Categories
Accommodation Architecture Europe Travel

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

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Rothenburg is a small town in Germany with traditional architecture and cobblestone paths. It is a popular tourist destination and is often featured in travel catelogues.
I am pretty sure you would have seen the scene in this photo in travel catelogues before if you have ever picked on up to research trips for Europe.

Rothenburg is a small traditional German town with traditional German style houses and buildings. Rothenburg is mostly a tourist town so there are lots of small cafes, sweets shops and restaurants located in these buildings, although the area isn’t too crowded at all.

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Town center at night.

View from our cute boutique hotel during the day.

Apart from the houses in the village, there is also a fortress that one can access (for free) and walk around in, and also the garden around the outside.

All of the streets in the village looks pretty much the same. There are old clock towers that served the town.

What’s on offer:
This place is promoted to be a small romantic town where you can experience the charm of the old village. I liked it for the village and the cute boutique hotel I stayed at. The hotel was housed in a large German styled house. If I find the name, I will let you all know. Breakfast consisted of a variety of teas, cold meats, cheeses, breads, spreads and your usual, eggs and milk all served with detailed cutlery. The dining room was beautifully decorated and we could spend all morning there eating breakfast.

There is a 365 day Christmas shop here that sells a large variety of Christmas tree decorations and Christmas related decorations, from timber nut crackers to beer steins. There is a small ‘Christmas museum’ in the top floor of the Christmas shop, access is a few euros, but you really aren’t missing out on much if you don’t go there. It consists of several dioramas, and is unmanned.

A souvenir from the local shop, a mini German bierkrug:

I was also surprised by the variety of restaurants here, given the small size of the town. Apart from your German cuisine, there was also I believe, Italian, and Chinese. The Chinese restaurant’s food was actually quite good, and much better than any other Chinese food I had tried on the Europe trip. The prices here in Rothenburg (accommodation and food) were all surprisingly reasonable, and the Chinese restaurant also had generous sized accommodation in the form of many large homey bedrooms and beds. The owner even gave us extra free rice to take with the rest of our dinner.

Of course there were chocolate and sweets shops here too!

Don’t you just want to eat them all?

Schneeballenträume or Snowball dreams, is a specialty pastry from Rothenburg, that apparently you cannot get in winter. It is a sweet ball of pastry coated with things like icing sugar, chocolate, or coconut.

Getting here:

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We got here by rail, there is a dedicated station just for this small town, you can then take a short and cheap taxi ride to your hotel, however the station is quite small. One can also drive here or join a tour group. We booked our Eurail tickets before arriving in Europe and it was just a matter of getting the right train.

But first, you probably need a flight. Book yours below:

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©All rights reserved for all content and photographs, usage on 3rd party sites are forbidden without permission. Photos are taken by author unless otherwise stated.

Categories
Photography Travel

Do and see: 9 places to do a quick stop at in South Island, New Zealand

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By now I’m sure you have read through all my other posts about what I did in New Zealand last year. Well, the fun’s not over just yet. In this post I will write some short summaries of other places I stopped at, that you can too, on our self-guided trip. Best of all, these are mostly free.


1. Dunedin Railway Station

IMG_1557This train station was built in the early 1900s, and has been fully restored. There is only one train that actually uses this station now, a tourist train. The station building itself is free and open to visitors as tourist attraction for its grand architecture and garden. Inside the building there are some small craft shops/galleries and a tourist information reception, and public toilets. There is free parking nearby. The platform is freely accessible.

Location: At the end of Stuart Street and along Castle Street, Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand.
Recommended stay time: About 30 minutes during a quiet time, no more than 1 hour as there isn’t that much to see inside.

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2. Toitu Otago Settlers Museum

dsc9326-edit-lgPhotography by Mike Hollman Architects: Robert Tongue and Baker Garden Architects.

This is a large and free museum definitely worth your time for in Dunedin. There are a variety of exhibits, with a cafe and gift store. Exhibits range from life of the early native people, European settlers’ journey to and early and later life in New Zealand.

Replica of a ship’s interiors:IMG_1558

Sleeping quarters in the shipIMG_1560

Rules for European immigrantsIMG_1561

Early mud and timber/straw hutIMG_1563

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Location: At the end of Burlington Street and along Castle Street, Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand, next to the Dunedin Railway station.
Recommended stay time:
About 30 minutes during a quiet time, no more than 1 hour as there isn’t that much to see inside.

3. The Milford Road campsiteIMG_1774

There are several campsites in the Milford Sound area along Milford Road, some are powered and some are not. It was quite cold though, even in January when it is supposed to be summer. There are portable toilets. Not quite sure about running water though.

You can camp  here and go for a drive during the day to see the scenic areas along the road. These pictures were taken at the Kiosk Creek camp site. Camp fees apply. Read about Fees here.IMG_1758

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4. Driving along the Milford Road and other scenic roads in South Island

Scenic spots are plentiful along the highways in the mountains around the Milford Sound area (and pretty much anywhere else in the South Island). Along the highway, sometimes there are look out opportunities, stop areas along the highway where you can stop your car and step out to stretch your legs and enjoy the view. I do have to say that sometimes it does get a bit monotonous. At other places along the road/grass fields, you can stop your car on the road side.

Scenes vary depending on location. Some places there are grassy fields, some places there are water, but almost all the places even in Queenstown, has mountains.

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A lookout opportunity along a road. There are places for cars and coaches to stop to allow people out. A coach came while we were here. Warning: Do be very careful in places like these and only visit during day light hours!!! There are no railings and civilisation is very far from these highways, and cell reception is not common.IMG_1811

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An actual lookout near/along Milford Road with boardwalks and maps and information boards (not in pictures). I don’t remember the name of this place, if you do find it, this is a nice place for a (very short) stroll. The boardwalk in the picture leads down to the water from the road side and is in the trees, but there are signs along the road.IMG_1780

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5. Bungy jump viewing at the Kawarau Bridge

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The bungy jump viewing is free to the general public if you don’t want to do the jump yourself. Apart from that, the view of the water is magnificent, because that water is actually turquoise blue. Just look at it! No filter or editing! You can also do kayaking here, as seen in the picture. This is also a great place for photography. Unfortunately I only had a phone so I don’t have great pictures.IMG_2107

Click here to see a short video of someone jumping.

6. Aoraki Mountain/Mount Cook

The national park here has a year-round ski resort. You can also go climbing on the mountain on the actual glaciers. We stopped by the base of the mountain and it was pretty cold for me already (in summer in January). You can do a quick stop here if you have little time, or do not intend on going skiing/mountain climbing, and just have a look from the base.IMG_2235

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7. New Zealand Alpine Lavender fields

So… I don’t know about you but I don’t like the smell of lavender or the taste of the oil. But if you like it, and don’t mind the extra hype, you can come here to their field and take photos for free. They have an onsite store in a shipping container and EFTPOS facilities. What surprised me is that it was literally in the middle of nowhere… a huge field along the road then BANG a shipping container shop.IMG_2320IMG_2347

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I would only come here for photography but as you can see and probably already know, the purple of the lavender looks greyish and to be entirely honest, that’s the way it looks in real life. You can’t really get those colourful photos you see on the internet and in magazines/posters unless you edit the hell out of it in post production, which I am not a fan of. I like original, honest photography. You can buy lavender oil, soaps, little packs of dried lavender to put in drawers, and others. You can actually walk among the fields of the flowers and sit in the giant chair.

Location: 657 Mt Cook Road, Ben Ohau 7999, New Zealand, right near the south western tip of Lake Pukaki, between Twizel and Tekapo and about an hour after leaving Aoraki Mountain.

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IMG_2379Recommended stay time: If you are just looking around and taking a few photos, no more than 1 hour. Free parking by the side of the road.

8. Mt John University Observatory

This area has a small reasonable fee per vehicle and free parking. You can join one of their paid night tours, or you can use this as a look out for some great views of Lake Tekapo. Located on the top of a hill/mountain, it is quite windy and cold. There is a full cafe here.

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9. Church of the Good Shepherd and Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo village is a small strip of shops and restaurants that appeared suddenly on the side of the motorway as you are driving. There is an information center here that gives free vouchers and pamphlets for nearby attractions such as the hot tubs. You can also buy some souvenirs here. There was one in particular, a cute stuffed sheep that I did not see elsewhere on my entire trip to New Zealand. Regret not getting it.

A short 2 min drive away is the Church of the Good Shepherd by Lake Tekapo. The church itself is a popular subject of many photographs, however it is not allowed inside. The very small one-room cottage church is only open briefly (according to my experience) but isn’t spectacular inside, so you are better off photographing the outside and the water.IMG_2446

The beach/shore is quite rocky instead of sandy and can be hard to walk around. This area is very popular for photography.IMG_2436

So now you know what’s available, make sure you come back here to make your flights and help support this blog by using my affiliate links! Or, you can book your rental car now here Car Rental – Search, Compare, and Save up to 70%!

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©All rights reserved for all content and photographs, usage on 3rd party sites are forbidden without permission. Photos are taken by author unless otherwise stated.

Categories
Accommodation New Zealand accommodation Travel

Camelot Motor Lodge in Christchurch, NZ – A Review

This post is a review of Camelot Motor Lodge, a self-catered apartment accommodation in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Camelot Motor Lodge – 9.5/10
Address: 28 Papanui Road, Christchurch, 8014, New Zealand

Camelot ‘village’IMG_2454At the end of our trip, we arrived back in Christchurch where we needed to catch our returning flight. Since we are going back to Christchurch why not try a different place and since we were going to try a new place I wanted to try this place because from the photos it looked quite cute.

New Zealand has a lot of European influences from the European immigrants and a lot of the architecture shows this. Camelot Motor Lodge is in the style of English timber villages, and I was surprised at the (albeit simplified) detail. While not 100% detailed in every little way, it was interesting enough for a simple ‘themed’ accommodation. There was a full suit of armour in the reception lobby.IMG_2451 Edit

The apartments, at least our large one, was, in our friend’s words, ‘like a mansion’. (apparently our friend’s family, whom we travelled with, since they had less people in their group, had a much smaller apartment). I have to say it was indeed quite large for a motel room, it was the largest one we stayed in during this trip, had English style windows, cast iron chandeliers with chains, timber roof structure, arched solid timber doors for the main door and a large on inside as well (unfortunately I do not have a picture of this, if you do please contribute!)

This was also the only place we stayed at that had a bathtub.

The apartment was a double storey building, with the second floor being a loft/mezzanine and thus had no door. The second set of beds were upstairs, there are 4 beds in total, 2 of each single and double bed type on each floor.

IMG_2466 editedThe public outdoor pool fence can be seen on the right hand side.

Downstairs bedroom. This is opposite the bathroom.IMG_2474

Upstairs bedroom, single bed by the ‘half-wall’ or on the ‘balcony’ next to the living room chandelier. The half wall blocks most of the direct light from your face but is still pretty bright as the chandelier, which lights up the ground floor, is hanging nearby. This was my bed.IMG_2475

View from bedIMG_2477

Chandelier with actual chainsIMG_2469

Upstairs double bedIMG_2476

The ground floor bedroom and a separate combined toilet and bathroom were in a part of the apartment that was separated from the rest by a large wooden door (which I did not take a photo of unfortunately), this means the bedroom itself doesn’t have a door and if you close the wooden door, other people won’t be able to access the toilet, but that’s not much of an issue.

I didn’t see our friend’s room, but when one of them came and saw our room, she said it was like a mansion compared to theirs. I felt it was quite large, for 4 people which was a good thing, however there was no outside balcony, unlike the first place we stayed at. The windows were openable.

Location:
This place was in the city of Christchurch, with restaurants within walking distance.

Facilities:
Free wireless internet with unlimited number of devices, however connection not accessible upstairs in the loft. You are given slips of paper with login information.

There is a car space in front of each apartment. The kitchen is clean and maintained well, the cookware is simple. The combined living room and dining room is good sized and roomy, with a solid timber table, television, sofa, coffee table, DVD player. There are free coffee and tea facilities but they are placed in its own box along with a tray of “mini bar” style snacks, with a price list, so make sure you read the price list before touching anything, just to make sure you know which ones are free and which ones are paid.

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The kitchen/dining tableIMG_2468

I saw a lot of these stoves that were placed next to the wall. I don’t get why they do this because there is no room for the handlebars of the pots so that means they all have to face one way meaning you can only fit 2 pots at any one time on a 4 burner stove.IMG_2471

The bathroom here is the only bathroom that we came across on the entire trip that had a bathtub which was great if you prefer baths (although I don’t expect to see bathtubs in cheap to mid-range hotels to save space). Basic toiletries were supplied as refillables on the wall (body wash, shampoo and conditioner).

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There is an above ground pool right outside our door, there was also some nice umbrella covered tables and seats by the pool with nice plants growing around.

Tv under the stairs with DVD playerIMG_2472

The living room has 3 sofas and an armchair, a rectangular timber coffee table and windows with curtains.

The reception has a small DVD library with a good range of popular movies, from Harry Potter to Kill Bill and Under the Tuscan Sun. You can rent them (for free I assume) and watch it in your room’s DVD player.

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Breakfast is not provided.

Total price for 2 apartments for total of 7 people for 1 night: $370.60 New Zealand dollars. This is $50 NZD more expensive than Southern Comfort (but this place does have a pool and DVD library).

Stay time: January 25-26, 2016

Verdict:
I give this place 9.5 out of 10 for location, rooms, comfort, style and facilities. Staff was nice (the reception desk had just one staff member when we were there). The toiletries could have been a little better but were okay (this is a non-essential trivia issue).

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Categories
Queenstown Travel

Stratosfare Restaurant, Queenstown, New Zealand

Skyline is an activity company in New Zealand that has 2 branches, Rotorua and Queenstown. They offer gondola and luge rides. Stratosfare Restaurant and Bar is run by Skyline in Queenstown.

Anywhere that offers cable car and luge rides have to located high up. Luges are gravity powered go-carts that start at the top of a hill and go down.

The Stratosfare Restaurant and Bar is located at the top of a mountain in the town center of Queenstown. To get to the top, visitors must take the cable car up to the top. IMG_1865.JPGAccess is via the middle of Queenstown, a small yet busy town by the water, with lots of activities on offer and restaurants to dine at. On weekends, there are local markets on the grass by the water. Other times, enjoy a picnic or some time on the grass.IMG_1863.JPG

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Visitors to the Stratosfare restaurant can enjoy some luge rides or the cable car ride, a bike ride or even bungee jumping.

They offer a lunch and a dinner session, with 2 sittings in the dinner session to allow time in between to reset the tables and replenish the food. Lunch lasts an hour 45 minutes from noon to 1:45pm. Dinner lasts longer, starting at 5:30pm until 7:30pm for the early session, and 8pm onwards for the late session.

We booked their buffet dinner package and went for the late sitting. After spending the day paragliding and having lunch at Walter’s Peak, we got here early in the afternoon by car We were advised to get here early as sometimes there is a long line to the cable car. We got there at 5pm. This gave us plenty of time to explore the area after going up on the cable car, take a few photos and a few luge rides.


The location:
Address: Brecon Street, Queenstown, New Zealand (no street number, it is at the end of the street and the cable car can be seen a long way away going up the side of the mountain.)

The restaurant is located at the top of a mountain and as previously mentioned, is accessed by cable car. If getting here by car, there are plenty of cheap parking around the area that is within walking distance. I was actually surprised by how cheap the parking was, only $1-3 max, per hour, some areas with caps of very reasonable amounts, and free on public holidays!

We pre-booked for the dinner, so we walked up to the bottom terminal, checked in and took a cable car up. I can’t give any tips or opinions on fear of heights because I love looking down from a height, and the ride wasn’t scary for me (although it was for others in my car when it shook).IMG_20160123_165239

Review:
Due to the location of the restaurant, there is no mobile reception, but there is free wifi. There are shops and access to outside to see the luge rides or the surrounding scenery.

The lifts that take you to the top of the mountain to go-cart down: (following 2 photos are not by me (the author).IMG_20160123_173626

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One can view bungee jumping from the waiting area.

 

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Closer to the dining time, check-in will open. You will get a portable pager to let you know when it is time to enter.

Each group gets a staff member to show them in to the dining area and briefly around, where each type of food is.

Because of the location, a window seat is probably best, as it has the best views. However, the seats are tiered so everyone gets a view. You can reserve a window seat when you book but if you get there early like we did (we got there so early, we were first in line when the 2nd dinner session started, hence the photos with no people in it), you can pick a window seat.

Tiered dining areaIMG_2090

I have to say, they did a really good job resetting the venue, it looks totally clean and tidy, as if we were the first people to eat of the day.

We took the late setting which meant we were able to see both the day time views and the night/sunset views.

The food:
The buffet was delicious and there was a very big variety. There was sushi, Asian soups and noodles/croutons (help yourself), hot meats, cold meats, smoked chicken which I really liked, lots of seafood, New Zealand cheese, and of course, desserts! Cakes, jellies, nuts, lava cake, dried fruits, candied fruits, fresh fruit salad and single serve ice cream with real vanilla in it. I absolutely loved it!

Soup station with noodles and croutonsIMG_2086

Sushi, prawn cocktail and and seafoodIMG_2089

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The following photos are not by me (the author) but taken at the same table by my sister. Window seatIMG_20160123_182020

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Service:
Staff was very nice and efficient, not only in the restaurant, but outside too. As there was no cell reception, we asked if we could use their landline phone for an emergency call, and after checking with management, they let us make the call, provided it was a short one, (which it was).

What I was a little surprised at was that at almost every place we visited, even a small salmon farm/shop, there was Chinese staff who spoke Mandarin, and this place was no exception.

Cost:
At $82 per adult and $40 NZD per child, with the cable car ride included, I say this was a much better value activity compared to the BBQ Lunch at Walter’s Peak, for the way we experienced it. Parking cost less than $10.

Verdict:
I loved the experience here, and would gladly do it again. I highly recommend this if you enjoy good food holidays.

Gift shop is available, and there is a Kiwi sanctuary at the bottom cable car terminal.

Visit their official website here.

Read my TripAdvisor Review here.

Coming soon: My review of the next night’s accommodation: Top 1 Holiday Park in Omarama. Subscribe so you get notified!

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©All rights reserved for all content and photographs, usage on 3rd party sites are forbidden without permission. Photos are taken by author unless otherwise stated.

Categories
Food Queenstown Travel

BBQ Lunch at Colonel’s Homestead, Walter Peak, Queenstown, New Zealand

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Real Journeys, a tourism company in New Zealand, offers a variety of tours and activities throughout New Zealand. They offer a 20% discount on the cheapest activity (called the 20$ Multi Saver) if you book more than 1 activity at the same time. We booked the Milford Sound Cruise and the BBQ lunch at Colonel’s Homestead on Walter’s Peak Farm.

Walter’s Peak
Walter’s Peak Farm is located in Walter’s Peak. Both Cecil’s Peak and Walter’s Peak were named by William Gilbert Rees, the first European settler in of Queenstown, after his son, Cecil Walter Rees. Walter’s Peak is the smaller peak of the 2 geographical landmarks. The homestead and the garden was built later by the Mackenzie family, who also introduced innovative-for-the-time farming methods. The gardens were made in the 1870’s and Colonel’s Homestead was built in the 1908 for the then-owner’s son’s wedding and reconstructed after a fire damaged it in 1977. Walter’s Peak Farm covers 155 hectares. and in 2014, Real Journeys bought the land and started a conservation project to clear invasive, non-native vegetation and turning it into a tourism attraction by creating a restaurant out of the old homestead, and having sheep shearing demonstrations.

Location:
Walter’s Peak is 11km across Lake Wakatipu, from Queenstown. in the 1800’s this was a five to seven hour trip by row boat. Now, this location is only accessible by chartered transport (in their words: “This delightful venue is easily accessed from Queenstown the vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw, a charter vessel, helicopter or fixed-wing scenic flight“) and unfortunately, Real Journeys seems to have a monopoly on the transport of visitors and over the entire homestead on Walter’s Peak. This means if you want to try out the restaurant, you have to go through Real Journeys. We went on the steamboat, TSS Earnslaw.IMG_2049

TSS Earnslaw Steamship:
Smaller than a ship but bigger than a boat, the TSS Earnlsaw steam-water-vessel’s only true marketable point is that it still runs on steam, ie coal. Originally commissioned by the government in 1912, this boat was used as a cargo ship to transport all sorts of necessities between properties in the south island. During it’s working life, it carried 1,500 sheep and 30 cattle. Many farmlands were set up in ‘vacant’ land, scattered among the islands of the south island, and the only way to access them was by boat. As road transport improved, the use for the cargo ship declined. in 1969 Real Journeys took the boat and turned it into a tourism program.

The engine room is in the center of the boat and is accessible to passengers if you want to go see. It is loud and hot, as expected.

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The rest of the ship has seating indoors and outside.

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There are toilets on the ship with baby change facilities.

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There is also a mini museum at the back of the boat that describes the history of the boat, which you can just see the entrance of in the photo below.IMG_1931

There are free pamphlets for those who are interested in the history of the place, and a mini model of the engine.IMG_1938

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Views of the lake during the boat ride:IMG_1957

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!Tourist tip!

While you can buy snacks onboard, it is really not worth your money to buy them onboard because the whole reason you are on the ship in the first place is to eat the BBQ Lunch/Dinner, and you paid for that, remember?IMG_1916

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Getting here:
Departures are from Steamer Wharf in Queenstown. You must arrive earler to go to the Real Journey’s office to pick up tickets then take the tickets to the wharf. They are a few hundred metres apart. The ride is not very long, the 11km trip takes about about 20 minutes or so one way. Departing from Queenstown you will be able to see the property on the ship’s left in the direction it is heading.

The Queenstown wharf:IMG_1913

The boat:IMG_1912

Note: As you get onto the boat, the staff take photos of you with the boat in the background, which you can later buy on board. I always feel things like this are forced and I don’t like it. You can always take photos yourself while you wait on the wharf.


What’s on offer at Walter’s Peak:
View of Lake Wakatipu and the wharf from the gravelly shore at Walter’s Peak:IMG_1985

The homestead consists of a house that has been converted to a restaurant and the interior restored to it’s period style. It is located on a ‘rural’ property that has a sheep shearing shed and a garden.

Wharf at the homestead:IMG_1965

The restored interior of the dining hall:IMG_1974

There is also outdoor dining but I did not see anyone use it at the lunch.IMG_1972

The food and dining experience:
When you arrive at Walter’s Peak; after leaving the boat, you are divided into groups depending on the package you bought (some start with a farm tour first, other dine first). The accessible area is small, diners head to the restaurant a few metres away on the left and the tour-first people head to the right. I was in the dine first group. I booked a table for 7 so there was a table reserved for us, otherwise you can sit where you like.IMG_1977

Guests are called a few tables at a time to get food from the buffets. There are a variety of meats, smoked chicken, beef, sausages, hot barbecued meats, cold meats, salads, corn, bread, dips, fruit and desserts, and water, wine is not included. The buffet sections are located throughout the accessible building (some places are off limits). The ‘see the chef cook live’ and the barbecue component is where there is a section at the front of the building where the chefs roast/cook the meat on a barbecue plate for you and you can collect it from them. Otherwise this was not the a barbecue lunch I imagined, and definitely not the live cooking demonstrations I imagined from the description on their website, but overall the experience wasn’t exactly bad.

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Review:
This location is touted to have “timeless ambience”, a “magical” and “unforgettable experience” with “fine dining at its best” that “gives you a glimpse of life in the high country”. While I agree with the last one, as the restaurant/house itself has been restored, I cannot think it would be worthwhile to book the entire venue exclusively for a private event, unless it was for filming, at least from my lunch experience (perhaps the dinner, especially a private dinner, would be different but I do not exactly want to go back to see it, when there are so many other easily accessible fine dining restaurants in New Zealand).

When we finished our meal, the rest of the time was spent wandering around the small garden, as the sheep shearing demonstration was hot, crowded and of no interest to me.

Your ticket price includes a cruise, a bbq, and a tour of the farm.

In actual fact:
-Unless you are a big fan of steam boats, the cruise is really a ride on the TSS Earnslaw steamboat (ie your transport to and from Queenstown Steamer Wharf)
-the food is probably what you came for and is a buffet of prepared food while the BBQ is just some meats grilled and cooked in a glass window island kitchen
-And the farm tour consists of the sheep shearing demonstration and free time to spend in the garden if you do not want to see the sheep shearing demonstration.

The ship is not wheelchair accessible although a pram can get on and fit. Colonel Homestead is not too hard to manage with a pram, the area is sloped but flat, but there are some shallow stairs to the restaurant.

Details:
The actual property is large (155 ha), but you don’t get to see much of it. Coming from Sydney and having seen many sheep shearing and wood chopping demonstrations, the sheep shearing was of no interest to me, so I wandered around the garden instead.

Also, and I feel this is important, even though the description says the trip is 3 and a half hours, the meal time is only about 1.5 hours, so the groups can swap and the other group can come dine. I can certainly see some of the points made by reviewers on tripadvisor saying that they feel herded into a dining hall and rushed through their meal. There is a good variety of food, true, but there is very little time if you wanted to browse through the food selections, line up for your specially cooked hot-off-the barbecue meats, go for desserts AND still go for seconds. To be honest I felt a little rushed, I didn’t have time for seconds, and many things were not replenished as they need to reset for the next group. I can also understand the disappointment of some visitor’s as the ‘farm tour’ was really just a trip to the next-door sheep shearing shed. There is also a small gift shop on site, however there was nothing of interest to me. This means, for some, at the most boring level, this is essentially an expensive, low-to-medium excitement, rushed buffet meal at a restored, commercialized farm house on a slightly remote location accessed by a commercialized re-purposed cargo boat, without the honest hospitality you would get from a real farmer on a true working farm in the real countryside.

The garden is small and while it is definitely not a botanical garden, it is still pretty, and thankfully it was accessible/enjoyable because it was sunny. This activity runs all year round, so I’d hate to think what would happen if you came on a rainy day and didn’t want to go to the sheep shearing shed. Although it is a ‘farm’, the places that visitors are allowed to access are not on the actual farm pastures, since the front of the property is the old residential area of the owners. This means it is paved with gravel grounds. There is also a rope swing hung in the tree on the gravel shore that has a great view of the lake. The garden is carefully maintained with grass and is a comfortable and beautiful little place to spend a sunny afternoon/kill some time waiting for the boat to return to pick up the visitors and send them back to Queenstown.

Verdict:
Cost: We went on January 23, 2016. At that time the cost per adult was $99 NZD and $22 per child. Currently (July 2017) it is now $105 per adult and $45 per child (4 to 14 years old). Personally I think the price was a little on the expensive side when we went, but now the more-than-doubled child price and the increase in the adult price in only 18 months is quite steep.

Overall the experience was not bad as such, but probably a little over-touted and expensive for what it was, especially compared to the dinner at Stratosfare in Queenstown with the gondola/cable care ride to the top included (which I will write about soon) which was $82 per adult (and currently only raised $85 NZD). It was not something I’d pay to do again (probably not even something I’d do if I was being paid), despite the interesting history of the place. I would only have liked more opportunities to photograph the lake, and with some proper photographic equipment.

If you stay here longer, you might be able to go strolling along the lake which would be good if the weather is good. A photo provided by management on Tripadvisor depicts people biking around the area which looks enticing but I have not found such an activity on offer.

Read my review on TripAdvisor here.

Next stop: Dinner at Stratosfare Restaurant in Queenstown. Subscribe so you get notified!

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Categories
Travel

Milford Sound, New Zealand

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Milford Sound is a fiord, which is an inlet surrounded by cliffs of a mountain. It is located in the Fiordland National Park and can be reached from the major towns of either Queenstown or Te Anau. We went from Te Anau to Milford Sound then to Queenstown. You can also camp there overnight in the cabins.IMG_1643

Climate
Milford Sound is one of the wettest inhabited places in the world, with around 7 metres of rain per year in this area alone. We visited in January, which is actually one of 2 of the rainiest months in Milford Sound, the other being December, and both summer time for New Zealand. Being high up in the mountains and surrounded by mountain sides with melting glaciers, this area was wet and misty if not rainy. According to the official website, it is rainy for on average 182 days of the year. Even in the summer it was quite cold, in the low to mid teens.

When I visited: January 22nd 2016.

What I did: I joined the 1 hour 40 minute Milford Scenic Cruise with Real Journeys.

Getting here
Milford Sound is reached by driving very slowly up the mountain. You can rent a car and drive there yourself (free parking is available) or you can join a tour group. It can be reached from the major towns of either Queenstown or Te Anau. We went from Te Anau to Milford Sound then to Queenstown. Cruise Milford’s website has some excellent information about getting here and essential info about Milford Sound in general.

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Along the way you can see water running down the mountain from melting snow or glaciers.IMG_1639

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This is the bus bay for the coaches that bring in tour groups. This is right outside the cruise departure hall. Everyone else has to park in the public car park where the cabins are (close to the entry after you at the top of the mountain). This area is a 15 minute walk away from the departure hall.IMG_1647

Some more scenery at Milford Sound, seen from the carparkIMG_1644

!!Important to know:
Mobile Reception:
There is no mobile reception at Milford Sound. Telephone service are at:

-Knobs Flat and Milford Sound Visitor terminal (both are landline phones I believe*) and -a satellite phone at Homer Tunnel for emergencies only.

There are no places to refuel during the drive once you leave Te Anau. Make sure you leave with a full tank. You don’t want to be stuck with no fuel and no phone reception! Fuel (petrol for cars and diesel for coaches) is available at Milford Sound but only certain cards and pin number access are accepted. Fuel is also available at Gunn’s Camp in the Hollyford Valley, but this location is a detour from Milford Sound.

*This information is taken from the “Milford Sound Drive Guide” pamphlet provided by the Cruise Milford NZ company’s obtained in January 2016. The pamphlet says “card phone” however I believe they mean landline phones accessed with calling cards as I saw one such phone (blue one) at the visitor’s terminal but did not see one at Knobs Flats, and there was no cell reception at the visitor’s terminal. Visit their website here: www.cruisemilfordnz.com.

Activities here
There are a number of activities one can do here. The most obvious ones are to join a tour and/or cruise group. The cruise takes you onto the water and around to see the waterfalls and cliffs and scenery. If you are lucky like we were, you may be able to spot sea lions. You can also do kayaking here, hiking, and if one day is not enough for you, you can stay overnight in their weatherproof cabins at the permanent campsite. IMG_1741

My Experience and *Tips for photographers*
I joined Real Journeys and it was a largish boat with probably 100 or so people.IMG_1661As a keen photographer myself, although I did not use them, from the sound of their services, I’d probably recommend and am inclined to join Cruise Milford because their boats and groups are smaller so can get closer to waterfalls and things and you would have a better time taking photos.

Facilities:
All cruises depart from their departure hall and each company has their own reception desk.

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There was paid wifi available in the departure hall, but it was quite expensive, I feel. Although I suppose it is reasonable that they charge higher prices because there is no mobile reception there. This service might be aimed at campers seeing the data lasts 1 month. It should be enough for you to check your emails but no media browsing.IMG_1753.jpg

On the boat, there were free coffee, tea and biscuits provided on the cruise however they also have a paid food and souvenirs bar where you can buy postcards and photos, sandwiches, drinks, chips, chocolate, fruit and instant noodles (hot water is free). I suggest you bring your own food and have them with the hot tea. However I must say the boat swayed a lot and spilt tea was not an uncommon sight especially if you sat far from the coffee area.IMG_1739

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The cruise boats have both indoor and outdoor areas.

There are not a lot of people in this photo because most people were outside taking photos. It was about half full on my trip.IMG_1663

*Tips for photographers*
You will almost certainly get wet (even if it is just a spray), if you go outside when the boat gets close to the waterfalls. Therefore make sure you have waterproof gear if you have expensive gear. I just used my phone which was easy to shelter from the water so it was fine for me. When we went, it didn’t rain but due to the area, the air was misty and the waterfall made some people wet. You should definitely bring raincoats instead of umbrellas. A change of clothes wasn’t necessary for us as we stayed on the boat (although our entire luggage was in our car so if we did need a change of clothes, we could change when we got back). Layered clothes might be advisable. There is no real reason why you would become soaking wet. Most people also used point and shoot cameras and it was fine, but just a heads up.IMG_1744

Also, Milford Sound’s official website does not name a best time to visit,  nor does it give a very good guideline on what the weather is like for each season but it does say that the best time to visit will depend on what you want to see. (Sea lions and penguins can be seen in the cooler months of spring according to their website but we saw them in January.) Which brings me to this piece of advice especially for photographers/people who want to go to photograph the area:

*Tips for photographers* those pretty photos you see on the internet of Milford Sound, they are taken on sunny days, and you will definitely not be getting any of those types of photos if you go with a large cruise/tour group (unless you are VERY lucky) as everyone will be around the edge of the boat trying to get a picture, and the boat won’t be staying long in any one place. So you will have to join a smaller group or hire your own boat.

Best time to go:
If you want waterfalls, then the best time to go is during the rainier months, but if you want sunny photos, you can go when it is less rainy. The rain isn’t exactly heavy, just continuous. Like I previously mentioned, Cruise Milford’s website has some excellent information.

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Cost:
At the time (January 2016), Cruise Milford’s cruises started at $80 NZD per adult on a smaller group boat, while Real Journeys, the company we went with, charged $67.20 NZD per adult on a much larger boat and children were free. Both included complimentary tea/coffee and biscuits. As of July 2017, Cruise Milford’s prices have risen to $90 per adult, and Real Journey’s current price is $76.

Visit their official websites here:

www.realjourneys.co.nz
www.milford-sound.co.nz

Next stop: BBQ lunch at Walter’s Peak. Subscribe so you get notified!

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Accommodation New Zealand accommodation Travel

Alpine View Motel in Te Anau, NZ – A review

This post is a review of Alpine View Motel, a self-catered accommodation in Te Anau, New Zealand.

Alpine View Motel – 6.5/10
Address: 15 Quintin Dr, Te Anau 9600, New Zealand

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Alpine View Motel is a self contained cottage style accommodation. Check in staff were nice and yes you can see the mountains from here but that was about it. The facilities were not great and there were no toiletries except liquid soap.

Us two families each booked one cottage, exactly the same style but ours were not as good as our friend’s (facilities were a little inconsistent).

Location:
Within walking distance (about 15-minute walk) to the small town centre, there are some restaurants, larger hotels and a large souvenir shop there past the lake, and you can go for a walk there after dinner. This was located in a suburb, the streets are lined with other houses or hotels and surprisingly, the area is very quiet.

Facilities:
In our cabin, there were:

Double bed x 1, single bed x 2 (one in the only bedroom, the other in the living room). Television, basic cookware, fridge, and free coffee and tea. Shower and separate toilet which is always good. Car space for horizontal parking available in front of each cabin (as seen in the first picture in this post). Tv was in the living room. Bath towels available on each bed and a hand towel in the bathroom.

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Now, when we booked I specified we had 4 people and they had 3, however in our kitchen, our stove had 2 burners and theirs had 4.

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There was no salt in our salt shaker, and we could not connect to the internet even though our room was directly opposite the reception building where I assume the wifi hotspot should be.

Then there was the inconsistent information. Posters on our wall had different office hours listed than the one listed in our friend’s room.

Now here is something that annoyed me. One of the posters on our wall was a warning for people to not cook smelly foods, because if the smell caused the room to be unrentable you will be charged for it. It had a picture of a man with a peg on his nose and an annoyed expression.

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However meanwhile this was the only place we stayed at that seemed to allow smoking, and near a BBQ grill and children’s playground no less. There was someone actually smoking there and cooking at the same time when we visited the back yard.

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Picnic tables in the large back yard.

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Also, our friend’s room a few houses down didn’t have that same warning – so does that mean customers who stay in that room is exempt from this rule, or are they going to be fined anyway if they do cook strong smelling foods?

Breakfast is available for an extra fee.

Total price for 2 ‘cabins’ for total of 7 people for 1 night: $384.80 New Zealand dollars.

Stay time: January 21-22, 2016

Verdict: This place was okay and the location was close to the lake and the town center if you need it. I give this place 6.5/10 because according to the pictures on booking.com the other rooms seemed much nicer (perhaps it has been upgraded). The location was close to the lake if you are going for water activities (but there are closer and nicer hotels too), but this place could do with some slight refurbishment in the playground and kitchen area. There was also the issue of inconsistent information. This was the cheapest place we stayed at on this trip, but the in-room facilities were a little poor especially in the toiletries section. You will need to bring your own shampoo and toothbrushes. This was also the cheapest place we found at the most suitable location (We were driving from one city to another and didn’t want to drive too much each day so each accommodation location had to be approximately in the midpoint between the 2 departure and arrival cities). However I feel it was more expensive for the same standard of accommodation, for example, the bigger apartments in Christchurch, both Southern Comfort and Camelot Motor Lodge (this review coming soon) were cheaper although neither of these 2 provided toiletries apart from soap bars in the former, and shampoo/conditioner/bodywash at both places. The accommodation was clean and tidy, I give them that. This place would suit people who are not picky about their accommodation and would enjoy a laid back atmosphere where everyone hangs out together (although it was very quiet when we stayed) and things are very casual as you can see in the somewhat home made playground. Judging by the photos on Booking.com, the rooms are not furnished very consistently (unless they have been upgraded), with some rooms looking significantly better than (our) rooms.

Next stop, Milford Sound cruise.

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Categories
Travel

Larnach Castle, Dunedin, New Zealand

Larnach Castle, Dunedin

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Larnach Castle is promoted as New Zealand’s only castle. While it definitely has castle-like features, I think it is more of a castle-styled mansion. It was the family home and commissioned by William Larnach, a New Zealand Minister, banker and merchant for his first wife, Eliza Jane Guise. Construction started in 1871, and was built by 200 workmen over 3 years. After that for another 12 years, European craftsmen worked on the interior.

For some time the building became abandoned and in poor condition until it was bought and restored in 1967 by the Bakers family, and has since been their family residence. Now it is open to the public for an entry fee. Reservations is not needed.

The Building
From the outside, the building looks quite grand for a family home. It is constructed of stone with a turret, and the interior is fitted with carpentry.

Interior

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StairsIMG_1522

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The grounds
There are some small ‘forests’ on the property and the driveways and carpark are lined with trees. This is the driveway that goes right up to the front of the building, used by tourist coaches.

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The stone building with glass facade looks quite unique and interesting.IMG_1528

The gardenIMG_1525

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View from the turret
This is the view from the top of the turrets. The climb is a steep yet not-that-hard-to-manage spiral steps in a small confined space. Maybe for some the view is worth it. For me it wasn’t anything special and it was quite cold outside. Because of the limited staircase space, you will need to give way to people going in the opposite direction to you.

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Forest on property (photo not by author)

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Forest on property (photo not by author)

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View of front of building and gravel driveway (photo not by author)

What’s here:
Inside the castle, there are a few small exhibits to see, and a room with a short documentary about the site.

There is a tea room/cafe onsite that is open every day, high tea is available but must be booked at least 24 hours in advance.

Unfortunately I do not have too many photos of the grounds. There are some small woodlands/forests on the grounds including a tree-lined avenue directly opposite the castle. There is also a very small garden outside the building.

There are no onsite accommodation options but there are ones nearby, and day tours that include this in the itinerary are available.

The gardens and grounds are wheelchair accessible and wheelchairs are available for use on the site. The castle itself is not wheels accessible and has a set of steep stone stairs to access and more inside.

Facilities:
Public toilets onsite available in the building on the ground floor near the ballroom/cafe. These are wheels accessible.

There are audio guides for hire (with a fee) or you can pick up a free pamphlet and do a self guided tour with that. The pamphlets are available in a variety of languages, including English, Chinese, German and French. I found the self guided tour to be totally sufficient, after watching the documentary (less than 10 minutes).

Free parking on site several metres away from the actual building.

Recommended stay time:
All up (gardens but not the rest of the grounds) and the castle tour and short climb to the top of the turret, took 2 hours.

Verdict:
If you have been to any castles in Europe, then this would be a let down. It basically is a castle themed mansion. However as a recommended New Zealand attraction I suppose it is worthwhile if you have not seen any other castles in Europe, or if you were interested in New Zealand history. I do not believe it is worth staying overnight nearby for this although the official website does have accommodation information.

At the end of the day, this is the private residence of the current owners, and in reality it is just a slightly small mansion (depending on your definition of ‘mansion’). It is basically the size of a typical wealthy family home/estate that would have different ‘quarters’ with servants back in the day. To be honest I felt ‘castle’ was pushing the title a bit, however the experience was not bad as such, for it’s size and what it offered, just a bit expensive and disappointing.

Entry Fees:
There is a fee to enter the building and is payable at the entry to the building, which is at the top of the stone steps at the center of the front of the building (see the first picture). It is not wheels friendly. The prices depend on what you would like to see, there are packages that include the gardens and building, as well as just the gardens and the grounds. Visit their official website for the full price list or click here to go there directly. We visited on January 21, the prices may update over time.

Getting here:
The official website has driving directions (we drove), however this location can be visited as part of day tours.

Address: 145 Camp Road, Otago Peninsula, Dunedin 9077, New Zealand

Official website: larnachcastle.co.nz

Next week: My review of the night’s accommodation: Alpine View, Te Anau. Subscribe so you get notified!

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Categories
Accommodation New Zealand accommodation Travel

Aria on Bank in Dunedin, NZ – A review

This post is a review of Aria on Bank, a self-catered apartment accommodation in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Aria on Bank in Dunedin – 11/10
Address: 42-46 Bank Street, Dunedin, 9010 New Zealand

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If you are coming to Dunedin from Christchurch’s direction, I strongly recommend you come stay here. Aria on Bank is the first accommodation when you enter Dunedin on Bank Street. It is a self-catered apartment.

At the time of visiting, the rooms are newly renovated and still had a faint smell of fresh paint. Everything was spick and span, all the appliances were new, which must mean they do fantastic maintenance. The staff were very friendly, the office was neat and professional, and upon check in every one of us were given one of their large cinnamon sugar muffins, freshly baked onsite by their staff daily. Those muffins were absolutely delicious!!! (coming from someone who doesn’t even like muffins).

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Facilities:
Free wireless internet (2GB) with unlimited number of devices. Password is the booker’s name.

Each cute double storey apartments each have a car space in front of them.

Newly laid carpets, carpeted living room downstairs, furnished well with sofas, coffee table, writing desk, television, glass table under the staircase, bathroom and a dining table and a very well kept and equipped kitchen, with a beautiful oven and baking trays, with plenty of crockery, cutlery, pots and new induction stove. There were chocolates and snacks hidden in the drawers and fridge which by the way there are 2 of, and the instructions for the induction stove were in the drawer.

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Absolutely spick and span oven. Have not seen a cleaner oven in a self contained apartment.IMG_1501

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The switch for the stove is on the opposite wall on the left hand side.

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Free biscuits in the drawer and chocolate in the fridge, nice! Salt and pepper provided too!IMG_1492

Of course there were free coffee and tea with coffee making facilities, and a beautiful bright red kettle.

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The bathroom had heated towel racks, hand held hair dryers and a wall mounted one behind the door as well, with free toiletries including shampoo etc as well as toothbrushes.

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There were 2 bedrooms, one with a double bed and the other with two single beds. Both had heaters which the thoughtful staff had turned on before our arrival to warm up the rooms.

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Wardrobe with plenty of hangers and storage area so your  business clothes won’t get wrinkled.

Windows were operable, however I thought it was strange that of all the places we stayed at on this trip, none of the windows or balcony doors had flyscreens to keep out mosquitoes.

Very impressed with the cleanliness and service, highly, highly recommended.

Total price for 2 apartments for total of 7 people for 1 night: $525 New Zealand dollars.

Stay time: January 20-21, 2016

Verdict: 11 out of 10 for the extra effort the friendly staff took to bake the muffins and to preheat our new temporary home!

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Categories
Travel

Moeraki Boulders, Otago, New Zealand

I visited New Zealand in January 2016. Unfortunately most of the photos I have of the places I went to in NZ are phone camera photos, which means they aren’t the best, so I have been putting off writing about the places I visited until now. In the next few weeks, I am finally going to write about some of the actual places I visited in NZ during the 8 day road-ish trip. This post is about Moeraki Boulders in Otago.

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After we arrived in Christchurch where we stayed for the night, the first stop the next day was Moeraki Boulders in Otago.

These boulders are large, natural, marble-shaped boulders on the beach in the city of Moeraki in the region Otago in the South Island of New Zealand. They are an attraction because of their shape and the fact that they are naturally occurring. People come here to see and photograph them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA What is more curious is that they are not consistent all the way through the entire boulder, the center of the boulders (some are cracked) are yellow, much like a hard boiled egg.

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Access price:
Free

Getting here/location:
The beach is located along the Hampden-Palmerston Road/State Highway 1 and faces east.
There are car parking spaces along the cliff. It is easy to locate as it’s not in thick forests or deep in the countryside, and there are visible signage. Also there is a cafe at the top of the cliff by the same name (a conveniently located business, the boulders are free to access).

Recommended stay time:
This depends entirely on what you plan to do here. Photography can take any amount of time and the results would really depend on the weather. As you can see it was quite cold and grey when I went.

*Tips for Photographers:*
Luckily for you, the beach faces east so you can get some nice sunrise shots if you can be bothered to get down there that early in the cold. There are seaweed on the beach and lots of wet sand as the beach depth (distance to the water) is quite narrow.

Official website
From what I can tell, it’s official website is www.moerakiboulders.com even if it doesn’t seem that way. The cafe also has a website but ends in co.nz, they are different websites, so don’t get confused!

Accommodation for the night: Aria on Bank, Dunedin.

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