Sunlover On Tour : Chris and Donna’s South Island Road Trip

Chris and I recently had opportunity to fly to Invercargill and take a road trip back up the length of the South Island.  It gave us a chance to experience New Zealand through our guests’ eyes and a chance to be tourists in our own backyard.  Ask anyone in Tourism and they would say this winter’s been busier than most.  We experienced it in Tairua at Sunlover Retreat this winter – and there was certainly no shortage of people on our South Island road trip.

As a tourist, I felt so proud of our country.  Things are looking great!  The roads are great.  The scenery is beautiful, the walks are excellent.  Towns are being revitalised, which was great to see, with lots of younger people coming back to the regions bringing ideas and fresh energy.  An example of that was Reefton.  Size-wise, it is similar to Tairua.  It has undergone a huge revitalisation and  it’s really lifted it and made it a vibrant place.

Driving all the way up the west coast, from the bottom of the South Island, showed us that everywhere’s a long way in New Zealand.  People might see 10km on a road sign, but our hilly winding roads take longer to drive than 10km of highway.  Our road trip showed us you need certain things to travel independently in New Zealand: 1) a certain level of fitness to get out and experience the environment, 2) the ability to drive on windy roads, and 3) you need time.

In the South Island, the towns are so small and quiet in relation to the number of visitors on the roads and at the scenic attractions.  I believe New Zealand should be charging for car parking to offset the  impact of tourism on our scenic attractions. We did a lot of walks and visited Punakaiki, the Blue Spring…it’s all free, but made me think, should it be?  Even though I know charging is not traditionally the Kiwi way.  The other challenge for our country, is mobile and internet coverage. If we want to keep people coming, we need to improve access throughout the country. It would be a bit disconcerting for some people to road trip in New Zealand without internet and cellular access.

So what do New Zealand B&B hosts look for when choosing accommodation while they’re on holiday?  We definitely wanted to stay in some B&B’s along the way and Holly Homestead in Franz Josef and Anchor Down in Picton were standout examples.  I didn’t have a set itinerary and used Trip Advisor to find accommodation.  I searched for places by location, comfort and a certain x-factor appeal.  We also stayed with family and in motels.  The thing that really comes across in B&Bs is you are made to feel so welcome.  People are so hospitable –  almost overly so!  When you’re staying in a B&B you become part of people’s lives.  I love it, because I love sharing my experiences and being able to talk about running a B&B in NZ with others.

Because I’m on the board of the Bed And Breakfast Association of New Zealand, it also gave me an opportunity to talk with hosts about membership and assess properties where required.  I noticed a growing number of special interest properties, particularly eco retreats and accommodations with proud connections to their environment.

A common thread among B&B hosts in New Zealand was how much they loved their area.  People are so passionate about where they live – they want to look after it and they want you as a guest to feel that connection.  Chris and I feel the same way about Tairua and want our guests to take a fantastic experience of the place home with them.

Our experience as guests rather than hosts taught us a lot about the nature of Bed and Breakfasts. A B&B gives a deeper connection with a location.  The thing about accommodation, is a room, is a room, is a room.  What the B&B does is take that room and turn it into an experience.  You’re going to be welcomed to sit and chat.  You’re getting that connection to the area and all its secrets.  B&B rooms are more comfortable and spacious than motels, so it is easier to relax and unwind.  You can also get out of your room and spend time in a lounge which is really nice.  At Sunlover Retreat, we often get people arrive and decide they just want to stop, relax and not go out.  I understand that now.

The breakfasts were always nourishing and fresh at the B&B’s where we stayed. At Sunlover, Chris will sit and eat with the guests and I’ll cook.  At a lot of the places we stayed, one of the hosts would cook and the other would sit with guests.  It became clear how important that was when we were in the guest seats.  It was lovely to sit and eat without feeling like our hosts were hovering or working hard while we were relaxing.  Breakfast is such a good time for connecting with people.  Having time to sit and chat with our hosts really enhanced our holiday.

In hindsight, ten days on a South Island road trip wasn’t long enough because of the extensive driving between places.  However, I must say it is always nice to come home to the Coromandel. My gosh we live in a beautiful place!  We like the size of Tairua and the fact that everybody knows your name.  In a lot of these small places; yes they’re touristy, but you always feel welcome.  As Chris and I like to say when people come to our door: There are no strangers here – only friends we haven’t met.