Two lakes, two lakeside towns – the dilemma!

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If you are planning a trip to New Zealand, there will be much debate on which exciting cities, charming towns and endless scenic viewpoints to visit.  With limited time, you really need a solid travel plan to make the most of this country with its picturesque mountains, lakes, beaches and forest to explore.

Many travelers feel torn between the South Island destinations of Wanaka and Queenstown. The good news is they are both wonderful places to visit and you will have a fabulous time at either one. The bad

Aerial view of Queenstown with Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables (mountains) .

news is, it’s hard to pick. So I’ve laid it all out, like a delicious picnic on the beach, to help you decide between beautiful Wanaka and lovely Queenstown. Or you always have the option of seeing both places if time allows.

Queenstown

Landing in Queenstown, you will look out the plane window and be amazed at the aerial view of majestic mountains and pristine lakes. Then you go from the runway to your cozy accommodation in lightning speed time since the airport is close to downtown Queenstown.

To get your adrenaline going, try a jet boat ride on the Shotover River thru beautiful scenery.

Hiking is a popular activity for Queenstown visitors, with the Queenstown Hike being a rewarding challenge. If you prefer more of a pretty meander, the Queenstown Gardens path is wrapped around Lake Wakatipu and makes a lovely place to take in the fresh air, nature and wildlife without breaking a sweat.

For thrill-seekers, Queenstown is an exciting playground with attractions like bungee jumping, luge rides, jet boats and sky diving readily available. Adrenaline junkies rejoice at the thought of Queenstown’s adventure sports options and even if you are not brave enough to join the daredevils, watching them play can give you sweaty hands. A gondola ride up the Southern Hemisphere’s steepest cable car ride can also get the heart racing.

Excellent dining, shopping, and entertainment such as Kiwi bands playing at cool venues mean you will be kept busy for however long you stay in Queenstown.

Wanaka

By air, you will land at Queenstown Airport then drive for about an hour to reach Wanaka. The scene is more laid back and quieter than Queenstown, but just as gorgeous, with Lake Wanaka being a vision against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. One of those mountains, Iron Mountain, is wonderful for trekking and reaching the top is exhilarating. Catch your breath, then start taking photos because this will be one of the most photogenic sights of your day. Roy’s Peak is another Wanaka gem if your fitness

View of the South Island’s town of Wanaka on the lake of the same name.

level is reasonable. Diamond Lake/Rocky Mountain is a bit easier and also has the wow factor when you reach the top.

Wanaka, like Queenstown, has plenty of extreme sports and thrilling activities to experience. Hold on tight when the jet boat roars through the chilly Lake Clutha water, then go horseback riding across scenic lands. Not scary enough? You can pretend you are James Bond and bravely cross a jiggly suspension bridge then repel down a powerful waterfall. Another fun-packed experience is taking The Cardrona Bike Park chairlift to the highest point, then mountain biking down.

The Wanaka area is also known for wine with vineyards extending to the shores of the lake.

Wanaka is also home to many wineries and vineyards where you can sample award-winning wines and meet the winemakers who are so passionate about winemaking. Specialty tours for novice tasters and connoisseurs are designed to entertain and educate both the mind and the taste buds.

Hiking, biking, mountain biking and blissful walks surrounded by nature are as easily enjoyed in Wanaka and Queenstown. The accommodation, dining, shopping and facilities are also great in both places and in terms of cost, there isn’t much difference.

So it really comes down to what activities you would enjoy most, how much time you have, and if you prefer a buzzing tourist scene like Queenstown offers or a slightly more low-key experience like Wanaka serves up. The nightlife in Queenstown is hopping, while in Wanaka, you can let the barman give you the last drink before closing and still get an early night.

If skiing is your buzz, then Queenstown is a popular base with world-class ski facilities 30-60 minutes away at Coronet Peak, The Remarkables or Cardrona. You can hit the slopes from Wanaka too, or enjoy leisurely wine tastings.

Again, you could squeeze in time at both places. Using Queenstown as a base and making a day or overnight trip to Wanaka can be a good plan. All good road trips to Wanaka include a stop in the historic mining town of Arrowtown just out of Queenstown. The Arrowtown Bakery has fresh pastries that are legendary.

So Wanaka versus Queenstown – still find it hard to choose? Give me a call and I’m sure you’ll be able to decide after our conversation and it will be only one stop on a trip thru scenic and friendly New Zealand – a trip you will talk about for years to come.

Pat Ogle-CollinsTwo lakes, two lakeside towns – the dilemma!
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Ferry tale crossings do exist!

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“Slow down. You move too fast.”  You got to make your vacation last!  Remember that song?  OK, at least the first two sentence.  But in this fast paced world, vacations should be savored.  And what better way to savor a trip thru New Zealand than to skip the flight between the North and South Islands and take the ferry.  Yes, it is slower, but marine life, lush forests and the smell of the sea creates a more sensual experience than a view from a tiny window at 30,000 feet!

New Zealand’s interisland ferries connect the North and South Islands traveling from Wellington to Picton several times a day.

With epic views that might include dolphins jumping out of the water or seals enjoying the sun and salty air, you should pack your binoculars and keep your camera close by.

From the moment you board and receive a warm greeting from the lovely Kiwi staff, you discover your ferry trip will be as wonderful as reaching the final destination.

Approaching the hills of Wellington, New Zealand on the ferry.

Spend some time on a viewing deck soaking up the vitamin sea and admiring the gorgeous New Zealand scenery with rolling hills, moody skies and a few seagulls flying above. You might also see penguins and other sea creatures in their native habitat, which is always a thrill. During certain times of the year, Humpback whale sightings are possible as they migrate through the Cook Strait. As you enter the Marlborough Sounds you pass by island and peninsulas that appear to be uninhabited covered in lush forests.  The colors of the surrounding hills and the sea change color as light changes with the movement of the clouds and mist.

Although any time of the day is gorgeous, sunrise and sunset ferry rides can be especially memorable. If you are making a return trip, I highly recommend traveling at different times of the day for the mood can be beautifully contrasting. Getting up early to set sail by 5 am is worth it. Plus, you have fewer tourists onboard the earlier you book your ferry ticket.

The fresh sea air always makes everyone hungry and there are excellent dining services with fresh local food and drink, including a fine selection of NZ wine and beers. Indoors you can still enjoy the stunning sights through the massive floor-to-ceiling windows.

There’s plenty of space to move around or chill out as you are rocked gently during the scenic journey of the Marlborough Sounds and Cook Strait. Or you might like to enjoy the entertainment on board. The ferry is massive and exploring the different levels is all part of the adventure.

During inclement weather, the Cook Strait ferry crossing can still be comfortable and entertaining.

For families, there is something for everyone with games, movies, and activities for the kids and comfortable areas for parents to relax while keeping an eye on them. If the ship alone doesn’t keep the attention of children, the latest technology is installed throughout the ferry and wifi is available throughout the 92-kilometer journey. Some ferries even have a movie theatre so you can enjoy a movie with drinks and popcorn.  The facilities on the Aratere, Kaitaki and Kaiarahi ferries are slightly different but equally fantastic.

Entering Marlborough Sounds on a beautiful day.

Taking the time to travel via ferry is time well spent. You would never see some of the spectacular sights from a plane and there is something so romantic and charming about a sea voyage. Three hours is the perfect amount of time to gaze at some of the country’s most gorgeous scenery, indulge in some shopping, grab a delicious bite to eat, sip some vino and get ready to step off the boat refreshed and inspired. It is also convenient if you want to take your car and often more affordable than flying.

The only possible downside is rough weather which can mean a rocky trip (in extreme weather, the ferry may not sail). But most of the time, the weather is fine and the ferry carries happy travelers back and forth between the islands. Many say it is one of the most beautiful ferry trips in the world.

As you approach the pretty mainland in Picton or Wellington, you will say farewell to the ferry experience and start to get excited about more adventures that await. You can easily rent a car and continue your sightseeing. Then you might like to hike the Queen Charlotte Track and explore the wine country or Kaikoura Coast or check into a hotel to relax for a bit.

Sunrise and sunset crossings provide uniquely beautiful crossings of the Cook Strait in New Zealand.

I am passionate about helping travelers have the best possible travel experiences and maximizing their precious vacation time. So drop me a line today to find out more about a NZ adventure, including the ferry!

Pat Ogle-CollinsFerry tale crossings do exist!
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Small ships lead to magnificent wonders on the Kimberly Coast!

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The Kimberley region in Australia is world-famous for offering some of the most spectacular cruising experiences. Expedition cruises into this remote Western Australian coast are in no way ordinary. Apart from its isolation and an overwhelming sense of tranquility hard to find anywhere else, this region is packed with over 1 billion years of history, splendid natural sceneries, and wonders such as dinosaur footprints over 200 million years old.

Mitchell Falls

Situated on the west side of Kimberley, Broome, an outback beach town is the gateway into this vast coastal area containing a variety of natural marvels that are simply mind-bending. From steep ochre-colored cliffs, unique rock formations, the Mitchell waterfalls splashing down 4 steps to crystal clear lakes, etc., all cruises to Kimberley offer tours and excursions full of intimate views.

Boating at the bottom of King George Falls

Up-Close Encounters with the World’s Greatest Natural Wonders

On any single day, there are multiple cruises with each covering an almost similar itinerary departing from Broome, Darwin, or sometimes Kununurra. Expedition cruising offers extraordinary experiences focusing on the environment and nature-friendly excursions. This form of travel is preferred by most clientele who are interested in where they are going and how they get there as well.

Small ships take guests to remote locations brimming with wildlife and natural wonders that impart intimate experiences. Cruises along the Kimberley coast go where few other ships can. Apart from being able to flexibly respond to things like the weather, the voyages on Kimberley cruises get you to serene beaches and shallow bays.

All cruises get as close as possible to fascinating features on the coast. Smaller crafts usually launched from the mother ship can reach sites deep into the coast, enabling the passengers to observe interesting wildlife and to witness some of the greatest natural wonders in the Kimberley, such as the Horizontal Waterfall.

There is no better way to discover the awe-inspiring gorges, reefs, and coastlines than by ship. The close encounters enhance the sense of adventure for every traveler in

With tides of over 10 meters, the Montgomery Reef emerges with deep crevices, waterfalls and a plethora of marine wildlife left behind.

a uniquely personal way that translates every single moment into an authentic travel experience.

Travelers Rather Than Tourists

While cruising the Kimberly, another key aspect of the voyage is the emphasis on learning. To most expedition cruisers, the opportunity to learn is more important than relaxing by the pool with a drink.

The Gwion Gwion rock art, formerly referred to as the Bradshaw paintings, provide sophisticated depictions of life over 12,000 years ago.

Experts give lectures and briefings about each destination developing passengers’ sense of each place before arrival. Along the way, passengers can then step ashore for exploratory excursions while listening to those with specialized knowledge and expert opinion adding a new dimension to the voyage.

The focus is on travel, not tourism, so cruisers are keenly interested in the native people and their way of life.  And to help the locals preserve the pristine conditions, the Kimberley expedition cruises are

operated in environmentally friendly ways that limit the impact of each visit into a sensitive area so that the destination remains protected.

Helicopters are available on some cruises offering an alternative view of the Kimberly while also providing transportation to Kimberley’s inaccessible and hard-to-reach places. Guests can be whisked over cliff edges, waterfalls, or across remote islands. Helicopters provide easy access to wildlife viewing while ferrying guests to narrow waterways, terrestrial sites, and fishing spots away from the ship.

Ready for a remote adventure to the other side of the world? Call me to assist you in finding the right expedition cruise for you!

Pat Ogle-CollinsSmall ships lead to magnificent wonders on the Kimberly Coast!
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Step by Step – The Ultimate Form of Slow Travel!

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When planning a long-awaited vacation, how you want to travel is just as important as where you want to travel. If you are somebody who enjoys culture, outdoor life and a slower form of travel, then taking a walking might be right up your alley. Choose your desired level of activity and have a unique experience, discovering new cities and regions.

Nowadays, you can find walking vacations suited for anyone’s needs and every level of fitness. Many tours combine traditional sightseeing and walking. That means you can enjoy a morning walking thru beautiful scenery and then continue with some less physical adventures, for example, a cooking class, wine tasting or a visit to a craftsman.

Explore the Italian Alps, the Dolomites, and their towering rock monoliths.

The possibilities are endless – book a Spanish culinary tour that takes you through charming villages, or – if you prefer a bigger challenge – spend a week in the mountains. Taking a walking tour may not be what you imagine – it is the perfect combination of comfort and activity. When it comes to accommodation, no sleep bag required-we’re talking lovely inns with fluffy duvets, fresh warm bread or croissants, and lots of hot water!

Contrary to trekking tours, you won’t experience high altitudes or rough conditions. When backpacking, specialized equipment is typically needed, and training is a must.  Not the case with walking tours.  Usually, you only carry what is needed for the day while your baggage is transported to your next hotel. There’s no hassle and no tired backs. If you are somebody who likes to treat yourself after a long day, some tours even offer meals at Michelin-starred restaurants and hotels with spas!  But walking tours offer more than deluxe-style travel.

Literally, you can stop and smell the flowers along the way on a walking tour.

Zipping by not allowed!

When traveling to a destination for the first time, it can be overwhelming with all there is to see and do. Walking tours allow you to focus on a smaller region and travel at a slower pace and even on your own pace. Of course, driving on your own or with a tour means you may see more in terms of area, but walking allows you to see a destination more closely and more deeply.

Rather than seeing works of Van Gogh in a museum, walk sites he visited, and the places he painted in Arles and St. Remy in Provence.  Furthermore, some places can be accessed only on foot. Just explore all of the incredible alleys of Fes in Morrocco and gorgeous enjoy panoramic vistas of the Alpine valleys that otherwise might be missed!

Eat that extra dessert!

Walking tours are perfect for travelers who seek adventure but don’t relish the thought of sore muscles.

And better yet, it’s great for those that like to enjoy local food. That walking, it’s burning calories your consumed during wonderful meals!  The level of activity and distances vary. Even those who aren’t athletically oriented can find a tour suited for their abilities. There is truly nothing more wonderful than being outdoors for long periods of time, enjoying nature, and walking through the sunshine (or rain – its own joyful type of experience).

Let others do the work!

Planning might be fun for some, but good luck trying to find a restaurant on a trail in the Bavarian forest or someone to transport your luggage from one village to the next.  All done for you on a walking tour.  These tours also offer some unique sights and experiences that you might not even know exist. Simply follow your guide (or the information provided by the company if you are going on a self-guided tour) and let your worries drift away.

There’s no campfire grub on a walking tour.  Enjoy wonderful local cuisine featuring local farm-fresh ingredients.

The route and distance are mapped out and time to explore on your own is frequently scheduled.  Distances during the day may be as few as a couple of miles to as many as 10.  You may find a short walk during the morning in one town followed by a transfer to another town for a short walk before dinner.

Walking tour companies also know that everyone is different. Self-guided tours allow you to walk the entire tour on your own. However, those who prefer to meet new people can choose a small group tour led by a local guide who knows the area and the culture well. Days spent walking with others allow you to get to know other participants and friendships to grow – lovely for those traveling solo. After all – what can be better than meeting people who share similar interests to you?

When choosing a tour, it is crucial to pay close attention to what is included and the level of difficulty, since the terms – hiking, walking, trekking – may vary by company. You will find walking tours all around the globe – from Europe to Southeast Asia and beyond.

Enjoy the destination and those with you on a walking tour.

There’s a song that may just be talking about walking tours –

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feeling groovy.

Life’s too short and vacations go too fast.  Slow down and enjoy a walking tour.  I’m ready to help when you’re ready to explore.  Call me!

Pat Ogle-CollinsStep by Step – The Ultimate Form of Slow Travel!
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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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Explore the Kimberly – One of the Last Wilderness Frontiers in the World!

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Very few places on earth are like the Kimberley. This is a dream destination like no other tucked away in northwestern Australia. It’s a pristine, wild, and untouched region of remarkable beauty, filled with a variety of plants and animals, unique physical features, and breathtaking landscapes. The big question is this, what new adventures can you experience when you explore the Kimberley? Read to the end, and you will agree the right answer is, “a lot.”

A Place of Timeless Magnificence

Its beauty is unspoiled – the main reason it continues to attract adventure-seekers looking for extraordinary experiences. Imagine a  remote area of over 162,000 square miles with a 7500 miles long coast filled with nothing but timeless magnificence. In the entire world, this ranks as one of the last wilderness frontiers.  Yet gorgeous scenery and precious natural features abound.

Mitchell Waterfall, Western Australia

Hemmed in by the Timor Sea on the northern side, the Great Sandy desert on the southern stretch, the Northern Territory to the east, and on the west, the Indian Ocean, this expansive wilderness almost the size of California, is characterized by contrasting, but stunning natural features such as the Horizontal Waterfall that forms when huge tidal currents rush through narrow, parallel gorges or the incredibly gorgeous Mitchell waterfall, splashing down 4 steps in pink, yellow and blue hues.

The Spellbinding Scene at Montgomery Reef

You will also find the Montgomery reef that turns into a spellbinding scene when it transforms at the tide-fall.  Because of the size of the tidal change, the ocean appears to rear up with large torrents of water, containing a multitude of reef sharks, dolphins, and octopuses, cascades toward shore. Rare animals like giant saltwater crocodiles, hundreds of bird species, and more abound here.

Home to a Very Busy Delivery Room

The entire coast of the Kimberly provides the largest nursery in the world for the over 40,000 humpback whales that travel to the area from Antarctica to enjoy the warmer waters from June to October.  While summering off Australia’s coast, the whales give birth to calves before making their way back to the cooler waters.  Often pods of three to four whales up to 15 meters in length along with their calves drop by to say hello to those on whale-watching excursions, often slapping their tales on the water or breaching to garner some attention.

But that’s not all, Kimberley is rich in awe-inspiring vistas of sparkling, powder-soft, silica sand beaches, azure blue waters, and vast open skies through which showers of shooting stars streak at night. And for one more surprise, dinosaur footprints, some as large as 1.7 meters in size and over 130 million years old can be seen when the tides recede outside of Broome!

Camel caravan at sunset, Broome, Australia

Spectacular Camel Trains and Golden Sunsets

Other scenes guaranteed to snatch your breath away include the more than 2600 islands along the coast whose marvelous attractions can be seen only from the luxurious comforts of a cruise. At the prestigious Cable Beach at Broome resort town, you will enjoy the spectacular sight of a camel train that daily trails along the beach on the backdrop of golden sunsets.  You can also go snorkeling, scuba-diving, or pearl hunting at Roebuck Bay.

Bungle Bungle Range, Western Australia

An Interior with Spectacular Sights to Explore As Well

The interior of the Kimberly provides sights equally as beautiful as the coast.  One of the most visited being the Bungle Bungle Range.  Located in the southern end of the Purnululu National Park, these domes of sandstone only became known in the 1980s.  Walk among the black and orange striped domes formed millions of years ago when sand and gravel that flowed thru the area compacted.  Later, when the area uplifted the domes were formed.  Continue on your walk and you come to the Cathedral Gorge.  200 ft red rock cliffs tower around you as you pass thru the area helping visitors feel the awe of nature at its best.

Not to be outdone, the Windjana Gorge, boasts 300 meter high walls and historical significance for the armed rebellion against European settlers in the late 1800s.  During a walk thru the gorge, you will find fossilized marine life and freshwater crocodiles.   The Tunnel Creek Cave system is one of the country’s oldest.  Visitors can walk 750 meters inside surrounded by beautiful rock formations while wading thru freshwater pools.

Karijini National Park brims with gorges all unique in their own way. Then for for a different kind of view, Mount Bruce, Australia’s second highest mountain resides in the park.  At just over 4000 feet and with a number of short walks, expansive views await providing numerous different perspectives of the surrounding landscape.

This is just a snapshot of the fantastic Kimberley where startlingly picturesque, tranquil beauty is in abundance; and there is so much more.  Want to talk about other possible sights or options for a trip to the Kimberly?  Give me a call to talk more!

Cliffs of Cathedral Gorge, Western Australia

Pat Ogle-CollinsExplore the Kimberly – One of the Last Wilderness Frontiers in the World!
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The often missed “winterless North” of New Zealand!

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When you travel all the way to the Land of the Long White Cloud, you should also go all the way to the tip of the North Island. New Zealand’s Northland, also referred to as the Far North by New Zealanders,  is a place of cultural significance, boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the country with a subtropical climate and lots of sunshine.

Let’s look at some of the places in Northland that should be on your list of must-see Kiwi destinations. Get ready for wild beaches, quaint towns, enchanting Maori legends, endless lush forests filled with Kauri trees and waterfalls, and probably more sheep than people. You might even see an endangered Kiwi in these parts!

Cape Reinga Lighthouse

Cape Reinga

Start at the top of the North Island in Cape Reinga, where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea join, and the Maori believe that deceased spirits of their people jump from an 800-year-old pohutukawa tree (a tree covered in red blossoms referred to as the New Zealand Christmas tree or bush) into the sea to return to Hawaiki, their ancestral home. This spiritual place is as far north as you can travel and is an inspiring place to be.

Visit the lighthouse where the ocean views are spectacular and if you catch the sunrise or sunset, you might crown Cape Reinga your favorite place on earth.

Ninety Mile Beach

Ninety Mile Beach

Technically the beach is less than 90 miles long, but who is counting when the sandy shores are so gorgeous? You can see waves and sand for as far as the eye can see and perhaps a lone farmer walking his dog or brave surfer with seagulls for company. If you want to explore this remote beach on the western coast, the town of Kaitaia makes a charming base. Fresh mussels and fish from the Kaitaia Fish Shop should not be missed because you’ll be hungry after all that sea air and walking around the beach and its dunes.

Kerikeri

Known for its farmer’s market, Kerikeri is the largest town in Northland and a vibrant little place to visit. Rainbow Falls, where you can take a dip in the water hole, is blissfully photogenic. You will find many gorgeous walking tracks through forested areas lined by quaint streams and rivers here and all around Northland.

Step back into the fairly young colonial history of the country by visiting The Kerikeri Mission Station, also called Kemp House. Under the protection of a scary Maori chief, this house built in 1821 for missionaries, to whom he was kind, stands as the oldest surviving European building in the country.

Hokianga

Hokianga Harbour is where the first war canoe landed when Kupe, a Polynesian leader, arrived in New Zealand by using the stars and ocean to guide the waka hourua (large double-hulles oceangoing canoes) from Hawaiki (the original home of Polynesians) to Hokianga. Many people believe taniwha (sea monsters) protect the entrance to the harbor.

Rainbow Falls, Kerikeri

Hokianga is a beautiful spot with little settlements like Omapere and Opononi to explore. Enjoy a lunch of fish and chips at a cafe in Rawene, then catch a ferry to the seaside town of Kohukohu where you can see historical buildings from the kauri gum (fossilized resin of the kauri tree used in crafts and jewelry) mining days.

Walk through the scenic Waipoua Forest and see Tane Mahuta, called the God of the Forest, the biggest kauri tree in NZ, with an estimated age of 2,000 years old. Stop to see rare rock formations at Wairere Boulders, a geologic phenomenon created by acidic erosion. The trails are easy to walk and you can kayak the Waipoua River that cuts thru the park.

Dargaville

Heading south, you will discover the town of Dargaville, where you can take a rail and river tour which is run by locals who give you the real low down on farm life in rural NZ. It’s an adventure through farmland and tunnels, over old railway tracks and bridges.  Hot cheese scones and tea are part of the package.

Ngātokimatawhaorua, Maori war canoe, Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Bay of Islands

In 1840 over 500 Maori leaders and British Crown representatives gathered to sign the Treaty of Waitangi. When you visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds’ sacred site, you can see a Maori meeting house, war canoes, carvings, and a traditional haka performance (traditional Maori war dance). You can also view a replica of the treaty (the real one is archived in Wellington).  As the most important historical site in New Zealand, understanding the importance of the treaty and the events leading to the treaty reveal so much about the culture of the country.

By spending time in Northland, you gain a perspective on the entire country, while enjoying its warm temperatures, sunshine-filled days, and uniquely quaint small towns. Kiwis enjoy life at a much slower pace.  Visiting the Northlands provides time to adjust to this slower pace while learning about the culture and history surrounded by beautiful scenery!

Pat Ogle-CollinsThe often missed “winterless North” of New Zealand!
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Vast, remote & desolate create amazing scenery in Namibia!

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Have you checked off destinations like Italy, France, perhaps a safari, and others from your list and itching for a bit more adventure?  Namibia located in southern Africa remains largely unexplored by most travelers and by man.  So before the rest of the tourism world discovers this gem, add it to your shortlist.

Expect to be wowed by large desert dunes, stunning national parks, friendly locals dressed in tribal clothing (English is the official language), and wildlife scenes that look like they came straight from the pages of National Geographic.

Aerial view of the Namib Desert

Namib translates to a vast place and the Namib Desert fits that description to a T.  Sand dunes stretch for miles with the tallest dune, referred to as Dune 7, holding the world record at 1,256 feet, just 6 feet taller than the Empire State Building! In addition to vastness and size, light and color creates an ever changing picture just waiting to be taken.  Near Sossusvlei, the white ground of the salt pan, along with the changing colors of the sand from orange to red and the dark contrast of the dead camelthorn trees create a surreal landscape just begging to be photographed.

Giraffe in Namibia

Wildlife like cheetah, leopard, elephants, and zebra exist here through their unique adaption to the desert that stretches across a good portion of the country.  Also, over 700 species of birds, from colorful European bee-eaters to giant ostriches, wait for bird lovers.  While there is considerable wildlife and most see some particularly further north, wildlife should take second place to the scenery when planning a trip.

The coastline of Namibia extends over 1,000 miles.  Along the northern portion of the country lies the Skeleton Coast because of the whale and bones once found here. Now, shipwreck remains are the skeletons of the area numbering in the thousands due to the rough seas from the currents and strong winds.

One wreck, the Eduard Bohlen wreck, stranded in 1909, now lies several hundred yards inland as a result of shifting sands.  With this area being so remote, the scenic flights from Swakopgmund provide the best means for seeing the beauty of the most untouched and uninhabited area.  For a more intimate close-up view, several camps allow you to experience the area and the incredible night sky.  For more dark skies, visit the Namib Rand Dark Sky Reserve near Sossusvlei.

Shipwreck of Zeila on Skelton Coast, Namibia

From the Skeleton Coast head northwest to Etosha National Park home to lions, rhinos, antelope, hyenas, lizards, zebras, and birds. One of the best ways to see them is at a waterhole as they come to drink. Okaukuejo Camp is a luxury accommodation with a flood-lit waterhole so you can view the animals after dark, including the rare black rhino.   Etosha also boasts the largest population of free-roaming cheetahs in the world.

Wildlife around waterhole in Etosha National Park

Damaraland, also located in the northern area of the country between Sossusvlei and Etosha, a semi-desert region yields yet another very different landscape with hundreds of years of erosion forming mountains of granite and boulders the size of trees. Here you will find Twyfelfontein, home to more rock engravings than anywhere else in the world.  From 1,000-10,000 years old, the area became a national monument in 1952 and a World Heritage site in 2007.

When traveling around Namibia to exotic locations like the Namib Desert, Damaraland and Etosha National Park, you will find the whole country is environmentally aware. Most places are eco-friendly and sustainability a key objective of many businesses. Protecting the local culture, wildlife and natural environment is very important to the people of Namibia, and you will be encouraged to recycle and reuse items during your adventure. Over 40% of the country is under conservation management, and it was the first African country to introduce environmental protection into its constitution.

Ready to get off the beaten path and feel like an explorer?  Namibian tourism increased from 1 million to 1.6 million visitors over the last decade, compared to neighboring South Africa’s 16.7 million in 2019.  Today you can still feel like an explorer.  Who knows for how long.  Let’s make sure you get there before everyone else finds out about this land of striking landscapes.  Call me to talk more about this amazing very different destination!

Namibian night sky

Pat Ogle-CollinsVast, remote & desolate create amazing scenery in Namibia!
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