Designing the Perfect New Zealand Adventure, Part I Penguins

These plywood penguins are helpful educational tools, but I want to see real penguins in the wild!

My adult kids and I will be celebrating my birthday and Thanksgiving in St Heliers, Auckland, New Zealand. I am so excited to share my favorite places in Auckland with them and tackling some adventures such as climbing Rangitoto. We will make a traditional American groaning feast for my Kiwi friends and then we will pursue our own adventures.

Every trip begins with booking tickets on Air New Zealand. For $50 one of their helpful advisors will help make more complicated reservations over the phone. Sometimes there is a savings if you are traveling to several places within New Zealand during your stay. This trip I made all of my reservations on line. Their easy to use site allows me to book my flight, pick my seat and let them know if I have special dietary requirements or need to bring an extra bag.

With my bookends of arrivals and departures (and notice that you lose a day on the way over from USA and live your last day twice on the way back), I begin to fill in the middle points. If I have confirmed dates in certain places I typically log on to and make my hotel reservations, for auto reservations and then Trip Advisor for ideas for things to do and for reviews of hotels if I am undecided on

I am going to South Island for a combination of penguin viewing and cycling.  Penguin viewing was my highest priority: I want to see both Fiordland penguins and yellow eyed penguins. And I want to visit Stewart Island (mainly for kiwi birds).  My challenge was figuring out the best places to see these and then create an itinerary that is reasonable and fulfilling.

New Zealand Penguins website is a life saver.  It lists several options for each type of penguin that I want to view.  I decided to visit Lake Moeraki in South Westland, Stewart Island in Southland, and Dunedin in Otago for my three penguin stops. I created a matrix for Dunedin since there are so many options. I have begun searching the various penguin guide websites and emailing for more details. I will soon have my tickets or reservations.

The complicating factor is the cycling. I really would like to cycle the Otago Central Rail Trail from Queenstown to Dunedin (the last bit by train). I had to establish the timeframe for that before I could solidify my penguin plans. And I had to make some adjustments to my plans. Originally I thought I’d drive from Queenstown to Lake Moeraki to Invercargill to Dunedin, but the cycling trips begin in Queenstown. Some quick changes to my itinerary and voila! I am able to do everything I want to do.

It is a very full schedule, and not everyone would find four days of cycling the “relaxing” bit. I am super charged about it.

Queenstown for the Non-Adrenaline Junkie

What is the opposite of an bungy-jumping, parasailing, luge riding tourist? Me, my mom and friends. I could not even convince all of them to take the gondola ride! We still enjoyed Queenstown and nearby Arrowtown.

Gaze all day? Lake Wakatipu from our apartment in The Rees
Gaze all day? Lake Wakatipu from our apartment in The Rees

Staying at The Rees hotel means having to overcome the temptation to stay in room all day gazing at the gorgeous view of Lake Wakatipu and watching the weather and light move across the sky. We all agree that our 2 bedroom apartment was one of the nicest we had ever enjoyed and the kitchen was much larger and better appointed than mine at home. Plus they have a great dining room, True South, with a creative albeit pricey menu inspired by local ingredients and room service.

The first day Mom and friends took the hotel shuttle into town and joined the Real Journey’s lake cruise on the TSS Earnslaw to a sheep station and enjoyed a delicious barbeque lunch. They loved it and highly recommend this experience. I took advantage of a quiet day of walking around town and caught up on emails and did some light grocery shopping.

TSS Earnslaw

Queenstown is truly beautiful. Comparisons to Lake Tahoe are inevitable and full of so many exceptions it is not worth the breath. It stands on its own.

The next day we spent in Milford Sound and that will be its own post. The final full day in Queenstown we took a cab into town and we all enjoyed the Kiwi Birdlife Park, especially the conservation show and the kiwi house at feeding time. Lisa and I bought combo tickets that allowed us a ride on the gondola.

View of Qtown from top of gondola rideThe trip up the mountain in the gondola took only a few minutes (less than the line we waited in to board). We were at the shrine to adrenaline in Queenstown. Mountain bikers hung their cycles off their gondola chair and headed up looking dusty and determined. We lofted above the luge ride and watched the bungy jumpers prep for their brave leap. As we approached the top we level with the paragliders as they took off over town.

The views at the top were as spectacular as you might expect. My best memory was the incredible Tip Top ice cream cone!

We rejoined Mom and Nancy and we called a cab to drive us to Arrowtown. Several friends recommended checking out this charming gold rush town. It is lovingly maintained and an interesting place for shopping and dining. We ate delicious blue cod and chips at the Fork and Tap. We were ready to head back The Rees and attempt to eat all the food still in the fridge. My crew was definitely from the waste not-want not generation.

As we watched the light fade over the lake we understood deep in our souls why so many people make the effort to visit Queenstown.

Hip and Chic Knitters Guide to Auckland and Queenstown

This New Zealand vacation is focused on the most popular destinations because I am accompanying my Mom and her friends on their first visit. We are dividing our time between Auckland and Queenstown.  You might be touching down in one of these two places and needing a yarn fix.

Close to cruise ships in Auckland's Central Business District
Close to cruise ships in Auckland’s Central Business District

The most convenient wool shop is at the Westfield shopping centre at the corner of Albert and Queen Streets right by the wharf: Masco Wool Shop. It is on the second floor in the corridor leading to the food court. It has a great selection of yarn including a large selection of wool made in New Zealand. This was my go to shop when I lived in St Heliers. I could get Debbie Bliss’ magazine here and all the basic supplies. If you arrived in Auckland on a cruise ship, this is an easy location to shop. Hours Monday through Friday 8-6; Saturday 10-6 and Sunday 10-5.

Pat at Woolly For You will help you find fashionable woolens
Pat at Woolly For You will help you find fashionable woolens

On my first visit to Auckland (after a Habitat for Humanity build in Wellington), I stayed at a hostel in Parnell and discovered Woolly For You at 237 Parnell Road in the part of Auckland called Parnell. It is not far from the wharf either and is an easy bus ride or quick taxi ride. You can also walk from the Central Business District if you have good walking shoes. This shop has a good selection of already made sweaters and a small selection of knitting wool too.  I bought a lovely lightweight Merino “jumper” at a more affordable price than you will find on Queen Street.

In Queenstown I walked around town and did not see any knitting wool. My Mom and friends said they saw a shop with knitting wool but could not remember the name. A Google search does not help to identify it. One of the challenges is the term “wool shop” can mean ready-made sweaters or knitting wool. Even “knitting wool” has led me astray. Then there are the disappointing yarn suppliers who carry mainly acrylics (see my blog from Dunedin).

41 Buckingham Street, Arrowtown
41 Buckingham Street, Arrowtown

The shop in nearby Arrowtown offers a variety of supplies for crafters including knitters and quilters. Offering my favorite “good buy” New Zealand wool by Naturally, you can pick up a new project. Quilters may not be able to resist special New Zealand prints for a project commemorating your New Zealand adventure. Anne Murchison at The Stitching Post does not have a website, but she recommends you check out these New Zealand yarn manufacturers and email her your requests: and Anne’s email is and phone is 03 442 0448.

I have made little progress on the dog sweater project I brought along; maybe because it is summer in New Zealand or because I have had little down time. Fingers crossed I will get something like a sweater for wee Cooper knit on the Air New Zealand flight to SFO.