New Zealand October 2000
Report of our trip from Sunday 15th October to Sunday 5th November. An exchange rate of 3.6NZ$=1GBP was the average for the trip.
There will be more photos soon when they come back from developing!
Click on the symbol for more information on a topic. Page numbers relate to the Lonely Planet (9th Ed).
Flight out from Heathrow at 16.30 on Air New Zealand. I can recommend this airline for the simple fact that they have loads of legroom! Stop over in LA for 1.5 hours before moving on.
Land in Tahiti at 02.30 (local time) for 1 hour.
Land at Auckland at 08.10 (1 day jump as timeline crossed). After traveling for around 26 hours we didn't do too much today. After walking down the the Americas Cup Village from Parnell we sit outside The Loaded Hog and drink beer for the afternoon in the sun - just what the doctor ordered!
Decide to leave Auckland and head north. We hire a car at Omega Rental Cars (ph 09 377 5573) for 53NZ$ per day (approx. GBP14.72 for a Toyota Corolla) including fully comp. insurance and head up to the Bay of Islands. We stayed at a great motel right on the water front for 65NZ$ per night (Bay Watch Motel, ph 09 402 7555) and were recommended a seafood restaurant called Only Seafood (ph 09 402 6066). It was worth going as the meal was great although a little more expensive than the average.
First clouds today although it burnt off by mid-day. As we need to be back in Auckland tonight we jump on one of the fast jet boats that go out to the Hole In The Rock in the bay. We chose Mack Attack at 54NZ$ each. This 1.5 hour trip takes you around the bay at high speed with a commentary on points of interest. The highlights are going through the Hole In The Rock and also entering a sea cave called Cathedral Cave for over 100m. The bonus on our trip was the pod of dolphins that joined us for over 10 minutes and they were nearly close enough to touch, riding the bow wave and circling the boat (ph 0800 622 528, pg214).
On the way back to Auckland we stopped at Natural Wood Creations (ph 64 9 438 8884), a company making clocks from kauri wood in Otaika. Although I must admit that the clocks were not too great in my opinion, they also stocked other kauri wood carvings by local craftsman that are well worth checking out.
Today is Bridgets 30th so a meal out in Auckland tonight.
Headed down to Rotorua today and arrive late afternoon. After checking out the local craft shops (Madhouse is worth a look) we start our heavy use of the Lonely Planet guide that became an invaluable tool (and judging by the fact that it was the only other tour book we saw anyone else have, I can only assume it is the best). After a walk through the free Kuirau thermal park in Rotorua we decided to try a Hangi and concert with Tamaki Tours (ph 07 346 2823, pg307) which takes you by bus (or Waka) to a recreated village with Maori re-enacting daily activities, concert and hangi for 52NZ$. It was good but large numbers made it feel commercialised. We stayed the night at Havana Motor Lodge (ph 07 348 8134, pg 311).
In the morning we visited Te Whakarewarewa (pron. Faka-raywa-raywa), the biggest thermal reserve in Rotorua. To those who have already seen a Maori village or concert, only the thermal areas will probably be of interest but they are worth visiting. The mud pools and geysers (including the famous Pohutu ) are spectacular to those never having seen their like before (pg 305). For lunch we visited the not-to-be-missed Fat Dog Cafe & Bar in town (ph 07 347 7586, pg 313). The guide doesn't do the place justice, just a quick look at the other cafes with a couple of people in each one and the Fat Dog nearly full at 9 in the morning makes the point. The drinks (esp. Smoothies) and the food are great and well priced with sofas and easy chairs for those wanting relaxation and a drink. (look out for this!)
Bye mid afternoon Bridget and Russ dragged themselves to the cafe and off luging we went - or at least tried to. The HUGE queues made us rethink our plans. We had recently picked up a leaflet for Zorbing and thought that it looked like a laugh. It was. It's hard to imagine but try this. Two of you get into a large clear plastic ball suspended within a larger clear plastic ball. A large bucket of water is thrown in with you and the entrance blocked up. OK so far. Next roll the ball, you and the water down a large hill. The ensuing chaos inside the ball is, for some reason, hysterical. the lack of knowing up from down, the inability to stand or even sit gives the impression of being in a washing machine (they do call it 'The Wash Cycle'). All I can say is TRY IT!!!!!!! The cost for 2 in a ball is 60NZ$ first run and 40NZ$ for subsequent runs (ph 07 332 2768, pg307).
At night we camped at the thermally heated Cosy Cottage International Holiday Park (ph 07 348 3793, pg309) - worth it if only for the hot mineral pools. A great dinner was supplied by Bridget's amazingly compact BBQ.
White-water rafting day! The Wairoa river, which is only open for rafting 26 days of the year, contains rapids with names Mothers Nightmare, Devils Hole, The Toaster and Roller Coaster. Starting just below the McLaren Falls next to the Ruahihi power station on SH29 between Matamata and Tauranga this is an excellent ride with a guaranteed soaking without leaving the boat. We traveled with Raftabout (ph 07 345 4652, pg308). The only complaint we had about the trip was the guide was so good you had to look back to see the severity of the rapids you had just negotiated as he made it seem far too easy. The cost was 150NZ$ for two.
As we still had the afternoon free we headed for the beach at Mt Maunganui, near Tauranga. Although the sea is still a little cold in October we caught some of the ThunderCat boat racing just off the beach. If you've got time to spare it can be pretty exciting with high speeds, tight turns and even boats colliding and flipping over!
We spent the night with another BBQ and a good long soak in the hot mineral pools.
Monday 23rd (Labour Day)
This morning we finally got to try the luge at Skyline Skyrides (ph 07 347 0027, pg317), just north of Rotorua on Fairy Springs Rd (SH5). The luge is a concrete race track which you negotiate on a 3 wheeled plastic sled only inches off of the floor, speeds are high enough to jump in some areas. Costs are 24NZ$ per person for 5 rides.
Here we said goodbye to Bridget and Russ as they had to be back in Auckland tonight.
We now started moving south again with our next stop at Orakei Korako, The Hidden Valley. This out-of-the-way thermal reserve is possibly the best in the area, it's hidden nature means that it isn't swamped by tourists and remains a quiet, wonderful place to visit. The reserve is reached by crossing Lake Ohakuri and landing at what is now the base of the terrace . There are mud pools, geysers, a cave and many more features worth seeing - if you are only going to visit one area, make this it! (ph 07 378 3131, pg350).
On the way to Taupo we stopped at the Craters Of The Moon on SH1. Sadly this is an area which does not live up to the hype if it is one of the last areas you visit. The first and largest crater you see does make a visit worth while.
We spent the night in a cabin at Taupo Motor Camp on the edge of the Waikato River, just 500m from Lake Taupo which cost 40NZ$ for 2 people per night (ph 07 377 3080, pg344).
Today we headed for Tongariro National Park via a quick stop at a scenic lookout just south of Taupo on SH1 (great views across the lake). Although there are many great walks to do in this area, we only had time to do a 2 hour walk to the Taranaki Falls.
If all you have time for is a quick walk this will certainly not disappoint with excellent views of the volcanoes and a great waterfall along the route. A route map can be bought from the information centre.
This brought to an end our North Island visit apart from the flight out and we now headed down to the ferry in Wellington.
We boarded the 1.10am Interislander ferry for Picton, by traveling this late we were able to get a one-way fare of 136NZ$ for a car and 2 passengers.
We sleep in the car for a couple of hours before moving on to Westport via Bullers Gorge on SH6. After the astoundingly straight sections of road from Blenheim the gorge road is a breath of fresh air with its bends and turns.
Westport is probably most famous for its nearby colony of seals near Cape Foulwind and Tauranga Bay. You can see seals of all ages (in Oct) playing, arguing or more often sleeping the day away. Apart from the seals you will almost certainly find the cheeky wekas, a flightless bird about the size of a duck. They have no problems with trying to liberate food from you and some try an astounding number of ambushes to catch you off-guard.
Between Westport and Greymouth are the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. These thinly layered rocks are impressive in scale with turrets, arches and stacks. For a small donation you follow a walkway through and over the rocks - definitely a worth while stop along a beautiful stretch of rainforest covered coastline (ph 03 731 1895, pg 508).
We had dinner in a great place called Steamers (pg515) in Greymouth. The food was cheap, well cooked and plentiful. We spent the night at Sandfords Guest Lodge in Greymouth (ph 03 768 5605, pg514) which although basic, is worth it for the friendly atmosphere and great cooked breakfast, the cost: 60NZ$ per person per night. It was during breakfast that the local radio station gave a branch by branch commentary of the felling of the only (but famous) tree on one tree hill in Auckland.
Just south of Greymouth is a recreated gold mining town called Shantytown. The town contains all of the shops you would expect from the time including blacksmiths, hospital, bank, general store and saloon. The town has a working steam railway complete with it's own wekas and a sawmill. Here you can try gold panning in either a 'safe' or 'wild' manner. Safe means that your guaranteed to find a little golden flicker in your pan but wild lets you onto a real working face to see what you can find (ph 03 762 6634, pg515). The local gem club is based here and the staff are well worth talking to regarding anything from gems to NZ history.
A little by mistake we stumbled upon the 'Curio-Room' in Ross, further down the cost from Shantytown. Its run by Tom & Rewa Dick, a couple of locals who are trying to save their local history. If you've got the time to drop in I can say that you won't forget it!
The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are probably among New Zealand's most famous landmarks carving their way down from the mountains and nearly reaching the sea, running through sub-tropical rainforest to get there! The walk to the Franz Josef viewing area only takes 15 minutes but to walk to the face of the glacier is another 30 minutes but well worth while. There are not too many places that you can walk out of rainforest and quickly be at a glacier. Both glaciers have been in retreat since they were first found by explorers but recently have shown signs of growing once again, although this may only be temporary.
We moved onto Fox Glacier, our stopover point for the night. Here there is an amazing glow worm dell (pg526), just opposite the petrol station which has an astounding number of glow worms within a tranquil natural hollow (2NZ$ entry).
We stayed at Fox Glacier Holiday Park with cabins for 40NZ$ for 2 (ph 03 751 0821, pg 527). Here they will organise many of the trips for you and booked the half day glacier walk for us. We ate at the Cook Saddle Cafe in town which defines 'late' as 9pm.
We started with a half day walk on the Fox Glacier with the Alpine Guides in the centre of town (ph 03 751 0825, pg 527). The 3.5 hour walk starts from the car park and you gradually gain height over the glacier by climbing the left valley wall before descending onto the glacier. Warning for short people: some of the steps are a little large causing much complaining amongst the less tall members of the party! Just before crossing onto the glacier, we put on 'instep' crampons and soon appreciate why. As the guides cut steps into the ice ahead of you, the glasslike nature of the glacier is all too apparent.
Boots, socks and rain coats are supplied by the company but it is well worth taking your own warm gear with you as it rained almost constantly while on the glacier. This made me appreciate my fleece and gore-tex - the plastic macs provided didn't seem to provide as much comfort. All that said, it was still an amazing trip, the streams of water on the glacier letting you see right into it in places before disappearing into holes and caves in the ice. All too quickly you're on the path back to the bus and away from a very memorable experience.
After filling up at what is probably one of New Zealand's most expensive petrol stations (1.29NZ$/litre) we moved onto the Haast pass. This is the most southerly of the mountain passes, linking Haast Village with Wanaka, home of Puzzling World. The scenery is well worth the visit (not that you have much choice) and some of the stops along the route make it all the more worth while. The Thunder Creek Falls are a great set of stepped falls with a river of crystal clear water running at the base and the Fantail Falls also good for the waterfall enthusiast (mentioning no names Linda).
Wanaka was to be our stop for the night, staying at the army camp style Wanaka Holiday Park (ph 03 443 7883, pg 598 as Wanaka Motor Park). Although the place only cost 32NZ$ for 2 and was always clean, you always felt there was an army barracks hiding just behind the loo block!
If you want a quick way to wake up in the morning, Stuart Landsborough's Puzzling World would be a good choice. It houses a large, 3D wooden maze with over a kilometre of passageways, a cafe with tables covered in puzzles, a hologram hall, a room of following faces and the Illusion House, rooms with not a vertical line in sight. This is a place to easily spend 2 or 3 hours if you're into puzzles and would be an excellent wet day activity (ph 03 443 7489, pg595). If you're lucky as we were, Stuart himself will guide you around some of the more bizarre items of Puzzling World describing how it all really works.
Talking of rain, the total rain so far this holiday: 3 hours, all on the Fox Glacier.
It was now time to push on the 100km to Queenstown and the Shotover Jet. The Shotover Jet is an experience I imagine is unique to NZ, as are river jet boats. Take a very large engine, strap it to a small boat, fill it with people (who actually paid!) and fly around river canyons at high speed seeing how close you can get to the sides . While you travel up and down the canyons you are warned not to put your arms outside the boat, the reason is not that you might get injured but that you WILL loose an arm, the boats go so close to the rocks that sometimes only 2 or 3 inches separates you, cost: 75NZ$ per person. (ph 03 442 8570, pg611).
By this point in our journey we had driven over 2500km and were getting a little fed up with sitting behind a wheel - the thought of driving to Milford Sound was filling us both with dread. Thankfully, the 8+ hours of driving can be done on a coach and is well worth the cost. For 119NZ$ each we booked a day trip to Milford Sound including a boat trip and a visit to the Underwater Observatory. We booked through Info&track in Shotover St.
When at Fox Glacier we were told to visit Wakatipu Tavern for drinks and food. It is not in the guide but probably benefits from this as it appears to cater for locals far more than tourists and was a welcome change. Other recommendations are World Nightclub and Edge, although we didn't have a chance to try them.
We stayed at the Queenstown Motor Park which is excellently positioned for an easy walk into town, cost 40NZ$ for 2 per night (ph 03 442 7252, pg 614).
A 7am start at Info&track to catch a Kiwi Experience bus to Milford Sound. The driver gave all the information you could wish for on the route plus had a good selection of CD's for the rest of it. After a stop at Te Anau we moved on to Fiordland National Park, a World Heritage Site.
By being on the bus it gave us both the chance to see the scenery instead of one of us watching the road as normal. The bus stops in three or four places along the way with views down valleys and large waterfalls. Judging by watching the other buses, we definitely stopped in the better places. During the stops you should get a chance to see a Kea, a brown but cute parrot.
Studying the maps, if you do decide to drive the route there are plenty of other things to see and do including mirror lakes, Te Ana-au Caves and the many walking tracks.
Included in the day trip package is the longest boat ride on the Sound, the Red Boat cruiser 'Milford Adventurer', one of the smallest boats on the sound, but covers the greatest distance and also visits the Underwater Observatory . Our cruise quickly arrived at the observatory and you get to descend down a staircase to see living coral and fish only inches in front of you.
Sadly, the wildlife on the Sound was in hiding today and only a couple of posing seals were to be seen apart from the dash of white of a penguin as it took cover from us. The Sound though is definitely worth the visit, the sheer scale of the scenery was hard to grasp even though we were there. The only accurate sense of scale provided by some of the larger boats being dwarfed by the waterfalls and mountains.
Once the cruise was over the bus whisked us back to Queenstown for around 7pm, so a second visit to Wakatipu Tavern was undertaken, again staying the night at the motor park.
Today we thought we would try our luck with Mt Cook, the largest of New Zealand's peaks. The weather in Queenstown had been OK but we hadn't quite expected the entire mountain to be missing! Many of the peaks around Mt Cook were visible from the approach road, but the entirety of Mt Cook was covered, from valley floor to peak. We decided to visit the visitors centre (ph 03 435 1818) as we were nearby and on the way we got the bugs cleaned off of the car by a passing hale storm (up until now we had a fairly impressive sandfly collection).
The centre is a small, friendly and well run. It provides a cheap audio/visual for those without x-ray eyes to see through the cloud (2.50NZ$) and gives much of the mountains history. A walk in the area was out of the question due to the weather and as we could not wait for the weather to clear, we retired to the Hermitage's café for a smoothie and to rethink our travelling strategy. We decide to push on to Kaikoura via Christchurch and leave the far south until our next visit.
We spend the night in Geraldine at the Geraldine Motor Camp and hire a cabin for 30NZ$. If you do stop here for a meal try the Hotel just next to the bottle shop on the corner of a side road. Don't go in the front door but go down the side to the bar entrance. The bar meals are excellent, huge and cost half the price of the restaurant meals.
Today we pushed for Kaikoura stopping in Christchurch for lunch and a wander round. On the way, we intended to find some jet skiing on Lake Ellesmere as indicated by our Kiwi Pathfinder roadmap. Unfortunately it does not seem to exist, oh well.
On the subject of maps, the Kiwi Pathfinder map we used 'New Zealand Complete Road Atlas' was very good and we didn't find any better maps while travelling but saw plenty worse. We bought ours from the Info shop in the America's Cup Village in Auckland (ISBN 1-877201-21-9 ed2).
We arrived in Kaikoura around 5pm and soon found the Fortuna Rocks motel (pg 473). The guide describes it as 'just a few simple units' but it was the best place we had found the entire holiday and all for only 50NZ$ for a double. The room came with sofa, kitchen, large bed and excellent shower room. On top of that are a BBQ you can use and a whitebait net if you fancy your chances during the season (sadly neither I nor Linda are too fond of them).
The owner advised us to take a walk along the peninsula headland which is well worth it. There are seals which you can get close to (signs warn no more than 10m) and further round are seagull colonies which at the time we arrived were just starting to build their nests. Unfortunately we had to cut short our walk due to the rising tide.
We ate in the Pier Hotel (pg 473) which was very friendly with good food and locals all too willing to involve the occasional stray tourists (hello Hazel & Roy if you find this).
Today we booked swimming with dolphins with operator Dolphin Encounter, 95NZ$ each (ph 03 319 6777, pg 470). They advised that the 6am and 9.30am trips have the best chance of finding dolphins (which break into smaller groups this time of year for breeding) so we went with the 9.30am option.
After kitting up and searching the seas for 45 minutes we finally found what we came for, dusky dolphins. There was a pod of about 15 dolphins and as soon as we entered the water they started to react to us being there. If you caught the attention of one you could swim with them for what seems like ages, just the two of you and occasionally more! They actually turn and look at you and start to mimic your movements if you swim in circles or other moves you are told they react to.
During the 3 drops more and more dolphins appeared and all too soon the time is up and it's back aboard the boat for a quick photographic run. If you ever have the chance to try this I highly recommend it, above everything else!
After the excitement we went back to the motel for a shower and then out to the headland to complete the walk we started last night. If you have ever wandered amongst rock pools in the UK this area is well worth a look. The shells and animals are just subtly different from those back home, from snails with elaborate stopper stones to the large coloured Powa shells so prized by Maori and tourist's mantelpieces alike. The Maori use the colourful shells for the eyes of their carvings.
We rounded off the evening at Dexarelli's Pizza, just along from the Dolphin Encounter office (ph 03 319 6900). He advertises 'authentic Italian pizza cooked by an Aussie in New Zealand' and it is very good. If you want any variations on the pizzas offered he is very willing to comply. We spent the night back at the excellent Fortuna Rocks again.
Tonight we had to be in Picton for the ferry so we headed north to check out some of the wineries that the northern part of the south island is famous for. Fancying a pub meal, we stopped at the Cork & Keg in Renwick, west of Blenheim (ph 03 572 9328, pg 462 & 464). They are a brewery as well as a pub and the beer is well worth testing if you are in the area and they do a dry cider as well.
Anyway, on to the wine! We were recommended the Cloudy Bay winery on Jacksons Road. Although there are no tours around the buildings, they are all to happy to let you taste your way through the excellent selection of wines including Te Koko and Sauvignon Blanc. Te Koko is sauvignon grape with added lychee - it works better than you'd probably realise, enough to make us buy some!
After one of our number had worked their way through the sparkling and desert wines as well, Linda, we set off along the Queen Charlotte Drive back to Picton. This route takes you to the top of Queen Charlotte Sound and is well worth a run along if you have a couple of hours before the ferry. I would loved to have had time to walk some of the famous Queen Charlotte Track had we had time.
Picton itself is a surprisingly nice town considering it's main reason for being is the inter-island ferries (please take note Dover!). We arrived in Picton at 5pm for a 9.30pm ferry (the weather wasn't great) and so we took a quick walk along the water front. If you follow the brick paving you come across the Edwin Fox, a ship with much of New Zealand's and Australia's history in it's timbers . The guide describes the ship as being 'battered, but still floating'. In May 1999 they finally dry docked the ship which, from seeing it, looked as though the only way it would have floated was to pump the water out faster than it was sinking, most of the superstructure was gone as well as most of the hull!
At this point, with most things shut for the night, we thought that we would try to get on the ferry a little early as the 6.30 sailing had not yet left . After sitting in the reserve queue for 40 minutes, we were given one of only 4 spare spaces on the ferry which saved us another 3 hours of wasting time in Picton and also gave us a chance to see the Marlborough Sounds in daylight.
We had assumed we would be arriving in Wellington at 12.30am so had booked in advance a cabin at Hutt Park Holiday Village for 42NZ$ (ph 04 568 5913, pg426). It may have been the closest to Wellington but I wouldn't advise to stay there long term as it is in the centre of an industrial district.
Today was going to be just one long drive back to Auckland for the plane tomorrow. To break up the journey we decided to visit the Buried Village in Rotorua on the way, although it's a little out of the way it would give us a break about half way.
The drive to Taupo took about 4 hours, 20 minutes where we decided to revisit the Huka Falls as the sun was now out, unlike our previous visit. After topping up our photo collection we moved on to the Buried Village (ph 07 362 8287, pg318), south east of Rotorua. In June 1886 a massive volcanic explosion from Mt Tarawera covered the village of Te Wairoa in a thick layer of ash and destroyed the world famous Pink & White Terraces. In the 1930's excavation of the Maori/European village was started and is still continuing, with artifacts and recreations of some of the buildings now on show. Also worth checking out are the Te Wairoa Falls and the sheer number of trout in the river within reaching distance. Also worth a quick look are the Green and Blue lakes which you pass on the way to the village.
After a farewell dinner at the Fat Dog Cafe & Bar we headed north to Auckland and made it in under 3 hours. After we had been in bed for around an hour, Bridget and then Russell turned up in varying states of drunken confusion and quiet finally fell on the house.
The last day and the first really rainy day of the holiday. Bridget & Russ decided a breakfast at a waterfront cafe was in order, especially as they were both nursing hangovers. A good cafe around Mission Bay was found and a couple of relaxing hours watching the rain hammer down was had by all.
Packing. Never underestimate packing. Until now we had been living out of a car and had also left unneeded items at Bridget's. Now it all had to go in our bags for the flight back including wrapping up breakables collected along the way. I think it took somewhere around 3 hours, not including an intermission to go and purchase a fuzzy kiwi in the pouring rain - not the light stuff, the heavy stuff - constantly.
Our flight was at 10.30pm and so a farewell dinner was taken at One Red Dog in Ponsonby. Bridget described it as gourmet pizza and that it probably the best description. If you only like pepperoni or Hawaiian this isn't the place for you! With pizzas like lemon thai curried chicken, curried lamb or prawn pizzas it was certainly a good way to finish up.
The flight left Auckland on time and dragged itself to LA for a scheduled 3 hour stopover which extended by another hour.
Arrive back at Heathrow at 10.20am.
To the best of my memory and till receipts the above information is correct but if you know of any mistakes please get in touch and I'll correct them. If you have any questions please e-mail us & we'll try our best to help you.