Alison shares her secrets to the South Island
This month our guest client, Alison, shares her secrets to a great holiday in the South Island.
My travels to the other side of the world always seem to have ended in Australia and having never made that final flight across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, we decided to take a few days to visit the South Island. Why the South Island? When we spoke to friends and family who had visited New Zealand, they assured us we would get the diversity of the country whilst seeing some of the top “must do’s”. So with six days flying in to Christchurch and flying back out of Queenstown our New Zealand “virgin” adventure began.
Due to work commitments we travelled in May 2011, this was the autumn period moving in to winter for the Southern Hemisphere so we were sceptical and laden down with woolly hats, fleeces and ski socks.
As we arrived in to Christchurch the first thing that hit us was the fantastic, and obviously newly built airport. It was amazing, according to the locals we spoke to was the airport was completely revamped in preparation for the Rugby World Cup. Unfortunately due to the devastating earthquake in Feburary, the Rugby World Cup was actually moved from Christchurch.
We collected our car and headed straight in to the city centre, as we drove in to the city we could see the remnants of the earthquake and the impact it had on the area. We were advised by our sales consultant that the inner city around the cathedral was still out of bounds to visitors and residents, but as we still wanted to stay in the centre our consultant had been able to confirm the West Fitzroy Apartments.
As a family of four we tend to look for self catering, apartment style accommodation, these seemed perfect as our two bedroom apartment offered a full kitchen and laundry facilities. Due to the earthquake we knew that restaurant’s would be limited so we headed straight out to a supermarket and were happy to cook in our fully equipped kitchen.
Our apartment was spacious, contemporary in furnishings and we were offered a choice of a Studio or One Bedroom apartment, so also great for those single or couples travelling together. There was a car park and a small gym on-site. We were delighted with our stay, however after just one night we had to hit the road for Kaikoura and our first “must do” Whale watching….
Our wonderful hosts at the West Fitzroy were happy to arrange continental breakfast (at a small fee) for us before we checked out and departed north of Christchurch. Our 3 hour journey north was an easy drive for the first two hours, before we drove along a windy, coastal road towards Kaikoura.
Being an off peak time of year to travel there was a limited number of vehicles on the road which gave us plenty of opportunity to drive slowly and take in the breathtaking views and rugged coastline. We noticed a train line seem to take the same route as the road, so maybe this is an option for those people who do not wish or are unable to drive. We arrived in the quaint seaside town of Kaikoura, where all of the action seemed to happen on one street, with fish and chip shops in abundance, gift shops with local crafts and maori art. Our next accommodation was easy to find, located on the waterfront, Waves Apartments was there to greet us.
Our wonderful host Liz took us to our two bedroom and two bathroom (what a treat!) apartment, we had stunning views over the sea with the mountain ranges to the left, showing signs of a small wintery flurry of snow. Liz told us Kaikoura (a Maori name) was named after the local “crayfish”. Our evening meal was pretty much then settled fish and chips in our spacious lounge. We decided on an early night as we were due to set off on our whale watch at 7am in the morning.
There are lots of departures but as we were then heading back on the road we thought we would book the early trip. We all settled down in to our large comfy beds before asking Liz if she could also provide us with breakfast provisions (another small fee but well worth organising before a hectic day).
We drove a simple 5 mins from Waves Apartments to the “Whale way” station, we thought our lovely consultant had been playing a joke with us, but indeed this is the name for the tour desk for all departures on the Whale Watch tour, there are even speed bumps as you approach in the shapes of whales. We had a small briefing about what to expect onboard our boat trip plus watched a video. We were then led out to a coach who transferred us about 10 mins to the jetty where the boat departed.
Our 2.5 hour turn took us out from Kaikoura on a fast catamaran there was plenty of space on board and around the deck area when viewings of local birdlife and dolphins were pointed out by the crew and marine biologists on board.
We were delighted to spot one “sperm whale”, this magnificent creature was majestic as it seemingly played in the waters to our delight. We stayed by the whale for at least 20 minutes before it decided to dive back down giving us the most wonderful photo opportunity you can take away from such a tour. You are not able to buy drinks or food on board, so stock up at the terminal where the briefing is held if you think your family may become peckish.
Once back on dry land, we were taken back to the terminal and car park where we drove back to Kaikoura for lunch in a local cafe before taking the road inland towards Hanmer Springs. Our drive took around 1hr 45 minutes, as we drove, the enormity of the mountain ranges became apparent, our journey took us in to this small alpine village. Our accommodation for the night was the Bella Vista Motel.
We had chosen this on a recommendation from our consultant as this was a fantastic price and given we would again only be staying one night we would save our money for excursions later on in our tour. Our hosts checked us in at the reception and led us across a small courtyard to a Family Unit. Layout was great for our family with the main double bed located in the lounge area and a separate bedroom with two single beds for the children. Our unit also gave us a kitchenette so we could make tea/coffee, toast for breakfast, there was even a hob, but I had persuaded hubby we would eat out tonight. A gentle 5 minute stroll took us to the “hot pools” where we all relaxed in the wonderful thermal reserve. For the children there are slides and a family swim pool. There is plenty of choice of restaurants suitable for all budgets. We had a fantastic sleep in our Bella Vista Motel, it was great to park right outside our room so we only had to pack a small bag we had taken in the night before. We also made time for a quick game of tennis on the court which is on-site.
Our hosts told us about other Bella Vista Motels en-route as we travelled towards Queenstown, with the value for money and locations they will be on our list for a return trip to New Zealand as we had already booked ahead.
We knew today would be a long drive, approx 6 hours to our destination on the West Coast, but we were promised the Glacier region and the drive in itself would be well worth it. Our drove took us higher up in to the mountain and along roads passing very little traffic. The feeling of the open road with bubbly brooks, gushing waterfalls and spectacular views proved to be a day of photographs and a “wowwwww” from the back seat at nearly every corner.
As we reached the West Coast we decided to stop at Hokitika, approx 20 minutes south of Greymouth for lunch. This thriving local town was full of jade/jewellery shops sourced and carved locally. After browsing a few of the outlets and stopping for refreshments we set back on the road to Franz Josef.
We arrived at our next motel, 58 on Cron, chosen purely because it again offered excellent self catering facilities, space for the four of us and is opposite the hot pools.
We checked in and put the kettle on before heading across the road in our swimming costumes to the hot pools. For adults these pools were much more serene than Hanmer Springs with no child area. After relaxing we hit a local pub for dinner, we sat outside under heaters, our waiter also provided us with a large rug each to snuggle under as we ate and drank. We returned to our motel where we had another comfortable night sleep.
We were all up an eager to “check in” at the depot for our heli-hike up on Franz Josef. This was one of the excursions we simply had to do. We were met and briefed in the depot, just a short 2 min drive from our accommodation. Our guide then met us and we were kitted out with suitable equipment, mainly snow grips for our shoes. We took off in our helicopter to the top of the Franz Josef glacier, as we flew over the small township of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier we grasped the enormity of the glaciers we were soon to explore.
As we landed we were led by our experienced guide on to the glacier and across to where we climbed up on to ledges and crawled through ice blue caves. All in all, this trip was one of our highlights of our trip to NZ.
Once we landed back down at Franz Josef we got back in our car and drove south heading towards Queenstown, we decided to enjoy lunch at Lake Matheson, which can be found close to Fox Glacier. There is a cafe and gallery situated by the lakeside, if we had time we would have walked around, which takes approx 2 hours, we can’t believe with all there is to do in this area we have only decided to stay for 6 days! Back in the car and we were off to our next overnight stay at the beautiful scenic Lake Wanaka, our apartment was at the Alpine Resort Wanaka, we had chosen a 2 bedroom and 2 bathroom option which gave us a lounge bigger than ours at home! The fire was lit and although the apartment was spacious it felt homely. As we had arrived in the dark we could see the lights of the village below. After a quick rest and a shower we just didn’t want to leave the comfort of our “holiday home” so we ordered pizza and had a relaxing evening while our washing whirred away in our in apartment laundry.
As morning broke we realised what a special place Wanaka is, our balcony view was picture postcard.
We had a stroll around our accommodation where we found tennis courts and a swimming pool. Sadly it was time to leave for our final nights stay in Queenstown. We drove over the Cardrona ranges to the small township of “Arrowtown”, a famous Chinese mining settlement. Houses were quaint and the main street was an array of older style buildings, we had a look at the cinema which only holds 40 customers, all quite surreal.
Lunch was found in the most wonderful pie shop on the corner, an array of fillings including lamb and mint, venison and onion, delicious and as there was a queue of locals, we knew we had found the place to eat.
We continued our last leg of our journey to Queenstown and checked in at The Glebe Apartments, situated in the heart of the town, we wanted to drop the car off and have the last day/night enjoying the local sights on foot. Once again we were amazed by the size of our apartment in the adventure capital of New Zealand. We ventured in to the main area and down to the lake front, on our way we passed many shops selling local tours, Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, bungee jumping and the hair raising Canyon Swing.
As we were on a time limit and young children with us, we decided to book a 4WD tour and Jet Boat ride the following morning before our taxi transfer to the airport to depart NZ.
Morning arrived too soon, we’d slept in the most comfortable beds we have ever found during our various travels. Our host Anne checked us out and took care of our luggage while we took our morning tour. Nomad Safaris picked us up in an authentic Land Rover, our children were soooo excited to be on board a vehicle where they could see out of the windows at the most dramatic mountainous scenery we have ever seen. Jags, our guide, was informative and spoke of the local history, Lord of the Rings and the current filming of the Hobbit keeping the whole party interested.
There are only 6 seats in the vehicle, as it was off peak we were the only passengers, but even with 6 it would have been as if we had booked a private tour. We drove through river beds and got out to do some gold panning.
Each of us were given a gold pan and shown how to wash the stones on the side of the river bed to find speckles of gold, you won’t make a fortune, but if you eat the gold, apparently it will keep you healthy and young! Our guided tour continued to Shotover River, we were driven down to the riverside where we met our jet boat and its driver. We were kitted out with life jackets and sat on board the boat.
Our experienced driver sped us through the Shotover Canyon, near missing boulders and the cliff faces that surrounded us, as he turned his finger in the air, so the boat would spin a 360 to the delight of the children, but also to the those who got wet in the back row!. After 20 minutes we were delivered back to the pontoon and were faced with quite unflattering photos and video of our ride of a lifetime. Shotover Jet then transferred us back to Queenstown by bus.
We reluctantly picked up our bags from Anne at The Glebe and promised her we would be back soon, and next time for 6 weeks not 6 days! Although realistically we think we could manage 3 weeks in the South Island alone.
A special thank you to all at ANZCRO for arranging such a diverse itinerary, we realised when we first made our enquiry that we were asking a lot for such a short space of time. We felt that we did get a feel for NZ as a country and the locals, look forward to booking again soon.
For more information on any of these properties, or to book your own holiday to the South Island contact our team on 01872 266 899 or email