Is it worth it to pay $200 or more for a hotel night?

Maybe your headline would say $100 or maybe your threshold is $300 or $400 a night. I thought about this a lot on my most recent trip to New Zealand because I splurged on a few nights at special venues.

When my Aunt and I travelled to Iowa we stayed at a Hampton Inn in West Des Moines. The staff was super friendly and provided great service. The room and beds were comfortable. The bathroom was extra clean and toiletries were provided. There was a mini fridge where we could store our leftovers from dinner and then forget them. All for a bargain price (thanks AARP and AAA) of about $100 a night. What more do you need? And is it worth paying for?

Sorry. You have to decide for yourself. Is it worth spending an additional $200 a night to have more space (a small apartment) at The Rees overlooking Lake Wakitipu? For my Mom and her friends. Hella yes!

When I was planning my most recent New Zealand trip I had Friday to Friday to plan on South Island. I started with a super ambitious agenda that included Christchurch. My Kiwi friends helped me get some perspective, yet I still bit off a little too much. (I will share what I will do next time at the end).

Wilderness LodgeI finally landed in Queenstown, which is the closest airport to Haast and yet it is still a 3-3.5 hour drive to the Wilderness Lodge at Lake Moeraki. As you can tell by my Christmas post on the Fiordland Crested Penguins, I do not begrudge any of the time invested. It was a fantastic experience. It was (gulp) $499 NZ ($387 US) a night for a room that included dinner and breakfast. My room was very comfortable and had a super view of the river. The was the most expensive room I had ever booked and I only stayed one night in part because I had a hard time justifying the expense–even for penguins. Now I realize part of the room rate is because Gerry and Anne McSweeney invest so much in the habitat surrounding the lodge and in providing lodging in as sustainable a way as possible. If I had that trip to do over I would stay at least 2 nights.

I left about 1:00 p.m. to drive about 6 hours to Invercargill in the hopes of visiting Stewart Island. Then I turned around the next day, disappointed and tired without getting to the Island. My neck was torked from driving. I decided to return to Queenstown as quick as I could to enjoy my next splurge: The Dairy Private Luxury Hotel. In February a taxi driver pointed out the hotel and said it was consistently ranked number 1 on Trip Advisor. I was intrigued. The proprietors have taken an old “Dairy” or corner market and several other buildings and converted it to a first class hotel. I called ahead and asked Matt if he could arrange a massage for me in town. It was a Sunday so I thought it might not be possible. He made an appointment for me at the Body Sanctum spa just a few blocks into town from the hotel with Juliana. After the ill-fated massage in the Pyrenees I was hesitant. Wow–best massage I have had since my favorite masseuse Jackie moved away.

The Dairy Private Luxury Hotel is in the heart of Queenstown.
The Dairy Private Luxury Hotel is in the heart of Queenstown.

I arrived at the Dairy Hotel in time for afternoon tea. It was a very proper and delicious tea with cream scones and fruit (all prepared in their kitchen). The public rooms in the hotel are so comfortable I actually did make use of them. Other guests also read in front of the fire in the evening. My bed was super comfortable. The bathroom was well appointed except that I could not figure out the bath fixtures which made for a bit of contortion washing my hair. When I mentioned it to Paul he explained that I needed to push the button to start the shower before I turned the water on. Oh well. I only wish I could have stayed longer. Even at $465.00 NZ a night. Just to have Matt’s exquisite omelette again at breakfast. And to be referred to as Madame.

Larnach Castle, Dunedin, New Zealand
Larnach Castle, Dunedin, New Zealand

The thing about spending more on a hotel night is that it then makes the $290 NZ spent on Larnach Castle accommodation seem like a bargain. Again I justified it with the proximity to penguins. It is only 20-30 minutes from the Royal Albatross Centre–depending on your nerves driving on a windy road where one moment of daydreaming will have you swimming in the bay. The rooms are not in the Castle, which is a historic restored mansion open for tours. The hotel rooms are in specially built buildings and in the retrofitted stables. This price includes full breakfast the next morning but not dinner in the Castle. I pulled out my wallet for the $65 NZ for a 3 course meal with other guests. It includes ghost stories.

My view was impeccable. The windows run the length of the room including the bathroom. There is a short deck too. I could have stayed on the deck and enjoyed the view of Dunedin longer but the gardens were calling. I wandered around the various “rooms” of the garden until it was time to change for dinner. You do not have to dress for dinner. They said “come as you are.” I had packed some nicer clothes and I wanted to mark the occasion of the last night of a very special visit to New Zealand.

View from Room 18 at Larnach Castle lodging.
View from Room 18 at Larnach Castle lodging.

I still want to visit Stewart Island. And I have heard enough about the Catlins that I want to explore there as well. So driving from Dunedin to Invercargill is probably the best strategy. I do not recommend trying to squeeze Invercargill in as it takes some time to get there and then some flexibility needs to be built in on account of weather.

I have seen so much of New Zealand. Just when I think I have seen everything I learn about something else. Plus I have not done a Great Walk yet. I am looking forward to my next visit already. It helps to keep the “I’m not In New Zealand blues” away.

Best Penguin Adventure Yet

symbol of New ZealandrainforestI sat on a rock on beach nestled near the rainforest. The rain was dripping down my nose and onto a towel protecting my camera. We hiked down from the road through thick rainforest and across streams. It was near the end of the penguin nesting season, so my guide Dr. Gerry McSweeney did not guarantee we would see a penguin. I was the only guest on the guided hike and yet because of Gerry’s great enthusiasm to share these rare birds he did not hesitate to take me on my own. We waited patiently for our reward.

Fiordland Crested PenguinsThe Fiordland Crested Penguin nest in the rainforest and go to and fro all day to feed themselves and their chicks. At last we saw a shy fellow peek out of the foliage on a steep trail down to the beach. The trail looked like a slip and slide and it was hard to believe the ungainly penguin could navigate it. He/she saw us as I moved closer to get a better view I spooked her and he retreated. After more patient waiting we were rewarded with two penguins.  All together we saw 15 penguins throughout the morning, plus starfish and sea urchins, a gorgeous coastline and a rare orchid in the forest.

penguinsThey emerged from the forest moved down the bank and onto the rocky beach. They are ungainly on land and yet completely charming when hopping from rock to beach. They slipped into the water and displayed their true grace.  coastline

penguinI have enjoyed many adventures to view penguins in New Zealand, and this was the best yet. There are three types of penguins living in New Zealand. The little blue penguin can be found almost along every coastline on North and South Islands. The yellow-eyed penguin can only found along the southernmost coastline of South Island. And the rarest of the three, the Fiordland Crested penguin, lives along the west coast of South Island.

Dr. Gerry McSweeney, guide and host at Wilderness Lodge. Also keeper of the habitat along this stretch of coastline.
Dr. Gerry McSweeney, guide and host at Wilderness Lodge. Also keeper of the habitat along this stretch of coastline.

Penguin viewing is seasonal–beginning in December the penguins begin to go to sea for long months of swimming and eating. They return again in July and August to raise their chicks in a creche. I was able to arrange a guided penguin viewing on November 29 at the Wilderness Lodge at Lake Moeraki.

starfishTo get there I flew into Queenstown and rented a car, then drove 3.5 hard miles to 30 miles north of Haast on the coast. I arrived just in time for a wonderful dinner at the Lodge. Staying at the Lodge includes dinner and breakfast. The guided penguin experience is an additional NZ$160.00 and totally worth it! The Lodge provides adventurers boots and raincoats, and hot tea and biscuits.

It was so thrilling to watch them in their habitat being penguins. I just look at the pictures and it takes me back. As in the best adventures, I want to do it again.penguin