Trip Report: New Zealand


WARNING: Throughout this trip report, there will be overuse of the following words: Beautiful, Gorgeous, Spectacular – You have been warned!

9/25 – left LAX on ANZ premium economy.  I had read and heard great things about this class of service on ANZ – the service was great but if you have flown business class before, you will be disappointed. While there is definitely more room, there is nowhere to put your feet and you are still “sleeping” upright. Hard to sleep.

9/27 – Arrived Auckland and through customs quickly.  Met my driver and off to the Sofitel  Sofitel is tucked away on the waterfront.  I like this location as you are still walking distance to most everything but away from the hustle and bustle of the main waterfront like where the Hilton is.  Another hotel I heard about was Hotel De Brett – while I did not go inside, the location was right in the heart of downtown.  Of these upper tier hotels, I really like the Sofitel.  It is small and has a very boutique feel.  Service is great. Please note – if possible request a room facing the harbor or on the sides of the hotel.  I am in a room that faces the office buildings in back and need to keep my curtains closed during the day as I can see in to the offices and they can see in to my room – no wandering around in my unmentionables! I did ask to be moved to a waterfront room but was advised that it would cost an additional $150 per night and I declined.

 I spent the day walking Auckland.  Should have had a pedometer on as I felt like I logged some serious miles.  It was a blue bird day and perfect spring weather to explore.  I walked around the waterfront and surrounding shopping areas, walked to K street and the Ponsonby area – very much like Soho with trendy boutiques, cafes and antique shops – very hip vibe.  Ended my excursion by going to the Sky Tower – did not go up as the line was too long. Recommended stores: Pauanesia and The Vault– tiny stores that sell unique indigenous products – not too cheezy!

9/28 – Met Louise Smythe from Huka Properties for coffee at a coffee shop in the Britomart shopping area – this is a new development in the downtown area and very upscale with many of the New Zealand designer boutiques.  Louise shared with me the phenomenal properties of Huka Lodge, Dolphin Island and Grand Provence. Spent the remainder of the day walking around and visiting the Auckland Art Gallery, Museum and window shopping in New Market area – great boutique shopping but not on the main street – off in the alleys and side streets.  Took the ferry to Devenport and wandered around there a bit.  Off to get a good night sleep before my driving adventure begins tomorrow!

9/29/15 – picked up rental car from Hertz – took a deep breath, said a little prayer and headed out on the road – almost got nailed turning right out of the rental car place in downtown Auckland.  Beautiful 3.5 hour drive to Rotorua and Treetops Lodge The drive was beautiful and through rural countryside – complete with grazing cows and sheep and blooming cherry blossoms.   I would recommend a 4-wheel drive for the “road” up to Treetops – VERY narrow, gravel “road”.  WOW absolutely gorgeous, remote lodge.  So quiet and peaceful.  Took an afternoon horse back ride with Didi – a charming and friendly man who took me on a 3 hour ride all around the property.  It was like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom –we saw so many animals – deer/stag (5 different species on the grounds – this is a hunting lodge), billy goats, bison, pheasant, mallard, alpaca.  I was astounded by the diversity of the animals and the flora and fauna.  We rode to Bridal Veil Falls – so picturesque.  Back to the lodge where I am the only guest tonight and have Chef Harry cooking for me – crazy!  I am in the Daydreamer Villa. Will light a fire after dinner and take a bath in the ginormous spa tub to settle my muscles after a long car ride and horse ride – may not be able to walk tomorrow.

9/30 – Chef Harry arrived early to prepare some breakfast for me and some muffins for the road.  Drove to Waitomo Caves for cave tubing with Cave World – lots of fun, lots of glowworms, lots of wetness.  This tour is best for people who are relatively active – there is some walking and stair and hill climbing involved.  Also a great high jump into the water and a waterslide – all in the caves.  Drove to Taupo – Got lost as Hertz’ Navman directed me to drive down a washed out road but did end up finding my way onto a thru road that was actually drivable.  Got to Huka Lodge at around 3pm – Spectacular, traditional, understated luxury.  Kelly Molloy, the GM  was very friendly and gave me the site inspection.  There are 21 different locations one can eat (not dining outlets but actual tables by the river, outdoor fireplace seating, etc) The main common area has an old world lodge feel with lots of dark wood, fireplaces and plaid.  It is very charming.  The suites have a much more contemporary, fresh décor.  Very spacious and lovely.  Food is exceptional but don’t be in a rush as it is a dining experience to be savored and enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

10/1 – On the road by 8 for the 4 hour drive to Hawkes Bay.  Drove past the entrance to The Farm at Cape Kidnappers to the end of the road which dead ends into the ocean.  Found the entrance and was let in through the private gate and proceeded to drive approx. 15 minutes to the main building. Spectacular setting and accommodations.  Did Gannet Safari out to the Gannet bird colony – very cool – the birds were not interested in  the humans watching them and we could observe at a very close distance.  Took a property tour – huge grounds.  Took a Can-Am tour which is a 4 person ATV.  Went all around the property and learned about the birds, sheep shearing, farming, trees, etc. 

10/2 – The Farm at Cape Kidnappers The food is outstanding, service outstanding – exceptional property on all levels.  Went to Napier – art deco capital – not terribly interesting but pretty location along the seaside.  A couple of nice shops and yummy lunch at Mr. D’s complete with home made donut with choice of custard, jelly or chocolate injection – had to try all three! Hawks Bay region great for wine lovers – there are lots of wineries to go tasting at.  Bike wine tours too.  Elephant Hill – supposed to be a great restaurant and winery but was closed when I drove by.

10/3 – Up and on the road by 8 for the long drive to Wellington with a brief stop in Greytown for gourmet handmade chocolates at Schoc – a recommendation from Christine at Cape Kidnappers.  About a 3 ½ hour drive to Greytown.  Very quaint town but only had time to stop at Schoc – would be a cute place to walk around for a bit if not on a time schedule like me.  Schoc is a tiny shop but large on yummy treats – they have very unusual flavored chocolates.  Bought some souvenirs for home – hope they make it and don’t get consumed before hand.  Drove to Wellington and picked up Em at her hostel – The Dwellington. We drove to the Intercontinental, checked in and headed over to the TSB Bank center for the WOW (World of Wearable Art) show.  Great seats and super fun show.  Combo of a Paris runway fashion show, Cirque de soleil performance, Vegas show and Pageant of the Masters.  This is an annual event in Wellington and like the Superbowl of its kind.  Tickets get sold out as soon as they go on sale.  It was a great show and highly entertaining.  Dinner at Dragonfly – Asian fusion, cool vibe.  Walked to Boogiewonderland (70’s retro club) but it was empty.  However, you walk through there to get to Alice’s which is a take on Alice in Wonderland and you can order cocktails in teapots and have a mad hatter tea party – cool fun place.  We checked it out briefly then went back out to Boogie Wonderland but it was still dead and apparently gets going around 1am – too late for this old lady.  Back to the Intercontinental for bed.  We were on the Club level so had access to the lounge for Tea, drinks, breakfast. 

10/4 - Headed to the Wellington airport – returned the rental car and off to the South Island – flight to Nelson approximately 45 minutes.  Can also take the ferry but a longer transfer.  Once at the Nelson airport, collected a rental car and drove to the town of Nelson.  Cute town with one main street – Most places were closed as it was Sunday.  Drove to our accommodations – Bronte Country Estate.  Hmmmm – this is where it gets tricky – beautiful setting on an estuary and our “villa” looks out on the water and quite a private spot.  The grounds are gorgeous and very peaceful.  We stayed in the Stafford Villa – nice sized cottage with twin beds (probably could be put together for a couple) There is a sitting area, patio, kitchenette and big bathroom.  The cottage décor is old-fashioned and the bathroom very dated.  There is a generator just outside of our cottage and it runs on and off all night so the noise is disturbing especially in such a peaceful setting.  Shower flooded the bathroom which then had to be mopped by Margaret (one of the owners) this was awkward.  Wonder how I would feel about this place if I hadn’t just spent the previous week in such luxury??  Not sure I would recommend Bronte Country Estate for accommodations but need to see what other options are available to clients for this part of the South Island.  Breakfast was delicious. 

10/5 – Scrumptious breakfast in the dining room of the main house.  Off to Kaiteriti for a full day – Sea Kayak and hike Abel Tasman National Park.  Great fun and beautiful day!  Back to Bronte at 5ish and off to dinner in Nelson at Hopgood’s – renowned as one of the best restaurants in this area.  Emelie loved her fish dish – I was less impressed with my fillet but feeling a bit burnt out on fine dining at this point. [check out Split Apple Retreat as alternative, Eden House in Nelson]

10/6 – Breakfast, check out and drive to Punakaiki – 3 ½ hr drive.  This is a very cool spot – a geological gem – Pancake rocks, blow holes – very cool – definitely worth a visit – there is a 20 minute walk to various points along the coast – We stayed at Punakaiki Resort – a basic but nice resort right on the beach just passed the pancake rocks site – we walked to the site from the resort.  While very basic in amenities, it was clean and the sound of the crashing waves delivered quite a bit of natural atmosphere.  We had dinner on property and the food was outstanding – saying a lot considering some of the dining establishments I have been at recently.  We had an incredibly delicious meal looking out at the surf and pounding waves and sunset.

10/7 – up and out -3 hour drive to Franz Josef. Stopped very briefly in Hokitika – Wilderness Gallery – nice things.  Got to Franz Josef in plenty of time for our Helicopter Hiking tour but were told it was cancelled due to the quickly changing weather.  We were disappointed but signed up for another trip the next morning at 9:30 – puts us much later into Queenstown but have heard that this is not to be missed so hope it does not get cancelled.  Did a 90min hike out to see the glacier – nice mellow hike with lots of waterfalls.  Checked in to Westwood Lodge – Kaz the manager is delightful and so are her 4 legged assistants – Benson and Jake.  Basic accommodations but clean and good sized.  (note:  I would classify Bronte, Punakaiki Resort and Westwood as 3 star accommodations)  Went to Alice May’s for dinner – charming cottage with good food (not great food but pretty good)  Atmosphere was better than the food. After dinner went to the Glacier Hot Pools – natural springs.  [check out Te Waonui in Nelson]

10/8 – Breakfast at the lodge and off to Heli-hike – Takes a while to get the gear on – socks, boots, rain pants, jackets, mittens, beanies – If you have  germ issues, you may need to skip this incredible excursion or immediately get to the shower when done.  Walk out to the heli-pad and load up for a 15min trip to the glacier.  Land on the glacier and get instructions on putting on crampons.  Then we traipsed through the glacier field looking at the formations and caves.  Had a great guide (Cliff) and he had an ax and chopped some ice off so we could see it fall – sounds stupid but was cool.  Hiked/Walked/climbed for maybe an hour then the helicopter came and picked us up and back to base camp.  The weather was gorgeous and the excursion was exceptional – definitely recommend.  Got in the car and picked up a donut from Picnic’s bakery at the urging of Cliff (glacier guide) – They inject the donuts with a variety of flavors – mine was caramel.  Needed that boost for the 5 hour drive to Queenstown.  Absolutely gorgeous drive – could have taken a lot longer but we didn’t stop much.  The scenery is ridiculously gorgeous. Rolled in to Queenstown at around 7 and checked in at The Dairy Hotel – charming B&B.  Quaint feel and very welcoming and well appointed but homey with a lit fire and a beautiful display of apples artfully arranged in a bowl on an end table.  Alex greeted us and made us feel immediately welcomed.  He is absolutely delightful!!  Exudes genuine joy and a passion for this business. The hotel was due to close the next day for some minor renovations so, we were the only ones there. Rooms were very tiny but nicely done.  Dinner just down the street at Bella Cucina – just what we needed – non-fussy, casual food.  Food was very good. 

10/9 – Got up and went down for breakfast – incredible breakfast prepared by Alex the Amazing!  Picked up by our van for transfer to the airport for flightseeing/scenic cruise Milford Sound.  I can not describe how gorgeous this flight was – there were just 5 of us on the small plane and the view of the mountain ranges and rivers and lakes from in the air was like a movie.  Approx 45 minute flight to Milford Sound where we boarded a large cruising boat with quite a few tour groups joining us.  The cruise lasted approx. 1 ½ hours and was beautiful – Milford Sound is gorgeous (over used word to describe New Zealand scenery)  Flight back to the airport was beautiful – My only comment would be that if you wanted to be on a smaller boat, there is that option but we thought this was fine as we were on the top deck the whole time and had great views.  We flew with Glenorchy Air who did a great job.  Back at The Dairy, Alex had offered for us to use our room to freshen up and collect our bags before heading out – the hospitality continues.  Drove to Eichardts which is just down the street on the waterfront.  Very cool historic building.  LOVE this hotel – feels very boutiquey and chic but with in a historic building.  We were in suite #4 – There are 5 total in the main building and several more in a different building just down the street and they have a private residence that can be reserved as well. The apartments do have interconnecting options so good for families.  Loved this suite as it has a separate seating area with the bedroom closed off by curtains.    Dinner at Botswana Butchery – excellent food but a bit pretentious.  While I do love this hotel, it is noisy at night as it is on the main street where all of the bars and clubs are –quieted down at 10.

10/10 – Up and yummy breakfast and in the car by 8am – 45 minute drive to Glenorchy – yet another visually spectacular drive.  Arrived at Dart River Jetboat Safaris for the 9am excursion.  Boarded a motor coach for a drive through the countryside to the place where we picked up the boats.  Half of the participants started with the boat part of the tour.  Our coach ride was also like a tour with our driver pointing out history and highlights of the area including a stop with explanation of all of the films shot in that spot and a short walk through a forest.  Boarded the jet boat and away we went – exhilarating and exciting!  The boats go upwards of 90klm and they spin around – The scenery is beautiful.  Our driver stopped in several places to point out points of interest in the national park.  He also presented each of us with a Pounama stone as a souvenir.  Really fun and highly recommend.  Would prefer to skip the motor coach ride but think that is only possible if you buyout the excursion for $7,000 but that could be for up to 32 people.  Also, there is another excursion that they offer which is a jetboat ride combined with an inflatable kayak (called Funyaks) ride back to the marina and includes a picnic lunch – would have liked to do this and you skip the motor coach ride.  Note – do not spend any time brushing, curling or styling your hair the morning of this adventure – nature will take care of it for you!  This excursion was down the Dart River.  There are also jetboat adventures offered on the Shotover river which is closer to downtown Queenstown.  From what I understand, the Shotover rides are only about 25 minutes versus 1 ½ hour on the Dart River and the Shotover is through narrow canyons and the Dart is open and has panoramic views of the mountain ranges.  After this we briefly walked around Glenorchy and drove to Arrowtown – Highly recommend a visit to Arrowtown!  Very charming old mining town about 20 minutes from downtown Queenstown – basically on one street with great shops and restaurants.  After this we drove to Matakauri – aaahhhhh! As a sister property to The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, my expectations were high and I was not disappointed.  The setting is beyond beautiful and the accommodations and lodge are a perfect complement to the natural beauty surrounding the property – the setting is jaw-dropping and the property lets nature do the talking but with style and ease throughout.  From the tall windows in our Deluxe room and stunning bathtub view with open windows, Matakauri takes full advantage of its assets but doesn’t try too hard.  As to be expected from a Relais & Chateau property, the food was exceptional, imaginative and outstanding!

10/11 – Amazing breakfast and leisurely morning – think it may be the first since the beginning of the trip. After breakfast, sadly checked out of Marakauri (read sad face L) Drove in to Queenstown – only a 10 minute drive.  Bought tickets to the Skyline gondola and luge.  Pretty ride up in the gondola amongst the mountain bikers.  Nice view of downtown Queenstown against the mountains – not critical to do if you have done the Milford Sound flight seeing.  Luge was fun.  Lunch at Fergburger – an institution in Queenstown – whenever we drove by, there was a big line.  Honestly, we weren’t even hungry after our breakfast and eating so much over the trip so I really cant review the quality of the food.  Off to the airport.  Returned our trusty ride which got us safely all around the South Island – phew!  Flew back to Wellington, checked in to the Museum Art Hotel for a 2 night stay.  It is right across from the Te Papa museum.  Cool lobby with art of all kinds everywhere.  The restaurant, Hippopotamus is noted to be one of the best in Wellington – we could not muster the energy to dine there and ordered room service.  We had a 2 bedroom apartment (they call it a suite but I think that is stretching it)  Nice utility apartment with small kitchen, postage stamp sized 2 bathrooms and nice living space and 2 bedrooms.  At first I was disappointed but having just come back from a walk around town and to the New World Market for some fruit, I think it might be nice to stay in this type of accommodation for a couple of days – definitely roomier than a standard hotel room and you can get stuff at the market (1 block away – great market) to have in your room.

10/12 – Buffet breakfast at Hippo and off to shop.  Here are the stores I liked:

The Vault
Made It
Citta Design Store (kind of like Crate and Barrel)
Ora Gallery – LOVE
Kura Gallery – LOVE
Small Acorns
Brown & Co

10/13-Flew from Wellington to Auckland then to LA

NZ observations: 

  • 111 for emergency
  • Leisurely paced dining – In fact, one of the resorts I stayed at offered American Style Service at dinner which meant moving through courses quickly!
  • VERY limited gas stations
  • Lots of one-way bridges (one also had a train track to add more excitement to the mix)
  • Apparently if you do not clean your plate it appears that you did not like your meal – EVERYWHERE I went if we even left a bite, were asked if everything was all right.  I definitely realized how wasteful we are with food.
  • If using a credit card, pay up at the front versus at your table.
  • Bacon –order cooked crispy if that is the way you like it, otherwise it is not cooked much
  • Trash cans hard to find – not as ubiquitous as in the US
  • Napkins are scarce if used at all in homes and cafes (restaurants provide them)
  • Coffee cozies not readily available

Amazing Country with unsurpassed natural beauty, fantastic accommodations, diverse activities and extremely friendly people – GO!