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NEW ZEALAND - The Beautiful Land Down Under - Trip Report

New Zealand is a truly beautiful place, with great food, first-world creature comforts, and wonderfully welcoming people. New Zealand has a North Island and a larger South Island.  We traveled through both.  We flew non-stop from San Francisco to Auckland. This is a report on highlights of our trip through New Zealand in January 2017.      

Sailing cruise.  We started our tour in the little beach town of Paihia in the Bay of Islands at northern end of the North Island.  From there took the ferry to the charming town of Russell for a day long sail.  We stopped at Paradise Beach on one of the islands and hiked the beautiful hills which provided pretty vistas, then swam. 

Cuisine.  Over the course of our trip, we were knocked out by the cuisine in New Zealand starting at our first hotel, the Paihia Beach Resort.  Dishes are beautifully presented, use inventive ingredients, and are delicious and healthful.

Treetops Resort.  We then stayed at the Treetops Resort, a Virtuoso property, at the hilltops just outside the town of Rotorua.  Here is our cottage's living room and our view of the treetops.   Its 2400 acres of rolling country, and wooded trails hosts an abundance of animals.  Guests can hike, swim, fly-fish,  hunt, and boat on the grounds.  

Blue Lake.  We visited and hiked around the famous Blue Lake through a mossy woodsy wonderland, stopping for a swim at one of the secluded beaches.

Geothermal sites.  We then visited the bubbling mud at the thermal pools, and then Huka Falls with water a remarkable blue green color.

Napier Art Deco.  We stopped in the cute seaside town of Napier, known for its Art Deco architecture.  After a devastating fire in 1931, the downtown was rebuilt in Art Deco style which was the rage at the time.  It is now a delightful living museum of this colorful architectural style.

Hawke’s Bay.  From there we arrived in the Hawke’s Bay wine region.  We tasted wine at one beautiful winery (Craggy Range), and then dined at another (Black Barn).

Martinborough.  We then headed south through the Martinborough wine region and stopped at some wineries for tastings.

Wellington.  We pushed on to Wellington, a good-looking seaside town and the capital of New Zealand.

Ferry to the South Island.  The next morning, we boarded the car-ferry to the South Island.  The crossing between the islands is reputed to be one of the most beautiful in the world.  This is because you enter the South Island through an archipelago of islands, and a fjord.

Blenheim.  We drove directly to Blenheim, in the heart of the Marlborough wine region.  We found a really lovely restaurant with a vine covered outdoor dining area at Hans Herzog winery.

Anakiwa.  We drove to the nearby seaside town of Anakiwa for a hike along Queens Elizabeth’s sound.

Punakaiki.  We  drove to Punakaiki on the West Coast, which is famous for its strange “pancake rock” formations.

Franz Josef Glacier.  We drove down the West Coast to Franz Josef, where we hiked out to see the blue ice of the Franz Josef Glacier and the many rainstorm-induced waterfalls.

Arrowtown.  From there we drove to the very charming little town of Arrowtown, an old goldmining town near Queenstown.

Milford Sound.  Then visited Milford Sound.  While called a “sound” Milford Sound is actually a fjord (carved by glacier, not by a river), and there are so many fjords in the area that the area is called “Fjordland”.   With off-and-on misty weather, we cruised the sound.

The Chasm.  We then visited “The Chasm” which was amazing.  You enter a primeval forest heavy with moss and other-worldly vegetation.  There is a chasm where a river has carved the rock into a bizarre sculpture of hollows and holes, with tree trunks jammed into them by past flood waters.

Vistas.  On our way out of Milford Sound there are beautiful vistas looking back at the snow-capped mountains of the Sound.  We also stopped at the aptly-named mirror lake.

Queenstown.  We finally reached what for us was the highlight of the NZ trip – Queenstown.  A beautiful town, in a beautiful Alpine setting, with great places to stay, great restaurants and all manner of activities.  Sarah hiked to the top of the mountain overlooking Queenstown for a spectacular view.

Excitement.  We also took a gondola ride up the mountain, then a chairlift to a “luge” ride.  We also took a jet-boat ride that was the most exciting ride we have ever had.  Zooming at 70+ kph, missing rock walls by inches, doing 360 spins, and bouncing over rapids, it seemed like maiming or death was always about 2 seconds away.

Restaurants.  Our favorite restaurants were Botswana Butchery, Rata, and Jervois Steak House.  All very high end wine and cuisine for half what you’d pay in the US.