Fill in the Blanks on our New Zealand Trip
October 28, 2013 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Help us fill in the blanks (restaurants, things to see and do) during our trip to New Zealand in November! Our itinerary is set- we have flights, hotels, and rental cars already booked.

Here's our itinerary of places & # of nights at each. We have some ideas of things we want to do in these areas, but we haven't booked any tours or made other reservations (besides flights, hotels, and rental cars).

--flying in from the US; flight lands at 6 AM)--
- Auckland (1 night- staying in Herne Bay/Ponsonby)
- Rotorua (2 nights)
--flight from Rotorua to Queenstown midday--
- Arrowtown (1 night)
- Te Anau (3 nights)
- Wanaka (1 night)
- Fox Glacier (2 nights)
- Christchurch (1 night- staying in the Inner City area)
--flight from Christchurch to Brisbane in the afternoon--
- Brisbane, Australia (3 nights- visiting old friends)
--flights back to the US; flight departs at 11 AM)--

We are two nerds in our 30s on our honeymoon. We live in the Midwest, U.S.A.

Please recommend restaurants! I am a pescetarian; he will eat anything. We would love to try local specialties and great food. We will also need our daily fix of tea and coffee. Any recommendations off the beaten path, especially in the more touristy areas, are very welcome. We will do some splurging on good restaurants, but mostly we'll be in search of good, cheap food.

Please recommend things to do and see! We are into science and nature and geeky stuff. We are not planning time for long tramps/hikes, but please let us know about good short ones. If you think we should book specific tours now, before we leave, let us know. (Especially Milford or Doubtful Sound cruises, Waitomo glowworm caves, Hobbiton, glacier tours, etc.)
We are not into adrenaline sports; the landing in Queenstown will be plenty exciting for us. I don't think he can be talked into anything involving a helicopter.

I am a photographer. I plan to get up early and try to find some good morning light for landscapes and nature shots. Any suggestions of particular overlooks or locations would be very helpful.

We have lots of things in mind already, have read several guidebooks, and I've posted a couple of other AskMeFi questions in the last few months. So we know we should bring sunscreen, but we would love other last-minute advice.
posted by aabbbiee to Travel & Transportation around New Zealand (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The drive from Christchurch to Akaroa (in the Banks peninsular - about 1.5 hours) is beautiful and Akaroa itself is a sparkling gem. Great little restaurants in Akaroa, too! Take a little detour and discover some gorgeous beaches with eye-popping scenery - Okain's bay was deserted when I went.
posted by HarrysDad at 11:26 AM on October 28, 2013

Te Anau has glowworm caves, (sample tour) which is quite pleasant, so considering you'll be in Te Anau for 3 days, I'd suggest doing that there rather than trying to get to Waitomo.

For photos, make sure you go to Lake Matheson when in Fox Glacier.

Some of these places (Fox Glacier, Te Anau) won't have that many restaurants to choose from, but I think in general most tourist spots have do alright when it comes to food (if you're willing to pay for it).
posted by Metro Gnome at 8:36 PM on October 28, 2013

From Te Anau I'd highly recommend a
Doubtful Sound cruise. It takes all day, but you won't regret it.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:13 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

In Auckland, go see Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Adventure. It's good fun. In Wanaka, try the White House for food, but get there early as the service can be slow. In Christchurch, go to the cultural show in the National Marae.
posted by Grinder at 12:28 AM on October 29, 2013

Response by poster: We just returned from our trip and I wanted to post an update with the things we did and the restaurants of note, for future reference for future MeFite New Zealand vacationers.

- Auckland: We didn't do much in Auckland, but we did shop on Ponsonby Road (near our motel) and went to One Tree Hill and the Auckland Museum.

- Waitomo: The Waitomo Glowworm Cave was worth the out-of-the-way drive. We had intended to do the Black Labyrinth tour, but did not book it in advance and then didn't want to wait a couple of hours for the next one. So we just did the Glowworm Cave tour, and it was great. The first half, eh, I've seen a lot of caves. But then we descended in the dark to a boat, loaded in, and glided gently and silently along an underground river with the glowworms over our heads like stars in the sky. Unbelievably cool and amazing. Glowworms were common around both islands, but I'm not sure any other experience would have matched ours. We also did the bush walk to the top of the hill overlooking Waitomo Village. It was a steep walk, but the view was worth the hike.

- Rotorua/Hobbiton: We learned our lesson and stopped at the Waitomo i-SITE to book a Maori hangi in Rotorua and a tour at Hobbiton for the next day. Very, very glad we did this as Hobbiton was a bit of a drive and they were booked for hours when we arrived. Rotorua was a nice town! We had dinner at Ciccio and it was delicious- we stuffed ourselves and then went for a late-evening soak at the Polynesian Spa. On the advice of a MeFite, we stayed at a motel with an in-room geothermally-heated hot tub and that was also pretty cool.
-- Hobbiton was a bit silly, yes, but it was beautiful! They preserve it as a film set, and it looks as lush and rustic and beautiful in real life as it does in the films. It was silly to see the hobbit clothes on the little hobbit clotheslines, but I did enjoy a good deal of the film set part of it and I took hundreds of photos that were not related to the film set at all. Totally worth it, in the opinion of these nerds.
-- Maori hangi: There are several options, and we selected Mitai Maori Village on the advice of our i-SITE guide. It is Maori family owned-and-operated, which helped relieve my fears that I would be participating in cultural exploitation. The audience was respectful, the food was good, and the performances/haka was really cool. There were about 100 people total in the audience. We had a great time and I'm so glad we went.

- Queenstown/Arrowtown: We flew into Queenstown, but did very little there except visit the i-SITE to book our Doubtful Sound cruise. Queenstown was really annoying to me; too many people and kind of crazy. Traffic was bad and drivers seemed to be more impatient than anywhere else in the country. We stayed in Arrowtown nearby, and I was glad we did- it was smaller and quieter and peaceful. Later in the week, we stopped at the Amisfield winery to meet some friends and that was also a great stop.

- Te Anau: We stayed three nights in Te Anau at the Fiordland Lakeview Motel, and it was really lovely and relaxing. I walked part of the Kepler Track in the morning and it was wonderful for photography.
-- Ata Whenua Shadowlands: This film runs multiple times a day at the Fiordland Cinema in Te Anau. It was not the greatest quality film ever produced, but it was a nice introduction to the area and the cinema itself is pretty cool. It was a nice first evening event.
-- Doubtful Sound: We used RealJourneys, which is the big outfit in town. They did the job well and treated us nicely, even rebooking us for no additional fees when we asked to switch days based on the weather forecasts. It was a full day trip (boat across Manapouri, then a coach bus over the pass, then a 3-hour boat ride through Doubtful Sound, plus a tour of the Manapouri underground power station at the end) and quite an experience! Gorgeous light everywhere! The guides were very experienced, pointing out penguins and birds and sea lions. The boat had plenty of seats inside, but lots of space on the open decks for wide-angle landscapes (and they even let me bring my tripod). My husband loved the power station tour. Amazing trip.
-- Milford Sound: We drove up to Milford Sound in an afternoon. We left late and weren't sure if we were going to go all the way because it was a cloudy and rainy day. However, the mist in the mountains was magical and there were waterfalls by the hundreds cascading down the cliffs. I was glad we went late in the day. Even without traffic, the drive took about 2 hours (one way), and those one-lane bridges would be scary if there was more traffic. We saw several kea; one tried to chew on my tripod as I was using it; others tried to access our car when we opened the doors. There are warnings to "bear-proof" your food and gear if you're staying in kea country (and they also like to chew on rubber & shiny bits of cars). They are clearly very smart!

- Wanaka: We booked our glacier tours at the i-SITE in Wanaka, and had a great dinner at the Spice Room, an Indian restaurant, on the advice of the B&B owner. We only stayed one night here, and could have stayed longer.
-- Monro Beach Walk: I saw reference to this online, and it was a nice chance to get out of the car on the drive between Wanaka and Fox Glacier. The walk is north of Haast and it's about 2.4 km (1.5 mi) each way, but the walk is pretty easy. The beach is gorgeous- though the sandflies were truly awful- and we did get to see Fiordland Crested penguins at the far north end of the beach, as it was late afternoon. The walk through the rainforest was quite lovely.

- Fox Glacier: This is a very small town. We stayed two nights in Fox Glacier and hopped over to Franz Josef for one of those evenings to have dinner and go to the thermal pools. Franz was much bigger than Fox Glacier, with more to do and more restaurants to choose from. But Fox Glacier is the glacier you can walk to; you have to access Franz Josef by helicopter.
-- Glacier hike: We did the Fox Trot half-day guided glacier walk with Fox Glacier Guiding. They only had a couple of non-helicopter options and helicopters are kind of terrifying to us. The walk was for "moderate fitness" as it involved hiking up the mountain to the terminus of the glacier, then donning crampons for walking around on the glacier. I was a little surprised that the glacier was so dirty, not from the people walking on it, but because it's a fast-melting glacier and dirt is left behind as the ice melts. But it didn't disappoint me. Even fairly low on the glacier, we saw crevasses and flowing water through the ice and ice caves, and I loved getting the chance to stamp around in crampons.

- Castle Hill: This was a stop on the way from Fox Glacier to Christchurch, which was a long drive on an overcast day when we couldn't see any of the mountains, but we found a bit of sun here and stopped to take a walk. I wish we'd had more time to spend here, but then I felt this way about 90% of what we saw in NZ!

- Christchurch: We stayed on Bealey Ave., just north of the central business district. I wish I'd put more time into tracking down places to eat in advance, because we found ourselves driving around and not seeing much open. Parking/driving in the central business district was a pretty big hassle as many of the one-way streets are closed. We did see the Re:Start Mall, the Cardboard Cathedral, and walked through Cathedral Square, and we loved Black Betty for breakfast. We also could not believe the quality of the food at the Noodle place at the airport (outside security). The seafood laksa was nearly the best meal I had on the whole trip, and that's not because I didn't have great food elsewhere.
-- International Antarctic Centre: This would be best for kids, but I was fascinated and wished we had had more time!

In Brisbane, we were visiting friends. We did do a number of touristy activities, including the South Bank, Streets Beach, and the Stanley Street Plaza (the bats at night!); Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (hand-feeding gentle kangaroos); the view from Mt Coot Tha; a ferry ride up and down the Brisbane River; the city botanic gardens; and a tour through the Queensland Museum, the Art Gallery, and the Gallery of Modern Art.

It was a great, great trip! Thanks to all who sent advice!
posted by aabbbiee at 1:19 PM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Here are a few notes on the trip in general:

- Sunscreen. They're not kidding about the sunscreen, even on cloudy and cool days. You'll want all the sun protection you can get. We were careful and used lots of sunblock, and still we both got a little burned.

- The i-SITES are great resources. They are the official visitor information centers, located in the cities and most touristy towns. They have great advice and can make your bookings right there. I booked hotels, flights, and rental cars far in advance, but used the i-SITES to book tours, usually 1-2 days in advance.

- Roads are windy and narrow. It takes longer than you think to drive between towns. And this can be a problem for your schedule because---
-- Shops close early, even in touristy towns. This could mean that the shops in the central business district are closed by 5:00 or 6:00 PM, or maybe as late as 7 PM if it's a really touristy area.
-- People eat early and most restaurants stop serving before 9:00 PM. Maybe you'll find a couple options after that, but not much.
-- Motel offices had operating hours, something like 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM. We often stayed at places where the owners lived onsite, so you could get there late. But I was surprised by that.

- Air New Zealand does not allow carry-on baggage of more than 7 kg (about 15.4 lbs). A rolling carry-on bag can hold much more than that, and this is at odds with airline practices in the US. We went to NZ with two checked bags (one each) and a rolling carry-on bag, all filled up (plus personal backpacks). When we left, we had to be very strategic about repacking in order to keep our bags under the weight limit and not have to pay the big bucks to check that third bag. And that's even after we mailed stuff home. (It cost about $50 to mail a standard box sized 10" x 7" x 5" back to the US.)

- We had a lot of good food, but it was the drinks that I have to mention here. Flat whites became our breakfast drink of choice. We had a lot of ginger beer (Bunderberg's, but we also enjoyed the alcoholic ginger beers when we found them). We loved the Lemon, Lime & Bitters and will be trying to recreate that at home! And, though I'm not much of a wine drinker, I had some amazing NZ white wines.

- We were surprised by the prices of food. We were in touristy areas, for sure, but it became old hat to pay $20 each for a standard breakfast and $40 each for dinner with a glass of wine. Even with the exchange rate, the prices were really high. When I made the bookings in advance, motel prices and rental cars were not far out of line with what we'd pay in the US, so I was under the impression that it would all be similar (excepting airfare, of course). But I was really wrong. Not complaining, just offering an observation. Of course, the food was spectacularly good, fresh, and local.

- Gas is not cheap either. If you're considering doing the campervan or motorhome route to save money, you may want to make some estimates on what you'll pay for gas for your intended route in your intended vehicle. We paid NZD $90 to fill up a Toyota Corolla. With the relatively inexpensive cost for a motel room (and most motels have kitchenettes), I wonder how much savings there really would be.

- We used Budget for our rental car on the North Island, and Apex on the South Island. Both one-way rentals. They were older cars. The Apex one was much older; it was a 2006 Nissan Tiida and had 114,000 km on it, plus the key fob didn't work. Both cars had some scratches, but they were clean inside. I would use either rental place again- they were both fine.

Feel free to MeMail me if you have any questions. I am more than happy to blab away about our trip, itinerary, etc.
posted by aabbbiee at 2:04 PM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

« Older Which health insurance plan makes the most sense...   |   Good source for men's short-sleeved button-down... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.