Finally! Over a year has passed since our trip, and we have only just managed to get the pieces of this page together (early 2012). For this and that reason it has taken more than double the amount of work it normally takes to get the photos organized; the text is still a work in progress, jolting between the tenses of our present recollection of that past and the sometimes hasty entries at the time. But it is time to get it posted and will fix the blemishes as we go.

The trip was extremely well organized thanks to our guides, Max and Di Lang. We were on a finely tuned schedule because Lynda was doing work gigs in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and we were arriving in the high season. In spite of the impressive structure of the itinerary below, we didn't feel our style was at all cramped by any excess of organization. There were plenty of options at each place and it was another great trip.

      NOVEMBER Thu 04 Fly from Vancouver
Fri 05  
Sat 06 1Arrive AucklandAuckland
Sun 07 2Auckland (bus trip to Rotorua)
Mon 08 3Auckland workshop
Tue 09 4Auckland workshop
Wed 10 5Auckland to Wellington
Thu 11 6Wellington workshop Wellington
Fri 12 7Wellington workshop
Sat 13 8 
Sun 14 9Wellington to Christchurch
Mon 15 10Christchurch Workshop Christchurch
Tue 16 11Christchurch and New Brighton
Wed 17 12Drive to Lake Tekapo Tekapo
Thu 18 13Visit Mount Cook
Fri 19 14Drive to Wanaka (3.5 hrs)/ Kayak Wanaka
Sat 20 15Winery/Walk
Sun 21 16 Rob Roy Glacier/ Mount Aspiring
John     Lynda
A night in Queenstown and then back to YVRDrive to Te AnauTe Anau
Milford Sound
Kepler Track etc
 Drive to Queenstown
Around Queenstown
Queenstown to Auckland
Auckland to LA to YVR
Mon 22 17
Tue 23 18
Wed 24 19
Thu 25 20
Fri 26 21
Sat 27 22
Sun 28 23

Day 1: Auckland

Here we are! The fourteen hour direct flight from Vancouver to Auckland turned out to be less arduous than we thought it would be, largely because we both managed to sleep for half of it. Arrived in Auckland at 5:45 am this Saturday morning. Susan—a friend of Lynda's through the business connection—was there to meet us, and deserved a medal for coming out at such an hour. The sun was shining but a brief shower soaked us as we were getting out of the airport. We drove to Katherine's place, where we would be staying; had coffee; unpacked a few things and then headed out with Katherine to look at Auckland.

Lynda and Katherine
on Mt Eden

Cruised around looking at the downtown core which is presently being gussied up for the world cup (rugby) next year—construction and street redirects everywhere. Then headed to a couple of view spots. Mount Eden provided views (see photo) of both downtown Auckland in the middle distance, the North Shore, which is a little difficult to see in the photo; and immediately in front, partially visible is the old volcanic crater of Mount Eden. I know, it doesn't look like much but a volcano is still a volcano.

Headed next across the bridge to the North Shore, which sounded like home to us. We parked then walked along the beach, admiring both the architecture of the houses and the volcanic rock flows on which they sit. The flows are from a long-ago eruption of one of the volcanos inland from here. Spooky.

Came back through the nearby village and had lunch in a cafe. Then back over to Ponsonby, near where we are staying, for a heritage walk around the area.

First impressions of Auckland. Lovely! Subtropical climate with lots of palm trees and neighbourhoods filled with old colonial style housing. Very clean—like Vancouver. We had cool winds in the morning in spite of the sunny weather. I was wearing a fleece for the first part of the walk but it warmed up.

Katherine provided a great deal of background about the history and culture of New Zealand that I won't attempt to reproduce here as our knowledge is still pretty sparse. This is different from Canada though in spite of the similarities.

Tonight we're out to dinner. Tomorrow we're off on a 3 hour bus ride to Rotorua, which is where much of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed (see notes re this below).

Day 2: Bus Trip to Rotorua/Waitimi

View Larger Map

For one reason or another we had only one free day around Auckland to get some feel for...well just about everything around Auckland. So figuring we might still be jet-lagged and not up to anything too complicated, we booked a bus tour to Rotorua. This area was supposedly where part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed and seeing that sort of countryside was one of the reasons we picked New Zealand. So the bus trip seemed a good idea at the time and turned out to be a day well spent...although we never did see the Lord of the Rings sets!

We started the day with a ten minute cab ride to Auckland's downtown coach centre, because it was Sunday morning and there weren't too many buses about. Streets are clean and quiet. We boarded the coach at the downtown terminal and headed out along very clean and well-organized highway system; out through pleasant burbs and eventually into cowland. Pretty well all of the drive today (four hours there, through Waitomo; three hours back, more directly) was through pleasant dairy/farmland much as you'd see along the Fraser valley, except with cows, and on rolling rather than completely flat countryside. Bit of variety but more of that anon.

Our driver Peter, whose lifestory I won't attempt to fit in here, gave us a steady commentary all the way there. It was an entertaining intro to the history of New Zealand, the Maori, and life around this part of the world. Here are a few interesting crumbs gathered from our trip:

  • In North Vancouver we have speed bumps bigger than "mountains"—such as Mount Eden—that are pointed out as we leave Auckland city...but to be fair our speed bumps are not dormant volcanoes and later in the trip we will see more peaks of 8,000ft+...
  • The Maori (you are Maori if you can claim at least 1/16th Maori blood) arrived around 900 AD and today make up about 900,000 (see correction on Day 3) out of New Zealand's 4.2 million, so that's about 1 in 4 people. The Dutch (Tasman) came next in 1642, made a bad move with the Maori who greeted them and had to make a hasty retreat; Cook arrived in 1769 at the same time as French explorers...neither knowing about or sighting the other.
  • The conflicts that eventually developed between the British and the Maori and other European settlers ended more or less in a draw, and a peace treaty was signed, the terms of which probably benefited the British a little less than in places like Canada, where the First Nations ended up on reserves.
  • Sheep farming is in a severe decline because the price of wool—with the invention of clever synthetics—has dropped. Sheep numbers therefore have dropped from about 70 million at one time to less than 45 million now. There has been a corresponding increase in dairy and beef farming.  

  • Half of the living things here are imported. Trees (Oak, Poplar, Beech, Eucalyptus) are largely imported and in some places native species are threatened. There were no ground animals originally so the Kiwi and other birds thrived...until the Europeans brought dogs, other birds like sparrows, starlings, mynahs (deliberately) and rats (accidentally). The rats did spectacularly well and so the Europeans introduced ferrets, stoats and possums to deal with them. Unfortunately, dogs, rats, and now possums ferrets and stoats devastated the resident bird populations that had never seen a predator before. Possum are an especially prevalent nuisance and make up most of the road kill, a thing that New Zealanders consider a good thing. Raptors such as the Australasian Harrier are also introduced.

Waitomo Caves 

(This video is better than our photos!)

Yes, it's on all the tour brochures but the area is interesting if only for the caves. The bus approaches the area along a backroad between low, rounded, green hills, probably no more than about three hundred feet high. Vegetation is lush. We park in the modern-looking complex and make our way into an innocent looking entrance carved into the hillside. Inside we find ourselves in a natural tunnel of limestone caves that snakes its way down deeper into the hillside.


Fortunately, the modern paved flooring and tastefully done lighting make it easy progress if you are less than five feet tall, but we eventually find ourselves inside a chamber with a 50 foot ceiling. The lights go off and we can now see about 20-30 of the bright dots of the glowworms suspended on the ceiling of a new rock. No cameras here: the flashes traumatize the glowworms! We descend a few more steps and find ourselves in an underground cavern over a water. We board a metal boat moored there; it holds about two dozen people. We're in almost complete blackness; the guide (who at least has a pen torch) pushes off and we float off down a tunnel not much wider or taller than the width of the boat. There's almost complete silence and the ceiling overhead is now lit with the nano-numen lamps of thousands of these glowworms. The trip only lasts perhaps 5 minutes before we're out into the glare of sunshine somewhere a bit further down the hillside than where we started.  Nice experience.

Rotorua Agridome 

An hour and half of bus drive later, we get to the outskirts of Rotorua and arrive at the Agridome. There is indeed, a large building there, but we are to spend the next hour outside. But it is fun. We

  • Feed emus, sheep, bulls (of various breeds)
  • Watch a dog herding sheep
  • See a sheep sheared in about a minute and a half—well over the record of 14 seconds
  • See wool carded by a machine and converted to the yarn that will be sold

Maori Culture

Another hour's scenic drive to the centre of Rotorua. It's an interesting area in part because of the thermal activity around here: just about every motel advertises a spa which you can often see, steaming away in the backyard. These are made by simply digging down a few feet to the thermal rocks below.


Couple of
old geysers

passed the site of the forthcoming movie production for the sequel to Lord of the Rings and move into a Maori centre. During hour at the centre we had:

  • an introduction to some of the Maori spiritual beliefs
  • watched a traditional Haka or welcome. Not a great advance on the understanding of Maori culture that we already have but entertaining nonetheless.
  • Walked down to the geysers, which luckily for us erupted on schedule. They erupt three or four times an hour but not reliably
  • then onto the mud pools which was like watching porridge cook
  • Finally, onto the Maori carving and weaving schools, which we didn't have time to look at

Back onto the bus at 5pm and home in Auckland by 8. The only disappointment: I lost my bird book somewhere!

Day 3: The Museum

Lynda was leading a workshop for the first half of the day and I was writing that exhausting blog entry for Rotorua leaving only a half day to report.

We opted for a visit to the "War" Museum—although the "War" aspect has been reduced to a war exhibit on the top floor. Very good exhibit of the history of the Maori and other Pacific peoples, but no room for a detailed run-down here. Went on to the gardens and then took the Link bus back across town to our home away from home...which brings me to a few corrections:

  • Maori people numbered about 627,000 or about 14.6% of the population at the 2006 census rather than the 900,000 reported by our bus driver 
  • The bus system in Auckland is actually not bad. We found buses to take us more or less where we wanted to go, running about every 15 minutes and costing about $1.80 for the ride. Apologies to anyone offended.
Katherine, our host, held a barbecue last night and about 4 people from the morning workshops came over. Fabulous meal, including lamb which Lynda thoroughly enjoyed and ending with Pavlova complete with kiwi fruit and cream also the national dish named after the Russian ballerina and claimed by both Australia and New Zealand as their only. 

Day 4: Waiheke (why-hecky) Island

Lynda is teaching today so I'm on my own and thought I'd take a ferry to one of the islands off Auckland. There are several options but the schedules on the web were a bit confusing so decided to just go down to the terminal and wing it. Left the house at 9am. It's bright outside but there are dark clouds so it could go either way. A 10 minute walk took me up to a main street where I could take a bus directly to the downtown ferry terminal.Got there at around 9:45am and found that the Waiheke ferry runs every hour on the hour in both directions so with only 15 minutes wait for the 10am ferry I opted for that. 

View Larger Map

Still a little overcast as we pulled out but the ride out to Waiheke Island was a smooth 30 minute trip passing a number of other islands on the way, including the volcanic Rangitoto Island. Found myself next to an older local gentleman for the trip. He takes advantage of the free pass for seniors to do this trip often and he gave me an extensive history of the area and islands as we motored past them.

There was a bus waiting at the ferry depot but since it's only about a mile into town, a lot of people avoid the extra $1.80 and walk in. I caught the bus in planning to walk back. The "town" of Oneroa—more like a village—is about as much as I wanted to see townwise (there's more further on) so hopped off there. Walked down to the beach and back up, to find a very pleasant marked trail that led over the top of a cliff in front of some cliff houses that I suspect were in the million dollar range. Lovely aromas from all the flowers along the route.

Turned back through town, bought a sandwich, stopped in at a pleasant little art gallery on the way back to the ferry, then found another "track" advertising what seemed to be a far more pleasant route back to the ferry than the busy road. It was. Most of the time I was no more than 100 feet from the road but the trail led through a sheltered shrubby kind of vegetation that is under restoration. Lovely path, pleasant smells again, and barely audible traffic. Eventually I had the option to turn right towards the ferry or continue on the trail as it pulled away along the side of the bay and over towards Church Bay, the next one over. So I took that route for a while and half way along, sat on a nice bench and had my sandwich.

Finished lunch and ambled back to catch the 1pm ferry. Back in Auckland, checked out the train station. We are catching the Overlander to Wellington early tomorrow morning so no blog for a day or so. Then walked back to our dwelling, taking less than an hour. Had a yoghurt and coffee at a local caff before settling down to do our blog!

Day 5: Auckland to Wellington by Train

A quick goodbye at 6:30am to Katherine. Katherine has been our excellent host for the last 3 days and hasn't been featured as much in this blog as she deserves. In our jetlagged state I missed taking a couple of pictures. We should mention the major educational upgrade on the NFL provided by her seventeen year old son Otis!.

A cab to the Britomart train station in downtown Auckland got us on the 7:25am Overlander to Wellington. For the first part of the trip, as we trundled through endless small stops and line repairs, we saw much the same scenery as we'd seen on the bus ride to Rotorua a couple of days ago. This is not surprising since the road ran close to the train tracks for much of the way. It is all pleasant enough: manicured sheep and cow-filled pastures with the occasional quaint town to keep things interesting. 


After about four hours we began to thread our way up into more hilly terrain. There are still green pasture, replete with cows and sheep but it is getting lumpier. Eventually we come to the locally famous Ruahpehu spiral in which the train, through engineering jiggery-pokery, disappears into a tunnel in the side of a hill and emerges further up the mountain, looking back on its own tracks far below. We're now heading up to the central plateau, and sharing that plateau is Mount Ruapehu which suddently appears, snow-capped and majestic, to our left.

Not long after we are at the half-way point of our trip and stop for a half hour and lunch to admire the full view of Ruapehu.

The views are terrific here, although the lunch at the only cafeteria was both abysmal and expensive.

We reboard the train and leave; the train is now heading steadily down and we get glimpses of the symetrical Mount Taranaki to the west. As we descend, the train crosses a number of remarkable viaducts of which one, the Makahina, is captured in this video (not ours).

We gather speed and fairly rocket across a sort of pastoral plane until some highland peaks to the South begin to close with us. Eventually, we approach Wellington with a steep hillside on our left and the Tasmanian Sea to our right, rambling eventually through the burbs and into Wellington Station.

And there's Susan again to meet us! We trundled our bags out of the station and another hundred meters down one of the streets of the middle of the downtown core, stopping at what at first looked to be one of the shops, but an elevator along a short passage took us up a floor into the lobby of our hotel, where we booked into an apartment two floors above the street. First impression was that Wellington was quite different from the small ville that I was (idiotically, in retrospect) expecting. This looks and feels like a capital—much like Sydney in fact, with crisp, modern streets and buildings and (as I began to notice) great architecture. Vancouver is beginning to look like this in parts but Wellington is way ahead of us. 

But dang, the place was cold and lonely. Lyn and Susan took off by themselves to discuss tomorrow's workshop so I was on my own. It was already dark and the streets were just about deserted when I headed out for dinner, and everything seemed to be closing up. Just managed to get to a a take-out fishburger from McDonald's (my second visit there this century) before it closed. 


Our hosts were nervous about our feelings about the train ride, as they weren't too keen on it. I wouldn't do it again. If you have done the bus trip to Rotorua (which I would recommend) then you have seen 90% of the scenery. While the viaducts and the views of Ruapehu are certainly different and excellent, one hour out of twelve is not enough of a trade-off. If you do take the trip, make sure you take a decent lunch with you!


One of my few disappointments of our trip (Lynda could care less!). I should have guessed: the Field guide to New Zealand birds looked a little slender when it came in the mail but I thought that compared perhaps with the mammoth tome that I took to Peru it was almost a relief. But I should have taken a closer look. The first half of the book is seabirds (of interest only if you have planned to spend a good portion of your vacation floating in a dinghy somewhere off the coast) and 50% of the remaining entries are "rare" vagrants or visitors. Well so much for the potential variety, what of reality? Sadly, if you see 500 birds in New Zealand chances are that 400 will be common sparrows, 50 will be blackbirds, and 45 magpies.

I will later backtrack somewhat on these harsh remarks; we began to see more variety as we headed south and Lynda actually saw some most interesting birds on her trip to Milford Sound and Te Anau


Vegetation is, in contrast, varied and interesting. In the midst of what appears to be open, English countryside, complete with sheep and cows, are dotted patches of dense brush made up of the most amazing variety of different greenery. There are lots of ferny things; palms of various shapes and sizes; enormous yucca-like plants with great spears of bloom; tree-explosions like some kind of living firework; pines—including the Norfolk Pine...and so on and so on. Color and smell is particularly notable at this time of year. The density of this brush is remarkable. The original Maori people probably kept to the coast for the simple reason that it must have been nigh-on impossible to beat a path into such floral intensity.


From the train it is possible to see cows, sheep, goats, llama, alpaca, emu, deer, horses...all penned up in pastures...and surprisingly, the occasional rabbit. I'm glad to see it as it encourages raptors and I'm hoping that in future years we shall see something other than the Australasian Harrier circling overhead.

Day 6: Wellington

Parliament Building:
"The Beehive"

Well, it's me on my own again (Lyn leading a workshop), scouting the city, looking for things to do tomorrow and Saturday.

Got up today and headed up to get some supplies for breakfast, the City

Mount Victoria, we'll
climb it tomorrow

was a different place! I spent the day roaming around and finally discovered the waterfront which was teaming with activity.

In fact, when we came along there this evening after an excellent Balti Indian meal only 5 minutes from here, the waterfront was thriving; it just the streets behind that are closing down again. Just have to know where to go!

Day 7: Wellington for two

Lynda's workshop apparently went well yesterday so we have another rare day together today and tomorrow. Last workshop on Monday and after that we're both on holiday.

We'd lined up a few things to do in the next few days. Checked the weather forecast yesterday and seeing the possibility of "weather" coming in on Saturday, we opted to do the outdoorsy things today lest we get skunked tomorrow.

So, up and out at the crack of dawn...well, catch the ferry to Days Bay. Lovely day; a few clouds. Got down to the wharf, found to our dismay that a gaggle of schoolkids were coming on board with us. But they turned out to be harmless so the half-hour trip over on the speedy catamaran launch was lovely, with great views of Wellington behind.

On the way over, Lyn noticed on one of the brochures that there was a "tramp" (New Zealand for trail) up behind the town. Sure enough when we disembarked from the cat, we found our way through a park opposite the wharf to a great trail leading steeply up through dense NZ foliage towards the ridge above. Encouraged by the pleasant trail,shaded above, we headed up and after about half an hour of huff and puff (probably about 500ft vertical) we found a ideally situated bench seat where we could look out over town and back towards Wellington. During our brief stay, the Picton (S. Island) ferry could be seen steaming into Wellington.

It is time to recant some of my pointed remarks re NZ birds. We haven't seen a sparrow all day and the air is filled a variety of songs, some flute-like, some an eery warble, some trilling. A variety of birds are in the canopy although they are seldom invisible. We suspect that the occasionally glimpsed dark shapes that rocket about are Tuis but the others are unidentifiable. I don't care as long as they are neither sparrows or magpies.

We return to the village and have lunch on the beach (entertained by several Oystercatchers, with their sporty all-black look but for the orange bill), then wander back to the wharf, catching the local art gallery, on the way to the ferry...where we find we are to be accompanied by another school group.

On arriving back in town, we head over to bag our second "peak" of the day, Mount Victoria, which rises out of the burbs south of the centre of town next to the district of Mount Cook

Tui on Mt. Vic


. Half of the hike up is between houses on a series of steps that ends at a monastery and a road; a bit further up the road a very steep trail heads off, which, judging by the signs and the rutted way, is shared by mountain bikers—none today thankfully.

Wellington from
Mt. Vic

We bagged the peak—great views through 360 degrees—and found there a bus at the top. Took that back into town and ended our day with a worker's meal: fish and chips (Groper and Tarakini caught locally), washed down with a Cab-Sauvignon that, having left the cork out last night, provided the perfect vinegary complement. From the pub just a few doors down, strains of Led Zeppelin....

Today, when we got back, I wondered, again, why some of our photos looked so washed out. Inspecting the lens of the camera, I discovered a veneer of jam and breadcrumbs that, as far as I could see, served no useful purpose. I removed as much as I could so let's see whether that improves things.

Day 8: Wellington; last day on N.Island

Lyn and the Cable Car
our ride to the
Botanical Gardens

Our only shot of the
Botanical Gardens
(dark day)

Woke up to overcast skies so glad we did what we did yesterday. Today we took the cable car (entrance is just up the street from our apartment) up to the top of the Botanical Gardens then walked down through them. At this time of year they are in full flower (finally found the name of the fragrant yellow rhododendren in our garden and promptly forgot what it was!). Then walked over to the Te Papa museum, which being all buffed up and modern, gets good press. Indeed, if you're interested in the modern era it is good, and the Natural History section was well down. But the Auckland Museum had much better coverage of ancient Maori history.

We're both a bit wobbly after yesterday's exertions so will stay in tonight and get packed for tomorrow's ferry/train trip to Christchurch. We're packing lunches this time!

Impressions thus far

The point of this blog is in some ways to record our impressions and I haven't done this much so far (other than to offer a couple of grumbles, so here is a more considered view:

  • We were expecting a country at least as safe and clean to travel in as Canada and have to say that New Zealand so far seems to have surpassed Canada. Apart from the occasional harmless drunk here in downtown Wellington we've seen not the slightest sign of hassle in either of the two main cities; streets are exceptionally clean and we haven't seen any areas yet that are derelict.
  • The North Island that we have seen, at least in the corridor between Auckland and here, is suprisingly uniform in many respects: the same foliage, farmland and birds end-to-end. Far from being dull (well, except for the sparrows), it is just lovely manicured, peaceful well-kempt countryside. Auckland has its volcanic pimples and Wellington of course is surrounded by a ridge of hills that go right up behind the city; the hilly high country in the middle is somewhat different again. Yet you see more terrain change between Vancouver and Northern California than here. We've seen plenty of places that we'd choose to live in.
  • Perhaps this uniformity may explain the "uniformity" of bird life. It will be interesting to see what differences there are on the South Island.
  • It's quiet in the evenings and on weekends in the city and many shops and services are simply closed on weekends. It seems that New Zealanders haven't yet fully surrendered to commercialism.

Day 9: Wellington to Christchurch

Leaving Wellington on
the Interislander

Trundled our bags across to the railway station at around 7am, and caught the shuttle bus to the ferry

Coming into Picton
(S. Island)

[tourist hint: take a cab to the ferry; the bus is chaos incarnate]. The ferry ride from Wellington (almost at the bottom of North Island) to Picton (almost at the top of South Island) was beautiful, with both Islands in clear view on the trip over and then a little while going down what is like a New Zealand fjord to Picton. Given that many of the ferry passengers are tourists taking the train to Christchurch you might think that the train station would be close by and/or at least well sign-posted. Neither was the case: the station was actually a half a kilometer away with no visible signage to it.

Backing into Picton

Peak from the train
Picton to Christchurch

Again, the train ride was pleasant—and at five hours, blessedly shorter.

We passed first through much wilder and hillier country than we'd seen to date and then were out into wine growing country, which we presumed to be Marlborough country [it is; here's the Wikipedia entry]. Then again back to rolling sheep country as on the North Island. And finally we were out along the coastline, with the black beached shoreline only fifty meters away for much of the way. We were told to look out for the black seals of the area and could see quite a few on the rocks.

Reached Christchurch more or less on time (6:30pm) and took cab to a more modern hotel than we'd expected. We're quite high and so are the internet rates!

Day 10: Christchurch 1

Christchurch from hotel

Took a cab from the train into the hotel where we were booked and headed out for a quick meal a couple of doors down from the hotel. We had been wondering about the effects of the recent major earthquake and could see some damage on the buildings opposite, and were sitting in the bar when we felt another aftershock. If you want to have a startling illustration of the frequency and size of the earthquakes (2012: there have been three major quake series since this one) have a look here!

Next day, I (John) had a bit of an unnerving medical problem last night that raised a question of whether to continue the trip. At that point poor Lyn had to go and do her last workshop. Max and Di showed up, got the name of a clinic, and I spent the morning over there. Finally got to see a very nice Irish doctor, who cheerfully waved off my concerns, gave me a prescription for antibiotics and told me to enjoy our holiday. Phew! Hope he's right.

Lyn, as I've said, tied up all day so Max and Di took me for walkabout in town. Christchurch (pop. 250,000) is more like the one-story towns that we're used to in North America, complete with some run-down areas and car malls. Consider that our visit is not long after the first major earthquake here; many buildings have visible earthquake damage and several streets are closed off. But the town has a great number of attractive old buildings and churches with a funky architecture that contrasts pleasantly with what we'd seen of modern Wellington.

Max and Di picked up the rented car and we drove out to the Port Hills to the South of Christchurch. This is really striking countryside: a kind of ridge of Lake District type hills (300m) sitting right over the plain of Christchurch. We passed dozens of people cycling, hiking and even running up.

This evening we are invited to a "barbie" with Max and Di's son Chris and his wife Virginia.

Day 11: Christchurch 2nd day


Had a fabulous barbie last night with Chris and Virginia (Max and Di's son). Freezing cold though while we went out to walk the dog.


There are two winds here: one blows from the Southeast (off the Antarctic) and is predictably cold as heck, and the other comes from the Northwest off Australia and is as hot as hell. Today the temperature is 26C!

Spent a bit of time looking around town. Christchurch is, as I've said recognizable to North Americans but there are a lot of quaint old buildings here. We took the hop-on-hop-off tram which makes a brief circuit of about ten by three blocks. Lyn has been shopping and is very pleased with what she's brought [Lynda adds: Di steered me to an outlet sports store! Fifty to seventy percent off really good Merino wool gear called Ice Breaker and Chalky Digits. Of course as soon as I finally have warm clothes it has turned to 27 degree weather. All good].

interesting building

Christchurch john tram

R Avon

Also went to a lovely old building that holds dozens of artist's craft stores. Found a Maori artist that carves wood and bone and makes them into traditional necklaces. Of course I had to have one but had the black lace replaced with a greenish beige one.

Further observations: food seems expensive here but darn it is good. Excellent coffee. Ended the day with a grocery shop. Max and Di are spending the night at their son's. We're at a motel and will get picked up tomorrow morning to start our road trip. 

Day 12: Heading out from Christchurch

Hmm. Spent the night in a slightly downscale motel, but its redeeming feature was that it was half the cost of the one we were staying in for the first two nights. Overcast again this morning but the weather can change here in hours so there's still hope of sunshine. It is amazing how our feelings shift with the weather. It feels alien and unfriendly when the weather is cold and overcast but warm and welcoming when the sun is out.

We're heading out to Lake Tekapo today, about a three hour drive from here.

Day 13: Tekapo/Mount Cook

Well, here is some rushed news as I have to catch up on a few days and tons of photos. Will have to polish this as we go I guess but excuse the lack of gloss: pure brain dump.

Lyn on the balcony
of our Tekapo place

Lake Tekapo and

The drive to Tekapo far more interesting than journeys to date. I've said that all of New Zealand has been quite beautiful but we saw much of the same since leaving Auckland and we were wondering if there was any more. Clearly There was!

Farms and fields for much of the way, and then suddenly we could see the mountains ahead. We skirted some low hills before coming out on a view of the Southern Alps which was spectacular. These peaks are between four and eight thousand feet high for the most part, and are snow-capped, much like our Rockies. They fill the complete horizon. After about four leisurely hours on the road we drove out alongside Lake Tekapo which is about 1x5km and reflects the mountains on the other side.

Our lodgings here, at the Aurora cottage were superb...except that we didn't have internet access. Fabulous view of the lake and mountains. But here I'm afraid I have to delay the rest of the report until Lynda can fill in the details as I'm bugged by a urinary tract infection so couldn't do the trip to Mount Cook and thereabouts that they did yesterday, so she'll fill that in.

Mount John/Observatory

John Blackbird

Arrived in Lake Tekapo and settled into a holiday house up on the hill overlooking the lake. Probably the steepest driveway in the world. Di tried it which allowed us to unload bags at ground level. The place is really accommodating: as John would say, all mod cons...including a book exchange, so John now has a supply good supply to count on as he stays at the house and reads while Di, Max and I head out for a late afternoon hike to Mount John and the observatory.

>The hike entails a short ride to the car park after a death defying turn around at the top of the driveway (won't do that again). We start near a hot springs which is quite commercial looking with blue painted pools. The track leads a steady up through a lovely larch and pine forest with some views along the way. Di zooms in on some merino sheep – a wrinkly grey breed – that are grazing near the top. It's about 300 metres to the top – a good first day hike. On top the wind picks up considerably but the bonus is the view from the top – coffee and icecream too. There's a peekaboo view of Mt Cook and wide views of the mountain range and Lake Alexandrina. We are keen to sign up for the observatory later until we find out it $85 each. The view from our balcony will have to do. The longer loop back gradually slopes toward the Lake and the trail parallels the shore about 50 metres up. Despite the late start around 3, it's easy to get burned. Apparently the ozone is very thin over NZ.

Day 14: Mt Cook National Park

_Mt Cook

Mt Cook
and Pukaki

It's about an hour and a half to the Mount Cook National park with several photo stops. You never know how the weather will shift during the day. The cloud formations are interesting. Max and Di pick a hike they haven't done before – the Sealy Tarns – on Sefton Mountain, beside Mt Cook. The hike traverses a scree pretty much straight up 1000 metres. When we reach the top there are two pools and a staggering view of Mount Cook, the Mueller Glacier, and the Hooker River. We pass a few pack backers with boots and ice picks hanging from their gear. They are going on to the

Flowers on Mount
Cook track

Mueller Hut – and we think we've put in a day! On the way down we take a side trip to the Kea lookout. Here there is a birdseye view of the glazier. At first it looks like a massive gravel pit but the moraine is covering the ice. The trip is about 4 hours or so but a must see. After a coffee and look through the display at the village we travel back to Lake Tekapo for a last night.

Lyndas request

Lyn Mt Cook

Mt Cook lyndas pick


Day 15: Travel to Wanaka


We were only in Tekapo for two nights one day. This morning we packed up and headed for Wanaka. Again about a four hour drive, including stops for lunch and to see some scenic spots on the way. The lupins are just fabulous. Terrain really quite varied on this part of the trip. Still some occasional farmland down in the valleys and on the flat, but a lot of the time we're up in rolling hills and even peaks. The chief difference between NZ and Canada is that there are few trees on the slopes here. Hills and peaks are covered in either grass, or perhaps some sage-like bushes. So views are unimpeded, and the terrain more varied.

We're into Wanaka now. Again the place we're staying at (all four of us) is great: "all mod cons" as the Brits say but no internet access in our cottage so have to walk to main lodge 20 mins away for not inexpensive access. More news on Wanaka as we go.

I'm going to load all pictures below as I have to get back for dinner. Sorry, some are out of order.

Several stops on a lovely drive to Wanaka, one to photograph magnificent lupins and another because we found (at last!) a variety of birds by a small lake

The town of Wanaka is quite large and caters to a variety of active tourists visiting the area to kayay, bike, climb, trek etc. We located our second rental house and again were very pleased with what we found. Settled in for another two days. We spent one evening at a local cinema for a very entertaining movie evening, and had a chance to go into town for a meal.

Wanaka Fern Burn Hike

Fernburne Trek - First station

We're all set for the Roy's Peak Track—11 Km and 1,578 metre climb but the weather is over cast—threatening rain and not much good for views. Secretly I'm wondering if I'm up to it anyway. Max and Di are training for a marathon/half marathon so they are in excellent shape. Anyway we decide on a low level "walk" to the Fern Burn hut. It's a short drive to the car park. We pass a young man in the first half hour and then no one for the rest of the day. It feels like a scene from a Disney movie – we see young Oystercatchers, bunnies, quail, birds of all types… the route is along a full stream. There

Fernburne Trek - on the trail

are little leaves in the water that glitter like the gold that was once there in the goldrush days. After 3-4 K we dip into a silver beech forest. Wonderful underfoot and the trees provide cover from the spotting rain. Then the tough part begins, as we start the climb above the tree line into the tussock. Max says we've done the seven km it says in the guide but we can't stop until we get to the hut. Every red post lures us on with the hope of a sighting around the next corner. Although we finally do see the hut, the path obviously leads us down to the river and then back up to the hut. Because you can't do half of Kilimanjaro, we trudge on. New hut that sleeps at least 12; and a toilet. It's a good place for a rest and lunch. No one has been there for two days; we sign the guest book and tramp back the eight plus km. A good day with a movie night to look forward to.


Paradiso 2

The Paradiso cinema was almost directly across the road from the place we're staying at. The walk takes about 5 minutes and we line up for the next showing. Inside, the lobby is tiny and the whole crowd (about twenty


people) for the next showing is jammed in there. The selection from the confectionery booth is what you used to get at the Ridge Theatre: everything is good for you although leaning towards sinful.

When the time comes, we 'flood' into the theatre itself: it's not much different from one of those dark funky living rooms in an old hotel. The seating is a oddball mix of old comfy sofas and couches strewn about and darned if there isn't the body of an old Morris Minor (car) parked against the far wall with another two seats if you want the drive-in feel. After getting our pictures taken in the Morris we settle in to enjoy the movie...which I now can't remember at all!

Day 16: Mount Iron and Puzzling World

Lake Wanaka

Leaning Lynda

Wanaka home

Today we are able to tick off 2 musts for Wanaka: Puzzling World and Mt Iron. Surprisingly the touristy things are not so touristy. Enjoyed working out puzzles and a semi good cup of coffee at Puzzling World. Mt. Iron is practically across the street, an impressive, glacier-carved, 240 metre rocky knoll. The hike is about 4.5km round trip; from its summit a great panorama of Lakes Wanaka and Hawea, the Cardrona and Upper Clutha Valleys and all the surrounding peaks. The walk winds though a forest of Manuka ( of honey fame).

Mt Iron and the 3 intrepid climbers

Wanaka from Mt. Iron

This evening we do a short walk along Lake Wanaka shore.

John's Story, days 17,18,19: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday

Unfortunately, by Day 16 it was becoming clear that I (John) needed to get back to Canada. The 'minor health problem' that had been dogging me since Christchurch was not going away so I couldn't do anything but slow everyone else down. We spent a considerable amount of Sunday trying to rearrange flights and contact insurance people and eventually got an earlier flight back. The four of us drove to Queenstown on Monday, where they dropped me off and they continued to Te Anau. I spent Monday night in Queenstown; Tuesday, had more drama requiring a clinic visit (thank goodness I was now on my way home!), then a flight back to Aukland, a night in Auckland, and then home (thankfully Business Class on that last leg).

The rest from Lynda


Day 17: Moving to Te Anau


Te Anau BandB

Said a sad farewell to John in Queenstown today, then the three of us did a grocery shop and travelled on to Te Anau. Although all of our accommodation has been excellent this one is really amazing, not for the kitchen but for the setting. Our cottages are in a wild garden which is a combination of Japanese and English styles. Every corner is crammed with blooming flowers and each cottage has a rock pathway, water gardens and Japanese decks.

Day 18: The Chasm and Milton Sound


After an early breakfast at Keiko and Kevin's (our B&B hosts) we are ready for Milford Sound. This day deserves a hundred exclamation marks. The weather is perfect—blue sky (far from usual in Milford Sound) and temperature that is 4C when we leave but reaches 20C or so by the afternoon. The drive is about two hours but we stop first at Mirror lakes and in the early morning hour get perfect reflections of the peaks.


We do a quick stop at the Chasm but don't have time to do the walk now. Our reward is about six or more Keas prancing around in the parking lot. The bird is parrot-like but three times the size; outer feathers are greenish is colour but when they take off beautiful red feathers are revealed underneath. Onto the parking lot for a ten min walk to our cruise of the Milford. The boat holds sixty but luckily there are only twenty of us. The tunnel through a mountain on the way in doesn't allow tour buses until after 9 am so we have beaten the hordes.

Strange tree

The cruise is hard to do justice to in words. I don't think I have ever taken more pictures (and everyone else seemed to take more). The waterfalls, peaks and wildlife were truly a wonder. The boat took us out to the Tasman Sea. We saw seals, and had a rare sighting of a Fiord crested penguin; a definite highlight was the dolphins which followed us right beside the boat, leaping in and out of the water. A thousand shots later we arrived back and treated ourselves to coffee. See a Kawi (brown flightless bird) in the parking lot.

Back to the Chasm for a look at the sculptured rock formations carved by the rushing waters of the Cleddau River. Now the parking lot is filled with tour buses and one Kea is hopping from car roof to the next (with cameras clicking non stop). We eat lunch quickly off to the side of the parking area and bat at the sandflies.

Di on bridge

Fern Forest

Leaving the dock

Lyn and the Sound


Milford again

Mirror Lake

Seals on rock

Milford palms


Lyn Milton

Marian Lake from Routeburn

Routeburn Track Alpine

Back to the car and 40 km down the road to the entrance of the Lake Marian track. We walk in for half an hour or so to the barrier and see lovely waterfalls and a turquoise river. Next along the same road is the trailhead to the Divide and Key Summit. This is an off-shoot of the famous Routeburn Track with about 400 meters ascent and about three hours round trip. Wonderful views including Lake Marian but best of all is the alpine walk at the top. The native forest is over open ground with

alpine tarns, shrub land and bogs. The hundred-year old stunted beech with gobs of moss were a highlight.

We stop at Knob's Flat but it's 6pm and we are still sixty plus km from home. It's a good night to treat ourselves to dinner in town. Rack of lamb is excellent.

Day 19: Kepler Track

Almost there!


More flowers



Kepler: at
the top

more spooky forest

Starting closer to Te Anau, we choose the first leg of the Kepler Track. It's a big day—1000 metres up and 28 km round trip. We start at the water control (dam at the end of the lake) and walk in to Brod Bay. From there it's steady up through a Beech forest . I never knew there were so many fern varieties and different kinds of moss. Just before we leave the treeline and break into the alpine meadow, we pass through an eery forest of grey green trees dripping with spooky grey moss...a movie set. We carry on to the first hut which already has people ready to settle in. There is a ten min walk to caves which we go and have a look at. The wind has picked up and we are happy to see the treeline again. A very long day... venison for dinner from a local butchery shop. Time for bed!!

Day 20: to Queenstown

B&B in vineyard


Barbecue at B&B

We're off to Queenstown and the final leg of the trip. Max has had a call from John to say he is home (I am yet to hear the details...) and glad to be there. Meanwhile, we make our way past Queenstown to our destination—Vineyard Inn. It's a leasurely drive stopping to get groceries and checking out a few stores. We stop by the original Bungee Jump site over a river and watch a brave soul take the dive. Di has done a wonderful job finding great places to stay but this last place is the real winner. We look for the sign to the winery; it turns out to be on a bench along a river, the whole area devoted to grape growing. We drive done to the house and adjacent guest house. Turns out that the owners are pilots for Air New Zealand and the vineyard is just a hobby! The place and the setting is amazing. We enjoy a walk along the river.

Day 21: Queenstown

Historic building

Queenstown view

Our last full day is a chance to see Queenstown, which is really the centre of trekking. There's a huge hostel and many young people around town. Everyone seems to be gearing up or returning from the great treks in the area. There is a gondola up one side of the mountain that offers a good view of the lakes and surrounding countryside.


Source of
Manuka honey

Being hardy types ourselves, we walk from town through a housing area and then to a trail through pines and then to an elevation about the same as the top of the gondola. Lunch at the top—what a great view. When we get back to town there is still plenty of time to shop. Max luckily has downloads to listen to and Di and I hit the many sales on outdoor wear. I'm getting used to this no tax added. Considering a NZ $ is worth about 80 cents Canadian there really are some great buys. Nice dinner in town and back to our vineyard.

Day 22: The trip home

Terrible trio

Next day Max and Di are heading to Stuart Island so they drop me at Queenstown airport. We were so lucky to have them show us some of the best of NZ.

I am able to check my bags around 11am so I can wander around a nearby shopping centre until my flight at 4pm. Arrived in Auckland and headed for the lounge to wait for the flight that is supposed to leave at 11pm. Must admit I was pretty thankful for "privileges" at the New Zealand lounge, as the airport lights on the runway went out at 8 and all flights were cancelled! There were thousands of people milling around. I would have gladly taken a hotel room but U2 was in town and there were no vacancies. We finally left the next day around 11am. Arrived in LA on American Thanksgiving and more delays. So good to be home!


One of the original attractions for visiting New Zealand was to see some of the countryside shown in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy of films, and indeed, that was also one of the reasons for booking the trip to Rotorua (because it was advertised as going through LoR countryside). However, the planning for the trip with Max and Di somehow distracted us from this goal (with other and better sights). So when we visited Rotorua, we were only mildly disappointed that the actual locations were "nearby" but the bus would not go to them, and from there the whole notion fell out of our minds until now.

Those who have a keen interest might wish to do more detailed research. here is one site that gives the film locations, which are on both North and South islands. I was amused to see that we had actually been in the middle of the South Island locations when we were in Wanaka, Arrowtown and Queenstown and you can find more information on those locations here.



Western Wika

White-faced Heron

Black Swan

Australasian Shoveler

Australisian Harrier

Chestnut Teal

Grey Duck

Paradise Shelduck

Pied Stilt


Black-backed Gull

Crimson Rosella

New Zealand Scaup