Having had a few hours to familiarise myself with the area surrounding my Auckland hotel before departing for the Bay of Isles just a few days ago, upon my return to the city, I quickly found my way back to the centrally-located Ibis Styles from the coach station.
I’d arrived back in Auckland from Paihia with with most of the day still to spare so after dropping my bags and freshening up, I was keen to get straight out and spend the afternoon exploring.
I decided to walk through Albert Park and towards the Parnell district of the city then into Auckland Domain, another of the city’s parks and home of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. I spent the next few hours exploring the museum which had an extremely varied collection of exhibits on New Zealand’s history.
After visiting the museum, I walked back to the city centre and bought a ticket for the observation deck at Auckland’s famous Sky Tower to enjoy the views over the city and the surrounding area.
The next day was my last day in the city and I’d be moving from my hotel near the waterfront to the Haka Lodge hostel in the less-central Ponsonby area of the city as that is where my tour would start from the next morning.
Short on time, I decided the best way to see the as much of Auckland as possible would be on the hop on/off tour bus.
The bus had 2 routes which crossed over in Auckland Domain at the War Memorial Museum. Route one took me out towards Bastian Point where the bus stopped at the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial. Hopping off, I walked down to the nearby Mission Bay beach then back to the memorial from where there were some pretty views of Auckland city and across the bay.
From here, the bus took us through the Parnell are of the city, passing the Parnell Rose Gardens and towards Auckland Domaine for a stop at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. I would be switching bus routes here and had some time to kill between uses.
As I’d already visited the museum the day before, I instead took a stroll to the park’s Winter Gardens and had a quick look around before making my way back to the bus stop.
The route two bus took me out to Mount Eden where I hopped off again to explore. Mount Eden is Auckland’s highest volcanic cone. The bus couldn’t drive to the summit so instead dropped us further down and I made the walk to the top from where there were some great views of Auckland’s skyline.
Back on the bus, we passed Eden Park, New Zealand’s largest sports stadium and home of the All Blacks. Then it was back to Auckland Domain where I swapped back onto a route one bus.
The route one bus took me back into the Parnell district where I hopped off in Parnell Village, grabbing some lunch, browsing the stores and visiting the nearby Holy Trinity Cathedral. Then it was back towards Auckland’s waterfront and to the stop I’d got on at in the morning.
It was late afternoon so after picking up my luggage, I caught the bus down towards Ponsonby and found my way to the Haka Lodge hostel.
It had been a busy couple of days in the city and I felt I’d seen quite a bit of what it had to offer but now I was looking forward to starting my tour of the rest of the North Island.
After spending an amazing week touring New Zealand’s South Island with small group adventure tour company Haka Tours, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I returned to explore the country’s North Island. Luckily, I had the opportunity to go back less than a year later so immediately booked myself of Haka Tour’s 7-day North Island trip.
Arriving into New Zealand at the end of 5 weeks spent travelling in Australia, the last 3 of which had been mainly spent travelling solo, I was looking forward to joining a group tour and the company it would provide but first of all I had just under a week to spend in New Zealand alone before meeting my group in Auckland.
Seeing as I’d be flying to Auckland, I decided to spend a night there before travelling north to the Bay of Islands, part of North Island I’d not be visiting as part of my tour, for 3 nights before returning to Auckland for 2 nights ready to start my tour.
Despite catching a relatively early flight to Auckland from Sydney, by the time I’d got through airport security and worked out how to get to my hotel using public transport, there wasn’t a lot of the day left so I spent the evening familiarising myself with the area around my conveniently-located Ibis Styles hotel and a stroll along Auckland’s waterfront.
The next morning, I was up early to walk the short distance to the coach stop near the waterfront to make the 3 hour bus journey to Paihia. Once there, I found my way to the YHA where I’d be staying in a private en suite room for the next 3 nights.
Once settled in, I took a walk down to the seafront and around the small town of Paihia. Realising there wasn’t really much to do in the town itself, I made a spur of the moment decision to catch a boat across the Bay of Islands to the town of Russell.
The crossing, passing all the small islets and islands which give the Bay of Islands its name, took only 15 minutes and after arriving at the picturesque harbour, I took a stroll along the waterfront and browsed in some of its shops before following the signs to the trail to Long Beach.
After spending some time sat relaxing at the pretty bay, I wandered back towards the waterfront to catch the boat back across to Paihia.
The next morning I was up early to walk down to Paihia’s waterfront where I’d be meeting my coach for a day tour to Cape Reinga, the most north-westernly tip of the peninsula. Our first stop after leaving Paihia was at the store Ka-uri Unearthed which, as well as offering a cafe and conveniences, sells furniture carved out of Kauri trees. Highlight of the store was a staircase carved out of a giant Kauri tree.
Next, it was on to the area’s 90-Mile Beach, a huge expanse of sand (and actually only 88km/55 miles long!) on the northwest coast of North Island leading down to the Tasman Sea. From here, we could see the Hole in the Rock, a rock formation lying just off the coast.
After leaving the beach behind, we drove the short distance to the Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes for part of the tour I was really looking forward to – sandboarding!
I had sandboarded before at the Lancelin Dunes near Perth but there we were given long, thin wooden boards to sit on and ride down the dunes whereas here, we were given boogie boards and shown how to lie on them on our stomachs as if we were bodyboarding in the sea and ride down the huge dunes head first, dragging our toes in the sand behind us if we wanted to control our speed.
Like with my first experience of sandboarding down the dunes in Lancelin, actually getting to the top of the dunes to start our descent was a huge challenge and it felt like for every one step I was taking up the dune, I was sliding 2 steps back!
Once at the top, it felt pretty high up and the way down looked pretty steep so it took a while to pluck up the courage to give it a go but after watching a few other members of the group give it a go and survive, I finally plucked up the courage, keeping my toes pretty much permanently jammed in the sand behind me as I went!
It was fun and I’m glad I gave it a go but once back at the bottom of the dune, I couldn’t face climbing all the way back up again and decided to spend the last 5 minutes watching the rest of the group sandboarding down, some at break-neck speed!
A lunch stop was next and we stopped at a local cafe where a canteen style-buffet was provided included in the price of the tour.
Then it was on to Cape Reinga itself, at the tip of the peninsula. Here, we followed the coastal path down to the lighthouse at the end. The coastal views along the way were stunning and looking out we could see the point where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet, a different shade of blue on each side of the join!
We made one more stop on the way back to Paihia at Gumdiggers Park, an ancient buried Kauri forest. Here, we followed a looped track past a giant Kauri log and through an old gum field with a recreated ‘gumdiggers village’ to learn about how the resin extracted from the ancient trees.
The next day, I was off to see another Hole in the Rock, this time the one off the coast of Paihia in the Bay of Islands. The boat took us out past all the small islands in the bay.
Along the way, we spotted dolphins and watched as they swam alongside us!
When we reached the Hole in the Rock, we took a few trips around it and even through it before turning round to head back to Paihia.
On the way back, we stopped off at Urupukapuka Island, walking up to the highest point there to see the view over the Bay of Islands.
Once back in Paihia, I decided to walk up to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, home of the Waitangi Treaty House where the Treaty of Waitangi, the document that establishing the British Colony of New Zealand, was signed in 1840.
After visiting the museum and exploring its grounds, I followed a nearby trail along the Waitangi River to Haruru Falls.
The next day it was time to say goodbye to Paihia and get the coach back to Auckland.
I had really enjoyed my few days in the Bay of Islands and was glad I had taken the time to visit this beautiful region on New Zealand’s North Island.
Needing to justify another trip to an already much-visited Melbourne for a concert, I decided to spend a couple of weeks beforehand exploring parts of Australasia I’d not been to before. Travelling alone until I reached Melbourne, I eventually settled on a one-week tour of New Zealand’s South Island followed by a few days in one of only 2 Australian states I hadn’t visited before, South Australia. I’d be spending just 2 nights in the city of Adelaide giving me just one full day and most of the following day with a late evening flight to Melbourne.
Arriving in the evening after a rather bumpy flight from Christchurch via Sydney, I checked into my city centre Ibis hotel accommodation and headed straight to bed ready for an early start the next day.
Upon the advice of an Australian friend back in the UK who once lived in Adelaide, I had decided to spend my full day on a trip out of the city to Kangaroo Island. I had booked myself on a full day escorted tour and just needed to be waiting across the road from my hotel for the coach to pick me up early the next morning.
Once on board and the rest of the passengers picked up, we were taken on a rather long drive to the ferry terminal to catch the boat across the sea to Kangaroo Island. It was a cool autumn day and with the sea being rather choppy, I mainly stayed inside on the ferry, grabbing some breakfast from the on-board cafe and settling in for the 45 minute ride. Once there, we were met by our drivers for the day and invited on board our assigned minibus to begin our tour.
Stop number one was at Seal Bay where we battled our way through the rain and strong winds along the boardwalk and down to the beach for a bit of seal spotting. The seals were everywhere – along the path, under the boardwalk, on the beach and in the sea and despite the weather, I loved spending time on the beach watching the seals clambering out of the sea and waddling up the beach to find shelter under the boardwalk!
Our second stop of the day was Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.
The weather had thankfully started to improve and we followed the sanctuary’s Koala Walk trail , soon spotting the cute koalas tucked high up in the eucalyptus trees as well as kangaroos lazing in the grounds.
We continued our journey across the island and into Flinders Chase National Park where we stopped at the visitors center and then at Bunker Hill Lookout before continuing down to the coast and the Remarkable Rocks.
Here, we followed the short path down to the strange rock formations and spent some time exploring and taking photos.
Our final stop of the day was at the nearby Admiral’s arch, also part of Flinders Chase National Park. Here we followed the boardwalk past Cape du Couedic Lighthouse and down to view the naturally created rock arch.
The views of the coast from the boardwalk were really beautiful and we spotted more seals, this time lazing on the rocks as the sea crashed in around them.
After a busy day, it was time to be dropped off back at the ferry terminal to catch the boat back across to the mainland where we were met by a coach to take us back to Adelaide. Back at the hotel, I was exhausted after a fun but long day.
I’d enjoyed seeing some of the highlights of Kangaroo Island but wish I’d had time to make it a longer, overnight stay there to spend more time exploring what it had to offer.
The next day, I checked out of my hotel and headed off to spend the day exploring the city before catching my flight to Melbourne that evening. After grabbing some breakfast from a nearby cafe, I walked to Adelaide’s North Terrace to visit the South Australian Museum. The museum was free to enter and housed a variety of Natural History exhibitions including a huge collection of Aboriginal Australian artefacts.
The museum is situated right on the edge of Adelaide’s Parklands and after my visit I wandered along to the nearby Botanic Gardens to explore. The park looked really beautiful with the autumn colours of the trees.
Next up, I walked to Rundle Mall, Adelaide’s shopping district to browse the stores, pick up some last minute souvenirs and find somewhere to have lunch at then down to Victoria Square with its fountains where I was surprised to see a variety of lawn games including swing ball and skittles set up on the lawn for passers by to play with!
From here, I took a walk up to Adelaide’s Elder Park, taking a stroll along the River Torrens, across the bridge and looping back into the city. Then it was time to head back to the hotel to retrieve my luggage and catch the bus to the airport in time for my flight. I’d enjoyed my day strolling through the city getting a glimpse of what it had to offer and I’d like to return to Adelaide in the future maybe as a base to explore the region further.
Regular readers will know I’ve been a bit of a cheerleader for Trek America, a small group US tour company aimed at 18-38 year old solo travellers which I credit with changing my life by quashing my fears and doubts of travelling alone, instilling my love of small group tours and adventure travel in general and leading to me forming many lifelong friendships. So it was with great sadness that I met the news that the company had been disbanded, another casualty of the effects of Covid on the Worldwide travel industry. Trek America wasn’t a baby in the World of escorted touring having started offering its unique adventures across the Americas all the way back in 1972, but global travel restrictions along with the logistics of how to operate group tours which essentially consist of up to 15 individuals crammed together on a minibus for much of the time in a World of social distancing, eventually made the business unviable.
At the grand old age of 34, I took the plunge and booked myself onto the 3-week Trek America Southern BLT tour, my first foray into solo travel and group tours and I loved it so much that I returned to the States just a few months later to join the company’s 3-week Northern BLT Trek. Since then, I have travelled with them through Alaska and introduced my sister-in-law the joys of small group travel when I won 2 places on their Deep South Tour. While I’m now more likely to plan my own self-driven road trips with some of the many friends I made on Trek and the news of the company’s demise came *just* as I was too old to join onto any more of their tours anyway, I still felt a huge loss at hearing its fate and especially thinking of all those who now won’t get to go through the experience of touring with them.
So to celebrate its existence rather than mourn its loss, here are my top 5 memories from the 4 tours I took with Trek America!
Just three days into a 3 week trip, our stop in Vegas is mainly memorable because, unusually, it wasn’t how I’d ever spent my time in Vegas before.
Playing drinking games in the hotel followed by piling onto a ‘party bus’ on which we spent our time on board hooking up our own ipod and singing and dancing along to the cheesiest of cheesy pop tunes. Then catching the last 2 shows at the Bellagio dancing fountains before karaoke at an off-Strip dive bar until the early hours.
And yet we were still up reasonably early the next day to make the most of everything else Vegas has to offer. Only on Trek.
At completely the other end of the spectrum to the time I spent in Vegas on the Southern BLT but equally unforgettable was the afternoon I spent in Memphis on the Deep South BLT at the National Civil Rights Museum.
Compelling, humbling and thought-provoking, the museum took us on a journey through the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the US and Worldwide including a deeply moving look at the events leading up to the assassination of Martin Luther King before seeing the room where he died. A sobering experience.
A magical visit to Monument Valley a week into the Southern BLT. After an unexpected snow storm suddenly hit as we visited the Grand Canyon, it was on to Utah where we found the snow getting deeper and deeper.
Despite the weather making it impossible to do the complete tour of the Navajo Tribal Park site, the snow made the visit even more special bringing a serene calm over the area. And underneath a clear blue sky with the sun shining on it, the famous red rocks poking up from the valley floor looked even more beautiful covered in the heavy, white snow.
Still the moment from the tour we talk about the most.
Not strictly a Trek America memory as although I booked the tour of Alaska with them, I was transferred onto a tour with their sister company Grand American Adventures, but it still felt very much like Trek so I’m going to count it!
The highlight of a trip full of highlights, this expensive tour extra was worth every penny as we flew in a light aircraft over Denali National Park and finally caught sight of the until then elusive Mount Denali.
Only 30% of visitors to Denali National Park get to see Mount Denali and the weather had not been on our side while touring the park so having it suddenly come into view as we flew over the park was an amazing surprise and a strangely emotional experience.
Even without the appearance of Mount Denali, the scenic flight over glaciers and the Alaskan Range, followed by a glacial landing, was a wonderful, once in a lifetime, experience.
Despite it being a very National Park heavy tour, nothing could have prepared me for sheer beauty and spectacle of Yellowstone National Park. From bison and bear sightings to colourful canyons and of course, the famous geysers and geothermal activity, never has my jaw dropped so may time in such a short amount of times.
If it looks amazing in the photos, they don’t do it even the slightest justice. The park has to be seen to be believed. And as if that wasn’t enough, we continued from the park through its home state of Wyoming visiting the neighbouring Grand Teton National Park where we were met by more breath-taking scenery before spending the rest of our time in old west-style town of Jackson horse riding in the mountains and rafting through the rapids of Snake River. The one state on the tour I couldn’t wait to return to!
There are hundreds of other memories I could have mentioned from my Trek America trips – line dancing the night away in Nashville, listening to a jazz band play as we floated down the Mississippi on a New Orleans paddle boat, spending the day exploring the valley at Yosemite National Park, watching the sunset over Lake Tahoe, hiking in the amazing US National Parks, visiting the studios Elvis recorded at in Memphis… not to mention all the amazing food we ate, fun nights out we had and all the interesting places we stayed in.
Thanks for all the memories Trek America, you will be missed.
Find links to read about my adventures travelling across America with Trek here.
I was nearing the end of a one-week tour of New Zealand’s South Island with small group adventure tour company, Haka Tours. The tour had began in Christchurch with stops at Lake Tekapo, Queenstown and Wanaka and now we had 2 nights left and were driving north to Glacier Country.
As the Haka Tours bus took us from Wanaka towards our destination of Franz Josef, there was a visible change in the scenery as we entered Mount Aspiring National Park and the New Zealand rainforest and the vivid autumn colours that had dominated our views so far were replaced by deep hues of green.
Before leaving, we were all advised to invest in some bug spray to use as we reached the tropics and as we got out the bus at our first stop, Fantail Falls, we were all glad to have taken this advice as mosquitos swarmed near the river.
Fantail Falls was a pretty and easy to access waterfall in Mount Aspiring National Parks. After spending some time taking photos, we took a short drive to another waterfall, the taller Thunder Creek Falls.
It was another couple of hours or so drive from here to our motel in Franz Josef, the only other stop we made along the way was a a viewpoint over the coast.
That evening, our guide told us there was a surprise night out arranged for us all and after checking into our rooms, we met up to find a limousine waiting outside our motel for us!
The limo took us up and down the high street a few time before dropping us at the Blue Ice Cafe, a bar that was actually just a short walk from our accommodation.
Here, we found a tray of shots lined up for us and after some good ‘pub grub’ food, we spent the evening entertaining ourselves playing pool along with games on the Nintendo Wii set up by the bar staff!
The next morning, we were off to visit Franz Josef glacier. Some of the group had booked helicopter tours and ice-walking trips to get a bit closer to the glacier while the rest of us would be following the walking trail out of Franz Josef village to the base of the glacier.
After grabbing some snacks and sandwiches to take with us, we set off. It was a mainly easy walk to the glacier over rivers, through the rainforest and past waterfalls with the glacier in view most of the way.
After taking plenty of photos, we ate lunch near the glacier before retracing our steps back to the path.
With plenty of time to spare before meeting the rest of our group back at the hotel, we decided to follow the Douglas Walk path, hoping it would lead us to a suspension bridge we had glimpsed sight of from the glacier.
The path took us through more rainforest and to Peters Pool, a small but pretty lake which reflected the surrounding scenery and then on to Douglas Bridge, a suspension bridge across the Waiho River. While not the bridge we had seen from the glacier earlier, it was still fun to cross and we made sure to follow the ‘5 persons only’ instruction written on the bridge’s entrance!
From here, some of the group decided to continue on in their search for the other suspension bridge while the rest of us decided to turn around and walk back to Franz Josef village. Once there we sat out in the sunshine having tea and cake at a small cafe waiting for the rest of the group to get back.
We met with the rest of the group late afternoon and all swapped our stories from the day. All tired after the day’s excursions, we were delighted to find out that we would be visiting the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools to relax for a while.
Then, as it was officially the last night of our tour, we all went out to a local restaurant for one last group meal together.
The next morning, we checked out of our Franz Josef motel and boarded our Haka Tours bus for the last time. Our tour of New Zealand’s South Island would be finishing this evening back at where we started, the city of Christchurch.
But instead of taking the tour bus the whole way there, we would be taking the TranzAlpine train for the last leg of the journey!
Before arriving at the train station, we made a lunch stop in the coastal town of Hokitika. After grabbing some food and browsing in some of the town’s jade stores, we made our way down to the beach. Hokitika is home to a large beach full of driftwood and local artists had fashioned this driftwood into various sculptures covering the sand.
The sculptures made great backgrounds for our photos and with it being the last day of our tour, we made sure to get a few photos of the group together.
From here, we continued on until we reached the train station. We waved goodbye to our tour guide for a while – he’d be driving the bus back to Christchurch and would meet us at the other end with our luggage for a proper goodbye – and waited for the train to arrive.
The TranzAlpine is supposed to be one of the World’s greatest train journeys and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The journey took us past amazing scenery passing river gorges and through the Southern Alps then across the Canterbury Plains before arriving in Christchurch. Here we were met as planned by the Haka Tours bus and it was time to say goodbye to some members of the group who were leaving that night to catch flights.
The rest of us would be staying over at the Haka Lodge hostel on the outskirts of the city before departing the next day.
It had been an unforgettable week and I’d enjoyed my time in New Zealand so much, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I returned, next time to explore its North Island!
After a busy few days in Queenstown, we were making a late morning departure for Wanaka where we’d be staying in a hostel situated right on the lake.
Leaving later than planned after some of the group’s morning excursions finished late, it was already pretty much lunch time so we made a stop at the nearby Arrowtown.
For me and a few other members of the group, this was our second visit to Arrowtown that day after we had stopped as part of our Lord of the Rings locations tour that morning.
Then, we had mainly spent time down by the river, driving through the actual town without stopping, so it was nice to have some time to explore the pretty American gold rush-style town this time.
Whilst there, we grabbed a sandwich for lunch from a local cafe, which I followed with a boysenberry ice cream, before jumping back on board our bus to continue to Wanaka.
We didn’t make any more stops along the way until we reached Wanaka’s skydiving centre. Braver members of the group had signed up to skydive over Lake Wanaka that afternoon.
The rest of us waved goodbye to our nervous but excited friends as we continued our drive to our accommodation and as we wished them luck we were both relieved it wasn’t us but also wishing we had the nerve to join them!
After checking into my private en suite room at our hostel, I sat out in the common area admiring the stunning view of the lake from the floor to ceiling window. Joined by some other members of the group, we took a late afternoon stroll down to the lake and along the lakeside path before looping back to the hostel and sitting out in the autumn sunshine awaiting the return of our skydiving buddies.
That evening, we walked into town to Mexican restaurant for dinner, staying for drinks after.
We had just one night in Wanaka but wouldn’t be departing until early afternoon the next day.
A few of us made plans to meet early to make the most of the morning and hire bikes to ride a circular route along the lake and back.
The path along the lake was pretty flat and easy to ride along and made plenty of stops along the way to enjoy the beautiful views and take way too many photos. The lake looked beautiful in the autumn sunshine surrounded by the the golden-leafed trees.
Eventually, the path turned away from the lake and along the road up a huge hill and back to Wanaka town where we passed the Puzzling World attraction. It looked like it would have been a fun place to explore if we’d had more time!
From here it was downhill back to the lake and we returned our bikes and met the rest of the group to check out of our hostel. We just had time to grab some lunch before it was time to load up the bus and depart.
We made a stop for one last look at Lake Wanaka before continuing on to our next destination, Franz Josef.
Our first stop along the way was at a viewpoint over the nearby Lake Pukaki, the largest of the region’s Alpine lakes glimmering under the sunshine and backed by snow-capped mountains in the distance.
From here, we continued on stopping at High Country Salmon, a salmon farm and one of the more random stops on our tour! We got to feed the salmon, find out a bit about the salmon farming business and make use of the cafe before continuing on our way!
Our journey through the mountains was slowed down briefly as we suddenly found a herd of sheep running down the road towards our bus.
It was great fun watching them surround the bus as they squeezed their way past us and on down the road to their new field!
We made another stop at a view point along the mountain pass before arriving at our Haka Lodge accommodation for the next two nights in Queenstown. The cosy Haka Lodge was a hostel owned by the Haka Tour company. I once again had a private room although this time it wasn’t en suite.
After checking in, some members of the group had activities booked for the afternoon including the Shotover Jet boat ride and, for the more adventurous group members, the Canyon Swing – a bit like a bungee jump except you sit in a chair to swing from the cliff! Having not signed up for any of the activities on offer, the rest of us walked to Skyline Queenstown to make use of our free ticket to ride the gondola to the top that was included in our Haka Tours package.
The cable car ride to the top of Bob’s Peak is the steepest in the Southern Hemisphere. Once at the top, we spent a while enjoying the amazing views over Queenstown and the surrounding area before taking the chairlift further up the mountain to ride the Queenstown Luge back down to the viewing platforms and cafe.
After catching the gondola back down, we walked into Queenstown to meet up with the rest of the group at a local bar to share our stories over drinks and pizza.
The following day, the group once again all had different activities booked. Five of us had booked a full day’s coach trip out to Milford Sound.
Our coach drove us through Fiordland National Park making stops along the way at various lakes and mountainous viewpoints before we arrived at Milford Sound harbour early afternoon to enjoy a 2-hour cruise past waterfalls and stunning tropical scenery. This was a really amazing experience!
After our cruise, we were met by our coach for the long journey back to Queenstown. It had been a long day but was definitely worth it.
Despite the late finish the night before, it was up early again the next day for one last tour before leaving Queenstown. Along with a few other group members, I had booked onto a Lord of the Rings tour of the area to see some of the locations used in the films.
Our tour was in a four-wheel drive vehicle and took is out of Queenstown to Kawarau Gorge, the location of the Pillars of the Kings in the film then out to the nearby Arrowtown where the autumn colours of the trees were just breathtaking.
Here, we went off-roading into the woods and down to the Arrow River.
We made a stop by the river to give panning for gold a go. It was a lot harder than it looks and we came away with just one miniscule piece of gold between us!
The final part of our tour took us high up into the mountains for more dramatic scenery and stunning views over Queenstown. Even without an interest in the filming locations for the Lord of the Rings films, this tour would have been worth taking just for the amazing views along the way!
At the end of our tour we were dropped back at Haka Lodge to meet up with the rest of our group and climb back aboard our Haka bus to begin our journey to Wanaka.
It had been a fun few days in Queenstown although looking back on it, I feel I hardly seen any of the town itself being so busy with tours and activities. Definitely somewhere I need to return to one day!!
Having met the group for dinner the previous evening, this morning, after a quick breakfast – our tour guide had a breakfast box full of cereals, bread for toasting etc just for the group – it was up and onto the bus to begin our South Island adventure.
Most of the group had been travelling together a week already touring New Zealand’s North Island and although everyone was super friendly, with bonds having already been formed, we straight away fell into the pattern of us newbies pairing up to sit together on the bus which did make it a bit more difficult to get to know the rest of the group at first.
Today’s destination was Lake Tekapo but first we had a very scenic drive from Christchurch.
We made a few stops along the road to hop out of the van and take photos of the stunning mountain scenery and Mount Cook in the distance and then a lunch stop at a middle of nowhere cafe for a delicious toasted sandwich.
Arriving at Lake Tekapo late afternoon, we stopped lakeside on the way in to take photos along the lake shore near to the Church of the Good Shepherd, a small chapel built on the shore that has become an iconic landmark.
The views across the lake with the turquoise waters backed by the snow-capped Southern Alps were just stunning and we spent longer than planned wandering along the shore and sat on the rocks taking it all in.
From the lake shore, we were taken into the small town where or accommodation for the night was situated. Those in shared dorm accommodation were staying at a lakeside hostel while the few of us who had upgraded to private rooms were staying at a lovely lakeside motel. My room was comfortable, well-equipped and had a patio with stunning views across the lake.
As the sun went down, the mountains across the lake were bathed in a red glow.
Managing to drag myself away from the view from my patio, I met with the rest of the group early evening for surprise trip to Tekapo Springs Hot Pools. The sun had gone down and we relaxed in the hot pools under a spectacularly star-filled sky – Lake Tekapo is part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve and is well-known for it’s starry skies!
From the Hot Springs, we were taken back into town for dinner. Our guide had made reservations at a local Japanese restaurant but there were a coupe of us who were not fans of this cuisine so instead, we went to an Italian restaurant next door for a delicious pizza before wandering back to our accommodation.
The next morning was an early start but I couldn’t complain when it meant being up in time to watch the sunrise over the lake! Taking one last look at the beautiful view, I waved goodbye to Lake Tekapo and joined the rest of the group on our Haka Tours bus ready to continue our journey through South Island, New Zealand to our next stop, Queenstown.
Having decided upon taking a 7-day tour of New Zealand’s South Island with small group tour company Haka Tour, I set off on my journey from London Heathrow to Christchurch via short stops in Dubai, Bangkok and Sydney before finally landing 35 hours later. While I was not looking forward to such a long flight, I found it went a lot quicker than the longest flights I had previously taken to Australia, maybe helped by all the stops breaking the journey up; but I was still exhausted when we landed and the last thing I needed was to find my suitcase damaged and split open as it came round the conveyor belt at Christchurch airport!
Customer services were very apologetic and offered to loan me a temporary case while mine was sent to be repaired but said that as it was a holiday weekend for ANZAC day, I would have to return to the airport in 2-3 days to collect it once it was fixed. I explained I was departing on a tour of the island and wouldn’t be in Christchurch then to be able to return to the airport and after a few calls, they agreed to give me a similar suitcase there and then.
It took me a while to repack and transfer everything from one case to the other and by the time I was ready to leave the airport, I’d abandoned all my plans to use public transport into the city and instead hopped straight into a taxi to take me directly to my Ibis hotel.
It was afternoon when I arrived and with my room ready to check in straight away, I set my alarm for a quick nap before dragging myself out into the city. Finding my way to the Cathedral Square, I had my first glimpse of what was left of the cathedral, severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake.
Hoping to find somewhere to eat in the city, I continued to wander through Christchurch but the city was like a ghost town with little about and failing to find anything I wanted to eat, I returned towards my hotel via a walk through Re:Start Mall, a temporary shopping area replacing stores damaged in the earthquake with stores in shipping containers, then along the river and once back, ordered room service before having an very early night to catch up on my missed sleep.
Having seen a leaflet advertising it in the reception of my hotel, I decided to take a walking tour of the city the next morning. There tour was free and there was no need to book, I just needed to be in Cathedral Square, by the Chalice sculpture, at 10am to meet the guide. 7 of us turned up for the tour, a mixture of solo travellers and couples and we were taken around the city hearing about it’s history and the ongoing repercussions of the 2011 quake.
The eerie, ghost town feel to the city made much more sense having heard the stories of the city’s struggles to rebuild and how many people and businesses had moved out to the suburbs to restart.
There was still uncertainty about what would become of the damaged Cathedral and we were taken past the temporary ‘Cardboard Cathedral’ being used int he meantime as well as shown the 185 Chairs earthquake memorial with one chair standing for every life lost in the earthquake. The city was also covered in street art and murals trying to cover up the damage and we had plenty of examples pointed out to us.
Mentioning to the guide that I had struggled to find anywhere to eat in the city with even cafes serving snacks and breakfast being thin on the ground, he took the group to the C1 Espresso, a cafe with a quick bites menu of sandwiches, fries etc., for lunch.
The cafe had an interesting way of serving fries to the tables sending them through pneumatic tubes rather than the serving staff bringing them over!
After lunch, I said goodbye to the group and took a walk to the city’s Botanic Gardens then visited the Canterbury Museum before collecting my luggage from my hotel and moving to the nearby YHA to meet my Haka Tours group. Having arrived from completing their tour of the North Island, the group were just checking in to the YHA and the few of us joining just for the South Island leg of the tour were introduced before we all went out for food at a nearby Mexican restaurant.
The group was made up of mainly Brits, a few Canadians, an American and one Australian varying in age from early 20s to mid-30s and despite most of the group having already spent a week together travelling the North Islands, I felt immediately included and knew we were going to have a good week together exploring the South Island.
Glad to have upgraded to a private room for the trip, after dinner, I headed back to the YHA and my room to again catch up on my sleep before our early start the next morning to begin our South Island adventure starting with a visit to Lake Tekapo.
Needing to justify my idea for a long haul concert break Down Under to a city I had been to many times before, I decided instead to make my trip a New Zealand vacation with a stop off in Melbourne for the concert on the way home. I’d never visited New Zealand before so it would be somewhere new to explore before joining meeting my Melbourne-based friend in her home city for the gig.
I’d be travelling solo until I reached Melbourne so decided a tour would be the best way to see what New Zealand had to offer in a relatively short time – I had 2 weeks in total which was to include the 2 nights in Melbourne. After researching and reading through various itineraries, I realised I’d only have time to see one of New Zealand’s two islands and South Island seemed to come most heavily recommended.
There were a variety of options aimed at solo travellers including Kiwi Experience, a flexi-travel option where you weren’t tied down to specific travel dates but still had a ready made, mapped out itinerary, the use of a tour guide and the chance to meet fellow solo travellers along the way but deciding this was aimed more at younger backpackers in their early 20s than someone in their mid-30s, I instead opted for the award winning New Zealand small group tour company, Haka Tours.
The adventure travel company got rave reviews and catered for a more open age-group than the 18-38 tours I’d done with Trek America so I was hoping there’d be at least some 30-somethings in my group and it wouldn’t just be hard-partying youngsters!
The groups were slightly larger than the 13 maximum on Trek with Haka buses catering for groups of up to 20 passengers but even at full capacity, this sounded like a better option than the groups of 50 herded around by companies such as Kiwi Experience and Contiki.
So I found a 7-day tour of South Island on Haka’s website which fitted in with my other travel plans and even left me with a few nights between the end of the tour and the gig in Melbourne which I decided to spend in Adelaide, one of the few Australian cities I hadn’t visited yet, and decided to take the plunge and book it.
Having recently come off a Trek America Tour across the Southern States of America with one hostel too many for my liking, I decided to take Haka Tours up on their offer to upgrade to private rooms on their tour. While I didn’t really mind hostel life too much, this at least gave me peace of mind that I could get an early night without being disturbed by any night owls in the group as well as meaning I’d have an en suite at some, although not all, of our accommodations over the week.
The tour was to start in the city of Christchurch. Haka Tours owns some of it’s own hostels, including one on the outskirts of Christchurch but we were advised that as this was full with another group at the time of our departure, we would instead depart from the more central Christchurch YHA. I booked a night at the city’s Ibis hotel for my first night in the city then would move to the YHA for the night before the tour began.
The tour’s itinerary sounded really exciting with stops at Lake Tekapo, Queenstown, Wanaka and Franz Josef before returning to Christchurch via a ride on the TranzAlpine train.
Activities for each stop could be booked in advance on the Haka Tours’ website and there was so much to choose from, I couldn’t fit everything I’d have liked to do in! I stayed away from booking the more adventurous activities like bungee jumping and skydiving and instead plumped for tamer activities including a full-day tour to Milford Sound from Queenstown.
With everything booked and my onward travel plan to Australia sorted out, I was excited for my New Zealand adventure to begin…