Exploring Otago Region, NZ

Queenstown is a perfect location to spend a few days as your home base on the South Island.

From there, you can explore the Otago region for its lakes, glacier mountain pools, historic Gold Rush towns, and wineries. We thought about doing a few organized tours, but in the end, opted for the flexibility of a rental car.

Our first order of business was a visit to the stunning Blue Pools.

It was a little out of the way north of Wanaka, but it was worth it.

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You drive into Mount Aspiring National Park (isn’t that a great name?), then walk through a small wild mossy green forest across a wobbly suspension bridge, and then you reach these jewel colored pools that are absolutely clear to the bottom.

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This particular day was so dismal and overcast and I really didn’t think the water would be so vibrant. I thought there needed to be sun to get that gorgeous glittering blue, but I was so wrong.

The pools were the most beautiful color! They get their distinctive hue from light refraction of particles in the icy mountain water.

It’s sort of crazy to think about this beautiful place in nature just hiding in middle of a dense forest. I wonder how many more undiscovered places lie waiting around the world? And I wonder what the first people to come upon these pools thought about their discovery. 

Don’t you want to jump in?

After the blue pools, we did some more driving through Wanaka region, stopping to take pictures at every turn and seeing lots of sheep dotted across the countryside.

This photo sort of looks like a folk art painting to me. I love how there’s a layer of mist hanging low over the small village.

Remember our wine-tasting day at Waiheke Island where we befriended several New Zealand ladies? Well, one of the places they highly recommend to us was the Cardona Hotel.

This historic spot was built in the 1860s for gold miners. Today it’s a cozy little stop between Queenstown and Wanaka, and the food was fantastic! In addition to the tiniest retro sink in the bathroom (you could only fit one hand in at a time!) I’ll always remember this place for serving one of the best coffees I’ve ever had. (Eventually, I’m planning to write a post about New Zealanders and their obsession with coffee!)

Driving back to Queenstown, we took advantage of our rental car to visit the Gibbston Valley winery and cheesy. (Yes, cheesery is a word, I learned on this trip.)

This charming winery with its red barn buildings, birds, and rose garden (still hanging on even in early winter) was so picturesque.

We spent a little relaxing while here sampling a few of their sheep and goat cheeses along with some glasses of Otago wine. There is a nice restaurant there too, where I would have loved to eat dinner, but we had plans in Queenstown for a meal instead.

Overall, our plan to rent a car and plot our own itinerary from Queenstown was the right decision. In fact, I highly recommend you do that if you’re planning a trip here too. There’s just so much interesting scenery and stops and you’ll want the flexibility to pull off the road when you want to.

 

 

 

 

Queenstown. NZ

I’m excited to share with you our time in Queenstown, New Zealand.

In recent months whenever I mentioned this trip to friends and colleagues, they always said, “You have to go to Queenstown!”

Mountains. Fresh air. Beautiful views. Outdoor adventures.

And I’m so glad we followed their advice. This mountain village has it all.

We stayed at the Novotel Queenstown Lakeside with views facing Lake Wakatipu. All this beauty was literally steps away.

The first afternoon we spent leisurely walking around the lake and soaking up the beautiful winter sun. Queenstown is on the southwestern side of the South Island, so it was quite a bit cooler here than Auckland. It was bright and sunny, but a down coat was definitely needed!queenstown-5

The next morning, we took the gondola up to the peak overlooking the city. We were lucky that the clouds lifted and we were able to get these panoramic views looking down on Queenstown.

It was still early in the season, so no skiing was available yet. But year-round, you can all do all sorts of other activities from there including hiking, paragliding, and the luge!

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Zip down the side of the mountain and take in the views as you go. Not bad, right?

After spending a few hours at the peak, we decided to hike down instead of taking the gondola again.

It only took us about one hour and we appreciated getting the fresh air to stave off the jet lag. 
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We spent 4 days in Queenstown, so it became our home base for lots of other outings and adventures including day trips to the famous Milford Sound, Lake Wakana, and Otagu region wineries.

We thought the natural scenery couldn’t get much better than here, but we were wrong. I’ll be sharing so much more soon!

Hello New Zealand!

I just got back from a two week trip to New Zealand!

Though I’m still so jet-lagged (NZ is 16 hours ahead), I’m still riding high from this trip.

Ya’ll, I’ve never seen such a concentration of natural beautiful landscapes in my life. If you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit films, you know what I’m talking about.

And in case you’re wondering, those rugged mountain landscapes, wild forests, and electric blue mountain lakes you’ve seen in pictures and movies are all REAL.

Here are some shots from gorgeous Waiheke Island, a quick 45 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland.

On this day, a wine tour called our names and we could’t have asked for a better day. Can you believe that ocean and greenery?

Incidentally, Waiheke island has its own special microclimate, so even though it’s early winter there, the temperatures stay mild year round. It was in the mid-60s and sunny while we were there.

The first stop on the wine tour was Casa Miro, where we tried so many delicious wines paired with special taste enhancers like a piece of cheese, a candied walnut, or olive spread on bread. Such a fun way to sample wines and I really wish more wineries did it this way. 

Tasting wine while gazing out at the ocean on the horizon. The vacation of my dreams…

This winery is a labor of love for the owner, a medical doctor by day, who grows grapes and runs this winery totally in his free time. He also has something of an obsession for Gaudi as you can see by his Guell Park inspired bar, which had us reminiscing about Barcelona.

We could’ve stayed here all day, but soon it was time for the second stop, Obsidian winery, a tiny place tucked away in the middle of nowhere on Waiheke.

It was here we got to chatting away with some friendly New Zealand ladies, who ended up giving us so many good “insider” recommendations for places to see and most importantly, restaurants to dine at. In fact, it was so fun and I got so into talking with them that I don’t even really remember the wines here.

When it was time to part ways, all four of the ladies gave me kisses on both cheeks ( I thought that was a French thing, but apparently, they do that in New Zealand too) I wasn’t expecting that, but I really do think it’s a nice custom.

The final stop was Te Motu Winery with its award winning restaurant, “The Shed”. This rustic winery was simple and beautiful and it was here that we stopped for lunch.

We feasted on lamb shoulder, sliced beef with mushrooms, roasted potatoes with tarragon aioli, bean and fennel salad, and a special dessert. 

This dessert was a “deconstructed” cheesecake made with kumara, which is the Maori word for pumpkin. It had a sort of autumn vibe to it, which struck me as odd in June, but then I remembered that the seasons are reversed here. In any case, I’ll be trying to recreate this at home.

All in all, the first day in New Zealand was spent gazing at the scenery, drinking wine, and enjoying these wineries. Perfect start to a fun trip.

And there’s so much more of it to share with you!