Day 7: Heading back to Christchurch

8 September, 2016

I woke up early to prepare snacks for the long drive back to Christchurch. I took a peek out of the window. The scene outside was simply enchanting – the snowfall had got heavier overnight and some had remained on the ground and on the roofs. The Remarkables, not far away, were totally covered in snow. August is the best time to experience snow here but you can expect it to continue falling throughout Spring in September and maybe early October.

We were reluctant to leave Queenstown for so many reasons – it was snowing, the hotel was fantastic (I’ll give it a 9/10), we hadn’t had the chance to visit the fjords down south and I hadn’t done a complete tour of the centre.

It was going to be a long drive to Christchurch. The unfavourable weather would add more time to the journey. Not only would we expect snow, but strong winds and heavy rain were also forecasted. We left the hotel at 9.30 am and had planned to reach Lake Tekapo (a halfway point) for lunch before 2 pm. As we turned out of the hotel driveway to join the main road, what I saw lying ahead was both captivating and intimidating. I prayed for a safe journey. The driver, though, was not the least perturbed. Sensing my anxiety, he kept assuring us that we would be fine and then he chuckled at my unfounded fear, “Worry-wart lah you!”

As we passed by the airport, the sight of a cherry blossom tree standing on snow-covered ground distracted me for a while. I grinned at the irony of it all. I was expecting snow and cherry blossoms in Japan early this year but got little of both and then when I least expected it, I got them here. God has a great sense of humour.

As we left the towns and gained elevation, the landscapes got more dramatic. It was snowing up on Lindis Pass. Be very careful on this highway. A car had overturned on the other lane. I suspected the driver might have driven too fast while turning a sharp bend.

Lindis Pass
The driver stopped for a stretch.

We reached Lake Tekapo just in time for lunch at Kohan. They stopped taking orders at 2 pm and we were lucky that they let us dine in even though we reached there just 2 minutes before they closed. It was snowing here too.

GPS calculated that we would take 4 hours plus to get to Christchurch, an hour longer that we had expected, because of the impending inclement weather and expected slower speed of driving. The wind was blowing strongly and then rain came pouring down after half an hour of leaving Tekapo.

Since we were only going to stay just for the night and leaving early for the morning flight back home, I had booked a motel, Arthur’s Court, near the airport. It was comfortable and convenient for sure but I wouldn’t stay here for more than a night. The pillows and robes had stains on them! 😦

All in all, we have had an amazing trip. Would I come back again? Definitely! NZ exceeded my expectations. But if I were to do this trip all over again, I would have done the following:

  1. Fly to Auckland and then take a flight to Queenstown. Or stay for a day in Auckland then fly to Queenstown.
  2. Stay for 4 nights in Queenstown.
  3. Drive to Lake Tekapo and stay for a night or two.
  4. Drive to Christchurch and stay for a night.
  5. Fly back home from Christchurch.

Day 6: Queenstown

7 September, 2016

Hubby took the kids to do ziplining with Ziptrek Ecotours. The company offers a few tours and hubby opted for the MOA one which is about 2 hours long. Browse the tours offered here. Ziptrek Ecotours gets my thumbs-up because it’s a company with strong environmental ethics. Hubby shared with me later that the guides would educate the guests on environmental matters whenever they had the opportunity to do so.

Hubby and kids took the gondola up to the peak. They were looking forward to getting a magnificent view of the town below but unfortunately the clouds were low (so no nice pictures to show you here).

I was watching the news before leaving the hotel and found out that a polar blast was coming our way and we could expect snow later that evening and the day after. It had already started to rain outside and the wind was blowing strongly and I wondered if the tour that hubby had booked for would be cancelled. It wasn’t. They were still able to zipline despite the trees swaying. I asked the kids later if it was scary. They said it wasn’t because each line was short (watch Sarah’s vlog on Queenstown). The only complaint they had was that it was freezing up there but luckily there’s a cafe at the upper station where they could grab a hot drink to warm themselves up.

Ziplining between the trees

The boys decided to do the Luge after ziplining while Sarah took the gondola down to the town centre to meet me.

I had planned to take a stroll around the town centre but since it was raining, I took refuge at a cafe along the marine parade. The cafe was called Patagonia’s Ice Creamery & Chocolaterie. I ordered a hot chocolate and a slice of brownie (at $1 off, because I ordered a drink) and headed to the upstairs lounge. It is a lovely area with a huge window and you’ll get an unobstructed view of the lake. I am very fussy when it comes to hot chocolate but the one I had was perfect. I made a mental note to compliment the staff later. The delicious drink coupled with a spectacular view of the lake brought a much needed warmth to my overall well-being.

Sarah met me outside Patagonia cafe before we headed down to Vudu Cafe. We both have been following this vegan Japanese dude on youtube (Peaceful Cuisines) and just a week before we arrived, he was here too and Sarah saw what he had at this cafe.  The cafe was almost full though it was already after 2 pm. We had initially planned to have lunch here but the hot chocolate I had earlier kept me full and Sarah didn’t feel like having lunch either. Besides, we had a heavy buffet breakfast at Hilton (which was complimentary, btw). The buffet spread at Hilton was a standard one but they provided something that I had not seen at any other hotels – a fruit juicer for the customers to use. I was grateful for this as I didn’t like packed fruit juices and I liked being able to concoct my own fresh fruit juice.

Sarah had this vegan snickers bar which I thought was just okay.

We walked around the town in the cold rain and came across Rehab. Rehab offers healthy salads, breakfast bowls (think acai), raw desserts and the likes of it. Sarah got a vegan cheesecake to take away. If you wonder what goes into a vegan cheesecake since it’s non-dairy, it is raw ground cashew nuts. I’ve tried making it once and it turned out surprisingly delicious though it tasted nothing like the usual tangy cheesecake.

As we carried on walking, I spotted a few cherry blossom trees from across the Four Square supermarket. Never mind that it was raining; I just had to get close to them. I wondered if I would ever tire of it.

We popped into the supermarket to seek shelter from the rain which had got heavier. I got a few bars of Whittakers’ artisinal chocolate range to bring home to share with my sisters and their families. They have interesting flavours like ‘Plum and Roasted Almonds’, ‘Oolong Tea’, ‘Pear and Manukah’ , ‘Apple and Vanilla White Chocolate’ and some others. They make good souvenirs, in my opinion, because they are not only unique (in taste) but come in attractive packaging. You can get them at most supermarkets in NZ.

In the evening, as forecasted, it snowed. It wasn’t the first time we had seen snow but still it got us all excited. We braved the cold and stepped out onto the balcony to enjoy a phenomena we don’t get back home.

Day 5: Heading to Queenstown

6 September, 2016

Simply breathtaking.

That’s how I would describe the route, via State Highway 8, we took to get to our next destination – Queenstown. The most memorable sight along that stretch of highway was that of Lake Pukaki. The turquoise hues of the glacial lake and the craggy alpine landforms that bordered the lake made a picture that you would remember for a long time (or not, depending on when dementia will kick in). As you gazed at the scene before you, you’d forget the world for a while, even when a tour bus came and threatened to unload a horde of noisy tourists. This area was the setting for ‘Lake-town’ in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

We couldn’t possibly drive by without stopping to take pictures or just take in this sight. You’ll reach this point after driving for about half an hour from Tekapo. There are directions to this pitstop and here you’ll find a visitor centre that sells a small range of NZ-made products, one of them being salmon sashimi that comes from the nearby farm. It claimed to the best salmon sashimi you would have ever tasted and boy, did it live up to its claim! Don’t leave this place without trying some!

Another spectacular part of the route is the Lindis Pass which links the Mackenzie Basin with Central Otago. At an altitude of 971 m above sea level, it snows for many months of the year. We were lucky to be able to see the contrasting faces of the mountains during this trip. The picture below shows how the tussock-covered mountains look in fair weather.

Before we reached Hilton, where we had booked for the stay in Queenstown, we dropped by the Remarkables Park Town Centre, an outdoor mall, to grab some more groceries. I got some salmon fillet at the supermarket and the boys got some snacks. The salmon, which I baked after marinating it in soya sauce and thai chili sauce, was AMAZING! Never had I had salmon that succulent. The boys heaped praises and I gave some of my share to them.

The Hilton at Kawarau Village sits on the shore of Lake Wakatipu. I had booked the 2-bedroom apartment with lake view. The apartment turned out better than I had expected (sorry the photos are rubbish!). I loved it so much that I’d rather stay in than explore the town! 😛

The firm mattress promised a good night’s sleep.

The view from the balcony was nothing short of stunning, be it on a clear or snowy day.

The service at Hilton was top-notch. The staff is made up of an international group of well-trained people. The only complaint I had about this hotel was that the floor heating in the bathroom was not working. Because they could not fix the problem immediately, they offered us a bottle of champagne as an apology. Unfortunately, we do not take alcohol.

We drove to the town centre in the evening after our early dinner in the room. Hilton provides a shuttle service to the town centre but you have to make reservations so that you don’t have to fight for seats. The town centre was bustling. Parking is expensive here and can be hard to find during the day so you might want to consider leaving your car at the hotel and take the shuttle service. If you prefer to live in the centre of the town, there are several hotels you can choose from. We didn’t spend much time walking around the town centre. We were tired and it was getting too cold – the temperature had dipped below 5 degrees. On top of that, we were not too keen on shopping. We bumped into Brian Richmond and his family here. Hubby noticed him first and waved at him and he waved back though he had no idea who we were. 🙂

The main attraction in Queenstown is Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables, a mountain range and ski field. The mountain range is visible from the city. During the winter months, The Remarkables is a popular spot for skiing and other winter activities. We weren’t keen on doing snow-related activities, at least not on this trip as we only had 2 days here. If you aren’t keen on those too, there are many other activities to do here – bungy jumping, jet boating, skydiving and etc. Queenstown is not only for adrenaline junkies; there are ‘gentle’ activities you can do such as cruises, a walk or hike, museum visits and etc. There’s something for everyone to do here.