May 20th, 2013
Driving into the glacier towns, whether you are coming from the north or south, is like driving into another world. The mix of farmland, beaches and snow capped mountains is enough to make you want to just stop and stare, but don’t stop too long, because we found so many enjoyable activities to do while you’re there.
The most popular tourist attractions in Fox and Franz Josef towns are unmistakably the two glaciers. These mass expanses of beautiful blue ice descend from the southern alps into very accessible valleys. After a quick visit to the i-site, we decided the best way for us to get the full glacier experience on a budget was to follow the hiking trail up to both glaciers in one day. We started with Fox glacier as the trail to it is a shorter walk than the Franz Josef. As soon as we drove up to the Fox Glacier parking lot we already had an impressive view of the glacier, and as we walked the trail through the glacial moraine, the views just got better and better. This trail changes almost daily because of the glacial activity and flooding, and the DOC does a great job maintaining it. The viewpoint gave us a great view of the bottom of the glacier, and as soon as we got there a massive chunk of ice slowly fell off and crashed into the water below, creating a wave that we watched travel all the way down the river and back to the parking lot. What an incredible sight to see!
We had a quick lunch at the van before making our way to Franz Josef. The parking lot at this glacier is surrounded by the beautiful temperate rainforest, and the hike begins through this gorgeous forest, before descending onto the moraine. The hike to Franz Joseph is significantly longer than the Fox Glacier trail, but the sights you see are completely worth the longer walk. As soon as we walked out of the forest we were greeted with two large waterfalls. The waterfalls are very easy to access from the trail, and that water was the best tasting I have ever had. We continued along the trail, passing through a field of boulders that the glacier dropped there so many years ago. Just over the only hill at the end of the trail, suddenly we had the glacier right in front of us, and we could see all the way up to the first bright-blue icefall. What a sight, words cannot describe how massive and beautiful it is!
As much as I love a good hike, and as mild as these two hikes were, I’ll admit, my legs and feet were moderately sore. The lady at the i-site also told us about the Glacier Hot Pools, a man-made hot spring complex right in the town of Franz Josef. Everything about these pools scream luxury, except the price. $23 gets you access to the three public pools, and they also have private pools for a higher price. The public pools are surrounded in lush rainforest, the fern trees making a canopy over the pools. They have sun shades over the pools as well, and when it rains the shades make a cool mist, the perfect compliment to a hot pool. The design and shape of the pools make it very easy to seclude yourself from other bathers if you want to, but can also be a very social setting, it all depends on where you sit.
The West Coast Wildlife Centre was the perfect way to spend our second day in the glacier towns. They offer a package deal for $40 which includes all day entry into the Wildlife Centre, and a ½ hour backstage pass to see the breeding and incubation program with your own guide! The Wildlife Centre has two kiwi’s that you can view up close, a wildlife exhibit and a huge glacier exhibit. We recommend doing the package deal while you’re there, being up close with kiwi chicks is unbeatable!
Destination: Fox and Franz Josef Glacier Towns
Under $50 Activity: Glacier Hot Pools
Bonus Activity: West Coast Wildlife Centre
Cheap Deal: Viewing 2 glaciers in one day.
January 24th, 2013
The West Coast has been calling our name lately, so after a trip to the glaciers, it was time to head north and see what other adventures we could find. Greymouth is the central hub of the West, the biggest town in the area. It is a great base to explore between Hokitika and Westport because it has everything you need in a town, without the busy, fast paced feeling.
While exploring the area we happened upon On Yer Bike, an off road heaven of 4 wheelers, go carts and 8 wheeler argos used on a spectacular and muddy trail system just outside of Greymouth. We opted for the ½ hour argo tour, and this small 8 wheel drive vehicle did not disappoint! Because we were there during a few days of rain the trails were extra wet, and that could be why we had such a blast. The deeper the water the better in these machines. Our guide Mike was great, he fed off of our excitement and could really read our comfort levels, giving us just enough thrill without any fear. The trail system on the property is well done and takes you through lush native forest, farmers fields, steep hills and even through a river before returning to the cafe/office. Once at the cafe we warmed up with a cuppa and made use of their free wifi.
Greymouth is home to one of the best beer brands we have tasted in New Zealand, Monteith’s. The brewery was started in 1868, and has been producing this famous beer ever since. Recently the brewery has undergone a facelift, changing from producing Monteith’s signature beers, to focusing more on the seasonal ones, sending mass production elsewhere in New Zealand. Their brewery has also recently been completely redone, and we were lucky enough to get the first tour of the new brewery! The tour takes you through all of their new shiny equipment, while telling you all about the beer making process. After that the tour moves onto the bottling and kegging rooms. The best part about the tour, in our opinion, is learning about the older, homemade machines, hand crafted by one of the long term employees of the brewery. During the tour as well you are invited to the tasting area where you get a chance to pour your own beer from the tap. It is set up as a sort of VIP lounge, very prestigious. Call ahead to book your time and ask about the different Passport options, they have deals with local restaurants and transport companies that you can take advantage of.
Punakaiki or Pancake Rocks is one of New Zealand’s most famous natural attractions, and is a great half-day side trip from Greymouth. There isn’t much else close to the Pancake Rocks other than some Cafe’s, a cave and the i-site, but walking around the walkways, watching the blowholes and delighting in the rocks can really take some well enjoyed time.
The West coast is a great place to spend time, the laid back attitude and friendly locals combined with the unique and interesting activities make it a great place to slow down and enjoy.
Under $50 Activity: On Yer Bike
Bonus Activity: Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
Cheap Deal: Monteiths Brewery Tour
January 16th, 2013
Franz Josef is such a scenic area to be in, and it’s abundance of free campgrounds in the surrounding area make it the perfect place to set up a base for a few days.
We found ourselves at Gillespies Beach, a gorgeous free DOC campground just outside of the town, on a beautiful, warm evening with clear skies right above us and over the ocean, with rain just past us over the mountains. As blue skies turned into starry skies, the rain staying just past our little piece of paradise, and new introductions of fellow travelers turning to friendships, we realized this was the perfect evening to explore the Kiwi phenomenon known as the Swappa-crate.
The Swappa crate, or ‘Puinamu’ which translates to ‘wooden crate with beer’, is one of the best things about New Zealand, from a backpackers point of view. It contains 12 x 750mL bottles of decent beer, Tui or Speights being our personal favourites. The first time you buy a swappa you are charged for the crate and bottles, but every time after that you swap your empty crate for a full one, you save money and it’s the perfect way to recycle your empty bottles. The best part is, you have an abundance of beer, and a bit of extra cash.
So while we were on this gorgeous pebble beach, with new friends and an abundance of beer, there was only one thing to do. We piled up some beachwood, lit a fire, and shared our Swappa with our new friends. We heard stories from all over the world as we sat around the fire, had a lot of laughs and made some long lasting friendships as well. It was a difficult task, but with our new friends and a gorgeous beach and fire, we were able to get through the Swappa by the time the sun came up.
The next day we slept late, abandoned all hope for an active day, and enjoyed Flowing West – The Glacier Movie at the local theatre. Without giving too much away, Flowing West is a well made, scenic ride through the water cycle, from ocean to glacier and back. It was the perfect activity for a rainy, post Swappa afternoon.
Destination: Franz Josef
Under $50 Activity: Swappa on the Beach
Bonus Activity: Gillespies Beach Campground
Cheap Deal: Flowing West – The Glacier Movie
January 10th, 2013
The town of Hanmer Springs is a secluded paradise, and seems to be built around the famous hot pools. While Hanmer Springs Thermal Resort is an incredible place to spend a day, it is definitely not the only thing to do in Hanmer Springs.
As we were driving into Hanmer Springs, we noticed a handful of tour operators along the road into town. One that caught our eye was Hanmer Llamas and their short llama trek. They offer a two hour llama trek with light refreshments included in the price. Trekking with llamas is not something we ever considered before, but these well trained, affectionate animals are a joy to hike with. They carry packs along the trail so you don’t have to, and are so mild tempered. The laamas were originally trained to carry packs for hunting and fishing excursions, but they also love a quick walk around the large property, and the views are exquisite.
Hanmer Springs Thermal Resort is what this town is famous for, and for good reason. If you want a full on theme park sized hot pool complex at a very reasonable price, this is the place for you. No it’s not a natural hot spring, but it uses natural, geothermally heated, filtered water in it’s many pools, and has so many different pools it’s difficult to choose which one to go in. Our favourites, as hard as it was to choose, were the Aquatherapy pools, which have jets and waterfalls that literally massage head to toe, and the sulphur pools, which may smell like sulphur, but feels like liquid silk on your skin. We spent the entire day, and evening there, trying out all of the different pools, we even indulged and paid the extra money for the water slides, which completed the fun-factor of this great day.
If you are more interested in a small private, natural hotspring this area is still perfect for you. Just west on Lewis Pass Road (Highway 7) after the road crosses the river is a small, completely natural hot spring, right beside the cold rushing river. If you can handle sand flies, or have bug repellant, this place is like something out of a movie. Cue the naked hippies, and action! The small pools are perfect size for two or four people, and the ice cold river is perfect for keeping your beer cold. If you keep driving in Lewis Pass road a little further, the Deer Flats Campground is free.
Whether you’re looking for one of the best tourist attractions or an obscure, off-the-beaten-path type of activity, Hanmer Springs has it all.
Destination: Hanmer Springs
Under $50 Activity: Llama walk
Bonus Activity: Sylvia Flats
Cheap Deal: Hanmer Springs
December 17th, 2012
Kaikoura is known for it’s dolphin, whale and seal tours out on the ocean, the depth of the water just off of the shore makes it the perfect location for these once-in-a-lifetime tours. However, we stayed on land in Kaikoura, and I can honestly say we had the time of our lives, without even touching the water, and keeping our money where it belongs, in our wallets.
We found Fyffe View Adventure Park, a tourist friendly farm with so much to offer, just off the beaten track from Kaikoura township. They offer everything from a petting zoo, to horse treks, even off road go carts. They offer half hour horse treks around a trail system on their property, the perfect introduction to someone who has never ridden a horse before. While the horses were being prepared for our ride, we bought a small bucket of food and went to enjoy the petting zoo. This was one of the better petting zoos we have been to, they had everything from peacocks to deer fawns. The horse ride was perfect for beginners, we followed the guide at a slow pace through a lush wild field, through trees and flowers. It was very relaxing and a great introduction to horse riding. If horse riding isn’t your thing, they also offer mountain kart lugeing on their outdoor track for under $50, but when the track is too wet they close it down.
Traveling around and visiting New Zealand’s many beautiful beaches, we have found countless paua shells just laying on the beach. In souvenir shops around the country these shells polished go for between $15 and $50, even though you can pick them up in their raw form on most beaches. We found Southern Paua in Kaikoura that will polish any paua shell you bring in, for only $5. We thought this was one of the best Kiwi souvenirs you can get, so we had to try. We chose our biggest shell, because we were told the older it is the better, and had the owner of the shop polish it for us. It came out absolutely stunning! It looked like the ones out of the most expensive souvenir shop, but better, because we found it. What a neat experience to bring in something that you found on a beach, and walk out with a stunning souvenir!
Like I stated above, Kaikoura is known for its wildlife tours, mainly because the wildlife is so easily accessible. Without venturing onto the water, we found a place like no other. A gorgeous, and quite large waterfall with a perfectly round pool, cascading into a babbling brook. Yes, New Zealand has many of these, but this specific one had at least a hundred fur seal pups jumping, playing, resting and posing for the camera. One even came up and kissed our video camera! We have seen fur seals around the south island, but to see this many pups, with no adults playing wildly under this breathtaking waterfall was an unexpected and astonishing surprise.
When in Kaikoura, we definitely recommend spending the extra money and taking a tour on the water, but if you’re on a backpacker budget, there is still so much more than just the oceanic wildlife tours.
Under $50 Activity: Fyffe View Adventure Park
Bonus Activity: Paua Shell Polish
Cheap Deal: Ohau Waterfall Seal Pups
November 28th, 2012
The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings series has brought a new kind of tourism to New Zealand, taking fans of the Tolkien adventures all over this beautiful country. Some of the films locations are off the beaten track and you might not be able to reach them with a campervan. Due to the locations recent popularity you can always a way to reach your destination whether by car, campervan, tour bus, or helicopter.
Matamata – The Shire and Hobbiton Movie Set
Hobbiton has a 2 hour tour that leaves 7 times per day visiting Bag End including the house of Bilbo Baggins, the Party Tree and 44 hobbit holes. The site will remain a permanent tourist attraction. It is the one remaining man-made set location from the movie still standing, and is co-owned by Peter Jackson. The site has been rebuilt for ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ and will remain in place for many years to come as a gift to Tourism New Zealand.
Tongariro National Park – Mount Doom
Mount Ruapehu is the highest point in the North Island at 2,797 meters and it is also one of the best skiing spots in the North Island. It has the North Island’s only glacier and is also an active volcano. Both Mount Ruapehu and Mount Tongariro were depicted as Mount Doom in the films, with long shots of Tongariro and shots on the slope of Ruapehu. The new Hobbit film will also feature shots of these two mountains.
Putangirua Pinnacles – Paths of the Dead
The Putangirua Pinnacles are in the Aorangi Forest Park on the Pinnacles track. Here you can see the strange rock formations where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli ride to meet the Army of the Dead.
Wellington – WETA workshop
The Weta Cave Museum was the first Weta Cave site with interactive displays and collectables available to check out without an entrance fee. Located in Miramar, Wellington, it is the larger of the two Weta Cave sites and has a mini-museum to learn more about the artistic process behind creating some of the wonderful special effects they produce here.
Kaitoke Regional Park – Rivendell
Kaitoke Regional Park is north of Upper Hutt near Wellington in the foothills of the Tararua Ranges. Check out the Ridge Track to see the beautiful hills and views of the Upper Hutt Valley. Sunlight filters through the trees just as it did at the House of Elrond.
Harcourt Park in Upper Hutt – Gardens of Isengard
Harcourt Park is located on Akatarawa Road in the Rimutaka Mountains in Upper Hutt which is 20 minutes from Wellington.
Waitarere Forest – Osgiliath Wood
Waitarere Forest is just north of Wellington along the coast and was chosen by Peter Jackson to represent the ‘Trollshaws’, a woodland area west of Rivendell. This is where Frodo, Sam and Smeagol walked after leaving Faramir.
Whakapapa Skifield – Emyn Muil
Whakapapa Skifield is New Zealand’s largest skifield with a variety of terrain suitable for first-time beginners through to seasoned professionals. This is where Frodo and Sam catch Gollum who then leads them on their journey.
Mangawhero River – Gates of Mordor
Located near the Tukino skifield at Mount Ruapehu. This is where the scene was filmed in which Frodo, Sam and Gollum see the Gates of Mordor before having to climb around them.
Fiordland – River Anduin
Waiau River scenes served as the opening aerial shot of The Fellowship of the Ring showing off its forested banks. This piece of land was proposed to be named ‘Anduin Reach’ to honour the work done by Peter Jackson on the Lord of the Rings films. The proposal was denied by the New Zealand Geographic Board.
Mackenzie Country – Pelennor Fields
Near Twizel in the Mackenzie Country, Peter Jackson filmed the epic battle of the Pelennor Fields, where thousands of orcs bred by Sauron clashed with the men of Gondor and Rohan. The grassy fields that stretch to the foothills of the mountains look exactly as described in The Lord of the Rings. The location is on private land, however you can arrange a tour in the town of Twizel.
Mt Sunday, Canterbury – Edoras
Mount Sunday in Canterbury was used as Edoras, the home and capital city of the Rohan people.
Queenstown – Ford of Bruinen
Arrowtown, a beautiful, small former mining town is where you can find the Arrow River which is where Arwen defeated the Nazgul by creating a flood.
Nelson – The Ring
Jens Hansen, who was the goldsmith responsible for creating the rings used in the films, has his workshop here and you can view the original rings on display or buy 9 ct or 18 ct copies.
Takaha Hill – Chetwood Forest
Just west of Nelson is Takaka Hill where the hobbits hid from the Black Riders.
Mount Owen – Dimrill Dale
Mount Owen is where The Fellowship, now without Gandalf, escape Moria. From the air in a helicopter, you can get a panoramic view of three national parks in the area including Abel Tasman, Nelson Lakes and Kahurangi.
Cardrona Valley – Various LOTR Landmarks
Mount Cardrona has a panoramic view of some Middle-Earth landmarks. At the summit you could see on the left the River Anduin and the Pillars of the Argonath, the hills in front are Dimrill Dale, and Amon Hen on the shore of Nen Hithoel further down the horizon.
Kawarau Suspension Bridge – The Argonath on the River Anduin
Kawarau Suspension Bridge overlooking the Kawarau River is where the fellowship pass the Pillars of the Kings on the Anduin River.
As you can see the sites are spread out all over the country, taking you to some of the most picturesque landscapes in all of New Zealand. If you are really interested to have all the details there is a good book on the subject by Ian Brodie called ‘Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook’ that has GPS coordinates along with more details about the locations and how they were used in the films. The best part is most of the locations are free to visit and many of them are easy enough to access that it won’t interrupt your trip schedule. Even if you aren’t a fan of the movies, many of these locations are some of the top tourist destinations in New Zealand so you can’t go wrong paying a visit to these places.
November 7th, 2012
We had a bit of a boys weekend while in Wanaka, even though it wasn’t just the boys having all the fun. This town is chock full of interesting things to do, and we had a blast having a shot at Have-a-Shot, a shot of beer at the microbrewery, and a shot of glacier water at the Rob Roy Glacier.
Have-A-Shot Shooting Complex caught our eye every time we drove in or our of Wanaka. Located right by the Wanaka Airport, this fun attraction features everything from archery and shotguns, to a driving range and a battlefield. We decided to try an array of different activities that kept us under $50, but to be honest, we wish we had paid the $76 to do them all! I started with the rifle range, having no clue what I was doing, but the instruction from the employee there was great. He told me I had three different targets, and 25 shots. Apparently I had a case of beginners luck, (or maybe it was my super-power sunglasses) because by my third target, I was hitting constant bulls-eyes! Next we tried the Archery Range, and that is where my beginners luck expired. Hitting such a large target looked easy enough, especially with my new found shooting confidence, however, my target had very few holes in it after our half hour in the booth. The main reason was that I hit Brendan’s target more than my own. Brendan tried his hand at skeet shooting next, and he didn’t stop smiling through his very loud and very exhilarating time in the booth. He hit a total of four, and got a pat on the back for that from the instructor. The owner of Have A Shot, Wayne, took us around and showed us the other activities to do there, and I think the most interesting was the battlefield. It’s not really suitable for two people, even though it’s allowed, but if you have a group of four or more it looks like a great time.
After a great time at Have A Shot, we decided it was time for a beer. Across the street beside the Transport Museum, Wanaka Beerworks has a small, intimate tasting room and a small tour of the micro brewery. We had three of their seasonal beers and a small cheese platter, as well as the quick tour, all for only $10. It was nice to sit at the bar in a cozy setting, while learning about the beers we were drinking from someone who is really passionate about them. It’s hard to beat the atmosphere of a micro-brewery, and it’s also hard to beat the taste.
It’s impossible to visit Wanaka and not take the trip out to the Rob Roy Glacier Track. This full day excursion is famous in New Zealand, and delivers breathtaking views throughout the entire day. The drive there is breathtaking. Driving along a mountain road, seeing new rock outcrops and rivers around every turn, we couldn’t help but stop for an unnecessary stretch every so often along the way. The track starts with crossing a swingbridge overlooking the most beautiful blue glacial river, and continues through a beautiful beech forest, opening up to glacial views that words cannot describe. You’ll just have to see it for yourself!
Wanaka provided more than we expected, and for a layed back, slow pace town, we kept quite busy!
Under $50 Activity: Have-a-shot
Bonus Activity: Hike to Glacier
Cheap Deal: Microbrewery Beer Tasting/tour
October 16th, 2012
campevanhq.com and Lucky Rentals got together to bring you some travel tips from Auckland to Cape Reigna!
We decided to tour New Zealand because of the amazing scenery – jagged mountaintops, lush valleys, orcs, hobbits. You know the kind of stuff you see on TV.
We decided to fly in to Auckland and out of Christchurch rather than booking a return flight from one destination. Two one way flights cost about $100 more than a return but we easily saved that in fuel and ferry costs. If you’re planning a trip round New Zealand you’ll use one of the inter island ferry services to cross between the North and South Island. It’s a cool, scenic crossing which is fun to do once but the $200 costs for two passengers plus a campervan means you’d be a bit miffed if you did it twice in a trip.
From Auckland we picked up our campervan and headed out of the city as quickly as possible. Lucky Rentals is located right by the airport so you can land, pick up your camper and get stuck into your trip straight away!
Our first milestone destination was going to be Cape Reigna. This is the northernmost part of New Zealand. Despite never having heard of it before we started researching our trip it quickly became a must see. We couldn’t not go there. It’s where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. It has whirlpools where the currents collide. It has a robotic lighthouse and one of those cheesy sign posts which show how many kms away from major world cities it is. What doesn’t sound amazing about this place? Well, except all lighthouses are unmanned nowadays and it would be cooler to meet one with an actual lighthouse keeper but I find the phrase ‘robot lighthouse’ futuristic and appealing.
We decided not to spend any time looking around Auckland on day one because we knew we’d have to double back and return a few days later anyway. One of the slightly annoying things about going up to the top of New Zealand is that it’s on a fairly thin strip so you have to repeat a lot of the same journey coming back rather than going on a loop.
Our flight landed at 1pm. We knew it was going to get dark around 7ish so we wanted to get as far North as possible before then. We had a rough plan, which we’ve written about in florid detail on our site campervanhq.com, of heading to Paihia. We mainly chose this place because it was on the way and the name sounded silly. I still don’t know how to pronounce it. I started off with ‘Pie High’ but everyone just looked at us funny when we asked directions. Then it morphed in to something like ‘Pee Hee’. They still looked at us funny but the amount of hopelessly incorrect directions started to drop.
In Paihia we stayed at the Beachside Caravan Park. It was awesome. Well when I say awesome we had to park on the road overnight because it had rained and all the grass sites were bogged under and when we told the thickset woman at reception we were going to Cape Reigna she kept trying to sell us a tour. It was mainly awesome because it had free, high speed wifi. In fact, it was almost as if New Zealand was trying to trick us by providing this on our first night.
One of the things that sucks about campervanning round New Zealand is the lack of good internet. Most campsites either don’t have it or have some low speed system that costs $20 a night. We only found two during our entire trip that had good, free wifi. The beachside in Paihia and the awesome Mount Aspiring Campervan Park in Wanaka. If you plan to be online a little bit just pick up a USB internet dongle at the airport or an electrical shop. It costs around $60 for 2GB of access. If you just use it to surf and don’t browse too many videos or download anything that should be enough for a month.
After spending the night at Paihia we continued up through the Bay of Islands towards Cape Reinga. It’s on a peninsula and to get there you have to drive along 90km of nothing much. There’s a couple of places where you can turn off to see 90 mile beach. As the name suggest it’s a huge beach but what I wasn’t prepared for was the wind lashing off the sea. Coming back I felt like I had had some sort of salty wind scrubby down. It was bracing.
When we finally got past the boring bits of the drive Cape Reinga itself was… pretty good. There’s a path you follow to get to the headland. Various signs describe the local plants, Maori legends and history of European settlement. As you walk along you think “wow I am going to the northernmost part of New Zealand”. Except if you’re a geek like me who reads all the signs you’ll quickly be informed that this isn’t the furthest point. There’s another inaccessible headland in the distance which juts out another 3km. I kind of felt misled but bravely soldiered on.
At the tip there’s a quaint little lighthouse and you can actually see the currents of the Tasman Sea and Pacific splashing against each other. It was a nice place to start off our trip. It made it feel like we were really doing the complete tour of the two islands.
If you’re planning on a campervan trip round New Zealand then it’s a good place to start. We went on to have lots of adventures round the rest of New Zealand but I’ll always think fondly of that first tip.
June 24th, 2012
Wanaka, located in the Queenstown Lakes area, is a great destination for outdoor persuits, not only because it is the gateway to Mt. Aspiring National Park, but all around the town there are countless hikes, ski spots, climbing walls and lake activities. One favourite tourist past-time is taking in the incredible views from the lakeside cafe’s, and indulging in Wanaka’s quirky attractions. We had quite a laugh enjoying the slightly odd and absolutely offbeat attractions that Wanaka has to offer.
Cinema Paradiso is one of the ‘must see’ activities in Wanaka, and after visiting three times during our short stay there, we can stand behind that fact. Our first impression of Cinema Paradiso was at lunchtime on a rainy day. They can only play one film at a time in the cozy theatre, but they seem to time their movies well. Our lunchtime film was a Dr. Seuss cartoon. Another day when we went before dinner it was a romantic comedy, and when we met some friends after dark, the last film of the day was an action superhero film. This isn’t your average small town movie theatre though, it is completely different. Yes there is a big screen and popcorn, but thats just the beginning. The theatre has all types of seating, from old comfy couches, to airplane seats, a make-out corner in the back, even an old volkwagon beetle, for that classic drive-in feel. Don’t eat out then go to the movie, the dinners served at intermission are home-made masterpieces! Their lamb burger and mushroom rosemary pizza were our two of our favourites,however the best part about Paradiso is the intermission cookies. Homemade, warm from the oven, moist cookies are well known as the best part of Cinema Paradiso, and I agree!
The quirkiness doesn’t end at Cinema Paradiso, Wanaka still has lots of bizarre attractions to enjoy. Puzzling World may be just a popular an activity as Paradiso, but for very different reasons. Puzzling World has three different attractions, all of which are included in their combo ticket. The main entrance has a gift shop, a cafe with countless puzzles, and some very interesting toilets, but I wont spoil the surprise. The illusion rooms will test your perception and keep you guessing. We watched water flow up hill, saw ourselves grow to touch the roof of a room, and had many famous faces follow us around. The outdoor giant maze was just as amazing (pardon the pun) as the illusion rooms. Finding our way through passages which all looked the same and problem solving with direction and distance proved to be more fun than expected. Not once did I get frustrated, but was definitely puzzled often. We finished the maze ten minutes faster than the average time, so we celebrated by taking our own twist on the classic hold-up-the-clocktower pictures!
Our free activity may not be for everyone, but we found this unorthodox Wanaka attraction to be heaps of fun. Wanaka Wastebusters isn’t just a recycling centre, its also a used clothing, gear, book, movie, mattress, bike, ski, toilet and more store. Yes, I said used toilet. Wanaka Wastebusters has everything, even a free bin, which I found some great shoes in! Even if you think you don’t need anything, the treasures you’ll find and the crazy-inexpensive prices to go with it make every visit worthwhile. We spent $15 there and could barely fit everything in our arms! This is by far the largest and the best second hand store I have ever been to. If you have any donations to give, the staff are always very appreciative. All profits from the store goes straight back into the community, so you can feel good about spending your few dollars there.
All of Wanaka’s campgrounds are beautiful, and well worth the money, however, in the nearby town of Luggate we found a little gem that just has to be shared. Along the small river, with newly renovated hot showers (with no time limit) sits this quaint friendly campground, right on the cricket field. The best part is, it’s only $5!
In a Nutshell:
Under $50 Activity: Cinema Paradiso dinner and a movie
Cheap Deal: Puzzling World
Bonus Activity: Wanaka Wastebusters
May 25th, 2012
It’s difficult not to notice the rich history in the Central Otago area. All of the he towns have a historical feel and influence, as do all of the activities on the area. The main gold mining of New Zealands not-so-distant past took place here, and the Central Otago Rail Trail runs right through all of it.
The Central Otago Rail Trail is one of those must-do’s that New Zealand is famous for. It is 150 kms of breathtaking New Zealand scenery and gold mining history. There are many places to eat and stay along the way, and also stretches of just you and the surrounding nature. If we were traveling with our own bikes, we would have done the whole thing, however since we had to rent, we asked everyone we met which is the best day section. Unanimously we were told to see the Poolburn gorge. We decided we would start in Lauder and turn around after an ice cream in Oturehua, 22.5 km’s away. We rented our bikes from Altitude Adventures, which are based in Alexandra and have a place in Lauder to rent from as well, so we didn’t have to transport the bikes to our starting location.
The weather was in our favour when we started, not a cloud in the sky. I was a bit apprehensive, having 45 km’s ahead of me, but the rail trail slopes up at such a gentle pace I quickly realized it wasn’t going to be a very difficult day. We rode over old train bridges, through tunnels and around the Poolburn gorge, it was so spectacular! We arrived in Oturehua with sore legs and an intense icecream craving. After our well deserved treat we started our journey back, and to our delight, cruised down the downhill, hardly pedaling at all! We didn’t realize how much uphill we were doing until we were headed in the opposite direction.
We were so intrigued by the gold mining and historical sights along the trail, we figured a gold mining historical tour was in order. We found that the Goldfields Mining Centre offer a self guided tour and gold panning experience for only $20, however for an extra $5 they book you on a guided tour as well, which lasts about an hour.We booked in early and had time to do the self guided tour of the old mining area first before meeting up with our guide. He was not only extremely knowledgeable about the historical gold mining and panning, but he was a experienced gold panner and had a lot of knowledge about current gold mining in Otago. Before showing us the old mining machinery, he showed us some of his own gold collection. His personal stories gave his tour a very authentic feel, we could tell how passionate he was about gold mining, and his tours were simply a way for him to share his passion. At the end of the tour it was our chance to pan for gold, we were taught the proper technique and left to try it out. We panned twice, and each found three or four little flecks of gold. Success!!
To keep with the historical theme, which is very easy in central Otago, we enjoyed some of the many historic walks in all of the small towns along the Rail Trail. Take your pick, they are all great!
In a Nutshell:
Destination: Central Otago
Under $50 Activity: Mountain Bike Rental for Rail Trail
Cheap Deal: Gold Panning Tour
Bonus Activity: Historical Walks