New Zealand
A Guided Trip from the North Island to the South and Stewart Islands
The South Island

After taking the ferry across the Cook Strait from the North Island to the South Island, we spent the next two weeks covering the whole island from coast to coast. The natural beauty here is awe inspiring, from the fur seals playing in the surf and in a waterfall pool to sperm whales offshore of Kaikoura to the snowcapped peaks and glacial rivers to the wine country, with interspersed sheep and cattle stations. The beauty everywhere you looked had us stopping every few hundred meters for photo-ops.

From Kaikoura, we went through the Southern Alps to the west coast. We stayed in Hokitika, on the beach by the Tasman Sea. The Shining Star Beachfront Cabins was not a B&B, but we found a great cafe a few blocks away in town. The beach is wild and rocky, with little blue penguins coming out from their holes at night. Hokitika is known for its Greenstone - Jade, highly prized by the Maori. We got a chance to see the artisans who create the carvings. This is the best place to purchase Jade jewelry.

Next we headed south through the rainforest, beaches and mountains to Franz Josef Glacier. More rainy weather canceled our planned helicopter flight up to/over the glacier, but we hiked to the faces of both Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. The Glaciers have retreated so far that it is a several mile hike up the valleys to get close to what is left of the glaciers. Thanks to the rain, quite stunning waterfalls were everywhere. We stayed at the Ribbonwood Retreat B&B, a beautiful cabin right outside town with nice mountain views. Jonathan and Julie will arrange rides to the town's cafes if you wish. As with every B&B we visited, they made you feel like family, and it was hard to leave. But we still had many miles to go and much to see.

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The drive to Wanaka was stunning(News Flash!). It seemed the further we drove, the more beautiful the country became. It was never boring. Driving through the Haast Pass, we end up in Wanaka, on the shore of Lake Wanaka. The town has a population of about 7,000 people, and is a favorite Kiwi vacation spot. Kayaking, fishing, hiking, and visiting local wineries are featured pastimes. Climbing Mt Iron afforded us a 360 degree view of the town and lake and Aspiring National Park. We stayed at the Alpine View Lodge B&B, and, at the risk of seeming redundant, it was a beautiful spacious cabin with lovely views. As in a lot of B&B's with separate cabins, you ate breakfast in the main house. They had 4 pet sheep in the pasture, so one can easily get their sheep fix. Craig and Michele are gracious hosts, and passionate about their B&B.

From Wanaka, we drove over four hours over the Crown Point Range, the highest highway, to Arrowtown, a Gold Rush town, then on to Te Anau. Located on the shores of Lake Te Anau, the 2nd largest lake in New Zealand, this is the gateway to the fjords and Fjordland National Park. We stayed in the Blue Ridge Boutique B&B, a lovely place situated in a neighborhood, but with a lovely view of the mountains. Our hosts Julia and Philip are hugely enthusiastic about their area, and have thought of everything to make your stay comfortable and pleasant.

We started out early the next day to catch the boat at Milford Sound. It was a beautiful drive, including a long tunnel through the mountain, with native Kea Parrots waiting at the stop to beg for food or attack your wiper blades. It was quite an experience. Even in the rain, with 30 mph winds and air temps hovering around 40F, Milford Sound was beautiful. There were even more waterfalls, fur seals, Kea parrots and yellow crested penguins! Without all that rain, there would have been few waterfalls. We spent the drive back to Te Anau exploring the lake shoreline.

Stewart Island

We left early to catch the ferry at Bluff (south of Invercargill) to go all the way down to Stewart Island, the "Land of the Golden Skies" and the "Gateway to Antarctica - at the 47th parallel". The Road Trip had arranged nightime guided hikes to find the elusive kiwibird, a flightless bird few New Zealanders have ever seen in the wild! We took a boat at dusk to a remote area where we hiked in the forest, soundlessly, with no lights, looking for the elusive bird. It got even more exciting on the beach, where we actually saw three kiwibirds in the moonlight! One actually pecked at our guide's boot!

We got up early the next day for a trip to Ulva Island for bird watching with photographer and naturalist Matt Jones. We played with the flightless Weka bird on the beach, which was a real treat. We even saw the rifleman, New Zealand's smallest bird. The Glendaruel B&B featured KaKa parrots, Tui's, big green parakeets and many other species. The balcony overlooked the bush/jungle, and very alive and beautiful. There are few cars on the island, it is known for its hiking tracks. Our host at Glendaruel, Raylene even offered the use of her car so we could explore the few miles of road around the town of Oban! The island only has 480 full-time residents, so it was normal to walk on beaches where there were no other footprints.

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... and Back To South Island

It was time to take the ferry and head back to the South Island. We drove through Invercargill, made famous for the movie "The Fastest Indian", a true-life story of local resident Burt Munro, who raced an old Indian motorcycle on the salt flats in Utah, and set land speed records!

We then drove on to Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables Mountain Range, one of the backdrops of The Lord of the Rings. We arrived in Queenstown, the prime extreme outdoor sports and tourist destination for skiing, kayaking, lugeing, bungee jumping, parasailing, skydiving, biking, boating, white water rafting, and hiking. Overlooking the lake, the gondola up the mountain provides fantastic views. The next day, we caught the 100 year old steamship TSS Earnslaw for a cruise on Lake Wakitipu to the Sheep Station at Walters Peak for sheep shearing, and sheepdog herding demonstrations. They also have a variety of exotic livestock including Scottish Highland cattle, Alpacas, and Red Deer. After tea and pastries, we steamed back to Queenstown, to take the drive to Glenorchy and Paradise, where another part of the Lord of the Rings was filmed. We took a stunning two hour hike at the head of Lake Wakitipu.

Leaving the Central Otago area, through the Kawarau Gorge and the Lindis pass, we come to Mackenzie Country, known for its Merino sheep and wool industry. We spent some time near the foot of Mt Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain. The view from Lake Tekapo was impossibly spectacular. We visited an old stone church, built in 1935, on the lake and then climbed up to the St John's Observatory. The observatory boasts one of the darkest night skies and affords excellent night sky viewing and photography venues for the Milky Way. Then we continued on to the Eversley Farmstay, a small family farm with a variety of livestock. Kim and Matt are warm and friendly, the home cooked food was great, the rooms are very comfortable. It was interesting to see another type of sheep farm. Matt took us on a tour of the large station where he works, and of course, we were able to interact with the family's sheep, lambs, cow, alpacas ,chickens, and dogs. We found it very interesting how we all had the same animal husbandry and weather issues.

Later we took the almost 3 hour drive to Christchurch, known as the Garden City. We went up to Lyttelton, which afforded us panoramic views of the city and bays. One can even see the Southern Alps to the west. We stayed that night in The Grange Boutique B&B, a charming Victorian mansion dating from 1874 and within walking distance to the beautiful Botanical gardens.

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We spent our last full day in New Zealand strolling through and photographing the gardens. One can still see the damage done by the 2010 earthquake. As of this writing, they have had another, less severe quake occur in the city.

The next day, it was time for our guide and adoptee, Matt, to take us to the airport, where we caught a quick flight to Auckland for our loooong flight home. Still, we left with a mixture of joy and sadness, since we found the people and the country to be incredibly hospitable.

Now that we have a good overview of the country, our next trip will concentrate on certain areas, and allow us to explore areas we did not get to visit. Let's hope the weather will allow us to participate in even more active activities on the next trip. Our thanks to The Road Trip - Chris, Alex, (for their help in arranging the activities and accommodations), Janelle (for her help in getting us a car with a trunk/boot), and especially our travel mate Matt for helping make this our trip of a lifetime.


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