Globetrotting Glynis - Chapter 3: New Zealand South Island
We are off again!
A tip for all Seniors going to New Zealand - leave your mobile phone at home! - yes go into a Phone shop and buy the cheapest they sell and then you can ring home without the hassle of using your own provider - who may not have got the correct coordination to allow you to use your phone. We had lots of problems, but met a Canadian couple who had bought the cheapest phone and had had no trouble at all.
The crossing to South Island is spectacular, if the weather is good! The Cook Strait was like a mill pond, and we shared our journey with wonderful sea birds and a lorry load of sheep.
We landed at Picton and hired another car, which was smooth and stress free as all the hire companies are situated in the landing area or just outside the Ferry Landing. Picton is a small harbour town and is a good base for seeing the coast and - peninsular. We however had been advised by our travel agent to go further up the coast to Nelson. The journey was picturesque as we drove the Queen Charlotte Drive we stopped for lunch at Havelock which is the green Mussel area of South Island very interesting and well worth a stop.
Nelson is an interesting town built by the sea and we stayed at a two storey hotel called the Trailways, which has balconies overlooking the river and the bird life is wonderful. The town has good shops and a very Gothic looking clock tower which houses the Nelson Town Hall. The hotel is comfortable and has a good restaurant. It is well worth upgrading to the second floor to have a balcony overlooking the river. We stayed two days and it was a really good stop off.
We left Nelson and travelled south to Kaikoura, a tip stop for lunch or just a break at The Store. It is an interesting, but a touch overpriced, restaurant. It is next to the beach and is a good place to stop to stretch your legs.
Kaikoura looks small and provincial but is just fabulous, and this was one of the best sightings of the Long White Cloud we had seen. The small town is geared for tourisst and we decided to follow the Lonely Planet again and stayed at the Sails Motel. A small bijou chalet type accommodation that is a little "twee" with a blue and white boating theme - but it was fine and the couple that ran the business are priceless.
One place to visit is the sea food caravan - yes, caravan recommended by the Lonely Planet which is also written on the side of the caravan. The fish dishes, which you can take away or eat on the seats surrounding the van, are mouth-watering.
The main reason for visiting Kaikoura was to go whale watching. We booked to go out on the early evening boat, the cost was high but well worth every penny. The company give excellent safety advice before setting off and as we were going out on a fairly windy evening advised people that found sailing difficult to get some motion sickness tablets beforehand.
3 sighting of whales, dolphins and of course the Albatross, the biggest sea bird of them all, what amazing sights. The boat goes out to the "shelf" which goes down to 1800 feet for the whales to dive to get the giant squid fish that they feed on. The commentary is excellent and the staff are on hand to look out for sightings and information.
A day when dreams are made or nightmares begin! My husband and half the boat - mainly men - were motion sick and I mean really sick. But I had a "Whale" of a time and the most amazing pictures to prove it.! Stay as long as you like but don't miss the whale watching.
Onward to Christchurch, a city that is almost a cross between Cambridge, Oxford and Stratford in England. It is a lovely city and has many expats living in and around the area. The river Avon runs through the centre, punts glide slowly by, just like the ones in Cambridge, very surreal. We stayed at the Ibis a central hotel, soulless but functional, within walking distance of the Cathedral, shops and restaurants. Which as most people know were devastated by the earthquake earlier that year, we arrived just after one and the damage was plain to see.
The Botanical Gardens are a must, with fountains and wonderful cultivated trees and plants with the river running through it. Christchurch boast a wide range of bars and restaurants, there are many and highly populated, some face the river and are in lovely settings and are ideal for people watching, we even found a pub called the Bard on the Avon, a typical English pub which served Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, a real treat costing $18 and good portions too.
As we had done a lot of self-drive we decided that in South Island we would do a coach tour.
Tip: be warned if you do not enjoy being with a group of people on a coach for up to 8 hours per day, then do not go on a tour. The restrictions of not stopping for long enough at some really beautiful places can be very, very frustrating, and remember you cannot like all of the people all of the time.
We joined AAT Kings for our tour West to Greymouth via Arthurs Pass, which is an amazing piece of engineering, although we saw most of it through horizontal rain, we did enjoy the train journey and scenery. Greymouth is a small compact town, which we enjoyed in glorious sunshine! But be warned, South Island especially the West Coast has high rain fall and it rains 6 days out of seven!. Greymouth would be an ideal place for a longer stop to tour the glaciers and the small towns in the North West.
We then toured to Punakaiki to view the incredible site of the blow holes and the pancake rocks. This is a nature reserve that has been created by the sea to give amazing rock formations and a blow hole that the sea rushes into to create an enormous spurt of water. If you do get the opportunity to stay at the Punakaiki Hotel, take your time to look at this amazing feature that nature has created. .There are also the Hydrangea Cottages for more inexpensive stay in the area.
Fox Glacier was our next stop, we were not inspired by this stop, our hotel was very basic, the worst on the tour. This stop was to see the glaciers, but the weather was so inclement, yes, it was raining and the road to the glacier was flooded. We were told it is very good but you take your chances in New Zealand as the weather is definitely in charge. This leg of the journey took 8 hours to get from Christchurch to our hotel in one day, a long journey.
Our next stop is a must on everyone’s itinerary who visits New Zealand - Queenstown, what a place!! The Mountain Range, the Remarkables, is just that - 'remarkable' - a sight to behold. Queenstown is set around the magnificent lake, which can be accessed by boat or the steam boat that tours the lake daily, taking you to the top of the lake providing a wonderful vista of Queenstown and the surrounding areas. We stayed at a lovely hotel with good efficient staff.
There is lots to do in Queenstown: shopping, walking boating and oh of course the bungee jumping and the white water rafting! Something for everyone and the atmosphere is vibrant and lively.
Our continuing journey took us further South to Milford Sound, passing the wonderful Thunder Falls, don't miss it and look out for the birds that are eager to eat anything, and I mean anything. Our boat trip on Milford Sound was a striking reminder of why we came to South Island. The Sound is magnificent high peaks and amazing waterfalls, it was raining when we arrived to board the boats, but the sun filtered through and we had a memorable journey.
We went to Dunedin which is a large University City that has a historic railway station that is a museum on its own. The city has a beautiful botanical gardens, and a lovely cathedral.
The hotel we stayed in at Queenstown was a Mercure Hotel and the bird at Thunder Falls is called the Kea. They are parrots with a huge appetite!
Our next stop was the University Town of Dunedin, a cultured town with an amazing railway station that has the most impressive stained glass windows and signs that point to lots of cities around the globe, Dunedin has a harbour where you can catch a boat to the peninsula to see the penguins. The steepest street in the world is a boast that Dunedin has, but the main focus of the town is the University which is prominent and visual all over the town. If you visit Dunedin, try to visit the Botanical gardens, a long walk from the city centre but worth the walk, or take a taxi or bus.
From Dunedin we went via Omeramu and Mt Cook, which unfortunately wasn't visible due to the rain, so be aware that South Island does have a lot of rain and so many of the main attraction are not accessible or visible. Back to Christchurch which unfortunately had just experienced another earthquake, very sad, and a beautiful city that was the end of our tour.
For travel to New Zealand, Silver Travel Advisor recommends New Zealand Sky