I have finally, finally gotten around to part two of the Kiwimoon, our honeymoon adventures in the South Island! So much fun from wineries, horseback riding, beautiful scenery, and a night out with amazing cocktails!
Day 10: Tiny house and The Winery. While in Queenstown for this stint, we stayed in a tiny house! While I definitely could not live in a tiny house long term, I love short getaways in tiny houses that seem so cozy and still have all the essentials. This one had a gorgeous view of the bay, a cozy loft bed, and a pretty well stocked kitchen.
We spent the afternoon at The Winery in downtown Queenstown, a cute little wine shop that has automated tasting machines and treated ourselves to a platter of cheese and crackers and breads which was quite delicious. The shop was lovely, and along our tasting journey we found some absolutely stunning wines, as well as got to try a sampling of honeys and talked to the owner of the shop. We grabbed fish and chips before heading back to snuggle in our tiny house air b&b for the night.
Day 11: Horseback riding through Glenorchy. This was one of my favorite days by far! We thought we would have horrible weather, but turns out that while it did “rain” it was really just a lightly misting spritz that didn’t ruin anything. High Country Horses outfits you with boots and a duster, and provides water and food so you’ll be in good hands. Our full day trek was about 6 full hours of riding with a stop for lunch for both us and our horses to graze.
The scenery was amazing. I took pictures, but the pictures don’t even do it justice. I got on really well with my horse Blitz and Tyler liked his horse Snoopy as well. There were only 4 of us in the group including the guide, so in addition to us, a younger girl named Marie visiting from Denmark. Our guide Max was amazing, and so much fun to talk to and hear about her life, tell her ours, and learn about the area, wildlife, and horses. (She even spent a year abroad in Japan, so I bonded with her about that!) We got to ford rivers, and I don’t mean like splash through water, I mean cross actual rivers to the point where water splashed in my boot several times.
There were gorgeous lupines mostly in purple and pink, though later in the trip I also saw yellow ones, that the horses loved to snack on–Snoopy especially! Blitz loved to go fast, which was fine by me, but also was quite good about following the lead horse which meant that when I got sore the last hour, I didn’t have to micromanage him to stop, which was good because I was mostly focused on not falling off. I was so sore the next day, could barely hobble back to the tiny house, much less the lofted bed, but it was an amazing day.
Day 12: Gibbston Valley Wine Tour. Given the soreness of my muscles after the full day of riding coupled with the rainy weather, a wine tour was a perfect complement to the previous day. We visited four wineries, Gibbston Valley Winery, Mt. Rosa Winery, Kinross, and Chard Farm Winery.
It was really the only day that truly rained wet rain–other days had kinda misty-foggy rained but not really gotten in the way of our plans. Luckily we escaped the rain by sitting inside and chatting over wine tastings!
Our first stop was Gibbston Valley Winery which was the first winery in the area. The story of how Gibbston Valley came to have award-winning pinot noir is in a word, laughable. If you ever stop by they’ll love to tell the story of the “crazy Irishman” who bought a bunch of land and knowing nothing about growing grapes or making wine decided that he was gonna grow wine in the valley. Amidst the skeptics and much ridicule as the first years passed with no harvest, it was in the 5th year that they finally could harvest and even then having no winemaking experience, the wine he made was not good. He sought help from a famous professional winemaker and Gibbston Valley Winery has gone on to win several Pinot Noir competitions, much to France’s chagrin. Rich in history and with some fun wines we liked them, but a lot of them were on the more expensive side and we liked other cheaper ones much more. Still it was fun to get a tour of the only wine cave in New Zealand, and they also have a cheesery and gift shop on the property, and the cheeses were quite good! Try the goat Gouda or the sheepsmilk cheese which were our favorites!
The second stop along the way was Mt. Rosa and while not having quite as many stories or setting themselves up as a tourist destination, I have to say I actually liked their wines better. My favorite here was a Sauvignon Blanc, but the other memorable drink was a mulled wine actually made from a rose. I’d never seen a rose mulled wine before and it had a depth of flavor I didn’t expect.
We stopped by Kinross next, which is a storefront that actually works with various vineyards in Central Otago and we got to try various labels like Hawkesbay and Valli. One of our favorites here was a Sweet Pinot Gris which was a much needed sweet refresher from the extremely dry Pinot noirs (and other wines) of the area. By the time we reached the last winery we were getting chummy with the others on the tour chatting and getting to know one another. We were having such a great time that we invited two of our acquaintances back to The Winery in Queenstown where we did a few more tastings but came back to crack open a couple bottles of our favorite wine, the Takopoto. It was a wonderful relaxed evening getting to know our Aussie friends, and honestly one of the highlights of our trip as a relaxing fun day in good company. We also grabbed the famous Fergberger for dinner which had some fun burgers on their menu, including venison and rabbit, but the wait at peak dinner time was crazy and while we enjoyed it, we could definitely get a burger just as good in the states.
Day 13: Milford Sound. The next day we were off to Milford Sound, one of Tyler’s most anticipated days of our whole trip! We drove the 4 hours there, took a boat ride around the sound and then on trekked back 2 hours to Te Anau, since it was a long day.
The thing about New Zealand that’s hardest to convey is that while Milford Sound was gorgeous and we have some fabulous photos, literally all the scenery is gorgeous. Even staring out the window or taking pictures at the side of the road is gorgeous and breathtaking. It was somewhat overcast and a little chilly on the way there and we stopped at several pull-offs in Fijordlands National Park on the way, but the weather cleared up and Milford Sound itself was gorgeous with blue skies and blue seas and jagged mountains and a spattering of trickling waterfalls from the previous day’s rainfall.
The boat ride took us all around the Sound, out to where you can see the Tasman Sea and as we turned away from the open water to come back, we were joined by a pod of dolphins! Especially since our swimming with the dolphins experience didn’t end up panning out due to weather and timing in the season, it was a nice little consolation prize to get to see dolphins splashing and playing at the prow of our boat!
We even saw some seals sunbathing on a rock as we got up close and personal with the large waterfall that crashes down one of the mountains. They took the boat up to the base of the waterfall, close enough to feel the spray on the second deck where we were standing. As if this wasn’t a magical enough experience, a double rainbow (though I only got a picture of one) emerged out of the spray after base of the waterfall.
Day 14: Lady Etna. Driving the rest of the way back to Queenstown was uneventful, and by uneventful I mean even two weeks into the trip the beauty of the country was still stunning to look at as it passed. Staying at a hostel ended up being great for us because we met one of our roommates who used to live in Queenstown and was visiting friends as she passed through. Tyler and I had plans to go out on the town and Lou ended up giving us some great suggestions!
Our first stop was The Bunker, a cute little room with bartenders going for the hipster vibe and some well shaken cocktails. I went for the Mai Tai which was delicious. These cute bartenders delivered on the cocktails both in performance and flavor, but since they were putting on a show for complicated cocktails it did take a bit to get our drinks. Bunker was fun but the real showstopper of the night was Bardeaux. Almost by accident I ordered the Lady Etna as a panic order because they didn’t have an ingredient for my first choice, and guys, this was THE best cocktail I’d ever had. It was a deep orange flavor and I even enjoyed the blend of drink and foam on top and even munched on the candied orange garnish.
We ended the night meeting up with Lou and her friends over at hogs Irish beer house which was fun to get to chat with some kiwi natives and people who had lived in the area a while. Even if they were already pretty drunk.
Day 15: Souvenir shopping. We spent the day around Queenstown, just visiting our our favorite places and doing some serious souvenir shopping. It was a last minute thought, but we jokingly said maybe we should get some “grown up art”, aka not posters from our college days. We weren’t 100% on that, but wandered into two galleries throughout our souvenir shopping. We spent forever around one of the galleries that had a wide range of original New Zealand paintings and mixed media art, and the owner of the gallery was quite nice and helpful, letting us root through all of the piles of paintings and telling us stories about the artists. One of our favorites was this cute little bird, but it was a pretty large painting and I could just picture it staring at me while I was watching TV or like when I walked in the door, and didn’t think it was the best option. I love that she let us take a picture of it though! We actually really were considering another painting by the same artist, and because we were waffling so much she let us take a few pictures to sit on and debate while we decided. Since typically you can’t take photos in galleries, I was so glad the owner let us snap a photo of this one because it still makes me smile every time I see it!
When we wandered into the second gallery, I was struck by a painting of A Kea, a New Zealand native mountain parrot. It was beautiful, just taking off flight with a rainbow underneath its wings. It was gorgeous, but when we were deciding between the one at the first gallery and this one, the landscape made much more sense in our home! I wish we could have gotten both, but since we were trying to not be completely fiscally irresponsible, we went for the landscape which was a perfect size for over our loveseat in our living room!
Day 16: Travel back to Auckland. Not too much happened on this day, just our domestic flight back to Auckland to get ready for leaving the next day. We stayed in the same hotel as when we first landed with more of Tyler’s points which was nice because we knew the area vaguely enough to make our way around easily. We had the evening in Auckland but we’re pretty tired and opted to take it easy and play some games and have a few drinks in our room. We were trying to be responsible and only get enough stuff for drinks that we needed, but apparently sorely underestimated and ended up going to the liquor store three separate times that evening.
Day 17: Sky tower. Since we had some time to kill before our evening flight we decided to go up in the Sky Tower as our last hurrah in Auckland. It’s exactly what you think it is, basically a tall tower with gorgeous views of Auckland. It was fun and something to do, but definitely the most run-of-the-mill-tourist thing we did. Still it was nice to have a relaxing morning and still have something to do before we headed home!