The George Hotel in Christchurch felt sophisticated and luxurious after our pretty but simple motel in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. I’d found The George online when looking for somewhere to use two Hyatt free night certificates we needed to use. Although not a Hyatt, The George partners with Hyatt and free night certificates are usable there for some dates and categories.* A lovely spacious room with huge bathroom, a seating area and a balcony overlooking green trees confirmed I’d made a good choice. Hagley Park North sits just across the street from The George and the Christchurch Botanic Gardens and city center are a short walk away.
A close second to Milford Sound, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park was high on my list of places to visit in New Zealand. After our overnight in Wanaka, we were off to this highlight. The road took us through Lindis Pass and yet more desolate mountains, uniformly tan and dotted with clumps of spiky brush. We stopped at a scenic overlook describing an early release of the Scottish red stags that have so thrived in New Zealand. We drove a short stretch across the Ahuriri River before crossing that river to turn north then along Lake Pukaki, now with wide dry fields where Google Maps showed a much wider lake. As with many places we’ve traveled, climate change was making itself known here.
The 4.5-hour drive between Milford Sound and Wanaka required a big southward dip before turning north to take us along Lake Wakatipu almost back to Queenstown. From there, we left the green and blue of the water’s edge to cross the barren landscape of desert tan and scrub brush of the Crown Range.
Albert Town/Wanaka was primarily a layover between Milford Sound and Mount Cook/ Aoraki National Park. When I’d planned this trip, I thought we might be in need of a washing machine at this point in our travels so had prioritized that. The Albert Town AirBnB turned out to be much more than that: lovely, quiet, very comfortable, budget-friendly and a short drive to Lake Wanaka and downtown. Our host hobbled out to greet us with a truly harrowing story of a hang-gliding accident six months before from which he was only just recovered enough to walk, albeit gingerly. Hang-gliding was already off my list, but this confirmed my choice. Our host had done hundreds of flights before his accident, but when I asked him if he’d fly again, he gave a firm no.
My number one must-see in New Zealand was Milford Sound. This time our pandemic-induced rescheduling worked to our advantage. When I’d first planned this trip in March 2020, the Milford Sound Road (a world-famous drive I definitely wanted to make) was severely damaged and closed. We could still fly in, maybe, but that wasn’t what I envisioned and gave us little wiggle room if the weather in this rainiest of rainy places didn’t cooperate. Now, in October 2022, the road was open and we had a two-day window to hopefully see the Sound on a reasonably clear day.
Our flight on New Zealand air from Auckland to Queenstown went off without a hitch and offered us some great views of the two islands en route. We picked up the rent car that would be our transportation for the next weeks (sadly, now substantially more expensive than a similar car had been pre-pandemic) and headed to our hotel. The route we followed on the South Island was as follows:
We took our rent car on the ferry from to Wellington and continued driving across the North Island and back to Auckland from where we’d fly back to the States. We were really happy with our itinerary and I’ll cover the entire trip including fjords, hot spring spas, wineries, geysers, Maori settlements, a glowworm cave and more in coming posts.
Arriving by ship is a great introduction to Auckland. We sailed through outlying islands to dock early in the morning at the cruise ship terminal, in walking distance of downtown. Since we were disembarking and had luggage, we hailed a cab for the short ride to our hotel. With lots of free night certificates to use on this three-week trip, I chose the Four Points by Sheraton for this initial two-night stay. (We’d be back in Auckland for another two nights at the end of our stay in New Zealand.) The hotel is clean, modern and convenient. Happily, our room was ready early so we settled in quickly and had the full day ahead of us.
I’m behind on blogging as we settle into our year back in Paris. Still, I do want to write about our time in New Zealand (which included 2000 miles of driving!) before too much time slips by. So, first here’s a quick recap of the Princess repositioning cruise that got us there:
The Covid-19 pandemic canceled a three-week trip to New Zealand we’d planned to start in March 2020, within days of New Zealand shutting down. With the pandemic mostly behind us and New Zealand again opening, we were finally making the trip.
Corsica is a French island in the Mediterranean southeast of Nice and just north of Sardinia. It’s the birthplace of Napoleon I and a place of rugged beauty with a culture all its own. I wanted to visit Corsica for decades, but despite living in Paris on-and-off for years, I never made it. The time had finally arrived!
After finishing a house-and cat-sitting gig in little Thoiry, France, we flew EasyJet from Geneva to Ajaccio, Corsica, an 1h10m non-stop flight. We picked up a rent car at the Ajaccio airport and drove two and a half hours through rocky mountains to Bonifacio at the southern tip of the island, stopping a long the way to admire views and snap photos. We had nine nights in Corsica and I’d agonized over where exactly to spend our time. With all the winding roads, driving times in Corsica can be long and I didn’t want to fall into the trap of rushing around trying to see everything and being rushed everywhere. I settled on Bonifacio as one of two places to stay because it was just so dramatically beautiful. And given how many dramatically beautiful places there are in Corsica, that’s saying a lot. Wow, was I happy with my choice of Bonifacio!
I had to share a quick post about the charmingly pipe-happy town of Saint-Claude, France, and the nearby Trou de l’Abîme, an enchanting hiking spot in the Jura region of France. With the June weather getting a little too hot for us in the village of Thoiry where were spending a couple of weeks house-and cat-sitting, we were off for a day in the low Jura mountains searching for somewhere cool. The pipe-happy town of Saint-Claude and the nearby Trou de l’Abîme riverside hike were the perfect finds.
Decades ago, I was intrigued to learn it is possible to take a cable car over the Alps from Chamonix, France, to Italy. I’d wanted to make the trip ever since, but I learned that weather was a huge factor. The Aiguille du Midi (“Needle of the Midi”) is a 12,606ft mountain peak in the Mont Blanc massif. The Aiguille du Midi cable car is the highest cable car in France and the closest you can get to the summit of Mont Blanc without climbing. Weather can turn bad quickly at such high altitudes and the cable car can be halted without notice. Losing visibility is also a risk if clouds form on the mountain peaks. Even when living in Paris, a dash for the Chamonix cable car (a 6+ hour drive or multi-stage train trip) on a day forecast to be sunny just never made sense. With two summer weeks to spend house- and cat-sitting near Geneva, I realized we were only an hour and twenty minute drive away from Chamonix. My time might finally have come to visit the famous ski town and the Aiguille du Midi cable car!