new zealand - south island splendor

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      The strength of the U.S. dollar makes New Zealand a great travel bargain. There are clean, safe, comfortable accommodations in all price ranges. And meals are essentially 25% off.

      But you need to understand that food and lodging are only part of the equation here and you will likely spend more money on activities than you planned to. Helicopter rides, jet boat trips, whale-watching cruises. All these experiences make a trip to New Zealand especially memorable. But after a couple of weeks, they do add up.

      Travelers who spend $25 a day for sightseeing and admissions in Europe could easily spend four times that every day of their stay.

      Day 1 Queenstown
      This trip originates in Queenstown. If Auckland is your international gateway, you’ll have no trouble connecting from there. For a list of our recommended accommodations in Auckland, click here.

      Despite the fact that it is tourist central, Queenstown is a wonderful destination, worth at least four nights. Even the most sedentary will find plenty of exciting things to see and do that require little or no exertion. And active, outdoor types will think they died and went to heaven.

      You can arrange a rental car at Queenstown airport through any of the major rental companies. Or purchase the car rental packaged with your airfare.

      Driving in New Zealand is a snap. The roads are good, well marked, and uncrowded – ideal for learning to drive on the "wrong side." Even those who hesitate to drive in Europe should feel comfortable exploring on their own here.

      There are basically two ways to stay here: in town or in the country. The advantage to staying in town is that you can walk to restaurants and nightlife. If you stay out of town, you can get away from the noise and traffic, but accommodations are generally more expensive.

      For those who want to stay in town, The Millenneum Queenstown is the best of the batch. Rooms, service, amenities, and facilities are all first-rate. And the location is convenient to everything.

      A less expensive alternative is the Dairy Guesthouse. This seven-room bed and breakfast was a general store during the 1920s. Today, it provides European style accommodations within walking distance of all Queenstown has to offer. Make reservations well in advance, especially during ski season.

      There are half a dozen truly luxurious lodges in the Queenstown area.

      Very close to town, Evergreen Lodge received New Zealand Tourism’s "Best Hosted Accommodation" award in 2000. There are just three rooms here but all are beautifully appointed and have balconies overlooking the lake and mountains. There’s a small gym, sauna, and solarium. No children under 16.

      Blanket Bay is an outstanding choice for those looking for seclusion. Located in Glenorchy on Lake Wakatipu, it’s a 45-minute drive from Queenstown. A member of the Small Luxury Hotels group, this one sets the bar for understated luxury. There’s a choice of accommodations here, including stand-alone chalets. And activities like trout fishing and horseback riding – as well as cocktails – are included in the rather steep tariff.

      Ten minutes from Queenstown, Remarkables Lodge is a member of the Heritage and Character's Inn Association. It’s won dozens of awards, including Travel & Leisure magazine’s "World’s Best." The food is superb and breakfast and dinner are included in the room rate. You will share the pool, Jacuzzi, and tennis court with only seven other guests.

      For the best water views, stay at Matakauri Lodge. On 9 lake-front acres ten minutes from Queenstown, Matakauri offers 700-square-foot villas with private terraces, fireplaces, and two-person tubs.

      If you are golfers, you’ll want to stay at Millbrook Resort. Guests have included Bill Clinton. The 18-hole Par 72 course is bordered by villas, cottages, and a lodge with rooms. There are pools, spas, a health club, tennis courts, and three restaurants at this stylish resort between Queenstown and Arrowtown.

      Another attractive resort in the area is Nugget Point, ten minutes drive from Queenstown at Arthur’s Point. This hotel has been consistently recognized for excellence by Conde Nast and Travel & Leisure. There’s no golf, but there is tennis, and indoor and outdoor pools. Great location overlooking the Shotover River.

      If you can reserve the two-story, stone Honeymoon Cottage, Trelawn Place is a great value for those who want to stay away from the bustle of Queenstown. It’s just a ten-minute drive from town but the property overlooking the Shotover River is a world away. The Welsh Corgis are an added bonus for travelers who miss their dogs.

      For a list of our recommended accommodations in Queenstown, click here.

      There are dozens of activities in Queenstown. For more information, use the search engine with the parameters "Queenstown" and "all."

      Day 5 Mt. Cook
      Now that the Mount Cook Travelodge is the Glencoe Wing of the Hermitage Hotel, all the decent accommodations in the area are under the same management. The Hermitage is really the only place to stay, but the 57 rooms in the Glencoe are an option if the main lodge is full. The main draw here is the spectacular views and surroundings. The accommodations have recently been renovated, but you should know that despite its reputation, this is not a luxury property. Not all rooms have views, so confirm at booking. Rooms 601 to 613, 701 to 713, and 830 to 839 are good. Book as far in advance as you can – space is at a premium, particularly in summer.

      For our recommended accommodation in Mount Cook, click here.

      There are dozens of activities in Mt. Cook. For more information, use the search engine with the parameters "Mt. Cook" and "all."

      Day 8 Christchurch
      For those who want world class service and amenities, The George should be your first choice in Christchurch. A member of the Small Luxury Hotel group, The George is a small (50-room) boutique hotel located near Hagley Park. Tennis is available at the property, and guests may use the facilities at the Clarendon Health Club.

      Those who want to stay in a hotel but would like to spend less will be happy at the Millennium Christchurch. Built in 1996, the hotel is located right off Cathedral Square, the heart of the city. Service is polished and rooms are stylish and comfortable.

      Christchurch is a city of fantastic bed-and-breakfast inns. Several of these surpass the local hotels in terms of luxurious accommodations. And they offer great value for money.

      The Charlotte Jane is the best in town, and one of the nicest B-and-Bs we’ve ever stayed in. With their fireplaces and fantastic bathrooms, suites here are fabulous. The restaurant is outstanding, and the property is a brief stroll to many antique shops.

      Hambledon Bed and Breakfast Inn is another great choice. This designated mansion dating from 1856 is a 15-minute stroll from town. Rooms are large and well-appointed.

      The Worcester enjoys perhaps the best location of Christchurch’s up-market B-and-Bs. It’s just across the street from the Arts Centre, a short walk to everything. The house was built in 1893 and the rooms are furnished with antiques.

      The value leader in town is the Riverview Lodge. It’s located in an Edwardian townhouse on the Avon River ten minutes walk from town. This is a quiet, well-tended spot.

      For a list of our recommended accommodations in Christchurch, click here.

      Day 9 Blenheim
      The drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura takes about two-and-one-half hours. Since the three most popular activities in Kaikoura depart around midday, you’ll need to get an early start.

      High season there runs from October through May, and if you are traveling during that time, you’ll need to make your arrangements as far in advance as possible.

      If you want to swim with the dolphins, Dolphin Encounter has several trips daily. For reservations or information, e-mail or visit

      Sperm whale-watching cruises are available through Whale Watch Kaikoura. Unlike similar trips in other parts of the world, these cruises almost always find whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals. For reservations or more information, e-mail or visit

      For flightseeing trips that fly over the whales, contact Wings Over Whales via e-mail at or visit

      The drive from Kaikoura to Blenheim takes about 90 minutes, but there are much better accommodations and restaurants there.

      Timara Lodge is one of the most luxurious in all New Zealand. Set on 600 acres with 25 acres of gorgeous gardens, this property is outstanding in every way. There are facilities for just eight very pampered guests. The extravagant tariff includes breakfast and dinner.

      Considerably less expensive but also quite nice, the Hotel d’Urville occupies the historic Public Trust Building in downtown Blenheim. Each of the nine rooms is decorated differently and the Brasserie and Wine Bar is one of the best restaurants in town.

      Another good choice in town that’s an even better value is the Marlborough. Although it’s contemporary, it’s very stylish and amenities and service are up to par.

      For serious wine lovers or just those looking for something different, Le Grys Vineyard Homestay offers a fabulous mud-block cottage right in the vineyards. Wine tasting and a welcome platter are included, as well as breakfast. There’s a room in the main house if the cottage is booked.

      For a list of our recommended accommodations in Blenheim, click here.

      For information regarding wineries in the area, use the Search Engine with the parameters "Blenheim" and "Food & Wine."

      Day 11 Motueka
      Motueka is the Southern Gateway to Abel Tasman National Park. Accommodations here range from the sublime to the ridiculous, with not much in between.

      Those who don’t want to "rough it" have several nice choices, but they are expensive. Those who prefer to roll out of bed and onto the beach will have an easier time.

      For those who love to fish and don’t care how much it costs, Motueka River Lodge is set on 80 acres along the Motueka River. This is a beautiful property noted for its hospitality and fabulous food. Breakfast and dinner are included in the tariff. It’s 50 minutes from Abel Tasman.

      Bronte Lodge is a great place, 45 minutes from Abel Tasman National Park. There are two luxurious suites overlooking the water and two even more luxurious villas. There’s tennis, a pool, a windsurfer, a canoe, a dinghy, a beautiful garden, and even a helipad. Fishing trips can easily be arranged.

      Abel Tasman Marahau Lodge is located at the Motueka entrance to the park. The Lodge, which has six studios and two 2-bedroom motel units, is reached by water taxi. The beach – and some of the finest sea-kayaking in the world – are steps away. There’s a sauna and spa. This is probably the nicest property in the park.

      Also in Motueka, the Abel Tasman Ocean View Chalets offer private timber frame chalets on 50 acres overlooking Tasman Bay. It’s a longer walk to the beach, but this funky property still provides great access to the park.

      Awaroa Lodge and Café has the added benefit of having a restaurant and lounge. It’s a convivial, communal place 300 yards from Arawoa Beach. Great for kayakers and the laid-back.

      For a list of our recommended accommodations in the Abel Tasmin, click here.

      There are dozens of activities in and around Motueka. For more information, use the search engine with the parameters "Abel Tasman National Park" and "all."

      Day13 West Coast
      There aren’t many good places to stay on the West Coast of the South Island.

      There are a couple of decent motels in Westport and Punakaiki, but nothing special.

      You’ll have much more pleasant surroundings if you drive an extra half hour to Hokitika. Or if you’re interested in fishing, book the Lake Brunner Lodge. You can turn in your rental car and catch the Tranz Alpine Express right from Lake Brunner – the lodge will transfer you to the depot.

      The Lake Brunner Lodge is an absolute paradise for fly-fishers, and a joy for everyone else. It’s also a great value compared to many of New Zealands luxury lodges. The lodge has an international reputation and there are are only 11 rooms available, so reserve as far in advance as possible.

      Villa Polenza Boutique Lodge in Hokitika is the nicest place on the West Coast. This Mediterreanean-style villa sits atop a hill overlooking the Tasman Sea and Southern Alps. With special touches like complimentary liqueurs, velvet robes, and two gas-heated outdoor bathtubs tucked into the bush, it’s a very romantic retreat.

      The other nice choice here is Kapitea Ridge Country Lodge & Cottage. Built in 1998, this lovely retreat has six rooms with magnificent views overlooking the Tasman Sea. Four have balconies. Most appealing is the self-contained, two-bedroom cottage. There’s a Jacuzzi and the property is handy for beach walks.

      For a list of our recommended accommodations on the West Coast and Hokitika, click here.

      Day 14
      You should turn in your rental car this morning in Greymouth before catching the Tranz Alpine Express. One of the five most scenic rail journeys in the world, the Tranz Alpine is an unforgettable experience. The train leaves Greymouth at 1:45PM. If you stayed at Lake Brunner Lodge, you can board the train at Brunner at 2:05PM. One-way fares start at 99NZD. For more information or reservations, contact TranzScenic by fax at 64.04.495.0775, e-mail passengerservices, or visit

      You can overnight in Christchurch at one of our recommended hotels (see above) and begin your journey homeward in the morning.

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