Tuesday, May 28, 2013

New Zealand - Our Adventures in the Land of the Long White Cloud!

Centuries before Columbus sailed the world, in a time when people feared falling off the edge of the earth; the Maori’s travelled across the unknown Pacific to set foot on Aotearoa or present day New Zealand. The Maori way of life – the language, culture and art is still a huge part of New Zealand. The country sits on two tectonic plates – Pacific and Australian. The constant grinding of these plates is the reason we could experience the magnificent mountains, beautiful fiords, and the spectacular glaciers. Subterranean activity has created hot springs and geysers that are found in the North Island in Rotura. Majority of the population lives in the North Island, mainly in the business capital – Auckland. We wanted to stay away from the cities, and are very glad that we picked the South Island as our destination. This is the best place to see the true natural beauty of this country.

We landed in Sydney on the morning of the 26th December 2010. We had about 12 hours in transit, so decided to go out and explore the city. We went to the Opera House first, and had a relaxed breakfast. Walked around in the gardens for a bit, and took the tourist bus and saw the city. The best part was Bondi beach. We had a nice lunch at a restaurant called Brave, near the beach. We had assumed that we would be tired after the 15 hour flight. For not having planned anything, we had a great day in Australia, and were all set for our flight to Christchurch.
We reached Christchurch late at night and took a cab to our hotel. We stayed at Terra Vive - a brand new boutique hotel, just 10 minutes from the airport and the city center. Would recommend this place if you plan to stay in Christchurch. The next morning it was slightly drizzling, but it was so beautiful. I had missed the summer rain for so long! ( December is summer there and the weather was perfect)

It started pouring hard in the afternoon, so we decided to go to the Antarctic Center. New Zealand has a number of research bases in Antarctica. The museum was educational and a lot of fun. They had simulated conditions similar to what researchers face there. We picked up our rental car from the airport in the afternoon, and went to this amazing Italian place called Valentino.

The next morning we started our 6 hour drive to Queenstown. It was a beautiful drive, and we stopped at a small town called Geraldine for lunch. After a number of stops and tons of pictures, we reached Queenstown late in the evening.

Arial view of Queenstown -
Queenstown is very small and touristy. The population is only around 10,000. There are just about four blocks with shops and nice restaurants. There is a special charm to the place. We had dinner at this really nice restaurant called Roaring Megs. The ambiance and the presentation was so wonderful. The ladies who worked there were really sweet, and told us a lot about the place. The next morning we left at 7am for our day trip to Milford Sound, and what a day that was. We had booked our trip with Real Journeys. There are two other options – Mitre Peak Cruises and Milford Sound Red Boats. They arrange similar tours that include a 4 hour bus ride, a 3 hour cruise and the ride back to Queenstown. Real Journeys has buses with huge windows, glass top, and tilted seats to enjoy the views. We drove through Fiordland National Park, with multiple stops. This is where they filmed the Lord of the Rings, and if you are interested they even have tours to the various locations. In case you are up for hiking the Milford Track which is considered one of the best hikes in the world, you could stay at this town called Te Anau. It is about 3 hours from Queenstown. It is a 4 day guided hike, book in advance as spots get filled very early.
Milford sound is just magical. It is actually a Fiord, not a sound. A Fiord is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs. It is created in a valley carved by glaciers. I had never seen such a sight. Cruising between magnificent cliffs opening up into the Tasman Sea, hundreds of waterfalls, and light rain - all made it a perfect day. We got back around 9:00pm after a long 14 hour day.

The next day we got up late and got ready for some adventure stuff. I thought I had my adrenaline fix for this year with - Parasailing, Skiing and Snow Biking in Tahoe, River Rafting, Jet skiing, speed boating, Windsurfing (just trying), and tubing. However, there was some more left. We started off the day with a Gondola ride that gives a beautiful view of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. From there we took ski lifts to the top of the mountain. We did the luge ride up there. It was just like go kart racing but we were riding downhill. It was pretty nice.

In the evening we went for the Shotover river Jet Boat ride. It is the only jet boat that does 360 degree turns. Was amazing to go between narrow canyons and do the turns between them. We had a quite dinner in our balcony overlooking the lake with burgers from the very popular Fergburger and watched fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

The next day we drove to Fox and Franz Josef Glacier. It is about a 5 hour drive from Queenstown to the Glacier area. Living in California, few places in the world can take your breath away; New Zealand and this drive in particular, was one of them. We stopped a lot along the way and reached Fox Glacier around 6 in the evening. We went for a walk before dinner. The area is a thick rainforest. We went to a restaurant called Plateau for dinner. Fox Glacier is a very small town, and this is pretty much the only fancy restaurant. The food was great and we went back again the next evening. We stayed at this really nice bed and breakfast called Te Weheka in Fox glacier. I highly recommend this place if you plan to stay in this area.

We were booked for the Heli Hike the next morning. The plan was to take a helicopter to the top of the glacier for a 4 hour hike on the glacier. Book with Fox Glacier Guiding. They have a number of options depending on your fitness level. The entire valley is carved by the glacier and it is amazing to see the power of ice. These glaciers are still moving away from the ocean and growing since 1984. The next day it was raining heavily and our heli hike got canceled. They do not allow an unguided hike in Fox Glacier since the area is highly active and unstable. We drove up around 40 minutes to the Franz Joseph Glacier where we could hike a couple of hours to see the terminal face of the Glacier. This was a great hike with magnificent mountains all around, light rain, and waterfalls everywhere.
The next morning we drove from Fox Glacier to Greymouth to take the TranzAlpine / TranScenic train across to Christchurch. A must do on a visit to South Island. You can book online here.
We stayed at Copthorne Hotel Commodore for the last night in Christchurch. Again, loved it!

Overall, the NZ trip was one of our best experiences. I recommend the hotels we stayed in – very modern, comfortable and the best part was that each one had a great in room spa. That was the best way to relax after a great day out. The restaurants were amazing with fresh ingredients, great ambiance, and wonderful service. Yes, the journey was very long, almost 20 hours each way, but well worth it!

PS. Sorry about the quality of my pictures. The sister is the Photographer in the family! She was surprised that I could make a place like New Zealand look like this:)

- Yam


  1. Such beautiful pictures!! I've always wanted to go! Thanks for the great post!


    1. Thank you for your kind words. I am glad you liked the post:)