New Zealand Boasts Natural Beauty, Thrilling Excursions
By Lin Low


(This is an except from travel agent Lin Low’s travelogue during her excursion to the other "land down under"- New Zealand, a country consisting of a north and south island. Lin stayed on the popular South Island, and we hope you enjoy this story about her weeklong stay. –Editors)

After a long flight from San Francisco on Air New Zealand, we arrived in Queenstown, the south island’s largest city. No sooner than when we landed, we immediately whisked off to Aarowtown, an authentic gold mining town, rich in history and heritage. What I found particularly interesting is the fact that the early Chinese had stayed there to work in the goldmines during the early 1800s. New Zealand has preserved this village to recognize the history of the Chinese who came here.

Shopper’s note: The shopping in this small town was just great! I later found that their prices in the stores were better compared to some of the shops in the bigger cities.

LODGING


After this excursion, we were on our way to Millbrook Resort . (See
www.millbrook.co.nz ) It is surrounded by some of the world’s most spectacular scenery. Designed to embody the relaxed New Zealand country lifestyle, Millbrook is a year-round recreational paradise. Each season here yields its own character, color, and leisure pursuits. Millbrook Resort is an elite property which includes three restaurants, a bar, and an 18-hole golf course.

Dinner was fabulous at the Clubhouse Restaurant at Millbrook. The menu features everything from lamb to seafood to pasta. However, by the time the dessert arrived, I was so tired I almost fell asleep on top of it!
That same night, we traveled to Novotel Gardens Hotel in Queenstown. Novtel is more of a 3 to 4 star resort, but very nice and clean. I had a good night’s sleep there. Rates on Expedia.com start at over $200 per night.

TOURING


On the second day, the Nomad Safari excursion outfit picked us up for a four-wheel drive tour to Skipper’s Canyon. The Skipper’s Canyon Tour is a scenic charter activity that gives folks a spectcular look a the diversity of scenery in the area. It was quite fun riding along on the bumpy road.  

 Our day didn’t end there. Later that afternon, we headed for the TSS Earnslaw Cruise (see www . www.realjourneys.co.nz/Main/earnslawcruises . This vintage steamship voyaged across beautiful Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak Station,a working sheepfarm where visitors get a closeup look at country living in New Zealand. After that, our entourage toured a farmyard of live sheep. We had the chance to see the farmer shear sheep. Some members of our group even go to see a baby lamb being born. How cool is that?

That afternon we headed to the Kawaru Jets (see www.kjet.co.nz ) The high-speed boats that skim the water are also called "Shotover jets." This boat ride spins you around for about an hour. It was cold and wet, and I just couldn’t wait for it to stop. The ride is great during warmer days, but in the late fall and winter you will have more fun if you are dressed for warmth.

FAMOUS SKYLINE RESTAURANT


How many times do you get to ride in a gondola to your restaurant? Here at the country’s famous Skyline Restaurant , observation decks offer indoor as well as outside viewing. Visitors can dine in or outside.
This wonderful restaurant features a buffet style with many New Zealand delicacies such as mussels, clams, and, of course,lamb chops. The view was breathtaking from our tables. This is a definite must-do if you are in the area.


BUNGY, BUNGY

On our third day at the Kawarau Bungy Centre, people from our group went, you guessed it… bungy cord jumping. This is the world’ first commercial bungy site here at the Kawaru Bridge in Queenstown. It includes a multi-media bungy dome attraction (description), improved spectator areas. Did I jump off? Well, maybe next time. There were just too many people fighting for the spots.

Following this, we headed down the Haas River via jetboat. The ride was quite calm, nice, and enjoyable.
In the afternoon, we steered to the west coast region of New Zealand and had a site inspection of the Haas World Heritage Hotel . With 54 standard rooms, a bar, buffet and restaurant, it has the feel of a clean, modest motel. Rates go from $89 to $159. 

 Soon after that, we departed for the Franz Josef Glacier and stayed at the hotel of the same name. It is small, but the staff is very accommodating. I loved the hotel’s warming shower towel racks. (See www.franzjosefglacier.com )

Of course, the next morning on Day Four, we caught a breathtaking helicoper ride to see the beauty of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. Though it lasted only 20 minutes, it was spectacular excursion.

Next, we hit the town of Hokitika , which houses a conclave of artists. To get a taste of local color, we visited the Hokitika Glass Studio to watch glass blowing and visit the showroom. (See www.hokitika.org ). The same day, we visited the South Bank Art Studio.

CAFES & TRAINS


For lunch, we went to Café de Paris , and believe it or not, the French restaurant served us teriyaki chicken! I must admit, it was quite good. And the French onion soup was SUPERB!

Later that day, we boarded the Greymouth Railway Station on the TranzAlpine journey to Christchurch. Let me fill you in- this train ride is rated among the top seven among train journeys in the world, according to popular travel magazines.

It took us through the rainforest across Canterbury Plains into the Southern Alpine Alps before descending down into the rainforest of the West Coast. Being able to view this scenic landscape was well worth the six-hour ride.

THE GEORGE HOTEL


Once in the city of Christchurch , we lodged at The George Hotel . A few blocks from the center of town, the hotel with access to a spa, gym, and tennis court, is an upscale boutique property with rates beginning at $224.25 nightly. The staff is friendly; the food is excellent at both the Pescatore high-end restaurant, and the 50 on Park casual eatery. (See www.thegeorge.com ).

I loved the cute teddy bear placed on my pillow when housekeeping turned our beds down at night. A charming touch!

RAPELLING


On the afternoon of the fifth day, our group went abseiling, or in American terms- rapelling. We had to hike up to one of  New Zealand’s highest mountains, and rapel down to about 60 feet, and then hike down the rest of the way. This was one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life.

When I was ready to rapel, I was so petrified with fear that I wanted to cry, but I was determined to fight it. After the first few yards going sideways, I concentred hard on how to get down. By then I forgot my fears. It took me less than 5 minutes to descend, and, surprisingly, I rapelled down very smoothly. Let me tell you guys… If I can do it, anybody can do it, too!

FAREWELL


Our last dinner was at the Palazzo Del Marinaio . The Palazzo is centrally located in Christchurch, close to many hotels. We had the opportunity to share the best experiences of the week with other co-adventurers. The food, by the way, was so good! We had our choice of fish or lamb chops. While I don’t care for lamb usually, I ate all the lamb chops on my plate. It was excellent. At least, I should say, it was not gamey.

Before leaving, we had a few more free hours, so our group went to the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch. This was twice voted the best indoor attraction in New Zealand, a fun and interactive experience which focuses on the present as well as the past. The site focuses on Antartic wildlife, the environment, and day activites on the ice. There was a spell-binding 14-minute sound and light show in the audio-visual theatre making visitors feel as if they have actually been there. The unique "snow and ice" experience means the public can experience snow 365 days a year.

The center features a "Polar Room" with real snow and ice made on site. Experiencing a chilling minus five degrees Celsius is huge fun for all. A fun photo opp is standing on the imitation ice slope along side a Ski-Doo vehicle. Currently priced at $50 per family or $20 for adults and $10 for kids 5-15, this place is definitely a "must-do" before heading home.

Kids will love the unforgettable Hagglund ride, a unique all-terrain, tanklike snowmobile which carries multiple passengers over hills, crevasses, through water around the adventure course.

I loved my trip to New Zealand and feel so fortunate to visit this spectacular place of many sights and wonders.

****

NOTEWORTHY FACTS:


* Air New Zealand flies out of 3 hubs: San Francisco and Honolulu to the city of Auckland, North Island and from LAX to South Island.
* Wellington is the capital of New Zealand.
* One U.S. dollar is approximately $1.3 dollars in N.Z. currency.
*Director Peter Jackson, a New Zealander, hired 2,000 of his fellow countrymen for the movie Lord of the Rings , and some 15,000 appeared n the movie, many as Orcs.
*Warmest months in New Zealand run from November through April.

NOTEWORTHY WEBSITES:

www.airnewzealand.com - Info on Air New Zealand for rates and bookings
www.thegeorge.com - The George Hotel information
www.millbrook.co.nz - More on the lovely Millbrook Resort
www.franzjosefglacier.com - Travel and tour information on Franz Josef Glacier
www.hotikita.org – All you need to know about this small artists’ colony on the South Island
www.realjourneys.co.nz - Cruising and other excursions in New Zealand
www.kjet.co.nz - Jetboat tours and more
www.transscenic.co.na - Pricing and scheduling for the TransAlpine train journey

Lin Low works as a travel agent with Chen-Martin Travel in Santa Clara. As a seasoned world adventurer, she has just returned from a safari in Africa and plans to go to the Middle East.
She can be reached at lin_travels@sbcglobal.net .

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