New Zealand Vacation
12-Nov-2002 to 13-Dec-2002
Nov 12 Depart
Left from San Jose, CA to Los Angeles via AA. 12-hour LA to Auckland flight on Qantas and then on to Christchurch. Enjoyed Qantas flights, as they were similar to those on British Airways. Recommend the aisle seat or emergency exit rows. Lost a day because of crossing the international dateline.
Nov 14-15 Christchurch
Arrived early in the morning. Our B&B host, Richard Harman, picked us up at the airport and later gave us a tour to New Brighton and Lyttleton Harbor. Very nice of him! We had him drop us off at a tram that we took to the top. We then walked from top of tram down to Sumner. We must of have missed the start of the trail because we ended up walking along the road longer than expected. Then on advice from someone, we found and took a path across a sheep farm down to Sumner. In Sumner we found a very steep zig-zag sidewalk. It was one of those magical finds. We took the bus back to town and had dinner along the river in restaurant row. The walk to the center of town from our B&B (Barrich House) was almost 20 minutes, which suited us fine. Since we didn't have a car, we're thankful Richard gave us the tour and showed us some sights outside of the downtown area.
The next day we took a bus tour to Akaroa. This was a delightful side trip to this beautiful small town with French heritage. For lunch we had great Hoki fish and chips at a dedicated fish and chips shop! They were wrapped in paper, in the English tradition. We took them to a table overlooking the bay and enjoyed both the food and the view. The Arts Center is worth a tour.
Nov 16 Fairlie
This was a rainy day until about mid-afternoon. We visited the Art Center in Christchurch in the morning; saw an open-air crafts market. Rented a car and headed towards Queenstown. Fairlie is a fairly small town. We stayed at a sheep ranch just outside of town at Possum Cottage. It was an unusually cold night for this time of year. The snow on the hills, which made it especially beautiful, was just a short walk from Possum Cottage. The cottage was nice, perhaps the old farmhouse or bunk house, but cold. We built a fire to stay warm and went into town for dinner. (If you stay here, consider cooking in the cottage's kitchen.) The cottage probably would sleep a dozen people but there were just the two of us. The owners gave us fresh eggs and other makings for breakfast. We took a short walk around the farm, accompanied by one of their sheep dogs, before moving onward.
Nov 17 Queenstown
Beautiful drive by Lake Tekapo and Church of the Shepherd. The church has a picture window behind the pulpit, which gives a beautiful view of the lake, and snow capped hills. Drove over Burke's and Lindiss Passes. Ate lunch in Twizel. Turned in rental car in Queenstown, attended Milford Track briefing in the evening.
Nov 18-21 Milford Track
Heaven on earth! We took the guided tour so we didn't have to carry anything except our clothes and personal items. The accommodations were much better than we had expected and the food was good. The staff and tour guides were very pleasant and most helpful. We walked alone and reveled in the natural beauty. They have obviously been doing this for some time and have the formula for customer satisfaction well worked out. We highly recommend this trip to anyone. We were lucky that we had good hiking weather - pleasant temperatures and sunshine, except for one day of moderate to heavy drizzle. Our sentiment at the end of the hike was one we also heard from others. We would be happy to hop right on a bus and do it again. Words can't do justice to our feelings about this hike, so we'll leave it at this. Click here for guided tour information.
On the bus ride to Te Anau, we ran into a New Zealand traffic jam - a flock of sheep crossing the road. The only way this trip could have been improved is if we had a heavy rain on the last day when we took a boat ride around Milford Sound. They say the sound is at its best during, or right after, a heavy rain because then there are thousands of waterfalls to see. Unfortunately, we saw only a small number of waterfalls, but the sound was still a beautiful sight.
Nov 22-24 Queenstown
Queenstown bills itself as the extreme sports capitol of the world. To us it seemed like you could do almost anything you wanted, until your money runs out. Queenstown is very picturesque and situated on a large lake. The central part of town is small and easy to walk. We took, and recommend, the Earnslaw Cruise to the Walter Peak Sheep Farm, which included a lamb sheering demonstration and watching a sheep dog work sheep. We saw a craft faire by the wharf and walked through the park. Vince did his bungy jump off Kawarau Bridge (43m, 142ft). Jet boat ride in Shotover Canyon (disappointing). Visited Kiwi Park. Hiked to top of tram, did the luge, and took tram back down (most people would take the tram up and walk down, but not us). We found a hole-in-the-wall fish and chips shops (on Athol St.?) that had great fish and chips. We had them twice, once on the grass overlooking the lake. (These fish and chips and those in Akaroa were the best we had - Vince kept trying but never again matched them.) We spent two nights in our campervan after a night in the Rydges hotel (recommended).
Nov 25 Haast Pass
Jennifer's hiking boot's sole was falling off so we decided to fix it before leaving Queenstown. We found a new shoe repair shot outside the downtown area that fixed it for us in less than one hour for NZ$12 (just over US$6). Everywhere, we found the Kiwis friendly and always willing to give advice and help out, which of course help make the trip more pleasant.
Started heading north. Lunch by Lake Wanaka. Visited DOC (Dept. of Conservation, like our Nat'l Park Service) office for hike info. Did the maze at the Puzzle Museum in Wanaka. Walked out to the Blue Pools (recommended) with crystal clear water. Stayed overnight at a DOC camp site (no hook up) called Pleasant Creek. Had a great view of snowy peaks from our campervan window.
Nov 26 Franz Josef
Gorgeous drive up the coast. At Knight's Landing we had our fist view of the Tasman Sea. Walks around Lake Matheson and to base of Fox Glacier. Saw helimax movie, "Moving Westward" in Franz Josef. Clouds came in this day so we never got to see Mt. Cook.
Nov 27 Punakaiki
White Heron Tour from Whataroa (recommended during the nesting season). Jennifer visited an elementary school and talked with a couple of teachers, one of whom was from New Mexico. Stopped by a Mauri gallery and spent some time talking with the artist's daughter. Jennifer bought a T-shirt she had designed. Drove to Greymouth suburb, Dobson, to fix campervan battery. Arrived Punakaiki about 5 pm. Did Truman Walk and saw unusual rock formations that looked like stacked rocks. Coastal scenery reminiscent of Big Sur. Rained overnight.
Nov 28 Abel Tasman (Marahau)
Spent most of the day driving. Ate lunch by the Buller Gorge. Stayed at Old MacDonald's Farm, which is in Marahau - right by the southern entrance to Abel Tasman National Park. Lots of animals at Old MacDonald's for children (and us) to watch. When Vince went to open the valve on the propane tank, gas just started spraying out. He quickly shut off the valve. We didn't use our campervan stove that night but cooked in the campsite's kitchen. (It turned out to be a loose connection, which we had tightened at a repair station the next day. While at the repair station we met two young women from Australia who where there to have their battery replaced, like we had done earlier. But this was their second campervan. The first one was so bad the returned it and got another.)
Nov 29 Havelock
Took a sea taxi to Bark Bay and hiked 11 mi. back to Marahau. Drove 3 hours to Havelock. Last hour on fumes! Gas stations few and far between on South Island. Got to camper park around 8PM and quickly took showers. There are three restaurants in town. The town claims to be the Mussel capital of the world but the Mussel restaurant closed at 8:30. So we went to the hotel restaurant that had a closed sign out. But we asked if they would still serve us and they obliged. We were very thankful since we thought it likely the third restaurant would also be closed.
Nov 30 Wellington
Drove to Picton in the morning and took the ferry to Wellington. Beautiful trip through Marlborough Sound and Cook's Strait. Found a camper site in Lower Hutt and took bus to town to downtown Wellington. There was actually a section of freeway in Wellington. After all the country roads and one-lane bridges, this was quite an event. We had a fancy (and good) dinner at Logan Brown, which is located in what probably used to be a bank building. We then went to hear the New Zealand Symphony in an all Brahms program. We were very pleased with their performance and delighted with the acoustics in the Wellington Town Hall. Its acoustics put those of San Jose's CPA to shame. A surprise at the concert was that this was the last evening for the concertmaster. There were a few speeches and gifts presented. After the concert the orchestra, without the guest conductor, played a Mauri song in tribute to her. Very touching.
Dec 1 Paraparaumu
We spent six hours at Te Papa Museum in Wellington. Outstanding! Vince went to After-Hours Medical Clinic in the afternoon to see a doctor. Drove one-hour north to Paraparaumu.
Dec 2,3 Tongariro (Whakapapa)
Arrived Whakapapa Village about 3:00. Walked in the rain to Taranaki Falls, warm-up for the Tongariro Crossing.
The next morning we took the shuttle bus to the start of the Tongariro Crossing. This is volcano country, much different than the lush flora of the South Island. The crossing took about 8 hours. The shuttle picked us up at the other end and brought us back to Whakapapa.
Dec 4 Rotorua
We then drove by Lake Taupo to Rotorua. On the way we stopped at the Wai-O-Tapu thermal pools. In the evening we went to the Tamaki Village Maori Cultural Show.
Dec 5-6 Paihia
The fifth was a long day of driving up to Paihia. There were lots of rolling green hills and more cows than sheep. We stopped to watch a group of men playing Bowls. Two of them came over and chatted with us until it was their turn to bowl. We had fish and chips for lunch overlooking the ocean in Orewa. The fish and chips were forgettable. Dinner was at "Simply Fish" in Paihia - much better than lunch. That night we had hundreds of gnat-size bugs in the campervan. We spent a lot of effort to eradicate them. (After this we were careful with opening the door and having the light out whenever the door was open.)
The next morning we took a Bay of Islands cruise. The weather was threatening and when we arrived at the wharf, they offered to refund our money if we didn't want to go that morning. But we went ahead. The weather held and we had a nice cruise. On the way out we saw a bunch of dolphins who put on quite a show for us. We went to and through Hole-in-the-Rock. Lunch was in Russell at the Marlborough Pub, an old British style pub/hotel. While at the pub Vince picked up an Auckland newspaper that had an article claiming that a fish and chips place in Paihia was the best in New Zealand. We then took a hike into the hills around Russell. By the end of our hike it was raining.
Dec 7 Opononi
In the morning we went to the Waitangi Treaty House and took a tour conducted by a native (who didn't want to be called Mauri, rather by his tribal name - the Hg Nuhi tribe). Vince was chosen to be our tour group's chief and had to give a speech and lead a song. As the tour was ending it started raining. For lunch we just had to try the fish and chips shop in Paihia. They were good but not quite to the level of those in Akaroa or Queenstown. (Vince has since decided that if the shop sells ANYTHING besides fish and chips, you can consider skipping them.)
The rain was getting heavier so we decided to move on and we spent the afternoon driving west. We ended up in Opononi at a camper park where we had a site overlooking the bay. The rain cleared up late afternoon so we took a walk along the bay and walked to the local bar to share a beer.
Dec 8-9 Auckland
We drove back to Auckland on the 8th. We stopped for view of Hokianga Harbor, walked to see some famous Kauri trees. We detoured to Kai Lakes (10k off main road) and had lunch there (OK to skip the lakes). We spent two hours at Kauri Museum in Matakohe and we could have stayed longer (recommended). In Auckland, we stopped by our hotel (New President Hotel, recommended) to drop off our baggage and then returned the campervan by the airport.
The next morning we took the ferry to Rangitoto Island and hiked to the top of the volcano. From the top we could see in the distance the boats assembling for the America's Cup Race (which was called off because of too much wind). Back in Auckland we went to the harbor and watched racing yachts return at America's Cup Village.
Dec 10-12 Sydney, Australia
The morning of the 10th we went down to see the boats leave America's Cup Village. We got there a little late so missed most of the leaving. Then it was off to the airport. Because we hadn't been able to book a direct flight home from Auckland, we had to return through Sydney. So rather than just pass through Sydney we stayed there for three nights. But first we had to retrieve some clothes we had left in the campervan. We retrieved them by taking the bus to the airport and then the local shuttle to the campervan office. It had taken Jennifer about five phone calls before she had confirmation that they had found the clothes and had them ready for us to pick up.
We arrived in a rainy Sydney. The rain helped put out a lot of brush fires around Sydney and was much needed. We checked into the Castelraegh Inn (recommended). We then walked about 20 minutes in the rain to the Rocks area and up onto the Harbor Bridge.
The next morning, we took Sydney Express Bus Tour. This is one of those buses that make a loop and you can get on and off as much as you want. It was a good way to see much of the city. We stopped at China Town, Darling Harbor, the fish market for lunch, the Domain (gardens), and the art museum. Back to the hotel for a quick rest and then dinner down at the Rocks.
On our last morning, we started with the Sydney Opera House tour (recommended). We then took the ferry to Manly (recommended) for lunch and a dip in the ocean. The Grand Finale of our tour was Swan Lake at the Sydney Opera House! This last day was a sample of how wonderful our trip was. Without any reservations or having looked at event times, we arrived at the Sydney Opera House just 15 minutes before the tour started. During the tour we became interested in seeing the sold-out Swan Lake that evening after being told about a limited number of standing room tickets that would be sold late that afternoon. We finished the tour, had a cup of tea and headed over to the ferry. We arrived at the ferry building ten minutes before departure time. It took seven minutes to get through the ticket line so we got on the boat with less than three minutes to spare. We relaxed at Manly and had a rough idea of the ferry return times. We took a circuitous route through Manly to the ferry arriving about two minutes before departure. Back in Sydney, Jennifer went to stand in line for standing room tickets. She got in line about 10 minutes before they handed out numbers for the SRO tickets running out of tickets two people before Jennifer. But they said there might be a few tickets turned in so she continued to wait in line. About a half hour before the performance the two people in front of her got tickets. So we kept waiting. Then one ticket became available, but we passed on it and the person behind her got a ticket. About 4 minutes before performance time, they released a handful of other tickets of which we got two. We ran up the steps into the opera house. We had wonderful balcony center seats and sat down less than a minute before the house lights dimmed. A couple of people earlier in line and we would have been standing for the ballet. A couple people later in line and we wouldn't have gotten in. How lucky can we get?
Dec 13 home
Took the train (one block from our hotel) to the Sydney airport. Sydney to LA via Qantas, and LA to San Jose via AA. Because of the International Date Line, we arrived in San Jose before we left Sydney. Funny, but it seemed like a long flight.
Copyright 2003: Vincent A. Busam, all rights reserved