Before we begin, let's just get this out of the way. By the time you finish reading this post, you'll likely be itching to travel to New Zealand. But before you pack your bags and jump on a flight, we highly recommend you ensure you are covered, by taking out New Zealand Travel Insurance. Ok, now that's done, on with the post!
Last week, we took you from Taupo to Queenstown, New Zealand. Today, we continue with the second half of our journey on Relais and Chateaux’s Route du Bonheur – or ‘route of happiness’, a never-more aptly named journey through the skies, which we did with Air New Zealand (but which can also be done by car if you have a lot more time) between New Zealand’s famous luxury lodges.
Our next leg of our trip involved a scenic one-hour drive to Whare Kea Lodge and Chalet in Wanaka. We thought that Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown was dramatic, well, Lake Wanaka, pictured above, is equally as beautiful, just a little more remote and rugged, with just the lights of the small town of Wanaka twinkling in the distance.
As we visited in winter, a helicopter was somewhat audaciously parked on the lawn next to the lodge’s lounge. While this helicopter had been hired by guests for a week of heli-skiing, as many of us might hire a car, we were to have our own helicopter adventure. However, first we were to visit the unique Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve. After a short boat ride across the water with a local guide, we hiked the island to see the Buff Weka, one of New Zealand’s most endangered flightless birds. A small lake sits almost atop the island and once again we are presented with improbably stunning views.
But the views got even better. At a nearby sandy beach we jumped into our helicopter and flew up to Whare Kea Chalet, nestled high in the Southern Alps. This private lodge is mainly used during summer when hikers from the Lodge stay here overnight, but is increasingly being used in winter – as a lunch spot! We settled in for a warming soup, heated by the staff at the chalet, and drank in the dramatic winter wonderland before another helicopter ride, our return trip, gave another perspective and more gobsmacking scenery on a different route back to the lodge.
Our last lodge on our visit was just a short flight from Queenstown and then a short drive from Christchurch. An historic country estate, Otahuna Lodge was built in 1895 (in a Queen Anne architectural style) for Sir Heaton Rhodes, a high-profile pioneer of the Canterbury region. The restoration of the homestead is exquisite and the sprawling grounds are gorgeous. Dining with the owners over a gastronomic feast in an antique-filled dining room with wood-panelled walls and crystal chandeliers, we felt like royalty!
The next day, we were met David, another knowledgeable local guide from Canterbury Guides for a private tour to Akaroa, a French settled 19th century town on a beautiful harbour, and boat trip out to spot the world’s rarest and smallest Hector’s Dolphins. We only caught a glimpse of a couple of the things, but saw plenty of seals and birdlife and it was enough to take in the jaw-dropping surrounds from the sea.
A stroll through the shaded waterfront and through the pretty town of weatherboard houses and cottage gardens was followed by a dramatic mountain-hugging drive in search of the perfect picnic spot. After a lovely lunch on the grass, overlooking sheep grazing in bucolic scenery with the cobalt sea beyond, we took another drive around the Banks Peninsula and the rim of the extinct volcano that forms the harbour.
Our last stop was the centre of Christchurch, where the devastation of this formerly splendid city of well-preserved historic architecture blew us a way. The centre looked like something out of a World War II history book with images of Europeans cities that had been flattened by bombing.
While the damage was extensive and the mood initially sombre, we were heartened by the signs of renewal our guide showed us, in the form of pop-ups that had appeared in the downtown – boutiques, galleries, cafés, eateries, fast food places, and even banks – had opened up in shipping containers that had been vibrantly painted. It was a Saturday afternoon and the vibe was so buzzy, we were already planning a return trip.
Our final dinner was in the big country kitchen, served by the chef herself, while on our last day we spent our time enjoying the lodge itself, a long lazy breakfast followed by a guided tour by one of the owners of the gorgeous gardens – both fitting final activities in a country that had excelled when it came to hospitality.
Why we hadn’t been to New Zealand before this, we really don’t know. But we will definitely be going back!
Next up… Grantourismo take to the rails!
This post was written by our Lara Dunston and Terence Carter of grantourismotravels.com, with whom InsureandGo has a special partnership. We would like to thank Lara and Terence very much for sharing their passion for travel. If you would like to contribute to our blog by sharing your travel experiences with us, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Places: New Zealand