Travel Bureau personal travel expert, Garry, recently visited New Zealand with specialist tour operator Anzcro and discovered that this antipodean archipelago is all about natural beauty. Here are Garry’s top tips on how best to see the country’s iconic landscapes, whether from land, sea or air!
Fly over Mount Cook & Lake Tekapo
Mount Cook, or Aoraki (the mountain’s Māori name), is the highest mountain in New Zealand at 12,218ft. A scenic flight over Mount Cook gives you amazing views of the mountain and surrounding National Park, including the tranquil beauty of Lake Tekapo. There are various options that range from as little as $99 to over $500 so it’s best to set your budget and book before you leave. To observe the power of the mountains and their glaciers from such a vantage point is truly spectacular and it is a “must do” activity for visitors who travel to the area.
*If you stay at the Hermitage Hotel in Mount Cook, make sure to take a look at the museum/exhibition dedicated to the exploits of Sir Edmund Hilary, the famous New Zealand mountaineer who was one of the first men to conquer Mount Everest, reaching the summit with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. It’s quite small, but there are some very interesting items, news reels and details of Hilary’s adventures both in the Mount Cook region and in the Himalayas; it’s certainly worth a look.
Self-drive South Island
For a UK tourist, self-drive provides an easy alternative to an escorted coach tour, offering travellers more freedom and flexibility with their itinerary. In New Zealand they drive on the left as we do and the roads are well maintained, with facilities for comfort breaks, coffee and food never far away.
A journey via the Southern Scenic Route towards Te Anau, a stunning lakeside resort, will take you into the heart of the Southern Alps. The terrain and scenery change constantly and around every twist and turn in the road there is another “wow” moment: due to glacial deposits from the melting snow in the warmer months, the rivers are a striking icy blue colour and the mountains are an imposing presence. Driving through the open spaces of this vast wilderness, you’ll often see various birds of prey wheeling above you, and it’s hard not to be struck by the grand scale of this majestic landscape.
Milford Sound Boat Trip
The journey to Milford Sound is itself a wonderful experience, travelling via Mirror Lakes where the awesome mountains are reflected in the water. The drive is a very pleasant one, mountains rising steeply on either side, clouds seeming to hang around them like cotton wool, endless vistas and panoramas appearing before you.
The scenery along the Sound is truly breath-taking and seeing it from the water is not to be missed - on a bright day you’ll be blessed with a clear view of Mitre Peak, which is sometimes hidden in cloud. Your excursion may be joined by a pod of dolphins, happy to put on quite a show for tourists as they follow behind the boat; to see these animals up-close in the wild is a truly unforgettable experience.
On a boat trip of around 2 hours you can travel out into the Tasman Sea and enjoy a picnic lunch on board before heading back to port. The crew onboard give commentary from time to time, pointing out any sights of interest and any wildlife, including seals, which are often to be found basking on the water’s edge. The whole trip is a terrific experience, full of visual delights and, depending on the time of your visit, you may get to experience the waterfalls of the Sound in full flow.
Queenstown Activity Day
Beautifully located beside Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is reminiscent of many resorts in the European Alps with a lively atmosphere and lots of bars, restaurants and shops. Queenstown is famously the “Adventure Capital” of New Zealand and there is much to see and do, from skydiving, to bungee jumping and quad biking. But don’t worry, if you’re not looking for an adrenaline-fuelled holiday, there are plenty of less high-octane activities to enjoy in Queenstown, which make the most of the town’s stunning natural surroundings.
During the day, take a guided nature walk in nearby woodland to learn more about indigenous plants and trees as well as local wildlife, or head up Bob’s Peak on the Skyline Gondola for amazing views over the town and lake from the viewing platform. In the evening, a trip out on Lake Wakatipu aboard the 104-year-old TSS Earnlaw, an iconic steamship, is undoubtedly one of the best ways to experience Queenstown’s famed scenic beauty. Alternatively, head to the Walter Peak High Country Farm for an impressive demonstration of a sheep herding and sheep shearing.
Glacier Helicopter Flight
From the small glacial town of Franz Joseph you can take a helicopter flight over the untouched native woodland and pristine lakes of the Mount Aspiring and Westland National Parks, and up onto the glacier. From the helicopter you get a wonderful view of the scenery on the West Coast of the Alps: vibrant green forests and hills stretching out beneath you, the Tasman Sea on one side and only the occasional small village or town to break the never-ending stream of beautiful scenery.
Your pilot will take you swiftly and safely up onto the glacier, from where, once landed, you are able to truly appreciate its huge expanse. The glacier dwarfs the helicopters, but despite its great size is a place of breathtaking tranquility, like nowhere you’ve ever been before. The trip itself lasts around 30 minutes and normally costs $200.00 but is well worth the cost for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Make sure to book in advance.
The 4 ½ hour TranzAlpine Train journey from Greymouth to Christchurch is a relaxing and pleasant way to travel and an excellent way to see the differing landscapes of South Island. The train travels at quite a steady pace from coast to coast, through rural countryside, spectacular alpine scenery, barren gorges, past full rivers, including the ice-fed Waimakariri River, and eventually down on to the flat Canterbury Plains leading in towards the city of Christchurch.
There is a snack outlet on board serving a wide variety of drinks and a good selection of both hot and cold food. The light and spacious coaches are particularly impressive, creating a bright and airy environment with lots of glass to allow for the best possible viewing experience. At the rear of the train is an open viewing car, which provides the perfect vantage point whenever something extra special comes into view. TVs in the coaches give continuous updates of your progress across the country and an informative onboard commentary (via headphones available at your seat).
If you would like to find out more about New Zealand why not give Garry a call and he will be happy to share more of his personal recommendations with you. Call direct on 0191 272 6024 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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