|Subject: New Zealand Trip - Long|
Kia ora, Ziners with an interest in New Zealand,
My husband and I traveled to New Zealand April 17-May 5 and had a wonderful trip! The scenery is fantastic and so varied with beaches, rain forests, glaciers, mountains, volcanoes and thermal areas all in close proximity to each other. The people we met were so friendly and laid-back, and the food was wonderful-very fresh lamb, beef, seafood, vegetables, fruits, desserts-all deliciously prepared and beautifully presented. There is lots of Maori history and culture on the North Island and wonderful architecture- especially in Christchurch.
We were quite fortunate and lucky in our timing. There were still lots of plants and trees blooming, but there was also nice fall folage. The temperatures during the day were 50's to 70's F and high 30's to 50's F at night. While we dressed in layers and always carried our rain jackets, we only actually got rained on a couple of times for about 15 minutes each. The other times it rained was either during the night or when we were in a bus between points.
We booked our trip with an adventure travel company that does small group travel. There were only 12 other people in the group, all experienced travel junkies and very easy and fun to travel with.
We booked the trip from Los Angeles and used FF miles to travel from Wichita, KS to LAX where we stayed a night before and after the LA- NZ flights to break up the trip. The Travelodge LAX was a happy, lucky choice for our needs. It's an old motel with very clean, renovated rooms in Art Deco style, and the grounds have hundreds of shrubs, flowers, and trees planted everywhere. The rates were very inexpensive, there was a prompt airport shuttle, and late check-out was available.
The Qantas flight from LAX to Auckland was OK--good service and food, but we were a bit disappointed in the leg room in coach for such a long flight (12+ hrs). We took the No Jet Lag pills and didn't have any jet lag symptoms except for waking up quite early in the morning for a number of days.
We were met by our Kiwi guide at the Auckland airport on the North Island and boarded a mini-bus for Paihia in the Bay of Islands. There were stops along the way for snacks, a stroll in a forest near Warkworth where there is a 600 year old Kauri tree, and overlooks near Whangarei. We stayed 3 nights at the Paihia Pacific Resort, just a block from the waterfront, where we had a huge room with a sitting area on a lower level from the bedroom and a terrace overlooking landscaped grounds. We took a full day Cream Cruise around a series of coves and islands, stark basalt rock formations, private retreats, and the Hole in the Rock. There was a lunch stop at Otehei Bay on Urupukapuka Island with time for a walk up to a hilltop overlook. The next day we visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where there is a lot of Maori history with the Treaty House, meeting house, and a 35 meter war canoe for 150 paddlers. We hiked from there through a mangrove area and along the river to Waitangi Falls. In the late afternoon we took a ferry over to quaint Russell, the first capital of NZ, where we inspected the "R. Tucker Thompson" schooner that sails around the islands and had a wonderful dinner at the Duke of Marlboro -the first "licensed hotel" in NZ.
On to Auckland--with stops along the way at KawaKawa, an old coal- mining town with amazing public toilets gifted by the Austrian artist Huntervasser and at Whangarei for lunch at a river-overlook restaurant. After checking in for 2 nights at the Mercure-Windsor Hotel on Queen St., just a couple of blocks from the ferry terminal, we visited the National Maritime Museum. There were wonderful displays and a great 20 minute film depicting the voyage of the first Maori from Hawaeke to NZ. The next day we went to the top of Mt. Eden, a dormant volcano, with 360-degree views of Auckland. From there we went west to the Waitekere Ranges stopping at the Visitor Center and hiking in the rainforest to a waterfall, followed by a walk and picnic at KareKare beach on the Tasman Sea, the location for a number of movie scenes. In the late afternoon we boarded the Devenport ferry (which offers good Auckland views) and were met by friends who drove us around the Mt. Victoria area (more great views) and had dinner at their home in Takapuna.
On to Rotorua--with stops at a park in Hamilton, Mystery Creek Vinyards and Winery, and Werrenshire Farm near Cambridge for a delightful farm-hosted lunch. Rotorua is referred to as "Roto- Vegas" by many Kiwis, as tourism is the main industry. We stayed 2 nights at the Grand Tiara Resort which has grotto spas in the lower level. The Whakarearewa Village was quite interesting with Maori history, culture, and a carving school; a Kiwi House where the endangered nocturnal birds can be viewed; and an impressive thermal area (think Yellowstone) with geysers, mudpools, etc. Downtown is the beautiful and fascinating Museum of Art and History. In the afternoon we went by 4-wheel drive bus to the rim of volcanic Mt. Tarawera which erupted in 1896. You can walk down into the bottom of the crater and up another side. That evening we attended a Hangi (dinner where food is cooked by steam in the ground) and Maori Cultural Show at the hotel. After checking out the next morning, we visited a lovely old Anglican church on the lakeside and a small craft guild workshop and store. Following an excellent lunch at a garden center cafe, we caught an Air New Zealand flight to the South Island.
Queenstown area. We went to Arrowtown to explore and had a great dinner at The Stables there before checking into Millbrook Resort for 3 nights. Millbrook is in a beautiful setting between Queenstown and Arrowtown. The next day we went to Doubtful Sound, which cannot be reached by public roads. The trip includes a bus from Queenstown to Lake Manapouri, a cruise across the incredibly beautiful lake, a bus to the Manapouri Power Station then across Wilmont Pass to Doubtful Sound, where another boat is boarded to cruise about 3 hours on the Sound. It was a wonderful day of amazing scenery and wildlife--dolphins, seals, etc. The next day we went to Glenorchy (area has many LORD OF THE RINGS film sites that my husband recognized) for a wet and wild jet-boat ride down the narrow, shallow, twisting channels of the Dart River. The next morning it was on to:
Franz Joseph, with frequent scenic stops along the way: the first Bungee Bridge, hiking across a swinging bridge to the Blue Pool, a picnic lunch between mountain passes, awesome views of Mt. Cook and the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers. We stayed at the Franz Joseph Hotel for 1 night, had a lovely dinner at Beeches Restaurant, and afterwards, walked a short way to a path leading off the sidewalk into the woods and saw lots of glow worms. The next morning we hiked with an Eco Guide to Franz Joseph Glacier, then it was on to:
Greymouth--with a stop in Hokitika where the famous "greenstone" (jade) is mined and crafted into jewelry. We stayed 2 nights at the Kingsgate Hotel in Greymouth. There was a full day trip in a large circle around the NW coast area stopping at Reefton, Buller Gorge, Westport, Tauranga Bay, and Punakake (Pancake Rocks). After a good lunch at the 124 Cafe near the station, we boarded the Tranz-Alpine Express train to:
Christchurch. The train ride which travels through the magnificent mountain passes across the spine of the South Island was a comfortable 4 hour trip. We checked into the Heritage Hotel right on Cathedral Square then strolled down to The Strand area and ate al fresco at Bar One across the street from the Avon River. The next morning we visited the Antarctic Center and had a ride in a Hagglund vehicle and some simulated Antarctic conditions inside the museum. This area is the outfitting and transport center for US and other countries' Antarctic expeditions. After a drive with overlooks of Christchurch and Lyttleton and a stop in Sumner for ice cream (Tip-Top Hokey Pokey, of course), we strolled through the Botanical Gardens in Hagley Park, stopped at the old 1882 Boathouse for cappuchino and to watch the rowers and punters, and the Art Center with its beautiful buildings, quandrangle, and cloisters. Next morning, we motored through beautiful, green coastal hills to the little port town of Akaroa, the only French settlement in NZ. There we took a nature cruise on the bay which is home to Hector porpoises, blue penguins, fur seals, and many species of sea birds. After, we enjoyed time strolling and shopping in the charming town. In the evening we had a group Farewell Dinner at the Sign of the Takahe, a stunning English Castle restaurant with a panoramic view of city. The next morning there was time for a stroll to the historic Council Chambers on the Avon. After checking out and on the way to the airport, we stopped at Mona Vale for tea and a stroll through the beautiful gardens.
While there is, of course, so much more to see and do in New Zealand, we feel like we got a good sampling of various areas and enjoyed every minute of it. If anyone has any questions, I'd be happy to try and answer.
Our pictures can be viewed as a slide show at: http://tinyurl.com/yps5o
Angie-hoping the storm forecasts are wrong, in Kansas