Seeking Serenity on the South Island

Jul 19th, 2018, 02:06 PM
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Seeking Serenity on the South Island

We’ve been visiting New Zealand since 1993 (primarily the South Island) – long before Lord of the Rings catapulted the country onto the world stage – long before the marketing campaigns brought the Chinese in droves. Let’s just say we knew it back in the day.

Since that first visit we’ve returned year after year, from whichever country we happened to be living in at the time. But when we left Australia three years ago, NZ suddenly seemed very, very far away; and increasingly expensive to reach. We randomly checked Air New Zealand’s fares on occasion, hoping for a sale to entice us into a return visit. Lo and behold, back in October we stumbled across a fare we absolutely couldn’t resist –USD $1,800 each to fly from Colorado Springs-LAX-Auckland-Queenstown and return from Christchurch…in Premium Economy. The die was cast.

The burning question was, would NZ still appeal to us now that it had truly been discovered? Had “our” New Zealand, dare I say it, been ruined?

And so began the task of planning an itinerary that would incorporate doing what we love to do (hike, immerse ourselves in beautiful scenery, eat and drink wine) while avoiding as many other tourists as possible.

In an effort to maximize the potential for not-too-horrible weather, yet avoid school holidays, Easter holidays and Anzac Day, and travel as close to off-season as possible, we chose May. We considered spending five weeks, but that presented car rental insurance issues – our credit card covers us for a maximum of 31 days, so 31 days it would be.

The itinerary:

Bannockburn – five nights

Manapouri – four nights

Glenorchy – four nights

Fox Glacier – two nights

Cape Foulwind – two nights

Tasman – five nights

Rarangi – five nights

Coalgate – three nights

Say what? Yep, that was the whole idea.

Travel/Arrival Day -

If there’s a way to screw things up, United will find it. Our flight left Colorado Springs two hours late due to some mysterious mechanical problem. There was talk of sending in a replacement plane from Denver, but then the problem was magically fixed and we were on our way. This flight would normally be on a small commuter jet, but today we had the BIG plane, so passengers were told they could have an entire row to themselves. How often does that happen? We weren’t too fussed about the delay as we had a seven hour layover in LAX; we could wait in Colorado or wait in California, all the same to us.

Upon arrival in LAX we walked what felt like three miles from our arrival terminal to Tom Bradley International Terminal via a winding labyrinth of subterranean passageways and tunnels. I’m assuming this is the ‘new and improved’ LAX. In the past we’ve made this trek outdoors, and been nearly asphyxiated in the process, so yeah, I guess it’s an improvement.

We whiled away several hours in the large and posh Star Alliance Lounge (operated by Air New Zealand, which says it all). In addition to several food and beverage options, there were quiet areas and an outdoor terrace overlooking the tarmac. Nice.

Our Air New Zealand flight was not only on time, but service was excellent. The Premium Economy seats were quite comfortable, the foot rests a god send, the cabin quiet, the video entertainment extensive, and dinner was…wait for it… downright tasty. And the best part, we both managed to get 5-6 hours of sleep (13 hour flight). On the downside, the flight was rather turbulent – after several hours of bumping around, the smell of eggs being warmed for breakfast had me nuzzling my barf bag. Nothing for me, thanks.

Upon arrival in Auckland, spurred on by New Zealand’s very generous duty free limit (up to three bottles of spirits, up to six bottles of wine, port, champagne, or sherry, up to 12 cans of beer – way more than a person can reasonably carry!) we picked up three bottles of wine before proceeding through Immigration. I didn’t witness the incident, but somehow my groggy loved one managed to break two of the three bottles of wine while at the E-gate (automated passport control). Quite surprising, as I’m the one who usually breaks things.

I took the sloshing bag of broken glass back to duty free, explained the problem and asked for assistance in retrieving the remaining intact bottle. Instead, being the wonderful Kiwis that they are, they replaced the broken bottles free of charge and sent me on my way.

The queue for Biosecurity inspection was long (never mind that it was 4:25 am), but moved quickly – we’d brought no food, we’d cleaned our hiking boots and hiking poles and packed them on top for easy inspection. Worked a treat.

We transferred our luggage, walked from the International Terminal to the Domestic Terminal, and had just enough time to enjoy our first flat white in three long deprived years (thanks to the barista service in the Koru Lounge) before finding our gate for our 90 minute flight to Queenstown.

It’d been a while since we’d flown into Queenstown, and I’d forgotten how incredible those views are. The sun was shining, the mountains covered in snow. We were lowered into a colorful wonderland; the red, orange and yellow of NZ autumn. Beauty!

We collected our rental car from APEX* (NZ $1,003.16 for 31 days), a Nissan Tiida, a petite econobox. We knew from past experience that Tiidas (Tiddles in Kiwi speak) get great gas mileage and the trunk space is nothing short of amazing. It swallowed our two 29” suitcases (upright no less), a rolling carry on, a backpack and that bag of wine…and had room to spare. And the glove box – oh my. We didn’t know it at the time, but we’d log some 5,779 kilometers and feed this baby NZ$ 660.37 in petrol over the next month.

*Our experience with APEX was good for the most part. However, they’d neglected to replace a worn valve stem - which led to a flat tire - which necessitated an unplanned excursion into Queenstown (tire shop in Cromwell closed on Saturday!). The 60 km journey on the scrawny, limited use spare tire (designed for a max speed of 80 kilometers per hour) on busy, single lane, 100 kilometer per hour State Highway 6, wasn’t pleasant. We pulled off at every opportunity, but the lack of pull outs and passing lanes led to some surprisingly belligerent behavior from other drivers, most of whom we suspect were locals. It was disheartening.

On the upside, the Bridgestone Tyre Centre in Queenstown fixed us up for no charge - said it wasn’t worth the paperwork - and had us out in an hour. Needless to say, we were quite impressed.

Back to APEX – we could have used a windshield scraper – it would have come in handy on several frosty mornings.

As we worked our way from the airport and along the outskirts of Queenstown, we noticed an abundance of Chinese visitors disgorging from buses. Evidently, our visit coincided with one of those aforementioned marketing campaigns, in this case Amway China’s leadership seminar, which brought 6,000 Chinese tourists to Queenstown over the course of several weeks (in waves of 500-600); an attempt to fill the autumn tourist ‘lull’. We travel off season for a reason, we’re all about the ‘lull’, which sadly for us, may soon be a thing of the past.

We generally avoid Queenstown - it’s just too busy for our tastes (even without Amway) and we’ve been there done that – so we dashed off to our quiet Bannockburn hideaway, about an hour’s drive away.

Why Bannockburn?

Peace. Mt. Difficulty Dry Riesling. Quiet. Central Otago Pinot Noir. Few tourists. Mt Difficulty Dry Riesling. Beautiful in autumn. Central Otago Pinot Noir.

Our accommodation:

Welcome to Central Otago - Bannockburn House - Cromwell Accommodation Bed & Breakfast

We’d booked the cottage, which we found spacious, quiet, well appointed, comfortable and warm. Lovely hosts, big shower, good water pressure, generous breakfast provisions, awkward parking situation (NZ $170 per night).

We’d arranged an early check-in, planning a much needed nap before our 2:30 lunch booking at Mt Difficulty, but the sunshine seduced us. Instead we got settled, picked up some groceries in Cromwell and then went on a photo-taking binge of our immediate surroundings – stunning in autumn gold.

Our long awaited lunch was a wee bit disappointing. Bill said his lamb was good, but the food quality did not match the price. As a fussy non-meat, non-seafood eater, my options were rather limited, so I chose a platter – the kitchen was kind enough to let me substitute a few things, Bill polished off the rest. We couldn’t help but feel that Mt Difficulty is teetering on the edge of style vs substance. But the Dry Riesling is still fabulous, and the views are hard to beat (NZ $156 – including a dine-in bottle of wine and two bottles to take away).

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; Jul 19th, 2018 at 02:14 PM.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jul 19th, 2018, 02:35 PM
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Thank you Melnq8. I awaited your report in eager anticipation and look forward to being along for the full ride. Still planning on a trip myself, even though it will now be late 2019.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Jul 19th, 2018, 04:23 PM
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Happy to help tripplanner!
Melnq8 is offline  
Jul 19th, 2018, 09:28 PM
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That's a great plan and some good tips for some travelers around. I 'm also looking forward to spending some time in other unique places.
NorenePalmer is offline  
Jul 20th, 2018, 06:54 AM
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What we did during our stay in Bannockburn:

We walked the track alongside the Kawarau River southwards (2.5 miles), which begins at the bridge between Bannockburn and Cromwell. The following day we walked in the opposite direction, crossing under the bridge and eventually joining the track to Cromwell (2.3 miles, undulating and varied).

We walked the Aurora Creek Track, located in the former settlement of Welshtown in the Historic Bendigo Reserve, the richest hard rock gold mine in Otago. The track was a challenge for my bad knee, but was surprisingly varied and offered some lovely mountain views. We had the track entirely to ourselves (three miles, 1:45).

We poked around the historic precinct of Old Cromwell Town, which was reconstructed by volunteers who moved the buildings to higher ground when the original town was flooded to create Lake Dunstan in 1990. Old Cromwell Town is now home to a café, a few shops and galleries. We followed a path alongside Lake Dunstan, watched the ducks, befriended a black cat and just generally soaked up the beautiful autumn scenery.

Cromwell Precinct

We drove to the small historic town of Clyde, stopping to ogle the Clyde Dam along the way. We’ve been to Clyde before, but don’t remember it being quite so attractive – or perhaps we’d just not seen it on such a pretty day. The town was brimming with middle aged women, some dining on the patio of the Bank Café, others headed to the cinema. We had lunch, walked through the township, explored Miner’s Lane Reserve and poked around the Clutha River.

Clyde Home Page

We continued driving to Alexandra, which felt congested and busy (weird considering the population is only about 5,300). We thought we might visit an area winery or two, but we had trouble finding one open. We embraced the opportunity and returned to Mt Difficulty for a late afternoon drop on their sun drenched terrace. So beautiful was the day that the swarms of fruit flies didn’t even give us pause.

On our one not-so-beautiful day we drove to Wanaka, where we poked along the entirely-too-busy waterfront and popped into a bank to transfer funds for our Tasman accommodation (simplicity at its finest). Wanaka was hopping – yes, in the shoulder season! As we left town, we saw sheep, I mean people, headed towards the Wanaka Tree, a social media creation that baffles us (and every local we spoke to).

We drove some 18 km west on Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Road to the Diamond Lake Conservation area (passing the bursting Roy’s Peak carpark) and walked the Diamond/Wanaka Lake Track (3.15 miles return). I have fond memories of the fantastic views from previous trips, yet I’d completely forgotten about all those bloody steps. This day the views were diminished somewhat by uncooperative skies and smoke from a nearby controlled fire, but the carpark was near empty; a very good thing in my book.

Afterwards we popped into Rippon for some wine tasting (very good Osteiner), grabbed a bite to eat, and walked two miles of the Lakeshore Walkway from Waterfall Creek Reserve.

We walked a small section of the steep rutted track to Carricktown - it took us over an hour to cover just 2.2 miles! It wasn’t very interesting, basically just a really rough 4x4 track that threatened to inflict serious joint damage, so we bailed early on.

We explored Nevis Road – the highest public road in New Zealand – just because it’s there and so were we.

And of course we visited a few wineries (not nearly enough) - Wild Earth ($15 tasting for five wines, gorgeous setting), Aurum (free tasting, nice chat with the owner, good Pinot Gris and dry Riesling, had the place to ourselves), Wooing Tree (free tasting, lovely visit, just us, sold out of their Blanc de Noir – Blondie, bummer!).

Where we ate, imbibed and caffeinated:

Black Rabbit Café (Bannockburn) – we didn’t eat here, but we popped in almost every morning for flat whites.

Afix (Cromwell) – excellent flat whites, warm open fire on a cold day

Local honey – purchased from an honesty kiosk – with CCTV (!)

Lazy Dog (Queensberry) – we shared a small pizza and had a glass of their Pinot Noir (NZ $50) - lovely garden seating with pretty wonderful views, good wine, although a stingy serve

Bannockburn Hotel Restaurant – the owners of our accommodation are managers here - we’d been urged to book, but turned up to find it empty (weeknight). The food was pretty good - Blue cod and chips for Bill, salad and goat cheese croquettes for me, nice wine selection, a bit expensive for essentially pub fare – NZ $90 with drinks.

Bannockburn Hotel: Wine-Country Restaurant and Bar ? A classic Wine-country restaurant and bar in the heart of Otago. Experience fresh food, tapas sharing plates with an huge wine list of local and international wine. Enjoy panoramic mountain views i

Oliver’s (Clyde) – we had an excellent lunch here, Bill’s eyes rolled up into his head as he tucked into his Eggs Benedict with hollandaise sauce, English muffin, spinach and bacon. He so enjoyed his meal that he decided to learn how to make Eggs Bennie when we got back home – this from a guy who has absolutely no interest in cooking!

My ‘semi-dried pesto marinade chicken breast open focaccia sandwich with tomato, bacon, garlic aioli and shoestring fries’ was good, but didn’t warrant the same reaction (NZ $68 with a lovely glass of Clyde Village Pinot Noir, which sadly doesn’t have a cellar door). The restaurant was empty, the attached café very busy.

Ritual Café (Wanaka) – we had a decent lunch here (our first choice, The Spice Room was closed until dinner) - Eggs Bennie for Bill (not nearly as good as Oliver’s), dahl soup for me (NZ $31.50)

Jones Fruit Stall & Freeway Orchard – no trip to Cromwell would be complete without at least one – or five – bowls of fruit ice cream – vanilla ice cream and frozen fruit that’s been fed through a monstrous blender - one of our NZ traditions.

*Jones Fruit Stall is a stop on the tour bus circuit. On more than one occasion we’ve watched Chinese tourists get off a bus, head directly for the apples, buy a bagful, wash, cut and immediately devour. For whatever reason the Chinese seem to love apples – perhaps because they’re red?

Monsoon (Cromwell) – the new kid in town – Indian fusion – not your typical Indian food. The pan fried roti was excellent, my lentils a bit one dimensional, Bill’s chicken dish pretty good (NZ $53, no drinks).

Photos here:

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; Jul 20th, 2018 at 06:57 AM.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jul 20th, 2018, 07:32 AM
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Mel, you may be interested to know that the flat white has now made it to the UK - it's not universal but getting there.

Anyway great to see you back in NZ and I am looking forward to descriptions of exploring the places less visited. Now it's just me I'm not expecting to get back there any time soon so I shall enjoy your trip all the more.
annhig is offline  
Jul 20th, 2018, 09:13 AM
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Thanks annhig.

The flat white has also made it to the US, but it's pretty hard to find. I'd forgotten that I had one in New Mexico a few months ago - evidently it wasn't memorable!

I remember seeing flat whites on a menu in Singapore years ago too, didn't get around to trying them though.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jul 21st, 2018, 02:00 AM
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Following along with great interest as we consider making our 4th trip to NZ - so a lot is riding on your final conclusions. No pressure
crellston is offline  
Jul 21st, 2018, 07:07 AM
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Melnq8 is offline  
Jul 21st, 2018, 07:14 AM
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Just a note for anyone scrolling through the photos - if you click the right arrow on the photo above, it will scroll through my photos for the South Otago portion of our trip, which is what I intended.

However, if you click on the photo, it shows random photos from my Flickr page, which are not pertinent to this trip report. I'm waiting to hear back from an administrator to see what I might have done wrong, so bear with me in the meantime.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jul 21st, 2018, 07:30 AM
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Travel day/Bannockburn to Manapouri

The day of the aforementioned flat tire and detour to Queenstown. As Julia (cottage owner) gave us directions to Bridgestone, she mentioned turning at a traffic light. Queenstown has a traffic light? Oh how things have changed – Queenstown’s first traffic light was installed about two years ago and the town now boasts two, creating quite the stir with locals from what I understand.

We fully expected Central Queenstown to be its usual zooish self, but the activity near Frankton really caught us off guard – Queenstown has grown, and in a very big way. Newly built houses crawl up the hillsides and there’s now a shopping center (Five Mile), which houses not one, but TWO massive grocery stores (Countdown is open, Pak’nSave is under construction). The word sprawl comes to mind. Wow.

While the tire was being worked on, we walked the streets looking for coffee, finding nothing but steep rolling hills of concrete in this industrial part of town.

Fortunately, this unplanned stop didn’t wreak too much havoc, as our next destination was Manapouri, about a two hour drive from Queenstown. Nor did it adversely affect our lunch plans – Indian food at Mantra in Arrowtown, one of our favorite dining establishments.

Mantra Indian Restaurant - Indian Takeaways Arrowtown

We’ve been following Shammi Sandhu and her family around the South Island of NZ for about 20 years. They opened their first restaurant in Dunedin in 1991 (Little India). We love their food, and have been known to plan our NZ trips around eating at their restaurants.

Arrowtown was bustling on this gorgeous autumn day; yellow and red leaves shimmering in the breeze; Mantra near empty. We sat at a table in the corner overlooking the busy courtyard of alfresco diners at a neighboring restaurant, who, in our opinion, didn’t know what they were missing. As expected our lunch here was excellent (Kadai chicken, Kadai paneer, garlic naan, NZ $48).

As we wandered back to the car, Patagonia beckoned – Mmmm…there’s always room for ice cream - rich dark chocolate for me, vanilla for Bill, excellent.

Home - Patagonia Chocolates - Queenstown, Arrowtown, Wanaka

Our next stop was the cellar door of Amisfield Vineyard - our go to place for Pinot Noir. We shared a $10 tasting (absorbed with purchase) and were shocked, I mean shocked, that neither of us liked a single one of the Pinot Noirs we tasted (and these were NZ $50, $70 and $120 bottles!) Say what? We left with a bottle of dry Riesling.

As we forged on to Manapouri, the skies opened, as they do. I remembered Five Rivers Café having good flat whites, but they’d just closed minutes prior to our arrival, so we continued on to Mossburn. Here we called in at Bracken Hill Café; we the only customers, the workers seemingly tourist weary. Not that I can blame them, given their location on the route to Milford Sound.

We arrived at our accommodation just as owners Jessie and Ray were feeding their alpacas. Our fortuitous timing led to an introduction to their herd, an opportunity to hand fee them and a lesson in all things alpaca – fascinating creatures. Per Ray there’d been a small earthquake prior to our arrival and the alpacas were tense.

Why Manapouri?

Close to the tracks of Te Anau and Milford Road yet away from the bustle. Easy access to the Southern Scenic Route.

Our Accommodation:

Kepler Mountain View Cottage | Manapouri Farmstay Accommodation

The cottage was cozy, well equipped and surrounded by lush foliage and curious alpacas. We were warm and dry as we hid from the ubiquitous Fiordland rain and some pretty astounding wind – we thought sure the cottage would take flight during an overnight storm (NZ $125 per night).

It’s worth noting that Internet service was free and fast – this hasn’t always been the case in country New Zealand – the days of spotty and limited WiFi seem a thing of the past – we had very few internet issues during our 31 day stay.

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; Jul 21st, 2018 at 07:35 AM.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jul 21st, 2018, 04:57 PM
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Mel as we flew back to NZ from Houston two weeks ago on Air NZ, DH couldn't stand the smell of the eggs warming up either, and chose not to eat breakfast!! Looking forward to the rest of your report, always great recommendations. Hopefully I will be retired by Jan 19, and can go on some extensive down south trips!!
nelsonian is offline  
Jul 21st, 2018, 07:27 PM
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nelsonian -

Good to hear I'm not alone! Ooh, that smell! Something about warming eggs on long haul flights makes me queasy, even if it's been a smooth flight. By the time breakfast rolls around I just want to get on the ground and into some fresh air.

I made a note in the margin of my trip notes to ask you if the route into Nelson city via Waimea Road was new, or if improvements had been completed in the past few years. It was so easy to get in and out from Tasman, whereas we've had trouble navigating through there in the past.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2018, 06:42 AM
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What we did during our stay in Manapouri:

We chased rainbows along the shores of Lake Manapouri. We walked the Old Coach Road track from Pearl Harbor to Frasier’s Beach through the rainforest and alongside the lake (two miles return, just under an hour).

We walked the Home Creek Loop near our accommodation – a nice little path that meanders alongside a creek and through countryside – no one else in sight (just over a mile, 30 minutes).

We walked the Kepler Track from Rainbow Reach to Moturau Hut (8.2 miles return, 3:45). I’ve always liked this walk – undulating, with a nice mix of beech forest and river views, although my knee was seriously annoyed before it was all said and done. The sandflies were fierce – as they tend to be in these here parts - especially at Motarua Hut. Want to avoid sandflies? Keep moving. And the weather? It’s Fiordland. It drizzled, it rained, and then it poured. We spent the last three miles walking in a deluge. A big fat thank you to the makers of all things waterproof.

We followed the Southern Scenic Route from Manapouri to Riverton via Tuatapere (NZ’s sausage capital) and the Clifden Suspension Bridge. This is a pretty drive, especially on the return, facing the mountains.

We’d hoped to spend a day hiking the tracks along Milford Road, but the weather gods had other plans. We took the short walk to Lake Mistletoe through the rainforest and along the lake (30 minutes return).

We had a picnic in the car at the Lake Marian carpark – hoping the rain would let up, but it just got worse. So we bailed, and continued driving to Milford Sound instead. It didn’t seem right to be this close and not go, even though we’ve been many times before.

The weather was atrocious – visibility was poor, waves of water blew across the road, sleetballs pounded our little Tiida, torrents of water flew off the sheer mountain cliffs. A dejected looking Kea stood alongside the road, drenched, but hopeful. Got waterfalls? We’ve seen Milford in many moods, but this one was explosive.

After Milford we sipped local cider in front of the fire at the Fiordland Cinema in Te Anau (NZ $18) and then watched Ata Whenua. We never tire of it. And still NZ $10!

Where we ate, imbibed and caffeinated:

Lakeview Café (Manapouri) – we didn’t eat here, but warmed ourselves over a decent flat white during a Fiordland turd floater.

Redcliff Café (Te Anau) – arguably ‘the best restaurant in town’. I’d booked a table for dinner weeks in advance. Small and cozy, good service. While the food was good, it certainly didn’t knock our socks off (and didn’t seem particularly good value) - fish of the day for Bill, vegetarian meal of the day for me, one glass of wine, one beer NZ $91.00) - We learned the following day that they’d very recently lost their chef and the owner had taken over the kitchen. Ah-ha! | Fine Dining and Entertainment

Beach House (Riverton) – we’d discovered this restaurant by accident on a previous visit. We enjoyed it so much that we made a special trip from Manapouri to Riverton for an encore (122 km). My meal here was one of the best I had in our month long stay on the South Island (pan fried halloumi, crisp polenta, spinach, homemade tomato herb sauce). Bill was equally impressed with his lamb shoulder curry, Basmati rice, yogurt riata, garlic herb crostini and crispy shallots. Lovely indeed (NZ $62 with flat whites).

Beachhouse Riverton

Milk store (Riverton) – Deep South ice cream by the scoop – NZ $3 a cup (another of our NZ traditions – ice cream from just about every small town milk store we encounter).

Radha’s (Te Anau) – decent enough Indian food; Mantra certainly has nothing to worry about (Kadai Paneer, Chicken Tikka Masala, plonk wine, NZ $56). When I asked how long Radha’s had been in Te Anau, our waiter said they used to sell take-away from the Mobil station – they opened the restaurant 18 months ago.

New discovery: Persistent High Hefe (brewed in Queenstown).

Photos here:

To be continued...
Melnq8 is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2018, 12:15 AM
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Following along. Thanks for the great details.
Diamantina is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2018, 12:33 AM
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No, there are no new routes from Tasman, to Nelson. There are two main routes, one around the port, and the one through Waimea Road. There has been a lot of road works happening on Waimea Road come to think of it, so it may have been slow progress when you visited last.
nelsonian is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2018, 05:00 PM
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Thanks nelsonian. I think road works might be what I'm remembering. If so, the improvements are indeed improvements!
Melnq8 is offline  
Jul 24th, 2018, 07:33 AM
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Travel day/Manapouri to Glenorchy

There’d been a wild storm during the night, high winds rattled the cottage, trash bins took flight; we worried about the alpacas and expected to find mass destruction in the morning. Jessie advised that Queenstown, Te Anau and Glenorchy had lost power, but all was well in Manapouri, the sun was even shining. It figures, we were leaving!

We tallied our sandfly bites (four for me, seven for Bill), bid adieu to Manapouri and worked our way back towards Queenstown, stopping at Five Rivers for flat whites (yep, still good!)

We briefly stopped in Kingston to poke around the shores of the southern tip of Lake Wakatipu and walk the jetty.

Our drive came to a standstill as we approached the massive bridge construction project on SH 6 near Frankton, where they’re replacing the old Kawarau Falls single lane bridge with a double lane bridge; a 22 million dollar project long overdue given the growth in the area.

We turned towards Arrowtown, a bit startled at the large volume of traffic heading in the opposite direction (to Queenstown), seemingly backed up for miles.

On our previous pass through Arrowtown we’d verified that Mantra would be open for lunch today. When we arrived, there was a closed sign, but the door was unlocked, so we went in. Our hearts sank when we were told that they’d closed to prepare for a routine inspection that had been announced that morning.

Owner-operator Shammi was there – as soon as she heard that we’d made a special trip, she was very apologetic and generously offered to open the kitchen for *takeaway! She pulled a cook from the meeting and he set about making us four curries to take with us to the food desert of Glenorchy (NZ $70). Wow! While we waited we had a nice visit, us telling her we sought out her restaurants on every visit, she regaling us with stories about life in Queenstown. A lovely woman.

*We’d brought a collapsible Esky and two gel ice packs with us from home; they really came in handy.

Still needing lunch, we settled into an outdoor table at Bon Jour (pumpkin soup for me, a surprisingly good Croque Monsieur for Bill, NZ $29, glacially slow service). We’d had coffee here on previous trips, but this was our first go with the food – we were both impressed.

BONJOUR French Restaurant| Arrowtown

On our way back towards Queenstown, we called in at Akarua Wines and Kitchen. I could have sworn this was a café last time we were here. And indeed it had been. During our wine tasting (NZ $5 each) we learned that Akarua had purchased the Walnut Cottage Café in late 2016 – and transformed it - they’ve done a great job here, it’s a beautiful venue with an enticing menu. Too bad we’d already eaten.

Akarua introduced us to one of our two favorite Pinot Noirs of the trip – Rua. Not only was it excellent, it was a bargain by Pinot Noir standards (NZ $25 a bottle). We bought two. Lucky for us, it was also easy to find in grocery stores later in the trip.

Back on the road, we popped into the Countdown store in Frankton, wound our way through Central Queenstown, and then continued on towards Glenorchy. It was here, on the narrow, winding, single lane Queenstown-Glenorchy Road that we got a good taste of what New Zealand locals have to deal with on a daily basis – discourteous tourists who probably shouldn’t be driving. This guy was gawking at his surroundings and completely oblivious to the line of traffic behind him. He rode his brakes, ignoring every pull out. It was downright painful…and as tempting as it was, we didn’t honk or become belligerent, as had been done to us as we’d driven our crippled Tiida to Queenstown earlier in the day.

Why Glenorchy?

Tranquility. Beauty. Tramping nirvana.

Our Accommodation:

This cottage was a compromise between our favorite ($$$) Glenorchy B&B and the not-so-appealing motels on offer (USD $131, approximately NZ $188 per night). It worked, but it was a bit disappointing.

The cottage was very small, had an odor that no amount of airing seemed to help (we suspect it was the curtains which appeared to have mildewed), and not particularly well set up. There was no table, just TV trays, no place to raise one’s feet, no reading lamps, no place to comfortably use a laptop and the smoke detectors had been removed and stored in a cupboard.

As with everywhere so far, Glenorchy had grown in our absence. The newly opened Camp Glenorchy now offers an assortment of accommodation right in town, and Mrs. Woolly’s General Store, also new, sells a small selection of prepared meals and gifts. And, as testament to the influx of Chinese visitors, there’s now a dumpling restaurant, increasing the food venues in Glenorchy to five (two small cafes and two small hotel/pubs).

To be continued...
Melnq8 is offline  
Jul 24th, 2018, 10:01 AM
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 17,460
I'll be following too! The prices are kind of shocking to someone else who also went before all the Lord of the Rings stuff happened. Quite honestly, I'm not sure I want to go back...

I always liked Clyde.

Last edited by mlgb; Jul 24th, 2018 at 10:10 AM.
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Jul 24th, 2018, 03:42 PM
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Posts: 14,776
What we did during our stay in Glenorchy:

We challenged our rain gear by walking the Routeburn Track to Routeburn Flat Hut and return (14 km, 9.17 miles, 4:15 – non-stop rain!). We have not-so-fond memories of swarming sandflies in the car park and at the hut during previous visits, but this time it wasn’t bad (maybe the rain kept them away).

A covered patio has been added to the hut since our last visit; we were able to eat our packed lunch without getting drenched. And as a first for us, the water was still on. We were able to utilize the flush toilets instead of the long drop – a treat! We saw more people on the track than on previous visits, but we had the patio to ourselves.

We wandered the Glenorchy wharf, watching numerous jet boats arrive and unload passengers, who then climbed into waiting buses for the return trip to Queenstown. It must have been a rough ride, someone had hurled on the side of one boat. The jet boats were then hauled out of the water and onto trailers by tractors. We were disheartened to see trash scattered alongside the lake – the downside of more people having discovered this beautiful slice of New Zealand.

We ‘did the town’, walking from our cottage to the river and lakefront, following the Glenorchy Walkway (a boardwalk track that crosses wetlands) and then returning to the cottage, logging some six miles. There was a time we’d have the walkway to ourselves, but not today.

We hid from the incessant rain on the patio of our cottage, sipping Mt Difficulty wine and swatting sandflies.

We attempted the drive to Paradise, hoping to walk a favorite track there. The weather wasn’t promising; the first ford we encountered was full due to the heavy rain from the day before, so we played it safe and bailed. Sadly, the roads to some of our favorite South Island treks are now officially rental car violations – this is one of them.

We walked the Lake Sylvan Track via the tramway, an easy, well graded path through the rainforest (just over four miles, 1:45).

We drove to Kinloch twice, the first time in less than ideal weather. Seduced by distant blue skies we made a second visit, chasing the long white clouds and sunshine for some pretty incredible views across the lake. We walked a bit of the Kinloch Lake Trial, but it proved too slippery and rough for my compromised knee, so we didn’t make it very far (1.6 miles return).

We aimlessly wandered; returning to the wharf; driving the Rees Road, taking photographs. We were surprised by the amount of logging on the outskirts of town. Is ‘our’ Glenorchy headed for ruin? Please say it isn’t so.

The skies finally cleared…and the stars were incredible.

Where we ate, imbibed and caffeinated:

Glenorchy, population 363, isn’t a food mecca, hence the take-away from Mantra and supplies for self-catering. Yet another reason to select accommodation with kitchen facilities.

Glenorchy Café (The GYC) - we popped in twice for flat whites (and a darn good brownie).

Glenorchy Trading Post – we had some nice flat whites here (and an under-baked muffin). The proprietors also own Kinloch Lodge and the woman who helped us mentioned ‘Kinloch’s Michelin chef’.

Kinloch Lodge, located at the head of Lake Wakatipu, 26 km from Glenorchy – a routine stop for us, although usually just for drinks. We had lunch this time – beer battered snapper for Bill, Kumara and carrot soup for me, one beer, one glass of wine – NZ $70. It was okay, but nothing special. Perhaps that Michelin chef only cooks at dinner? No matter. Kinloch isn’t about food, it’s about those gobsmacking views.

Kinloch is in transition (per the woman at the Glenorchy Trading Post) – they’re going upscale, changing from backpacker type accommodation to fewer rooms. They’ve also added two pricy Eco-Scape units.

Welcome to Kinloch Lodge

Photos here:

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; Jul 24th, 2018 at 03:50 PM.
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