One of the most remote parts of New Zealand can be found in the fjords of Fiordland. In total, there are 14 fjords, the most famous of these are Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. The key difference point of difference between the two, is that Milford Sound is the only one with a public road access. For Doubtful Sound, you have to go on a guided tour, all of them starting at the wharf Manapouri. You can do both fjords as a day tour or a Doubtful sound overnight cruise. View both in comparison with this blog.
Real Journeys is the largest local tour operator in the Fiordland region. They have a number of purpose-built vessels in Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound. The Fiordland Navigator operates during the summer season and is designed along the lines of a traditional scow. This design blends old world charm with modern comforts, including spacious viewing decks, a dining saloon/fully licensed bar and an observation lounge.
As for accommodation, the Fiordland Navigator offer private cabins with en-suite bathrooms (all rather small but manageable for one night) or a limited number of quad share bunk style compartments. Meals provided are a three-course buffet dinner and a cooked breakfast. The journey begins by boat from Lake Manapouri, then transfer by coach over Wilmot Pass. This part of the experience takes about 2.5 hours. In Doubtful Sound you can opt to join a guided tour. These include kayaks (they have them on the Navigator) or with a dingy boat.
Whatever option you choose, you will be crusing cruise through some of the fiord’s most stunning scenery. Knowledgeable nature guides will provide commentary. You can be assured of the most amazing encounters – pods of resident dolphins, fur seals or rare penguins.. In the evening, you can mingle with fellow travellers and if the skies are clear, spend some time on the upper deck gazing at the stars. You’ll need to pinch yourself to prove that you really are in a wild and remote location. The next morning, you’ll return back the same way to Manapouri Wharf.
The ‘Southern Secret’ overnight option for Doubtful Sound is more boutique in nature and a much smaller operation. This 20 metre vessel is based in Deep Cove in Doubtful. The vessel has only five private cabins and accommodates a maximum of 12 passengers on a charter.
Each cabin has an en-suite bathroom including toilet and shower. Linen and towels are provided. Of course, you will need to bring an overnight bag with personal belongings and warm clothing. The service on-board is very personalised and the local skipper is also your guide and host. You will also arrive via Manapouri Wharf (or fly in by helicopter). Activities on board include fishing, kayaking and mammal watching during the Overnight Cruise.
Once again, you will take cross Lake Manapouri to West Arm first and then with coach over Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound. As you board TUTOKO II, your friendly crew will welcome you for an overall 22 hour journey into the Fiordland’s wilderness.
You’ll be surrounded by breathtaking mountain vistas on this cruise. Your captain will give an informative commentary on the area’s history and how Fiordland was formed. The meals will be a memorable part of this journey. There’ll be plenty of local fare being presented at the table. If you’re up to it, have a go at fishing for your dinner. Meanwhile, just to be doubly sure, the crew will be harvesting lobster for the plate.
During the cruise you’ll get to visit the nesting seal colony. There is something incredibly joyful watching bottle-nose dolphins ride the bow; enjoying a free ride on the surf. In the evening whilst the crew prepare dinner try your hand at kayaking and enjoy a close-up personal experience. There’s no one to bother you here, so go at your own pace. Alternatively, kick back with a wine and relax on the top deck – it’s a great way to relax before dinner.
The next morning, the vessel makes an early start. Whilst the crew prepare a full and hearty cooked breakfast, you can enjoy the peace among the most awesome scenery. All too soon, the wharf looms and you’ll be heading back over the pass to meet the ferry across Lake Manapouri. But not before you’ve swapped email addresses with new-found friends.
Now, this overnight kayaking experience is completely different to the others. It is a more physically demanding experience, but a highly satisfying way of exploring this wilderness area of New Zealand. You’ll need to be prepared for some ‘discomfort’ such as sandflies, rain or both. Each day involves about 5 hours of kayaking.
Along with your guide and a maximum of 8 guests, you’ll camp out at a base camp nestled in the forest up Hall Arm. Nearby a freshwater stream flows quietly, lulling you asleep. The campsite is very photogenic. You’ll get plenty of time to enjoy the birdsong and soak up the atmosphere. There is a communal tent for socialising at night while everyone cooks their own meals. Note: if kayaking is not possible due to bad weather, then a boat cruise will be offered instead and the camping will be replaced with a hostel in Doubtful Sound.
Surprisingly, Winter is really the best time for the fjords of Fiordland. Yes, it’s a bit more chilly, but between May and September, there is less rain and wind. The good news is that there are ‘special ‘expedition cruises’ into Dusky Sound, Preservation Inlet and to Stewart Island. These are run by Real Journey on specific dates and are very popular with the 50+ age group looking for adventure, good cuisine and social company. If you are in New Zealand during the winter season, then the multi-day overnighter cruise in the Fiordland region is highly recommended.
A question travellers often ask us is: “Packing for New Zealand holiday, what should I bring”? Well, it’s very simple – less is more! It’s most important to bring the right type of clothing. Read another of our blogs. New Zealand is an outdoorsy place, so the focus will not be on fancy night dresses and suits, but on practical outfits supporting whatever your trip focus is.
Generally speaking, the longer you travel the less luggage you’ll take with you. This is what we have experienced over the past 30 years when travelling the world. You simply cannot and don’t want to prepare for all eventualities. Sometimes you’ll see fellow travellers dragging several pieces of suitcases behind them; don’t go there. There are smarter ways to travel ‘light’.
We recommend the ‘onion system’, which basically means layers of clothing. Those can be peeled on and off according to the weather and location situations. This is also has the most effective benefit when reducing your packing space in your luggage. For some outdoor tours – see heli hiking on glacier – you will get special equipment (e.g. boots, rain jacket, gayters, walking stick).
When going hiking or walking in New Zealand’s great outdoor, always take a rain jacket as well as a day pack to fit in some extra food, water bottles, mobile phone, valuable and other helpful items (don’t leave credit card and passports in your car!). Using a day pack is also a great idea on the aircraft as hand luggage. Read on re day walk like the Hollyford Track.
Now, this one is often forgotten. Most accommodation providers will provide clothes washing options. Either you have access to a washing machine and dryer or the hosts (B&B, lodges) or a concierge (hotels) will arrange this for you. Often the costs is minimal and you just pay for the washing powder. Hotels might charge you a laundry fee, so watch out for that.
Here’s a list of key clothing items we’d recommend for New Zealand:
Depending on your rental car size your luggage space in the boot might be limited. Generally 2 x mid-size pieces will go into a Compact or Intermediate vehicle. If your suitcase is big, you might only fit in one piece and a hand bag. SUV rental cars are good as their luggage space is large. 8-seater peoplemover (especially Toyota Previas) have limited luggage space (even with their eight seats, there’s actually no space for 8 pieces of suitcases!). An interesting one are motorhomes – soft bags store better than large suitcases. Again, it all depends on the vehicle size (either camper or motorhome).
With domestic flights in New Zealand you can get maximum 2 x pieces of luggage at 23 kg per piece each person – plus one piece of hand luggage at 7 kg per person. This is fairly generous. If you need more luggage you will need to purchase ahead. This is recommended, as it will cost you much more at the counter if you add more luggage to check-in.
This is the smartest move of the lot! Instead bringing your old (and trusted) t-shirts, why not buy some while travelling in New Zealand! Add to your luggage as you go and bring back home some memorable pieces. Very popular besides t-shirts are: woolen sweaters, sun hats, outdoor clothing (we have the ‘Kathmandu’ and ‘Macpac’ brands in New Zealand). And maybe some nice fluffy sheepskin slippers!
This overall packing suggestion for New Zealand will not cover every aspect (such as bringing your own medicine), but at least it keeps your travel planning focused on the basics!
Top highlights Invercargill Southland may be a surprising title for some. Invercargill does tendsto be under rated by international travellers when planning a New Zealand trip. But there is lot to love about this place. One reason for that could be that Invercargill sits on the southern most tip of New Zealand or perhaps nature lovers see it as a ‘jumping board’ to Stewart Island. I suspect it’s also to do with the people. If you ask for their opinion, you’ll get an honest answer. If you’re lucky enough to make friends with a Southerner, you can be pretty sure it will be for life!
The other day I visited Invercargill again. It’s hard to believe how many ‘treasures’ this place can now call its own. It has to be the ‘big southern secret’. Here are some pretty compelling arguments as to why Invercargill travel should be on your to-do list.
Bill Richardson’s Transport World‘ is an absolute must-do. This massive complex has the largest private collection of its type in the world! And if you’re really not that interested in cars, there are plenty of other attractions in this massive complex you’re bound to love. There are over 300 vehicles, an awesome wearable arts collection and children’s play zones complete with a Lego room. Plus The Grille Cafe and themed bathrooms are fast becoming just as famous as the actual vehicles.
But wait folks, there’s more and this time, its the two-wheel variety. Another part of Bill Richardson’s is the ‘Classic Motorcycle Mecca‘ that is located at 25 Tay Street, Invercargill. The Classic Motorcyble Mecca is widely regarded as a world class display, with a collection of over 300 motorcycles and motorcycle related artwork from around the world. It is situated in two newly restored buildings within central CBD in Invercargill. Here you’ll find brands such as AJS, Ariel, Britten, Brough Superior, Harley Davidson, Henderson, Indian, Matchless and Rudge as well as little-known brands such as Schwinn and Zundapp. Located at Open from 10.00am – 5.00pm daily.
Now for something completely different – ‘Dig This Invercargill‘. This is New Zealand’s very first heavy machinery playground. Believe me, this sort of attraction is really quite ground-breaking for Invercargill. There is only one other place in the world where you can do this and that is Las Vegas, USA. People can live out their fantasies driving diggers, excavators, skid steers and bulldozers. How cool is that! Just push and pull your way in an adult- sized sandpit! This is opening on 2 October 2017 and just in time for the summer season.
For some more nature focused visitors the Southland Museum is a great place to be. Its the ideal attraction for families, especially if the weather is being a little temperamental. The Southland museum cares for over 100 tuatara, from new born babies to teenagers. By the way, this is where New Zealand’s world famous father and grand dad ‘Henry’ lives. Dear old Henry is over 110 years old and a gorgeous looking chap.
The Tuatarium is proclaimed to be one of the world’s best enclosures, where you can see live tuatara thriving in an environment that mimics their natural habitat. Being a much warmer environment than other outdoor enclosures, especially in the winter months, you are more likely to see a live tuatara here. Tuatara are cold-blooded and more active in warmer habitats. Tuatara can also be viewed outside museum hours through the windows on the north side of the pyramid.
On some occasions this week, I’ve been to The Batch Cafe twice a day. It’s a wonderful place, with stunning food, friendly staff and beautiful coffee. If chocolate berry brownies or sticky lemon slices are you’re thing, you’ll love it here. All the food is made on site by great cooks and bakers.
There’s no artificial flavouring here folks – health and organic is the way to go! I was up ready for work at 7.30am every morning and always started the day with eggs benedict.
The Industry Cafe is the sister cafe to The Batch Cafe. Its interior has a totally different feel. Its a large large, beautiful space with modern decor and a relaxed atmosphere. Like The Batch, the food is made from scratch and of course, the coffee sublime.
The Buster Crabb operates from the Dee Street heritage building which has been re-modelled. The portion sizes are generous and the atmosphere really great for everyone. I would happily bring my family here.
And that’s not all the Top Highlights Invercargill Southland. Wait until you see the surrounding scenic views of of Oreti Beach, to the native wonders of Waituna Wetlands and Omaui, or the boardwalk on the estuary and heritage wharfs!
On my recent trip to Melbourne I spent time to research more Melbourne accommodation central city options. Looking at websites with loads of pictures, videos and maps is one way to do it. But believe me, actually visiting these places to experience them firsthand, is much better. You get a clearer understanding of location, layout, room sizes, and general items such as cleanliness. Of course the friendliness of management and staff play a very important part of the valuation. I have divided my findings into 3 main categories Mainstream, Boutique and High end:
This is a 3-star property just a stone’s throw from the Queen Victoria Market. The rooms are fine, as long as you intend to spend more time exploring the city than staying in-house. The hotel offers a good breakfast which is included in stay packages for the budget-minded traveller.
This 4-star hotel is located right in the hub of downtown Melbourne. Step outside the door and you can go straight to the famous Block Arcarde (which hosts the wonderful ‘Hopetoun Tea Room’). The hotel has all facilities you could ask for – gym, indoor swimming pool, restaurant.
Flinders Street is one of Melbourne main roads. So, with any accommodation along this main traffic artery, you’ll get a fair amount of road noise. This 4-star hotel is set in an heritage building, so the minute you set foot inside, you’ll get a real sense of history. I would call it a ‘classic’, old-world style hotel.
There are three Adina Apartment hotel in Melbourne. All a bit different to each other, therefore I went to all of them to check them out. The 4-star Queens Street Adina left the best impression. It’s central, well equipped, has a modern layout and with it’s 2- and 3-bedroom apartments it’s perfect for family travellers to Melbourne.
Beside the more main stream hotels the Melbourne central business district is lucky to have some more boutique styled accommodation options. Here are a few:
When I walked into the QT Hotel, I had one of those ‘wow’ moments. It reminded me of the QT Museum hotel back here in Wellington. It’s funky, vibrant and full of quirky corners. More like a huge community area with seatings, cafes and large restaurant with a glass walled wine cellar next to it. The guest rooms are spacious and modern in the 4-star property. I think I will be staying here the next time I’m in Melbourne!
Well, I had to explore a little bit to find this little germ! It’s right in the city, between La Trobe and Lonsdale Street. Actually, its not even marked at the official Melbourne Tourism map. My instincts told me to sniff it out and go there and what a great discovery! Fraser Place is a 4-star boutique hotel with two main towers. Everything is on a slightly smaller scale, but the roof top is spacious and a great place to hang out after a day’s explore. As with all Fraser properties I have looked through this one. Its very well looked after and maintained.
If you want to be right in the middle of Melbourne’s hustle and bustle, then this is the place to be. Right in Flinders amidst cafes, restaurants and other foodie places. Be warned, there will be ‘people’ noise’ at night. The rooms are spacious as they were converted from a former office building. The reception area is very small. The staff are very pro-active and attentive.
Hotel Lindrum is another ‘classic’ in Melbourne. This building is rich on history. It started off as a tea merchant store and really sings ‘old world charm’ from the minute you enter the small front entrance. Some of the rooms face Flinders Street and are noisy. But if this is an issue for you, don’t worry, take one of the other rooms facing aways from Flinders. All rooms are spacious and well maintained.
The ‘Southbank’ side of Melbourne is basically on the other side of the CBD area across the Yarra River. This area is far more modern and developed with a number or hotels, restaurants and bars. Actually its a real ‘lifestyle’ area. The 5-star Langham Hotel has a ‘grand feeling’. Massive marble stairs, antique glass chandeliers, indoor swimming pool, roof deck – it’s all here in a matter of a 10 minutes walk across the Yarra River to the CBD.
The 5-star Westin Hotel is in the heart of Melbourne. Get up in the morning and step into the city life of Melbourne. The interior design is classic-modern – very stylish actually and calming. So after a day out you kind of get the feeling of returning to your ‘nest’ to recharge for the next adventure.
I’ve visited the Sofitel Melbourne about 3-4 years ago and not much has changed. It’s still one of the leading Melbourne hotels located in the central city area. Giving the range of alternative options (as reviewed above) this 46-level building offers not only spacious rooms, but stunning views overlooking Melbourne. Unless you’re scared of heights, this might be an added bonus when selecting your hotel stay in central Melbourne next time around.
Last week I took 3 days visiting Melbourne Australia. I discovered there is much to do in Melbourne for a brief, 3-night visit. I did travel in their winter season of July, but believe me, you can visit Melbourne at any time of the year. Melbourne’s population of 4.8 million souls, is actually New Zealand’s entire population. And all these people fit into just 70 x 50 kms. So for someone like me, who actually lives in New Zealand, Melbourne is a 24/7 busy vibe. That’s why I also include a visit to public gardens before I start the explore.
A taxi from the airport to central Melbounre will cost A$60. The SkyBus coach service is a great way of getting to the SkyBus station in downtown Melbourne. It is a bit more involved than just the one taxi ride. But it only takes about 25 minutes and costs around A$20 per person. From the SkyBus station, its an easy taxi ride to the hotel. They are all fairly central in Melbourne
There really is a huge variety of hotels. From international chains, to boutique, arty places, there’ accommodation to suit everyone and most budgets. (I’ll be writing a separate travel blog on that subject.) Most hotels are very centrally located and for the sake of convenience, that’s ideal if you want to stay in Melbourne. It’s real easy to get around. You can either walk or use the free tram “Number 35” to explore the CBD area.
As you would imagine there is a huge range of tour options from Melbourne. Famous are the Phillip Island Blue Penguins, a Great Ocean Road day tour or a wine time into the Yarra Valley. On this blog I want to focus more on the Melbourne city tour and sightseeing options.
This is a good way to get to know the place and provide an overview with the help of a local driver-guide. I joined Robert from Oceania Tours and spent a few hours in some of the most famous gardens and the beautiful St. Patrick Church.
The nice part of these tours, is that you also meet new people from all parts of the world. Here’s me with Paolo, my new ‘mate’ from Brazil!
If you are into food then Melbourne is an absolute gourmet paradise! Here’s where Chef Ben Shewry, a good old New Zealand boy, made his mark. Ben’s restaurant, Attica is one of the top restaurants in Australia! Melbourne is also known for its iconic lanes, where the unusual quirky and downright delicious, can be found. We often have breakfast down these lanes. Its a great vibe with bustling commuters starting off their day. There is a huge ethic mix of people in Melbourne, so the variety and overall standard are world-class.
My personal favour is ‘The Block Arcade’, just a stone’s throw through from Flinders Lane. There are wonderful places to explore and unleash your taste-buds. A must-do, is the Hopetoun Tearooms, a bland name for cakes and desserts that will have you drooling. The Hopetoun Tearooms have queues of people lining up for much of the day. You will need to choose your times. But while you’re waiting, have a look in the front window and make a choice…
For most of us, dining on a tram is a novelty experience and and another must-do if you’re in Melbourne. The Melbourne Tram Restaurant have a lunch sitting, plus 2 dinner sittings. I chose the early dinner and was not disappointed. The 34 person carriages have been authentically restored and take you back in time. As you ‘rattle’ down towards St. Kilda, there’s plenty of local life to see through the large windows. (note: you won’t see as much in the winter months, as it gets darker quickly.) The staff are extremely professional and friendly. I chose the Barramundi fish as the my second course and it was delicious.
The bubbly also contributed to a very relaxing experience. Cheers!
These are just a few of the many wonderful experiences you can have in Melbourne. All of this will depend on the time you have available.