(Disclaimer: I am not a Lord of the Rings person, so I did not look for nor did I find any hobbits)
Wow, this really is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Seriously. The scenery is stunning. The people are nice. I would totally move here if not for leaving behind my kids. And friends. And dogs. And my whole life. But maybe I could come back again and again, for a few weeks at a time.
The biggest fault I can find is the cost of things is on the high side. Your food costs are easily 30% higher than in the US. That goes to loading up on groceries and cooking your own and eating a meal at a restaurant. Not sure I understand why the wool is so expensive, sheep are everywhere (seriously, you cannot exaggerate this).
We started in Queenstown for a few days, went down south toward Invercargill and Nugget Point, up the east coast to Dunedin, then back over to Queenstown, up through Christchurch via Akaroa, and finally a night in Kaikoura before driving to Picton and hopping on a ferry to the North.
If you’re here, you know I travel a lot. So when I say that of all the places I’ve been Queenstown feels like home to me, you know I’ve seen a lot and don’t say that. The town has stunning views everywhere you turn, enough shops to find what you need and again, nice nice people. Things are so pretty in Queenstown that I even got up (mostly voluntarily) before sunrise to see things like this (sunrise in Glenorchy):
There are mountains and lakes all around, and the water is so blue. I’ve never seen anything like it. It looks manufactured sometimes. I can only imagine this is mostly because of the care of the environment you see around here. It doesn’t feel off or inconvenient, it’s just the way it is. Lack of pollution and a little bit of paying attention to the world around you offers things like this (I assure you this is exactly how my camera gave me the image, I do not have the software or the skills to mess with it).
Some highlights from our stops and drives for you, there is not enough time nor blog space to give a full rundown of the last several days. We tried where possible to stay in apartments with kitchens as much as possible. We were driving all around, so keeping some groceries was easy, and we had a cooler to transport cold items too. One thing we would change if/when we do this again, stay longer at each place. I know I preach that already, never be in a rush or you don’t see anything. And we thought we planned that way. But, in New Zealand, the roads are long and windy and full of distractions. Take whatever time the GPS says you will arrive, add at least 25-50% to that and you’ll be close to the actual time of arrival.
Queenstown- We stayed at Peppers Beacon, great location, great facilities. Regardless of where you stay, make sure you have a view of the lake. Dave went on the stargazing tour on the top of the gondola and enjoyed it. He got some great images too. You are close to wine country, so certainly make time for a tour. We went to Gibbston Valley and had yummy wine and yummy food. Take a day or two and drive out to Milford Sound. If you’ve never driven around fjords, you’ll thank me. If you have, then you know it’s beautiful and will thank me for the reminder. Last time we went to Milford we had typical overcast skies. This time was blue, vibrant, very very pretty and good contract for pictures.
Invercargill- this was a small stop, but really we wanted to go to the bottom of New Zealand, and this was our gateway.
Nugget Point- There is a lighthouse and a penguin reserve and that’s about it. We had the top floor of a little outbuilding on the coast. We technically saw two penguins on the beach, but they were so far away it feels like cheating to claim the sighting (remember, the African safari was only a few weeks back and I was less than two feet from a lion). The image below was somewhere along the drive. Can you find the Dave?
Dunedin- Apparently we missed the memo that this was a college party town, and we didn’t see any of that either. For us, it was a great few days. We took a train out though a gorge. Drove over to a penguin reserve and saw a handful of yellow eye penguins. We were there on November 5th, so plenty of fireworks going on too. We also took a drive up to Moeraki Rock beach area, pretty cool (and weird) round boulders on the beach.
Akaroa- Stunning. Stunning. Stunning. You drive down into this valley, water all around. Sheep on the hillsides. We stayed in a little (really little) cottage, but it was perfectly adequate for what we needed. Not everything has to be 5-star (ok, as long as you know good pillows are on you next stop!).
Christchurch- we actually didn’t stay here, we ate here and drove through downtown. Food was good (with good company). Downtown was still rather sad. There is some rebuilding happening, but it was still rather much a ghost town.
Kaikoura- Again a beautiful drive to get here. Very small town. Nice enough, but too small town for me. The goal here was a whale watching tour for Dave and because of our first day with bad weather, that was cancelled. The apartment was nice (the pillows were awful ).