Trip Report - South Island - 28 Days

Nov 7th, 2003, 03:48 AM
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Trip Report - South Island - 28 Days

WARNING: Despite several revisions, this report is still very long. If you'd like the even longer version, which includes details of our flights, further impressions of specific restaurants and lodging, travel distances, what things cost (gas, internet access, laundry, etc), feel free to e-mail me at [email protected] and I'll send you a copy.

I'll try to post this in sections - hopefully, it will work.

This trip was taken from September 1- 30th, 2003 (inclusive of travel time from the Middle East). All prices given are in NZ dollars unless indicated otherwise.

About us:

We're a married couple in our mid forties. We're American, but currently live in Kuwait. We've been fortunate to travel extensively and our favorite destinations are Switzerland and New Zealand.

This was our fifth trip to New Zealand, so we went to some areas that were new to us, as well as places we'd been before. Four of our five visits have been limited to the South Island, as it's our favorite.

We're outdoorsy types, but we're not backpackers or campers (anymore). We prefer to take day hikes/walks, followed by a hot shower, a nice glass of wine and a comfortable bed.

Flights: Purchased Business Class around-the-world tickets with airlines participating in the Star Alliance. This is the best way for us to visit both NZ and the US from the Middle East.

Routing: Kuwait-Dubai-Bangkok-Singapore-Christchurch-Queenstown-Auckland-AZ-CO-Frankfurt-Kuwait.

We left Kuwait on Thai Airways for the 90 minute flight to Dubai. After a 40 minute layover, we re-boarded our plane for the 6-1/2 hour flight to Bangkok.

We arrived in Bangkok, where we checked into the Amari Hotel, which is located right in the Bangkok Airport. We'd booked a day room online in advance (US $93).

Upon our departure from Bangkok we had a surprise - a 500 Baht departure tax per person - about US $25 for two.

We then caught our short flight (less than two hours) to Singapore via Singapore Air.

We arrived in Singapore around 6 pm and spent a few hours in the Silver Kris lounge before our 9 pm flight to Christchurch.

Day 1 -

We finally arrived in Christchurch where we were greeted with 50 degree temps, which felt like heaven after the 117 degrees we'd left behind in Kuwait.

We were met at the Christchurch airport by a representative from National who took us to their office to collect our car. Although we'd requested a four door Camry, we were given a 4WD Suzuki Grand Vitara. We agreed to swap cars when we arrived in Picton.

We then headed to Hanmer Springs via SH 1 and 7, which took about 90 minutes.

We checked into the Settlers' Inn Motel, where we were given the same room we had last year. Once again, we were not disappointed. Our room was incredibly quiet, nicely appointed and we're still talking about how comfortable the bed was. We'd originally booked a one bedroom unit for $135, but were upgraded upon our arrival to the Honeymoon Suite, which usually rents for $145 off season.

Tired and jet lagged, we concentrated on just staying awake for the next few hours. We were in bed by 7:30 pm.

Day 2 -

We woke to a beautiful day. We went to the tourist office and purchased a hiking map (50 cents), then hiked to Mt. Isobel (2:40 return). This is a nice hike - it's steep in places and there are a few rocks to scramble over, but it's worth the effort. We returned to town via the Spur Track. After lunch and checking our e-mail at the library, we returned to our motel and spent that evening relaxing in our room, too tired to even venture out for dinner.

Day 3 -

We walked to the top of Conical Hill. The start of the path was a 15 minute walk from our motel. Then it was an hour up and back. Despite the gloomy weather, there was a nice view of the village from the top of the hill.

We then decided to check out the Hanmer Springs Ski Field. There's a $10 charge for non-skiers to use the road, which is payable once you arrive at the top. The road was dirt and mud and we were glad to have a 4WD. Once at the top, we found the ski area, which consisted of two lifts and four employees. We were greeted by a very friendly ski instructor from Switzerland, who chatted with us a bit and told us that the ski area attracts 6-8 skiers on weekdays and about 30 skiers on the weekends.

We returned to Hanmer Springs, where we had a good lunch at Keith's Café.

We spent that evening at the Thermal Reserve, where we rented a private thermal suite. Private suites rent for $17 per person for 30 minutes. The cost also entitles you to free run of the public thermal pools. Our motel provided extra towels free of charge.

After a quick dinner at the Hot Springs Hotel we returned to our motel.

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Nov 7th, 2003, 03:55 AM
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Day 4 ?

We left Hanmer Springs and headed to Kaikoura. The drive was winding and incredibly scenic. We drove by Mt. Lyford Ski Field, which was about 90 minutes from Hanmer Springs.

We continued on SH 1 to Kaikoura, then on to Blenheim. Once there, we stopped at our favorite Blenheim establishment for lunch ? Plaza India. Good food! The drive from Hanmer Springs to Blenheim took us about 4 hours including stops.

We then headed to Picton, 25 km from Blenheim, where we?d arranged to meet a National representative to swap out our 4WD for a Toyota Camry.

After checking our e-mail and a quick stop at a local pub, we drove from Picton to Punga Cove Resort in the Marlborough Sounds.

Punga Cove Resort is accessible by boat and car. It lies near Endeavour Inlet, which is a two hour drive from Picton along a narrow, very curvy road.

We finally arrived at Punga Cove at 6:45 pm. We?d requested a self-contained unit, but these units were not available at the time, so we were given Chalet #5. $124 ? off season.

Brutally honest comments about Punga Cove Resort:

This was a much anticipated stop on our trip, but it turned out to be a huge disappointment. We?d selected Punga Cove based on their location right on the Queen Charlotte Track, their reputation for good food and their promising website, which turned out to be quite misleading.

Our chalet was a cramped A-frame in desperate need of an overhaul. There was a tiny, overly soft, double bed that listed to one side and was so short our feet hung off the end (I?m 5?5 and my husband is 5?9).

The shower had absolutely no water pressure ? it was a mere drizzle. The resort acknowledged that water pressure was a problem during peak periods. We showered outside these times, and even though there were only a handful of other guests, water was virtually non-existent.

The resort was sold to new owners 18 months before our visit, and I assume this was a factor. The entire place seemed really disorganized.

Suffice it to say that Punga Cove Resort was not what we expected and it was the low point of our trip.

We had dinner and drinks in the Punga Fern restaurant the evening we arrived. There was a large party dining there as well, so service was quite slow (only four employees working). It was a set menu, only two choices. Our meal was disappointing.

Day 5 ?

We left Punga Cove around 9 am and walked the 11.5 km on the Queen Charlotte Track to Furneaux Lodge. This section of the track was level for the most part and a tad bit muddy. We saw quite a few weka and thoroughly enjoyed the scenery. We saw only three other trampers during the entire walk. It took us 3:45 to reach Furneaux Lodge, where we stopped for lunch before returning to Punga via water taxi (the Cougar Line - $5 each - 10 minute return via boat).

Having not been impressed with our dinner the previous night, we?d arranged to have dinner at the Portage resort, which was a 30 minute drive from Punga Cove.

Our dinner at the Portage was excellent - dinner, drinks and shared dessert came to $68.

Day 6 ?

We woke to gloom and rain. We had coffee on our balcony and watched the amazing amount of birdlife. There was no improvement in the water pressure. We?d hoped to walk more of the Queen Charlotte Track, but were deterred by the weather. Instead, we took the road to Titrangi Farm Park where we got a different view of the sounds. We then drove the road to Anakoha, before returning to Punga for lunch.

We?d inquired about lunch at reception, and were told to go on up to the restaurant. When we arrived, the place was dark and there was no one in sight. After about 15 minutes, the cook immerged from the kitchen and asked what we?d like for lunch. No menu. We determined that they had soup and toasted sandwiches, so that?s what we had.

Dinner was yet another strange experience. We arrived to find a long table set up in the middle of the restaurant. We sat at a table for two, thinking the long table was reserved for a group. We were then told by the cook to move to the long table, as we were meant to sit with the other guests and employees. We were then brought dinner, no menu, no choice.

The food was okay, nothing great. We had no idea what we?d be charged for lunch or dinner until we checked out. As it turned out, it was a set price despite what we did or didn?t have.

Day 7 ?

We couldn?t leave Punga Cove fast enough. We took Queen Charlotte Drive towards Havelock then continued on SH 6 to Havelock and Nelson; headed to Takaka in Golden Bay.

The sun was out and it was a gorgeous, chilly day. We drove through Canvastown, and over the Pelorous River. We drove through the Rai Forest, continuing on SH 6 through Nelson, then picked up 60 near Hope. We stopped for lunch at the Mapua Nature Smoke, aka, the Smokehouse, one of our favorite NZ restaurants.

After lunch, we continued on 60 through Ruby Bay towards Motueka. We passed vineyards, orchards, the low tide mudflats near Tasman and countless arts and crafts shops. We continued on to Takaka via 60 and Takaka Hill, passing more vineyards, orchards and hops fields. The journey from Punga Cove to Takaka took us 8 hours, including stops.

We checked into our Takaka accommodation, Ashlea Downs, a self-contained cottage located on a beef and dairy farm minutes from town. Ashlea Downs was everything Punga Cove was not; spacious, warm, immaculate, and fully self contained. It had two bedrooms, a huge bathroom with a large shower, and yes, water pressure! It was a huge improvement and restored my faith in NZ accommodation ? - $100 per night in off season.

After drinks at the local pub, we had dinner at the Junction Hotel. Everything else seemed to be closed, and our first impression of Takaka, was that of a sleepy, one horse town.
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Nov 7th, 2003, 04:04 AM
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Day 8

We drove via Motupipi and Pohara to the Totaranui Visitors Center, the starting point of the Abel Tasman Track. We walked to Awaroa Bay (estuary crossing) then doubled back (2:45 return). We saw about 15 other people on the track. It was a gorgeous walk.

We stopped in Pohara for a late lunch at the Penguin Café (good food). After lunch we drove to Collingwood, literally the end of the line. Here we signed up for a tour of Farewell Spit the following morning. We returned to Pohara at dusk, where we unsuccessfully looked for penguins along the penguin crossing. We shared a dish of Thai chicken curry at the Penguin Café (yummy) before returning to our cottage.

Day 9

After breakfast at the Wholemeal Café in Takaka, we headed to Collingwood for our tour with Farewell Spit Nature Tours ($75 each for 7.5 hour tour and lunch). We met at the tour office at 10:30am and boarded a massive 4WD vehicle. Our first stop was Pillar Point, which offered spectacular views of the spit. We then went to Cape Farewell, the northernmost part of the South Island. We continued on to the Cape Farewell Spit Visitors Center (Puponga), where we stopped for lunch.

We then drove onto Farewell Spit. Our first stop on the spit was Fossil Point, where we saw three seals basking on the rocks. Tim, our driver and guide, pointed out various bird species as we continued the tour. Farewell Spit is open to freedom walkers only to the 4 km marker, after which it becomes private/tour access only.

Strangely enough, when we stopped to climb the sand dunes, we saw a baby seal immerge from the dunes and proceed to hide under the tour bus, where it was warm. The seal would not leave, so Tim was forced to chase it out from under the bus before we were able to move on. Pretty incredible!

We proceeded toward the end of the spit, watching the gannet colony from afar. Once at the end of the spit, we parked near the lighthouse, which is located in an oasis-like, protected grassy area. It seemed odd to find this patch of green in the middle of the barren spit. And there was no wind here, quite a contrast from the cold, howling wind we had dealt with all day. We stopped here to climb the lighthouse, walk to the other side of the spit, and have a cup of tea and a snack.

Along the trip we met three other couples, all Kiwis from the North Island. It was a fascinating and eventful day, and I highly recommend this tour.

The tour ended in Collingwood at 6 pm. From here, we returned to Takaka, where we had another good meal at the Wholemeal Café.

Day 10

We left Takaka via 60, and Takaka Hill. We stopped at Marahau, gateway to Abel Tasman National Park. We took a short walk before continuing our drive toward Motueka via Kaiteriteri. We?d never been to Kaiteriteri, but we were immediately taken with it. It is gorgeous!

We arrived at our accommodation in Riwaka (near Motueka) around noon. As we pulled into the driveway we saw a chalkboard with our names on it, welcoming us to The Blue Moon ($100 per night, room only rate, low season).

The Blue Moon is a guest room attached to the home of owners Jane and Anna.

I found the Blue Moon as I found our other accommodation, via the Internet. And what a find this was! The guest room is completely private, with its own parking space and entrance. It is very spacious, with high ceilings, and beautifully decorated with great attention to detail. It is an ideal setting for a honeymoon or romantic getaway.

Oh yeah, can not forget the piece de resistance, the bathroom, complete with sunken tub, private fern garden, bathrobes, bath salts and candles.

After getting settled, we drove into Motueka for a quick lunch at the Swinging Sultan (great kebabs). We made a stop at the tourist office to collect a winery map, and a very helpful employee was kind enough to help us make dinner reservations that night at Flax (another favorite restaurant in Mapua).

Armed with our winery map, we visited the Kahurangi Estate and the Neudorf Vineyard, where we sampled a few wines, and made a more than a few purchases.

That night we had dinner at Flax in Mapua, another restaurant we had discovered in 2002. Excellent food. Dinner for two with drinks came to $60.
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Nov 7th, 2003, 04:08 AM
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Day 11

We spent the morning in Motueka, had a disappointing lunch at the Bakehouse Café, then headed to Nelson via 60, to visit the Wearable Arts Complex ( The $15 admission also included entry into the attached car museum. The Nelson Arts Festival was underway, and the 2003 Wearable Arts awards had been presented the night before, so the complex was a bevy of activity.

On our return to Motueka, we stopped briefly at the Hoglund Glass studio and Seifrieds winery.

We dined in our room that evening, courtesy of the Swinging Sultan.

Day 12

We drove the 6 km to Kaiteriteri, where we took the Withalls walk, which began behind the camp ground. It was a 25 minute circuit with nice views over Kaiteriteri Beach. We continued on to Marahau, where we walked the Abel Tasman track as far as Stilwell Bay and back (3:30 hour return, 11 km). It was a beautiful day, 60 degrees, and we saw about 50 other people on the track.

That night we returned to Mapua Nature Smoke for dinner.

Day 13

We left town via the Motueka Valley Highway, passing orchards, snow capped mountains, sheep, red deer farms, meadows, a gorgeous drive! We picked up SH 6, which took us through Kahurangi National Park, crossing the Buller River, and on to Murchison. After a quick lunch stop in Murchison, we continued on SH 6 towards Westport. We picked up 67 just outside of Westport and headed north towards Karamea. Incidentally, 67 was the straightest road we had come across so far. No curves! We passed through several small towns and we were caught off guard when we saw a peacock crossing the highway.

Near Hector, 67 ended, and the road became curvy again. The drive from Motueka to Karamea took us about 5 hours with stops.

Upon our arrival, we checked into our Karamea accommodation, The Last Resort, We were given #29, a spacious two bedroom self-contained cottage with a huge bathroom, well equipped kitchen and living room - $100 per night,low season.

Day 14

There was a wild storm during the night, and we woke to rain. We drove the 16 km to the beginning of the Heaphy Track and decided to take our chances with the weather. Armed with bug repellent we walked the track just beyond the Swanburn Bridge and back (3:15). The day started out rather bleak, but the sun finally came out for awhile, then disappeared again. This portion of the track was easy. We had to climb over rocks and downed trees in spots, but this was my favorite of the tracks we had walked so far. We only saw 8 other trampers.

We returned to our hotel and had lunch in The Last Resort café. We were the only customers and there was not much on the lunch menu, but the food was good.

We made arrangements to take the Honeycomb Cave tour the following day, then drove the 7 km up the Umere Road to the Big Rimu Tree. This tree is 7.3 meters in girth and estimated to be 500 years old. There is a nice path leading to the tree. It is marked a one hour return, but it only took us 35 minutes.

That night we had dinner in the hotel café, just us and four other people in the entire place. The Last Resort has a restaurant as well, but it was not due to open until October. Our dinner was surprisingly good and the portions were huge.
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Nov 7th, 2003, 04:14 AM
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Day 15 -

We drove to Oparara Basin, north of Karamea. The drive took about 50 minutes on a narrow, winding road. We met Thurston, our guide for the Honeycomb Caves, in the parking area. After coating ourselves with bug repellent, we walked the 20 minutes to the DOC hut, then another 10 minutes to the caves.

It was just my husband and I, so we were treated to a very personal, three hour tour ($65 per person). My favorite part was the walk in the pristine forest, an area that had never been logged. Everything was covered in moss and it was sort of spooky. The river was the color of strong tea caused by tannin from the beech trees in the forest. Incidentally, the Oparara Basin is home to a species of carnivorous snail which can be as large as 70mm across (I kid you not).

The Honeycomb Caves are home to Moa bones and other extinct bird species. They consist of 15 km of passages, and contain a vast array of limestone formations. Because the caves are protected, access is by guided tour only.

After our tour we walked to Oparara (Big) Arch, which took us 35 minutes round trip. It was pouring rain by this point, so we skipped Moria Gate Arch and returned to our room to dry off. We had dinner in the hotel café again that night, but this time the place was really hopping.

Day 16

The torrential rain continued. We left Karamea and drove to Westport. We continued on SH 6 towards Greymouth, passing Punakaiki. We stopped in Greymouth for lunch, then continued on SH 6, picking up 73 at Kumara Junction.

We passed through Arthurs Pass National Park and entered North Canterbury. We continued through Arthurs Pass Village, finally reaching some stretches of flat, straight road. The countryside here was flat and brown, fringed by hills and mountains, quite a contrast to all the green we had seen previously.

Eventually the rain stopped, and blue skies, green meadows and thousands of sheep began to reappear. The landscape became progressively greener as we approached Christchurch and we were back in daffodil country. We took SH 1 and 73 through Christchurch, then picked up 75 to Akaroa, which wound through some Christchurch suburbs, then turned into country, wineries, more cows and sheep. We were now on flat, straight open road. We took a break in Little River, before continuing on to Banks Peninsula, arriving 8 hours after leaving Karamea.

Our accommodation was an 1850s cottage on the seafront in Duvauchelle, located 10 km from Akaroa. Owners Beverly and Charlie have lovingly restored the cottage, paying great attention to detail. The Blacksmiths Cottage - $80 per night.

Day 17

We woke to a beautiful day. We drove to Akaroa, where we booked a 1:30 pm harbor cruise on the Canterbury Cat ($39 each) and a 3:45 pm tour of the Pohatu Penguin Reserve ($40).

We spent the morning exploring Akaroa and walked to the lighthouse. We had lunch at Dooberrys, before heading to the wharf. During the cruise we saw Hectors dolphins, white flippered penguins and lots of Japanese tourists.

At 3:45 we were met at the tourist office by our tour guide Shireen Helps, and three Kiwis from the North Island who were also on the tour. We were taken by 4WD onto the Pohatu Marine Reserve. We stopped for photos along the way, and also stopped to feed two lambs that had been born that morning. We were shown the penguin huts that Shireen had built in an attempt to encourage penguins to nest. She lifted the tops of the huts and we were able to view the tiny penguins close-up. We then hid behind some bushes and patiently waited for other penguins to come ashore.

We thoroughly enjoyed this tour, and learned a lot about the plight of the little blue penguin and the white flippered penguin.

After dinner at L Hotel in Akaroa, we returned to our cottage in Duvauchelle.

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Nov 7th, 2003, 04:18 AM
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Day 18 ?

We woke to overcast skies and gale force winds, so we spent the morning in our cottage. We then visited Barry?s Bay Cheese and the French Farm Winery. After a very good lunch at Hotel Duvauchelle, we drove back towards Akaroa, then on to Okain?s Bay Beach Reserve.

Late that afternoon we walked from our cottage to Onawe Peninsula, site of a Maori tribal massacre. This was an excellent walk along a thin section of land protruding into the bay. The 1.5 hour (return) walk became quite steep towards the top, but we were rewarded with incredible views.

Day 19 ?

We left Duvauchelle via 75 to Little River. It had rained throughout the night, and we saw snow on the highest peaks of the peninsula as we left the area.

We picked up SH 1 and headed towards Timaru. We passed several wineries, berry orchards, sheep & dairy farms and even an alpaca stud farm. We had great views of the snow covered mountains as we approached Ashburton, and there were flowers in bloom throughout the town. After a quick lunch stop, we continued on SH 1, eventually picking up 79 at Rangitata. We then passed through Geraldine and continued west on 79, where the landscape eventually changed from farming country to rolling hills and forest. We began to gain elevation as we continued on to Fairlie.

After a quick break in Fairlie at The Old Library Café, we continued on to Lake Tekapo, where we arrived eight hours after leaving Banks Peninsula.

We checked into our Lake Tekapo accommodation, the Rowan Cottage, disappointment #2. Our cottage was well equipped, but extremely cold and rather dumpy. I definitely wouldn?t stay here again - $80 per night, off season.

After picking up a village map and exploring the tiny town, we took Lilybank road along the lake to its end, which was a bit longer than we?d expected. Roundhill Ski Area had gotten 15 cm of snow the previous night, so we headed up there and were rewarded with a great view of Lake Tekapo and the surrounding mountains.

That night we had a good dinner at Pepe?s.

Day 20 ?

When we woke, we could see our breath inside the cottage, so we headed outside where it was a tad bit warmer. We drove the 104 km to Mt. Cook via 8 and 80, passing the glacial blue Lake Pukaki along the way (gorgeous!).

The skies became progressively more overcast as we approached Mt. Cook. As we entered Mt. Cook National Park, it became windy and began to rain. The mountains were obscured by fog, so Mt. Cook looked just like it had the last time we visited, completely invisible! We stopped at the Hermitage Hotel, which had undergone some changes since we stayed there in 1994. We had a drink the hotel bar and lunch in the coffee shop. In the 90 minutes we were there, we saw 9 large tour buses pull into the parking lot.

We drove out to the Tasman Glacier, where we walked to the overlook in the rain (30 minute return).

As we drove back to Lake Tekapo, the skies began to clear and the sun reappeared. The drive from Lake Tekapo took us 90 minutes each way.

After an obligatory stop at the Church of the Good Shepard, we walked along the lake to Pines Beach (1:40 return from our cottage). This was a nice walk in the late afternoon sun.

That evening we dined at the Jade Palace. We were impressed with both the food and the service, as we watched five customers turn to 50 as a bus pulled in. The crowd was handled deftly by one waitress and one cook.

Day 21 ?

Once again we woke to see our breath in the cottage. After warming up with hot chocolate and a fire at the Observatory Café, we walked from the public car park to the top of Mt. John. We picked up the lakeshore trail near the ice rink, walked along the west side of Mt. John, then climbed the circuit track. This was a nice hike, which offered great views of the lake and mountains, lots of tussocks, and a bit more sheep poop than we would have liked.

The first 1/3 of the track was easy and level along the lakeshore, the next 1/3 was uphill and rather steep in spots and the last 1/3 was downhill through a larch forest.

The hike took us 3.5 hours, but you can save 25 minutes each way by driving to the trail head car park and beginning there. We only saw 3 other people on the hike.

After lunch, we drove from Lake Tekapo to Godley Peak Station, turning around when it became private property. This is a very pretty drive. We then drove out to Lake Alexandrina and Lake McGregor. We came across a herd of freshly shorn sheep that were being returned to the pasture by three sheep dogs and a guy on a quad ? it was really fun to watch.

We returned to the Jade Palace that night for dinner.

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Nov 7th, 2003, 04:27 AM
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Day 22

We left Lake Tekapo via 8 towards Twizel. It was a beautiful clear day, so we decided to give Mt. Cook another try. We encountered a herd of sheep on the highway with 5-6 barking sheep dogs. Great photo op!

We stopped at the Hermitage for photos of Mt. Cook. Yes! It was clear and the views were awesome. This little side trip added 90 minutes to an already long drive day, but it was definitely worth it.

We continued on 8 towards Twizel and Queenstown. As we passed the Lake Ohau turnoff, we decided to take another detour. We had originally planned to stay at Lake Ohau instead of Lake Tekapo, so we were curious about the place.

It was 25 km from the turnoff to Ohau Lodge. There were gorgeous views of the mountains and lake and many walking tracks.

We returned to 8, where we headed towards Omarama, then on to Cromwell, passing some interesting rock formations along the way. The landscape here was brown and dry, not the green we?d become accustomed to. As we crossed the tussock covered hills of Lindis Pass, snow covered peaks began to appear, and we entered Central Otago. The landscape gradually became greener, and sheep were a constant feature. We entered the Otago Goldfields Heritage area, passing some newly developed vineyards. We passed Lake Dunstan and turned on to 8B to Cromwell, where we were met with a huge fruit display as we entered town.

We stopped for lunch at the Pisa Café in the Golden Gate Lodge, where we discovered a nice chardonnay, so we decided to visit a few wineries in the area before moving on.

We visited Olssens of Bannockburn and Mt. Difficulty winery, before continuing towards Queenstown.

We passed the Roaring Meg Scenic Reserve, and the Kawarau Suspension Bridge, home of A.J. Hackett Bungy. We also passed many wineries and red deer farms. We entered Franktown, then turned on 6 towards Te Anau, crossing the Kawarau River and passing the Remarkables Ski Area. We continued on SH 6, then turned onto 94 at Mossburn.

We arrived in Te Anau 8.5 hours after leaving Lake Tekapo. We checked into The Explorer Motor Lodge. This place was perfect - warm, comfy, spacious, immaculate, did I mention warm? - $90 per night for studio unit off season.

We walked to town and had a good dinner at La Toscana Pizzeria and Spaghetteria.

Day 23

We woke to partly sunny skies, so we decided to head to Milford Sound via 94. We were told by the owner of our motel that the road would close at 4 pm and all cars were required to carry chains due to weather concerns.

The drive was gorgeous, with snow covered peaks, pastures with thousands of sheep, and heavily wooded forests. We entered Fiordland National Park where we saw several rock falls and small landslides alongside the road due to the heavy rain the previous night. We passed through a glacial valley, the flat matted grass a sharp contrast to the looming mountains overhead.

The road to Milford had been closed for five days prior to our visit due to avalanche danger.

We passed several lakes and the road became more winding and narrow. We began to descend, all the while surrounded by forest, mountains and waterfalls. We entered a 17 km non-stopping area and snow began to appear on the sides of the road. It became overcast and we began to see sections of forest where trees had been knocked over by avalanches. We drove through several areas where snow from avalanches had covered the road, then been plowed through. Soon there was snow everywhere. We entered a long tunnel so dark that our low beams were of no use. We began a steep decent and it started to rain as we entered Milford Sound, arriving 1 hour and 40 minutes after leaving Te Anau.

We parked and walked to the Visitor?s Center, swatting sand flies on the way, then purchased tickets for a cruise that left 15 minutes later (The Red Boat - $45 per person, 1.5 hour cruise). It was cold and windy, but we rode on top of the boat anyway, hoping for the best views.

Milford was just as we had left it years before, completely shrouded in clouds and fog. We did see several seals on rocks in the distance and a couple of huge waterfalls, but not much else. Our boat captain told us Milford has 200 days of sunshine a year, but I have my doubts.

On our return drive, it began to rain in earnest and we saw a spectacular waterfall at Falls Creek, right next to the road.

That evening we had dinner delivered to our motel from La Toscana.

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Nov 7th, 2003, 04:44 AM
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Day 24

We woke to more rain, and were glad we had gone to Milford the previous day. We explored Te Anau and watched a slide show on Fiordland at the DOC. We discovered that the Milford Track was closed, as were sections of the Kepler and Routeburn tracks.

After lunch we drove to Lake Manapouri, then to Lake Monowai, where we visited the power house and the switch yard (hubby likes that stuff).

We returned to Te Anau, where we had dinner at Keplers.

Day 25

This being our day of departure, we woke to sunshine (figures) and actually saw the gardens and the distant mountains from our motel balcony.

When we checked out, we were told that the Milford Sound cruises had been cancelled the day before (due to wind) for only the second time in years. The road to Milford had also been closed 15 days in September, which was apparently quite unusual.

We left Te Anau and headed to Queenstown via 94. At Mossburn we cut across to SH 6, and passed the Kingston Flyer (steam train) along the way. We drove along the east side of gorgeous Lake Wakatipu, arriving in Queenstown just before noon (two hour drive from Te Anau) and checked into Villa Del Lago, where we had reserved unit #15.

We discovered Villa Del Lago last year, and it?s our favorite Queenstown accommodation thus far. It is a complex of very well equipped, individually owned vacation units, a bit off the beaten path, but incredibly quiet, with unobstructed views of Lake Wakatipu. - $175 for a one bedroom unit.

After getting settled in our unit, we went to town and had lunch at Turkish Kababs (good). We then explored town before walking a portion of the Frankton Arm Walkway, the path in front of our apartment.

That evening we had dinner at Little India, a wonderful Indian restaurant BYO.

Day 26

After spending some time in town, we drove the 44 km to Glenorchy, planning to make a decision about whether or not to take the Dart River Safari once we got there. We were hesitant to go unless the weather was good. By the time we got to Glenorchy, it was overcast and threatening rain, so instead we drove towards the Routeburn, Dart and Rees tracks on the Glenorchy/Routeburn Road.

The road was a bit rough, washed out in places. There were a lot of potholes to dodge and cows wandering around on the road. We entered Mt. Aspiring National Park, a heavily forested area with moss growing on trees, snow covered mountains, etc. We parked in the Routeburn Track car park and walked the track just past the 4th swing bridge, about 25 minutes beyond Sappers Pass (2:45 return from car park). This was a gorgeous walk along the clearest river we had ever seen. There was some damage to the trail 5 minutes in due to a land slide, but this had been posted at the start of the track.

We took a break at the Rayden Bar and Café in Glenorchy, before returning to Queenstown.

Day 27

The sun was out, so we called Dart River Safaris and booked the 12:50 pm tour ($145 per person) then headed to Glenorchy).

After arriving at the tour office in Glenorchy, we were divided into two groups, one to take the bus and the other to take the jet boat. In our group, there were two jet boats and 21 people. We donned life vests and rain gear then boarded the jet boat for our 1.5 hour ride.

The ride was fun, especially going downstream, as we went a lot faster and did more spins. Our guide made several stops for photos and to point out areas of interest. It was incredibly scenic and I highly recommend this tour.

After the jet boat portion, we met the other group onshore, gave them our life vests, then walked a short distance through the forest to the waiting bus. We then returned to Glenorchy, stopping for photos along the way.

We returned to Queenstown, where we had dinner, then hung out in the casino for a few hours.

Day 28 -

We woke to gloom and rain, glad that we took the safari the day before. We spent the day doing some last minute shopping and preparing to leave the following day. We had dinner that night at Sombreros (good) and stopped for a pint at an Irish pub.

Day 29

After checking out of our apartment, we had breakfast at Als Café in Frankton before heading to the Queenstown Airport, where we had a bit more of that wonderful NZ wine in the Koru Lounge.

We flew Air New Zealand from Queenstown to Auckland, which took one hour and 45 minutes.

In Auckland we paid our $25 departure tax, checked out duty free, and then boarded our 11.5 hour Air New Zealand flight to LAX.


At the time of our visit one NZ $ = 58-60 US cents.

Melnq8 is online now  
Nov 7th, 2003, 06:21 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,283
Hi Melnq,

My friend Lisa was the FORMER owner of Punga Cove. She'd run a successful B&B here in California (Napa to be precise) and after her mother's death she and her Dad took over operations at Punga.

I've cut out your comments and will be emailing her today - I'm sure she'll be VERY interested!

Thanks for a great report!


Certified Aussie & Kiwi Specialist
wlzmatilida is offline  
Nov 7th, 2003, 06:08 PM
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Melodie -

Several months ago I posted a question about Punga Cove and you responded positively. You mentioned that your friend owned it at the time of your stay and that you were in one of the luxury units.

In all fairness, we did take a peek into the windows of the luxury units and they looked very nice. Had we stayed in one of them, we might have been pleased, but I don't know if they were available at the time.

Accommodation aside, the place was extremely disorganized and it was just a bad experience all around.

My longer report contains more details on the place, but given the negativity, I didn't want to post it all here.
Melnq8 is online now  
Nov 8th, 2003, 06:04 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Hi Melnq,

Yes, we were in the unit they called "The Penthouse" (although who knows what the new owners are calling it). It was absolutely stunning. My friend, Lisa, told me that it was used quite frequently for entertaining clients because there's a full kitchen, lovely dining room area that goes right out onto the deck with that gorgeous view and a living room. (also 2 bedrooms).

I did forward your review to Lisa and she said that it sounds like they are having some of the same problems she had (water pressure - although we had no indication of that at all); but the restaurant certainly sounds far worse.


wlzmatilida is offline  
Nov 4th, 2004, 11:08 AM
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Melnq8, thanks for posting your trip report. I skimmed it looking for a September weather report for New Zealand.

My husband and I are planning our second trip to New Zealand for September 2005. But I'm concerned about the weather in September...I know that's early spring. Skimming your report, I notice it said you needed chains to drive to Milford mention some temperatures in the 50's...

We live in San Diego so 50's sounds cold to us! Is that as warm as it gets in September? Maybe the north island is warmer?

I'm beginning to wonder if we should go somewhere else in September. But New Zealand is so beautiful!
Nov 5th, 2004, 12:16 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 93

I tried sending an email asking for the full trip report to be sent to me but received a mail system error by return mail. Can you please send me the report? [email protected]

Brushtail is offline  
Nov 7th, 2004, 03:59 AM
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Hi - I'm currently in the Melbourne Airport having just completed a 16 day visit to Tasmania. I'll be happy to send you the full report upon my return home. I just due to excessive spam. Will get the report out to you in the next few days.
Melnq8 is online now  
Nov 7th, 2004, 04:13 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 14,991
Sorry - that should have read "I just deleted the wanderlust address due to excessive spam".

Melissa - we had chains in the trunk, but we never used them. We did run into quite a bit of snow driving to Milford Sound. The road had been closed for a few days prior to our arrival and there had been blasting due to avalanche danger.

Personally, we like visiting NZ in September - we've done so on three occasions. Yes, it can be cold and the weather is unpredictable, but we're Coloradans who have been stuck living in hot climates for too long (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and now Indonesia), so we the cooler weather is a treat for us.

Lake Tekapo was downright freezing while we were there in September, but we also had some beautiful days in other areas. If you don't like the cold, you may be put off by September weather, but it can be a beautiful time of year to visit as well - sunny crisp days, and very few tourists.

Melnq8 is online now  

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