Both before and after our November trip to Wellington, New Zealand (for the annual convention of the Society of American Travel Writers), we found time to explore the country’s South Island.
It’s hard to imagine a destination that would appeal to a broader range of tastes and interests than the South Island. Not only are there scores of ways to enjoy the otherworldly landscapes revealed in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (hiking, jet-boating, kayaking, parasailing, horseback riding…the list goes on and on), but there are sophisticated pleasures as well. Even in towns off-the-beaten-path, restaurants offered farm-fresh food that was beautifully presented. Spring-time menus nearly always featured lamb, venison and fresh salmon. Accommodations were extremely comfortable and up-to-date (yes, we enjoyed WiFi in even the smallest town). Best of all, the locals were super-helpful and displayed a keen sense of humor.
Our stop-overs included Christchurch, Lake Tekapo (via Geraldine and Fairlee), Mt. Cook (the country’s highest peak in the Southern Alps), Queenstown (by way of Twizel and Wanaka), and, last but not least, Te Anau, a great base from which to explore both Milford and Doubtful Sounds.
We stayed in excellent B & Bs and hotels. Standouts were Alpine Vista at Lake Tekapo (E-mail: email@example.com) and Brown’s Boutique Hotel in Queenstown (www.brownshotel.co.nz). We also visited (and can recommend) a few over-the-top luxury lodges—like the Otahuna (www.otahuna.co.nz) near Christchurch (see previous post on this blog), Blanket Bay (www.blanketbay.com) just outside Queenstown in Glenorchy, and Fiordland Lodge (www.fiordlandlodge.co.nz) in Te Anau.
If you go to Queenstown, we suggest the following: dining at Botswana Butchery (www.goodbars.co.nz), Eichardt’s Bar (www.eichardtshotel.co.nz) and The Bathhouse (www.bathhouse.co.nz)…wine tasting at Amisfield Winery (www.amisfield.co.nz)…and the scenic drive to Glenorchy. Also, don’t overlook shopping for fashionable, high-quality wool and wool-possum blends at Untouched World (www.untouchedworld.com). There’s truly something for everyone in Queenstown year-round–from extreme sports like bungee jumping or jet boating to nature hikes, wine tours, skiing, or visiting Lord of the Rings filming locations.
To explore scenic Fiordland, southwest of Queenstown, we recommend taking a day cruise on Milford Sound plus an overnight cruise on the more remote and much larger Doubtful Sound. Choose either the Fiordland Navigator (www.realjournies.co.nz) or the smaller MV Tutako II run by Fiordland Expeditions (www.fiordlandexpeditions.co.nz).
Although Milford Sound is extraordinarily beautiful, we preferred the remoteness and tranquility of Doubtful Sound, discovered by Captain Cook in the 18th century. Although we’ve been to some of the most haunting places on the planet (the Norway’s fiords, Vietnam’s Halong Bay, China’s Huangshan Mountain and the Himalayas in Bhutan), Doubtful Sound might well be the most dramatic. Clouds, mists, intermittent sunlight and rainbows appear in ever-changing patterns against the backdrop of sheer granite and limestone peaks that border the Sound. [Read more…click below]
An insider tip: New Zealander’s advise that the fall—March and April—is the best time to visit their country. The weather is predictably excellent and the fall foliage brilliant. Having said that, other times of the year are fine too, depending on your specific interests.
Worried about getting there? It’s on overnight flight from Los Angeles on Air New Zealand’s superb B777-300ER planes (www.airnewzealand.com), which have comfortable seats, ample legroom, an onboard concierge (who will offer tips about destinations within NZ) and touchpad screens for ordering up everything from movies to mimosas (the latter delivered by our steward in less than a minute—in economy class, no less!) Clearly, Air New Zealand understands service, unlike some U.S. airlines we could name.
To plan a trip, we recommend Auckland-based First Light Travel (www.firstlighttravel.com), who assisted us in making our own travel arrangements. Our contact there was Mirjam McIver (firstname.lastname@example.org). Also, special thanks to our colleagues at Tourism New Zealand, Positively Wellington Tourism, and Destination Fiordland.