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.

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!

New Zealand Honeymoons on a Cheap & Cheerful Budget

New Zealand is a renowned honeymoon destination for the rich and famous, but simple pleasures can make them affordable & achievable. So live the dream!

New Zealand is a renowned honeymoon destination for the rich and famous.  But with some smart planning, realistic objectives and focus on enjoying the great, natural outdoors, New Zealand is a very achievable honeymoon or anniversary vacation for those on a more modest budget.  Sometimes it’s the simple pleasures that make the best memories!

Enjoy cycling through the vineyards together.We would all like to be pampered at a luxury lodge or 5 star resort hotel, but when reality kicks in and choices have to be made there is a good range of affordable accommodation alternatives available.  New Zealand’s motel accommodation is generally excellent value and offers you a “home away from home” with your own living area, kitchen, ensuite and bathroom.  Instead of dining out every night, perhaps self cater some evenings.  It’s fun to explore local markets for fresh fish and meat, vegetables and fruit and create your own style of dining, with a kiwi twist.  Try our succulent lamb, farmed salmon and salad ingredients straight from the market gardens.  Many motels have free barbecue facilities in picturesque garden settings which provide the ideal setting for a relaxing, balmy summer evening.

Purchasing a cooler bag to keep in your rental car is a great way to take food items with you.  Having snacks and lunch on hand when you discover a deserted beach or quiet riverbank is very convenient and offers you the opportunity to spend more time at these special places rather than hunting out cafes and food stores to replenish the energy levels.

Unlike some countries, New Zealand’s breathtakingly beautiful National Parks are easy to visit.  They offer some of the most outstanding scenic landscapes, accessible by well maintained hiking trails that often lead to cascading waterfalls, remote lakes and majestic forests and native bush.  Take a picnic lunch in your day pack and spend entire days enjoying and sharing these spectacular natural attractions.  Find your own stretch of golden sand beach.  You won’t need your credit card.  Just leave your footprints in the sand until the next tide.

With a little planning and creative thinking it’s very possible to keep the budget under control.  Admire the landscapes, savour the fresh air and space – they don’t cost anything, but they are very valuable, simple pleasures.  Check out some helpful sampleNew Zealand itineraries to use as a starting point, make smart decisions about your travel expenses, prioritise where you want to spend your budget.  For example, after a few nights in good quality 3 star accommodation, you might like to treat yourself to some 4 or 5 star luxury for the next couple of nights.  This adds variety, helps the affordability and makes your honeymoon very special indeed.

So, if New Zealand is on your horizon as a honeymoon or romantic holiday destination, start planning now!

Dunedin Farmers Market

Located in the carpark of the spectacular Dunedin Railway Station, the Dunedin Farmers Market is a “must do” for food lovers visiting Dunedin.

Go early!  That is the best advice for any visitor heading to the Dunedin Farmers Market.  Officially called the Otago Farmers Market because the heavenly fresh produce comes from all around the district,  this event is held every Saturday morning from early until about noon.  Skip breakfast and head to the spectacular Dunedin Railway Station where the market is held in the adjacent carpark.

At 9.30am there is still room to move, wander from stall to stall, sampling this and that, chat with the growers.  By 10.30 it’s elbow to elbow – but still fun!  From whitebait patties to fried dumplings, fresh coffee to pinot noir wines, hand-made breads, muffins and cupcakes to fresh vegetables, exquisite cheeses, meats direct from the local farms and fish straight from the ocean.  It’s all here but you’ll need an exploratory circuit to absorb all the offerings first.  Then go around again and choose your favourites.  The colour and music all add to the sensory experience.

If you’re staying in motel or apartment accommodation with cooking facilities a visit to the market offers the opportunity to stock up for a couple of days with fresh and unique food that is distinctively “New Zealand”.  If you love food and wine, then take the time to chat with the growers and producers and get some handy preparation tips.  Take a knapsack with a frozen cooler pack to keep the goodies nice and fresh.

Ideally allow at least an hour, but longer is better.  Your taste buds will thank you for it.

Tandem Skydiving over snow-covered Queenstown

New Zealand Winter Road Trips

Winter in New Zealand is mild (compared to North America and Europe) and still has plenty to offer road tripping travellers.

If you want to avoid the summer crowds, but still experience New Zealand at its most breath-taking, winter road trips are a good option.

Parts of the North Island are sub-tropical – meaning the winter months are still mild and great for travel.  The average winter temperature in the Bay of Islands is a balmy 16 degrees Celsius and can reach the mid-20’s occasionally.

In the South Island you’ll find cool sub-zero temperatures overnight and crisp sunny days.  When travelling from Christchurch to Queenstown there is no shortage of snow-capped scenery to take in.

Winter is a superb time to travel in New Zealand if alpine sports are your passion.  In the North Island you will find Mt Ruapehu (and its two ski areas – Whakapapa and Turoa), and in the South Island there are dozens of ski areas stretching from Rainbow Ski Area in the Nelson region, to The Remarkables and Coronet Peak in Queenstown.

KiwiCombo Pass is a great option when considering a New Zealand road trip.  The flexible pass options include Thrifty Car rental car hire and your choice of motel or hotel accommodationActivities can also be added for extra convenience.

Visit the KiwiCombo Pass website for more information.

Queenstown Skyline Gondola

Queenstown’s Skyline Gondola is a “must do”. And doing it early in your Queenstown visit will give you an excellent overview of the region’s geography.

The Queenstown Skyline Gondola is an excellent way to get a bird’s eye view of Queenstown resort, Lake Wakatipu and surrounding mountains.  By doing it early during your stay, you’ll get a good overview of the region’s geographic features which will help you find your way around.

It only takes a few minutes by gondola to ride the 450 vertical metres from the base station to the Skyline complex on Bob’s Peak.  If you can, ride up and down with your back to the hill so you get the primo views across the lake to the Remarkables Mountains, Cecil Peak and Walter Peak.

The Skyline complex is open 365 days, 0900 until late.  As well as offering stunning vistas from the viewing platforms, the complex also features a daytime cafe, Skyline Restaurant with buffet lunch and dinner,the Kiwi Haka live performance of authentic Maori songs and dances, downhill luge rides, star gazing and mountain bike trails. 

If time is precious, then allowing just 30-45 minutes at the start or end of your day will still be very rewarding.  The lower sun early morning or at dusk also makes for spectacular photos.  But if you have more time to linger and enjoy some of the additional activities, you’ll be assured of a great time.

 

Curtacy of Tekapo Springs

New Zealand Hot Thermal Pools

New Zealand’s hot thermal & mineral pools add a very relaxing dimension to a New Zealand holiday. Have family fun or relax with your travelling companion.

New Zealand is sprinkled with an amazing array of hot thermal and mineral pools, thanks to its regional geothermal activity and some very clever man-made creations.

At Rotorua in the North Island, Polynesian Spa is renowned with its public and private pools, day spa and breathtaking views of the tranquil Lake Rotorua.  Further north on the Coromandel Peninsula, near Whitianga is Hot Water Beach where you can literally dig yourself your own private pool in the sand.  Just scoop out a shallow bath-shaped hollow, stretch out and let the hot water soak up.  Bliss.  This itinerary will take you there http://www.kiwicombopass.co.nz/KiwiComboPass/Kiwicombo-route-B/

As well you can call in to Taupo and visit the De Brett Hot Springs, AC Baths (great for kids) and Wairakei Terraces Hot Pools (adults only).  Walk along the foreshore of Lake Taupo and in some places you’ll feel  hot water seep up between your toes through the pebbles.

In the South Island, the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools are nestled into lush rainforest.  With private and public pools, massage and day spa, it’s the perfect day’s end after a hike on the glacier.

At Arthurs Point, near Queenstown, the Onsen Hot Pools are perched high on craggy cliffs overlooking the Shotover River canyon.  Hot & steamy on snowy days and magical at night. This relaxing itinerary is a good option – KiwiCombo Pass Route E

The wood-fired Hot Tubs at Omarama offer mountain fresh water from snow & glacier melt, in an open air winter alpine landscape.  The mountain views are stunning.  And at Lake Tekapo, the Tekapo Springs overlook the exquisite blue water of the lake with alpine backdrop.  Landscaped into rock, the water temperature ranges from 36-40 degrees.  With a day spa with sauna and steam room, plus skating rink and tube park, it’s a wonderful family destination.  If you are short on time this will get you there. Southern Glacier Lakes Helicopters

Just one hour, 45 minutes north of Christchurch is the beautiful alpine village of Hanmer Springs, famed for its theraputic hot mineral pools.  As well as luxury day spa and private pools for the adults, there are fun water slides and pools especially for the kids.  With an on-site cafe it’s a great place to spend a few hours in the summer or winter KiwiCombo Pass Route C

KiwiCombo Pass is a great option when considering a New Zealand road trip.  The flexible pass options include Thrifty car rental and your choice of motel or hotel accommodationActivities,  including hot pool and spa bookings, can be added for extra convenience.  Visit KiwiCombo Pass website for more information and assistance.

Queenstown Panorama

Winter Rental Car Safety

By Destination Queenstown

Staying safe in your New Zealand rental car during the winter is easy, if you know what to expect.

Snow and Ice

Winter in New Zealand runs from June to August, but you’ll often find late snow flurries around the country’s alpine areas well into September.

If you do find yourself driving in snowy conditions make sure you carry snow chains in your vehicle.  Most New Zealand rental car companies provide chains. In some areas of New Zealand, such as the Queenstown Lakes District, there are heavy fines imposed for travellers who are unable to fit chains when asked by traffic enforcement officers.

Whilst heavy, prolonged North America or Europe-style snowfall is rare in New Zealand, you will often encounter sub-zero temperatures and icy roads.  Black ice (patches of ice on the road that are not visible to the eye) are common during winter, so always take your time on cold mornings and slow down around sharp bends.

Check the Conditions

Before setting out on your journey check the weather forecast and any road road closure warnings.

Metservice (weather forecast)

AA Roadwatch (road closures)

If you do find your intended route is closed, visit the local i-SITE Visitor Centre to find an alternative.

Take Your Time

New Zealand is a very scenic country.  Don’t rush from point A to point B – take your time!  Unlike the super highways of Europe and North America, New Zealand roads are often very scenic and winding.  A journey that might look short on the map can take longer than you think.

Stop often, rest and revive and take in the beautiful views!

KiwiCombo Pass travel passes are a great way to enjoy New Zealand during the winter.  Choose your Thrifty rental car and hotel or motel accommodation and enjoy New Zealand at your own pace.