Category Archives: Island dreams

N is for New Zealand The North Island

New Zealand offers something for everyone.  Compact enough to see in three weeks, diverse enough to spend six months and still not see everything, it is a treasure trove of things to see, do, experience and explore.  Like Canada, this will be a two parter.

If you are going to visit New Zealand and want to do it over two trips, start with the North Island.  Auckland is the main gateway in ( but not the capital city) and the North Island is beautiful in its own right.  At the top of the island the land stretches into the Pacific Ocean with countless beaches and bays and abundant birdlife.  Most tourists will go as far as the Bay of Islands, known for the Hole in the Rock cruise, dolphin spotting and some very classy getaway homes.  It is also home to the Waitangi treaty grounds where white settlers and Maori people forged an alliance to settle the land and to lovely Russell a ferry ride from Paihia great views and some fabulous craft shops.Hole in the Rock Cruise

The coastline will keep surfers happy and walkers fit.  Try Ninety Mile Beach!

Auckland is set on two bays and is as much about water activities as it is about city living.  Known as the City of Sails you can go for a sail aboard an America’s Cup boat or take the regular ferries to waterside suburbs for a look around the craft shops and a coffee at one of the many cafes.  If you are a thrill seeker have a go at the bungy jump in downtown Auckland.  New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world.

Rotorua is famous the world over for its geothermal activity, hot springs and thermal mud pools.  Soak is natural hot water, have a mud pack or massage at one of the spas, and take in the geysers and mud pools at one of the many areas around town.  This is also where you will experience Maori heritage – sample the hangi feast cooked in the ground as it has been for thousands of years – and delicious.
If you want an authentic and less touristy experience of Maori culture the Eastlands area is 50% Maori and a great place to find Maori art.

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Within a 90 minute drive of Rotorua you will find Mata Mata, home to the setting and filming of The Hobbit and the Hobbiton area for The Lord of the Rings films.  Take a tour and a ride on Gandalf the bus to the filming area and see the period vege patches, the hobbit holes (doorways anyway) and the tree they tied thousands of leaves to, and marvel at the magic of film.

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About the same distance away is Waitomo and its glowworm caves.  There are in fact three caves to explore.  South of Rotorua is Lake Taupo and dominating the landscape Ruapehu /Mt Tongariro.  Walks abound here in this world heritage area, the impressive Huka Falls are worth a look and the activities on the lake are endless.

If you head across to the East Coast from Lake Taupo make sure you fill your tank as there are no fuel stations on the two hour drive across.  Napier on the coast is world renowned for its Art Deco architecture, built after the massive earthquake of 1931 and do take the walking tour which is the best way to see the city.  Birdwatchers will enjoy the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers and Hawke’s Bay nearby has wineries specialising in cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot.

More wineries further south in the area around Martinborough, but if you take the first road signed to Martinborough from the north you will miss the vineyards.  You will however come across a quirky New Zealand landmark – a southern hemisphere version of Stonehenge  Aotearoa.  Oddly enough it is worth the modest entry fee to see the rest of the site and explore the connections to Egyptian, Babylonian and Indus valley astronomy,  Polynesian navigation and Maori Star lore.

The wineries are well worth exploring.  Surfers will want to visit Taranaki and Surf Highway 45 with 100 kilometres of beach and great breaks.  WOMAD is held in March  in New Plymouth along with garden festivals and sporting events.  Check out the galleries and the Te Rewa Bridge.

South again to the capital city of New Zealand  Wellington.  Known affectionately as the windy city, it is home to the Te Papa Museum – absolutely a must see to learn about the seismic activity of the islands as well as its natural history.  Take the cable car ride to the top of Mount Victoria for great views over the city and to visit the Botanic Gardens.  The Zoo is small enough to enjoy in two to three hours and big enough to keep you interested.  You will be able to see endemic fauna here.  The Beehive building is the New Zealand parliament, and close by is the gorgeous Old St Paul’s church, Gothic revival in style with some beautiful stained glass windows.  Like all capital cities Wellington has arts and culture, sporting venues and a waterfront best explored by bike or on foot.

In keeping with the film culture WETA Cave is the New Zealand’s Hollywood, a must see.  And check out the World of Wearable Art festival that has been running for 25 years.

So much more is on offer in the North Island but that would take another entry.  Get out and enjoy it, and if you need help planning and booking your holiday,  I am an email or phone call away.

 

 

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M is for Mauritius

 

For many people Mauritius is one of those destinations you may have heard about but really don’t know very much if anything about, let alone where it is.  So lets start with a few basic facts.

Situated in the Indian Ocean west and south of the Maldives, the next landfall west is Madagascar and then Africa.  The island has a temperate climate and is quite small.  With an exotic blend of African culture, French colonial influence, a visit from the British and quite a marked Indian influence, Mauritius has a richness of culture and food that will entice and enchant.

Whilst the indigenous fauna was delicious and consequently is now extinct, you can still see a taxiderm-ied dodo bird, and there are lots of souvenir options in the markets in Port Isaac the capital.  The island is all about coastline, water sports, relaxation and great food.  The French influence is particularly strong in the food offered in the very many resorts around the island – and the sauces are to die for.

For those with a sense of history, Matthew Flinders was imprisoned on Mauritius on his way back from charting the coastline of South Australia and Victoria where he ran into Nicholas Baudin the French explorer doing similar things.  And Mauritius is home to the second oldest botanical gardens in the world, and is well worth a wander. (You will have to go to Padua to see the world’s oldest botanical garden.)

The African influence can be seen in many resorts with thatched roofs and boma style meeting areas.

A tip – the island is influenced greatly by the prevailing winds at various times of the year, so be sure to check where the best side of the island is for the time you are visiting – and enjoy the spectacular sunsets on the western side.

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E is for Ecuador

Named for the Equator this South American country is one of those somewhat overlooked places.

The capital Quito, built on the ruins of an Inca city,  is one of the highest capitals in the world, perched in foothills of the Andes Mountains at 2850 metres.   With its Spanish conquistador history and impressive colonial churches  and fascinating old town area, one of the delights of Quito is the colourful local markets with great fruit and brightly decorated ceramics.  Further out explore ruins of ancient civilisations.

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Take a drive to the equator itself and you have an impressive monument of the actual line of the equator and several museums recounting the history of the exploration of the equator.  You can straddle both hemispheres here.

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Ecuador is home to one of the most remarkable island systems on the planet – the Galapagos Islands.  A flight due west from Quito will bring you to the main island and from there the best way to see the islands is on a cruise.  Manned by expert guides who will explain this unique island chain and ecosystem, you will explore several islands and meet the local marine iguanas, bright red crabs, multitudes of seabirds, and possibly the amazing equatorial penguin.   Nowhere else can you get so close to wildlife.  Not hunted by men or feral animals, you can literally walk centimetres from birds on nests and past sealions basking on the steps on the back of your boat.  It is the place that crystallised Charles Darwin’s work Origin of the Species and revolutionised our understanding of how life evolved on earth.  Check out the blue footed boobies, again unique to these islands.

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Let Ecuador delight you in so many ways.

Islands in the sun

I have just returned from a seven night cruise aboard the Pacific Eden from Cairns to the Trobriand and New Guinea Islands.  The beauty of cruising is that they take you to places you might not think to go, or be comfortable travelling to any other way.  This was the case for me.  I need the holiday and I could not see myself going to New Guinea any other way, so this cruise was perfect.

The Pacific Eden was a Holland America ship, the Statendam, which P&O bought and rebadged as a P&O ship.

Departing from Cairns and their heritage terminal we sailed for a day and our first port of call was Alotau on Milne Bay, scene of a major battle in World War II.  We arrived on the final day of the Kundu and Canoe festival which brings villages and tribes from all over the Milne Bay province to compete and share traditional dance and song.

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We opted to do the traditional cooking class which was great fun.  All decked out in aprons and gloves we were set to chop vegetables and greens, scrap coconut and generally prepare the base of the claypot cooked traditional chicken and pork dishes.  We got to eat the food for lunch.  Traditional vegetable like yams and taro features strongly.  Very filling, and quite starchy, but good nonetheless.

And of course the locals were very friendly, especially the kids.

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Too good to be true?

The old adage is probably right – if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

There are some very enticing ads around offering an all inclusive package to Bali, or Phuket or Penang or wherever for $999 pp – accommodation, all meals, transfers, massages etc etc etc.  They offer 5 star properties and it all sounds fabulous.

And it can be IF you are aware of what is actually involved in making the booking.

Did you know flights are not included?

Did you know you have to pay up front BEFORE they will confirm the booking?

Did you know you may not get your preferred dates?

Did you know if you don’t YOU have to ask THEM for a refund within 2 weeks or they keep your money?

It is just not worth it for most people.

My tip – start with your dates of travel, allowing for some flexibility of you can, then select your resort.

Do you REALLY need all meals?  Most travellers like the idea of exploring the local restaurants and the local culture.  Why pay for something you don’t need?

A package needs to work for you.  Buyer beware,and be canny.  Ask me to put something together especially for you to get best value for money and holiday to remember for all the right reasons.

Bella Burano

Visitors to Venice need to know the tourist trap – its cheaper to stay on Mestre on the mainland, but that is NOT where Venice is.  Venezia of the black gondolas and Grand Canal and back canals, of St Mark’s and the Bridge of Sighs is an island and it is best experienced on the island itself, even if it means a two night rather than three night stay.

One of the joys of staying on the island itself is the ease of getting to the outer islands that make up this island state.  Murano is famous for its glass and rightly so.  But my island tip is Burano.  A little further out in the lagoon and serviced by regular vaporettos or by water taxis, Burano is home to lace-making and the bright colours Italians love so much.

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Nearly car less, Burano is almost frozen in time.  People live their lives as they have done for hundreds of years.  Kids play in the streets and churchyards; people sit in the late afternoon outside their houses catching the afternoon breezes from the lagoon and talking.

It is a photographer’s delight – every angle reveals new colours and shapes to capture the imagination and capture in camera.

The lace work is hand made and exquisite in its detail and quality.  You can chat to the ladies as they tat in the workshops and stores.  And it is entirely possible a piece will end up coming home with you.

 

Vancouver is an island too!

Quick quiz – what airport runway is sometimes closed for whales?

Vancouver Island’s Victoria seaplane runway!

A 20 minute flight from Vancouver, Victoria on Vancouver Island is famous for the Butchart Gardens, and for good reason.  A reclaimed and repurposed quarry, the gardens attract millions of visitors every year.  The array of flowers is vast, the blooms huge and the colours are amazing.

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But there is more to this island than just the gardens.  The Fairmont Empress Hotel is a landmark on the harbour and well worth a look.  Gracious and ivy covered, it harks back to an earlier era.  The stained glass dome in the ballroom is both beautiful and has a surprising quality.  Don’t be surprised if you can overhear the conversation of the other tables.  The dome picks up the sound and reflects around the dome to other tables!  It can be quite distracting and a real talking point.

There are some good local markets and the city centre is quite walkable.  Many visitors enjoy the horse drawn carriage as a way of seeing the city which continues the theme of old world ambience.  At night the lights of Parliament House are a feature.

The fact that Vancouver Island is but one of many islands, many of which are home to people who work in Vancouver, means that ferries and seaplanes are widely used forms of transport.  Seaplanes take off from the harbour and the whales have right of way.

The seaplane from Victoria to Whistler is the most spectacular flight I have ever taken.  But that’s another blog.