We can't wait to go back to New Zealand!!
New Zealand | Apr 1 - Apr 17, 2023

Katharine
Katharine V.
San Francisco, CA | Reviewed on May 08, 2023

Vickie did a great job of helping us the few times things didn't go according to plan, which was very reassuring. When we got Covid at the end of the trip, her colleague helped us figure out a change of plans to allow us time to recuperate before getting on a plane.

The hotels that we needed to work from had excellent wifi quality and breakfasts with good varieties of food. We especially liked Rydges in Queenstown for its beautiful view.

We loved our canyoning trip in Queenstown and our helicopter ride over Milford Sound. Our driver on the way home from the airport after the ride went above and beyond when I realized I'd left my bum bag at the airport only when we got back to the hotel, and he offered to drive us all the way back to the airport to allow us to fetch it that afternoon. I do wish we'd known that the helicopter ride was going to land on a beach with sand flies, as I would've applied bug spray ahead of time if I'd known.

Having a private tour of Te Papa just for the two of us on my birthday was quite a treat! In retrospect, though, I think we should have switched the order of the days around Easter since Te Papa was open on Easter but few wineries were. It made for a challenging day of wine tasting on Easter with so few available options and everyone wanting to get into Poppies - our lunch time reservation ended up being at 2pm, and there were limited other options for tasting before then because some places wouldn't let you taste without also requiring that you eat a cheese plate as well. We appreciated the efforts that our driver made to make the day special for us nonetheless, and it was an unexpected treat to have a private wine tour that day. Thank you for the birthday champagne!

As it turned out, admission to the Carter Observatory/Space Place in Wellington wasn't free. There was some confusion over our reservation there, as the staff wasn't familiar with reservation numbers in the format we gave them. We called your office to try to troubleshoot this on the day of, and were told that the museum entrance was free, we would just need to pay for any additional activities we wanted to do while there. We appreciated the prompt service we received, especially given that it was Good Friday. As it turned out, we had to pay to access the exhibits, as well as to attend the planetarium show.

We really enjoyed our hangi dinner, which was delicious, and found the experience much more authentic than, say, the Hawaiian luaus we've attended before. We also really enjoyed exploring Te Puia, including seeing the artists at work and seeing the kiwi enclosure. We were annoyed by our fellow guests at Zealandia who couldn't figure out how to turn off their cameras for the night tour. Given that photos probably wouldn't have turned out well at night without flash anyway, I wish that Zealandia would just have a no cameras policy and leave it at that instead of having to constantly stop and correct people for incorrectly using their cameras for making too much light/noise.

We loved the Waitomo glow worm caves and appreciated their no-photos rule. It was incredible to be in such a sacred, special space. Agrodome was a ton of fun! We enjoyed feeding the animals and learning all about the different breeds of sheep.

Hotel Reviews
Millennium Hotel Rotorua
Rotorua

Everyone at this hotel was very friendly and accommodating. The bed was very comfortable, the room was spacious with a desk, drawers to unpack in, a closet with room safe, and a shower/tub combo. The air conditioner kept the room itself fresh, even though the Rotorua sulfur smell did pervade the hotel. Breakfast lacked variety for a long stay (I got the impression people were surprised that we were staying for five nights) and the dinner we had at the hotel restaurant was disappointing quality for the price.

Location
Our room had a distant view of the lake and was an easy walk into town to get our SIM card, get dinners, etc. Would've been easy to go to Polynesian Spa if we'd chosen to do so, was a quick walk to the lake, and to the public park.
Staff
Cleanliness & Comfort
The bed was exceedingly comfortable.
Bolton Hotel
Wellington

Our stay at the Bolton was very comfortable! The bed was cozy and there was plenty of room to spread out and for both of us to work from the room. We appreciated that on our work day we could each separately reach the bathroom without interrupting the other's work. We found it a bit odd that there were no drawers to unpack in, nor a room safe, but there was a spacious closet with a small set of shelves. Breakfast offered more variety, with eggs cooked to order and fresh fruit. By this point in the trip I had realized that New Zealand milk wasn't sitting well with me, and I was able to request soy milk as an alternative from the staff each morning.

Location
It was convenient that the walk from the top of the botanic gardens ended up easily coming back to the hotel. If we'd had business at parliament, this location would've been perfect. It was less convenient to Te Papa/Cuba St sights.
Staff
Chatty, well humored, accommodating.
Cleanliness & Comfort
The spacious bathroom had a separate shower and very deep soaking tub. The separate living area was a comfortable place to work. Having in-unit laundry was very handy - it was great that soap was provided for the machine and that we could ask for more as needed. We weren't used to a single machine that did both wash and dry, so we appreciated that they also provided a spacious drying rack for the things we wanted to avoid machine drying by hand washing.
The Hermitage Hotel
Mount Cook Village

I wish we'd had more time here to properly enjoy this gorgeous room and space! We had a lounge area that faced the window with a fabulous view of Mt. Cook. We had the room at the end of the hallway, so we also had a view across to the mountains on the other side of the room through some smaller windows as well. The room was well thought out with a padded bench seat immediately inside the door for putting on/taking off shoes so that you could keep your room clean. The included buffet dinner had plenty of delicious choices. Unfortunately, we got an early start before breakfast the following morning so we didn't get to sample the breakfast buffet as well. We will be back on our next trip to try to stargaze without clouds again!

Location
The view out of our room was absolutely stunning!
Staff
When our stargazing tour was cancelled I truly got the sense that the guide was as genuinely disappointed as we were, and appreciated that they were trying to do everything they could to make it right for us.
Cleanliness & Comfort
Sudima Christchurch Airport

We had only planned to stay here one night before our flight, and it would've been perfect for that. As it turned out, we ended up spending six nights here as we recovered from COVID, and while it wasn't glamorous, it worked pretty well for that too. Having separate beds worked well while we tried (in vain) not to get each other sick. We appreciated having the courtyard view outside our room, and were grateful that despite the proximity to the airport there was no noise of planes flying overhead. We partook of the included breakfast on our first morning only, and appreciated that they let me bring a full plate back to my sick husband in the room. I also made use of the guest coin-op laundry facilities (soap was free, they made change for us at the front desk.) There was a screen tracking all of the departures so you knew if your flight was delayed/cancelled. A shuttle bus was available to drive you to the airport, but it was only a 10-20 minute walk across the street. In addition to breakfast service there was also a restaurant on-site and room service available, but they seemed pricey for what they offered. On one of our work days I had to work from the lounge while my husband worked from the room. With headphones I was able to block out most of the ambient noise and lounge music, but it wasn't an ideal place to work. I didn't investigate whether there were outlets to plug in at in the outdoor courtyard spaces.

Location
As an airport hotel, you can't ask for a better location. Walking distance to the airport, without any air traffic noise. As a COVID recovery facility, it also had its perks. It is near a shopping center with several fast casual restaurants, so we got takeout from a different restaurant each night for the week. There's also a coffee shop where we got breakfast, a grocery store where we got some snacks, and a pharmacy where we got cough medicines and COVID tests. And when we were better, on the morning before our flight, we went to the next door Antarctica Center to visit the penguins and husky dogs and see the 4D movie experience of touring Antarctica - highly recommend!
Staff
Cleanliness & Comfort
Activity Reviews
Milford Sound 90min Scenic Flight w/2x Landing
Milford Sound 90min Scenic Flight w/2x Landing
Queenstown (NZ)

This was the highlight of the trip! I'm so glad that the weather worked out and allowed for our trip to fly. I'm glad we had the afternoon free to allow for the flexibility to go later in the day when our morning flight time didn't quite have the weather clearance yet. Flying in a helicopter provided such a close-up view of the incredible scenery, I'm definitely going to consider adding helicopter flights to future trip itineraries :)

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
Transport
The return driver went above and beyond, driving us back to the airport after I realized I left my bum bag behind when we got back to the hotel. It was also fun to hear his suggestions for where we should plan to ride helicopters on our next vacations!
Wellington Cable Car & Carter Observatory
Wellington Cable Car & Carter Observatory
Wellington

Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate, so we weren't able to take advantage of the telescope at the observatory. We did enjoy learning how to navigate with the Southern Cross, which we saw several times throughout our trip. One thing you should know is that the observatory was not free admission. To gain entry to the exhibits was one price, and then the planetarium shows were a bit extra. Unfortunately, the cable car didn't run very late on Good Friday, so we weren't able to use it to get back up the hill for our evening at the observatory. We did use it earlier in the day to explore the botanical gardens though.

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
There was a bit of a mix-up with our confirmation number at the Cable Car, but the staff was incredibly friendly and helpful in getting it resolved.
Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary Night Tour
Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary Night Tour
Wellington
Quality of Experience
Zealandia is a really special place, and seeing it at night allowed us to see critters that might've hid from us during the day. Our guides were incredibly informative and passionate about the species that are being restored. It was unfortunate that others in our group didn't follow the directions about noise/light so we weren't able to fully enjoy the experience.
Guides, Drivers and Staff
Our guide and her spotter did an excellent job of pointing out as many special critters as they could. When we weren't able to spot a kiwi in the wild, they treated us to an opportunity to pet kiwi feathers after the fact, and we got to warm up with a cup of tea brewed with the leaves of a plant we'd learned about on the tour when we returned to our home base. I thought these were both very nice touches at the end of the evening.
Explore the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
Explore the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
New Zealand

We loved that no photos were allowed so that we had to just be in the moment and enjoy this special place. Even though the recent rains/floods raised the water levels in the cave and cut back on the number of visible glow worms, we still found the experience of floating under their starry sky absolutely magical. We also enjoyed exploring the cave before we got to the worm section, including learning how the early explorers had ventured into the cave with ropes before the stairs were carved out.

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
Transport
Dave did a great job driving! ;)
Agrodome Farm Show and Farm Tour Combo
Agrodome Farm Show and Farm Tour Combo
Rotorua

So much fun! We enjoyed the sheep show, the farm tour, and the gift shop. The sheep dog trial was a bit brief.

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
Transport
Te Pā Tū Māori Feast & Performance
Te Pā Tū Māori Feast & Performance
Rotorua

I particularly enjoyed the stations that we visited at the beginning of the evening, learning about different aspects of Maori culture. Though I am terrible at throwing poi, it was fun to learn. I appreciate how immersive the experience was, as this helped us truly feel like family by the end of the night. I also enjoyed learning about the games that children play, and watching the men learn the haka. The performance was beautiful - everyone was so talented! Dinner was delicious! It was interesting learning where all of the various tourists were from. My aunt mentioned that when she'd visited NZ in the past she'd attended a dinner like this and they'd had everyone sing their national anthems. I much preferred the version done at our dinner, where the hosts sang a song by a famous artist from each country. It made it easier for everyone to join in the fun.

Quality of Experience
It felt very authentic, much more so than any commercialized luau I've ever been to.
Food
I was nervous that I wasn't going to like the food, because I worried that it would taste strange if it was cooked in the sulfuric steam that pervades the area. I was pleasantly surprised that all of the food, especially the pavlova for dessert, was absolutely delicious! And there was a ton of food, so if you didn't care for one course you would still be very well fed.
Guides, Drivers and Staff
I liked how friendly everyone was, how they came around at dinner to ask if we had any questions. It was lovely to feel so warmly welcomed and part of the family for the evening.
Transport
The bus that picked us up from the hotel was very comfortable.
Queenstown Adventurer Canyon Tour
Queenstown Adventurer Canyon Tour
Queenstown (NZ)

I loved every bit of this incredible experience! It was so much fun, and the guides took such good care of us. I'll need to do some wet suit yoga to prepare myself for my next canyoning outing, as the flexibility required for climbing in the wet suit was the most challenging part. My only suggestion is that, while it was a nice touch to give us a warm beverage at the end of the trip, they should've provided lids for the cups before we got in the van for the ride back!

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
The staff worked heard to learn our names within the 4-hour outing, and were keeping a close eye on our safety and physical limitations at all times. Plus, they looked like they were genuinely having a ton of fun at their job.
Transport
I appreciated the steps they took to keep the van clean and dry: they had us rinse our feet in a bucket before we got back in the van, and we sat on chair covers to keep the seats dry.
Own Arrangements exploring Wellington
Own Arrangements exploring Wellington
Wellington

We explored the botanical gardens, which were a beautiful downhill walk from the top of the cable car all the way back to the Bolton Hotel. We also were chocolatiers for the day at the Wellington Chocolate Factory on Eva Street, where we got to make three of our own custom chocolate bars and enjoy a cup of their hot chocolate. I appreciated that they were thoughtful in accommodating non-dairy guests with oat milk hot chocolate. It was fun learning all about the chocolate making process from bean all the way to wrapping in fancy painted papers.

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
Explore Queenstown on Your Own
Explore Queenstown on Your Own
Queenstown (NZ)

We explored the botanical gardens and walked around Lake Wakatipu a bit, enjoying the beautiful scenery. We enjoyed a soak at the Onsen hot tub spa at night, which was a lovely, relaxing treat. They had a nice selection of tasty bites and drinks that were included with our tub time. We had very yummy burgers at Miss Lucy's at the top of the Jucy Snooze hostel. We had very overrated, disappointing burgers at Fergburger. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait in too long a line for them because we waited until 9pm instead of going when the crowds stretch halfway down the block.

Self-Guided Exploration of Rotorua
Self-Guided Exploration of Rotorua
Rotorua

We enjoyed wandering around Kirau Park and the free thermal features there. The big geyser at Te Puia was certainly more impressive, but if you're on a budget, you can definitely get a sense for the steaming waters and bubbling mud for free at Kirau - and you can soak your feet in the hot water if you are so inclined. Te Puia was special because of the artisans at work who were happy to talk to you about their studies, and because of the kiwi bird enclosure on the property. I'm glad we did both! We went for a hike along the Okere Falls Track, driving to the Okere Falls Scenic Reserve Parking lot and following the Kaituna River upstream to the Tutea and Trout Pool Falls. We patiently waited for a rafting trip to come down Tutea falls, and while we weren't able to see a raft we did see several kayaks take the intense plunge down the falls. For the walk back, we took the ridge trail which had beautiful scenic views at the top, but was more exposed to the sun than the river trail we'd started on. Recommend sunscreen and bug spray if you also decide to take both trails.

Quality of Experience
Visit the Te Papa Museum
Visit the Te Papa Museum
Wellington

What a treat to have a private tour just for the two of us! We weren't expecting that, but it made our experience at this incredible museum extra special. I appreciated that our guide asked what aspects of the museum we were most interested in seeing, and then she personalized the tour accordingly. You could easily spend all day and then some exploring everything in this collection! I most enjoyed the natural sciences section as well as the unique, large fiber arts installations made from everyday materials like tarps, road signs, ropes, and truck tie-down lashings. I also enjoyed learning about the beautiful modern carved marae and that the Maori concept of genealogy includes the type of work you do. The carved figures that attempt to represent us all through all the various sorts of work portrayed were very interesting.

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
Depart New Zealand
Depart New Zealand
New Zealand

Air New Zealand was a fantastic airline to fly with. On every flight they gave us hard candies at the end of the flight to help relieve the pressure on our ears. On our international flights we were well fed (they even poured NZ wine for free at dinner!) and reasonably comfortable, even in economy. The flight attendants were much friendlier than their US counterparts: when there wasn't overhead space above our bulkhead seats, at first we put our bags up a few rows behind us. As we neared landing, we worried about the delay this would cause, so we asked a flight attendant if there was any room in the overheads in front of us. Not only did they find room, but they took our bags from us and put them up, and then brought them back to us upon landing! Even the difference in baggage handling was striking - in NZ our bag was carefully machine loaded onto the ramp. Once we landed in LAX and had to recheck our bag for our final domestic flight it was unceremoniously tossed upside down onto the belt, making us worry whether our bottles of NZ wine and duty free Aussie rum were going to survive the final leg - fortunately they did! The only problem with departing with New Zealand is that we never wanted to leave and can't wait to return!!

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
Transport
Martinborough Wine Tour
Martinborough Wine Tour
Wellington

This was a lovely day -- being on a private tour allowed our guide to tailor the day to what we expressed interest in, which he did very well. He was friendly and accommodating, making us glad to spend time with him. The one difficulty was the tour was booked on Easter, which meant that some wineries weren't open and some weren't serving wine unless you also ordered a meal. This meant that those that were open (particularly the location where we ate lunch) were more crowded than usual, since the demand for wine tasting didn't exactly go down just because it was a holiday. This would have been helpful to know when planning out our overall itinerary -- we could have easily done this a different day.

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
Friendly and helpful, he really made an effort (within the constraints of what was available on Easter) to give us experiences in which we expressed interest.
Transport
Nothing particularly fancy, but clean and comfortable. No complaints.
Appellation Boutique Wine Tour
Appellation Boutique Wine Tour
Queenstown (NZ)

It felt a bit more scripted and didn't feel quite as special as our first wine tour, but that's also the difference between being on a private tour and a group tour. The wineries we visited were all quite nice. Lunch and some of the tasting/buying experiences felt a bit rushed, and even in that context we got back later than expected. The quality of lunch was good and we particularly appreciated the restaurant's flexibility re: accommodating the request for a dairy-free meal on the fly. The guides were both friendly and did their best to give points of interest to keep us entertained, but it's tough to find things that are interesting and/or novel to an entire group.

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
Transport
Skyline Queenstown - Gondola and Buffet Dinner
Skyline Queenstown - Gondola and Buffet Dinner
Queenstown (NZ)

The gondola ride obviously provided a beautiful view, and the view from the restaurant was equally spectacular. The food was pretty good (not great), and there was certainly plenty of it with plenty of choices. You won't leave hungry. Overall, though, it's hard to do food on a buffet of a quality that justifies the price they charged. Overall we felt that we were paying for the view rather than the meal.

Quality of Experience
Better quality food to justify the price, though that's very tough on a buffet and serving that many people.
Food
I would have preferred fewer dishes with more attention paid to each one. I also would have liked a greater variety of fresh vegetables -- most of the dishes on offer felt quite heavy.
Local specialist: Vickie Parrack
Vickie
Vickie Parrack
Local specialist in Wanaka | Replied on May 29, 2023

Hi both,

What a lovely review. I am so pleased you had such a wonderful trip and a great birthday. I hope the surprise champagne went down well!

I had so much fun working with you and if you ever are over this side of the world in the future please let me know.

Take care

Vickie