South Island Trip Report

Jan 29th, 2006, 05:04 AM
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South Island Trip Report

We've just returned from a month in Sydney, the South Island of NZ and Fiji. I am going to write three separate trip reports. You can click on our screenname to access the other reports.

We flew from Sydney to Christchurch on Jetstar and had no problems. They assign seats for international flights and we had the first row. We had no problems at customs and got through very quickly. We picked up our Avis rental Toyota Camry and started our drive to Kaikoura. Tim drove the entire trip and didn't have problems driving on the left. The roads are very well-marked and in excellent condition.

We stopped for lunch at Waipara Springs winery (recommended) on the way to Kaikoura. In Kaikoura we stayed at the Anchor Inn Motel (recommended) in room 11. We had fish and chips and Speights Gold Medal Ale at Adelphi. We visited the seal colony at sunset and took some great photos.

Up at 4am for the 5:30am dolphin swim with Dolphin Encounter (recommended). We saw hundreds of dolphins and they were very playful. I was impressed with the operation and their concern for the dolphins. I wore a seasickness patch and was glad I did. We drove to Hanmer Springs and stayed at the Settlers Inn Motel (recommended) in room 2. We had lunch at the Alpine Village Inn and played the slot machines. We visited the thermal springs that evening but didn't stay long. I thought it was very "cement" and it felt like we were in big hot tubs. Very different from other hot springs we've been to. We had dinner at Malabar (highly recommended) which ended up being one of our favorite meals on the trip. Overall, I wouldn't really suggest staying in Hanmer Springs unless you need a place to stop between Kaikoura and the west coast-- which we did. We liked the motel and the town but loved other places in NZ much more.

The next day we left at 10am for our drive to the glaciers. The drive to Westport was very easy and we had lunch at Freckles Cafe. We drove down the west coast through beautiful scenery to Punakaiki. We were lucky enough to arrive within 1/2 hour of high tide and really enjoyed the Pancake Rocks (highly recommended). We continued our drive down the west coast to Franz Josef and checked in to the Punga Grove Motel. We had a luxury studio suite and it was fabulous-- our favorite room of the trip. They have heated everything-- towel bars, floors, a fireplace, etc. Everything was top notch and the hosts were friendly too. Highly recommended! We had dinner at the Blue Ice Cafe (recommended). The weather was overcast and drizzling and we just "knew" our heli-hike would be cancelled... BUT

We woke up to clear, blue skies! The heli-hike was on. We used the Helicopter Line and had an AMAZING time. The helicopter ride up to the glacier was really fun in itself and the scenery was gorgeous. The hike was more strenuous than expected but fine for us. We were glad we booked the morning heli-hike because while we were up on the glacier the clouds moved in and the afternoon heli-hikes were likely cancelled. This was one of our best times in NZ-- highly recommended! Good luck with the weather for any future attempts! We had lunch at The Landing and dinner at the Blue Ice Cafe again. We joked that we will likely not return to Franz Josef because any future visits could not "live up to" the great time we had there and the perfect weather.

We left at 10am the next day for Queenstown. We stopped in Haast for lunch-- unless we missed something, there isn't much in Haast. We stopped in Wanaka at Puzzling World (not really recommended) and at the Kawarau bungy site. Tim signed up for a bungy jump the next day. We arrived at Brown's Boutique Hotel and checked in. (Highly recommended). The host was very friendly and the location was excellent.

We had dinner at Little India and took the gondola up to Bob's Peak. (Highly recommended). I took 3 rides on the luge. Tim is 6'4" and was way too tall to fit in the luge, but he took the chairlift to the top with me and then walked down from there. The views from the top of the chairlift are amazing, and the chairlift is free. I would recommend sticking to the scenic route on the luge unless you are a total daredevil. The other route was way too fast for me and I squeaked my brakes the entire way down! We went to the bar and had some drinks for an hour and enjoyed the view.
Tim_and_Liz is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 05:23 AM
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We had a wonderful breakfast at the hotel and headed back to the Kawarau bungy site. Tim jumped and really enjoyed it. The photos are great. It is a very efficient operation and jumps occur every couple minutes. There are a few viewing areas if you just want to watch and not jump!

We went to the Gibbston Valley Winery and Cheesery next. We signed up for the 12pm winery tour. The famed restaurant didn't open until noon, so we had a cheese platter at the cheesery. We enjoyed our time at both the cheesery and winery-- recommended. Back to Queenstown for the 2pm TSS Earnslaw and Walter Peak Farm Tour. (It sounds like a rushed day but we really weren't.) The TSS Earnslaw is a beautiful old steamship. I would personally not recommend just taking the boat ride though-- you should get the farm tour. We arrived at Walter Peak and had a tour of the farm-- mostly sheep, some cows and deer. We had afternoon tea which was surprisingly good. There was a sheep shearing demonstration and a sheep dog demonstration. We loved the dogs and what they could do to the sheep only using their eyes (no barking). Recommended.

That evening we went to the Minus 5 ice bar (a total tourist trap but we enjoyed it nonetheless). Dinner at Wai followed. The food and service were excellent. The TSS Earnslaw was docked the entire time though so we didn't have much of a water view.

We had to leave rather early the next morning for Glenorchy and our host prepared a big tray of breakfast food for us. The drive to Glenorchy was windy and slow but the scenery was absolutely stunning. We did enjoy the Dart River Safari-- first we boarded a bus and drove through Glenorchy and local farms. We then took a short hike through native forest and then boarded the jetboats. We had perfect weather and it was a nice day. The jetboats were not scary in the least bit. It was like riding in a speedboat but with an occasional spin. We didn't really care for the boat ride but it did get us into remote areas with awesome views of the mountains. (The Shotover Jetboat operation was shut down the entire time we were in Queenstown so we couldn't have taken it if we had tried.)

We drove from Glenorchy to Te Anau and checked in to the Cambell Autolodge (recommended). The room was huge and the kitchen had new appliances and was well outfitted. It was definitely the cleanest room I have ever stayed in. One of the hosts, Barry, is a regular on this board. All of the hosts were very helpful in arranging our Real Journeys excursions and recommending places to eat. We took the 8:15pm glowworm tour and were surprised at how great it was. The rushing water through the caves and how close we got was great! In the US, that tour would be completely ruined by frivolous lawsuits and too many guardrails. In Te Anau, it was a unique experience that we will never forget. We had drinks at the Moose bar and headed to bed.

The next day we left about noon for our drive to Milford. We stopped at Mirror Lakes and were lucky-- the water was still flat. We stopped for a couple more photo ops and got through the Homer tunnel no problem. We took the walk to the Chasm and recommend it. The 2:45pm Mitre Peak boat was full so we signed up for the Red Boat at 3pm. I haven't yet mentioned that it was overcast, foggy and completely pouring the entire time we were in Milford Sound. We couldn't really see Mitre Peak due to the fog. Tim thought I was crazy to want to go on the boat since the visibility was so low, but I thought, hey, we're here. We did enjoy the boat ride and the waterfalls were incredible!! We were drenched though. We have great rain jackets but should have brought rain pants. We did the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory and really enjoyed it, but we're both biology nuts. Recommended for anyone into sea life and ecology. Dinner at La Toscana was very good.
Tim_and_Liz is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 05:39 AM
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Sorry, that's the Campbell Autolodge-- I have to learn to edit my posts before posting!

We drove to Manapouri to check in for our overnight Doubtful Sound cruise. It was again POURING rain. We were still waterlogged from the Milford Sound adventure and honestly were dreading another day/night filled with rain. Especially since it was so expensive. Luckily or unluckily, our Doubtful Sound overnight cruise was cancelled because the road from the power station to Doubtful Sound washed out due to all the rain. (I told you it was raining a lot....) The people who had taken the overnight cruise the night before were stuck on the sound and would need to be helicoptered out. But the visibility was so low that the helicopters couldn't fly... I wonder what ever happened about that?? They said that parts of Milford Road were washed out too. Real Journeys was extremely efficient and helpful in refunding our money and helping people find accommodation in Te Anau or Queenstown or wherever they needed to go. We decided to go to Dunedin a day early. I was disappointed that we didn't get to experience Doubtful Sound-- but next time, right? When we have our full rain suits with us.

We drove from Manapouri to Dunedin and the drive was as boring as everyone says it is. We were surprised at how big Dunedin was. We stayed at 97 Motel Moray on the octagon and recommend it. Spend the extra $20 for the Executive Suite. The first night we stayed in a regular room ($99) and the following two nights in the Executive Suite ($120) which was much bigger. The bathrooms were great.

We loved Dunedin. It was great being in an actual city with kiwis after spending so much time with other tourists. We had dinner at the Terrace restaurant and then had drinks and played the slots at the Flying Scotsman. The following day we wandered around and took the Speights Brewery Tour (recommended). The tour was well-done and included some New Zealand and Dunedin history. We had lunch at the Speights Ale House and dinner at the Indian Summer restaurant across the street from our motel.

Our last day in New Zealand, we had lunch at the Terrace restaurant again. Elm Wildlife Tours picked us up from our motel at 3:45pm and we headed out to the peninsula. I would not have wanted to drive on the peninsula-- the roads are very windy and along the water. We took the Monarch cruise to see the albatross and both got a bit seasick-- the waves were huge! Not recommended if you tend toward sea sickness. Elm picked us back up and we drove through the peninsula to a sheep farm where we could see the penguins. The hike down to the beach (and especially back up) was relatively strenuous and I would not recommend this tour for people who aren't in shape. We saw Hooker Sea Lions and several (like 20?) yellow-eyed penguins. We enjoyed it very much. Unfortunately, a crazy storm moved in. Torrential rain and wind gusts that almost blew me away. The guide said she hadn't seen anything like it before! Again, we got SOAKED (especially our legs). My shoes were soaked and covered with sheep manure and I actually threw them out. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant on the octagon-- Etrusco or something? -- and it was very good.

We flew Air NZ the next morning to Christchurch. We rebooked our bags with Qantas and walked to the Antarctic Centre. We enjoyed the Antarctic Centre but again we're science nuts. I thought it was pricey for what was offered-- definitely get the audio phone if you go. We flew Christchurch to Auckland and then on to Nadi, Fiji.

We really loved the South Island. Our favorite parts were Franz Josef, Queenstown, and Fiordland. If/when we return, I think we will likely fly into Queenstown and spend all our time there and in Fiordland. And we'll bring full rain gear ;-)

Thank you to everyone who assisted us in planning this amazing vacation. We had a wonderful time!
Tim_and_Liz is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 05:41 AM
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Loving your report so far! We leave a week from today!!
My husband and I want to do to the Kawarau bungy jump together (it's one of the only ones I've heard of that you can go two at a time) What did Tim think of it? Crazy scary...worth it?
I'm guessing your Doubtful Sound cruise report is coming up later??
Looking forward to more!!
Thanks for all the info so far!
luv2globetrot is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 05:51 AM
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Hi Lisa!
We didn't see anyone double-up on the bungy but I think it is possible. Tim definitely thought it was worth it. He is so happy he did it and can't wait to go again sometime. The location with the bridge and the river is beautiful in itself. Let us know how it goes.
I hope you have better luck than we did with the Doubtful Sound overnight! We hope to get there next time.
You are going to have an incredible time in NZ. The scenery is just awesome and everyone is very friendly and accommodating.
Tim_and_Liz is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 06:20 AM
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Wow! I'm worn out just reading about your exciting trip. As I am doing, you will relive the trip many times in the future.
Jed is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 06:23 AM
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Tim & Liz and Lov2,

Yes, it is possible to tandem bumgey and it's AWESOME! In fact, I have a picture of my husband and I on my website (admittedly, we almost look like one person because we are clinging to each other for dear life!)

I could have "rented him out", as there were several girls waiting to go and saying "ooh, you're so lucky - you have someone to hang onto on the way down!"

Possible new career there...Bungey Escort!


Certified Kiwi Specialist
wlzmatilida is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 06:28 AM
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Hi Liz:
Loved your trip report. I'm in my planning stages and will definetly look into the places/tours you & Tim went to & recommend. The motels that you stayed in... is it in NZ or USD? I just want to get a good idea how much lodging is going to be. Are there any larger chain hotels in S island or is it mostly motels/bed & breakfast?Thanks so much!
sammyc is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 07:03 AM
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I must've been typing my post about the Doubtful Sound question while you were posting your report
Sorry to hear about all the rain and the cancellation of your seem to have taken it very well...not sure if I'd be so good about it, but not really much you can do about it I guess. But it sure sounds like a great trip overall!
Thanks for the bungy info! I want to do it so bad and just hope I don't chicken out Believe it or not, hubby is more worried about it than I am!
One more question, though: We're not too keen on the 15lb carry-on and 44lb per person checked baggage limit on Air you know if they enforce this?
Also, we haven't booked the Elm wildlife tour because I'm still contemplating just doing Penguin Place and the Albatross Colony on our you think the Elm tour is a must? I really want to see penguins in the wild!!!!
Again, thanks for taking the time to write your report! All your posts have been extremely helpful over the last few months!
I'll be sure to write a report, too.
Oh,'s the jet lag?????
luv2globetrot is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 07:19 AM
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The prices are in NZ$. There are larger hotel chains in most towns/cities but we tried to seek out the smaller motels. The only place that included breakfast was Browns Boutique Hotel in Queenstown, and the other motels all had kitchenettes. We found that most of the chain hotels had tourbuses (many times of Japanese tourists) and we preferred to stay at the locally-owned places.

Lisa- We were slightly over the baggage limit (limit of 20kg or 44 lbs and we were at 22-23 kg) and they let it go. Tim heard the gate agent tell another couple that they allow an extra 5kg for free. 25kg is 55lbs. You really don't need to bring that many clothes or shoes though--my recommendation is to pack light!

As for the cabin baggage, we never had to weigh our daypacks but saw passengers with rolling suitcases had to weigh theirs.

I would definitely recommend the Elm Wildlife tour. We didn't go to the Albatross or Penguin centers so it's hard to say which is better, but with Elm you are literally in the wild. They have hides built to see the penguins but otherwise it is 100% natural.

The jet lag coming home has been awful. Luckily Tim had another 9 days off, he goes back to work on Tuesday, and I am a grad student with an extremely flexible schedule. We were sleeping from 4am to noon most of the week. We have been trying to get back on track and I think we're finally ok. How many days do you have between your return and going back to work?

Tim_and_Liz is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 08:07 AM
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luv - We were 2 couples and took one internal flight each on Qantas and ANZ. Each of us checked one bag, largest 26", all which weighed under 44#. I think you will find that it is hard to pack 44# in a 26" suitcase. And you don't need anything more, especially if you wear all the heavy stuff (boots, dungarees, coat).

Our carry-ons were not weighed, and we had more than one each. I guess we were lucky not to have any problem. It may be just chance when they weigh the bags.

Jed is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 09:31 AM
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Thanks Liz and Jed for the baggage info. We are definitely trying to pack light...I was even considering not bringing a second pair of shoes and just wearing my Merrell hiking shoes the entire time, but after hearing about how wet you can get I'm thinking of throwing in an extra pair. It helps knowing that they may let an extra 5 pounds slide.
As for the jet lag, we get back home in the late afternoon on a Tuesday and are supposed to be back at work on Friday afternoon (my husband and I are both air traffic controllers so we work shift work and have pretty crazy hours). I did actually take a couple of more days off just in case (meaning I wouldn't have to back til Sunday morning), but I was just going to see how I felt on Friday.
What about when you got to Austrailia (wasn't that the first leg of your trip, Liz?) We arrive in Auckalnd at 11am and will spend the night there and then take a flight to Dunedin at noon the next day. I'm hoping we're not walking around like zombies
Thanks for the info on the Elm tour. I was thinking of taking the sunset tour. I wonder if you need to book in advance?
Thanks again!
luv2globetrot is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 01:06 PM
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Congrats on your good luck at the glaciers, and condolences on Fiordland. West Coast/ Fiordland is iffy, any time of year.

Curious as to the route from Manapouri to Dunedin that you did not enjoy, I assume it was inland and not the Southern Scenic/Catlins.

I found a DOC news release about the washout. Sounds like it was sunny the next day. Fyi:
mlgb is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 02:06 PM
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Liz, fabulous trip report! Now I really, really want to go to the South Island.

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 02:09 PM
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Tim & Liz write:
"We drove from Manapouri to Dunedin and the drive was as boring as everyone says it is."
The Alternative: through the CATLINS
is maybe my favourite road (+ side short walks) in NZ. simply fantastic !!!
aby is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 04:46 PM
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Loved your trip report. We leave for the South Island in less than a month.
Some questions: What did you wear on your heli hike of the glacier?
Was your original plan to do both the Milford Sound and the Doubtful Sound in one day?
How long does it take to get from Glenorchy to Te Anau? Do you have to go back through Queenstown? Thanks.

Pawleys is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 04:54 PM
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Liz -

Thoroughly enjoyed your trip report - glad you had nice weather for the helihike. It took us three visits to the glaciers before we had good enough weather to take the helihike, but it was the highlight of that particular trip.

How did you like Little India? It's one of our favorite restaurants in NZ.

Looking forward to your next installment.
Melnq8 is online now  
Jan 29th, 2006, 08:30 PM
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Lisa- we had absolutely NO jet lag upon arriving in Australia. I think it was due to our flight times-- we left LA at 10:30pm and arrived in Sydney at 8:30am two days later. So we slept on the plane and had no problems.
Definitely book the Elm tour in advance. You will not regret it, I am sure. And you will leave the windy Otago driving up to a local!

I didn't mean to offend anyone about the drive from Manapouri to Dunedin. Yes, we took the inland route. I had read on here that the drive was quite boring, and we felt that it was. A nice change from the curvy mountain and west coast driving, no complaints!! We know we could have taken the Catlins route, but again we were totally waterlogged and were ready to get to Dunedin. Plus we had seen quite a bit of wildlife already and knew the Elm Wildlife tour was ahead for us.

Pawleys-- on the heli-hike, we wore workout pants, a short-sleeved t-shirt, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and a lined raincoat. The Helicopter Line supplied us with boots, crampons, gloves and hats. Due to the bright sun and clear skies (again, no complaints!) we were really hot and wished we had worn fewer layers. But the weather changes so quickly, you never know.
No, we had not planned to see both sounds in one day. We drove roundtrip from Te Anau to Milford Sound one day, and planned to board the Doubtful Sound overnight cruise the following day. I believe it is impossible to do both sounds in one day.
To get from Glenorchy to Te Anau, you have to go back through Queenstown. I think it was probably a 3-4 hour drive, but we stopped for lunch in Queenstown. Maybe someone else would know better? I know it is a 1 hour drive from Glenorchy to Queenstown, and then add on the driving time to Te Anau. The driving was relatively difficult (winding and slow) on the way to Glenorchy.

Melnq8-- Many of the places we stayed and of course Little India were due to your fabulous trip reports. So thanks. I told Tim when we were at Little India that Mel in Kuwait recommended it. We love Indian food and don't have many Indian restaurants here in Minnesota! Thanks again for your tips.
Tim_and_Liz is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 10:00 PM
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Liz - glad I could help. I no longer live in Kuwait (now it's Indonesia) and I could really go for some good Indian food right about now!
Melnq8 is online now  
Jan 30th, 2006, 04:33 AM
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Loved your trip report Tim and Liz. We're in our final planning stages and leave for NZ in 3 weeks. I've found this website so useful - so thanks for everybody's contributions. Quick question about the helihike - how long were you hiking for? You mentioned it was quite strenuous - do you have to be really fit to walk it?
dmjapril is offline  

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