Our free trip to New Zealand was unbelievable! Day 4 of this trip is one of the 3 most memorable days of my life. This trip and especially Day 4 was an experience of a lifetime. We sure hope that more of you will be on future Watkins trips with us. 

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Some of the Summit Group Members who earned the trip (left to right) Steve Bretzke, Jan Robinson, Randy Robinson, Ann Marie Regan, Peter Regan. The other SG members, the Whitehursts were site-seeing around New Zealand on an airplane when this was taken.This is the view looking out from the bedroom and living room of our luxury 'condo' (pix & more about that later) in Queenstown at the Millbrook Resort. I took this picture with my camera and a self timer and ran to get in the picture. The camera was sitting on my home made "tripod" - 2 chairs with a cutting board spanning them.


Auckland, New Zealand – Day 1

Tuesday evening we caught Air New Zealand Flight 1 from LA. We crossed the international Date Line and lost Wednesday, March 3rd during the trip.


Carlton Hotel

At the New Zealand airport in Auckland we were all glad to get off the plane. Most of us didn’t sleep very much. We arrived at the Carlton Hotel, our bags there waiting for us in our room as usual. Watkins takes care of all of the mundane things most travellers have to deal with. The rooms were quite nice!


Aukland Skytower

After visiting our hotel briefly to freshen up, we headed to the Sky Tower revolving restaurant for lunch. The Sky Tower is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere. The food was great.  The beautiful bay and cityscape in the background is not a picture –  that was our view! 

Left to Right - Walter, Steve, Peter, Ann Marie, Loretta, Jan.








After lunch, we took a tour around town and saw that Auckland is a very picturesque city. 


Thousands of ships docked in the bay


Randy watching a manta ray up close








We ended up at the Kelly Tarlson Antarctica museum which was a simulation of an Antarctica camp. It gave us a good idea of how the explorers live when they go to Antarctica. And we saw a habitat with penguins and there was a tunnel under water that we could walk through and could watch sharks, eels, rays, and other ocean creatures close up. That was fascinating!



Left to right, Loretta Whitehurst, Lynn Zielke, Dawn Thompson, Jan Robinson


Some of the women had fun putting their faces in a cardboard cutout here. 








The Lodge, a private homestead with beautiful gardens, amazing flowers

After the Antarctica adventure, we went back to the room to get ready for Dinner! Watkins took us to The Lodge.




Jan and Randy in the gardens




We had a reception and a wonderful New Zealand Dinner.


Stuffed and happy, we head back to the hotel and everybody gets their first good nights sleep.


Queenstown, New Zealand – Day 4


Jan and Randy Robinson on the Earnslaw stern-wheel paddleboat, Lake Wakatipu




Our aerial view of New Zealand


We were told to put our bags outside our door at 7:15am Sunday morning. At 8:30 afer a quick breakfast we boarded the bus to the airport and boarded the plane to Queenstown. Auckland is on the North Island and Queenstown is on the South Island, so we flew over a lot of beautiful, scenic New Zealand on the way. 







View of Queenstown airport

As we neared Queenstown, the views were ‘postcard’ everywhere you looked. The view as we were about to land was unbelievable! 






Jan and Randy at the Queenstown Airport









Jan getting in the helicopter


We walked around the other side of the airport (very small airport) and were whisked away in helicopters


In this picture, you can see the plane we just left (top), the small airport terminal (middle) the rest of the group waiting for their helicopter, and a small blue stunt plane (bottom) which does stunt flying - which you can ride in! That would have been fun, but we didn't get to it.








We flew the helicopters over mountains, over rivers, through valleys, and would have had lots of great photos if I hadn’t run out of film.  The ride was great fun for both Jan and me (and I assume everyone else) and I tried to talk them into taking me back and forth to the airport again, but there wasn’t enough room <sigh>. We soon landed at a New Zealand ranch where we were scheduled for an outdoor BBQ .



Moonlight Estates

The ranch was called Moonlight Estates, and in this picture you’ll see a tent structure in the center – that’s where we had a great BBQ meal, New Zealand style (which seemed an awful lot like US style too, but had lamb meat added). On the left you’ll see some horses and on the right are the stables. The sun was beating down and we found a few bottles of Watkins sun screen and everyone shared.

After the BBQ, they brought out dessert, my favorite part of any meal, and it was New Zealand ice cream. I didn’t expect much, but it may have been the best ice cream I’ve ever had! It was raspberry, I believe.



Skeet shooting range


So after dessert, we divided into 2 groups, one group got in vehicles, the other got on horses. We headed out to a skeet shooting range. Of course the group in the vehicles got there first, which included all of the Summit Group members.





Randy shooting

At the skeet shooting range, we all took our turn to shoot at the clay pigeons with a shotgun. Laurine Huston won the female competition and tied with the top male winners too with 7 out of 10 hits. There were 4 males tied for first place, Randy Robinson (the “me” in this story, even though Jan helped with the text), Walter Whitehurst, Shawn Bandick, and Bonnie’s Guest, Peter. So we had a “shoot off” to determine the winner. As I was shooting my first shot, I had it, I knew I had it, it was right in my sights, I knew it so much that my focus was gone and I missed it! So Shawn Bandick won the competition.

As group 1 was getting close to finishing their competition, group 2 on the horses were just over the hill. And 3 steps away from getting off the horses, unfortunately, Watkins Corporate Staff Delores Antunes fell off of her horse as it came down a hill and she broke 4 ribs and her collar bone. She was in pain and we had a short time of anxiety wondering how badly she was hurt, but help came quickly and she went to the hospital in Queenstown. This was the first injury in Watkins trip history according to Lynn Zielke, trip coordinator for Watkins. When we heard that she had broken bones and did not have internal injuries or other very serious problems, the whole group was relieved, though still concerned about her.

Group 2 finished their skeet competition (and I don’t know who won!) and it was group 1’s turn to horseback ride back to the ranch. For some reason, there weren’t too many people who wanted to ride the horses back. The Summit Group members took the van back. 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, 4-wheel drive vehicles had gathered, waiting for us. We were in for quite a ride!


4-wheeler rushing through the river bed


We loaded up into the 4-wheel drives and headed out at a quick pace. We drove through rivers, over large rocks, and up hills/mountains. 




Looking over the edge of the small dirt road we're rushing over


 The edge picture is what we saw looking out the window of the 4-wheeler – couldn’t see road – just a drop of hundreds of feet down the side of the mountain to the river. All the time, slipping and sliding on the dirt road. If you look closely, you’ll see the river at the bottom of the drop – it’s the grey area. It was a lot of fun, a bit scary, and I’m very happy we did it!



Our driver/guide giving lesson with Steve Bretzke, Jan Robinson, and Shawn Bandick watching intently



As we are driving through all of this, our driver is describing how the river we are travelling through and over, is the richest river in the world for GOLD! And at the end of the thrilling ride, we all get out, get a lesson on panning for gold and are given our own pans and we start looking for the yellow stuff.


In my first pan, I found what looked like gold. I showed it to our guide. He said, “Oh, that’s nothing.” and promptly stuck it in his pocket. He did the same thing with Jan and several others. It’s some kind of running joke, but I wonder if it’s also how he gets his tips!

After a while, we got back in the 4-wheeler and experienced another thrilling ride back.


Millbrook Resort


We rode vans to our “hotel” which we were seeing for the first time. It’s called the Millbrook Resort. I don’t know what to call our room. It was much more than a room. More like a condo. Full (small) kitchen with dishwasher, oven/stove, microwave, fridge, dishes, utensils, etc. Living room with TV and VCR.


The view from our living room


Bedroom with huge bed with thick down comforter – Jan and I agreed – the most comfortable bed we’ve ever slept in. When I layed down on it, it was like heaven. Next to the bed was a Bose stereo system with Bose speakers mounted high on the walls, with CD and radio.


That's us and the view from our living room with the doors open.

The bathroom had a huge tub  you could fit 4 people in and heated towel racks to keep your towels warm, glass shower stall, marble sinks and counter. Luxurious is the best description of this ‘room.’






Jan and Randy Robinson on the Earnslaw stern-wheel paddleboat, Lake Wakatipu

So, we got back to our room, freshened up, dressed and took off to board the Earnslaw stern-wheel paddleboat and boated down Lake Wakatipu. It was great fun. There were hors d’oeuvers of all kinds, drinks and the most beautiful scenery.





Walter Peak Station

We went up the 50 mile long lake for about 20 miles to Walter Peak Station, a sheep ranch and more. There, we enjoyed a 3 hour multi-course meal in elegent Kiwi style. Towards the end of the meal, I wandered outside to enjoy the view and the quiet for a minute and saw an small animal wandering around the grounds. It was a wild hedgehog. It was fun watching it sniffing around for food. It didn’t even notice I was there, until there were 4 or 5 of us out there watching. After the meal, we went out to the “barn” and watched a demonstration of their well-trained Australian Sheepdogs round up sheep with whistle signals. They brought out some furry cattle and let people sit on it and get their picture taken (we didn’t do it), and demonstrated how to shear sheep. We all called this our midnight sheep shearing demonstration.

We took a fast hydroplaning boat back to Queenstown and taxis back to our rooms for a well-earned, great night’s sleep in our wonderful bed.



Queenstown, New Zealand – Day 5



This morning we woke up and had our leisure breakfast buffet as usual in the Millbrook Resort restaurant. We were told that today, we were going to get wet! So shorts were the order of the day. However, when we got out of our room, we noticed it was a bit chili! Someone said it was going to warm up quickly. Even so, I was about to go back and wear something warmer than shorts and a T-shirt, but it appeared the bus was leaving soon, and after all, they said it would warm up soon.

We also left both of our cameras in our room and took our “underwater” camera which could get wet, but didn’t give us the same quality photos as our other cameras.


View from the bus - can't see the road, just the drop-off

The bus ride was quite interesting. It was almost a match for the 4-wheel drive yesterday. The bus was cruising along at a good clip, on a road that wound around the moutains, following the lake we had steamboated through last night. Looking out the bus window, not seeing the road – only a steep dropoff was a bit exciting.

Every now and then there was a short railing alongside the road, but in my opinion, they weren’t in the places where they were really needed! The road had just been ‘sealed’ (paved) a couple years ago. Before then, it was a major trek from Queenstown to the Dart River. It’s about an hour and a half from Queenstown to the Dart River where we went.


We're waiting to get on the jet boats. Notice the shorts!

We arrived and got into our wet gear and couldn’t help but notice that it hadn’t warmed up! I was starting to get a little worried.


Passing one of the others going upstream

We board the jetboats and head upriver. Going upriver against the current we travel about 30 mph, and it’s coooolllllddd in them shorts! We travelled miles and miles upriver – I estimate we went about 40 miles upriver and it was a great adventure! We were really in the wilderness. The river is fed by glaciers, but we didn’t go all the way to the glaciers <g>. The group was boarded on 3 different boats and every now and then we passed or were passed by one of the others. 


Looking out at the river from inside the very cool alcove

On the way up, we stopped at a little alcove which was really cool. None of our pictures show a fraction of the coolness of it. It was created by an earthquake and the water there is 70 feet deep. While inside, there were crevices and rocks and the boat had to wiggle it’s way in because the entrance was just barely big enough.




Me and Steve Bretzke on the jetboat - freezing!

Jan was smarter than the rest of us and had dressed warmly. She saw how cold I was and being the nice person she is, she insisted we change places. Finally, I gave in and I sat in the middle. It was much warmer there! But I think Steve was getting most of the cold wind on his side. He was a trooper though. Jan has the camera now and took this shot of me and Steve.

We got to one point in the river and we turned around. The driver said we were now going to be going fast (I thought we were going pretty fast on the way up) and he showed us a hand signal. He said when he puts his fist up in the air, we were all to hold on tight! 


A typical view from the jetboat

When he held his fist up, we held on, and he would then, going full speed, throw the boat in a 360 degree spin. Peter, behind us, got the brunt of the huge amounts of water which flowed in when he did this. We were soaked but having a blast! We were going 50+mph going downstream and the ride back took a lot less time. He would head right towards rocks or trees and at the last minute, swish out of the way and we would go around it – barely. I never could get a picture of this (I was holding on when *we* did it, and I never caught a picture of one of the other boats doing it.




We saw great wilderness scenery both ways.


When we returned, we headed to the Glenrouchy Hotel to eat. This was probably the best tasting meal of the trip for me. They brought out hot rocks (slabs of granite) to each of us which they had heated to 400 degrees celcius (that’s 752 degrees Farenheit) with lamb, chicken and beef cooking as we ate it. There were great vegatables and fixings that I added to the rock and it was delicious. There was a fireplace there which was the center of attention most of the time with people standing around it warming up and drying off.


We returned to the resort, and the Summit Group members had a long chat with President Mark Jacobs. That evening we had a casual barbeque dinner at the Resort Restaurant which as very good. There was a live guitarist who was really great and I meant to buy one of her CD’s, but I had a bit to drink and forgot. Jan wanted to hang around, but I went back to our room and the Summit Group members sat around and chatted for a long time (minus Jan). It got pretty late and Jan still hadn’t gotten back so I headed back down to the restaurant and found her, Dawn Thompson, and Lynn Zielke giggling away like teenagers on the resaurant patio. Pat Satola was just leaving and he was giggling in his own way – I wasn’t sure he was going to find his way back to his room. But I was pretty sure the 3 girls weren’t going to find their way back, so I stayed a while and we soon got a driver to drive us back to our room in a golf cart. I apprently didn’t take my camera to this dinner because there isn’t one picture of it.

And that ended our second day in Queenstown.

We have not posted photos from day 2, 3, 6, or 7. Just not enough time in the day!