New Zealand

WHAT THEY DON’T TELL YOU: The weather, driving times, bad food, scary places to stay, no gas, it’s not Napa, no radio, no movies, the search for an all-blacks shirt (the rugby team), don’t walk on the ‘flats’ unless you know the weather, what ‘Lodge’ REALLY means, speeding tickets, what exactly IS a long black, and the routes we should have done and why on earth they keep trying to offer you medicore wines from Whitehaven and Oyster Bay when there is so much good stuff?

Just thinking about where New Zealand is makes your head spin. Here you are surrounded by a country that feels so very English, but we are near Antarctica and Indonesia! Seriously? East Timor and those scary dudes who put peoples heads on stakes aren’t that far away. Bizarre. How does that jive with a country that can make tea and meat pies properly?

SHORT BITS OF INFO:
  • It’s harder to find middle of the road hotels, its often sky high accommodation or very scary accommodation- they are there but its tough.
  • Lamb is obvious here, also eat Akaroa salmon!! YUM.
  • Eat a meat pie.
  • Nelson is dismal- sorry.
  • Wellington is the size of Baltimore Harbor.
  • It rains a lot.
  • Kiwis are NOCTURNAL…DAAAA
  • Lodges don’t have proper bars or a scene at all and can literally be someones home pretending to be a ‘Lodge’, be careful!
  • Get gas before long stretches of empty road!
  • Road signs warn you that places are FAR apart in actual driving time–listen and add two hours to every long stretch.
  • Get above compact car size; we had a Highlander. You will be overtaking trucks constantly that go 90, you can go 100. There are police–not many but they ticket above 100, got it? They got me 🙁
  • If you live in America and want to see New Zealand but can’t afford it, go to Lake Tahoe.
  • A great area to see Vinyards in North Island is Martinborough, which is a nice town/region not too far from Wellington.
  • Don’t drink wines from Whitehaven or Oyster Bay as you can find them everywhere at home, do some research there are great wines here, not cheap though.
  • Don’t miss Milford Sound like we did 🙁
  • Take old DVDs, TV is a challenge!
  • Take CDs (no iPod hook-ups in the rental cars out here).
  • Don’t walk on the flats close to the rivers when it rains, unless you don’t want to come back.
  • Visit the sea, not just the lakes, as the ocean and beaches are dramatic.
  • There is white sand in the Abel Tasman Park
  • There are only about 1 million people on South Island and most of those live in the Canterbury area. South Island is 33 percent bigger than North Island. 4 million people live in North Island, most in the Auckland area. New Zealand has 13 times as many sheep as people.
LONGER BITS OF INFO:
THE ALL BLACKS
Check out this link, it will give you goose bumps!!! 
Have you ever seen the All Blacks pre game rugby ‘Haka’ Maori war ‘dance’? I never watch rugby but this dance gives you goosebumps. It was first performed at a game in 1888. Its very difficult to find an All Blacks rugby shirt- let alone one that is well made- note to New Zealanders–can someone start selling these shirts please?

THE MAP TO TAKE

New Zealand touring atlas- this also has the L OF R sites!!
Isbn 10: 1-877302-37-6
Isnn 13-978-1-877302-37-4
+64 9 273 6459
sales@hemamaps.co.nz
www.hemamaps.com

LORD OF RINGS SITES

For Lord of Rings locations: they are everywhere!
Lots round Queenstown and Wellington: a lot close to airport and road to Featherston route 2
Franz Joseph glacier: The Lighting of the Beacons
Above Blanket Bay resort, near Queenstown And near the Matakauri: IIsengaurd, Lothlorien Amon Hen, Ithilien
The Shire/ Hobbiton, Matamata route 27
Mount Doom, Tongariro national park

PACKING

Its tough as the weather is temperamental. Take layers and a waterproof jacket.

Inevitably what you need is always at BOTTOM of your case, resulting in the total UN pack. And then an irritating RE pack.

Note- On a road trip take two small cases rather than one big one so you are not lugging a huge case in and out–plus the organization is better, SUPPOSEDLY.

ROAD SIGNS

Some great guy to a photo of the merge like a zip sign

http://www.flickr.com/photos/46688094@N04/4798959812/lightbox/

COFFEE

Long Black, Flat White, get used to it.

The coffee in New Zealand had been amazing. It is served very differently than in UK/USA. They don’t have filtered coffee carafes. All the coffee comes from espresso machines so you will be offered a long black or a flat white, get over it and go with it. A long black is basically a double espresso served in a cup with a small side jug of warm water (optional). A flat white is basically white frothed milk on top of an espresso, sort of like a cappuccino. The coffee is really good and when we got home Starbucks and Pete’s were not palatable for about a week.

THE WORD ‘LODGE’

Again, be clear here, New Zealanders use the word LODGE very loosely to cover anything from a camping van to the Matakauri as a ‘Lodge’. Be warned. Here ‘Lodge’ basically means lodging.

AIR/FERRY TRAVEL BETWEEN ISLANDS

If its raining or windy don’t take a ferry. We took an Air New Zealand flight from Nelson to Wellington which was very time consuming even though the actual flight was about half an hour. We didn’t know it but if you are in a rush to get straight to the Hawkes Bay area from South Island, Air New Zealand also flys to Napier which is way closer to Cape Kidnappers. If it hadn’t been windy we could have taken a smaller airplane from a company called Sounds Air, they fly from Picton or Blenheim to Wellington, but you can’t be carrying tons of luggage.

FUN! This is a seriously good trip.

 

All pictures are Copyright 2013 Trendy Girl Travels

(except where specifically credited to other people)


Leaving Cape Kidnappers was a difficult decision as we only had one night left. We had heard of a newly renovated resort, Wharekauhau Lodge, rated Number #1 in New Zealand by Conde Nast. Wharekauhau was also closer to the airport so we decided to make the change.

The Western Lake Road, to Wharekauhau

Part of our journey returned on the same route, back towards Wellington, however this time we detoured through a great town worth exploring– Havelock North. We didn’t even have time to get out of the car but as we drove through we saw Havelock was packed with galleries, shops, cool restaurants and was buzzing. If we had more time at Cape Kidnappers this town would have been the perfect day out CK recommended Martinbourgh for a day trip, the area is great for wine tasting. We drove through the region later in the day, on the way to Wharekauha but felt it was too far from Cape Kidnappers if you are only there for a weekend..

We pressed on to Woodville, if you are just passing through, ‘Yummy Mummy’s‘ has unreal cheese cake, all homemade, great sandwiches and a great minced beef mint pie. YUM. Their zucchini, cheese and red pepper pie is also great. Note: this is a quick stop or you can take the food away for a picnic along the Wharekauhau Road.

Heading towards the Sea, Wharekauhau

We turned off the main route to Wellington just after Featherston and took the Western Lake Road to the hotel. Gorgeous open country side sandwiched between mountains and rivers all running up to the sea. The New Zealand scenery blew us away again.

As we approached Wharekauha Lodge, we hit the sea and took a quick walk along the beach which was wind swept, wide and dramatic.

Wharekauhau Lodge

Entrance, Wharekauhau Lodge

The property has undergone serious renovation. The driveway was wonderful. However, the tide started to turn when we were greeted by what I can only describe as the ‘Stepford Family’.
The staff must have been alerted as to our arrival when we drove throught the gates.  When we arrived at the front door three casually dressed members of ‘the team’ introduced themselves as, “the three who do everything around here”. They were devoid of emotion and looked like they may have been imprisioned in the Hotel against their will! Haha! There was an unsaid undertone, a distinct possiblity that if we stayed, we may never be allowed to leave. Kidding, but these guys were truly weird!

Individual lodge type room, Wharekauhau

The casual greeting, (this one worse than most), seems to be part of the New Zealand Lodge etiquette. When did someone in New Zealand Hotel history decide that people wanted to be greeted by their own family! This is wrong! Often you are cranky from a car journey (or any bloody journey — think very CRANKY). These guys were so casual I wasn’t sure who they were.

On arrival you need to be able to distinguish who the bell man is and then hear a few recognizable ‘hotel’ words: “welcome, you must be the so and sos, checking-in”? Said with a knowing, comforting manner that reassures and makes you feel that–yes, perhaps you could possibly become a nice person again after your journey from hell ….do you know what I mean? Normally, as you are gently extracted from your car and ushered into the reception area, you can make a quiet transition from the journey to the Hotel. With your head still whirling around like the exorcist, you can scope out a spot to have tea or a drink–without having to talk to anyone. Other than perhaps the receptionist, who should never ‘over do’ the conversation…just as it should be. These casual, informal, greetings filled with artificial intrest about where you came from, just won’t do!

The ‘leader’ of the greeters took us immediately on a tour, no tea or wine was offered. Wharekauhau Lodge is vast and impersonal, strange metal windows reminiscent of English homes in the 50’s spoil the fabulous views. Very often in these Lodges there is no bar area. Here there was only a claustrophobic lounge devoid of interesting decor and absolutley zero amptmoshpere. You may, very self consciously, want to have a cup of tea in here but definately not a glass of wine or god forbid, a cocktil. There was also an appallingly dull dining room. There were actually very few guests to help lighten the mood, we would have welcomed the sound of animated conversation or the tinkling of glasses etc. Nothing.

On we were propelled towards our ‘villa’. The bedroom and seating area were very comfortable, all the rooms had just been redone and the upholstery was fab. A big plus here was a wonderful fireplace. Although pretty, the views were not jaw-droping, though I am sure we had been spoiled by unreal views right from our beds at the Matakauri and Cape Kidnappers.

The terrace had a partially blocked view, which admittedly wasn’t so bad, but the worst thing was that the outdoor chairs were so uncomfortable you wouldn’t want to sit out there.

Despite the drawbacks, there was some enjoyment to be had in the garden, which was undoubtedly my favorite thing at Wharekauhau Lodge. They had done a great job on the indoor pool also. Sadly for me, though it wasn’t enough to make me stay here on my last night in New Zealand–not for $1,000+ per person. After all, ambience is everything; it’s so hard to get it right and I can tell you even though this place is very well appointed– for us it missed the boat.

The Vegetable Garden

So, no time to dwell, it was time to escape. We wanted to have fun and although New Zealand Lodges have amazing scenery, it was time to go a little crazy. We checked out before we had really checked in.

The Lawn, Wharekauhau Lodge

After the escape: Wellington

We drove to Wellington like possessed beings as we had no where to stay. There was an International Art Festival and a cricket match in town so every hotel was booked. On the advice of a random Hotel Concierge, we booked into The Bolton. There was no view but it was close to the Quay. The room was small, edgy and corporate in style but the bell man said all the right things. He promptly took the car and the luggage was immediately delivered to the room.  Within 15 minutes we were walking into town. The Bolton Hotel is listed as a 5 star Hotel. I think this is a bit of a push but it was reasonable and super efficient, even with a small staff.

The Quay in Wellington is a fun place to walk. There are Restaurants, Bars, Museums and shops. We stopped for drinks at St John, which was so fun, a great spot! Each evening St. John has entertainment and on the evening we were there, a band was playing outside, so there was great atmosphere. If you can get a seat outside its more fun.  Order the seafood platter with New Zealand goodies like green lipped mussels and west coast whitebait fritters and New Zealand scallops, and OMG, if you are sick of refined lodge food, get the chunky fries with gravy! Trust me, St John didn’t have a full harbour view, but there’s water and a scene– after all those quiet romantic lodges, you need to be re-emersed into party central!

As we were driving around looking for accommodation I had noticed out of the corner of my eye, ‘Masala‘, a really super Indian restaurant…we ate there, it was curry bliss.

For other options I saw two other hot spots.  A restaurant called Anscesterol and a bar called The Apartment.

All this done in less than an hour from Wharekauhau Lodge. We are the G.

All pictures are Copyright 2013 Trendy Girl Travels

(except where specifically credited to other people)


 

The rain was lashing down and the wind was howling. We had planned to stay on South Island longer to visit Blenheim and Cloudy Bay but were having trouble finding idyllic places to stay. We had booked ourselves into The Farm, Cape Kidnappers, which is the sister hotel to The Matakauri, as we had spoken to many people who loved it.

We took what was supposed to be a quick Air New Zealand flight from Nelson to Wellington, which was actually very time consuming due to the size of the plane and general procedures, even though the actual flight was about half an hour. Note from Travel Guru: You can fly much more quickly with Air Napier by charter directly to Napier, a town very near by Cape Kidnappers and save the 5 hour drive. However don’t do it if wind and rain are involved as it is a small aircraft (!). Sounds Air have routes between Wellington, Nelson, Blenheim and Picton, also small planes, great for a sunny day.

Front Door, Farm at Cape Kidnapper

We had about five hours driving in front of us and set off along route 2 to Greytown. At Rimutaka the road climbed steeply and had some nice switchbacks. We were hungry again and passed a ‘Fried Bread Van’ in Featherston. What is it with all these strange ‘van foods’ in New Zealand? Very scary. Fried bread is definitely an acquired taste; after 20 years in the UK I still managed NOT to develop the habit!

YUM?

The weather was still wet and dull.  We stopped at Greytown which was about half way; it looked dismal in the rain, but there was a really fun Hotel here called The Swan. The Hotel had fun food, cute decor, a great location on the main street and reminded me of a revamped western saloon/meets Disney. Sounds awful but it works and has atmosphere. The place was jamming when we drove past in the sun a few days later. It would be great as a base for exploring the nearby Martinborough vineyards. Greytown in the sun was a different place, full of galleries, people and had a buzz. Sorry–no photos it was was too dismal when we first stopped.

Arrival, Cape Kidnappers

The Farm at Cape Kidnapper proved a little tricky to find as the gate is very discreet, and we ended up just past the entrance at the caravan park on the coast. Not good. I was VERY scared that we were going to have another bad “Lodge Experience”. We called the hotel, found the gate after several drive-bys with no success. There is no guardhouse, no person and a tiny sign–all good once you know where it is…(think growling annoyed sound). We stopped and had to be buzzed in, the voice on the intercom welcomed us, opened the gate and said, ‘see you in about 15 minutes.’

The ‘lay of the land’, Cape Kidnappers

The 15 minute driveway to The Farm is stunning. The roll of the land, the mini canyon walls, the color of the earth. The grass. Wow. This is without doubt one of the most, maybe the most beautifully natural, breathtaking resorts I have seen.

The driveway, from Lake to Sea

Sadly, our first human experience was at the front desk with the General Manager; no welcoming glass of wine was procured–an absolute necessity after a five hour drive- particularly when you are in wine country. Naturally we suggested that as soon as we dropped our bags we would like to take a walk through the property. We only had two days and wanted to explore the Farm as much as possible. The GM informed me that everything was too far, too tough, and absolute hellish on a bike and to please ‘bear in mind’ that no one was available on a whim to come rescue over-achievers! I instantly developed an active dislike for her people skills.

Common area, Cape Kidnappers

Inner Courtyard, Cape Kidnappers

Rooms at Cape Kidnappers

Resting spot, in between rooms, Cape Kidnappers

On our way to the room I asked the ‘GM’ when it would it be possible to see the Kiwis that inhabit the property? I was informed that I had missed the last tour available this week: it had been the day before. This seemed odd to me because at dinner later that evening I heard a couple planning their Kiwi tour with a guide from the hotel for the next day? Hmmmm.

Front lawn, Cape Kidnappers

Quiet spot, front lawn, CK

Water feature, Cape Kidnappers

It was time for drinks and sunset. The Room was a 10. The view was a 20. So little time before sunset, drinks to order, shower/tub to experience and finally settling into a fluffy robe!

Our Balcony, Cape Kidnappers

Room with a view, Cape Kidnappers

The bathroom and bedroom were traditional. I prefer a more minimalist look; however, as my partner stated, “Are you kidding, this is heaven!”  No time to find fault, we had to rush to get out onto our balcony. The view kept growing as the sun went down.

Bathroom, Cape Kidnappers

Nighty, Night- CK

The sense of peace and tranquility here is overwhelming. The simplistic luxury of this Hotels design combined with the attention to details, sheer scale of the property, (which is about 6000 acres) and the stunning coastline that it sits on, makes this the number one hotel and property I have EVER been to.

Cruise Boat passes by, view from our balcony

The dynamics of the same scene changed constantly before our eyes, it really was a privilege to be witness to this magnificent setting,

The boat travels across as the sun sets…

New Zealand landscape glowing at sunset

Alas it was time to head down to the main building for a cocktail. As with all of these New Zealand Lodges, to me the one thing missing is a bar. Sitting on lounge chairs, even the most comfy, with the best service and the best drink is along the lines of an ‘at home’ experience. Without an actual bar, even if you migrate to separate seating later, there is no way to acknowledge that your evening is about to get off to a good start! As a a catalyst for the rest of the evening, nothing beats rocking up at a visually cool bar with a good vibe… lounge chairs in a living room setting doesn’t cut it. Sorry.

Sunset Cape Kidnappers

The dinning room that looks out over the front lawn is where you want to be. There is a second dinning room behind this one that does not. (Annoyed growling sound.)

Remember, staying here is about 1,500$ per night so you do get upset if things don’t go your way. They have a policy of seating you only once in the dining room with the view over a weekend stay. Book early for that one so you can see the sunset- and then very late the second night and you should make it into the front room again as everyone eats early. This is very frustrating and the same GM I love so much (not) came up with this rather shitty idea, really it would be better to do first come, first serve, at least you wouldn’t quite as intensely hate the people in front of you all evening. Having gotten that off my chest let me tell you the food was amazing. Most fun was the small tasting menu of everything and we strolled back to our room happy as clams.

The Snug, a serene round room for drinks or a read and snuggle.

Seating spot for drinks or relaxing, CK

After an early breakfast we sat in the inner courtyard to read the news and soak in the ambience. Cape Kidnappers has so many sitting spots that you would have to stay for two weeks in order to get the full experience, at that point it would be hard to ever leave. Don’t you love it when you go somewhere and every aspect of a building is done as well, if not better than you could ever do, (slight growling jealous noise)? The good news is that you go home renewed and inspired and so glad you came to the right spot!

Inner Courtyard, Cape Kidnappers

We decided that it was time for some exercise. We would do a bloody triathlon and show the GM that we were not to be messed with! (My partner hates to exercise but we were in cahoots so he had to go with it). The ‘GM’ could have soured our experience, but in the end she softened up due to the relentless optimism we showed–in spite of her doldrums. We took out the mountain bikes and set off.

curious sheep at the Tooth

The bike ride went towards the sea–there are several options as far a route. It was very hilly, and we were determined to make it to ‘The Tooth’–a rock formation going out into the sea. We made it despite another herd of inquisitive cows, but it was really tough on the way back and we wanted to get to the pool. We decided to call for help and risk the wrath of the ‘GM’ (embarrassing). Andrew, the wonderful gentleman that did in fact have to rescue us from our bike ride in a Land Rover, has lived here on the property, I believe, since its conception. Andrew manages the land, and kindly fills in to help out where needed. What a gentleman.

The Tooth

When we got back we went straight to the pool. What a view and a private setting. There are umbrellas for shade and a pool house with towels, water etc, but no resident attendat. We called for a bottle of wine and lunch–everything came quickly. It was a blissful afternoon. It was so sad to be leaving.

This section of our journey would have been grim if we hadn’t come across The Arthurs Pass Wilderness Lodge in Grasmere and later EdenHouse. Rainbows and a stellar sunset kept us happy in between. Below is the type of scenery we would have to look forward to during today’s ride. That morning we had set off from Fox Glacier in search of good coffee. We went north to Franz Joseph.

The Road to Grasmere

On recommendation from our previous hotel we were thinking of going to visit Franz Joseph last night for dinner, it’s about half an hour between the two towns, but I am glad we didn’t bother. There is another glacier here but not much more entertainment wise than Fox Glacier! We did find a really good cup of coffee at ‘Full of Beans Coffee‘ next to the gas station. (It will be easy to find.) They had the most amazing bacon rolls and the atmosphere was great. It turned out to be the favorite coffee shop of the trip.

The road turned inland from Franz Joseph and the roadside flowers were gorgeous. Tiger lilies, deep orange Crocisma, and bright yellow Hypericum with lashings of ferns brightened up the drive until we turned off for Arthurs pass—at that point the climate became less tropical. For tree ferns, a personal favorite, they were best around from Lake Wanaka out to the west coast.

On we went to the gold mining town of Ross. There were actual excavations for gold still going on, but it was a bit of a ‘hick’ town and we were headed for what we thought was great a ‘sheep-farming lodge’ experience so we kept moving. There is no radio on this stretch, or on the West Coast in general, so bring your own CDs, which we didn’t—so it made us notice the bad spots in excruciating detail.

Due to the lack of stimulation, it became apparent that more coffee was needed. Another great coffee experience was in Hokitika at Café de Paris. Hokitika had lots of cafes and to be fair probably some potential (but it would have been an effort) so we headed north and turned onto the 73 for Arthurs Pass. The main reason to use this road is that it goes across to Christchurch.

Surreal scree topped mountains, Arthurs Pass

Note from Travel Guru: From Greymouth across to Christchurch there is a trans-alpine railway that was built here years ago in difficult  conditions to access the west coast. To be honest I wouldn’t take the ride. Stopping at the town (hamlet) of Arthurs Pass would be a highlight (not) and indeed the Pass itself wasn’t all that scenic. I was disappointed as it was touted as ‘one of the world’s great railway adventures.’

By now the mountains were less tree covered and more scree covered. The bright blue of the rivers and streams was replaced with grey and the pass itself, although it had a few switchbacks but not the hair-raisers that I love. Nothing more fun then to be bracing yourself on a switchback, pushing your feet into the floor, fingers gripping the doors and car seats to prepare yourself for going over the edge! Sorry, none of that. Didn’t take a picture.

Arthurs Pass Wilderness Lodge

Anyway finally the scenery opened up just past Arthur’s Pass. The Cragieburn Conservation Park and Black Range Mountains was an amazing backdrop for the Arthurs Pass Wilderness Lodge.

Sheep separation day

The lodge wasn’t my cup of tea for accommodation but has great wilderness activities so maybe you could stop on the way from Greymouth to Christchurch just to participate in the walks, sheep shearing, canoeing etc. We stopped at their sheep station to watch ‘separation day’. This is when the mothers are separated from their lambies!!

It was quite traumatic with lots of herding going on from the sheepdogs and lots of bleating from the sheep. The lambs then go on to live apart from their mums for a bit before they are sent off to market. They are on the table between 8 and 12 months old. 🙁

Garden Gate, Grasmere Lodge

Grasmere Lodge was our destination but we had trusted the guidebooks and glossy magazines. Mistake. Always get a cross reference from a person who has been there. We made the best of it but sadly the general feeling is that it’s past its best. We stayed in the owner’s lodge, beautiful views but very sterile and dated furnishings. This would cost about 1,500 NZ $ per night for two.

Rain had been coming down in sheets all day. This was summer? We were looking forward to a yummy lunch in front of the fire. There was a fire in the main house but the dining room was cold. They must have trouble bringing in fresh produce as the Caesars salad was chicken, globs of dressing, TONS of croutons and the lettuce was missing??

Lunch Spot, Grasmere Lodge

The lunch and breakfast dinning room did have a great view; their horses had escaped from the riding stables and entertained us in front of our table while I tried to find the lettuce. As my stomach had by now taken on the shape of a very large crouton, it was time to go for a walkabout.

Escape from the stable

We headed out to do some fishing at Grasmere Lake. The owner sent us to a remote spot where we were stampeded by hundreds of Friesians, the world’s most curious cow. Be afraid. Sorry, there was no time to take pictures. This is not my first run in with cows or bulls. I have had many. But the funniest is on You Tube, enjoy it if you can find it!

Warning—if you check the video out, there may be foul language!

Fishing Spot, Lake Grasmere

Anyway we ended up further round the lake fishing into the wind and rain. In fairness this could have been nice if it hadn’t been for the cows, wind, rain and crappy equipment.

Fishing into the wind, Lake Grasmere

We went back to the lodge to drink very heavily and watch the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Bring a DVD set with you incase of a rainy day (or five). There was a nice well-stocked wood fireplace in the room. They did bring us up some awesome olives.

Rainbow over ‘Middle Earth

The owners Lodge had a double sided fireplace, one faced the terraces and the other into the living room.

During  ‘wine pouring breaks’ we captured a monumental rainbow, this area was called by the Maori Te Ko Awa a Aniwaniwa, ‘Valley of the Mother of the Rainbows’. During another ‘top up’ we also snagged a great sunset photo.

The afternoon had ended well and the scenery around Grasmere was reminiscent of the Lake District in the UK.

We headed down for dinner (still raining) on the golf cart we had been given to get about the property. Mind you there were roads so a car would have been fine. The bar scene was 1980 tartan. Dinner was bland. Several times in NZ, including here, we have been offered both Oyster Bay and Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc.

You would think you would be offered more interesting wines then the mass market ones shipped to the USA? We did of course insist on trying other labels and Pegasus Bay Wines turned out to be a winner. Their Sauvignon/ Semillon blend and Pinot Gris were FAB and also the Pinot Noir.

Sunset View from our room, Grasmere Lodge

Needless to say we headed out at the crack of dawn, and then made the wrong decision to take the inland road instead of a slightly longer road out to the coast first. The route we took sucked and they had the cheek to label it ‘scenic’. (The ‘scenic road sign committee’ gets a bit carried away here). Do not take the Arnold Valley road round Lake Brunner.

View from above, Grey River

We got out at Stillwater to breathe and to recover from the acute temptation to kill each other. We stopped at one of those ‘adventure activities’– of the very type I warned you about. The experience on offer was walking over a gorge on a steel rope bridge. Not quite as awe inspiring as it sounds, but thankfully in this region the water had turned from grey to blue again, the gorge was scenic and we had managed to regain some optimism for the road ahead.

Don’t look down

Our optimism was short lived, the road to Murchison and on to Richmond was dull and the Lodge we had booked into, ‘Resurgence Eco Lodge’ in the Nelson region turned out not to be our cup of tea. AT ALL. For some reason I imagined a Costa Rican type luxury eco lodge, basic but perhaps with linen sheets etc. Wrong.

We tried another Lodge, Split Apple Retreat, rated very highly by Tatler- also with a wonderful video produced by the owners. Again, the word ‘Lodge’ has a different meaning here, this was a nicely laid out and personal home- and did not feel in anyway like a retreat in the ‘hotel’ genre. Now we were desperate and mean.

Bucolic scenery, Orinoco Valley

We called Jay from the Matakuri for ideas. I had totally researched this area and there wasn’t much to choose from as far as our needs were concerned. Jay suggested EdenHouse. It totally worked out.

The Orinoco Valley where the EdenHouse is situated is truly bucolic. The scenery is very like a toile print including the sheep. Pastorial New Zealand it is. Smaller fields, gently defined hills and homesteads. Lovely. I couldn’t even find this area listed in my guidebooks. Maybe most people think of New Zealand as big scenery but this was so restful and totally welcome after the miles of boring road we had just covered.

Afternoon shadows, EdenHouse

Due to the rain we were shown in through the garage, which is a shame as I thought we were going into another home setting. EdenHouse is a home but run like a small hotel. They have staff. The owners were charming. Their conversation was informative and they can arrange great activities in the Able Tasman Park. They have personal contacts with a helicopter company for rides over the park. The helicopter picks you up here in a field ‘over yonder’, no ugly helipads around here.

Pot of Tea Spot, Eden House

The wine was good, the food was good, the breakfast amazing and the garden perfect. There were also linen sheets. Real linen. Tatler lists it as one of the best 100 Hotels of the world. It definitely is not. But perhaps the Tatler crew had also arrived desperate on a rainy day?

Door to the garden, EdenHouse

Nevertheless this area is stunning and EdenHouse is relaxing and welcoming. Pastorial charm doesn’t come cheap in NZ, it is about $1,000 NZ per night, for two.

View to the pastures, EdenHouse

As we departed we drove through a town called Motueka. Here you can find a supermarket- and again, this town probably has wonderful cafes and restaurants but didn’t appeal aesthetically to me. Oh well.

However through the sheeting rain it was apparent that the area above Motueka, The start of Able Tasman Park was truly was scenic. Pale blue water, oodles of sand and winding coastal roads, stunning. We were not destined to see much of it on this trip but EdenHouse is the perfect spot to enjoy this area.

We abandoned our plans to go visit Blenheim and Cloudy Bay. It was time to escape to North Island and the sister hotel to the Matakauri, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers. It was the best decision of the trip.

 

All pictures are Copyright 2012 Trendy Girl Travels

(except where specifically credited to other people)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s drive was going to involve quite a bit of time, but we were excited to see the coast. As you can see from the photo below, the west coast was dramatic and the driftwood was incredible.

Ship Creek, Boarded Walk, Haast

As you drive away from Lake Wakatipu through Queenstown we took route 6 towards The Crown Range road. On this route you pass through Arrowtown. Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy was filmed all over New Zealand and Arrowtown was the location of the Ford of Bruinen–the scene where Arwen challenged the Nazgûl while rushing Frodo to Rivendell.  If you remember, she says to the Nazgul: “if you want him, come and claim him!”

The exact spot would be hard to distinguish, but the most wonderful thing about these open stony river beds, (actually called flats) is the color of the water–the most amazing light blue.

The Flats, Haast River

The views were spectacular and we wanted to stop for lunch around Lake Wanaka. Our first choice was Whare Kea Lodge and Chalet but they are only open for guests however, they recommended two really great lunch spots right on the Lake Wanaka but both only had partial lake views.

Cafe Gusto is best for coffee (although they have food) and The Relish Cafe has a bistro atmosphere with great food. The Relish Cafe was very crowded at lunch- always a good sign.  We scouted around to see if we could find anything better-  but these two definitely looked like good spots.

In the end we  decided on a coffee roadie as we hadn’t covered enough territory. Two hours later it was time to indulge. We had noticed signs everywhere for “meat pies.” We stopped at some roadside place in the boonies and lined up with a coach of seniors for Lamb and Mint pie served with english chips and vinegar. Sheer HEAVEN. Sometimes holding back isn’t an option.

Lake Hawea, Road through Mount Aspiring park

The road was stunning as we drove up between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. We stopped to take a quick walk to the Thunder Creek Falls in Mount Aspiring National Park.

Thunder Creek Falls

The famous New Zealand one-lane bridges became frequent somewhere around the Haast Pass, but we were not intimidated as there was no one else on the road.

Well…almost no one. We had been cranking along at a decent speed, and I took over the driving on a nice straight stretch. A police car appeared on the  horizon and nailed us even though the trucks were whizzing past.  So annoying! Note from Travel Guru: The roads are narrow, there is no railroad in NZ so there are huge tractor trailers and logging trucks going past you at 100k per hour–overtaking is seriously dangerous. Rent a car with a large engine, do not go for the base model. New Zealand police do exist so watch the speeding.

Haast Pass

Anyway, the police incident was a drawback, but we managed to entertain ourselves checking out the NZ road signs. (Too much car time obviously) – Penguins and Kiwi crossings and my favorite, regarding merging;  ‘Merge like a ZIP’ and has a picture of a zip on it. You probably get the idea…in LA the zip doesn’t exist, you shut your eyes, pray and go.

Around Haast, on the West Coast, interesting signs kept popping up advertising “Whitebait Patties.” At first we hadn’t a clue what these were referring to …but we soon came to the conclusion that they had to be some sort of food. We were right. These patties are the french type of whitebait but formed into patties–a New Zealand delicacy!

Otoko Espresso and Whitebait van, Google earth image

If you’re looking to try one (I highly recommend it), we found this great van that sells them roadside- and they also sell great espresso.  As you drive into Haast, keep your eyes open for a bright orange, old-style Ranger Rover pulling a wooden hut. Locally it is known as the “Otoko Espresso and Whitebait Van”–03750 0102. Be aware that it does move, so call ahead and find out the location ahead of time.

After filling our tummies we decided that a walk was in order. Luckily we had just turned the corner and the sea was right in front of us! While I had never really though of New Zealand as a beach destination per se, the beaches here are pretty. While it’s not the Caribbean or the Seychelles; (post coming shortly), the water is a beautiful shade of blue. The scenery is  untamed and rugged with a leafy, tropical feel that stops the coastline from being too stark.

Beach at Ship Creek

The beach we went to was at  Ship Creek, which is sign posted though easy to miss so keep your eyes open. It is about 15 miles north of Haast. The beach has a great lookout tower where I took the photo above. The Dune Lake Walk leaves from this beach. It started out boarded, but eventually we headed further out to the sea to check out the unbelievable driftwood. This specific walk only about 30 minutes. There are loads of longer walks signposted all along the road here, but we were headed for cocktails and dinner. Use this link for the best PDF map of this area.

Boarded Dune Walk, Ship Creek

We took one more quick walk at Monro Beach looking for the little blue penguins for which it is famous, sadly we didn’t see any. Further down the road we got out to take a quick photo at Knights Point which I wasn’t too thrilled about as you are so far away from the actual site, so you might want to skip that one.

Knights Point

Continuing on from Knights Point, just before turning inland, you will reach Bruce Bay. BRING A SHARPIE PEN. We didn’t have one (annoying). All along this stretch of beach the roadside is covered with small white, smooth stones that passers by have written their names on-also where they came from (hence needing the sharpie to write on the stone). I swear we saw one stone that was signed from the cast of, ‘The Only Way Is Essex’, TV show.

Bruce Bay, ‘Stones’

Even more stunning (and I cant believe I didn’t get a good picture), is the coastal Forest of RIMU trees that are at the end of Maori beach, just after the stones. This is a world heritage site- the trees are MAGNIFICENT. If you google Bruce Bay, NZ, Rimu trees (Dacrydium cupressinum) you will see loads of stunning images. Get a picture!

We drove into Fox Glacier late, (remember its light till 9pm this time of year which helps with long driving times), and took a walk to the Glacier site. They have marked the road and walk with different dates to show how much has melted over the last 100 years; it’s actually quite scary. The face of The Glacier is impressive and the setting here is very open. There is no visitors center which I loved. The Glacier stream bed and flats can be really dangerous in rain so stay off all river flats if its raining or you can be swept away–seriously!

Face of Fox Glacier

 When choosing hotels be very careful when you read the phrase ‘Boutique Hotel’. The term has become very generic and over used in general, globally. The only place to stay in Fox Glacier that was decent was Te Weheka Boutique Hotel. For example, this was a clean, simple hotel, like a really nice Hampton Inn, but sadly at Ritz prices. I couldn’t find anywhere else to stay, but it was it was decent.

There is probably no need to stay at Fox Glacier more than one night, but if you can, take the helicopter ride over the glacier, you wont be disappointed.

We found a great little restaurant called ‘Plateau‘, with outside bar tables,  and ate yummy Akaroa Salmon (again) and had some NZ wines. No need to drive – the hotel is a few minutes walk. Off to Arthurs Pass tomorrow, hopefully the rain will stop.

Fox Glacier at Sunset- very Mordor!

All pictures are Copyright 2012 Trendy Girl Travels

(except where specifically credited to other people)

 

Queenstown, set on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, was only a short 4 hour hop from Sydney. It is beautiful.

Water Color, Lake Wakatipu

To whet your appetite for this area, watch the movie ‘The Tracker’ starring Ray Winstone and Temuera Morrison. (Not to be confused with the 2002 Australian movie.) It was filmed in Queenstown at Lake Moke right near The Matakauri and Glenorchy area. The Maori dude is awesome and gives you an idea of the integrity of the Maori people.

While Queenstown airport is tiny and routine, the flight over is dramatic. You fly right next to the mountains skimming over light blue-green rivers. The color of Lake Wakatipu is unreal. The air is so clear that when you breathe you can actually taste the difference.

Lake View, Matakauri

Queenstown is not a ‘city’ in the traditional sense, but what a great town it is! It is sort of like a newer French Alpine town. There is skiing in the winter, which starts in June, but don’t think of it like a ski-in/ski-out Vail situation; its dynamics are pretty unique as the ski areas are spread out. Nevertheless, everything is easy to get to and so uncrowded!

The area must look stunning covered in snow, and the restaurants/shopping look really fun.

The mounains surrounding Queenstown are absolutely breathtaking—with a soft edge to the dramatic scenery.  I wish I had stayed longer to kayak on the lake, kayaks were available in multiple locations right on the shoreline in town. The well known ‘Jet boat’ Shotover river ride (from the main town pier) would be on my list as would be taking the Gondola up to the observation area for the view.

Dramatic scenery, Lake Wakatipu

Definitely don’t think that his lake is packed with jet boats and water skiers. There is an aura of peace that prevails here and adds to the enchantment.

Main Lodge, Matakauri

Our purpose was to get the lay of the land and check out some unbelievable hotels, whilst figuring out what we would do next time if we had longer. What we didn’t expect was that  some of New Zealand reminded us of the UK forty years ago- without any bells and whistles. Note from travel guru: The adventurous activities on offer can literally be located in someone’s own personal field—with cabbages growing down one side and an all-terrain vehicle parked on the tractor ruts. While this blog is not aimed for the holiday park crowd, if you are into this sort of thing, take note: we passed loads of these ‘opportunities’ out on the open road.

Lunch spot, Matakauri

Happily we were headed for The Matakauri along the Glenorchy road. It was very easy to find. And the sun was out!  We arrived at 2 o’clock and had a late lunch on the terrace. 

The home smoked Salmon from Akaroa was unreal, as was the wine from New Zealand. Just heaven. Jay the General Manager and part owner was so pleasant; the whole staff are young, as is he, but polished and refreshing. I liked Sam, the ex bar-man from Necker Island and his wife!

Lounge area, Matakauri

Anyway the rooms are smaller lodges, similar in design to the main lodge- also perched overlooking the Lake. Great views. The living room has a fireplace and lots of cosy seating spots to snuggle up in while absorbing the view. The bedroom looks out over the living room with a direct view of the lake. I am ordering the comforter cover for my own use at home.

Tub with a view

The huge bathroom widow opened wide with the tub right underneath with heated towel rail delivering warm fluffy towels as needed. Amazing shower too. Our own private terrace overlooked the lake, a perfect morning coffee or evening cocktail spot. This was our first NZ experience and it might have been the best.

Pool, Matakauri

The spa is not attended like an American Spa. It is very relaxed and there is no sign-in sheet. The spa rooms are unbelievably comfy but you need to book ahead as the attendants are not on hand. The facilities are perfect but small, as is the Matakauri Lodge in general. I didn’t find this a downer, the scale was so unimposing, you feel like you have the area all to yourself. The same intimate spa idea is also at their sister Hotel Cape Kidnappers, but I am not sure what the set up is at Kauri Cliffs, their third hotel (next trip).

Evening drinks spot w/ outdoor fireplace

After enjoying the great bathroom (talk about a tub with a view), it was time for a much needed cosmopolitan so we headed for the outdoor fireplace, a perfect spot to enjoy a cocktail. Truthfully, I could have sat here all night; the snacks were amazing, the setting unbelievable.

Inevitably, they forced me inside jut as the dining room was closing, happily  they did because we had an amazing dinner. By the way, it gets dark at 9 o’clock in the evenings during the summer in New Zealand—a huge bonus. If I had to leave this hotel I would have gone to Blanket Bay Lodge just down the road. Very much a traditional Lodge, its own particular ambience also leaves you with the feeling of being pampered.

The Snug, a serene round room for drinks or a read and snuggle.

Matakauri Lodge is simply wonderful. The best part of it is that you barely come across any other guests. This is because the natural  scenery is so compelling and the staff here can arrange so many activities. (Think helicopters and private fishing on the Lake rather than any group stuff.) That said, during our stay we did nothing except sitting on the dock for hours, walking down the shoreline and marveling  at the color of the water. This place is heaven.

Water clarity, the dock Matakauri

All pictures are Copyright 2012 Trendy Girl Travels

(except where specifically credited to other people)

 

 

This is not the back-packers guide to New Zealand. Trendy Girl is looking for haute local culture, great landscape and quite a bit of polish to her experiences. Over the next week I am going to be detailing my road trip in New Zealand. I found great spots, fab hotels, awesome coffee and seriously unbeatable views.

Rock Towers, Lake Wakatipu

Here’s what’s ahead:

  • Part I: Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and The Matakauri
  • Part II: Crown Range Road to Lake Wanaka; Mount Aspiring thru gates of Haast on to West Coast
  • Part III: Fox Glacier to Arthurs Pass and Grassmere Lodge; Arthurs Pass to Edenhouse in the Orinoco valley and Able Tasman Park
  • Part IV: Escape to North Island; Wellington to Greytown, Hawkes Bay and Cape Kidnappers
  • Part V: Havelock, North Martinborough, Wharekauha Lodge and Wellington
  • The Last Word: What They Won’t Tell You about NZ, Stuff you should know and some Lord of the Rings info

We allowed 7 days during the height of their summer (Jan – Feb) to take our trip to New Zealand. I love road trips, but this time we bit off more than we could chew. In New Zealand you really must allow a decent amount of time in between hotels/areas. Some of the drives are pretty long.

A 5 hour drive seems to take much longer once you add on lunch stops, activities and coffee breaks. Don’t forget that check-in time (plus the inevitable moving of rooms) can be really frustrating and time slips away. Be sure to incorporate enough flexibility in your schedule or you will honestly feel as if you have missed the day. The country is bigger than you think.

So, this is the rule of thumb: 2 days in each spot at a minimum. If you can afford it (both in time and cost) 3 days would be ideal. This will help to alleviate the feeling that you had no down-time on your trip. What’s the fun if you’re always traveling? Besides, as you’ll find out, not all of the country is gorgeous. It would be far better to spend more time in a few great places than less time in, well, less great places.

Hopefully you will enjoy reading these posts and learning about New Zealand as much as I did!