Our New Zealand Trip

Travel Map

Where We Went

Always in search of another perfect vacation (if not another good place to live) we flew to Auckland, spent a day and a night there, then drove a Budget rental car to Paihia in the Bay of Islands on the northeast coast of the North Island. After a few pleasant days there we flew from the nearby airport at Kerikeri through Wellington and across the Cook Straight to Nelson. Up early the following morning, we left on a three-day excursion by foot and kayak in Abel Tasman National Park. Returning to Nelson we spent two more nights there and then drove to Picton where we joined a Backroads hiking tour that took us through the Marlborough Sounds then to Nelson Lakes, down the Buller River to the west coast, south along the coast with stays at Greymouth, Franz Joseph (with a trip by helicopter up to the glacier) and Lake Moeraki. Leaving the coast our tour took us to Wanaka for two nights (and a trip by plane and boat to Milford Sound) then to Queenstown where we left by plane for Christchurch, Auckland and then home. We are not the first to have done such a thing (foreign tourists were long ago called "loopies" by the locals after the pattern of their movement around the islands); but here are some of the observations that led us to conclude that New Zealand is a pretty swell place as a whole.


We had only a day in Auckland, but spent most of the time walking around looking at the city, beginning at our hotel on Albert Street downtown. We tended gradually uphill, through Albert Park and Auckland University to the big Auckland Domain, which kept us busy for quite a while. There at the Winter Gardens are two large greenhouses with different collections of temperate and tropical plants, plus a big open-air maelstrom of every sort of fern, including the big tree ferns (ponga) that we would see so many of later.

After a bit our thoughts turned to food. At one time New Zealand's culinary reputation was unremarkedly British, boiled vegetables and meat and that sort of thing; but the locals have overcome that stigma by choosing from some foreign influences and putting a lot of imagination into their cooking. Our first experience was at the Harbourside Restaurant, which gets a lot of waterfront sightseers and trade from the guidebooks and has been around long enough to start feeling satisfied with itself, but where nonetheless we had a revelatory meal beginning with the local version of ceviche, which is wonderful despite having orange in place of lime, salmon in place of white fish, no cilantro and only two syllables. That evening we strolled up the hill to Ponsonby and ate at a small place called Essence, where I had some roast John Dory which was one of my all time favorite meals, although I hadn't had a chance to get properly hungry beforehand.

Auckland Skyline
Aucklanders own more boats per capita than any other city dwellers in the world, even more than people here in Seattle. They live in a city that is clean, attractive and cosmopolitan in a way that reminds me of Vancouver, B.C., a big compliment. When we were walking along the waterfront on our way to the Harbourside, we saw a small party of young people in near-formal dress board a device called the Super Bungy, a closet-sized cage held down while two giant cranes pull skyward on huge rubber bands. We were hoping that their whooping release coincided with their wedding or at least the start of a long happy life together, despite its ups and downs.

Light breeze lifts a curtain at the Paihia Beach Resort

The Bay of Islands

Our time in Paihia was meant to be relaxing, and we ended up doing even less than planned and enjoying it more. There are a great number of restaurants with exciting menus, but each day we walked into town and bought some food at one of the two markets, brought it home and dined early. Lunch we ate out, twice at the visitor center at the Waitangi National Reserve, just across the bridge from our hotel.

The Bay of Islands was once known as the "worst hell-hole in the Pacific" for the behavior of the sailors passing through, who were at this point about as far away from home as anybody can get. What's left now is the natural prettiness of the place and a good chance to think about history, for it was quite near here that New Zealand, as a nation, was born.

The Treaty House and its magnificent grounds, beautifully preserved at Waitangi, commemorate the 1840 signing of the treaty that established the relationship between the Maori people and the European settlers. Unsurprisingly, the treaty has not, in the ensuing century and a half, been interpreted to the satisfaction of all concerned. Nor could it be said with a straight face that the Queen's representatives didn't oversell the deal to some extent. In fact, the politics of New Zealand's creation is so fascinating that I have devoted a separate page to the subject. We arrived on February 6, the day after Treaty Day, and thus missed all the fireworks.

Abel Tasman National Park

Named for the Dutch explorer who was the first European to see New Zealand (while looking for a continent rumored to be in the vicinity), Abel Tasman National Park is a great chunk of spectacular seacoast at the north end of the South Island. Since you can get from one end to the other in a number of different ways, a visit there can please anyone. You can hike, backpack, kayak or ride the launch -- or mix and match, like we did, paddling north the first couple of days, staying at pleasant lodges with good food, walking the third day and riding back on the boat. It's even possible to change your mind in the middle of the trip, so thoughtfully is transport coordinated. (Some would-be kayakers in our group decided at lunch that they "wouldn't be.") A description of the trip is available at the kayak tours website.

Two happy paddlers arrive at Tonga Bay
-- Photo by Dan Meyer
Near Mistletoe Bay

Marlborough Sounds

Our trip with Backroads began with a ferry ride from Picton and two nights at the Punga Cove Resort, with three days of hiking on and about the Queen Charlotte Track. Our travels took us around Endeavour Inlet to Ship Cove, Captain Cook's favorite stopping place in the islands and the site of his monument. We Paakehaa tend to think of him as a fixture, but to the Maori this was the place where he came and went. The picture is from our third day, on our way to Anakiwa.

The West Coast

Some of our best adventures were from our trip down the northwest coast of the South Island. We stayed for two nights at the Alpine Lodge at Lake Rotoiti, in one of the most pleasant rooms ever, and then made our way down the coast through Greymouth, Franz Joseph Glacier and Lake Moeraki. The helicopter ride to the glacier provided excitement for those who had not previously experienced the alpine environment -- and possibly even some who had.

Our stay at the resort at Lake Moeraki provided us with some of our most intimate acquaintance with the landscape and wildlife. We saw glow-worms and watched trout and eel being fed by hand. Kayaks are left out for those who want to take them, and we paddled all around the shore of the lake, and a tiny way up the stream that feeds it.

Ice axe and hobnails
The Runway at Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Our last few days in New Zealand were fairly windy, which meant interesting weather not only for our flight home but for our trip from Wanaka to Milford Sound. There were ten of us, including our pilot, Andy, in a Britten-Norman Islander, for the hop across the Southern Alps. This runway looks short, but we used only a third of it -- what capable airplanes! The approach is downwind nearly above the runway, then a little buttonhook back to final. We got some wonderful pictures of Mt. Aspiring along the way.


And since you're already at the birthplace of bungy jumping, what better way to end it all than to tie yourself to a bit of elastic and throw yourself off the Kawarau Bridge?