New Zealand attraction

Rotorua: a major New Zealand attraction

Why visit? New Zealand and the North Island is such a scenic place to visit. People are friendly and have a fun sense of humor. Count on great coffee, fresh local food & wine. Enjoy the feeling of having the road all to yourself, to be able to see the horizon and enjoy the views, to breathe crisp clean air, to wake up to the sound of birds …

Sounds good doesn’t it? Tick that box and plan your NZ visit! Once decided, make sure your NZ dream trip includes a stop at Rotorua. Rotorua is a heavyweight New Zealand attraction. It is one of the most visited places in New Zealand for good reason. It is in the very heart of the North Island and is a 3-hour drive south-east of Auckland. It is the centre of Maori culture as well as the main geothermal hub (think bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers & natural hot springs). Rotorua has so many activities on offer you can easily spend 3+ nights. Rotorua delivers many iconic New Zealand experiences!

Based around Lake Rotorua, the town offers many beautiful sparkling lakes and stunning lush forests. An outdoor paradise with endless hours of fun to be had riding Rotorua’s world-class mountain bike trails, exploring the thermal parks, visiting the living Maori Village, or doing some lake trekking. It is definitely a premier destination with many must-do experiences to enjoy! Here are some of the key things to do:

New Zealand attraction

Whakarewarewa Thermal area, Rotorua, New Zealand. Pohutu Geyser.

Thermal Parks:

You are spoilt for choice! Visit Waiotapu thermal wonderland, Orakei Korako Geothermal Park or Te Puia with the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere, Pohutu. Explore a volcanic world of gushing geysers, hot springs, and bubbling mud pools at your own pace. Very impressive!

New Zealand attraction

Te Puia Rotorua

Maori Culture: 

Make sure to visit the NZ arts & crafts institute at Te Puia. You can learn about the traditional arts of wood carving and weaving. Experience Whakarewarewa, Rotorua’s Living Maori Village. Consider an evening Hangi & Concert at Tamaki Maori Village.

New Zealand attraction

Hobbiton

Hobbiton:

This is a highlight. Only 1 hour from Rotorua, make sure to do the 2-hour movie set tour and experience the magic! A major movie set location for the Lord of the Rings Film trilogy. Make sure to watch the films before you visit!

New Zealand attraction

Redwoods Treewalk Rotorua

New Zealand attraction

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Action Options:

For more action the premier choice is Mountain biking, or the Treetop walk through the Redwoods Forest. Other options aplenty include: Rainforest Canopy Tours, White-water rafting, Skyline Gondola & Luge rides, horse-rides and the completely original Ogo ride. Visit Lake Tarawera, only a 20-minute drive which is so beautiful and serene (make sure to pack swimming gear, food & drinks). Consider doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the best one-day hikes in NZ. It is a little further afield at 2 hours from Rotorua, and features Mount Ngauruhoe (otherwise known as Mount Doom for Lord of the Rings fans).

Rotorua is a premier must-visit destination with magnificent landscapes and experiences to enjoy. Ask us to include Rotorua in your New Zealand holiday itinerary…

Cradle Mountain

Cradle Mountain: A highlight of Tasmania

Another family mini-break was a long weekend spent at Cradle Mountain National Park. Part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, it is a most dramatic place to enjoy some peace & rejuvenation in a pristine wilderness setting. This is one of the heavy-weights of Tasmania travel for good reason!

Cradle Mountain

Photo courtesy of Tourism Tasmania & Adrian Cook

Cradle Mountain National Park:

Is a 2:5 hour drive from Launceston.  It is at the northern end of the immense Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park. It is easy to immerse yourself in the beautiful alpine landscape with rugged peaks, windswept moors, lakes and ancient forests.  It is also the start point for the world-famous Overland Track, a magnificent 6 day walk that explores the diverse mountain terrain. But if you are not into long walks… there is still plenty to do! Spend a day doing some short walks, try boating, kayaking or horse riding and then return to your chalet to dine on fresh local produce and divine Tasmanian wine. It is a premier wilderness area where you can also expect to meet some of the friendly local animals on your travels.

Cradle Mountain

Photo courtesy of Tourism Tasmania & Andrew McIntosh, Ocean Photography

Here are some of the key things to do:

Short Walks:

There are over 20 walks around Cradle Mountain. It is an easy and fun way to explore. You can choose to start with some of the 45-minute boarded walks through rainforests to full day walks which cover alpine moors, glacial lakes and rainforests. One not to miss is the 2-3-hour Dove Lake Circuit. For some more challenge, aim for the Cradle Mountain summit walk which is 6-8 hours return.

Cradle Mountain

Photo courtesy of Tourism Tasmania & Gene Goldberg

Action Options:

For more action the premier choice is Canyoning. You can climb, jump, abseil and swim through some spectacular wilderness areas in the summer months. Half and full day tours. Our family did the more sedate 1:5 hour horse-riding on the plains with brilliant views of Cradle Mountain. You can also do some quad biking if speed is your thing!

Cradle Mountain

Photo courtesy of Tourism Australia & Graham Freeman

Animal experiences:

Expect to meet some friendly wombats, echidnas & kangaroos on your walks exploring the National Park. Don’t miss the wildlife sanctuary that is dedicated to preservation and research of the Tasmanian Devil. You can do an after dark feeding tour or dine with the devil.

Cradle Mountain

Photo courtesy of Tourism Tasmania & Rob Burnett

Cradle Mountain

Photo courtesy of Tourism Tasmania & supplied by Kentish Council

Cradle Mountain

Photo courtesy of Paul Fleming

Cradle Mountain is a premier wilderness area with magnificent landscapes and experiences to enjoy. It is all about nature and the great outdoors! After your outdoor walks don’t forget to call into Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge for a relaxing coffee in the gorgeous lodge. Ask us to include Cradle Mountain in your Tasmania holiday itinerary…

new zealand attractions

Fiordland: A must-see for your NZ Holiday!

If you are looking for awesome New Zealand attractions then look no further than Fiordland, the World Heritage listed National Park on the South Island. Fiordland is a great wilderness region, with spectacular mountains and waterfalls. It is a collection of huge glacier carved valleys that have been flooded by the sea. Home to both Milford and Doubtful Sounds, as well as the lakeside towns of Te Anau and Manapouri, it is simply not-to-be-missed when it comes to your holiday planning!

Te Anau is an easy 2-hour drive from Queenstown Airport, and is the gateway to the very impressive Fiordland National Park.  Located on the southern shore of Lake Te Anau, this bustling township is the jump off point for both Milford and Doubtful Sounds.  To get to Milford Sound you can either drive yourself (allow 2-3 hours for this top scenic drive) or take a guided tour bus for a relaxing day trip including a cruise on the majestic fiord.  Alongside Doubtful Sound and the Te Anau Glow Worm Caves, these three attractions are the main focus of tourism in this area.  Fiordland National Park is also a haven for Trampers (hikers) and kayakers.  Accommodation ranges from holiday parks, to B&B’s and hotels.

Here are some of the key things to do:

new zealand attractions

Photography by Rob Suisted

Milford Sound:

You can do a 2 hour or an overnight cruise to enjoy the views of Mitre Peak and the stunning fiords. The overnight cruise allows time for some kayaking, as well as star gazing in the evening. The actual drive to Milford Sound is also spectacular, and consider taking a bus tour or scenic flight to really soak up the magnificent alpine scenery without the worry of driving yourself.

Doubtful Sound:

Is the deepest Fiord and a haven for wildlife with resident bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and penguins. A day trip is possible with an 8-hour cruise, or again an overnight cruise is a great option. The departure point for the cruise is Manapouri, which is a 20-minute drive from Te Anau.

Te Anau Glowworm Caves:

Enjoy a 2-hour cruise across Lake Te Anau to explore the underground world and grottos of the Glow-worm Caves. Great family fun!

new zealand attractions

Hiking:

Fiordland National Park features three world-class Great Walk tracks with stunning scenery: the Kepler Track (4 days), Milford Track (4 days) and Routeburn Track (3 days). There are also many short walks to enjoy, and of course you can experience a guided walk as an alternative.

Make sure to plan some days around Te Anau and Fiordland. It offers breath-taking scenery, wildlife, cruises, kayaking and some great walks. It is easily accessed from Queenstown, and really is a stunning destination that does deliver on a great outdoor experience! Ask us to include Fiordland in your New Zealand holiday itinerary…

things to do in sydney

Escape to the Hawkesbury River for a brilliant day on the water!

Our family recently enjoyed a winter mini-break in Sydney. We had visited Sydney several times before and explored most of the highlights. This time our highlight was a day on the Hawkesbury River kayaking. It was a pleasure to get active and enjoy the great outdoors so close to Sydney!

 

Hawkesbury River

Parsley Bay

The Hawkesbury River:

Is an easy 1-hour train journey from the city, and the tranquil hamlet of Brooklyn is the gateway.  Brooklyn is a good place to grab a coffee and consider your options for how to explore the river. The Hawkesbury River is a breath of fresh air that flows past riverside towns into bays and inlets between the Ku-ring-gai Chase and Brisbane Water National parks. The Hawkesbury River is navigable for over 100 kilometres. You could cruise and explore these waters for weeks and still not discover it all! Spend a day hiking, boating, kayaking or enjoy an overnight anchorage in a hired boat or a waterfront B&B and wake up to the call of Kookaburras, Whip Birds, Sea Eagles and the lapping of the tides.

Here are some of the key things to do:

Kayak:

An easy and fun way to explore! You can hire either a single or double canoe, and paddle for a half or full day, or overnight and camp in the National parks. We did a 20-minute paddle to Dangar Island, had lunch at the Bowling Club, then paddled another 20 minutes to an inlet at the base of Tank Creek. Did a 1 hour bushwalk to the cascades & waterfalls with an incredible natural infinity pool that looks directly over the stunning Hawkesbury. We then returned to Brooklyn after an amazing day on the kayaks.

Hawkesbury River   

Hawkesbury River

Tank Creek Infinity Pool

   

Dangar Island:

Has a regular ferry service. No cars on the island, so it is very peaceful! Wheelbarrows are the main mode of transport for moving shopping from the jetty to home. The Dangar Island Bowling Club is the local watering hole and the place to have a meal during the weekend. Bradley’s Beach is on the southeast side of the island and is an excellent swimming beach on high tide. At low tide, the beach becomes the perfect place for the kids to play in ‘river mud’.

The Riverboat Postman:

Enjoy a historic 3-hour postman boat run on the Hawkesbury. This daily service delivers mail and other essentials whilst you soak up the magnificent scenery of the Hawkesbury.

Houseboat Hire:

A great way to explore at your leisure in the comfort of your own houseboat. Swim at secluded beaches, fish or just relax with a good book. Minimum 2-night hire outside of peak periods.

Hawkesbury River

Take a day out of your Sydney visit to enjoy a kayak on the magnificent Hawkesbury River. It is off the beaten path, easy to access, and really is a stunning excursion that does deliver on a great outdoor experience! Ask us to include the Hawkesbury in your Australia holiday itinerary…

Lake Tekapo

A guide to Lake Tekapo South Island, New Zealand

Thinking of a New Zealand road trip? It is definitely the best way to see New Zealand. You have the freedom to take your time, stop and explore, and enjoy the magnificent views from every turn. Make sure to include picturesque Lake Tekapo on your road trip. It ticks all the boxes for views, and is on the main highway halfway between Christchurch and Queenstown on the South Island.

Lake Tekapo:

The Lake itself is a gorgeous turquoise colour, and is framed by a cluster of New Zealand’s highest peaks which provide a beautiful backdrop with amazing views. Lake Tekapo is close to Aoraki/Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. The village itself is also a UNESCO dark sky reserve, so it is the perfect spot for some stargazing.  This is a fantastic location with plenty of eye candy for every budding photographer. There is plenty to do!

Here are some of the things to do in or around Lake Tekapo:

Flight:

Take a 50-minute spectacular scenic flight which covers the most amazing views of Mount Cook & the Southern Alps, Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers, Lakes, remote sheep stations etc. Breathtaking scenery from your own window seat!

Lake Tekapo

Stargazing:

Cowans Observatory offers a nightly astronomy session which will introduce you to the various highlights of the Southern night sky. Great for families. Tour duration 80 minutes and minimum child age is 5 years.

Tekapo Springs:

Tekapo Springs is all about family fun! It is based in a stunning setting at Mt John in Lake Tekapo. Think of a relaxing soak in the pools, an indulgent treatment at the day spa, fun on the ice skating rink or an adrenaline filled ride down the tubing park!

Lake Tekapo

Hooker Valley Mount Cook National Park

Scenic Drive Lake Tekapo-Lake Pukaki-Mount Cook:

This drive has impressive scenery. Set out for a leisurely 1:15 hour drive along the length of Lake Pukaki. The turquoise lake is surrounded by the peaks of the Southern Alps and ends at Mount Cook Village. Plenty to do!  

Other Attractions:

Walking Tracks through the Mackenzie Basin and explore the Church of the Good Shepherd.

Lake Tekapo is a great stop for 2 nights, and is only a quick trip from either Christchurch or Queenstown. It really is a beautiful region that does deliver the alpine experience in pristine surrounds. Include Lake Tekapo on your bucket list. Ask us to book & plan your trip to ensure your New Zealand Holiday is your best ever!

the Yarra Valley

Why the Yarra Valley should be on your must visit list!

Working out where to travel in Australia is tough…. as there are so many diverse and superb choices… but consider adding the Yarra Valley to your must visit list!

When thinking and planning your first big trip to Australia it is important to get that perfect mix of destinations. Seek out what is special and iconic about Australia. Try to get that mix of outback, beach, city & country (weather and time permitting of course). That way you get a bit of everything and get a real feel of Australia.

The Yarra Valley ticks the “country” box. And my what a beautiful bit of country it is!

the Yarra Valley

Tarrawarra Estate

The Yarra Valley:

is a world-class wine region, and only 60 minutes from Melbourne. The valley has crisp clean air and spectacular views of the valley to the Dandenong Ranges beyond. This is a natural location with plenty to do, or you can simply relax and enjoy the gourmet food and wines of the region. But it does deliver so much more!  Be inspired with the natural beauty of the towering Eucalypt forests which are great for walking off all the food and wine. This is where you can stay in a country cottage in a natural bush setting with plenty of native animals around at dusk when you are enjoying a glass of wine on your balcony.  Spend a day at the Healesville Sanctuary and get up close and personal with our Aussie native animals… your children will love it whether they are 2 or 21!

Here are some of the things to do in the Yarra Valley…

Healesville Sanctuary:

Meet your favourite Australian animals. The Sanctuary features unique experiences with Australian wildlife amongst the sights, sounds and scents of the stunning bushland surrounds. Do not miss the Health Centre where they treat the sick/injured or orphaned wildlife. The Koala Forest is another must do and finally the spectacular Birds of Prey show which runs twice a day.

 the Yarra Valley

Kangaroos at Healesville Sanctuary

Wineries/Gourmet Food:

The Valley is home to over 80 cellar doors, sumptuous fine-dining restaurants and artisan producers of magnificent cheeses, elegant chocolates and an ale/cider trail. Go knock yourself out and attempt to try them all!

the Yarra Valley

the Yarra Valley

Yarra Valley Dairy, Photography by Roberto Seba

National Parks:

Set out for a leisurely walk past tall trees, clear creeks and fern-fringed waterfalls at either Kinglake National Park or Yarra Ranges National Park.

Golf:

The Yarra Valley delivers spectacular scenery and a relaxing region to enjoy your golf. There are many courses to choose from such as the Eastern Golf Club, Yering Meadows Golf Club, The Gardiners Run & the Yarra Valley Country Club.  

Other Attractions:

Take a breathtaking early morning hot air balloon ride over the valley, visit and wander the meandering Alowyn Gardens, make sure to visit Coombe which is a garden, restaurant and gallery or go further afield and enjoy a Steam Train ride through the Dandenong Ranges on Puffing Billy.

the Yarra Valley

Vineyard in the Yarra Valley

The Yarra Valley is a great stop for 2-3 nights, and only a quick trip from Melbourne city. It really is a beautiful region that does deliver that country feel in pristine surrounds. Make sure to ask us about the Yarra Valley. We are happy to help with your planning to make sure your Australia Holiday is your best ever!

Great Barrier Reef

An Aussie’s guide to the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef…

The Great Barrier Reef stretches for over 2,000 kilometres off the eastern coast of Australia. It consists of 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands. It is the world’s largest coral reef. Packed with amazing beauty and recognised as a World Heritage Site, it is also one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World. It is big, a definite must-see and confusing for anyone planning to visit!

This is an Aussie’s guide to the Great Barrier Reef. It is a local’s lowdown with short, helpful information on where to go, what to do and when to visit …

So where to go & what to do?

Hmm, this is tough! You may have heard of some gorgeous coastal towns such as Port Douglas or Palm Cove. Or the town of 1770…. plus, other places like Cairns, Hamilton Island, Heron Island or Airlie Beach.

These are all fantastic launch pads to dive in and explore the magnificent Great Barrier Reef. But essentially you can break it down into mainland towns versus Islands. Let me explain….

Great Barrier Reef

Heart Reef. Photo by Mia Glastonbury, Tourism & Events Queensland

Heart Reef. Photo by Mia Glastonbury, Tourism & Events Queensland

Mainland Towns:

Your Great Barrier Reef experience from a mainland town will be a fast catamaran ride out to a pontoon/dive site where you will base yourself for a day or overnight. One way can be up to 1:5 hours. Allow a full day with over 4 hours on the Great Barrier Reef itself.

The main launch spots in Far North Queensland are Cairns and Port Douglas. You can choose operators that take a minimum of 30 or a maximum of 350! The bigger operators have more toys to play with, expect glass bottom boats, helicopter rides, toddler wading pools, semi-submersible tours, underwater observatories, Seawalker helmet diving and the list goes on. The smaller operators offer a completely personal nature experience focused mainly around snorkelling and diving.

I would always recommend the smaller group tours unless some in your group are not keen on snorkelling or diving, then the bigger tours are the way to go as they still offer the Great Barrier Reef experience without being in the water if you don’t want to…

Great Barrier Reef

Groper Fish & admirer

Islands:

Particularly good for young families, the islands on the Great Barrier Reef are a great way to relax and enjoy the reef without all the travel time. Think Hamilton Island, Heron Island, Lady Elliot Island, Hayman Island….the list goes on! You also have the added bonus of kid’s clubs so that both parents can do a spot of diving whilst the children are also having a great time!

When to go?

The Great Barrier Reef is located in the tropics and hence accessible year-round. So, expect warm weather and perfect snorkelling conditions! You do want to avoid rain as that can play havoc with water visibility.

Great Barrier Reef

Opal Reef. Photo from Tourism & Events Queensland

Don’t forget….

There has been lots in the media recently about climate change (and the resulting warmer waters), and how this is having a great impact on our coral reefs around the world…. including the Great Barrier Reef.

It is very important to note that there is minimal coral damage south of Port Douglas, and the very southern section has very little coral lost. So, make sure to visit the areas on the Great Barrier Reef which have very little damage!

Now here’s another hint ….

don’t view your Great Barrier Reef visit in isolation!

The last consideration is definitely about bundling your Great Barrier Reef visit with what else to do in the area. This is where the Far North wins hands down! Not only do you have the Great Barrier Reef but you also have the double whammy of another World Heritage site, the Daintree Rainforest (top three world’s oldest Rainforest).

But that is entirely another story, so in the meantime……

Make sure to ask us the where/when/what is best re the Great Barrier Reef. We are happy to help with your planning to make sure your Australia Holiday is your best ever!

New Zealand

New Zealand: A Feast for the Senses

New Zealand By Paula Taylor

In 2007, my family and I took a vacation to the North lsland of New Zealand. When friends told me the South Island was even more beautiful I couldn’t believe it. Last Christmas, we had the good fortune to verify this for ourselves on our sixteen-day journey of a lifetime.

CHRISTCHURCH

[Note: Since our visit. the tragic earthquake has hit Christchurch and it is difficult to say when reconstruction will be completed. I will still include some highlights and let you determine if they are still possible.]

I felt that two days in Christchurch was plenty -a day in the city and a day driving up the Pacific coast to Kaikoura. Other recommendations for day trips might be to the nearby wine country or the beach. The highlight of our time in Christchurch was a visit to the wonderful botanical gardens. Here, my boys enjoyed climbing the enormous trees (some over 40m tall) and tossing a rugby ball on the manicured lawns, while my husband and I strolled through the amazing rose garden and walking paths.

KAIKOURA

As a day trip from Christchurch, we took a beautiful 2.5 hour drive through wine country and rolling hills to Kaikoura. It is a small but hip village with a main street full of restaurants and shops and a rocky beach (no sand). Here, we did the seal swim encounter, which turned out to be the highlight of my trip in New Zealand. In total, it took about three hours: we donned wetsuits, rode a bus to the beach where we boarded our small boat, and rode for approximately ten minutes (within sight of the beach). We stopped at a rocky outcropping and snorkeled with seals — magnificent. We spotted dozens of seals, both in the water and on dry land. In several instances, we came within a meter of them. The rule was not to touch the seals (it was ok for them to bump into you), nor to do anything that might scare or threaten them. Time in the water was about one hour, which was plenty as the water was very cold. even with full wetsuits. There are also whale watching tours and dolphin/albatross encounters out of Kaikoura a highly recommended day trip.

New ZealandTRANZALPINE TRAIN

As it was time to move to the next stop on our tour, we took the morning train from Christchurch to Greymouth. The weather was rainy, so it was not as scenic as expected, but we still enjoyed the beautiful views. The dining car had a good menu, so we had plenty to eat and drink along the way. The four-hour trip was a little long, but enjoyable. Arriving in Greymouth and renting a car took longer than expected – the car rental desks were very slow. We asked about restaurants and were given the option of a couple of restaurants in Greymouth, or driving forty minutes to Hokitika. We chose the latter and discovered Hokitika to be a small artisan town with several nice cafes. Hokitika is known for its hand­blown glass and jade, so we browsed some of the shops before continuing our drive to Franz Josef.

FRANZ JOSEF

After a full day of travel, we arrived at Westwood Lodge, a beautiful B&B. The rooms were very large and nicely appointed. The only complaint was the shower, which was not enclosed, so it was not very warm. After our all our day hikes, a warm bath would have been welcomed. The grounds at Westwood Lodge were stunning, with a view of the glacier from our room. The staff was friendly, the breakfasts were delicious, and it was fun chatting with other guests while we dined in the lodge. The weather didn’t cooperate, so our helicopter ride and hike to the top of the glacier was cancelled. I recommend booking the helicopter tour early in the stay so you can have alternate options for later dates. The cool, wet weather didn’t dampen our spirits, though. We thoroughly enjoyed hiking on the stunningly beautiful trails and were thankful we brought waterproof hiking boots and jackets. Connecting with nature on such a grand scale was the perfect way to spend Christmas day.

The next part of our journey was a drive along the western coast from Franz Josef to Queenstown. The torrential rain hampered our view, so our drive was a little nerve ­racking. It was cool to see the waterfalls spouting from the hillsides (even along the roadways onto the roads!). The wide rivers, which are usually dry except for a narrow stream in the middle, became wild rapids and a force of nature. This drive has the reputation as being one of the most amazing in New Zealand (a good excuse to return one day).

QUEENSTOWN

Our outstanding apartment at The Rees made a very luxurious base for our six-day stay in Queenstown. The apartment, which overlooked the Remarkables Mountains and Lake Wakatipu, was only a 30-minute walk into the town center, so we enjoyed walking on the trail along the lake to go for breakfast each morning. The first two days were rainy, so not many adventure activities were available. On a recommendation from a friend, we ate at Winnies Pizza which offered far more than just pizza and had a great party atmosphere. Due to the rain, we went to the cinema next to Winnies – a good rainy-day activity.

New Zealand

The next day, the rain started to clear, so we took a short trip to nearby Gibbston Winery. We did their short wine cave tour and had an exquisite lunch. We noticed there were shuttle buses advertising winery tours, which would have been a good way to visit the dozen or so wineries in the Gibbston Valley without having to drive. In the afternoon, we went into the town center, played disc golf at the Queenstown Gardens and browsed the shops. We ate dinner at a Japanese restaurant called Minarni, which was delicious. It is very popular, so reservations are recommended.

The weather cleared for the remainder of our stay, so we participated in many more adventure activities such as the Shotover Jetboat ride, one of the most popular tours in Queenstown. There is a shuttle bus for pickup and drop off and the 25-minute boat ride is a thrill a minute – especially the 360 spins. The next day we slowed the pace and did a half-day tour with Dart Stables near the small village of Glenorchy. The beginner level horseback ride took 90-min and covered areas where movie such as the Lord of the Rings, Wolverine, Caspian and Lovely Bones were filmed. Our guide pointed out locations for various scenes which will make it fun to re-watch these movies.

On New Year’s Eve we drove 45-minutes through rolling hills to Cardrona Adventure Park, an adrenaline-filled place perfect for doing “guy stuff.” In retrospect, l would have stayed back in Queenstown and spent the day hiking or shopping while my husband and teenage boys enjoyed the adventure park. At the park we rode monster trucks and did a one-hour quad bike ride through beautiful countryside. My teenage boys said riding the quad bikes was the highlight of their trip to New Zealand, although they said the monster truck ride was not worth the money. We had a lovely discovery as we left the park and stopped at the historic Cardrona Hotel for lunch. The outside of the hotel looks small and not especially inviting, but when we stepped inside, we discovered a huge garden in the back with picnic tables and lovely landscaping. A small band began to play bluegrass music, so we thoroughly enjoyed relaxing in the lovely garden, eating wholesome food, and listening to good music.

Back in Queenstown. we had reservations at Flame Grill for our New Year’s Eve dinner. The restaurant is known for its BBQ ribs and in no time, my boys were elbow-deep in BBQ sauce. At the end of the meal, the pile of rib bones reminded me of something out of a Flinstones cartoon. We strolled along the beachfront in downtown Queenstown, which was set up for a big New Year’s party with two stages for bands. We had dessert at Patagonia, a well-known local ice cream shop which uses only local ingredients – the best tasting ice cream we’ve had in a long time. There was a fireworks show at midnight in downtown Queenstown, but we opted to stay home after our long day.

For our final full day in Queenstown, we took the Skyline Gondola to the mountaintop overlooking Queenstown – the view of the town and the enormous Lake Wakatipu was stunning. We chose to do the street luge, which was our third time to do it (the other locations were in Rotorua and Singapore). This was our favorite of the three. Although we only spent three hours here, it is definitely possible to spend the whole day (and of lot of money) doing other activities such as bungy jumping, paragliding, and mountain biking. We ate dinner at a local favorite sandwich shop called Jimmy Barr’s, which is another good place if you have a big appetite.

New Zealand

TE ANAU/MILFORD SOUND

Just when we thought it was impossible to match the beauty we had seen so far on our trip we drove to Fiordland and Milford Sound. The small town of Te Anau, while not particularly exciting, is basically the ”base camp” for activities in Milford Sound (it is the closest city with decent accommodations and dining). One activity that can be done from Te Anau is a visit to the glow worm caves. Real Journeys offers trip that includes a 30-minute boat ride across Lake Te Anau to the caves. The tour of the cave takes another 30 minutes and includes a wonderful cave hike and a pitch-black ride on a small boat to see the glow worms. As I sat in silence and total darkness, staring up at the small dots of light from the glow worms, I imagined I was in deep space. It was a very serene experience.

It takes about two hours (one way) to drive f om Te Anau to Milford Sound – something to consider when planning activities. Fortunately, it was only a one-hour drive to many of the hiking trails outside of Milford Sound. We did a 3-hour hike on the Key Summit trail, which was well ­marked and stunning in its scenery. The next day, we woke before sunrise to drive into Milford Sound for a kayak trip. Getting into all the gear and receiving instructions took quite some time, but it was worth it to be on the calm morning water and glimpse such astounding sights as Mitre Peak and Stirling Falls. We had the treat of getting up close to the Bowman Waterfall ( 150111 high) as well as paddling to within five meters of a seal sunning herself on the rocky shore. On our final day at Milford Sound, we started on a more advanced 4-hour hike, but the water in the creeks was too high and we had to turn around. We “settled” for a nature hike around Gunn Lake, a lush, moss-covered forest trail with ancient trees.

As we drove every day from Te Anau to Milford Sound, I wondered if it would have been better to stay in Queenstown and spend the money to take the short helicopter flights to Milford Sound. Some friends did the overnight stay on a cruise boat in Milford Sound and they had a wonderful time. That might be another option to avoid having to drive so much each day going back and forth. No matter how you plan your trip to the South Island, Milford Sound is not to be missed. For us, it was the icing on the cake and the perfect way to finish our idyllic vacation.

As I described to friends upon my return to Shanghai, experiencing such clean air and seeing the vibrant colors was like living in High Definition. My son described it like when you clean your eyeglasses and you realize you can see everything so much better! This rejuvenating vacation was a feast for all of my senses … and my soul.

RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATIONS

FRANZ JOSEF

  • Blue Ice (only 12 tables – make reservations)
  • Breezes

QUEENSTOWN

  • Winnie’s Pizza
  • Manami (Japanese)
  • Flame Grill
  • Vudu Cafe (breakfast and lunch)
  • Fergburger (famous hamburger joint)
  • Jimmy Barr’s (sandwiches)
  • Patagonia (ice cream)

WHEN TO BOOK

September and October are the best times 10 book a Christmas trip to New- Zealand since it is peak tourist season. My trip was arranged with the help of Vicki Baensch at Australia Expat Travel. Visit the website

Paula Taylor is the former editor of the Courier magazine. She repatriated in June and is now breathing the clean air and enjoying the blue skies of Texas.

Down under Australia

Down Under Australia Holiday

Down Under Australia Holiday by Sylvaine Djafarian

If you’ve dreamed of traveling down under to Australia for a holiday, but baulked at the distances and time zones to cross from your native Europe or America, perhaps your time in China is the perfect opportunity to go.

After each business trip in Australia, my husband kept telling us how beautiful this country was, and how friendly Aussies were. So, knowing that this might be our last year in Shanghai, and that from Europe, the trip would be much more complicated and expensive, we decided to spend the whole Christmas holidays there.

We had a few wishes: diving and snorkeling, beaches and nature, with two children aged five and seven, who are not used to long hikesand Australia fulfilled them all!

To the Apple Isle

Echidna Down Under AustraliaOur first taste of Tasmania, Australia’s southern island state, was an evening stroll around the harbor and enjoying delicious grilled meat. The next morning, we picked up our rental car in the city center, and drove to Port Arthur. Driving (on the left!) is a very convenient way to visit Tasmania, either with a car or campervan.

We were all eager to meet the local star, the Tasmanian devil, so our first stop was at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, between Hobart and Port Arthur. After seeing a female and her young having lunch, we understood why the Warner Bros Looney Tunes animated cartoons portrayed this marsupial as Taz, a carnivore with a great appetite! We also learnt that the Tasmanian devil is now an endangered species, because of a very contagious dis-ease, its illegally introduced predator the red fox, and road accidents.

Tasmania Devil Down Under AustraliaWe then spent an afternoon in Port Arthur, an open air museum and UNESCO world heritage site, which used to be a penal colony in the 19th century. History is vividly rendered through exhibitions, stories about the British and Irish convicts and their hard lives, and inspired guides offering tours of the remaining buildings. Some convicts were as young as nine, something that made our children thoughtful

From the South-East we drove to the West Coast, through impressive National Parks preserving the Tasmanian Wilderness Area. We traveled on the West Coast Wilderness Railway, a restoration of an original steam train carrying copper from Queens-town mines to the port at Strahan, and stopping at the stations along the line, we discovered the rainforest, the Huon pines, and even panned for goldwith no success!

Our favorite activity was the Bonnet Island Experience: cruising on a small boat to a tiny island just before dusk, listening to stories about the island and its lighthouse before enjoying a plate of delicious local cheese on the boat, and going back to the island at night to see its inhabitants, about 40 Little Penguins, returning to their burrows to feed their hungry and noisy chicks.

On the day long road trip crossing Tasmania from West to East, we took several short walks in the Cradle Mountain National Park, and saw echidnas and pademelons , the kangaroo’s smaller cousin. The countryside offers a great variety of landscapes, beautiful mountains and colorful vegetation.

We ended our Tasmanian trip in Bicheno, where we spent a day in Freycinet National Park, enjoying turquoise waters, white sand beaches and pink granites rocks. The best part for our kids was stroking a friendly kangaroo .in the parking lot! He was busy eating the apple a visitor gave him, despite all the do not feed the animals signs. My husband also joined the diving center for a dive among beautiful weedy sea dragons (marine fish related to the seahorse).

Tasmania is often skipped by travelers who prefer to concentrate on Australia’s mainland, but for us it was a wonderful oasis of nature, amazing animals, varied landscapes within relatively short driving range, and very friendly people.

Heron Island Down Under Australia

To the Tropics

From Australia’s most southern point, we flew north, to the coral cay of Heron Island near the Tropic of Capricorn, in Queensland. The island is about 800m long and 300m at its widest. Its eastern half is part of a National Park. Discovered in 1843, it wasn’t inhabited until the early 20th century when a turtle cannery was established. It is now shared by a resort, a reef research station, and tens of thousands of birds during the breeding season, from October to April.

Don’t expect a 5-star luxury resort, be careful of the Noddy terns droppings over your heads, and bring your ear plugs for the night, but if you love nature, diving and snorkeling, this is a great place for a few days. We took reef walks, searching in the shallows for starfish, sea cucumber, small sharks, shells, and a wide array of corals.

The forest walks revealed where the ghoulish screams at night came from: the Wedge-tailed Shearwaters feeding their chicks after a day of fishing. There is also a great Junior Ranger Club for kids over seven years which our daughter loved. She had fun, and learnt everything about the sea, its inhabitants, its dangers, and why we need to protect our environment.

Unfortunately, the weather was not the best. The trip between Gladstone and the island was a nightmare, the sea was rough, and we were all sick. Poor visibility and strong currents only allowed limited diving and snorkeling, however, from the beach, we saw stingrays, a school of young reef sharks, and parrot fish. We also were lucky to see sea turtles nesting during walks at dusk, and even once at 11am, which was quite unusual, but allowed us to take photos. Last but not least, our children still talk about the arrival of Santa Claus on a boat !

Down Under Australia

To the City

Sydney is a capital city that epitomizes Australia’s relaxing lifestyle. Our hotel, over-looking Hyde Park, was the perfect starting point to explore Darling Harbour, the beautiful Botanic Gardens, the Opera House
(where we attended the musical Children Show Hairy Maclary and Friends booked 2 months before), and visit Taronga Zoo by ferry from Circular Quay.

We did not suffer from the heat on the East Coast nor in Sydney, apparently weather was cooler than usual, with Australia still waiting for the summer to begin.

The highlight of our stay in Sydney was New Year’s Eve overlooking the harbor. After discovering that we could not access the main harbor area of Circular Quay, we walked to the Observatory Gardens, the perfect place to enjoy the Family Fireworks at 9pm. An unforgettable show, both in the sky, and also on the streets, with a mix of tourists in shorts and T-shirts, and locals in evening dresses and high heels.

Three weeks were not enough. We will have to go back for Melbourne, the outback, Uluru, more beautiful beaches, and all the other amazing places Australia offers.

Useful Tips:

  • Tasmania: Best season (December to March) usually has daytime temperatures ranging around 20-22 degrees Celsius. Early December, it was colder, pack some warm clothes.
  • Heron Island: best season (October to April) has daytime temperatures ranging around 28-30 degrees Celsius, and no jellyfish in the sea during Christmas time. Note that all boat trips are only for adults and kids older than 8.
  • If you are planning to spend New Year’s Eve in Sydney book well in advance.
  • Food and accommodation in Australia are expensive, so try to book family rooms with cooking
    facilities to avoid always going to restaurants.
  • Contact Australia Expat Travel for local knowledge and good information. www.ausxpattravel.com.au; [email protected]
Melbourne attractions

Australia: Visit Melbourne

Visit Melbourne by Vicki Baensch

Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, has regularly been voted one of the world’s most liveable cities. It is a city of 4.1 million people and is renowned for its sense of style and elegance. It boasts glamorous festivals, Australia’s best shopping, a lively passion for music, eating and drinking, and a flourishing interest in the arts. Melbourne is the place with something for everyone!

Shopping in Melbourne

Shopping:

Get your retail therapy fix in chic fashion stores at the Melbourne Central complex or the bustling Queen Victoria Market. There are numerous grand arcades filled with boutique stores and unique quirky shops in the laneways – you will find Melbourne is a shopper’s paradise. Discover boutiques and more in Melbourne’s hidden laneways or visit Chadstone which is a mecca for luxury and indoor shopping.

Dining:

The Melbourne weather is conducive to hanging out in cafes or trendy bars, and enjoying a romantic dinner in one of Melbourne’s many restaurants. Discover alleys leading to opulent bars, exclusive restaurants hiding behind non-descript doors and cafes/clubs in Melbourne’s laneways.

Entertainment:

Melbourne is famous for catching a game at one of the big stadiums – typically Australian Rules Football/Cricket at the M.C.G or the Australian Open Tennis at Rod Laver Arena. Take time to shop and play at the Crown Casino complex or enjoy a walk in the Botanic Gardens. Visit a museum or see a theatre show.

Short Drives:

If that’s not enough, it also offers easy access to areas such as the Yarra Valley- wine, Phillip Island – penguins and the coastal scenery of the famous Great Ocean Road. All of these areas offer magnificent countryside and many nature based experiences to be enjoyed by all ages. Australia’s unique animals are heavily featured also! This is where you can see koalas, watch penguins in their hundreds waddle up the beach of an evening, learn to surf, swim with wild dolphins and seals, walk and be amazed by the wonderful ruggedness of the rock stacks and blowholes on the Great Ocean Road, hike in the Otways Rainforest and enjoy some magnificent wine from the Yarra Valley. Victoria is a small state and all these places are an easy 1-3 hour’s drive out of Melbourne.

Phillip Island 12 Apostles Great Ocean Road

Allow at least 2-3 nights for the city and consider an extra few nights to get out of the city. Melbourne and Victoria are definitely a must-see for any visit to Australia as the area delivers iconic and unique Australian experiences that make for an unforgettable holiday!

 

Facts:

  • Melbourne weather can vary dramatically in a day. You can expect average daytime temperatures ranging from 14 degrees in winter to 28 degrees Celsius in summer. Perfect weather for all activities.
  • Air China, Air Asia, China Eastern and China Southern are the international airlines that fly direct. Direct flight time is approx. 12 hours. Plenty more airlines fly into Melbourne via their own transit hub.
  • Melbourne is +2 hours ahead of Shanghai time.

 

Recommended Restaurants:

Izakaya Den, Cutler & Co Dining Room & Bar, Mamasita, Attica, Circa, The Prince Hotel, Spice Temple, Dandelion, Café Di Stasio St Kilda, Lau’s Family Kitchen St Kilda, Rockpool Bar & Grill, Flower Drum, Jacques Reymond, Ladro, Golden Fields St Kilda, Chin Chin CBD, Newmarket Hotel St Kilda, Vue De Monde CBD

 

Major Events:

Melbourne hosts some major events year round. Some of the best include:

  • January – Australian Open Tennis
  • March – Australian Motor Grand Prix
  • March – Melbourne Food & Wine Festival
  • April – Melbourne International Comedy Festival
  • August – Melbourne International Film Festival
  • October-November – Spring Racing Carnival
  • December Historic Boxing Day Test Cricket Match

 

Recommended Activities/Tours: This is a short selection. There is so much you can do!

Take a walk through the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens and enjoy any number of their tours including Aboriginal Cultural Experience or Heritage Walk www.rbg.vic.gov.au/rbg_melbourne

Watch the Orang-utans face-to-face at the amazing Melbourne Zoo – www.zoo.org.au/melbourne/

Go diving with the sharks at Melbourne Aquarium – www.melbourneaquarium.com.au/

Enjoy a fun day out with family at the Melbourne Museum and IMAX theatre www.melbourne.museum.vic.gov.au/; www.imaxmelbourne.com.au/#

Do the Gallery circuit including NGV International, Ian Potter Centre, State Library, The Australian Centre for contemporary art, Heide Museum of modern art www.visitvictoria.com/Activities-and-attractions/Art-theatre-and-culture/Art-galleries.aspx

 

Shopping/Food:

Enjoy all the foodie delights & shopping at the Queen Victoria Markets (closed Monday & Wednesday): www.qvm.com.au/

Tramcar Restaurant: Enjoy a superb 3-5 course meal aboard a luxury tramcar whilst it travels the streets of Melbourne. A unique dining experience! From $70 per person: www.tramrestaurant.com.au/

Join a walking a shopping trip which will help you find all those fantastic places: www.hiddensecretstours.com/

Stroll along the Yarra River and dine at one of the many restaurants at Southgate then stroll to the Crown Entertainment complex home to shops, cinemas and the Crown Casino www.celebratesouthgate.com.au/

Visit Chadstone Shopping Centre which is home to 530 stores including the most significant collection of luxury brands under one roof boasting Australia’s first dedicated luxury precinct: www.chadstoneshopping.com.au

 

Great Ocean Road:

Great Ocean Road Day Tours: Enjoy a full day tour with the aboriginal centre, twelve apostles and enjoy the beach: www.gowest.com.au/

Drive the 250km stretch of road hugging the coast with amazing views: www.greatoceanrd.org.au/

Visit the Twelve Apostles the giant rock stacks rising from the Southern Ocean. View at sunset & you may see penguins as well! Can also book helicopter flights to fly around these majestic rock stacks: www.12apostleshelicopters.com.au/

Zip lining & tree-top walk at the Otway Fly in the Otways near Great Ocean Road is not to be missed: www.otwayfly.com/

Learn to Surf near Bells Beach, which is part of the World Surfing Championships every Easter. Plenty of surf schools abound in this area: www.gorideawave.com.au/

Swim with wild dolphins & seals at Queenscliff: www.dolphinswims.com.au/

The small hamlet of Kennett River on the Great Ocean Road is one of the best places in Australia to see koalas in the wild. Turn into Grey River Road, off the Great Ocean Road, and between one and two kilometres along the road you will be guaranteed to spot koalas in the gum trees.

You can also do the Great Ocean Walk, a 91km walk which begins in Apollo Bay and ends at the Twelve Apostles. www.greatoceanwalk.com.au

 

Phillip Island (2 hours south/east of Melbourne): Great for nature & wildlife lovers!

Phillip Island Day Tours: Enjoy a full day with wildlife, wineries and ending with the famous Penguin Parade: www.gowest.com.au/phillip-island-day-tour.html

Must not miss is the nightly Penguin Parade: www.penguins.org.au/

Experience wild koalas in their natural habitat: www.penguins.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=15&Itemid=41&mytabsmenu=3

Step back in time… meet the farm animals, relax in the cafe, enjoy the water views, and stroll amongst heritage buildings and lovely gardens: www.penguins.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13&Itemid=39&mytabsmenu=4