New Zealand by Escorted Coach Tour – A Great Way to Go!

Lake Tekapo 3

Spectacular Lake Tekapo

We are often asked whether holidaying in New Zealand is better by self driving a rental car or by joining an escorted coach tour.  Of course, there are pro’s and con’s that need to be considered and it largely depends on the style of vacation that suits you best.

Guided coach tours certainly offer relaxing days when you can ease back into your comfortable coach seat and enjoy New Zealand’s spectacular scenery through wide panoramic windows.  Being more elevated in the coach means you’ll see everything!

Having a professional driver, and often a tour director as well,  means all the daily logistics and details are taken care of.  You’ll depart each morning on time so that there is no rushing during the day.  Refreshment and photo stops are synchronised and any activities planned for the day are carefully scheduled.  It might sound a little “organised”, but it works and you don’t have to think about anything.  Each day will roll out beautifully.  Your luggage will be magically delivered to your room each night, you’ll always have a seat in the hotel restaurant for dining and you’ll always arrive at sightseeing and activities right on time.

When selecting an escorted coach tour, take into account the number of days you have available for your New Zealand tour, the standard and style of accommodation you prefer and the meals & sightseeing included.  Some people prefer all meals to be included, others like to have more options to dine out independently.  For excellent value for your holiday dollar, low cost escorted tours that stay in good quality 3-3.5 star tourist hotels will be the way to go.  If you prefer a little more luxury with a premium guided tour, then look for tours staying at 4 star hotels and resorts.

Peppers Bluewater

Peppers Bluewater Resort

You’ll be travelling with other people and this can be a wonderful opportunity to socialise and make new friends from all around the world.  Typically the maximum coach capacity will be 48 people, travelling in comfort with onboard bathroom and dual doors for easy entry and exit.  Although the coach capacity might be 48, often some departures will have fewer people.   If you prefer a more intimate experience, a “small group” tour might be more suitable.  These tend to travel in smaller coaches, typically without onboard bathroom, and can visit gorgeous places just a little off the beaten track.

Glendhu Bay 2

Glendhu Bay, Wanaka

 

If the choices seem a little mind-boggling, free free to contact us for some good, sound advice on manager@southpacifictravellers.co.nz.

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New Zealand by Escorted Coach Tour – A Great Way to Go!

Lake Tekapo 3

Spectacular Lake Tekapo

We are often asked whether holidaying in New Zealand is better by self driving a rental car or by joining an escorted coach tour.  Of course, there are pro’s and con’s that need to be considered and it largely depends on the style of vacation that suits you best.

Guided coach tours certainly offer relaxing days when you can ease back into your comfortable coach seat and enjoy New Zealand’s spectacular scenery through wide panoramic windows.  Being more elevated in the coach means you’ll see everything!

Having a professional driver, and often a tour director as well,  means all the daily logistics and details are taken care of.  You’ll depart each morning on time so that there is no rushing during the day.  Refreshment and photo stops are synchronised and any activities planned for the day are carefully scheduled.  It might sound a little “organised”, but it works and you don’t have to think about anything.  Each day will roll out beautifully.  Your luggage will be magically delivered to your room each night, you’ll always have a seat in the hotel restaurant for dining and you’ll always arrive at sightseeing and activities right on time.

When selecting an escorted coach tour, take into account the number of days you have available for your New Zealand tour, the standard and style of accommodation you prefer and the meals & sightseeing included.  Some people prefer all meals to be included, others like to have more options to dine out independently.  For excellent value for your holiday dollar, low cost escorted tours that stay in good quality 3-3.5 star tourist hotels will be the way to go.  If you prefer a little more luxury with a premium guided tour, then look for tours staying at 4 star hotels and resorts.

Peppers Bluewater

Peppers Bluewater Resort

You’ll be travelling with other people and this can be a wonderful opportunity to socialise and make new friends from all around the world.  Typically the maximum coach capacity will be 48 people, travelling in comfort with onboard bathroom and dual doors for easy entry and exit.  Although the coach capacity might be 48, often some departures will have fewer people.   If you prefer a more intimate experience, a “small group” tour might be more suitable.  These tend to travel in smaller coaches, typically without onboard bathroom, and can visit gorgeous places just a little off the beaten track.

Glendhu Bay 2

Glendhu Bay, Wanaka

 

If the choices seem a little mind-boggling, free free to contact us for some good, sound advice.

Hot Water Beach Fun

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Hot Water Beach pools
Hot Water Beach

Who would think that $5 could buy so much fun?  At Hot Water Beach you can rent a spade for $5 and dig your own personal hot water pool.

The Coromandel Peninsula is renowned for its long summer, sparkling sun, the bluest of sea and white sand. Beautiful coves and bays adorn the eastern coastline, offering safe and spectacular beach playgrounds.

At Hot Water Beach, just south of Hahei, there is something very unique to enjoy. For the 2 hours each side of low tide, hot water seeps up through the sand on the beach, offering the perfect opportunity for a hot pool soak.

The easiest way to create your own pool is to rent a spade from the Hot Water Beach shop for $5, draw straws amongst your group to decide who is the best digger and start having fun. Pick your spot along the beach, mark out your swimming pool perimeter and dig down just far enough to create hot water pools to languish in.

Hot Water Beach family fun

Family fun at Hot Water Beach

It’s not elegant, but it is a lot of fun. When you get too hot, it’s just a short stroll to the shoreline where gentle ocean waves are perfect for cooling off. The beach is kid friendly and you’ll find the children will love building sandcastles and doing all the usual beach things as well as enjoy their own hot pool. It’s great in the summer, but can get a bit crowded, so if you’re in the area during the spring or autumn you’ll find fewer people, more space and the water is just as hot. Parking is also a lot easier.

When it’s time to go, you can wash off the sand at the cold water shower outside the shop and return your spade. The shop also has useful items for sale such as sunhats, sunglasses, jandels, swimwear, even surfboard rental.

Whether you are a family, a group of friends or a couple, you’ll find a pool just the perfect size. Because the digging is up to you – it’s worth the effort!

Hot Water Beach romance

Romance at Hot Water Beach

Cruising Akaroa Harbour – Dolphins and More

Akaroa Nature Cruise

The stunningly beautiful environment of Akaroa Harbour is renowned as being home to the rare hectors dolphins, but there is much more.

Something special happens every day at Akaroa when “Into the Blue” gently eases away from the jetty for its very intimate cruise of Akaroa Harbour.  This modern, well-appointed vessel is the perfect size to maximise the nature cruise experience, being relatively small, but fast and stable for easy cruising.  From the first step on board the warm hospitality of the crew is very apparent with friendly smiles, a complimentary drink (juice, water or wine!) and efficient safety briefing.  Forget your sunblock?  No worries, there is some on board!

In some ways Akaroa Harbour is an understatement.  The setting is truly spectacular, the colours vivid, but once the skipper begins his comprehensive commentary, the detail of the Maori and European history, volcanic geology and rare wildlife really comes alive.

Akaroa Harbour Cliffs

The rare hectors dolphins are the star performers of the trip.  These are the smallest and rarest dolphin in the world and they are now totally protected in the marine reserve in and around the harbour.  Some 1100 reside here so spotting them is quite a common occurance – although of course never guaranteed.  Such are the whims of the wild!  November to February/March is the best time to view the mothers and calves as they cavort around the bow waves.

But this nature cruise offers so much more.  We also saw the very cute blue penguins, flipping around fishing for their lunch.  Fur seals lazing on the warm rocks in the sun are a bit harder to spot, but once you see one,  you’ll see lots as your eyes adjust to distinguish between a rock and a seal.   The birdlife is amazing, particularly seeing the nesting sites high up on the cliffs.  And their fishing prowess is very enviable!

Akaroa Harbour Cruise

There is ample comfortable seating on board, either on the lower or upper deck, plus inside the weather-proof saloon area.  Tea/coffee is available and on the return trip back to the jetty fresh-baked cookies are served!  A delicious touch!

Akaroa can easily be visited from Christchurch, being just a 1 hour, 15 mins drive away, or you can overnight in the village and enjoy the seaside atmosphere.  The dolphin cruise departs daily (several times daily in the summer), duration approx 2.5 hours.  A wonderful, relaxing trip that comfortably combines spectacular scenery, wildlife and fresh ocean air.  The “Into the Blue” is perfect for small-group cruising so reservationsare highly recommended.

Queenstown LOTR & Much More Tour

This small group 4WD LOTR tour is a great combination of LOTR film locations, stunning outback alpine scenery and river gold panning.

Queenstown and Lord of the Rings are two world-renowned names and when they’re combined in to this half day tour, it’s magic!

LOTR - Film Location Deer Park HeightsWe explored the highlights and backroads of the Wakatipu Basin by tough, late model 4WD, visiting several LOTR film locations and enjoying the stunning alpine scenery around Queenstown.  Amazingly, the tour is quite close to Queenstown and yet a thrilling world away.

For adventurous LOTR fans this tour is the perfect combination of visits to several LOTR locations as well as outback 4WD river fording, gold panning and driving remote cliff-hanging roads.

Our small group guided tour departed Queenstown and headed for a remote lookout point overlooking Deer Park Heights and up to the “Misty Mountains”.  We saw where the Pillars of the Kings was filmed in the rugged Kawarau Gorge before driving across the Wakatipu Basin to the historic gold mining village of Arrowtown.  Here is where the loss of The One Ring at Gladden Fields was filmed.  To get to the Ford of Bruinen film location we criss-crossed the Arrow River several times.  Clearly the trick is to put the foot down on the peddle, keep moving and don’t worry about the water washing up over the hood!  Nature’s carwash!

Morning tea was laid out on the afore-mentioned, now clean, hood of the 4WD before we tried our hand at gold panning in the Arrow River.  Yes!  We struck gold, one flake and several pieces of gold dust.  Not exactly a gold rush but a lot of fun.

Kawarau Gorge, Pillars of the KingsWe then headed up the road to Coronet Peak ski area, turning off on to the 4WD road that winds its way into the remote and very spectacular Skippers Canyon.  At this stage everyone is hoping not to encounter an on-coming vehicle because passing bays are hard to come by and the sheer drop into the canyon goes down a l-o-n-g way!  The photo ops of Skippers Canyon and the Wakatipu Basin are amazing.

This trip punches above its weight in terms of value, with a winning combination of diverse and spectacular alpine scenery and LOTR film sites and stories.  The trip is operated by the very experienced and professional team at Nomad Safaris, departs twice daily from central Queenstown and is away for approx 4 hours.

Even for people who have visited Queenstown before, this tour still reveals new dimensions, with an informative commentary about local history, wildlife as well as stories and snippets about the LOTR filming.  A lot of fun!

For more top sightseeing options around New Zealand.

New Zealand – with a Lord of the Rings twist

Travel around New Zealand on a self holiday and you will recognise breathtaking alpine landscapes from the world-famous LOTR and Hobbit movies.

Welcome to HobbitonNew Zealand is LOTR through and through.  Of course one of the most well known features of the movies is Hobbiton, which was built on a ten acre site within a working and very picturesque sheep and beef farm near Matamata.  Matamata is only 2 hours’ drive south-east of Auckland so if you’re heading to Rotorua, call in for a Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tour.  This outstanding guided tour is approximately 2 hours and you’ll hear fascinating details on how the Hobbiton set was created.  After your tour, Rotorua is just one hour’s drive away.  Depending on your travel arrangements you may prefer to combine Waitomo Caves with Hobbiton on a day trip from Auckland.
The Weta CaveOf course, Wellington is truly the middle of Middle Earth and if you’re a fan, then a minimum 2 night stop is essential here.  Mount Victoria, in the central city, is where the very first footage of The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed in 1999.  The Embassy Theatre which hosted the movie premiers, Weta Cave Museum, Stone Street Studios, Lyall Bay…. Outer Shire, Isengard, Rivendell, River Anduin, Fords of Isen…  The easiest way to visit all of these wonderful icons is by guided tour so that you hear all the inside secrets as well!

In the South Island the breathtaking alpine landscapes of Mt Potts Station, located in the foothills west of Christchurch,  were transformed into Edoras, the capital of Rohan. Rocky outcrops formed from ancient glaciers include Mt Sunday which was used to create Edoras and Meduseld.  Again, a full day guided tour featuring stunningly beautiful lakes, rivers and mountains by 4WD is a great day out for LOTR fans.  See some of the Misty Mountains and the backdrop for Helms Deep.

Further south near Twizel you’ll discover Gondor!  Located on private land, it is not open to the public so a 2 hour local guided tour is essential for access.  You’ll be on location  with 360 degree views over the Pelennor Battlefield and the White Mountains.

And, of course, no visit to New Zealand is complete without experiencing Queenstown, itself surrounded by LOTR film locations. The full day guided tour here includes over 20 film locations plus a rare collection of costume items and weapons from the trilogy for you to photograph.


Remember that all these film sites are outdoors and many are in romote locations.  You’ll need to be reasonably fit to enjoy the walking and take a warm layer of clothing in case the weather turns unexpectedly, which is can do in alpine areas.

If LOTR and Hobbit movies are essential to your New Zealand vacation, then a well planned itinerary is a must to ensure you see the highlights.  If you prefer to create your own self drive holiday, with a LOTR twist, take some expert local advice during your planning stages to ensure you’re in the right place with sufficient time to enjoy the LOTR highlights.

The End!

Golf Queenstown and Around

The Queenstown region offers superb golfing opportunities, including international standard resort courses and an excellent range of local golf clubs.

If you’re planning some time in Queenstown and wondering whether to pack your golf shoes, then don’t hesitate!  The region offers an excellent range of golfing experiences that will delight recreational and scratch handicappers alike.

Millbrook Golf and Spa ResortThe big hitting names include the well established and world-renowned Millbrook Resort and the newer designer Jacks Point on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.  Millbrook is located15 minutes from Queenstown, near the historic Arrowtown village which is just 5 minutes away. This championship 27 hole course has been voted Best Golf Resort in New Zelaand in 2011, 2012 and 2013 by the World Travel Awards.  Millbrook offers 5 star resort facilities including self contained villas, 4 outstanding restaurants and world class spa facilities which are ranked in the Top Ten Hotel Spas in the world. Millbrook ticks all the boxes, the golf is challenging – beware the long grass in the rough, it’s perilous!

Arrow Town Golf CourseArrowtown boasts its own golf club with a very distinctive flavor.  A round there is a game of 2 halves, with the landscape of the front nine resembling a moonscape.  A slightly wayward tee shot landing on a rock outcrop can have your ball pinging on to the neighbouring fairway.  Across the road, the back nine is still challenging but less prone to unexpected surprises.

The Queenstown Golf Club is located on the Kelvin Heights peninsula, approximately 15 minutes’ drive from central Queenstown.  The location is sensational with the Remarkables mountain range providing a rugged alpine backdrop and with long lake vistas across Lake Wakatipu.  Excellent views from the top of the hill!

Wanaka Golf CourseJust an hour away from Queenstown, the Wanaka Golf Club is surely located on some of the best real estate in the region.  Outstanding lake and mountain views of the Mt Aspiring National Park are easy distractions.  The course is gently undulating with some elevated tees so expect a slow round if you have your camera handy!

For a genuine local golf experience, enjoy the warm hospitality at the Cromwell Golf Club, a 45 minute drive from Queenstown in the heart of the Bannockburn wine region.  A morning round followed by lunch and wine at one of the many boutique wineries can be a perfect day out.  If you can’t guarantee your golf, you can at least guarantee to experience world-class wine!

If you are looking for a truly rural experience, try a round at the Tarras Golf Club.  You’ll be sharing the fairways with a local mob of sheep and need to be careful that you only hit the white ball, not any of the little black ones!  A lot of fun, outstanding scenery, but you probably won’t want to put your card in!

If playing a round at a resort or major club is a “must do”,  then it would be prudent to plan your trip and have your tee times pre-booked so that you avoid tournaments and/or club events.  Planning assistance is available to ensure a perfect balance between sightseeing and golf opportunities or you may prefer to take adventage of self drive golf itineraries that already have all the planning done.

If you are on a freewheeling self drive holiday, then you’ll see ample opportunities to enjoy a local club round en route.  Just call in.  If the club house is unattended, you’ll see the honesty box and cards by the window!

As for golf holidays in other regions?  Watch this space!

Hokitika, West Coast, New Zealand

Whitebait Pizza Hokitika

Who would think of putting whitebait on a pizza?  Well, in Hokitika, a cool little seaside town on the West Coast of the South Island, a local chef decided to combine the local delicacy, whitebait, with an all-time favourite, pizza.

The Hokitika River is a renowned whitebaiting mecca.  During the whitebaiting season, which runs September through to November, intrepid locals can be found at their favourite hideout along the riverbank, whitebait net at the ready for these tiny, delicate fish to come swimming along.

Most of the activity is at the river mouth, which is a short, easy stroll from the town centre, although there are prime whitebait stands all along the riverbank, discretely camouflaged amongst the foliage.  Whitebait is highly prized and most baiters are content with providing this tiny translucent fish for friends, family and freezer.  Others however have a more commercial eye, especially when it retails for NZ$100 per kilo!

Back to the pizza.  Take a fresh, soft pizza base, turned up a little at the sides, and smear it with garlic butter.  Add a handful of whitebait carefully mixed together with a beaten egg and little milk.  Season and pour over the pizza base.  Generously sprinkle with capers.  You get the idea, but leave it to the experts in Hokitika!  Picture the late afternoon sun setting on the Tasman Sea, a rustic table overlooking the rugged stoney beach, a delicious whitebait pizza and a cold New Zealand beer. Or take it back to yourmotel.  It doesn’t get better!

Hokitika is a great place to spend a night or two, with outstanding alpine and ocean scenery, excellent local walking trails, the new Treetops Walkway, glowworm dell and world renowned greenstone factory where carvers create masterpieces from local jade. Your New Zealand holiday will be better for a stay in Hoki!

If good food and wine is a priority for your New Zealand self drive vacation, plan your itinerary and stopovers so that you have time to relax and enjoy each destination’s specialities.

Hokitika, West Coast, New Zealand

Hokitika Walkways

This cool little West Coast town, Hokitika, has some outstanding walkways that are very family-friendly and breathtakingly beautiful.

Hokitika is definately a cool little town.  Located mid-way down the South Island’s West Coast, it delivers a genuine New Zealand small town experience.  Not a traffic light anywhere, outstanding alpine and forest scenery, glorious sunsets, wild coastline and an equally wild gold-rush history.  It’s easy to walk around and has a delightfully quirky beachside character.

Lake KaniereLake Kaniere has to be one of the West Coast’s hidden jewels.  Just 20 minute’s drive from Hokitika’s town centre, its crystal clear water and rugged snow-capped mountain backdrop provide perfect pictures without even trying.  You can’t help but be a world-class photographer with scenery like this!  Walk the lake shore, take the short 5 minute track through the rainforest to Dorothy Falls or seek out the nearby historic water-race walkway.  It’s signposted at the lakefront and provides an easy walking trail for the family through regenerating forest and bush.  The flat terrain is OK for little feet, but not strollers – at least not yet.  It is currently being upgraded for easier walking and cycling and is a one way track.

West Coast Treetop Walkway TowerIf you drive just a few minute’s south of Hokitika, you’ll come across a signpost and carpark for the Mananui Tramline. This historic tramline was used in days gone by to transport logs out of the forest.  Now restored as a walkway, it’s flat terrain makes for easy family walking through forest and bush, with excellent boardwalks over swampy areas.  One way it is 6km which takes approximately 2 hours, so pack a lunch and make a day of it.  There are plenty of picturesque spots to stop and savour the outstanding views.  Another option is to hire a mountain bike and cycle the trail which is great fun with a few downhill bits – watch out for the walkers though!

For a walkway of the manmade variety, the new Treetop Walk ticks all the boxes.  Located just 15 minutes south of Hokitika, amidst the rainforest, it’s well signposted and offers cafe facilities (great pies!), on-site parking etc.  The walkway itself is 20 metres above ground level, with a tower that reaches 40 metres, and over 450 metres long.  From the top of the tower there are breathtaking views of Lake Mahinapua, the snow-capped Southern Alps and horizon of the Tasman Sea.  In my opinion, the best time for photos is mid to lake afternoon when the sun is behind you for lake and mountain photos.  Just watch the time though, the last walk is 4.15pm (too early!).  It’s great for the family, allow 45-60 minutes.

Hokitika Mananui Tramline

If you rent a mountain bike and are up to the challenge of cycling from Hokitika, via the Mananui Tramline to the Treetop Walkway and return, it’s approx 38km round trip. An outstanding day out and you’ll deserve a cold West Coast beer at the end of it!

At day’s end, top off your Hokitika visit with a glow-worm experience!   Just on the town’s northern boundary, on the main road,  you’ll see a signpost “Glow Worm Dell”. Well this is a wonderful surprise.  After sunset take the 5 minute walkway into the grotto for the most amazing night-time wonderland.  Thousands of tiny lights lit up to delight you.  The track is well formed and there is a handrail to help guide you in the dark.  The kids will love it.

Hokitika surely is a small town that is big on character. This 21 day self drive itineraryoffers one night in Hokitika, but if you have time for a second night, then you won’t be disappointed. KiwiCombo Pass offers excellent flexibility so you can design your own self drive holiday with quality hotel or self catering motel accommodation, or we can create one for you.  Hokitika is a very cool town, make the time!

Family Holidays Fun Comes First

New Zealand offers an outstanding opportunity to create educational, cultural and fun family holidays for you and your children.

For family holidays, fun comes first!

New Zealand offers an abundance of opportunities for you and your children to engage in educational and cultural activities as well as enjoy the natural outdoors.  The country is like one giant natural theme park.

Often it is the simple things that create the most fun, such as building sandcastles on the beach, tucking in to a delicious picnic lunch on a remote river bank or taking a gentle hike through native forest in the evening to see glowworms.

Connecting with wildlife is quite enchanting, whether it be in a reserve such as Willowbank, Wild Kiwi,  Kiwi Birdlife Park or Rainbow Springs where you can see local birdlife up close, or in the wild when a kea, our native parrot, perches on the rear vision mirror of your car – which can also be very close!  In Oamaru and Dunedin there are opportunities to see penguins coming in to shore early evening after a day fishing. Dolphin watch cruises in Akaroa, Kaikoura and the Bay of Islands are a wonderful way to see how these amazing creatures love to play in the waves.

Split Apple Rock. Abel TasmanSafe swimming, golden sand beaches such as Kaiteriteri near the Abel Tasman National Park offer an inexpensive way to spend the day outdoors with the kids. Take a picnic – treat yourselves to delicious New Zealand ice cream.  Lake shores and rivers are also wonderful swimming pools, but take care to swim with others and check the depth of the water first.

Of course, farms are everywhere and there are plenty of opportunities to see sheep, cows, deer etc as you drive through the rural regions.  Spring, Aug/Sept, is the best time to see the cute lambs frolicking in the paddocks.  For a more up close encounter, visit Walter Peak High Country Farm near Queenstown or the Agrodome in Rotorua where there are oppourtunities to get up really close and touch the animals.

New Zealand’s unique Maori culture offers entertainment as well as an educational experience. Rotorua in particular is renowned for its rich cultural heritage, displayed when visiting a Maori marae (village) for a hangi (traditional dinner) and evening of chants and songs, including the renowned Haka, made famous by the All Blacks.  If you are only travelling to the South Island, check out Willowbank for a guided kiwi tour followed by Ko Tane Maori cultural performance and Kiwi Haka at the Skyline in Queenstown.

Sports are an integral part of our New Zealand culture and you will easily find sports grounds, adventure playgrounds etc as you travel around.  Saturday mornings are for family sports, so why not head to the local sports ground and watch some rugby, soccer or netball or hockey from the sideline?  Take some Cadbury chocolate to keep up your energy levels.

When you are travelling with children, family-friendly accommodation is important.  New Zealand’s family-style motels are a great way for everyone to enjoy living space and kitchen facilities so you can cook your own meals if you like.  Self catering is convenient and helps the budget too!  Many motels have BBQ facilities, swimming pool and playground for children.  Plan your trip well so that you have “stay put” time at key destinations so you can relax and enjoy some fun together.  Consider sample itineraries as a helpful start to your family holiday and ask for advice so you make the right choices.

New Zealand is perfect for exploring and learning. Simple and fun.