Category Archives: Travel tips

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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Safe Places to travel in 2018

As we draw towards Christmas and some much needed downtime, thoughts turn to plans for 2018 and travel.  In a world increasingly beset by terrorist attacks, volcanic ash and other disasters it can be difficult to pick a place you feel is safe and worth seeing.  So it is good to have an independent source name the top 5.

A recent survey has named the following countries as the world’s five safest to visit.

The latest top 5 safest places are as follows
1. Finland – 6.65
2. UAE – 6.6
3. Iceland – 6.57
4. Oman – 6.49
5. Hong Kong – 6.47
All great destinations. Oman and Iceland are at the top of my list with Finland close behind. I have been to the UAE and Hong Kong so I can give you first hand knowledge and experience here.

Finland offers elegant modern design, fascinating culture and easy proximity to Russia and the rest of Scandinavia, and Finnair hubbing through Helsinki is one of the most efficient airports on the planet.

Many people have hubbed through Dubai especially since direct flights began several years ago out of Adelaide, but take the time to visit.  Plan your visit for November to February for the coolest time of year, but even in summer – which can be brutally hot, everything is air-conditioned right down to the bustops.  A desert dinner under the stars will reconnect you with the vastness of the night skies and the silence of wild places.

Iceland has been on my list to see since I discovered Game of Thrones use it for a great deal of their filming, but fan or not, this is a spectacularly beautiful place.

I put together a tour to Oman a couple of years ago that did not gain traction, but it is time to revisit and put this on your list.  Beautiful, surprising, welcoming and safe, it is  FABULOUS destination.

And Hong Kong is Asia writ large – tall building, tiny villages, a bustling harbour, incredible shopping and fantastic food.

Let me help you plan a great trip to a safe place.

Have a wonderful Christmas and a safe happy break and see you in the new year.

 

Travel update

There have been a few developments at home while I have been focussing on destinations , so here is a brief summary of the good and the bad.

Bad news – but not very!  The Departure tax for Australia has been raised by $5 to $60.  As this is part of the taxes you pay on your airfare or cruise fare, you probably won’t even notice it – at least I think that’s what the Government is hoping for!

Good news – the reciprocity fee of USD100 for entry into Argentina has been cancelled, so that is a saving for anyone travelling to South America and visiting Argentina.

More good news – As of 01 July Australian travellers no longer have to fill in the green Outgoing Passenger cards.  That’s one less thing to do, and faster times through immigration.  But just ensure all passport details are entered into every international booking to ensure all goes smoothly.    No news yet on the incoming cards.

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Baking Christmas

December 22nd and the final lot of (not gluten free) shortbread is baked and ready to be packed as gifts for family.  It is a tradition which began in 1982 more by accident than design.

In 1982 I took a year off and travelled to Europe for eight months, scratching an itch that has never gone away.  I spent almost three months in the mainland UK over two periods, two weeks in Ireland and the rest of the time in again two stretches in Europe.  Suffice to say that is where the love affair with Europe began and was cemented for me.

Because I knew I was going to be away for such an extended period I made sure of three things.  One – I would write to mum and dad every week – actually I don’t think Mum would have let me go if I hadn’t promised her would. Two I would write down the photos I took so I knew where I had been and what I had taken – I still do – it really helps!  And three – any souvenirs I bought would have to be light, preferably indestructible and able to be posted home, and I would get one decent thing from each country, not lots of things of little value.  Those decisions stood me in fairly good stead (with the exception of the delicate glass Irish harp that was smashed into smithereens courtesy of the mail).

My souvenir from Scotland was a wooden shortbread mould with a Scotch thistle pattern.  It came with a recipe for shortbread and when I returned to Australia and went through the parcels that had been sent home ahead of me, I found it and decided to try out the mould and the recipe for Christmas that year.  It took a couple of attempts before I abandoned the Scottish version and found the Australian Women’s Weekly recipe which is by far better and much easier to work.  I have been making the shortbread ever since.  In some households now Christmas is not Christmas without it.

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Over the years I have added to the mould with biscuit shapes – angels, Christmas trees, stars, snowmen, doves, Christmas canes and stockings, and then my travels added a couple of other shapes.  In Alaska I found a tiny and a large moose or reindeer biscuit cutter and while the slender legs are a bit of a challenge, they have added to the Christmas experience a little piece of Canada and Alaska.

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Travel enriches us so much.  What we take away from it is not just experience and memory, photos and people who become friends; we also collect things that become family traditions.  It was because of the people I met overseas and stayed with, and also because I was away for eight months that the same year I began my annual Christmas letter so everyone would know what I had been up to.

Whatever your Christmas tradition, in cold northern climes, or in a blazing Australian summer, have a wonderful Christmas and I will be back next year with an A to Z of destinations.

No Leave No Life

Are you one of the millions of Australian workers who has weeks of annual leave unused?

We Aussies have one of the highest levels of not taking annual leave in the world – and it is not good for us!

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Annual leave is essential for health and well being.  It allows us to relax and wind down, to rest and recharge.  It allows us to work better when we return because we are sharper and more able to deal with what life and our work throws at us.

It is more difficult to get away when you own your own business, but it is actually MORE essential you do it, because, especially if you are a solo trader, there is only you.  And it can be managed.

While it may not be possible to take the grand vacation of 6 -12 weeks right now in your business, it is possible to take a day and make it a long weekend.  It is possible to top and tail the Easter break and make it a week break.  It is possible to add a day to a public holiday and the world will not fall apart.

Doing this means you can escape for a few precious days.  Forward planning helps as flights tend to go quickly around holiday breaks, and that’s where a Personal Travelmanager comes in.  Give me a call and I can do all the planning for you.  It saves your precious time, I can find all the good deals and suggest ways to maximise your time away from work.

Think places no more than 3-4 hours flight away.  And from the east coast that includes South Pacific Islands and New Zealand as well as almost all of Australia.  From Adelaide there are direct flights of less than 3 hours to Cairns, Darwin and Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Alice Springs and Tasmania are all within reach.

This year the best Christmas present you can give yourself and your family is the gift of time.  Time spent with them, making memories you will have forever.  Time to relax and rejuvenate.  Do it for your health.  Do it for your family.  Do it for your sanity.  Do it because you deserve it.  And have a wonderful Christmas New year break.

 

Never let the itinerary rule you…

I must be a nightmare to travel with at times!  When I want to see something – especially something I have come back for, and I am told that we would not be seeing it, I do not stay silent.

That was the case when we were told we would not be visiting Fatehpur Sikri.  I was not about to have that and said so.  To their credit Total Holiday Options organised a private tour for me.  Fatehpur Sikri, about 45 minutes drive from Agra,  is a world Heritage UNESCO site dating to the 16th century and absolutely worth the visit.  It is, however, a place to do one on one or one on two with a guide not in a larger group as the hawkers are insistent and persistent in the mosque grounds.

The mosque is both a place of worship and of pilgrimage.  There is a shrine to the holy man of Sikri whose pleas for a son from the Shah at the time were answered.  All in plain white marble and beautifully carved it is where people go to make a wish and to return to if that wish is fulfilled.  A string is added to the web at the time of the request and a string cut when fulfilled.   It does not have to be the same string if you can’t remember which one you hung.

The Palace is much more peaceful and there is so much to see.  The Queen’s quarters where she spent her entire pregnancy, the 5 tiered pagoda influenced by the Chinese, a pavillion overlooking a deep water moated musicians gallery where the royal family would be entertained and the stunningly carved Treasury and Audience chambers are all beautifully preserved.

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The Shah was so grateful to the holy man that he asked what he wanted.  The holy man replied that he did not need anything because God had provided all he needed, but the village could use a permanent water supply.  The Shah duly provided a huge reservoir for the town and this continues to supply water to the town, fed only by the winter rains.

I am very pleased I insisted on seeing this fascinating site.  When you travel make sure that you see what you went for .

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.