Central Otago Experiences – Cromwell and Wanaka Adventures

The pretty and peaceful town of Cromwell is the ideal base for travellers. And that’s because Cromwell is just a short drive from busy Queenstown, Wanaka and those great wine areas.

Central Otago experiences - Wooing Tree Winery Cromwell

Wooing Tree Winery Cromwell

There really is no better time to stay here than in the beautiful months of Autumn – view details on New Zealand seasons. From April to May, the Autumn golds and reds are just awe-inspiring.

Cromwell Autumn colours

Burn Cottage Retreat Driveway entrance

Where to Stay in Cromwell

But a stay in Cromwell is also an excellent choice for repeat travellers.  Most of you would have stayed in Queenstown or Wanaka on your first time.  So maybe, you’re a bit over the resort towns where peace can be a foreign concept. Even if this is not your first time to New Zealand, we would strongly recommend going on day visits to these busier places. And if you’re not hotel people, a self-contained cottage like this, might just be what you are looking for.

Central Otago stay Cromwell and Wanaka Adventures

Burn Cottage Retreat Cromwell

Burn Cottages Retreat

This is a special oasis that really does live up to its name.  Burn Cottage Retreat sits on a huge acreage. You will very quickly get a sense of tranquility here.  There are only 3 cottages on this large property and they are quite a good distance away from each other.  We stayed in the Moonlight Cottage.  I guarantee, if you are looking for space, you will find it here.  And after a long drive, your cottage will be warm when you step in.  Co-owner, Cecelia, will have lit the fire a few hours before you arrive. This type of service is so appreciated, especially in the colder months of Autumn.

Central Otago Experiences - Burn Cottages Retreat Cromwell

Burn Cottages Retreat

Yet again, it really is about those special touches that only a boutique accommodation can provide. Beautiful walnuts in a bowl just waiting to be cracked. And do not be surprised if you Cecelia appears at your door with hot scones!

Central Otago Experiences - Burn Cottages Retreat

All the mod cons are here with the very latest Nespresso coffee machine gracing the kitchen bench.  The comfort level pretty much goes up a notch with this comfy super king size bed

After breakfast (a continental breakfast is optional) do take time out to explore the grounds.  There are very special little nooks and crannies where you can hide away and read a book.

With only 3 cottages on the entire property, you will find a special place where you can truly enjoy solitude.

What to do if you’re staying in Cromwell

Grab a bike at the cottage or take your car into the historic part of Cromwell.  It is here, you can become fully immersed with the landscape. You will love the most spectacular views at Lake Dunstan – plus the relaxed small-town vibe.

Central Otago Experinces - Lake Dunstan Cromwell stay

Lake Dunstan

Take a wander around at your leisure to the old shops.  These old buildings are heritage protected and have been restored for future generations. Pop into the Seed & Grain Store for a coffee and a chat with the locals.  Everyone here seems to be friendly.

Central Otago Experiences - historic part of Cromwell

Historic part of Cromwell

Jet Boat Tour from Wanaka

There is a Jet Boat company in Wanaka called Wanaka River Journeys. This company are owned and operated by a local family. They have a number jet boating options, one of which is called Jet Boat and Wilderness Walk. This one is a great option if you are a little time short.  It is a half-day tour and an absolute blast!

Central Otago Experiences - River Journeys Jet Boat Tour

Matukituki River

There is nothing more exhilarating than jet-boating down the Matukituki River.

And you will really get off the beaten track here.  You will have a 50-minute walk  that will take you through moss covered forest and waterfalls.

Yet again, you will see firsthand another location that was used for the LOTR films.  And you will get to heat the wonderful stories about this landscape. You will have so many photo opportunities. And often on these trips you will come across something totally unexpected – like this apple tree thriving in the middle of nowhere!

Vineyard Trike Tours

We paid a visit to a Wanaka B & B accommodation named Copper Beach – and found an unexpected gem.  The owners, Yvette & Ian led us to their large garage and look what we found – this shining beauty! So if you are looking for a wine tour with a difference, you might consider a Trike wine tour.

Especially on a hot summer’s day, it would be so good to engage all your senses.

Central Otago Experiences - Trike Vineyard Tours

Vineyard Tours on a Trike

Where to Eat in Central Otago

There are so many vineyards around Cromwell and the Bannockburn area nearby. And many of them provide great lunch restaurants overlooking their vineyards. In fact, a lot of these wineries will provide amazing lunch platters.  Wooing Tree, Mount Difficulty and Scott Base are just a few of them. Now for night dining you will get a choice of some great options.  We have heard some wonderful things about Kika in Wanaka. However, if you want to immerse yourself in the local scene, you can’t go past the historic Bannockburn Hotel.

The Bannockburn Hotel is about 8 kms out of Cromwell. They have included separate tapas menu – plus the biggest wine list you will ever see. We dined here recently and can’t say enough good things about the food. The atmosphere was wonderful – definitely not your usual pub decor. And it is worth mentioning, that they also have a courtesy shuttle van that will pick you up and drop you off.


There are so many reasons why Autumn is such a wonderful time to visit Central Otago. There are less people around and plenty of adventures to be had. It is actually a time when nature is at its finest before settling down for a well deserved nap.

Check out some sample South Island travel itineraries.

Happy Travelling through Mid Canterbury!

The Scenic Route: Travelling from Christchurch to Tekapo

For travellers who visit the South Island, Tekapo is always at the top of the list. It’s not hard to figure out why: that picturesque lakefront and alpine scenery is quintessentially New Zealand! But the key question is, how do you get there? Most travellers take the southwestern route along State Highway 1 from Christchurch, the main artery through the South Island. This is the most direct route, but not the most interesting; the first section of the journey until you reach Geraldine isn’t particularly scenic. However, there is another option – taking the scenic route to Tekapo. State Highway 77 west of Christchurch takes travellers through the heartland of rural Canterbury. It’s a slightly longer route, but a much more spectacular one!

The Scenic Route to Tekapo – State Highway 77


Routes to Lake Tekapo


The scenic route to Tekapo 275km and will take you roughly 3 1/2 hours from start to finish. If you start off early in the day, you will have plenty of time for some scenic stops along the way. And trust us, this is a trip where you will want to take a leisurely pace. There is a beautiful variety of scenery as you travel further into the Southern Alps, and some fantastic photo opportunities.

The best thing about this scenic route? It’s so much quieter, even in peak season. State Highway 1 is the most-used route through the entire island for tourists, work commuters and cargo alike. In many places, the development of the road hasn’t kept pace with the increase in traffic. Towns such as Ashburton create large bottlenecks which will take you a while to pass through. So even though the route is shorter on paper that the scenic route to Tekapo via State Highway 77, the chance is it will take you much longer.

The Scenic Route to Tekapo: Exploring the Canterbury Plains

You’ll start the scenic route from the Canterbury Plains – a flat patchwork quilt of wheat and grazing pastures which spans right from the coast all the way out West. This is what helps give Christchurch and the region such a quintessentially English look. The first settlement you will pass through is Darfield, which is where you will find the turn-off for State Highway 77.


Inland Scenic Route to Lake Tekapo


Before you know it, things get a lot greener. All it takes is a quick check of a map – and the minute you look up, you might think you’re in a different region. Once you hit Glentunnel and Windwhistle (well-named!) everything is suddenly much more lush with a lot more trees, and the land begins creeping up around you.

We passed these cyclists this morning – it looked like an enjoyable ride as they had the sun on their backs.  Little did they know, the weather was about to change!


Scenic route to Lake Tekapo and cyclists

The scenic route to Tekapo – The Rakaia Gorge

It’s such a neat experience on the scenic route to Tekapo when you first catch sight of the Southern Alps. At first, gently rolling hills appear – classic Lord of the Rings Country! Michael expects that I should be able to name each individual mountain (he actually can!). After Glentunnel, it’s up and around to the beautiful sight of the Rakaia Gorge. The Plains has its fair share of rivers coming off the mountains, and the Rakaia River is one of the most striking.


Rakaia Gorge


‘The water of the Rakaia is typical of a New Zealand high country river. The unusually milky green colour is the result of sediment released from the movement of the glaciers. It’s one of the highlights on the Tekapo scenic route. It’s definitely worth a photo!


Rakaia Gorge Bridge


Rakaia Gorge river

The scenic route to Tekapo: Geraldine

The next stop is the town of Geraldine. We really recommend checking out the family-owned Barker’s Store. This brand is a kiwi favourite, and was established right in this very town. The shop is actually just down the road from the original family farm. They sell quality preserves, sauces, and other homemade products. This shop has been going for years, and it’s always nice to buy local on your travels. My only gripe is that they’ve changed the recipe for their blackcurrant jam! Further down the road, you’ll find a very good artisan cheese shop, Talbot Forest Cheese.


Barkers Shop Geraldine on the way to Tekapo


A great thing about Geraldine is that it has an excellent Fresh Choice Supermarket off the main road just as you come in. If you’re staying in Lake Tekapo, you might want to stock up now. On the whole, supplies tend to be much cheaper here than in the supermarket in Tekapo. This is common across rural areas across NZ. Unless you can’t avoid it, we recommend trying to do your grocery shopping in urban centres.

The cafes in Geraldine provide the generic filled bread rolls and paninis – enough to keep the masses happy. As a small town, Geraldine isn’t really the place to go looking for exciting fare. However, the coffee we had at Plum Café is excellent!

As we left Geraldine, the weather is turning and much-needed rain is beginning to fall. I swear there are farmers doing cartwheels of joy as I speak!


Geraldine cloudy skies on the way to Tekapo

The scenic route Tekapo – Arriving in Lake Tekapo

It’s taken us four and a half hours, including all of our stops, and we’ve arrived at Lake Tekapo. This is truly one of the most peaceful vistas in the whole country. It’s always incredible to take in the colour of the lake – it looks as though it’s been put through a filter! Be sure to check out the St. John Observatory while you are here: the dark skies around Tekapo are breathtaking!


Lake Tekapo shorefront


The time has flown and the journey has been relaxing. That’s the beauty of the scenic route to Tekapo, and of all the other scenic routes throughout New Zealand. If you have a bit more time of your travels, we urge you to check out other travel routes through the South Island:

Dunedin to Lake Tekapo,

Wanaka to Fox Glacier

Nelson to Fox Glacier.


Happy travelling on the scenic route to Tekapo!


view sample travel itineraries


Travel Mid Canterbury – Methven, Staveley, Mt Somers, Mount Sunday

For a more remote adventure, the Mid-Canterbury region and the High Country has a lot to offer. When you get onto the  Methven-Rakaia Road, from north or south, you’ll quickly see why. There are some hidden treasures in this beautiful part of the South Island. These roads are less travelled by other motorists. So for a large amount of time, you’ll be the only car on the road!

red cottage in mid canterbury

Where to stay in Mid Canterbury

Red Cottages – Staveley

Just 24 kms out of Methven, a great skiing area, you’ll come to the lovely settlement of Staveley. And if you’re looking for a romantic stay, there is an absolute ‘gem’ of a property here.  The Red Cottages at Staveley are located on a beautiful large property owned by locals Nigel & Myriam Birt. For us, it was like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

interior of the honeymoon cottage

Comfort plus

You can’t help but notice how generously the owners have planned the cottage. The copper edging around the cabinetry is such a stylish touch. There are so many little extras that will make your stay very special. Just look around and you will see cookies in the jar, a fridge laden with goodies, and a welcome platter.

generous hosting with welcome platter provided

Hot baths for stargazing

Just wait until you see the two baths with direct views to Mt Somers. Surely, after a long drive, there’s no better way to wind down than to sink into a hot bath. And these ‘lovelies’ are outside the cottage for a very good reason.  The night sky in this area is breathtaking. So why not kick back with a wine and gaze at the diamonds twinkling up above you.

outside bath tubes not only for honeymooners

You will find that romance is very much encouraged here.  There are candles sitting in glass containers everywhere. They are just waiting to be lit by you. Perfect for honeymooners in New Zealand!

nice and cozy red cottage interior

Wool Shed -Movie Night

There is so much more to this property than first meets the eye.  You’ll very quickly understand why the owners have a 2-night stay policy.  If you meander down a winding path from your cottage, you will discover another hidden secret. Beside tall and leafy trees there is an historic wool shed.  This wool shed has been decorated with fairy lights and contains huge wood burners.  The sheep stalls still remain and this really brings home the authentic edge.  But the best thing is, you will actually get to have your very own movie night here.

Just book in the time you want.  The wood burners will be roaring away and the blankets laid out. All that you need to do is relax on the sofa and watch your favourite movie – just you and your partner.  How cool is that!

get the cinema ready for the guests at staveley cottage

What to do in Mid-Canterbury

Fishing and Hunting

You might think of Mid-Canterbury and the High Country as being only about green pastures and mountains.  But there is so much more.  In fact, this part of Canterbury is a very famous hunting and fishing area It is worth mentioning here that the owners of the Red Cottages also act as fishing and hunting guides. They can arrange all your flights to and into the high country. There are also a lot of high country farms specialising in Merino Sheep. If you have heard of the label “Icebreaker”, then chances are you could be wearing Merino wool from this very place. We travelled off-season. Also, best times to travel NZ.

pamela at gate to lake heron station

Walking Tracks

If you walk any of the forest tracks here, you could be mistaken into thinking you are in Fiordland. These forests are incredibly dense and lush with native bush. And the swing bridges are constructed well for ease of access.

forest walk near Sharplin Falls Track

The Mt Somers Track and the Sharplin Falls Track, have the most beautiful ferns and moss varieties you will find anywhere in the country.

mosses and ferns on Sharplin Falls Track

Of course it is definitely worth visiting the Awa Awa Rata Reserve at the bottom of Mt Hutt Forest.  What you will find here, is an base for a number of walks. You can choose an easy 10 minute stroll past spring flowering rhododendrons. Or you might want to do a 4.5km tramp onto a mountain ridge – in fact, this one will give you great views of the Canterbury Plains.

Erewhon, Mt Sunday & the Lord of the Rings location of Edoras

The Lord of the Rings locations were chosen for their wild remoteness and beautiful rugged grandeur. We loved it up here at Mt Sunday.  It gives you the feeling of being the only people on the planet!  To get access to these locations, you will be driving along gravel roads. So its probably best to have a 4-wheel drive.

drive through rangitata river valley

There is a carpark at the beginning of the walk into Mt Sunday and Edoras.  You will first walk through paddocks then across a bridge to where the actual climb up to Mt Sunday begins.

michael looking at mt sunday

Bear in mind that it is a reasonably steep climb. Don’t stress, the track is very well signposted – just keep an eye out for the orange posts.  I guess you need to be moderately fit, but the climb won’t take you very long. Once you get to the very top, I guarantee it will be so worth it. And yes the flag you see in the LOTR films is still there!

on Mt Sunday and Edoras


Where to eat in Mid Canterbury

The Dubliner

As you pass through Methven, to get to Staveley, you are bound to come across the Dubliner Restaurant. We have had tremendous feedback about this pub restaurant and their night meals. There are quite a few pubs now in New Zealand that do serve up quality and tasty food – in fact, they have become quite sophisticated.  We have found that these pubs can be the ideal place to get the local vibe.

Dubliner Restaurant in methven

Staveley Cafe & Store

And if its the local vibe you are really after, there is no better better place to find it, then the Staveley Cafe. From the outside it looks fairly unassuming – just another ‘tearoom’.  It definitely is not!  The food here is homemade and very good.  It is a sure sign of a great cafe, when the locals all go there.  On the day we stopped for lunch, the place quickly filled up.  Farmers, farmworkers – you name them – the locals were all here. The staff know everyone by name and it is very clear that they enjoy what they do.  The locals feel the love and you will too.

michael at Staveley Cafe & Store

Why visit mid-Canterbury

Remote experience

This part of the Canterbury region is far less travelled by the mainstream tourists who prefer larger centres with a busy vibe.  Mid Canterbury and the high country specialise more in the boutique experience.  It is an absolute paradise for hunters, those who love to fish and couples who just want to chill. What you will get here, is an overwhelming sense of  freedom.

walking on awa awa reserve track

For a number of sample South Island travel itineraries check out options here.

Happy travelling the Mid Canterbury region!

Exploring Middle-earth with Hairy Feet Tours in Waitomo

Today, we traveled just 45 minutes from the famous Waitomo Caves to Piopio. Where is that, you might well be asking! Piopio is a small farming township right in the middle of State Highway 3. Naturally, it isn’t a place that tourists will have heard of. Many would drive right on by. But this area has a real gem; Hairy Feet Tours may no longer be a hidden secret, but many travellers still have no idea about this fantastic offering.

We all know that New Zealand attracts its fair share of Tolkien enthusiasts (or perhaps all of them!) and many want to hit the ground running, taking in as many filming locations as they can. The Queenstown/Glenorchy locations are the most famous, and so some of the busiest. If you want to get a slightly more intimate and personalised experience, you should set your eyes a little further to the north.



Hairy Feet Tours – the Beginnings

These tours were really started by a stroke of luck! It all got started when Warrick and Suzie received a surprise visit to their farm on a very wet day in 2010 by a location scout. He was searching for places to film the upcoming Hobbit trilogy, and was particularly interested in the Denize Bluffs, the huge limestone cliffs which ran along their farm, and the extensive rainforest. After a few other visits with film crews, Peter Jackson expressed interest in using the area for a scene in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

The shoot took a whole 8 months of planning a solid week of shooting. In the end, it was on-screen for just 22 minutes! It doesn’t sound like a lot, but that is actually a lot in screen time; more than almost anywhere else in the film! It certainly makes you realise how many hundreds of locations make up a film that is over two hours in length. The scene in question? The Trollshaws Forest scene!

Keen to share this beautiful region, Warrick and Suzie started Hairy Feet Tours to give visitors a true kiwi experience (with a Tolkien twist of course!)


Tour Details

One of the best things about this tour is that you don’t have to be a Lord of the Rings buff to enjoy it. Anyone who has a love of nature and the outdoors will find something to love here! Also, if you have ever been curious about the details of a working farm, this tour puts you right in the middle of it.

Hairy Feet Tours run two tours each day, at 10am and 1pm, with each lasting for around 90 minutes. This makes it a great short activity that you can easily fit into a busier day on the road. They use a mini-van to transport guests right up close to the key filming sites and allow you to have a good explore around the area.

In New Zealand, it can sometimes feel like you are tripping over film locations, but some of the most beautiful are pretty inaccessible to tourists. By contrast, Hairy Feet Tours doesn’t take you too far off the beaten track. It’s only a 45-minute drive from the Waitomo region. So if you have a bit of spare time, we highly recommend!


Our experience with Hairy Feet Tours 

Our tour started from the moment Suzie greeted us at her modern reception area. Suzie runs the tours herself, and takes a lot of pride in the operation. After all, this farm has been in Warrick’s family for three generations! This is a predictable photo I know, but at 6ft.2in, Michael wouldn’t make a very good Hobbit!



You can understand why Peter Jackson and his crew quickly fell in love with this place. The ancient rock formations are perfect for ‘Middle Earth’, as are the prehistoric-looking forests. It really does make you appreciate just how stunning his country really is, with so much diversity.


Hairy Feet Tours – scenic beauty


After a quick drive up a hill in a modern van, you can start following in the footsteps of the hobbits!

How could anyone not be inspired by this magnificent scenery? You are surrounded on all sides by lush, rolling green hills. It really is Tolkien’s world bought to life. The best part of these tours is their small size. Visiting Hobbiton these days can feel a bit like sitting in a traffic jam, especially during the summer. By contrast, Hairy Feet Tours aim to offer a much more intimate experience. Our tour had just 9 people, which made it a very enjoyable experience.


Recreating the scenes

There isn’t too much walking, and there are plenty of stops on the way. At each stop, Suzie holds up a still shot from a particular scene, which matches the area we were standing in at the time. It was a really neat way to show off just how much this area featured in the film. It certainly makes you want to view it again more closely!



She invited each of us to recreate the same shot for ourselves. I tried to look like a worried Bilbo. I’m so pleased we captured the birdhouse in the background!



Tom, Bert and William are such innocuous names for the revolting trolls from the Hobbit films. This was the very spot that poor Bilbo almost got cooked for their dinner!



A tour like this is only as good and its guide. Suzie’s personal connection to the film really inspires you to see the film again. That has to be a measure of how successful this tour really is. We also have to mention Suzie’s husband, Warrick. A local artist was commissioned to recreate Warrick’s likeness as a hobbit. We think he did rather well!

You can find more details about the tour here.



Happy travelling with Hairy Feet Tours!

Romantic Stays in PurePods South Island

For romantic stays, in New Zealand, you’ll always find something incredibly unique. There are 7 very unique PurePods dotted around the Canterbury Region – you’ll get a fantastic choice of truly beautiful isolated locations.  Just remember, PurePods are definitely not your usual tramping huts.  In fact, PurePods are luxury eco cabins that are built of reinforced glass. These beautiful pods are totally powered by solar energy.

Romantic Stays in PurePods South Island

Why are PurePods so unique?


Can you imagine being about to see through a floor and ceiling made of glass?  Well that’s what you’ll get with a PurePod. There are lights underneath the floor which you can turn on at night. But what is really the highlight for so many honeymooners, is being able to see the most amazing night sky. You will be literally miles away from any township, so the stars don’t have to compete with city lights.

Track walk:

You can’t actually drive your vehicle right up to a PurePod.  You will need to have an average degree of fitness for the 1.2 km uphill walk. It will take you a good 25 minutes.  But don’t worry, the tracks leading up to the PurePods are well signposted.  Just remember to arrive in daylight hours.  There will not be any lights to show you the way if you arrive in the dark!

Awesome Landscapes:

The greatest feature for our stay, was being surrounded by the most amazing landscape on all sides. You’ll see the most beautiful views across the tussock grasses and rolling hills down to the long, sheltered bay of Port Levy. The morning bird life was wonderful. In fact, rural life goes silently on around you. You are the observer.

How do you get access to a PurePod?

What Information do I get?

We stayed at the Pōhue PurePod between Darling Harbour and Pigeon Bay.  This Pod overlooked Port Levy. At the booking stage, we were emailed a very clear map of how to get there and how long it would take.  As with all the PurePods, we were driving along very scenic farm roads. There is a carpark at each PurePod location.  From the carpark, there is a well signposted track.


You need to be very selective about what you’ll take to the pod.  After all, you don’t want to face a 25 min walk back to the carpark to get your food supplies! So it is essential that at least one of you has a backpack to carry all the stuff you will need.

Solar powered Eco Romantic Stays in PurePods South Island


The beauty of the whole process is that you don’t have to check-in with anyone.  In fact, you won’t see another human being for your entire stay. The door of the PurePod will be open for you, so just to walk right on in.

What is provided?

Wet Weather Gear

At the bottom of the carpark, before you go up the track, there is a tiny open shed. This shed contains wet weather gear.  So if you arrive at the carpark and it is raining, just put a raincoat on and the gumboots that are provided.  You will need to remove all your footwear and raincoats before entering the pod.  The floor is glass and will become slippery if it gets wet.

Food packages

At an additional cost you can order food packages.  However, we chose to carry up our own wine and food that we had purchased at a supermarket deli on the way.  It was a fine feast!  We also took our own breakfast supplies.  Hence the need for back packs.

Modern facilities

With the exception of your food supplies, everything else is pretty much provided – including the kitchen sink!  There is a barbie outside for cooking. Inside you’ll find all the kitchenware you’ll ever need.  And you needn’t ever be cold.  There is underground heating in the glass floor and heating above you. You’ll love the high-powered hot shower. You can use a shower curtain, but there really is no need. The bed is top quality to ensure a blissful sleep.

Total Solitude

You might want to ask yourself, how serious you are about getting away from it all.  There is NO wifi connection, radio or television.  But there is a USB connection for your cellphones.  That way, you can also get to play your own music. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll quickly cast your cares away!

If you have trouble adjusting to the vastness of the environment, there are night blinds.  But on the night of our stay, we chose to keep these up. There is something very special about watching night fall and seeing an unobstructed sky.


Remember, that with a PurePod, you’ll be totally isolated.  You will only have each other. I guess that’s pretty much perfect for honeymooners and the romantic at heart.  For a lot of busy couples, PurePods are a great way of reconnecting with nature and with each other. It’s a pure experience.

Check out some of our New Zealand honeymoon and nature focused self-drive itineraries, into we can incorporate a PurePod experience for you.

Happy Travelling!


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