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Recapping a month in New Zealand

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International Travel News,  April, 2004  by Brenda Milum

Here are some notes on our October-November '03 trip to New Zealand. We spent 13 days on the North Island and 16 days on the South Island.
Our car from Ace Car Rentals (based in Parnell, Auckland, N.Z.; call anytime +64 9 3033112 or visit cost about US$750 for 30 days. As we shared the cost with another couple, it was quite reasonable. Another advantage to traveling as a foursome was that we often stayed in 2-bedroom motel units that cost little more than a 2-person room. They always had fully equipped kitchens, which allowed us to eat breakfast in the room.
We did not find New Zealand a particularly cheap travel destination. With an exchange rate of NZ$1 = US$0.63, it was about the same as a car trip in the U.S.
Auckland's Aspen Lodge has been mentioned often in ITN. It is a fine hostel, but, at age 70, we find that we have finally outgrown hostels. However, in 2004 they are opening a new section with bathrooms all en suite.
The Auckland Museum is excellent. For a small fee we attended a Maori show there, so we did not feel we had to attend one of the pricier, more touristy shows later on.
The South Pole exhibit at Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter & Underwater World was interesting, but the aquarium was less extensive than the National Aquarium of New Zealand in Napier.
We found a lovely motel in Paihia, Bay of Islands. The Bounty Inn is located a block uphill from the bay. A 2-bedroom suite cost NZ$140 (near US$88) for the four of us.
We had read that the Kiwi House in Otorohanga was the best in New Zealand, but there were only two birds there. We saw what we felt were better habitats with more kiwis later.
Nearby Waitomo Glowworm Cave probably is the best, but, again, there are many other glowworm caves.
Rotorua was too touristy for us. We stopped there only to attend a very interesting sheep show at the Agrodome.
Napier is a great town. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1931, it was hurriedly rebuilt in two years during the height of the Art Deco movement. It is unique in that it represents the most complete group of Art Deco buildings in the world.
At the Marine Parade Hotel in Napier we had a big room overlooking the water for NZ$80. The rate included 'breakfast, but the bathroom was down the hall.
The traffic in Wellington was terrible on a Friday afternoon. We tried to find rooms through the visitors' center with no luck, so we went looking on our own. After being turned down at several places, we found the Apollo Lodge, which was very helpful. We arrived at 4:55 p.m., and when the party for whom the last room was being held did not show up at 5 p.m., we got it for NZ$140. It was a bit cramped, with one couple in a bedroom and the other in the living room, but the next day we moved to a lovely double room for NZ$100.
We liked Wellington much more than we had expected. The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa was wonderful; allocate at least a full day for it. The much smaller Museum of Wellington City & Sea was worth a shorter visit.
The cable car was not running, so we took a bus to the top and spent the morning walking down through the lovely and extensive Botanic Gardens. All over New Zealand we were impressed with the beautiful parks and public gardens.
Old St. Paul's, the former national cathedral in Wellington, is a stunning example of all-wood construction. The nearby new St. Paul's, the present national cathedral, is not at all quaint but is nonetheless impressive.
At Parliament House, we missed the public tour but were allowed to visit the Gallery to view a spectacular huge piece of hanging sculpture.
On the South Island, our first stop was Hamilton, where old friends of ours have recently opened a B&B (e-mail They are most friendly and helpful and have two luxurious rooms with king beds plus facilities en suite. They charge NZ$120 for each room, and the breakfasts are delicious. The view over Tasman Bay is fantastic.
It was raining at Franz Josef Glacier, so we went on to Fox Glacier, where it was clear enough to hike in to see it.
In Wanaka we again had trouble finding a room but lucked out a little way out of town at the Bay View. We paid NZ$75 for a nice, quiet room with a great view.
Just Outside of Wanaka, Puzzling World was a lot of fun.
We had rain all day in Queenstown and that kept us from some of our planned activities there.
The Lakeside Motel in Te Anau was our most expensive room at NZ$120, but it was worth it--big, comfortable and overlooking a garden, lake and distant mountains.
Our drive north to Milford Sound was the most spectacular of the trip with towering snowcapped mountains and dozens of tumbling waterfalls. We didn't take a cruise on Milford Sound, choosing instead the more remote and less-crowded Doubtful Sound. We did a day trip and our friends took an overnight cruise. Both were successful.
>From Invercargill we ferried to Stewart Island and took a smaller boat to Ulva Island, where we hiked through this bird sanctuary.
Heading back north, it rained all day as we drove through the Catlins. We never even got out of the car to savor any of its scenic splendors.
To us, the highlight of Dunedin was the beautifully restored Larnach Castle.
Oamaru is the home of colonies of blue (little) penguins and rare yellow-eyed penguins.
At Mt. Cook we hiked almost four hours to Hooker Lake. It was pretty but a bit rugged for us old folks, with uneven fiver rocks and several slippery fords.
We ended our trip in Christ-church, an interesting town with a large, lovely park, a beautiful cathedral and a complex of wonderful old stone buildings that have been converted into artists' studios and shops. The streets to the east of the park were chockablock with motels, all looking about the same. We chose the Aalton Motel, which was one of the ones nearest the park. Our 2-bedroom suite cost NZ$125.
It was a pleasant 15- to 20-minute walk through the park to the center of town.
Olympic Valley, CA
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