Archive for April, 2012
“So where are you guys from”? asks Rod of a young couple boarding the Dart River Safari bus. “Australia” they reply. “Darn, thought we might sneak through without you lot”. Everyone laughs, including the Australians and that sets the tone for this fantastic 3-hour journey of discovery. Just 50 minutes from Queenstown is arguably the most beautiful area in New Zealand, Glenorchy. This is where The first part of the Dart River Safari tour begins with a one hour bus ride through Lord of the Rings Territory. With a little imagination, maybe I’ll come across Aragorn or a dishy elf or two…
I’m literally gobsmacked by the scenery here. I’m overpowered by it and I now understand why film crews from all around the world come here to make their award winning films and commercials. The film Narnia was shot here and in fact one of New Zealand’s famous daughters’, Jane Campion, will be commence her new film next week.
Rod stops the bus at the Arcadia Homestead and what a sad story this is ! The homestead was built by a idealistic young Englishman who leaving his Fiancee in the care of his father back in England (alarm bells are ringing). He was overwhelmed by the beauty of the area, built this beautiful home then sent a letter to his father requesting that his Fiancee be sent to join him in New Zealand. The father replied by return mail saying that he had married the son’s Fiancee who was effectively now his son’s stepmother. Cunning old fox!
The second part of this journey involves a short bushwalk to the Dart River Safari jet boat. Now a word of caution to visitors. On some outdoor tours on offer in New Zealand, there are NO toilets provided along the way, except the bush where you can discreetly disappear behind a bush. Most people are ok with this but if you have a peanut-sized bladder, be prepared to have a closer look at the plant life, ok.
We’ve enjoyed the bushwalk cos good old Rod is a seasoned performer and makes it interesting without drawing out for too long. He’s a funny guy and entertaining. We’re given fleecy-lined waterproof coats with zips and velcro to keep us warm. All abroad and we’ve off – well, not quite. Bill, our driver, requires audience participation. The gravel from the shallow water needs to be ejected before we get full acceleration. We all stand and lean forward in a half bow – lots of laughter all round.
The Hamilton Jet engine ejects the stones, we all sit down and now it’s hang on to your hats folks, let the adrenaline rush begin. We travel up and down the dart river and with Bill stopping in strategic places to explain a little of the area. This is a total ‘ buzz’. Our comfort has been provided by the heated rails to keep our hands toasty warm.
These are are some of the up front and personal views from the boat:
This tour is further enhanced by perfect weather and boy, we’ve been lucky today. Loved this tour and great value for money with a variety of experiences. Of course the scenery speaks for itself. After disembarking at the Glenorchy Wharf, we were driven by bus back to the depot just five minutes away. Boy, it’ll be sweet dreams tonight - Hopefully ‘Aragorn’ will feature in at least one them.
It’s often the guide that can turn a great tour into something truly special. I’m referring particularly to Keren, one of the tour guides from Appellation Wine Tours. Keren sparkled with personality thoughout this entire half-day trip. It seems that Appellation Wine Tours choose their driver-guides carefully – personality alone, is not enough. An extensive knowledge of the region and it’s exceptional wines, is essential. (hey don’t let this go to your head Keren!)
We started our tour through the Gibbston wine region stopping first at Peregrine Winery. Gotta love Peregrines distinctive architecture representing the wingspan of a Peregrine ( native falcon). Michael is the only male on the trip and he’s milking it for all it’s worth. One dear lady on the tour doesn’t care for alcohol and has never tasted Rieslings before. I’m getting concerned. Seriously folks, it’s not touching the sides. Believe me, Peregine’s rieslings have the power to seduce. Keren tactfully advises the procedure – sniff, swirl, taste and spit ( obviously the latter is optional but if you want to last the distance, it’s advisable to spit more than swallow). Isn’t Michael looking comfy!
We’re loving Keren’s storytelling skill of the region, some factual, others mythological. She;s cranking them out making us hungry for more. Hey the rest of the tour party are very quiet (must be challenging for a guide). Great teamwork from everyone in this region with Keren getting behind the bar to help the winery staff pour the wine for sampling. Here we are at Carrick Winery for lunch platter.
The view from Carrick Winery cafe is spectacular – provides a sobering moment for me, excuse the pun:
The Mt Difficulty winery is located in the Bannockburn Region and has been specifically requested by one of the passengers. That’s the joy of a small group tour – flexibility – you hum it son, I’ll play it. Mt Difficulty wasn’t on the list for todays tour but it is now.When we arrive it’s buzzing. Diners are enjoying a late lunch and the staff are run off their feet but they couldn’t be more cheerful.
My fav winery is Chard Farm. We have a butt-clenching ride up an incredibly steep gravel road but the views below are incredible. Keren negotiates the bends with ease, ensuring great photo opportunities of the AK Hackett Bungy jump at Kawarau Bridge in the Gibbston Valley . Chard Farm has a special rustic character and is a recognised icon for this region. Doncha just love Lola – she’s made from old wine vines (that’s the one on the left, ok).
I’m feeling pretty mellow. It’s cosy in here and these Pinot Noir wines are delicious. Business is brisk. Time for the drive back into Queenstown. Keren’s still in fine form and begins a fascinating story that only ends on drop-off at the hotel. Here’s a toast to Appellation Wine Tours and a fantastic guide.
Steve and Jeanette of luxury boutique Arrowtown House know that we’re celebrating a special Wedding Anniversary. On arrival at our suite, here’s what greeted us. Kinda special they acknowledged our personal celebration in such a thoughtful & generous way. Can’t wait to light those vanilla & butterscotch candles. Hmmm..wonder if they have aphrodisiac qualities?
The owners of Arrowtown House have taken ‘drinks & nibbles’ to a new level. Puff pastry canapes, smoked salmon on mini pikelets and ..ta da…crumbed scallops served on elegant spoons. Judging by the 3-course sumptuous breakfast served the following morning, it was clear that our gym membership can never lapse.
After brekkie, Michael keeps appontments (business owners never really stop working) and I go exploring Arrowtown’s Autumn Festival. The main street is buzzing, a stage has been set up and a group of pretty girls are doing the Can Can. Trying to get a risque shot of shapely young legs is a challenge cos I’m competing with a couple of Asian ladies who quickly elbow me into an oncoming car. The car screeches to a halt, I slouch back onto the pavement and get my shot.
Arrowtown is full of alleyways stretching back into dining areas, interesting shops and great food options.
Gorged outselves once again on a superb 3-course breakfast. Waddled back to our suite to pack – why are we accumulating so much stuff – where has it all come from?
“Honey, we couldn’t be getting better weather”. Like most of our clients, Michael is overjoyed with our beautiful crisp blue-skied Central Otago Autumn. We’re staying in a very standard B & B, which Karen the owner, is planning to update later this year. “It is what it is” Karen says. For us, this B & B is special, are two reasons. It’s a few kms out of the Fox Glacier township and this is what the sight that greets you every morning:
Looking towards the Fox Glacier Mountain View B & B:
… the other reason is simply for the for the kindness and friendliness of the owner/host Karen who has lived an exceptional and adventurous life – (driving 18-wheeler trucks across the USA takes courage) and she’s the best of souls. Her B & B is very clean and comfortable and she makes a hearty and wholesome cooked Kiwi brekkie. This lady has heart!
Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers have the most beautiful bush walks, a well set up Kiwi House where you can view our National symbol on their terms (they’re nocturnal creature, so no flashlights or talking aloud).
We leave Fox Glacier and head off to Arrowtown first stopping at Lake Peringa for a moody photo shot. Here’s Michael in a pensive pose, photographed by his drenched photographer wife screaming out for the car keys cos she’s growing flippers!
..but of course the weather is changeable in New Zealand and that’s not always a bad thing. As we head off to Wanaka, I decide to be devilishly clever by taking a photo from the passenger seat. Michael questions my cunning strategy…this coming from a man who photographs his wife in the most unflattering light possible! This drive is lovely and damn it, I think the photo works. Lake Wanaka is such a welcomed sight.
Brief stop in gorgeous Wanaka – it’s ANZAC Day and busy. We stop for a coffee and the most delicious carrot cake muffins At RITUALS CAFE off the main road. These guys have great operational systems in place, ensuring the minimum wait for your order.
Finally we reach our destination – 2 nights in the pictuesque little town of ARROWTOWN. I’ve always loved this place – slower pace than frantic Queenstown. The golden and red Autumn hues are breathtaking. April/early May- such a wonderful time to travel through central Otago – Look at what greeted us as we drove in:
..ok just one more:
The Arrowtown Autumn Festival is in full swing at the moment…time to explore..
Seems like we’ll never learn the art of travelling light. It’s 9.00am and we’re setting off for our annual 10-day break, travelling the South Island route our FIT clients enjoy. The car is groaning with everything except the kitchen sink and all I can think about is whether I closed the ranchslider of our bedroom. Brief lunch break in Murchison at the River Cafe (cheerful & comfy). Our visitors sometimes omit museum visits, assuming they’re all huge buildings and who has time? Here’s a little cutie that won’t take much time at all.
We’re driving through some lovely country, mostly native bush and deep valley gorges with endless rivers. Here’ s a couple of photos taken at the lookout celebrating the famous explorer, Thomas Brunner, who in 1847 travelled from Nelson to Paringa and back all within a modest 550 days!
Photo Michael pointing out the bleeping obvious:
Before reaching Greymouth we stop for a ‘breather’ at the forever beautiful Punakaiki area. It’s late in the afternoon and the skies are heavy with cloud. This place is stunning in full sun, but today it has a different beauty:
We’re already noticing the change of temperature when we reach Hokitika. We’re chosen a variety of accommodation options throughout our trip - from low to high end. Tonight we’re at the Beachfront Hotel in Hokitika, mainly for the unobstructed view and sound of the sea. See what I mean:
What came as a surprise to us was the quality of the food served at the Hotel’s restaurant – beautifully cooked and with the crispest, freshest side salads – whitebait fritters just the way I like them – crammed with whitebait (high-end restaurants take note). A horrified Manager looked on helplessly as our wee waitress poured Michael a Waimea Vognier right up to the brim of the glass. She just kept on pouring. No complaint from us though.
New Zealand Autumns reward us with beautiful sunsets like this one taken just before I drew the curtains and settled down for the evening. Nightie night folks.