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Leaving the South Island for Aukland

Sadly, Air New Zealand has a pathetic (almost non-existent) partnership with United Airlines. Global Services? Whatevs. NPS got to experience a coveted middle seat in the back of the plane on the hop between Queenstown and Aukland.

Were we pleased? HA!

But we did get to Aukland eventually (and late). We do highly recommend the professional and courteous Blacklane car service to get around from the airport.

By the time we got to the Aukland Sofitel, we were running slightly late for our 8:30 dinner reservation at Lava (which as it turns out is in the hotel).

Sofitel lobby is modern and stylish

We were assigned 608, a very small room with a very nice view of the harbor. Just don’t try walking around. Stuffy is the right word.

The bed dominates 608 which seems higher than it is wide

The view can’t be beat

Boats

The bathroom is well appointed and nicely sized, though nothing special. The shower itself had seen better days inside. More attention to detail is in order so that everything is in order.

Lava is a nice place to eat, especially if you are in your 70’s. Old school, slightly stuffy with an undertrained and not very attentive staff. The food was creative and good but well overpriced for the experience itself. Seems that the pastry chef is the best person on the staff at the moment. Just go for dessert.

But about that view.

One way

Or another

Three showerheads and less stuffiness in terms of architecture. Very corporate and old school in all the wrong ways.

Hidden Lodge is the bomb. Make sure to stay here if you stay in Queenstown, New Zealand. The property is just as gorgeous as the surrounding countryside.

Hidden Lodge living room overlooks lake Wakatipu

The Wha room is downstairs and overlooks a verdant lawn.

All showers are glass

The Toru is upstairs with windows on both sides.

The shower is NPS approved

The wood fired hot tub is an excellent place for a soak. Just make sure it gets properly stoked!

Wood fired hot tub

The food and cocktail scene in Queenstown is pretty touristy, but that can be a good thing. Food at Blue Kanu is creative and delicious.

Budda at Blue Kanu

Get the KFC at Blue Kanu

Cloudy Bay bubbly

On the other hand, though the scene is fun at VKnow, the food does not live up to its hype. Danny is a hoot.

Joe’s Garage serves a nice lunch.

For cocktails, the Bunker can’t be beat.

Experimental Cocktail

Barman Dermot Hynes made us an Experimental Cocktail
10 ml Laphroaig
45 ml woodford reserve
20 ml lemon
10 ml sweet vermouth
10 ml simple syrup
dash angustora
stir down. serve up. twist.

Take a walk up Queenstown Hill.

Five showerheads and a hope to return for the Hidden Lodge. Just top notch.

After a day packed with adventure in Milford Sound, we drove off over the mountain and through the tunnel to the other side just as the sun was going down. Turns out that spending dead turkey day in the southern hemisphere is a good thing!

Leaving Milford Sound

The drive to Knobs Flat is around 45 minutes. Though the cabins are rustic, they are perfectly suited to the environment. We cooked a very late dinner at 10pm (which included a fake Thanksgiving turkey).

Unconsumed, but present

The great people at HQ allowed us to stash groceries purchased in Te Anau for a day while we stayed at Milford Sound. We stopped in on our way to Milford Sound. This was a very good plan.

Headquarters

A morning hike to the waterfall is recommended. The trail itself is wild with a log creek crossing, lots of moss, notched trees, and drippy bushes.

Cabin 1 on the left

Sadly, we did not snap any pictures inside the cabin. So the shower and the little kitchen will go undocumented. Such are the hazards of a high adventure day.

The drive to and from Te Anau is gorgeous.

We stopped by Te Anau for a fantastic super fun jet boat ride and some delicious Indian food at Radhas.

NPS highly recommends the Knobs Flat cabins. Four showerheads and a waterfall hike!

Milford Sound is an incredible place to be on the planet. Lots of outdoors things to do. SCUBA diving with black coral. Sea kayaking down the sound (with sailing of you’re lucky). Hiking. Just wow.

Sadly, there is only one place to stay in Milford Sound. What we can say for Milford Sound Lodge is that they are taking advantage of their monopoly status. Not our cup of tea, especially when it comes to dining. (A better bet is to stay in the cabins in the national park on the other side of the tunnel.)

We were assigned room 13 (which we booked WAY in advance and overpaid for). The internet did not work.

Little cabins in paradise

The bedroom

At least the shower was not plostic!

However, the toilet was

On our way in, we did the Key Summit walk. A great hike.

Key summit reflection

panorama from key summit

Anyway, skip the Milford Lodge and just do all of the things. We recommend SCUBA with Descend and Sea Kayaking with Rosco’s.

SCUBA with descend diving in Milford Sound

Kayak with Rosco’s Kayaks in Milford Sound

More about high adventure fun at Milford Sound on apothecaryshed.

Two showerheads and some dinner service that works for Milford Sound Lodge. And maybe a staff with some training? Just camp.

What a difference a day makes. It rained like crazy in Dunedin almost the entire time we were there. The rain was so intense that major highways were flooding and bridges were impassable.

After lunch on our way up to Queenstown, we barely made it past an important bridge. New Zealand is small enough that there are really not that many alternative routes available. Even the big roads are, well, two laners with the occasional one lane bridge.

We drive by Lake Wakatipu on the way to Queenstown. The lookout at Devil’s Staircase was blustery and wet.

We checked in to Villa del Lago in the rain (about which more in a second). By the next morning, the rain was replaced by a spectacular view.

And of course, the lookout at Devil’s Staircase on Lake Wakatipu was a completely different scene.

So that’s the difference a day can make. Now on to Villa del Lago. Basically, Queenstown is a major tourist destination for skiing, hiking, and general partying. Villa del Lago has a very much ski chalet feel. Nice, but slightly abused and just a little declasse.

Our apartment complex had several rooms. We were in number four.

The living area features great windows

The kitchen remained unused

Pretend fireplace

The Boy’s room

Master bedroom view

The washer and dryer came in handy after our time in San Francisco.

The all important bathroom was of the Euro variety with a nice shower—not plastic.

The non-plastic shower

Ivy and Lola’s is a very good restaurant indeed. Great lamb in interesting combinations. And a decent negroni to boot!

Ivy and Lola’s

The Bunker is a very good cocktail location. Excellent skills and interesting drinks.

The Bunker

Corpse Reviver #2

Smoke

The Villa del Lago earns three showerheads. Time to clean those stained bedspreads and spruce things up a notch to match the scenery!

The Bluestone on George is a cozy place to stay in Dunedin, New Zealand even on a cold, rainy, Spring day.

Once the dense cloud cover broke (at a very low ceiling), the green of New Zealand peeked through.

A quick trip into town from the airport was aided by the fact that Eli can drive on the left, which is right around here.

Bluestone on George is nicely upscale. Clean and modern with friendly staff. We are in room 405. The room features a balcony overlooking soggy Dunedin. In the middle of the night, the wind and rain was so strong that the doors blew open (they were not properly latched).

The lobby is a great place to vanquish your temporary chess enemies.

Beautiful lines in the lobby

Dunedin from the balcony

Without further ado, room 405.

Eaves set off the balcony

Sleek kitchenette

Though tight (probably because the hot tub thing is so wide), the bathroom is also sleek and modern. Cool showerhead too.

So many nozzles

Dinner at Etrusco features working class Italian in a setting with a great fireplace. Friendly service and good food.

Fireplace at Etrusco

We accidentally discovered a new gin at the restaurant. Too many sweet aromatics for a Negroni. This gin should be saved for cucumber cocktails. Tellingly, they were advertising Bombay Sapphire as a London Dry. Nopey nope.

New Zealand gin

For breakfast near the George, try Capers which has great pancakes. Good Earth Cafe is a nice college hangout with great looking cakes.

If you’re on the road, make sure to hit the Hokonui Moonshine Museum in Gore. Turns out it was NPS ancestors who brought hooch to New Zealand from Kintail.

Four showerheads and a nice warm welcome for Bluestone on the George. Highly recommended.