In the ninth of our Backyard Explorer travel series: Jim Kayes soaks up the sights and the luxury in Fiordland, finding you can’t beat hospitality in Te Anau – or the pies.
Sometimes bad weather is a good thing.
Rain meant we couldn’t venture out on the Waiau River with Te Anau’s Fiordland Jet, but not all was lost as we got to check in early to the luxurious Fiordland Lodge instead.
One of 32 luxury lodges in New Zealand, it’s not overstating things to say that, despite more than two decades following the All Blacks around the world and staying in a wide range of hotels, this place is the best I’ve stayed at.
And having my wife with me was a master stroke in earning pre-Christmas brownie points. What stood out?
Well, it might have been the two fridges (one in our room, one in the ‘Open Pantry’ in the hall) stacked with beer that were part of the package.
It may have been the delicious four-course dinner and breakfast that came with the deal too.
It could have been the hot tub we soaked in as the rain fell, or the games rooms where my wife, as she always does, ruthlessly thrashed me at backgammon.
It may have been the welcoming staff and the friendly dog, or the stunning view from our room and the public areas of the lodge that were, as the cliche goes, postcard perfect.
The double shower and heated floor in the bathroom were also impressive, but I reckon that’s not what won me over.
In the compendium in the room we were told that, should we need a decent coffee, just ring reception. So I did, at 6am.
And they delivered; a near perfect flat white with two warm muffins. Sometimes it’s the little things that impress the most.
And it had dawned clear that morning, so the jet boat was running again.
We had done the Shotover Jet a few days earlier but this was nothing like that.
This was more of a cruise up the river with a few spins thrown in and while it was less of an adrenaline rush, it was informative and thoroughly enjoyable.
Lex, the skipper, used to own the business and now drives for them part-time, and delivered a steady stream of interesting tidbits and trivia including where two parts of the Lord of the Rings were filmed.
We parked up for a brief walk along the Kepler Trail with Lex schooling us up on the local flora and fauna.
Te Anau is the gateway to the incredible Fiordland National Park, which has world heritage status and is home to the fiords of Milford and Doubtful Sounds.
Normally, pre-Covid, about 180,000 people take a cruise each summer on the Milford Sound. Of those, only about 10 percent are Kiwis.
The night before our jet boat trip we’d caught up for a beer with Steve Norris from Trips and Tramps. I’d interviewed him during the first lockdown as part of a series I did for newsroom.co.nz on how the pandemic was affecting businesses and industries around New Zealand.
Covid-19 was the region’s second blow as floods ripped through the region in February, blocking part of the Milford Road and cutting off Milford Sound, and destroying tracks including the hugely popular Milford and Routeburn tracks.
Norris was busy refunding bookings when we talked at the end of March, but he was positive the region would recover and remains that way.
Repairs have been made to the roads and tracks and business was slowly picking up.
Norris, one of those eternally friendly fellas, is offering a variety of walks – most heavily discounted – and catering toward Kiwis.
That last part is important because, it’s worth stating again, pre-Covid 90 percent of the visitors to Fiordland were international travellers, so they are desperate for more Kiwis to come for a look.
Some businesses understand New Zealanders travel on a different budget to those from the UK, Europe and the USA.
It was disappointing in Queenstown to see pubs and restaurants overcharging for food and booze. A beer at dinner that would cost $9 in Auckland is $13 in Queenstown and the meal will be pricier too.
Sure, they have had a bleak winter and are desperate to recover lost income, but ripping off Kiwis isn’t the way to do that.
And being a dork doesn’t help either.
Almost everyone we met in Te Anau were superb – friendly and welcoming.
But the baker at Miles Better Pies in Te Anau asked a family sitting at a table outside the bakery where they were from.
Auckland, they said. I added I was also from there and that his pies were delicious.
“Just don’t go telling any other Aucklanders how good they are,” he said.
Yeah, it was a joke, but it’s a poorly timed one. Most Te Anau businesses make the bulk of their money in summer.
With the borders shut, that money is domestic money, including money from those awful Aucklanders.
Visit Te Anau. And get a pie. Both are superb.
For a jet boat adventure from Te Anau: https://www.fjet.nz
If you want to go bush: https://tripsandtramps.com
For a luxurious stay: https://www.fiordlandlodge.co.nz/fiordland-lodge.htm
For all things Fiordland: www.fiordland.org.nz
This series is created in association with Canon