South Island – Days 8 to 14, Queenstown, Arrowtown, Te Anua
Travel: Flew New Zealand Airlines from Wellington to Queenstown
Initially my South Island tour was to include a few nights in Marlborough, and stops in Christchurch & Dunedin before making my way to Queenstown. Because of the earthquake, I rerouted, and headed directly to Queenstown.
Lodging: Doubletree Hilton, where I would spend the next four nights, is part of a brand new Hilton complex on the Kelvin Heights Peninsula – separated from the airport and the main part of Queenstown by a single lane bridge. Apparently the bridge used to be a dam, became a bridge, and they are finally constructing a new bridge with 2 lanes. For now, traffic jams are common as this bridge is the primary route from Queenstown to Milford Sound and the Remarkables Ski area. Continuing with the New Zealand hotel theme, my room had a separate kitchen and living room. The property had every flavor of Hilton from the Doubletree, to high end hotel & separate Hilton apartments. There were at least four restaurants that were part of the campus. I ate at Me & Mee, traditional Chinese menu, on my arrival. Good not great. It’s also the only place I’ve ever been where the wine glasses had a line demarking where the pour should stop.
- Queenstown Gondola. On my first day, I drove to downtown Queenstown (the Hilton had a free shuttle which I should have used). There was crazy traffic like a Colorado mountain town in high season, complete with expensive parking garage. I took the gondola tour. Half the people were doing tours and half the people were lugging mountain bikes up to race down.
- Arrowtown. I thought I’d escape the humanity by driving to Arrowtown, which was recommended by the hotel concierge in Hawkes Bay, and most tour books. It was a tourist adventure complete with expensive shops, crowded parking and historic sites. I am fascinated by the garments made locally from merino wool, silk, and possum fur but otherwise this was a short visit.
- Lake Wakatipu. I loved staying on Lake Wakatipu with the trails that go around it. It’s quieter on the Kelvin Peninsula side. I could walk an hour plus and the trails just kept going.
Mansions in the hillsides overlooked the water, and their boat docks.
Flowers were blooming everywhere. Spring is pretty in New Zealand, even if it rains most days.
- Glacier Helicopter Tour. I used one sunny day to take a glacier tour by helicopter. It was too windy to land on the glacier proper but we got close.
- Spa! My days at the Hilton were spent quietly – cooking in, sleeping lots, making use of the very good fitness center, walking the trails on the peninsula, even taking advantage of the spa summer special at the Eforea spa – a full body exfoliation, massage & facial. The spa was one of the best I’ve been to. Side note: this hotel had the worst internet of the entire trip – (3kb upload & download speeds were frequent – yes kb). Upside – I mostly disconnected for these four days.
- Te Anau. One very rainy day, I drove to Te Anau. I started heading that way because there is a glowworm cave that’s promoted, but I didn’t make it there. As it kept raining harder, I really didn’t want to get out of the car. I also did not make it to Milford Sound. New Zealand traffic is a strange thing. Most roads at best are one way each direction. There are frequent signs that encourage slow drivers to allow those cars stuck behind them to pass, but most drivers don’t allow it. And there are very few real passing lanes – occasionally on long hills. The maximum speed I saw was 100 kph (about 62 mph), and in general people seem to target the speed limit or just below. On this rainy day I got caught behind many drivers who maxed out at 65 kph (about 40 mph) in a 100 kph zone which, when you have planned a few hundred kilometers to drive (each way), makes for a very long day. The lone ultra-aggressive driver that caught my attention this trip was pulled over by police not long after passing me.
So much like driving the North Island, South Island has many sheep, goats, cows, green pastures, rolling hills. But they also have fields of deer (fenced), and nice alpine peaks. Apparently there are no natural predators in New Zealand (no snakes, wolves, lions, tigers, bears, crocodiles, etc.) except man – so they cull the wild deer by helicopter hunting.
Lodging: St. Moritz. I spent my last two nights at the St. Moritz this was a beautiful, more historic hotel, in Queenstown proper. I dropped the car with the valet and didn’t need it until I left for the airport. This was a very comfortable hotel – dark woods, rich tones, fireplaces. Good fitness center. Full suite – kitchen, living, dining, bedroom. Compared to the Hilton, the internet was zooming. Good onsite restaurant, the Lombardi, (pdf menu). I liked it so much, especially the views, I ate there twice.
More Touristy things:
- Window Shopping. I did some proper tourist window shopping and almost succumbed to some beautiful blue pearl & diamond earrings. Apparently blue pearls are unique to New Zealand. This one jewelry shop, Waka Gallery, made everything onsite. They had beautiful, one of a kind designs. But after 14 days of indulging, I just couldn’t justify it.