Friday, December 30, 2011

New Zealand - South Island Addresses

Even more than in the North, the South Island part of New Zealand needs a lot of time to explore. If you don't have time to do so, you will need to choose from a gigantic list of places and activities.

Many things will be left out, but some need to be seen for sure, such as mountains, lakes, glaciers, wines and oceans. This is what I chose for a one week vacation on the South Island in New Zealand.

Of course by choosing this itinerary, I left out a lot of nice and unforgettable places to visit, but so was my choice. More time could have given me more options though ....

"Speechless" was the first thought I had when entering the beautiful city of Queenstown, and then minute after minute the initial impression faded out to be replaced by another one: "natural beauty". QT is by nature a natural wonder in the New Zealand landscape. Only a few places in the world can combine beauty, elegance, majesty and peacefulness altogether in one shot. It seems to be the central place for serenity in New Zealand. One can stay one year and still not do everything possible around the beautiful city, but a few days must be put aside to enjoy some of the things the city can offer: skiing in the winter and sweating in the summer. If I have to remember only one place in NZ, that would be QT.

Novotel Queenstown Lakeside Hotel
Corner Earl Street and Marine Parade, Queenstown 9197, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
The Novotel is just in front of the lake, but don't get too excited as no room has really a great view of the lake. You might have a peak at the water if you lean over the window, but not much. In reality no hotel has a great lake view, since all buildings are pretty low rise for keeping the QT vibe. This small fact aside, the hotel is extremely well located and has everything needed to spent a week ... and more.

Beach St, Queenstown 9197, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
At the end of the wharf lies many restaurants facing the pier and the TSS steamboat when it is at quay. Among them is the fiNZ, an expensive and ordinary fish restaurant. Not too sure why so many people were lining outside ... maybe because it was one of the few open for Boxing Day.

42 Shotover Street, Queenstown, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Do I really have to present the world-famous Fergburger !?! OK, so this is the place to have a giant yet freshly made burger in the city. After 3 days tramping the mountains or a full day of skiing, anything from Fergburger is more than necessary and welcome. Don't panic when you see the line outside, the throughput is phenomenal, plus that will give time to buy Fergburger clothes or look at the pictures on the wall.

Brecon St, Queenstown 9348, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
It wasn't the luge (although it looked fun), but the view at the top that I came for. The NZ$25, 2min ski-lift made the visit atop worthwhile despite the crowd. If you walk 15 minutes more after the luge you will be at the paragliding takeoff spot with a beautiful view of the lake beneath.

[Website] [TripAdvisor]
If you are bored in QT, it's because you want to be. I never saw so many different activities offered in one place. It's so big that the visitor center is as big a train station with guides who watch you entering the place with daring looks: "So you are an adrenaline junky? Welcome home !" Going fast, going down, going up, fly high, flying low, running slow, driving down, watching high, surfing fast .... everything is possible at QT, just ask and some has done it before. When the day is going away to give you a chance to rest for the next day, don't miss the sunset on the beach. You won't be alone though. Now if you are into tramping, the Queenstwon Hill (2-3 hours) is supposed to be unmissable, so is the Routeburn Track (2-3 days) or the Milford Track (4-5 days).

At the end of the road hides a small village, away from the busy Queenstown. Glenorchy is the perfect picture of what could be a village lost in the mountains with 4 streets and 3 cafés. Locals are here to listen to trampers' stories and tourists' questions. A nice place to rest a bit for the next big thing you are going to do that day.

Foxy's Café
Cnr Mull & Argyle Streets, Glenorchy, New Zealand.
Large portions of protein and lot of space in this saloon. If it was the last open place in town you might want to consider it, otherwise find something else (or pack a sandwich).

Like its sister QT, Wanaka is primarily a resort town but has both summer and winter seasons and is based around the many outdoor opportunities. Considered less upscale, the city kept a grounded touch that make it more livable for tourists. Until when ?

Kai Whakapai
Ardmore St, Wanaka 9192, New Zealand.
Slow service, great food and large portions make this place a must try in Wanaka. Make sure you have a spot with a lake view, your meal will be even more relaxing.

Fox Glacier
The homonym city of the famous Fox Glacier is a quiet place dedicated to the day tourist. No fancy stuff around this small crossroad in the plains. If you want more action you better go to the next bigger crossroad, the Franz Josef village.

Bella Vista Fox Glacier Motel
55 Main Road, Fox Glacier, 7859, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Drop in, drop out, car park, plastic shower, cozy sleep, on the main road. The owner is very diligent and ready to answer any questions.

Pizza Café Nevé
Main Rd, Fox Glacier, 7951, New Zealand.
No restaurant is open at 4PM in Fox Glacier, so the only warm food was a pizza. I did not expect anything and I got a pizza in return. Was on the expensive side for what it was.

Matheson Café
Lake Matheson Rd, Fox Glacier, 7859, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Sold as the best place in the region to eat, my expectation were high when I pushed the door of the terrace. It is true that the lake view, and the Alps as a side view are great. As for the food I found it a bit too expensive for a below average "sous vide" fish.

Cook Saddle Café & Saloon
19 State Highway 6 Fox Glacier 7859, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
If you are hungry after 10 days' walking in the mountains, you have $10 left in your pocket and you are ready to eat a cow by yourself, then Cook Saddle Saloon is the place for you. Wooden chairs, round tables, and chimney in the back are the decor of the restaurant. As to what is comes on your plate, don't you worry you will have enough to content you and your calorie-burning activities for the next few days.

Matheson Lake Walk
Lake Matheson offers a 90-minute easy circuit walk takes you through a forest. After the walk, the evening sunset over Mount Cook and Mount Tasman provide unforgettable views at the entry/exit of the walk.

Fox Glacier & Franz Josef Glacier
[Website] [Website]
When people think of glaciers, they usually think high mountains, 4,000+m altitude, and long and perilous walks to see a glacier at close sight. New Zealand offers many glaciers, but these two are accessible within less-than-an-hour easy walk. Both are magical and surprising. The one to one-and-half hour walks are both surreal and help grasp what nature can do. This is a must do. Now if you have time you might want to envision walking on either of them. Many shops offer a one day (8 hours) walk up and down the glacier. This is moving ice and must be taken seriously, accidents do occur despite taking a lot of precautions.

The Helicopter Line
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
I booked the day before for an early flight in the morning. At 9:45AM I was ready to fly off to see Mount Cook and the two glaciers. The one hour flight was PHENOMENAL above the glaciers, and the landing on Fox glacier was even more magical than I anticipated. Like magic the clouds opened up when we were in the sky and closed after we landed. That day we had the perfect window to fly high in the sky. Helicopter Line was very professional, gave us the security advices, and made our try above ground a unique experience.

Franz Josef Glacier
The Maori name for the glacier is Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere ('The tears of Hinehukatere'), arising from a local legend: Hinehukatere loved climbing the mountains and persuaded her lover, Wawe, to climb with her. Wawe was a less experienced climber than Hinehukatere but loved to accompany her until an avalanche swept Wawe from the peaks to his death. Hinehukatere was broken hearted and her many, many tears flowed down the mountain and froze to form the glacier.

The Landing
SH 6, Franz Josef, 7952, New Zealand.
This is the place to stop after a long walk. Portions are huge, service fast and bill still acceptable. One advice though - order from the kids menu as you will not finish what they bring to the table otherwise.

Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand, and the country's third-largest urban area. On 22 February 2011 at 12:51 pm, an earthquake with magnitude 6.3 occurred. The intensity and the violence of the quake was among the strongest ever recorded globally in an urban area. The quake resulted in the deaths of 181 people and in the declaration of New Zealand's first National State of Emergency. Many buildings and landmarks were severely damaged, (e.g., 'Shag Rock' & Christchurch Cathedral), and since then the city center has been declared a "Red Zone" (unsafe to walk in) and waiting to be to be demolished one building at the time (latest news). The city has been totally damaged by the earthquake and it will take a while before normal activities will finally resume, if ever. The remaining question is why rebuild on such a sensitive earthquake ground?

City Center Motel
876 Colombo St Christchurch Central, Christchurch 8013, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
One of the few remaining safe downtown places to spend the night at. Rooms are still standing, very spacious, and the two old ladies that run the place are very diligent and knowledgeable.

Copthorne Commodore Hotel
449 Memorial Ave Burnside, Christchurch 8053, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
The airport hotel you want to have at every airport in the world. Spacious, comfortable, nice room, vast bathroom and free pick-up and drop-off to and from the airport. Might be on the upper side of the price list though.

Kheo Thai
4 Papanui Rd Merivale, Christchurch 8014, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
In a city center destroyed by an earthquake it is hard to find an untouched or still standing place to eat. Among the remaining places around downtown at the fringes is this tucked-in Thai restaurant. Portions are once again huge, service fast and price average. For when hungry.

Flying Burrito Brothers
Northland Mall.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Displaced burrito place from the city center, is now located 20-min drive away in Northland Mall for convenience and safety. The only open fast food chain on a Friday night, the place was packed and therefore service slow. Potions were OK for once, but the bill was not. I guess they drove out the competition.

The Mud House Winery & Café (Formerly Canterbury House Vineyards)
780 Glasnevin Road, Waipara 7447, New Zealand .
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
40km or so away from Christchurch is a nice wine valley for tourists on the go. Among the few wineries there The Mud House also proposes a restaurant. Vast place with a high turn over cannot provide the service that should be deserved. Nevertheless, the wine and food mix was descent and should not be overlooked.

Chicken Salad at Bully Hayes, Akoroa

The French Akaroa is 84 km by road from Christchurch. Set on a beautiful harbor and overlooked by craggy volcanic hills, Akaroa is a popular resort village and in the summer the temporary population can reach 7,000, far over the 500 permanent residents in the winter.

Bully Hayes
57 Beach Rd, Akaroa 8161, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
After walking the town and checking menu selections and prices at all the restaurants, I settled on Bully Hayes. The restaurant was in a very good location overlooking the harbor and a great place for people watching. Decent seafood restaurant with great selection of snacks. Portions were again huge and prices were accordingly.

In conclusion, besides sheep farming, tourism in South Island is the only thing going on and therefore prices are high and quality average. Hotels in general are OK but standard for the price. Food to the contrary was abundant but poor in quality. Activities when not free, are very expensive. In other words, New Zealand South Island is an expensive tourist destination but with a memorable, unforgettable scenery.