We joined a tour of New Zealand’s beautiful West Coast Region in November 2020. We were a bunch a friends who had decided to get together and look at options for travel around this area which is rich in history, wildlife and majestic scenic views. All this combined with warm southern hospitality was a sure recipe for the trip of a lifetime.
We decided upon a tour company which provided a minivan, driver and guide. Husband and wife team, Cathy and David run Luxury Touring and a link to the website is here.
This was a wonderful way to travel because Cathy and David do everything that is needed to make your holiday perfect. Their preparation work makes full days of experiences and sightseeing easy. As their web site mentions, all the details are taken care of seamlessly so that you enjoy safe and hassle-free holiday time. This was certainly true.
This wonderful couple are knowledgeable, friendly, caring and responsive to any request. The tour went ahead like a dream and all I had to think about was turning up. Everything… and I mean everything was taken care of!
I have always enjoyed coming to Christchurch. It is more than 10 years since the devastating earthquake struck and the city has made a comeback. It has a great community feel and the city is vibrant and colourful.
There is a lot to do in Christchurch- cultural events, street art, great restaurants and good coffee to name a few. A day trip to Akaroa was tempting but we were only here for one night before joining the tour however we did manage to visit the Riverside Market, a bustling boutique style shopping centre with restaurants and bars before heading back to the hotel to have dinner nearby.
The Quest Hotel in Cathedral Junction was a good place to stay mostly because of the central location. We found a lovely Japanese restaurant called Sakimoto in the arcade next to the hotel and we were seated at a table outside in the arcade. We were enthralled to see the tram run past, pick up dinner passengers (Tramway Restaurant) and continue on its journey. Mental note to book that one for next time.
Reefton – Kumara
Various members of our group joined us outside the hotel waiting for pick up and then we were all comfortably seated in the van, luggage sorted at the back and we were off to Reefton. We drove north through the Waipawa region, with stop at Pegasus Bay Winery, before turning west to Lewis Pass stopping at Maruia Springs Café for our obligatory morning coffee.
After check-in to the Lantern Court Motel we enjoyed a walking tour of Reefton. We sampled various flavours of Biddy Gin at the Reefton Distillery, visited the old courthouse and were treated to a cup of billy tea made by the old Bearded Miners at the Miners Hut… a brief glimpse into a gold miner’s life back in the late 1800s.
Dinner at Dawson’s Hotel was a treat because this was our first taste of fresh West Coast whitebait, yummmm, delicious!
Greymouth – Lake Brunner – Blackball – Cobden
The Broadway Tearooms at Reefton were a great choice for a hearty breakfast the next day and then we were on the road again heading to Cape Foulwind, the Seal colony, Punakaiki, Greymouth and finally to Kumara.
In Kumara we stayed at the wonderful historic Theatre Royal Hotel which is the West Coast`s only fully restored gold miners’ hotel, and once world-renowned theatre. Each room is unique with Victorian décor and antique furnishings so it was both charming and quirky. Our room was the old Bank of New Zealand. Dinner at the hotel was whitebait, of course.
The next day we visited Mitchells, Inchbonnie, Rotomanu, Moana, Stillwater and through to Blackball. Lots of walks around townships, down to the shorefront, meeting with a local historian then travelled through to Greymouth via the Brunner Mine site and a visit to Shipwreck Point and back to Kumara for the night.
Kumara – Hokitika
We drove through to the Hokitika Gorge and stopped for a walk in this beautiful spot.
On our way to Hokitika we stopped at the Tree Top Walk for those who were interested. At Hokitika we stayed at the Beach Front Hotel and our room had a beautiful view of the beach and ocean. The glass items at Hokitika Glass are beautifully handcrafted and the shop is well worth a visit, yes I bought a small item, just a glass bowl but I love it. Hokitika also has some cute gift shops most with interesting local art.
Hokitika – Whataroa – Franz Joseph
After a short stop at Ross to do the Cemetery Walk we moved on to meet the tour leaders for our scheduled White Heron Tour and…it was fantastic, beautiful!! These rare birds are majestic, graceful and beautiful, such a treat to see in the wild.
White Heron Sanctuary Tours Ltd is a family owned and operated business. It is the original and only company to operate in the remote Waitangiroto Nature Reserve and to visit New Zealand’s only Kotuku, White Heron nesting site.
Then on to Franz Joseph.
At Franz Joseph we struck our only wet day… and it was wet! We stayed at the Rainforest Retreat set amongst lush native bush, we wandered around the village, ate at the Snake Bite Restaurant where Bas formed a rapport with the talented Indonesian chef who also loved chilies so we were set for delicious Asian food.
Nothing much to do in the rain here so we organised a Netflix movie to be caste onto a tv in the common room from our tablet.
Our scenic flight was postponed to the next day but was in jeopardy due to the torrential rain and cloud cover.
Franz Joseph – Haast – Hawea
Unbelievably, the weather cleared and we were off to the airfield for our Air Safaris flight to see Mount Cook and the glaciers. What a highlight!!! It was a tiny plane and I was also worried about the weather but I was not going to miss it for anything… if the pilot was flying then so was I! And… WOW!
After the scenic flight and a refortifying cup of coffee at the Antler Pub in Haast we headed to Hawea.
Hawea – Cromwell – Queenstown
From Hawea we drove to Wanaka then via the west side of Lake Dunstan to Cromwell for lunch at Wild Earth Wines. We all shared the Stoaker banquet. Stoaker is a cooking system in a rustic wine barrel. The oak and steam create a unique flavour to the meat, smoky and delicious.
The last leg of our journey took us through the Kawarau Gorge and Gibbston Valley into Queenstown. We spent one night in Queenstown, we stayed at the Millennium Hotel where Bas taught the breakfast chef how to make masala omelets, and we dined in the evening at Josh Emit’s Rata Restaurant. It was Bas’s 65th birthday and another couple’s wedding anniversary so we celebrated with champagne and a banquet dinner, an absolute delight.
The next day in Queenstown we picked up a motorhome and so the next leg of our south island tour began… that will be for another post.
Update: see post about our motorhome tour of the South Island here.