zealand and Australia, but...our curiosity got the best of us. The margaritas, chips and queso (made with cream cheese) were weird, but Bill’s burrito and my chicken quesadilla were surprisingly good, fresh and tasty. For those of us accustomed to abundant, good, inexpensive Mexican food, the tab was a shocker - $63.

Our apartment patio – nice spot overlooking owner’s garden, we had several meals here, mostly big salads with marinated feta, olives and almonds, and on two occasions some beautiful freshly picked tomatoes from the owner’s garden. Buttered ciabatta, a bit of grape and Whittakers chocolate rounded out our meals here.

What we did:

We made the 80 kilometer drive from Wanaka up the West Coast to Haast Pass, where we walked to the top of the Haast Pass Lookout for some nice views (1 hour return). We also walked the Historic Bridle Track to the viewing platform (2.25 miles, one hour return). It was a beautiful sunny day, no sandflies in either place, but rather humid. As we do on every trip up the West Coast, we walked to the Blue Pools, the busiest we’ve ever seen them, and yep, the sandflies were out here big time.

We hiked Mt Iron (three mile loop, took us 1:40 with numerous photo stops), making a point to walk up from the right, which is steeper, but allows one to descend facing the lake. We continued walking back to the auto shop where we’d left the car for repair while we walked (long story that one, 45 minutes, 1.8 miles).

We drove to Cromwell/Bannockburn three times, once just because, twice for lunches at Mount Difficulty and a wine tasting at Carrick.

We walked to the Diamond Lake and Wanaka Lake lookouts and made the lake circuit (three miles, 90 minutes total). We had the track to ourselves on the way up (early morning).

After our plans to walk the Sawyer Burn and Kidds Bush Tracks backfired (access road closed), we drove along the eastern shore of Lake Hawea towards Lake Hawea Station. We walked a tiny bit of the 38 km Timaru River Track, turning back at the first river crossing. The sandflies were fierce here, which didn’t encourage us to dawdle. We also walked a section of the Hawea River Track beginning at Domain Road. It was a dull walk at first, but got progressively more interesting, the river reminding us of Rakaia Gorge (three miles, just over an hour return).

We finally got around to taking in a movie at the Paradiso Cinema – we thoroughly enjoyed the show (Wild), the Lazy-Boy type seats and couches, and the warm cookies sold during intermission. They also sell beer and wine, which is a nice perk. There was only one other person in the cinema, ironically a backpacker, $15 each for the movie).

We drove Mt Aspiring road into the Matukituki Valley; it’s 39 km to the first ford, most of which is gravel and was washboard rough (it’s also a rental car violation). We walked across the Boys Swingbridge* and worked our way along the east valley towards Glacier Burn. We didn’t have any track info, so we turned back when we lost the trail just past the homestead (3.5 hours, 6.3 miles). Other than the group of boys we encountered at the swingbridge (a friendly and helpful lot!) we didn’t see another person the entire time. It was a beautiful day, the views spectacular. *The Otago Boys School in Dunedin has a lodge near the bridge, hence the name.

We popped into Rippon Vineyard, but they were so busy that we didn’t stick around for a wine tasting (incredible views though).


We’ve been to Wanaka many times, but never in the high summer season. We found ourselves wondering who all these people were and why they were on ‘our island’:). There were No Vacancy signs everywhere.

Despite the season, Wanaka was slow to wake up, with cafes not opening until 8:30 or 9 am, and although it was summer, one morning we woke to ice on our windshield! It’s worth noting that although it was busy in town, it was easy enough to escape the chaos by doing what we do, exploring the surrounding areas.

We had lovely weather for the most part, some days much warmer than we’d have liked, and it was nice to see so much green (as in flora), although personally I prefer my mountains covered in snow.

I don’t know what it is about the New World grocery stores in Wanaka and Queenstown, but no matter when we go there, regardless of time of year, they’re always uncomfortably crowded.

Bad driving amongst tourists and locals alike isn’t news in New Zealand, but this was the first time we witnessed so much dangerous driving first-hand, including one hapless tourist driving on the wrong side of the road down the main street of Wanaka. The local news reported several incidents of Kiwis stopping tourists to take away their rental car keys.

Photos here:

Cardrona, Lake Hawea, West Coast:

Wanaka, Cromwell, Bannockburn:

Up Next: Arrowtown

Melnq8 Mar 14th, 2015 08:55 PM


The historic former gold mining village of Arrowtown is a mere 25 minute drive from Queenstown, but considerably quieter and less busy. We learned years ago that it makes a great base from which to explore the Lakes District.

Most visitors to Arrowtown are day trippers from elsewhere, and therefore the streets and parking lots can be quite busy in the middle of the day. The atmosphere is completely different early in the morning and after 5pm, when everyone returns from whence they came.

I’ve always liked the area that surrounds Arrowtown, but there was a time I didn’t care for the town itself; things change and so have I. I really enjoyed it this time.

Where we slept:

Arrowtown – Speargrass Gallery – seven nights, very spacious, awesome shower, odd smell on the ground floor, ventilation issues upstairs, well equipped, peaceful country setting, and the world’s most annoying cat, but all is forgiven for the incredible amount of space.

Where we ate and drank:

Mantra (Arrowtown) – a favorite of ours from way back; Bill would have eaten here every one of our seven nights had I been game, but he settled for three. Excellent food, loved the Kadai chicken and Kadai Paneer, but I found the menu limited and the $12 corkage a bit steep. Our meals here averaged about $63 with one glass of wine each.

Amisfield Winery (Lake Hayes) –

We’ve been visiting Amisfield’s cellar door for years, but after a disappointing meal in their bistro a few years back, we felt that they’d become entirely too pretentious. But, I’m a firm believer in second chances, so we made a lunch booking several days in advance. Other than telling us the day of our choice was wide open and then refusing to give us the lunch time we’d requested, and their ridiculous 100% mark-up on wine purchased in their bistro ($50 for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc with lunch vs. $25 for the same bottle at their cellar door), they redeemed themselves.

We shared three tapas style plates- zucchini goat cheese bruschetta ($20), baked haloumi and pancetta wrapped in vine leaves with fresh plum ($28) and potato gnocchi with basil pesto and candied pine nuts ($25), followed by a shared vanilla bean panna cotta with nectarines, pistachios and rosemary ($16).

Every bite was delicious, as was the wine and the complimentary macaroons (total for meal with a glass of wine each $115). We bought a bottle of their 2010 Pinot Noir from the cellar door to take with us. (Note: They charge $8 per person for wine tasting, but waive the cost if you’re staying for lunch).

Fergburger – a Queenstown institution, Bill had never been, so we rectified that toot sweet. He tried the Southern Swine ($12.50), I had the Cock Cajun ($12.90). Good and filling, longish wait.

Mickey Finn’s (New Orleans Hotel, Arrowtown) – we popped in here one day for lunch - the Eggs Bennie a bit odd, the margarita pizza surprisingly good, although it didn’t appear until well after Bill had finished his meal ($52 with beer and cider).

Bon Jour (Arrowtown) – we had coffee here, but never got around to returning for a meal. If you’re looking for massive cups of caffeine this is your place, they sell a bowl made with six shots!

Postmasters Residence (Arrowtown) – nice little place in a century old building on the main street, we had a good lunch here (falafel bowl and salmon salad, $34, no drinks).

Millbrook Hole-in-One (Arrowtown, Millbrook Resort)– we enjoyed a leisurely lunch on their patio ...nice ambiance (until the smokers turned up), service was rather confused. Good Eggs Bennie and pizza, generous wine pours ($90 for lunch with two rounds of wine).

Walnut Cottage (Arrowtown) – we stopped in here twice for coffee (good) and walked to the top of Coronet Peak on the advice of the young male proprietor here; I’ve not yet forgiven him.

Waiteri Creek – we popped in on the recommendation of the female half of the Walnut Cottage duo, a great suggestion. We shared a wonderful wood fired pizza ($45 with one glass of wine each), nice atmosphere in a converted church, lovely owner.

The Pub Company (Arrowtown) – had a drink and a nice chat with the bartender here

Note: We wanted to try the highly acclaimed Saffron and Chop Shop in Arrowtown, but both seemed to cater to meat and fish eaters, of which I am neither. We also considered Agave in Arrowtown, but their prices for Mexican food scared us off ($26 for a burrito!)

Pog Mahones (Queenstown) – good place for drinks

The gallery garden – we enjoyed the spoils of our cellar door shopping and various snacks at a picnic table in the garden, surrounded by plum trees and distant mountains (Bella the cat let us be).

What we did (besides eat and drink):

Watched the bungy jumpers at Kawarau Bridge

We walked the New Chum Gully Track, which is accessed via Tobin’s Track. Oh man...90 minutes of this hike was steep and rough, more difficult than we’d counted on. There were some pretty scary drop-offs too. I won’t need to walk this one again (just under three hours, 4.6 miles, which kind of says it all) - potential for nice views, had it not been so gloomy.

We wandered...took in the views from the Lower Shotover Bridge, walked the Morningstar Beach Track from Arthur’s Point where we poked around the beach and watched the jet boats. We also meandered the back country roads, as we do.

We spent a rainy day in Queenstown, where we drank coffee, ate lunch, poked through The Winery (a wine shop/tasting room), made a deposit in the casino, wandered without purpose, watched the world go by (we found a parking lot where we could park all day for $2.50, what a deal). Queenstown wasn’t as busy as we expected, but traffic was congested and the Franktown Roundabout was a serious bottleneck.

We walked the Sawpit Gully Track, which was a piece of cake compared to New Chum Gully (4.75 miles, 2:15).

We took the four hour tour of Skippers Canyon with Queenstown Heritage Tours ($160 each) – Bill was momentarily tempted to drive Skippers Road in our Tiida (our tour guide told us the locals call them Tiddles), but it’s a blatant rental car violation - warning signs everywhere – the rough, narrow one lane road, sheer drops and amount of tour operator traffic made us glad we didn’t seriously consider it...besides we’d have missed the informative historical narrative and stories if we had. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and our guide Lindsay. There were only seven in our van with a total of three vans from Heritage; we all met up at the former town of Skippers for a peek into the historic buildings and refreshments (tea, cookies, wine, crackers, cheese). And sandflies! Great tour, money well spent.

We circled Lake Hayes via the Lake Hayes Walkway (five miles, 90 minutes), well-graded, but not flat.

We wanted to drive up to the Remarkables to explore some tracks we'd read about, but the road was closed four kilometers in due to ongoing construction. We settled for soaking up the views and taking a gazillion photos from Windy Point.

We walked to the top of Coronet Peak, 90 minutes up, 60 minutes down, 3.8 miles, 1,470 foot elevation gain (steep). The incredible 360 degree views from the top made it worth every huff and puff, and other than a maintenance crew working on the chairlifts, we didn’t see another person.

We spent a rainy morning wine tasting at Chard Farm & Brennan ($7 per person tasting charge) buying a bottle of Pinot Noir from both. The day cleared up, so we walked the Peregrine Loop (part of the Gibbston River Trail); a pretty track alongside the Kawarau River (2.7 km, one hour).


If Arrowtown had a petrol station and a grocery store (they do have a small convenience store) it’d be perfect for us; there’d be no reason to drive to Queenstown.

Photos here:

What we learned and what surprised us:

Summer days in New Zealand can be quite pleasant, but man they’re long. It gets hot very late in the day; the sun is brutal between 5-7 pm and doesn’t set until about 9 pm. We were surprised by all the NZ sunshine!

We like crumpets! Toasted and buttered, they make a great breakfast.

It doesn’t always rain in Makarora:)

Haast Pass does occasionally have a sandfly free day.

You can see the bay from the Koru lounge windows in the Wellington airport, and the runway is right next to it.

The Australian habit of hiking in flip-flops is alive and well in NZ

There are sandflies in QT and Arrowtown!

Some NI towns have public toilets complete with piped music, auto locking doors and 10 minute use limits.

Greengages are related to plums


aprillilacs Mar 15th, 2015 08:51 AM

Nice report--compact but thorough, and very informative. Your restaurant comments will be helpful to us on our upcoming trip. My husband will finally meet his match at Bon Jour with all that caffeine on offer. We are planning to stay a night or two in Arrowtown, and it sounds like that's a good decision.

Are sandflies a problem all year round? We'll be traveling in November. Sounds like they are a real bother.

Thanks for taking the time to include all the details.

annhig Mar 15th, 2015 11:32 AM

mel - you feel like your summer in Perth like we feel about our winter here in Cornwall - best avoided, and great excuse to visit NZ. [when we can afford it again, and only if we can manage to stretch to premium economy at least].

in the meantime, I'll just have to carry on reading your TRs!

[glad you enjoyed the Spice Room in Wanaka - if I tell you that it was much better than most indian restaurants here, and certainly the ones we have locally, you'll be able to guess what they are like. Though I have to say none as bad as the one you describe in Wellington].

kiwi_rob Mar 15th, 2015 01:23 PM

Good report, Mel. Your comments and insights are always worthwhile reading for any intending visitor to NZ, as well as for locals who may not have visited some of these places in recent times.

Apillilacs. Always be prepared for sandflies in the NZ beech forests and around coastal areas. Failure to apply a decent insect repellent can make any stop a misery if, like me, you are a magnet for any biting insect. They are a little less of a pest in cooler months, but they are still a nuisance.


Melnq8 Mar 15th, 2015 03:25 PM

April - what Rob says.

They're beastly, but slow, so you can often out walk them. The trouble begins when you stop moving.

ElendilPickle Mar 15th, 2015 07:32 PM

I got to this part
"We turned back south at Waikanae via Akatarawa Road in an attempt to increase our chances for nice scenery by making a loop; leave it to us to find the most narrow, winding road in NZ. It was surprisingly busy for a skinny little country road, and rather scary when cars going the opposite direction would suddenly appear, some driving quite fast, and of course, the sheer drop offs were on my side of the car."

and literally LOLed. Mr. Pickle still shudders when he thinks of our drive on the Akatarawa Road! We drove it from Kaitoke Regional Park to Waikanae, so the dropoffs were on the other side of the road, but we really had to hug the hillside as we drove.

In addition, this was shortly after there had been a good amount of flooding on the North Island, so at a couple of spots most of one lane was missing.

Good times! :-))

Lee Ann

Melnq8 Mar 15th, 2015 10:36 PM

Good times indeed Lee Ann. It was quite the road.

Bokhara2 Mar 16th, 2015 02:26 AM

Great report Mel- thanks so much for all the photos & links, too. Really enjoyed the read

tomarkot Mar 19th, 2015 06:08 PM

Hi Melnq8, we're catching up with your NZ report. With all the stress you have going on now with your big move. we're amazed that you posted a report, complete with pix.

A few thoughts:
Glad you had some clear weather around Haast. It was socked in when we visited.

Can't imagine what little Wanaka would be like crowded with Chinese tour groups during the Chinese New Year. And the year of the sheep!!! Where else but NZ to have a zillion sheep? We've been in two places during the Chinese New Year, and it's quite a celebration.

Rippon Winery: we loved it. . .the view is amazing and we were fortunate to hit it when we could do the tastings. And we did some of the nice walks in the area.

We enjoyed Arrowtown, but Glenorchy was our fave.

We like the format of your TR. Thanks so much for posting, especially in view of what you have going on with your big move. Good luck in everything.

Melnq8 Mar 19th, 2015 09:05 PM

Thank you tomarkot! We need all the luck we can get!

Glenorchy is my fave too. Unfortunately, 'our' B&B there was fully booked,so we gave it a pass this time.

When we lived in Indonesia, I found myself in Singapore over Chinese New Year four years in a row - quite by accident. It was madness, as was the entire month of December.

Just thinking about it makes me twitch:)

tomarkot Mar 20th, 2015 06:09 AM

Note about Chinese New Year in Singapore. When we arrived in the Changi Airport, after several long flights from home, the airport was decorated with what we naively thought was Easter. . .beautiful spring flowers with lots of cute rabbits. What a nice welcome, we thought! It was the middle of the night. . .we were exhausted as we checked into the Transit Hotel. It was only when we arose, three hours later, to catch our next flight, that we realized that it was the "Year of the Rabbit".

On our return trip, we spent four days in Singapore and witnessed up close the big celebration. . .like our Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Years' rolled into one. Fortunately, we were leaving the day after the Fireworks hoopla, as the services were severely limited. It was an experience!

nelsonian Mar 20th, 2015 01:17 PM

Love your trip reports Mel. Puts me to shame that I haven't seen a lot of places in NZ that you have seen. I should save my vacation time up for a NZ trip instead of going to Aussie, or the US!!

We were in Busan South Korea on New Years day, and as we walked along Hauendae Beach there was this huge statue of a sheep. DH, DD and I couldn't work out why it was there and the significance of it. Only later when we went to a large department store and we saw the window display that we realised it was the Year of the Sheep.

Melnq8 Mar 20th, 2015 05:31 PM

I've enjoyed these stories about Chinese New Year. It never occurred to me to plan my trip to NZ around it, but from now on I'll pay more attention to which animal is being celebrated before I book.

nelsonian - Thank you! I think it's human nature to travel away from where we live vs. explore our own backyard. We've been away from the US for 15 years; I hope to see my country through new eyes and plan to spend more time getting to know it.

tomarkot Mar 24th, 2015 04:40 PM

Hi Melnq8, we hope that after you get through all the trauma and work of your move back to CO, you'll find "substitute" places to hike and explore. We love the west of our country, and have spent lots of time over the years hiking in the mountains of CO, and other western states like WY, UT, AR, and MO. So much beauty there! We still look forward to exploring more of the west!

As much as we love the beauty of the US, we envy your wide travel experiences!

kim711 Apr 6th, 2015 12:51 PM

Thanks for another great trip report - I always knew I didn't want to stay long in Wellie. Drop in, do the museum, and escape. We don't like cities much on vacation, either. I'll take some time when I can and look at the no-doubt beautiful photos while I reread this. Thanks very much for what was probably therapy for you before you tackle repatriation. I write my best stuff when I'm putting off something that I really don't want to do at all!

Melnq8 Apr 6th, 2015 04:20 PM

Thank you kim711 - you're spot on about the procrastination. We just returned from our final trip down to our favorite spot in Western Australia (Pemberton) and I can't put off reality anymore!

ChristieKanata Dec 16th, 2015 01:59 PM

Hi Mel, I too appreciate the conciseness of your TRs... excellent, with all of the essential info one needs. We are finalizing our plans for a 23-day visit and this report is a great help - especially your references to wineries and sandflies!! I really need to do more research on the latter...

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