A trip from October 31, 2011 to November 15, 2011, travelling to Sydney, Auckland, Rotorua, Waitomo Caves …
Spent 4 days on the North Island and 10 days on the South … More
Spent 4 days on the North Island and 10 days on the South Island. Rented an RV and covered a lot of ground. Rotorua, Waitomo, Akaroa, Arthur's Pass, Fox Glacier, Queenstown, Otago and Oamaru. Fantastic trip!
After leaving Atlanta and making a connection in Los Angeles, we arrived in Sydney for an 11-hour connection. Rather than sitting in the airport, we visited a friend who lives there, and then did the Sydney Bridge Climb. AWESOME way to spend the layover.
Drove a few hours down to Rotorua, walked through the Whakarewarewa geothermal area, with steaming pools, geysers and bubbling mud. Watched a Maori tribal dance performance. Later we drove into the town of Rotorua, on Lake Rotorua. Saw 2 seaplanes and lots of black swans in the lake. Rainy, misty day, so we just had lunch at the Fat Dog, with super tall burgers. Then drove to Ohope Beach where we were renting a beach house for a couple of days. Black sand on the beach there. We had dinner in Whakatane at Cobb & Co., lamb shank and fish & chips.
The drive from Whakatane to Waitomo was about 3 hours. We decided to see the Waitomo Caves using the Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. Had to suit up in wetsuits for the cave trip. Our tour guides Drew and Vashti were great. Abseiling down 12 stories into a dark cave, then zip lining in the dark further down to the underground river. Enjoyed snacks and hot chocolate before jumping into the underground river in an inner tube. Cold! But tons of glow worms on the cave roof. Next we ditched the tubes and walked/swam through the river, falling, splashing, sliding through a few photo ops. We finally climbed up through 2 waterfalls to reach daylight again. In a cow pasture, in a wetsuit. Back at the Black Water tour office, we had hot showers, toasted bagels and tomato soup. Perfect.
After renting the camper at the Christchurch airport, we took off for Akaroa, a beautiful little French village on the Banks Peninsula. After settling in at the holiday park, we walked into town in search of dinner. We discovered a great little place called The French Bistro, with only about 10 tables. Fantastic dinner of grouper and ribeye.
Long day of driving through Arthur's Pass, which was beautiful. Along the way we stopped at Castle Hill, with huge boulders where several moviess have been filmed (Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia). Also encountered cool Kea birds hanging out by the dumpster. South Pacific parrots, very comfortable getting close to people, in hopes of getting food. Most locals said not to feed them, they are pests. We still thought they were cool.
Heading south, we arrived at Franz Josef glacier first, but decided to keep going to Fox Glacier since it's bigger. We arrived too late for a tour that day, so we decided to stay the night and take one the next morning. Spent the afternoon on a hike from our holiday park to the base of Fox Glacier (along the Glacier Gateway trail) to get a preview. Nice walk rain forest at the foot of the glacier. It rained, we got drenched. Later found a great little bar, Cooks, with a warm fireplace and cold beer. Got up early the next day for a half day tour, using Fox Glacier Guiding. We were in a group of 11, and had to suit up with boots and socks from the tour company, for walking across 2 streams on the way to the glacier. Once we got on the ice, we also had to strap crampons onto our boots. The glacier provided tons of photo ops.
Leaving Fox Glacier, we drove south toward Queenstown. The drive was so beautiful, with the road taking us by Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. The area was so amazing that we decided to stop short of Queenstown, and stay in the small town of Lake Wanaka instead. The holiday park there had a fantastic view of the lake and surrounding mountains.
As we were driving into Queenstown, we saw a bungy jump place and stopped. It was the Kawarau Bridge, where bungy jumping started. Did the jump, definitely got the heart pumping. In Queenstown we stayed at a holiday park that was in a great location (Top 10 Creeksyde), but was crowded, cramped and full of kids playing. Queenstown is pretty, situated on the water, with the Remarkables (mountains) overlooking the city. The next day we had an early pickup from Fly Paragliding. They drove us up to Coronet Peak, a ski area overlooking the Queenstown area. Several other hang gliding and paragliding companies were also using this as a launch site. First paragliding experience, and it was a ton of fun.
That afternoon we drove to Te Anau. Plenty of shops to explore, then we stopped in a place called The Grill for a beer. Te Anau was a perfect place to overnight before our kayaking trip on Doubtful Sound the next day.
Early day, as we drove 15 minutes to Manapouri for the kayaking trip on Doubtful Sound. The trip took all day. It started with a 45-minute boat trip across Lake Manapouri, then a 20-minute bus trip on a gravel road down to Doubtful Sound, where we boarded 2-man kayaks. Doubtful Sound was so beautiful, and seeing it from a kayak was even better. We paddled under dripping waterfalls and saw a few Little Blue penguins along the way. Sand flies were as pesky and plentiful as mosquitoes, so bug spray definitely helped.
Long drive from Te Anau to the Otago Peninsula. Stayed in the little town of Portobello, near Dunedin. We chose Portobello because it's near penguin nesting grounds. Little Blue penguins come back to their nests at dusk. The Pilots Beach nesting ground was just 20 minutes away, and they showed up right on cue, swimming up to the beach in a group of about 15-20, and making their way to their nests. The next morning we took a tour of another nearby penguin nesting area with Nature's Wonders, a company operated by a family that owns land on the coast of the Otago Peninsula. Our guide drove us in a little 8WD vehicle similar to a golf cart, but much more sturdy for the bumpy paths through the property. The guide drove us to a cliff where we could see cormorants nesting. Next we went by an area full of New Zealand fur seals. At the next stop, we were at a steep beach cliff where penguins nest. Little Blues and Yellow-Eyed penguins use this area. The guide took us into a wooden tunnel "hide" where we looked through little windows to see a rare Yellow-Eyed in its nest. We also saw Little Blues nesting, one with a newly hatched chick. Great tour.
Larnach Castle is in this area so we decided to check it out and were really glad we did. Built in the 1800s, it had fallen into disrepair after a few changes in ownership. The current owners have restored it very well. The gardens were beautiful, full with familiar and unfamiliar plants. An arbor in front was created to perfectly line up a view of a mountain in the distance. Inside, much of the original furniture remained. Some of the ornamental floor tiles were missing, but other than that, everything seemed to be intact.
Next we drove into Dunedin, home to an impressive train depot. Next we walked through the Octagon, the center of town. We settled in at Ratbags for a beer, people watching and good music. Also found a place, Best Cafe, serving "Whitebait," a bunch of tiny NZ trout (the whole fish), smashed into a pattie and fried. Weird, but tasted okay, probably because it was fried. The best thing we had there were the Bluff Oysters.
Drove further north to Oamaru, and went to the Blue Penguin Colony. They have a grandstand for watching the penguins as they return to their nests at dusk. There's also a self-guided tour, which was pretty cool because they have hundreds of little wooden nesting boxes that penguins actually use. You could see the penguins in the nests without disturbing them. The tour area was adjacent to a great track that lead along the ocean. More penguins were living in nests along the trail, as well as more cormorants and sheep. Great find! Next we found a holiday park right next to the Oamaru Public Gardens. They were beautiful, as were most we'd seen on this trip. These gardens also had several aviaries with colorful and noisy birds.
We made it back to Christchurch and returned the camper. Stayed overnight at the Sherbourne Motor Lodge. Most multi-level hotels have been closed because of earthquake damage. This place was pretty good, better than we had expected. The cleark was very helpful with directions and restaurant suggestions. We had lunch at Steinlager's Ale House, then walked around the city. Christchurch's central business district (now called the Red Zone) has been closed since so many of the buildings have been damaged and are in the process of being demolished from multiple earthquakes. Sidwewalks have buckled, and sink holes have appeared. On the edge of the Red Zone, a few shops have opened in temporary storefronts. Other than those, all the businesses were closed. There is a nice, large botanical garden.