Pam and Jims Excellent New Zealand Adventure


Island wineries, coastal hikes, golden bays and the bluest of lakes all feature heavily in Pam and Jim's recent New Zealand road trip. Read their account of their self-drive adventures, and find out which New Zealand natural attraction they believe no traveller should ever miss. There's even a guest appearance from Huey Lewis!

Jim and Pam Butchart

Getting Ready

Pamela Butchart

Just two weeks until we leave for New Zealand! We have waited for this trip for a year and now it's around the corner. I am starting to gather the items I want to take on this trip. Jim says "less is more", so I am trying to take on that mantra. I usually pack way more than I need...

Our flight originates here in Oalkand so not much of a worry leaving on time but we will be heading right into the teeth of a raging Jetstream so will have a headwind. Fingers crossed our hour and a half layover in Honolulu will be enough.

Heading toward summer! Yeeha!

NOTE: A big shout out and thank you to Jo at First Light Travel in Auckland who put this trip together for us and rearranged things when our very first flight was cancelled.

Here is our Itinerary map - Starting from the Top

New Zealand (Finally) 

Our first day in New Zealand is spent relaxing and getting acclimatized. 

Waiheke Island

Pamela Butchart

Today we ferried over to Waiheke Island which is about a half hour east of Auckland. It's a very pretty island that is known for its wine, Mediterranean climate, and white sand beaches. We visited three wineries and had some very good wine. They are known primarily for their reds but I really enjoyed their whites because they aren't so overly oaked like we are used to in CA.

Tomorrow we pick a car and drive to Coromandel. "Stay left. Stay left!"


Pamela Butchart 

Left Auckland this morning and drove to Hahei. A beautiful drive to a beautiful area. The beach here is spectacular. Our B & B is lovely, private & we're the only guests. Sitting by the pool with champagne we bought yesterday at a winery. Life is good

We are hoping to hike to Cathedral Cove tomorrow if Jim's knee holds out and my blisters heal some. Yesterday on Waiheke Island we decided to stay on the island and have dinner and catch a later ferry. Our tour guide said 13 minutes max to walk from town to the ferry terminal. I believed him. Didn't have the best flip flop choice on yesterday, but thought 13 minutes no problem. 30 minutes into our walk my feet are broken blisters. All will be better in a couple of days, but more caution is necessary when listening to the locals!

Cathedral Cove

Jim Butchart 

This was our second day on the Coromandel Coast. There are a few things very unique to this area: Up the road a bit is a place called Hot Water Beach. Two hours before or after high tide you can dig a hole in the beach sand and it will fill up with hot water which you can sit in. The other thing that we did do was hike over hill and dale for about an hour and a half to Cathedral Cove. The cathedral part is a natural tunnel to the other side of a bluff that looks just like a cathedral. Very symmetrical and cathedral-like.

By the time we got back to Hahei beach we were parched so we got a couple of pints at the Pour House and a pizza. Now we are back at our B&B sitting by the pool.

Warm weather wishes and caviar dreams to you.


Jim Butchart 

Today we are driving south along the coast to Rotorua. It's about three and a half hours driving time but we can probably stretch it out to five.

We are staying at Koura Lodge on Lake Rotorua. Just 10 rooms and they are all just feet from the lake. It's quite a bit cooler today with a cloud cover. Lots of rain and wind last night. This afternoon we will be bundling up to go see a Maori concert and a Hangi meal.

Those are Trout!

Very active geothermal in town. The Moari tribe here have made quite a business of it which supports a school to preserve their culture. Somehow better than the casinos back home.

Tomorrow we fly to Wellington, change planes and take off for Nelson on the South Island. Just an up and down. We will be there for a couple of days then fly to Christchurch. Then the pictures will be even more spectacular as we make our way up to Queenstown and the Milford Sound.

Abel Tasman National Park

Jim Butchart 

This morning we flew to Wellington, change planes and hop down to Nelson on the South Island.

Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman is a great park near Nelson on the North Island. So before you come to NZ, check out Wilson's which runs a huge operation here with ferries and lodging and all kinds of options for hiking or camping or just riding the ferry.

They have a half dozen or so stops where they drive the catamaran ferry boat right up onto the beach, run a boarding thing out and depending on what you sign up for, either get off and hike to the next beach or stay on and visit the next beach. They spell out on the ticket when they will be back to pick you up. All very civilized. We started at 9:20 and got back at 4:30.

Makes me wish I had a boat


Jim Butchart

Our second day in Christchurch. Yesterday we walked all over town being tourists. Even did the ultimate tourist activity of purchasing tickets to ride around town in old streetcars they call trams. Hop on - hop off kind of thing. Turns out if you stayed on for the entire route it would probably take 15 minutes with all the stops. A pretty short route for $25 each. So we milked it. On. Off. On. Off. Cool old streetcars though.

The big earthquake they had here in 2011 was quite devastating. 180+ people died and most all old masonry structures collapsed. There is still a lot of evidence of buildings they are attempting to save.

(By the way, the date above is generated by my server in the states so it's your date. We are a day ahead here so I'm talking to you from your future. Beware!)

Lake Tekapo

Jim Butchart

Today we drove about three hours up into the hills to Lake Tekapo. The blue is what you see in the Caribbean. Gorgeous. Tonight we are getting picked up at 11:30 to go up to the top of Mt. John to the University of Canterbury Observatory to look at the stars and planets. We will get back at 2:00am. Should be fun.

One thing we have noticed here is there are LOTS of Chinese tourists. Buses full. We had a late lunch when we got here at 2:00 and besides one other table, the entire restaurant was filled with Chinese. China is New Zealand's number one trading partner. But there are starting to be tensions. An Air New Zealand flight to Shanghai was not allowed to land recently. They had to return to Auckland. There is much discussion here about the PM not visiting China where the previous PM visited several times. Politics. You can't get away from it.

We got our first rainy day yesterday. We were scheduled to have a day pass here at Lake Tekepo at a hot pool. We stayed in and played gin rummy all day. This morning we are checking out and will be driving three hours to Queenstown.

We had our picture taken with a time exposure of the night sky at the observatory but I haven't gotten a copy yet. So while we wait, please enjoy this time exposure of the cool little church down by the lake.


Jim Butchart

We just got into Queenstown. Nice three-hour drive. Very steep hills or maybe they qualify as mountains because they are also very tall. It reminded me a lot of Easten Oregon or Washington. Very dry and rocky. Not many trees until you get around to the southern side then you see the conifers.

Queenstown is c r a w l I n g with tourists. I mean thick. It is definitely a destination city! I can see why. It is gorgeous! We will go out and explore and take pictures which I will post later.

Last Days.....

Pamela Butchart

We reached Queenstown yesterday afternoon after a beautiful drive from Lake Tepako. I see why so many people love this town. The lake is pristine with tall mountains surrounding it and a cute town with TONS of restaurants. To go along with all the restaurants, there are also TONS of tourists. We spent today being one.....walking part of the shoreline, having lunch, exploring a few of the shops.... it will be our only day to do so, as we have trips planned for our last 3 days... tomorrow being our longest one; starting at 6:30 AM traveling to Milford Sound.

In some ways it feels like we have been here for a very long time and in other ways like we just arrived. It has truly been a dream trip.... one we are so very grateful to be able to take. Jim and I talk often about how blessed we are to be able to truly is a gift and we don't ever take it for granted.

Milford Sound Day

Jim Butchart

Today was to be the highlight of the trip. We were to be out front of our hotel at 6:30am to be picked up by a cab to take us downtown somewhere to board a coach for the 291Km ride out to the famous Milford sound. 6:30 came and went. 6:40 came and went and that's when we started to get a little panicky. Well one of us was a little panicky. The other was having a melt-down. We called Southern Discoveries, the coach and cruise people and got no answer. It is Sunday at 6:45 after all. We were about to write the trip off when we heard, "Pamela?" It was the taxi driver who had parked around the corner waiting by the back door. She was good enough to walk around to find us instead of just driving away. Yeah!

We had a very pleasent five-hour coach ride. Even through the curves and there were plenty of those. (Tip for Ron B.: The driver says if you are right-handed, put something in your left ear, like an ear-bud, cotton, tissue or your finger. Says it works!)

So this is what I learned today: If you don't have much time in NZ, fly to Queenstown and make it out to the Milford sound. The beauty is mind-blowing.

I am going to post a bunch of pictures because this place is spectcular. My pictures won't do it justice but you might get a sense of how amazing this part of the world is. It blew me away.

The coolest thing was we got to see it all again from the air. We flew back to Queenstown in an eight-passenger plane. The pilot asked if anyone wanted to sit up front. Up shot my arm. "I do!" So I played co-pilot, keeping hands and feet off the pilot stuff.

We have to take off into that?

TSS Earnslaw

Pamela Butchart

Today we took the only coal-powered steamship in the southern hemisphere up Lake Wakatipu for a BBQ lunch at a working sheep station. The ship was launched in 1912 and has been working ever since. Access to the engine room was open which fascinated Jim. He would have shoveled coal if they would have let him.

The sheep station was fun. They demonstrated shearing a sheep plus we got to watch a couple of short-haired Border Collies herd some sheep.

This was followed by the best buffet lunch we have gotten so far. Then back on the ship back to Queenstown.

Celebrity Back

Jim Butchart

So I wasn't going to bug the guy and disturb his breakfast but that's Huey Lewis's back behind Pam. Almost rubbing shoulders. Well rubbing chairs. His rockin' career has taken its toll. He is nearly deaf.

Tomorrow we will be wine tasting for our final day in Queenstown and New Zealand. Wednesday we start our long long day of sitting. We have to check out at 10 am but our flight to Auckland isn't until 2 pm. The flight from Auckland to Honolulu isn't until 11.55pm. Crossing the dateline we land in Honolulu at 9:45 am Wednesday. A 3-hour layover then takes off for Oakland where we land a couple of hours before we took off.

Back from the future.

On our way home

Jim Butchart

I'm convinced jet lag isn't caused by flying but the standing in lines! We landed in Honolulu at 9 am but didn't get our bags for an hour then customs was pretty easy because of Global Entry. We rechecked our bags for Oakland and now we are outside security and Hawaiian Airlines in Auckland didn't add that we have PreCheck on our boarding passes so we stood in one of those Disneyland serpentine lines for another hour. Jet lag (line lag) is setting in. Two more hours and we can board for leg three.

Thank Zeus for airline lounges.

Testimonial for Jo at First Light Travel:

"This trip was planned for a very long time for my husband and myself. It had always been a dream of ours to visit New Zealand. Jo at First Light Travel helped us to plan our dream trip. Every excursion and every accommodation was top notch. We could not have asked for a more perfect vacation. The memories will last us forever."


Jim Butchart
Jim Butchart
: 4 Apr 2019 (Last updated: 18 May 2021)

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