Lake Wakatipu or “bay of spirits" is glacier fed ancient glaciers that surround and encircle the lake and environs. And our hotel Ramada Central is located on the shores of this enormous lake.

The Dart and Rees Rivers coming from the snowmelt on the rugged Southern Alps flow into the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. This lake has so much energy that it has it's own as a tidal flow and occupies a single, glacier-carved trench bordered on all sides by steep mountains, the tallest is Mount Earnslaw over 9,000 feet. Communities that surround the lake are Queenstown and the towns of Kingston, Glenorchy and Kinloch. Maori claims that the tides are the heartbeat of a huge monster named Matau, who is said to be slumbering at the bottom of the lake.

There is so much to do here that most of us will stay behind after today, but we're all boarding the morning cruise on the lake that feels like a Great Lake and takes us through the the upper - northwestern portions of the lake towards Walter Peak High Country Farm where we will disembark the boat for a walking visit on the farm to feed the sheep, watch the sheep dogs in action, try spinning wool and finish with tea and scones. Damn good morning for all of us, although Pam, Traci, and Dawn were hoping for Sparkling wine with the scones, they finally settled down to enjoy a cup of English tea.

Our afternoon started with lunch in Queenstown. We docked close to plenty of local cafe choices and had a quick lunch. We headed out of town towards wine country after lunch; our visit with Rippon Winery was wonderful, it's located right on Lake Wanaka, the region within Central Otago that takes it's name from the lake. Ken and Terry wanted to buy property here, they kept asking questions about the region, the people, the economy and the opportunity! I hope it happens because I really want to come back too! Fernando and Denise were also talking about buying property here but they talked about it everywhere we went! The wines at Rippon were stellar, and the people were so awesome to us, they opened everything: Pinot Noir - all 5 of them, from different blocks and vineyards, the Sauvignon Blanc was delicious here, and different from Marlborough (don't even bring up Marlborough while you're here...Jan!!!) Poor Jan, a simple reference to it and we heard a long explanation about how Otago and Wanaka is better! The other white wines were delicious too, and the lake effect was evident here, nice diurnal swings but no frost.

We left our gracious guests and boarded the bus back to Queenstown and towards our Hot Pools Adventure! It was about an hour from hot pooling so of course it was enough time for Jonelle's bubbly! She'd be saving it since the North Island and had squirreled it away for too long... according to Annette and Barb, it turned out that they were the BIGGEST bubbles fans of the group!

We arrived at Onsen Pools, and not soon enough, the sun was so low in the sky that Richard's shadow was as long as the trees were high, and he was the first to bare his bathing suit for the pool visit. After luxurious soaking, giggling (the bubbles on the bus), and gawking at the magnificent sunset, we rinsed off, dressed and headed back to our hotel, a short 10 minutes away.

The farewell dinner was delicious barbecue, New Zealand style! We gorged and cried, drank and teared up, laughed and cried, and everyone told a fun and emotional story of their favorite time or place during our tour. Denise Bender had everyone laughing so hard and loud I thought that they'd kick us out. Colleen's story was so beautifully moving that everyone teared up immediately, we had to pass a clean napkin to Carol. But one of the best stories came from Al, it was so funny and straight-man dry humored and hysterically funny - mostly due to his deadpan manner. We awarded him the prize for best humor, Bender got second place for humor, Colleen got the award for most moving, Carol for most tears! Traci was awarded for being the bossiest, and Reggie for putting a stellar tour together with a wonderful group of loving and happy people. We learned, we loved and we left with full hearts. Thank you North Island, thank you South Island, thank you dark sky and lakes, thank you coastline and rivers, thank you wineries and cafés, thank you Maori people, and Kiwi communities, and most of all thank you planet earth for creating a beloved country to enjoy.

Kia mihi New Zealand, you will stay in our hearts and memories forever.

Tēnā Koutou Travelers!

We are making our way towards Lord of the Rings Country!

It is extremely colorful due to the autumn leaves and brush changing with enormous mountains as a backdrop, snow covered slopes and so many rivers, lakes, streams, creeks and ponds along the route. I've always said: "Where there are mountains there are rivers, lakes and streams!" and it's so true here. We are definitely in Middle Earth now.

We're on the road headed towards the middle of the South Island and intense Southern Alps Mountains were gold and other precious metals were mined. The weather conditions are changing to warm and dry, and where there is cultivation of tree fruits, more vines for award winning wines and Merino sheep graze. Wildflowers line roadsides, and powerful rivers cut deep gorges lakes along the way.

Arrowtown and Bannockburn were successful mining settlements that are still thriving as tourist locations with communities that cater to the activities in the lakes, rivers and on the slopes. The architecture from early days gone by remains today and is preserved as though it was still 1860. To the north of Bannockburn, you can see the remains of the Bannockburn Creek area where there was once extensive coal mining that supplied coal for use on gold dredges working the Kawarau and Clutha Rivers. Our guide answered all our questions and delivered the long history of the area, we stopped at the towns along the way, had lunch and continued on towards our winery visit in Gibbston Valley. The Brennan Winery is located on the way to Queenstown, and with their 10 hectares (25 acres) of vines we see and smell ripe grapes as we arrive. They're actually growing Tempranillo here and making a Rosé from it, they say that it occasionally ripens but mostly doesn't get enough sugar so Rosé makes the most sense. Brennan is known for their Pinot Noir, and now we understand why, they were so lush, fleshy and plump, but also refined and clean. A lovely vineyard walk to explore their organic methods, they even have some bio-dynamic methods included in their farming practices. After our visit we head into Queenstown to spend our last day of the tour - tomorrow in Queenstown. We're already feeling the sadness of missing this group, the visits, and the beautiful people of this country. We have an exciting ride up on the Skyline Gondola to our restaurant that holds 360 degree views of Queenstown and the surrounding area. It's amazing, beautiful, and breathtaking. Pam is so excited to arrive to the top, we had to crowd around her so that she wasn't freaked out, we had a group hug with her while gathered around her. It was a perfect excuse to enjoy Pam's excitement and our enjoyment of each other. Thank you Pam! As usual our dinner is filled with chatter, the excitement of the day, the wine, the company and the view all stimulated our enjoyment and evening together. Kia kaha Travelers!

Ōtautahi! (Christchurch in Maori)

We LOVED the tramway dinner that we enjoyed last night during the tour of Christchurch as we learned about the city and the energy of exploration within it's communities.

Christchurch lies within the province of Canterbury and is surrounded by nature, both within the active city and in the rugged landscapes just beyond the city center. The spirit of the Canterbury-Christchurch region is one of exploration, and we can see why. As far as the eye can see is a diverse array of landscapes, coastlines, and spectacular mountains with an equally plentiful array of activities available.

Today, we made our way from Christchurch to the Waipara Valley, the home of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling, a short drive back north along the coast. We arrive at the Greystone Winery where we enjoy a tour, tasting and lunch (with plenty of the above mentioned wines to enjoy with the meal!

With so much left to do in the afternnoon we leave Greystone directly after lunch because we still have Church of the Good Shepherd, Mackenzie Country Basin and Stargazing at Mount John Observatory! We can't decide which of these activities is more exciting to the group, but the stargazing will definitely be the cherry on top!

Okay, The Church of Good Shepherd first, PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK, you will encounter (as we did) an amazing view, although our view was an afternoon partly sunny day, you can see this beautiful tiny church in all it's glory on their website. The church was built and opened in 1935 as the only place to worship in Lake Tekapo and continues as a place of worship for the local community. The Church was built to incorporate the rugged terrain and left it undisturbed, you can find the matagouri bushes and large rocks surrounding the church everywhere. The materials (mostly stones) used for the construction of the church are from within a five miles radius of the site, and laid out in their natural condition. The original roof was of wooden shingles, but had to be replaced with the present slates in 1957. But the best par of this experience we had during our visit was feeling the energy of this area, and its surrounding beauty. The wind, the smell of the lake, the foliage, the cool stones, and the small humble church, all combined to leave us with full hearts.

We reluctantly leave this area to find Mackenzie Country Basin, this 60 mile long, 25 mile wide basin is named after a sheep thief who settled here in this remote and barren land during the mid-1800's James MacKenzie, apparently he gathered his flocks and led them to this area where he made a business out of the wool. The entire region that Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook National Park, along with many other natural attractions sit within MacKenzie Country. Again, I know it's a broken record at this point but the views all around us are AMAZING!

What a great way to finish a great day, we find ourselves relaxing under the stars in the beauty of the natural world here in MacKenzie Country. We can't tell you how many planets, stars or shooting stars, for that matter, that we counted, there are too many to mention. All I can say is that we were flooded with awe, amazement and love for the universe. Sleep well travelers, I know that you will after this day!


Regina Daigneault 

8603 9th Ave SW

Seattle, WA 98106