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tropo Jan 7th, 2008 05:45 PM

tropo's NZ South Island trip report
Firstly, I should mention that my wife & I toured Nth Island NZ in March 07 and Sth Island in Nov 07, mainly to see places that we missed out on before or revisit. (Our last holiday in NZ was about 27 years ago) Also our tastes are..swimming, touring, cafes, wineries, fishing with a little bit of history thrown in.
Day 1 - After arriving in C/Church the afternoon before, we drove north on Hwy 1 (Breakfast at Cheviot's Old Railway Station Cafe)then onto Kaikoura for garlic mussels & crayfish cooked & served on the side of the road going out to the Peninsula, where we only saw one seal. So we pushed on to Ohau Point (saw about 20 seals at a much closer range)
Great scenery on this coastal highway, blue sea, dark stoney/sandy beaches, with seaward Kaikoura Range, then behind that the snow covered Inland Kaikoura Range, and in places the bright yellow of the wild gorse bush (which is out of control in NZ)
Through Blenheim (heaps of wineries) and 'new' vineyards being planted, then to Picton for 1st night.
Try to visit the Crown Hotel, which overlooks Picton Harbour, nice meals, great Macs Black ale, and my wife enjoyed Sauvignon Blancs. Also friendly staff.
Day 2... a short cruise on the Marlborough Sounds, then back into hire car & drove the "beautiful Queen Charlotte drive" A MUST DO.
We stopped at Havelock for a late lunch at the Mussel Pot Restaurant (can't miss it, has mussels on the roof - plastic ones) I had the steamed mussels in thai green curry, and my wife had garlic & ginger. Large plump green lipped mussels (about 17 to the pot) and whats left in the bottom becomes a soup. A nice cafe near the marina, called Slip Inn.
Then it was onto Pelorus Bridge. Saw an interesting thing there, the locals have a life sized cutout on plastic board of a NZ Police car. They had it on the edge of town, and boy don't the drivers slow down when they see it.
Well onto Nelson, lovely city. We stayed near Tahunanui Beach, where we swam that afternoon.
Nelson is a nice city to get around, Cathedral built on a hill overlooking Nelson. Good restaurants, and cafe (try Morrisons for coffee)
Day 3....Off to Abel Tasman National park, driving via Kaiterteri, where you pick up Abel Tasman Water Taxi's (but allow l.5 hrs for the drive). It pays to ring the water taxi company & book your seat & destination the night before, then pay when you arrive. All the motels have their brochure, and Water Taxi people will check the tide charts to let you know where you can visit at what times.
We opted to visit Awaroa Lodge, then transported to Torrent Bay, where we walked to Anchorage, and then onto Te Pukatea Bay, near Pitt Head, a lovely crescent shaped bay, where I swam. If you have time after returning to Keteriteri, check out the wineries, fruit orchards etc, on the way back to Nelson.
Well I guess I should leave my report at this point, to see if any Fodorites are getting any benefit out of it.
Short itinerary thereafter...Lake Rotoiti for fishing, then Murchison, Springs Junction, and onto Hanmer Springs (a bit touristy, not my cup of tea, but others enjoyed it)

tropo Jan 7th, 2008 06:07 PM

I thought I should also mention briefly the itinerary of each day, to see if others on this board are interested, and if so, I can cover that particular journey in more details.
Day 5 - Hanmer Springs, via Scenic Highway 72 which skirts Christchurch going through rural countryside, then Geraldine, and onto Lake Tekapo, and stayed on Twizel (with an afternoon drive to Mt.Cook village)
Smoked Salmon for dinner
Day 6 - Drive to Omarama then highway 83 to Lake Benmore, Lake Aviemore & Waitaki River (FISHING)
dAY 7 - Omarama via Lindis Pass
to Lake Dunstan & cromwell (nice historical buildings near the waters edge), then to Queenstown for lunch (too touristy for myself, lots of people, accommodation etc in a small area near the lake)
Then south along Lake Wakatipu to Lumsden, then to Te Anau for 2 nights.
Day 8 - Drive to Milford Sound (loved the view just outside of Homer Tunnel overlooking Cleddhau Valley)then a cruise on the sound, with penguins, seals, etc a light misty rain falling, then back to Te Anau, sunny weather.
Day 9 - Then drove to Gore and Balclutha, then detoured south into the Catlins to Nugget Point, and Owaka, Papatowai, then up to Dunedin
Day 10 - Day sightseeing around the city, churches, shops, musuems, and a bit of Otago Peninsula.
Day 10 - Left Dunedin, drove to Oamaru (nice historical buildings, restaurants, cafes, & Criterion Hotel)...worth visiting, then onto to see the boulders on the beach, then Timaru and back to C/Church. I felt the drive back to be a bit tiring, lots of highway traffic.
Day 11 - Day sightseeing around Christchurch, Avon River, Boat shed, punting, and loved the Botanical Gardens. (nice restaurant inside the gardens near the Avon River)...we also took the tram, and visited the Art Gallery, etc.
The tram travels down a road with restaurants, cafes, etc, with tables/seating close the tramway, so don't stretch your cup of coffee too far out, or the tram may take it.
Well thats the trip in general, hope it helps, if there is any particular location your interest in, I might be able to elaborate more.
(heaps of little places, rivers, etc, that I haven't mentioned, like the gorge between Cromwell & Queenstown, where people river surf.

Melnq8 Jan 7th, 2008 07:27 PM

Hi tropo -

Thank you so much for posting - I really enjoy seeing NZ through the eyes of others. We're going back in March and plan to spend the bulk of our time down south (on the SI).

I've long wanted to better explore the Catlins (any suggestions for the area?) and Bill is itching to give some tracks around Te Anau a go.

It sounds as if you squeezed a lot into your trip. I'm glad you got to walk some of the Abel Tasman - from what I understand, you walked the prettiest part.

nola77382 Jan 8th, 2008 05:36 AM

tropo, do continue with your report--it's very helpful. We are going to Abel Tasman National Park then down the West Coast sleeping in Punakaiki, Fox Glacier, Wanaka, Te Anau, Queenstown, Oamaru, Mt Cook and Chch so any info on those areas are of particular interest to me. We'll be there mid Feb to early March.


LauraT Jan 8th, 2008 02:37 PM

Thank you for the report. We leave ONE MONTH FROM TODAY! We will be in many of the places you have written about so far (Christchurch, Kaikoura, Nelson, Abel Tasman). We appreciate the restaurant finds and tips on how to do things (like the Water Taxis)- thanks so much!

tropo Jan 8th, 2008 06:10 PM

Melnq8 - We will probably return to NZ (not sure which island) later this year. We have been using up Emirates Skyward Reward points for the last 2 trip to NZ, and we enough for one more trip over the Tasman.
Our next trip will consist of more trout fishing.
I think the Abel Tasman National Park is a MUST SEE, just like Mt.Cook and Milford Sound.
The Catlins is mainly the region south of Balclutha, and not that far around the bottom of new zealand, hence the reason we drove to Balclutha then back into the Catlins, for waterfalls, lonely beaches, great forests. Nugget Point Lighthouse, has a nice walk leading out, and if you take your binoculars, you should see some migratory birds around the cliffs. An old chappie from Auckland pointed out various birds nesting there (quite interesting)
Didn't walk any tracks at Te Anau, but I'm sure there are plenty, no doubt across the bay, where they take people to the Glow worm caves.
Nola & Laura...I'm presently using my son's computer (mine is playing up), so probably this afternoon or tomorrow, I will bring back my brochures (like to bring them home on a trip), and see if I can help you out in regard to some of your questions.
We stopped at Lake Tekapo (as we did 27 years ago, with out young sons), and it was peaceful & serence back then, but now its hard to get those great photos of the church, lake & Southern Alps, without getting lots of tourists in the photo, apparently its popular convenience stop for coaches. But I still managed to get the classic photo of the 3 above mentioned icons, by taking a photo close to the ground with the Russell Lupins in the foreground, lake next, then the Alps.
I know some people will like Queenstown, but I found it a bit touristy, like the Gold Coast of NZ. I just like quiet/peaceful lakes, like Lake Hawea (which is my favourite)
Nola....One of the water taxi drivers at the abel tasman park, told us that in Feb/March, the water temperature is around 22 degrees, so you should get a swim in. Beautiful aqua blue water, and very clear. I didn't think much of Awaroa Lodge, more suited for the rich, we had a coffee in their outside dining area, which was nice. Not sure if there would be enough to do there, for my liking.
I must say the beach/bay at Awaroa Lodge is just beautiful.
Laura & Nola, I will come back with more information on the Abel Tasman National Park, which you might find interesting.

tropo Jan 8th, 2008 08:27 PM

Nola & Laura - We didn't travel down the west coast of south island, as we spent some time there, some 27 years ago, and even then the glaciers were receeding. I remember it was a wet & slippery walk to get to the glacier head, requiring a bit of rock hopping. The Haast Pass coming back over the southern alps is quite spectacular, and the two lakes, ie. Wanaka & Hawea are both nice, not so touristy like Queenstown. On our first trip some years ago, we spent 6 weeks touring both islands with our sons, sightseeing & fishing, and Hawea produced a number of Quinet Salmon for us.
Mt.Cook has unsealed roads leading further into the valley from Mt.Cook Village (rental cars not allowed), and there are walks of varying fitness & duration. A pleasant way of viewing Mt.Cook is to have a wine or coffee in the Hermitage Hotel, near the window of the restaurant (glass to the ceiling)...great view.
Back near Twizel there is a Salmon Farm, where you can purchase fresh salmon to cook that night. (we stayed in a Motel Chain that had cooking facilities in the room, so we were able to cook evening meals, carry our own breakfast provisions, and also with a collapsible esky we were able to prepare our lunch enroute to our next destination. We always dine out either for lunch, or dinner at least 3 times during our trip. There are large Supermarkets, eg. PaknSav where you can purchase most items at a reasonable price)
As for Oamaru, you will see signs directing you to the Historical section of town. Park your call & call into the Information Centre for any help, then walk around the lovely old buildings. Star & Garter is a nice Restaurant in Itchen Street. Also the Criterion Hotel (140 years old) in Tyne Street. They serve food, tea & coffee all day, with boutique beers & Speights beer on tap. The Hotel is open 7 days. Another interesting place to visit is Whitestone Cheese shop in Humber Street, Oamaru. To finish off there is a modern Restaurant called Harbour 2 Ocean at Oamaru Harbour, which is built out over the water, serves meals, wine/beer, coffee etc.
In regard to the Abel Tasman, it pays to ring the company the night before, so they can recommend which walk to do, and what times they will pick up & where, taking into consideration the tides. We used Abel Tasman Water Taxis,
Also give yourself l.5 hrs driving time to get Kateriteri, its a winding road. When you arrive there is a large public carpark close to the operators Office (can't miss it when you drive into this village)
A word of warning, when you tell the water taxi driver that you want to picked up at a certain beach location, don't walk on, thinking you will pick the launch at the next destination. A group of german tourists did exactly that, and when the taxi arrived, he wasn't expecting to pick them up, and he had only enough room for us, so he left them there for the next water taxi, some time later. The operators are very professional, and they like to know exactly where each person or party will be for pickups. You will love the abel tasman national park. We ate our picnic lunch at Pitt Head, and we fortunate to see a seal below chasing fish in the water.

tropo Jan 8th, 2008 08:46 PM

Melnq8 - The Catlins Forest Park seems to stretch from near Curio Bay to Nuggent Point. Purakaunui Falls is pleasant & worth seeing.
We enjoyed the North Island, especially the Coramandel Peninsula in March last year, but like you, I feel the Sth Island is jaw dropping in places, and I wonder why Australians travel to Europe/Canada & other places to views alps & lakes etc, when its all here in NZ.
With the low population in the sth island, its such a pleasure to drive on uncrowded roads.
We sometimes feel that we would like to return one time & stay for 12 months, and SLOWLY travel around (we actually met a couple doing exactly that, lucky them, they looked so unstressed)
I forgot to mention the Otago Goldfields, which I think may interest some readers on this board.
Not far from Cromwell (nice town), there is a highway leading to Alexandra, then north of that town you will find a small gold field village of Ophir (well worth visiting). Other places are St.Bathans (enroute from Alexandra to Dunedin), Ranfurly.
Also if travelling from Wanaka to Cromwell on Highway 8, just after Lindis Pass, you can turn off to the goldfield village of Bendigo, only 2-3 kms off the main road.
Laura....Mussel Pot Restaurant is in the main road of Havelock (can't miss it)check out [email protected]
For wineries in the Nelson Region, they are situated out near Mapua & Ruby Bay, and especially Upper Moutere, checkout
We bought some wine from Neudorf Vineyards, Neudorf Road, Upper Moutere.( nice wines.
Another place worth visiting is Stafford Lane Estate, where they sell wine, olive oil, olives, Dukkah, james, chutneys and mustards, etc.
As for Christchurch, there are plenty of Restaurants & cafes, head into the city, get lost & find that gem of a restaurant.
* I remember someone saying, that to forget SatNavs, mobile phones, texting, etc, "Drive & get lost, and discover a place or attraction that is a gem or magic to both of you" *
Hope my rambling on doesn't bore, and you get something out of it. Happy travels.

tropo Jan 8th, 2008 08:53 PM

OOOps, the website for Mussel Pot Restaurant is

nola77382 Jan 9th, 2008 06:34 AM

Tropo, thanks for the information and tips. It's really very helpful and I'm printing out your post.

I have to admit that I'm feeling a little anxious about our trip eventhough I KNOW it will all be fine once we're there. We travel alot, but this is the first time to NZ, and we haven't done a outdoor sort of trip in awhile (Europe is our usual destination) so I have to get out of the "museum/inside" mentality and into the "beautiful scenery/hiking/outdoors" mind-set. I'm helping myself stay calm by watching LOTR movies (again)!

tropo Jan 9th, 2008 08:35 PM

Nola, whether your driving a rental car or travelling in a coach, you will love the beautiful scenery of NZ. We both enjoyed the 2 trips to NZ, because as you travel from one destination to another you see something different around each bend, eg, beautiful farming country, mountain alps, gorgeous trout rivers, lupins flowering beside the roadway and in the gullies near the rivers, then aqua blue lakes (caused by glacial moraine), mountain passes like Arthurs, Lindis, Lewis etc, The roads in the south island outside of the cities, are uncluttered. Even the wild gorse bush looks colourful against the lush green of the hills.
The produce from NZ is world class, like their trout, salmon, my favourite - blue nose cod (salterwater fish), lamb, cheeses, shellfish, crayfish, the boutique beers/ales, and their world famous wines (Marlborough & Martinborough)
...try the Sauvignon Blancs, Reislings, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris, etc.
On your trip call into a cafe or restaurant (with excellent views)..sit outside weather permitting, order a NZ white wine, and local speciality cheese, olives, and suck into the ambience/views & tastes of NZ...and think to yourself "How lucky I am to be living on this beautiful planet."
Enjoy your NZ trip.

Melnq8 Jan 10th, 2008 11:25 PM

Hi tropo -

Just back from a quick trip to Singapore and missed your additional posts.

I agree about Abel Tasman - a must see - I love the area.

Twelve months! I certainly envy that!

Thanks for the pointers on the Catlins - I found a great site on walks in the area and plan to check out as many as I can.

nola77382 Jan 12th, 2008 01:36 PM

Tropo, one of the reasons we left out some "must-do/see" things was so we could have a chance to do exactly what you suggest and slow down and enjoy just being in NZ. We've all of our accomodation booked so we don't have to "waste" time finding a place to stay each night. And we have only one really long driving day--Rotorua to Wellington. We've probably still packed too much in but no matter, we will take time to smell the lupins! Thanks for your report. I can't wait to get to NZ!

tropo Jan 12th, 2008 11:09 PM

Melnq8 - we will be in Singapore this coming July, to link up with our son from London (he has a conference there)
Our first trip to NZ 27 years ago, consisted of 6 weeks driving around a Newman's Campervan (bedford truck). I don't think Newmans exists does it? and I guess you don't have Bedford Campervans anymore?
The reason I say it would be lovely to spend 12 months cruising around NZ, is that we came across a couple in a small village on the Forgoten Highway (Themed Highway)between Stratford, near Mt.Taranaki and Taupo. They had, what appeared to be a homemade campervan built on a truck, and they travel about 100km or less per day. They had no worries, no stress, smiled alot, and were an interesting couple to talk to, and yes they were Kiwis. will appreciate having your accommodation prebooked & waiting for you afternoon. Don't forget to have a good driving map, do some websearches on places that you want to see.
As for Rotorua to Wellington, I wouldn't call that a long drive, providing you get away from Rotorua around 8-9am, allowing yourself sufficient time to stop & see the sights along the way. If you have a few days at Rotorua, and want to see Lake Taupo, I would suggest fiting that into schedule whilst at Rotorua, along with other places. We stayed at Lake Taupo in March 07, and drove to Rotorua & back for the day, and re-visited the main places of interest, ie. geothermal areas. We didn't go to the Maori cultural show, as we did that many years ago.
In our March trip last year, the longest drive was from Wanui Beach, just out Gisborne, up around the East Cape, to the Bay of Plenty, then to Manganui (Not sure if that is how you spell it), touristy town, not much to our liking, but from there we drove to the Coramandel Peninsula, now that's a nice place.

tropo Jan 12th, 2008 11:11 PM

Melnq8 & Nola....if you happen to reply, and I don't answer in the next 3 weeks, its because I will be in Perth, WA. Will check out Fodors travel board when I return, regards Tropo.

Melnq8 Jan 13th, 2008 04:04 AM

tropo -

WA - another of my favorites.

Have a wonderful trip and hope to hear all about it when you return.

nola77382 Jan 29th, 2008 08:08 AM

tropo, I noticed you're back! Any more thoughts or tips on NZ? We will be leaving on 2/14...

An area I haven't settled yet is the best way to go from:

Queenstown to Oamaru: Should we go via Cromwell and Alexandra to SH 85? or down SH 8 toward Dunnedin? We have only one night in Oamaru to see the penguins and maybe the Moreki Boulders. Scenery vs. lenght of time to get from point A to B!

From Oamaru we'll head to Mt Cook via Rt 1 to SH 83 to SH 8 (Twizel) to SH 80. I've read about sights to see on this route.

From Mt Cook we'll go to ChCh via SH 80 to SH 8 (Lake Tekapo) to SH 79 to Geraldine then probably Rt 1 to ChCh.


Melnq8 Jan 29th, 2008 05:35 PM

nola -

Just a comment about your proposed route - if you have time, you might consider taking Scenic Route 72 instead of SH 1 from Geraldine to Christchurch. You'll pass Mt. Somers, Mt. Hutt and Rakaia Gorge.

We took this route on our trip in August and were completely surprised and taken with the scenery.

As I recall, the drive to Christchurch on SH 1 via the east coast is pretty flat and boring. More traffic on SH 1 too.

tropo Jan 29th, 2008 09:32 PM

Nola, no I haven't returned to Qld just yet, still in Perth, WA, fly back tomorrow. Going to City Beach this afternoon for a swim & coffee.
Sorry, I don't have my NZ south island map with me, however, I would probably drive from Queenstown, enroute check out the Gorge for river surfing, then Cromwell (see the little historical village down near the lake -look for the historical signposts in Cromwell), then I would visit one or two Otago Goldfield villages. However, you mention the penguins at Oamaru and insufficient time to see everything, and if that's the case, then you might have go via Dunedin, whichever way you go, your sure to enjoy the scenery along the way. I tend to take backroads etc, or get off the beaten track, as I like to have plenty of time for sightseeing. We tend to leave our motel each morning around 8:30am, and arrive at our next motel around 5-6pm. Each one is prebooked, so I don't waste time looking for accommodation.(sightseeing is more important to me)
The moreki boulders is just a short stop over, park near the shop/restaurant, and donate a coin, then walk 10 minutes north along the beach, they are worth seeing. Interesting the quartz veins in the boulders, and some boulders protruding from the beach cliff.
We actually stopped & saw the boulders enroute back to Christchurch, just a 30 minute stop was enough, and the beach was lovely in the morning sun.
I can check out my maps, when I return home to Qld, and peruse the driving distance & time taken, to give you a better judgement on your request.
Melnq8 has given you good advice. I would like also to say, the road from Geraldine on SH1 back to Christchurch is 'boring' with lots of large trucks, etc, whereas if you take the inland scenic highway, which I think is shown as SH72 on tourist maps, it goes past Mt.Hutt, Methven, and skirts Christchurch, to one edge, allowing you to then drive into Christchurch. Trust me, it is more scenic, less stressful, and very enjoyable.

nola77382 Jan 30th, 2008 06:41 AM

Thanks Melnq8 and Tropo. Y'all are a worrier's dream come true! We will take your advice about Rt. 1. For some reason, I thought it would be the easier of the two routes and am glad to know that the scenic route is the better and easier choice (yay!).

We also subscribe to the back road theory of travelling. The journey is just as great as the destination... We don't have many one night stands for that purpose--we don't want to totally rush-rush-rush through NZ.

We have all the B&B's/hotels and major activities booked. It's so easy to make these decisions ahead of time and it's not worth the aggravation and time to run around looking for a place to sleep each night. That stresses me out!

We're gearing up for Mardi Gras in New Orleans but after that I'm sure I'll have more questions. Thanks for your advice!

margo_oz Feb 6th, 2008 04:25 AM

Some good tips, Tropo, Melnq8 and others.

I may get to NZ again later this year (the good Lord and Qantas FF points willing) and plan to check out the places I missed previously on the South Island.

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