New Zealand Highlights
Queenstown part I
BROWNS BOUTIQUE B&B. Hotel is perched a couple blocks from the center – about a 7 minute walk to town. Front facing rooms have a great view of the town, back rooms look up to the Gondola/ Bob’s Peak. Very friendly staff provides cozy evening fire in the lounge (also with a great view of the city).
Restaurant recommendation: Solera Vino French restaurant – really good
This isn’t as far from Queenstown as one might think, and connections are seamless. Absolutely stunning snow-capped fjords – fewer people visit Doubtful Sound than Milford –50,000 visitors per year to Doubtful Sound versus 500,000 per year to Milford. Also included on the Doubtful Sound tour is a visit to Manapouri Power Station, where you travel down a 2km spiral tunnel to view the underground machine hall. The Power Station utilizes the difference in lake altitude between Lake Manapouri and Doubtful sound (approx. 170 meters) to generate hydro power for the country, and it is considered one of the country’s greatest engineering achievements.
DISTINCTION LUXMORE HOTEL – decent property and location with a terrific full breakfast, and friendly staff. Te Anau is a good stopover point for folks who wish to visit both Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound (i.e. one day for each tour). My purpose in visiting Te Anau was to see the Glowworm Caves. The boat trip to the caves is beautiful, however, when you enter the caves, the walkway slopes down to 4’ of clearance at times (like to do the limbo anyone?) and there is a giant gushing river adjacent to the walkway. It is cold and wet. Not for the faint of heart! Although the venue is quite family friendly and there were a lot of kids present that day.
The Caves tour is from 2:00pm to 4:15pm, and the InterCity coach departs Te Anau at 5:00pm, and arrives Queenstown about 7:45pm
Queenstown part II
Coronet Ski Park (my equipment was rented from Kiwi Discovery Shop in Queenstown). This is a good ski area for both beginner and advanced levels, only a 45 minute drive from Queenstown, and subsequently quite popular. Other ski areas include Remarkables, Treble Cone and Cardrona, which are apparently less crowded than Coronet, where I dodged snow board kamikazes and advanced-level kiddies on school holiday. Frequent buses serve all four ski areas from Queenstown, they are quite convenient.
Queenstown – Wanaka – Haast – Franz Josef
The InterCity Coach driver from Queenstown was friendly and professional, and he made stops about once an hour en route. Wanaka is sort of a Queenstown “light” – a popular resort amongst New Zealanders without the glitterati and glamour of Queentown.
When you reach the town of Haast about 3 hours later, you can see the Tasman Sea, and the road climbs precipitously up the hill with panoramic views.
Our driver stopped at a lovely fish farm near Paringa (one hour north of Haast), and it was like being in a rainforest. The West Coast is truly remote – and driving distances are longer than elsewhere in NZ because of the winding roads. Still it is well worth the trip if clients have the time to explore.
In Franz Josef it is possible to walk to the glacier independently to view it. If you wish to climb the glacier, however, it is necessary to go with a tour guide. I stayed at PUNGA GROVE Lodge – friendly property, close to restaurants and the Glacier Hot Pools.
Franz Josef – Greymouth - Christchurch
The coach trip from Franz Josef to Greymouth is through more rainforest country. The stop in Hokitika is well worth it – you can dip your toes in the Tasman Sea or visit the New World grocery story to stock up on goodies. And in March Hokitika hosts the Wild Foods festival – with such delights as jellied grasshopper and pigs eyes, alongside traditional New Zealand specialties (not mentioned above)!
Arrival in Greymouth and the transfer to the TranzAlpine train is straightforward and easy. Leaving the coastal area of Greymouth, you ascend through the Otira Tunnel (8.5 kilometers rising at a 3% grade – climbing 250 meters from one end of the tunnel to the other) finally reaching Arthurs Pass at 737 meters above sea level. Commentary on board the TranzAlpine is informative and entertaining.
TERRA VIVE MOTOR LODGE – Only stayed one night, served as a good stopover point from the TranzAlpine train. Spacious room with washer/ dryer in the unit. Proximity to good restaurants as well as the InterCity bus departure to Picton - 5 minute walk. The continental breakfast was exceptional, and the staff at reception were most welcoming.
The central area of Christchurch is unfortunately not open at this time. The city has an eerie quietness to it, and there wasn’t a soul out the evening I was there. Many houses have red notices taped to the front door, meaning the premises are uninhabitable. Walking along I happened to come across the house below, half of which is still standing.
Christchurch – Kaikoura – Picton
Early departure from Christchurch at 7:00 to catch the InterCity bus to Picton. We stopped in Kaikoura for 30 minutes. Kaikoura is a lovely little coastal town.
I splurged and bought the Kaitaki Plus class on the Inter-Islander Fery. Totally worth it – a quiet lounge with comfortable sitting room furniture. Complementary lunch and refreshments, it’s an ideal reprieve in which to relax. The ferry crossing was lovely as we cruised through the Queen Charlotte Sound from Picton. However - the open sea of the Cook Strait is a different story! The stabilizers were working overtime, so the voyage was still pleasant, but I went up on the top deck to get a better view, and heard a fierce howl such that I’ve never heard on a boat before. I didn’t have the courage to stay up top for long!
NOVOTEL WELLINGTON on the Terrace, with elevator access to Lambton Quay - the main shopping and dining area. Seventh floor room, it was nice to get a view of the city. Wellington is, in my opinion, the most interesting city in New Zealand. The topography is not unlike San Francisco or Monte Carlo. Due to an earthquake in 1855, half of the waterfront territory that was previously underwater surfaced above ground and become the new waterfront line at Lambton Quay.
Also met with management at Carter Observatory – this is on the Cable Car line near the botanical gardens. Anyone who is interested in the southern night sky would find this fascinating. They also had displays on black holes and expanding universes.
Restaurant recommendation: Great India – authentic and elegant
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