Day 76: Dunedin to Wanaka
We moved off the east coast today and headed inland to Wanaka, which would be our temporary home for Christmas. As we have come to expect in New Zealand, the roads are not straightforward, and we spent much of the day travelling the 270 km route, with a few stops to take pictures of the stunning New Zealand scenery.
Wanaka is primarily a resort town, with many New Zealanders and tourists flocking here in the summer (Christmas) holidays to soak up the sun by the lake. The town was thriving when we arrived and is well stocked to accommodate huge numbers of tourists with bars, restaurants, and retail outlets.
After settling into our Airbnb, which we’ll stay in for four nights, we headed into town for dinner at Kota Restaraunt and Bar, which offers everything from steak to curry. It has brilliant views over Lake Wanaka and is relatively cheap for the area, so we’d highly recommend a visit if you are in Wanaka.
We took a 30 minute stroll around Lake Wanaka after dinner to one of the ‘major’ tourist attractions in the area. The Wanaka Tree is a lonely willow tree sitting in the lake and attractions thousands of tourists. What makes the tree so special is anyone’s guess, but the mountains in the backdrop and wild slant on the tree certainly helps. When we arrived the Wanaka tree was half drowned following the rain the past 2 weeks but it was still a nice setting and worthwhile seeing.
After the day of travelling and exploring Wanaka, we were goosed and had a chilled evening in the Airbnb.
The four of us stayed in an air b&b which we booked months in advance. It was really cosy and homely with an amazing view of the lake from the back garden. If you are in Wanaka over the Christmas period, you need to book accommodation well in advance, as it is not only a top destination for tourists, but also for New Zealanders.
Day 77: Wanaka (Christmas Eve)
We spent Christmas eve morning in the sun overlooking the beautiful Lake Wanaka from the air b&b. Christmas in New Zealand has a completely different feel than in Ireland. Whilst there are a few Christmas trees and decorations up around towns, it is nothing to the extent of being back home. There was a great holiday vibe around the town but no real mention of Christmas. We found this helped for not feeling home sick, as it really didn’t feel christmasy in the slightest.
In truth, we didn’t do much at all today. Having been either travelling or exploring every day, we were happy to have a chilled one away from the van for the day. There are markets on each day leading up to Christmas in Wanaka, and Roisin’s parents took a wander in to see them.
After a hard day of relaxing we booked dinner at Trout Bar and Restaurant. Being Christmas eve, most places were booked and we saw many people being turned away who had no reservations. The food was brilliant, and had indoor and outdoor seating along Lake Wanaka waterfront.
Day 78: Wanaka (Christmas Day)
We started Christmas day like any other. We may have been 18,956 km from home, but we got to 09:30 am Christmas day mass. In keeping with Brennan tradition, we had Irish Coffees with breakfast, on what was our hottest ever Christmas we had experienced.
It was a lovely, chilled out day and later we ate dinner at Edgewater hotel, in a great location along the edge of Lake Wanaka. It was really well done with Christmas decorations, Christmas crackers, and the full works for Christmas dinner in a buffet style. The grounds of Edgewater spanned along the river and we spent an enjoyable afternoon here.
Like any other Christmas day, we gorged on food, drink, and watched endless amounts of tv for the remainder of the day.
Day 79: Wanaka (St. Stephen’s Day)
Today, we planned to hike Roy’s peak, 1578 m summit which takes six hours to complete. However, Roisin ate a bit too much yesterday and wasn’t feeling the best so we spent the day laying around and watching Harry Potter. To be honest this was the first day that we did nothing since we started our travels so it was much needed.
Mary and Michael wandered around Wanaka and had a nice day of exploring by themselves.
Day 80: Wanaka-Cromwell via Queenstown
We sadly left our air b&b after four days and headed for our next stop of Queenstown. Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand, with skydiving, bungee jumping, white water rafting, and the luge high on the list of a number of outdoor activities accessible. The town is packed with tourists, so accommodation can be pricey. Because of this, we stayed 45 minutes away in Cromwell.
Queenstown is only a 50 minute drive from Wanaka, and on the drive you’ll find a number of viewpoints overlooking Queenstown in the distance. One of the best sights is being at eye level to passenger planes flying through the mountains and being able to follow them until landing.
Skydiving, Bungee jumping, and white water rafting were all outside of our budget, so we instead went on the Skyline Gondola and luge. The gondola lifts you 450 m to ‘Bob’s peak’ and offers 220-degrees panoramic views over Queenstown. Tickets can be purchased online or locally in many tourist attraction outlets. Prices start at $44 return for the Gondola, with the addition of the luge being an option. The luge is essentially a go-cart that weaves on the side of the mountain. You won’t be able to take in the views but will have great craic.
If you’re looking to see the views but skip the gondola, you can hike 1 hour from the bottom of the gondola to the top via the Tiki Trail. We didn’t do this track, but it is well signposted and layed out. We instead did a few tracks along Bob’s peak including the loop track and Ben Lomond track. The latter takes fives hours so we only did a small portion of this. The loop track takes 30 minutes and wades through forestry. The Ben Lomond track is certainly the most scenic and would be our recommended walk, even if you complete a small part of it.
After a morning overlooking the stunning surroundings of Queenstown, we headed into the town centre. At the weekends, there are markets along the waterfront, just off beach street. The main bulk of the town is very touristy and has many souvenir and high end retail shops. There are any number of things you can do in Queenstown, and this website is a good place to start in planning your trip there.
We hit back out the road to Cromwell where we would be staying for the next two nights. The town is historically a gold mining town, but is now home to masses of vineyards. The town itself hasn’t much going on but the surrounding areas are very scenic.
We stayed the Harvest Hotel in Cromwell for two nights. There are a number of freedom campsites around Cromwell. Freedom camping has been banded in the Queenstown area in recent years, and so Cromwell is the closest place to camp for free.
Day 81: Queenstown
One of the things we vowed we would see before we left New Zealand was Kiwis. Kiwis are nocturnal birds so unless you’re routing through the forest at night, it is difficult to spot them in the wild. Because of the dwindling numbers of Kiwis in the wild, there are a number of sanctuaries throughout New Zealand nurturing them before realise into the wild.
We headed back to Queenstown today, and headed for Kiwi Birdlife park, which houses 10 Kiwis birds. The Kiwis are kept in dark, windowed rooms which mirror their natural environment. Every 2 hours guides come around, feed the Kiwis, and give a talk about their lifespan and history. We were literally centimetres from the birds through glass casing, and it was an awesome experience we would recommend anyone doing. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get any pictures as you can’t use flash on the camera, but take our word that it was class.
On our way back to Cromwell we made a few stops at the famous Central Otago wineries. First stop was the Gibbston Valley Winery. We got a tasting platter of 5 wines each for NZ $10 per person. They have a gorgeous garden out the back where you can drink at your leisure and they give you a little card with each wine describing how it was made.
Next was the Brennan Winery. To be honest we had never heard of this winery, but we passed a sign on our way to Queenstown this morning and thought it would be rude not to show our fellow Brennan’s some business. We each got another taster of four wines and then wandered through the vineyards before heading back to the hotel for some dinner and to relax.
Day 82: Cromwell to Twizel
The time had come for us to slowly start making our way back towards Christchurch for Mary and Michael;s flight on New Years Day. As we had come down along the coast, we made our way back up inland. Next stop was a small town called Twizel that was the last main town before Mount Cook and Lake Punakaki. The drive from Cromwell took us just an hour and a half so before we checked in we decided to drive down to Mount Cook, another hour down the road. When we turned down highway 80 towards Mount Cook we were totally in awe of the colour of Lake Punakaki. It honestly looks like someone has poured a bucket of blue dye into it. It was incredible.
We continued down highway 80 long Lake Punakaki until we got to the base of Mount Cook. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t the best and the top was covered in clouds.
Next stop was the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s largest glacier containing nearly 1/3 of all glacier ice in New Zealand. Currently the glacier is 23 km long and 1-2 km wide and very deep. There is a short but steep walk to the viewpoint for the glacier. From here there is a great view of the face of the glacier and the glacial lake. It was amazing to see, but also really sad to see first hand how rapidly the glacier is melting. It is estimated that by 2045 it may have retreated another 5km as the lake expands.
The weather started to get worse as we were at the glacier so we decided to head back to Twizel and check in to the accommodation.
Mary and Michael stayed at the The Lakes Motel Twizel and we stayed at the … freedom camp site just out the road. When we went to book accommodation in November, the Lakes Motel was the only place with a room available. Everywhere else was completely booked out. Definitely book in advance if you are visiting Twizel.
Day 83: Mount Cook
We awoke this morning to a bright sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. After some debating, we decided to drive down the road to Mount Cook again and see if we could get a better look at the famous mountain and we were not disappointed. For the entire drive down along Lake Punakaki we had an incredible view of Mount Cook and the surrounding Southern Alps.
We parked up at the foot of Mount Cook and decided to get a coffee in the cafe and sat on the balcony overlooking the snow capped mountains. It was truly incredible and we are very glad that we took the chance going back the second day.
We spent the afternoon wandering around Mount Cook before heading back towards Twizel. On the way we stopped at the Lavender farm for a look around.
We just relaxed for the evening and got dinner in the town and recharged ready for an early start tomorrow for our trip back to Christchurch.
Day 84: Twizel to Christchurch (New Years Eve)
Today was our final road trip as a group of four. We left early as we had a few things we wanted to see around Christchurch and a couple of stops along the way.
First stop was the famous Lake Tekapo. To be honest, after seeing Lake Punakaki in all it’s glory, we weren’t too overwhelmed with Lake Tekepo, but it is still very beautiful. We walked around the lake, and visited The Church of the good Shepard before continuing on our way to Christchurch.
Along the way we stopped in a small town called Geraldine for coffee and lunch. We arrived at our accommodation in Christchurch with just enough time to walk into the city and visit the famous Ballantynes and the Riverside Market.
We had dinner in the Fox and the Ferret (one of the best meals of the whole 2 weeks) before heading to Hagley Park for the New Years Eve Fireworks. There was live music on before the fireworks, which we can’t say we were fans of, but the fireworks were amazing and we can say that we definitely won’t forget ringing in 2020.
We stayed in the Strathern Motor Lodge in a two bedroom apartment for Michael and Mary’s final night in New Zealand. It was just a 20 minute walk to the city centre and a 10 minute walk to Hagley Park. We would highly recommend.
Day 85: Christchurch
Mary and Michael’s flight wasn’t until late this afternoon so we made the most of the morning by squeezing in the last few bits around Christchurch that we hadn’t had time to see yet. First stop was Quake City museum which tells stories from the Canterbury earthquakes. It explains the science and the phenomenon of liquefaction and shows chilling truths from the earthquakes that have destroyed Christchurch and the surrounding areas.
Last on our list was the Cardboard Cathedral, a cathedral made entirely from cardboard that was built to act as a a temporary home for the Anglican Cathedral congregation, as well as provide a venue for concerts, exhibitions and other civic events while Christchurch Cathedral is being re-built.
After one last cup of tea on New Regent Street we drove back to Christchurch airport for Mary and Michael’s flight back to Ireland. We couldn’t believe how fast the 2 and a half weeks went. Christmas 2019 will be one we will never forget.
Thanks for reading,
Roisin & Bernard