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Trip Report Songdoc's "Mini" NZ Trip Report: Auckland, Wellington & Abel Tasman

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First the background: DP (59) and I (55) are lucky enough to work in New Zealand every year, so this was our fourth trip in as many years. That means our free time was limited – but we had already visited gorgeous Queenstown; Milford Sound; the Bay of Islands; the Kapiti Coast; Rotorua, Abel Tasman, Christchurch, the glow worms, and Havelock North on previous trips. Hence the “mini” report. This was the first time we saw the country during its spring/summer: November 21st - December 7th.

I started in Auckland where most of my time would be spent working. When we had a few hours off, a colleague offered to take us to see the gannet colony at Muriwai Beach—less than 30 minutes from Auckland CBD. It was FANTASTIC!!! The beach is absolutely gorgeous—windswept and rugged, with stunning cliffs. There were countless gannets nesting and we were close enough to see the babies poking their heads out from under their moms. I got some beautiful photos and had a wonderful day.

Our first accommodations in Auckland were at the Oaks on Hobson. The main complaint I’ve heard about this apartment hotel is that one must walk past a mission where homeless people congregate, to get the few blocks to the heart of the city. That didn’t bother me in the least and I found it convenient. I’d booked a one-bedroom apartment for $94 (US) per night – and was upgraded to a 2-bedroom. This included a continental breakfast delivered to the room--and one hour of Internet. It was less than a 15 minute walk to the waterfront and Queen Street’s shopping and restaurants.

Later in the trip when we returned to stay in Auckland, we stayed at the Quest on Eden. It's a pleasant, quiet neighborhood, across from a park with massive trees that I fell in love with. This time we shared a studio apartment that cost $108/nt NZD. It was an attractive, quiet room -- but Internet had to be pre-purchased at the front desk (that was not always open during the weekend) and that was a pain. Otherwise, no complaints. Note: Overall, I find food to be a bit expensive in New Zealand – while lodging is quite inexpensive.

We’re not gourmet “foodies” or wine drinkers, preferring inexpensive, authentic ethnic meals to fancy restaurants. Several favorite Asian meals were at Kiwi Noodles on Durham Street (just off Queen). Lunch or dinner cost about $10 and was delicious! Kebabs at Istanbul kebabs on Queen Street were exceptional—on freshly baked Turkish bread. We enjoyed sitting outdoors on Queen Street and people watching.

On several evenings, a colleague took us to the Ponsonby food court. (Ponsonby’s an Auckland neighborhood, not more than a 10 minute drive from the CBD.) Every imaginable Asian food was available, as well as middle-Eastern and Italian. I tried delicious dishes from Malaysia and Laos. It’s not fancy – but the food was good—and around $15 per person. After dinner, we enjoyed strolling, admiring the beautiful old buildings, and browsing in the shops and galleries.

Our time in Wellington was virtually all work so I won’t say much except that it lived up to its moniker of “Windy Wellington.” I typically really enjoy Wellington – especially strolling and people-watching on Cuba Street with its interesting shops, music venues, cafes, and galleries. It’s a lively, vibrant scene. Despite it being late spring/early summer, the wind was so cold and intense that it made strolling along the waterfront downright unpleasant. I’ve been there when the weather was much better during their winter.

Our lodging was the Stratford on Willis apartment hotel. Great location. We stay there every year. $100 US for a nice studio apartment.

Flying out of Wellington was quite an adventure. The winds make it a notoriously bumpy ride, but I’d never had a serious problem … until this time! Shortly after take-off, the small plane lurched, shuddered, and plunged. The women in front of me had brought coffee on board. That coffee was soon dripping down from the ceiling. I thought there was a serious possibility that we were going down. But apparently, this is not all that uncommon!

After all this work, we deserved a break. We wanted someplace beautiful, where we could take long walks and enjoy the nature--and not feel compelled to drive a lot, explore, or get involved in activities. While we loved Queenstown, we knew that if we returned, we’d wind up driving to different areas every day—and probably return to Milford Sound. We're also lucky enough to have recently worked in Norway, where we'd seen gorgeous fjords and glaciers--so seeing the fjords in NZ wasn't a priority. We needed a place to rest—so we decided to spend our five days off in Abel Tasman.

On a previous trip there, we’d loved staying at Ocean View Chalets in Marahau. It’s not fancy—more of a rustic cabin, but a perfect location (walking distance to the park entrance)—and we’d been lucky to snag a cottage (#6) with an exceptional view. Unfortunately, it was booked solid.

The owners recommended a few other places, and we found an opening at Abel Tasman Stables. Not sure why it’s called “stables” – because I didn’t see any stables or horses. But we were very pleased. Again, not “fancy” or luxurious, but it worked perfectly for us—and was even a minute or two closer to the park entrance than the Ocean View Chalets. The cost was $135 (NZD) per night for the self-contained little cottage. The host (George) was very accommodating, and we enjoyed his garden, and the lovely, peaceful views, and bird-watching from our patio. The birds—and their songs—were amazing. The only negative was no Internet. But we got WiFi for our laptop for $5/hour at the nearby Abel Tasman Center.

I absolutely loved our time in Abel Tasman. It was just what the doctor ordered. With its crystal clear, turquoise and emerald bays, and lush ferns and foliage, I think Abel Tasman must be one of the most beautiful places on this earth.

On my first visit to Abel Tasman, I was confused and nervous about the logistics. Here’s the deal: From Marahau, you can walk into the park – and then turn back when you’ve walked enough – OR you can take one of several water taxis from Marahau or Kaiteriteri to one of several drop-off spots within the park, and either walk back, or walk to a pre-arranged pick-up spot.

FYI, these are easy walking trails—not demanding, treacherous hikes—and the trails are clearly marked.

Most days, we simply walked in—then backtracked after a couple of hours of soaking in the exquisite views. We especially loved Tinline Bay – about a 30 minute walk from the park entrance.

But a highlight of the trip was taking a water taxi to Bark Bay, and walking several hours to be picked up at Torrent Bay. During the “taxi” ride, we spotted a penguin paddling by the boat, and numerous seals lounging on the rocks. The driver took a short detour to show us “Split Apple Rock.”

The beaches and bays were incredibly beautiful—and the color of the water never stopped amazing me. We took every little side trail—and each one offered views that were as good as it gets. This particular walk crosses a swinging bridge, and I’m told it includes some of the best scenery in the park. I don’t doubt that. (You’ll see the pictures!)

Another day, we took the short drive (approximately 20 minutes) to Kaiteriteri. On the way, a turn off for Split Apple Rock Beach became another highlight. It was a “moderate” 10 minute walk down to the beach, where more incredibly beautiful views waited. (I’m running out of superlatives!) There were wonderful tide pools and rocks covered with mussels and other sea life. Cormorants posed perfectly with the gigantic rock in the background. Then … DP found a cave just begging to be explored. It was great fun—and the views of the beach from within the cave were serious Kodak moments.

We eventually dragged ourselves away to continue on to Kaiteriteri—with several photo stops along the way. The Kaka Pah lookout was exceptional—and views of the enormous beach below were “wow.” When we arrived at Kaiteriteri, I found the promised, long, beautiful beach, but I was disappointed to find more of a bustling, resort atmosphere than is my cup of tea. We only stayed a few minutes before returning to the sense of peace and solitude back at our cabin.

By the way, to get to Abel Tasman we flew into Nelson (from Wellington) and rented a car. En route, we stopped in Mapua for a lovely picnic lunch with a beautiful bay view. There were several pricey restaurants with impressive menus and wine lists—but we opted for tasty sandwiches and coffees from Hamish’s.

Motueka’s about twenty minutes outside of Marahau, and it has a supermarket and a wide variety of restaurants. We bought prepared foods (i.e., roast chicken, and salads) and ate most of our meals on the patio at the cabin, watching the tui, pukekas (incredible birds), and the wild chickens.

We noticed a sign for "Rose Garden" in Motueka. WOW! There's no admission--and we were the only ones there. I've NEVER seen such stunning roses. This is a definite hidden gem for those who appreciate flowers.

You don’t even want to know how many photos I took. It was torture to narrow them down. Here’s a link:

Next installment: Rotorua …

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