I've been meaning to sit down and send you a thoughtful, detailed thank you. We had such a delightful time--everyone loved it. And we loved it so much that we're trying to figure out when we can return. My second child (the 15 year old) fell in love with kiwi birds at the Wildlife Centre, so much so that all they wanted for their birthday was to sponsor one. The sponsorship comes with the ability to visit the bird, so we will have a good excuse to return! I can't tell you how many lovely people we met. Strangers would approach to offer help, and were so warm and kind. Besides the natural beauty of the island, that's what really caught our attention.
All of the accomodations more than met our needs. The only one that wasn't terrific, but was adequate, was the rental villa in Te Anau. The manager was quite frankly just odd, and seemed upset when we arrived a little early. The rental was adequately clean, but not nicely equipped. We wouldn't have been excited to stay for more than 1-2 nights, but it fit our needs. The apartment in Queenstown was stunning, and huge, and clean, and the views! It was easily accessible with a car, had parking, and was very walkable. What a terrific choice. We wished our vacation was a week longer, just to enjoy that space and the city. We appreciated the breakfast offered in almost every accomodation--it made our days a lot easier to know where and when we were going to eat at least once each day. While I might have slightly preferred a more central Christchurch hotel given that we were walking everywhere, the family was all charmed by the Tudors, and the space offered was generous. We would happily stay there again. The rental car process was seamless and easy on both ends, and the roads were really great!
We adored so many of the experiences; it's hard to choose a favorite. I think most of us would say that it was the Doubtful Sound cruise, which was just lovely. The scenery was beautiful, and we were lucky enough to have a gorgeous two days after a rainy, windy, gray first 4-5 days. The train ride was also beautiful, and so relaxing. We would repeat all of the experiences again, with the exception of the Monarch cruise. I'll give my honest feedback: it was packed way too full to really enjoy, and we didn't get very near any wildlife. It was probably too short to see much, but none of us wished it was much longer when we were stuffed in like sardines in a can. My youngest was half way off the end of a bench to make space for everyone else, and refused to sit on my lap because she's at the elderly age of 8. We've been on wildlife viewing cruises before, and we know that no one can ever guarantee animal viewing in the wild. However, we spent that one drizzly, windy, overcrowded hour mostly looking at one albatross. The rest of the experiences were all delightful though! We will plan on stargazing and a ski plane next time, and are so delighted that we might get to return. If you ever have another client who ventures down to the Catlins, it might be worth a mention of stopping by The Lost Gypsy gallery. One artist has converted an old bus and some outdoor space into a museum of his automatons created from found items. It's quirky, weird, fun, and interactive. It's well worth the detour to Papatowai just for a 30-60 min visit. It made the top five list for several of my kids, and I loved it too.
Arrowtown was so delightful, especially since we arrived about 45 min before the first tour groups. We had fantastic espresso, the best donut we've ever had anywhere, and panned for gold. The museum is fabulous, and has a great scavenger hunt for kids. Overall, we wished that we had an entire day to bum around, or maybe two. It was really quite charming. Too bad our vacation wasn't a month long!
We had phenomenal meals at the Redcliff Cafe in Te Anau (so so so good, and the kids dinner was one of the best I've ever seen for variety and quality), Vault 21 in Dunedin, and Gatherings in Christchurch. Seriously delicious, and something we'd visit again, and again, and again if they were near our home. We also enjoyed our Mrs. Fergberger coffee and pastries a lot.
Whew! That's a lot, I know, and I'll resubmit a lot of it on the form. I just wanted to personally thank you for crafting such a fabulous trip. You were patient with all of our neurotic questions (ok, my neurotic questions), and the experience was so easy and seamless. I'd give it ten stars out of five if I could.
Thank you, thank you, thank you,