Thursday, June 11, 2015

Day 6 - New Zealand

Today we had a morning flight down to Queenstown so  I got up extra early to walk around to see how the area has improved from the earthquake since I was last here in 2012. Unfortunately the sun was not up yet. In 2012 the Cathedral Square area was all behind fences. This time you can walk into Cathedral Square. Only the individual buildings with damage are fenced off. This includes the actual Cathedral that they still have not official decided if it can be repaired or needs to be completely torn down.


 At 8:45am our flight left Christchurch. When we arrived in Queenstown a hour and 10 minutes later, it was raining. This did not stop us from enjoying our activities for the day.
First stop was lunch at Millbrook Resort. We enjoyed a classic Kiwi BBQ lunch. We were not however able to the site inspection because of the rain. I actually golfed at this resort my first trip to Queenstown and new Zealand back in 2001. This is a 5 star, 4 seasons resort.

At 2pm we were picked up by Nomad Safaris in their Range Rover 4 x 4 vehicles. First part of this tour was driving along a river bed, as you can see. We then had about 30 minutes in the small town of Arrowtown to shop. I purchased some post cards and stamps. Then we did  a short version of their Skipper Canyon drive. Nomad Safaris offers small, personalized tours into NZ back country. They also offer Quad Bike tours.



At 5:30pm they dropped us off at our hotel, the Hilton Queenstown Resort where we checked in for 2 nights. The first time I would be sleeping in the same bed for more than 1 night. We had some time to relax before the buses came to take us around the lake into the town of Queenstown for shopping and dinner.  I went to the Cow for pizza and beer. This rustic restaurant is literally in a cow shed. They were not prepared for so many of us showing up at the same time. Had to wait an hour to be seated but enjoyed the bar until a table opened up. Others went to Fergburger, considered by some to be the best burger joint on the planet. The only problem is very limited seating. Worse than the Cow. It is my understanding that there is always a line here. They say don’t b put off by the line, it will be worth the wait There are over 150 restaurants, bars and cafes to choice from.
Last bus back to the Hilton was 10:30pm which was OK since had to get up for the trade show the next day.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

New Zeland - Day 5

A day we actually got to sleep in. Hanmer Springs is known for its thermal pools. At 9am we made our way over for a tour of the facility and then had time to enjoy the fourteen open air pools. Set in a natural landscape, surrounded by forests and mountains, a natural place to unwind. At 11am we went down the block and had lunch at Malabar Restaurant.
 The other activity for this area is jet boating on the Waiau River. You jet through narrow gorges, white water rapids and braided shallows. Much more open river then the Shotover  Jet in Queenstown but still a thrill doing the 360 degree spins made famous by the jet boat invented in New Zealand! Being Fall it was a bit cold with the wind chill but still enjoyable.

We then drove about 90 minutes towards Christchurch. We stop at the Ke Tae Maori Cultural Center. When we first arrived we walked around the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. We then had a guided Kiwi and bird Tour. Following that we took part in an interactive Cultural Experience based in the natural surroundings of Willowbank. We moved into a concert arena and learned first hand waiata (love songs) poi & haka. Then we enjoyed the 4 course meal with a contemporary take on Hangi cooked mains.

We then continued into the city of Christchurch and checked into the Hotel Montreal. Overlooking Cramner Square and situated on the edge of the tranquil Hagley Park, this is Christchurch’s newest luxury boutique hotel.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Day 4 in New Zealand is all about sea mammals

Another early morning but it was worth it. Today we drove about 90 minutes south and east to come out along the coast of the south island. Being a California girl, I love seeing the ocean. The route we drove was similar to the Trans Pacific Coastal train that goes from Picton to Christchurch.

Around 9:45am we arrived at the Ohau Stream and being fall, we saw the seal pup nursery at the base of the waterfall. A little further down the road we stop at a place to see some of the adult seals.

An hour later we stopped at the Café Encounter in Kaikoura for lunch. This is a fully licensed café providing the perfect setting for inside and outside dining opposite the beach. We had time (about 45 minutes)  after brunch to walk along the one block main street of  Kaikoura to shop. I purchased ice cream (but not the Hokey Pokey favor).

12:30pm we made our way to the Whale Watch Kaikoura office. Every whale watch tour is a unique experience and the sightings vary. Giant Sperm Whales are the stars of this cruise and year round. This company guarantees that if you do not see a whale, they will refund 80% of the fare. We saw three different sperm whales while we were out on our 3 hour cruise.

We also saw Dusky Dolphins but they were harder to get a picture of.  

4:30pm we were back on the bus and we headed inland for the next two hours. On our way to the Heritage Hanmer Springs hotel to spend the one night, we enjoyed a beautiful sky at sunset.

New Zealand trip - Day 3

Woke up this morning to see the beautiful view of the harbor from my room window, too bad no time to sit and enjoy it. Another full day of activities but much more laid back. We went on the 8:45am Interisland ferry to cross to the south island. This takes about 3 hours, plenty of time to relax. We were lucky and had a pretty smooth crossing. The last hour is when you want to be outside as you cruise between the islands of the Queen Charlotte Sound. This is called “one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world”.
 The particular vessel we were on is the largest of their 3 ships. They are replacing the smallest one with a new vessel. The company will be announcing the name next week. The vessel will go into service in July. When this happens, all three vessels will have the Premier lounge, with complimentary food and free wifi.  If not in the Premier Lounge, you can pay for food and wifi (via an access card). Having done both the standard passage seat and the Premier lounge, I recommend paying the extra fee.

Once on the south island, we made our way south towards Blenheim and the Brancott Estate Heritage Centre for lunch and wine tasting. It is a rough job but someone has to do it. Brancott (formerly Montana) is the largest winery in New Zealand. They are the first to plant and create the world's first Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wine.

Next stop was at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre currently featuring Sir Peter Jackson’s own WW I aircraft and artefacts, known as the Knights of the Sky. Rare memorabilia is on display, worthy of any national collection and ranges from beautifully crafted “trench art” through to personal items belonging to the famous Red Baron himself.

After our 1 hour guided tour, we move back up to the town of Picton. Here we enjoyed more wine and the local green shell mussels, onboard the MV Odyssea vessel.  The green shell mussels are the second largest industry of this region, behind the wine industry. The seafood Odyssea cruise featured Regal salmon and Tio Point oysters complimented with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Great way to experience the picturesque scenery of this area. These vessels can also be chartered for overnight stays.  
Dinner this evening was at our hotel, the Park Regis Picton. The hotel was nice but the elevator was not position conveniently to the lobby. Most walked their luggage up or down 8 to 10 stairs to get to the room.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Day 2 New Zealand

This morning we left Auckland and flew down to Wellington. I knew Wellington has high winds and had heard flying in or out of Wellington could be frightening but we had a somewhat easy landing. Unfortunately the plane did depart Auckland late and therefore we arrived late, putting us behind schedule. I had been in Wellington in 2001 but all we really did was go to a lookout point and then to the hotel to spend one night. This trip we actually had a lot to do although some of the activities time was shorten compared to what was intended.

First stop was at the Weta Workshp. Since we were behind schedule we did not go into the Weta Cave (gift shop and mini museum) as the general public would do. An added bonus was we went to the main office conference room while waiting to get our tickets for the workshop tour and in there were the 5 Oscars they have won. We had the tour for a behind the scenes glimpse but you are not allowed to take pictures. I knew of Weta because of their work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy but I did not realize they worked on so many other movies such as Avatar and King Kong with Jack Black. When we were there, the only person working on a project was an artist doing drawings. The guided tours start every 30 minutes from 10am to 5pm. Tours take approximately 30 to 40 minutes with a maximum of 20 people per tour.  

Our lunch stop was at CoCo at the Roxy. This is one of Wellington’s original suburban cinemas that has been completely rebuilt to feature two luxurious state-of-the-art cinemas, a café/restaurant (open for brunch, lunch and dinner) and cocktail lounge that revives the style of the 20s & 30s ears. The art deco faced of the 1928 building has been retained.

Next we were off to Te Papa. This is the country’s national museum, where you can explore the great stories of this fascinating land and the people who live here. This is the largest museum of Maori treasures. We had a short tour of the main museum that is free but then we had the Taonga Ma-ori (behind the scene) tour. They have more Moari items stored then what they actually display in the museum. Here their team members have learned how to manage and care for the Maori treasures in culturally appropriate ways. 
Our final activity of the day was going to Zealandia just before 5pm for a night tour. This is a bird sanctuary of 500 hectagons enclosed to keep the inside animal’s predictors out. This time taking pictures was allowed but without using a flash. My camera does not take night shots, therefore I do not have the proof I saw a kiwi in the wild but I did. Our guide said the Kiwi was named Flip Flop because they originally thought it was a male due to the size but they later learned it was a female. 

Dinner was at Floriditas, set in the midst of Wellington’s iconic Cuba Street. Then at 10pm we finally checked into the Copthorne hotel Wellington Oriental Bay for a good night sleep.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Day 1 of 2015 New Zealand trip

To keep my Kiwi Specialist status with the tourist board, I must go to New Zealand at least every 5 years. So guess where I am now. In order to see as much as possible in a week, this trip has us moving about every 24 hours to a new city or area.
I left LAX on Monday night on an Air New Zealand non-stop flight to Auckland. We must have been on a fairly new plane because everything looked fresh and worked. I skipped the midnight dinner in favor of sleep. I do not sleep well on planes but lucky for me the plane was not full and there was more room to spread out. I did however enjoy a movie (The Theory of Everything) on my individual screen in the seat and breakfast before landing to a nice day for fall.

After checking in to the Langham Hotel, we were taken over to the SkyCity center where we enjoyed a yum ch style lunch at Jade Dragon. This is a very beautifully designed Asian ambience restaurant. They have two private restaurants and intimate booth seating. Then down to the Harbour and we did the American Cup sailing. In a previous trip to Auckland I had done a sailing trip of the harbor but have decided I like the America’s Cup vessel better. You actually get to help with cranking up the sails. Then it was back to the Langham hotel for our one night. It was a beautiful day out on the water.  It was also a lot of fun to experience the boat as it lend into the water.

The Langham hotel has 411 rooms and suites with a 5 star rating. It is within easy walking distance of parks, shopping, cafes and restaurants but I think it is a bit of a long walk down to the harbor. The only place I walked to was a bank to convert US dollars to New Zealand money. This evening we enjoyed dinner from the Eight Restaurant. Enjoy as many sumptuous courses as you like from eight delicious cuisines, freshly prepared to order. At this restaurant you can enjoy as many sumptuous courses as you like (buffet style) from eight delicious cuisines. I personally enjoyed the seafood bar with all the shrimp and crab legs. There is also Asian, Indian and American, to name a few.