Zoe throws herself into New Zealand for a week
When the customs officer welcomed me to Auckland airport he wouldn’t believe me when I told him I would be in the country for only a week and in that time I would be self-driving between Auckland and Christchurch. However, hosted by Tourism New Zealand this is exactly what I did, and what a week it was!
I was impressed with Air New Zealand’s new 777-300 that operates between Heathrow and Auckland and Los Angeles. A particular highlight was the ability to order drinks and snacks in between meal services on the flight; this was done through the touch screen seat back entertainment.
On arrival into Auckland we were met by Supershuttle and transferred to Rydges Hotel Auckland. Rydges is well located for the Skytower, shopping on Queen Street and the bars and restaurants at viaduct harbour.
Our rooms were ready when we arrived so were able to check in and freshen up before heading over to the Sky Tower for lunch. I can highly recommend the revolving ‘Orbit’ restaurant for fantastic food and 360 degree views over Auckland and the surrounding area.
At 192 metres the sky tower is the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere and over lunch I was finding it quite hard to believe that I had agreed to climb into a special harness and jump off of it! However the team at sky jump were great and reassuringly safety conscious, they control the decent where you achieve 60 km per hour before helping you decelerate to a safe landing, it’s certainly a good way to get the adrenalin going and help clear any jet lag that may be creeping in!
After soaking up some of the lively atmosphere at Viaduct Harbour we checked in with Sail NZ to board pride of Auckland for a dinner cruise on Waitemata harbour. Pride of Auckland is a 15 metre yacht which offers visitors the chance to try their hand at sailing round the harbour after a delicious dinner of fresh seafood served on board.
The following morning we picked up our car for the drive down to Rotorua. Driving in New Zealand is easy, but before we knew it we were checking in for an altogether different driving experience! Off Road NZ are located approximately 30 minutes outside Rotorua and offer a fun and exciting self-drive off road experience that is fun for even the most cautious driver.
On arrival into Rotorua we checked in to the well located Novotel Lakeside which is just a short walk to the city centre. A good way to start any visit to Rotorua is with a visit to the museum which once housed the Rotorua Bath house and spa. Today it boasts informative exhibits on the local area and Maori culture. If museums are not your thing why not take a ride up the skyline gondola for magnificent views over the area and the exciting luge ride back down the hill which is suitable for all ages and abilities.
The evening’s entertainment took place at Tamaki Maori Village which although very touristy offers a great insight into the Maori culture and heritage along with a traditional Hangi meal cooked underground.
No visit to Rotorua is complete without visiting the thermal reserves and boiling mud pools. We were not disappointed by the Wai-o-Tapu thermal reserve and magnificent Lady Knox geyser which erupts daily at 10.15. It was fascinating to have a guided tour around the champagne pool, primrose terrace and hot springs
I was really impressed with the Scenic Hotel Te Pania in Napier, well located on the seafront and designed in keeping with the art deco buildings the town is so well known for.
We were met at the hotel by Takaro Trails who offer cycle tours of Napier before meeting up with vintage cars from the Art Deco trust to continue our tour of the town which is famous for its art deco architecture that arose after the devastating earthquake of 1931. We were lucky enough to dine at The Mission Estate winery this evening. The food was delicious and well matched with sumptuous wines suggested by the sommelier.
After an early start we drove to Cape Kidnappers to join the Gannet Safaris overland tour. Cape Kidnappers and Ocean Beach Wildlife restoration project offer tours out to view the Gannet colony’s that nest here over the summer months before departing for Australia. The project is working hard to increase the diversity and abundance of native species in the area and also offer tours inside the 9.6 km vermin proof fence to track and find the national bird of New Zealand, Kiwi’s.
Another delicious home grown and home cooked lunch was provided by the hosts at Glen Aros Country estate, a beautifully restored 1914 home well located in Hawke’s Bay area. Onwards towards New Zealand’s capital city we drove along the Classic New Zealand wine trail which links Hawkes bay with Wellington stopping in the quaint town of Greytown to stretch our legs and stock up on the amazing chocolate at Schoc.
Wellington was recently described by the lonely planet as ‘the coolest little capital in the world’ and I can certainly see why. We stayed at the Hotel Ibis which is well located for the bars and restaurants on the waterfront, shopping at Lambton Quay, cable car and national museum Te Papa. There is so much to do and see in the city that we were glad of the two night stay enabling us to explore the city and soak up the atmosphere.
Whilst here we visited Te Papa museum and had a Lord Of the Rings tour where we learnt a little more about the thriving film industry in ‘Wellywood’ and filming of the upcoming Hobit movies. We also took a ride on the cable car to the botanic gardens and observatory overlooking the city and experienced a night time walk round the eco attraction Zelandia where we spotted glow worms and three Kiwi! Wellington also offers an amazing choice for eating out and we were not disappointed with the Mediterranean themed Osteria del Toro and award winning Logan Brown.
Check in for the Interislander sailing from Wellington to Picton was quick and efficient and we had a smooth crossing across the cook straight and through the breathtaking Queen Charlotte Sound.
Collection of our suitcases and new rental cars was once again easy and well organised. From Picton it was just a short drive to Brancott Estate winery situated in the heart of the Marlborough wine growing region. Along with a delicious meal we were treated to a short film on the history of the brand and estate and a wine tasting, I was particularly impressed with the award winning Sauvignon Gris. There is plenty of accommodation to choose from in this area, the main town is Blenheim and we were shown around Chateau Marlborough. The hotel offers guests luxury boutique accommodation and is only a short walk from Blenheim town centre.
For those who prefer something a little different from wine tasting there are many alternative activities available. We visited Omaka Aviation heritage centre, from here they offer scenic flights over the area.
The centre also houses an exhibition dedicated to the Great War. The displays were created by Sir Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop and include some of the rarest world war one aircraft and aviation memorabilia.
South from Blenheim on the east coast of the south island lies the seaside town of Kaikoura. Perhaps most famous for whale watching, sperm whales can be seen almost every, it is also possible to spot migratory Humpback Whales (June & July), Orca (summer months) and New Zealand’s own tiny Hectors dolphin. There are many other activates to enjoy while you are in Kaikoura. The local tourist board put on a night for us at Hislops, a fantastic organic café, where we learnt that it is possible to join a small group Maori tour of the area, partake in some heli-hiking, have an adventure in an all-terrain Argo or on a quad bike or even take a scenic flight to view the whales and marine life from the air.
After rising early to a beautiful blue sky day we had a lovely breakfast at Encounter Café Kaikoura overlooking the beach and next door to our accommodation, the White Morph Motor Inn. It was then only a short bus ride away to board the dolphin encounter boats.
It didn’t take long for our guides to spot a pod of dolphins not far off shore and after being kitted out with wetsuit, fins, snorkel and mask we were in the water with a pod of approximately three to four hundred dolphins! It was a truly amazing experience to be swimming with these playful and inquisitive creatures and I feel truly privileged to have experienced it!
After the dolphin swim it was hard to come back down from cloud 9 and leave the pretty town of Kaikoura, but Hamner Springs did not disappoint as a great place to chill out for our final night. Boasting a lovely village atmosphere and picturesque alpine scenery, we all wished we had longer to enjoy the beautiful lakeside villas at Heritage Resort Hamner. A relaxing evening was spent at Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa which boasts something for everyone from children’s pools and slides to private pools, sauna and steam rooms.
Our last day in New Zealand was spent exploring the city of Christchurch. It was certainly upsetting to see the devastation in the city caused by the February 22 2011 earthquake. However having said that Christchurch is far from closed for business and there are plenty of activities on offer to entertain visitors.
The recently opened ‘re-start’ Cashell Mall is made up of brightly coloured shipping containers with shops/cafes and bars and is a great place to spend some time shopping and eating while watching the world go by. We did a city sightseeing your with Hassle Free tours on an open top bus around the city, they also do Lord of the Rings tour and a jet boat safari.
The International Antarctic centre out by the airport is also open and there are trips to Akaroa for harbour cruises and dolphin watching. Hagley Park and botanical gardens remain unaffected as does the suburb of Riccarton where there are plenty of bars, restaurants and shopping. Punting on the Avon is also a lovely way to spend a relaxing afternoon in Christchurch.
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the award winning Lakes Restaurant at Peppers Clearwater Resort which is on the outskirts of the city & well located for the airport. The resort also boasts an 18 hole championship golf course, tennis courts, cycling and extensive walking trails. We were all sad to say goodbye to New Zealand but look forward to sharing some of this beautiful country with you very soon.
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