Posts Tagged With: mount cook

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



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!


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.


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


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.


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)



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.


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


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.


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: or check out our Facebook page.

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

Destination Feature: The Stunning Mount Cook, New Zealand

Mount Cook Collage

The highest mountain in New Zealand – Mount Cook – is one of its most striking assets. Standing at 12,218ft high Sir Edmund Hillary (the first man to summit Mount Everest) is one of the most famous men to have ascended Mount Cook, back in 1948.

Today Mount Cook attracts not only climbers and mountaineers from all over the world but tourists too. Despite its incredible beauty and surrounding scenery Mount Cook is still often overlooked on many New Zealand itineraries. Located approx 4 hours from Christchurch and 3 and a half hours from Queenstown, Mount Cook is fairly remote, and because of this maintains an element of serenity and peacefulness.

The road to Mount Cook

The road to Mount Cook

There are still some facilities for tourists (including the Hermitage Hotel, among other accommodation options, including camping), and a few excellent food options for those that stay in the village. But there is no supermarket, or post office (or bank etc.) and so it still retains a quaint charm.

As soon as you head out on the road up to Mount Cook (not forgetting to stop at Peter’s Lookout on the way) and should the weather be good enough you will be able to see this vast mountain stretched out in front of you.

The stunning scenery is the main reason to visit this area and the huge variety of walks that are on offer to even those with the most limited mobility. Take a look at this DOC leaflet detailing the walk and cycling options. This DOC leaflet also gives more detail on walks around the village.

Glacier Explorers Boat Trip

Glacier Explorers Boat Trip

As well as the interesting and varied wildlife to spot in the area, there are also other amazing activities you can take part in at Mount Cook:

  • Glacier Explorers Boat Trip – an incredible boat trip out on to the Tasman glacier lake where you can get up close to the icebergs and terminal face of the glacier, and take in the striking views all around.
  • Helicopter Flight over Mount Cook – there are a variety of flights that depart from Glentanner Park and are operated by The Helicopter Line.
  • Helihike on the Tasman Glacier – operating out of the Mount Cook airport take a helicopter trip up on the glacier and have the fantastic opportunity to hike across the glacier.
  • Stargazing – take a trip to an outdoor stargazing site to explore the brilliant night sky.
  • Tasman Valley 4WD and Argo Tour – take a 4WD tour through Mount Cook’s amazing alpine scenery.
  • Horse trekking – on offer are guided horse treks of varying length through the spectacular scenery , that depart from Glentanner Park.
  • Skiing, snowboarding and ice climbing – Alpine Guides offer a variety of more extreme winter sports in the Mount Cook area.

Visiting Mount Cook is an incredibly memorable event and Mount Cook is a destination that most certainly should feature on everyone’s New Zealand itinerary.

Blue Penguin TravelInterested in visiting Mount Cook and exploring more of New Zealand? Let Blue Penguin Travel help. We specialise in creating amazing off-the-beaten track travel adventures in New Zealand and offer awesome travel advice, care and expertise to create fully personalised travel itineraries. We can help you have the adventure of a lifetime in the most beautiful country in the world.

All photographs are copyright of Nicola Barnard Photography.

Categories: Activities, Blue Penguin, Destination Feature, New Zealand, Photographs, South Island | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Photo of the Day: Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki

My favourite lake in the whole of New Zealand is Lake Pukaki. It is such a gorgeous blue that you have to see it to believe it! During our year living in New Zealand we drove alongside it at every possible opportunity (which was a lot) but I first clapped eyes on this lake all the way back in 2006 which was when this photo was taken. We spent an amazing 8 days travelling round New Zealand’s South island in 2006 during a round the world trip me and my husband took.

Mount Cook (another favourite place of ours) can be seen in the background  – and the road to Mount Cook runs alongside this stunning lake.

If you are lucky enough to visit New Zealand do not leave without seeing Lake Pukaki – it will simply take your breath away!

Blue Penguin TravelInterested in visiting Lake Pukaki and exploring more of New Zealand? Let Blue Penguin Travel help. We specialise in creating amazing off-the-beaten track travel adventures in New Zealand and offer awesome travel advice, care and expertise to create fully personalised travel itineraries. We can help you have the adventure of a lifetime in the most beautiful country in the world.

All photographs are copyright of Nicola Barnard Photography.

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Photo of the Day: The road to Mount Cook

The road to Mount Cook

The road to Mount Cook

Today’s photo comes from one of our favourite places on earth – Mount Cook. We were lucky enough to visit Mount Cook a total of 4 times during our year living in New Zealand. This photo was taken during our trip back in October 2012 which I blogged about in two separate posts – the road to Mount Cook and spending time there. We also visited with my parents who had flown over from the UK in January 2013, again when living in our camper-car spaceship in April 2013, and took one last trip there on our way back to fly out of Christchurch in August 2013. Driving on the road up to Mount Cook is a really special drive – alongside the gorgeously blue Lake Pukaki.

It really is a very special place and we would highly recommend visiting Mount Cook on any trip you take to New Zealand.

Blue Penguin TravelInterested in visiting Mount Cook and exploring more of New Zealand? Let Blue Penguin Travel help. We specialise in creating amazing off-the-beaten track travel adventures in New Zealand and offer awesome travel advice, care and expertise to create fully personalised travel itineraries. We can help you have the adventure of a lifetime in the most beautiful country in the world.

All photographs are copyright of Nicola Barnard Photography.

Categories: New Zealand, Photo Of The Day, South Island | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

One last New Zealand road trip

Sunday 25th August – Tuesday 27th August: Queenstown to Mount Cook to Christchurch

So our final road trip in New Zealand was upon us. 600km, 48 hours – us and a free Toyota Camry!!

It has taken me a while to write my last post about our time in New Zealand – it is now well over a month since we took our final road trip. I think I partly feel that once I write this our amazing New Zealand adventure is over – that writing this closes that chapter on our life. However, I want to try and feel like the memories and legacy from this trip will live on in everything we do and in how we live our lives.

Our Camry

Our Camry

As my last post explained, we sadly left Queenstown on the Sunday morning, but what it didn’t mention is where we were headed next and how! During our time in Queenstown we always knew our next step was going to be that we flew to Christchurch before staying for a couple of days and flying out of there on the Tuesday. Now despite feeling like we should see Christchurch and spend time there, all we really wanted to do was spent time in our favourite place in New Zealand before flying out – Mount Cook. So we decided to make a change – we decided instead to cancel our flight (we had got an incredibly cheap deal via grabaseat and paid months ago so could afford to let this go) and hire a car instead and drive ourselves from Queesntown via Mount Cook to Christchurch airport.

We love Mount Cook

We love Mount Cook

Having spent a year in New Zealand we knew this was one of our favourite and most scenic drives, and also after three previous visits to Mount Cook that we couldn’t leave without saying one final goodbye. I gave Thrifty in Queenstown a call (who we had hired a couple of cars with previous and had been great) and discovered that could offer us a relocation (or a ‘relo’ as they put it!) for FREE! They needed a car taking from Queesntown to Christchurch airport within 48 hours and all we had to do was pay for petrol 🙂 The best bit was what car it was – a lovely amazing Toyota Camry! It was huge, and posh and completely wonderful! We never had so many comments on our journey about what a great car it was – and all for free! Thank you Thrifty.

So despite leaving Queenstown with a heavy heart back on that Sunday, we knew we still had one last road trip and one last adventure to come. Being in the Camry was a real dream, and John said it was so comfortable to drive it didn’t feel like he was really driving! It made all the difference on our two long journeys.

At Peter's Lookout

At Peter’s Lookout

We set off on the road to Mount Cook, passing through New Zealand’s beautiful scenery, passing the mountains we had come to know so well. We said goodbye to Lindis Pass as we passed, and hello to lovely Twizel. We made a stop here to visit one of our favourite places to eat in New Zealand – Shawtys – to eat their delicious pizza! After our lunch stop we headed for Mount Cook, taking that turn off up to the stunning scenic road that winds alongside the gorgeous Lake Pukaki. We stopped at one of our favourite lookouts – Peter’s lookout for some photos across the lake towards Mount Cook. We carried onward and soon Mount Cook was out in front of us, as we drove ever closer –  and soon arrived. We checked in to our favourite place to stay at Mount Cook – Aoraki Court Motel – where we were given a lovely view towards the mountains. We felt at home!

View from Hooker Valley bridge

View from Hooker Valley bridge

We headed out shortly after arriving to a really memorable spot for us at Mount Cook – the first Hooker Valley swing bridge. All of our visits to this area have included a walk here – particularly one with my parents when they visited back in December. There is something really special about the walk from the car park through the stunning scenery, to the viewpoint over Mueller lake and the walk down to the bridge below. It will always hold such lovely memories for us. The following morning we took a walk to Kea Point – where we were the only ones on the walk and had it all to ourselves. We reached the lookout and enjoyed the scenery and silence. We said goodbye and took one final visit to the visitor centre, before heading back to our Camry for the last part of our journey.

As we headed off leaving Mount Cook behind, I think back to October last year and our first visit to Mount Cook – venturing out for the first time on walks in the area (many in the rain!), and our amazing trip out on the Tasman lake with Glacier Explorers. And on to our two other visits since then (including one in our spaceship). So much has happened and we have come so far.

Beautiful Lake Tekapo

Beautiful Lake Tekapo

We made a final stop at Lake Tekapo and took a walk down by the lake to take in its beauty. Lake Tekapo will always hold a special place in our hearts as it was the first place in New Zealand we visited on our first trip here back in 2006. We drove from Christchurch airport late at night and woke up in the morning in a motel overlooking the lake to the most amazing view. I will never forget that feeling of amazement at seeing the shimmering beauty of Lake Tekapo and feeling a strong love for New Zealand after only one day! Now 7 years later we were at the end of an epic year here, and it felt like a fitting final place. We took our lovely Camry on his final leg to Christchurch airport, stayed overnight in a motel near the airport and flew out early Tuesday morning.

So our amazing New Zealand travel adventure had come to an end – this will be my last post about our time in New Zealand – and have one last post left about our stopover in Singapore, which will be my last about our year away.  New Zealand had given us so much – it really is hard to put into words. But as I said we will take our amazing experiences and memories with us on our journey through life, and especially take that amazing positive kiwi mentality! Goodbye New Zealand – we will be back.

Categories: Accommodation, Activities, New Zealand, Photographs, South Island | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Our third visit to the amazing Mount Cook

Days 15 and 16: Mount Cook, Twizel and Omarama

Mount Cook

Mount Cook

We have been very fortunate to now have visited Mount Cook a total of three times – the most recent being last weekend. It is one of our very favourite places in the whole of New Zealand and we would go back again and again if we could!

As mentioned on my last post the last time we visited Mount Cook was with my parents who were visiting over Christmas – so it holds an extra special place in our hearts.

I included this photo on the last post but am including it again here as it was the best weather we saw in our time there! This is our Spaceship on the drive up to Mount Cook alongside Lake Pukaki.

Ron (our spaceship) heading up to Mount Cook

Ron (our spaceship) heading up to Mount Cook

On the Hooker Valley walk

On the Hooker Valley walk

We spent time walking in the Mount Cook area whilst there including our favourite walk – the start of the Hooker Valley walk (to the first swing bridge), where we saw Mount Cook peeking through the clouds. This is a beautiful walk along the valley floor, with stunning views all around.

Hooker valley river

Hooker valley river

This was were we took my parents on our last evening together of their visit. We also looked out over the Mueller lake from a vantage point.

We also took a walk to the start of the Red Tarns track – heading across another swing bridge, and up lots of stairs to a good view over the village. The weather was mixed and cloudy at this point but the weather were still great.

View of Mount Cook village

View of Mount Cook village

The visitor centre was our next stop where we spent quite a while looking around all their impressive exhibits. They have loads of really interesting information about the origins of the area, and those that have attempted to/succeeded in climbing Mount Cook. They also have info on the geography of the area and a reconstruction of a hiker’s hut.

We were really impressed as there was no charge and it gave us a little break from the rain outside. We also enjoyed lunch at a lovely cafe next door – the Old Mountaineers cafe.

Visitor centre

Visitor centre

Later that day we headed over to the Hermitage Hotel – to the Sir Edmund Hillary centre. We had been there twice before but really enjoyed the times we had visited and loved walking around the Sir Edmund Hillary themed exhibits. Unfortunately this time around we came across big signs up telling us we need a ticket to enter! Very surprised at this we asked at the information desk and were told you now had to pay $20 each to enter. Wow. They said this did also include entrance to the small theatre there for the movies (which didn’t seem that popular anyway really), but there was no longer an option to enter the centre free of charge. When we were there we didn’t see a single person in the centre, which is such a shame as it is a wonderful place, but really definitely not worth $20. We feel saddened that they have put such a high price tag on something people should be able to enjoy for free. We don’t know whether the Hermitage decided this but we don’t think Sir Edmund would like it! It quite soured our trip over to the hotel which was one point quite a refuge for us in the area (particularly from the rain!) and has changed to now more of a place that extorts people.

Poo pot!

Poo pot!

One thing to lighten the mood a little is that we saw back in the visitor centre was a ‘poo pot’! Which does what it says on the tin! We thought this was funny and an awesome thing to find in the visitor centre 🙂

The next day we left Mount Cook as the heavy rain had set in and heading for Twizel. Here we enjoyed a lovely pizza at Shawtys. Next stop was Omarama, where we checked into the Top 10 here and headed off to the Omarama hot tubs. This was a great place! We hired a private hot tub outside in our own private area (see my photos) for 1 hour 30 mins for a total of $66 for 2.

Omarama hot tub

Omarama hot tub

It was raining and fairly windy but we didn’t mind once in the wonderful hot water of the hot tub. We simply loved it. Back to the holiday park where we spent the night. We didn’t think much of this place to be honest – we had a nice welcome but the facilities were quite basic. Its location was good as it was close to the hot tubs and centre of Omarama and was ok for a night stop over.

Overall, despite having the famous ‘1 day out of 3’ good weather in the Mount Cook area we loved our return and were sad to leave.

Categories: Accommodation, Activities, New Zealand, Photographs, Spaceship | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The impressive Clay Cliffs

Day 14 – Drive from Oamaru to Mount Cook (via Clay Cliffs)

Clay Cliffs

Clay Cliffs

Lake Aviemore

Lake Aviemore

We left our lovely holiday park (Waitaki Waters) quite early this morning to start our drive in our Spaceship to Mount Cook. We stopped off at the New World in Oamaru for provisions and took the drive across the 83 past Duntroon towards Omarama. We have driven this before but had forgotten what a scenic drive it is. The mountains looked great and the lakes were spectacular – especially with the autumn colours. The trees looked beautiful! We stopped at Lake Aviemore and took a few photos here.

View looking up at Clay Cliffs

View looking up at Clay Cliffs

After a quick stop at Omarama for food at the Oasis cafe we headed for Clay Cliffs next. Despite passing this way a few times before we hadn’t yet been to Clay Cliffs, and only after seeing photos of them on someone’s blog did I think it was a must-see! So we took the road off the highway, and a further left turn onto a gravel road.

Ron and Clay Cliffs

Ron and Clay Cliffs

We then passed through 2 gates and parked up on the left just before the ‘4WD from here sign’ – where the road quickly deteriorated. There was no one else around – just us! We took a short walk uphill towards the cliffs and they were spectacular! They really were an awesome sight! We climbed up and right to the end of the path right inside the cliff area. We took lots of photos here and the light looked brilliant. We loved spending time here and wandered all over exploring.

Mount Cook

Mount Cook

We finally tore ourselves away to leave and were soon back on the road. Next stop was Peter’s lookout alongside our favourite lake in the whole of NZ – Lake Pukaki. The sky was clear blue and so the lake looked amazing – such a gorgeous blue. We took some photos from this lookout point.

This is actually our third time up to Mount Cook – and I blogged about it back in October here and here, and also in December when we were lucky enough to spend time with my parents visited from the UK which I wrote about here.

Ron (our spaceship) heading up to Mount Cook

Ron (our spaceship) heading up to Mount Cook

On arrival we took a walk to the Hooker valley and I will post pics of that on a separate post about Mount Cook, but it was a wonderful end to an awesome day! 🙂

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Categories: Activities, New Zealand, Photographs, Spaceship | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Inspired by Sir Edmund Hillary

Sir Edmund Hillary was the first man to climb Mount Everest – in 1953 – he lived until he was 88 and is a New Zealand icon. He is referred to as a “humanitarian, ambassador and one of the world’s greatest explorers”.

Sir Edmund Hillary

When visiting Mount Cook back in October last year we went to the Sir Edmund Hilary Alpine Centre – which is an amazing tribute to the great Sir Edmund Hillary. Whilst there one of his quotes really stood out to me and I was thinking about it today so thought I would share it.

“I have had the world lie beneath my clumsy boots and saw the red sun slip over the horizon after the dark Antarctic winter. I have been given more than my share of excitement, beauty, laughter and friendship. Each of us has to discover his own path – of that I am sure. Some paths will be spectacular and others peaceful and quiet – who is to say which is the most important? For me, the most rewarding moments have not always been the great moments, for what can surpass a tear on your departure, joy on your return, and a trusting hand in yours?'”

– Sir Edmund Hilary

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Family time at Mount Cook

Friday 28th December – Saturday 29th December: Mount Cook

My parents, me and John at Mount Cook

Following our amazing family Christmas in Queenstown we were headed up to Mount Cook. It just so happened that my parents were also headed there, so we would be able to spend an evening with them. Both me and John absolutely loved Mount Cook when we visited back in October and decided it was definitely a place we would like to return to.

So on Friday 28th December after saying goodbye to my sister (who currently lives in Sydney) we picked up our hire car and headed off to Mount Cook. We took the stunning Crown Range road (that I previously wrote about in my top 5 south island drives here) via Wanaka and stopped at other scenic places along the way, including Peter’s lookout alongside the gorgeous Lake Pukaki.

IMG_7555On arrival at Mount Cook we checked into our accommodation – a lovely motel room at the newly opened Aoraki Court motel. Last time we were here we stayed at the Hermitage hotel, but this is pretty pricey (you pay for the view!), but we actually preferred our motel room. The room was huge, really well decorated with great mountain views and a large spa bath and kitchenette – it was perfect! We met up with my parents and had a lovely evening meal at Old Mountaineers. Following this we took a drive up towards the start of the Hooker Valley walk. We parked up and walked the first part of this walk – to the first swing bridge. IMG_7636It was absolutely stunning and a really beautiful walk. We only saw a couple of people along the way and really felt like we had the place to ourselves.  We watched the sunset, which looked beautiful setting on Mount Cook and amidst the surrounding scenery. We took some pics – including a precious group shot. It was really special to be able to share this with my parents and we felt really lucky to be there all together – definitely memories to cherish 🙂

IMG_7746The following morning my parents headed off to do the Glacier Explorers boat trip (which they loved!)  – which we had done back in October, and we did the Kea Point walk. The views along the way were gorgeous, and we walked up to Kea Point and took some great photos. We met up with my mum and dad when they arrived back and had a nice lunch together. One final walk on the start of the Red Tarns track down towards the hooker river was great, and we then had to say our goodbyes. We always knew this was going to be difficult, as were saying goodbye not knowing how long it would be until we saw them again. Still, we had to do it, and with a very heavy heart we said goodbye and started on our journey to the next place we were staying. We were sad but felt so incredibly lucky to have had these experiences together!


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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.

Categories: Activities, New Zealand, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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.


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.


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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The magnificent Mount Cook

Friday 19th October: AM Mount Cook to Lake Tekapo

Our wish came true this morning and we awoke to bright blue sky and a perfect view of Mount Cook (see pic to the left)!  It had also snowed overnight so there was loads of snow on the mountains and it looked really beautiful. We decided to change our Glacier Explorers boat trip time to get on the earlier one at 9.30am (instead of 11.00am) to make the most of the good weather. After breakfast we checked in for our trip and boarded a coach to take us out towards the Tasman Glacier lake. We then took a 15 minute walk from the car park with a small group of others to the Tasman Glacier lake. The Tasman Glacier is the largest glacier in New Zealand and pretty spectacular! See more photos in my gallery below. We were separated into smaller groups and allocated guides – ours were named Duncan and Claire and were great guides. We boarded our small boat onto the lake and set off on our boat trip. We were out on the lake for around an hour and had a fantastic time. We got really close to the icebergs in the lake – so we could touch them, and were also able to touch and hold small sections of ice that had broken off the icebergs – which were like crystals. Claire was very informative giving us loads of interesting info about the glacier. The weather was simply perfect and the views were incredible. We also got within a few 100 metres (no closer due to safety reasons!) of the glacier face whilst on the boat, which was wonderful to see. The trip flew by all too quickly but we really enjoyed our time and soon headed back to shore for the short walk and bus journey back to the hotel. Following lunch at the Sir Edmund Hilary alpine cafe we sadly left Mount Cook – travelling back along the beautiful Lake Pukaki in lovely sunshine (see a couple of pics below). I will post separately about the rest of the day on a Lake Tekapo post.

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The road to Mount Cook and exploring in the rain

Wednesday 17th October: Oamaru to Mount Cook

Leaving Oamaru and the lovely little blue penguins behind we headed towards Mount Cook. We made a stop at a remote place called Elephant Rocks – definitely worth a look if you are in the area! It was this amazing collection of unusually shaped big rocks – some that looked like elephants. It was also cool because this was used as the filming location for Aslan’s camp in the Narnia film. We had fun taking some photos here (see gallery below). We then got back on the road and took the road along Lake Aviemore which passed over Benmore Dam – which was quite a sight. Food in Omarama was next on our stopping list as we headed for Mount Cook. We took a short detour at Twizel up into the more remote parts to hunt for the Plains of Rohan (a filming location for Lord of the Rings) – after some hunting (and going down a few private roads!) and gorgeous scenery we found the right spot! It was great to see 🙂 Back on the road we drove on the road straight up to Mount Cook – via the unbelievably gorgeous Lake Pukaki – definitely my favourite lake in New Zealand! We passed it back on our 2006 trip to NZ and a picture I took then forms the main pic for this website. The turquoise colour was so bright! We did notice that the weather in the direction of Mount Cook wasn’t so great so braced ourselves as we headed on the road up there. The weather did turn and wind and rain hit. We were happy to arrive at our hotel (The Hermitage Hotel) which was comfortable and if we had better weather the view of Mount Cook from our room would have been great. Unfortunately we had ridiculously noisy neighbours who decided to have a crazy shouting match for ages (and people appeared to be piling into the room for some kind of gathering) – so we asked reception to move us along the corridor to a different room away from them and were pleasantly surprised when they upgraded us to a superior room and a higher floor with an even better view. Good service by the Hermitage! We enjoyed watching a thunder and lightning storm from our balcony that evening.

Thursday 18th October: Mount Cook

We awake to yet more heavy rain here at Mount Cook and on contacting the activities desk about our planned Glacier Explorers boat trip on the Tasman Lake to see the Tasman glacier we discovered our planned trip at 11am wasn’t going ahead and with the forecast poor for this afternoon we re-booked it for tomorrow morning in the hope the weather will improve – fingers crossed! We didn’t let the weather deter us though and headed out into the crazy rain for a couple of walks (Bowen Bush Walk and Governor’s Bush Walk) which were enjoyable despite the weather! We saw some native birds and trees and enjoyed watching the rushing waterfalls and river. Lunch at the Old Mountaineer’s Cafe beckoned while we plan a little further exploration later today. Hopefully the rain and mist will lift overnight and we will have fine weather for our trip tomorrow as we are really looking forward to it.

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