The ferry ride down to the South Island is totally worth it. It takes about 3.5 hours but it is such a better choice versus flying down. It’s a huge ferry that takes not just people, but cars and even trucks. You can buy private cabins or sit in the general area like we did. (Much better choice in our opinion!) You’re then free to walk around and go outside and up to the top for the awesome views, sea spray and salty air. The views are outstanding. We thought we had seen the most beautiful water at the reservoir in Chile, even on the coast in Napier on the North Island, but oh, so wrong. The water got more and more turquoise the further south we went. It was breathtaking! Fun fact, you can’t take your rental car on the ferry! Luckily we learned that just the day before… would have made for an interesting check in at the ferry dock! Instead you drop it off at the dock in Wellington and pick up a new car once you get to the South Island dock in Picton.
Our first stop on the South Island was in Blenheim, the heart of the world renowned Marlborough wine country, best known for their Sauvignon Blanc. We spent the first full day we had there touring wineries. There are a few different ways you can tour the area. For us, self driving was great because we got to pick and choose the places we wanted to go and spend as much time there as we wanted. (Don’t worry, no drunk driving occured!) If you’d rather have someone show you and take you around, however, there were many different tours offered. The wine map they have for this area gives you an entire breakdown of all the Cellar Doors (wineries with tasting rooms), if they have restaurants, picnic areas etc. It was so helpful! We picked a few that were close to us that had complimentary tastings. Score! We started at Cloudy Bay. Not one of the complimentary tastings but for $10NZ you get a flight of 4 tastings. Since this area is best known for their Sauvignon Blanc we made sure to try it at every winery. Tropical fruit forward, lots of passion fruit and pineapple. Bright and citrusy. Pair that with a seat on the beach and you’re set. We then went to Number One Family Estate. They’re known for their Methode Champonoise wines, better known as Champagne style! The family who owns the winery came from the Champagne, France region so they’re very familiar with the process. Since it’s not made in the Champagne region of France, it can’t be called Champagne but it is made in the same style, and they even used the same type of grapes. We tasted their 3 complimentary wines. Traditional, Blanc de Blanc and Pinot Noir Rose. We then went to Framingham, who is known for their Rieslings. We got to taste their signature riesling and their dry reisling. Same grape but such different tastes! The dry was very atypical of what you think, it was not that usual sweet and sometimes citrusy, but more golden and grassy.(Deans wine terms talking!) We then went to Forrest which was by far our favorite. They had a complimentary tasting of 3 wines but for $7NZ you can get a flight of 6 tastings. We opted for that and we’re so glad we did! We got to try all their wines, from a sparkling red, to a crisp rose and even got introduced to a new grape that neither of us had heard of before, Petit Maneng. It tasted like apple juice at the start but finished like cotton candy! If you’re not a sweet wine lover, you’d hate it.. but I loved it! Our final stops were Spy Valley and Omaka Springs. Spy Valley got its name because of its close proximity to the spy base down the road. They tied that in so well with their brand. The label on each style of wine had its own set of Morse code saying something different. Omaka Springs was a little further out than the rest but was such a nice surprise. It felt as though we were walking into their home and into their daily winemaking life. The owner hosted our tasting and had so much to say about each wine. He let us taste his 2014 Sauvignon Blanc along side the 2015 and it was so interesting to taste and pick out the differences between the two. He also sampled their other 4 varietals, all were so good! We felt so at home there and enjoyed it so much that we took back a bottle to have with dinner! Each winery had their own unique spin on wine and all the wines brought something different to the table. Marlborough definitely impressed us!
Dunedin was a cute little town. Definitely lively being a college town. Their claim to fame was a unique train station with amazing architecture. It’s noted as one of the “must see” buildings of the world! Dunedin is also known for being on the harbor and for the Otago Peninsula where you can see all different kinds of wildlife. We took the coastal road up the peninsula, winding around, a foot from the waters edge. On the way back to town we opted for the road that goes up through hills and overlooks everything. You can see the whole peninsula from up there! It was awesome to get different views there and back. Albatross, sea lions, even little blue penguins that come out at night consume the peninsula. Sad we didn’t get to see the little penguins, but we did get an albatross and sea loin sighting! The sea lions were soaking up the sun and rolling around, putting on quite the show for us! Seeing the albatross was a great, they are huge majestic birds, and we learned that their nests in Dunedin are the only nesting sites on a main land! The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. The water fades from royal blue into bright turquoise and back again. It looks different from every angle. The gorgeous sea in contrast with bright green rolling hills, the thousands of fluffy white sheep and grazing cattle is just incredible. On the way back we also stopped at the Soldiers Memorial which pays respect to the Otago Peninsula’s fallen soldiers in WWI. Being a history buff, Dean loved checking this out. It’s not easily accessible, you have to walk up a steep staircase dodging thorns, boulders and thistle, but that was nothing compared to what the soldiers had to deal with. It also offered yet another sweeping view of Dunedin Harbor.
We also checked out the Botanic Gardens in Dunedin, which we could have spent all day at. We started at the Aviary where we got to see many different species of birds in all their colorful glory. It’s always sad to see wild animals penned up, however, but they did have a good amount of room to fly around. The bigger birds were very vocal and very energetic! After walking through the aviary we went to the rose and herb garden. Talk about taking time to stop and smell the roses! Everywhere you turned there was different color and different variety. The garden was expansive, sprawling worldly gardens from Southern Africa, the Mediterranean and a whole garden dedicated to rhododendrons!
Queenstown – everyone told us we must go here! When looking for hotels, we found it almost impossible to find something in our price range. So, we decided to use Hotels.com and eBates (which we earned 6% cash back! Please use our links so we get credit!) to book a hotel about an hour outside Queenstown and drive in. The hour drive from Cromwell goes through the mountains and along yet again a gorgeous blue river. We are stunned by the water here. Each lake, river, seaside town impresses us more and more with the color of the water. It has quickly become our favorite part about New Zealand.
You can tell when you’ve entered the town of Queenstown because it gets exponentially busier and more touristy. I mean, between the Ugg store, Louis Vuitton, North Face, tour companies, Starbucks and no parking.. there was no doubt we were here. To give it credit, it’s absolutely stunning here. The town sits right on Lake Wakatipu so everywhere you turn you have a beautiful view. The downtown seemed to be tiny though! Round a few corners and you’re back to where to started. Some walking, lunch and finishing our time at Queenstown Gardens made for a nice afternoon in Queenstown. Definitely glad we went, but no real need to go back. Now, if you’re into bungee jumping, skydiving, speed boating, etc. this is your place!
Since Queenstown fit into an afternoon for us, we decided to spend our next full day driving up to Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain, and checking it out along with the amazing lakes and glaciers we’d heard about. Clearly, I could go on and on about the water here, but really, each sighting impresses us more and more. We stopped at Lake Pukaki first. Holy. Crap. Excuse me, but seriously. What a sight. We popped out of the car and walked down to the beach. We wondered, if you take this water and stick it in a jar, will it still be so vibrantly blue? Curious as to why it is this color, Dean did some research and learned that as the water melts off the glacier, it picks up some “rock flour” which is like powdered rock. As the water settles in the lake and the rock flour settles to the bottom, the sun reflects off the rock flour that is now in the water and it creates the color we see. (Thanks Wikipedia!) So incredibly fascinating.
We were then off to Mount Cook and to see the glaciers in the area. Unfortunately since it was so cloudy, we couldn’t see the mountain! After a quick stop at the visitors center we were off to see the Tasman Glacier. Good thing I didn’t know ahead of time, but there are a total of 350 steep steps you have to climb in order to reach the top to see the glacier and lake. It was quite the trek getting up there but was inspiring to see the top. They had a pictogram at the top that showed how much the glacier has receded due to climate change. Since they’re expecting this glacier to be depleted by the end of this century, we felt so fortunate to see the glacier that shaped the entire valley we were in. There is another lake close by, Lake Tekapo, this is the less impressive, more touristy glacial lake. As the day went by the clouds parted, the sun started to shine and very slowly Mount Cook became mostly visible from the bottom of Lake Pukaki, so our original mission was accomplished! We tried to get a picture of which you can see most of it.. that counts right?!
The food. Oh the food. We’re sad about the food. For foodies like us, we were so disappointed in the options we had here. A few good meals snuck in, but for the most part we really don’t have much to say. Our choices seemed to always be freezer burnt Fish n Chips, $22 Pad Thai, $25 burritos, $20 dish of Indian Curry or McDonalds, so you can see why we weren’t impressed.
Fergburger: Everyone told us we HAD to go here in Queenstown and once we got there we realized everyone has told everyone they had to go here! The line was wrapped around the block! They’re known for their fun burgers and sandwiches and between the long wait and the lack of good food we’d experienced to this point, we can see why everyone loves it! So many choices, using New Zealand Grass Fed beef, New Zealand Lamb, Chicken tenders or even a falafel burger (The Bun Laden!). Dean wanted to stay classic and let that delicious grass fed beef shine through, so he got a Double Ferg Burger, 2 giant patties, lettuce, tomato, red onion, ketchup and cheddar cheese on a fresh made sesame seed bun. He loved it, so juicy and the grass fed beef just tastes much better to him than what you usually get in America. When I saw the sandwich called “Sweet Julie”.. I was intrigued.. and it couldn’t have been more perfect for me. Grilled chicken marinated in ginger and soy sauce with a sweet chili sauce, lettuce, red onion and aioli. It was heavenly! My love for asian flavors with chicken all between two pieces of bread. We got an order of their fries to share with their wasabi mayo. We get it, Fergburger! It was definitely worth the wait. (We were so hungry we didn’t take too many photos.. sorry!! So you’ll just have to use your imagination and take our word for it!)
Dominos: Yes, that Dominos as in pizza. It might sound odd for us foodies to be writing about a chain pizza place, but to be honest it is different here. They offer a great variety of pizza, from Peri Peri Chicken (Spicy African pepper), the Funky Chicken, a Kiwi take on BBQ chicken pizza, BBQ lamb and bacon, Chicken Camembert or Creamy Prawn and Hollandaise. They even had a creamy garlic cheese pizza with creme fraiche. So while it wouldn’t be our first, second or third choice, in a place with limited food choices it was a welcome change. I think we got this 2 different times, each time getting a different flavor. It was actually really good! But that could also be the “lack of food in the rest of the country” talking…
Souvlaki and Kebab: We love kebabs. Not the shish kebabs you’re familiar with, but the other kind of kebab you find around the world. Middle eastern spiced meat and chicken cooked on a vertical rotisserie. They shave it off and put it in a pita-type wrap with lettuce, tomato, sometimes hummus and other veggies and sauces. We found a place that did a pretty good job in Cromwell! (Our all time favorite is in Paris, so every time we eat this it compares to there!) I got chicken and Dean got meat, true to fashion for both of us. The middle eastern flavors were warmly welcomed and the portions were huge! Dean got the spicy one and was so happy it actually had a kick! That’s something we’re not used to tasting in this country! The Kiwi’s idea of spice compared to ours is is very different. The meat warmed up the hummus that was slathered on the bottom and made each bite that much more messy and delicious.
Turret Takeaways: Fish & Chips/Chinese takeaway places are big here. One place selling both. They seem to be on every corner. You walk in and right up to the counter and have your pick of almost anything you can think of deep fried or your choice of your traditional Chinese takeout dishes. They also have hamburgers! Interesting concept! We don’t mind it at all! We were clearly in a deep fried mood when ordering here because we ordered pretty close to everything! Fish and chips, fried corn nuggets, beer battered sausage roll, curry roll and even a fried mars bar! Okay, okay, stop judging. We all do it every once in a while… right? We don’t feel bad in the slightest. It was definitely a grease bomb but was all pretty tasty. My favorite was the corn nuggets and mars bar, Deans was the curry roll. Minced meat, rice, onions and carrots in a curry sauce, stuffed into a egg roll wrapper and fried. The owner here was so friendly, just like everyone else in this country. Extremely happy to explain things to us and help us decide. (Who knew what a curry is?!)
What a great stay in the South Island! We absolutely loved the scenery! Since we still have some time left in New Zealand, we are hitting up Christchurch on our way back up to Auckland and spending a few days in each place. We figure those deserve their own blog post, so we’ll see you there!
**We are using Ebates and Hotels.com to book everything we do! We get cash back from Ebates and earn free nights on Hotels.com so you get rewarded for doing what you would normally do anyway! On Hotels.com, they provide excellent service and will match hotel prices if you find something cheaper elsewhere. If you stay 10 nights, you get 1 free and if you become a gold member (30 stays in 1 year) you get early access to deals and special rates. Also 24/7 service. On Ebates, while the percentage cash back varies depending on the store, you legitimately get cash back on almost every store you would shop online for anyway and get a check every quarter with your savings. They also have special coupon codes to get discounts on the site that you can’t get otherwise. In 1 year we’ve gotten back $350 cash back. That’s nothing to sneeze at! We get credit if you use our links (hyperlinked in the names) and would love if you could help us out! But really, you’re helping yourself too!!**