Gloria Brown, looking to escape the winter cold of her native Colorado, spent two months exploring this country's two beautiful islands.
Worth every penny... Visiting Doubtful Sound in Fiordland National Park. When I booked an overnight tour with Fiordland Expeditions, I gasped at the price tag of $375 for a single bunk. I decided to splurge, because some friends had advised that Doubtful Sound was the highlight of their trip. My camera never left my hands. The day was spent cruising around spectacular rugged peaks and thundering waterfalls, and I saw penguins, dolphins, and fur seals. Our small group of 13 ended the day with a dinner of freshly caught lobster and champagne. It was simply wonderful. [PHOTO]
My favorite parts... Eating Moroccan vegetarian pies and oliebollen (apple-filled doughnuts) at Nelson Saturday Market, browsing the art cooperatives in Christchurch for handmade sweaters, spying on penguins on the Otago Peninsula, learning about New Zealand's history and Maori culture at TePapa Tongarewa Museum in Wellington, and driving full speed on 90-Mile Beach near Cape Reinga.
What I should have packed... A whole new suitcase. During the trip, I vowed that my first purchase when I returned home would be the lightest luggage out there. Packing light means nothing when your empty suitcase weighs a ton. And I was traveling a lot by bus. I should have known better.
Hotel I liked... Can I change this to "hostel I liked"? I was traveling solo and didn't stay in hotels very often. One hostel that stands out is Halfmoon Cottage. [PHOTO] It overlooks Barry's Bay in Akaroa, a charming French settlement about 90 minutes from Christchurch. Halfmoon is a late 19th-century restored cottage surrounded by rose gardens and is more like a B&B than a hostel. It was wonderful to relax on the large veranda with a cold drink and a bowl of freshly picked plums. Bikes and kayaks were available to guests. Rooms were spacious, comfortable, and decorated with antiques. It was an unbelievable value at just $35 for a single. [PHOTO]
Great local meal... Roast flounder with fresh local vegetables and wine at the Boat Shed restaurant. I met up with a good friend in Nelson, on the South Island. After a long morning walk on Tahunanui Beach [PHOTO] sharing travel adventures and building up an appetite, we made a beeline for the Boat Shed. It's a really quaint restaurant, built on pilings, and it's a favorite with locals. We sat on the deck and had a view of the harbor—the view alone might be reason enough to stop here, but the meal was so good it convinced me to make a second trip later in the week.
Fun surprise... The North Island was as nice as the South Island. For a while, I resisted going to the North Island because I was having so much fun on the South. But I knew that I might not get a chance to return to New Zealand—it's a long, long way from Colorado—so this would be my only opportunity to see both. Great decision! The white, sandy, isolated beaches of the Coramandal Peninsula [PHOTO] were a perfect ending to a perfect trip.