Sunday 18 October 2009: Townsville - Brisbane - Sydney - Christchurch
“Haere Mai” – Welcome to New Zealand. After an enjoyable flight we were met at Christchurch International Airport and transferred to our first night's accommodation at Holiday Inn on Avon, arriving 11 pm (Christchurch time) / 8 pm (Townsville time).
Monday 19 October 2009: Christchurch – Hokitika (371kms)
An early start this morning, our bus driver Glenn took us to Christchurch Railway Station where Bev and I boarded the TranzAlpine Express Train. Often described as one of the most impressive train journeys in the world (in the top ten!), the TranzAlpine crosses the Canterbury Plains before travelling across the spectacular Southern Alps as far as Arthur’s Pass. Here we rejoined our coach and continued our journey past picturesque Lake Brunner to Punakaiki to view its unusual pancake like rock formations. Time was allowed in Greymouth to explore the Jade Gallery on the way to Punakaiki. Overnighted at the Beachfront Resort at Hokitika. First NZ beer sampled - Monteiths Black (brewed in Greymouth).
Tuesday 20 October 2009: Hokitika– Fox Glacier – Wanaka (456kms)
The scenery today was absolutely spectacular. We travelled down the rugged West Coast, to the village of Franz Josef where we took the 30 minute optional helicopter ride up and over both Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, landing in the snow on Chancellor Shelf, above Fox Glacier, for the obligatory photo opportunity. Travelling south we then crossed Haast Pass (a World Heritage area) back over the Southern Alps to the glacial lakes of Hawea and on to Wanaka where we spent the night at Edgewater Resort. NZ beer sampled was an amber coloured "Brewski", brewed locally in Wanaka.
Wednesday 21 October 2009: Wanaka – Queenstown (123kms)
We had a late check-out this morning which gave us time to enjoy this extremely picturesque lakeside location. We took a walk (2.5kms) along the lake shoreline, and joined the coach in town. We then travelled past Lake Dunstan, through the Kawarau Gorge. We had lunch at Arrowtown, a beautifully preserved gold mining village. From here it was only a short drive to Queenstown. That evening Glenn took us to the Skyline Restaurant on Bob’s Peak by gondola, where we viewed out over Queenstown, the waterfront and mountains during dinner. It was an exceptionally inspiring dining experience watching the nightfall across this magnificent panorama. Next NZ beer sampled was Distinction Ale (a dark brown concoction). Overnighted at Rydges, Queenstown, where we stayed the next night as well.
Thursday 22 October 2009: Queenstown
Today we were free to explore this picturesque lakeside resort. Queenstown has spectacular natural beauty, a rich history and an amazing array of activities and sightseeing. We went back up to Bob's Peak (Skyline Restaurant) on the Gondola for more photographs of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, did some shopping in downtown Queenstown, and cruised Lake Wakatipu in the 97 year old Steam Ship "Earnslaw" from Queenstown to Walter's Peak Station and back. Dinner was at Rydges sixth floor restaurant overlooking Lake Wakatipu, where today's NZ beer sampled was Tui (a dark amber colour).
Friday 23 October 2009: Queenstown – Milford Sound – Te Anau (408kms)
Today was perhaps one of the most memorable days on tour. Tracing the shores of Lake Wakatipu, we travelled through Te Anau before following the Eglinton and Hollyford Valleys to the Homer Tunnel. We were spellbound by the scenic splendour as we approached Milford Sound. Stops between Te Anau and Milford Sound included Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lakes, Knob's Flat, Hollyford Lookout (where we met a Kea), Monkey Creek, The Chapel (where 6 of our group boarded a helicopter for a scenic ride over Milford Sound), and The Chasm (in the Cleddau Valley). We were unable to stop at the Homer Tunnel because of the Avalanche Risk. We enjoyed a launch trip on the fiord aboard M.V. Milford Sovereign and soaked up the magnificent views of Mitre Peak and numerous waterfalls. We travelled back to Te Anau for the night, staying at the Distinction Luxmore Hotel, where the NZ beer sampled was Mac's Gold (a nice amber-coloured drop indeed!).
Saturday 24 October 2009: Te Anau – Dunedin (289kms)
The coach departed Te Anau and travelled past fertile green farmlands, through Gore (the road from Gore to Clinton was named the "Presidential Highway"!) and Balclutha to Dunedin, a charming city of Scottish influence. We lunched in the Octagon (Dunedin's City Centre) and retail therapy visits included Dunedin's Scottish Shop. That afternoon we travelled out to the Otago Peninsula to visit Larnach Castle (named "The Camp" by William Lanarch) for an informative guided tour to learn about its history and scandalous past (great script for a TV mini-series!). This magnificent property was built in 1871 and has been restored to its original condition providing an interesting showcase of the Victorian era. Our coach then returned us to our hotel, stopping along the way at Baldwin Street (the Guiness Book of Records World's Steepest Street), Otago University and the Dunedin Railway Station. Overnight at the Scenic Circle Dunedin City Hotel, with that night's NZ beer being Monteith Pilsner.
Sunday 25 October 2009: Dunedin –Twizel (260kms)
Departed Dunedin and travelled up the East Coast to Moeraki where a stop was made to view the unusual boulders that rest on the beach. At historic Oamaru we turned inland and followed the Waitaki Valley through Kurow and Otematata to Twizel where we left our bags at the MacKenzie Country Inn, before proceeding north to the Mount Cook National Park to view Mount Cook (known to the Maoris as "Aoraki" - the Cloud Piercer), New Zealand's (and Australasia's) highest mountain at 3764 metres (12315 feet). Overnighted at Twizel, sampling Speight's Old Dark.
Monday 26 October 2009: Twizel – Christchurch (393kms)
Departed Twizel and en route viewed the Church of the Good Shepherd on the shores of Lake Tekapo, before proceeding on to Christchurch, via Geraldine and, further along, the "Tin Shed". On arrival in Christchurch, we enjoyed a brief sightseeing tour before arriving at our hotel (Holiday Inn on Avon).
Tuesday 27 October 2009: Christchurch – Brisbane - Townsville
“Haere Ra” – Farewell. We were transferred to Christchurch International Airport for our return flight home (departing Christchurch at 0615). Up at 3:00 am (Christchurch time) / midnight (Townsville time) and arrived home in Townsville at 11:05 am (AEST).