New Zealand with Cheryl
Date: February 2008
Trip Location: New Zealand
Overall Trip Impression: We took the nonstop Air New Zealand flight from Vancouver to Auckland which was very convenient. I had pre booked our accommodation and rental car, and we started our tour by exploring Auckland, Waitomo and Rotorua, with my husband as the driver and me as the navigator. It was my husband’s first time driving on the left side of the road, but it didn’t take him long to get the swing of it.
In Auckland we visited Sky Tower – at 328m, this is the tallest tower in the Southern Hemisphere, offering breath-taking views of Auckland. Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter & Underwater World, a wonderland of snow, ice and amazing underwater sights is also worth a visit.
In Waitomo we took a guided tour through the spectacular Glowworm Cave with its majestic and ornate cave decorations, as well as a moving boat trip through the Glowworm Grotto. The Black Labyrinth Tour, operated by The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co., is also well worth a visit. The 3 hour cave tubing excursion calls on you to weave, jump and gently float your way through Ruakuri Caves glow worm lit underworld universe. An Amazing experience.
From Waitomo we drove to Rotorua where there are many things to see and do. The Tamaki Maori Village offered a journey back in time to a Pre-European lifestyle experience of ancient Maori customs and traditions. The Maori Village comes alive to the sound and activities of tribal songs, dances, myths and legends and the tour includes a banquet of foods cooked the in traditional Maori way.
Te Puia offers a Maori and Geothermal experience. We visited the famous Pohutu geyser, mud pools and hot pools, and enjoyed corn on the cob that was cooked in a hot pool. We also visited The Maori Arts & Craft Institute and saw a live kiwi in the Kiwi House.
The Skyrides Rotorua gondola takes you up the side of Mt. Ngongotaha to enjoy the extensive views of Rotorua city and Lake Rotorua. It is also home of the Luge, a fun filled gravity ride on a 3 wheel cart with 3 separate scenic tracks that wind down through the redwood trees. The Cableway Restaurant & Bar offers a delicious New Zealand buffet selection with a 180 degree view of the city.
For a completely different experience try Off Road NZ, an off road adventure company where you drive your own 4WD through a variety of challenges, including the daunting Luge drop! Race your own Sprint Car around a track. Or hang on as you are driven over impossible terrain on a Monster 4X4 Thrill Ride that climbs and descends vertical slopes and tilts to unbelievable angles.
We then drove to Nelson where we did a full day sea kayak tour in the Abel Tasman National Park. Highlights included seal viewing at Pinnacle Island, kayaking down the ‘Mad Mile’, exploring beaches and lagoons and checking out Split Apple Rock. The tour also included lunch on a nice quiet beach. (Paddling: 16km / approx. 5 hours including breaks)
Other interesting tours are the World of WearableArt and Classic Car Museum – a unique museum experience. On one side you can view garments from New Zealand’s unique WearableArt Awards Show, where art is taken off the wall to adorn the body in wildly wonderful ways. On the other side you will see 50 cars and motorbikes on display in the Classic Car Gallery.
Wilsons (Great Day Out) – a cruise and walk experience through Abel Tasman National Park. The weather was terrible on the day of our excursion. Our boat was tossed about and we decided to disembark early and walk the trails back. We enjoyed a very long 5 hour speed walk back!
The first part of our self drive ended here and we travelled the next part of our trip from Nelson to Punakaiki on InterCity Coachlines, which is a great option for those who may not want to do their own driving.
Punakaiki is best known for its Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, limestone formations that began forming 30 million years ago. They are both spectacular and a must see when visiting the West Coast of New Zealand.
We then made our way on InterCity Coachlines from Punakaiki to Franz Josef Glacier where we took the Glacier Explore tour (3/4 Day). From its origins high in the Southern Alps, Franz Josef Glacier descends deep into the lush rainforest of the Westland’s National Park, from a height of 2700m above sea level to only 240m in as little as 11km, making it the worlds steepest and fastest flowing commercially guided glacier. The excursion begins with a 1 hour walk through the glacier valley forest to the base of the glacier. Put on your crampons and begin your climb, exploring the unique terrain and impressive ice formations and the amazing views of the summit and the glacier valley.
Back on InterCity Coachlines from Franz Joseph Glacier to Queenstown where we rented a car for the scenic 4 hour drive to Milford Sound with a lunch stop in Te Anu and a scenic stop at Mirror Lake. We drove through the Homer Tunnel, and stopped to enjoy a walk through the forest past spectacular waterfalls to the aptly named The Chasm, a natural bottomless bowl that the water from the Cheddau river spills into at great force. The Milford Sound Cruise usually offers amazing views of Fiord land where the mountains stand tall and straight out of the sea. Unfortunately it rained the day of our cruise, there were waterfalls everywhere and Mitre Peak was not visible behind the misty clouds.
Other things to do in Queenstown are Shotover Jet – amazing jet boat experience! A thrill ride, skimming past rocky outcrops at close range, as you twist and turn through the narrow Shotover River Canyon at breathtaking speeds. Hold tight for the world famous Shotover Jet full 360degree spins!
Nomad Safaris (Skipper Canyon) – offers a guided tour in a Land rover 4WD exploring the gold mining history of New Zealand’s high country. Skippers Canyon Road was hacked by hand into sheer cliff sides. Drive along Skippers Road, with every hairpin bend, across the historic suspension bridge and enjoy spectacular mountain scenery.
From Queenstown we then drove to Christchurch via Moeraki Boulders with its huge spherical stones scattered over the sandy beaches.
There were many sights to see and explore in Christchurch such as punting on the Avon, sit back into velvet cushion on your boat as the Edwardian punter propels you past the trailing willows and leafy banks of the prettiest stretch of the Avon River.
Canterbury Museum, located in the heart of Christchurch city show New Zealand’s rich cultural and natural heritage.
The Christchurch Tram is an inner city tour experience, combining the heritage of the trams, attractions and historic buildings.
Christchurch Gondola, located on the crater rim of Christchurch’s famous extinct volcano. The 945 meter Gondola ride gently lifts visitors almost 500 meters above sea level for 360 degree views of Christchurch, Canterbury Plains and Lyttelton Harbour.
Favorite hotels: The Millennium & Copthorne Hotels
Best local foods: Lamb and seafood, especially the mussels.
Best souvenirs: Jewelry, made with greenstone (NZ jade), paua shell or bone; wool, sheepskin and New Zealand wine.
Best time to travel: New Zealand’s spring and fall.
What to bring: Casual dress, good walking shoes, rain jacket and fleece or sweatshirt. Evenings are a bit dressier, but not formal.