New Zealand - Facts and Information
What we wanted to achieve, where we stopped, where we went

Very brief notes on our experience and thoughts on these aspects of our trip



Main New Zealand Index

Lyttelton & Banks
Arthur's Pass
North to Picton
West of Nelson 1
West of Nelson 2
East of Nelson
Nelson to Westport
Denniston & Westport 
Pancake Rocks
South to the glaciers
Central Otago
Gold mining
Arrowtown & Glenorchy
Te Anau
Catlins to Dunedin
Around Dunedin 1
Around Dunedin 2
Around Dunedin 3
To Mount Cook
To Geraldine
North of Geraldine 


Facts and Information Index

Background to the trip
Getting around
General Summary








Pictures, problems etc

Our objectives
Simply stated our intention was to see as much of the 'real' South Island as we could and avoiding the tourist traps whenever possible. Our interests lay in scenery, natural history and ways of life. We wanted to be able to go at our own speed, stopping wherever and whenever we wanted. We hoped to do a little gentle walking. The experience we got was pretty much what we hoped for (with the exception of a wet west coast - although that was pretty much what we'd expected). We found that there are a lot of pleasant small towns and settlements around all set in a very wide and attractive landscape. There were some areas which didn't live up to expectations and these are mentioned below. There are some more detailed comments on places in picture galleries.

Christchurch - 5 nights - Gothic Heights Motel (Recommended)
Motel was good, friendly, well located both for walking into Christchurch and road access once we got the car. Excellent bakery a very short walk away. Christchurch is a pleasant, relaxed city but we felt didn't quite live up to its hype. The Botanic Gardens are excellent. The Ferrymead Heritage Park is good if you like that sort of thing and once beyond Lyttelton the countryside is pleasant and very quiet. Further afield the Banks Peninsula is also generally empty and nice. The drive to Arthur's Pass is good but there is little once there apart from some interesting trails in the forest. We soon got the impression that walks in SI fall into two categories: 1) very easy on made paths and 2) very hairy and only for hard cases. Drive to Picton pleasant enough (we went inland route on SH70), Kaikoura a bit of a non-event but seals at Point Kean worth a visit - as was the roadside caff on the way there.

Picton - 1 night - Aldan Lodge Motel
We spent little time in the motel but it seemed good, was central and had a good supermarket to hand. Picton is a very pleasant little town. However we were about to find that because of the amount of forest a lot of the driving offered very little to look at apart from trees and it was quite difficult to find decent viewpoints. The drive on from here was very wet, but Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve has some nice walks and an excellent cafe.

Nelson - 4 nights - Tuscany Gardens Motor Lodge (A big mistake)
Motel decor was good but it was poor on cooking facilities, noisy from early morning traffic and with unfriendly owners, no washing machine. Getting into the peninsulas to the east was disappointing with a lot of fairly narrow, bendy, forest lined roads offering little in the way of views, but the Rai Valley Pioneer Cottage was interesting. Heading both to the north-west and south a lot more pleasant, especially if the SH was avoided, with quiet roads in lovely country. Wakefield on SH6 to Westport is interesting.

Westport - 3 nights - Buller Bridge Motel (Recommended)
Nice, friendly motel in quite location on edge of town. Westport a very nice, off-the-tourist-beat town. Denniston mining area very interesting for anybody into industrial archaeology. Road north to Karamea looked interesting but spoilt by very wet weather, though we enjoyed the Drifter's Bar at Granity. Pancake Rocks superb with a good sea running at high tide so the blowholes were blowing, interesting information centre. Shantytown, the heavily advertised folk museum, is only OK-ish although it does give a feel of gold mining towns in the old days. Ross mining trail further south very interesting.

Fox Glacier - 2 nights - Sunset Motel
Motel friendly but only OK and a fair way from the village. Both Fox and Franz Josef villages are esentially tourist creations with liitle more than accommodation and eateries. We were distinctly underwhelmed by both glaciers but then we had seen glaciers in Iceland in much better weather and with easier access. Lake Matheson was nice walk, but let down by weather. Drive into Otago from here very wet and with a lot of forest, but the Haast Pass was impressive. Woody McMartin, the wood carver at Luggate, has some interesting stuff.

Cromwell - 5 nights - Twin Rivers Motel (Excellent)
Excellent motel in a quiet part of a very pleasant town. We had chosen Cromwell rather than the tourist trap of Queenstown for exploring Central Otago and this was a very wise decision. The countryside is pleasant, open and very quiet. The gold mining remains are impressive (although we had mixed views about the Goldfields Mining Centre) and the old gold towns worth exploring. Glenorchy was delightful. On seeing Queenstown we passed straight through. This area has the advantage of being one of the driest parts of New Zealand.

Te Anau - 3 nights - Aden Motel
Motel very friendly and helpful but generally a bit cramped. The town has a nice lakeside situation and, considering it is basically a tourist centre, is very pleasant. There is an excellent butcher going out of town on the Milford Road. Our time here was very wet. The road to Milford Sound was shut due to avalanche risk. Note that this road can be difficult and it may be necessary to carry chains in spring and autumn, a fact that the tourist literature fails to mention. There are safety implications for the road due to bad driving by tourists. We went to Invercargill which seemed nice enough and with many interesting buildings, but we gave up because of the rain.

Catlins - 1 night - Waipapa Point B&B (Excellent)
An exceptionally good farmstay. The Catlins are very quiet with little settlement and seem to get relatively few visitors. There is some nice coastal and inland scenery with a number of short walks that are worth taking. It would have been worth spending more time there.

Dunedin - 4 nights - Aberdeen Motel
Motel very friendly and we had a nice large unit but the place is in need of a makeover (which it seems to be getting). We were really disappointed by Dunedin, perhaps because it was a return to urban living after so long in quiet areas, perhaps because it just didn't live up to our expectations, although the Botanic Gardens are good. We were also disappointed by the Otago Peninsula, but the Penguin Place was good. However going inland produced some very good pastoral scenery with some lovely quiet places to wander through. Oamaru on the coast going north has some very good C19th buildings and is quite a busy little town.

Twizel - 1 night - Mountain Chalet Motel (Recommended)
A good and very quietly situated motel. Twizel is a very pleasant, small town originally built for dam construction workers and facilities are quite limited. It is the jumping-off point for Mount Cook and the drive up Lake Pukaki was superb on the beautiful day we went there. Moving north from Twizel it is definitely worth going up to Mount John Observatory on a clear day for the view (and the little cafe). A little further on is Lake Tekapo which is essentially a tourist service point and best avoided. The Church of the Good Shepherd here has a superb setting (heavily publicised in tourist literature) but sadly the reality is rather different as the carpark is busy and the area round the church crawling with tourists taking pictures of each other. Further on the little settlement of Burke Pass with its heritage trail will restore your faith in New Zealand.

Geraldine - 1 night - Andorra Motel (Excellent)
An extremely good motel (not part of Golden Chain) and probably the best we stopped at. Geraldine is a very nice, quiet town with good services - including an excellent butcher - and well off the main tourist beat. There are a number of gentle things to do here and we could have done with more time. Heading back to Christchurch we took the opportunity to go a little way up some of the valleys to the west and were rewarded with some excellent scenery and a lot of nothingness once we were among the hills- we would have liked more time around here.

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