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.
A hike in the Abel Tasman National Park is sure to chase the blues away and the Apple Tree Bay walk is perfect for time-short travellers.
Grab a backpack with a few supplies and extra clothing and start walking from Marehau. Very soon you’ll cross a bridge from where you’ll see White-faced Herons getting ready for take-off.
As is often the case on New Zealand bush walks, the scenery constantly changes. One minute you’re looking over the flats…
..then you’re meandering through dense native foliage, pass beautiful little grottoes like this.
The Apple Tree Bay walk is not that strenuous. There are plenty of opportunities to stop for a break and gaze at the views. Remember, there is always the option of returning by water taxi.
As the trail descends, your expectations will be rewarded with a golden beach and beautiful Adele Island beyond.
Adele Island is a beautiful predator-free island with many native New Zealand birds. It’s pristine status is a testament to the efforts of a privately funded project incorporating the Department of Conservation and volunteers. These volunteers are taking a well earned break for lunch.
Don’t know what this guy’s excuse is:
The Apple Tree Bay walk is a great ‘taster’. Kayaking is another popular way of getting a close encounter of this beautiful region. Either way, I guarantee you’ll return refreshed. Okay, one last look.
After visiting Perth and the Margaret River area in Western Australia, we had a Sydney visit for a few days to check out hotels for our clients. With 4.3 million people, Sydney’s population equals the whole of New Zealand!
Sydney airport is only 10kms from the city and a 20 min drive. There are taxis and the efficient Sydney Airport Train Link. We decided to try out the Royale Limousine service that some of our clients use. After a midnight flight we just wanted to relax. It was a seamless transition.
We chose a hotel located in the central city so that we could be within walking distance to Sydney’s fantastic cafes and the subway stations. Most of the key hotels are located near the ferry terminal, the Sydney Harbour bridge and the Sydney Opera House.
What to do in Sydney
As Travel Agents, we’re always trying to walk in the shoes of our clients. It’s a neat idea to use the ferries to go over to Mainly or take the train from a central station. We started from Martins Place, took the “T4” train to “Bondi Junction” then bus number “333” to Bondi Beach. All up, 30 minutes.
If this is your first Sydney visit, a really smart way of exploring the city is to join a half day tour with a local tourism operator. We used Australia Luxury Escapes as they cater for small groups. We shared an air-conditioned mini-bus with just one other family.
Our first stop was at The Rocks to view Sydney Harbour Bridge, the suburb of Potts Point displaying elegant Art Deco architecture and romantic terrace houses. Next was the Botanical Gardens and close by, Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, an exposed rock cut in the shape of a chair. Its the best look-out point to view the harbour.
By joining this tour, we gained some idea of the city’s layout and received vital local information which came in very handy in the days to follow. Lunch at Sydney’s Yacht Club at Rushcutters Bay was an event.
People living within 5kms of the club do not have access unless they have a membership, but the rest of us do. But you will need to produce some form of identity such as a Driver licence or passport.
The last stop on this tour was Bondi Beach and although we’d visited the day before, its beauty still provided an impact. It totally lives up to its name as one of the most beautiful surfing beaches in the world!
Surfer dudes love Bondi Beach. It has a cool beach vibe with quaint cafes. The side streets have interesting shops. Do visit Russkis Deli which offers food from around the world. The public swimming pool on the Bronte Coastal Walk sits right next to the ocean and on the other side, is a superb restaurant.
Some might say the ultimate Sydney visit includes climbing and walking the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. But if you’re sensitive to heights, just admire it from the harbour side. Its a magnificent structure.
So much to do, so little time. You really have to sort through the wishlist carefully.