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!

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.