New Zealand – no description needed!

South Island, NZ – Part I –

Boasting about my home country and its beauty is something I enjoy doing regularly while travelling. It’s astounding just how many foreigners want to visit our Aotearoa; the magical and faraway haven. Despite being reasonably well travelled internationally, I am ashamed to say that my own backyard remains relatively unexplored so with two weeks of annual leave up my sleeve, myself and two friends packed up our Toyota Corolla and made the trip “down south”.

Setting off on the Kaitaki (Interislander Ferry), our Cook Strait crossing was blessed with calm seas and clear skies. As we cruised into the Marlborough Sounds, we were lucky enough to spot two dolphins frolicking in the waves off the bow of the ship – a good omen for the trip ahead perhaps? We stepped foot on southern soil just after lunchtime and promptly hit the road.

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Our first overnight stop was in sunny Nelson. Surrounded by stunning vineyards and a number of great New Zealand walks, we instantly regretted only having one night in this unique spot. We stayed at the Quality Inn, which was affordable, clean and quiet.

The next morning we set off for Blackball, a small gold-mining town on the West Coast.  While driving through the stunning Nelson Lakes National Park, we made a quick detour to Lake Rotoiti (also known as Lake Arthur). Thanks to the indispensable ‘jetboil’ we were lucky enough to enjoy a cuppa overlooking the icy blue water and snow-capped mountains (Mount Robert and St. Arnaud’s Range). In the summer, the lake is a popular water-skiing spot but we were thankful to be rugged up sipping hot tea!

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After a few more hours behind the wheel, we arrived at Blackball and checked into ‘Formerly the Blackball Hilton’ for the night. The story behind the quaint small-town hotel is an interesting read (more about it here)  Tip: while in Blackball, pop across the road and sample some Blackball Salami – we particularly enjoyed the venison pepperoni.

While the sun was setting, we visited Punakaiki and the famous Pancake Rocks, which were utterly breathtaking (and a must-see for the anyone in the area).

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The next morning we were on the road bright and early, making our way to Franz Josef via Haast (a UNESCO world heritage area). A must-visit is the Hunter Gatherer Café in Harihari which is one hour north of Franz Josef.  Tip: get the cheese scone, it’s to-die-for.

We arrived in Franz Josef just in time to take a helicopter flight to the glacier before the weather packed in. The flight was about $200pp for 20mins of flying and 10mins on-ice time. It’s not until you are standing on the glacier that you really appreciate its sheer magnitude.

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Tip: wear sensible shoes and sunglasses! We finished the day with a soak in the thermal springs and dinner. For an affordable but atmospheric eat, I would definitely recommend SnakeBite Brewery (Asian fusion cuisine).

As we made our way further south, the temperature continued to drop (we hit -1 degree coming into Queenstown) but the scenery only got better. A real highlight was Glenorchy, a small town about 40 minutes out of tourist hub Queenstown. We stayed in a small station cottage (quite the rural experience) owned by a friend. In the morning we explored some the spots used in the filming of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, including Isengard, Lothlorien, and Amon Hen. Just drive past Paradise, a small village north of Glenorchy for 10-15 minutes and you’ll find them.

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Leaving the tranquility of Glenorchy behind, we journeyed back to Queenstown for the weekend to enjoy the Winter Festival.

 Part II to follow…

Many thanks to guest blogger Lottie of Wellington, NZ – looking forward to Part II!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food History New Zealand Pacific

Denerau, Fiji – where the living is easy..

This was our ninth, yes ninth trip to Fiji in twelve years – that’s how much we love this country and its beautiful people. Over the years we progressed from the more child-friendly islands and resorts to seeking out those hotels and resorts that allow a little more peace and tranquility. This visit we tried The Westin Denerau which was a very affordable option when compared to some of the “no-children” resorts.  If you really do have to bring the kids though, the next-door Sheraton Lailai Kid’s Club facilities are available to them.

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Some people enjoy travelling to exotic countries and staying in modern, minimalist hotels and resorts but I must be a bit old-fashioned – I enjoy seeing some authentic and original cultural features and lush tropical surrounds to make me feel like I’m not at home.  That’s not to say that the Westin is any way old-fashioned or that their facilities and services are not top notch. Up until late 2005, the Westin was known as the Sheraton Royale which confused quite a few people as the Sheraton Fiji was right next door.  Situated on the resort coast of Denerau just 15 km’s from Nadi Airport, it is an ideal destination for those who want to leave New Zealand and be sitting in a deck chair some 4-5 hours later – the perfect “drop & flop” holiday – no time-zone changes, no jet lag. We always book a transfer through the travel agent to ensure an air-conditioned ride, but taxis are plentiful and cost around NZ$30 each way. Denerau is a gated island entered via a security post over a small bridge, so is safe and secure day and night and why it is such a perfect place for families as well as couples.

More recent years have seen the Westin add an excellent spa facility nestled into its park-like tropical grounds.  Located just across from the main hotel entrance, the spa and facilities offer a gym, lap pool, steam room, Jacuzzi, private treatment rooms and studios/suites designed as “adult only” facilities.  Guests staying in the main hotel can use all of the facilities at the spa, but with the surroundings being peaceful and serene, you don’t often see children there!

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It’s a pretty special experience driving up to the traditional Porte cochère of the Westin for the first time.  Met by the perennially smiling Fijian porters who overflow with “bulas” (the Fijian hello that you will hear at least 50 times a day), you enter the lovely traditionally decorated (and mercifully cool) lobby to be checked in for your stay.

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Another few bulas later and you are guided to lovely cool, spacious rooms with lots of traditional artwork, very large, comfortable beds and good bathroom facilities and toiletries.  Each room has a nice little deck or balcony area where you can sit with your morning cuppa or a G&T at the end of a hard day of relaxing – but you don’t really use them because there are so many better places to sit and watch the sun come up or go down.  Rooms range in price seasonally but can start at NZ$300 per night which includes full breakfasts.

Close to both Sheratons are small convenience stores that sell soft drinks, ice creams, and other basic groceries and for other supplies, you can take a short trip down to the Denerau Marina where there is a mini-supermarket.  The Marina is an interesting assortment of shops and restaurants that seem to be different every time we visit, so I’m not sure of its financial viability given that most of the hotels provide for all of your needs.

Something we enjoyed immensely at dusk, was sitting at the Waterfront Bar at the Sheraton Villas and watching the fruit bats fly across from Denerau Island to the mainland.  It was hard to imagine where they all go for the night but I imagine if you shook one of the coconut palms, a few may fall out!

We’ve always had excellent breakfasts at Fijian resorts and most have a feature theme night from Asian or Seafood to traditional Fijian cuisine ranging from NZ$45-$100.  The latter will usually include a very good cultural display with fire dances and traditional dancing.  The Fijian people are so naturally good-natured that they always look like they are enjoying themselves immensely and they really can sing!  Food and alcoholic drinks can be pricey in Fiji but are usually of good value and quality – probably comparable to eating out in New Zealand.  There are some cheaper options to be found like the Mexican Mamacita’s at the Wyndam, the Pizza & Fish and Chip Bar at the Radisson or the Golf & Racquet Club pizzas or curries.

Memorable meals were those at the Kitchen Grill (the name belies the casual formality) where we reserved seating on the sandy waterfront in front of the main restaurant.  Luckily the weather has never disappointed us and so the balmy evening breeze and your toes in the sand is a magical experience – so do make sure to take your shoes off!  After dinner, a stroll along the waterfront pathway which connects each of the hotels means you can pop into another hotel for a night cap, some live music or just enjoy a bit of post-meal exercise and people watching.

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If you want something really, really special or want to really, really impress – leave the kids with the wonderful Fijian babysitters, put on your best bib and tucker and take yourself off to the Ports O’ Call at the Sheraton.  Don’t forget your wallet because this one will set you back financially but you will never forget it!  Formal white-jacketed waiters, the baby grand piano in the background, impeccable silver service and an atmosphere reminiscent of the 1920’s with food to match the occasion make for a unique evening.  Even if you are full to bursting after the Lobster Bisque, Truffle Risotto, or Beef Wellington, do make room for dessert.  Bombe Alaska is delightful but for sheer showmanship, try the Flambé. A masterful gentleman will prepare your dessert from a mobile trolley where he will peel oranges, bananas and other fruit with unbelievable skill before setting it all alight in a whoosh of good Brandy.  Crepes and cream complete a “heaven on earth” sort of dish!  Apart from dessert, a definite highlight is that when you leave the restaurant, most of the staff gather at your table to sing the Fijian farewell song “Isa Lei” in voices that make you think they must be professional choristers working at their second job!

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Places to eat;

  • Meals at any one of the restaurants or bars at the Sheraton Villas or Sheraton Fiji can be charged back to your room at the Westin.
  • Other hotels within easy walking distance include the Hilton, Sofitel, Radisson or Wyndam and all take cash or credit cards.
  • Take the Bula Bus – day passes NZ$5 pp (or walk if you are keen) down to the Denerau Marina where there are many restaurants and bars.
  • Walk across the road to the Denerau Golf & Racquet Club for a pizza or curry – they have a big screen for any major sporting events (especially the rugby).

Things to do;

  • Watersport activities are available at the Sheraton Fiji and include windsurfers, Hobie-cats, paddle-boards, and snorkels. They were free when we went but I believe there is a small charge now if you are not a Sheraton guest.
  • Paid water activities include the banana boat at the Sheraton Fiji and a host of scuba activities ranging from the bubble-makers course in the hotel pool to full days out snorkeling or scuba diving on the reef.
  • A myriad of tours on land and sea that can be booked at any of the hotel’s activity desks. Very popular are the Island-hopping cruise where you get to swim, eat and snorkel at various island resorts or the evening dinner cruises.  This is a great way to check out other potential destinations for your next holiday.
  • 18-hole golf or tennis across the road at the Denerau Golf & Racquet Club – but do book your round or session in advance and yes, they do hire out shoes and equipment.

Must do;

  • Visit the Fiji Rum Company and sample some of the amazing flavoured rums and liqueurs that are being developed using local sugar cane produce and native labour. Take home a bottle of the coconut rum as it not only makes a great liqueur but a delicious ice-cream topping for a dessert treat!
  • If you are a gardener like me, the Garden of the Sleeping Giant created by actor Raymond Burr (Ironside & Perry Mason) holds one of the largest collections of Orchids in the world and is surrounded by native forest and beautifully landscaped grounds, lily ponds and a huge collection of flowering plants. Every time I go to Fiji, I see a flower that I haven’t seen before. Priced at around NZ$18pp you receive a complimentary fruit drink at the conclusion of your tour.
  • Have a meal at the Ports O’ Call Sheraton Fiji to remind yourself what it is to be treated like you are the most special diner in the restaurant.
  • Any one of the beautifully named treatments at the Heavenly Spa – I tried the aptly named “Passage to Fiji Paradise” a full body exfoliation followed by a coconut milk bath and warm stone wrap. By the time the treatment finished with a massage, I almost had to be woken from a deeply relaxed state!

Bula vinaka – I love Fiji! Liz

 

Food Gardens New Zealand Pacific