Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Part Three - New Zealand, South Island

A lot of people say the south island is the best, there was a lot of beautiful scenery and places to see, but I really did like both islands. The north island is really green and lush, and the south is more mountainous.

We started our trip to the south island early Wed. morning to get the ferry from Wellington to Picton on the south island. The ferry was like a cruise ship - it had a movie theater, lots of different seating areas, and restaurants/shops throughout the different levels. We had a breakfast from one of the buffet areas, then sat towards the back of the boat and saw dolphins swimming around in the bay area going into Picton. We got to Picton mid-day, and drove about 20 minutes down to Blenheim where all the wineries are. For lunch we stopped at the Highview Estates winery. It was warm enough so we ate outside on the patio overlooking lines and lines of grapevines/trees. The food was more upscale, I just had some bread and Brett had rabbit. Then the wine tasting began, we tried the wine there, then at Cloudy Bay, Allan Scott, and Saint Clair. The area is known mostly for their savignon blanc, and they had some other white and red wines to try. We bought a few bottles to bring back to Tonga, it was a lot cheaper and better than what we get in Tonga. Afterwards we drove on to Franz Joseph Glacier on the west coast, about an 8 hour drive. For dinner we stopped at Owen River tavern, it was a little restaurant in the middle of nowhere. We huddled around a table by a fireplace and space heaters, it was cold in the mountains! It was dark the whole drive along the west coast, and I slept a lot of it. At one point we stopped to look, and there were piles of rocks all along the road by the ocean, people had piled them up into little towers. We pulled into the Top 10 Holiday Park at Franz Joseph around midnight, this was a really nice park with heated nice bathrooms and Internet.
The next day we slept in a little, then drove into town to find a glacier tour company. We went with the main one in town, it was $97NZ/person for a half-day hike, about 5 hours. My mom decided to stay in town and go to a spa instead after seeing pictures of the hiking up ice carved stairs and climbing ropes, etc. The rest of us went on the hike from 12:30 to 5:30pm. They outfitted everyone with blue raincoats, hiking boots, wool socks, hats/gloves, and spiky clamp-ons for hiking on the glacier. There were about 40 people going on the hike, once we got close to the glacier they split us into four smaller groups. We hiked down a little wooded trail, then came out to a huge river valley full of rocks and could see the glacier in the distance. It was about a 45 minute hike to get up to where the glacier was, then we put on the spiky clamp-ons and hiked up some rocky area until we got to a ladder going up and onto the ice. It was amazing on the glacier, the views were gorgeous and the ice was a blue-ish color. The guide led us all around on the ice on trails carved up and down through the glacier with steps carved into the ice in places, and ropes to hang onto to haul yourself up or down. We’d packed sandwiches and had lunch on top of the glacier. They also led us into some ice caves that were naturally carved. Afterwards we had dinner at the Blue Ice restaurant on the main street, they had good lasagna. Then we drove all the way to Queenstown, about 5 or 6 hours. It was nice doing the driving at night so we’d have the whole day to do other things. I could still see some of the scenery, lots of snow-capped mountains.

The first night in Queenstown we stayed at the Holiday Park, this one wasn’t as nice, the bathrooms weren’t heated and were tiny. On Friday morning we slept in, then the guys all went golfing at Queenstown Golf Club, a championship golf course with mountain views all around on a peninsula on the lake. My mom, Lisa and I had a spa/shopping day. We had full body massages and facials at Body Sanctum in town, and had lunch at Vudu Café. The food there was really good! After the guys were done golfing we looked for a new place to stay that night, and ended up staying at the Crown Plaza hotel in town which was really nice. We had dinner at @Thai, they had good curry dishes there. The next morning we had breakfast at Vudu Café since it was so good the first time we went there, and drove on to Christchurch, our final stop before flying back to Auckland.
On the way out of town we stopped to see the first bungy-jumping place, the AJ Hackett bridge. We watched a lady bungy jump off the bridge there. There was a lot of scenery on the drive - more mountains, and fields of sheep. We stopped at the Church of the Good Shepherd, past Mt. Cook. It’s a cute old stone church on a peninsula on a lake with great mountain views all around. We made it to Christchurch in the evening, checked into a Top 10 Holiday Park in the suburbs, and had dinner at Lone Star. Instead of staying in the camper we rented a cabin, it was only $128NZ and had beds for all of us, but was really cold before we turned on the space heaters. On Sunday we drove into Christchuch and went to the botanical gardens, they were really big and had a conservatory that was pretty, it would be even nicer in the summer time. Then we went to the Arts Center where they have an art fair/market every Saturday and Sunday. This was really fun, there were lots of little booths with food and arts/crafts, and live music that was really good. We thought we’d seen it all but then realized it winded all throughout the campus of buildings at the Arts Center, really pretty European looking courtyards and buildings. After that we walked around and did some shopping, Brett and I bought stuff we wanted to bring back to Tonga, mostly food. We had dinner right next to the Arts Center at Dux Lux where they brew their own beers. That night we switched camping places and stayed in a cabin at the Holiday Park in Spencer, just outside of Christchurch on the beach. So the next morning we got up and drove to look at the beach, stopped at a bakery, then went to return the campervan near the airport. Our flight left in the early afternoon back to Auckland, and we’d made reservations to stay at the Langham hotel again so spent more time in the hot tub there. For dinner we went downtown and ate at Tony’s Lord Nelson near the sky tower.
We all flew out our separate ways on Tuesday - my parents on to Australia to the barrier reef for a few days, Lisa and Adam back to Colorado, and me and Brett back to Tonga. My parents had an early morning flight, so we spent a little more time with Lisa and Adam shopping in town before leaving for the airport. It was hard to get on a plane back to Tonga after this trip! We stayed in Nuku’alofa for two nights before coming back to Ha’apai. Lucky, our puppy, was very happy to see us. The Internet wasn’t working at our house or the peace corps office when we got back. And our sima vie (where we get all our drinking water) was completely dry. It was full when we left, the pigs got into it while we were gone in the middle of the night, the neighbors didn’t hear the water rushing out and by morning it was empty. Luckily there are a few other half-full sima vies around our neighbors’ houses we can use. Other than these few things everything is good back here in Ha’apai, and we have peace corps training here for a couple of days so we get to see the outer island volunteers.

Recommendations for those traveling to New Zealand:
Top places we’d recommend - Franz Joseph Glacier, Queenstown, Blenheim wineries, and Raglan. If you’re driving, I’d recommend looking at your schedule and giving yourself more time. We spent a lot of time in the campervan driving, but we saw a lot in the 12 days we were there.

Auckland - if you can, the Langham is worth the splurge to stay at a 5-star hotel and it has a shuttle service to the main street in town. Devonport was a cute town to visit, the ferry ride is very cheap ($10NZ/person round trip), and you get great views of the skyline from the water. The Recycle Boutique just off Queen Street was a great place to buy good used clothes for cheap, this is where I found my winter coat.

Bay of Islands - kayaking is fun and cheap at $10NZ/hour, and Abbey Caves was a fun stop on the drive between Auckland and Paihia, it was a free cave to see glow warms, a little bit of a hike.

Raglan - Wainui Reserve is a pretty beach, and the Raglan Surf School has good prices for rentals/lessons

Lake Taupo - DeBrett’s was a good campground with hot springs right there at the resort, and they can book fishing trips or other activities for you.

Wellington - the Capitol was a great restaurant, a little more spendy but worth it. Halswell Lodge was a good, central place to stay and was pretty cheap, they have motel and apartment options.

Blehheim wineries - All the wineries we visited were good - Cloudy Bay, Allan Scott and Saint Clair, and Highview Estate had great views for lunch. At the info center in town you can get a map of all the wineries. If we’d had more time it looked like they had nice places to stay here.

Franz Joseph Glacier - the glacier hike was amazing, worth spending the money, plan a half-day for this. The Holiday Park here was one of the best we stayed at - nice, heated bathrooms and views of the glacier.

Queenstown - Vudu café was my favorite café/lunch place, great food and very busy. The golfing the guys did sounded really good, a championship course - Queenstown Gold Club. @ Thai restaurant had good food. I didn’t like the Holiday Park here, small and cold bathrooms.

Christchurch - if you’re there on a Saturday or Sunday definitely check out the fair at the Arts Center, lots of food and arts/crafts, and music. The botanical gardens were really pretty also.

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