New Zealand’s South Island

I recently returned from New Zealand, where I spent 8 nights on the South Island with Contiki Vacations on their Scenic Southern tour (round trip out of Christchurch).

My adventure started on October 27 as I boarded my 4 1/2 hour non-stop flight from Nashville to Los Angeles.  I then had a 5 hour layover in Los Angeles before catching a red-eye flight on Qantas at 11:30 PM.  The Qantas flight took approximately 12 hours to get us to Auckland, New Zealand.  In the process we crossed the International Date Line and completely skipped October 28, landing in Auckland at 8:10 AM on October 29.  After clearing immigrations and customs we had a 4 hour layover in Auckland before boarding our JetStar flight to Christchurch.  That was a reasonably short flight (less than an hour and a half) arriving at 2 PM.  We were greeted at the airport by our Contiki tour manager (Murray) and tour driver (Kevin).  Once we loaded all of our luggage onboard the Contiki motor coach they took us to the center of Christchurch where we had about an hour and a half to explore, shop, and sightsee.  It was then time to check into our hotel and start our adventure!

Our first night in Christchurch was at Bealey’s Hotel followed by one night at the Ohau Lodge at Lake Ohau, one night onboard the Milford Wander in Milford Sound, three nights in Queenstown at the Aspen on Queenstown, one night at the Rainforest Retreat in Franz Joseph, and a final night back in Christchurch at Bealey’s Hotel.  All of the accommodations were more than comfortable with twin or double beds and private facilities in each room, with a variety of amenities (some but not all of the hotels offered hair dryers, televisions, phones, clock/radios, and wi-fi access).  The one exception was the Milford Wander, which was quad accommodations.   But let’s be honest, when you are in New Zealand you’ll barely be in your hotel room, so don’t waste your money on higher end accommodations.  The hotels used by Contiki were perfect for this trip.

All of our transportation was onboard Contiki’s motor coach which was very comfortable and included a charging station (for MP3 players, digital cameras, iPods, etc.), and an onboard bathroom.  We drove through some amazing countryside, and had plenty of opportunities to stop, take pictures, stretch our legs, sightsee, eat, and shop for souvenirs.

New Zealand is an absolutely awe-inspiring, beautiful country, with stunning scenery everywhere.  It is also the adventure capitol of the world, offering just about every form of death-defying adventure imaginable, including Bungy Jumping, Canyon Swinging (for those that think Bungy Jumping is too tame), sky diving, heli-biking, heli-skiing, and Zorbing.  Looking for local culture?  You don’t have to look far.  The native culture in New Zealand are the Maoris.  We were able to attend the Kiwi Haka show in Queenstown at the Skyline Restaurant, but you can find Maori culture on both the North and South Islands of New Zealand.

Some of our group took the opportunity to Bungy Jump off Kawarau Bridge (43 meters), where AJ Hackett started the phenomenon over 20 years ago (I passed on that opportunity).  Bungy Jumping is actually very safe.  They have never had a fatality or injury in all the years they’ve operated at Kawarau Bridge.  Once we reached Queenstown the sightseeing and adventure really kicked in … some folks  did a 134 meter Bungy Jump in Queenstown, went Canyon Swinging, horseback riding, jet boating, white water rafting, visited sites where Lord of the Rings was filmed (totally breathtaking!), and some of us even braved tandem sky-diving (ok, that’s one that I actually did!).

And when the day was over, Queenstown has 45 different bars / clubs and an abundance of restaurants to keep the nightlife hopping.  We maybe visited 1% of them (The Buffalo Club, Winnie’s, Minus 5 Ice Bar, and an Irish Pub among them).  If you want an incredible view with your dinner, take the gondola up to the Skyline Restaurant, overlooking Queenstown, and enjoy a wonderful all-you-can-eat buffet dinner with your view.  And after dinner, don’t miss the Kiwi Haka show!

Overall, this was an unbelievable experience.  Visiting New Zealand is a life changing experience.   Any vacation can give you a break from your daily routine, but it takes a special kind of vacation to give you back your life. In New Zealand you can rediscover the things you love about yourself and the planet you live on, with fresh scenery, clean air and amazing adventures.  In this southwest corner of the Pacific Ocean, you’ll find breathing space, a change of pace and experiences that will recharge your batteries. And because the US dollar goes so far in New Zealand, your vacation won’t be spoiled by the nagging feeling that you’re spending too much.

New Zealand is like a set of living postcards. The South Island has fiords, glaciers, sky-scraping mountains, alpine lakes, braided rivers, rainforest and vast quilts of verdant farmland. The North Island is blessed with volcanoes (extinct, dormant and active), crater lakes, geothermal areas, beautiful harbours, fabulous beaches and sub-tropical forests. Finding beautiful places that are just as nature intended them to be is incredibly easy. Even in Auckland, the country’s largest city, you can reach wild places in just 30 minutes by sea or road.

In New Zealand you’ll have both the time and the opportunity to tick some of those “things I want to do before I die” items off of your Bucket List. Have you always wanted to shoot rapids in a raft or skydive over snow-capped mountains? Would you like to float through caves or walk on glaciers? Or do you simply crave the pleasure of relaxing in a geothermal hot spring or watching the sunrise over a serene lake, without another person in sight? Their population is just 4.5 million and yet they have a land area greater than the state of Colorado, so crowds and lines are hard to find. If you dream it, New Zealand has it.

Are you ready to get your life back?  Give me a call at (888) 221-1209 for help planning your New Zealand get-away (and if you’re between 18 and 35 years old, ask me about Contiki Vacations!!).