Embrace adventure! Drive thru New Zealand!

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Referred to as the Land of the Long White Cloud, New Zealand defines long.  Stretching over 1298 miles from north to south (about the distance from New York City to Miami and only 194 miles wide at its widest point), no wonder the locals like to call a trip around the country the great Kiwi road trip.   There’s a reason.  The only way to get to most destinations around the country requires a car.  Some might call this a particularly exciting adventure because, yes, the Kiwis as the locals are called, drive on the left side of the road.

Driving thru the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

You could do a tour that visits the major sights of the country, but when you self-drive, you have freedom to go where you want, when and for how long. You can stop at the many quaint New Zealand towns to go shopping, see tourist attractions, enjoy traditional food and buy souvenirs as you please. Stopping to buy local products like fruits, vegetables, wine, cheese, and honey will be a highlight of your trip. You will meet local farmers and gather delicious flavors to enjoy during the leisurely days of your trip that follow.

You drive on the left in New Zealand.

The scenery is spectacular in the land of the long white cloud with rolling hills, vast mountain ranges, wide-open fields, and stunning lakes. You can also expect to see breathtaking fjords, pristine beaches, unique geothermal activity, and lots of sheep. Any time you want to stop for a photo, you can.

Driving on the left side – it’s not as scary as it sounds. After a few days of driving carefully on the left side, your mind will adapt and you will relax and be just fine. Start your road trip with short legs so you can gradually build up your confidence.

Phone apps can help you navigate your way around. For directions, you can use Google maps as you would at home. Weather apps are great, so you can see if bad weather is looming and plan your travel days accordingly to avoid driving in inclement weather.

Road conditions in New Zealand are good. Highways are similar to our state roads, not interstate highways; those are found only around Auckland and Christchurch. Roads are signposted well and there are many passing lanes or areas to pull over to allow traffic to pass. There are gravel and narrow roads in some rural areas.  On coastal roads, you can expect winds that require additional caution.  That is why it’s important to map out a travel plan in advance, so you are only driving in areas where and when you will feel comfortable.

On your great Kiwi road trip, you can explore areas like Cape Kidnappers that aren’t included on tours.

Reflective signs and road markings guide the way during evenings and at night. The maximum speed in any area is 100 km/hour (about 62 mph) and you need to slow down on approach to towns and school areas which is always signposted. Perhaps one of the trickiest things for NZ visitors (apart from driving on the left) is the roundabouts that many towns have on the outskirts and town centers.

Often you and maybe one other car will be on or entering a roundabout in New Zealand.

Before you rent your vehicle to travel to New Zealand, you’ll normally be shown a road safety video or given a road rule guide. You can also find them online to study before your arrival. Insurance is included and compulsory, as is showing the driver’s license issued in your country or international driving permit.

During your journey thru rural areas, you might come across some nature crossing the roads. It could be a farmer moving a herd of cows or a wild rabbit on the move. You might also see law enforcement along the way.

Police patrol the roads and there are numerous hidden speed cameras.   if caught speeding, your ticket will await when you return your vehicle or could arrive by mail many months after you return home.

The towns in NZ are quite close together. Even though many are small communities, you don’t need to go too far before finding a place to seek directions, fuel up or take a break to stretch your legs. It’s not difficult to find a public bathroom and restaurants and cafes have bathrooms for use by customers.

First-time driving on the left can be nerve-wracking initially.  But driving in New Zealand is quite easy because there just isn’t much traffic on the roads, except during peak times in the major cities. Even then, it’s quiet compared to many other metropolitan cities in the world. In some rural areas, you may drive for 10-20 min or more before you see another car.

You’ll be a confident driver after a day or two on the road. It is easy to find your way around and locals are very friendly and helpful should you need assistance.

Spend time in New Zealand.  Enjoy all the gorgeous scenery of both the North and the South Island.  Get to know the Kiwis.  It all becomes so easy and relaxing by car after a day or two. Drop us a line if you would like more information on travel in New Zealand and/or questions about driving the quiet Kiwi roads.  Oh, and if I can do it, you can.

With a car, you can see Lake Wakatipu on the South Island from so many gorgeous vantage points.

Pat Ogle-CollinsEmbrace adventure! Drive thru New Zealand!
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A day on safari unfolds typically; it’s what you see that continually changes!

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Safari life is exciting, and every day brings the possibility of seeing African creatures up close in their natural inhabitant. The thrill of seeing animals in the wild is the main reason that draws travelers to the beautiful countries in Africa. But you might be wondering what a typical day on safari looks like. 

 

Your experienced guides know how to read the movements of the bush and will plan safaris, so you have the best opportunities to see magnificent creatures in the wild. You can expect early morning wake-up calls, set meal times, and strict rules regarding safety. 

Ol Doinyo Lengai, the only active volcano in East Africa

Every day is different, and the season, weather, and other factors like migration and mating come into play when your guides are planning your days. 

 

Following is a general timeline widely used by lodges and camps designed to maximize your time to enjoy the environment and see all the wildlife that lives there, from the bugs to the birds to the buffalo. 

5 am – 6 am

Rise and shine! This vacation isn’t for travelers who love to sleep in and do brunch more often than breakfast. Many of the animals are active early in the morning and late afternoon when the temperatures are cooler. Splash some water on your face and grab a coffee and a roll or piece of fruit because the lions won’t wait for anyone.  Note:  Game drive times vary through the year and location with sunrise and sunset.

Ballooning over Masai Mara at sunrise

6 am – 9 am

It may be early, but as they say “the early bird gets the worm.”  By air or by land, early morning is when you will find wildlife active.  Trackers and guides will be looking for signs of wildlife.  Some are obvious.  Others are very subtle and easily missed by the untrained.  While wild most animals are accustomed to seeing vehicles and know they pose no danger in normal circumstances, guides provide specific instructions to ensure the safety of their guests.

9 am – 10 am

You earned breakfast and it’s usually a feast of fruit, cereal, toast, and maybe bacon and eggs – with more coffee, of course. Depending on your location, you might be enjoying a bush breakfast or be dining at the lodge with birds singing in the background.

Heading to another lodge or camp?  After breakfast, your bags will be loaded and off you go.

10 am – 12:30 pm

This is your free time to relax, reflect and enjoy the atmosphere of the camp or lodge. Your guide will tell you it’s against the rules to wander around the bush, so find a good book, do some writing, or settle in the shade for some bird watching. If your camp has a waterhole, you might want to lay low in a hide and wait for a visitor of the wild kind. 

Overlooking a plain in Zimbabwe.

12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

Lunch is served. Meager morsels are not what you will find for lunch.  It’s a full meal with a main dish, fresh salads, fruit, and desserts. As everyone gathers around to eat together, you are sure to make new friends with others from around the world as you share stories and hopes for the adventure ahead.

Afternoon walk near safari camp

1:30 pm – 3:30 pm

It is time to have an afternoon nap during this hottest time of the day. The locals take a siesta and this includes all living creatures – travelers, trusty guides, and the wildlife. Or you might like to take a dip in the pool or just relax. Some camps and lodges may offer walks in or just outside the camp.  Visits to local villages, schools, or markets may also be available.  Staff will let you know about the options available each day.

Typically new guests arrive in time for the late afternoon game drive to maximize your game viewing while there.

3:30 pm – 4:00 pm

Afternoon tea or a mid-afternoon snack and beverage helps get you through the long day with scorching temperatures as you prepare for round two of viewing local game and wildlife.

4 pm – 7:30 pm

Get the binoculars ready again. Your guide will have a plan mapped out to look for a herd of animals or flock of birds, and usually, your group will settle in a picturesque spot to be as the sun slowly sets over a “sundowners,” frequently a gin and tonic or another beverage (alcoholic nor non-alcoholic) of your choosing.  As the sun goes down on another glorious day, there is often significant animal movement and a great chance to see some game in action. It will get dark quickly and you may use floodlights to see wildlife as you make your way back to your camp or your lodge.

Trackers know where to find the best views of wildlife for guests.

7:30 pm – 10:30 pm

You arrive back at your accommodation and have time to get ready for dinner. Chat with fellow guests and compare elephant photos around the campfire before the candlelit dinner is served in the dining area. This is the main meal of the day and a leisurely affair.  The food is the level of fine dining with options that take into account dietary requirements.

Table set for dinner at a lodge in Botswana

10:30 pm to bedtime

Nightcaps around the campfire and colorful conversations under the starry African sky end the day perfectly. Tomorrow is another new adventure that could bring sightings of lions, hippos, hyenas, and wild dogs. Get some rest because the knock on your door will be coming very early!

Is the call of the wild temping you with a trip to Botswana, Kenya, or Uganda yet? There are so many wonderful locations to choose from. We will help you decide on the best safari.   It should be noted the main difference between safaris in East and Southern Africa is how near to the animals you can get.   For example, in Kruger, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, off-road game viewing is permitted, but in most parks, off-road driving is not permitted barring some private conservancies and reserves.

 

For more information on an African safari to remember, send us an email today and I will contact you to offer up ideas and suggestions around the wildlife that you want to see!

Pat Ogle-CollinsA day on safari unfolds typically; it’s what you see that continually changes!
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A South African Nature Reserve with No Big Five Game?

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Unlike most typical Safari lodges in Africa mainly focused around big game watching, Grootbos Private National Reserve in South Africa offers other wildlife equally as captivating – exotic plants, and marine wildlife. This privately owned property is a paradise for nature lovers. The National Geographic proclaims it as one of the “most enchanting nature reserves worldwide.” Located where the Atlantic meets the Indian ocean, it is a marvelous place in which several ecosystems co-exist in perfect harmony.

Grootbos villa

Being home to over 800 plant species some of which exist in no other place on the planet, it is the richest floral heaven outside the tropics. The splendor of its varied natural vistas is simply breathtaking. The reserve is undoubtedly a different universe where the focus is absolutely on plant life and green living. Working with nature toward self-reliance is the norm.

A Panorama of Enchanting Scenery, Brilliant Sunrises, and Orange Sunsets

A misty haze covers the horizon every morning to create enchanting sunrises that give way to bright days of uninterrupted views to the Cape of Good Hope.  Evenings are clothed in the most glorious sunsets in hues of orange, pink, gold, and brilliant-red visible from the open decks of private villas, each with one wall entirely made of a glass window.

Outdoor dining area or boma at Grootbos Nature Reserve

The innate beauty of these dwellings oozes out of their local stone and traditional thatch constructions. These, however, do not detract from the feeling of living luxuriously in a modern space. A combination of crackling evening log fires, dim lights, and rain softly strumming on the thatched roofs make up a natural melody, creating moments of pure ecstasy guaranteed to fire up your spirits.

In the evening, dine outside in the boma with caressing evening breezes filled with spicy, energizing floral scents invade your senses to give you a euphoric experience of total tranquility, perhaps only broken by tinkling crockery. The full-service, self-sustaining kitchen prepares cuisine that is a fantastic visual spectacle of culinary sophistication.

Ocean Trips and Guided Nature Safaris through Lush Greenery

Boat rides through glassy waters with an unimpeded view of what lies at the ocean bottom take you on water safaris to Dyer Island, just a short distance from the coast. There is an amazing plethora of dolphins, sharks, and thousands of seals around Geyser Rock – a great spot for white sharks and their unique seal hunting behavior.

Expert naturalists provide guided plant safaris into the forest of Milkwood trees aged more than 1000 years. Land trips take you across expanses of a stunning landscape of lush greenery interspersed with flowers blossoming in a rioting profusion of colors. After a drive across this vast terrain of beautiful, wide valleys and craggy mountains seeming to gracefully roll and tumble into the bluest waters of Walker Bay, you return to the lodge.

Southern Right Whale swimming under whale watching boat

4×4 flower safari thru the Cape floral kingdom

Bath overlooking Grootbos down to the coast

A Reserve Focused on the Guest and the Community

Providing employment, the reserves’s Grootbos Foundation trains members of the community on research-backed environmental science and hospitality management.  The Foundation, including its Siyakhula and Green Futures programs, seeks to empower local communities and individuals through ecotourism, enterprise development, and education.

Guests enjoy products grown and raised on the Growing the Future Farm organic farm which are sold to the Grootbos lodges.  The Green Futures program provides education and training in horticulture and hospitality with participants working on the reserve behind the scenes and directly with guests.  Upon completion, participants are placed locally with other employers or assisted in establishing their own small enterprise.

When coming to South Africa, the big game safari is a must, but missing out on a stay at Grootbos means you will miss an experience combining the sea, the unique flora, and the local people that will stay with you for years!  All it takes is a call to start you on your journey.

Pat Ogle-CollinsA South African Nature Reserve with No Big Five Game?
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Once a year there’s another happiest place on earth – Munich’s Oktoberfest!

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Talk about a party!  Oktoberfest started in Munich in 1810 as a celebration of the marriage of the crown prince of Bavaria.  Today millions attend each year to celebrate the beer culture of Bavaria and share in gemütlichkeit, a feeling of friendliness and cheer. This two-week fun-filled event presents cultural travelers with delightful opportunities to celebrate the Bavarian tradition, spend time with Germans or tourists visiting Germany, and enjoy classic Bavarian food and beer.

A tent at the Oktoberfest in full swing!

I can assure you this is an intoxicating (pun intended) experience of beer drinking, food, song, dance, and care-free gaiety. It is a rare opportunity for engaging in an overwhelming carnival spirit on the expansive Theresienwiese, a large open area in the heart of Munich.

Each year the Oktoberfest starts with a parade that brings barrels of beer to the fest site, the Theresienwiese.

Knowing a few tips to help you navigate the parties in the beer tents helps maximize the fun.

  • While called the Oktoberfest, the fest always starts on the third Saturday in September and runs thru the first Sunday of October.  Tents are open daily from 9 am and continues through the day until 10:30 pm when the last song is played by the band and the lights to out at 11:30 pm.  On weekends and public holidays, tents open at 9 am.
  • The fest starts with a parade that brings barrels of beer to the fest followed by the official tapping of the first barrel by the mayor in the Schottenhamel tent.  Once the tapping ceremony ends, 12 gunshots are fired, signaling to the other tents that the fest is open!
  • Getting the best places in the tents means showing up at the festival early, particularly on weekends though the best time to go is during the weekdays. The partying goes on inside the tents where up to 8000 people drink happily.   If you are not inside, the only other place you can grab a beer is outside in the adjacent beer gardens.
  • During the 16 day fest, over 6 million people will attend, drinking over 7 million liters of beer and eating 510,000 roast chickens and 60, 000 sausages.
  • A simple way of finding an open seat at Oktoberfest is to download the official Oktoberfest app. This app will make it easy for you to find your way around the fest and to keep track of your friends.

Wurst, pretzels and roast chicken accompany the beer at the Oktoberfest.

  • Enjoying the traditional delicacies offered inside the tents is an important part of the fun. Tents are of various sizes, styles, decor, themes, and vibes with each one offering a unique experience in terms of beer, entertainment, and food. Check out the offerings in various tents prior to deciding on a tent.  While the classic chicken, wurst, and pretzels are served in all tents, each tent offers its own dishes as well.  Finding this out after you have found seats may cheat you out of the opportunity to find a new favorite dish.
  • Be polite, friendly, and ready to share tables with everyone. At the heart of Oktoberfest is the spirit of friendship. A huge part of the fun is making friends with Germans and other tourists.
  • Be forewarned that Oktoberfest beer is stronger than its deceptive light color.

Aloyisus watches over fest goers in the Hofbrau tent.

  • Lastly, but most importantly, learn the words of Ein Prosit and their meaning. This is a song you will hear throughout the day. You are expected to sing along each and every time. It is German for “A toast, a toast, to cheers and good times”, and when it is sung, raise your mugs high in the air, toast, and drink.

These few tips provide some basics for an enjoyable experience at the fest, but there is so much more.  Guidance from an “expert” can make all the difference.  Start practicing your arm curls and give Wizard of Odysseys a call, because it is never too soon to book, even when the fest is months away.

Pat Ogle-CollinsOnce a year there’s another happiest place on earth – Munich’s Oktoberfest!
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