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Entry #18 Vacation in New Zealand - Nothing could be finer!

It is still beautiful

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Vacation in New Zealand – April 17 – May 9th

I took three weeks of vacation in NZ and did not attend to my blog on a daily basis. I have summarized where I went and what I did. I found I needed a break from the typing as I began to see my trip through my viewfinder of my camera and more alive on the computer than I was experiencing on a daily basis. The vacation allowed me to reverse the order and see how it fits.



Bette – What a love! She is an excellent hostess with the right balance of helpful advice, solicitude and allowing you to move at your own pace. The most wonderful thing was that she had wireless so I could do a lot of my computer work at her place and that saved me buckets of money. Wireless café’s are abundant, but not always reasonably priced. Bette had to work quite a bit when I was with her, but we still managed to have fun times, meals and giggles. She was also excellent as a second set of eyes to help me decided what I could ditch and what would be good to continue to carry as I continue my trip. It was great to be able to discuss it with someone who has done lots of international travel. She commented that I did spend a lot of my time organizing things. It was so wonderful to have the time and space to focus on things that needed time to plan and implement. As you can imagine, for me, some of the fun of my trip was the year of planning and the assessment of what still needs to be done in a timely fashion.

FEDEX package from Thailand – Well, after more phone calls to Fedex and the US embassy in NZ, Bette advised and I decided to ask FedEx to mail the returned box from Thailand to NZ. I would be away when it arrived, but Bette said she would wait for it. Sure enough, it arrived, safe and sound and has been repacked with my stuff from Cook Island and NZ. The stuff sure looked innocent when I unpacked it. I will send it through the NZ Post Office and see it that helps.

Travel Dr – I had an appointment with an international travel clinic to see if I could get a prescription for Malarone, an anti-malaria med. I had been on doxycycline for Cambodia, but wanted to see about malarone because doxy increases your sun sensitivity and you have to take it for an additional 28 days after you have left the malaria risk area.

As with any responsible clinic, they processed me as a new client and reviewed my entire record, including shots. After review, they did not feel that I was protected for Hep A and they wanted to do a rabies titer on me to see if I was protected. Regarding Malarone, I could get it, but it would be $500 US for all the pills I would need, vs. $48 for Doxyclycline. So I rolled up my sleeve and gave a blood sample and had a Hep A shot and told them I would decide about the anti-malaria pills and if I wanted another rabies jab when I returned to Auckland at the end of my time in NZ.

McDowells – When I lived in Thailand, the representative from NZ that worked with Dad was Max McDowell. He and his wife Eleanor still live in a suburb of Auckland and I contacted them to see if we could get together for lunch. I knew him immediately when he came to pick me up at Bette’s. A little grayer, but still Max. Eleanor also was easy to recognize and although she has experienced some hearing loss, was still lovely and chatty as ever. They have two adorable cats, LULU – black, elderly female with only one eye due to cancer, was a love and liked her pets. Max is her favorite and they have a daily yoghurt sharing ritual. Tawny is a pretty red marble tabby and very photogenic. She is more selective in her pets and I was warned that she did not like people to become overly friendly with her. We had a lovely lunch and caught up on what was new with them. I had another trip down memory lane as Max brought out the photo albums from Thailand. Lots of picture of Mom and Dad and even Annie. It was wonderful to catch up with them again.

Max and Eleanor.JPG

Ferry to Devonport book colony – Auckland reminds me of San Francisco in that it is a city that wraps around a bay. Sometimes, it is easier to catch a ferry directly across the water, than it is to drive. Bette and I had a ferry ride over to Devenport, a residential community that is attached to the main land, but more quickly accessed by ferry. It felt like a real neighborhood and had the most delightful collection of bookstores. I could have dropped a lot of money there, but with the weight allowance, I was very restrained.

Mrs. Henderson Presents – I love going to movies in other countries. I really enjoyed this movie and the seats were incredibly comfortable, more like cloth armchairs than theatre seats. I also enjoyed one of Annie’s favorite candy treats, Jaffa’s. Think of a milk chocolate ball with orange flavoring and covered with a red M&M shell, and you have a jaffa.


I adored Queenstown the last time I was in NZ and I was very much looking forward to returning.

On the shuttle to the airport, all 4 of us were going to Qtown, a couple to tramp and camp, a man who would spend 4 days mountain biking, and me. The man, Brandt Dunstan was very chatty and I ended up having lunch with him before the plane and sharing a shuttle with him into the center of town. It was autumn in Queenstown complete with cooler weather, lovely color in the trees and the need for long sleeves and sweaters. After the heat for the last few months, I WAS IN HEAVEN!!!!!

Bette had advised that I consider staying in Youth Hostels for two reasons – they are less expensive and they tend to be a great place to meet people who are traveling like I am. The QTown central YHA was a good first choice as it had all the usual things that a YH has (communal kitchen, TV lounge, laundry facilities, lockers and luggage storage, travel booking assistance), but it was also a former motel so the rooms that tv’s and in room tea service. I had joined the association when I booked so I had reduced rates for all nights, one night free, $10 in phone cards and my membership would give me discounts at many suppliers.

I left the YHA to get my barring and figure out what I wanted to do before I did my trip to Doubtful Sound in two days. I had decided to do the HMS Earnslaw (A coal fired steam ship) sail on the lake the next day and to go to a little gold mining town near by called Arrowtown. As I was wondering around having done some window-shopping, I ran into Brandt again. We ended up at a curry house for dinner and then moved on to a coffee bar that he highly recommended. It was fun to have someone to talk to and to share stories with. Sure enough, you do meet interesting people when you travel by yourself and strike up conversations with people around you.

Arrowtown – Arrowtown was delightful and absolutely stunning with color. It was very similar to any small mountain mining town in Colorado in the fall. There were lots of art galleries and a metaphysical fair going on. I also enjoyed a stroll by the river to enjoy the leaves, the smells and the feeling of fall. I found a marvelous chocolate store called Patagonia. Yummy! One art gallery owner, was especially nice and gave me excellent recommendations for coffee and lunch options. Quite a sage, we discussed taking what appear to be big risks and the benefits for the jump once you can see it from the other side. I picked up a brochure from a realtor that he recommended. Whether for good or for a short time, living in Arrowtown would be a wonderful place for retreat and contemplation.


HMS Earnslaw – This old steam, coal-fired boat was charming and the wind was brisk as I returned from Arrowtown for my tour. We began at 4 and steamed across the water to the other side. There was a beautiful farm that is still functioning, but we only stopped to pick up people who had gone for a day trip. On the way back, we all gather around the piano and joined in the sing-a-long. The pianist was excellent and could sing a song is any language represented. We did Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Maori and English. The American contingent was asked to stand and do Take Me Out To the Ball Game. In between songs, I was charmed by a littlie of under 2 who was very friendly when I offered to share my potato crisps with her. It was good fun.

Earnslaw hair.JPG

Little gir..arnslaw.JPG

I was very much looking forward to my overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound in Fiordland National Park. If you remember, Milford Sound was a highlight from the last trip. Doubtful Sound is considerably larger than Milford and the thought of being able to spend more than 2 hours on a sound was very exciting.

Doubtful Sound

I boarded the bus in Queenstown for a trip to Manipouri, where we would be taken by boat across the lake. Then, we were bused up over the hill to board the boat for the cruise.

The first people I met on the bus were two gentlemen from Australia, Robert and Ron, who were traveling all over NZ. Very lively and talkative, they were a stitch and very happy to be on the road. Ron was in the dark about where we were going and Robert had scared him to death telling him that there would be no food until 7 pm that night.

Before we got to Manipuri, we took a tea break in Kingston, which was on a lake. There was a steam locomotive that would take you 30 minutes down the road and we were given the option of riding the train or staying on the bus and then driving and waiting for the train riders. Robert, Ron and I opted for the train. We were in a proper compartment with leather seats and a closing door and a table. We chatted and laughed for 30 minutes, and hardly looked out the window and sure enough, the bus was waiting for us.

In Manipouri, 16 of us alighted for our tour and the bus and the rest of the original riders went to Milford Sound for an overnight. We would join up with them tomorrow when we were dropped off in Te Anu.

On the boat ride across the lake, our group of six formed and they ended up being the people with whom I spent most of my time and shared meals and giggles.

Kirsty, is a British woman who is working in Wellington for a year in an IT firm. In her spare time, she keeps her hand in the professional tailoring world, which is what she had been doing in London before she moved to NZ. She had quite her ‘real job’ as a corporate trainer several years earlier and had done a course and internship with tailors in London.

Robert and Ron, my wild gentlemen from Adelaide Australia. Robert had done the Doubtful trip a few weeks earlier and loved it so much, he convinced Ron to do it. More on them later.

Steve and Kate – a friendly couple from Melborne, he Australian and she Kiwi, who have traveled widely and are delightful.

You will get to know these people as most of my pictures from the trip with people include at least part of this group. We ended the trip with each other’s emails and I intend to try and see Kirsty in Wellington and Robert and Ron when I am in Adelaide

After the boat ride, we loaded into two huge buses and went up over the pass and back down to the start of the sound. We are a group of about 65 with several families with kids between 1-13. We have one toddler who was auditioning for the upcoming opera in loud, happy tones and a pack of little girls who are either all sisters or cousins. We made sure that we were in the bus without the kids. We got out and took pictures of the first glimpse of the sound and I also took the time to take a photo of the back end of one of the buses. The grill openings were in the shape of little Kiwi’s, which I thought was charming.

Bus Grill.JPG

Once on the boat, they separated the group of us that were sharing a quad bunkroom and bathrooms. Down we went and I found I was in a compartment with three sisters – Francesca – 8, Emily – 10 and Madeline – 12. They very graciously allowed me one of the lower berths. The room had a curtain for a door, two sets of bunks, one set of stairs and a porthole with the water lapping at the bottom edge. There were 8 total quad rooms that shared 4 toilet cubicles and 4 shower stalls with outer locking doors.

We all scrambled back up stairs because we were underway and there things to see. We did see some dolphins, from a distance, and we hoped for more later. There was one penguin, but I was on the wrong side of the ship and by the time I got around, he was gone. Farkle! We finally slowed down and stopped and there were two activities to choose from; a group tour in a boat with the science crewmember, or kayaking. As I had not brought a complete change of clothes, I opted for the dryer option, the group tour. We all went to the back of the ship and donned life- jackets and waited. I met Dave (Dad), Hope (5 yrs), Noah (4yrs). Dave is also the dad of the opera audtioner , but I never got his name. He really was the happiest, loud baby I had ever met and I never heard him cry in anger the entire time we were on the boat.

Noah and Hope posed for photos for me and they were really sweet. I saw them lots during the cruise and they were fun.

Dave, Noah and Hope.JPG

Richard was our science guy and the group tour was fun. We heard about how the sound (which is really a fiord and not a sound) was formed, how the trees thrive and what early explorers said of this amazing place. A fiord is glacially formed and has salt water throughout, were as a sound is typically formed by a river meeting the ocean.

After the boats were back and the kayaks stored, there was one more activity that we could do, but only the younger set took part. It involved getting into your swimsuit and immersing yourself in the VERY COLD WATER OF THE SOUND. We heard one loud screech, which I think was from Francesca, and that was the end of that activity.

Steve, Kat..Christy.JPG

Similarly to my experience at Milford, I spent as much time at the front of the ship as I could, but the wind and the cold was quite fierce at times. I kept returning in doors to get cups of tea and warm up. I wanted to be on the top most deck for the best view, but when we were underway, there was absolutely no cover. I held out until the last rays of the sunset and took many photos. Hopefully some of them will be worthy of the landscape.

Doubtful sound.JPG

Dinner was a lovely buffet and the group of 6 was at one of center tables with Dave, Hope, Noah, the opera star and the mom, who again I can’t remember her name. I was following the family group through the buffet and Dave was helping both Hope and Noah load their plates. At one point, Hope wanted an offending piece of food removed immediately, but Dave did not want to hold up the line. At once, every bone in her legs disintegrated and she collapsed into a sobbing heap at my feet. Luckily, Mom was right there to remove her, but it was a stitch to watch. These are great parents, not only to their kids, but also to the group around them. While the kids had lots of energy, they were great kids and never got beyond the breaking point.

The food was great and Kirsty and I celebrated the dinner with champagne. The first to eat the dinner were the last to received dessert, but they did not run low on anything, except pudding sauce, which Robert commandeered for Kirsty.

After dinner was Richard’s (science crew member) slide show of the fiord nature and wildlife on the world’s oldest slide projector. As the anchor had been lowered, we were parked for the night and it was time of stargazing. It was lovely, freezing but lovely, but would have been better had all the ships lights been turned off. That probably happened later, but I was too tired and cold to go out later. We had been advised by Robert to be up prior to sunrise to see the colors change and the crew invited us for naked anchor raising just prior to 7am. We’ll see.

I slept pretty well, but wished my bunk had a continuous lip on the outer edge so that I could have braced myself in the bunk. When I faced out, I felt I was falling out. I kept being hit by the falling duvet from the bunk above me, but was not disturbed by the girls. I only heard the snoring from the next cabin when I woke in the middle of the night for a potty break.

I got up early, but had missed the naked anchor raising. Dave, Noah and Hope were out on deck when I arrived and Dave said he had just returned to deck having donned his clothes again. It was fantastic to watch the sun rise, (which it had already risen, so we were really only watching the sky continually lighten) and to hear the birds come to life. As you may be aware, the majority of the native birds are in low numbers on both islands due to nest thefts from cats, possums and other non-native birds. The best thing about being this remote and close to uninhabited islands is that the native birds have a chance to come back.

Breakfast was again a buffet. After breakfast they took us up one of the arms of the fiord and asked all the quiet people to come on deck. They very nicely asked the children who might be unable to hold still, to remain inside during the 10-minute “Sounds of Silence”. They asked us not to talk, or take pictures and to just sit and listen. It was magical and very soothing. 10 minutes went really quickly and I look forward to the time when I can return and do it again.

robert and ron.JPG

It was time for us to return to the dock as we still had a 5-hour bus drive back to Queenstown. RECOMMENDATION - When you come to NZ, pick one of the fiords that sounds the best to you and do an overnight. You will adore it.

We reversed the order in transportation and I had to say good-bye to Kirsty in Manipouri, to Steve and Kate in Te Anu, and Robert and Ron at the Qtown airport. I knew I would probably see Kirsty in Wellington and hopefully, Robert and Ron in Adelaide.

Robert, Ron and I had our lunch break in Te Anu and had been told about a wonderful video of the fiords. As we were walking to the cinema, we ran across Steve and Kate again. The more I travel, I find it is not uncommon to see people again and again. It is always a welcome surprise and really helps me feel connected.

It was nice to be back at the YHA and after I retrieved my luggage from the lockers, I thought I would take a little nap and then go find dinner. I woke up 14 hours later.

Trip to Dunedin

I had until 3pm the next day to do a little shopping before I took the Atomic Shuttle for my 4 hours trip between Qtown and Dunedin. It had rained all night and I woke to find that all of the peaks that surround Qtown with a dusting of snow. ABSOLUTLEY LOVELY! It looked more like Aspen than before.

I found the original Patagonia Chocolate store in Qtown and on that cold morning, they had four kettles of flavored hot chocolate to chose from; regular, ginger, chili, and the one that I selected Lavender. It was fabulous. I spent my time in the store helping to shoo the sparrows back outside. They kept running into the glass and becoming stunned. Luckily, by the time I left, all were free again. I asked Lilith and Francis to step in and help them understand where they needed to be, which was outside.

I arrived at my rendezvous location in good time and when the shuttle arrived, the driver upon exiting the bus said that we were not going to Dunedin. All the rain during the night had caused many roads to flood and nearly all the routes to Dunedin were closed. Norm, our driver, said that he had an idea of a road he could take. So in his hands, the bus and our group of 16 headed approximately southeast to Dunedin. We took our dinner break in Rockburgh, and I sat with two young women from Hong Kong and Norm tentatively booked rooms for us for the night. We decided to continue down the road in hopes that by the time we got to the flooded area, the waters would have receded. Norm kept radioing ahead to get news and it looked like we would make it. We turned a corner and there was a cop at a roadblock. We stopped and Norm talked and we ended up going through the blockade. Again, the thought was that the water might go down before morning.

We ended up fording over-the-axle stretches of water with Norm exclaiming, “As long as I can see the white line, we’ll be right!” Well it was getting dark, so seeing the white line would be ending soon. There was a permanent roadblock at Milton, because a bridge was out with road erosion on either side of the bridge. As we stopped and Norm talked to the officials in charge, on to the bus came a local farm woman who said this might be the last food we would get through the night and offered us the British/Kiwi/Aussie favorite, beans on toast with cheese. We all took one and were touched. Norm said this was an example of Kiwi #8 Wire Technology in action. (Basically, you can repair anything with #8 wire and also the rule of the rural communities that during a time of crisis, everyone pitches in and does what it takes). I must admit, as I had just eaten my dinner, my piece of toast ended up in the trash.

Norm gave us the choice of going back to Rocky where he had tentatively booked rooms, staying in the bus all night, or going out of our way to a town called Balclutha where we might be put up in the community center. I asked if we weren’t better off staying closer to the water instead of going back North another 30 km to Rocky. The bus opted to go to Balclutha and we ended up in individual dorm rooms at the Telford Technical College. My room had the mechanism to turn on the heater on the same wall as my bed and the heater at the foot of my bed. So all I had to do was sit up in bed, hit the button, and I received another hour of heat. Wonderful.

Telford campus.JPG

The ladies form Hong Kong indicated that they did not sleep very well as they were uncertain how to work the heater. They fed us tea, coffee or chocolate and toast and butter and jam. We ended up leaving the next morning at 8, and then were stuck in a long line of traffic for about an hour as only one lane was allowed to go a once. Too many cars going too fast would lead to waves forming. Once we were in the flood area, we understood exactly how high the water was and how much damage had been done and was yet to be discovered. The amount of water that was flowing over the very flat pastures and cascading like a dam into one pasture was amazing. No loss of human life, but hundreds of sheep drowned and millions of NZ $ in damage to the area.

We did not know until after the fact that on the computer in the office of the College, there was a program showing all the rivers in the surrounding area and which of them were past flood stage. All but one of them were in flood status the night before and Norm told us after that fact that if the last one had gone into flood, we would have had to load into the bus and go to higher ground in the middle of the night.

I had called my lodging in Dunedin to tell them I would not make it that night and they said that they had people who were stuck on their end as well. I was again amazed that this very small and connected community in NZ had the most incredibly accurate and connected network of information flowing. I finally made it to Dunedin at 10:30 the next morning and walked from the rail station. It was great to finally be there.

Posted by ladyjanes 03:19 Archived in New Zealand Tagged postcards

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