A Jaunt Through Middle Earth

This was a winter driving wonderland trip of the North and South Island of New Zealand. After exploring the geological wonders of the South Island, we enjoyed the culture of the North Island.


A Jaunt Through Middle Earth

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Nosferatu on August 22, 2002

The ultimate highlight of the trip occured at the Waitomo Caves in the North Island where we took the Lost World Adventure cave tour. We first abseiled 100 meters (330 feet) into the world's deepest commercial cave and then spent the next two hours bouldering and tunnelling our way to the surface again.${QuickSuggestions} It is certainly best to book as many things beforehand as possible since activities get filled up quickly. Also, for those wishing to save some money, get the New Zealand Discount Travel card at www.discounttravel.co.nz. It certainly saved us a lot of money from hot air ballooning to jet boating to the indigenous Maori shows and Hangi.${BestWay} The best way to get from place to place is to rent a car. Driving is safe and easy in New Zealand. Outside of the cities, the roads are quite empty. Within most cities, it is very easy to walk to the main points of interest or take the public transportation system.

The Latimer Hotel

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Nosferatu on September 5, 2002

This was the first hotel we stayed in during our trip. The location of the hotel is centralized within Christchurch as is within easy walking distance of the City Center. The hotel also offers free parking for guests, which is a good benefit since you won't have to drive to the City Center and pay for parking on the streets.

However, that being said, the hotel itself certainly did not amaze us, considering that it was supposed to be a Gold Star hotel. Although there are certainly plenty of windows throughout the room looking out into the city, the layout of the place seemed a bit awkward. The ceiling was low and seemed squatty with respect to the layout of the room. Coming from the United States, I also didn't care for the separate hot and cold water faucets. The hot water is scalding hot and the cold is frigid. Trying to wash your face in the morning is an art form in water torture.

On the plus side, the furniture was clean and comfortable. There was a small table to eat on and a kitchen with a refrigerator and mini-bar. For those not wishing to use the kitchen to satisfy their culinary desires, the hotel also has a restaurant that offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, I cannot comment on the quality of the food, since we did not dine there.

All in all, the best I can say is that the hotel was decent. It certainly has its advantages, but that is mainly based on its proximity to the City Center. We only stayed there for a single night and it was immediately following our long flight across the Pacific. So, my jet lag may account for some of the negative comments. However, I would probably look for a different hotel to stay in on my next trip to Christchurch.


Skyline Leisure Lodge

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Nosferatu on September 13, 2002

This was the second accomodation of our two week trip through New Zealand. We arrived here after a four hour drive from Christchurch down State Highway 1. Coming from that direction, Duke Street comes upon you rather quickly and the Skyline Leisure Lodge is right on the corner of SH 1 and Duke Street.

In terms of the accomodation itself, the Skyline Leisure Lodge was rather nice. It was smaller than our room in Christchurch, but the room, and the hotel in general, felt much more comfortable. The Kiwi Gold Pass allowed us to stay in one of their Superior Suites and we were pleased by the accomodations. There was a sliding door in the back of the room that opened up to the landscaped garden area which had a nice view.

Even with the tranquil setting, this hotel is still within walking distance to the city center and the Otago University.

In the main lounge area of the hotel across from the check in desk, there is a good sized restaurant called the McGavin's Restaurant and Bar. The menu is made up of regional cuisine and typical American-style food. We did not dine there since we were looking for something a bit more exotic out and about in the city.

Radisson Villa Antigua
9A Calle Poniente
Antigua, Guatemala
(502) 331-7409

Dart River Jet Boating

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Nosferatu on August 23, 2002

This was my first jet boating experience and it wasn't too bad. Glenorchy is located about 40 miles from the New Zealand Adventure Capital City of Queenstown on the South Island. The Dart River is one of the tributaries that runs into Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand's third largest lake.

You can either drive to Glenorchy yourself or have a shuttle bus from the Dart River pick you up. However, this pick up is not free as I later found out once I arrived to Glenorchy. So, if you have your own transportation, my recommendation will be to drive yourself.

Anyway, once there, you are suited into a rain poncho and life jacket and then put into the jets for an hour trip up the Dart River. Along the way, the pilot stops to point out mountain peaks and other landmarks. This area of the South Island is truly a beautiful area and many scenes from the movie The Lord of the Rings were filmed here. A number of times, the pilot also puts the jet into a complete 360 turn which is a lot of fun.

After the jet ride, we are dropped off for some hot soup and then loaded onto a bus for the drive back. Even though this part of the trip is promoted as a safari with a commentary by the bus driver on the surrounding area, it is nothing really more than a bus ride back to Glenorchy.

The reason we didn't take the jet boat back is because our group is split in two in the morning with the other group taking the bus ride 'safari' first.

Although we quite enjoyed the jet boat ride, I personally think that, overall, the cost of the trip is a bit high. Plus, being charged another NZ$18 per person for pickup from Queenstown is pretty ridiculous. It takes about 6 hours all together from pick up to drop off, but only the hour long jet boat ride is really the highlight of the entire trip.

If I were to go back again, I would probably pay just a little more and do one of the combo packages that include a jet boat ride on the Shotover Jet, a helicopter ride around Queenstown, a gondola ride and a couple of other things.


Hot Air Ballooning

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Nosferatu on August 23, 2002

This is what it is like to fly with the birds. I've been flying on a number of different aircraft during my life, but is all they are -- aircraft; they have engines and make noise from takeoff to landing. Hot air ballooning is completely different.

We went with the Aoraki Ballooning outfitter located in the quiet town of Methven, about an hour southwest of Christchurch, the South Island's largest city. We were picked up from our hotel at around 5:45 am and reached Methven a little after 7 am. After signing waiver forms and whatnot, we took off to the field where we unloaded the balloon and had participation from everyone to take the balloon out and get it ready for takeoff. After about 35 minutes of work in the cold winter morning, we were ready to soar to the clouds. The pilot had us all get into the basket and gave the engine a few pulls of the rope to get the hot air flowing, we were making our way to the heavens.

The amazing thing about riding in a balloon is that you can barely feel yourself leaving the ground. One second we were just hanging out on the ground and the next we were about ten feet above the launch crew. For the next hour, we spent riding the air currents across the town of Methven and over the Canterbury Plains of this section of New Zealand. To the west was the expanse of the Southern Alps and below us were farms and ranches with thousands of sheep. As we glided over, people would look up and wave to us.

The most memorable part of the ride was the landing. Of course, a balloon lands by releasing the hot air from the top and making it less bouyant in the air. However, I never really knew how a balloon actually makes its final landing. Well, I certainly learned first hand here. Basically, we have a controlled crash. The pilot controls the air that he is allowing to escape so that we slowly fall to the earth and allow the basket to be rotated 90 degrees when it makes contact with the earth. At that point, it becomes a battle between the wind condition, the amount of hot air still left in the balloon, and friction. In our case, the balloon dragged our horizontal bodies for about 75 feet before we stopped in a farmer's paddock. It was quite amusing trying to get ourselves out of the basket from that position.

After another 30 minutes of rolling up the balloon and putting it away, we had our ceremony to receive our certificates and then had a champagne and juice breakfast before being taken back. During breakfast, they also gave us a history of balloon flight from the Montgolfier brothers in 1783 through modern day ballooning competitions.


Shaolin Monks Wheel of Life

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Nosferatu on August 23, 2002

This live theatre performance is a martial arts marvel!!! It tells the story of how the Shaolin Monks originated the style of Kung Fu and used it to defend the emperor of China over 1,500 years ago, only then to be betrayed by him by having a number of their monks assassinated. The performance then concludes by showing off some of the amazing feats that these monks can do and the different styles of kung fu that is practiced.

The show is two hours long with a twenty minute intermission in between. Unlike other live theater pieces such as musicals, the Wheel of Life does not have dialogue by the performers. Rather, a recorded narrarator injects periodically to describe the scene or give historical accounts of the monks and their story with the emperor.

Watching this live show is certainly quite different from watching the martial arts stunts of a Jackie Chan movie or some of the other 1970's popcorn karate movies. There are no double takes or stunt doubles. The feats of kung fu are all happening right in front of you, and the skill of the performers is nothing short of dazzling.

Definitely a show worth checking out.

Note, this is not a specific New Zealand attraction. This is a theatre performance which will be making its way around the world. We just happened to see it in New Zealand on opening day.


Abseiling and Caving

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Nosferatu on August 23, 2002

This is a totally thrilling adventure. First, we abseil 100 meters (330 feet) into the world's deepest commercial cave called the Waitomo Cave on the North Island. Then we spend the next couple of hours making our way back to the surface again.

The abseil down in magical. On the day of our travel, the air was cold and there was a heavy mist in the sky. This made the descent all the more otherworldly. The flora and fauna we encountered was just stunning to look at and it seemed like we really were in Middle Earth. About 75 feet down, there was a rather large cave to our left and I was expecting a dragon to come roaring out of there and take flight to find its meal for the night.

After a 25 minute descent, we landed next to a small underground river that led further into the darkness of the caves. After unhooking and putting away our gear, we donned on our headlamps and journeyed into the caves. After a little while we turned off our our lights and marvelled at the glow worms that hung to the roof the cave by the thousands. Our guide informed us that they really weren't worms, but rather maggots and it wasn't them that was glowing, but rather their waste products.

After continuing on, we then came upon a ladder that took us another 30 meters (100 feet) straight up. This was a more tiring climb than I would have first thought. Primarily, because of the exertion we had already put into the abseiling so far. Once we climbed to the top of the ladder, there was still another half a mile of tunnels left to make our way through before we made it back to the surface.

All in all, this was the highlight of our trip. There is also a longer trip called the Lost World Epic which is 7 hours long and gets you quite wet, but was not available during the time we were there. However, I can't recommend this activity enough. But, you shouldn't try it if you have a fear of heights. Hanging by a rope hundreds of feet in the air may not be a good way to keep your sanity.


Tamaki Maori Village and Hangi

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Nosferatu on August 23, 2002

In a region of New Zealand where there is a large concentration of the indigenous Maori race, this tour is certianly one of the highlights all of the Maori attractions. The fact that it does not take place in a hotel is certainly a draw. Rather, it takes place about 15 miles south of Rotorua in a replica of what a Maori village looked liked during the pre-European era.

After being picked up on a tour bus at your local hotel, you are shuttled off to the Maori village with a fairly chatty and humorous Maori bus driver. During the ride, a 'chief' is picked from among the visitors to be greeted by the Maori warrior with a challenge dance known as the Wero. Customs, history, and etiquette is described along the way as well. Once at the Maori village, the 'chiefs' from each tour bus are brought front center in a small open arena in front of the village while the warrior comes out and performs the Wero. Once it is determined that the 'chiefs' come in peace, the 'chiefs' and all of the visitors are then welcome into the village to witness life in what would have been a typical Maori lifestyle. After some time, we are escorted into a hall where we spend another 45 minutes watching Maori dances and stories describing the Maori race and history.

Finally, there is the Hangi, which is the dinner cooked in the earth that is served to all the visitors. The food is certainly delicious and includes vegetable and meat selections with dessert.

We are then loaded back onto the tour busses and returned to our respective hotels.

Overall, I certainly recommend this tour to anyone in the Rotorua area. I could tell that some of the aspects was definitely spruced up for the tourists and didn't really strike me as authentic Maori culture, but I guess that is the way of the world.


Horseback Riding

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Nosferatu on August 23, 2002

This is a fairly relaxed ride through the dairy and farmlands in Whataroa, a small agricultural community about twenty minutes north of the famous Franz Joseph Glacier on the South Island.

We took the two hour ride (which came closer to three hours) that took us from the stables, through the ranch and out into the farming areas of Whataroa. Surrounding us were the impressive peaks of the Butler Range that made up a section of the Southern Alps. The guide was quite good and had lived in the Whataroa area all of her life. The horses were properly trained to handle both novice and experienced riders alike.

Overall, even though the ride was easy without anything technical, it wasn't anything that I can be overly ecstatic about. For myself, at least, I like to have a goal for the activity that I'm embarking on: whether it is to reach a destination, climb to the top of a mountain, or herd livestock from one area to another (think City Slickers here). This activity basically took us around a big loop. However, it was still time and money worth spent.


Milford Sound Cruise

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Nosferatu on August 22, 2002

This is a nature cruise that takes the visitor through the entire expanse of New Zealand's most accessible fiord: Milford Sound. The scenery in the Sound is absolutely breathtaking. Tall 2000+ meter mountains tower completely around the Sound. Scores of waterfalls spray hundreds of gallons of water per minute throughout the entire length of the Sound all the way out to the Tasman Sea. Marine animals such as seals, sea birds, and other wildlife settle into the quiet sanctuary that the Sound provides.

All in all, it is a beautiful area and worth a trip for all travelers to New Zealand.


Larnach Castle

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Nosferatu on September 5, 2002

We arrived at Larnach Castle on a rainy, windy, and gloomy day. However, that just added to the overall effect that the castle had on me. Although the castle itself is not huge, it is still quite impressive and the grounds surrounding the castle are a lush green with lovely trees, flowers, and plants well laid out.

There are two options for visiting Larnach Castle. The first is to just tour the Castle grounds which allows the visitor the opportunity to walk through the 35 acres of gardens and grounds as well as see some (potentially) great views of the Otago Harbor and the city of Dunedin a little bit to the south. Since the weather was so bad on the day of our arrival, the view didn't even go as far as the edge of the castle boundaries, let alone the harbor to the west.

The second option, and the one we did, was to take a self-guided tour through the castle. Naturally, this also included option one from above. Upon entry, the visitor receives a pamphlet detailing the route to take through the castle's twelve rooms and some of the main highlights of the place. In the basement, there is are a couple of rooms which explain the history of the Larnach family and the construction of the castle in the 1870's.

There is also a short film shown in one of the adjacent rooms which describes the purchase of Larnach castle by the current owners in the mid 20th century and their efforts to return the castle to its once former granduer.

This is certainly a fine place for people who enjoy history, culture, and fine architecture. For those interested, here is the link to get more information on visiting Larnach Castle:

www.larnachcastle.co.nz


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