Film Nerd and Bride in Middle Earth – South Island

*Christchurch was our last stop on this trip.   For photos and reflection on this beautiful city as it was, please proceed to the end of this post.   I once again wish to convey my sympathies to everyone affected by the recent tragedy*

Day 8: Greymouth – Franz Josef

It was only a short drive this morning, but as it was through the Southern Alps, it was breathtakingly beautiful.   The road presented a few twists and turns, but that did not distract from all we saw around us.    This remained true for our entire time driving in the Southern Alps, from Franz Josef, to Queenstown, and through to Milford Sound.

The township of Franz Josef was small, but fantastic.  It was great just walking around, enjoying not only the shops, but the mountainous backdrop.   We were staying at the Punga Grove Motor Inn, our best accommodation yet.   There was a full kitchenette, and plenty of room, as well as full complimentary milk as opposed to a few small packets of UHT.   The staff was very friendly too.   They recommended the Speight’s Landing Bar and Restaurant to us for lunch, and we enjoyed our first meal there so much, we returned for dinner.

View walking in Franz Josef township

Our pre-booked activity while in Franz Josef was a Glacier Country Lake Tour of Lake Mapourika.   It is not exactly what we expected, given the name.   This is because there was actually no view whatsoever of the actual Franz Josef Glacier.    The Lake and the scenery were lovely,and we did see some wildlife, but the tour itself did feel somewhat extended and unnecessary, especially given the scale of some of the lakes we saw later on our holiday.   It also did not help that another passenger on our tour would not stop talking, so the serenity of the trip was broken.

Where the glacier SHOULD be

The most exciting thing on the cruise... a Tui!

What we did to compensate for not seeing the glacier was to then visit the glacier ourselves.   There are a number of walks one can take to view the glacier, of which we tried a few.   Our favourite was perhaps the longest, but the extra effort paid off.   We walked to the base of the glacier itself.   It was cold and windy, but the view was spectacular.   An added delight was having a Kia visit us while we were there, hopping around our very feet.   We then ended the evening visiting some hots springs that were not far from our hotel.   They were not the same as the Rotorua Mud baths, but they were still very relaxing.

All in all we were quite sad to leave Franz Josef the next day.   We could easily of spent another 48 hours there, then spend more time at Fox glacier, which we unfortunately did not have time to visit.

Day 9: Franz Josef – Queenstown

It was another long drive to start the day… a little bit scary driving in the Southern Alps with heavy rain, but when the rain cleared the benefit was seeing all these amazing waterfalls by the side of the road, one even spilling out onto the road.   It was amazing to watch.   There were a number of points of interest to stop at along the way too…   The gates of Haast, Fantale Falls, Blue Pools.   Not all were that spectacular, for instance, the rain had made the blue pools a murky grey instead, but everything considered this was the best drive we had had yet.   This was especially true passing Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea.   They were both right next to the State Highway, and were lakes of brilliant size, as well as of the most brilliant blue colour.

Waterfalls right by the road

Fantale Falls

Lake Hawea

We had another fantastic hotel in Queenstown with the Sherwood Manor Hotel.   It was about 3km from the city centre, but that gave it some amazing views, and the rooms themselves were closer to small apartments.   It also had a really nice restaurant that we went to each night while there, with a head waiter who we got to know pretty well in our time there, who was perhaps the single best example of brilliant staff on this island.   Overall, South Island blew North island away, in terms of value for money and the friendliness of the people.   The pace of life there was certainly less commercial and more relaxed.

Day 10:   Queenstown

The events of this day were something I had been looking forward to the entire trip… our Dart River Safaris Funyak Experience.   This started with a bus trip to our starting point at Glenorchy, during which the Pembroke Mountain range, backdrop for Mordor, and also had the mountain range pointed to me that served as the Misty Mountains, as pictured below.   Then, after wetsuiting up, we were taken on a jet boat ride on Dart River, which was an amazing experience, despite the fact my new NZ souvenir cap did not survive on my head…   It was on the jet boat that I got photos of the sites for Fangorn Forest and Isengard.   Then we jumped into our Funyaks, which was fun in itself, despite the wet weather on the day.   The combination of LOTR fanaticism, and actual activities, made this a winner of an experience I would recommend to anyone!!


The Misty Mountains


Recognise the dam the Ents broke?

The site of Isengard

Wet and Funyaking


Day 11: Queenstown – Milford Sound – Queenstown

I had heard before this drive that it was one to be wary of.    It was 4 hours each way, so yes it did require concentration, but it was only windy for perhaps the last half hour, otherwise it was another beautiful drive.   The only part that freaked me a little was the drive through Homer Tunnel, which has been made right through a mountain.   The lights were not on when we went, so we were relying on the car in front’s tail lights.   We survived though, and made it to our Real Journeys Milford Sound Cruise.   It was quite an experience, seeing seals along the way, and nosing our way through waterfalls.   It was also very peaceful and very relaxing.   Our love affair with the South Island continued….


Driving through Homer Tunnel

Our cruise vessel


Day 12:   Queenstown – Dunedin

Dunedin is another place we spent far too little time in.   In fact, we were not even there for 24 hours.   Our Hotel continued our great run of fantastic places, the Hotel Cargills.   Dunedin was a beautiful if small city, lovely to just walk around.   The highlights had to be our pre-booked activities though…. a trip to Cadbury World (the photo below is all we were permitted), which included observing a giant chocolate waterfall and all the chocolate you can eat, and a visit to Speight’s brewery.   In my experience on this holiday, Speights is the best beer I have tasted.   Better yet, this time we were allowed to take photos!!   If you get the chance, my favourite Speights beers are the Gold Medal and the Old Dark.

Day 13: Dunedin – Christchurch

It is harder to write this post given recent events.   I think my Bride would agree with me that this city was the perfect way with which to end our trip.   We had a fantastic hotel, the Latimer Hotel, with the friendliest staff yet and, though not as large as some other rooms we had been in, everything in our room was of the highest quality.   To hear Latimer Square, where it is situated, is now a triage area is heartbreaking.   We explored the city that day, saw the trams running, visited the Cathedral.    There were still signs of clean up from September in progress, scaffolding everywhere, yet this could not hide the brilliance of the city.   To think many of these buildings are now flattened is hard to grasp.

The Christ Church Cathedral steeple as it was

Choir practice in Christ Church Cathedral


Day 14: “Edoras” tour from Christchurch

This was a day largely not spent in Christchurch city itself.   It was a highlight of the holiday itself though, prior to the recent tragedy.   We went on a Hassle Free Tours trip to the site where the LOTR Edoras scenes were filmed.   Being an LOTR nut I was in my element, particularly getting to play with replica props at the site.   Our guide sold us our licensed LOTR souvenirs, I got the One Ring on a chain, got 1/7 of the price at WETA cave, and my Bride I bought an Evenstar pendant.   Our guide was amazing, and very knowledgeable, and my Bride and I both hope he has not been severely affected by the earthquake, either from harm to himself or his loved ones.   I now regret I never kept a record of his name.   When recovery efforts are over and the city of Christchurch can move forward again, if the tour resumes business I would highly recommend it.


Our guide, in front of Edoras, showing us as it was in the film

"Anduril, Flame of the West, Forged from the shards of Narsil"

Our first fight.....

The site for the external shots of Helm's Deep



Day 15:   Christchurch – Sydney

For the last day of our trip we had a final explore of then and hopefully soon to be again amazing Christchurch.   We enjoyed a tram ride around the city, visited the Art Gallery, and said goodbye to New Zealand in general.   If I could send any message to those affected by yesterday’s disaster, it would be that you have our full sympathies, our love, and our hopes that the future for Christchurch and New Zealand as a whole is bright.   We left two weeks ago with fond memories and light hearts, and experience that should not and cannot be denied to future holiday makers, not to the Kiwis themselves.

Film Nerd and Bride in Middle Earth – North Island

*This post was in draft when the news of the Christchurch earthquake came through.   I will be posting our adventures in the South Island tomorrow, with a focus particularly on Christchurch as it was just two weeks ago.   Our thoughts and prayers are with the wonderful people of that city, and anyone else who may be affected, in this difficult time.*

For our Honeymoon, Bride of Film Nerd and I spent two weeks travelling around New Zealand.   What follows are a few highlights and pictures of our time there, including some Lord of the Rings specific moments.   I have linked websites to our hotels and activities at each location if you wish to find out more.

Day 1:   Sydney – Auckland

Our flight landed in Auckland, and we picked up our rental car for the North Island from the airport.   Though a Toyota Camry was listed on our rental agreement, we were fortunate enough to end up with the Hyundai i45, which was a very nice upgrade indeed.

Our hotel in Auckland was the Best Western Presidential.   It was comfortable enough, however the parking was limited for that first night and we missed out.   Even when I did get parking the next day, the car park was almost dangerously cramped.   We had some time to explore the city that evening, but what we saw of the city centre was almost just like Sydney.   We went to dinner at a nice Old English styled restaurant, The Lord Nelson, where I also enjoyed my first Kiwi beer.

Day 2:   Bay of Islands

We caught a tour bus from our hotel to the Bay of Islands.    Our first visit on this trip was the house of James Busby and the Waitangi treaty grounds, so we got our first real taste of NZ history and Maori culture.   We were also walked through the Te Whare Runanga Maree, a Maori meeting-house, and were shown a genuine Maori war canoe.

Waitangi Treaty Site


Te Whare Runanga Maree

Maori War Canoe



We were then taken on a cruise of the Bay of Islands, where we saw a pod of dolphins and the Hole in the Rock.   Unfortunately, my dolphin photography was not that good, so the photo below was taken by a professional photographer on board.

Day 3:   Auckland – Tauranga

We spent the morning in Auckland, observing the views from the Sky Deck of the Sky Tower.   The views were impressive, and it was nice to be able to leave Auckland on a positive note.   We then drove for 3 hours or so to Tauranga.   We had a lovely little hotel there, the Armitage, in which we got very comfortable.   We then went on an Evening Kayak and Glow Worm tour via the Waimarino adventure park.   Unfortunately, being a water sport type excursion, I left my camera behind, but it was an amazing night.   We were lucky enough to be the only two on this tour, which started with being fed fresh fruit, cheese, and wine, then we were taken on the kayak itself.   It was so peaceful, and when we were in the glow-worm canyon it was like another night sky , but so close you could touch it.

Day 4: Tauranga – Rotorua

A short but beautiful drive today brought us to Rotorua, our favourite destination up until this point.   Sure, the smell of sulphur initially hits you in the face like a cricket bat, but it does not take long to get used to it.   We visited the Te Puia Rotorua facility, in which we were treated to a traditional Maori performance (I have video but the file size is too huge to upload, there are a few pics below instead), we were demonstrated traditional Maori wood carving and weaving techniques, we got to see a real life Kiwi (no photos allowed), and we toured the thermal valley, including natural geysers.   It was a fun packed experience, and our guide Mel had an awesome sense of humour, adding to the experience.

That evening we went for a Hells Gate Mud bath and Wai Ora spa experience.   The mud bath was certainly different, but very relaxing, a relaxation that was disturbed by the fact afterwards we were required to take a freezing cold shower.   We could then recover in the sulphur spa.   After that level of relaxation, all we wanted was a good meal, which we got from our hotel restaurant (at the Sudima Hotel), then get a good sleep.

Day 5: Rotorua – Wellington

Very little to say about today, as we spent the vast majority of it driving.   Driving in NZ is fantastic though, with State Highways that go right through National Parks and Reserves.   An example on this drive was when we were going through Tongariro National Park.   I was especially excited to be going through here as many of the LOTR Mordor scenes were filmed here.   It was clear on this journey however, that the power of the Ring is destroyed, as Mordor now appears touched by the Valar….

Wellington is a beautiful city, despite some insane traffic.   There are a lot of lovely places to eat, a lot of shops to visit and enjoy.   We spent an evening strolling around before returning to our hotel, The Bay Plaza.   This hotel had a lovely bar, and was very comfortable.   My only complaint would once again be the cramped parking spaces.   We explored the city a bit that night, with me visiting the theatre at which all three LOTR films had their world premieres.

Day 6:   Wellington

This morning we were taken on a tour of Wellington by Hammonds Scenic Tours.   We had a great time, seeing the Wellington Parliament buildings, the largest wooden structure in the Southern Hemisphere, Old Saint Paul’s Cathedral, which was amazingly beautiful, and the Wellington Botanic Gardens.   We were then taken to the peak of Mount Victoria, which gave us panoramic views od the entire city.   As the photos show, it was windy but well worth it.


"The Beehive"

Inside Old Saint Paul's


Windy Mt Victoria



We drove past some LOTR filming sites, The Shortcut to Mushrooms, and where the hobbits hid during their first encounter with a Black Rider, but we were going too fast for photos.   The last part of the tour is what I most looked forward to, but was most disappointed by… the WETA Cave.    I fully understand that access to the WETA studios themselves is prohibited… there is all that pesky copyright stuff, and trying to keep the magic until the films and television they are making is actually released, but the cave was more of a merchandising initiative than an exploration of what the studios do.   In addition, it was little more than a small room.   There was a mini-theatre with a behind the scenes DVD, but a lot of that information was already available in the special features of the LOTR extended editions.   In addition, the items on sale were extraordinarily expensive, beyond the scope of your average mortgage holder.

So after that small disappointment, my Bride and I spent the afternoon in the Te Papa Museum.   This had a wonderful collection of exhibits on various themes, and included a number of interactive displays.   We wore ourselves out wondering many of its different levels, and still only saw perhaps half of it.   For me the highlight was the colossal squid.

Day 7:   Wellington – Picton – Greymouth

We left Wellington early in the morning, saying goodbye to the i45, and jumping on the InterIslander ferry.   It was a three-hour ferry trip in which I enjoyed the view (when the fog finally lifted that is) and my bride, who thought she was doing the right thing taking motion sickness tablets, slept.

The ferry dropped us off at Picton, where we picked up our South Island vehicle, this time getting the predicted Toyota Camry.  It was then on the road for our stop-over hotel in Greymouth, the Ashley Hotel.   It was a nice enough hotel as far as appearance was concerned, but it was let down by the staff being somewhat snooty, and the prices for the uses of the actual facilities being way too much.   Thankfully, this stay was our only negative blip in our entire time spent in the South Island, which I shall detail in the next post.