New Zealand Trip Summary and Travel Information
This is the report and information I filed following our 2009 trip to New Zealand. It was actually the second trip there, following a whirlwind 9 day journey around the South Island (there was no report for the 2004 trip).
I went to New Zealand to get married, but we were there for two weeks, exploring much of the South Island and experiencing new adventures I hadn’t enjoyed in 2004. Our route took us from Christchurch to Queenstown (where the wedding was), then up the West coast and over to Kaikoura.
Read on to get some insight on the activities, lodging and food experiences we enjoyed. The sights are incredible, and the people are wonderful.
This was a great trip.
New Zealand Photos
More photos from New Zealand will be available soon.
Our group flew from Seattle to Christchurch, which took four flights and 25 hours of traveling. Unfortunately, we booked our tickets at a “discounted” group rate back when gas prices were still extremely high. By the time the trip was getting closer prices had dipped 25-30%.
Generally you should expect tickets from the West coast of the US (SF or LAX) to run anywhere between $1000 – $2000US. Thanks to the lousy economy in early 2009, tickets could be had for $900. Most tickets are purchased through Qantas or Air Zealand, both quality airlines. We actually flew via Air Pacific, which gave us an excuse to stop in Fiji on the way back.
We flew down in the last week of March and stayed through early April. This is the end of summer and the beginning of fall for New Zealand. The weather we enjoyed was amazing the entire two weeks. I’m not sure we’d get sunny days and 70 degree weather for that long if we went again during that period, but we were happy to take it.
Note that my previous trip in 2004 took place in December, which is spring/early summer down there. The weather was decent: fairly mild with a mix of occasional rain.
We rented cars from About New Zealand (http://www.rentalcar.co.nz/), whose Christchurch office was located in the heart of the city. They came and picked us up at our hotel, provided great service and quality vehicles. By the way, if they close at 5pm, they close at 5pm.
Nearly all of the places we stayed were great, with warm, friendly people managing them. Some that stood out:
Centre Point on Columbo, Christchurch
Within easy walking distance of the heart of Christchurch, and only a block away from Strawberry Fare and a number of other noted eateries. Jeff is one of the friendliest proprietors we’ve ever met during our travels. This will always be the first place we look when we return to Christchurch.
Earnslaw View Apartments
A little ways out of the heart of Queenstown (10-15 minute walk), but spectacular views and very nicely furnished. Check-in is actually located at the Colonial Village Motel, down on the main road.
Well, we were married here and stayed one night. It’s really a beautiful setting, out in the rolling hills between Queenstown and Arrowtown. This would certainly be a luxury stay, but is worth it for special occasions. It goes without saying that this is a wonderful spot for a wedding.
The culinary highlights included:
Strawberry Fare, Christchurch
The place to go for wonderful breakfast (berry pancakes!) and delectable desserts. Quite popular with our group and in general. Evening reservations may be a good idea. They even opened early on our last morning to give us one final goodbye breakfast. Can’t speak highly enough of this place.
Bella Cucina, Queenstown
A generic name, but great food. The scallop risotto was the best meal I had the entire trip. Great pizza too.
The Rock Cafe, Sumner
I think this is the place where we had some amazing mussel chowder while staring out at the ocean.
Locations and Activities
A lovely small city that is easy to navigate on foot. Wander through the park and botanical garden, Cathedral Square and try some of nice restaurants in town. Take the bus out to the gondola which takes you up to the bluffs overlooking the city and the harbor. Take in views from here and glide downhill on rented bikes to the seaside town of Sumner, where you can enjoy a nice lunch at the beach.
What isn’t there to do in the “Adventure Capital of the World?” Bungee jumping, skydiving, river rafting, skiing, golf, winery tours and so on. Two activities our group particularly enjoyed were the dinner cruise aboard the TSS Earnslaw out to Walter Peak Farm (http://www.realjourneys.co.nz/) and the speedy luge track high in the mountains overlooking the town. Skip the expensive kiwi house. While nice, there are similar attractions elsewhere in New Zealand that cost less.
You’re better off skipping this town, which we’re still convinced is home to zombies that are threatening to burst forth from the woods at any moment. However, it is a stopping point on your journey to the West coast. Drive through Mount Aspiring National Park and stop at the many scenic waterfalls along the way.
Make sure to stop for a trek on Fox Glacier (http://www.foxguides.co.nz/). The heli-hike is fairly expensive (note that Lonely Planet’s updated pricing is already outdated) but is still worth it. One of the highlights of our trip. Also nearby is Franz Joseph Glacier, with similar trekking option. Lodging is also available here, making it a better alternative to spooky Haast.
A small town located up along the West coast. We stopped here so some of us could participate in bone/shell/jade carving at Bonz ‘n’ Stonz (http://www.bonz-n-stonz.co.nz/). Get hands-on instruction from Steve, who will help you create your own masterpiece.
Further up the West coast, we stopped in Westport and the enjoyed the nearby cave rafting adventure in nearby Charleston. Run by Underworld Adventures (http://www.caverafting.com/), this journey puts you in a wet suit, helmet and silly-looking paddle gloves. You ride a train, hike up a forested trail while carrying your inner tube, enter the cave and see stalactites and stalagmites, then hop onto an underground river and enjoy a glowworm-lit view before spilling out into the Nile River.
Swim with wild dolphins! This is one the best wildlife encounters you’ll ever do. If we had more time, we would’ve booked two trips. We swam with over 800 dusky and common dolphins. Dolphin Encounter (http://www.dolphin.co.nz/) provides your wet suit, hood, fins and snokel gear and gets you out on the water. Having done this twice now, I will say that later in the summer (March/April) the water seems a bit warmer than it is in November/December.
What We Packed
Since we had to pack for a wedding, we had to deviate from our normal routine a bit. We actually used suitcases this time, but normally we’d be packing a duffel bag or large backpack. Since we were traveling by shuttle or rental car most of the time, the bag choice wasn’t as important.
As always, we had our handy travel compressor bags to save space. We actually only used one of them, but gave the other to someone else in the group, which cleared space for souvenirs on the way home.
New Zealand offers a variety of landscapes and environments to explore: mountains, beaches, rain forests, etc. As a result, we had to pack for lots of potential weather situations. Though we traveled at the end of summer, we weren’t sure what we’d encounter. We lucked into great weather the entire trip, but still ended up wearing nearly everything we brought. Layers are recommended, but you really want anything from shorts to a warm fleece, hat and gloves. Warmer gear is particularly recommended for glacier excursions just in case, but even there you can get by with shorts on a sunny day (still bring the warm stuff in your pack).
Don’t forget sunscreen, bug repellant (there were some nasty biting flies in places) and sunglasses. If you plan on participating in outdoor activities, which is almost inevitable, packing a water bottle might be a good idea.
Men, if you plan to do the dolphin swim, I don’t recommend wearing baggy swim trunks since you have to squeeze into a wet suit.
Recommended Photo Gear
Though I didn’t concentrate as much on photography on this trip as I normally would, I still brought a decent amount of gear, which was put to use on the glacier trek and the dolphin swim.