Queenstown & Mount Cook, NEW ZEALAND
From Lake Moeraki Wildnerness Lodge it takes about 3-4 hours (depending on the number of stops you take and campers you must follow on long stretches of winding mountain roads) to reach Queenstown, our next stop.
Wanaka is the first larger town that we encountered heading South to Queenstown. It is packed with people desperate for human contact, food, and beer...and provides endless entertainment and activities for the thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies. Located on a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains, it is the perfect lunch stop before reaching Queenstown, NZ.
Unfortunately, we followed a Fodor's restaurant recommendation, Relishes, which was only mediocre. That said, other places were quick to fill the void, like Black Peak Handcrafted Gelato.
Queenstown deserved more time to enjoy everything it has to offer. This is the hub and central venue of the South Island for accessing major attractions, tours and activities...most of which will take a half- or full-day.
WHAT WE DID
The Fjordland is utterly stunning, but inaccessible to the public without having a boat to cross Lake Manapouri and Wilmot Pass. Due to limited road access in this region, you will need to schedule a tour with Real Journeys Tours who has exclusive access to this particular fjord and sound. Both Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are full-day experiences with alot of other people marking their territory on buses and boat seats.
- Tip: Simply put on your game-face, smile and gaze outside at this incredible World Heritage Site...and, make sure you drink from the Fountain of Youth waterfall before you leave!
Te Anau / Glow Worm Caves
Drive yourself or utilize Real Journeys Tours, but once you arrive in this quaint little city (where LOTR filming crew spent several days), you will need Real Journeys to take you across the lake and into the caves. Nothing quite like it, being in a pitch-black cave and looking upward to what seems like a host of stars...completely worth it even if no photos and pictures allowed.
Te Anau itself is a great outpost for remote camping and trekking as well as removing yourself from the crowds of Queenstown without choosing isolation. If camping or trekking, staying a night or two is totally worth it and will allow access to both Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound.
FOOD FINDS AROUND QUEENSTOWN
Mrs Ferg’s Gelateria
Yup! Not much to say. Located downtown Queenstown in 2 store locations and bicycling vendor stand.
- Tip: Try anything. Rotating menu of flavors day to day.
Ivy & Lola’s
By far one of the best meals we had this entire trip, and specifically, in Queenstown. Superb, non-pretentious service with a cool vibe and incredible flavors. We tried other places, but were disappointed in flavors and cost, and thus, wound up playing it safe our last day in Queenstown and eating here twice.
- Tip: Try the Szechuan Duck Wraps, get a cocktail and if I could go back for a third time...get the Pork Belly Main Dish!
Pier across from Ivy & Lola's is quite pricey and packed with tourists, but has great views. Finz looked good, but turned out to be overpriced, and unfortunately, underwhelming. That said, after complaining about their anemic fish tacos, they comped the bill...perhaps I just didn't get the right thing.
Fergburger—line out the door for a block. We did not get to try this place, but looked fantastic.
The Sandfly in Te Anau, NZ
This little cafe turned out to be a great recommendation from Fodor's in Te Anau, NZ. Perfect stop for brunch with quesadillas and a curry ramen before heading out on the Te Anau Glowworm Caves tour. The coffee barista was exceptional as were the scones.
Mt Cook & Aoraki National Park
Mount Cook is stunning, but stay in Twizel or book the cheapest room at The Hermitage or camp down the road to see it and explore the surroundings.
We had a ‘room with a view’ which was indeed beautiful, but other than that—way overpriced given that no other amenities were included. Unfortunately, The Hermitage is really the only facility within this park—it is massive and feels like a Disney Cruise on Land.
Tour buses and campers flood the area. The food options are ‘tolerable’ at best. The off-site ‘Chamois Bar & Grill’ was disgusting as was the The Hermitage Dinner Buffet—the only food option available after 4:30pm when the cafe-bistro (which had decent food) is closed ironically. We did not even consider trying the “exclusive restaurant”.
Of course, you stay within the park to take advantage of the trails, backcountry trekking options and scenery such as the Tasman Glacier Hike, Tasman Blue Lakes Hike and Kea Point Trail Hike—and the landscape is truly breathtaking and awe-inspiring—but, spend as little as possible on accommodations and food.
Our main reason for going was to experience the stars in one of the few designated International Dark Reserve Star Gazing parks of the world; and, this was cancelled two nights in a row which is expected due to alpine conditions and abrupt weather changes.
This was a huge disappointment that cost us a pretty penny for two nights. So, unless the skies are clear, there is nothing to do in the resort other than visit the tiny Edmund Hillary Museum, ie no pool, no hottub, no downtown, no food.
We wrapped up our exploration of the South Island with a day in Christchurch, NZ before dropping off our rental car and flying back to Sydney, AUSTRALIA. Christchurch, unfortunately, has been through 2 major earthquakes in the last decade and is just barely getting back on their feet in terms of rebuilding the infrastructures of the downtown.
Nonetheless, we had a great hotel, Rendezvous Hotel, across from Regent Street and near the downtown shopping area which were abundant with awsome street art, restaurants, eateries, and great coffee shops as well as close to multiple parks and greenspace making this an easy to city to explore on foot.
In 24 hours, we found Casa Publica with fantastic table-side guacamole, Rollickin’ Gelato with crazy, smooth flavors and The Caffeine Laboratory providing deliciously crafted coffee—right outside of our hotel—all worth a visit! Would not spend more than 1-2 days in Christchurch at this point, but in the future, I suspect this city will have much more to offer.