January 30 till March 22, 2018
This trip to NZ was mainly to do some of the Great Walks and some other multi-day trips; please visit NEW ZEALAND, the GREAT WALKS and other multiple day fun for reports on them.
- But we also visited Auckland, Waitomo Caves, Wellington, Picton, Punakaiki, Queenstown, Te Anau,….. Underneath you will find some impressions about these places , but nothing on the North nor East of North Island. Note that we were in NZ a first time in 2005. This with our young children. We went to Kaikoura to see whales and swim with Dolphins – an experience of a lifetime! – paddled in Abel Tasman and visited Fox Glacier. (New Zealand was a lot quieter back then!)
- For this trip, we rented a small but handy Toyota Corolla Hatch for 35 NZD a day from EZI cars via the Rentalcars website. (Note: you need a certified translation of your driving license if not English! The agency can have it arranged for you within an hour for 100 NZD – the translation stated that we were French…). Even when not doing that many walks or other multiple day activities, we would probably not rent a campervan as driving on NZ’s scenic roads is so much more fun with a normal car. A 2-person MPV turned into a camper with cooking facilities would anyhow cost about 130 NZD per day. But there are everywhere excellent lodges where you have a choice between campsite, simple rooms with communal facilities (including cooking) and even full ensuite apartments.
- We travelled to NZ with two smaller suitcases, two 40 liter backpacks for the multiple day walks and two small daypacks for city or day walks. When doing the great walks, we left all luggage in the car which is safe to do. You don’t need to pack much for NZ anyway if you don’t mind wearing the same clothes for the whole holiday as all motels/lodges/holiday parks have excellent laundry facilities (2 x 4 NZD for laundry and drying). And Kiwis are easy going; a comfy t-shirt and shorts will bring you everywhere!
- NZ is also a paradise to buy outdoor sports clothes and gear! You will find everywhere great shops with a dangerously attractive choice of fantastic things! So, leave some space in your suitcases for things you do not really need but can’t resist buying!
- We bought a Spark sim card upon arrival – literally just after leaving the plane – for 50 NZD for 2 months use. Spark has huge coverage, even where unexpected!
- Evidently, everything you ever wanted to know about NZ is in the Lonely Planet (LP), Hiking and Tramping and the standard edition! In addition, every self-respecting town has an i-Site i.e a Tourist Information bureau with very knowledgeable and helpful people and a DOC office where you need to get (depending on the Walk!) permits, can get weather forecasts and other useful information about walks and outings. Note though that where and when i-Site represents DOC you better double check with DOC by calling them…! Another useful source of information is the Campermate App.
Day 1: we took the Skybus from the Airport to downtown. 18 NZD per person. The bus took us straight and comfortably to the corner of Wyndham Street, just of Queen’s Street where we stayed. We were early so couldn’t enter the room in the morning . So, we dropped the luggage and did some window shopping in Queen’s Street, the major shopping street. In the afternoon, we did the interesting LP’s suggested city walk passing Albert Park and Meyers Park and along some older parts of the city. The walk ends with views of the sea bay presence of Auckland for which it is often called “little Sydney”. For dinner we explored the Quays.
We stayed 2 nights in Ibis Budget for 195 NZD (excl bf) a night, conveniently located. You obviously pay for the excellent location as the room is nothing special and even fits tightly around the body.
Day 2: we had a nice alternative breakfast in HeavenScent café, next to St Patricks cathedral. Then a friend drove us to beautiful MURIWAI beach, 35 km from AUCKLAND, a nesting place for gannets. You can do a nice walk around the colony and on the beach with a pleasant lunch café nearby.
For dinner we took the ferry from the quays to DEVONPORT, a cute portside town and ate at Manuka, a cosy and good restaurant.
Day 3: After some shopping in Queen’s street and around, we visited the MARITIME MUSEUM on the quays which gives interesting insights on NZ’s Maori and European’s early maritime history, on the personalities and talents of Abel Tasman and especially James Cook and on the travel experiences of the early immigrants.
We picked up the car at EZI where we got to know that you need a certified TRANSLATION of your driving licence when not in English! EZI was able to arrange it though within an hour for an extra 100 NZD. (the translation said that the original language of the licence was French…!!?? Ours is Dutch!)
To WAITOMO: a great alternative to driving south from Auckland to the Hamilton area is to leave Highway 1 for Clevedon in Papakura, then first take the Papakura-Clevedon Road, then the Clevedon -Kawakawa Road which turns into the East Coast road. This road is alternately called the SCENIC PACIFIC COAST Highway and BIRD COAST highway passing by Miranda. Towards Waitomo we passed also through Cambridge, a cozy town (where we decided to stay one night on our way back).
Waitomo is a cute little place – you cannot really call it a town – nestled in lovely rocky hills with green pastures and varied vegetation! We ended the afternoon with a 3 hour (return) pleasant bushwalk starting right in front of the Waitomo i-Site: THE WAITOMO WALKWAY which leads to the Ruakuri Scenic reserve.
We had dinner in the Huhu lodge – a nice setting with exceptionally good food i.e the menu had some interesting alternatives to the usual deep-fried options. Although NZ has the best in fresh produce, it is not really a gourmet destination yet. Therefore, it probably needs some more Mediterranean immigration! Alternative dishes are coming up in some cosmopolitan towns, though. Apart from this, the usual fare is burgers, fish and chips and pizza (the American versions), typical pub fare, anything as long as it is deep fried…
We stayed in the Waitomo caves hotel for 135 NZD (excl bf) a delightful but a bit creaky 19th century building. Interestingly, the check-in lady of the hotel didn’t think highly of its own restaurant and recommended Morepork restaurant.
The WAITOMO CAVES: we booked in advance the “Black Labyrinth” 3 hour tour for 142 NZD pp with the Legendary Black Water rafting company. You get to visit the Ruakiri Cave and see its glow worms while floating on an inner tube. As such you avoid the masses that visit the caves on foot. A fun activity with a friendly bunch of people!
After a shower at their well organised outlet we drove down TE ANGA ROAD, a stunningly beautiful drive! We stopped at MANGAPOHUE NATURAL BRIDGE for a 1 hour easy and pleasant walk, also seeing million years old ossified oyster fossils and for the MAROKOPA falls (35 m high!) which are worth a visit as well!
The idea was to continue to Te Kuiti, but the road became unsealed and rather bad from the sea on. We turned back and did the RUAKIRI Bush walk (1 hour) in Waitomo and got to know more about the formation of the caves and the impressive conservation work done by DOC. We stayed the night in Top 10 Holiday park for 160 NZD in an ensuite apartment and had dinner in… Huhu.
On the way to Wellington: note that the waterfront at PARAPARAUMU (near the Ferry for KAPITI Island) is very pleasant (once you have passed the shopping malls and the airport), the Queen Elisabeth Park offers relaxing dune walks, PAIKAKARIKI has a splendid Café: “the Perching Parrot” and RAUMATI some interesting shops.
In Wellington we followed the LP’s suggested city walk which is basically following the revamped waterfront, Courtenay Place and Cuba street.
We had dinner at Shed No 5 starting with fantastic Te Matuku oysters of Waihiki Island.
We stayed at the Ibis in Featherston Street for 195 NZD per night, excl bf. Excellent location, same price as Auckland but with real space in the room. (Ask for a room with a view when booking and be sure you book your parking space in advance when self-driving!)
WELLINGTON Day 2: as the weather looked okay, we decided to visit ZEALANDIA, an eco-sanctuary where biodiversity is being restored to before humans arrived in NZ. Therefore, we took the cable car to Victoria lookout and from there the shuttle to Zealandia.
At the sanctuary, we decided to take the 2-hour guided tour for 55 NZD pp. This tour we recommend highly!!! We had Mr Roy Sharp as guide. We spent 3.5 hours with him and would not have mind a whole day! We learned about NZ’s geological history, how unique its ecosystem was and how with huge effort DOC is trying to restore some of it.
We were introduced to Takahe (a prehistoric looking blue-ish grass eating chicken), the Saddleback, plenty of Tuatura (a Sphenodon), Kaka (a cousin of the alpine Kea), Weka’s, Bellbirds, Fantails, Robins, one Moreport or Ruru, Tui, Hihi, Green Gecko and Weta…. Most species we would be on the lookout for during our next Great walks!! Spotting fauna and flora you know makes the Great Walks even more interesting!
We had lunch at the sanctuary, also recommendable as they offer alternative dishes and desserts in a great setting. We continued our nature discovery day by walking down via the “MOUNTAIN TO CITY TRAIL” through the botanical gardens and finally through the Bolton cemetery.
Dinner at Portofino.
The FERRY TO PICTON: what a phenomenal way to exit Wellington, cross the Cook Strait and enter the MARLBOROUGH SOUNDS (MS)! After about 1.5 hours, the ferry enters the Queen Charlotte Sound and cruises a further 1.5 hours slowly into Picton. It is worth standing on the front or top deck as soon as you enter the Sound. (It may be good to know as well that you can book private sleeping cabins online with your tickets or upon arrival on the boat)
PICTON’S waterfront is picturesque and worth a walk over the marina bridge (look out for stingrays!) and doing some afternoon hikes: Bob’s bay and/or Harbour view walk.
For dinner we had starters at Cockels but left because of smokers on the terrace where we sat; continued at Oxley’s, a very beautiful place at the waterfront with average food but a decent fish of the day.
DAY 2 Picton: DOLPHIN watching and swimming with EKO -Tours: we booked a tour that goes into the QC Sound looking for dolphins (115 NZD pp) and when meeting dusky or bottleneck (only those), you can swim with them. We saw 2 small pots of Hector Dolphins which are resident in the MS. (having not met with and not swum with other dolphins we got re-imbursed partly!)
EKO are a nice and friendly outfit and an alternative to Kaikoura (when you don’t manage to book it in advance!
MARAHAU and TAKAKA
We drove to MARAHAU (instead of directly to Takaka, see under): take the scenic road to Nelson with occasional stops in Havelock, Canvastown and certainly at PELORUS BRIDGE for a swim and great lunches and more at the Pelorus Café. There are also some beautiful short walks around there. (And next time we will certainly kayak down the Pelorus river!).
We had a stop in NELSON as well to go browsing in Trafalgar Street, an interesting street particularly towards the end at the foot of the Christ Church Cathedral! Note that there is also an excellent i-Site and DOC office! We were advised here to postpone our Heaphy track with one day as there was a serious Cyclone (Typhoon) approaching. That made us decide to go to Marahau and do some hiking along the Abel Tasman Track (ATT)
We stayed in MARAHAU in Mac Donald’s Old farm for 150 NZD, in a “rural apartment” with morning and evening visits of 5 cute white geese. (see pictures) (in Marahau check out Abel Tasman lodges and Split Apple Lodge as well (book early!)) Marahau is where the start (or end) of the ATT is and the base from where to explore the Abel Tasman marine reserve.
The drive from Marahau to TAKAKA goes along a wonderful road. We continued to explore GOLDEN BAY by car. We were warned for Cyclone Gita making landfall that day so decided to stay in downtown Takaka, Mohua motel for 125 NZD, a comfortable and cosy place with very friendly owners (Ask to stay on the 2nd floor with great pasture views from the terrace). The road to Takaka over Takaka Hill was partly washed away that night, so we would have been stuck there for a couple of days hadn’t it been that we had planned the Heaphy Track then which ironically had us actually walking out of the enclosed area and flying back in…
To blend in into the tourist scene in Takaka you need plenty of tattoos, metal pins in your face, walk barefoot and your clothes mustn’t have seen any soap for the last 10 days! If not, you belong to a subculture which – you never know with social media – may be emulated next, though.
But, an interesting town to explore. From here you can also have great drives to Collingwood (check out the Mussel Inn along the road) and beyond to Farewell Spit (check whether the roads are ok) and into the other direction : towards Wainui Bay – don’t miss the Wainui Falls: a lovely 1 hour bush walk – and Totaranui.
We chose the scenic road via MURCHISON. We stopped in Seal Colony (Cape Foulwind) and drove via Yellow Road to Punakaiki.
We did the walk around the blowholes – wait if possible until high tide to see the full impact of the waves onto the pancake rocks. But always worth a visit anyway!
We stayed in Punakaiki Café (but we discovered afterwards more lodges to the South of Punakaiki Better check these out as well!) for 150 NZD. We had dinner at the café, had fish and chips which they somehow managed to ruin completely: overfried pre-battered frozen fish, huge fries with “tartare” which was actually mayonnaise served in a plastic cup accompanied by a salad swimming in sweet vinaigrette. But the wine was good.
Via Lake Matheson (we visited Franz Jozef and quite thoroughly Fox Glacier 13 years before): we did the walk around the wonderful lake and in between rain patches got occasionally some stunning views of the mountains reflected in it ; we spotted the light blue Entoloma Hochstetteri mushroom, only one (see pictures) and had coffee and dangerously good cakes at the Café.
We stopped further in Ship Creek and Knight’s Point lookout. All worth a stop if you can beat the sand flies! We started with using the all-natural “Goodbye Sandfly” against them. It works when you apply it every 15 minutes. After a few applications, the flies skid onto your skin upon landing, their wings get drenched in the oil, they lose all sense of direction and cannot even find your skin anymore. But you start looking shiny like a bodybuilder getting ready for the show and your feet start squeaking in your shoes because the oil is finding its way down your shoes…
We soon started using Bushman with the good old 80% deet…
Looking on the map at the location of Haast, at a junction of the sea and roads entering the mountains with exciting names and even its own pass… but you expect too much of the place. It was indeed even hard to find a place for the night. We stayed in a simple room at the Asure Haast lodge for 70 NZD and had dinner at the “World Heritage Hotel” restaurant. (Don’t put your expectations as high as the name of the hotel makes you hope for!).
We went via Cardrona – Crown Range with a stop for lunch in WANAKA.
Enjoy the scenic drive from Haast with stops in Thunder Creek Falls and Fantail falls and after entering Otago, the Blue Pools Walk.
We also stopped in WANAKA for lunch. The place feels like a posh Swiss mountain resort. And indeed, we had our first “alternative” meal at Relishes Café, next to i-Site. On a next visit to NZ, we plan to stay a few days in Wanaka and do some walks/rides around (and check out Bakpaka lodge!)
QUEENSTOWN has expanded a lot since we were there last. It has a dangerously attractive and tempting array of outdoor sports shops, goodies and activities to offer. All laid out in a cosy little town with a stunning location. Of course, it comes with a high number of visitors and with them, traffic problems and bad tourist behaviour. (Give the place a miss around Chinese New Year – as with all tourist traps in NZ during that period.)
You can easily spend a week in and around town having all kinds of excitement. Make your pick at i-Site (after you made a budget on how much you want to spend, though!).
One activity we did during our 4 day stay in QT (on and off, to and from Te Anau) and which we highly recommend is mountain biking from the downtown park to Jack’s point (25 km one way, count 4-5 hours return! Towards the end there are some steep parts!) The trail follows the lake, passes by and goes behind the golf course all the way to Jack’s point (with yet another golf course…) giving you stunning views and a good idea on the orientation of QT on lake Wakatipu. We rented bikes (38 NZD pp) from the friendly and knowledgeable guys at VERTIGO. They can recommend you many more trails. One we certainly want to do on a next visit is the “Around the Mountains Trail”.
Certainly, worth a visit as well are GLENORCHY (which we did on the way to Routeburn Track) and ARROWTOWN.
In QT we stayed with friends.
Is a cute little place wonderfully located on the shores of Te Anau Lake with views of Mount Jackson and Mount Luxmore. Worth staying 2-3 days. It also has a lot of great day hikes on offer (certainly the one starting at Rainbow Reach by walking towards Shallow Bay and even to Moturau hut, the last relaxed day of Kepler.). And of course, everything to do with the Milford Sound can be booked here.
We saw another interesting activity being advertised downtown: floating down the WAIAU river and coming back by mountain bike. But the only 2 guides certified for it were doing the Godzone race…
One day as it started raining in the morning, we first went to see the movie about Fiordland: “SHADOWLAND” in the purpose-built theatre in town. The movie is made by 2 helicopter pilots who fly daily over Fiordland.
You certainly need to have dinner once in Redcliff Restaurant (book in advance!) in Mokonui Street. Exceptionally good and cosy!
CONCLUSIONS NEW ZEALAND
- While the weather is miserable in the northern hemisphere, NZ offers a fantastic alternative! Plus, all the beauty of the country comes with a friendly and relaxed people!
- Unfortunately, NZ is quickly becoming a victim of its own success!
- And a lot of people seem to travel now for a different purpose: instead of really wanting to explore and feel a destination and live an experience like : “we are here, we enjoy it, we may even take a picture, we want to stay as long as we can, but have to leave eventually” they travel instead like “we stopped there as well, took some pictures (selfies) and left. So, friends, colleagues and neighbors can see on Instagram, Wechat, FB, how glorious our life is”.
- A Chinese tourist asked why he was queuing in front of Ferg Hamburgers in Queenstown summed it all up: “I actually don’t like hamburgers, but I want to show my friends I was here. …!” You can easily recognize this kind of travellers: on the bus or ferries they show no interest at all for the outside scenery; they are just glued to their little screens.