New Zealand Report: South Island, November 2022

I’ve been lurking here for some time, figured I should at least contribute something!

We spent two weeks in the South Island of New Zealand in early November, 2022.

Christchurch

Due to weather challenges, we arrived in Christchurch a day early. Due to availability, we switched from The George to the Sudima Hotel at the last minute, and the Sudima was fine. Everything in the city center is close enough that you can’t mess it up too bad.

If you don’t have restaurant reservations in this town, you are out of luck. So the first night we ended up at for dinner on Day 1 at Mumbaiwala https://mumbaiwala.co.nz which we ended up enjoying quite a bit for a semi-casual spot. Heavily spiced (flavor, not heat) was a welcome change from our North Carolina Indian restaurants. It was here that we realized that in New Zealand, you don’t wait for the check to come to your table; you pay at the “till” … the host stand where you enter the restaurant. Don’t ask how long we waited before figuring this out.

You may vaguely know that Christchurch experienced a series of earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 … but the reality of it is quite stark. There are a number of empty lots where the buildings were razed, plenty of construction, and the new areas are NEW. My wife “enjoyed” her time at the Quake City museum and came away with a new appreciation for the city.

Lunch on Day2 at King of Snake, an Asian-inflected restaurant that was on my radar because of a pseudonymous cocktail recipe published in Bon Appetit magazine sometime in the 2000s. Turns out that I can make a simple cocktail as well as the restaurant and the food was only ok. Overly sweet Chinese with no character. Pass on this.

Dinner on Christchurch Day 2 at Cellar Door, which does a ton of wine flights and wines by the glass. Food was very good, a lot of wines by the glass, and here is where you begin to confront that much of NZ Pinot Noir is pretty heavy, tar-inflected samey-samey. Recommended. But they don’t want you to create your own flights on the fly … either order the pre-defined ones or order wines by the glass. Fair enough.

Day 3, on Lake Tekapo. Beautiful and worth an overnight (but only one). The lakeside “town” here is pedestrian, but the food here is decent enough and the town feel is totally different from isolated Lake Pukaki (that’s tomorrow), which has none of that. We should have made reservations at the (modest) Japanese restaurant, Kohan, but did not, so we ended up with lunch and dinner at the Ramen Tekapo, (Thai/Ramen) restaurant, which was good enough and part of the primitive vibe. Nothing is fancy here. Stayed at the Galaxy Boutique Hotel, a family run operation, and our room had a very nice view (over a few rooftops) of the lake and surrounding mountains. Great hike that day up the Mt. John Observatory. Steep hike up and a LONG meandering way down. I’d rather do it that way (clockwise) than the reverse.


Day 4, drive to Mt. Cook/Lake Pukaki for two days. Stayed at Mt. Cook Lakeside Retreat, which was great. Beautiful villa, nice little touches (including the welcoming gin and scotch in decanters), and solid dinner delivered to the villa each night to dine at your own table. Scored points with my wife for this one … highly recommended. Hiking at Mt. Cook … incredible. The nearby town of Twizel has a restaurant, Mint Folk & Co. Had lunch here both days … and our Lakeside Retreat host thought that was the best choice. Vegetables! Overall NZ did well with veggies, and Mint Folk was a part of that.


Day 6, drive to Wanaka for two days. Wanaka feels vaguely like Colorado. At first I was concerned that it was a bit too touristy, but we ended up quite charmed. Easy to walk into town, have a beer with a beautiful view, etc. A recommended stop for sure. We did an AirBNB condo (with laundry!) with a beautiful view. Did a wine tasting at Rippon, whose standard Pinot is very good and everything else (mostly whites) is mediocre. We purchased 6 bottles of the standard Pinot and some vineyard designates. Dinner on night 6 at Bistro Gentil next to the Maude winery. Dinner was fine, and Maude become our affordable-but-acceptable-and-widely-available Pinot for the rest of the trip when something else more interesting on the wine list was unavailable or too marked up.


A nice stop on day 7 at the Cardrona Distillery. I did not clue in early enough to reserve a tour, but had a nice lunch and some samples and walked away with a cellar door whisky release. Dinner on night 7 at Kika, which we enjoyed more than Bistro Gentil.

Day 8, drive to Queenstown, stopping in Cromwell and nearby Mt. Difficulty for lunch and Pinot noir tasting. Food at Difficulty was fine. I did not purchase any Pinot and will not in the future. Honestly, that stop is not recommended. Cromwell has a sad 1980s mall as it’s “Town Centre” but a quaint “Old Cromwell” area near the lake that is a much better place to stroll. Tasting that afternoon scheduled at Kinross, which hosts multiple wineries. We tasted Valli, which had some nice Pinots. Our host was mediocre at best, but the wines were fun to taste. This location is an assembly line; feels a bit like they are trying to move timeshares as they pitch you on a winery’s wine club. Ignore the experience and figure out if you like the wine. I.e., I was happy to taste Valli and purchase a couple bottles.

Days 8-11 in Queenstown. Highly overrated, as pointed out by EricZ in an earlier NZ thread. Really, if you are not into bungee jumping or danger-boating, there is very little reason to spend more than a day here in Queenstown. Our mistake. Nearby Arrowtown is much more quaint (in a tourist-inflected way to be sure). Stayed at Eichardt’s Private Hotel on the lake; a nice hotel experience and good enough to recommend.

Day 8 dinner at Amisfield winery for a very expensive, overrated, approaching-parody meal. We felt awful being foodies, being suckered into this. For dessert, they bring a log to the table and, with tweezers, extract nut-butter-paste-shaped-like-bug-larva from the log. Dinner was ~200 USD per person, the place was understaffed, we were seated next to a loud table of 12 people which meant our server was preoccupied, and we left before the final two courses. Our faith in our shameless pretentiousness was shaken.

Day 9 dinner at Rata. Solid. Day 10 dinner at The Bunker. Very good, recommended.

Day 10 visit to Felton Road winery in Otago, which was great. Personable tour, lovely wines. Along with Valli, the only subtle Pinots we tasted in NZ. Bought a case to be shipped home.

We did the Pedals 4 Pinot bike route from Clyde to Alexandria and back that afternoon. There are some wineries along the way, but we just weren’t feeling it. A pleasant enough cycling (ok, e-biking) experience, but don’t confuse wine visits with cycling :-).

Day 11, drive 2 hours to the Southlands to stay at Fiordland Lodge and visit Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. Fiordland Lodge highly recommended. You are in the middle of nowhere, so this is not the Four Seasons. Newbie staff, etc. But food was solid, place had a great feel. If you enjoy rustic luxury, this is great. Dinners onsite; all solid.

All the experiences here in the Southlands were great. Glowworms, Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound. I was worried it was one-sound-too-many, but to my mind they were very different experiences.


Then Queenstown to Auckland to home! We had a wonderful time in New Zealand. We don’t picture returning, but are so glad we went.

Summary:

  • Felton Road, Rippon great winery visits. Valli, nice wines.
  • Fiordland Lodge and Mt. Cook Lakeside Retreat both exceptional stays
  • Queenstown: overrated
  • Wanaka: super nice
  • Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki/Mt. Cook, Doutbful Sound, Milford Sound all must-dos.
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A near spit take lol. Super report! Very enjoyable, thanks, and post more!

Cool that you had such good weather at Mt Cook, we had clouds and fog, never saw the mountain.

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Alan,

Recognizing your name and icon from as far back as westcoastwine.net, I am secretly thrilled at your kind words. And yeah, we can never return to NZ as we were so incredibly lucky on the weather.

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Thanks for the report Jon, we will be reaching New Zealand on 14th December. Great to hear up to date reviews.

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Great report - I did a very similar trip back in 2018 and we went to that same Indian restaurant on night 1 in Christchurch - amazing! We landed at like 530pm local time so by the time we got thru customs, got luggage, got a cab and to the hotel to check in, etc we were exhausted. We wandered a few blocks, stumbled on that restaurant and it smelled great outside so we went in. We do like to eat Indian food and here in NJ you can find some decent spots but we still frequently recall our meal at Mumbai Wala - maybe it was after 30+ hours of travel anything would have been better than plane food, but my wife and I recall that restaurant in conversation at least 1-2x a year for some odd reason.

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Awesome. Hope you saw that I namechecked you in the report, Eric. Thanks to your report earlier, we traded one night in Queenstown for one in Wanaka. Wish I’d done twice that :-).

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BLESS YOU. I’m heading to new zealand from Dec 15th-23rd.

4 nights in Auckland, 4 nights in Queenstown.

no wine since it’s for my wife’s bday and she’s not a wine fan. Using Queenstown as a base.

one day - glaciar helicopter ride
second day - Milford sound
third day - drive out to mount cook

I saw your note that it was highly overrated. Since our trip isn’t for wine tasting, wasn’t quite sure where else to base out of for the south.

That plan makes total sense! I’m less good at “pick a base and day trip it” and tend to move around more than I should. You will have a long day getting to Milford Sound and back, and I chose to be closer and stay at Fiordland Lodge, but that meant I was committing more to that area than you will want to. Queenstown is perfect as a place to lay your head while daytripping. Fair warning: there is currently a lot of construction in town. I am not here to mess with your plans … if you were exploring alternatives, you could look at Arrowtown, about 20 minutes away, is quieter, quainter. I’m not sure there is enough there there to make it a worthy alternative … it’s small. Also Wanaka, which is closer to Mt. Cook … but further from Milford. Your day trips are ambitious enough that where you are staying will matter less. Have an awesome trip.

gonna do the plane tour to the sound, so it’ll be a quick trip haha

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Yo Charlie,
You will love NZ, still one of our family’s all time favorite places. We LOVED Queenstown, but we are very into adventure sports and did the Nevis Swing, bungee jumps and jet boating. You taking the little one? Will be different with a kiddo. Not sure if it’s too late, but if you can, it’s worthwhile to stay at Milford for an overnight. We stayed at the Milford Lodge which was bomb and you can take the last boat out and have the Sound to yourself. Mt Cook is amazing, great hikes and scenery. I pray that you get good weather. We did a Glacier Helicopter also and 100% totally worth it especially if they land you explore on foot.

Auckland is a big city and feels like it. But lots of stuff to do there and in the surrounding areas.

I’m thinking of a NZ trip next December for our sons birthday. Would prefer mostly the south island, hiking, sightseeing, etc.

Those of you who have gone, or are planning trips now-do you use a tour operator/service, or are you booking all of this on your own?

yah with the kid. The Jet boating sounds cool.

Locked into an airbnb to queenstown but also not interested in driving 4+ hrs each way to Milford sound, so the plane ride back and forth to the cruise is the best bet.

Also most likely going to hire a charter for Mt Cook as well.

I booked mine on my own. I had previously used a planner for an Italy trip and found that I had stronger (and better :slight_smile: ) opinions about restaurants, enjoyed doing the research, etc. So from now on it’s on me. YMMofcourseV.

Thanks-I’m just starting to research and it seems we can figure this out.

We need to decide if we want to go from Auckland to either Christchurch or Queenstown?

Get an Airbnb in either or both places 3ish nights and plan day trips from each. I don’t really want to pick up and move each day. I like the plane/boat idea from Queenstown to Milford Sound for one day.

It will be more of a hiking/sightseeing trip for us. We’ll work our way through the NZ wine scene through the restaurants we go to along the way.

Thanks for your report above-very helpful.

Just take a hard look and make sure there is enough you want to do day-trip-ish from Christchurch. I did not go North of Christchurch, so I’m not familiar with what might be appealing aside from Franz Josef. Perhaps there is much. I wonder … and do not know … if you should just be all in on Queenstown.

Hey all, I’m originally from that area and had a holiday in Queenstown a few months ago, will throw a few thoughts your way tmrw which may be of use to those planning trips…

thank you!!

I didn’t think Queenstown is overrated but it was chilly which my wife didn’t like.

The jet boat on the dart river was the only one of the adrenaline 4 I did; it was a blast. One flow day, dart River the next, Milford sound kept us busy.

My fight to Milford sound was canceled so they bussed us in. Like a five hour ride each way but worth it, nothing like it elsewhere.

All that being said, I’m more a north island guy (beaches) over South Island.

When I was in NZ in 2017, I did an overnight on a boat in the Doubtful sound. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip. We stopped for a hike and a kayak, where we saw a few penguins in the water close up. Dolphins as well. The water was surprisingly warm and the scenery stunning.

Hi all, my 2c…

There’s currently a lot of staff shortages in NZ, and it’s particularly noticeable in tourist hotspots like Queenstown, back in August nearly every single business was advertising for staff… That said, we didn’t have any major issues, although I couldn’t get a bus up the mountains to try a day’s skiing (which probably saved me a broken bone anyway :slight_smile: . As Jon mentioned (great trip report too BTW), there’s a ton of construction going on in ZQN, major water pipe replacements so it’s a bit of a construction zone in many streets in the heart of town, with no end in sight, so brace for that but it’s not the whole town, just a bit unsightly here and there.

Restaurants are all super busy, as are cafe’s etc, so definitely book well in advance for dinners. May need to get in a queue for your morning coffee and brunch too, but if you expect it, it’s not so bad. We didn’t expect it so got a bit grumpy having never experienced it there before. Highly recommend Blue Kanu and especially love The Bunker as my two favourite higher end eating spots. Enjoyed Rata in the past too but not been for years (couldn’t get back to NZ for years due to Covid of course). Botswana Butchery another one to consider, great service and ambience, good food although food wasn’t quite as good for me as BK and TB, still nice though. Fergburger is legendary for both it’s tasty Kiwi home style burgers and it’s queues from dawn till dusk to get them! Good bakery next door too. Vudu cafe for coffee and brunch. Arrowtown has The Winery which is excellent, nice bar food and lots of self service enomatic machines with plenty of wines to try from across NZ. Also a great selection of NZ/AU wines to buy at slightly touristy prices, but some hard to get wines there too. Didn’t do much in the way of winery tours, agree that the Valli wines are very good, and don’t mind Felton Road either.

Amisfield - nice location and set up but snobby poor experience these days. Go into Arrowtown instead and find something, although Arrowtown is tiny so again do some research and ideally book in advance. The goldfields spot in Kawarau Gorge was interesting for a quick look (near Roaring Meg). The Onsen hot pools are worth a look, Shotover Jet is excellent if you like thrill rides, and of course the bungy jumps. We really enjoyed going up on the Gondola in Q’Town, superb views, casual bite to eat inside or outside, we played in the snow (visited in Aug - middle of Winter), and went on the luge sled ride which was fun. And not been on the Earnslaw steamship for many years but it’s also popular with tourists, leisurely cruise around and/or across to a sheep station etc.

The last hour of the long drive from ZQN to Milford Sound is pretty spectactular, rain or sun, but the flight across equally so and much much quicker!!! Highly recommended either way.

D_Zurcher & Charlie… Queenstown probably makes the most sense to base yourself out of, more choice in terms of hotels, sights, hikes and food. I see Mr Fu has an AirBnB organised, good option, or the likes of Eichardts hotel where Jon stayed is one of the best in town, with the best location, but very expensive. The strong $US vs weak $NZ will make it much better for you guys though. Blanket Bay has a very high end hotel too about an hour or so towards Glenorchy, might be worth splashing out on for a special night away, pretty amazing scenery up in that valley. But mostly you really want to be in town or close to it, so watch out for places like the Hilton which is a long way from town (although the water taxi to and from is a nice idea). Wanaka is also lovely and well worth a visit or even to base yourself from, basically a slightly less touristy, more ‘Kiwi-ish’ version of ZQN. About an hours drive from ZQN or a bit longer if you take the Crown Range road for extra added Kiwi scenery thrills. Can be risky in Winter though, but December is warm so no problems. Take your time on the roads if driving and keep left!!

Speaking of summer, it can get fairly hot in ZQN from Dec to March, but like all NZ weather, it can be surprisingly cold too, 55F one day, 85F the next ! Not a lot of rain that time of year although across the mountains Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in the world, but again summer sees more chance of sunshine, but it’s beautiful in the rain too, maybe even more so.

Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki is amazing, as Jon so well documented. Just be aware that most of NZ is out of practice with tourism, and the staff shortages I mentioned mean many things are a bit disfunctional. Christchurch is much the same, restaurants full, or only open reduced hours, limited menus sometimes, that kind of thing. So check tripadvisor, ask here or on flyertalk etc, happy to help where possible! Don’t know much about Auckland though, my family is mainly South Island so if my wife and I want a day or two to indulge in food and wine before or after family visits we choose Queenstown or Wellington which is a cool buzzy city with really good food and coffee culture, plus the famous Te Papa museum.

OK hope that helps a bit! Hope the sun shines and all your experiences are good ones. Get dark really late too down there in summer so enjoy the long evenings, oh and watch out for biting sandflies while hiking and around Milford plus sunburn, the UV is seriously high and can ruin a holiday in 20-30 mins.

Cheers
Tim

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