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There and Back Again

New Zealand/Aotearoa 'The Land of the Long White Cloud'

AUSTRALIA | Monday, 1 May 2017 | Views [335] | Comments [4]

We spent 3 weeks in NZ with Gaye and Bob Simpson mainly exploring the South Island. We experienced splendid unseasonable NZ weather. Little use for those thermals and fleeces.

Stunning landscapes, the freshest and best seafood and friendly locals resulted in a great holiday.



The Botanic Gardens and the old trams give a visitor a glimpse of what the city was like before the earthquake. There is evidence of lots of rebuilding happening and it is heartening to see how the community is working to overcome the destruction in the wake of the earthquake.

A great example is the Re:Start Mall where the shops are in shipping containers

The 185 white chairs arranged in an empty piece of land are a poignant symbol of the lives lost. 

 There is great coffee from the food van near the damaged cathedral - 'Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo'



The lifting of the sea bed, slips blocking roads and rivers, cracks in infrastructure and bunting around many buildings is evidence of the damage done by the more recent and stronger earthquake (7.8) that was centered on Culverdene and Kaikoura. While the south coast and inland roads into the town have been reopened (we managed to travel on both roads), it is going to take a long time to get the roads back to what they were. It will be even longer before the coast train (if ever!) runs again.

We celebrated Susan's significant birthday eating locally caught Crayfish at the Pier Hotel. In fact local seafood is a feature of the area.

We had a fabulous selection of local seafood at Nin's Bin, a 'pop up' on the coastal road. 

The Whale Watching Centre, owned and operated by a local Maori group, is continuing to offer a 'once in a lifetime experience' to visitors. We were fortunate to see a sperm whale surface, exhale/spout and then diving with the huge tail emerging from the sea.


Hanmer Springs

A pretty alpine town where it snows in winter. The weather was a bit wet, but that did not deter us from spending many hours in their range of hot thermal pools over 2 days.



The alternative route north took us through this interesting old town. We bought crusty bread and pastries from the authentic French bakery, clothes from the quaint Hodgson & Co Store (dating from early 20th century) and a wholesome lunch from Riverside Cafe.


Te Mahia

After a long winding drive, with a lunch stop in Picton, we arrived at the homely Te Mahia resort overlooking the splendid Marlborough Sound. We took a boat trip around the Kenepuru Sound with 'salty' Pete who told us about the early history of the area and the local flora and fauna. We went for a walk along a short section of the Queen Charlotte walking track and in the evening, hired a boat 'taxi' to a delicious dinner at Raetahi on the opposite side of the sound - local mussels and local Ora King salmon. Our driver stopped the boat on the return journey so we could enjoy the glorious star filled night sky. 



Another long and winding drive, in wet weather stopping for lunch again in Murchison, to Hokitika.

Hokitika is an old gold mining town featured in Eleanor Catton's novel The Luminaries.

The following day, we took a walk through the lush, fern filled  Hokitika Gorge. Seafood in NZ is a must and when we found ‘Dulcies Takeaway’ we had to have some more. It was hard to choose from the variety of fish offered - blue cod, turbot, elephant fish and hoki, as well as paua (abalone) and wonderful crunchy sweet potato chips. We enjoyed a selection sitting on a bench overlooking the river/harbour.


Franz Josef Glacier

After stopping for our first taste of whitebait fritters at Whataroa, we arrived at the small township near the Glacier. Along with many other sightseers we did the 2 hour return walk over the rocky track to the lookout. We were rewarded with a glimpse of the ever retreating glacier in the distance.


On the way to Queenstown we stopped off at The Curly Tree located on the Waita River. A family owned company who harvest their own whitebait. Tony cooked us some delicious whitebait patties, he has now sold his business, so no more whitebait. 



Another spectacular drive took us past tall craggy mountains, lush fern filled forests and huge lakes before arriving at the picturesque Queenstown. Our apartment looked out over the crystal clear Lake Wakatipu with a backdrop of the majestic mountains. We often saw the vintage steamboat SS Earnslaw chuffing its way down the lake. It seemed to be a Mecca for 'extreme sport' and while it was fun watching others bungee jumping or not (one young woman decided to opt out at the last moment), we decided to have an adrenaline rush on the Shotover. With 360 degree spins and close encounters with the rocky cliffs it was fun.  We had the excellent Grape pickers' lunch at Gibbston Winery and a traditional Japanese meal that evening at Tanoshi. Being a tourist Mecca there are lots of great restaurants, cafes and bars (e.g. Madam Woo, Atlas Bar, The Winery, Bespoke Kitchen). We also tried and enjoyed the famous Fergburger. A trip up The Gondala to the top of a mountain gave us spectacular but misty views; then Peter and Bob tackled the downhill Luge.

On a walk around Queenstown Gardens we were intrigued by local people playing Disc Golf - players use Frisbee type discs to negotiate a course through trees and around rocks. 



Doubtful Sound (Fiord)

Probably one of the highlights of the trip was an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound. The journey starts in Manapouri, where we took a ferry ride across picturesque Lake Manapouri and finally a bus trip over Wilmot Pass to get on board the 'Navigator' at Deep Cove. Alan our bus driver was a mine of information on the flora and fauna, the geography, the building of the underground hydroelectric plant as well as Maori legends and history. We were very impressed by his passion and love for the area and people.

The pristine fiord is a place of peace and tranquillity - with Tolkien like images it is almost magical. At one stage the boat stops all engines for 10 minutes, people are asked to not use cameras and not talk for the "Sounds of Silence" - bird calls, even waterfalls can be clearly heard.

The weather was balmy and we were able to indulge in some kayaking in an arm of the Sound. Gaye and Bob went for an icy swim. We forgot to bring our bathers!

There were only 70 people on board and we met many overseas visitors. And the food was plentiful and excellent.

Next morning, the light shimmering on the wake and the glowing morning light on the surrounding hills was truly memorable.

On the way to Invercargill we stopped to look at the old Clifton Suspension bridge and lunch at the Last Light Cafe in Tuatapere - great service and food. 



This quirky city at the bottom of NZ has beautiful old buildings, wide streets, lovely botanic gardens and friendly locals. Once a busy centre and port the town does look a bit tired and deserted. However it is improving helped by the zero fees Institute of Technology that has brought in more young people and the regrowth of the dairy industry. We also stayed in the delightful old fashioned Victoria Railway hotel run by Rose and Ian. 

We didn't get to the 2 car museums, Transport World and Motorworks but I'm sure they would be interesting. One has over 300 vehicles. We saw some very old motorbikes in the Meccaspresso cafe. 

We took a walk in the Queens Park and looked at plants and flora grown on islands in the Antarctic Circle. At The Rocks restaurant we had our first taste of Bluff Oysters - claimed to be some of the world's best oysters, and they were excellent.

We were so impressed, the next morning we drove through the fog to the Bluff, the little port where the oysters originate and had a dozen, freshly shucked, for 'breakfast'. Another quirky town which is the stepping off point to Stewart Island. 



We took the pretty coastal route to Dunedin through the Catlins Forest, on the way we stopped at the 'Whistling Frog' and had a fabulous lunch.

Dunedin is one of those eminently liveable cities. With its Edwardian, Victorian architecture and elegant university it has created a fabulous atmosphere. We stayed in the old Congregational church converted into modern apartments.  There are lots of great coffee shops (we liked The Dog With Two Tails); intriguing street art; quirky shops and several museums. The Octagon, at the centre of the city, is an 8 sided plaza overlooked by the imposing St Paul's cathedral and a statue of Robbie Burns. We visited the incredible Flemish renaissance style Railway Station and the excellent Toitu Otago Settlers Museum. While our meal at the Etrusco, located in the old Savoy building, was interrupted by an evacuation because of a fire alarm, its decor is ornate and beautiful.

The drive out along the peninsula is beautiful, we didn't go into The Albatross centre because a thick fog had come in but we did drive to Victoria beach and saw sea lions. Before leaving Dunedin, we walked up the 'steepest suburban street in the world'.

On the way to Oamaru we stopped to look at the strange huge round rocks called Moeraki Marbles.

And then at the nearby village of Moeraki we had an outstanding meal at Fleur's Place. Her self-built restaurant overlooks the small harbour and local fishing fleet. When Rick Stein visited NZ his main aim was to get to Fleurs. 78 year old Fleur walks around the restaurant talking to everyone, a real character dedicated to good fresh, locally sourced food, cooked simply. Potted eel, 5 different types of fish and a variety of steamed vegetables was delectable. 



We stayed at Glendale B and B, once a grand mansion with beautifully decorated huge rooms, extensive gardens, a lake, chooks and sheep.  Oamaru is similar to Port Adelaide with old wool stores but here they are put to use. We visited the unique Steam Punk Museum and the local Scott's brewery. We spent the evening waiting for penguins to arrive near the wharf – but they never arrived.


Mount Cook Aoraki 

Site of NZ tallest mountain and another very picturesque area. We walked to a lookout Tasman Glacier and the next morning walked to the lookout at the base of Mount Cook.


We then drove back to Christchurch, completing a circuit of the South Island. We spent another few days to explore this area. A walk through the glorious Botanic Gardens and riding on the old vintage trams with an informative commentary. We drove out to Lyttlelton, a port town also affected badly by the earthquake. We had another great meal at the Coffee Company. On the drive to Sumner Beach and Taylor's Mistake we saw lots more evidence of earthquake damage to houses and buildings. Many people and businesses are still recovering.

And then it was onto a flight to the North Island via Auckland. We hired a car and drove to Kawa Kawa in bucketing rain (remnants of cyclone Debbie). It was great to visit my nephew and family and have an excellent lunch at Wharepuke restaurant where he is a chef.

The drive back to Auckland was a bit easier with no rain; we stayed the night at the Jetpark hotel and flew back to Adelaide, early the next morning.

There are many places we'd like to return to or discover : Queen Charlotte track or maybe the Abel Tasman track; more time in Dunedin; Stewart Island; Fleur's Place; Milford Sound; any hot water springs; Queenstown and Oamaru. 

Thanks Gaye and Bob for planning the itinerary, booking accommodation and all that driving! All good!

Tags: christchurch, doubtful sound, dunedin, hamner springs, hokitika, kaikoura, mt cook, oamaru, queenstown, te mahia



Wow what a holiday !!!

  Basil May 3, 2017 7:32 PM


Sounds like a great experience. Pleased that you were able to sample some of the unique dishes and see so much of the beautiful scenery.

  Ngaire May 7, 2017 4:48 PM


Many thanks for a wonderful escorted trip down memory lane. It was great to relive happy days in NZ . Sad to hear of he continung earthquake damage, especially Kaikoura.

Howard and Jean

  Howard May 11, 2017 10:13 AM


Thank you Peter and Susan for your comprehensive overview of what appears to have been a wonderful exploring holiday. As we are soon to embark upon a trip to NZ, we have found this not only interesting, but also helpful as we plan our journey. Thanks.

  Dawn and Paul Jul 26, 2017 1:59 PM

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