September 10th, 2011 by Tom Smith

Beautiful Milford Sound

First about the air.  The flight is so easy.  You leave in the evening from LAX and arrive into Fiji (or New Zealand) in the early morning.  Yes, it is a long night on the airplane, but there is really no jet lag..if you fly “in the front of the airplane”.  Premier Business Class on Air New Zealand or International Business Class on Qantas or even Tabua Class on Air Pacific make the going great.   However, here is the “Private Journal” scoop on these three business classes:  Air New Zealand’s Business Premier offers seperate check-in at LAX and Auckland (much nicer in Auckland of course) , use of the Koru Club Lounge (although the club in Auckland needs some refurbishing),  I love the club at LAX (great food and better wine selection than in Auckland!).   They do share the club with Air France so be prepared for some Francaise stuff and attitude. On board Air New Zealand’s “fully flat bed” is very comfortable, meals are created by the likes of Rex Morgan (Huka Lodge). It is hit or miss with the flight attendants on Air NZ..  This last flight (AKL-LAX) we were rushed thru meals…I asked why? , on a 13 hour flight?  And the wine list presented in an informative, glossy,  comprehensive booklet; looked promising, then the flight attendant said “red or white?”   We got one choice from each. Why bother with the fancy wine list?  Perhaps consider Qantas International Business Class  they offer their “Skybed” which is flat and comfy, use of the Qantas Business Lounge in LAX and exciting meals such as snapper poached in coconut milk.  Air Pacific Business (Tabua Class) is nice but the seats are like the old days with Pan Am and the sleeperettes (hey, I loved them and they were the best in the sky, but we have evolved).  Air Pacific is quick and easy (and cheap) to Fiji compared to the rivals usually…if you are only going to Fiji.

Hiking (or tramping) The Milford Track. Once you are finished with seeing the sights of Christchurch (1/2 day tops) and Queenstown (2-3 days) you are ready to hike the Milford Track.  Keep in mind that you will need to book, reserve and pay for this hike about a year in advance.  It is a 5 day hike beginning at the north end of Lake Te Anu and ending at spectacular Milford Sound.  The trail goes from rain forest to alpine to rain forest.  The best time to hike is January or February.  I  lucked out and had 4 days of sunshine and no rain….but that was very rare indeed.  Usually it rains a bit.  Sometimes alot.  There are two ways to hike the track, both highly regulated by the government.  You can take the Guided Walk which means you start in Queenstown and are taken with about 35 to 50 people to the trailhead (4 hrs) and begin the walk to your first lodge, Glade House.  Yes it is lodges every night, wonderful meals, plenty of Kiwi beer and wine.  Very comfy.  You can reserve a private room (en suite) with down comforters, etc. or stay in the bunk rooms which are still nice and have the same type of beds only you are with 4 to 6 others.  Shared baths. All the lodges (there are 4) have drying rooms (for clothes and boots), flush toilets, hot showers, library, etc.  Splurge on the private rooms it is a real treat!  The meals are fun and lots of fellowship.  Most of your fellow hikers are Kiwis or Aussies with a few Brits, Japanese and Americans thrown in.  After breakfast each day everyone heads out on the trail at their own pace.  No you are not hiking in a group.  Everyone meets up for lunch at a designated spot and then its on to the next lodge.   Prices are NZ$2000 to 2200 per person for private rooms or $NZ1700 to 1850 for shared.  Includes all transportation to/from Queenstown, all meals, colorful and helpful guides, use of  day packs, and even a boat ride out Milford Sound to the Tasman Sea.  The scenery is stunning, make that spectacular, the land is pristine and clean.   You really have peace and quiet all day long.  The hiking is easy.  The highest elevation is just over 3000feet! You can even drink the water right out of the river or streams!  There is interesting wildlife….I loved the bush robins as they were so tame.

To get to all this beauty you must go thru Auckland and Christchurch and/or Queenstown.  Nice,  clean, friendly Kiwi cities.  There are some interesting things to do but I have found it is really the countryside, the bush as it were, that is the real draw in New Zealand.  All travelers enter the country thru Auckland (90% of the time) so a day or two in this city on the water is good fun.  There are some decent hotels:  The Langham, center location near the Domain (park), comfy, big hotel with a spa on the roof!, Mollies, a sweet boutique hotel with all the amenities, including a spa and for lower priced try Rydges or the Copthorne on Anzac. Or try the Novotel Ellerslie a bit out of town.  My good buddy  Kiwi Sue says the 5 most fun things to do on the North Island are:  Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic & Underwater World,  A 2-hour sailing on an America’s Cup sailing yacht in Auckland harbour,  the Waiheke Island of Wine tour & tastings, biking along the waterfront in Auckland and Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula.   If you are traveling more on the North Island and have time to visit theBay of Islands splurge and stay at Kauri Cliffs.   It is a 150 mile drive from Auckland, but better yet have the helicopter fly you up, it is a spectacular flight.  This very special 4,000 acre resort & preserve is the child of Julian Robertson, a native of North Carolina and one of the “Wizards of Wall Street”.  He and his wife Josie attend to every detail and have assembled some of  the best hotel staff in the country along with their son, Jay as the General Manager.  The main lodge, like the guest villas is exquisitely designed by Josie and there are interesting touches like the pale, wide totara-wood planks on the floor set between strips of concrete, a rustic look that the Robertsons copied from their home in Sun Valley, Idaho.  Each of the guest villas feels very private and the bathrooms are spacious (make that huge!).  Decks look out over the 18 holes of stunning golf course (par 72).  The course was designed by Dave Harmon and is always compared to Pebble Beach…I think it exceeds anything in California.  There are some many things about Kauri Cliffs that make it New Zealand’s top resort.  Give me a call and I will promise you an in depth conversation about this very special place. And if Kauri Cliffs isn’t enough the Robertson’s are opening Cape Kidnappers on the North Island as well (Hawke’s Bay area).  Look for it to premier in Nov. 2007.  For wine folk this is Kiwi heaven for the likes of Sauvignon Blanc.

 

In Christchurch it is a good idea to stay in the center.  There is the very upscale George right by Hagley Park and the Avon River.  Right in the middle of it all however is The Crowne Plaza, which I stayed at years ago when it was a ParkRoyal….it was a big deal then, now it is still good.  Also The Heritage, right opposite the Cathedral.  OK rooms and a wonderful dining room.  Or try The Millennium, again right across from the Cathedral.  You can walk anywhere from these hotels.   Queenstown offers some  variety.   If you want to stay outside of town your choices would be Millbrook (about 20 mins from downtown) and a lovely resort and spa or  Blanket Bay, way out on Lake Wakitipu.  Dramatic design, comfy and very isolated, really a destination in and of itself.  Other hotels in Queenstown would be The Sofitel (nicest in town), The Crowne Plaza (right across the street from the shopping district and harbour), The Millennium, big group tour hotel with all the amenities,  and for fun try The Dairy Private Luxury Hotel, a comfortable and fun and B & B.

Relaxing in Fiji

Relaxing in Fiji

OK on to Fiji. First of all Fiji is not Bali or Tahiti, so for those of you who have been to Indonesia or French Polynesia please do not have those expectations.  It is a culture and place unto its own.  And clashing cultures, the natives (Fijians) and the Indians.  It’s peaceful and  very laid back.  We visited right in the middle of the last coup (one of many over the past decade or so).  They postponed the coup to pay a soccer game one day.   The resorts on the main island of Viti Levu are varied.  Your have big resorts, small boutique luxury hotels and hideaways.

Kayaks in Fiji

Kayaks in Fiji

The idea of Fiji,  in my opinion , is a place to relax on your way to/from Australia and New Zealand.  The culture of the island is interesting but not permeating like Bali and none of the attitude and “cultural baggage” like Tahiti, Moorea or Bora Bora.  The markets are interesting, but not extravagant.  The arts and crafts & shopping,  just so-so.   It’s these lovely Fijian people that are the real find.  So, with that in mind my goal was to find a small, off the beaten track small boutique resort./hideaway  The Wellesley is such a place.  Located on the Coral Coast, about a 2.5  to 3 hour bumpy ride (kinda fun) from the international airport at Nadi.  The 100 acre Wellesley takes care of arranging transport, no worries.  The very private resort has only 15 spacious, air conditioned suites and sits on a private beach of pure white sand.  There are sea kayaks and all the equipment for water sports.  Snorkeling is superb in the lagoon.  All meals are taken in the beautiful dining terrace above the pool.  Rates for a king suite for two, including  all meals & taxes are $US355 or room only is $US247.
The meals are plentiful, interesting and the bartender will make you tropical drinks from the bountiful fresh fruit that grows all around you.  We made one excursion to Sigatoka for market day, other than that or a trip to the big market in Suva,  there is no need to go further than your 100 private acres at The Wellesley.  The Wellesley is owned and operated by New Zealanders.   They also have a very fine boutique hotel in Wellington.  Let me know if  this very special hideaway  is what you are looking for….I have lots of photos.

-Tom


The most worthwhile things to see and do in New Zealand and Fiji:

 

  • Take a 4 day Blue Lagoon Cruise, Fiji
  • Snorkle & stay at the Yasawa Islands, Fiji
  • Visit The National Museum in Auckland.
  • The Waitomo Glow Worm Caves/North Island NZ.
  • Scuba dive to the Rainbow Warrior off the North Island.
  • Play golf (& stay) at Kauri Cliffs.
  • Play golf (& stay) at Cape Kidnappers.
  • Visit a winery at Hawke’s Bay/North Island.
  • Spend a day (& picnic) driving to Glenorchy/Lake Wakitipu/So. Island.
  • Spend a day shopping & eating in Queenstown.
  • Hike the Milford Track.  Ask for Catherine  or Ash as your guides.
  • Helicopter from Milford Sound to Queenstown and stop at a glacier.
  • Mt. Cook National Park…glaciers and the Southern Alps!

I’ve created visual itineraries that cover nearly every resort plus things to see and do for both Fiji and New Zealand, so you can see where things are located, look at photos, videos, etc.

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