Friday, December 20, 2013

Amazing New Zealand, A Self Driving Family Trip, Part 2 (South Island)

This is the second part of our family self driving trip to New Zealand in late 2013. You may refer to the first part on the North Island visit here.

In compare to North Island, South Island offers a palette of dramatic scenery, from it's mountain-scape to infinite ocean view. Driving through the island from town to town was such a pleasure with all the breath taking view. The weather in South Island was much colder compared to the North, so do come prepared with appropriate clothing.

Day 7 Picton - Kaikorou

  • Picton ferry ride via Interislander
  • Kaikarou Seal watching 
  • Kaikarou Peak view
Today we are leaving North Island. We woke up early at 6:45am and checked in to the humongous Interislander ferry just 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time. It's a 3 hours ferry ride from Wellington to Picton, the entry point to the South Island. The ferry ride was slow and gentle, yet our little boy was having discomfort due to  sea sick, luckily a huge children play area on the ferry saved the day. He was all smiling from cheek to cheek when he returned to the seat with his daddy. Baby C, on the other hand, enjoyed a good nap on the ferry so she woke up fresh and cheerful. There are 2 cafeterias on the ferry serving a large crowd of passenger, so lucky that I packed some sandwiches and cookies for ourselves before check-in.

Do board the ferry early to get yourself a nice seat, we were fortunate to get the last vacant table in the lounge. 

Lone Traveler on Interislander ferry, crossing the island

From Picton, it's another good 3 hours drive to Kaikoura, so we stopped by a small seaside town for lunch, The Store Kekerengu, an award winning restaurant with an amazing view. We had a stroll on the green next to the beach after the lunch, the duo had good fun running wild under the cold chilling wind; in their full winter wear of course - an inner thermal wear, a long sleeve shirt followed by a thick winter jacket, paired with wool socks, wool scarf and hat. 

The drive was a scenic one with many lookout points. The most amazing moment was when the snowy peaks appeared out of no way when we took a turn. The mountains were humongous and made us feel so little. They made the rest of the hills look like tiny Lego sets. These snowy peaks reminded me of Lord Of The Ring (again), where Gandalf and the followers of the Ring were trapped in the dreadful Mount Moghul. New Zealand is where one is constantly reminded of the Middle Earth.

The breathtaking view at Kaikoura
We checked into our cottage motel and had a fun time searching for seals at the tip of Kaikarou and drove up to the peak for an 360° of the seaside bay. It was magnificent. Too bad it was raining the whole time which made it too cold for the kids to stay out for long. Anyway we had a good warm dinner in the motel, thanks to the pasta and sauce we bought the night before and had lots of fresh NZ fruits to complete the dinner. Apple, oranges, Kiwis and grapes were so fresh in all the hypermarket we visited, so ensuring sufficient vitamin intake was not a problem at all.

The next morning the weather was wonderful. Bright sunny day, clear blue skies and perfect view of ocean and snow covered mountain tops. The seals were so active even tried to attack one of the ladies, lots of seagulls and robins flying around. We had a munch on crayfish fritters sandwich at the roadside store, it was fresh & delicious that the duo kept asking for more!

Kai ("food") Koura ("crayfish"), no wonder we saw so many cray fish stores around the town, the town is named after it! :)

Roadside seafood stall at Kaikoura, best crayfish sandwich!

Life was good. So good.

We would have gone for whale watching but too bad baby C was under 3 years old and the min age limit is 4yo , so bye bye Kaikoura, we are leaving for Christchurch now!

Accommodation & My Rating:
Kaikoura Cottage Motels, 4/5. 
Brand new condition, clean, nice layout. Warm and friendly service by the owner Darrell. A small children playground within the vicinity cheers up the kids. Definitely worth the money! Come with a laundry room, so you may get your washing done here with a small fee.

Day 8: Christchuch

We drove 3 hours to reach Christchurch, the town has yet to fully recover from the earthquake that shattered Christchurch  2 year ago but quite some new buildings are booming out at the same time, like Re:start store.

We paid a visit to a friend who stayed nearby the Air Force museum. It's located in a new township with a quiet neighborhood, single story corner house with ample garden space, looks like a promising place to settle down. Worth a thought.

Accommodation & My Rating:
Quality ELMS hotel. 4/5. 
Newly renovated, good location to eatery and shopping area. Ample parking.

Day 9: Mt Cook

Since there was a Sunday market in town, we decided to pop by to the nearby Riccarton Market for a feel on the local's weekend, it's located at the Racecourse Road which can be located using the GPS. We met some friendly folks who come to the market almost every week, had some fresh wild berries ice cream, steaming hot fried rice, Bavarian hotdog and mini donuts all for only NZD$18.50! There was a stage in the center and we enjoyed free concert while dining and mingling with the local folks,  the duo had fun dancing and running around the park with other young kids. It was a worthy visit after all!

A very happy me enjoying my fresh mixed berries ice cream

Then our 4 hours drive to the famous Mt Cook begin... super cold weather await!

We pulled aside on a river side and let the kids had some fun throwing stones into the river. The water was so clean and cooling. We even met some Malaysian tourists there and exchanged photo taking! What a small world.

Church of The Good Shepherd @ Lake Tekapo

View from Church of the Good Sheperd

On the way to Mt Cook we stopped by the picturesque Lake Tekapo and it's good old Good Sheperd church with a magnificent view over the clear cooper blue lake, such a beautiful blue that I would not forget for the rest of my life. It was just too stunning beyond words. We even saw a rainbow on our way around lake Tekapo, what a luck!

Rainbow over Lake Tekapo

The weather was really bad when we arrived at Mt Cook. Cold, damn, moody. We didn't get to do much on the mountain, so after spending a night at the lodge we checked out the next morning and left in the wet weather behind.

Accommodation & My Rating:
We booked the private room in the lodge that was mostly inhabited by single youngsters. The room was clean and spacious and service was absolutely friendly, like you are the neighbour who came over for a stay. Yes, that kind of friendly. Definitely worth the stay with the rate comparing to other accommodations in that area. There were snooker & pool tables at the dining hall, so help yourself with a game before handing to the bed.

Day 10: Queenstown, City of Entertainment

Amazing view of Lake Wakatipu, taken from our room.

Window with a view!

The bedroom for the little ones. How they loved it!

We arrived in our B&B Kemnay on a cold windy afternoon and it was such a lovely home overlooking the Lake Wakatipu and the snowy mountains.

We had dinner at Fishbone Grill & Bar down in the town, which is only 5 minutes away and that place served great seafood with friendly service. Different from other parts of NZ, restaurants and shops in Queenstown operate on longer hour (till 9pm or later), so if you are looking for souvenir shopping, you are at the right place. :)

Accommodation & My Rating:
Kemnay B&B. 6/5 (yes, it's that good!)
This has to be the best accommodation we have ever stayed in so far! Warmth hospitality by the lovely retired couple, Fraser & Heather, who made us felt like we were there to visit our relatives. They made the most delicious breakfast and were so accommodating. We had the entire first floor all to ourselves and they were so kind to provide us with toys and kid bath solution knowing we were traveling with 2 young kids. I would MOST CERTAINLY re-visit Kemnay. simple love this place. The view is TO-DIE-FOR (see for yourself), the rooms were flawless, the location was great and the hospitality was really beyond what we could ever expect as travelers.

Day 11: Lake Wanaka

We woke up late, had a sumptuous breakfast prepared by the generous host then drove 1.5 hours to the nearby Wanaka for a full day of fun. We took a scenic path passing through Codrona Town to see the snow as suggested by Mr Fraser.

Be confused at the Wanaka Puzzling World ;)

The Leaning Tower of Wanaka

The Wanaka Puzzling World was not quite as interesting as I expected it to be, it was built in 1973 so some of the tricks are not new, but still it offers interesting eye illusion experience and the duo were both fascinated by the tricks. There is a full size maze outside the museum, we took the exit path without completing it as it's just taking up too much time.. 

We pulled a stop at the Toy Museum and left within 5 minutes. It looked so boring and the overall appearance was just not convincing for a paid visit. 

the Chinese Settlement @ the Arrowtown

Arrowtown was once a gold mining town and some Chinese settled here years ago hence there is a small Chinese settlement area. It's a lovely historique town with beautiful follage and lots of pubs and cafés to serve the visitors. I had the best ice latte there, creamy and rich till the last drop!

The little stone houses that were built back in the 1880s when the early Chinese from Guang Dong sailed to NZ, which was known as the new gold hill (新金山)then, to find their fortune. Many returned yet many stayed back and lived a lonely life. It's a beautiful place filled with sad memories of the past.  Do pay a visit to these little stone houses when you are in town and enjoy the breezy air.

Cromwell is the agricultural town that is full of fruit farms, however since it is early spring none of the fruits are in season, hence we were not able to experience fruit plucking. Anyway we got some really fresh and juicy NZ apples, kiwis and oranges as snack supplies for the remaining of our road trip.

Day 12- Queenstown 


  • Skyline Gondola
  • Luge Rides (MUST TRY!!)
  • Picnic at Queenstown Park

  • On the ride before taking the Luge

    Today is a full day within Queenstown. We started early with the Queenstoen famous skyline Gondola ride and few rounds of luge rides. All of us had so much fun speeding on the little vehicles! We then had a simple lunch at the cafe on the peak overseeing the alpine view. It was an absolute fun morning, it is absolutely a place suitable for the entire family.

    A family pass for 2 adults + 3 kids would have cost NZD$111 for both gondola and luge rides, but since my duo are below 5yo they can enter FOC, so it only cost us NZD$76 for the 2 adult tickets. Check the best package before buying your tickets.

    After all the adrenaline rush activities, we stopped by Queenstown Garden for a picnic by the river side overseeing all the sail boats, and little ones had fun feeding the birds. It's blossoming in the gardens and it is such a lovely park with many locals jogging, skating or walking their dogs. 

    Fiercely blossoming roses in the botanical garden

    Little one enjoyed feeding birds at the garden

    Day 13 - Oamaru

    After leaving Queenstown, we stopped by the nearby Remarkable town to get some snacks and visited few local stores for souvenirs before continuing with our journey.

    Oamaru view at one of the look out point

    Look for the Blue Penguin sign!
    We arrived Oamaru in the late afternoon, just in time to visit the Blue Penguin Colony for the blue penguins that are returning to their nest from fishing, which starts at 7:45pm. Blue Penguin is the smallest penguins of all the 18 species in the world. We bought the premium ticket at NZD$40 which allows an up close encounter with the penguins. We saw them ran passed right in front of us and even caught few fighting and many cooing near their nest. The show ended at nearly 9:00pm, lucky that we ordered Fish 'n Chips for take away, so we returned to the motel with a warm tummy.

    The next morning, we visited the Yellow Eye Penguin colony but no luck in meeting any penguins, so we moved on to the heritage prescient and stopped by the Woolstore Galleries to check out what's interesting, which is really nothing much. We had some freshly baked pies at the old St Harbour bakery followed by hand crafted ice creams at the De Mojo before leaving the historic town.

    Historic building at Oamaru town

    Local ice cream store

    Just a Note...
    We were undecided between Dunedine and Oamaru at first, but we picked the later due to the little penguins. If you would prefer some place more hippe and happening, perhaps Dunedine may be a better choice as it has a Cadburry factory. ;)

    Accommodation & My Rating:
    Oamaru Motor Lodge, 4/5.
    Clean motel with all necessary facilities provided, very very friendly front office service and very accommodating. Located in the town so very easy to get to the eatery.

    Day 13- Queenstown - Christchurch

    Avon River @ Christchurch town

    We spent a day in Christchurch visiting friends and chilling out at the botanical garden next to Avon river. It was a little germ in the city for family with it's quiet stream, bushy foliage and blossoming garden along the Avon river. The duo were having fun feeding bread to the wild ducks.

    There may be more to offer in Christchurch, such as its Gondola ride, shopping mall etc, we did not explore much as we were kind of tired after the long rides and would prefer spending some quality time catching up with friends. You may refer to some suggestions on places to visit in Christchurch by Phil Keogan, the Amazing Race host here.

    Day 14- KiwiRail Alpine Trans @ Christchurch

    We boarded the KiwiRail Alpine Trans at Christchurch Railway Station Addington early at 7:30am for our day trip on the Alpine Trans, which took us from Christchurch to Greymouth, passing through the Arthur's Pass National Reserved Park. It took a full day from 8:15am and reached back to town at 6:20pm, however the route was so scenic that we have no regret taking it. We saw the glaciers, rivers, rows of mountains with crystal clear streams or large patches of green pastures full of farm animals. Near Otari, we even saw many waterfalls and wild flowers. The view was truly a feast to the eyes.

    Kiwirail Alpine Train

    Little E enjoying the amazing view

    View along the alpine train ride

    Crossing the bridge...

    Keeping the duo occupied was not an easy task, luckily we had the fun bag with us and lots of snacks to keep them entertained. Ethan had fun running up down the train and to the open observation cabin which was chilly, we called that an adventure on the train which was a real excitement for him.

    The train passed through a total of 22 tunnels during the ride, the duo were super excited each time we entered the pitch dark tunnel and will scream and count aloud until we finally see day light again. Somehow they associate dark tunnel with spiders and bats, a result of watching Little Einsteins show. :)

    That's It. All Great Story must come to an end... Well, this pretty much sums up our 2 weeks family trip to this heavenly place. It is certainly one of the best family trips for us till today. We had fond memory of it and this article will remind us of the wonderful time we had in NZ. I hope you find it useful and do feel free to drop me a question or so, I shall try my best to reply to you (within my limited touristy knowledge of NZ :).


    Copyrights © Pui Hua and Fun With Little Ones, 2012 - present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any materials/photos within this website without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pui Hua and Fun With Little Ones with appropriate and specific direction to the original content


    1. I enjoyed reading your travelling experience with the duo! Hopefully I'd be able to do that with my ABC soon :)

      1. Thanks Shirl! I'm sure little ABC will enjoy NZ :) the only real challenge was the long flight... It's not easy to juggle with 2.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Thanks for sharing. I have been reading and taking down notes as we will be visiting NZ with our kids in May. I have a question. Did you take a flight from South Island back to Auckland? :)

      1. Vivian, glad that you find useful points, it took me some times to research coz need to make sure the trip is enjoyable for all of us. :) We took the flight from Queenstown to Auckland (transit) then SG before heading to KL. It's under one ticket if book through Jetstar. If it's MAS you can get direct flight.

    4. Thanks Pui Hua. We booked MAS. Looks like we have to book either Jet Star or NZ Air from Queenstown to Auckland. We will be there for 2 weeks. My hubby is nervous and worried (as usual, haha!), as it will be our longest overseas trip with 3 kids. Do you mind sharing the car rental company you engaged? Thanks again! :)

      1. Then it's better to book a domestic flight instead of spending another 2 days driving up north (I would seriously advise against that :). We booked through APEX, reasonable and good service. Remember to include the Interislander ferry fee if you intend to drive past the islands. Another popular car rental company there is Juicy, we saw aplenty of tourists with that company's car.

      2. If you ever planning to visit Queenstown, remember to check out Kemnay. We love that place so so much. The scenary, warm hospitality and beautiful garden. It would be ideal for family too.

      3. hi may i know through what website that u book kemnay ?

      4. Hi Winnie, if the email hasnt change, you may contact Mr Fraser at - there's no online booking facility then. However, I received the sad news that Heather had passed away last year, please send my regards to Mr Fraser.

      5. thank you for sharing =)

    5. Thanks again Pui Hua for the information, this is certainly very helpful! I'm still stuck at Day 3 and Day 4 itinerary, haha... The AA Travel website you shared is very helpful in helping us calculating the distance. I fall in love with NZ by just looking at the pics. :)

      1. Take your time and enjoy the trip! Feel free to share your feedback after the trip, in case we plan to go again and explore any missed out places like the glacier, hot spring :)

    6. Hello Pui Hua, we are back from our trip. A big thank you to you for sharing your experiences, it helps a lot. We went to Kemnay and stayed 2 nights with Fraser and Heather. You know what? They remember you!!! Fraser took out the visitors book and pointed me your name. Awesome couple, awesome stay. :)

      I have shared my itinerary too with others on my travel blog -

      I put a foot note to thank you and wanted to add a link, but not sure why that my system wouldn't allow me to do so, not sure if it's due to some limitation of my new laptop. :( So I just copy your blog address there and others will need to copy and paste into their browser I think.

      Thanks again, Pui Hua. Xx.


      1. Thanks for the feedback Vivian & you are most welcome! Wish to be back one day to visit those places that we have missed such as Milford Sound, and to stay in the beautiful Kemnay once again!

    7. hi , btw how you get the interislander ferry for free from the car rental company ?

      1. Hi Winnie, when picking up the car at Christchurch town, we requested the staff to confirm the ferry ticket for us (with charge but less hassle). The trip was few years back so I really could not recall much details.. :)

    8. Hi may I ask do you pre book all your accommodations in advance or do you book them on the go? It's kinda of hard to be sure where are we gonna be each day . And would like to ask which websites do u look for accommodations. Thanks in advance :)

      1. Hi Grace, I first plot all cities I planned to visit, then checked the distance using distance calculator and plan out each route, that allowed me to narrow down to which towns to stay hence can make the booking easily. I used, as well as Airbnb, as not accommodations are listed on all sites. Use Trip Advisor to check rating for the accommodations -- trust it for the mass amount of feedback.

        Hope this help :)