31 December, 2005
I'm sure many of you may have read my posting on the North Island by now.
It's time to mention about our chronicles in the South Island - the place that many people have been raving about whenever New Zealand is mentioned.
I always think many people are biased about their opinions when they make comparison between the North and the South Island.
The moment we went on set sail on The Lynx to Picton (the entrance to the South), we understand why.
These are the regions we visited during our 16 days here in the South:
Franz Josef Glacier
We wish the list was longer but then... like most travellers, there's always a budget and time constraint and we just have to make choices.
Picton sits at the stunning Marlborough Sounds. The ferry ride is more than just a cross over. It is an experience.
The experience is enjoyable and the views - indescribable. To me, this surpasses any waterfront cruises.
The Lynx is a popular ferry. We noticed many families and groups. You can simply enjoy the winds (very strong) at the deck or sit back in the restaurant for a cosy picnic. Or else, have some fun on the game machines!
Upon arrival, we picked our new car in Picton and headed off for the Queen Charlotte Drive. This is a popular scenic route if you are travelling to Nelson. It is highly recommended.
Just be warned that the road is long, narrow and winding but it's worth the drive.
You will be rewarded by the spectacular views of Marlborough Sounds. I'm sure glad I don't have to drive... Poor Alex!
Do allow some time for stops to enjoy the beauty of the South. It gives the driver a rest too.
Below photos show Alex and Clayton with Marlborough sounds in the background. The stop is a must!
The drive seems longer than planned and we arrive Nelson in the late afternoon.
Nelson is a small town and not many shops are open by the time we reached there. It is almost a breeze locating our accommodation for the night.
It is a good thing that we are staying in the city. The best thing is you don't even feel that you are. For more information about where we stayed in Nelson, see my Beds-North Island posting.
We had an early rest after a long day from both the ferry cruise and the winding drive.
We set off early that morning to check out Nelson beach.
The beach is long, flat and quiet that morning. The houses up the hill sure have a great sea view everyday. It must cost alot to live here!
Nelson is New Zealand's sunniest playground. It is no wonder that organic farming here is a popular activity too.
It was one of those rare occasions that the Nelson market was on that Sunday morning we were there.
I love local markets. And I have heard from the manager from the famous Boat Shed restaurant that there are alot of nice finds in the usual Nelsom market which opens every Saturday at the Montgomery Square from 8am - 1pm.
I bought this lovely hand-made retro bag for $NZ50 (the one in my left hand). Check out the retro furniture on the photo .
Nelson is also the home to many artistic talents and you can find alot of local artists, designers and craftsmen displaying their masterpieces in the market too.
I was told that you can find fresh gourmet produce in the usual Saturday market too.
This is definitely not a 'junk' market. It is one of the quality flea markets I've seen in this country.
Don't miss a visit to the Nelson Cathedral after the market fare. It's hard to miss this distinctive monument situated on top of Church Hill at Trafalgar Street.
Are you craving for some yummy ice-cream? Don't miss Penguino. This ice-cream cafe is situated at 85 Montgomery Square (see photo). They have a wide range of flavors from gelato to sundaes and bambinos for kiddos.
Being a chocoholic, I was fairly disappointed that I didn't get to savour the delectable treats from the famous Rosy Glow. It is closed on Sunday.
I have heard so much from the locals about the mouthwatering treats it offers. It is located on 20 Harley Street behind the police station. Ask the locals for some directions and you will find your way!
This region definitely deserves a longer stay if your time permits. It is a quaint place to just basked in the warm sunshine.
I would make an effort to stay in an organic farm when I next visit this beautiful town. For those who love the outdoors and enjoy roughing it out, don't miss Abel Tasman National park and Golden Bay.
We continued our journey to Christchurch and made a stop-over in Kaikoura for a night.
This is a very nice and scenic drive. We drove along Highway 6 and 1 stopped by this award-winning restaurant, The Store Kekerengu for a coffee.
It would be lovely to have a meal here next time. The patio seating overlooks the ocean and the gardens are awesome. Check out those giant flowers!
As we approached this seaside town, we were greeted by miles and miles of rugged coastline (see photo below).
Known for its crayfish and fresh seafood, you will also find these fresh yummies for sale on the road side!
Upon arrival at Kaikoura, we stopped by the i-Site to check on the famous whale-watching adventure.
Look at the photo below of the i-Site, I wouldn't mind an office with a million-dollar view like this one!
A shot of me and Clayton with Kaikoura mountains on the background
The breathtaking views of snow-capped mountains and its vast oceans are characteristics of this quaint seaside settlement. I like the natural coastal alpine scenery here.
Kaikoura is known for whale watching and dolphin swimming. We weren't able to do any of these here as the tour operators will not accept small children.
I believe this is due to the unpredictable waters of the ocean. And who can control the tides and waves out there?
Do check with the i-Site first before making your bookings for any whale-watch adventures. This is subject to weather conditions.
Mother Nature always has its final call!
Since whale-watching is out, we drove to the Seal Colony hoping to spot some seals.
Our first attempt was not that successful - I think the tourists may have scared them all away!
We tried again the next morning while on our way to Christchurch and this time, the seals were just sun-bathing on the rocks, posing for us!
Moving on, we enroute to Christchurch for a night to board the TranzAlpine, crossing over to Greymouth.
The drive from Kaikoura to Christchurch (around 3 hours) is worth mentioning. You will see miles and miles of rugged and untouched coastline of natural New Zealand.
Christchurch – the most English city in NZ
Friends told us that Christchurch is very English. We soon realized it when we witnessed the elegant gothic architecture in the city.
We had 3 nights here. An overnight stay to board the famous TranzAlpine and two final ones end our tour in the South Island.
Also known as ‘NZ’s Garden City’, the trees and gardens, along with the Avon River create a relaxing and laid back atmosphere.
We started at Cathedral Square which is also the hub of the city. You can’t be in Christchurch without being here! There is something about this place. It’s nice just sitting around here on a lazy afternoon.
Do pop by the I-Site at The Square if you have few days here. This way, you can plan your adventures and time smartly and wisely.
Our first stop is Christchurch Cathedral, a very important landmark of Christchurch – that’s probably the first thing you will notice too.
This awesome towering church is truly the heart of this city. Take a tour and admire the beautiful stained glass window panels and fine artistic architecture so delicately preserved.
There are a lot to see and do in Christchurch. If you are into a shopping spree, you won’t be disappointed here.
You will read more about it in my shopping page.
We a nice boat ride and enjoyed a leisurely punt on the Avon River through the Botanic Gardens. This is our first punting experience. Something different.
Whether you are a garden lover or not, you must not miss the Botanic Gardens. This is one of New Zealand’s best.
With the fine collection of exotic and indigenous plants, the gardens are a restorative place to visit.
I always love flowers so I started going ‘oo-oo’ and ‘aahh’ as I strolled along the flower gardens, especially the rhododendrons and rose gardens. I have never seen such glorious blooms. Look at those pictures!
Well, even Alex enjoyed himself. He admires the fine collection of herbs and maple trees.
Next comes the cultural precinct of Christchurch – The Arts Centre. This is a must-must-must! And if you can, plan your stay in Christchurch on a weekend for this purpose!
The Arts Centre comes alive on the weekends with artists, craftspeople, musicians, street performers and food vendors. There is something for everyone. It’s even a great place to interest kids!
This is a fantastic place to pick up a new Zealand gift.
If you can’t make your way here on the weekends, don’t be disheartened. There are still more than 40 art galleries, craft studios, specialty shops, cafes, restaurants and bars occupying these historic buildings.
The quality of the products is overall quite high.
Do you have a sweet tooth? Whether yes or no, there’s one shop you should visit which is often crowded with visitors and locals. That is the Fudge Cottage Colonial Sweet Shop.
The delicious gourmet fudges are made fresh in Christchurch Arts Centre. Enjoy a free tasting on site! The nicely packed fudges make great New Zealand gift too.
We had a nice afternoon lunch at Le Café, great place, sumptuous new Zealand food. You can’t miss this place. It is usually packed with locals and visitors basking in the morning sun with a yummy sandwich or a nice cuppa..
There is no shortage of eateries when it comes to dining in Christchurch. Check out the bunch of options at Oxford Terrace, known as ‘The Strip’.
We had dinner at an award winning French restaurant, Le Bon Bolli, located near to Hagley Park. Try their special garlic bread but be prepared to sleep alone!
One of our days was reserved for a day trip to Akaroa, a romantic French-inspired village within 2 hours’ drive from Christchurch.
The hilly roads may be winding leading to Akaroa but you will be fascinated with its scenic beauty.
If you do not have a rental car in new Zealand or like to travel stress-free, simply book with either The Akaroa Shuttle or the French Connection. Check the adventure page for more information.
We took a stroll through the charming harbourside village and browse in some of the shops on Rue Lavaud.
This is after our 3-hour swimming with the dolphins trip. It’s Alex’s list of ‘must-dos’ before coming to NZ!
They are no ordinary dolphins. These are the world’s smallest, rarest and friendliest dolphins only on Akaroa Harbour! Read about it in our adventure link.
If you don’t feel like a wild adventure, pick one of the 2 hour scenic ones from the few tour operators here. Experience the wild side of new Zealand cruise.
I must say that there are plenty to do in this quaint town. It’s small in size but big in character – if you know what I mean. If we come back here again, this town definitely deserves a night’s stay.
A Memorable Train Trip and Meeting the Glaciers
This is an experience we look forward to in the South Island – Boarding The TranzAlpine – consistently rated among the top ten train journeys in the world!
A must-do for anyone visiting the South Island.
Don’t miss this unforgettable trip that travels over the Canterbury Plains, through the heart of Southern Alps; passing tunnels, untouched forests and spectacular gorges to the West Coast.
This is the best train trip I have ever had!
We made our way to Greymouth, picked up our rental car in new zealand and then en route to the West Coast.
This is one of New Zealand’s natural best. The uniqueness of glacial ice meeting the temperate rainforest on the South Pacific Island.
Where else can you find glaciers just 305 above sea level and just few km from the beach?
We arrived at Franz Josef township after a 3 hours drive. It is hard to imagine how Franz is like during the busy months, given that it is the busiest tourist stop on the West Coast.
There are heaps of adventures here and you can ‘shop’ for your adventures and options here.
No trip to Franz is complete without doing the glacier walk. We did ours by driving to the car park 5km south of the town and walk to the terminal face.
It was one rough adventure with Clayton on a pram. We couldn’t complete the glacier walk for that reason!
Do spend some extra on a guided glacier walk and climbing experience if you can afford the time.
We booked ourselves on the flight of a lifetime, “The Grand Traverse”, with Air Safaris, a spectacular scenic flight seeing experience allowing us to explore the Mount Cook and Westland National Parks.
It is definitely an experience worth investing! Fine weathers are necessary for any helicopter flights. So do plan an extra day at the Glaciers, just in case.
Heli-hiking is another option if you want to combine a short helicopter flight with couple of hours of exploring ice caves and pinnacles that you couldn’t reach on foot in a day!
Or if you just want to set foot on the glaciers for that special photo moment, check out Heliservices who can land at any of the designated landing sites in the Westland National Park.
You probably will spend your money on adventures and food more than shopping in Franz. The shopping scene needs more development but you can still find yourself a new Zealand gift; there are some lovely new Zealand souvenir to take home.
Fox Glacier (Fox, to the locals) is the smaller of the two glacier towns.
It offers an intimate ‘village’ experience than Franz. You may prefer to do your glacier walk here if you find the ones in Franz too crowded. It delivers an excellent experience too.
Alternatively, you can also drive to the glacier carpark 8 km from town and walk to the foot of the glacier in around 30 minutes.
A ‘must-do’ at Fox Glacier is a visit to lake Matheson, 6km west from town.
We did the full walk with Clayton on the pram, another ‘interesting’ and tiring experience for us! It is an easy walk through the native forest which encircles the lake. It usually takes around an hour (took us longer with Clayton).
It was unfortunate that we didn’t get that ‘perfect shot’ of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman mirrored in the crystal waters like in a NZ picture book… yet, it’s a nice walk.
I heard from a local that the best picture perfect location would be take at the café at the Lake Matheson car park.
When it comes to dining, options at The Glaciers may be limited but there are still few nice cosy places to pick out and chill out. This is especially so in Fox, being a smaller town.
In Franz, we had lunch in The Landing, a popular and casual place to hang out; the chocolate brownie is yummie! For dinner, it was at Blue Ice Café. Blue Ice is a nice, cosy restaurant with an intimate feel. Friendly service and delicious menu, run by two sisters.
You can even adjourn to the bar upstairs if you feel like some partying!
Blue Ice is fully licensed.
Our brunch was at Alice May, a cheap family dining with lots of steaks and great chips. Big servings, great prices!
In Fox Glacier, the most popular place to dine seems to be Café Neve on the main road. The food is simple and delicious. The Garoupa fish I had was fresh and nicely done and Alex raved about the pizza he had that night. Just be prepared to wait a little longer on busy nights.
Queenstown and its Surrounding Beauty
There are a couple of routes to Queenstown if you are coming from the West Coast. Highway 6 is a easier drive all the way from Wanaka to Queenstown; the drive is less than 2 hours. You will drive around the edge of Lake Dunstan, bypassing Cromwell, through Kawarau River Gorge, then into Gibbston Valley and then to Queenstown.
Alternatively, you can travel via Crown Range; it’s a winding uphill drive which takes a slightly shorter traveling time.
On our way to Queenstown, we stopped by at the A.J. Hackett’s Kawarau Suspension Bridge, the world’s first commercial bungy operation – the ‘orginal’.
You don’t have to bungy to visit. You get a nice view of the rushing waters of the Kawarau River. It’s equally fun to share the excitement of the jumpers too.
There’s a good selection of A.J. Hackett gear if you like to do some shopping. Great place to pick up a new Zealand souvenir.
I asked few of my friends who had holidayed in New Zealand on which was their favourite city. All of them surprised me with a common answer…… Queenstown!
With that in mind, we planned a longer stay here. With so many people echoing the same sentiment, it can’t be wrong.
The first thing that impresses me as I set foot in this well-talked about town are the mountain ranges of the Remarkables and the calm waters of Lake Wakatipu.
I soon understand the popularity of this adventure capital. The streets are filled with booking offices. You can find all sorts of fun and crazy activities of all kinds!
Shopping in Queenstown is excellent particularly if you are an outdoor seeker. There is a good range of outdoor gear so don’t worry if you didn’t come prepared.
There are also nice shops for the serious fashion shoppers. Here, shops are open til late everyday, unlike most of the towns where shops tend to close at 5pm except for late night shopping.
You won’t be short of New Zealand gift shops in this busy town, which is said to have more than 1 million visitors a year! Wow… that’s simply amazing!
One shop that stands out from the rest is ‘In The Pink’, this pinkish and colourful shop with lots of designer and quirky knick-knacks from all over the world. It’s a lady’s favourite!
Yet, with all the crowd and touristy stuff, Queenstown is a beautiful place to linger, relax, unwind or go crazy and wild. Whatever you like to do, there is something for everyone, even kids!
Kids are not left out in Queenstown. There are many kids friendly activities and restaurants.
Despite its compact size, Queenstown has close to 18,000 accommodations to choose from. There’s practically a bed to suit everyone from backpackers to luxury lodges, with rates as low as $NZ18 to $NZ2,000 a night!
We stayed in 3 different places over the 4 nights – The Heritage, Shotover Lodge and Garden Courts Suites and Apartments.
Alex and myself are both adrenalin seekers to some extent. He loves the wild water adventures and me, anything in the air!
Alex booked himself with ‘Serious Fun River Surfing’. According to Alex (his exact words), this 4-hour activity at the Kawarau River is for the brave-hearted ones who want to experience the ‘unknown’ of the fast rapids!
Well, it’s definitely not for me! I opt for hang-gliding with ‘Skytrek’, the only company that is licensed to hang glide at The Remarkables.
That was an amazing and awesome experience. The views were incredibly beautiful. The best part of it was the ability to control and fly the kite (with supervision of course!) at some point.
We both took turns on the Shotover Jet, an exhilarating ride that took us through the rocky canyons of the Shotver River. The major highlight was the world famous Shotover Jet 360º spins! Hold on tight!
It’s probably not feasible to cramp up your days with too much activities especially if you only have few days in Queenstown.
Always make room for any cancellation or postponement as most outdoor activities are weather permitting. Check with the operators on availability once you made up your mind.
The best thing is to visit the I-Site and have a look at what’s available and from there, you can make decisions based on your liking and preferences.
Even if it rains and the weather is not too pleasant, you need not lose heart in Queenstown. You can still relax in one of the many cafes, do a wine tour, take an enjoyable ride on the Skyline Gondola, go rafting, relax with a massage or simply shop til you drop!
The café culture in Queenstown is very noticeable. Vudu café is a nice place for a light lunch and good coffee. Winnies is known for its pizzas.
We had an unpleasant experience at this restaurant, ‘Solera Vino’. After finding ourselves a table, we were told by the waitress that it does not welcome children. A lame excuse was given then.
There should be a sign to make that known. That will save us the embarrassment – so parents, stay away from this restaurant if you have children with you, it’s not kids-friendly.
A good place to pig out is Fishbone Bar and Grill. I like the interiors. It is colourful, fun and contains a lively atmosphere. The friendly service complements the fresh seafood and delicious desserts. They even have fun children books to entertain the kiddos!
For fans of Lord of the Rings, there are many tours that take you through the spectacular journey exploring the ‘Rings’ locations.
For us, the Skyline Gondola is one great (and relaxing) way to have a bird’s eye view of Queenstown and enjoy in comfort as a family. The views from the Skyline Restaurant are stunning! It’s a pity we didn’t have time to try out the mouthwatering buffet it offers.
Whatever you choose to do here in Queenstown, don’t be too busy to miss out on the tranquility and beauty of Lake Wakatipu and the mountain ranges of The Remarkables.
It’s just an ideal way to be rejuvenated and refreshed by the breathtaking views that Mother Nature freely offers.
We were privileged to stay in 3 great accommodations over the 4 nights here. 2 of them are apartment style and the other is a luxury lodge near Arrowtown.
Don’t forget to read about our experience by clicking on the links.
For a day out to escape from Queenstown bustle, we drove a 45 minutes to Glenorchy. And this is one of the best decisions we had made in the trip!
The road is one of most scenic highways in the world. It truly is! Alex and myself can’t helped but go ‘oo’ and ‘aahh’ throughout the entire drive!
No wonder much of filming for ‘Lord of the Rings’ was done here!
We stopped by to capture magic moments of mountain ranges mirrored in the crystal clear and calm aqua waters of Lake Wakatipu.
This is another New Zealand’s natural best! I promise!
If you don’t have a rental car in new Zealand, get one for this purpose! You won’t regret this experience.
This is home to one of the most expensive luxury lodges in the country, Blanket Bay, also a member of the small luxury hotels of the world.
Blanket Bay sets a new standard for luxury new Zealand accommodation.
If you don’t feel like driving that far, Arrowtown makes another enjoyable outing with a less hectic pace and it’s only 20minutes drive from Queenstown.
We stopped by this historic town on our way to Wanaka. Personally, even though there is not much to do here but it is nice walking along the arcades and lanes.
There are a few award-winning restaurants and cafes in Arrowtown. We relaxed by Café Mondo for a nice coffee. This place has one of the best homemade choc-chip cookie! The big cookie is crusty of the surface but moist and soft on the inside.
If you love chocolates like me, don’t miss these delectable chocolates by ‘Patagonia’ (tucked in a side lane), freshly made on premises by a chocolatier from Argentina.
Are you ready for the best drives in the world? To do that, I recommend you get a rental car in New Zealand.
This is the famous milford road. We had heard much about the alpine beauty of Milford Sound from books and friends.
It may be a long drive from Queenstown but you will be too distracted by the beauty of virgin rainforest, mirrorlike lakes and alpine scenery to even notice it!
Surprisingly, the long drive had turned out to be so refreshing. We were rejuvenated by Mother Nature, no wonder Milford Sound is regarded by many as one of the scenic wonders of the world.
To fully enjoy the drive and trip, you need to allow plenty of time for stops, to capture those special moments and marvel at the sheer landscape .
Don’t forget to top up your petrol (if you have a rental car in new Zealand) at Te Anau as there are no gas stations in Milford Sound.
Most importantly, rub on some insect repellent to keep away the famous sandflies of the west coast! It itches terribly if you are bitten!
My first aid tip: Don’t leave home without a bottle of tea tree or manuka oil.
There are many coaches and tours that offer trips to Milford Sound but it can be exhausting to make it back to Queenstown within a day and you would be spending most time in the bus.
A better thing to do (which we did) is to stay in Te Anau for a night. That way, you can see Milford in an unhurried pace.
The lakeside town of Te Anau is a good base to the spectacular Fiordland National Park, famous for its varied walks. It’s very popular among hikers from all over the world.
To really experience and get close to the fiord and feel the spray of the waterfalls, you need to take a scenic New Zealand cruise. There are a few cruise operators in Milford Sound.
Bring a windbreaker if you intend to sit at the deck (it’s windy and cold!), that’s where you learn more about the surrounding landscape with the commentary guide.
To avoid the rush with the coach tours (which usually take the 1.30pm cruise), plan it either earlier or later.
If you have time, the overnight cruise would be a great experience. Unfortunately we have to skip that as the overnight cruise does not accept little children.
Well, whether it’s a 2 hour cruise or overnight one, I’m sure you will be refreshed by the enchanting beauty of the fiords.
Wanaka and Mount Cook
I hope by now you would be charmed by the beauty of the South Island.
Before moving to our last alpine destination, Mount Cook, we stopped by Wanaka for a night via the Crown Range road.
Make sure you are a competent driver (or be extra alert!) if you are taking this drive. The roads are narrow and winding but you will be rewarded with spectacular views that would take your breath away!
Often overlooked, Wanaka is a charming little town and gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park, a World Heritage Area. It is definitely less busy than Queenstown and I find it a great place to sit back and relax, especially after so many days of adventure and moving around..
It’s definitely a nice place to slow down and enjoy quality time with family and friends.
This natural beauty of Wanaka is outstanding in its own way. It is different.
All we did during our short time here was to stroll along Lake Wanaka, took a drive around its surrounding area, marvel at the alpine scenery and relax in a couple of local cafes.
Be sure to have a coffee or do lunch perhaps in ‘Kai Whaka Pai Café and Bar’. It is the most popular casual cafes in Wanaka. The staff greets you with smiles and the food is yummy! The prices – great value!
The homemade muffins are a must-try! I ate one and bagged two more for breakfast the next day!
Wanaka may be an ideal place to spend your nights if you don’t like the hustle and bustle of Queenstown. Do book well ahead if you are coming here between Nov and March. Wanaka is a popular destination among the locals and overseas visitors.
I notice quite a few lake edge accommodations, stylish lodges and quality bed and breakfasts in this area. Though the choices are unlike Queenstown, you can still choose from budget beds to luxury new Zealand accommodation, depending our your budget.
We spent our night at the Oakridge Pool and Spa Resort, a lovely complex at the Cardrona Valley. We were attracted by the cosy and friendly atmosphere in this place.
Most of all, the scenery surrounding the resort is astounding! Read more about it by clicking on this link.
We set out early the next day for our drive to Mount Cook.
The drive to Mount Cook is easy and scenic. This is especially so at the last stretch leading to the alps. It was one of our most memorable drives in the South Island.
You know, I will never forget the light jade-green waters of Lake Pukaki! I have never seen anything like this before!
The lake is so, so beautiful. It is so calm and you can see reflections of Mount Cook and the alps mirrored in the waters.
You will enjoy this beauty for miles and miles until you approach the grandeur of Aoraki Mount Cook. We were too awestruck by the snowy alps right before our eyes.
This experience will far exceed those who do not have a rental car in New Zealand – true!
Aoraki Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain. This alpine village is surrounding with such dazzling backdrop, a favourite with trampers and international visitors.
You should stay here long enough for a walk or hike, there are many different levels of walks/hikes to choose from. This is a fantastic way to get close to the majestic alps.
And if your budget allows, a scenice flight, some includes glacier landings, will promise an unforgettable ‘once a lifetime’ experience.
We did a walk with Clayton on his pram at the Hooker Valley– it was challenging on those unpaved roads – we could only make it to the first bridge! Despite that, we had a lovely time and the views were awesome, more superior than just viewing it from the hotel room.
We can never be more thankful for the clear skies and perfect weather that very day.
Mount Cook village has limited choices when it comes to accommodations. Nevertheless, there are still options to suit every traveler, from budget dorm beds, affordable chalets and motels and New Zealand luxury travel.
Dining is limited to the Old Mounataineer’s Café and Bar or the restaurant in The Hermitage Hotel. If you plan to do your own cooking in the motel or chalet, make sure you stock up your groceries in Wanaka or nearby Lake Tekapo.
If you still prefer to stay in a bed and breakfast, a luxury villa or a quality lodge, take a look at what Lake Tekapo has to offer.
We did a brief stop at this quaint lakeside town after saying goodbye to the pristine alpine beauty of Aoraki Mount Cook.
Before that, we visited Mount Cook Salmon Farm, the first fresh water salmon farm in New Zealand. This is ‘de’ place to savour fresh raw/smoked salmon. And the salmon are free from chemicals!
Another stop for amazing views of Mount Cook and the jade-green lake is the Lake Pukaki visitor centre. A great stop for some photo moments with majestic Mount Cook as the dramatic backdrop.
While in Lake Tekapo, we visited the Church of the Good Shepherd, an important landmark in this region. Nearby, you will also spot the bronze statue of a sheepdog standing tall.
After capturing our last few magic moments of the emotive landscape of the lakes and glaciers, we head for Christchurch, our final destination in the South Island, before boarding our flight with Air New Zealand to Auckland.
27 December, 2005
The Beauty of The Glacier Country
We spent two nights at the Glacier Country after Kaikoura - Franz Josef and Fox Glacier.
The self-contained villas at Glenfern villas at Franz Josef town offers one and two bedroom villas. It is roomy, stylish and contemporary.
Glenfern villas is stuated just outside the village, about 5 minutes drive. We like the privacy and relaxed atmosphere here. Besides, the views of the glaciers is awe-inspiring.
I like the fully-equipped kitchen in the cosy villa which allows me to also bake some vegetables for Clayton for the next day. It feels just like home here.
Both Alex and Clayton love the porch area. To Clayton, it's kinda fun crawling around and for Alex, he enjoys his reading while enjoying the astounding glacier views.
The bottom photo shows Alex and Clayton enjoying themselves at the porch.
About less than an hour's drive from Franz Josef is
Fox Glacier is beginning to find popularity among visitors in the recent years. Like Franz Josef, there are many accommodation options to choose from. Perhaps, this town is a little less busy than F.J.
We stayed at The Westhaven, a new motel which opens in 2002. My initial choice was to stay at the Sunset Motel but it was fully-booked at the time of our travel.
The Sunset Motel has unblocked views of the Fox Glaciers. It is situated on the way to Lake Matheson.
Unlike the Glenfern Villas, it is not self-contained and has only a microwave in the studio room. Some of the rooms come with spa baths too.
One of the nicer places to stay in Fox Glacier is Te Weheka Inn. Or if you prefer to stay in a guest-hosted accommodation, check out Pekanga Homestay.
Queenstown - The Adventure Capital of the World
In my opinion, you won't run of places to stay in Queenstown.
There are close to 20,000 accommodation listings in Queenstown! And you should still book early if you are planning to arrive during the busy months. Unless you don't mind settling for less.
You can imagine how crowded it can be with these many properties in a small town!
From backpackers to motels, hotels, and apartments. Queenstown is also not short of Bed and Breakfasts, luxury lodges and holiday homes. It is not hard to find one that will fit into your budget.
Each of these has its own uniqueness and flair. But we are thankful that the views from our rooms from all three properties are excellent.
It is worth paying a little more to get rewarding views. So make sure you make your requests known while making your reservation.
Let me start with the Heritage Heights (The Heritage).
This is a big hotel away from the busy town area, set in alpine forest with views of Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables. And it's only 4 minutes walk to town.
We stayed in the one bedroom apartment-styled suite which comes with kitchen and laundry facilities. Not to mention the 7 foot king size bed which gives us three a wonderful sleep as Clayton has lots of room to move even when being sandwiched in between us.
The view from our balcony at Heritage Heights
The next two nights in Queenstown are in Shotover Lodge, a luxury bed and breakfast.
This is the only accommodation in our trip that does not have kitchen facilities. Thus, I was initially worried about Clayton's meals.
Thankfully, we have a pair of friendly and helpful hosts, Steve and Jeannette. There is no doubt about the award-winning hospitality reputation they have earned.
This lodge is luxurious in every detail. From the well-manicured gardens to the quality furnishings, the ambience is lovely and most of all, the food is delicious!
We have never been so well-hosted in our travel history and it is nice having a home-cooked 3-course gourmet breakfast every morning. Yes, it's a 3-course breakfast! Plus the pre-dinner canapes which Jeannette creatively prepares in the evening.
Jeannette is a great cook and her green fingers can be seen in those lovely cherry blossoms.
Steve makes every effort to make us feel at home. He is a great help to get our adventures booked. You can count on him to offer you his local views and experiences on where to go, what to do and where to pig out.
The room in the lodge is something else. It is warm and cosy, with stunning views of the Remarkables and Coronet Peak.
We love the warm rays coming through from the ceiling windows and the balcony. The beds are comfortable to ensure a good night rest after a long day of exploring.
I must make special mention that Jeannette bakes the best cookies. I thoroughly enjoy them. We feel so pampered those two days of stay. This is far better than staying in a hotel if your budget permits.
Rates start from NZ$385 but do drop the lodge an email to check on any specials available.
From top to bottom: Warm rays shining through the bedroom with ceiling windows; Me, Clayton with owners of Shotover Lodge, Steve & Jeannette; Just look at those cherry blossoms; The Remarkables from the windows; Alex and me at the balcony
24 December, 2005
Everyone raves about the beauty in the South island. From the many advices from friends, we decide to spend more days here.
Like the North island, the South island offers many types of accommodation - from backpackers, to motels, to hotels, apartments, villas, lodges, b&bs...
After crossing the ferry to Picton, our first stay in the South Island is sunny Nelson.
I have particularly chosen Joya Studio Villa (it's also a B&B) as I find the concept of the place interesting. It is listed in an organic holiday homes website. (http://www.organicholidays.com).
The owner, Paulina, is also a qualified speech therapist who has migrated to New Zealand in the last 5 years. She conducts classes in her main villa and offers residential courses too. Look up: http://www.joya.co.nz
Joya is tucked in a quiet spot within the city. Yes, it is in the city and you don't even feel as if you are!
We stayed at the Garden Villa which is separated from the main villa. I enjoy the herb and flower garden, the koi pond and it is so private and relaxing.
Joya Studio, Nelson
It is nice opening up to the beautiful landscaping in the morning. We walked around the garden and pond before checking out.
In Kaikora, I planned to stay in a luxury lodge called Hapuku Lodge. I fell in love with this property when I first viewed the website.
Before I go on, I would like to recommend two of my two favourites accommodation websites to you - www.ratestogo.com and www.wotif.com
Both of these offer last minute accommodations at discounted rates. I usually do my comparison with the websites before making any reservation.
Hapuku Lodge is a modern contemporary lodge but the rate quoted to me was above our budget. Then one day while I was doing my search, I saw it advertised in wotif and it was offering at a discounted rate of NZ$300 (with breakfast) instead of the quoted NZ$375!
I booked it immediately after Alex agreed that we should pamper ourselves. Hooray!
So we spent a night at the spacious Olive House (the lodge doesn't accept children) and we thoroughly enjoyed the luxury of this purpose-built house.
The bed is one of the most comfortable ones we have slept in! Thanks, Justin!
There is a fireplace and a double jet spa that we can't wait to use. Owner, Justin graciously showed us how to light the fireplace and gave us clear instructions about using the jet spa.
The apartment has windows that open up to a 360 degree views of the Kaikoura mountains - the scenery is simply stunning!
Besides the Olive House, Hapuku has six guestrooms in its main lodge above its award winning Hapuku Cafe, which serves organic produce.
This is a picture taken with Alex and Clayton at the fireplace.
The living and dining area in the Olive House.
If you are looking at staying near the waterfront, we recommend the Anchor Inn Motel. This is a 5-star rated luxury motel. It is judged Best Motel at the NZ Tourism Awards 3 Years Running.
For more luxury apartments, check out White Morph Studio Apartments and Motor Inn and Waves on the Esplanade.
I took me a while before deciding where to spend the night in Christchurch. Not that Christchurch has a shortage of accommodation but I am looking for an apartment that is near the Cathedral Square.
It also should be near the Tranz Scenic railway.
I like to include a mix of accommodations for our trip - economical and a little luxury (which we just did in Kaikoura!).
Finally, I decide that we should try something different. We couldn't afford The George, a boutique hotel that scores high on service and quality.
So for a change, I settled for Stonehurst. I am certain it will all go well as Stonehurst has a few awards to its reputation.
This is a unique property that caters to all - from backpackers to families. You have the option of a dorm, a motel room or an apartment.
We chose the one bedroom apartment which allows me to cook for little Clayton. The rate is priced affordably at NZ$130 and it has a separate bedroom and a fully-equipped kitchen.
There isn't a view to enjoy like the Hapuku but you can't complain for what you are getting for that price. Moreover, the staff in Stonehurst is friendly and helpful.
The kitchen in our one bedroom apartment.
22 December, 2005
Alex and Clayton enjoying the swing
What I enjoyed most (which Alex doesn't!) is the fun of staying in different sorts of accommodation throughout the entire holiday. Altogether, we stayed at 20 different places - from quality backpackers, to apartments, to hotels, to lodges - wasn't that fun?
Each of these accommodation has its own character and there are few we like more than others and this is usually so. But having said that, I don't think New Zealand will ever be short of beds! Even the cheapest backpackers looks clean and comfy.
I will share in this page what we think/feel about some of the places we stayed. I must stress that these are our 'own' opinions and it is based on the type of room and category stayed during our time of travel.
When in Auckland, we stayed at three different hotels - The Duxton, The Sebel Suites and The Ascott Metropolis. Of all three, we love the Ascott. Not only is it located in the heart of the city, it is near the 'happening' Vulcan Lane and High Street. Yes - you guess it! I enjoyed the shopping and cafes in the area. Besides, it's close to the ferry terminal, the harbour and even the city grocery store!
The views from the rooms is fantastic. Depending on the weather, you can even catch a glimpse of Waiheke Island.
Another great place we adore is The Crows Nest Villa at Opua. To me, this is one of the best kept secret in this area.
Opua is a three hour leisure drive from Auckland City. This place is a real treat! It can comfortably sleeps up to 6 people and the villa is full-equipped with en-suite and a nice kitchen.
This is important for me as I need a place to do some simple cooking for little Clayton.
There are two villas to choose from and we opt for the Bridge Deck Villa. Clayton enjoyed the swinging bench in the living room and Alex loves the balcony and the deck. Me? I love everything about the villa!
Opua is only few minutes drive from Paihia. Paihia is a little seaside village and most tour operators are based here. There are many ( I do mean 'many'!) accommodations in Paihia. It is not difficult to find out that suits your budget.
For us, this is a good opportunity to experience what's like to sleep in a seaview villa. We can never afford one like this in Malaysia. It's so refreshing to wake up with a view!
The Coromandel, New Zealanders favourite destination
Moving on to the Coromandel, Cathedral Cove Villas at the Hahei Holiday Resort is a true value-for-money place to stay. Moreover, it is situated just next to the beach. And if you have a bigger group, you can opt for the two-bedroom which overlooks the sea.
Besides the villas, this is also a holiday accommodation park. Hahei Holiday Resort offers a bed for every budget from a family camping holiday, comfort cabins, deluxe villas to backpackers and motorhome sites ('Wohnmobil').
Hahei and Hot Water Beach has many B&Bs, lodges and motels too. Not many of the B&Bs and lodges accept little children though. So do write to enquire first before making your choice.
For more accommodation choices in the Mercury Bay and Whitianga area, check http://www.whitianga.co.nz/accommodation.html
“Rotorua - feel the spirit – Manaakitanga”
We stayed at the Troutbeck Cottage in Rotorua. The owners, Jack and Di owned few lakeview properties in and around Rotorua district.
We stayed at the upper room with a panoramic of Rotorua Lake. The cottage is clean and cosy tho' we find ourselves a little catasphobic staying in the bedroom. I wish the bed was a little bigger. It was full moon that night and believe me, the moon from the room was the clearest and roundest I have ever seen!
Rotorua is home to many international hotel chains. There is a bed for any budget in Rotorua - I really mean 'any'! This is perhaps the most visited tourist destination in the North Island.
For a list of accommodation directory in Rotorua, check http://www.rotoruanz.com/accommodation/accomm_directory.asp
We decide to stay only one night in Rotorua after being warned by some locals about the sulphur aroma in this town.
Being a paranoid mum travelling with a one year old baby, I took the advice quite seriously. (I discovered later that it isn't that bad after all. So parents - relax...)
Another two more nights were then spent in Lake Taupo, which is within an hour's drive from Rotorua.
In Taupo, I pick The Baycrest Motor Lodge, an award-winning luxury motor lodge. We stayed in the one bedroom with a cute thermal tub in the courtyard. It is quite a romantic choice for couples. We soaked ourselves in the thermal heated tub after putting Clayton to sleep - that was relaxing and nice!
Lake Taupo is less touristy than Rotorua. So if you prefer a more relaxed and less crowded place to stay, Taupo is the choice. At least, you won't see that many big tourist buses.
The Mount, Bay of Plenty
Next is Mount Maunganui. We only decide on where to stay when we arrive at The Mount. We choose the Oceanside Twin Towers Resort after doing some on-the-spot accommodation shopping.
The one bedroom apartment is well-priced at NZ$170 for its location. It comes with a spacious kitchen - fully equipped, a separate bedroom and two bathrooms.
We requested for one with a partial view of the Mount and the sea. The apartment-style living room is big and Clayton has lots of room to crawl around. It is nice and cosy with a balcony overlooking the sea and The Mount.
There are few places which stand out from the crowd near The Mount - The Pavilions, Hot Spot and Oceanview Luxury Apartments (the luxury arm of Oceanside). Rates for these luxury choices start from NZ$200, depending on the season.
Wellington - The Windy City!
Finally, we spend our last two nights in the North Island in the new Bolton Hotel, Wellington. This is a nice hotel located in the hub of Wellington city, tucked at the corner of Bolton and Mowbray Streets.
We are so happy that we chose this apartment-style hotel as it was cold and windy during the two days we were there.
So we spent alot of time in the hotel room, lazing at the comfortable king -size bed, watching the trees swaying with the strong winds.
The furnishings in the room is chic, tasteful and modern. Even the kitchen is impressive - stainless steel finishing with a minimalist feel.
I will definitely recommend this hotel to anyone for enjoys style and comfort. I like the idea of free internet surfing at the foyer too.
The Bolton offers weekday specials and weekend packages on a regular basis starting from NZ$169.
Cathedral Cove Villas, Hahei
Outside Oceanview Resort, Mount Maunganui
Our comfy room in Bolton Hotel, Wellington
We began our holiday at the North Island - Auckland, simply because that's the only direct flight destination by Malaysian Airlines. We have been warned by many of our friends that Auckland is just another city and we should not expect much from it.
Being adventurous travellers at heart, we decide that it's only fair to find out more about the city ourselves! Moreover, cityfolks like us do need some mix of city experiences and country travel in a 4-weeks holiday like this. This is especially so for me who looks forward to check out the shopping scene in Auckland and Wellington!
The regions we visited during the 12 days in North Island were:
- Paihia, Bay of Islands
- Cape Reinga
- The Coromandel Peninsular
We arrived at the Duxton Hotel on 12/10 morning and were greeted by a light drizzle. The weather in mid Spring is pleasant. Auckland city is a little disappointing at first glance. We noticed alot of Korean and Japanese eateries - it feels like a little Asia.
In terms of shopping, it's a far cry from Melboune, Australia. I find the shops in Ponsonby and Parnell have alot more character.
I like Ponsonby. There are a few nice shops and lots of cool restaurants. This is one suburb you must not miss!
The shop that attracted me most is this nice colourful shop called 'The Garden Party'. The shop has a large mural outside and it's hard to miss it when you are walking along Ponsonby Road. It stocks lots of cute and unusual finds. I would have stayed there for hours if Alex is not there with me.
The Garden Party @ Ponsonby
Next is Parnell, a short drive from Auckland city. It is a nice place to spend your afternoon. It has a yuppie crowd with lots of nice restaurants and cafes too.
I noticed a few international advertising agencies in the area.
Parnell Village is a popular place among tourists. I was expecting more after looking at the pictures in some of the travel guides.
The Chocolate Shop is my favourite. Don't miss the Hoglund Art Glass Gallery if you like fine glass art. It does come with a high price tag too.
Opposed to the comments we received on the North Island from many of our friends, we find that this region has its own beauty and characteristics which the South Island may not deliver.
Take the long flat stretch of Ninety Mile Beach for example, this is a must-see if you get a chance to visit the Bay of Islands and the Far North.
We booked a full day trip to Cape Reinga on a 4x4 wheeler (converted from a military truck!) and we must agree that this is the best of natural New Zealand. Besides the Kauri Forests, the highlight of the trip is the Te Paki sand dunes.
The sand-boarding experience is one both Alex and myself enjoyed thoroughly. I must warn you that it is an aerobic activity!
From Left: Clayton and me with our 4x4 wheeler;
Alex, Clayton and our driver posing at 90mile beach;
The beautiful coastline in Bay of Islands;
Climbing up the top of the Te Paki sand dunes
I must tell you that this 12-hour full-day tour is not for the faint-hearted. And not recommended if you have little children.
Trust us, we are speaking from experience!
One word of caution: private cars are not allowed on 90mile beach.
Paihia in the Bay of Islands is one quaint seaside village that attracts lots of tourists and locals. This is the hub for all tours/cruises in the region.
We spend two days here and it is nice just driving around enjoying the pristine beaches and clear blue waters.
Speaking of beaches, Coromandel has lots to offer. Compared to the Northland, the coastline in Coromandel is more rustic and remote, complemented with the rugged forests.
Due to time factor, we only managed to visit Hahei and Hot Water Beach. If you are in this area, please don't miss the gorgeous Cathedral Cove. We could only catch a glimpse of it as it is challenging taking the full trail with Clayton on our backs!
Cathedral Cove is easily accessible by walkway from Hahei. Bring a bottle of water with you if you are doing the walk. You do need few days to see and do more here in the Coromandel.
In my opinion, it is more local, less touristy, more untouched.
The Hot Water Beach is a natural hot water spa two hours either side of low tide. You can dig your own spot and soak yourself in the hot spring pool.
Check out the low tide times with the reception of your stay or any tourist information centre in the area. The Hot Wave Cafe, situated a few minutes walk to Hot Water Beach provides rental of spade and shovel.
Left: Alex soaking in the hot water pool;
Bottom: Looks like a party is going on at the pools!
On our way to Rotorua, we decided to stop at Mount Maunganui for a night.
Commonly known as The Mount, this small town resembles a little of Surfers Paradise at the Gold Coast, Australia, except that it is less crowded and not so commercialised.
The Mount is a popular place for joggers and climbers.
We did the full walk of 3.5km with Clayton in the pram. It is a easy and lovely climb. We stopped by a few times just to admire the sea views, at the same time, get some rest.
Go for the climb to the summit if you can. It takes about 2 hours to get up there and it is also a popular spot for hang-gliders and para-gliders.
Top: Alex, Clayton and myself taking a walk at The Mount
Right: A shot of Ocean Beach
We like this town. It is one place where the Mount meets the sea and it's so friendly and relaxing. It looks like a great place to retire.
The sidewalk cafes along Marine Parade are a favourite hangout for the locals. Unlike the Surfers Paradise in Gold Coast, you get more locals here than tourists. There are some really nice luxurious houses here along the Ocean beach. Properties in this area are very pricey.
Hold your noses! We are in Rotorua!
It is almost a crime not visiting Rotorua if you are visiting the North Island. This is one of the most visited place in this island.
You can smell Rotorua before entering the town. Every one on the street seems to be a tourist. It is quite touristy.
Having said that, this town is energetic. It is packed with lots of activities and accommodations to suit all kinds of budget.
I recommend that you visit the i-Site (see left photo) first if you are uncertain about what to do here. This is the most well-designed and impressive tourist information centre we have come across in this country.
It pays to chat with one of the consultants to find out more about the activities and adventures. You can also find lots of accommodation brochures here.
Apart from the sulphuric aroma, thermal spas and pools are common sights here. It's a great opportunity for pure indulgence. Soak those aches away!
Make sure you also check out the geothermal attractions here. To name a few:
Waimangu Volcanic Valley
Hidden Valley Orakei Korako Geyserland Resort
Among these, we pick WaiOtapu.
The highlight of this colourful thermal attraction is Lady Knox Geyser which performs at 10.15am daily.You will also see the spectacular Champagne Pool and the country's largest mud pool.
For free geothermal action, go to Kuirau Park. It is in town itself, off Pukuatua and Ranolf Street.
Alex booked an adventure with SledgeAbout the next day while I babysit Clayton. I will cover the activity in detail in the next posting.
Bottom: Alex in his gear with guide, Adam. All ready to sledge!
What better indulgence than to soak in the spa after a tiring and strenuous activity for Alex!
We booked ourselves for a family spa at the Polynesian Spa in the afternoon. This is real fun.
This is Clayton's first 'warm pool' experience and he absolutely enjoys it! Look at that smile! (see photo below)
That was a tiring day for us. We head for Lake Taupo after the spa experience.
On our way to Lake Taupo, we stop by at the Huka Falls. We were amazed at the speed on which the water move from the Waikato River to the drop!
It was raining during our two nights in Taupo. Well, what other things to do but to enjoy the comforts in our nice motel, Baycrest Lodge.
But then again, the poor weather didn't spoil our fun in Taupo either.
We pick the ground floor room. It has a private courtyard and private thermal tub. We can then fill to our requirements with 50 degree C thermal water extracted from the ground.
It is so relaxing soaking in the tub in the moonlight... yep! And you don't even have to bother about swim gear. It is so private. I'm sure you can star gaze on a clear night.
So glad Clayton slept early those two nights.
Lake Taupo is the biggest lake in New Zealand. We had a nice stroll along Lake Taupo. We notice that there are lots of accommodation choices facing the lake too.
This town seems less busy than Rotorua. I did some shopping for Clayton in Pumpkin Patch while Alex relaxed in one of the many local cafes with Clayton.
Clayton had his share of fun in the children's playground. He even found a friend, Liam (see left photo).
Taupo is serene and quiet during our time of travel but this lakeside town can get very busy during summer months.
Our final destination in the North Island is Wellington.
The city that can BLOW you away!
We enroute to Napier for a look-see and as a stopover as this is one of the longer drives in our trip.
It is a pity that we can't stay on for a night or two as this is a lovely little town. We had breakfast in a nice local cafe. You will read more of this cafe in my food posts.
We have been told about how windy Wellington is. But the truth is, it is more windy that we expected it!
At some point, I almost take this city out of our itinerary but sure glad I did not.
Wellington is sophisticated and artistic. In my opinion, the nicest city in North Island when it comes to architecture.
Many of the old historical buildings are restored and used for commercial purposes. You can find cafes, restaurants and retail shops housed in some of these buildings.
I find the shopping here alot nicer. Fashion seems a little trendier too compared to the other cities in this country.
One of my favourite shops is Living Nature which has a flagship store in Lambton Quay. This is a locally owned skin/body care company from Kerikeri. It is organic, natural and affordably priced.
Despite the cold winds and rain, we spent a day at the waterfront and the famous Te Papa museum. We got there after a few pit stops from the strong winds. Welcome to Wellington!
Wellington is a compact place and you can get around the city quite easily by foot. Most attractions can be seen via the excellent public transport.
If you can avoid using a car, do so. Driving can be a hassle in the city.
The restaurant, bar and cafe scenes here is amongst the liveliest in New Zealand. This city is so cosmopolitan. I particularly adore the elegance in the architecture. Old with character.
I must not forget to mention our trip to the Botanic Gardens that afternoon. It is so convenient getting there.
Hop up the Kelburn Cable car along Lambton Quay (next to McDonald's) and you will get there. Besides, the views is splendid on a cloudless day.
Our trip in this island ends as we cross over to the south via the Interislander - The Lynx.
We were very excited that morning. We were all ready to explore the South.
Ok... they say 'pictures speak a thousand words'. So I'll let the following pictures do the talking! The finale of the North and ushering into the South ...
From Top Left: Architectural beauty in wellington; View from the Botanic Gardens; In the Kelburn Cable Car; Retail therapy in Lambton Quay; Cable Car Lane at 280 Lambton Quay
Photos on left show our journey to Picton, entrance of the South Island via The Lynx