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.
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.
- 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.