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Trip Report Our 3 week winter trip to the South Island of New Zealand

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Thanks to everyone who helped with the planning of our trip. I know I asked a lot of questions and I really appreciate all of the input. We just returned from our trip on Wednesday so I'm hoping to complete this trip report over the next few days. Overall our accommodations were good. The weather was ok at the beginning, great in the middle and quite bad the last few days. We flew with Qantas but thankfully the ash cloud did NOT affect us. All Qantas flights to New Zealand had been cancelled up to just 2-3 days before our New Zealand portion of our flight. Then they resumed for about 4-5 days (and we got in as scheduled) before being cancelled again for several days again just a couple days after we arrived.

Our overall trip broke down as follows:
18 June - depart home in England
20 June - arrive New Zealand
2 nights in Akaroa
1 night in Cass (in Arthurs Pass)
1 night in Punakaiki
3 nights in Fox Glacier
2 nights in Wanaka
3 nights in Arrowtown
4 nights in Te Anau
2 nights in Mt. Cook Village
2 nights at Lake Tekapo
2 nights in Windwhistle (near Rakaia Gorge)
12 July - depart New Zealand
13 July - arrive home in England

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    There are 4 of us in our family. Me, my husband, our 10 year old son, and our 9 year old daughter.

    18 June - The drive to Heathrow airport is about 4 hours from our house but we left quite early to allow for possible traffic problems. We arrived at the airport very early and settled in to wait for out 10:15pm flight. Our flight was London->Bangkok->Sydney and then Sydney->Christchurch on Qantas in economy.
    20 June - We arrived in Christchurch and picked up our 4WD RAV4 with Avis. This was a good vehicle for the trip and we were glad to have the extra space that the RAV4 provided. Although it cost more than a normal car we were happy with our choice.

    Kiwi_Rob had been nice enough to offer to tour us around Christchurch on our arrival. However, due to the uncertainty of the ash cloud and whether Qantas would even be flying, we decided not to take him up on this kind offer. We weren't sure when we departed on the 18th whether our Sydney->Christchurch flight would be cancelled or not. Although we got in on time we think we made the right decision. It was cloudy and drizzly when we arrived, we were all quite tired and really just wanted to get to Akaroa and find our motel. Thanks again for the offer kiwi_rob! The drive to Akaroa was uneventful. We did not stop for photos anywhere since it was very dreary weather. We stayed at the Akaroa Waterfront Motels in a 2 bedroom unit with kitchen facilities. This motel was right on the water and we were happy with it. After checking in the kids immediately headed out to play on the beach. We walked the 5-10 minutes to the port area to see the main town even though it was raining. I was surprised at how expensive the restaurants were in New Zealand. We live in England but are American so we are really comparing prices to the US dollar (not the British pound). Although the US dollar is stronger than the NZ dollar, I still thought food was very expensive, even at the grocery stores. We bought groceries at the local shop to cook in the first night and went to bed before 8pm.

    21 June - Everyone slept well. We felt 2 earthquakes in the middle of the night, but nothing serious. We had breakfast at the motel and then walked out to the beach and took photos. We had nothing scheduled for the morning and just wandered around the town, let the kids play at the beach and at the playground and took photos. We had lunch at the motel and then walked to the port to meet the BlackCat Nature Cruise we had booked for 1:30pm. There was only 1 other family on the cruise. Although the weather was nice in the morning, it turned quite overcast (not rainy though) during the cruise. We saw several seals but no dolphins on our cruise. The swells were quite strong at the opening of the bay so the boat could not go out as far as it sometimes would. After the cruise we looked at some shops and then cooked dinner back at the motel.

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    22 June - We left Akaroa this morning and started the drive to Arthurs Pass. We stopped along the road for my husband to take photos of some old shacks and the kids and I got out and walked along the area. There was a tree at a church that had a type of pinecone that we'd never seen. It sort of peeled off in layers. It's probably quite common in New Zealand but we'd never seen one before and I have great photos. It was a nice day and we were able to see much more on the drive. We got to Castle Hill around 11:30am and had a picnic lunch before heading out to walk and climb around the rocks. It was beautiful weather now and we really enjoyed this stop. We climbed all around and took lots of photos and did not head out until about 2:30pm. We were booked at the Flock Hill Lodge in Cass for the night with a 2 bedroom motel unit with kitchen facilities. This was a very big unit and there was lots of space on the working station for the kids to play around. We checked in and then drove just 3-4 more minutes down the road to Lake Pearson. It was now overcast though so the lake wasn't very impressive. We went back to Flock Hill and let the kids play outside. We had dinner at the lodge and then settled in for the evening.

    23 June - My husband was hoping to get sunrise shots at Castle Hill but unfortunately it rained overnight and was still raining in the morning. We headed out and stopped at the town of Arthurs Pass. It was not raining very hard so we walked part of the way to Devil's Punchbowl and then walked the Bridal Veil path. It had stopped raining by the time we got back. We had lunch at the Wobbly Kea in Arthur's Pass. My husband and daughter both had fish and chips and said they were the best of the trip. We thought the scenery in this area looked a lot like Scotland. It stayed cloudy and foggy for much of our drive. We stopped at Greymouth for groceries and then continued our drive to Punakaiki. We stayed at the Paparoa Motels and our cottage was Pete's Place. This was a large 2 bedroom holiday home. We checked in and then went to the Pancake Rocks. We got there just before high tide and it had stopped raining (although it was still cloudy) so we enjoyed our visit. We were still full from lunch so we just had a small dinner at the cottage. The Paparoa Motels is a set of cottages and they had a small glow-worm grotto on site. When it got dark I walked down the path with the kids. We turned off our flashlights and all of the glowing worms looked like stars all around us.

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    Hi see_the_world7 -

    I'm so glad your flights worked out okay, I know it was touch and go for awhile there. I hope you enjoyed your trip to NZ - we certainly did - our trip overlapped with yours for a few days.

    I look forward to reading more about your adventures.

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    @melnq - we were so thankful that our flights were unaffected. I've been reading your trip report. Mine isn't nearly as elaborate, but I'm just trying to get something down!

    24 June - Today did NOT go as planned. We left in the morning from Punakaiki on the way to Fox Glacier. Just south of Greymouth we had a minor car accident. Everyone was fine. Very low speeds, but significant damage to the other car. After dealing with this and going back to Greymouth to drop off an accident report at Avis, we were over 2 hours behind schedule. It was now past 11am so we just did a quick stop at the Greymouth McDonalds. We continued on our way toward Franz Josef Glacier where we just planned to do the walk to the glacier face. We walked most of the way out and back before continuing on our drive to Fox Glacier. We were rushing a bit since we had lost so much time in the morning. At Fox Glacier we stayed at the RainForest Motel in a 2 bedroom unit with cooking facilities. This was on the road to Lake Matheson just about 200 meters from town. Perfect location, free internet, and a good size. After checking in we drove to Lake Matheson. We were losing light but we went ahead and walked around the lake. Lake Matheson was not what we expected at all. I didn't realize that most of the walk was just through the rain forest with the lake not in sight at all. In fact, there are only a handful of spots where the path actually is built out so you can see the lake. After walking around the lake we bought groceries and looked at the souvenir shops. We had dinner at the motel and hoped for good weather in the morning for our planned helihike.

    25 June - It rained a lot overnight, but it was fairly clear when we got up in the morning. At 8:30am we walked to the Fox Glacier Guides for our helihike. The weather held and we were able to go!! There were 15 of us booked on the morning flight so it took 3 flights to get us all to the glacier. We were on the second flight. My daughter and I sat up front and the pilot flew around the glacier a bit before landing. He did a few sharp banks with the helicopter as we were landing which my son was a bit unsure about. The kids had never been in a helicopter before so they enjoyed the trip to the glacier. After landing we all put on crampons while waiting for the last group to arrive. All in all we spend about 2.5 hours on the glacier. A good portion of that time was spent at specific features like ice caves because they allowed us to go in and explore in our family groups so that we could get photos with just our families. This was good, but it meant a lot of waiting around while each set when in. It would have been nice if we'd ended up with a smaller group, but overall we still really enjoyed it. There was one much older lady in the group who could barely walk at all. In fact, after the first location they actually had her go back and just wait at the landing site. The 3 other people in her family were younger and could get around fine. I'm not sure why she would have signed up for a helihike. I understand wanting to land on a glacier but there were other options available with a simple landing but no hiking that would have suited her much better. We had a great time on the helihike. The weather stayed nice so we were able to get in our full hike. After our helihike, we quickly changed out of our layers and went to lunch in town at the Cook Saddle Cafe. We really enjoyed this restaurant since it had a nice atmosphere and the food was good.

    After lunch we drove out to the glacier and walked to the terminal face. It started drizzling but then cleared up quickly. We then drove out to the Mt. Cook viewpoint but the mountain peaks were in clouds. On the way back to town there was a very wide and bright rainbow....probably the brightest one we've ever seen. Since we'd had a later lunch we just had ice cream for dinner.

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    June 26 - This morning we all got up early and drove to Lake Matheson while it was still dark. My husband wanted to get sunrise shots from the refection point so we all walked out using handlamps or flashlights. It turned out to be a beautiful morning. The sky was clear and there was a low fog hanging around the tree level making for a beautiful sunrise. We found out after arriving at Fox Glacier that Lake Matheson was going to be closed for work on the walkway from the 27th -30th so today was our last chance for photos. We stayed at the lake a while and then took more photos on the way out. We then drove back to the Mt. Cook viewpoint which was beautiful. The sky stayed clear and we have fabulous photos. We drove over the small bridge for a different viewpoint and our kids went down to the river to play. They built their own little rock bridge across the river. We stayed out til lunchtime and then went back to the motel for lunch. After lunch we headed to Gillespies Beach. We had no idea what to expect. The beach was nice and was covered in drift wood. But it was nice drift wood, spaced out beautifully and not all dirty and filled with seaweed like I've seen before. Unfortunately this was our first experience with sand flies. They bit every where they could find exposed skin. I ended up putting my gloves on even though I didn't need them since they were so bad. In the days to come we found out how badly these bites itch! They also seemed to last forever. My skin reacts badly to any bites but my husband and daughter also found them to be very itchy. They continued to itch for about 2 weeks!! They didn't seem to bother our son much - lucky him! We wandered along the beach for a while looking for shells and small stones and spent most of the afternoon here. We then drove back to town and went to the Cook Saddle again for dinner.

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    27 June - Today we drove from Fox Glacier to Wanaka. It was very cloudy and misty when we started our drive. We drove through Haast Pass and stopped a few times for photos. We then stopped at the Blue Pools and walked out to the pools. The kids played on the beach area again and built rock towers. More sand flies though!! Yuck! We then continued the drive to Wanaka. Wanaka was much more built up then we expected. In the end we really liked the town but we didn't realize that it was such a large resort town. We stayed at the Panorama Court Apartments in a 2 bedroom unit. There was no internet, but the facility itself was probably the best of our trip. The kids thought it was very cool that there was a kiwi tree/bush in the front and the owners said we could pick some to eat. We bought groceries and had a late lunch at the apartment. We then drove along the lake and stopped to watch the sunset. We came back to the apartment and I went to the playground with the kids.

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    28 June - Today was a good morning. My husband went out for sunrise photos. Our apartment was just across the street from the lake so I walked across to the lake and took some photos of the beautiful sunrise too. I then took the kids to the playground for a while. When my husband got back we started the drive down Mt. Aspiring Road. We stopped at the Mt. Aspiring Viewpoint for about 30 minutes and then continued on the drive. We saw lots of deer, sheep and cows on this road. New Zealand is the first country we've been to where we've seen deer fenced in just like sheep or cows. The road turned into packed silt and we had to cross about 9 fords. The weather was great for this drive and I thought this was one of the most beautiful areas of our trip. We stopped several times for photos and had a picnic lunch along the river. We continued on to the end of the road and started on the Rob Roy Glacier Walk. We like hiking, but between the kids playing along the river and my husband taking lots of water photos, we end up moving quite slowly on walks sometimes! :) The swing bridge on this walk was the bounciest we'd been on so far!. We didn't do the entire walk since we had spent so much time along the river. This drive and walk took up our entire day. We got back to Wanaka and we walked in to town for dinner. We went to the Bombay Palace for dinner. We thought it was ok, but not the best.

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    29 June - Today was another good weather day. Before heading to our next location we walked in to town to look at some of the shops. We then drove to Arrowtown which was only about 1 hour away. We stopped a few times for photos and got to Arrowtown around 11:00am. We couldn't check in yet so we went in to the main town. We loved Arrowtown. It was such a cool little town. We wandered through the shops and had lunch (I can't remember the name of the place). We then checked in to the Viking Lodge Motels. This was listed as a 2 bedroom motel but in reality the 2nd bedroom was an open level upstairs. Our kids thought it was very cool since it was like an attic, but it was a bit annoying that we couldn't close the door to their room when they went to sleep. That afternoon we went to the river and walked a bit. My husband loved the trees in Arrowtown and spent hours taking tree photos. Parts of the river were frozen over so our kids had a blast playing around.

    30 June - We got up early today and headed out before 7:00am to get to Glenorchy. We had a Dart River Jet Boat Safari booked and had to be there at 8:45am. We gave ourselves extra time so we could be there for sunrise. It was another beautiful sunrise! We checked in with Dart River Jet boats. First we took a bus for a while along the river and saw sites from the Lord of the Rings and other movies. Both of our kids like Lord of the Rings, but especially our son. He read the entire trilogy when he was 8 or 9 and also likes the movies, so he really was excited to see where parts of the movies were filmed. The guide also pointed out where scenes from other movies like Wolverine were filmed. We then did a short forest walk before getting in the jet boats. We were split in to 2 groups. The jet boats were great and we had a lot of fun! We were in the jet boat for about 1.5 hours. We had some spins thrown in but also just got to spend a lot of time zooming along the river. This was really a highlight of the trip. When we got back to Glenorchy we bought a book on the Lord of the Rings that listed many of the site locations. My son read this through completely by the middle of the next day! We had thought about doing some hiking in Glenorchy but in the end we decided just to start heading back to Arrowtown. We did a quick stop for lunch and then went back to Arrowtown and back to the river. The kids and I walked the Arrow River Trail up until the split for Sawpit Gully while my husband stayed along the river taking photos. We then looked up specific LOTR locations in Arrowtown and made sure we took pictures of the kids at these locations. We had dinner at the motel that night before settling in for the night.

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    1 July - Today was very foggy in the morning. My husband went out for sunrise photos but said it wasn't good. I took the kids to the playground by the motel and everything was covered in frost. We then went in to town to look at the shops and bought a few souvenirs. We had lunch at the motel and then headed to Queenstown. We walked around in the town for a while. Since it had mostly cleared up we took the gondola to the top. We had gotten a family ticket with 5 luge rides. My husband wasn't interested in the luge so I went once and our kids each went twice. At first they weren't too sure about riding the luge but in the end they really enjoyed it. We then went for a short walk (the skyline walk) and took some photos. We rode the gondola back down and went to dinner at The Cow in town. The pizza was really good here and my kids said the spaghetti bolognese was excellent also. While we'd been looking in town the kids kept looking at the One Ring from LOTR or rings with the elf writing. They both decided this was the one souvenir they really wanted. They know the books have nothing to do with New Zealand, but since the movies were filmed there they still thought this would be a cool souvenir. Our son ended up getting a silver ring (sized larger so it will fit him as he grows) and our daughter got a gold plated one (also sized large). They had them put on necklaces for now and wore them for the rest of the trip.

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    2 July - Today we packed up and started the drive to Te Anau. The weather was nice and we stopped for photos a few times along the way. We got to town around 11:30am so we parked and went to lunch. I don't remember the name of the place but it was nothing special. We then got groceries and came back to the cottage we had rented. Here we had 3 bedroom holiday home which was very nice and roomy. It also had a washer and dryer (so did our place in Wanaka) so we were able to catch up on laundry. The kids were super excited that they each got their own room. We planned to go to Milford Sound the next day but we went ahead and drove Milford Road as far as the Mirror Lakes. It was a beautiful day but to be honest we were a bit disappointed in the road. We really didn't think it was that special. We were also a bit disappointed in the Mirror Lakes. We thought they would be much larger. We drove back to town and let the kids play outside while we cooked dinner at home. We didn't have internet at this location so we couldn't check the weather very often. We had 4 nights planned in Te Anau so that hopefully we could visit both Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound.

    3 July - Today we got up early and were out of the house by 6am. We wanted to reach Milford Sound before sunrise so my husband could hopefully get sunrise shots. The drive was uneventful since there had been no snow. We drove carefully in case of black ice but had no problems. We arrived a little before 8:00am but unfortunately it was foggy and misty. The light wasn't great so no good morning photos but we still planned to go on the cruise. We booked with Southern Discoveries. It was nice that they had a covered area in the outside portion of the boat since it started raining lightly about halfway through. It wasn't crowded so we could still stand outside and take photos without getting soaked. Again we didn't see any dolphins but we saw quite a few seals in different locations. Some were on the rocks and others were rolling around in the water playing. The captain was informative and we enjoyed the cruise but I don't think Milford Sound lived up to our expectations. This was probably partially because we did not have clear weather. I think we've also been spoiled by some of our other travels. We've been to Norway and thought that the fjords in Norway were much prettier and more impressive than Milford Sound. We had a picnic lunch in the car before heading back down the Milford Sound road. We stopped at the Chasm for a quick walk. There were probably 10 keas in the parking lot coming up to everyone that stopped. This was the first stop were we saw keas. They hopped on cars and picked at antennas and wipers. It was raining lightly now but we did the quick walk anyway. We drove a little further and stopped a few other places. We stopped at the Lake Gunn lookout and then did the Lake Gunn loop walk. This was a very pleasant walk through the woods. It had stopped raining by now. Our kids labeled this the Ent Woods (again from LOTR). We didn't stop at many of the common walks off of Milford Road because it was so foggy and misty that there was really no viewpoint and not much to see. After getting back to Te Anau we had dinner at the cottage. We ended up with a very pretty sunrise over Lake Te Anau.

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    4 July - this morning my husband headed out for sunrise photos. I looked outside around 8am and the sky was on fire! So incredibly beautiful...bright orange! Unfortunately the sun doesn't come up over the lake so we didn't have anything good to put in front of that beautiful sky for good photos. We headed out to the lake anyway hoping the light would start reflecting off the clouds in that area as the sun came up. The sky did turn a bit pink in that area so I got a few decent photos. After my husband got back we headed to the Mavora Lakes. Originally we were going to do the Doubtful Sound day trip but since we'd been a bit disappointed with Milford Sound we decided to explore some lesser known areas instead. Some areas near the Mavora Lakes were used in LOTR and we thought the lakes looked interesting so we decided to explore. This turned out to be a very pretty drive and the lakes were nice too. We had a picnic lunch (more sand flies though!) We walked around a bit in the woods and spent time by the lakes before heading back down the road. We drove around a bit more just exploring before heading back to Te Anau. We took the kids to the playground, looked through the shops, and had dinner at our cottage.

    July 5 - It looked like it might be another nice morning. My husband went out again for photos and my daughter and I walked out before sunrise to try to find a good spot for photos if the sky was the same as yesterday. It turned out to be a beautiful sunrise but not as good as the day before. After my husband got back we drove down to Lake Manapouri. We thought there might be more there but it really seems to be just a starting place for the Doubtful Sound cruise and not much else. We did stop at Fraser Beach for a while. It was very cloudy so we decided to just hang out for the day. We came back to Te Anau and had lunch in town. I then took the kids back to the playground. We caught up on laundry while the kids played outside. We then had dinner in and packed up for our long drive tomorrow to Mt. Cook.

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    6 July - Today we drove from Te Anau to Mt Cook village. It was cloudy but not rainy. We stopped at Wairepo Culvert just south of Twizel for photos. The lake was beautiful here and the trees were so orange. The kids climbed trees while my husband and I took photos. We then drove up to Mt. Cook. It was very cloudy when we arrived and we couldn't even see Mt. Cook. Even though it was cloudy and foggy we drove out to the Blue Lakes and did the short walk to the Blue Lakes and also to the Glacier View Point. I wasn't particularly impressed with either of these. Again, I think we're a bit spoiled from our travels since the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland was so much nicer and I couldn't help making the comparison. We stayed at the Mt. Cook Alpine Lodge. This was a great alternative to the Hermitage. It is not as expensive and only has about 14 rooms. This was the only location where we did not have a 2 bedroom accommodation. We had a large hotel room with a king size bed and bunk beds. Our view out the front would have been amazing if the clouds had not been covering Mt. Cook! The windows were very large. This hotel also had a very large shared lounge and kitchen area with 2 full size fridges and 2 full stoves and ovens plus all plates, cutlery, cups, etc... We weren't sure how much space there would really be so we only brought breakfast foods and not food for dinner. It turns out that we would have had plenty of space in the fridge. We wish we would have cooked in on our 2 nights here since our dinners here were the worst of our trip. This first night we ate at the Old Mountaineers. It was a nice atmosphere, but we did not like the food at all.

    7 July - Today we woke up and it had snowed over night. It was very pretty but it quickly turned to a slushy rain. It was so cloudy and foggy that we couldn't see anything. We bought Explorer Passes for the Sir Edmund Hillary center and watched 2 of the space videos, the Sir Edmund Hillary movie, and the 3-D Mt. Cook show. We had originally planned to go hiking but the weather was so bad that we put it off. We had lunch in the lounge and then just hung out at the hotel. It rained all day long. Finally I decided that I was going to go out for a short hike even though we would get very wet. Both kids decided to come too. We walked to the Kea Point and got completely soaked. The paths were about 5 inches of slush so our feet got soaked. We then walked as far as the Mueller Glacier lookout point of the Hooker Valley Walk. By the time we got back we were all very wet. We came back and hung our coats up to dry and set our snow boots by the fire. That night we went to dinner at the Chambois Bar. Again, we did not like the dinner. This was the worst weather day of our entire trip!

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    Ah yes, the weather. In all my trips to NZ, I've only seen the top of Mt Cook once. I completely understand being underwhelmed with Milford..somehow it just doesn't live up to the hype, although on a pretty day, it's quite memorable.

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    8 July - Today my son and I woke up early (as usual) and headed to the lounge area. The forecast had been for rain and clouds all night and day for the Mt. Cook area. However, I looked outside and I could see some stars so I went back and woke up my husband. He immediately got up and went out to Hooker Valley to try to get some sunrise shots. All of the slushy snow from the previous day had completely frozen so it was very slippery. As the sun came up I could see the base of Mt. Cook but the peak was still in clouds. As it got later it got cloudier and cloudier. It was still quite pretty and I took photos from the balcony and in front of the hotel. By late morning when we left Mt. Cook it had gotten quite cloudy and foggy. The weather got nicer as we headed south to Tekapo but it was extremely windy. We got some lunch in town and checked in to our motel. We stayed at the Lake Tekapo Motel and Holiday Park in a 2 bedroom motel unit. Our unit was right on the lake and was probably the prettiest view we had. I was nervous about this location because the reviews were mixed, but we had no problems and the location was amazing. Lake Tekapo was absolutely beautiful. Even though it was windy the skies were clear and the water was the beautiful glacier blue. After checking in we drove around a bit. We stopped at the Church of the Good Shepherd and the Dog Statue. We then spent some time on the lake shore. We then drove on the road past our motel past the spa area and came upon a small frozen over lake. It was very shallow so the kids had fun skating around the frozen lake with just their shoes. In fact, this was one of their top memories of the entire trip. We then went back to the south lakeshore for sunset near the church. The kids played on the rocks for hours while we waited for sunset. We then came back to the hotel and made dinner at the motel. There was a playground right across from our unit so the kids played outside until dinner.

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    9 July - Today we woke up to lots of rain. It later turned to snow which was very pretty but unfortunately it turned back to rain and rained ALL DAY LONG. Our kids played out on the playground in the morning even though it was raining. We then went to town and looked around at the shops (even though there weren't many). We then drove around a bit exploring but everything was so dreary. We had lunch at the motel and hoped the rain would stop but it never did. The kids went back to the playground and the beach right across from our unit. I eventually went out also and walked along the beach. We then went to Pepe's Pizza place in town for dinner.

    10 July - Today we woke up and it had snowed overnight. As we were leaving the owners told us that Burkes Pass was closed. There was no other way to go so we headed out anyway hoping it would open by the time we got there. By the time we drove the few kilometers to the pass it was open and was actually quite clear. We stuck to the main roads on our drive to Rakaia Gorge instead of the scenic drive so that we would not have any problems with snow and so we'd have more choices for lunch stops. We stopped in Ashburton for lunch and by that time the weather had cleared up. There was no snow in this area at all. We then stopped for groceries in Methven and continued on to the Washpen Chalet where we were staying. The chalet was actually in Windwhistle about 8 kilometers past Rakaia Gorge. It was still super windy, especially in Windwhistle!! The chalet had 3 bedrooms and a fireplace. We then went out to drive around. We stopped at Pudding Hill River and stayed there til sunset. We then came back to the chalet. It had started raining again. It had been sunny (but windy) during the day so we were hoping it would only rain overnight and would be nice for our last full day in New Zealand.

    11 July - Today we hoped to do a final jet boat tour on the Rakaia Gorge. Unfortunately it had rained so much over night that the river was way too high and the jet boats were not running. We went back to our cabin and set out on the Washpen Falls walk. This was a circular track and took about 1.5 hours. I liked this walk because it didn't have a boardwalk or gravel path and felt more natural. We had lunch at the chalet and then drove back to check the jet boats again. The river had only gotten higher so the jet boats would not be running all day, but we stayed at the river for a while and let the kids play We drove to Methven to look around at the shops. We then came back to the cabin, made a big fire, and packed up.

    12 July - Today we drove to the airport and flew home. The flights were on Qantas in economy again and were uneventful.
    Christchurch ->Sydney

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    @melnq8 - we did have fun and we really enjoyed our trip. The weather cooperated for most of the trip although it did turn on us at the end. We thought New Zealand was beautiful although I think I probably had an unrealistic image in my head of some areas (like Milford Sound) where I was actually disappointed in what we saw. I think New Zealand is unique in that you can see glaciers, rain forests, fjords, beaches, etc... all in a relatively small country. However, I think that Norway has better fjords and glacier lagoons, Iceland and Alaska probably have more impressive glaciers, and Switzerland probably has better mountains (in my opinion of course). That's not to say we didn't enjoy our visit or think the country was beautiful. Some of our favorite views and experiences were those we weren't really expecting. Top of the list for the best locations for me were the drive down Mt. Aspiring Road toward the Rob Roy Glacier trail. It was a beautiful day and the scenery was amazing. We also loved Lake Tekapo. The amazing glacier-blue water against the large white rocks of the shore with the mountains in the background was impressive.

    We also loved that New Zealand had 2 bedroom motels available all over the island. this was great for our family that usually does self-catering. In many countries, you can't find a self-catering accommodation unless you are staying at least 3 nights. We weren't particularly impressed with the food overall, and it was more expensive than I was expecting, but most people we met were very nice, it never felt crowded, the and roads were all in good shape. I came away with loads of beautiful photographs and memories.

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    Good to hear. I'm partial to the Mt Aspiring Road jaunt too, and many people never bother to go there.

    I think there's a tendancy to buy into the hype and build-up about certain sites, so a bit of disappointment at the reality isn't all that surprising.

    My favorite bits about the SI are the ones that no one else seems to bother with - their loss.

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    Thanks for your journal - though we will go in Feb/March (with a campervan and bicycles), it was great to see some of your recommendations and experiences. We generally self-cater, but usually a week at a time and NZ just doesn't lend itself to that kind of travel. So we'll take our "self-catering" on the road with us.

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