New Zealand: Reflections

As our trip comes to a close – we fly out today – Robyn and I have been doing some early post trip analysis. Here are our thoughts on our trip.

Best Coffee
I’ve written a lot about coffee so it seems only fitting this is the first cab off the rank.
N: Bureau de Cafe, Queenstown
R: Bureau de Cafe, Queenstown
Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of it – but honourable mentions go to the Sugar cafe in Kaikoura, Gusto in Picton and Coffee Culture in Christchurch.

Gusto, Picton

Worst Coffee

There have been some stinkers on this trip. It’s hard to pick. But here goes.

N: The Why Not Cafe, Kaikoura, I’ll tell you why not – the coffee seemed to be exothermic. It got hotter as time wore on, the coffee itself was untastable because our taste buds were scalded off.

R: Piazza coffee at the Hermitage Hotel/Edmund Hillary Centre at Mount Cook.

Best Budget Accommodation
N: Top 10 Holiday Park, Franz Josef. Talk about million dollar views. It worked out at $42.50 pp so that’s value. Plus there were bunk beds in the room so we could have been even more efficient.
R: Holiday home at Hanmer Springs. Worked out at $30pp and was clean, well equipped and very comfortable.

Best Accommodation

We’ve stayed in some nice places as well as some budget places. Here are our top picks.

N: Living Space, Christchurch. It was quirky, colourful and handy to the CBD for strolls and coffees.

R: Breakfree Alpine Village, Queenstown. The views of the lake from the balcony were stunning and it was a spacious one bedroom apartment handy to town.

Worst Accommodation

N & R: Te Anau Holiday Park – the lakeside A-Frame cabins look cute and cozy, but inside were anything but. It was cold. We were supplied inadequate blankets and the bed was like a marshmallow.

Dishonorable mentions: Picton Holiday Park – full of smokers, poor facilities and dangerous cliffs.

Best Breakfast

N: Sugar Cafe, Kaikoura – Big breakfast – venison sausages, hashbrowns, bacon, eggs and a terrific relish.

R: Sugar Cafe, Kaikoura – maybe it was the seal swim induced appetite, but the Sugar Cafe scored again for their eggs benedict – Robyn says it’s the best she’s ever had.

Best Lunch

N & R:  Fergburger.

Honourable mentions go to the Skyrail buffet, and the Honey Pot Cafe for their sensational toasted sandwiches.

Best Dinner

N & R: Bailies Pub, Christchurch. Robyn had Lamb Shanks, Nathan had a sirloin cooked to tender perfection.

Honourable mention – the hot rock dinner at Hanmer Springs.

Best Activity

N: Seal swim, Kaikoura. Seals are cool.

R: The Skyline experience – paragliding, luge and lunch. What a winning combination.

Honourable mentions go to horse riding, puzzling world and the jet boating part of our white water rafting adventure.

Best Drive

N: Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura – the rest of the car was asleep but these picturesque mountain roads were fun to drive.

R: Te Anau to Milford Sound – lots of scenic stops on the way, a tunnel through a mountain and the constant presence of a glacier in the rear view mirror on the trip back made this a drive to remember. As did the early morning start.

Honourable mentions – Queenstown to Lake Tekapo for the Lord of the Rings style rolling mountains and craggy rocks, Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook for the cows and roadkill, and the Wanaka to Queenstown stretch.

Best City/Town

N: Christchurch – lots of cafes, churches, old buildings and a comfortable city feel.

R: Hanmer Springs – a cute little village in the mountains.

Honourable mentions – all the rest.

Most Memorable Person

N & R: The grumpy horse riding lady.

Most Memorable Day

N: Picton – simply because Robyn almost fell off a cliff. I won’t be forgetting that in a hurry.

R: Queenstown – paragliding, luge, lunch, and gondola ride – plus the best coffee all trip. A winning combination.

Honourable mention: Fox Glacier. I’ll never forget the pain in my legs during that walk – or the sense of satisfaction drinking a cold beer on our return. It was all worth it though – walking on a glacier is kind of cool.

Most Picturesque Location

N: Mount Cook

R: Lake Tekapo, Church of the Good Shepherd.

Honourable mentions: Milford Sound and Kaikoura.

We’ll add pictures and links when we get back to Australia – right now it’s off to breakfast.

Picton: Widowmaker (almost)

New Zealand is a dangerous country – filled with opportunities for the daring to get their adrenalin pumping at a price. Free, as it turns out. I can’t understand why people will fork out big dollars for some “extreme sports” action when you could just come for a simple bushwalk with us. We are able to turn even the tamest activity into a real chance for death. Lesson learned. Don’t wear thongs on a bushwalk. Especially on rocky crags overhanging deadly ravines. More on that later.

We arrived in Picton having only visited one winery on our merry winery adventure. Wineries it seems, like everything else in New Zealand, close at 5pm. I don’t understand why tourist attractions like wineries don’t stay open to capitalize on those of us who are driving around enjoying the sunshine.

Our one and only winery pit stop was the Yealands Estate winery just outside Blenheim.

Yealands Estate
Yealands Estate

It’s about as close to brand new as you can get – and it’s a significant development. The storage facilities on site will hold over 3 million litres of wine at various stages of the production process – the vineyards will produce grapes capable of producing at least that much wine per crop.

I’m no wine drinker – and I have no idea about the scale of the average winery, but this one seemed big by comparison to those we drove past.

Our helpful British guide, Hayley, took us through the inner workings of the winery – including a cool “science” room complete with test tubes, beakers and an alcohol tester for the winemakers to fine tune their drop.

After the tour of the facilities we made our way to the “cellar door” for a tasting session. If I ran a winery my tasting bench would be an actual door – it’s odd that “cellar door” now just means wine bar in a winery, although to be fair the Yealands Cellar Door is in a temperature controlled “cellar” where they’re storing a bit of wine.

The Yealands Estate Sauvingon Blanc was the favoured drop of most in our party. It lived up to what are often very loose aromatic descriptors.
Having sampled six of their best we hit the road to Picton. Picton is a nice little harbour town, complete with marina. It’s quite picturesque, and after our holiday park cooked (as opposed to home cooked) Lamb curry we decided to head towards a nearby lookout for some happy snaps and post food induced exercise.

The lookout was nice enough – and offered a walking track with some genuine Maori culture – as signified by the totem pole at the entry.

Feeling adventurous we hit the footpath. Things were tame enough – we stopped in the foundations of some old Maori dwellings for a group photo and decided to head to the signposted beach before turning back.

Coming to a fork in the path we chose to head to the right – a path fraught with danger. Narrow. Rocky. Sandy. Slippery. We could only manage single file on the trip down – and the road led to a very narrow strip of rock, already occupied by some local fishermen (or fisherboys). We turned to head back, and after taking just a few paces up the track Robyn’s thongs gave out under her. She slipped. Fiona was right behind her. I was next. I looked up to see her on the ground. What I didn’t at first realise was that only her torso was on the ground – the rest of her was hanging off the side of the precipice. As she clamoured to get up the ground underneath her gave way and she was left hanging on by her forearms, legs pawing at empty air. Fiona helped her scramble up the rocks – and we were both left shaken, not stirred.

The (almost) deadly ravine
The (almost) deadly ravine

I was probably more shaken than she was – I’m quite attached to my lovely wifey. In my mind I was thinking of all the disaster stories you read where people meet their untimely demise while on holidays. She’s fine. Although she is sporting a new flesh wound on her already injured (at home playing indoor soccer) toe.

This morning we said farewell to our travel buddies – and picked up our own downsized hire car. The farewell was done in a style typical of my holiday accounts – over coffee, at a great café in Picton called Gusto. Robyn voted it the best coffee of the trip so far – I put it slightly behind Kaikoura’s Sugar. The French toast with bacon, banana and berries was absolutely sensational – with the toast component a perfectly sliced French stick and the bacon cooked to just the right side of crispy.

Robyn voted her ham, brie and tomato croissant the best croissant she’s ever had. Gusto was a win. Farewelling our traveling companions was a loss. We really enjoyed our time with them and continuing our holiday solo style is bittersweet. We cranked out the miles today though – to ensure the separation is more than just a separation in spirit – they’ve left for Wellington by boat, while we drove eight hours to Franz Josef before glacier walking at the Fox Glacier tomorrow morning.

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