We arrived in Auckland from Hong Kong on 8 January and departed for Sydney on 7 February. Whilst 30 nights was not enough for us to do justice to the country, it was more than enough to make us fall in love with it and to vow to come back for more (hopefully 3 months next time) in 2015.
We did not ask many question on this Forum, but I read avidly those asked by others and I learned a fantastic amount from the excellent DEs who give so much time and information - so thank you all.
We split our holiday into 3 parts - the first and last we stayed with relatives in Cambridge, a charming little town in Waikato Province, south of Hamilton. During our first stay of 9 nights we managed to visit Mount Maunganui, Tauranga, Raglan, Waihi, Waihi Beach, Rotorua and Lake Karipiro (to watch the Waka Ama Sprint Nationals) as well as exploring both Cambridge and Hamilton, not to mention going to an evening 20:20 Cricket match at Seddon Park and watching the Waikato Chiefs in a pre-season training session. All the trips were done by car and we returned home each evening. The weather was glorious (except in Rotorua which literally put a bit of a dampener on the visit), the food and wine were abundant and we were having a great time! On 17 January we left our relatives and took the Northern Explorer train from Hamilton to Wellington where we stayed 2 nights. We loved the City very much; we took a half day City Tour in the morning and enjoyed visting both the Te Papa National Museum and the Museum of the City and the Sea in the afternoon. we would definitely want to spend more time in the City and the surrounding areas on a future visit. On 19 January we took the Interislander Ferry across to Picton and were lucky that the sea in the Straits was just like a millpond. From Picton we took the Coastal Pacific train to Christchurch and in the evening we joined up with our pre-booked Guided Tour of the South Island organised by AAT Kings. The tour got off to a bit of a bang as it were as at 2115 in the evening we experienced an earthquake measuring 4.9 on the Richter Scale - we were told that this was just one of some 2000 suffered since the devastation in 2011. The so-called "Southern Icons Tour" lasted 8 nights (1st and last in Christchurch, 2 in Franz Josef, 1 in Wanaka and 3 in Queenstown) and we enjoyed every single minute of it. The first morning we took the TranzAlpine train as far as Arthur's Pass. This trip completed the set of the only 3 long distance Passenger trains operated by KiwiRail. All 3 trains had new, comfortable carriages with good buffet cars and open-air viewing decks. We loved this mode of travel and would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who likes to sit, relax and take in the wonderful countryside. Little did we know that once we left Arthur's Passs on our coach journey South Westwards the scenery would get more spectacular hour by hour, and day by day. Highlights of the next few days were the helicopter trip up to the top of Franz Josef Glacier; the walk to the base of Fox Glacier; the Jetboat Safari on the Haast River; walking around the lake in Wanaka as the sun set; Arrowtown; the Shotover River Jetboat; Milford Sound with the beautiful golden sun shining down from the perfect clear blue skies; White Water rafting on the Kawaru river; the Thunder Jetboat around Lake Wakatipu; Queenstown generally, including the Skyline Gondola, Luge, Maori Experience Show and the surprisingly good Buffet Dinner and last, but not least, the view of the Remarkables from our hotel room balcony. Our last day was the return to Christchurch stopping at Lindis Pass; Omarama; Lake Pukaki; Twizel, where we had fabulous views of Mt Cook again with beautiful blue skies; Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd and, finally, a tour around Christchurch which was quite a sobering experience. The next day we were transferred to Christchurch airport for the short flight back to Hamilton where we met up again with our relatives and stayed with them for a further 9 nights. After 1 day of total relaxation we went to the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. The next day we set off up to the Bay of Islands for a 2 night stay right next to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds which we visited for half a day and found very interesting. We also did a super boat trip to the Hole in the Rock during which we saw a large school of dolphins at play and lots of seals. Our last Saturday was spent at Mount Maunganui again where we were delighted to be able to watch the NZ National Beach Volleybal championships!! Sunday and Monday were spent relaxing and saying fond farewells to new friends, nephews, nieces, their children and, of course, my wife's sister and her husband who had been such wonderful hosts. Our 2 nieces drove us to Auckland on 5 February to spend our last 2 nights in NZ there. We went up the ITC Tower and then on Waitangi Day took a Wine Tasting trip to Waiheke Island, which was gorgeous and we definitely want to spend more time there when we return.
I know this report is long but just a few last observations:
- New Zealand is a stunningly beautiful country the like of which I have never experienced before.
- The New Zealand people are warm, friendly and very helpful.
- New Zealand wines rank amongst the world's best.
- The Steak and Blue Vein Cheese Pie from the Leamington Bakery in Cambridge was the best pie I've ever tasted and I can assure you I've tasted a few!
- Although it sounds like a cliche this really eas our "Holiday of a Lifetime".
PS: If anyone is interested I have done reviews of all the Hotels we stayed in as well.