Intro: Building A New Zealand Adventure Around A One Way Qantas Flight
Part 1: Getting To New Zealand Via Asia
Part 2: Spending A Couple Recovery Days In Kuala Lumpur
Part 3: Exploring New Zealand’s Beautiful North Island
Part 4: Exploring New Zealand’s Beautiful South Island
Part 5: A Short Stopover In Sydney And The Ride Home
Upon arrival in Christchurch, I immediately set out to explore. We would be boarding the Kiwi Rail TranzAlpine train for a journey across the width of the South Island early the next morning, so I wanted to be sure to see a few things before dark. Our hotel was located a bit out of the city center, but getting there was a beautiful walk through Hagley Park containing the city’s Botanic Gardens.
I really wanted to pay a visit to the Christchurch Cathedral, which had been damaged and eventually closed after several violent earthquakes over the years. And this wasn’t the only damage. A lot of the town is literally in ruins after the most recent in 2010 and 2011. Rebuilding apparently takes forever because as I wandered around very little reconstruction progress was evident.
At one point the iconic Christchurch Cathedral had been deemed damaged beyond repair, and it was scheduled for demolition. Though in the past few months, plans to restore it are now back on the table.
If you are a carnivore, New Zealand is the place for you. I’ve never had such amazing food – the fish, steak, lamb etc. are delicious, and with the country-wide focus on healthy living, guaranteed not to be processed inhumanely or pumped full of hormones or other additives. This particular night, I dined at a local fish and chips place, opting to have the local catch of the day grilled rather than fried.
We were up early the next day to take the ultra scenic cross-country TranzAlpine train across the Southern alps to the small town of Greymouth. Two hours by car later, we’d arrive in Franz Josef, a small town at the foot of a big glacier.
The train carriage was super comfortable, with lots of room to spread out and a special outdoor viewing car to snap pictures. The scenery was spectacular on the four hour trip.
We picked up our van at the Greymouth train station, and around two hours later arrived at our home for the next two nights, Franz Josef. The town is very small, but there are a ton of things to do. One of the most popular is ride in a helicopter to the glacier, though skydiving, kayaking, horse back riding and many other activities are also options.
It was drizzling the evening we arrived, but the forecast was for perfect weather the following day. The other two in my group booked a helicopter ride (which I had previously done on a trip to Alaska,) I decided to spend the whole day hiking on the many well signed, immaculately groomed trails.
My first hike of the day was up the mountain to the Franz Josef glacier. The first couple of kilometers was paved and ran next to the ultra blue glacial runoff. The weather was divine.
The glacier had receded a lot over the years, leaving loose rocks in it’s path. Several people had also been injured by falling ice, warranting this sign.
There were several more trails around the glacier. I pretty much hit all of them. I could have spent days here, it was so beautiful!
It was a long drive to Queenstown, but the drive was packed with the consistently beautiful scenery we’d encountered around every corner of this amazing place. We stopped several times for photos and a hike around beautiful Lake Matheson.
This was one of the most scenic sections of the drive. I couldn’t possibly post all the amazing pictures I have from just this one segment of the trip, it was all so beautiful!
When we arrived in Queenstown, the sun was starting to set. The agenda for the night included a ride up a gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak for dinner. The views from above were spectacular! I couldn’t wait until the next day to explore.
I got up early to get in a hike before our steamboat ride and visit to a sheep farm, an activity included as part of the tour. I already knew Queenstown would be my favorite stop of the trip, and I wanted to maximize my time there as best I could. It was another crystal clear day. I’m still amazed at how lucky we got with the weather on this trip.
After a short cruise across Lake Wakitipu on an old steamer ship, The TSS Earnslaw, we arrived at Walterpeak for lunch and a lesson in herding and shearing sheep. Another activity I was skeptical of, yet thoroughly enjoyed.
We set out the next day to catch a cruise through Doubtful Sound, one of the most remote and pristine places in the world. The only way to get to Doubtful Sound is via a boat ride across Lake Manapouri and then a bus ride over Wilmot Pass. It’s isolation makes the fiord a very special and beautiful place.
After a lovely day on the water, we ended it in Te Anau for dinner and to overnight. Te Anau is around half way back to Queenstown, where we would end the tour the following afternoon. Set on a beautiful lake, I made sure to get up early and catch the early morning sunrise before our departure.
We hit the road for the final one hour drive of the trip to Queenstown. It was the formal end of the tour, but I had two additional nights there before starting the trip home via Sydney. I had originally booked the Hilton property but upon discovering how far out it was, used points banked from IHG Big Win promos to book and pay for a 30k per night room at the Crowne Plaza.
The location is prime, facing the mountains, and steps away from everything. An excellent choice. I was given a lake view room with a stunning view of The Remarkables.
There are a plethora of extreme sport activities to partake in while visiting Queenstown. You most definitely will not get bored here. It’s called the adventure capital of the world for a reason. The following day, I ended up in the world famous AJ Hackett bungy shop , even though I swore up and down I would never in a million years do it. Skydiving, no problem. Bungy, no chance.
I chose to do my jump at the original, first ever commercial bungy site, the 43 meter jump off the Kawaru Bridge. Once there, I milled around watching people jump for a good thirty minutes before building up a bit of courage.
I wasn’t really sure how I got there, but once on the ledge, I was certain I had made a big mistake and couldn’t go through with it. I guess the staff is used to this because even though it took a good three plus minutes to convince me, I finally jumped. And I felt like a million bucks once I did! What were the magic words? “The bus ride here was way more dangerous than a bungy jump!” So true…
After one final amazing morning hike up to Bob’s Peak and later a brief stroll around town, I purchased a couple of locally made hats (made with pure merino wool and possum fur!) and boarded the airport bus (#11, leaving from the front of the McDonalds cost: NZ$8) for the ten minute ride to the terminal.
August is high season in Queenstown, and there was no award space to be found so I ended up paying for my completely packed Qantas lift direct to Sydney. There wasn’t an airport lounge (its under construction,) but my One World Sapphire status it did get me a seat closer to the front, priority check in and priority boarding.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a plane so packed and with such tight leg space, but luckily there were no delays and we were soon in the air.