Abel Tasman Eco Tours has a great company slogan “Open your eyes” Owner, Stew Robertson, has these words written on his boat and t-shirts. It’s a great way to show his passion for the Abel Tasman National Park .
Abel Tasman Eco Tours has gained popularity with international travellers genuinely interested in eco adventure. There are 4 different tours on offer. We chose the Golden Future Boat day tour, starting from the Marehau boat ramp. This is a small group tour with a maximum of 14 people.
The photos in the Abel Tasman Eco Tours brochure are true to life. Heading out to the open sea, the emerald green of the water was striking! We came across a school of curious Dusky Dolphins. What a moment that was.
Larger boats don’t have access to the idyllic inlets along the coast but Abel Tasman Eco Tours do. These are the areas we managed to get a close-up view of Eagle Rays gliding elegantly beneath us. There were a number of very relaxed fur seals chilling out alongside the boat.
There’s very little sea traffic in this paradise. And the local operators you occasionally meet on the journey, happily share information of the day. This kayak guide stopped for a interesting chat just before we exited the inlets.
Stew’s knowledge is impressive. Throughout the tour, he was able to answer every question fired at him.
We stopped at Sandfly Bay for lunch and a forest walk. Silver ferns (Pongas) feature all along the track here. They’re nature’s street lamps, glowing in the dark, showing the way back.
This waterfall provided a welcomed moment of serenity.
Stew was determined to find some whitebait and after a bit of wading around, he found some of this New Zealand delicacy…
…plus some rather impressive jellyfish.
Abel Tasman Eco Tours helps in conservation projects and pest control programmes. Stew knows where to find those cute little Blue Penguins, gannets and cormorants.
Flexibility is the key to a good eco tour. Stew was able to change the plan at any time to suit a particular request. And that made all the difference.
View other travel blogs on the Abel Tasman region:
Visitor numbers to Nelson have increased hugely over the past couple of years. The number of restaurants and cafes in Nelson City have grown according and we now have a great choice of eateries. Here are a few of my favourites.
If you book a table upstairs at the Harbourlight Bistro, you’ll get the most gorgeous harbour views at whatever table you’re seated.
The wait staff are friendly and eager to please. I’m impressed by the chef’s skill with flavours. Make sure you order the Harbourlight’s legendary Key Lime Pie. It’s to die for!
Pomeroys is not a restaurant, but an intimate and relaxing little coffee place in Montgomery Square. Plenty of sweet morsels on offer to have with your coffee to keep you going til dinner.
Inside, there’s a treasure trove of goodies and interesting gift ideas. With blues music playing in the background and the smell of coffee and chicory in the air, its a perfect place to relax.
At first glance, the prices at Babbagatto may seem rather low, but the mains are very small. The idea is to go through the whole menu, which is similar to a degustation experience. Italian owned and operated, the staff make you feel at home.
The River Kitchen is a spacious lunch cafe with a great vibe. Home-baked cabinet food plus a full menu, make this restaurant a popular option. There’s great outdoor seating with close-up views of the Mitai River.
The newly re-built Suter Gallery is a pleasure to walk through and the cafe now has a much better layout. Very modern seating inside with wall to ceiling windows. Sit outside to enjoy the views over Queens Garden.
As the name would suggest, The Cod & Lobster Brasserie specialises in seafood. Located just down from the Nelson Cathedral in Trafalgar Street, they’re opened for both lunch and dinner.
Although Nelson focuses a lot on casual dining, you wouldn’t be out of place putting on the bling at Hopgoods & Co. The standard of service is definitely not casual, nor is the food which consistently features in New Zealand’s premium Cuisine Food awards. Hopgood’s & Co have recently extended their restaurant to include a bar and tapas section.
There are some good Asian and Indian restaurants in central nelson and for something really casual, authentic Pizzerias. Eat well dear travellers!
The Waitomo Caves tour options are located in the central North Island, 3 hours south of Auckland and 2 hours west of Rotorua. To save time, its best to travel ex Auckland via Waitomo to Rotorua.
A lot of international travellers choose the 45 minute guided Waitomo Glowworm Caves tour. Although the groups are larger, its the ideal ‘taster’. (The ‘Aranui’ cave can be added to this tour as a combo option.)
A major highlight is seeing the unique Glowworms (Arachnocampa luminosa) Thousands of these tiny creatures radiate luminescent light to create a starlit galaxy. Guides provide an informative commentary and a Boat Ride is included. Mother Nature’s light display surrounds the boat as it glides silently along, creating a sense of serenity you’ll never forget.
The 2-hour Ruakuri Cave tour is totally different to the Classic Waitomo Caves tour options. With a maximum of 18 people, there’s greater interaction with the guide. The Ruakuri Caves has full wheelchair and pushchair access. This cave offers a blend of Waitomo’s subterranean highlights including a spectacular spiral entrance, limestone formations and crystal tapestries. You’ll also get up close to the glowworms.
Ruakuri Cave is New Zealand’s longest guided underground walking tour and an experience that must be seen to be believed. Visitors are awed by the sheer majesty of nature.
This is the original Waitomo subterranean adventure and was introduced in the mid-1980’s by dedicated local cavers as “Black Water Rafting”. There are now a number of tour options with two different companies. Waitomo Discoveries (with the ‘Black Labyrinth‘ trip) and Waitomo Adventures (with the ‘TumuTumu‘ tour).
Both trips take around 3 hours. Neopren wetsuits and helmets are provided. Be warned, you will get wet! The journey ends when you emerge into the sunlight of the Waitomo forest.
This caving tour is perfect for travellers seeking more of an ‘expedition’. It can be done as a 4 hour or 7 hour trip. It is not suitable if you have a fear of heights! For the 7 hour Lost World trip, you’ll need to stay in the area at least overnight. Here are some accommodation options.
This region is a real ‘treasure box’ full of goodies. Forest Walks and hikes, Lord of the Rings, Hobbiton and surfing at Raglan, are all very close by. So consider staying 2-3 nights to really experience the Waitomo Caves region in-depth. What to do in Waitomo.
Many international travellers plan a New Zealand, Australia vacation combined. This makes total sense. Once in the South Pacific, you might as well make the most of your time. However, there are some key differences between New Zealand and Australia. This also applies to the Fiji Islands
The weather for New Zealand and Australia can vary greatly between the two. While both countries have winter and summer seasons, there are some Australian regions that are best travelled in the winter season! A great example of this is Ayers Rock/ Uluru.
Between October and March, temperatures can reach 50+ degrees celsius or 122+ Fahrenheit. Remember, you won’t always be near a pool or an aircon room. The best time for the Outback is between April and September.
Another example is the northern parts of Australia, including the Daintree and Great Barrier Reef in the Cairns & Port Douglas areas. Again, the best time to travel this part of Australia is in ‘winter’.
Their storm season occurs in ‘summer’ (Oct – March). Here’s Michael in July last year on a visit to the Great Barrier Reef . It was idyllic.
The best time to travel in New Zealand is between October and April. You can go in September and May, as those month will fit very well with your Australia travel seasons. But these months will be cooler.
During New Zealand ‘winter’ season (June – August) expect low temperatures (down south to -5 degrees or 23 Fahrenheit), but also shorter daylight hours (in June/July, it gets dark at 5pm). You might want to rethink travelling with a motorhome during these months. It can reach freezing point at nights and if you have a low-rent motor home, it won’t be much fun heading to the camp ground toilet block at 2am!
For many travellers the key Australian highlights can be found in the ‘magic triangle’ – Sydney (Opera House and Bondi Beach) + Great Barrier Reef (snorkelling or diving plus Daintree Forest, time permitting) + Ayers Rock. With a 5-7 day Australian visit, there will be a limit to what can be achieved.
In New Zealand most travellers are keen to see the thermal activities on the North Island, Maori culture, the fjords around Milford Sound and the New Zealand ‘adventure capital’ Queenstown. Visitors usually stay longer in Queenstown as there are so many adventure options. But there are other regions gaining momentum, just as beautiful and far less populated. Just about every region has a stunning wine growing area.
Australia is huge continent with 7.7 million square kms (or nearly 3 million square miles). Distances are vast and realistically only achievable with domestic flights. You’re much better off with time and budget to use a 3-hour domestic flight from Sydney to Cairns, rather than a 3-day drive!
New Zealand is much smaller (0.28 million square kms or about 0.103 square miles), but distances are often underestimated. It takes longer to drive winding roads. There are so many photo opportunities on the way (the scenery is magnificent). Travellers visiting North & South Island will easily “clock-up” 4000 kms. Imagine using up your 2-week holiday with 50 hours of driving! So think about using 1-2 domestic flights or visit less regions.
Out of a time budget of 3 weeks and depending on the season being travelled, I would recommend having at least 50/50 for each country. New Zealand has so many natural, scenic and activity highlights and travellers seriously underestimate the time needed.
There are excellent flight connections between New Zealand and Australia. Most common flights are Auckland to Sydney or Christchurch to Brisbane. But other less known are Queenstown to Sydney or Auckland to Perth.
Prices between New Zealand and Australia are fairly similar. In respect of accommodation options Australia has the edge with some of the most amazing lodges, retreat and island resorts.
With the exception of New Zealand passport holders, all travellers require an Australia visa, even if you’re in transit for longer than 4 hours. Check with your airline before you make any reservations into or via Australia
For New Zealand most European and North American and some Asian countries have visa-free policies with New Zealand for stays up to 90 days. Again, double check this prior to departure. Remember, your passport needs to be valid for at least 6 month after your departure date!
The Mount Cook region has always been an important travel destination for international travellers to New Zealand. Mount Cook accommodation options used to be limitd to staying at The Hermitage in the Mt Cook Village. Now, there are other choices just a short drive away to suit a variety of budgets.
On a recent research trip between Christchurch and Queenstown I visited a number of accommodations. Tekapo and Twizel offer a great base from which to explore the Mount Cook area. Lake Tekapo’s blue lake is legendary for its beauty, as is nearby Lake Pukaki.
Its a 3.5 hour drive from Christchurch to Tekapo Village and for a scenic route, I’d recommend, travelling via Darfield/Rakaia Gorge/Geraldine. Although there are two local resorts, Bluewater and Mantra, there are some special boutique options:
Lake Tekapo Lodge is a boutique lodge with lovely views over both the village and the lake. The lodge is Kiwi-owned and hosted by Alistair and Stephanie whose love of original artwork and rich decor is evident throughout with gilded mirrors, chandeliers and individually styled bedroom suites.
Three Rivers Lodge is a purpose built boutique B&B with two rooms and a family apartment. The lodge is located 1.5km or 2 minute drive from Tekapo village. The lodge rooms have magnificent uninterrupted views and the 2 bedroom self-contained apartment is fully equipped.
Chalet Tekapo has apartment-style, self-contained units located on the lake. This accommodation is an affordable option for those on a budget.
Lakeview Tekapo offers self-contained rooms attached to a residential home. This is similar to a B&B, except guests have their own small apartment.
Just 64 km away is stunning Lake Pukaki, with views over to New Zealand highest mountains, Mt. Cook & Mt. Tasman and there are a couple of properties I would stay any time!
Lakestone Lodge Pukaki – just opened in July 2016 and has views ‘to die for’. The local hosts Anna & Mike purpose build this stylish property with a focus on travellers wanting to experience some of New Zealand’s clearest skies!
Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat – now this is something VERY special. Location, space and privacy…this place has it all! I’d liken it to having your own luxury holiday house with private spa, except you can interact with your hosts if you wish.
Gourmet dining with the freshest local produce takes pride of place. It helps that the hosts Luke and Kaye Paardekooper, are wine connoisseurs and skilled cooks. Just wait’ll you see the wine cellar.
This property is so much more than a wine and food experience. If you’re interested in stargazing, you can opt to use the property’s very own observatory. This really is a special piece of paradise.
The next village travelling south is Twizel. This place was created in the 1960’s when a huge hydro/ channel system was built and it still supplies a big part of New Zealand renewable electricity. Accommodation options vary from local B&B’s to stylish lodges.
Aoraki B&B – small, locally run classic New Zealand B&B.
Heartland Lodge – located a few minutes outside town this B&B lodge has been long established and provides an excellent New Zealand style lodge.
Matuka Lodge – small upmarket lodge property outside the village with lovely appointed rooms.
Visitors to the Mount Cook Region really need to stay at least 2 nights to get the full ‘impact’ of this special place and it’s many treasures.