New Zealand travel experiences

A couple of day ago we received an amazing feedback from a lovely USA couple on their New Zealand travel experiences. They decided to spend 19 days travelling through both the North & South Island. In fact, the feedback you’re about to read, actually tells a great story of what New Zealand is all about. Here’s what they said…

North Island New Zealand travel experiences…

“What a fabulous trip!  We can’t thank you enough for making these very special three weeks a reality.We thought you might like some feedback on our accommodations/excursions.

Auckland

Auckland was a great first stop. Eden Villa was perfect and we really were made to feel at home. Richard and Kaye (the owners’ cousins, the owners were out of town) were just lovely and very helpful in planning our first  day.

The Waiheke Island Wine tour was fun!  Peter was a great guide, full of knowledge about the Island with great stories.  I think we liked the Kennedy winery the best, as it was more than a tasting.  We were able to see the whole vineyard and learn about their process (and their honey was great too).

Coromandels – with kayaking

Lonely Bay Lodge was incredible.  We ended up having the entire place to ourselves and Kym was so friendly, welcoming and full of information!   We appreciated the little touches…wine, a cheese platter upon arrival, cookies, etc. We loved just spending time at the beautiful house, enjoying all of the outdoor living spaces and walking the beach.

970 Lonely Bay lodge coromandels

970 Lonely Bay Lodge on the Coromandel Peninsula

After a rainy start to the day, the sun came out and we had a fabulous time kayaking at Cathedral Cove.  Hayden was our guide and shared so many stories about the area and it’s folklore.

Rotorua – Central North Island

Rotorua was a little more touristy, but we enjoyed our day at the Polynesian Spa (and really liked our morning hike in the Redwood Forest).  The Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland was interesting and picturesque.

The Regent of Rotorua was located in a perfect part of town.  We liked being able to walk to dinner.  The employees were very friendly and the room was clean.  I think we missed having the ability to lounge in a communal living space.

South Island Travel Experiences…

The Abel Tasman Area was spectacular.

Ian and Ally at Te Koi Lodge spoiled us with the best homemade breakfasts and cookies in our room.  It was amazing how their beautiful gardens and home were remodeled in such a short period of time.  Our villa was beautiful and very comfortable.   We really enjoyed the option of having dinner with the other guests and took advantage of it for 2 nights. We also enjoyed the local flavor of having the Smokehouse’s Fish on Chips on the Wharf!   Ian was very helpful with suggestions on what to do in the area.

te koi the lodge at bronte

Te Koi the Lodge at Bronte – the lovely Ali

Sightseeing in the Nelson-Tasman region

Due to the rain, our bike tour ended up being an afternoon ride.  Nicky and Lisa (‘Wheelie Fantastic’) were great and we really enjoyed the route they chose.  We were able to visit the WOW museum in the morning and loved visiting (and buying souvenirs) from Michael MacMillan’s gallery.

The next day with Emma (the captain) and Rod (who was the crew that day) was wonderful.  The weather was beautiful and we were able to enjoy a perfect day boating and hiking.  Lunch from the Smokehouse was great too!

The West Coast of the South Island

Well, our ride to Greymouth was a “bit wet”.  We ended up backtracking the next day to see the Pancake Rocks/Blowhole and were really glad we did.  We really didn’t spend much time at The Breakers.  We’re sure it would be a great place to stay when you could enjoy the view and beach. We ended up having dinner at a close, local pub (the Rapahoe Pub) and were glad we did.  Good food in a local establishment.

Bernie at the Holly Homestead was a great host and made us feel at home.  We loved chatting with other guests in her living room!

We were lucky!  Due to the weather, the Franz Josef Glacier Heli Hike hadn’t been able to fly because of the weather for 5 days,   We were the first and last ones to go on November 5th and really experienced a truly magical wonderland.  Need we say more?

If you are ever looking for a restaurant recommendation, we ended up going to Alice May both nights.  Their salmon and risotto was the best we’ve had on our whole trip!

Wanaka and Central Otago

We loved our stay at Wanaka Haven, and were glad that we stayed out of the main town. Anna-Mi and Steven were perfect hosts, full of suggestions and ideas. The facilities were top notch!  What we liked best at this property was that the guests tended to lounge in their living room in the evening (maybe because that was where the coffee/tea/snacks were located?).   We met so many nice and interesting people from all over the world!

As you know, our cruise on Lake Wanaka was cancelled due to rain.   We were lucky, however, that the day that we drove in, was sunny so we did get a feel as to Lake Wanaka’s beauty.  We did enjoy the River Journey…even in the rain!  Another great dinner recommendation….The Wanaka Gourmet Kitchen.  It was delicious!

We spent the “rainy” day in Arrowtown (wish we would have spent more time there), Queenstown (very busy, probably due to the rain) and Cromwell.

Fiordland and Milford Sound

Lake Te Anau was another one of our favorite places.  The Dock Bay Lodge was spectacular (lodgings and view), and Susan was a great host. We appreciated the “extras” that were provided (bottle of wine, water, soft drinks, baked goods).   Larry was even able to use our hosts’ clubs and played a round of golf while I just enjoyed sitting on the balcony, enjoying the view.

Our day at the Milford Sound was great.  Michelle, from Trips and Tramps, was a wonderful guide.  And the beauty of Milford Sound, defies description.  Incredible!

Coastal Southland and Dunedin

We enjoyed our drive to Dunedin, even though we mistakenly ended up leaving the Scenic Route (I think we were on 98?) after lunch at The Batch (great suggestion).   Anyway, it was the most beautiful route…hilly, beautiful farmland.  Spending the next morning visiting the Railroad Station and Larnach Castle (best not to go on Cruise Day), then just drove around the Peninsula until it was time for our afternoon excursion.

We loved the Elm Wildlife Peninsula Encounters Tour!  We were lucky to spot the Royal Albatross several times.  The private conservation area provided beautiful views, as well as allowing us “up close” sightings of sea lions and Yellow Eyed Penguins.

Michael, you made everything so easy and our trip’s plans went perfectly!  We can’t thank you enough.  We’ve realized that we really do enjoy Bed and Breakfasts vs. a hotel stay.  And the accommodations that you chose were great….Thank you!”

Happy Travelling folks!

Upper Moutere Artisan attractions

Labour weekend is traditionally the start of summer in New Zealand – its a great time to visit some amazing Upper Moutere Artisan attractions. In fact, why not grab a few friends and have a great day out – I guarantee you’ll get to meet the real people behind the product. If you love food and wine, don’t expect to come back empty-handed.

The Moutere region is blessed with beautiful food and wine. And if you’re looking for authentic art, you’ll be blown away by the pottery and sculpture made here. These are some of our favourite Upper Moutere Artisan attractions.

1 – Neudorf Olives

If you turn into Neudorf Road, just keep on driving right to the end and work your way backwards.  That way, Neudorf Olives will be your first port of call.  To get to Neudorf Olives, you’ll need to drive a narrow gravel road up to the private homestead. But what will really grab your attention is the beautiful scenery – the views are incredible. Lush rolling hills and deep valleys as far as the eye can see.

You’ll soon get to a parking area.  From there, its just a short walk past the homestead, down to the olive display.  On this particular day, owners Jonathan and Susan Pine, had a display table set out for sampling.

They love it if visitors try their ‘liquid gold’ – after all, it has taken many years of hard work to produce such award-winning olive oils.

Neudorf Olives are usually open by appointment only, but keep an eye out for their open days which are quite frequent.

2 – Neudorf Mushrooms

The great advantage of travelling through the Moutere area, is that most of the Artisans artisans are a short distance from one another.  From Neudorf Olives, its only a 5 minute drive up the road to Neudorf Mushrooms. Neudorf Mushrooms is a family-owned business specialising in gourmet European and wild mushrooms. Its definitely worth having a chat with Hannes and Theres Krummenacher – these guys are an endless source of knowledge on all things ‘mushroom’. Don’t expect a sophisticated presentation – every resource has been used to plant 2500 different trees for different wild mushrooms. What you will learn though, is how to create some fabulous mushroom dishes!

3 – Thorvald Cheese

Now these Artisan Cheesemakers are absolute legends in the Moutere area. You’ll find their farm tucked away in the beautiful Neudorf Valley. among green rolling hills with the magnificent backdrop of the Mt Arthur range.

FIVE of Thorvald’s cheeses won medals at the 2018 NZ Champions of Cheese. So if you’re into handcrafted delicious sheep milk yoghurt and cheeses, this one is for you!

4 – Michael MacMillan Arts

This is my all-time favourite artist for the whole region. In fact, people come from all over the world to buy Michael MacMillan’s sculptures.  His home-ware shop is probably one of the most unique in New Zealand for authentic hand-made products. You’ll find beautiful sculpted wooden French oak platters, boards and bowls. No matter where you look, you’ll see the brilliant use of wood, old vines, industrial steel and polished stone. His Partner, Jackie MacMillan, is a talented photographer and her work is also on display.

Now the other great thing about visiting the Michael MacMillan art gallery, is that you can take your time wandering around.  Its a lovely property with picnic tables and views galore.  An added bonus is that you can buy a quality coffee here and just kick back for a while.  Believe me, it really is the kind of place you want to linger before moving on.

5 – Neudorf Vineyards

Neudorf Winery is one of the oldest established wineries in New Zealand – their chardonnay wines are legendary! This is such a lovely place to relax for a while.  After tasting, you can sit outside in long tables or pop around the back to admire the Bougainvillea.

The Neudorf Winery is a beautiful property and the surrounds are just gorgeous.  Just remember though, that after sampling all these premium wines, you’ll need to make room in the car for more ‘goodies’.

6 – Upper Moutere Inn

Welcome to the oldest pub in New Zealand!  No trip to the Upper Moutere is complete without a relaxing ale or wine at the Moutere Inn. Now, this is very much in the style of old rustic pubs needing a little TLC – but that’s all part of its charm.  Everyone is welcomed here.  The food is great and both the owners and staff are incredibly friendly.  In fact, it really is the place where everyone seems to know your name.

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7 – Katie Gold/Owen Barlett Gallery

Just a walk away from the Moutere Inn, is a beautiful white colonial building. This is where you’ll find the Katie Gold-Owen Bartlett Gallery.  Katie’s Clay art is easily recognised for its vibrant colours and irregular shapes.  The bowls are a huge attraction and you’ll find these in homes all over the world.

Each room of the old house displays both Katie and Owen’s work. But if you step outside, you’ll find their art strategically placed in the beautiful garden at the back.  Its such a pleasure to wander around, because there’s so much more to see.

8 – Old Post Office – Upper Moutere

Okay, this used to be a Post Office, but now, its an absolute treasure trove.  There are a number of different areas in this building, each devoted to a particular product.  Beautiful home-made jams and preserves, unique textiles and gorgeous indoor plants.  What you’ll really love, is the coffee and home-made sweet treats.

9 – Moutere Hills Vineyard

The Moutere Hills Vineyard restaurant has undergone a bit of a renaissance in the past year.  The excellent Forsters restaurant has relocated to the Moutere Hills Vineyard.  Actually, the whole place has been given a face-lift – and what a wonderful space it is.

Yet again, you’ll have your pick of beautiful outside spaces – its a magnificent place for a leisurely lunch.

There is so much more here than meets the eye. If you make a day of it, you can also visit plenty of other artisans nearby.  These people can be found the Tasman Village area, Mapua and just a little further out, Motueka Town.  But of course, you’ll need to stay in the Tasman Region for more than just one night!

Have a great time discovering Upper Moutere Artisan attractions!

Best Heli Hiking New Zealand

What is the best Heli Hiking New Zealand has to offer? That’s a good question with a short answer – all of them! Let’s go one step back and look into that the key advantages of using a helicopter. Rather than seeing it as a costly way to get around, think of it as covering long distances in a short amount of time.

Also, a helicopter is able to access remote areas you wouldn’t have a hope of getting to any other way. So especially for time-short travellers, using a helicopter in combination with a hike makes total sense. It actually elevates a tour like this to a whole new level. And who doesn’t enjoy getting away from mainstream tourism – everyone loves that!

Helicopter – a classic transport vehicle

Helicopters are widely used in New Zealand. In fact we have some of the best helicopter pilots in the world. Think about a New Zealander in the 1980’s flying for Jacque Cousteau on his ship research vessel ‘Calypso’. Given the nature of New Zealand’s remote wilderness locations, helicopters have been essential for research, conservation, hunting and tourism. In a matter of a few minutes you can escape into the real wilderness. No one has the time to go to these remote areas on foot – this would involve weeks of strenuous hiking and scrabbling over hills.

Escape the crowds into pure nature

What I personally find amazing is the total contrast between our sophisticated ‘coffee culture’ and the  moss-covered, yeasty smell of a classic New Zealand rainforest. And instead of traffic noise, you’ll get the pure sound of bird song. Two different worlds!  Seriously, you have to do it. It’s a life-changing experience, that far outweighs any price tag.

Some of the best Heli Hiking New Zealand features

Travellers often associate glaciers with ‘heli hiking’.  But it is so much more than that. Here are some samples throughout New Zealand.

1 – Helicopter experiences Bay of Island

The far north has a number of unique places to visit with a helicopter. Think about remote beaches and islands. The main operator here is Salt Air, which is based in Paihia. Rather than the classic ‘hiking’, this is where you fly over the turquoise waters of the Bay of Islands. Stops are taken for beach walks and a picnic. What a nice way to start any New Zealand trip!

2 – Heli hiking White Island volcano

We have experienced this trip ourselves and have already written about it. This is such a cool thing to do. Its best if you fly from Rotorua. You’ll be spending about 30 minutes flying over classic New Zealand farm land. Then you continue the flight over the waters of the Bay of Plenty.  You may very well get to see see whales! – especially if you fly over and land on White Island. Landing on White Island, New Zealand’s active volcano, is like being on the moon!  Its a total alien world of smells, fumes and steams.

A guided walk is also included. And its a your chance to learn about the science of this incredible lunar landscape.

3 – Helicopter discovery Mt. Tarawera

Close to Rotorua is another volcano, Mt. Tarawera. On a fine day it offers spectacular views over craters and domes that were formed in the 1886 eruption. This trip can be done with a guided walk or mountain biking. View more details on Volcanic Air Safaris.

4 – Heli hiking New Zealand – Tasman region

On the top of the South Island is the Nelson Tasman region. This is a region famous for the beach and forest walks of the Abel Tasman National Park. It’s also where the famous ‘ring’ for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie series was designed/ create by a Nelson jeweller. Some of the filming was done  in the Mount Owen region. Taking a flight up there and seeing the granite top is something special. Friends of ours did this and were ‘blown away’ by the experience. See details on Tasman Helicopters.

Tasman Helicopters

5 – Heli hiking Glacier country

Now, this is the classic ‘heli hiking’ we’ve all read about. Flying into the glaciers of the Southern Alps – mainly Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. But what people don’t realize, is that this trip is also available from the eastern site, Mt. Cook. The hiking is done in the middle section of the glaciers. Here you have the ice caves forming and the pure blue ice colour coming out. Again, the weather will have a major impact if this tour goes ahead or not. In any case, book ahead – if the weather is good, everyone will want to fly up.

6 – Helicopter flights and hiking Queenstown and Fiordland

Queenstown and Fiordland are the ‘hardcore’ helicopter regions in New Zealand. The scenic beauty and natural wilderness is mind blowing. You can go for a local heli-hiking trip such as up to the Kepler Mountains with Trips and Tramps or fly into the wilderness area, such as the Murchinson mountains. May visitors also take a trip from Milford Sound. The mountains dividing the fjords and the village of Te Anau have a major impact on weather and the flying conditions.

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7 – Heli transfers and hiking on Stewart Island

Rakiura Helicopter are based in Bluff (near Invercargill) on the mainland. We have used their services before in flying straight over Foveaux Strait into the wilderness trails of Stewart Island. Surely this is the ultimate ‘civilisation – wilderness’ shock experience. It’s magic and we can recommend this hiking for more serious and experienced hikers only. Be very much aware that Stewart Island hiking conditions are very challenging (muddy tracks and stormy, fast changing weather).

As mention before, these are just a small selection on Best Heli Hiking New Zealand hiking options You will find more when travelling throughout New Zealand. The weather will play a major impact when planning a heli hiking trip. So, whenever the day is right and you have the opportunity for it, do it.

Happy travelling when heli hiking New Zealand!

Things to see between Wanaka and Fox Glacier

No matter how beautiful a region is, at some stage we have to move on. Check out these South Island itineraries that include Wanaka and Fox Glacier. There’s actually quite a bit to see between Wanaka and Fox Glacier -several highlights in fact. Here are just a few of them.

Lake Wanaka Lookout “The Neck”.

Our first stop is at the “The Neck” between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Over the last ice age two vast glaciers covered those lakes. The part in between – ‘The Neck’ – was the separator between those ice fields. Fortunately, there is a great lookout where you can safely pull over and take photographs. At times, this spot is terribly busy with travellers, so you need to watch out for people walking all over the place!

Lake Wanaka Lookout

In fact, during the busy summer season, you won’t be able to avoid the odd jostle with other travellers. They’ll have exactly the same highlights to see on their route.  But luckily, in this country, it doesn’t take long to find some breathing space to yourself. The beauty of New Zealand is that in a lot of parts, it is underpopulated.  This is particularly so in the South Island. If you really want to feel as if you’re the only visitor, then plan on travelling in the off the peak season

Lake Wanaka Lookout with Michael

In the peak summer season, you will need to pay attention as to where you stop. Don’t take photos on a bend in the road and I beg you, DO NOT stop in the middle of a busy scenic major road to study a map! Yes, I know its hard to believe people would do this – but we’ve seen it with our own eyes.

Wanaka to Fox Glacier

New Zealand roads are generally well maintained and occasionally you’ll come across roadwork gangs. This usually means only a 5 minute wait.  Today, our stop was brief, mainly due to this entertaining worker. We enjoyed his deep bows and exaggerated movements as he waved us through.

Wanaka to Fox Glacier roadworks

After a brief toilet stop at Makaroa, a 1 hour’s drive from Wanaka, head off to the famous  “Blue Pools” on SH6. The Blue Pools are a major attraction in the Aspiring National Park. So expect a few people milling around.

Blue Pools Forest Walk

Blue Pools Signage with Pam

The forest walk to the Blue Pools is so refreshing and easy – Rifleman and Fantail birds flit around waiting for the small bugs you disturb with your feet.

Blue Pools Forest Walk

The walkway is well maintained and the swing bridge is manageable for everyone.

Blue Pools Swing Bridge

The views are superb! You’ll see the purest blue water stretching out towards the Makaroa River.

Blue Pools scenic shot

So many angles with totally different views.

Blue Pools Michael's photo

Haast Bridge

Once you’re back in the car, drive through to the Haast Bridge. This bridge is an impressive crisscross of steel girders – beautifully designed and very sturdy.

Haast Bridge

Waiatoto River Safaris River Tour

You’ll soon enter the lush-green West Coast region. Drive south of the Haast Village to the starting point of Waiatoto River Safaris. This is a fabulous tour run by locals.  We think it should definitely be included in your things to see between Wanaka and Fox Glacier. The tour takes about 2.5 hours and will take you into a remote world heritage area . Today we met co-owner and tour operator, Ruth Allanson.

Waiatoto River Safaris

Shipwreck Creek

Believe it or not, the West Coast can actually get beautiful sunny days.  And on a day like this, you really have to at Shipwreck Creek The views are simply awesome.  Here, you can take an easy stroll along a boardwalk to the beach. You can also visit Monroe Beach (rare penguins to be seen at the right time of the year).

To get a general idea on what you can do in the South Island…

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Knights Point Lookout

Do stop at the Knights Point Lookout. You simply can’t miss it out – yet again, it’ll be sensory overload!

Knights Point1

From here, you’ll pass Lake Moeraki and Lake Paringa. It is such a ‘breeze’ to drive this part of the South Island. There’s very little traffic and scenery is spectacular. Finally, you’ll pass through the tiny settlement of Bruce Bay and Jacobs Creek. The next stop is at the Fox Glacier Village.

Lake Matheson near Fox Glacier

You’ll probably be having a stay here for a night or so, before moving on.  The early evening is a great time to see Lake Matheson. The Lake Matheson Walk is a great soother if you’re been driving all day.  It’s incredibly tranquil. It basically involves a loop stroll around the lake. It is a perfect way to end a day discovering the things to see between Wanaka and Fox Glacier.

Lake Matheson small

Check out the second part of the West Coast travel journey here north from Fox to Nelson.

Happy travelling the South Island between Wanaka and Fox Glacier!

Nelson Lakes National Park – St Arnaud

The Nelson Lakes National Park – St Arnaud – This area is only an hour’s drive from the Nelson-Tasman region. The last time we visited St Arnaud, it was way back in 2013. Time just flies, but I’m pleased to say, not very much has changed.  We love the area around St. Arnaud for it’s pure natural beauty – and in particular, its remoteness. An added bonus, is that there are some great walks to do.

Nelson Lakes National Park - St Arnaud

If you really love visiting those less ‘mass tourism’ areas, St. Arnaud is definitely the ideal spot. Apart from some beautiful holiday homes that have recently been built, time has pretty much stood still.  This is such advantage for international visitors on the lookout for a true ‘heartland’ experience.  In the Spring and Autumn months especially, there are only a handful for tourists around. In fact, unlike other places in the South Island, there’s never a season when St Arnaud gets very crowded!

Nelson Lakes National Park – St Arnaud – Visitors Centre (I-site)

Before you attempt any of these walks, do stop in at the Visitor’s Centre.  You’ll find this to be a real ‘hub’ of information. There are huge wall maps all over the place. Best of all, the staff are incredibly knowledgeable. It pays to arm yourself with the info of the day- things like track closures

Mt. Robert Walkways in the Nelson Lakes National Park

Take a short drive, about 5 kms from the main St Arnaud settlement. Be aware that the road is windy and narrow. Therefore, your vehicle cannot be more than 7 metres long. Motor homes are not suitable for this stretch of gravel road. Head up towards the Department of Conservation headquarters at the Mt. Roberts car park. This will take you about 830 metres about sea level, so you’ll get lovely views even before you begin the ascent up the main track.

If you’re a serious hiker, head up the zig-zag Pinchgut track. This walk will be a challenge for those who are less than very fit. But even so, if you don’t mind a lot of stops on the way, its worth it. The views are just stunning. More info

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Forest Walks with stunning native bird songs

Now if a steep track is not really for you, then try the Speargrass Track bush walk. This track also starts at the Mt Robert Car Park and just walk as long as you like. What is really impressive here, is the bird life – there’s lots of it.  In fact you’ll find Tuis and Bellbirds pretty much everywhere. And their song is utterly gorgeous.  If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see the very rare Rifleman bird.  These little sweethearts are New Zealand’s smallest birds. On the day we walked, there were 5 of these guys flitting about. The ‘play list’ that morning was ‘out of this world.

Lake Rotoiti walks and water taxi

As mentioned, we covered Lake Rotoiti before in 2013 with a water taxi ride. We’re pleased to see that this water taxi is still operating. The Lakehead Track provides very easy access to stretching legs after a longer drive. In fact , if you really want to get  ‘off the beaten track’, I recommend you stay for a couple of nights in St. Arnaud.  That way, you’ll get the full impact of mother nature’s beauty.

Staying in St. Arnaud Nelson Lakes National Park

Many travellers will come to the Nelson Lakes area to go tramping (or hiking as we sometimes call it). There are stunning wilderness experiences around.  But you’ll need to count on 3-5 days, a good fitness level and sufficient supplies. As everywhere in New Zealand, there’s a network of back country huts.  These are are run by DoC (Department of Conservation). There are also a couple of B&B options and a hotel in town. But you may want to consider a modern self-contained holiday home. These will give you space and a bit more privacy.

The more remoter areas of New Zealand have a special appeal for second-time travellers.  As we get older and hopefully wiser, we tend to see the world differently.  We’re looking for peace and tranquility -a time to reflect.  There’s no better place for you to this than in the Nelson Lakes National Park – St Arnaud.

Happy travelling to the Nelson Lakes National park!

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