29 March 2016

Our Great 26-Day New Zealand Adventure

[We love to hear from our travellers about the great vacations we helped send them on!  Here is Gregg and Jo-Anne who've recently visited New Zealand.  Disclaimer:  Anything written by our travellers is for entertainment and intrigue only.  Downunder Travel recommends you speak with a Destination Specialist on your specific travel itinerary, personal travel needs and for any travel advice.] 

I'm preparing this blog as I sit beside the pool at our Waterfront Suites accommodation at Paihia, Bay of Islands, on our final afternoon in New Zealand.


We've been very pleased with the itinerary Jason at Downunder Travel assisted us in developing from his choice of accommodations as well as included tours.


We've spoken to many tourists who have done variations of our itinerary and we concluded that if we had to re-do this itinerary, we wouldn't make any changes to both the routing or to the number of nights spent in each location.

(photo: Bay of Islands)

We found that most travellers who first explore the South Island will fly to Christchurch and rent a car there.  I'm glad that we started at Dunedin instead of Christchurch, as it saved a lengthy drive down the east coast of the South Island.  While in Dunedin, we enjoyed our drive out to the headlands of the Otago Peninsula and our albatross-sighting boat cruise.  The albatross and fur seal sightings were both fascinating. 


The overnight cruise on Milford Sound is definitely the way to go.  Not only do you get much more time cruising on the Sound with the overnight cruise, but you get to make a leisurely one way 4 to 5 hour drive between Te Anau and Milford Sound on each of two days, which allows you to enjoy many of the sites and short hikes within Fiordland National Park.  As it takes between 2 and 2.5 hours to drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound without any stops, a one-day round trip including a Milford Sound cruise doesn't do justice to this Park.


We enjoyed our three nights in Queenstown.  The steamship cruise and dinner at the sheep farm was most enjoyable.  We had fun on the summer luge run at the top of Queenstown's gondola.   As for the Shotover Canyon Jetboat ride, this was Jason's one mistake:  Don't book anyone on a jetboat ride who can't handle thrill rides that twirl around about a dozen times over the course of a 25 minute ride (My equilibrium was shot for the rest of the day!).

(photo: Milford Sound)

The Eco Resurgence Lodge near Abel Tasman National Park was our favourite accommodation and definitely warranted the three nights that we spent there.

The Bush Lodge cabins there are wonderful.  Our cabin included a separate bath house in which my wife would open the shutters and have an unobstructed, private view of the remote valley in which we were located.  This lodge is 65 kilometres northwest of Nelson (which makes it a full hour drive to Nelson).  We did spend part of one of our days here driving into Nelson.  With hindsight, we wished that we'd spent this time enjoying Abel Tasman Park.  There isn't much to see in Nelson.  Although there are lots of artists in the Nelson area, apparently for most of them, you need to visit their country workshops to see their artwork.  Also, if one wants to see Nelson, one can stop there on the drive through Nelson on the way to Blenheim (where we traveled next for a full day of wine tasting).


Speaking of Abel Tasman, we would have split our included full day kayaking/boat cruise/hiking/beach tour into two half day tours on consecutive days.  Both the half day kayaking tour and the half day boat/hiking/beach tour started on the same Kaiteriteri beach.  There was only about 25 minutes between the end of the kayaking and the start of the boat cruise, which meant that we had to rush to eat the included picnic lunch, put on swimsuits, etc.  Also, the combined tours made for a 10 hour day of touring.  With our resort only about 15 minutes from Kaiteriteri, it would have been easy to do the kayaking the first morning and then the boat/hiking/beach tour the second afternoon.


We stayed in a recently-renovated Superior room at the Chateau Tongoriro that was wonderful.  We very much enjoyed our two nights here.  I had planned on doing the famous 19 kilometre Tongoriro Alpine Crossing on my own.  I'm glad that I passed on this, as it gave me the opportunity to explore Tongoriro National Park with my wife.


The drive from Tongoriro to Rotorua has one traveling through an incredible geothermal region.  We visited two geothermal parks.  The first one, Orakei Karako, which is closer to Taupo than to Rotorua, had the most incredible colours.  I loved it for the photo opportunities.  We couldn't do justice, however, to the second one, Wai-O-Tapu, which we did the following morning before driving to Hobbiton. 

(photo: Rotorua)

We very much enjoyed our two hour tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set.  We had known nothing about Lord of the Rings until we watched the movies this past autumn.  Although we're far from being Lord of the Rings geeks, we certainly had learned enough to appreciate this tour.


Bushland Park Lodge in the Coromandel is a lovely three room lodge near Whangamata.  We very much enjoyed our two nights there as well as the two hour boat cruise that we took that started in the northern part of the Coromandel Peninsula.  On our way back to Whangamata, we stopped at Hot Water Beach near low tide and experienced the very hot water that oozes up through the sand.  I had observed on Booking.com how expensive the rack rate is for Bushland Park Lodge.  We very much appreciated Jason including it on our itinerary.  Ditto for the Bush Lodge cabins at the ECO Resurgence Lodge outside Abel Tasman National Park.


Our short two night stay in Auckland included a ferry ride to Waiheke Island and a bus tour of the island.  Our day on Waiheke Island was most enjoyable.

Jason knows us well enough to know that we are not fans of big cities (unless they have a thousand years of history), so this island tour made for a nice day while staying in the big city.


Our final three nights in New Zealand are being spent at Paihia in the Bay of Islands about 200 kilometres north of Auckland.  It is a lovely resort town in which to finish our time in New Zealand.  We spent three enjoyable hours yesterday at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and then took the ferry to Russell today.


We're sure glad that we're flying from the Bay of Islands airport tomorrow morning instead of making the four hour drive from here to the Auckland airport before catching our connecting flight to Fiji.  As there are no straight roads in New Zealand, it's a 3.5 hour drive from Paihia to downtown Auckland while the airport is south of Auckland.


In conclusion, we very much appreciate all of Jason's knowledge and assistance in designing our New Zealand itinerary.


Written by actual Downunder Travel clients: Gregg & Jo-Anne