We came on vacation to New Zealand in March 1999 and based ourselves, with friends, in Napier.
Napier is known for 2 things, the earthquake
of 1931 and the subsequent rebuilding of the city in Art Deco style, and having a micro climate and being the driest and most temperate
climate in New Zealand.
The Art Deco buildings in Napier are interesting and in good condition, but in world terms it is very small. The weather is quite good and certainly warmer than most other places in NZ in winter, summer is warm to hot. It is also one of the main wine estate regions, producing many excellent white wine, the Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blanc wines of the region are excellent.
After a short stay in Napier, visiting friends who had emigrated from South Africa, we left Napier headed for Wellington and the South Island. We headed north first to Taupo to view the Huka Falls on the Waikato River and some nearby natural steam fields at the Craters of the Moon - see my North Island story for details. From there we drove south to Wellington.
Although the weather is Wellington is renowned for its extremes, it was perfect when we visited. In fact it was also perfect when we spent 3 days there in December 2000 with our son. Downtown Wellington has a real buzz, and it has the feel of a 'European' city. Well worth visiting. On our second visit there, we caught the cable car that runs up an incredibly steep hill, to the Botanical Gardens, from where there are stunning views of the city and harbour.
From Wellington we caught a ferry to Picton on the South Island, TIP - book well in advance as special prices are available for prior bookings. Also, in high season the demand is really great. The nearly 4 hour trip to Picton is most enjoyable, taking one across the Cook Strait into and through some very scenic bays and we passed many islands of all shapes and sizes.
From Picton we travelled down the east coast to Christchurch, then Dunedin and then inland to Queenstown, which reminded us of Whistler and Banff in Canada.
Queenstown is the premier ski resort in New Zealand and is visited by thousands of skiers from all over the world.
On the way to Queenstown we stopped where A.J. Hackett did the first bungee jump, from a foot bridge over a river.
From there we drove to the Franz Josef Glacier where we encountered a severe rainstorm which continued for a few days. Yvonne managed to reach into the river and pull out some large pieces of glacial ice. There were numerous land & rock slides onto the road, and we were lucky that a large rock just missed hitting the car we were in.
In 2004, we toured South Island again with Scott & Dee - this time we chartered a helicopter and flew over Fox Glacier and Mt. Cook. The view was breathtaking! We were very lucky with the weather as it clouded over about 10 minutes after we landed. The helicopter landed on the glacier and we were allowed to get out for 10 minutes and walk around.
From there we drove up the north west coast of South Island visiting Hokitiki, Greymouth and Westport, then along the very twisty and turning road along the extremely scenic Queen Charlotte Sound, headed for Nelson.
Although this trip back to Picton was incredible tiring, it was well worth it. The many little bays and alcoves, plus the brilliantly azure coloured water was really stunning. It reminded us of Phuket Island, Thailand.
That night we left Picton on the late evening ferry, headed for Wellington. In the protection of all the islands the sea was flat, with a full moon, making it a very pretty sight. However, once out in the Cook Strait, the wind strength became apparent, and the sea was very choppy and confused.