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Old 25th January 2017, 01:26   #1
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Default An epic 2 weeks in New Zealand

Epic New Zealand 2 Weeks Tour!

Ever since I saw Lord of the Rings, New Zealand has been on my must see places to visit. Given that New Zealand is so far off from everywhere (well, except Australia), it was clear that at least two weeks were necessary to even scratch the surface of this beautiful country. It so happened that during December of 2016, I had two weeks of confirmed leave with no chance of the leave being canceled. December marks the beginning of summer in New Zealand, so what better place to enjoy the winter than by going to New Zealand in summer!

It was end of August when I checked www.Skyscanner.net for airfare and there was a pretty good deal from third party travel agents such as Expedia. Usually I search on Skyscanner and then go to the particular airline’s website to book the ticket. The cheapest fare I found was through a combination of Etihad Airways and Hong Kong Airlines. However, I could not find the combination on the website of either Etihad Airways or Hong Kong Airlines. So, I resigned myself to book through a travel agent. The question was whether to book through online travel agents such as Expedia or go the old school way and call the local travel agent. Now, some of the online travel agents websites mentioned that the fare was non-refundable while others mentioned that the fare was refundable. I know I mentioned that I had rock solid leave approval, but I always prefer to book refundable air ticket for my peace of mind, especially if the travel is planned a few months later, even if it is a bit more costly. Long story short, I got refundable tickets booked for me and my wife through the local travel agent, although it was a bit more expensive than the online rates.

With air ticket sorted, it was now time to think of booking accommodation and transportation in New Zealand. After reading through TripAdvisor forums, it quickly became clear that if we planned to drive ourselves in New Zealand, we would only be able to cover either the North Island or South Island in two weeks. Given that we were visiting Middle Earth, going to the Shire (Hobbiton) was a must do item on our list. Which meant we would have to stay at least 2 days in North Island and then take a flight to South Island. We may never travel to New Zealand again, so we decided that we would cover both North Island and South Island during the trip. That ruled out car rental and brought coach tour into the picture.

We had never done a coach tour before, so we were a bit skeptical of how it would be. Will we be able to connect with the fellow travelers? Would we get enough alone time to explore ourselves? Would the coach tour be too hectic and regimented? We had once earlier gone on a full day bicycle tour with complete strangers and we loved it. So, we hoped that we would have a good time meeting new people. Also, the sheer convenience of not having to worry about booking accommodation and moving from one location to other was a great pull. I know saying this on team-bhp is sacrilege, but I was looking forward to not driving during the trip. Just wanted to enjoy the vacation without having to worry about anything. So, we decided to go for a coach tour.

I was able to find the following coach tours online:
  • Red Carpet Tours: This is a dedicated top of the line Lord of the Rings (LOTR) tour. While really interesting, it was just too costly.
  • Contiki: This has age limit of 35 and is hence very popular with the young crowd.
  • Topdeck: Similar to Contiki, but with age limit of 39.
  • Haka Tours: This has small groups.
  • Others such as Kirra Tours, Go Ahead Tours, AAT Kings, and Flying Kiwi.
Websites such as www.tourradar.com and www.newzealandcoachtours.co.nz allow you to search for tours. After looking at all the tours, we booked the Contiki Kiwiana Panaroma tour as it suited our travel dates perfectly.

The itinerary was as follows:
  • Start of tour minus 2 days: Fly out to Hong Kong
  • Start of tour minus 1 day: Short stopover in Hong Kong and then fly to Auckland
  • Day 1: Arrive in Auckland and head to Waitomo
  • Day 2: Waitomo to Rotorua
  • Day 3: Rotorua
  • Day 4: Rotorua to Lake Taupo
  • Day 5: Lake Taupo to Wellington
  • Day 6: Wellington
  • Day 7: Wellington to Christchurch
  • Day 8: Christchurch to Franz Josef
  • Day 9: Franz Josef
  • Day 10: Franz Josef to Queenstown
  • Day 11: Queenstown
  • Day 12: Queenstown
  • Day 13: Queenstown
  • Day 14: Tour ends in Queenstown. Fly to Auckland.
  • End of tour plus 1 day: Fly from Auckland to Hong Kong
  • End of tour plus 2 days: Fly back home from Hong Kong
Prelude:

After more than three months of waiting, finally the D-day arrived. As this was the first time I had booked air ticket through a travel agent, I was a bit worried about possible issue cropping up at the airport. Also, it was not possible to perform online check-in. Thankfully though, there was no issue in boarding our flight to Hong Kong. Upon landing in Hong Kong the next day, we thought of checking out how long it would take to clear immigration. If it took too long, we could just laze around at the airport. We were amazed by the speed with which Hong Kong immigration was clearing the passengers through. We cleared immigration in 15 minutes! As Indian nationals, we were able to obtain on-arrival Visa without any problem. However, Hong Kong has recently stopped issuing on-arrival Visa to Indians. So, our timing was good. We were able to visit a relative in Lantau Island. After that followed a long 11 hour flight from Hong Kong to arrive at Auckland the next day.

Day 1 (Auckland to Waitomo):

We arrived in Auckland at 7:30 am. As per the plan, we were supposed to meet the Contiki tour at the President Hotel in Auckland at 9 am. Unfortunately, our baggage claim took a long time and we could not join the tour in Auckland. I had planned for this eventuality and already booked bus ticket from Auckland to Waitomo Township through www.intercity.co.nz. I called up the Contiki representative and informed him that we will meet the tour at the hotel in Waitomo (Kiwi Paka Waitomo).

The ride from Auckland to Waitomo was beautiful with small rolling scenic hills. However, we were both busy dozing off after more than 24 hours of being in airplanes and airports. We reached the hotel in Waitomo and met the Contiki trip manager. Waitomo is famous for its glow worm caves. However, as we arrived late in the evening, we were not sure if we could visit the caves. Luckily the caves were still open and our trip manager took us to the caves.

The Waitomo glow worm caves website (www.waitomo.com/Waitomo-Glowworm-Caves/Pages/default.aspx) has some good photographs of the caves. I could not take any pictures as photography is not allowed inside the caves. The tour begins with a walk through the caves followed by long stair case downwards into the cave. This is then followed by a huge cathedral type open area within the cave. Finally, there is a short and silent boat ride inside the cave with glow worms glowing with bluish tinge from the roof of the cave like stars. It truly was an amazing experience.

Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre.

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Exiting the cave after completion of the tour.

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Walking around after the tour. This was around 7 in the evening.

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Day 2 (Waitomo to Rotorua):

Today was the day of introductions on the bus. Most of our fellow travelers were in their 20s, white, many from US. Others were from Australia, England, and a few from China. The closest Indian on the bus was a 1/4th Indian guy from England. Although, around 6 Indians joined the tour later.

People kept joining and leaving the tour during certain logical points throughout the trip. At this point, its best to give an overall idea on how Contiki has divided the various sections of the tour. The big daddy of Contiki's New Zealand tours is called Big Tiki and spans 19 days. Below is the Big Tiki itinerary along with the map.

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Given that not everyone has the time and money to do a 19 days tour, Contiki offers logical sections of the Big Tiki tour as separate tours, with the shortest one being for 3 days. These sections include:
  • Auckland to Paihia and back to Auckland.
  • Auckland to Rotorua.
  • Rotorua to Wellington or Christchurch.
  • Wellington or Christchurch to Queenstown.
  • Queenstown to Christchurch.
We did the sections from Auckland to Queenstown (without the one to Paihia). We had people leaving and joining the tour at Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown.

Anyway, coming back to Day 2 of the tour, every Contiki tour has a tour song which is the first song played on the bus every day of the tour. Ours was Like a Lie by Jetski Safari. Had never heard of the group nor the song, but its quite a catchy song and all of us really started liking the song.



Upon reaching Rotorua the tour bus took us to Te Puia which is a geothermal attraction cum Maori cultural center.

At the entrance of Te Puia.

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Geyser at the distance.

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Geyser closer.

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Geyser going full on.

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Traditional Maori house.

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Maori wood carving center.

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We were really impressed with the way New Zealand is trying to revive the native Maori culture. Its not like other western countries where the native culture is meant for museums only. Apparently, the government heavily promotes Maori culture. Students are identified from various locations across New Zealand and sent to the Maori cultural center here to learn wood carving, weaving, and other traditional Maori crafts. Once they learn these crafts, they go back to their home towns to teach the craft there. What a wonderful example of train the trainer !

And its not just crafts, children are taught Maori language in school and they embrace the Maori culture. For example, although our trip manager was a Caucasian, he told us stories about the Maori legends such as their demigod Maui who slowed the sun and raised the North Island from the ocean. He (trip manager) also had a jade pendant (pounamu), which apparently is an integral part of Maori culture. The jade pendant is bought as a gift and is first worn for a few weeks in order to capture the essence of the wearer before gifting it to someone special. They are also passed down through generations creating a direct link with the essence of the ancestors.

Yes. That is the full name of the valley where Te Puia is located.

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Silver fern. Its green on the top side and silver at the bottom side.

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The tour bus then took us to the Skyline Gondola. There is a luge ride at the top. You pull the handle to release the brake upon which the luge moves ahead due to the incline. You pull the handle even further to engage the brake. Alternately, you can let the handle slide back towards the front to brake.

Luges lined up for the ride.

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Luges going downhill.

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Once you reach the bottom, there is a lift to take you back up for another ride.

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The lifts also take along the luges below the seat.

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View of Lake Rotorua from the top.

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Last edited by desidino : 28th January 2017 at 15:51.
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Old 26th January 2017, 02:34   #2
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Day 3 (Rotorua):

Today was a free day, so we didn't have the tour bus to drive us around. We had booked the Hobbiton tour, but that was in the afternoon, so we went to the redwoods that are a short 10 minutes local bus ride outside Rotorua.

Redwoods in Rotorua.

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This is one of the days we missed having our own car to drive around. Although, we loved walking through the redwoods, we had to wait a long while to catch the bus back into Rotorua. Also, if we had our own car, we could have driven to the lakes nearby.

Weather today was bad and we were desperately hoping that it would clear by the time we reached Hobbiton. Although, the sun did not come out, however the rains stopped for just enough time for us to enjoy Hobbiton.

Shire here we come !

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The first Hobbit hole !

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Another Hobbit hole.

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Hobbiton has been maintained extremely well. The scenery was simply breath taking and the whole experience was magical as if we were in the movie !

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At Bag End. No admittance except on party business.

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The home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins !

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Still at the Bagginses.

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Sam's Hobbit hole.

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Got to try that ale.

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Inside The Green Dragon where we did have some ale.

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Sadly, all good times come to an end and we had to leave Shire.

Due to the large number of visitors visiting Hobbiton, the tour has to be completed in a couple of hours accompanied by the tour guide. Although those couple hours pass by super fast, however this system ensures that the place does not get too crowded and everyone really gets a feel of being in Shire.

Rolling hills continue outside Hobbiton.

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There are many stretches between Auckland, Waitomo, and Rotorua where you see such beautiful small rolling hills.

Last edited by desidino : 26th January 2017 at 23:52.
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Old 27th January 2017, 00:55   #3
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Day 4 (Taupo):

Today we left Rotorua for Lake Taupo which is the largest lake in New Zealand. Before we headed there, it was time for some zorbing at OGO Rotorua. We didn't do zorbing, but it was fun watching other fellow travelers do it. Although zorbing can be done dry, but all our tour members who did zorbing did it wet. The place also had a hot tub to warm up between the zorbing rides.

Zorbing down the hill.

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Zorb being loaded behind the Pajero and transported back to the top of the hill.

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Mud pool at Waiotapu geothermal on the way to Taupo.

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Huka Falls, close to Lake Taupo. What a shade of blue ! It was interesting to see a horizontal waterfall. You can also do a hike from Taupo to Huka Falls.

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There is a also jet boat activity that takes you to to the bottom of Huka falls.

"Hole in One" in Lake Taupo. One can try swinging a golf ball here to make the putt. Apparently, the success rate is once in few weeks. We tried golf swing for the first time in our lives and faced miserably. Hitting that damn tiny ball is ridiculously hard.

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The lake town of Taupo has a really great lake side vibe. If you are covering only North Island, then Taupo is a nice base to do some adventure activities that are usually the forte of South Island. You can go bungy jumping, sky diving, and jet boating. We didn't do any of these activities in Taupo as we planned to do our adventure activities in South Island. Taupo is also the base for the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike.

Taking a break while walking around Lake Taupo.

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There is a 10 km walking path (called the Great Lake Walkway) right by the lake that you can walk along for a few hours. We walked around the lake for an hour and relaxed today.

Our Contiki coach at the hotel.

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Day 5 (Taupo to Wellington):

Today we left Taupo for Wellington. Shortly after Lake Taupo, the road goes through the Tongariro national park. The park is home to active volcanic mountains Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro. Tongariro alpine crossing is supposed to among the best one-day hikes in the world. Definitely try it if you are in Taupo for more than a day. We only had time for a short photo stop.

Mount Ruapehu.

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Mount Ngauruhoe. Or more popular as Mount Doom of LOTR. As part of Tongariro alpine crossing, once can choose to climb right to its top like Frodo and Sam.

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Back to the bus after the photo stop.

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We stopped here for lunch. Alpaca after being sheared.

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New Zealand is really beautiful wherever you look, wherever you stop.

It was early evening when we reached Wellington. The trip manager took all of us to a rooftop bar in the evening. Apparently, Wellington is the windiest city in the world. So, it got really cold at the rooftop.

There was an optional dinner in Wellington which we opted for along with majority of the tour members. We had a great time with our fellow travelers during the dinner and it was fun knowing people from different nationalities. Dinner was followed by visit to the night club. We are not much into clubbing and drinking, so we left the club after a short while, but most of the rest continued having a nice time well into the night.

Tours like Contiki cater to the young crowd. So, most of the tour members were in their early 20s. Many of them went drinking almost every night, but we did not feel any peer pressure to join them. Contiki provided a wrist band that gives you discount on drinks. The signs of eligible pubs are there on the band. So, we had the youngsters going pub crawling in Wellington and Queenstown. To their credit, they were well behaved and did not make a ruckus when returning to their hotel rooms at night.

Day 6 (Wellington):

Today morning we went for a half day Lord of the Rings tour in Wellington. The tour first took us to Mount Victoria where some scenes of LOTR were shot.

View from Mount Victoria.

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The trees through which Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin run while escaping the dark rider.

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The tour guide told us an interesting story. Once he was cast in LOTR, the actor who played Sam thought that he should work out so that he could be physically fit for the movie. When he arrived in New Zealand for the start of movie shooting, Peter Jackson was shocked to see that he had slimmed down considerably. Jackson had cast him since Sam was a chubby hobbit. Things reached a point where Jackson was seriously considering replacing him! In fact you would notice that during that scene, Frodo, Merry, and Pippin are shown together in the same shot, while Sam is shown following behind huffing and puffing. So, Jackson had went ahead with the shooting without Sam and added Sam's solo scenes later once the actor had quickly gained weight to save his spot in the movie.

The spot where the four hobbits (actually their body doubles) fall down after being chased through the field.

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The spot where Frodo tells his friends to "get off the road !".

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Next stop was the Weta workshop. Although, it was interesting to know how they prepare the various props, the experience was a little underwhelming as we hoped we would be able to see the artists working on various props. Instead it was one guy explaining how they prepare the props. But, it was cool to know that he was involving in making chain mails for LOTR.

Gollum/ Smeagol.

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Gandalf.

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Dwarf.

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After finishing the LOTR tour, we rested at the hotel and planned to go to the Te Papa museum in the evening. We rested a lot during this trip ! Since we didn't have a car to drive around, we really took it easy during the time we didn't have any activities. We took 3 to 4 afternoon naps just lazing in the hotel room during these 2 weeks.

Te Papa museum.

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Unfortunately, we were wrongly informed by the trip manager, the LOTR tour guide, as well as the hotel that the museum would be open late in the evening that day. Turned out that the museum was closed. That was a really bad miss as we wanted to see the Gallipolli exhibit (www.gallipoli.tepapa.govt.nz). The battle of Gallipolli in Turkey during World War 1 is a big deal in New Zealand. Thousands of New Zealand soldiers, called Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), perished along with Australian soldiers during that battle. As per New Zealand History website:

Quote:
It may have led to a military defeat, but for many New Zealanders then and since, the Gallipoli landings meant the beginning of something else – a feeling that New Zealand had a role as a distinct nation, even as it fought on the other side of the world in the name of the British Empire.
Sadly, most of the Indians don't know that Indian soldiers had also fought at Gallipoli. In fact Indians were professional soldiers unlike New Zealanders and Australians who went to the war as if they were going on an adventure.

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Old 27th January 2017, 02:15   #4
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Day 7 (Wellington to Christchurch):

Today was the day to leave North Island and reach South Island. We took the InterIslander ferry between North Island and South Island from Wellington to Picton. The weather was bad as we left Wellington.

Leaving Wellington. Ovation of the Seas cruise ship from Royal Caribbean was also in the port today. Apparently, it is the second largest cruise ship in the world.

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Due to bad weather, the cruise through Cook Strait was quite bouncy. Many of the tour members developed motion sickness during the cruise. The crew was distributing sickness bags and ice cubes which did seem to help those affected. As for me, I was busy devouring some tasty pork ribs.

Weather cleared as we neared South Island and beautiful scenery unfolded before us again.

Passing through the beautiful fjords in South Island.

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Picton.

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The drive today was really long and we pretty much watched the beautiful scenery pass by. Due to the earth quake that devastated Kaikoura, the road towards Kaikoura was not in driving condition, so the coach took us through a different much longer route to Christchurch bypassing Kaikoura which is famous for whale watching and seals. Hope Kaikoura recovers soon and the tourists are back to revive the local economy. We reached Christchurch at night around 8:30 pm, checked in, had our dinner, and went to sleep.

Day 8 (Christchurch to Franz Josef):

We walked through Christchurch in the morning before heading to Franz Josef. Christchurch is still recovering from the devastating earth quake of 2011 and the wounds are visible all around.

Walking around Christchurch.

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Cathedral devastated due to the big earth quake in 2011.

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Christchurch has a very quite and deserted feel to it.

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Temporary cathedral at Christchurch.

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This was a very sad memorial for the victims of earth quake. The seats are facing the center of the city where the most devastation had taken place. Seats represent the victims of the earth quake. There was even a bassinet.

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Off to Franz Josef.

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Bathroom break. Boys being boys.

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Back on the road. Drive through New Zealand is spectacular both through North and South Island. While the hills in North Island are small and rolling, those in South Island are larger and more spread out.

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Hokitika beach. Hokitika is famous for carving of greenstone/jade/pounamu.

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Nearing Franz Josef.

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Day 9 (Franz Josef):

The weather was really poor today which was sad since we wanted to take a scenic helicopter tour of Fran Josef Glacier. We went for a bush walk in the morning. Yes, the Kiwis refer to the forest as bush.

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With the helicopter flights canceled, we instead went for a walk towards the glacier. The Contiki coach took us to the point where the hike began.

Beautiful walk towards the glacier. Although, it was cloudy and drizzling, the walk was still great and we could only imagine how spectacular it must be when the weather is good.

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We could barely see the glacier when we reached the end of trail.

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This guy stopped us from going any further.

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Point taken Sir.

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The walk back.

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Old 27th January 2017, 02:58   #5
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Day 10 (Franz Josef to Queenstown):

Today we headed for Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand, and perhaps the world. Two days earlier, during the ride from Christchurch to Franz Josef, our trip manager had provided all of us the list of activities in Queenstown that we had to choose from. There was a buzz in the bus with everyone trying to figure out how far they could push themselves in terms of overcoming their fear. As it was a young crowd, we had many daredevils who were doing bungy jumping, canyon swing, sky diving, etc. We had not planned to do anything so adventurous, but the enthusiasm in the group was infectious and we decided that if we were ever going to do it, then New Zealand was probably the best place to do bungy jumping and sky diving. So, we signed up for Kawarau Bridge bungy. Thats the bridge where bungy jumping first started, so the historical aspect appealed to us. Also, it was less scary then Ledge Bungy and the big daddy of bungy jumping, the Nevis bungy. We also decided to sign up for sky diving. In fact, we were initially thinking of doing only sky diving and not bungy as it was less scary given that you would be attached to your instructor during the tandem skydive. When we mentioned this to our fellow travelers, they had a laugh that we were scared of bungy jumping, but fine with sky diving.

Short break on the way to Queenstown.

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Thunder Creek Falls. Such a beautiful waterfall just 2 minutes walk from the main road.

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Lake Wanaka.

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Lake Hawea.

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Lake Wanaka. We had a brief lunch stop here before heading to Queenstown. If you have more time in South Island, do spend at least 2 nights in Wanaka.

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After leaving Wanaka, the mood in the bus was perceptibly tense as many of us would be doing the Kawarau Bridge bungy before reaching Queenstown. On popular demand, the trip manager played a local Kiwi war dance (Haka) song that he had played during one of the earlier days. The Haka song charged us up and it was now time to overcome our fear.

Kawarau River.

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Kawarau Bridge. Also called K-Bridge. This is world's first commercial bungy jumping site. It didn't seem too high, but as we got closer to our turn, our heart was beating like crazy.

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Since this was out first bungy jump and we were both scared, we decided to do a tandem jump. Live together, die together. As we stood there right at the edge, we went through the most terrifying 5 seconds of our lives. And then 3.. 2.. 1.. a split second of mind freeze, and we were falling head first towards the river below!

Taking the plunge!

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Oh what a rush that was! Its the most amazing feeling ever, and you should do it at least once in life! My wife was even more scared than me before the jump. But, the first thing she said after we completed the jump and were walking back up was, "we should have done it alone"!

That's some other guy.

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After an eventful day we arrived in Queenstown and checked into our hotel. The day wasn't finished yet, as we were going to Skyline gondola and restaurant later in the evening. Got to say that westerners have a very keen sense of dressing up for the occasion. While my wife and I were content wearing jeans and other such normal travel clothes, the western junta, especially the girls, used to wear proper dresses for dinners. Don't know how they cram so much stuff in their luggage!

Tip: When buying Skyline gondola ticket, definitely opt for luge rides as well. You don't need to complete the luge ride the same day. Most of us going to Skyline gondola and dinner had opted for 2 luge rides that were valid for 3 days. So, we didn't have to pay to use the gondola again. Unfortunately, my wife didn't opt for the luge rides, and we had to pay for her gondola ticket when we went up again after 2 days.

From the top of Skyline gondola in Queenstown. Have got to say that Queenstown is the most beautiful lake side town we have ever seen. Queenstown is by the side of Lake Wakatipu which is the longest lake in New Zealand.

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Stunning view from the Skyline restaurant. Easily the best view we have had from a restaurant.

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Our hotel in Queenstown.

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Old 27th January 2017, 03:04   #6
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Day 11 (Queenstown):

Today was the day for sky diving. It was drizzling in the morning, but the weather cleared up around 11 am and things were looking promising for the sky dive at 1pm.

We tried out burgers at the famous Fergburger. Definitely, among the best burgers we have had. My wife liked the burger at Fat Dog in Rotorua better.

Long queue at Fergburger. In total it took us about an hour to get our burgers. Around 40 mins of standing in the queue and 20 mins to get the order.

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We walked around Lake Wakatipu while waiting for the sky dive. Pictures don't do justice to the place.

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Unfortunately, the sky dive was canceled, even though the weather looked great, since apparently it was too windy. We rescheduled it to the last day of the tour in Queenstown which would be after 2 days.

We went ziplining instead. For that we had to go to the top of Skyline gondola. As mentioned earlier, I didn't need to buy Skyline gondola ticket again as it was valid for 2 more days since I had not yet done the luge ride. However, we had to buy the gondola ticket for my wife.

I went for the luge ride as there was still time for the zip line. The luge was even higher than the top of Skyline gondola. Counter-intuitively, you have to first walk down to catch the chair lift that takes you up towards the luge ride.

Chair lift as seen from top of Skyline gondola.

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Beautiful view from the top of the luge.

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Riding the luge in Skyline Queenstown was scenic, but not as much fun as the one in Rotorua as it was too crowded, so there weren't enough free stretches available to gain high speed. I didn't even do the second luge ride. After my luge ride, we went zip lining which starts from a point in the trees just a few minutes walk from the top of Skyline gondola.

While we had good fun zip lining, however it wasn't even close to the rush we felt bungy jumping the previous day. As we had never zip lined before, it was still a nice experience. The video below from their website gives a good idea of the experience.



On second thoughts, we should have instead gone for the TSS Earnslaw cruise on Lake Wakatipu along with Walter Peak farm tour and dinner. We had planned on doing that on our last day in Queenstown. However, with sky diving now scheduled for the last day in Queenstown, we didn't have time to do it.

Beautiful view of Lake Wakatipu.

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Old 27th January 2017, 03:15   #7
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Day 12 (Queenstown):

Today we had the coach-cruise-flyback tour of Milford Sound. Which meant going from Queenstown to Milford Sound by coach, followed by 2 hours Milford Sound cruise, and then flyback to Queenstown from Milford Sound on a small plane. One can also return by coach instead, however then the whole tour takes 12 hours and we were not really looking forward to spending 9 hours in the bus. Also, my wife gets a bit nauseous while traveling on bus, so thought it best to reduce bus time. And, apparently the flight between Queenstown and Milford Sound is among the most scenic in New Zealand, so we were looking forward to that.

The tour started around 7:30 am with the tour bus picking us up from the hotel. The bus stopped at a few locations in Queenstown to pick other tour members after which we were on the road to Milford Sound.

The usual beautiful roads of New Zealand.

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The bus stopped at some epic beautiful locations such as this one. It almost looks like a CGI effect and we were dumbfounded to see nature at its perfect self. That's something really amazing about New Zealand. All these beautiful places are right by the road.

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Mirror Lake. This was a 10 minutes stop again right on the main road. Unfortunately, there were some sadistic ducks swimming around in the lake causing ripples in the water due to which we could not see the perfect reflection.

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Beautiful Lupin field. Right on the main road.

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Yet another beautiful scenic spot. You guessed it. Right on the main road.

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The bus stopped at the Homer tunnel as the incoming traffic was about to start. We had a few minutes to walk near the tunnel. Apparently, this place is beautiful when it rains as it gets filled with water falls.

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View from a bridge on the way.

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Due to the supremely scenic road from Queenstown to Milford Sound, we didn't even realize how 5 hours had passed. It was time for the cruise now.

Milford Sound is an absolutely beautiful place. No wonder it is called the eighth wonder of the world ! We must have done something good in our past lives to see such a beautiful place.

Pictures don't do justice to this place. The pyramid shaped hill in the middle is the iconic Mitre Peak.

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Seals doing what they do best. For some reason, this is the only place where we saw seals.

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Beautiful waterfalls ! I need to learn more synonyms for beautiful.

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The cruise took us to the point where the open ocean starts. Lunch is served during the cruise, but it is passable. You would anyway gulp it as fast as possible so that you can gaze at the scenery outside.

Tip: It does get cold in Milford Sound even if the sun is shining brightly. Do take a warm jacket when you go there.

After the cruise, it was time for the plane ride.

Iconic Mitre Peak from the airport.

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There were 10 of us in the airplane including the pilot. 2 people on each row.

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The scenery during the flight was simply epic !

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A word of caution. Although, the scenic flight was absolutely amazing and recommended highly, however the ride does get bumpy given that it is a small plane. I am not scared of flying, but I have to admit that I got scared a few times when the airplane dropped suddenly due to turbulence. My wife, who is not a happy flier during the best of times, was literally screaming during the turbulence.

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day. Milford Sound is definitely a must do if you visit Queenstown. You can also stay couple of nights in Te Anau and enjoy the scenery of Fiordland including Milford Sound as well as Doubtful Sound.

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Old 27th January 2017, 03:23   #8
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Day 13 (Queenstown):

Today we had the Dart River Wilderness Jet experience in Glenorchy. We had been exceptionally lucky with the weather in Queenstown and thankfully we had great weather today too. Glenorchy lies on one tip of Lake Wakatipu. Queenstown is around the center. Its a short 45 minutes drive.

We thought yesterday's drive was supremely scenic, and then we saw this epic scenic drive. The road to Glenorchy must be the most scenic road in the world ! I mean just look at that.

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Panorama shot for your viewing pleasure.

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Once we reached Glenorchy, we were put on another bus to start the Dart River Wilderness Jet tour. The first leg of the tour involves a drive to a place called Paradise. Yes, that is the name of the place. And it deserves to be called Paradise. We were gobsmacked by the natural beauty !

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Many great movie scenes have been shot here including Lord of the Rings (Isengard) and Wolverine Origins.

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But, no beauty is without its downfall. There was once an Englishman who wanted to build the perfect house for his fiancee. He found this place and decided to build his perfect house in this perfect place. He sent off his fiancee to the care of his father in England while he built the house in Paradise. After many months the house was built, and he sent word to his fiancee to join him in Paradise. But, alas, in all the time they were apart, she had married his father, and was now his step mother.

We left Paradise, and arrived at the Dart river from where our jet-boat experience would start. Before jet-boating it was time for some bush walk. It was a nice half an hour walk through the forest.

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After the bush walk, it was time for some jet boating.

The spot where we waited for our jet boat to arrive.

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Another jet boat in front of us during a short stop. It was a wonderful experience being on the jet boat going fast through the river with mountains all around us !

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Just look at that clear water.

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Snow capped mountains all around us.

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A couple of more breaks.

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Jet boat doing a 360 degree turn.

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Wish we could jet boat the whole day going further up the river. There is an extended version of the tour call Funyaks where you can go kayaking after the jet boat ride. Apparently, it is among the most popular tours from Queenstown and needs to be booked at least 3-4 days in advance.

We were absolutely blown away by Glenorchy and feel that it is the most beautiful place we saw in New Zealand. If we are ever so super lucky to visit New Zealand again, we would definitely spend a few days in Glenorchy. At the top of our list would be the day hike to Mount Alfred. The jet boat actually circumnavigates it. Below is the view from the top of Mount Alfred at the end of the hike (picture found on the net).




Top of Mount Alfred can also be seen in James Cameron video below from 1:06 onwards.


Last edited by desidino : 3rd February 2017 at 00:40.
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Old 27th January 2017, 03:26   #9
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Day 14 (Queenstown):

Today was the day when we say good bye to Queenstown and South Island.

The first business of the day was sky diving. We had to get up really early for the sky dive, so the weather better be perfect for sky diving. We reached NZONE office in Queenstown and sky dive was go ! After the initial excitement, things started getting tense again. The thing with sky diving is that it takes so long to actually do the sky dive. With bungy jumping, the fear was much more, but we were done with it after half an hour of reaching the K-Bridge. But, with sky diving, there was first the orientation at NZONE Queenstown office, then a 20 mins bus ride to the NZONE drop zone, followed by putting on the sky diving jumpsuit, getting on the plane, and then the terminal wait to reach 15,000 feet. Yes, we were sky diving from 15,000 feet !

After a long agonizing wait, the moment eventually arrived when we had to jump off the plane at 15,000 feet. What ! That's some special level of crazy !

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Yet again that split second of brain freeze as you jump off the plane and then pure adrenaline and exhilaration ! You can see Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables mountain range in the above picture.

The free fall lasts for 60 seconds, but it feels like 10 seconds. There is no fear once you are falling. Due to the sheer speed of the air hitting my face, I was not able to breathe easily through my nose, so after a few seconds I started breathing through my mouth. Trust me, it makes for a very disturbing video, especially with the cheek muscles flapping around. So, if you can, do breathe through your nose for that great video.

Tip: Go for the 15,000 feet skydive instead of the 12,000 feet one. You would still be scared the same amount, whatever height you jump from. But, the free fall gets over so fast that those 20 extra seconds of free fall would be worth it.

Safely back to terra ferma. I will always remember the name and face of my skydive instructor.

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With skydiving done, next item on the agenda today was Shotover jet boat.

Shotover River.

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Funny warning: "Spectators can get wet standing in this area".

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Shotover jet boat ride was for around 20 minutes. While it was good fun and the 360 degree turns were more intense than the Dart River Jet, however we would recommend skipping it if you are planning on doing the Dart River Wilderness Jet experience which is so much better. We did the Shotover jet as it was already included as part of our Contiki tour.

It was now time for our last activity in New Zealand, the helicopter scenic flight with snow landing. It was lovely watching the scenery of Queenstown pass by below as we headed to the mountains. We landed near the top of one of the mountains that still had a bit of snow on it. The pilot landed the helicopter expertly on the snow without any fuss.

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We spent about 10 minutes on the top before the flight back. It was wonderful to be in the midst of such a pristine place.

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Once back in Queenstown, we spent some quiet time in Queenstown Gardens before bidding goodbye to this absolutely amazing lakeside town. We flew from Queenstown to Auckland today evening.

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Parting Thoughts:

New Zealand is a country truly blessed with a bounty of natural beauty. We would love to return to this beautiful country some day. If we do return, we would probably do a two week South Island trip with a car rental: 1 night Christchurch, 2 nights Franz Josef, 2 nights Wanaka, 2 nights Te Anau, 4 nights Queenstown (including Glenorchy), 2 nights Mount Cook.

The ozone layer over New Zealand is very thin due to which the ultraviolet rays of the Sun are very strong. Always apply sunscreen lotion and keep one with you in your bag. Even after applying sunscreen lotion, the Sun burns your skin. So, we cannot emphasize this enough, always apply sunscreen lotion when the Sun is out in New Zealand. And keep applying throughout the day.

Kia Ora !

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Old 27th January 2017, 03:29   #10
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Postscript:

We flew from Auckland to Hong Kong the next day. We had the first half of the following day to do some sight seeing. So, we took the gondola to Tian Tan Buddha.

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Old 1st February 2017, 01:06   #11
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Hotels:

Below are the hotels we stayed in as part of the Contiki tour.

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Waitomo: The accommodation was basic but clean. Breakfast was basic.

Rotorua: Room was spacious. In fact the bed was even larger than a king sized bed. No wonder we took an afternoon nap here. Breakfast was good and included warm food - eggs and bacon.

Taupo: Room was spacious. Breakfast included warm food but was not as good as the one in Rotorua.

Wellington: Room was small. Walls were thin. Breakfast was very basic without any warm food. Location was excellent, right in the middle of the happening area of Wellington.

Christchurch: Room was tiny. Breakfast was basic.

Franz Josef: Room and bathroom were really tiny. Breakfast was good with warm food.

Queenstown: Room was spacious. Breakfast was basic.

Overall the accommodation was good and clean. Although, rooms in Christchurch and Franz Josef were really tiny. Rotorua had the best breakfast.

After the tour we stayed one night in Holiday Inn (booked myself) near Auckland airport. We didn't have breakfast there, but the hotel is very well maintained and is actually quite a good hotel especially given that its an airport hotel.

Activities:

Attached below is the overall itinerary along with list of optional activities arranged by Contiki.

NZ Itinerary and Optionals.pdf

We opted for the following activities:
  1. Waitomo glow-worm caves
  2. Skyline & luge Rotorua
  3. Hobbiton movie set tour
  4. Wellington half day Lord of the Rings tour
  5. Wellington dinner
  6. Kawarau Bridge Bungy
  7. Queenstown Skyline gondola, luge ride, dinner
  8. Queenstown Ziptrek - booked ourselves
  9. Milford Sound coach-cruise-flyback
  10. Glenorchy Dart River Wilderness Jet
  11. Queenstown NZONE Skydiving
  12. Queenstown helicopter flight with snow landing - booked ourselves (http://www.helicopter.co.nz/queenstown/)

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Old 4th February 2017, 15:09   #12
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Thread moved out from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section). Thanks for sharing this awesome travelogue!
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Old 4th February 2017, 18:51   #13
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Default Re: An epic 2 weeks in New Zealand

I just returned from a month long vacation from New Zealand last month. I can relate to each and every word you have written. It is just amazing. Pictures can never do justice to this place. The nature is in perfect shape. The blue sky, fresh air, acres of green pastures have blown me away. I've been to the exact same places and I'm in love with Queenstown. Ferg Burger and Patagonia Chocolates have set a new benchmark for me

I love the road discipline. People drive with so much patience and trust. All road signs, dividers, reflectors are perfectly placed. One can't crash a car or bike if the rules are followed.

Wonderful write-up and pictures. Made me nostalgic.
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Old 4th February 2017, 22:52   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by harsh_66328 View Post
I just returned from a month long vacation from New Zealand last month. I can relate to each and every word you have written. It is just amazing. Pictures can never do justice to this place. The nature is in perfect shape. The blue sky, fresh air, acres of green pastures have blown me away. I've been to the exact same places and I'm in love with Queenstown. Ferg Burger and Patagonia Chocolates have set a new benchmark for me

I love the road discipline. People drive with so much patience and trust. All road signs, dividers, reflectors are perfectly placed. One can't crash a car or bike if the rules are followed.

Wonderful write-up and pictures. Made me nostalgic.
Thank you harsh_66328 ! We too fell in love with Queenstown. Below is the list of places to eat in Queenstown recommended by our trip manager.

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We tried burgers at Devil Burger and World Bar. While they had good burgers, but the burger at Ferg Burger was definitely much better. We also loved the tacos at Taco Medic. I had fresh cookies at Cookie Time and they were simply divine !

PS: A big thank you to the mods for plugging this travelogue on the front page !
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Old 5th February 2017, 01:11   #15
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Wonderful travelogue ! Rates 5 stars! If possible can you also share the cost breakdown? Not sure if I have missed it while drooling over the pictures!
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