Greeting Fellow Enthusiasts. I haven't been active in the forum for a while now and I felt it was high time I penned down something relevant to the forum.
So this time around I intend to write up a travelogue (more like a picture mash-up) of my recent NZ trip. Disclaimer:
Quality of the content will be Amateurish at best!
The last time I ventured to write something was back in 2012 about my Ford Figo: http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/long-t...delighted.html
So here we go.
OK so we are based out of Sydney now and haven’t been away on a holiday for a while but we are short on leaves and we want to go somewhere outside Australia but it needs to blow our mind and more importantly no beaches**
** Australia just saturated us with beautiful beaches!
Yeah our requirements kind of solved the issue – New Zealand South Island Road Trip it is! Summary:
- 5N, 6D trip – just me and my wife.
- Fly to Christchurch, hire a car, drive to Queenstown, fly out.
- Yeah I skipped the North Island, the west coast and the glacier country due to time constraints – that’s for another time
- Car hired – New Mazda 3 with just 600kms on the clock! From Hertz. Make sure to hire a good handling small car in NZ since the roads are narrow and twisty! In hindsight it was a wise decision to avoid the v6 Falcon/Commodore. One can never experience @limit handling on twisty NZ roads in big over-powered cars.
- Pit stops – Christchurch (1N), Twizel(1N), Queenstown(2N), Te Anau(1N) and back to Queenstown(1N)
- Activities – 8 wheel argo tour to Tasman glacier, Horse riding at Glenorchy (LOTR Isengard fame), Milford Sound cruise, Shotover jetride
- Total kms – 1600km
- Expense (all inclusive): around 4.5kAUD. You can save a massive portion if you book tickets earlier. You can save more if you choose to hire a caravan. NZ is extremely caravan friendly and I guess people hire caravans more than cars.
- Bookings: Booking.com (Airbnb is also an option) for accommodation. Viator and Bookme.co.nz for the activities. Hertz for the car. The Route: Day Zero: QANTAS - SYD to CHC
Took the evening flight and nearly 3.5 hours later we are in Christchurch.
Landed at Christchurch @ midnight and goes through one of the strictest immigrations in the world. The Kiwis are particularly strict about organic matter that can be brought in. Got out of the immigration alive and we head towards the car hire counters. I had booked a Hertz car online so things were pretty easy. I did request for a Ford Focus or a VW Golf but none were available. So in the same class my options were limited to Corolla hatch or the Mazda 3. I didn’t let her finish the sentence – Mazda 3 it is! Bit of info
– Hertz is pretty costly but is trouble-free and offers peace of mind. There are other budget operator’s available if you want to save some money. You can drive with a valid Indian License in NZ. Just make sure that everything is in English. Also make it a point to take the full cover insurance, preferably with roadside assistance. You don’t want your vacation to turn into a nightmare.
Please go through the driving rules if you haven’t driven abroad, because it’s bound to be vastly different from what you have experienced in India and for heaven’s sake don’t honk. Its almost an insult. Even in Australia I have experienced a bit of honking but none of that in NZ. People are pretty laid back.
The airport itself is pretty small. We get out of the airport and spot the shiny new car. Luckily my Australian GPS have NZ maps too. Off to the motel for the night!
The first thing you realise when you drive out is that the city is eerily quiet. Not a lot of vehicles on the road and no high-rises in sight. More on that later.
We reach the motel, find our room door unlocked and key in the jar inside as promised (since the reception closes early)! Day 1: Christchurch to Twizel
So we wake up a bit late and go for a drive in Christchurch city. Christchurch is the largest city in South Island but you will be surprised how sparsely populated the place is. It is still recovering from the huge 2011 earthquakes. It appears as if the whole City CBD is being rebuilt, including the roads.
In spite of all this, the city is neat and the central park and roadside is bathed in Spring colours.
We grab a quick bite from McDonalds and head off to Twizel. En route we buy some groceries. The journey takes us through the Canterbury plains. Acres of green fields and cattle compliment the dead-straight roads.
Up until now I am thinking that NZ is over-hyped and then I see this!
All right then, I am already pretty impressed. We stop by Lake Tekapo
to grab a quick bite. I thought I ordered steak but turns out it was a mix of raw meat (beef, chicken and pork) on a hot stone grill. So apparently you have to slow cook it yourself and eat it- not so quick isn’t it!!
We push on after the steak fiasco and then we see this. Lake Pukaki
What shade of blue was that?!!
Finally we reach the day’s pit stop and check in. Yeah the views are still amazing. The motel was pretty good.
Twizel is a sleepy wayside village with just 1200 residents!!!
Day 2: Twizel – Mount Cook & Tasman Glacier – Queenstown.
We get up early and cook ourselves some breakfast. Soon we are off to the famous Hermitage Hotel and Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine center. The Alpine center was founded by none other than Sir Edmund Hillary (yes the first person on Everest).
Mount Cook is the highest mountain in NZ and was Sir Hillary’s training ground during his preparation for the Everest climb.
The road towards the Center is spectacular with the mountain range on one side and the blue Pukaki lake on the other.
This is also were you stumble upon the Pelenor Fields
which served as the backdrop for the largest battle in LOTR trilogy
including the assault on Minas Tirith
We reach the Hermitage Hotel and Alpine Center. The hotel is pretty famous around the world and has direct views of Mt. Cook. They have a statue of a young Sir Edmund Hillary over there. And here is Mt Cook (in the middle). NZ's highest peak.
We wait for our guide who is supposed to take us on an 8-wheel drive buggy tour to NZ’s largest Glacier – The Tasman Glacier.
He arrives a short while later and picks us up in his ancient Land Cruiser to the buggy start point.
The terrain is akin to a lunar crater and the ride readjusts all my bones. Finally we reach the place. Info
– You don’t go out in the NZ sun without covering yourself in Sunscreen first! NZ has a huge Ozone hole(thank ourselves for this) and the UV rays will definitely cause sunburn in the short term or skin cancer in the long run. Bit of History
: Tasman Glacier is the largest glacier in NZ. 30 years ago it began to shrink and recede, leaving one of the deepest lakes in NZ. The lake itself is believed to be around 300 feet deep.
No fish can live in the Glacier lake due to the high concentration of rock powder in the lake. Since the glacier terminates at the lake, it is littered with Icebergs that break off from the glacier regularly. The Terminal face is 30-50 feet high (though it doesn’t look so in the pics
). The Tasman Glacier
The pic doesn’t do justice to the glacier since it was shot from a distance and also because the snow is covered in rock dust. Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers provide more imposing views of the glacier path.
The glacier walls extend down to the lake floor to some 200-250ft. There are operators who take people to the lake; alternatively you can do a helicopter-hike on the upper snow covered part of the glacier. This is a bit expensive though.
Onwards to Queenstown then…
And the scenery keeps improving.
Lake Pukaki again. That shade of blue and the reflection!
We stop for lunch at an English-style roadside cafe and to our surprise they have rice and mango-chicken curry on the menu. Instant Gratification!
We push on. Driving through the twisty and fast Lindis Pass
stretch was fun! The Pass itself is pretty picturesque.
We had company in this beautiful stretch in the form of a couple in a Golf GTi. We even had a bit of friendly race too. I could keep up with him in the corners but the GTi pulls away real quick on the straights.
Finally we reach Queenstown
and look out of the hotel balcony! We have direct views of The Remarkables
mountain range. Trivia
: Spot the XUV 500 in the pic (The only one I saw during the trip. It was a rental. I have seen a couple in Sydney too
We decide to explore Queenstown on Foot. Queenstown
is a resort town not unlike our own Manali, Ooty or Kodai. But it is vastly better maintained and while a bit commercialised, not overly so.
Queenstown also has a better night life than the other cities in NZ or Australia
The one thing you shouldn’t miss in Queenstown is the famous Fergburger
!! Quite simply the best burger I have had in my entire life! You will encounter a big Q outside the joint at all times.
Ok back to the room and already excited about the next day! It is gonna be big. Day 3: Queenstown – Glenorchy – Kinloch – Glenorchy – Queenstown
Today is reserved for two things:
1. Blast through one of the best driving roads in the entire world
2. Ride a horse at a UNESCO world heritage site more importantly the place were they shot ISENGARD in LOTR :– The Reese river valley @Glenorchy
The road towards Glenorchy is a drivers dream. It has one of the best views ever, with Lake Waikatipu
on one side and mountains on the other. It is a single carriage way like most of NZ roads. It is twisty all along and narrow.
More importantly speed limit is still @100kph! Many car ads are shot here every year. If you happen to see an American car ad driving on the left, it is probably this road!!
Anyway off we go and I instantly realise that I am living my dream!! Want proof? Here is how most of the road looks.
So we reach the stables and see all these horses and I am a bit nervous. I haven’t ridden a horse, like ever!
Our guides are two ladies (one of them all the way from France
), they allay my fears and reassure me that the horses are extremely well-behaved.
So the total duration of the trip is about 3 hours. I had booked them online @ 138NZ pp (180NZD is the original price – got a discount
We wear the Helmets and gumboots and get on top of the horse with a bit of difficulty. The guides give us a crash course in basic horse control signals and off we go.
Before we know it we are in the magnificent Rees river
We cross rivers & wade through creeks. The horses are well behaved. This is proving to be an experience of a life time.
We take pics at Isengard Basically we ride horses in paradise!!
I make a note to self to come back and do the extended version of trip(overnight/2 night
We head back to Glenorchy town, grab a bite and head further up towards Kinloch
To reach Kincloch we traverse through around 16kms of unpaved roads. Finally reach the Kinloch Lodge (Note to self again: Next time I visit this place, this will be my accommodation
The Dart river is spectacular from here. We have a coffee and enjoy the beauty.
Time to head back to Queenstown through the same gorgeous road. Day 4: Queenstown – Te Anau
Today we plan to travel up to a sleepy hamlet called Te Anau
which is kind of a base camp for Milford Sound
En-route we take a detour to Arrowtown
. It is a small gold-mining era town on the banks of the Arrow river which is still well preserved and retains the old wild west charm.
We drive on.
We reach the place by afternoon, have some food, rest a while.
Ok, time to explore the place.
Set off for a small walk at lake Mistletoe
Another walk along the Lake Te Anau shores
– brilliant sunset views ensue.
We also visit the Kepler Walk
start point. Info session:
NZ has 9 Great Walks. It’s not for the faint-hearted since it can take around 5-6 days to complete one walk. You may encounter avalanches, rugged terrain, solitude, the cold etc. Need prior permissions too.
One good thing is that NZ doesn’t have any predators, spiders, snakes etc. They are trying to get rid of introduced predators like rats and possums. The govt. passed a resolution for the same recently. Day 5: Te Anau – Milford Sound – Queenstown
Today we visit a must-visit place for every South Island traveller – the MILFORD SOUND
Rudyard Kipling famously called it 'The Eight Wonder of the World'.
So its actually a FJORD
akin to the Scandinavian ones. But early explorers mistook it for a SOUND
and hence the name Info
: SOUND is a sea- inlet valley carved by water, FJORD is carved by ancient glaciers.
Anyway the drive is spectacular and has twisties all along with a speed limit of 100kph..yaaayyy!
The road turns tricky in between when we have to cross a mountain pass and go through the crude one-way Homer tunnel at a height of around 900 ft above sea level. Exciting stuff!
Snow-covered peaks dominate the landscape. We see avalanche hazards warnings everywhere. The Roads Department has heavy machinery presence all along, trying to clear the avalanche damage from last winter.
We reach the Milford Sound cruise terminal and check in to Mitre Peak Cruises
which I booked online (about $75pp
Always book the smaller boats, because they take you nearer to the cliff face and water falls. The larger ones cater mostly to the mass influx of Chinese tourists coming through various tour operators.
The view is fantastic and I am overwhelmed!!
We spot a pod of dolphins and the skipper turns the boat around and we follow them for a while. We spot around 10 dolphins swimming in tandem. What a sight!
We also spot Seals and even a NZ Penguin !!
We touch the sea-mouth and return.
There are two permanent waterfalls here – Stirling falls and Lady Bowen falls
Lady Bowen Falls are higher than the Niagra Falls. Stirling falls
I have to say the pics do not do justice the scenery and I have to repeat the cliche - 'mind blowing' !! Rudyard Kipling was probably right.
This was indeed a day to remember!
We head back to Queenstown
En route we stop at the Devils Staircase
: Another beautiful stretch of tarmac.
For Dinner it’s the FergBurger again.
Day 6: Queenstown – Sydney
It’s our last day in NZ and we walk around and enjoy Queenstown and prepare to leave but not before we have a last hurrah!
Yep its the Shotover Jet ride...and what fun it was!
The Jet boat itself runs two v8's at the back!!
!! The extremely fast ride takes us through a narrow gorge with our heads passing millimetres from the rugged rocky edge. If that wasn't enough, the pilot engaged in 360 degree turns at regular intervals and remember we didn't have seatbelts!! It was Scary
& FUNNN...enough said!
On one such 360 deg turn..
As a parting shot, enjoy Lake Pukaki from the air. That shade of blue!
In conclusion I would like to state that New Zealand is worth all the hype
. Review of Mazda 3
- Fun to drive and a Looker
- Minimal understeer and really good turn in
- Good balance between ride and handling with a slight bias to comfort
- Interior quality is really good compared to direct rivals
- Even though its only a 2.0l NA engine, the throttle response and torque deliver are really good. SkyActiv tech works.
- Steering is very light even though it responds to direction changes well. Feedback is also a bit muted
- Seats and rear passenger room could have been a bit better. Another Product Review - Serengeti Sunglasses
This is the first long drive I undertook after I started using my Serengeti Empoli sunglasses. You see, any good Optician will tell you that Maui Jim
makes the best lenses in the market. Out of the two, Serengeti positions itself as the makers of the best driving glasses. In an age when most lens makers are moving away from glass based lenses to plastic/fibre based solutions, Serengeti resolutely sticks with glass lenses. I haven't used Maui Jim's so I cannot comment on them, but I have used competing products from the Luxottica stable (Ray-bans, Oakleys etc) and I can safely say that Serengeti is the best drivers sunglasses I have used, period. It reduces eye-fatigue considerably. The clarity and contrast it provides under sunny or cloudy conditions is unparalleled.
Go for the amber coloured-photochromic-polarised
lenses that has spectral control
. This is the most popular lens variant Serengeti makes and it is a boon for drivers.
The fact that it is not as popular Ray-bans or Oakleys is probably due to the marketing budget & sheer monopoly of the Luxottica group. P.S.:
We covered 1600kms in 6 days and clicked around 1600 pics too! Such is the beauty of the place. All pics were taken on a Samsung Galaxy s7 mobile & a Sony RX100 camera. Most of the pics are unedited except maybe a couple. Please excuse the photo quality. P.P.S.:
I must congratulate the NZ govt. and its people at this point for preserving the beautiful nature they inherited for people like us to admire.