*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.
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.
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.
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!!
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….
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.
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.
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.