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Trip Report The Earth Makes Music for Those Who Listen; Siblings on the South Island

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The particulars:

Blame it on the enchiladas. The topic of my brother returning to the Southern Hemisphere came up back in April during dinner at a favorite Mexican restaurant in Colorado. We went our separate ways to digest and ponder the possibilities, me returning to Australia a few days later. By early June the decision had been made and I got busy planning, New Zealand here we come.

I monitored airfares for many weeks, playing around with the dates in an attempt to find the lowest fares and maximize Bob’s vacation time. Much research and frustration ensued, but eventually we were booked, and by complete coincidence, our travel dates were the exact same as last year, thanks in no small part to American Labor Day.

Bob was to fly United Airlines from Colorado Springs to Denver (15 minute flight) then connect to another United Airlines flight to San Francisco. From San Francisco he’d connect with an Air New Zealand flight to Auckland, and then another flight from Auckland to Christchurch. Although all of these flights were booked on the same ticket with Star Alliance partners, something went awry in the Colorado Springs Airport as it so often does. United Airlines did what they do best; screw things up.

I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say, it was a needlessly stressful day for a relatively inexperienced traveler and an inauspicious start to a ~24 hour journey.

Things were a bit more straightforward for me. Air New Zealand has a once daily flight from Perth to Auckland, but it’s a brutally timed overnighter. Mama didn’t raise a fool; I wasn’t about to hop into a rental car and drive the infamously narrow winding roads of NZ after an uncomfortable sleepless night in a metal tube. So, I opted to fly from Perth to Sydney on Virgin Australia and connect with an Air New Zealand flight to Christchurch, arriving around midnight the day prior to Bob’s arrival.

I left Perth at 10 am, arrived Christchurch at 11:30 pm, not quite as bad as it sounds, as NZ is four hours ahead of Perth. My Virgin Australia flight to Sydney went well, they even unexpectedly fed and wined me, and as a bonus the food was surprisingly edible. The Sydney terminal shuffle was new for me, but easy. I just presented my VA voucher for the transfer bus and viola, I was transferred. I was surprised at the distance between terminals and I found the international terminal poorly signed and confusing, but hey, it worked.

My Air New Zealand flight from Sydney to Christchurch also went well, and they fed me again, but this round was foul. Interestingly enough, the middle seat on both flights was empty, so sufficient room to breathe.

Bob left Colorado on Saturday, August 30. I left Perth Sunday, August 31. We met in the Christchurch Airport on Monday, September 1. Six years in Australia and this dateline thing still wigs me out. I have to really pay attention when booking.

Because flights from Auckland to Perth and flights from Auckland to SFO/LAX don’t coordinate particularly well, last year Bob was stuck with some pretty miserable layovers, including seven hours in Auckland prior to his return flight to San Francisco, then another seven hours in SFO before his flight to Colorado Springs. Gross is an understatement.

In an effort to prevent him having to do this again, I left Auckland a day later than he did, spending a night at the Auckland Airport Novotel after seeing him off on his flight to LAX. This served multiple purposes; it gave us an afternoon to explore a tiny bit of Auckland, a room to stash our belongings while we explored, and a place for Bob to shower and relax before his 9:30 pm flight to LAX; it worked a treat.

The itinerary:

Christchurch – nine hours at an airport motel (Mel)
Hanmer Springs – one night
Picton – three nights
Kina Beach/Ruby Bay – four nights
Punakaiki – two nights
Akaroa – three nights
Auckland – one night at airport hotel (Mel)

During last year’s visit, Bob’s first, we concentrated on the ‘highlights’ of the South Island, e.g., the glaciers, Wanaka, Queenstown and Milford Sound. This year was to be all about water, tramping and a slower, more relaxed pace.

Day 1 - Christchurch & Hanmer Springs

I arrived in Christchurch just before midnight: I took the Super Shuttle ($15) to the nearby Airways Motel, collected my room key from the lockbox, checked the status of Bob’s flight online and went to bed. The motel was perfectly adequate, but not a place I’d pick for more than a nine hour stay (clean, compact, free WiFi, plentiful road noise, complimentary shuttle back to the airport, easy in and out, room #1, $130).

Bob’s flight from Auckland was due at 9:20 am the following morning; I took the 9 am motel shuttle to the domestic terminal, locating his baggage carousel just as he crept up behind me from the escalator.

We called for the APEX shuttle and collected our rental car, me giving into superstition and renting a set of snow chains, just in case. My theory is if you have them you won’t need them; so far it’s worked every time ($588.00 for 14 days, including $25 snow chain rental).

As expected, Bob was wrecked, so I’d planned a slow and easy first day. We located SH 1 and headed north, easily done when fresh and excited (the driver anyway), less so when tired and distracted as we learned later in the trip.

Our first stop was about 17 km north of Christchurch in Kaiapoi, where we effortlessly found a New World supermarket to pick up the obligatory Tim Tams, Rashuns and even a few healthy items for the inevitable road trip munchies. Bob curiously examined the unfamiliar products. It’s good to know I’m not alone in my fascination of grocery stores when traveling.

We were in no hurry to get anywhere in particular, so we made a few detours, randomly following signs to beaches, taking a nice long walk along one of them and generally enjoying the fresh air and Pacific Ocean views.

Our route took us directly through Amberley, home of the Nor’Wester Café, where we rocked up too late for the waffle/bacon/yogurt/bananas Bob so enjoyed last year, but just in time for lunch. He went whole hog with the steak and chips, I had the tomato bacon soup, flat whites for both, very nice $42.

Back on the road we left SH 1 near Waipara and joined SH 7, countryside on full display in the brilliant sunshine, eventually reaching our destination, the pretty little alpine town of Hanmer Springs, some 130 km northwest of Christchurch. Hanmer Springs boasts a population of 843, and is built around its thermal pools, made possible by a hot spring discovered in the 19th century.

In an attempt to keep sleep-deprived Bob upright for as long as possible, we explored town and walked several well marked tracks in the beautiful Hanmer Forest, for which we had ideal weather. After two hours soaking in the thermal pools ($20 each), we split a tasty little pizza ($17) at Piccolino’s, which shares space with the Springs Deli on the main road (café by day, pizzeria by night). It was all the poor guy could do to chew at this point, so it was back to the motel where he collapsed, giddy with joy to get horizontal after ~36 hours without sleep.

Our accommodation for the night was GlenAlvon Lodge, a small motel complex conveniently located across the street from the thermal pools (clean, spacious, warm, quiet, too soft beds, reliable WiFi; a great little place, room #8, $100).

Photos here:

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    Day 2 - Hanmer Springs to Picton

    Refreshed, we were up and out early, walking the streets of incredibly peaceful Hanmer Springs on a fabulous cold, crisp morning. Breakfast was at Powerhouse Café, scoped out in advance for their token Mexican offering, Huevos Rancheros, thoroughly enjoyed by Bob. For me it was banana nut bread and a flat white, good choice, cute little cafe ($26).
    We walked through town, relishing the beautiful clear morning as we poked through a few shops, cashed up at the ATM, etc.

    We were off, following 7A/7 and 70 to Waiau, turning onto Leader Road to cruise through the pretty countryside before eventually joining SH 1 north of Cheviot. Last year we’d taken the inland road from Waiau to Kaikoura, a memorable day indeed, thanks to a brutal spring storm that had us dodging flooded roads, downed tree limbs and general chaos.

    We inched our way towards Kaikoura, making numerous stops for photos of the coastline, beautiful in the bright sunshine. We took the short walk to Ohau Stream on the hunt for seal pups in the pool beneath the waterfall, but found not a single one (last year at the same time there were dozens of them). Ohau Point however, was teeming with seals, numerous pups amongst them.

    We forged north through the white bluffs and endless bare vineyards and into Blenheim, where I’d hoped to find the highly regarded Burleigh Pies for pie eater Bob. It was not to be, as we missed our turn at Blenheim’s convoluted Main Street roundabout, a junction of five roads with a railway line running through the middle, confusing as all get-out.

    Some six hours after leaving Hanmer Springs we pulled into the pretty little town of Picton, situated at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound. We drove another 5-10 minutes to Waikawa Bay, one of NZ’s largest marinas and home to the Bay Vista Waterfront Motel, our abode for the next three nights (fantastic place, brilliant marina views, quiet, spacious, warm, good water pressure, full kitchen with oven, separate bedroom + bed in living area, excellent free WiFi, lovely owners, room #3, $120 per night).

    Good weather was predicted for the next day, so we booked a water taxi with Beachcomber Cruises through motel owner Grant, later driving to town for a walk along the wharf. Bob was craving fish and chips; I’d earmarked a popular takeaway joint for this very purpose, but we had no map and couldn’t find it. Enter the dubious T&O Takeways, where Bob ordered two pieces of fish and a scoop of chips, neither of us realizing he’d ordered enough to feed a family of four, although the seagulls seemed happy enough the following day. Mediocre at best, this was the only food fail of the entire trip ($17).

    Photos here:

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    Day 3 - Picton

    Our unit’s oven came in quite handy for baking the grocery store bought pies Bob had picked up the previous night for his breakfast. As we ate, we gazed at the beautiful sunrise through the floor to ceiling windows facing Waikawa Bay. The birds were chirping, the ducks were quacking and I had my fingers and toes crossed for good walking conditions.

    We made the short drive to Picton, parked in the deserted long term Pay & Display lot near the ferry terminal, a sign advising us that parking was free until further notice, lucky us.

    After a thoughtfully prepared cup of caffeine for the coffee snob (yours truly) at Cortado, a cute little café on the foreshore, we walked to the wharf and boarded our 9:30 am cruise ($75 each return).

    We were two of only four passengers on the entire catamaran; we had the run of the boat. Our 1:15 hour journey through the Marlborough Sounds was accompanied by commentary, our captain pointing out places of interest en route and explaining that Ship Cove is actually further north than Wellington on the North Island.

    We were deposited at Ship Cove, where we explored the historically significant Captain Cook Monument, the one place Captain Cook visited five times to re-provision his ships. That guy got around.

    We then set out on our 14 km walk along the Queen Charlotte Track. The first hour was the hardest, steep and rocky with sporadic views of the North Island. The track eventually leveled out...sort of. The day just got prettier and prettier; cloudless blue skies accentuating the aquamarine of the Marlborough Sounds – it was absolutely stunning and I was in photography heaven.

    The track was littered with predator trapping paraphernalia for several kilometers; workers were busily installing Trapinators, which signs advised us were being installed on a trial basis along a short section of the track. The abundance of traps was startling, but we eventually left them behind as we progressed towards Furneaux.

    We mistakenly passed the first picnic table we came to, not realizing it would be a long time before we saw another. Tired and hungry, we finally stopped right on the track, dangled our legs over the edge and ate lunch, oblivious that there was a perfectly situated picnic table overlooking Endeavour Inlet five minutes away. Oh well, all the more reason to tarry a bit longer; we soaked up the fabulous views from the overlook, wekas literally at our feet hoping for a handout (flightless birds that sort of look like chickens). Brilliant!

    I was beginning to think the walk would never end, but Furneaux Lodge finally materialized, and not a moment too soon. It’d taken us close to five hours, but we still had enough time for a rest and a poke around the grounds before our boat arrived to return us to Picton. The lodge was built in the early 1900’s and sits at the base of Mount Furneaux; it had just recently re-opened following winter maintenance. We sat at one of their picnic tables, sipping well deserved drinks while gazing at the gorgeous surroundings. Ice cold Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has never tasted so good.

    As luck would have it we were collected by the mail boat on one of their twice weekly mail runs, delivering mail and groceries to residents of the various bays and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds. It was an interesting and leisurely trip back to Picton as our boat made its rounds, met by residents and their pets. We collected luggage and tired walkers and our captain was offered fresh scallops by a man shucking the day’s catch on a pier. After the deliveries were finished, our skipper turned his back to the helm to do paperwork, evidently on autopilot as we made the final push to Picton. I loved every minute of our 1:45 return journey, the perfect way to end an exceptional day.

    Back in town, exhausted but happy, we returned to Cortado for a shared pizza and drinks ($38, good).

    Photos here:

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    Gorgeous pics, mel, especially of Queen Charlotte track.

    How far in advance did you have to book the boats to do the walk? what happens if bad weather makes it impossible or inadvisable?

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    Hi annhig -

    We made our boat booking the afternoon we arrived in Picton, so just a day before. The whole idea was to see what the weather was up to and pick the best day for the walk. We made the right choice, as the following day was kind of cruddy.

    As you know, we usually travel well off season - I don't generally book activities in advance.

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    Day 4 - Picton

    We woke much relieved we’d taken our cruise and walk the previous day, as the skies were grey. We sought out Village Bakkerji, which I’d read is the best bakery in town. Oh my, what a great little shop, everything looked so good and fresh, ideal for picnic provisions. We bought a pie and brownies for later, then popped into Le Café for coffee and the best savory muffin I think I’ve ever had. The beautiful harbor views were a bonus.

    Bob was curious about the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum, so we spent our morning exploring the world’s oldest surviving merchant ship and learning about its fascinating history ($10 each). We also explored the ferry terminal, watching two ferries come in and get situated at the wharf.

    That afternoon we visited the Waikawa Marae (Maori sacred gathering place), me enjoying the intricate carvings in the woodwork and the absolute stillness.

    After some confusion and help from a passerby, we located Victoria Domain and the carpark for the Snout Track. This undulating track leads to Queen Charlotte View (50 minutes one way), which, as advertised, offers spectacular views over Queen Charlotte Sound. It then continues to the end of the peninsula (The Snout, 40 minutes one way). As I learned firsthand a few years ago, this track is incredibly slippery when wet and can be a complete mud bath. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case this time. It’s also an ideal vantage point from which to watch the ferries cross the sounds. Although it was too hazy to get good photos, it was mercifully dry, and we both enjoyed this hike (3:20 return with lots of time at the viewpoints).

    Afterwards, we drove back to town for drinks at Seamus’s, an authentic little Irish pub with a fun vibe. We don’t have anything like this where we come from; Bob said he felt as if he’d just walked into a movie. As it happened, the pub was right next door to the Fish & Chips place we’d tried to find the first night, Kiwi Takeaways, so Bob decided to give NZ fast food another go. This place seemed popular with the locals, which is usually a good sign, and apparently it was; Bob devoured his fresh blue cod (not frozen like the other place), and his manageable portion of chips. And it was a fraction of the price, go figure.

    Photos here:

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    Day 5 - Picton to Kina Beach/Ruby Bay

    The morning brought another brownie run, another lovely savory muffin and flat white at Le Café, and our first tank of gas; a shocker at $2.20 per liter, ouch ($75).

    We left Picton via Queen Charlotte Drive, a slow, winding 35 kilometer meander that leads from the top of Queen Charlotte Sound through the hills overlooking Pelorus Sound and down into Havelock. I’ve always loved this drive, but today the turquoise bays were muted by grey skies. Thus, my usual prolific photo taking was severely reduced, save a few stops to snap some unique letterboxes, for which Bob was probably thankful.

    We made the short detour to the start of the Queen Charlotte Track at Anakiwa to poke around and walk the jetty before leaving the area. We wandered the Havelock Marina for a bit, then drove on, not stopping again until we reached Mt Richmond Estate in the Rai Valley, warmly greeted by resident golden retrievers Dakota and Shiloh. We took a flat white and wedges break in their relaxing café Foresters, so named due to its former life as a forestry camp. The owner was kind enough to let us look around one of their cottages (spouse and I stayed here for a couple of nights a few years ago and I wanted Bob to see the accommodation).

    Frustration followed; trying to decipher the directions provided by the owner of our cottage near Kina Beach, evidently designed to help us skirt the busyness of Nelson, but clear as mud. We must have missed a turn because we were right in the thick of traffic. I’m always amazed how a city of ~46,000 can feel so hectic.

    Just as I became convinced that we were hopelessly lost, the I Site in Stoke appeared from the ruins and a lovely woman there assured me that we weren’t far from our destination. So, naturally I decided to go off-piste, detouring into the Moutere Hills, an area I’ve much enjoyed on past visits. Before I knew it, a mysterious force had taken over the steering wheel and I was pulling into Seifried Estate; within minutes a bottle of Sweet Agnes Riesling, NZ’s most awarded dessert wine, had found its way into the boot. Upon learning that Bob preferred hops to grapes, the proprietor of Seifried suggested we visit Moutere Inn, NZ’s oldest pub at 154 years.

    Always up for another detour, we did exactly that, me enjoying the laid back atmosphere, Bob enjoying the brew. We also popped into Moutere Gold, a shop selling locally produced items, before returning to the task of finding our accommodation.

    It had taken us almost eight hours to make the estimated 2.5 hour drive from Picton; a prime example of why I advise first time visitors to NZ to approach travel time and distance calculators with extreme caution - they only apply if one doesn’t stop to explore en route, and what self-respecting traveler does that?

    Our home for the next four nights was a lovely two bedroom cottage located on the lifestyle property (love that term) of Rennie and Karen, one kilometer from Tasman Village, 15 minutes drive from Motueka, 15 minutes drive from Mapua (best accommodation of the trip – and the cheapest at $110 per night low season – peaceful country setting, spacious and fresh, quality furnishings and fittings, most comfortable bed ever, large well-equipped kitchen with oven, full bath with separate tub and shower, no indication that internet was available until we asked and were given the code on our day of departure, hmm).

    The skies had opened and the rain had found us. After a grocery run to Motueka we made dinner in our fabulous kitchen.

    Photos here:

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    love the pics of the letter boxes, Mel, and of the Moutere Inn, which we found too, but on purpose, as we thought it was something we should see by way of "balance" on our day exploring the wineries around Nelson.

    love the way your car seemed to take decisions by itself!

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    Day 6 - Abel Tasman Region

    Up and out early again, we drove into Motueka, a one street town nestled between Tasman Bay and three national parks; I’ve always felt that the Moutere Hills, Motueka, Riwaka, Kaiteriteri area makes a much better base from which to explore the Abel Tasman region than does Nelson, and there’s the added bonus of fewer people and considerably less traffic.

    The whole idea of going to town early was to sign up for a water taxi into Abel Tasman that day, but there are distinct disadvantages to being an early bird, in this case a closed I- Site.

    While waiting for 9 am to roll around we got some exercise exploring Thorp Bush (nice little park at the edge of town) and I had my daily flat white fix at Patisserie Royale (which had a fabulous looking selection of goods). Walking back through town we saw that the Wilson’s office was open. Wilson’s = Abel Tasman transport. We consulted with the young woman working the desk, who, eyeballing the clouds and checking the forecast online, suggested tomorrow’s weather might be better, so we signed up for the next day’s water taxi from Kaiteriteri to Medlands, with a pick-up at Anchorage ($65 each). Then it was back to the I-Site to discuss our options for Farewell Spit, which we arranged for Monday.

    With an unplanned day ahead of us, we drove out to Kaiteriteri Beach. Those ominous clouds were now a distant memory; we were blessed with an absolutely beautiful clear day which would have been ideal for walking a section of the Abel Tasman Track! The golden sand of the beach set against the bright blue of the bay was spectacular. After exploring for a bit, we moved on to Little Kaiteriteri Beach, where we walked the track to Stephen's Bay (about an hour return) for yet more glorious views...and the perfect picnic venue - not a single sandfly! As a landlocked Coloradoan, Bob was in beachcombing heaven.

    Eventually we tore ourselves away and drove towards Marahau, but the road to Split Apple Rock begged a detour, so we dutifully obliged. Many squiggles later we were walking the track down to yet another beautiful beach, and the main attraction, a large granite rock that resembles, you guessed it, a split apple.

    Afterwards, we continued on to the tiny settlement of Marahau situated at the southern entrance to Abel Tasman National Park. The tide was out, leaving behind miles of trickling streams, estuaries and shallow pools. The Abel Tasman coast has one of the largest tidal ranges in NZ and despite how many times I’ve seen it, it always surprises me. We parked and walked the Abel Tasman Track to Tinline Bay and back, about 90 minutes. I suspect that Bob would have been content to carry on walking for hours, but the day was rapidly disappearing, the next two days were spoken for, and I thought he might like to still see Mapua, so off we went.

    Mapua Wharf is located at the mouth of the Waimea Estuary, about 25 minutes from Nelson. I’ve watched it transform over the years; it’s now home to an assortment of cafes, galleries, shops and a waterfront park. It’s an ideal spot to take in the views and people watch over a meal or drinks. We were blessed with brilliant sunshine, sparkling blue water and a temperature of 20c. Families were out enjoying the beautiful late afternoon and the wharf’s cafes were doing good business. Our destination was The Golden Bear brewery, where Bob sampled the Dark Dude, Hot Lips and Hooligans, while I sampled a lovely blackcurrant cider. I’m told that The Smokehouse is ‘the place’ for fish & chips, but Bob was fish and chipped out and I’m not a fish eater, so we took a chance on the Golden Bear’s Kiwi version of Mexican food, which wasn’t half bad (how can you mess up a quesadilla?).

    We’d managed to squeeze a lot into the day, and still made it back to our cottage in time for sunset.

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    Day 7 - Abel Tasman Region

    As usual I was up at dawn, so I walked down to the estuary to explore. En route I passed a lamb that began to bleat frantically and tried to break free of its fence, poor guy must’ve thought I was there to feed him. I retreated back to the cottage for fear we’d wake up the entire countryside.

    Not much open in Motueka on an early Sunday morning, which is how we ended up at Antonio’s European Bakery for caffeine and pastry (just okay) before heading to Kaiteriteri.

    Despite the promising forecast of the day before, the low clouds and grey skies didn’t bode well for our 10.6 kilometer walk from Medlands to Anchorage (or 11.5 km depending on who you believe). Our check-in with the Wilson’s kiosk matched the weather, the attendant perfunctory and glum. We boarded the Vigour and donned our life jackets, the boat feeling awfully small for so many people (14 on departure, 16 on return). I briefly wondered if it could even move with such a big load, then once moving, I worried that we’d sink.

    Commentary was impossible given the loud motor and splashing water, but we did make a brief stop at Split Apple Rock and learned a bit about the birds, the sheer number of which was staggering; they completely surrounded our little boat.

    No sooner had our skipper dropped off some kayakers and artfully escaped the shallow water, than he was called back...someone had left a camera behind. He carefully maneuvered the boat back to shore, handed the camera to its owner...who promptly dropped it into the water, shaking his head when the skipper asked if it was waterproof. Bummer.

    As we stood in the queue for the only long drop at Medlands, I had to wonder what Abel Tasman must be like in the summertime, when an estimated 200,000 visitors descend upon this, NZ’s most popular tramping track. Not a problem in early September though; we pretty much had the track to ourselves once the passengers from our boat dispersed.

    The Medlands to Anchorage section of the 54 km Abel Tasman Track is said to be the most varied, and it includes the swing bridge across Falls River; it’s easy yet slightly undulating, and today it was just a wee bit cold, but good walking weather nonetheless. We lucked into the perfect spot for lunch, a bench overlooking Torrent Bay, and with plenty of time left, we took the side track to Cleopatra’s Pool, a 20 minute detour that led up a stream bed to a swimming hole.

    We arrived at Anchorage with 30 minutes to spare before our return water taxi, just enough time to explore the hut and play in the sand. Given the gloomy weather, I expected the sandflies to be frisky, but they were practically non-existent, woo-hoo!

    Aboard the same very full boat, we returned to Kaiteriteri, the sun appearing mere minutes before we disembarked, the photographers amongst us sighing heavily. The tide was out, so our skipper couldn’t get very close to the beach; he positioned a landing ramp over a particularly wide section of water and we walked across the mud flats back to shore. Now that the sun was out, I wasn’t ready to leave, so we popped into the beachside café for a bit before returning to Motueka. There, we picked up a few groceries then joined the convivial Father’s Day crowd at the Sprig and Fern to sample the locally crafted dry cider and porter. It’d been yet another good day, clouds and all, and I we both thoroughly enjoyed Abel Tasman.

    Photos here:

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    Day 8 – Collingwood, Cape Farewell & Farewell Spit

    With a long day ahead, we were out by 7 am; first up, my new favorite bakery, Patisserie Royale, for the obligatory morning jolt. The plan was to drive from Motueka to Collingwood (90 minutes), making as many detours as time allowed; we were due in Collingwood by 10:45 for our tour of Cape Farewell and Farewell Spit.

    Enter Riwaka Resurgance, located 16 km from Motueka in the Kahurangi National Park. Here we followed the short trail through damp, dark forest to the spot where the Riwaka River emerges from limestone cave-riddled Takaka Hill (aka Marble Mountain), a pretty little walk with moss-covered rocks and crystal clear pools. Bob was enchanted.

    Then, the dreaded 45 minute drive over whiplash inducing Takaka Hill, steep, narrow and corkscrew-like twisty. As a passenger this drive usually makes me carsick, but today I was the tormentor not the tormented. At the top of the hill, we walked out to Hawke’s Bay Lookout to soak up the fabulous views of the Riwaka valley and Tasman Bay.

    I wanted Bob to see Pu-Pu Springs, the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand. The Takaka I- Site was closed, but a woman sitting outside the office graciously offered her help, giving us directions and assuring us we had plenty of time to visit the springs and still make it to Collingwood on schedule.

    Seven kilometers later we were exploring Te Waikoropupu Springs, home to some of the clearest spring water in the world with an underwater visibility of 63 meters. The springs are sacred to the local Maori; contact with the water is forbidden. We followed the one kilometer boardwalk through the forest and amongst the springs; we had this gorgeous and incredibly peaceful place completely to ourselves.

    We arrived in the thriving metropolis of Collingwood, Golden Bay’s oldest town, and with a population of ~200 people, the second largest. We checked in for our Farewell Spit Eco Tour ($145 each), wandered around town and lingered over a slice of cheesecake at the cute little Courthouse Café.

    Collingwood is situated at the mouth of the Aorere River, where SH 60 abruptly terminates. Puponga Road continues a further ~20 km beyond town, and then all signs of mankind disappear. Beyond this is New Zealand’s longest sand spit, extending some ~32 kilometers towards Cape Farewell, so named by none other than Capt James Cook.

    Renowned for its birdlife, Cape Farewell is the northernmost point of the South Island. It’s also the location of frequent whale stranding, having claimed some 680 whales since they began keeping records. It’s off limits to private vehicles and bikes; foot access is allowed for 4 km on the ocean beach and 2.5 km on the inner beach. The only way to fully appreciate the spit is by guided tour. Few visitors to the South Island ever seem to make it this far north, yet this was something I really wanted Bob to experience.

    There were only six of us aboard our 4x4 bus, and just like the last time I took the tour (2003), everyone except us was from the North Island. One couple had sold their home to spend 2-3 years touring the South Island; my kind of holiday.

    The next 6.5 hours were spent exploring the Farewell Spit, amazed by the encyclopedic knowledge of our driver and guide John, a delightful old gent who truly loved his work.

    We’d been blessed with a beautiful cloud-free sunny day; the normally constant wind completely absent. Ideal conditions for exploring the overlooks, seal spotting, walking the dunes and enjoying the pristine and unspoiled coastline. We picnicked at the lighthouse keeper’s cottage and cautiously climbed to the top of the lighthouse, unfortunately met with a locked door.

    The grand finale was a visit to the otherwise unnamed ‘seal bay’, a secluded alcove surrounded by rock formations. John told us that access to this area is rare, but thanks to the full moon and a low pressure system, conditions were perfect. From here we watched a large group of seals dash for the sea, lumbering awkwardly one minute, sliding on their bellies the next – funny as all get out, a veritable seal slip ‘n slide. Pulses quickened as John raced to get us out of the bay as the tide came in.

    After the tour we retrieved our car in Collingwood and began the long journey back, me hoping to get across Takaka Hill before full dark. Back in Motueka we called in at the deserted Sprig and Fern for drinks and a nice chat with the bartender, followed by dinner in our cottage. It’d been a very long and beautiful day.

    Photos here:

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    Melnq8, just joining your wonderful TR of your latest NZ adventure. Your pics are beautiful, and fun for us to experience, through your report, many areas which we have yet to explore. Thanks!

    We have a lot of empathy for your brother and his long, long journey. Of course, you make that same lengthy trip to visit home in CO. Guess it's just the price of travel to and from the Land Down Under!

    We like your comment about a 2 1/2 hour trek stretching into an 8 hour day. We experience the same as we stop so often.

    We'll be awaiting your next installment.

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    Day 9 – Motueka to Punakaiki

    Unfortunately, it was time to move on. Although we’d accomplished what we set out to, there was still so much to see and do - the Nelson Beer Trail and Farmers Market, arts and craft galleries, un-explored bakeries and cafes, un-discovered walking tracks, beaches and caves, and of course the entire Nelson wine region. No matter how often I visit the South Island, there’s never enough time.

    We made the final drive to Motueka and worked our way towards Kohatu-Tapawere via the Motueka Valley Highway. I’ve always liked this drive, especially in autumn, when the trees alongside the river are changing color. Today there were lambs, daffodils and leafless trees. We passed row after row of naked hop fields and numerous honesty stands selling kumara, apples and bags of horse poo.

    We joined SH 6 at Kohatu, surrounded by fields of gorse and well-logged forests and then continued over Hope Saddle through Kahurangi National Park. We stopped for lunch in Murchison, seeking out Rivers, a café I knew from previous trips. Here Bob tucked into a massive hamburger complete with fried egg; I went for the tomato chorizo soup, which came in a bowl big enough to swim in (good, $34 with flat whites).

    Fourteen kilometers southwest of Murchison, we stopped to explore The Buller Gorge Swing Bridge, New Zealand’s longest, where we paid $5 each to access the 110 meter bridge and walk the 15 minute loop track on the opposite side. I knew this bridge long before it became a commercial enterprise, and I’ve boycotted it since, as it bothers me that a piece of NZ history has been reduced to a fee-driven tourist trap. Nonetheless, since Bob had only experienced a handful of swing bridges, I thought he might get a kick out of seeing this one. The consensus - mildly interesting diversion, but a serious sand fly-o-rama, thanks to the muggy, overcast day.

    We forged south, detouring to Westport to pick up some groceries and to soak up bit of West Coast flavor at a rough and tumble boozer, The Empire, Bob leaving $12 richer after a go with the pokies (penny slot machines), me breaking even. It dawned on me that I’d not had any NZ ice cream yet, so I rectified that with a scoop of Hokey Pokey at a milk bar as we left town.

    Back in the car, we continued our drive, which was beginning to feel like it would never end. Staying alert while navigating the seemingly endless squiggles was exhausting; I’m not sure how the Kiwis do it day after day.

    Nearly eight hours after leaving Motueka, we arrived in Punakaiki and got settled into The Beachfront Motel (dated but adequate, woodsy, unit #3 had a sour smell, but was warm & comfy, well equipped, no views as the units all face a gravel seawall, but we could hear the crash of the waves, utterly useless internet, issues with booking, many e-mails went unanswered, I came very close to giving up, $130 per night).

    It seems we brought the rain. The proprietor of the motel told us that the sun had been shining in Punakaiki for the last 3.5 weeks. It figures. He also told us that he routinely drives from Nelson to Punakaiki in 2.75 hours. Huh.

    The remote, sparsely populated West Coast sees some 2000-3000 mm rain per year, and in all my visits to Punakaiki, I can’t remember a completely clear day. This entry in our unit’s guestbook pretty much sums it up:

    An ode to Punakaiki

    It rained and rained and rained.

    The average fall was well maintained.

    And when the tracks were simple bogs,

    It started raining cats and dogs.

    After a drought of half an hour,

    We had a most refreshing shower.

    And then, the most curious thing of all,

    A gentle rain began to fall.

    Next day but one was fairly dry,

    Save for one deluge from the sky,

    Which wet the party to the skin,

    And then at last, the rain set in.


    Photos here:

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    Hi, Mel.

    As usual enjoying your TR. Thanks for sharing it and the photos. Funny thing while looking at your photos - the coffee photos were the first to pop up! Must be our combined coffee devotion/passion making this happen. :)

    Our Motueka cousins took us to Riwaka Resurgence last trip there - I had heard of it but wasn't sure where it was, so it was good to be taken there.
    On my first trip to Puponga and Collingwood over 41 years ago, I met one of the pit ponies from the Puponga mines a family friend owned. We looked at purchasing a piece of land there a few years later but felt we just couldn't afford the $NZ500 asking price! When we went back about 10 years ago to visit Farewell Spit (the first time for me, umpteenth time for DH) we were stunned at how developed the whole area had become.

    Amazing how many of your photos look very similar (although better) to some of mine. Great photos, Mel. Now I am retired I am going to learn more about my camera, and getting the best out of each photo opportunity.

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    Thanks Dotty -

    I do love my coffee!

    I find it interesting that a town the size of Collingwood and an area devoid of people could be considered 'developed'. The couple we met from the NI who were on a 2-3 South Island tour had spent about six weeks there. She laughed when I asked her what on earth had they done to fill their time.

    I do get what you mean though as every time I return to NZ, it feels as if it's grown in my absence. Pu-Pu Springs for instance, has turned into an official attraction with boardwalks, information boards and kiosks. I could have sworn there was nothing there but the springs and a dirt path the last time I visited.

    What are pit ponies?

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    Hi, Mel,

    Pit ponies were used in the coal mines to move the coal wagons through the mine shafts and up to the surface. I have a feeling they often lived underground, although I'm not sure about the pony I met. I took a photo of it but not sure at present where it is - probably in Havelock North, where everything I want and can't find here in Wellington happens to be!
    I know what you mean about the development of Collingwood - not as a developer would expect, but Puponga has certainly grown and spread out since I first went there.

    And I agree about Pu-Pu Springs. When we were last down there, in 2008, was the first time we saw some major development around the springs in the form of boardwalks.

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    I'm loving your STUNNING photos as much as your report. I'm currently in Wellington; next stop Auckland--and my NZ scenery is now behind me. Your photos--especially of Abel Tasman--made me wish I could turn my car around and somehow squeeze in at least another week!!!

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    Day 10 – Punakaiki

    The morning brought more gloom, but it was dry! We were fed and out the door early, with plans to explore as many walking tracks as we could fit into our solitary day. We began with the Pororari River Track, where we followed the Pororari River upstream through a beautiful gorge into Paparoa National Park. Having not checked river crossing conditions before we set out, we turned around at the Inland Pack track junction (two hours, six km). On the way back, we ran into the proprietor of our motel, Bruce, who was fishing. A discussion ensued, and we learned that it’s now possible to walk the Pororari River Track and the Inland Pack Track as an (almost) loop, regardless of river conditions, as they’ve built two bridges since I was last here.

    Next up was the Truman track, an easy 15 minute stroll to a beach. The tide was in, making it unsafe to explore, so we wandered a side trail for awhile and then drove to the village to kill some time before high tide at 11:23 am - THE time to see the Pancake Rocks blowholes in all their blowing glory. We poked through Punakaiki’s only shop and shared a rather excellent brownie at their coffee bar.

    Best laid plans and all that...sea conditions weren’t in our favor, high tide or not. We patiently awaited the show, but it never came. So, we wandered the track, explored the limestone formations, took in the not-quite-clear sea views and swatted sand flies. Bummer.

    After a picnic lunch near the village, we drove out to the start of the Inland Pack Track to examine the new aforementioned suspension bridge, which is massive (!) and felt like serious overkill for the scrawny Punakaiki River, but then again, this IS the wet West Coast. Tempting as it was to walk as far as the second new bridge (one hour each way), we settled for walking about 40 minutes return. Note to future walkers: per Bruce, if walking the combined tracks, it’s best to start at the Inland Pack side as it’s not as steep; pick-up/drop-off is needed at one end, as it’s not a complete loop.

    Soon we were picking our way along the rough, six kilometer unsealed Bullock Creek Road, a myriad of signs warning us of the potential for sudden flooding as we worked our way through the narrow canyon; me nervously watching the ominous dark clouds building directly in front of us. Once at the end of the road we walked the track to Cave Creek, site of the 1995 viewing platform collapse which killed 14 people and seriously injured four others. Despite its haunting history, this is an enjoyable walk; the track meanders through beech forest, eventually descending into a gorge of large moss covered boulders, the site where Cave Creek resurges. It’s simultaneously dark, creepy and fascinating; Bob seemed to really enjoy it here (1:15 return).

    Naturally, the sun appeared just in time to set. We returned to the Truman Track for an encore walk to the coastline; quietly hoping to spot a penguin or two, the tide low enough to explore the beach this time. It’s amazing the difference a few hours can make, it looked like an entirely different place.

    Suddenly struck by an intense ice cream craving (that would be me), we drove back into the village café for a scoop of lemon/lime Tip Top (which tasted suspiciously like bubble gum). Huh.

    We then explored the beach at Punakaiki Resort, surprised to find the stick figure ‘Punakaiki’ sign that I’ve so often seen in tourist literature; I had no idea where it was located. We enquired about drinks and dinner, but the young woman working reception was vague about whether or not non-guests could partake, so we left, somewhat confused.

    That evening we walked from our motel to the endearingly quirky Punakaiki Tavern, each table sporting a green washcloth centerpiece to cushion the salt and pepper shakers. Oh how I wish I’d had my camera! Other than the seemingly ‘guest only’ (?) Punakaiki Resort, the tavern is the only game in town for dinner. We settled in at a table right in front of their fire; Bob tucking into a fully loaded Kiwi style hamburger; me settling for $5 WiFi and a cider. It’d been yet another full day, temperatures had reached 19c (66F) and we’d not even gotten wet. We’d pretty much ‘done’ Punakaiki.

    Photos here:

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    Day 11 – Punakaiki to Akaroa

    With a long drive day ahead, we were out the door by 6:30 am, winding our way south on SH 6, following the coastline along the angry-looking Tasman Sea, grey skies and obscured views detracting from this usually pretty drive. In Greymouth we gassed our thirsty Corolla ($2.22 a liter!) and sought out caffeine at the Gap Cafe. We were met at the door by the friendly owner who informed us they were hosting a private function, but welcomed us anyway. Nice guy that one.

    Refreshed, we continued south, turning inland at Kumara Junction, working our way east along SH 73 to Arthur’s Pass. Here we stopped at the Otira Viaduct overlook, where we were entertained by two inquisitive Keas, the world’s only alpine parrot. Keas are raucous, intelligent and cheeky. They’re attracted to people and amuse themselves by destroying property; the rubber strips around car windows and windshields provide endless entertainment.

    After perusing the Arthur’s Pass Visitors Center, listening to birdcalls and learning about the engineering of the Otira Viaduct, we forged on, somewhat slowed down by my incessant need for photos now that the sun was out and the views gorgeous.

    Nourishment beckoned; we stopped for a cake and brownie break at Express Yourself in the country town of Darfield, before motoring on towards Christchurch, where we eventually joined SH 75 to Banks Peninsula. The sweet village of Little River begged a proper look, so we called in at The Little River Gallery, a treasure trove of 100% NZ made artwork and keepsakes, and became fascinated with the unexpected Silo Stay; for which the word unique seems ridiculously inadequate. I loved the whole concept; shiny grain silos transformed into motel units, very cool indeed. I might just have to incorporate Little River into my next trip to the South Island for the sole purpose of staying in one of these ‘silo cocoons’.

    More here:

    We worked our way up and down the twisty roads of Banks Peninsula, surrounded by vibrant green hills and rolling countryside. We passed through Cooptown, the name sending us into gales of laughter and spurring a rhyming game reminiscent of our childhood road trips.

    Wood fired pizza awaited us at Hilltop Tavern, where we admired the stunning panoramic views over a late lunch ($49 shared pizza and drinks) before making the final descent into the French settlement of Akaroa, the terminus for SH 75 and home to some ~560 people, tucked alongside a sheltered harbor in an extinct volcano.

    It had taken us nine hours to drive from Punakaiki; we got settled into our home for the next three nights, Criterion Motel (the good: upgraded to second floor unit #7 with harbor views, roomy and well equipped, very friendly and helpful proprietor, the bad: curtains and upholstered furniture could use a good clean, unit faced grocery store loading dock which was noisy in the early morning, décor a bit tired, fickle internet, $140 per night).

    It’d been a very long day, but we’d been blessed with decent weather en route, and Akaroa welcomed us with clear blue skies and late afternoon sunshine.

    With motel proprietor Mike’s promise of more nice weather ahead, we booked the 12:45 pm harbor cruise with Akaroa Dolphins for the following day ($74 each).

    We then set out on foot to explore this beautiful slice of the South Island; we walked the jetty, meandered along the waterfront to the lighthouse and poked through the cemetery above town. We toasted the beautiful day with drinks at Le Hotel and sought provisions at Four Square. I’d thought we’d become accustomed to the high cost of food in NZ, but I was shocked at the prices and the dismal lack this, the only grocery store in town. Had I known, we’d have stocked up in Christchurch. As our day drew to a close, we ate a make-do dinner in our motel room and experienced the first bad tap water we’d had in NZ.

    Photos here:

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    You know, I just love your style of exploring & writing, Mel. You notice the little things ( like the curl of that leaf), appreciate the ebbs & flows of travelling in the country & have an enquiring but not intrusive mind.
    Big difference between someone who's genuinely interested in different lifestyles & those who think everything beyond their immediate experience is "weird".

    " ....and sought out caffeine at the Gap Cafe. We were met at the door by the friendly owner who informed us they were hosting a private function, but welcomed us anyway. Nice guy that one." That's how we found the vast majority of Kiwis too - very welcoming & accommodating.

    No surprise this one welcomed you & Bob. You'd be most welcome visitors anywhere.

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    I'm genuinely touched by your kind comments Bokhara. I take great pleasure in the small things (much to the dismay of my traveling companions!)

    The Kiwis are indeed accommodating and always seem willing to go the extra mile, traits I thoroughly appreciate.

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    Day 12 - Akaroa

    We had a quiet, comfortable night; up and ready to go long before the 7:30 am bustle began at the Four Square loading dock. Late sleepers beware; it gets mighty noisy. We could also clearly hear the folks above us moving about, doors closing, and conversation below us in the parking lot and office.

    Mike had spoken highly of the breakfast crepes at the French owned café right next door, so we walked over and settled in at Les Declies (a.k.a. Sweet As). Having been open only a week they were a bit disorganized, but the food was lovely; we both really enjoyed our meals, a ham/cheese crepe topped with fried egg for Bob and a parmesan/asparagus crepe for me ($10.50 each, very filling, good value). As we ate, we watched Mike through the café’s windows, wandering through the streets of Akaroa, stopping to chat with everyone he passed. Small town living.

    We spent the next three hours sightseeing; we walked through the sleepy town, climbed up to the hillside residential areas to admire the colonial architecture and poked along the myriad tracks in the Garden of Tane. We took the advice of a passing resident and walked to the Britomart Monument overlooking the harbor. We walked...and walked... and walked...friendly locals stopping to say hello as we passed. It was a glorious spring day, the skies a vibrant blue, bushes covered in bright purple flowers, scattered daffodils, not a cloud in the sky, photo nirvana.

    During our second pass through town we sampled the goods at L’Escargot Rouge, one of many cafes on the main street, me quite excited to discover they had Kapati ice cream, Bob trying his luck with a cherry slice and almost breaking a tooth on a pit.

    We eventually worked our way down to the wharf and boarded our 50 foot vessel, Into the Blue, immediately offered beer, wine or water, nice touch. We were two of 14 people aboard a boat that can accommodate up to 50, so there was plenty of room to stretch out. Over the next two hours our two woman crew filled us in on the history and wildlife of the area. We saw a penguin, seals and several Hector’s dolphins, the rarest and smallest dolphins in the world. It was a lovely excursion, particularly on such a beautiful day, topped off with cookies offered by our crew.

    More relaxation followed at The Brasserie's Happy Hour, situated in a lovely garden near our motel; the wine pours generous, the service abrupt.

    All around a brilliant day.

    Photos here:

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    Day 13 – Akaroa

    The morning brought grey skies and gloom, what a difference a day makes. We walked up to The Brasserie, me thinking Bob might want to try a bacon and egg butty, but both of us opting for bagels instead. Just like yesterday, the surly, Capri-wearing (and presumably French) proprietor was on site and apparently still in a bad mood, making me wonder if he was in the wrong line of work.

    We drove to Duvauchelle with plans to walk the Onawe Peninsula, a whale-shaped mass of land that protrudes into the water, dividing the top of Akaroa Harbor into Barry’s Bay and Duvauchelle Bay. This is the site of a bloody Maori massacre and is considered sacred. Although I’d walked Onawe unfettered years ago, I’d read that walkers now need permission from the heritage officer; I enquired about this at the Akaroa visitor’s center, and then again at our motel, but was told there were no restrictions.

    The Onawe track is only accessible at low tide; the peninsula becomes an island when the tide is in. As we set out along the rocky beach, I fretted that I might have misunderstood the low tide times I’d been given at the visitor’s center, but felt better after seeing some locals walking their dogs not far behind us. We followed the path to the tip of the peninsula and back, about an hour return. The views up here are incredible on a clear day, but unfortunately today wasn’t clear. As I groused my discontent with the gloom, Bob pointed out that he thought it was darn pretty, grey skies and all.

    We next visited Barry’s Bay Cheese and French Farm Winery, where we had a lively chat with manager Janet, learning quite a bit about the challenges of growing grapes on the peninsula.

    I’d hoped to explore the overlooks and tracks along Summit Road, but the weather just got worse and worse – in fact, we needed our rain gear for the first time - so we poked through Rose’s Cottage Gallery and then returned to town for a Kapati ice cream fix (that would be me) at L’Escargot Rouge. As we vacated our parking spot along a narrow one way road, we felt an unwelcome thump. Bloody hell! I’d backed right into a light pole. I cursed all the way back to the motel as visions of my first ever rental car claim danced through my head, Bob all the while assuring me that car bumpers are pretty durable. He was right, there wasn’t a bit of damage; calm was restored.

    After lunch in our room, we spent the afternoon wandering the streets of Akaroa; we visited the museum, various shops and galleries, and I enjoyed a nice coffee at the cute General Store. The weather still miserable, we played the pokies at one of the local boozers, making me $22 richer. We eventually retreated to our room to gaze at the non-views from our window. It was just that kind of day.

    Bob’s big NZ culinary adventure last year involved the discovery of meat pies, finally acquiescing out of sheer hunger as he stood before the display case of a bakery in Wanaka. One bite and he never looked back.

    Thus far I’d only been able to talk my non-adventurous food eater brother into crepes. He accidentally discovered (and seemed to genuinely enjoy) fried eggs and beetroot on his hamburgers and sweet chili sauce on his wedges, but I’d been unsuccessful in tempting him with green-lipped mussels, kumara and bacon/egg baps, let alone whitebait:)

    I was still determined to introduce Bob to something a bit more refined than Kiwi burgers, so we walked over to Akaroa’s award winning Ma Maison for dinner. Neither of us was keen on the offerings of duck, venison or lamb, so we did the next best thing, we shared an assortment of entrees, tapas style, choosing the pork rillettes, chicken Caesar salad and panko crumbed fromage.

    I suspect Bob had resigned himself to going hungry, but his initial hesitation turned into gobbling glee the minute the beautifully presented food was placed before us – how can anyone resist fried cheese? For dessert we shared a decadent chocolate concoction, almost too pretty to eat, garnished with tiny squares of chocolate jelly – and me without my camera.

    We spent a good two hours at Ma Maison, sipping beer and wine, soaking up the ambiance and watching the world go by. The food was lovely, the service...entertaining. The young staff had a rough night, one of them almost burning the place down as he tried to start a fire in the fireplace. The room filled with smoke and set off the fire alarm; diners were forced to evacuate the building, some mid-meal. We were compensated with a round of free drinks, making it a rather boozy night ($78, best meal of the trip).

    The staff earned bonus points with their forthright explanation of DCC (dynamic currency conversion, a scheme devised by banks to squeeze more money out of customers by ‘offering’ to charge credit cards in the currency of one’s own country). Nothing irritates me more than a retailer who doesn’t offer customers the option of overriding card readers that automatically default to the currency of the credit card. Not only did Ma Maison offer it, they explained and encouraged it, bravo!

    I didn’t take a single photo today!

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    Day 14- Akaroa-Christchurch-Auckland

    We left Akaroa just after 7 am, the morning clear, crisp and beautiful. We worked our way up the peninsula, me pulling over every five minutes to take photos of the rolling hills and bays, gorgeous in the early morning light. It was just so darn pretty...where was this weather yesterday?

    We stopped in Little River for breakfast at the café, a massive serving of eggs on toast for Bob, a tasty blueberry friand and flat white for me ($23). We inched towards Christchurch, stuck behind an erratic driver in a no passing zone; inexplicably missing our turn to the airport and ending up right in the thick of earthquake ravaged downtown.

    I simultaneously lost my bearings, my composure, and my patience. Evidently my brother and I share the same directionally challenged, poor navigation gene. Fortunately, it was Sunday morning and traffic was light; we eventually managed to find the airport, only to get confused again trying to locate the APEX rental depot. By now I was thoroughly annoyed and thankful that we’d allowed extra time. We’d logged 1,895 km during our two weeks and I was tired of driving; the narrow squiggly roads of the South Island had taken a toll.

    Once in the airport we checked in for our flight to Auckland and decompressed in the Koru Lounge.

    Upon arrival in Auckland, we collected my luggage (Bob’s had been checked through to LAX), walked over to the international terminal, checked into the Novotel across the street and dropped off our bags (smallish room, spotless, quiet, comfortable, very convenient, 30 minutes of free Internet use from lobby, $234). Sorted, we walked back to the international terminal, bought tickets for the Airport Express to the city ($28 each return) and joined the rather long queue for the 2 pm bus.

    Some forty-five minutes later we were deposited a stone’s throw from our destination, the Sky Tower, the tallest manmade structure in New Zealand at 328 meters (1,076 feet). In addition to the casino and entertainment complex on the lower floors, the tower boasts three viewing platforms, a couple of chic restaurants and a café. Not exciting enough? Well, there’s also the Skywalk, where the fearless can pay $145 to walk along the outside edge of the Sky Tower 192 meters from the ground, and the Sky Jump, New Zealand’s highest wired base jump. As we saw firsthand, people do indeed pay $225 to jump off a perfectly good building.

    Our $28 per person admission gave us access to three floors of the tower at 182, 186 and 220 meters. We wiled away the afternoon, watching the insanely adventurous flash by the windows on their wire-assisted jumps, wandering between the observation decks; the skies indecisive; the views ever-changing, the sheer size of Auckland a bit overwhelming after our two weeks in the country.

    After drinks in the Sky Lounge beneath the main observation deck, we returned to earth and sought out sustenance, Bob balking as I made a beeline for a kebab shop, but relenting after I reminded him that he’d eaten, and liked, gyros, so chances are he’d like kebabs too (and indeed he did, Kebab Time on Victoria Street, $17 for two). We perched on stools at the window and watched an endless parade of people scurry through the hectic streets of Auckland.

    In desperate need of a loo, we popped into a Starbucks...I absolutely could not believe how busy it was – two floors, completely jam packed with people and a line to the door. Have these folks never tried a flat white?

    We retraced our steps, boarding a bus back to the airport just as I realized I’d misplaced my ticket. The bus driver was understandably miffed, but waved me on when I showed him my credit card slip and promised to locate the ticket (which I produced when we got off at the airport). Cities never fail to discombobulate me.

    Back at the hotel we relaxed for a bit, then I walked Bob over to the International terminal and bid him adieu.

    Photos here:

    Day 15 – Auckland

    After a restful night in the hotel, breakfast at an airport café, much wandering and people watching, I checked in for my flight and settled in the Koru Lounge to await my 2:20 pm flight to Perth. I was chuffed that my $190 One Up bid to Premium Economy had been accepted just hours before, but even more so when I discovered I’d be flying on Air NZ's 787-9 Dreamliner, which commenced service on this route just three days prior. There’d been quite a bit of media fanfare on New Zealand TV when they retired the 747 from their fleet, but I didn’t realize they’d started flying the Dreamliner.

    I knew something was up the minute I boarded; the flight attendants seemed positively gleeful, this was all new to them too. I'm hardly an airplane buff, but I loved this plane. Brand spanking new, incredibly quiet, the seats very comfortable, the lighting soft, the leg rests a godsend, the entertainment system extensive, and the instruction video explaining how to work the various gadgets much needed and appreciated. Very nice indeed.

    As usual in Air NZ's premium cabins, the service was excellent. And the food... my roasted chicken breast with chorizo crushed potatoes and rocket salad vaporized. It almost made up for the inedible food on my inbound flight from SYD to CHC. Sandwiches, fruit and scones with cream and jam were a nice touch prior to landing.

    I was a happy camper.

    Bob and I caught up a few days later; his flights had gone seamlessly, a big improvement over his inbound flights. He was exhausted but glad to be home.

    I think I can safely say that a good time was had by all.

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    ending up right in the thick of earthquake ravaged downtown.

    I simultaneously lost my bearings, my composure, and my patience. Evidently my brother and I share the same directionally challenged, poor navigation gene. Fortunately, it was Sunday morning and traffic was light; we eventually managed to find the airport, only to get confused again trying to locate the APEX rental depot.>>

    Mel - you are not alone. We found CC a most confusing place and managed to misplace our car completely, only finding it again after an hour's wandering aimlessly with increasing ire with ourselves and each other. Eventually DH found it just round the corner from a bar in which I had sat myself refusing to budge another inch! Perhaps the "fun" we had trying to find the Apex depot had affected us - we decided that the first thing we should do on arriving in CC was to find it and then book ourselves into the nearest convenient motel, as we had a stupidly early flight out; but even with our GPS its position remained infuriatingly obscure. Eventually we phone them and they gave us directions to the parking lot across the road from where we were.

    Glad we aren't the only ones to struggle!

    Loved the end to your TR, even if the weather did not co-operate. and the flight home sounds like a dream.....

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    annhig -

    It's comforting to learn that it's not just me! I can find my way cross country, but the minute I get into a city, all bets are off. My husband has a built-in compass, but Bob and I can get lost with maps in our hands.

    Thank you Bokhara - immersion - I like that.

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    Pleased you and Bob had a wonderful time (apart from the unpredictable weather) while in NZ, and that Bob had no hassle with his return flights. The Dreamliner sounds a good step up for AirNZ. Sounds like a perfect ending for a near-perfect holiday. Do come back again, please.

    The one time I went to the Skytower I could not understand why people wanted to walk around outside let alone jump off! It was bad enough being so high with all the glass around! Now I have visited some very high places overseas I might not find the height and glass so bad but I still wouldn't want to jump off or walk outside.

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    Hi dotty -

    Overall we had exceptional weather; much better than last year when the SI reared its ugly head with a particularly ferocious storm, but as far as I'm concerned, it just made the NZ experience more realistic for then first time visitor Bob. You can't fully appreciate the beautiful days until you've experienced NZ's dark side.

    I don't get the whole jumping/dangling from heights either - I'll stay inside thank-you-very-much.

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    Hi Melnq8,

    Glad that you and Bob had such a wonderful trip!

    Thanks again for your suggestions when we visited the SI. We had a great time driving over Arthur's Pass, and a gorgeous day exploring the Punakaki Rocks area and coastline. It was enjoyable to read about your experiences.

    We're starting to work on our TR from the Alps. Are you getting geared up for your December visit to Switzerland and Germany? We'll stay tuned.

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    I certainly am getting geared up tomarkot, especially as the days on this side of the world heat up and the Aussie flies buzz around my head.

    I look forward to reading your report over on the Europe board.

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    Bumping this up in preparation for a trip to this area.

    Do you have the info for the "lifestyle" property of Rennie and Karen that you mentioned was near Kina Beach/Ruby Bay?? I tried to google using the info you posted but couldn't find anything.


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    I have another question for you. If we go to Abel Tasman area in late May to early June, will we be doing any swimming? I'm guessing the resounding answer is NO, but I have no idea what the weather might be like.

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    Well that settles that!

    I've also noticed that some places close down from May 1 until September/October.

    This wouldn't be my preferred time to visit, but our son is coming for a month and this is the only time (mid-May to mid-June) he can visit so we're trying to come up with a 7-10 day trip we can take with him when he's not traveling on his own.

    We're interested in day hikes and love beautiful scenery. Would this be an okay time for a walk on the Queen Charlotte track and somewhere on the Abel Tasman track? If this really isn't a good time to go, any other destination suggestions?

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    I'd not hesitate a single minute to visit in May/June, but I prefer traveling in the off season regardless of where I go.

    Sure, the weather can be iffy, but the weather on the SI is unpredictable at any time of year. Generally speaking, it will be warmer on the north of the SI, and areas like Nelson (near Abel Tasman) get more sunshine than further south.

    What specific closures are you referring to?

    Most 'attractions' are open year round, although some do operate on reduced schedules. The boat to the start of the Milford Track is one exception that springs to mind.

    Some tracks might be closed due to track damage, but should you run into a closed track there are plenty of alternatives, believe me.

    You can get some great accommodation deals in the low season. I can think of a handful of cafes in tourist driven spots that might close, but otherwise, I can't think of much that would be affected in MayJune.

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    Thanks. Some of the accommodations I checked out were closed. And it seems that water taxis run on a reduced schedule.

    How do you figure out when to get picked up from a hike (water taxi)? Just take the published time and then add a bit for a buffer?

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    You get picked up based on their schedule, which is more than adequate. They know how long it takes to walk a section and they've got plenty of buffer time worked in.

    I strongly suggest you not book until a day or two before, so you'll have an idea of what the weather is up to.

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