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NZ: A Series of Bitter Disappointments -- a Songdoc Trip Report

NZ: A Series of Bitter Disappointments -- a Songdoc Trip Report

Oct 25th, 2014, 01:10 PM
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NZ: A Series of Bitter Disappointments -- a Songdoc Trip Report

Note to self: send a really nasty letter to the NZ Tourism Board.
Complain that there were no dolphins in several places where they were clearly advertised; ditto—no penguins; and not one reflection in the so-called “reflecting” lake. Also … they need to move the most scenic spots closer to the highways—and not make them uphill! Add a P.S. that they need to do something about the crappy weather!

This is a work-related trip--for me to teach master classes in Nelson, Wellington, and Auckland. The plan was to begin with a nine-day drive from Queenstown to our first class in Nelson. FYI, this was our 7th trip to work and vacation in NZ.

We flew AA from Nashville to L.A. then Air New Zealand from L.A. to Auckland, leaving Oct. 15th – and arriving the 17th (because of crossing the international date line). The Air NZ coach seats were so exceptionally comfortable, that despite it being a full flight, I slept for 9 hours! (OK, I admit I had a little chemical assistance.) Then I watched a sweet movie (“The Dolphin’s Tail” that had me almost sobbing for the last 40 minutes), ate breakfast—and was amazed to have already arrived in AKL. The only bad part of the trip was being tired and having to deal with customs, collecting luggage, re-checking it, and having a 2-hour layover before boarding a flight to Queenstown.

We used Ace Car Rental. $500 NZD for 10 days with return to Picton. We’d pre-booked the Alexis Motel for two nights at $126/nt (NZD). It’s a pleasant, basic motel room with a kitchenette & an absolutely beautiful view of the lake. It was a 10-minute walk on the main road to town—or 30 minutes of breathtaking views along the lake. The staff were exceptionally nice and helpful.

As you read this report, you’ll see that we’re not “foodies,” and since we both have to be careful about what we eat (to accommodate our different health issues) it’s easiest for us to book places with kitchenettes so we can find a New World or a Four Square market and prepare most of our own boring food—with only an occasional splurge.

The only problem with starting in Queenstown is that it’s so impossibly beautiful —that every place that follows it has some seriously stiff competition to live up to. Thankfully, we’d seen Queenstown in all its glory on two previous trips, and had been to Skipper’s Canyon, Glenorchy, and up the mountain with the gondola, because much of the time, it was rainy, with cloudy, dark gray, dull skies.

But … the rain wasn’t constant, and between the showers we took walks along the trail that circles the lake and ended in town where we browsed in the shops, and sat on a bench in awe of the views. The beauty of those snow-capped mountains across the lake never stop amazing me.

Friends who live in Queenstown drove us to Old Cromwell, which was 45 minutes— and at least 100 years away. It’s not as large or touristy as Arrowtown, but it feels more authentic, with beautifully restored old buildings from the gold rush era, and lovely lake views. We really enjoyed looking in the shops then had a nice sandwiches and coffees in one of the cafes. We’d planned to go for a walk, but it started pouring, so we headed back.

The next morning it was time to pack up – but wait, what is that??? SUN!!! We took another walk along the lake and I got some great photos with those mountains backed by blue skies instead of clouds. IMO, Queenstown is about as good as it gets.

Next stop: Wanaka via the twisting, winding Crown Range road. En route we stopped at several lookouts, and in Cordrona. The Cordrona Hotel is a magical little oasis with lovely views, an old west feel, and a charming restaurant with outdoor seating, and a glimpse of a gold mine shaft. We’d brought a lunch and thoroughly picnicking while feeling we’d stepped back in time 150 years. It was a perfect way to break up the drive between Queenstown and Wanaka.

We’d pre-booked the Lakeview Motel in Wanaka for two nights at $150/nt NZD. The motel’s views alone were worth it, but the owner couldn’t possibly have been nicer or more helpful. The resident cat (included in the price of admission) sat beside me purring (the cat—not me) as we soaked in the beauty of the sunset on the lake with the mountains behind it.

Our first day in Wanaka, the sun shone bright and we strolled along the lake, enjoying the views, but I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that it was the step-child of Queenstown—absolutely beautiful—but only 80% of the “wow” factor of its more famous sister. Dinner wasn’t exactly according to our food plans, but it was delicious—yummy kebabs with views of the lake.

We woke the next morning to gray skies and drizzle, but didn’t let that deter our plan to hike Mt. Iron. I layered with thermal underwear, a T-shirt, sweatshirt, sweater, rain jacket and my alpaca knit cap. Locals were wearing T-shirts and shorts!

It was a strenuous 45-minute climb to the summit, but sooooo worth it. OMG. The views were stunning—and suddenly, Wanaka picked up lots of extra points. My photos suffered from the rain, but those views were still absolutely amazing. There were lots of bunnies along the trail, and that was an added bonus ☺. For those who can handle the climb, Mt. Iron is definite “must-see.”

Puzzling World was low on our list, despite the good reviews. From the photos and brochures, it seemed like a tourist trap, primarily for kids. But … by now it was pouring, and the only other option was stay in our motel room and read. So, we headed to Puzzling World with low expectations. We LOVED it—and ironically, we commented that most of it is not well-suited for kids. It was great fun, and the optical illusions, holograms, 3-D photos, and the faces that “followed” you were fascinating. We were SO glad we did it.

The next morning it was time to pack up and leave. The weather was GORGEOUS—bright, sunny blue skies! We strolled into town to buy sandwiches from Doughbins. DH had bought a meat pie there the previous day, and the pastries and breads looked amazing. Our sandwiches were excellent—and so were the photos I took of the lake now that we had a blue-sky background.

Our directions said it would take 3:40 to drive to our next stop—Franz Josef. But that didn’t factor in photo stops—and I’m a photography nutcase. Lake Hawea—and the Lake Hawea Lookout were gorgeous. Our next stop was the Blue Pools. About a 20-minute walk from the carpark brought us to a swinging bridge and LOTS more photos. Wow. They’re not kidding about them being “blue” pools! Such a beautiful spot!

New Zealand is a nature photographer’s dream destination. Queenstown, Wanaka, and the first hour of the drive between Wanaka and Franz Josef had me on beauty overload, and my camera got quite a workout.

We stopped for delicious coffee in Haast. There wasn’t much else there. As a side note, I think the coffees in NZ are exceptional—and so are the apples. In fact, all the produce seems terrific.

Our next stop was Ship Creek—because we’d been advised that it was an excellent spot for dolphin spotting. We climbed a lookout tower for views of what seemed like endless miles of rugged beach with intense crashing surf, but alas—no dolphins☹. But … I took some beautiful photos on the beach, and along the swamp trail boardwalk, and at the next lookout—Knight’s Point, which reminded us of views on the Great Ocean Road.

To be continued …
Songdoc is offline  
Oct 25th, 2014, 03:30 PM
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Your title certainly got my attention songdoc!

I like to think of Wanaka as a wannabe Queenstown. Depending on which direction you go up, the decent from Mt Iron can be quite unnerving, with some steep drop offs - which direction did you go? I'd assumed the same about Puzzling World, now I'm going to have to check it out.

Glad you liked old Cromwell - most visitors seem to just pass through, but we've spent a few nights there on recent visits - it's a great base for exploring some pretty wonderful Central Otago wineries.

Curious where in Haast you found delicious coffee? I've been to Ship Creek, but had no idea it was known for dolphin spotting....next time.

I look forward to your next installment.
Melnq8 is offline  
Oct 25th, 2014, 04:11 PM
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Oh dear! How dreadful for you Songdoc. It's a tribute to your great strength of character that you're still persevering in that godforsaken place.
Bokhara2 is offline  
Oct 25th, 2014, 04:20 PM
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I'm glad you weren't disappointed by Puzzling World. We went there with our older children a number of years ago and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. I will agree that there were many aspects of it which were better suited for adults than children.
longhorn55 is offline  
Oct 25th, 2014, 09:24 PM
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Hee hee hee, Songdoc - you also got my shocked attention! Loving the report so far.

When are you in Wellington, or have you been and gone?
dottyp is offline  
Oct 25th, 2014, 11:22 PM
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Thanks for all the nice comments. I've just arrived in Nelson.

dottyp: I'll be in Wellington Oct. 31st (arriving by ferry in the afternoon) and flying out Wednesday morning, the 5th. Sat. & Sun. are very long work days for me, but it would great if we could meet Monday or Tuesday. I'm thinking you were going to be out of town???

Melnq8: the good coffee in Haast (or possibly just outside of Haast) was at the Antler Cafe.

Apparently it's not!!!

Having to work is getting in the way of my writing my trip report. Such a nuisance! But I have much more to tell!!!
Songdoc is offline  
Oct 25th, 2014, 11:55 PM
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Hi, Songdoc.

I will definitely be in Wellington on Monday 3 November, and in the morning on Tuesday 4 (I have an appointment with my lovely hairdresser at 1:30pm.) Would love to meet up when it suits you. Where are you staying?

dottyp is offline  
Oct 26th, 2014, 02:08 PM
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Way to come up with a must-read report title, Songdoc!

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Oct 26th, 2014, 03:13 PM
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In 45 minutes I'll be teaching a class on the importance of titles!
Songdoc is offline  
Oct 27th, 2014, 02:58 AM
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just found this, songdoc- I'm another one whose attention was grabbed by the title. In fact I'm feeling a little short-changed as your trip is obviously working out better than the title would suggest.

Come one, more grumbling please!
annhig is offline  
Oct 27th, 2014, 09:58 AM
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Songdoc...Let me know the outcome of your complaint about the weather. Someone should do something...
margo_oz is offline  
Oct 27th, 2014, 12:07 PM
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It rained during the most of the last hour of our drive through winding mountain roads, and I was exhausted by the time we pulled into Franz Josef--more than 7 hours – and 150 photos – after we’d left Wanaka. Our motel, the Alpine Glacier, was just fine, and once again, the staff was more than helpful—suggesting walks to walk and sights to see.

The weather report said it should be bright and sunny in notoriously rainy Franz Josef until around 4 PM. GREAT! We’d make up for our lousy run of weather over the past few days. We headed to Lake Matheson which is known for its mirror reflections. There were OMG gorgeous views of Mt. Cook in all its snow-capped glory beyond the lake. It was about an hour-and-fifteen-minute walk. But when we reached the viewing platform to see the reflections in the lake there was a bit of a breeze causing ripples. No reflection. Grrrr …. By the end of the walk clouds were rolling in a Mt. Cook had disappeared. I was soooo glad to have already gotten my beautiful pix.

We decided that seeing one glacier would be enough—and the desk clerk at the hotel recommended the Fox Glacier. He said we’d get better views—and wouldn’t have to walk quite as far.

By the time we reached Fox Glacier there was barely a memory of blue to be found in a sky that looked like it might pour at any moment. Wait a minute. The weather report had promised several additional hours of sunshine. (Reminder: put that in my nasty letter.)

The climb up to the glacier viewing spot was quite steep at times. It took a little more than 30 minutes each. The views en route were stark and quite beautiful in their own monochromatic way. Parts of the walk took us past mountains that jutted straight to the sky as I’d imagine one would see while sailing the gorges of the Yangtze River. The mountains were studded with waterfalls. Wow, that last 5 or 10 minutes felt like they were straight uphill. (Wait till I catch my breath!)

When we arrived at the viewing point we were … somewhat underwhelmed. Now I should explain; we’ve been to many glaciers in Norway, the Canadian Rockies, and Alaska—and we’ve seen some truly breathtaking views of them. If we had nothing to compare Fox Glacier to, we would have deemed it impressive. Actually, it WAS impressive – but I’m afraid we’ve become a bit jaded after walking (or canoeing) right up to the face of brilliant blue glaciers with gushing turquoise water and mini-icebergs that looked like sculptures placed throughout the waters. We’d rank Fox 4th or lower among the glaciers we’ve visited. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed our day, and appreciated the awe-inspiring forces of nature. But … IT STILL GOES ON MY LIST OF BITTER DISSAPOINTMENTS!!! ;-)

The next morning, it was once again gray, cloudy, and drizzly. We decided we still wanted to walk at Okarita beach before getting back on the road. The moderately strenuous walk was pleasant and the views at the top were nice—but I suspect they would have been even nicer with blue skies. As previously mentioned, I’m a photography nut. Taking photos of my travels is one of my passions—and that’s why those gray skies took a bit of the wind out of my sails. I wasn’t hoping to capture dark, moody landscapes – but that’s what I was finding through my lens.

We bought coffees at the one place that sold it at Okarita, and enjoyed a picnic lunch, and a short walk to the beach. The rain stopped and the sky became a mix of blue and gray for our drive to Hokitika.

To be continued …
Songdoc is offline  
Oct 27th, 2014, 12:10 PM
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dottyp: I'm so pleased we'll get to meet!!! Let's plan on Tuesday morning--the 4th. You can email me directly at [email protected] to firm things up. We'll be staying at the Astelia Apt. Hotel (156 Willis).
Songdoc is offline  
Oct 27th, 2014, 01:59 PM
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Absolutely loving your report, Songdoc, and a brilliant title and intro. We didn't make it to South Island during our visit to NZ last year, but it's on our list of places to visit.
tripplanner001 is online now  
Oct 27th, 2014, 03:19 PM
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I feel your pain Songdoc, especially when it comes to gloomy skies and photographs.

The weather guessers had promised beautiful weather the day we walked a section of the Abel Tasman Track, but the sun was absent the entire day, appearing just in time to set as our boat arrived back at the beach. I felt robbed.

All the more reason to rejoice on a pretty day!

Very much enjoying your report, grumbling and all.
Melnq8 is offline  
Oct 27th, 2014, 06:12 PM
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Songdoc, you don't sound bitter or disappointed enough to warrant such a title yet..

I do hope you will be posting photos or I will be rather disappointed!
sassy_cat is offline  
Oct 27th, 2014, 07:25 PM
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Melnq8: I will be sure to include your experience in my nasty letter! ;-)
You recommended the Bay Vista Motel just outside of Picton. We just arrived and it's FANTASTIC! Wow. The view is unbeatable. I could happily sit on the patio for the next three days, just watching the birds (including a pair of black swans) and the water, framed by the mountains. Thanks so much for the recommendation!

I promise pix will be coming.
Songdoc is offline  
Oct 27th, 2014, 08:36 PM
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Glad you like the motel Songdoc -we really enjoyed our stay there. Tell Grant I said hello.
Melnq8 is offline  
Oct 27th, 2014, 08:37 PM
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You going to walk some of the Queen Charlotte?
Melnq8 is offline  
Oct 27th, 2014, 09:54 PM
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It's pouring at the moment and rain is expected most of tomorrow--so probably not--unless it clears up. Thursday is expected to be sunny--and we're planning the mail run cruise. We'll leave Friday morning. Taking the ferry to Wellington.

Might go to the air museum in Blenheim if it's indeed a rainy day tomorrow. WWI aviation doesn't interest me in the least, but the reviews are outstanding ...
Songdoc is offline  

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