South Island Travels

Just a few days travelling around the South Island taking in all the amazing scenery and meeting incredible people.

Driving Kaikoura to Christchurch

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by rufusni on April 22, 2010

Kaikoura launched itself at visitors for its wildlife –whales, seals and dolphins, then throw in the paua shell and it shake it together to get a touristy flavour. To its advantage there are lots of cafes and restaurants – some of which seemed pretty good. Started the morning in the Kaikoura Food Company, which is out of the town centre on Beach Road – it was a lovely cafe and the menu was interesting with plenty of options, and the food was delicious but the other selling point to this place was that it makes fudge – and they have lots of varieties and flavours- it was difficult to tear myself away. I ordered breakfast but the sweet cakes and things were too tempting and so I had to round everything off with one and a coffee. While the location is less than ideal, inside is pleasant but the food trumps.
Then came a wander around the town – there are plenty of souvenir shops, including a few that specialise in paua shell, and have every possible use for the shells for sale. The Paua shells are a by-product of harvesting by diving for the ‘meat’ within. However the shells themselves may look grey and encrusted on the exterior but their interior is the key with its striking blue, green, and purple iridescence. The bright colours are lovely and make a perfect material to make tourist souvenirs of! Having wandered around the shops, I decided not to buy but more about that later.
I had a walk on the beach at Kaikoura, which is really stony, but has beautiful scenery to enjoy, with mountains and hills providing the backdrop. Having enjoyed my morning I went hunting for a late lunch – and saw a great offer for lunch in a Thai restaurant in the middle of the town, and since I rarely get to enjoy Thai food at home I’d give it ago. But it was slightly disappointing – the food was average and nothing to write home about – but for a cheap lunch it was cheerful enough – but I think you can probably do better having just experienced a lovely brunch earlier on in Kaikoura Food Company.

Then it was back on the road to head south back to Christchurch...but the first stretch of the road from Kaikoura threw up some surprises as it winds beside the sea with steep cliffs on the other side. First came seals, right beside a convenient stopping point – which made up for my decision not to go hunting elsewhere – because I got really close to them, and there was only another couple stopped – and I was able to watch them in peace. Further along I stopped at a beach, and found a few paua shells – which was even better than buying one in a souvenir shop – so okay it wasn’t as shiny and polished, but it felt more authentic. The road left the beautiful sea views as it wound its way inland and southward, and the scenery changed to hills with the mountains in the distance.

My next stop was a small town, Cheviot – and an unplanned stop - as I was driving into this town there were a few ladies sitting at the roadside with stalls, the signs mentioned a local crafts market – and as I needed a present or two I thought I would pull in and have a look. The three ladies were very friendly and chatty but not overbearingly so, and were busy knitting and other crafty things as they kept watch over their stalls. Of course there were some paua shells, but not the tourist production style of souvenirs, but also lots of other items including knitted items and other wool items ( the area around Cheviot has many sheep farms). I bought my mum a very cute little sheep made out of wool. Apparently the market occurs on Sundays but that it is also supplemented with some Fridays as well, which I luckily hit.

I carried on, with the plan I’d find somewhere in Amberley to stop for afternoon tea – and right on the main road in the town was the Nor’wester cafe which looked really lovely from the outside, with parking and an patio area, but I ended up less than impressed with the place. It was the only place on my travels of NZ that I felt negative vibes towards me was eating on my own, which was unfortunate as I due to leave the next day – but as I had met so many other warm and welcoming business people, I knew it was a blip. The Service was below par, nor was the coffee great and wasn’t all that hot when it arrived, and it felt that they didn’t really want a customer who wasn’t ordering a full meal. But there are other places to eat in town.
Having time I decided to take a detour off the main road and head down to the coast, and my detour was well worth it as the sun came out, as I came across a desert beach. After stretching my legs, I relaxed in the car reading a book sitting overlooking the beach (it was a little too chill to sit out).

Unfortunately I had to head onto Christchurch, and so I had to leave my lovely secluded beach and head into the city. While I enjoyed Christchurch during the three weeks I spent there with work, it did seem a shame to be back again. I had truly loved the freedom driving around the South Island, and seeing so many wonderful places, and I was dismayed that my month in New Zealand was drawing to a close, and Christchurch that had marked the beginning also marked the end of this adventure and I knew all that lay ahead was a tiring and cramped flight back to normal life lay the following day.

To be honest the trip from Kaikoura to Christchurch was more tame than the wild west coast – no wild twisty and narrow road instead a main highway, a greater population, and while lovely scenery, it was diminished by the other coast and crossing the mountains. The one thing I wished I had done a boat trip to see the whales in Kaikoura, but it was so cold I wimped out of even considering it. However, it was a nice relaxed final day in New Zealand.

Driving the West Coast -WOW!!!

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by rufusni on March 1, 2010

There was a certain amount of disappointment in driving through the mountains due to less than ideal weather – cloud, mist, drizzle and occasionally full on rain – but on heading over the Haast Pass, I saw light at the end of the tunnel – sunshine. The drive down was amazing with snow topped peaks, the raging river swishing past at the top, slowing down to a meandering river at the bottom and many waterfalls – I only stopped at the Thunder Creek Falls, which is just off the road, but there are others close to the road to stop at as well, and all well signposted. It was a lovely drive, but its was about to be outdone by the drive up the West Coast.
I briefly stopped in Haast, just to break the drive and get a coffee –but decided I wanted to head on – and good decision rather than hang around the rather uninspiring Haast, there was so much to see ahead. First stop was Ship Creek Cove which is just off the road with a large car park – but it was rather empty – and the beach was deserted, a reminder of the remote nature of this part of New Zealand – waves crashed on the beach, which was strewn with driftwood. The cove has an interesting history – its name came because fragments of a ship were found here. In fact over time several fragments of the same ship were found – a fine sailing ship – its identity was eventually discovered – a ship wrecked off the Australian coast in 1855, and the fragments made the trip to this beach. Quirky facts aside this was a lovely spot to get out of the car and walk along a deserted, quiet beach, simply enjoying the peace and quiet.
But onwards – there are plenty of amazing views and places to stop – such as Knight’s Point which was named after a dog of the construction crew who built the road. But having enjoyed sunshine, my luck ran out again – as clouds and rain rolled in as I headed towards Fox Glacier, and there was little to see in all the cloud – so I thought why not chance it onto Franz Josef glacier - which worked out better – now the sun didn’t come out but it at least had stopped raining, so even if the views weren’t great, I could get out of the car and see the glacier a little. Now the road up is gravel and a little rough but it is worth it in the end. Now my next question was whether to stop there and see if the next day was any better, or to head further up the coast. I decided as I had been up close to glaciers in the past and due to the limited time frame of the trip, to head onward and see what happened next.
The weather fluxed between grey, sunshine and rain as I drove on further – which gave an even more dramatic backdrop to the drive. The twists and turns of this road will take the drivers attention, and at times road signs will indicate recommended speeds of 25kph, which are well deserved. The scenery ranges from snow capped mountains, beaches, waves crashing on rocks, lakes, forests, farmland to small villages.
That night I ended up in Hokitika, and stayed in a chalet overlooking the beach – I wandered down to the beach and found one of the many pieces of driftwood to sit on and enjoy the sunset, with fire colours reflecting on the sand and sea – it was beautiful! I also picked up a few green tinged stones to added to my collection. I was tired after all the driving and had a quick dinner, and headed for an early night. The next morning was up early, and a walk around the town centre, looking at the shops – including pounamu (jade) carvings. And then back on the road and heading towards Greymouth having filled up the tank. I took a detour to Shantytown, an attempt to recreate the gold rush era of the region – its kind of interesting but better if you had kids – its was kind of cool to pan for gold even if it was a little artificial, with a guarantee to find gold, which you get in a souvenir container. And back on the road through Greymouth to Punakaiki and then Westport. This section of the road is truly amazing for scenery with white capped breakers and sometimes rugged rocks or then again sweeping beaches with bush-clad mountains as a backdrop. Then come the Pancake Rocks –a short trail of 20 minutes takes you out from the road and village to see the rocks, which do kind of look like stacks of pancakes – they are kind of strange! There are a few places to eat here, and I took the opportunity for a break with coffee and a muffin. Then back on the road to be amazed with all the scenery on the way to Westport, before heading inland again through Buller Gorge.
While this road is twisty, the drive is so worth it, my only disappointment was that I didn’t have more time to properly drive it – only one night stop at Hokitika is too little – but that was the way the cookie crumbled with time constraints – and there is so much to see and enjoy along the West Coast – it seems to have an unspoilt quality due to its sparse population. And its lovely to drive on empty roads – good thing they are with the single lane bridges – but loved the peace and tranquillity, the scenery, the beauty – oh to go back!

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by rufusni on December 28, 2008

New Zealand lies close to the meeting place of two tectonic plates - vast pieces of the earth's crust which push against each other. As one plate is forced gradually beneath the other, pathways emerge for the earth's inner heat to rise and heat subterranean mineral water, prized for its healing properties. This water comes to the surface in several places in natural pools but they have also become used as a commerical enterprise - such as at Hanmer Springs first seeing usage in the 19th century, though now relies on water from a drilled bore hole.

The pools are right on the main road in Hanmer Springs with plenty of parking close by and are open from 10am to 9pm daily. There are various ticketing options, but a single adult entrance is NZ$14, child NZ$7, and there are also student and senior concessions, also it is possible to rent bathing suits and towels. Or if you feel like a little more privacy you can hire a private thermal pool for NZ$24 per person for 30 minutes or splash out on some pampering in the adjoining spa.

It was a cold late winter night - the pools were quite quiet. I bought my ticket and headed to the changing rooms - which were clean and tidy with showers and some private changing areas. There are plenty of lockers to rent with a computerised system that allows you to get in and out of your locker as much as you want - and plenty of benchs if you want to leave a towel somewhere.

There are a range of different pools to choose from including a swimming pool to stretch yourself a little bit. There are four connecting rock pools kept at 38 degrees, then three hexagonal pools working up from 38 to 40 degrees and then three smaller sulphur pools moving up from 40 to 42 degrees. It was a cold night and started off in the rock pools as slightly cooler to adjust to the warm water. But there were too many kids mucky about down there, and then very heavy rain drove me in to the hexagonal pools which are partial covered with a giant umbrella. And I worked up my way to the sulpur pools - which were must smaller and had fewer people in them -and no kids! The sulphur pools have no chlorine in them, unlike the other pools, and you can feel the difference. At night there is reasonable lighting -enough to see were you are going without being glaring and bright - especially as the pools are well-laid out.

It was very pleasant when the rain stopped and the clouds cleared, to sit in the warm water and look at the stars. I left feeling relaxed and chilled, and despite a long drive that day didn't feel any aches from sitting so long - the water must have done some good - of course the thermal pools have long been associated with beneficial effects.

It is of course a commercial affair - if you want the natural rock pool there are some to be found- but it is much easier to buy a ticket to a regulated one. I could imagine this place would be much less appealling with lots of people crowded in, and a large number of children would smash any sense of calm. However, I did enjoy lying in the pools and would recommend it to anyone for a visit.
Hanmer Springs Thermal Reserve
Hanmer Springs
Christchurch, New Zealand
800 442 663

Shining Star Beachfront Accomodation

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by rufusni on September 17, 2008

This place has a mix of accomodation options - from camping sites to cabins to chalets on the beachfront. The grounds are lovely with lots of grass, trees and shrubs and there is a small animal 'farm' with a couple of pigs and things. The cabins are less luxurious than the chalets, but more than adequate, and have sea views - with a variety of options available with varying costs.

I decided to stay in one of the chalets which has an unobstructed view of the beach and sea. It was a large room with the wooden logs visible so it did seem a little too much wood in the room. However, there is a large sliding door and two windows in the room, so it is very bright. The room was great - with a kingsize bed but also a sofa, desk and table. It was also very cosy despite being cold outside with a remote-operated heat-pump so you can adjust the temperature. There is also a well-equipped kitchen- microwave, two-ring hob adding to the standard kettle, but also with pots, pans, cooking utensils, and crockery - particularly good was the cafetiere. There was also a TV, DVD player and music system - and the reception has a selection of recent DVDs to rent at $5 for the night. The ensuite was more than adequate - with the bonus of water from the shower not going everywhere like so many other places I've stayed. It also had heating and a heated towel.

The chalet has a deck area with chairs and table which overlook the beach - perfect to watch the sunset over the sea! - or to enjoy breakfast on. There is a gateway onto the beach from the property - with its driftwood scattered along it. It was lovely to go to sleep and to wake up to the sound of waves breaking on the beach. I would definetely stay here again - and recommend it to others!
Best West Shining Star Log
Hokitika, New Zealand

Aspen Lodge Motel - A Good Find

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by rufusni on September 17, 2008

I arrived as night fell in Hamner Springs with no idea of where to stay, and by accident came across this place, as it is kind of tucked away. And it was quite a pleasant surprise! Its located a short walk to the hot springs and the village centre and has its own car park. The staff in the reception were extremely friendly and helpful. The motel also rents towels to use at the hot springs which are close by.

The room was on the first floor with huge windows making the room nice and bright. The ensuite was clean and had a great blow heater but the water pressure in the shower left something to be desired. There was a kitchenette - a well-equipped one with a two-ring hob, toaster, microwave - and a cafetiere and teapot. There is complimentary tea and coffee with proper milk and s few little cookies.

The room itself was great - the owner had made some effort to make it a little more homey - with a chest as a coffee table and a few bits and pieces, such as cushions and coasters, to take the bland look away. There was a large wall clock but no alarm clock in the room which could have been annoying had I not had one with me. There was a TV and DVD player, and the reception had a large range of complimentary DVDs that guests can sign out - which was lovely given that so many places rent them out. There was a comfy sofa in the room and a dining set. The heating in the room was a little less than ideal, as it automatically turned itself off after an hour, but it did adequately heat the room. However, wardrobe space is kind of lacking - its a small narrow cupboard which has an ironing board in it.

I did enjoy my stay here, it was clean, comfortable and welcoming. I would stay here again if I came to Hamner Springs, as it was good value for money.
Aspen Lodge Motel
24 Jacks Pass Road

0800 277 365

Comfort Inn Melbourne Motor Lodge Queenstown - Average

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by rufusni on September 18, 2008

Driving into Queenstown there is no lack of choice in motels and hotels were to stay - however I had picked this place as it was off main roads in the Queenstown. It is in a quiet street and a short walk to the town centre. However, there is extremely limited parking available and its quite likely that you'll end up parking on the street.

This is a slightly older type of place, though they have tried to make some renovations. The reception area seems quite dark, but the staff were helpful. There are different room options available either shared bathrooms or ensuite. I went for the ensuite option which are right at the back of the motel, so the room was very quiet. There were large patio doors to a balcony area - and there was view of the mountians but it looks directly into the neighbouring apartment building.

The room had been redecorated - including a large flat-screen TV - as well as a kingsize bed and a big sofa. The heating was an electric oil radiator to be plugged in, and took the coolness off the room but couldn't be described as cosy in winter coldness. There was a kettle, toaster and fridge in the room - there was complimentary tea and coffee but milk was mini UHT cartons unlike so many other motels I stayed in. There was plenty of storage space - a small wardrobe and a shelf for suitcases/baags at the door. Usefully there is also an iron and ironing board, and laundry facilities are available for $10. But the bathroom wasn't pretty - it was well-worn and dated, the shower curtain was discoloured - though it was well cleaned.

Overall, there are so many options of accomodation in Queenstown, that it would be better to stay in. I wouldn't return here - the bathroom, parking and lack of privacy in the room just made the accomodation less than ideal.
Comfort Inn Melbourne Motorlodge Queenstown
Queenstown, New Zealand
64-3 442 8431

Puzzling World - Mind-twisting

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by rufusni on September 17, 2008

The problem was a wet day in Wanaka - one of my answers was to visit Puzzling world. Its just on the outskirts of Wanaka on the main road and can't be missed wih its colourful exterior, particularly the ‘leaning tower of Wanaka’ which balances at 53 degrees on one corner- a perfect photo opportunity. There are two sections to this place - the illusion rooms and then an outdoor 3-D maze, which you can buy separate or combined tickets for. A combined ticket costs $NZ12.50 and for children $NZ 9. Also the main entrance area has a great number of tables and lots of puzzles sitting around for people to try out their own skills for free. Its open year round from 8.30am to last entry at 5pm - though it has shorter hours on Christmas Day.

The illusion rooms consist of 4 rooms. The first room deals with 'holographic images' taken with lasers, so they look 3D and change depending what angle you look at them at. The next room has all its wall covered with concave faces -168 in fact, of famous people, but the illusion is that they appear to be convex and that they follow you around the room - it is slightly freaky. The third room looks perfectly normal if you look through the window, but inside the room is completely misshapen so that it changes perspectives so you can look really short or extremely tall. The fourth room is a tilting room - sloped at 15 degrees. The warning on the wall about who can enter just shows how disorientating this room is - your balance is thrown off by it all, and my stomach felt a bit 'seasick'. There are several fun illusions in this room - a snooker ball that rolls up the a table or water that runs up hill.

The maze is outdoor - so maybe not the best choice for a wet day - especially as large puddles add to the rain coming down. It has two levels with a second floor and staircases built into the maze. The instructions are to find each of the four coloured towers and then to find the exit. It takes a good bit of time to complete it - though if you get fed up or run out of time there are several 'emergency' escapes that allow you to exit the maze. The maze is made up of 1.5km of passages but apparently on average most visitors walk 6km to complete the maze - and I did walk lots to get around it!

In its publicity Puzzling world is referred to as one of the world’s most interesting and eccentric visitor attractions - that claim may be a little over the top but I really enjoyed my visit and would recommend it to anyone visiting the area. The shop has cool puzzles and illusions to buy as well just to keep you puzzling when you leave.
Puzzling World
188 Main Highway 84
Wanaka, New Zealand
(03) 443 7489

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