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 New Zealand

Feb/March 2014

Jenny's Journal

I wish I had thought to do this earlier in our trip. Whether it be an interesting geography lesson for our grandchildren or nostalgia for Barbara & Rod, whether New Zealand is on your bucket list or you're simply following us vicariously as we roam around these incredibly beautiful islands; whatever your level of interest, here's an overview of our travels.

I'll try to add daily updates from here on. I'm keeping a very detailed journal - this is simply a record of our itinerary together with highlights. But first, I must say that our week in Fiji was fabulous; beautiful islands, friendly people (Bula!) - a great way to relax after our long flight.

We flew to Auckland and on to Christchurch on Feb.10th, staying at the Novotel in Cathedral Square (the 'epicenter').

After two interesting days seeing the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, we collected our camper van and drove south. After stocking up with groceries at a supermarket in Geraldine, we checked into the Top 10 Holiday Park (campground) in Fairlie for the night on our way to Mt Cook.

The following day we drove on to Mt Cook and hiked the Glacier View Track for a view of the Tasman Glacier, just 30 mins. roundtrip. Stayed at the Glentanner Holiday Park; beautiful location with fabulous views of the lake.

On Friday 14th Feb (Valentines Day!) we hiked to Mt Cook which was quite magnificent, 3 hours round trip. Then on to the Top 10 Holiday Park in Oamaru. Walked into town and had an excellent dinner at the Criterion Hotel.

On the way to Dunedin (where we stayed for two nights) we enjoyed a walk on the beach to see the unique Moeraki Boulders.

Sunday 16th: in Dunedin a pipe band competition was in progress. We visited the historic railway station and also toured the Cadbury's Factory. Then to Sandfly Bay, where we had brilliant sunshine and a typical howling gale (which keeps the sandflies away - hence the name!) for a scramble down and back up the steep sand dunes. Spectacular waves, turquoise water and a big fur seal sunbathing on the beach.

On to the beautiful lakeside town of Te Anau for two nights. On the 18th, we hiked part of the Kepler Track, 3 miles each way through rain forest to the shores of beautiful Lake Manapouri.

On Wednesday 19th, we drove the scenic road to Milford Sound, stopping to hike up to the waterfalls on the way to Marian Lake - another short but fabulous trek by the river in full flow.

The following day, we took a cruise on Milford Sound - iconic, dramatic scenery - and stayed the night in the Milford Sound Lodge Campground. We then went back to Te Anau - our favourite campground so far.

Side note: "Tim", our NavMan, or GPS guide, has made navigating easy. And Tourism Radio has pointed out all the places of interest along the way. Scott Cook's book, NZ Frenzy, has enabled us to do all the things that most tourists don't do!

On Friday 21st we drove the road to Glenorchy around another fabulous lake, before returning to Queenstown for 2 nights. The highlight here was hiking up Queenstown Hill for the 360* panoramic view of the city, and also the Shotover Jet Boat ride!

Sunday 23rd we enjoyed a beautiful drive along the shores of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. We stopped at Shipscreek Wharf before arriving at Fox Glacier where we hiked up both sides of the glacier. 

Monday 24th found us in Greymouth for two nights at the Top 10 Holiday Park right on the beach. Notice how we've come to love the Top 10 Parks?! That evening we drove a few miles north to Ponukaiki where we had fish'n'chips in the local tavern and watched the blowholes just as the sun set.

On Wednesday we drove over Arthur's Pass, hiked up the Devil's Punchbowl to the waterfall, and returned the camper van to Christchurch.

Next, three nights at Le Petit Hotel B&B by the beach in Sumner just outside Christchurch. Nice to stay put for a few days and enjoy some sunbathing. We did drive the scenic route up and over the hills with fabulous views of mountains and lakes to the historic little town of Akaroa.

Saturday March 1st we drove up the magnificent coast to Kaikoura. About 20km south of the town the scenery becomes dramatic: turquoise water, surf pounding the rocks, mountains dropping down into the ocean - absolutely stunning. We drove to Pt Kean, took a walk along the beach into a howling gale, making it over the rocks just before the tide came in, and came across a colony of seals. Not sure who was more surprised - them or us! Climbed the steep cliffs and walked back along the cliff top just in time to watch a sheep-shearing demo at the point Sheep Shearing Farm. We stayed one night (in the Kaikoura Top 10 Park!) then on to Nelson for 2 nights, taking a cruise up the Abel Tasman National Park. Dropped off at Tonga Quarry, we walked a couple of miles on the trail to Bank Bay, and boarded another Sea Shuttle boat at Medland Beach.

On Tuesday 4th, we drove to Picton for the 2:00pm InterIslander ferry to Wellington, the Capitol. Until now, everything had worked out perfectly but that was soon to change. Thirty minutes into the three and a half hour crossing, bad weather in the Cook Strait forced the boat to return to Picton! It was doubtful that any ferries would sail the following day so we were re-booked on the 9:00am ferry Thursday morning. With so many people in town, accommodation was hard to find, but we finally booked into the Waikara Holiday Park for the night - not recommended!

After checking out on Wednesday morning, we spent the morning wine-tasting in the Marlborough region near Picton. Had lunch in town and managed to get a room at the Beachcomber Hotel with great views across the harbour.

Until now, the weather has been fantastic. Mostly sunny and warm, and spectacular scenery. We've taken lots of hikes ranging from 15 mins to 5 hours. Lots and lots of sheep - everywhere. Hundreds, thousands of sheep. And occasionally a field of cows. Then more sheep. And trees, huge trees. Dark green pine and tall poplar. And sheep. 4.5 million people in NZ; 45 million sheep. 10 sheep per person!

North Island

Thursday March 6th. Finally we're in Wellington and what a beautiful waterfront city! Arrived at Booklovers B&B around 3:00pm and set off for a walking tour of the city, all up and down! The weather is gorgeous, cloudless blue skies and sunshine.

Unlike Christchurch: four days after we left they experienced a "One-in-100-year flood." We walked through the park, down to the harbour, had tea at the Boat Cafe on the water, up in the cable car to the Botanical Gardens. On the way down we stopped for dinner at the Little Indian restaurant in the Cuba Mall, then walked home - probably about 8 miles in total!

We left Booklovers at 9:15am on Friday and drove to Mt Victoria for fabulous views over the city. Then to the Weta Cave museum for a display of Lord of the Rings artifacts and a tour of the workshop where props for many movies are made. From there we drove to Kaitoke Regional Park, aka "Rivendell" in Lord of the Rings, and found the site where several scenes were filmed. Stopped for tea and scones on our way to Napier and finally checked into a Holiday Park.

Napier was disappointing, apart from the gigantic waves crashing on to the stony beach. So the next morning we left for Taupo. Beautiful drive and found the cutest little cottage by the beach: Cottage Mews Motel.

Everything about this place is gorgeous! We drove to the Aratiatia Rapids where, every 2 hours, the flood gates are raised and a torrent of water rages through the gorge. On to the Huka Falls to watch the ice blue, snow white water channeling into a frothing aquamarine frenzy. Next the Craters of the Moon to see the geothermal fumaroles and steaming cauldrons. Next we had fun at the Spa Park Natural Hot Springs for a hot soak before heading home for a cup of tea. After dinner we took a walk along the beach.

On Sunday we drove around the beautiful lake to Turangi and on to Whakapapa Ski Field, the largest ski resort in New Zealand - not too impressive compared with Vail! This location provided some of the stark settings for Mordor in Lord of the Rings.

Dark clouds soon obscured the top of the mountain but we had fun watching part of a 3-day event featuring long boards and trikes racing down the road. Continuing around the lake, we arrived back at our motel and barbecued steaks for dinner.

On Monday we drove to Rotorua. A strong smell of sulphur pervades this town so we didn't stay too long! After cappuccinos by the lake, we drove on to two more of Scott Cook's "not to be missed" sites: first the forest of massive redwoods, then the waterfall where we saw three kayakers expertly come down the falls.  We arrived at our friends' beautiful home in Tauranga around 5:00pm.

I met this delightful couple in a bar in Spain 7 years ago. We've had little contact since but when I emailed them about our trip, they immediately offered us accommodation - Kiwi hospitality at its best!

The following day Gael and Gary took us hiking up the Mount, very steep but with spectacular views. In the afternoon we went for a driving tour of the city. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner together at Macau's, after which Mick and Gary enjoyed an excellent replica of the whiskey found one year after Shackleton died in the Antarctic.

On Wednesday morning we drove to Matamata, aka Hobbiton, where the Hobbits lived (Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies). Fascinating! Saw 44 hobbit holes and heard an interesting account of the making of the movies. It was another glorious day so we spent the afternoon on the beach.

Yesterday (Thursday) we drove to Auckland and took a walking tour of the city. We crossed to Devenport on the ferry for a beautiful view of the city from the water. Finally found accommodation in a Holiday Park overlooking the harbour.

Counting the days now. Weather is still a huge factor in our plans as there's a cyclone heading south. Started the day with a short walk along the beach path, then drove to Mt Victoria in Devonport and climbed the hill for fabulous views over Auckland. We both prefer seeing cities from a distance!  

Continued north to Orewa, a very nice seaside town. Not raining yet. Next stopped at the Honey Center of NZ with hundreds of bees buzzing around the showcases; bought 3 jars of honey. Further north, we took a quick look at the Kauri Museum with its history of Kauri logging and gum digging (the Kauri is NZ's original indigenous tree).

We decided not to stay in Kaihu on the west coast but drive to Whangarei on the east coast, partly due to the weather and also because this Top 10 was recommended by the guy at the last park. On arrival there was only one cabin left!! Nice way to finish our Top 10 stays. No heavy rain yet, just a few showers - let's see what tonight brings!

Saturday 15th: a very wet and windy night and still raining in the morning - the effect of Cyclone Lusi storming down the west edge of the island. Drove into Whangarei and ran through the rain into a secondhand bookshop. Then to a waterfront cafe for brunch. Lovely view of the harbour through the rain splattered awning! Rain eased off and we walked around for a while then headed north to Russell to visit friends. Beautiful scenery, especially Bland Bay and Elliott Bay with pounding surf - even when cloudy.

Got to within half a mile of Terry and Cris's house to find the road blocked by a fallen tree, ripped out of the ground by the storm. Finally arrived around 4:00pm.

Lovely house with a fantastic view of the bay. A fun evening of music with their friends: guitar, bongo drum, rhythm stick and castanets.

Sunday 16th: rain stopped and clouds lifted. After showing us around their beautiful gallery, "Just Imagine", Cris and Terry took us on a 5-mile hike around the area. Back in Russell around 2:00pm. After lunch in the Wharf, Mick and I drove around the area, starting with the local church, the oldest one in NZ.  We went down to see the car ferry from Paihia, then Tapeka Beach with its rocks and pounding surf, and finally Flagstaff Hill with fantastic views. Back home for a glass of wine on the deck as the sun set. Then an excellent dinner at the Thai Restaurant in town. Walked down to the water, drove down to Long Beach and then home. 

Monday 17th: a misty start to the day but it soon lifted and turned into blue skies and sunshine. After breakfast we finished packing and said goodbye to our friends. We drove the coast road again to see it in sunshine. Stopped for a picnic lunch at Waipu, watching the surfers. Continued south, returned the car, arriving at Auckland Airport at 4:30pm. Enjoyed a cup of tea, (complete with tea pot and milk jug of course!) before going through security and boarding the 7:30pm Air New Zealand flight for San Francisco. Finally time to return home after 6 glorious weeks. We'll be back!

You can see "all" of our photos in our Facebook Album and read Mick's blog about NZ.

Jenny