- Take 5, relax and enjoy a read...
Flexible dates

Bella Vista's Blog

Check-in on our New Zealand travel blog for latest news, events and updates - along with a splash of personality from the whole team at Bella Vista!  


Hungry in Hokitika: Top Places to Eat and Drink

Posted by on

The West Coast is famous for its stunning scenery, glaciers, Tree Top Walk Hokitika, gorgeous greenstone, and fertile rainforest. But at the Coast’s beating heart, are its local growers, boutique brewers and talented chefs who have transformed the region into a food mecca. Here’s the Bella Vista’s guide to the best places to eat in Hokitika, so you’ll leave inspired, well fed and hungry to return.  


Winner of New Zealand’s Best Sandwich  

The hip folk at the top rated Hokitika Sandwich Shop take their New York-style sandwich making seriously. Made to order, chunky slices of freshly baked ciabatta bread loaded with your choice of free-range meat, organic vegetables, South Island cheeses and condiments, like tangy sauerkraut. No wonder this gourmet sandwich joint has a cult following, especially when the milkshakes are made with Lewis Road Creamery ice cream and the coffee is Fair Trade. So, it came as no surprise to the locals, when the humble Hokitika Sandwich Shop was awarded New Zealand’s 'best toastie'. For a picnic with punch and a quick healthy bite, this is one of Hokitika’s best places to eat lunch and only two minutes from our Hokitika motel.


Best Hokitika Seafood and Pizza 

This seaside town is serious about its seafood so head to the riverside spot of Dulcies, for Hokitika’s favourite fish and chips. Choose from crumbed hoki, gurnard and blue cod with a generous side of salty, fluffy hot chips for under $12 a serve. Go the fully Monty and sneak a decadent chocolate explosion donut into your order. Then grab your paper-wrapped takeaways and stroll to nearby Sunset Point for an al fresco dinner overlooking the sun-striped ocean. (If the mouth-watering fare makes it that far!) Its only 17 minutes walk from our Hokitika accommodation. 

What makes Fat Pipi Pizza unique? Let’s just say their pescatarian-topped pizzas and beach front location are both West Coast winners. Yes, the classic Margherita is on the menu, but where else can you enjoy smoked salmon or 140 grams of whitebait layered with capers and lemon on a garlicky, buttery, doughy base? For vegetarians, there’s the mighty Punk pizza, piled high with caramelised pumpkin, feta, cashews and coriander pesto. Be sure to pair your meal with a glass of the Fat Pipi’s Far Canal wine (or in the local lingo, ‘Fa-kin-hell’), a cheeky Otago red. Whatever your language, the Fat Pipi is West Coast-style pizza perfection, with a well-deserved spot on the best ‘Hokitika Places to Eat’ list.  


Best Hokitika Vegan Café 

In a region where hunting and fishing is a popular pastime, it’s perhaps surprising that one of the best restaurants in Hokitika only serves plant-based food.  But the Gatherer Wholefoods café turns the notion that vegan food is boring, straight on its roasted cauliflower head. And the only hunting this owner chef does, is foraging for the best local field mushrooms. 

With a Mexican-inspired menu big on fresh flavours, tuck into mushroom ceviche or the kumara tacos topped with overnight-marinated cashew cheese. Best of all the taco tortillas are pressed daily and the seasonal menu changes often, so the locals return time and again. This place will turn die-hard meat eaters into legume lovers at first bite. The cafe is only 2 minutes drive from our Hokitika accommodation. 


Best restaurant in Hokitika (to mingle with the locals)  

If you fancy pub-style fare, book the lively Stumpers Bar and Café for dinner, just a five-minute walk from the Hokitika motel. They serve up tasty homestyle food like seafood chowder, lamb shanks, local venison, and wedges of old-fashioned cheesecake (just like Mum used to make) with generous portions to boot. For a friendly slice of Hokitika life (and a game of pool), this popular gastropub is a great place to kick back, after a day’s sightseeing. 


Most innovative Hokitika food 

Fancy grilled huhu grub with a round of colostrum shots? Followed by a dessert platter of larvae ice cream and Chocolate worm truffles? No local food guide would be worth its salt without highlighting the famous Hokitika Wildfoods Festival in March. This unique feasting experience is designed to push your culinary comfort zone, serving up dishes at once odd, yet strangely enticing. The Feral Fashion competition is also a visual feast, where the locals strut their wild side and play furry dress ups, vying for the most Feral of Them All. While you may end up flossing insect legs from your teeth, you’ll love the foody flair which courses through this vibrant West Coast festival. 

While we’ve hopefully whetted your appetite on places to eat in Hokitika, please ask the Bella Vista Motel team in Hokitika for up-to-date information as restaurant opening hours and menus can change between summer, winter and Covid alert levels. We can also tailor suggestions around what you love to eat (or drink)! 

Hidden Hokitika Tree Top Walk

Posted by on

Hokitika’s cool town cachet is well deserved with its artsy vibe, annual Wild Food Festival and rugged West Coast scenery. But the town’s most popular attraction is poised peacefully above your head in a native forest canopy, just south of the Hokitika Motel.  

Guest blogger, Liz Lyons, shares her family’s experience on the West Coast Tree Top Walk, one of the best things to do in Hokitika. 

Entertaining two teenage boys on a South Island road trip can be a challenging task. The distances are long, the fast-food chains are few, and the Wi-Fi dead zones are parental purgatory. Announce that you’re taking them on a ‘Hokitika tree top walk,’ and the backseat groans are deep and long.  But once my two Neanderthals had sprinted up a 100-step spindly tower to breathlessly take in one of the best views on the West Coast, my reputation as ‘fear factor Mum’ was restored. And best of all: they had no idea this aerial canopy walk even existed. 

It was a rare blue-sky day, when we stepped on the West Coast Treetop Walk, an aerial Meccano-like series of interconnecting steel bridges and viewing platforms, just 15 minutes south of the Hokitika motel. The walkway’s design came from the same team behind four popular canopy walks in Australia, and is now regarded as one of the top things to do in Hokitika, drawing visitors from all over.  

The nearly half-kilometre walkway starts with a gentle ascent into the canopy of Jurassic-looking Rimu and Kamahi trees. Along the way, are informative panels on the rainforest eco system, Hokitika history and the native birdlife. 

The big boy magnet is the ‘Hokitika Tower’, a long spiral staircase leading up to a 40-metre viewing platform, which can sway in the high West Coast winds. 

Luckily the day we visited, the weather played ball and we enjoyed expansive views from a motionless Hokitika Tower, of nearby Lake Mahinapua, the wild Tasman Sea and the snow-capped Southern Alps. The boys even consented to a family photo without pulling faces; a miracle in itself.  

Back on the lower level, the next intrepid stop is the Mahinapua Springboard, a cantilevered viewing platform, which the boys joyfully stomped across, quickly clearing the deck of anxious visitors. The black swans and white herons, gliding peacefully across the serene lake below, ignored the shrieks from the deck above. The boys’ Dad, no less. 

Afterwards, over cheese toasties and C4 coffee at the adjacent Tree Tops café, one of the best outdoor places to eat in Hokitika, my lads boasted about conquering the highest manmade tree walk in New Zealand. While the highlight for their Mum, was getting up close to giant trees and viewing these timeless treasures from the ‘top down.’ Who knows if future generations will get to hover above beautiful rainforest like this? All the more reason to add the Hokitika Tree Top Walk to your ‘Hokitika to Do List’, as this was a memorable experience we’d repeat in a heartbeat.  

More information:  

  • The Hokitika Tree Top walk is a leisurely 45-minute canopy walk along a high steel viewing platform, over 450 metres long.  
  • Pricing: Adults $32, children $16, or $77 for a family of four.  
  • Opening hours: Summer Hours: 9am – 5pm, Winter Hours: 9am – 3:00pm  
  • Fully accessible apart from the narrow tower stairs. A special motorised wheelchair is available on request.  
  • Open rain and shine - umbrella hire and ponchos for sale. 
  • Visit treetopsnz.com 

Getting there: A 15-minute drive south of Hokitika  

Best places to eat Hanmer Springs

Posted by on

As a popular family and short break destination, the thermal spa town of Hanmer Springs boasts an impressive range of eateries to relax and refuel at, after a day on the slopes, quad biking, rafting or hiking. We’ve done the hard yards and rustled up the best places to eat in Hanmer Springs, whether you’re seeking fine dining, a wine tasting or a hearty meal and brew.  

Best all-day cafés in Hanmer Springs 

And the award goes to the Roasted Bean! Start your day with one of the best lattes or steaming white chocolates in town, because this spot roast their own beans on-site from Colombia, Brazil and Papa New Guinea.  Look out for the specialty banana waffles drenched in maple syrup and the bubbling-cheese doorstopper sandwich, both hugely popular with visitors and locals. If you’re peckish after a soak at the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools or need to feed scratchy kids early, the pizza oven fires up from 5pm. Order a starter of an 8-inch crispy pizza bread with garlic spread, mozzarella and olive oil. Then choose a fully loaded pizza or two, from Moroccan Lamb, Smoked Chicken or the veggie-friendly Pear and Blue Cheese, with caramelized walnuts. With real bases made from scratch and keto-friendly options, everyone will leave full to the brim.   


The Powerhouse Café, set in a repurposed hydroelectric power station building is another a great place for breakfast and lunch offering an array of homestyle food which caters to vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free and gluten-free. 

Best Hanmer Springs vineyard  

You’re spoilt for choice on the 2-hour drive north from Christchurch with a few wineries to choose from. The Waipara wine region is awash with cellar doors and some of the highest altitude vineyards in the country, so add a wine trail to your ‘things to do in Hanmer Springs’ list. With its expert wine makers, drop into the Waiau River Estate over summer, to sample their Hells Gate Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. They grow a range of varietals including Riesling too. If you’re more of a red drinker, indulge in a tasting of their small-vintage Pinot Noir. You won’t be disappointed as you savour top class wine and take in stunning views up the Waiau Gorge towards Hanmer Springs and the Southern Alps foothills.  


Best sweet treats 

If you’re a big kid with a sweet tooth, or want to delight the little kids, one of the best Hanmer Springs attractions are its boutique sweet makers. From mouth-watering squares of creamy fudge at The Fudge Shop to big gob-smackers, New Zealand made brittle, and other childhood favourites at The Lolly Pot, these sweet spots are one of the best things to do in Hanmer Springs with kids. 


Best family-friendly dining 

With an on-site playground, a spacious indoor area and alfresco seating, the Fire & Ice Cafe Restaurant and Bar offers a great spot for families to relax or couples to find a quiet corner. Its bistro-style menu will suit the pickiest or fussiest little diner. Enjoy a seafood or antipasto platter while the kids chow down on junior servings of fish and chips, pasta carbonara or a chicken salad wrap. The ‘Farm on a Plate,’ a virtual meat grazers fantasy of pork, steak, chicken, ham, and sausage, topped with fried egg, and a side of fries might just beat the heartiest of appetites. 


Best fine dining experience  

With a swag of New Zealand beef and lamb awards, and an award-winning head chef, No.31 Restaurant is a great dining destination for gourmet meat-lovers. Experience premium New Zealand eye fillet and other local specialities like Fiordland wild venison or duck, in a lovely cottage courtyard in summer or besides a cosy open fire with a candle-lit table in winter. Save room for their warm sticky liquorice pudding, served with salted caramel sauce, candied walnuts and vanilla bean ice cream. With an extensive wine list, treat yourself to an evening of memorable food and warm yet deferential hospitality, befitting an eatery of this standard. This spot is a deserving contender for ‘Best Restaurant Hanmer Springs.’  


Best cheap eats Hanmer Springs 

From highbrow to high five burgers, check out the menu at PJ’s for great takeout. With a range of tasty burgers and fish and chips to go, visitors consistently rate PJ’s as one of the best burger places to eat in Hanmer Springs. 

Guests often ask the Bella Vista team about the best places to eat in Hanmer Springs. We’ll not only recommend popular Hanmer Springs attractions but where best to whet your appetite. 


Close to the hot pools and ample great eats Bella Vista is a great choice in Hamner Springs motel accommodation. Book now and start your holiday off right!

Hanmer Springs best hikes

Posted by on

The picturesque spa hamlet of Hanmer Springs, with its natural thermal springs and crisp alpine air, has long attracted visitors since the 19th century. It’s a great base for keen hikers with stunning day walks in Hanmer Springs and the surrounding Hurunui district. We’ve rounded up the best short Hanmer walks.  

Best orientation walk (1-hour return) 

Arrived early? No worries, drop your bags at the Bella Vista check-in and head up Conical Hill for the best views of the village and Hurunui countryside. The gentle zig-zag trail winds up through a protected pine forest of Japanese cypress, giant fir and Atlantic cedar, brimming with birdlife. You’ll emerge at a lookout approximately 200m above the village. Perch at the top and enjoy a patchwork vista of Hanmer Springs and North Canterbury laid out before you. This Hanmer forest walk is one of the more popular things to do in Hanmer Springs.  


Top 3-in-1 circuit walk (2-hours return) 

This is one of the more diverse walks in Hanmer linking three well-groomed tracks into one full loop. The Upper Dog Stream Track, Jolliffe Saddle Track and Timberlands Trail Circuit are yours for the taking, in under two hours.   

The gentle Upper Dog Stream Track heads upstream through shady forest revealing excellent views of Mt Isobel at the picnic area. Beyond the Dog Stream footbridge, the zig-zag track becomes rougher as it climbs through native beech forest to intersect with the Jolliffe Saddle Track. A small clearing on the pass summit comes with a picnic table and splendid views of upper Dog Stream and Mount Isobel. Venturing over the saddle, the track passes through dense, sunlight-dappled exotic pine, before it crosses Jolliffe Road and joins the final sector, the easy, downhill Timberlands Trail. At the base, you’ll encounter a large grove of impressive Californian Redwood as you return back to Jollies Pass Rd, just a 7-minute drive from the Bella Vista Hanmer Springs. 


Best waterfall walk Hanmer Springs (half day) 

Once again, head for Jollies Pass Road to reach this trail. This fairy grotto-like track includes stairs, narrow cliff faces and watershed crossings so best suited to experienced hikers or families with teenagers. Once you reach the main waterfall, enjoy picture-perfect views of cascading water, the surrounding fern glade and green-tinged rocks lined with moss.  

Rather than returning the same way, hop on the clearly marked Spur Track, beside a smaller set of cascading falls.  This trail initially climbs up away from the stream, traversing an open meadow above the bush line, providing epic views of the Waiau Valley far below. You’ll then descend through native forest to reach the Mt Isobel Road and the Nature/Fir Trails, a direct shortcut back to the Waterfall Track carpark.  

The Bella Vista team will happily provide recommendations on the best walks in Hanmer Springs. Otherwise, pop into the Hanmer Springs i-SITE Visitor Centre for detailed trail maps on Hanmer walks.  

Start enjoying all the best bits of the South Island with your stay at one of the best Hanmer Springs motels. Our team are here to help you relax and enjoy your stay. 

Hello Hanmer Springs

Posted by on

With scenic hikes, thermal springs, skiing and thrill-seeker activities, the alpine village of Hanmer Springs is the ultimate destination for families, with toddlers through to teens. With so many Hanmer Springs attractions on offer, here’s our guide to the most enjoyable family activities. 

Best views and short walk in Hanmer Springs  

Take a 30-minute wander up the pine-needled Conical Hill track, directly behind town, for the best views of Hanmer Springs and the surrounding Hurunui district. The track is sited in the Heritage Forest, a Crown-protected mix of native trees and exotic flora, some of which were planted over one hundred years ago. It’s a hill climb but this zig-zag track is one of the best mountain buggy walks in Hanmer Springs with pleasant seating at the top to enjoy the views. Afterwards, head to the popular Hanmer Thermal Pools and Spa for a relaxing soak their range of hot pools.  


Best pre-schooler activity  

The Tarndale Reserve Fairy Trail takes top prize as the most enchanted of them all when it comes to Hanmer walks. Bewitch the under-fives as they search for brightly coloured miniature doors along the lower Dog Stream track, opposite the Brooke Dawson Reserve. It appears magical fairies exist in this Hanmer Forest walk so expect a lot of noisy door knocking. Encourage the kids to explore the intricately painted facades, door to door and the rock art scattered along the track, for hidden details.  

Top tip: After crossing the Dog Stream bridge, follow the path into the forest. The first fairy door can be seen at child’s height at the base of a tree. Stoop or you might miss it! 


Best wildlife Hanmer Springs 

Combine the fairy trail walk with a visit to the nearby Hanmer Springs Animal Park, just a 10-minute stroll from the village. This is one of the best Hanmer Springs attractions for families as it’s home to twenty-five distinct species of animals, from lambs to llamas and a walk-in wallaby enclosure. The kids are encouraged to handfeed the wallabies and other farm animals. What a delight for little marsupial fans! Pack a picnic, watch the kids jump on the trampoline and enjoy the tranquil surroundings, as your new friends graze close by.  


Best Hanmer Springs attractions for teens 

Treat the teens to an off-road quad bike experience where they’ll forge streams, tackle bumps, and plough through mud. This is one of the more adventurous things to do in Hanmer Springs. The 2-hour tour with the expert guides at Hanmer Springs Quad Biking Tours caters for ages sixteen and above, with absolutely no prior experience needed. Young kids from age four, can jump into an off-road buggy with a parent and enjoy the non-stop thrills too of this rugged back country, most visitors miss. 


Best Hanmer Springs Cheap Eats 

Family holidays should mean a break from cooking, without breaking the bank. For reasonably priced, tasty takeout, check out the menu at PJ’s (who claim to make the best burger in Canterbury). Using locally sourced meat and produce, the PJ signature burger combines Prime North Canterbury beef, cheddar cheese, lettuce, fresh tomato, relish and their very own secret sauce. Visitors consistently rate PJ’s as one of the best burger places to eat in Hanmer Springs. The fish and chips are great too, especially for fussy eaters. 

The sweetest little spot in Hanmer Springs is the famous Fudge Shop on the Conical Hill Road. This team have been churning out mouth-watering sugar, spice and all fudge nice, for 20 years. The kids will squeal over the rainbow of colours displayed behind the counter. Imagine a buttery square of rich gingernut crumble, salted caramel or for a New Zealand twist, pineapple lump fudge. Oh my! Add this decadent den to your Hanmer Springs to do list.   

With so many family-oriented things to do in Hanmer Springs, ask the Bella Vista team for recommendations. They can also book private group tours on your behalf and suggest family-friendly places to eat in Hanmer Springs. 

Six epic Franz Josef walks

Posted by on

Glacier country serves up far more treats than just the Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk and heli-hiking. Look beyond the alpine vistas and you’ll discover mirror-like lakes, ocean views, cascading waterfalls, daisy-laden meadows and hidden forest trails well off the beaten track. Here’s a guide to the best Franz Josef walking tracks, whatever your interests.  


Best glacier views without a helicopter:  Alex Knob Track (8-hour return) 

Accessed from the Glacier Access Road, just south of the Waiho River Bridge, this full day 17-kilometre hike is quite the gut buster and one of the best all-day things to do in Franz Josef. The upside however are the killer Franz Josef Glacier views you’ll be rewarded with on reaching the Alex Knob summit. Leave the more pedestrian sightseeing trails behind and take the zigzag track past rimu, r?t? and k?mahi forest and through alpine meadows to the Rata Lookout.  From there, follow the trail markers to the summit enjoying wider views of glaciers and the Tasman Sea. Climb past the turn-off to Lake Wombat, and the magnificent Franz Josef will come into frame. Push onto the Christmas Lookout and the mighty Alex Knob summit for the best views without flying! 


Best West Coast views and wildlife: Okarito Trig walk (1.5 hours) 

For unbeatable views of the West Coast and Southern Alps, drive 25 minutes seaward to the tiny settlement of Okarito. Jump on the Wetland trail before taking the well-graded Okarito Trig track up to a viewpoint overlooking Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Enjoy views on a clear day of Aoraki Mount Cook, Mount Tasman, the Southern Alps, serene lagoons and the West Coast. Combine your hike with a guided kayak tour across the serene Lake Mapourika, through a hidden estuary to the Jurassic-like Okarito State Forest and the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary. Your knowledgeable local guide will point out the unique wetland birds like the graceful kotoku or white heron. The lagoon’s habitat hosts more than 76 species of birds including the endangered royal spoonbill, so pack your binoculars.  


Best underground walk: Tartare Tunnels walk (1 hr 20 min return

Discover the picturesque Tartare Gorge, glow worms and abandoned moss-covered water tunnels on the 4-kilometre Tartare Tunnels Walk. The trailhead at the end of Cowan Street follows an old road that once led to a hydroelectric power station. Walk past the Callery Walk junction and continue climbing until you drop down into the Tartare Gorge.  

A steep and narrow forest climb from the gorge lookout, reveals the disused tunnels dripping with ankle-deep water and your very own echo-chamber. Top tip: Wear sturdy footwear and a head torch to enter the tunnels then turn off the light to discover your very own reception committee; hundreds of luminous glow worms!  


Most instagrammable track: Lake Matheson (1h 30 min return) 

Famous for its mirror-perfect reflections of New Zealand's highest mountains, Aoraki Mt Cook and Mt Tasman, the Lake Matheson track attracts coach loads of visitors. But with international tourists in short supply, New Zealanders’ currently have this serene spot all to themselves. Lake Matheson is the perfect all-weather walk serving up picture-perfect views, just a 30-minute drive from the Bella Vista motel. Add this short yet picturesque hike to your ‘Franz Josef things to do’ list. 


Best chance of Kiwi spotting: The West Coast Wildlife Centre 

This Franz Josef conservation centre excels at breeding Rowi Kiwi, a rare species of New Zealand’s national bird, and the endangered Tuatara. Take a walk through this attraction on a rainy-day as their guided tours are run indoors.  There’s a dark house to view kiwi’s, a small cinema which screens West Coast documentaries and an indoor glacier experience, making this one of the best Franz Josef things to do with kids.  


Pakihi walk (30 minutes return) 

You’ll rarely spot kiwi on any Franz Josef walking tracks, but this area is home to the rarest species of them all, the little Okarito Brown 

At the trailhead, check out the informative panels before the route takes you across the Pakihi wetland and gently ascends through kamahi and rimu forest to a lookout. Here you’ll enjoy panoramic coastal, rainforest and Okarito Lagoon views, framed by the Southern Alps and Aoraki Mount Cook. 

Whatever your timeframe or fitness level, there’s walks in Franz Josef to suit you. Just ask the Bella Vista team for hiking suggestions and they’ll steer you in the right direction. 

Destination Franz Josef: What to eat, see and do

Posted by on

If you’re planning a road trip down the West Coast, Franz Josef is the perfect base to experience the stunning attractions of Glacier Country. From navigating ice tunnels, to kayaking through a serene lagoon and soaking in natural hot springs, we’ve rounded up the best things in to do in Fran Josef.   


Easiest glacier views 

One of the best walks in Franz Josef is the unique 2-hour Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk. Less than 300 metres above sea level, there’s only two other glaciers in the world so close to the coastline. This hike is one of the best free things to do in Franz Josef, serving up not only views but lush rainforest, babbling brooks, the mighty Waiho River and thunderous waterfalls!  Enjoy scenic views up the valley from the safety barriers, towards the gigantic Franz Josef Glacier, with its creaking crevasses and icy-blue hue. Don’t walk past the barrier as this is alpine country and the conditions can change quickly but look out for kea and the soaring New Zealand falcon, both of which call the valley home.  


Best kayaking experience  

Glide across a pristine rainforest lake with New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki Mt Cook as your backdrop. Kayaking across tranquil Lake Mapourika’s dark tannin-filled waters is like travelling back in time. The remote serenity is only punctured by native bird song and the rhythmic splash of your paddles. (And yet you’re only 25-minutes from Franz Josef village). Book an expert guide at Glacier Country Kayaks or Okarito Kayaks to learn about the Okarito Lagoon eco-system and the wildlife it nurtures. 


A heart pumping heli-hike  

If you want to experience a majestic glacier up close, then book a heli-hike with Franz Josef Glacier Guides and The Helicopter Line. You’ll enjoy over two hours on the ice with your expert guide and all equipment is provided. Experience the adrenalin of a soaring helicopter ride up the valley to an icy ridge. Your guide will escort you across the icescape pointing out glacier features, past and present. Imagine sliding through a tight icy alleyway or crawling through blue tinged tunnels into a shallow ice cave. The guides often remark that no two ice-capades are ever quite the same as the glacier shifts, creaks and moves daily. Advance bookings are recommended, and full refunds guaranteed, if the weather conditions prevent the tour.  


A  rainy day plan 

Add the Lake Matheson track on your Franz Josef things to do list if your heli-hike’s postponed and the rain’s settled in. This all-weather trail provides stunning reflective views of the Southern Alps and a stylish cosy café for brunch or a quick bite. Then drop into the West Coast Wildlife Centre to learn about endangered kiwi and tuatara.  

Head for a soothing soak under a peaceful forest canopy at the rustic wood fired Waiho Hot Tubs or the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools.  For the ultimate indulgence book a treatment at the amazing Amaia Luxury Spa, surely one of Franz Josef’s best kept secrets. What a blissful way to spend your day. 

Mix with the locals over dinner at the charming Alice May gastropub and enjoy hearty West Coast fare in a character setting. The venison sausage with mash and salmon risotto are highly rated but leave room for the decadent chocolate fudge cake. You will want this dessert all to yourself! 

With so many things to do in Franz Josef, ask the Bella Vista Motel team for suggestions. They can provide information on the best walks in Franz Josef, places to eat and tours to book, for a fun and enjoyable stay. 

Epic Franz Josef Heli-Hike

Posted by on

Travel writer, Liz Lyons shares her glacier heli-hike experience, regarding it as one of the best things to do in Franz Josef, hands down. 

While touring New Zealand’s West Coast, we spent two nights in Franz Josef. A mid-morning booking with operator Franz Josef Glacier Guides meant an early departure from Greymouth, 2-hours north on the day of our tour. Rousing two teenage sons before midday is a tortuous ask. Luckily the prospect of ice-caves, a high-speed helicopter ride and a steak’n’cheese pie, perked them up enough to tumble into the car.   

The day had dawned misty, with low cloud and a tour cancellation risk if conditions deteriorated. Luckily the weather brightened, and we were greeted with the constant buzz of silver helicopters as we arrived at the village. A good sign given heli-hiking was number one, on our Franz Josef things to do list!  A quick check in saw us competently fitted out with everything we needed; a warm hat, gloves, waterproof jacket and pants, shoe crampons for ice walking, and a small waterproof bag for phones. We’d dressed warmly, heeding the pre tour advice.  

Besides us, our group of ten consisted mainly of young international visitors. We were the only Kiwi’s, which the reservation agent remarked on when booking the tour. She kindly provided a ‘locals only’ discount for our family of four. 

The short helicopter ride was exhilarating, especially as they put the elderly (me) in the front seat, alongside the pilot. The glassed cockpit provided a bird’s eye view under my feet of the valley’s sheer cliff faces, boulder strewn riverbed and changing terrain. The constant radio chatter through the earphones failed to distract me from the stunning Alps and glacier views as we swooped higher. A snow landing, sudden rush of icy air and crouching exit below the spinning rotor blades, added to the James Bond thrill of the experience.  

The next two hours were spent in the company of our expert guides. Our group was split in half, and after attaching crampons, we scooted our way along the ice. What followed was an informative commentary on one of the most active glaciers you can climb in the world and the damaging impact of climate change. The flow rate on Franz Josef is about ten times that of your typical glacier, and because of this, no one hike is ever the same. Each day the guides undertake an early inspection of the route, cut in step-lines and evaluate the glacier face for hazards, before the first tour group lands. 

On our tour, we squeezed through blue-hued frozen ‘alleys’, hiked up ice walls and crawled through igloo-style tunnels. The kids jumped on a short, steep icy slide to emerge at the end of a cave. At the highest point of the hike, we enjoyed views of the 12-kilometre-long Franz Josef glacier silently creeping down through the valley to almost sea level. We saw chasms, glacial rivers, and rock falls; a visual reminder of the changeable alpine territory we were privileged to visit. 

While the free and accessible Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk provides a great taster, it’s no match for flying up into the Southern Alps, landing on a high-altitude glacier and walking through bejewelled ice forms. Heli hiking Franz Josef Glacier is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially for New Zealanders. We are blessed with beautiful glaciers, natural wonders in our own backyard. Just do it Kiwis, before they melt into oblivion! 

Heli-hiking top tips:  

  • Book a 2-3 night stay in Franz Josef as the heli-hike tours are often cancelled due to weather conditions. Give yourself a day’s wiggle room as there’s plenty of other beautiful walks in Franz Josef to enjoy. 
  • Take a zip lock bag to keep your phone and car keys dry in the supplied bum bag.   
  • Pack a lip balm due to the wind chill.  
  • Conserve your energy while glacier hiking. You may feel tired due to the higher altitude and thinner air.  
  • Enjoy a rejuvenating thermal soak after the heli-hike. (The 'Franz Josef Glacier Guides' tour includes admission to the Franz Josef hot springs, right next door.) 

Ask the Bella Vista team for ideas on things to do in Franz Josef, rain or shine. They can not only advise the best local experiences, but also book tours directly to save you the hassle.  

Dine out Dunedin: best places to eat and drink 

Posted by on

Yes, Dunedin is home to the humble cheese roll, a lip-smacking delicacy that oozes melted pleasure. But look beyond this city’s Scottish heritage and university town façade and you’ll discover stylish cafes, wine bars and hole-in-the-wall eateries, curated by expert chefs and beer brewers. Check out our ‘best restaurants in Dunedin’ guide for creative cuisine and cool surrounds, all served up with genuine Southern hospitality.  


Best Dunedin Italian restaurant  

For ambience, an aperol spritz and Italian comfort food, you can’t go past the Esplanade at St Clair. Enjoy waterfront dining or a hearty brunch, as the waves crash on the shore and sea spray whips the sky. Inside this bright and cosy space, you’ll enjoy wood-fired pizzas and speciality dishes like braised lamb pappardelle or pork and fennel sausage conchiglie. It’s pasta but not as you know it! After eating your fill, roll out into the bracing fresh air and take a stroll along beautiful St Clair Beach, one of the best sea-side walks in Dunedin. This is just a 14-minute drive from our motel in Dunedin. 


Best Dunedin craft beer and food  

While the legendary Dunedin Craft Beer and Food Festival takes place each December, you can enjoy a beer tasting with bites at Emerson’s Brewery Restaurant, all year round. While some might question whether a brewer could excel at both food and beer, Emerson’s have nailed it. With four different takes on fries including poutine, you’ll be hard pressed to choose from the delicious tapas-style menu. Imagine tender lamb loin chops dipped in baba ghanoush or pork belly bites served with lentil dahl, poppadom, and lemon raita. The cosy dining hall also showcases founder Richard Emerson’s impressive collection of railway memorabilia and provides ‘behind the scenes’ views of this working brewery. Making this one of the more character-filled places to eat in Dunedin. 


Best Dunedin student café? 

As a university town, the Good Earth faces stiff competition for the student dollar. But this café’s convenient location to campus, combined with its impressive selection of?organic breads, baked goods and daily specials made from scratch, reels the students in. The light-filled historic building and shady courtyard provide the perfect spot for a relaxing catch up over coffee, beside cafe windowsills laden with homemade chutneys and jams. You’ll feel right at home in this airy setting,  munching on one of their brown butter chocolate cookies. 


Best Dunedin fine dining 

Overlooking St Clair beach, is upstart bistro Titi which is receiving rave reviews for its excellent food, friendly service and carefully curated list of local wines. With a ‘Trust the Chef’ three or five course dégustation menu, choose a main then let their award-winning Chef choose the next two options. This is an opportunity to challenge yourself, but rest assured the food is superb and beautifully presented. What could emerge from the kitchen is the freshest tempura or a duck croquette or a dessert of yuzu cheesecake with white chocolate. Part of the fun is trying to guess what will come next, making this one of the best restaurants in Dunedin to experience nouveau cuisine! 


Mingle with the locals  

Discover the local growers, cheese makers and food purveyors at the Saturday Otago Farmer’s Market. Taste your way around the stalls and food trucks, while enjoying the stunning renaissance-style architecture of the nearby Dunedin Railway Station. It's only five minutes drive from our motel accommodation in Dunedin


Best Dunedin lunch on the go  

Two suggestions here. Pop into Beam Me Up for handcrafted, New York style bagels ranging from jalapeno cheese to blueberry and the standard sesame seed. Stuffed bagels include the Boba Feta, whipped feta, oregano, chives, lemon, garlic and cream cheese or the Vulcan, hot smoked Stewart Island salmon cream cheese with lemon and dill. All lip smacking flavours sure to excite the tastebuds. Pair with any of their barista coffees to complete the experience. This is only 6 minutes from the Dunedin motel

Another popular lunch spot is the Side On bakery on Moray Place. This fully operational bakery produces exquisite sourdough loaves and a range of sweet treats from cardamom buns and almond croissants to cheesecake. If eating in, the halloumi with fried cauliflower, cream cheese, pumpkin seeds, pickles and curry vinaigrette on toast, is one of their enduring bestsellers.  

Ask the Bella Vista team for restaurant recommendations to suit your tastes, because as locals, they know the best food spots, cheap eats and things to do in Dunedin.

Wild about Dunedin: 6 must-do experiences

Posted by on

As the New Zealand city closest to Antarctica, Dunedin combines natural beauty with cosmopolitan chic. With its volcanic origins, rugged coastline and abundant wildlife, the Otago Peninsular is New Zealand’s answer to the Galapagos Islands, but with great Dunedin food and coffee! There’s plenty of epic things to do in Dunedin so here’s a nature lover’s guide to the area’s best attractions. 


Best wildlife spotting 

Dunedin is a habitat for rare wildlife. On the Otago Peninsula, you can spot little blue or yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals, sea lions and The Royal Albatross Centre, home to the only mainland breeding colony of Northern Royal Albatross in the world. Take a guided tour and explore hidden underground tunnels underneath the albatross colony, to view these magnificent birds up close. A separate observatory provides a nursery for parents raising their young albatross chicks. On a breezy day, watch the adult albatross take to the skies with their huge 3-metre wingspan. This is only 45 45-minute drive from the Dunedin motel accommodation. 

A visit to the Orokonui Ecosanctuary, 20 kilometres north of our Dunedin motel, will reveal more native wildlife within its huge predator-free enclosure. Tuatara lizards, Otago Skinks and seventeen species of native birds, including the rarest Haast tokoeka kiwi, thrive at Orokonui. The Ecosanctuary has created a crèche where up to fourteen baby kiwi are nurtured, until they can defend themselves in South Westland from their stoat predators.  


For garden lovers 

One of the best walks in Dunedin is through the delightful Dunedin Botanic Gardens, with its Edwardian Winter Garden and glorious Rhododendron Dell. Stroll the hillside paths and breathe in the scents of camellia and the striking Cedars of Lebanon. This is only 7-minutes walk from our Dunedin motel accommodation.


Best natural history experience 

A 9-minute walk from our Dunedin motels is a fantastic rainy-day activity is The Otago Museum, Dunedin which showcases nature, culture, and science from New Zealand and around the world. For the kids, there’s a three-story slide, a bike-riding skeleton, a Moa diorama and an indoor Tropical Forest where you can walk amongst a thousand rain forest butterflies, which flit around and often land on your hand. Because the Museum is a magnet for local schools, the exhibits are interesting and interactive. There’s even an animal attic, a Victorian-inspired zoological gallery, with nearly 3,000 historical specimens, including lions which escaped from a traveling circus!  


Most dramatic landscape  

If you love rugged coastline, sealions, unusual rock forms and sliding down golden sand dunes, then head to Sandfly Bay, one of the Dunedin beaches you don’t want to miss. Don’t fret about sandflies, as the name Sandfly Bay refers to the sand which scoots across the beach in strong winds.  

Grab a delicious lunch from Marbecks Foodstore at the Wall Street Mall, before the 20-minute drive to the track head. A grazing platter of cheeses, condiments, premium salami and a baguette, will provide the perfect picnic to refuel after a short hike to the bay. 

On arrival, follow the track to Sandfly Bay over farmland, while pausing at the optimally located viewing platforms, which frame stunning coastal views, including the aptly named Lion Rock, a small knoll beyond the breakers. 


Best secret beach and creepy castle 

Once the private domain of the influential Cargill family, discover mysterious Tunnel Beach, Dunedin on the spectacular Otago coastline with its wind-battered arches, sandstone cliffs and headlands. Follow the steep path from the carpark before it disappears into an arched tunnel, hand forged by the 1870’s owner of Cargill Castle. As you descend the steps to this secluded beach, where the Cargill daughters once sunbathed, swam and searched for fossils, you’ll understand why the Tunnel Beach Track is regarded as one of the best things to do in Dunedin. Tunnel Beach is a short car ride from our Dunedin motels.

While Cargill’s Castle is now in ruins, it’s still visible from the street, where it continues to command outstanding views of the ocean and Dunedin’s southern coastline. 

Whatever your interests, whether it’s bird watching or hiking, the Bella Vista team can provide suggestions on the best walks in Dunedin and the Otago region’s bountiful natural attractions.