Top 5

Top 5 New Zealand Museums

New Zealand is full of rich, wonderful and culturally significant museums. I have chosen my Top 5 favourite museums across the whole of this beautiful country. Enjoy!

1. Te Papa, Wellington

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Probably New Zealand’s best museum, Te Papa has something to offer everyone. The museum’s website tells you when visiting Te Papa you will ‘discover the stories of New Zealand’. From the historic right up to the contemporary (The Lord of the Rings included!) the museum has a huge number of displays and art work, and hosts exciting events and amazing exhibitions.

The content and layout of the museum is brilliant. The variety of items in the museum, along with the innovative and interesting design make for a fantastic visit. Favourite sections of ours were the sections about New Zealand’s native wildlife, as well as the 20th century displays.

It is a place that has to feature on your Wellington itinerary!

  • Opening hours: 10am-6pm, 365 days a year.
  • Cost: Free.
  • Location: 55 Cable Street, Wellington.

 

2. Otago Settlers Museum

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IMG_0538The Otago Settlers Museum tells the stories of the people of Dunedin from the earliest settlers through to those who have recently arrived. The museum traces the lives of the settlers – indigenous Māori, the early Chinese, and other migrant groups – and their technological innovation, domestic life, fashion, art and transport.

It is an incredibly innovative and well-planned out museum. It has lots of interactive sections, and an amazing array of items covering a large period in history.

Immigration boat reconstruction

A special area of the museum is the reconstruction of being under deck on a boat that would have brought immigrants into New Zealand – it is dark and has all the noises as part of the reconstruction.

They state on their website they are ‘New Zealand’s newest and most innovative museum experience’ so be sure to check them out.

  • Opening hours: 10am-5pm, except for Christmas Day.
  • Cost: Free.
  • Location: 31 Queens Garden, Dunedin.

3. World of WearableArt™ and Classic Cars Museum, Nelson

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IMG_6772.jpgA unique collaboration of two very different interests, the ‘WOW’ (World of WearableArt) and car museum offers the chance to see the world-class collection of classic cars, as well as amazing wearable art from all around the world.

The selection and layout of cars is absolutely brilliant. The information about the cars is excellent and the cars are arranged thoughtfully, with extreme care taken over their preservation.

The fashion art gallery is very innovative and unique and unlike anything we have seen before. It contains over 60 World of WearableArt garments which are fascinating to see.

This museum is a fantastic collaboration and you find something for everyone on your visit.

  • Opening hours: 10am-5pm, except for Christmas Day.
  • Cost: $24 for adults and $10 for children, concessions also apply.
  • Location: Cadillac Way off Quarantine Road, Annesbrook, near Nelson.

 

4. Auckland War Memorial Museum

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IMG_9650A very popular museum, the Auckland War Memorial Museum is a large museum with a huge array of displays and exhibitions. It is set in a beautiful location with a view looking down towards the city.

Their website states they are ‘New Zealand’s first Museum’, and that the museum ‘tells the story of New Zealand, its place in the Pacific and its people’. It also has one of the top three heritage libraries in New Zealand.

IMG_9624The collections it houses include pre-eminent Māori and Pacific collections, social and military history collections, significant natural history resources and arts and pictorial collections. The museum is also highly involved in local education programmes.

With such a variety of collections, and in such a beautiful location overlooking the city, this museum is a must-visit on your trip to Auckland.

  • Opening hours: 10am-5pm, except for Christmas Day.
  • Cost: $25 for adults and $10 for children, free/donation for NZ residents.
  • Location: The Auckland Domain, Parnell, Auckland.

 

5. Southward Car Museum, Paraparaumu

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IMG_1352Named after its namesake – Sir Len Southward – The Southward Car Museum is a wonderful collection of over 400 cars and bikes and really is a fantastic place to visit.

Their website claims they are the ‘largest and most comprehensive car museum in the southern hemisphere’ and their selection of vehicles are in beautiful condition and are really well presented in a huge exhibition hall. They also have a lower level within the museum, which is down some steps housing yet more cars.

More off-the-beaten track than the other museums in this list, this museum will not disappoint and may prove to be a highlight of your trip!

  • Opening hours: 9am-4.30pm, except for Christmas Day and Good Friday.
  • Cost: $17 for adults and $3 for children.
  • Location: Otaihanga Road, Paraparaumu, approx an hour’s drive north of Wellington.

There are other wonderful museums that could have made this Top 5 list, so feel to share yours with me! 🙂

Categories: Activities, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, South Island, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 5 affordable places to stay in New Zealand

I have been debating whether to write this post and let out my secrets of some truly magical places to stay in New Zealand, but luckily for you I have decided to!

I am aware with an unlimited budget you could stay in places even more spectacular, but these places to stay are more for the ‘everyday’ traveller and will not blow your budget.

New Zealand has some of the most incredible and breathtaking scenery in the world, and whilst travelling through the country we stayed in some wonderful places. So, here we go with my Top 5:

1. Little Greenie, Golden Bay

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Buried away up a gravel track in Wainui Bay in the Golden Bay on New Zealand’s South island lies Little Greenie – somewhere so very special, that once you have stayed there no where else will quite stack up.

Lawrence and his team have created somewhere not only the most energy efficient and best eco-home in New Zealand, but somewhere you will never ever forget staying.

IMG_7141.jpgLittle Greenie is a completely liveable sustainable home (with electricity, hot water and indoor shower) and harnesses the sun’s power. Its unique position atop a hill over looking the bay is unique – you cannot see another person from this stunning vantage point. You can even take an outdoor bath underneath the stars!

Details:

Where? Close to Wainui Bay, Golden Bay.

Cost? $185 – $260 NZD per night.

Access? Up a narrow gravel road, accessible by 2WD car. Follow the signs.

 

2. Curio Bay Accommodation, Catlins Region

IMG_0363Curio Bay StudioTucked away in a quiet corner of the off-the-beaten-track region of New Zealand called the Catlins, lies Curio Bay Accommodation – a gem of a place.

Boasting incredible views these boutique studios are on the beachfront. Little blue penguins nest underneath the decking so you may hear then heading out to sea in the morning or returning at night. In the summer you may even see hector’s dolphins playing in the surf right outside your door. No wifi or TV so you can escape from it all.

Details:

Where? Curio Bay, Catlins region.

Cost? $160 – $200 NZD per night.

Access? Located on Curio Bay Road, route is a mixture of sealed/unsealed roads (depending on the direction you are coming from).

 

3. Oaks Shores Hotel Apartments, Queenstown

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IMG_9069The Oaks Shores apartments offer some of the best views for their price in the whole of Queenstown. Avoid the hotel rooms as they are pretty small, and opt for either a 1 or 2 bedroom apartment with a lake view (best views are from level 5). All apartments come with a full kitchen and underfloor heating and some have laundry, gas fire etc. Views of the surrounding mountains from the balcony are just out of this world! From here you can sit, relax, watch the sun go down and the moon rise.

Details: 

Where? Queenstown

Cost? 1 bedroom lake view apartments start from $214 NZD per night.

Access? Easy, off the main road heading into Queenstown on the lefthand side.

 

4. Abri Apartments, Paihia (Treetops chalet)

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The Treetops chalet at the Abri Apartments will provide you with a comfortable, relaxing and memorable stay. Sit out on your balcony and take in the wonderful view. The microfibre sheets in our chalet were the softest and most comfortable in all of New Zealand!

The chalet comes with air con, which is handy as the Bay of Islands experiences some of New Zealand’s nicest and hottest weather! And it also comes with a spa bath so you can relax and rest your legs from your day’s walking.

Details:

Where? Paihia, Bay of Islands

Cost? $149 – $299 NZD per night.

Access? Easy access, not far from the centre of Paihia, with 32 stairs up to entrance.

 

5. Aoraki Court, Mount Cook Village

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IMG_3521Aoraki Court is a brilliant alternative to the big-player in the area, the Hermitage Hotel (which is also nice, but just a different experience). It is a lovely boutique motel that provides luxury accommodation in the heart of Mount Cook Village. The units are extremely comfortable and have stunning views of the surrounding mountains with all directly facing majestic Mount Sefton. Parking is super easy and there is unlimited free wifi. Some units also have a spa bath – perfect for soaking in after a long day exploring the amazing surrounding scenery. It has all you need to relax and feel at home.

Details:

Where? Mount Cook Village

Cost? $165 – $325 NZD per night.

Access? By sealed roads, easy to locate in the village.

So there we have it – my Top 5 affordable places to stay in New Zealand. I hope you enjoyed reading about them and feel free to share any brilliant affordable places you have stayed.

Blue Penguin TravelIf you are interested in travelling to New Zealand and would like help planning your itinerary then let Blue Penguin Travel help. We are an independent travel company who offer a bespoke itinerary planning service, to help you create an amazing off-the-beaten-track travel adventure in New Zealand. Feel free to drop us an email: nicola@bluepenguintravel.com or check out our Facebook page.

Categories: Accommodation, Blue Penguin, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, South Island, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 5 pizza places in New Zealand

Winnies

Winnies

Having done a few other New Zealand Top 5 blog posts (Top 5 things to do in NZ, Top 5 best kept secrets, Top 5 walks, Top 5 road trips and Top 5 things to do on South Island) I thought it was time for something a little different. Being a huge fan of pizza I just HAD to post about some of the delicious pizzas places we visited during our time in New Zealand. It is some of the most amazing pizza we have ever tasted!

1. Winnies Gourmet Pizza Bar and Restaurant in Queenstown: We became frequent visitors of Winnies as loved their varied menu (including very delicious pizzas) and excellent offers including their lunch deal. In a great location just steps from the beautiful Lake Wakatipu we also loved the laid-back atmosphere and friendly staff.

2. Pizza from Shawtys in Twizel: In an excellent location on the road between Christchurch and Queenstown (and not too far from the stunning Mount Cook) we often found ourselves passing through Twizel. When researching places to eat one day on our car journey not far from there we came across their amazing Trip Advisor reviews and just had to stop off and are so glad we did as it became our go-to place whilst travelling that journey. Their pizza is simply delicious and we always found it a warm, cosy and welcoming place.

3. Black Rabbit Pizza in Kaikoura: With limited options to eat in we often had takeaway from here or had it delivered. This a strong contender for the most delicious pizza I have ever tasted!! They are very experimental with their toppings and have become an iconic pizza place in the beautiful town of Kaikoura.

Ratbags and Innocent Bystanders

Ratbags and Innocent Bystanders

4. Crust Pizza and Hell Pizza – both takeaway pizza places from various locations: I have included both Crust and Hell together here as feel both are equally delicious! We have eaten these in a variety of places including Queenstown, Auckland and Rotorua. They are so much better than the traditional chains (e.g. Dominos) and easily top any takeaway pizza I have tasted back in my home country of the UK. Highly addictive too so beware!!

5. Ratbags and Innocent Bystanders in Dunedin: The unusually named ‘Ratbags’ is another unique and simply awesome place to get some pizza. They are famous for their half metre (photographed) and metre pizzas and are a must-visit food place in the lovely city of Dunedin.

I hope anyone who was searching for great pizza in New Zealand found this helpful. My mouth is watering just thinking about all this delicious pizza! Enjoy 🙂

Categories: Food, New Zealand, North Island, South Island, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Top 5 things to do in New Zealand

It has nearly been a year over here in New Zealand – so I thought it was time for a Top 5 things to do in New Zealand (after previously blogging about my Top 5 things to do on South Island) – although it could so easily have been a Top 10! I feel that having spent so long over here (as well as taking two prior trips here in 2006 and 2010) I can choose my ultimate 5 paid-for activities I would recommend doing in New Zealand. Obviously these are down to personal taste, and the weather also played a factor in our decision. I have also chosen different things to those in my Top 5 to do on South island – it was so hard to choose and any of those could easily have made this list!

1. Helicopter trip over Queenstown – with snow landing.

Helicopter trip over Queenstown

Helicopter trip over Queenstown

Snow landing

Snow landing

We took a scenic helicopter trip over Queenstown with Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters to celebrate my 30th birthday recently (check out my previous blog post for more details). We chose the alpine scenic (flight 104) which included a snow landing and it was the most perfect choice! The scenery was completely and utterly stunning. We flew up with two other passengers over Arrowtown and Skippers Canyon and landed atop Mount Hyde. Here we spent time in the snow and it was great fun! The 360 degree views were just amazing.

Views from the helicopter

Views from the helicopter

The weather was also just perfect – which we think made a real difference. There had recently been a fair amount of early snow in Queenstown (we went in early May) and this coupled with clear blue skies meant we had the best of both worlds – summer sun and skies with the winter snow! Our pilot was great and took some great photos of us while in the snow. On the journey back I was able to sit in the front seat so had the most wonderful view of Queenstown – as we took off and circled round with Queenstown below us – I also managed to take some great photos. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience and one we will never forget!

Details:

Cost: $310 per person – although we got a reduced rate of $199 each via a discount website called Book Me.

Times: Often throughout the day – depending on demand.

Activity time: 40 mins.

2. Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Mirror Lakes

Mirror Lakes

We took an amazing boat trip (see my old blog post for more) out on Milford Sound with Mitre Peak Cruises. We chose this company because they used smaller boats than other bigger companies (such as Real Journeys etc.) so we could get a more personal and close-up experience.

One of the main reasons Milford Sound makes the Top 5 (as well as the brilliant boat trip) is the road to Milford. It really is one of the most scenic roads we have ever driven on! We were very lucky that the weather was clear and we had great views all the way along. There are loads of different stops on the way – our favourites being Mirror Lakes and Lake Gunn, and lots of places to pull in and take photos. It is also quite windy and steep and care needs to be taken. It was fun passing through the Homer Tunnel and the view that greets you the other side is beautiful. We loved driving the road, and definitely one of our favourite road trips from the year.

Out on Milford Sound

Out on Milford Sound

Back to the cruise itself – we much preferred being on a smaller boat. It also wasn’t full so we had space and could move around. We queued up early for the boat and so were able to get a seat up top outside which was great. We then spent about 2 hours out on the sound. We passed beautiful waterfalls (Bowen falls was our favourite) and saw wildlife such as seals. We went right up to the Tasman sea and then turned back into the sound. The scenery along the way – as we passed Mitre Peak itself – was just gorgeous. Another definite highlight of a wonderful year in NZ!

Details:

Cost: $80 per person.

Times: Up to 7 times a day in peak season.

Activity time: 2 hours.

3. Dart River Jet Boat in Glenorchy

Dart River Jet Safari

Dart River Jet Safari

Me on the Dart River Jet Safari

Me on the Dart River Jet Safari

Back in December we experienced an incredible trip on the Wilderness Safari with Dart River Jet Safaris – check out my blog post for more details about our trip. This was our first jet boat trip – and we had read so many amazing reviews about it being the best – so it was a great choice! The Wilderness safari is split into 3 main parts – the bus journey from Glenorchy through Paradise (where we can get out to take some photos) and learn all about the movies and adverts filmed in this area. The next part is a 30 minute guided walk through the beautiful forest. And finally the last part was the awesome jet boat ride!

On the jet  boat

On the jet boat

We were on the jet boat for about 1 hour 30 (so much longer than other jet boat companies), and our driver Simon was amazing! He was so careful negotiating the pretty dangerous river, and we always felt safe. It was such thrilling ride and we really did love every second. Some of our favourite parts were the 360 degree turns we did in the boat – we got a bit wet but it was great fun. Travelling along at speeds of up to 80kmph with the wind in our hair (gripping on tight!) was simply amazing and the whole trip was a fantastic experience.

Details:

Cost: $219 per person (they offer free transfers from Queenstown, although we drove ourselves to Glenorchy as its a stunning drive).

Times: 8am and 12pm (from Queenstown), and 9am and 1pm (from Glenorchy)

Activity time: 3 hours

4. Hobbiton

At Hobbiton

At Hobbiton

At Bag End

At Bag End

Definitely one for fans of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (which of course we are!) but in our view no trip to New Zealand is complete without a trip to Hobbiton. We visited on a stunningly beautiful sunny day back in May (check out my detailed blog post about our trip) and the trip completely and utterly exceeded all of our expectations! The trip felt so real and authentic and not anywhere near as touristy as I was expecting! They have really sensitively planned the tours, to make the most of the location and to maximise the experience for guests. Our trip started with a old but quaint bus picking us up and driving down the gravel and windy road to start our tour at Hobbiton itself. Over the course of an hour or so we spent time exploring Hobbiton – accompanied by our awesome guide. We saw lots of hobbit holes (including Sam and Rosie’s and Bag End) and took endless awesome photos (see my blog for loads more!).

A pint in The Green Dragon

A pint in The Green Dragon

We also saw the famous ‘party tree’ and party area, as well as the bench where Gandalf and Bilbo have their smoke hoop competition. We really were walking exactly where the stars of the films had, and at every turn there was a sight you recognised from the films – amazing 🙂 The best part was to come with a visit to The Green Dragon to complete our trip. We enjoyed a lovely cold ginger beer by the fire, while we explored The Green Dragon inside and out – which had been incredibly well replicated. It really was the perfect end to the perfect trip and one we will always remember with excitement and fondness.

Details:

Cost: $75 per person.

Times: Tours run every half an hour starting at 9.30am and 4.30pm from the Shires Rest cafe – there are also various pick up options from Matamata and Rotorua.

Activity time: 1 hour 45 mins.

5. Heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier

Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier in 2006

Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier in 2006

Us on Franz Josef glacier

Us on Franz Josef glacier

This is the only one of the Top 5 not from our 2012/2013 trip – this was back in 2006 on our first trip to New Zealand. It really truly was one of the best things we have ever done, and still holds its own amongst so many amazing things we have done this time around. We took our trip with The Helicopter line who were amazing from start to finish. They were incredibly professional and our guide was fantastic – so knowledgeable and above all safe – we never felt any danger or risk whilst walking on the glacier.

Inside an ice cave

Inside an ice cave

Our trip took us up to land on the Franz Josef glacier, and the journey up was spectacular! It was our first ever time in helicopter (we have been in them a further 3 times since!) and we loved every second! After landing on the glacier we hiked across it – using crampons attached to our shoes. We climbed through ice caves and spent lots of time exploring. The scenery was simply incredible and it was such a memorable trip.

Details:

Cost: $395 per person.

Times: Up to 2 or 3 times a day depending on season.

Activity time: 3 hours.

If you are planning a trip to New Zealand and would like help putting together an awesome itinerary (specialising in amazing off-the-beaten-track places) then feel free to take a look at my website – Blue Penguin Travel, check out some of my wonderful testimonials or drop me and email 🙂

Categories: Activities, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, South Island, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

South Island Highlights – Top 5 best kept secrets on South Island, New Zealand

This is my last post in a ‘Top 5’ series I have been writing about – to document our 5 week holiday we took around the South island of New Zealand – as part of a year abroad here from the UK.

I decided to post about South Island’s ‘best kept secrets’ as we discovered a few gems on our travels that not many other seemed to know about, that I thought it would be good to share (and as I don’t get millions of visitors to my site I think they will remain pretty secret!) 🙂

For the last Top 5 then, here we go

Top 5 best kept secrets

1. Petrified forest at Curio Bay (Catlins) – yellow eyed penguins in the wild

Curio Bay yellow-eyed penguin

Catlins PenguinCertainly one of our most memorable experiences of the whole trip was seeing yellow-eyed penguins in the wild. I posted in detail about the experience here where you can also see a video we made of the amazing penguins we saw. The reason this is a well kept secret is that – as long as you obey the ‘keep your distance’ rule – you can get much closer to the pengiuns here than in other places to see them in NZ. You are allowed right down on to the beach – via proper steps (not via a self-made track at some other sites!). As a result you can wait right on the beach for the little guys to come ashore. We spent two different evenings there and were lucky enough to see one yellow-eyed penguin on the first night who took about 50 minutes to make his way up the beach, and two more penguins on the second night. We were joined by a maximum of about 5 people each time down at the petrified forest in Curio Bay. It is easily accessible with a car park here, right near the camping ground, and as far as I believe people tend to go to other places to see the yellow-eyed penguins instead (such as Oamaru or Nugget Point). We also checked out Nugget Point where you wait in a hide really high up and far away from the beach and decided to leave as our expereince in Curio Bay couldn’t be beaten. You must make sure you respect nature and the penguins’ need for space, but as long as you do this then it really is such an amazing sight!

I have also posted below a video we made of highlights of the amazing yellow-eyed penguin.

2. Elephant Rocks – between Oamaru and Omarama

Elephant Rocks

Enjoying our time at Elephant RocksThese amazing rock formations are definitely off the main tourist past but are a stunning sight! They are located on the road between Oamaru and Omarama, near a place called Duntroon. To find them you take the Livingston-Duntroon Road and then follow signposts which take you there. Parking is just by the side of the road. These rocks were made out of limestone and were originally limey sand on the sea floor (around 24 million years ago) but this was buried, turned into rock and then in the last million years was uplifted and weathered by water and wind into the amazing shapes they have formed today. They are located on private farmland (but open to the public), so may occasionally be closed. The site was also used in the Chronicles of Narnia film – as a location for Aslan’s camp. No one else was around when we visited (on route to Mount Cook) and we absolutely loved exploring and taking photos of these extraordinary shapes – at one of NZ’s best kept secrets!

3. Little Kaiteriteri – Abel Tasman National Park

View from lookout of Little Kaiteriteri beach

Our favourite - Little Kaiteriteri beachKaiteriteri is a little more well-known, and often spoken of as the ‘gateway’ to the Abel Tasman National Park. Just down the coast from Kaiteriteri is ‘Little Kaiterteri’, which is much less visited and a quieter and absolutely stunning stretch of beach. It was completely deserted when we walked along it and back on our route to get our boat from Kaiteriteri. This walk takes you along the beach as you then climb up to a wonderful lookout, and then down the other side to Kaiteriteri. I think this area is much nicer than nearby inland Motueka and a beautiful place to stay if planning some time in the park. We had gorgeous weather on the day we were there on our trip back in October and the beach was one of the most beautiful we have ever seen!

4. Governor’s Bay – off Queen Charlotte drive

Governor's Bay


Governor's Bay 2Queen Charlotte Drive itself is a highlight of any trip to the South island – as I wrote about this drive in more detail on my Top 5 drives. One of its hidden gems is definitely a lovely bay called ‘Governor’s Bay’ – it is signposted off the road, but like many of these places was completely empty when we arrived. It really is the most gorgeous setting, and has a lovely beach and wonderful scenery. You could easily spend a half day or even a day relaxing here, and perhaps go for a swim!

5. Baby seals playing at Ohau waterfall – near Kaikoura


Baby seals at Ohau waterfall

Baby sealThis is certainly becoming more well-known than some of the other things I have posted about (as there were other people at the waterfall when we arrived) – but after speaking to and conversing with a lot of people who have been to that area many still did not know about it – hence I thought I was worth letting a few more know. Just past the Ohau Point seal colony (which is on your right if heading north from Kaikoura) you drive slightly further down the road and on your left you can pull your car in by the side of the road and walk along a river to the waterfall. We were lucky enough to see a baby seal on the rock part-way along the river, making his way down – when we visited on our way up to Marlborough Sounds. When we arrived we were met by an amazing sight – lots of lovely baby seals playing in the beautiful waterfall! They were jumping in and out of the waterfall and seemed as happy as anything. There were also a couple of little ones lying on the rock rather obviously posing for photos! We took some video which we have pasted below in a short highlights film. I am sure this will become more well-known over time, as it is such a special sight. Make sure you visit when driving the coastal road either to/from Kaikoura.

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South Island Highlights – Top 5 half-day walks on South Island, New Zealand

I want to first start by saying that this post refers to ‘walks’ rather than ‘hikes’. I know there are many more hikes (Milford Track, Routeburn Track etc.) that would warrant making it into this top 5, but I am just posting shorter walks – about half a day or less. Having spent 5 weeks travelling around NZ’s South island I have chosen what I feel are the top 5 best shorter walks that we undertook during our travels. 

Top 5 walks

1. Hanmer Springs Conical Hill Walkway

Conical Hill View

Conical hill walk benchWe really loved the time we spent in Hanmer Springs – especially the Conical Hill Walkway. This walkway started near our lovely holiday house and we really enjoyed the walk – and were blessed with gorgeous weather while we walked. The walk is pretty steep uphill at times – you are climbing to the summit of Conical Hill after all! It is well signposted and shaded most of the way though – and really worth the incredible views that meet you at the top. There are some well placed benches along the way – including a nice picnic bench at the top, along with a shaded hut and seating area. The 360 degree views from the top are breathtaking – making this one of our favourite walks.

2. Glenorchy Lagoon walkway

Glenorchy walkway boardwalk view

Glenorchy lagoonThe Glenorchy Lagoon encompasses absolutely amazing views and is a fantastic mixture of boardwalks and gravel tracks. We thoroughly enjoyed our walk back in October. It took us about 1 hour 20 to complete the loop around the walkway. As I mention in my blog posting much of the boardwalk is brand new and had just been laid by the local community! There are stunning views of the mountains  all around you as you walk. A definite must on a trip to Glenorchy.

3. Fox Glacier walk

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier walkDuring our visit to Fox Glacier the poor weather meant we weren’t able to do the glacier hike in our time frame (although we weren’t too disappointed as were lucky enough to do the heli hike on Franz Josef back in 2006). However, we decided to still walk to the glacier face ourselves – and it was a gorgeous walk! We were able to get within a few hundred metres of the glacier and the views of the glacier mouth were brilliant. There are some sections of the walk with a ‘do not stop’ rule due to the dangers of rockfall. On the whole though the walk is very safe, as long as you stick to the main paths and don’t go past the signs telling you not to! All in all a brilliant walk enabling you to get very close to the glacier, at your own pace and under your own steam.

4. Mount Cook Hooker Valley Track

Hooker Valley walk

Hooker valley swingbridgeOur time in Mount Cook was incredibly memorable and we made the most of it, despite being limited by time and weather. We had a spare hour or so and decided to walk part of the Hooker Valley Track. We drove to the car park by the camping area to reduce the walking time (you can walk from Mount Cook village which is about 45 minutes). We walked up past the Alpine Memorial to the first swingbridge on the walk and stopped to take some great photos of the Hooker river, which feeds into the Hooker Glacier terminal lake. The sweeping views across the landscape including the stunning Mount Cook were wonderful. In future we hope to return and do more/all of this great walk!

5. Kaikoura Coastal Peninsula walkway

Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway

Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway 2This walk has it all! Taking about 3 hours 30/4 hours (with stops) to complete this 12 kilometre walk back in September we were tired but really enjoyed it! The walk enables you to see seals in their natural habitat, local wildlife and seabirds, and enjoy fantastic views from cliff top sites with views out to sea with the gorgeous mountain peaks as a backdrop. Some sections are steep in parts but on the whole it is well signposted and has a really great variety taking in much of Kaikoura’s best scenery. A great way to spend half a day in the area!

Others worthy of a mention:

Frankton arm walkwayFrankton arm walkway –  a brilliant but easy walk in Queenstown.

Our own private view on Skyline Loop walkSkyline loop walkway – Queenstown. Also referred to on my blog posting.

Blue Pools swing bridgeBlue Pools walk – part of Haast pass. Read more from my blog here.

Wainui Falls 2Wainui falls walk in Golden Bay – a sense of adventure necessary for this one!

Lake Matheson - not a bad reflection!Lake Matheson walk – near Fox Glacier

Walk at Pancake RocksPancake rocks and blowholes – part of the amazing wet and wild west coast.

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South Island Highlights – Top 5 road trips on South Island, New Zealand

Having driven around the whole of New Zealand’s South island I felt like a Top 5 road trips list was inevitable. As I am sure you know the scenery is absolutely incredible on the South island, so pretty much everywhere you look is a gorgeous sight! Therefore narrowing it down to only 5 road trips was difficult but I have given it a go. So here we are:

Top 5 road trips:

1. The road to Mount Cook

Truly an amazing drive! The road to Mount Cook takes you alongside (in my opinion) New Zealand’s most beautiful lake which is the most gorgeous turquoise colour – Lake Pukaki. Driving up to Mount Cook you constantly feel the desire to stop, jump out of your car, take loads of pictures and just take a breath to soak in the beauty around you. The scenery is just really breathtaking! Make sure to stop at Peter’s Lookout on the way up for an excellent vantage point over the lake with Mount Cook beautifully framing it. As you get closer and pass the lake the incredible Mount Cook dominates the skyline providing awesome 360 degree views. A drive not to be missed!

2. Queenstown to Glenorchy

The road from Queenstown up to Glenorchy was a real highlight of our whole trip for me. The weather was a little moody and mysterious but this added to our journey as we headed into Lord of the Rings Country. The road winds alongside Lake Wakatipu creating a stunning setting of the lake with snowcapped mountains as the backdrop. The scenery constantly changes along this drive as the road twists and turns and has plenty of ups and downs as well. There are a few lookout points to stop along the way which are an absolute must. Many say this is the most beautiful drive in the whole of New Zealand and based on our experience it is hard to argue with that!

3. Wanaka to Queenstown – the Crown Range road

There are two diferent routes to drive from Wanaka to Queenstown and I would highly recommend going via the Crown Range road – which takes you along the highest main road in New Zealand! This is a shorter route than going through Cromwell (although not quicker) but also much more scenic. From Wanaka make sure you take the Crown range road, where you will pass through the historic Cardrona. The road then steeply ascends up to the summit to a view of Frankton, some of Lake Wakatipu and as far as Queenstown itself. From here the road zigzags steeply downhill and from there you have a magnificent vantage point to look down to Arrowtown, and across to the Remarkables – and you then join up with Highway 6 on into Queenstown.

4. Queen Charlotte Drive – Marlborough Sounds

Queen Charlotte Drive is a real highlight of the Marlborough Sounds area. It is the access road for vehicles heading into/out of Picton. Its reputation certainly precedes it and it is an incredible winding road – taking you past lots of hidden bays (our favourite being the isolated Governor’s Bay) and through native forest. The views along the road are some of the best you will see on the road in New Zealand. There are many lookout points along the way – Cullen’s point being the best signposted, as well as one close to Picton with a small car park.  The road really does twist and turn uphill and downhill, but you don’t meet many vehicles and have lots of time to take in the  wonderful views.

5. The West Coast drive

The West Coast is another incredible drive. During most of our journey along it the weather was wet and wild but that just added to the atmospehere! It does remind me in parts of driving along Highway 1 in America – as you drive right along by the coast at various times. There are lots of places to stop, little hidden bays and places to take in the scenery. Leaving inland just past Westport you head down the coast passing Punakaiki (at which we stopped overnight and took in the stunning Pancake Rocks and Blowholes). Keep heading south for more stunning views along the way, take in the wildlife and stop at windswept beaches. We headed for Fox Glacier, passing through Franz Josef, and eventually on to Wanaka through Haast pass (with many great walks including the Blue Pools walk – a personal favourite of ours).

If you have really enjoyed any stunning road trips on South Island I would love to hear from you and thanks for reading! 🙂

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South Island Highlights – Top 5 things to do on South Island, New Zealand

So next in my Top 5 series reflecting on our amazing 5 week holiday around the South island of New Zealand is ‘Top 5 trips/activities’. As with my Top 5 places post I found this incredibly difficult to choose only 5 as we did such great things. I have cheated a little and included those that just missed out at the bottom 🙂

Top 5 things to do:

1. Mount Cook: Glacier Explorers boat trip

A must-do activity for anyone visiting the Mount Cook area is the Glacier Explorers lagoon boat trip. Having also been to Iceland’s famous and striking Jokulsarlon lagoon we weren’t sure how this would measure up but it was a really fantastic experience! The surrounding landscape of the Tasman Glacier is striking, with amazing views of Mount Cook itself whilst out on the lagoon. The photo opportunities are endless and we really loved our trip we took back in October. We were also very lucky with having such perfect weather for the trip. The weather at Mount Cook is very temperamental and changeable, and so we had to postone our trip from the day before but it was certainly worth it! The whole package provided by Glacier Explorers involves a short coach ride of about 15 minutes along a windy gravel road, followed by a brisk walk along a flat path through beautiful terrain. This brings you to the Tasman Glacier Lake. The really great thing about this trip is the size of boats (ours held about 10 people) and that you can get really close to the icebergs. We spent about 45 mins to an hour out on the lake and travelled around the lake exploring, as well as getting as close to the Tasman glacier as was safe to. We were also able to hold parts of the icebergs as well as having time to take in the stunning scenery.

Details:

Cost: NZD $145 pp.

Times: Up to 7 trips daily (seasonal)

Total activity time: 2 hours 30 (1 hour on the lake)

2. Marlborough Sounds boat trip

This was a truly memorable experience for us, as we had booked this trip to coincide with my husband’s celebration of his 30th birthday and it certainly was a birthday never to forget! Certainly not a cheap activity, but for a special occasion it is really worth its value. There are lots of boat trip options leaving from the Picton area around the sounds, but on this special day we didn’t want to be on board a big board full of tourists, we wanted to chose where we went and what we experienced on board our own privately chartered boat  – the Stormdancer. After much research we chose Queen Charlotte Boat Cruises and was in email contact with Sybil (who along with her husband Ian, own the company). Communication was very easy and we set up the arrangements for the trip. As the day arrived we were greeted by Sybil and welcomed into their home while Ian fuelled the boat ready for our trip. We boarded the boat and were briefed on safety procedures and soon set off on our half day cruise. The trip was really fantastic and we enjoyed travelling all around the sounds. Ian and Sybil had the perfect balance of chatting to us at times and giving us info about the area, but also leaving us to enjoy the time together, just us. We explored the sounds, stopping at little private coves and stopped at one for tea and delicious birthday cake (baked by Sybil!). We also saw different wildlife along the journey including a seal and the real highlight came when a pod of dolphins appeared and started following the boat. They jumped out of the waves behind the boat as we drove around and it really was an amazing sight to see them. All in all, it was a truly perfect trip and comes highly recommended.

Details:

Cost: NZD $450 for half day private charter of boat and you can choose your departure time.

Total activity time: Approx 3 hours.

3. Hanmer Springs thermal pools

Visiting the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools was the first main place we visited upon arrival in New Zealand back in September. We really enjoyed the time we spent relaxing here and the facilities are fantastic! There are so many different pools – twelve! – to choose from including adult only aqua therapy ones (with lovely relaxing massage jets), rock pools (with minerals) and super hot (and smelly!) sulphur ones. The thermal pools are set amongst the beautiful backdrop of the mountains and are a wonderful place to relax.

Details: Price: NZD$18 for single entry or $30 for 2 day pass, plus locker and towel hire.

Times: The pools are open from 10am to 9pm and you can spend as long as you like there!

4. Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony

Read more about our incredible expereince visiting the Oamaru Blue Pengiun Colony. Whether you feel you are a lover of penguins or not you will be by the end of this – believe me! This visit allows you to see the world’s smallest penguins, the blue penguins – only 40 cms high in their natural environment, coming in on shore and heading to nest. When we visited we were incredibly lucky to see a total of about 200 penguins come ashore. We also took a short walk just outside of the main area and saw some penguins crossing the road that had just come ashore. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t able to take photos (the above is copyright of the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony) and just seeing them is amazing! Set up with a strong conservation focus this company are helping to save and breed these lovely little creatures and it is a must-do trip if you find yourselves in the Dunedin/Oamaru area.

Details: Price: NZD$12/$18 day tour (unguided/guided); $25/$35 for evening tour (general/premium seating).

Times: 17.30-21.00 (depending on season).

5. Whale Watching in Kaikoura

We took a boat trip with Whale Watch back in September and had a great time out on the boat. We were lucky to see two sperm whales on our trip and had perfect weather conditions. Seeing these beautiful creatures in the water and spending time alongside them in the boat is a truly unforgettable experience  Some reviews of the trip refer to sea sickness being a problem but we took our tablets and had no issues, so it isn’t something to be worried about.

Details: Price: NZD$145 pp.

Times: Up to 7 trips a day (seasonal)

Total activity time: 3 hours 30 (2 hours 30 out on the boat)

Trips that nearly made the list were:

  • Glenorchy Journeys Half Day LOTR 4WD tour – an amazing guide and great fun! You explore Glenorchy’s stunning scenery and set the film locations from LOTR and The Hobbit. Read about our experience here. Cost = NZD$145 per person for 2+ people.
  • The Kiwi birdlife park in Queenstown – your entrance fee helps towards conservation here and it is a fantastic place to visit, with well-cared-for kiwis, many other native birds and plants, and an excellently run live conservation show. Cost = NZD$38 per person.
  • Heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier – this was only left off the list because we did this back in 2006 and it was so memorable (and a little pricey!) we did not replicate it on our 2012. Involving an amazing helicopter ride up on the glacier and short hike, this is a real all-time highlight of our various trips to NZ. Cost = NZD$395 per person.
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South Island Highlights – Top 5 places to visit on South Island, New Zealand

Reflecting on our incredible New Zealand 2012 Holiday on the South island back in Sept/Oct (as part of our year long stay in New Zealand) I have decided to start a series of blog posts with a ‘Top 5’ theme – highlighting our favourite places, drives, activities etc. from our trip around South Island.

I am starting with the biggest one of all – top 5 places to visit on the South island. This was extremely difficult to actually narrow down to only 5 as we travelled round the whole of the South island (driving over 3,700 kilometeres in just over 3 weeks!) visting some truly stunning and amazing places. They aren’t in any order as it was difficult enough choosing just 5 let alone putting them in an order of priority!

So here we go. . .

Top 5 places we visited:

1. Queenstown

Queenstown has always been a place we love to visit. Having been here once before in 2006 if we are honest it stole our hearts. Coming back to Queenstown and spending longer on this trip was just brilliant. It does have a reputaion as being the ‘adventure capital’ of NZ but there is so much more to it! We love its breathtaking beauty and the stunning Lake Wakatipu and views of the Remarkables. Taking a walk along the Frankton Arm Walkway is so peaceful and idyllic, with amazing views of the lake and mountains all the way along. You can take a boat ride out on the lake, see kiwis and other native birds at the Kiwi Park, take a stroll in the beautiful gardens, take a ride up the Skyline Gondola to Bob’s Peak and complete the Skyline walkway. It does have so much to do, lots of shops and choices of places to eat, along with every adventure activity you could think of – but it has so much more than that. Its striking beauty and gorgeous neverending views make it a really special place and has to be a must-see on any tour of South Island.

2. Glenorchy

Sitting just 48 kilometres north of Queenstown it could be described as Queenstown’s quieter less well-known relative. In reality Glenorchy is an absolute hidden gem of a place to visit. We primarily went there for our LOTR 4WD tour, but ended up falling in love with the place! It is known primarily for its associations with the LOTR/The Hobbit films as many of the surrounding locations were used as sets in the films – the Misty Mountains, Isengard, Hobbiton (from The Hobbit), and the scene of Boromir’s death among many others  Glenorchy is a really peaceful little town, but still with lots to offer. We spent a lovely morning walking the Glenorchy Lagoon walkway which offers brilliant panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Glenorchy houses a quant information shed with a long history and short pier out into Lake Wakatipu again with a stunning views. It is also home to a small place aptly named ‘Paradise’ – which feels like just that! Should you wish to you can also do more adventure seeking activities such as a jet boat on the Dart River or Skydive through the clouds. The icing on the cake for Glenorchy has to be the drive up from Queenstown which is a strong contender for best drive in NZ! The famous Glenorchy to Queenstown road closely follows Lake Wakatipu and with lookout points along the way offering an excellent way of seeing the beauty all around.

3. Catlins Region

The real highlight of the Catlins region for us was seeing yellow-eyed penguins in the wild (see our video we made above, of our wonderful memories)! We had read a lot about the Catlins region before we came, and often people said they felt it was a somewhat well-kept secret of NZ and that many people wanted to visit but just didn’t get down this far south. It is a little out of the way, but for us, fitted perfectly into our complete loop of the island. I would highly recommend a visit into this remote part of the South island, and it is definitely worth the trip. It just has such variety to offer, with wonderful wildlife! The roads are much less travelled on and some are still gravel but do not let that put you off, our little Holden Barina Spark managed just fine and it added to the experience of getting there! You should set aside at least 3 days to explore the whole Catlins regions, as it lends itself to a ‘roadtrip’ type journey. We based ourselves in Curio Bay for 2 nights and Kaka Point for 1 night. It is definitely prone to pretty wild weather but it suits the landscape and creates a pretty special atmosphere. Just a few of the highlights for us were Waipapa Lighthouse, seeing penguins in the wild at the petrified forest at Curio Bay, the very photogenic Purakaunui Falls, and Nugget Point lighthouse. At other times of year you might also see blue penguins and dolphins playing in the surf along some of the beaches. We weren’t able to visit the more well-known Cathedral Caves as they were closed, but we hope to go back in future and see them, as we would love to go back to this beautiful area. Catlins, despite often being missed off many a South Itinerary, offer such a vast and varied range of wonderful landscapes – wild beaches, amazing wildlife, quaint lighthouses and stunning waterfalls – that they simply have to be visited!

4. Marlborough Sounds

Marlborough Sounds was a bit of a mystery to us before coming, as despite reading and researching a fair amount about it we still did not really know what to expect. Many people said it was absolutely fantastically beautiful and it really did not disappoint! We spent a really special time here as we celebrated my husband’s 30th birthday on board a privately chartered boat – where we saw gorgeous dolphins and wonderful views. The Queen Charlotte Drive – again which we had read much about – was a beautiful drive with views at every corner. It is quite a challenging drive, but definitely worthwhile. There were lots of little stops and bays along this road – with Governor’s Bay being our favourite – and this area offer such beauty. Picton forms the entry point for those getting the ferry from Wellington, and it and its surrounding area are really pretty. Marlborough Sounds offers tranquility, wildlife and beauty quite unrivalled!

5. Mount Cook

Mount Cook was a place we had longed to visit – it seemed so dominant and striking on the New Zealand landscape. So when we got the chance to spend 2 nights at Mount Cook village we made the most of every second. As my top 5 drives post (coming soon) will note the drive up to Mount Cook alongside the stunning Lake Pukaki is absolutely amazing! The view alongside the lake of Mount Cook are breathtaking. As you arrive in Mount Cook you do feel a little cut off, but it is a nice feeling. With only a small population and a focus very much on tourism and hospitality the village has a lovely warm and welcoming feel to it. As any local resident will tell you the weather is quite temperamental in this part of NZ. Being quite high above sea level the vlllage is prone to unpredictable weather, and I think the stats are 2 days out of 3 Mount Cook is covered with cloud. But do not be put off by these stats as when you do finally get to see it, it is such a wonderful sight! They also get snow and we had a nice sprinkling whilst we were staying there back in October. There are many lovely walks around the Mount Cook area – some shorter ones for those not keen on proper ‘hiking’ but also some longer half-day and day hikes for those more serious. Activities are also varied include 4WDing and a boat trip out on the glacier lagoon (which we did – and loved). Mount Cook provided us with some iconic images and iconic memories and will not soon be forgotten.

Places that could have made the list (but didn’t for quite specific reasons) are:

  • Abel Tasman National Park – we only took a flying visit here, and spent a half day exploring the coast via boat, but think if we spent longer here, this could make the list. The beaches are gorgeous (especially the starting point of Kaiteriteri) and walking the Abel Tasman Track seemed like it would be one of NZ’s easiest but most beautiful walks. It is very accessible and has lots of little hidden coves and stunning views. So definitely a place to come back to should we have time!
  • Doubtful Sound – one place we visited on this holiday that was a huge disappointment – but only because of the awful weather! See my blog posting of the time for more detail, but had the weather not consisted of almost complete lack of visibility and torrential rain we think this could also have made the list.
  • Milford Sound – we visited Milford Sound back in 2006 so haven’t included it on this 2012 list – but it was absolutely amazing and would make a top 5 of that trip. The drive down is scary but really worth it with stunning scenery and the boat trip out (we went with the smaller Mitre Peak cruises) was incredibly memorable.
  • Franz Josef Glacier – again a place we visited on our 2006 trip, but the heli hike we took up on the glacier is probably still our favourite all time thing we have done in NZ. We took our trip with Helicopter Line who were fantastic and loved every second of the helicopter ride and 2 hour hike on the glacier – with views out of this world!

I hope you have found this interesting – and those of you hoping to travel around NZ possibly even helpful! Please feel free to comment, ask questions and add any of your favourite places you visit in NZ. I will be following this post next with Top 5 drives, walks, and activities, so watch this space!

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