So, I set out my summary of our itinerary and general advice on NZ travel here: tripadvisor.co.uk/… now for the details. I comment briefly on our accommodation but will also do accommodation reviews.
We arrived late in Christchurch with the bad news that my husband’s bag hadn’t made it; apparently Sydney airport is notorious for losing bags (according to the guys at Christchurch airport anyway). We hadn’t wanted to drive for the first couple of days of our trip whilst we got over jetlag, so it was important to us to stay somewhere walking distance from the town centre, and we were really happy with The Grange motel (also has B&B). A friendly cab driver took us there from the airport.
The next morning we wandered over to the tourist office and booked onto the Rebuild bus tour (previously the Red Zone tour). We had half an hour before it left to stroll around the Botanic Gardens and along the river admiring the punts, which was nice. The bus tour was great, and highly recommended as an introduction to the city, both to get a sense of the geography and also of the psychology of the city. The guide was great, and it was fascinating to see and hear about not only the damage caused by the earthquakes but also to learn about the plans for the city.
Lunch at the Coffee House was nice, but also our first experience of how expensive eating out in NZ is, compounded by the fact that it was Waitangi day, and many restaurants charge a 15% surcharge on public holidays. Ouch. We resolved to sort ourselves out for self-catering asap! That afternoon shopping was called for, as we hadn’t heard about the missing bag and couldn’t get through to the airport on the phone. We started at the department store, Ballantynes, and once again were horrified by prices. Whilst paying for some pants we asked the lady on the till for advice on cheaper places to shop and she recommended Warehouse and directed us to it. Ideal for our purposes, sold everything, and very cheap. Probably not great quality, limited points for style, but exactly what we needed. We then rather shame-facedly returned the original pants to Ballantynes. We explored the Re:start mall for a bit which was great, & well worth a visit. We heard that they’re not planning to keep it following the city’s redevelopment, which seems a shame.
Tip – if you’re in Christchurch on Waitangi day, make dinner reservations. We walked up Victoria Street, where there were lots of places to eat, but everywhere we went into had an hour or more wait for a table, eventually we found a pub with a falafel & shwarma stand in its gardens, great food and nice live music, and had a nice, chilled out evening.
Next morning, my husband had to do some work at the university in the morning. After lunch we picked up our hire car, went to the supermarket, bought a cheap sim card in Warehouse (see, everything you might need) and headed for Lake Tekapo, a pretty long drive. The first part on SH1 is super-easy, it then got a little more challenging but not too bad. The lake is gorgeous, an amazing colour. We stayed in Tailor Made Backpackers, it was ok. After dropping our bags we headed for the hot pools (NB they’re not natural hot water), and whilst it was nice to sit in after a long drive, it’s definitely not a must-do, and in particular I was disappointed that you can’t really see much of the lake when sitting in the pools (unless you stand up, but then you would be cold). Dinner at Kohan restaurant in the village was fantastic; it’s not a fancy place, has a cafeteria like feel, but we sat by the window and watched the lake and the Church in the beautiful evening light and ate some fantastic and excellent value sushi. The salmon was amazing!
Next morning brought bright blue skies and sunshine – yay! We headed down to the Church and admired it/its setting, somewhat marred by the large number of tourists posing around it, and then walked along the shore for 20mins or so round to a little beach, and then back again. Not much of a beach, but we had it to ourselves; it was nice to enjoy the views across the lake in tranquility. We then drove up to the Mt John Observatory, bit of a tricky drive, but completely worth it for the wonderful views (and nice coffee and cake in the café!). You can really appreciate the colour of Lake Tekapo from up there. Go!
Next we drove to Mt Cook, an incredibly beautiful drive, we stopped a couple of times for photos (convenient pull-in places are located fairly regularly along the road) and also at a salmon farm to buy some smoked salmon. We arrived at YHA Mt Cook (expensive for what it is, but that’s Mt Cook for you), made some smoked salmon & avocado sandwiches, and headed off to hike the Hooker Valley trail. WOW. WOW. We were so lucky that the amazing weather had continued, and this was just an incredible, wonderful walk. Also it’s not difficult, which was lucky as my husband had to do it in trainers given that we still hadn’t been reunited with his luggage. It’s beautiful from start to finish, massive mountains all around you, super-high waterfalls (so many of them!), streams, pools, rocks, bridges, basically everything you could want in a walk. And then the end (well, turn-around point, it’s a there & back walk, but the views are different facing each way, so it’s anything but boring) is a glacier moraine, and beautiful lake with icebergs floating in, with a beach where you can chill and enjoy it (we spent an hour or so there). Amazing. It was so hot that day that we even paddled in the freeeezing lake – very briefly, some braver people had quick swims in it up to the icebergs! The Rough Guide advises that there’s no need to walk the whole way – this is nonsense. If you are in Mt Cook and it’s a clear day, do this walk.
Next day dawned very cloudy, and the clouds were really low. We could barely see even the bottoms of the mountains, and it made us appreciate how lucky we had been the day before. We did a short walk “Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View”; the receptionist in the hostel advised it would be just about worth it on such a cloudy day – well, it only just about was, for a misty view of a river with icebergs floating along. If we had been able to see the surrounding mountains (& hadn’t been spoiled the previous day!) it would probably have been more enjoyable.
Then time to drive down to Dunedin, where my husband would be spending the next week working. This was a really long, and not very exciting drive, I imagine most people passing through Mt Cook are going either to Queenstown or Christchurch, our route was based around my husband’s work commitments. We stopped for a late-ish lunch in Moeraki where the Rough Guide told us there was a great fish and chips van, this has now closed and our only option was the fancy Fleur’s fish restaurant. We were very hungry by this time, so went for it. They only had outside tables, it was quite chilly, and our food took forever to come. When it did, it was good, but so it should be for that price! We then went to see the boulders, which was fun, they are huge. Not sure I’d make a special trip to see them, but worth stopping if passing. And then, the final stretch to Dunedin, to the lovely St Clair Apartments where my husband’s suitcase finally awaited us!
I’ll continue in a subsequent post. Sorry this is so long!