Boots not required for this Best of New Zealand!

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Known for its diverse landscape, New Zealand’s spectacular scenery makes it the perfect place for exploration of all types of surroundings, from mountains to rivers and even glaciers and natural hot pools by all types of travelers. Spend a day in Tongariro National Park to experience all of these! Established in 1887, Tongariro National Park was the fourth national park

Mt. Raupehu

to be created globally and the first in New Zealand! UNESCO also recognizes the park with dual World Heritage status for both its cultural and natural features.

What makes this national park so unique is its unparalleled scenery. Made up of three volcanoes that dominate the region, Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro, and Mt Ngauruhoe, as well as beech forest, waterfalls, and rivers.  Stepping foot into this park, you’re rewarded with some of New Zealand’s most dramatic landscapes.

A New Zealand Best – the Alpine Crossing!

Located in the center of the North Island, Tongariro National Park is home to one of the best hikes in New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.  This hike is around 20km and takes between 7-8 hours to complete depending on how fast you choose to walk. This spectacular hike (that isn’t a loop, so arrange organized transport) takes you over the volcano through different terrains, such as springs, lava flows, volcanic rocks, and the famous emerald lakes.

Hiking track, Tongariro National Park

The best time of year to tackle this famous hike is during spring or autumn when the temperatures aren’t too cold or hot. You’ll need to have a relatively high level of fitness to complete this hike and proper hiking boots.

Although this is the most famous activity in Tongariro National Park, it should not discourage anyone from visiting, as there is still a range of activities on offer.

Magnificent scenery awaits in the desert!

When you picture New Zealand, the desert isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, if you plan to drive from Auckland to Tongariro National Park, that’s what you’ll get.

After you leave sub-tropical Auckland, pass the geothermal areas around Rotorua and crystalline Lake Taupo. All you’ll see is a deserted sandy road with nothing in sight until you reach the three volcanoes that make up the Pacific Ocean’s ‘Ring of Fire,’ Mt Tongariro, Mt Ruapehu, and Mt Ngauruhoe.

Love Lord of the Rings? See Mt Doom up close!

If you’re a fan of the Lord of the Rings series, visiting Mt Ngauruhoe or “Mt Doom” must be on your Tongariro National Park activities list. Standing between Mt Tongariro and Mt Ruapehu, this 2,29m (7,516 ft) mountain is the second tallest in the park and was a big part of the film franchise, drawing in thousands of tourists

Mt. Ngaurahue, also referred to as Mt. Doom from the Lord of the Rings films

every year. However, if you’re not a big Lord of the Rings fan, it’s still an impressive sight to see!

Stunning landscapes and beautiful waterfalls!

As well as spectacular mountain ranges, New Zealand is also home to some pretty impressive waterfalls. Located in Tongariro National Park, Taranaki Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country, and you have to see it to believe it.

The falls are found halfway through the 6km loop and tumble 20-meters into a boulder-ringed pool. There are two viewing points, one from the top and one from the base of the falls. While you’re there, you’ll have stunning views of all three mountains that make up Tongariro National Park.

Taranaki Falls, Tongariro National Park

The walk to the falls is one of the easiest and most impressive in the national park as it takes you through beech forest, shrubland, past the Wairere Stream, Cascade Falls, and manuka forest.

Tea overlooking snow-covered mountains!

If you are more of a slow traveler who enjoys the little things, such as high tea

with a sensational view, then be sure to check out the Chateau Tongariro.  From their High Tea menu, you can choose from a range of sandwiches, scones, and treats, as well as your choice of coffee or fresh tea, served to you at a table overlooking the impressive Mt Ngauruhoe. Located within Whakapapa Village, indulging in this high tea needs to be on your list, especially in winter when snow covers Mt Ngauruhoe!

Bike along the Old Coach Road!

Not only are there amazing hikes throughout Tongariro National Park, but there is also a range of biking trails that you can explore.  One of the best ones to add to your itinerary is Old Coach Road. Located at the southern end of Tongariro National Park near Ohakune, this 15km one-way (2hr 20 mins) trail takes you through a mix of terrains, such as forest, railway relics, and rural countryside. Or, if you don’t have a bike, you can also walk this trail, which takes around 41/2 hrs.

Whatever way you choose to tackle this trail, you will be blown away by the sheer beauty of the landscapes you’ll see along the way.  Without a doubt, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike is the park’s most notable visitor draw.  But non-hikers have plenty to see and experience without hiking boots and walking stick.  From bike trails to high tea at Chateau Tongariro, no matter that type of activity you’re into, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this little corner of New Zealand.

Active Mount Raupehu with Chateau Tongariro

So, whether you prefer hiking boots or sneaks, a terrific day awaits you at Tongariro. All you have to do is give me a call!

Pat Ogle-CollinsBoots not required for this Best of New Zealand!
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Even a Scrooge can’t scowl at glüwein and twinkly stars!

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Walking through a European Christmas market feels like being in a romantic winter wonderland movie. As the aroma of spiced wine mixes with the cool breeze, you will experience a feeling of joy and happiness as you roam a fairytale holiday market filled with festive treats.

Germany, Slovakia, Poland, Belgium, Austria, and Hungary are a few countries that put on a Christmas market that would impress the socks off Santa and all his elves. Every country has a unique market with various winter displays, events, parades, and food.  Picking a favorite one is simply impossible.

Christmas Market in front of Town Hall in Vienna, Austria

Prague’s Christmas Market in its Old Town

Shopfronts are decorated in cheery festive Christmas themes that are so beautiful it’s hard not to stop at each and every one. Historic architecture makes the perfect backdrop to this dreamy annual event. Many stalls line the streets with welcoming cafes and rustic restaurants everywhere, so it is easy to rest when you get weighed down by all your shopping bags.

Christmas mugs, handmade knick-knacks, souvenirs, ornaments, toys, decorations, fabrics, fashion, sweets, and more are just some of the buys you will

want to take home. Christmas decorations are probably one of the most exciting items at the markets because local artisans make beautiful decorative pieces that you will never find anywhere else.

If you are obsessed with Christmas decorations, save a whole section in your suitcase for wooden sleds, nutcracker creations, handprinted trees, sparkly stars, and Santa decorations that are irresistible. Delicate snow globes are not easy to travel with but are worth the effort.

When it comes to Christmas shopping, the European markets have something unique for everyone, even that most hard-to-shop-for person who has everything. Even if you travel to the markets this year during the holidays and delivering your gifts after your trip or even next year, nobody will mind if they get a gorgeous Christmas-inspired gift from Europe.

Nuremberg’s Christmas Market is known for its traditional decorations and ornaments.

Children aren’t the only ones that look forward to the sweet treats at Christmas markets throughout Europe.

Sweet treats are a big part of the European Christmas markets which are loaded with delicious temptations. Indulge in iced sugar cookies, crepes, cake, donuts, chocolate, and candy. If you don’t have a sweet tooth, there’s plenty of other scrumptious options like roasted chestnuts, dumplings, soup, and gingerbread cookies. You might even discover reindeer sausages or Töki pompos (cooked dough with bacon, onion, and cream toppings a favorite in Hungary). Drinks with a dash of spice, peppermint, or something stronger are great to carry around as you roam the markets.

The daytime and nighttime atmospheres at a Christmas market are quite different, so make sure you explore the markets at both times. During the day, there is a busy vibe as everyone shops and enjoys music with festive food and drink. At night the glow of the lights adds a romantic feel, and the pace of life seems to slow down a little. Locals and tourists linger over meals of traditional Christmas fare and soak up the holiday atmosphere that surrounds the whole village or city.

An ice skating rink filled with happy children is a breathtaking sight and the little ones will also love to see puppet shows, Father Christmas, and live Christmas performances with all the classics being played. Even if you don’t have children with you, your inner child will be thrilled to feel a level of excitement about Christmas that you might not have felt since your youth. Every corner seems to be another picturesque scene of festive yuletide cheer.

Nativity sets fill the Aix-en-Provence Christmas Market.

Find the nearest church or cathedral near the market because they are sure to be in the holiday spirit with nativity scenes, twinkling lights, and Christmas carols. Spend time reflecting on the rich history of the traditional Christmas markets that originated in Germany hundreds of years ago.

The market in Munich takes place under the watchful eye of its famous Glockenspiel on Marienplatz in the center of the city.

As the snowflakes fall, it is time to dash indoors for one more hot chocolate, glühwein, or eggnog next to a Christmas tree adorned with pretty fairy lights. Make sure you take plenty of photos and videos to remember this once-in-a-lifetime Christmas holiday experience.

Call me today to discuss what city might be calling your festive soul to visit. While December probably isn’t a month you usually travel, this year can be different.  I can arrange an amazing European

winter vacation, with the highlight being the Christmas markets, faster than a 10-year-old can rip open a gift-wrapped box on Christmas Eve.

Pat Ogle-CollinsEven a Scrooge can’t scowl at glüwein and twinkly stars!
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There’s more than one magic kingdom!

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Magical when describing a place – what does that bring to mind?  Fairytale castles?  Misty mornings?  Gingerbread-style houses?  Powdered sugar-covered mountain peaks? If so, places like this don’t exist only in theme parks and storybooks.  A short drive south of Munich, Germany you will find just such a place.

A wonderful destination awaits which will please everyone. During the colder months of the year, winter sports enthusiasts flock to Garmisch-

View  of Garmisch-Partenkirchen

A wonderful destination awaits which will please everyone. During the colder months of the year, winter sports enthusiasts flock to Garmisch-Partenkirken, a beautiful town in this southern area of Bavaria. During the warmer months of the year, activities abound in the surrounding area. And I do mean abound!  With careful planning, you can enjoy the best of the area in a couple of days. For those that want a slower pace or to enjoy nature more fully, one can easily fill up a week using Garmisch as a base. Thus, this picturesque vacation area offers a lot of fun for families, couples, and solo travelers.  What can you do in and around Garmisch-Partenkirchen? Let your journey begin!

Zugspitze

Not far from Garmisch-Partenkirchen you will find the highest mountain in Germany. At its 2,962 meter summit,  breathtaking views from this imposing peak draw visitors from around the world. While there, check off your list that you visited Austria by taking a few steps over the border.

Summit of the Zugspitze

Albspitze

The Albspitze may not be as big as the Zugspitze, but this mountain is a favorite of many.  The striking north face with its pyramidal peak stands guard over Garmisch-Partenkirchen creating an impressive panorama.  Its formidable presence makes it one with the city and its symbol.

Especially in summer, you can hike through the idyllic landscape. With some climbing experience, one of the most popular climbing routes in all of Bavaria awaits you. Not a climber, no problem.  Several cable

cars transport summit seekers to the top. The view from the platform “Alpspix” should be a reason to call this mountain a must-see!

Partnach Gorge

Located about three kilometers to the southeast of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, you find Partnach Gorge, by far one of the most impressive works of art that Mother Nature has given southern Bavarian. Through this rocky gorge flows the Partnach River, which carved its way through the rock over millions of years.

In summer, the gorge will blow your mind with its simply breathtaking landscape. In winter, when snow covers the whole area, a much more spectacular sight awaits. Massive ice formations give the already beautiful gorge the final touch.

Oberammergau

You’ll find the village of Oberammergau about 20 kilometers north of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Although just a very small town, it offers visitors plenty to see. Strolling the picturesque streets of this generally quiet village, you’ll notice the many murals on the houses depicting various scenes from the bible and notably the Passion of Christ.

In addition to its famous woodcarving school and shops filled with the work of these craftsmen,

Quaint restaurant in Oberammergau

Oberammergau hosts the world-renowned Passion Play which takes place every ten years during the late spring thru early autumn.  In thanks to Godfor saving the town from the bubonic plague, the play draws attendees from around the world to see the production by the citizens of the town. During other years you can still visit the Passion Theater for a tour of the theater and stories of how this event is produced that will leave you amazed.

Neuschwanstein Castle

If there is one castle known all over the world for its breathtaking beauty, the Bavarian fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein stands out. Sitting atop a hill near the base of a mountain, this castle commands the surrounding area.  One of three castles built by the so-called  Mad King Ludwig, this castle inspired the castles in Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.  In addition to a visit inside the castle, allow time to walk or take a carriage ride up the hill to the castle and enjoy the views.  For those with more time, explore nearby Hohenschwangau, the childhood home of the mad king.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Keep in mind that you are not the only one who wants to enjoy the breathtaking sight. Long lines form early and last throughout the day.  With limited time and/or families with children, purchase “skip the line“ tickets in advance for a less stressful visit.

In addition to this fairytale castle, you will also find numerous other castles throughout Bavaria worth a visit. However, if you have a tight schedule, Neuschwanstein Castle, the most beautiful of them all, should be at the top of your list.

Linderhof Castle

Linderhof Castle is the smallest of Neuschwanstein and Herrenchiemsee (located between Munich and Salzburg) castles built by Bavarian King Ludwig II. In this castle, the so-called fairy tale king stayed here most often. Why you may ask?  This castle in the Alps was the only one completed during his lifetime.

Above all, the beautiful gardens and relaxing fountain around the imposing castle will completely inspire you.  The mix of baroque and rococo styles gives this royal residence a flair that can hardly be compared to any other royal dwelling.

And that’s not all!

Of course, you will find plenty of other interesting places to visit in addition to these should you opt for an extended time to explore the area. For example, Höllental Gorge, Ettal Abbey, the Wieskirche, and the town of Fussen are just a few of the other sites in this area jam-packed with things to see and do. If you love the outdoors, literally thousands of trails can keep you challenged the entire length of your stay.

Linderhof Castle

Don’t let the small alpine town of Garmisch-Partenkircken and surrounding area known for skiing lure you into thinking you can see everything in a day or two.  With a well-planned itinerary, you can see the highlights, but to savor the area and all it has to offer, you can plan to spend 4-7 days.  Call me to help you create a perfect itinerary for you!

Pat Ogle-CollinsThere’s more than one magic kingdom!
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