Cook Islands

Planning your wedding or honeymoon? Look no further!

Tc honeymoon.jpgThose of you who have followed my journey will know that I am now working as a independent travel agent from my home in the country town of Frome in Somerset.

I can book any kind of travel anywhere in the world, but am also specialising in weddings and honeymoons. Having booked my own destination wedding to Lake Tahoe in California (best ever week of my life!) all via email and phone from the UK, I know exactly what it takes to plan your special day – even if it happens to be on the other side of the world!

I also planned our amazing round-the-world honeymoon which took us to the stunningly beautiful Aitutaki in the Cook Islands (simply paradise on earth), New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Let me introduce myself properly – in case you think I might be able to help you plan your own destination wedding and honeymoon.

“My name is Nicola and I am your personal travel counsellor with vast experience in the travel industry.

I specialise in helping people plan and book their dream weddings and honeymoons – anywhere in the world they want to go. I have helped people all around the world plan their special trips, including a very memorable Christmas honeymoon in New Zealand. I also planned my own destination wedding and dream round-the-world-honeymoon and fully understand everything that is involved in making your trip truly magical.

So why should you choose me to help make your wedding/honeymoon dreams come true? I can offer so much more than a high street or online travel agent. My focus is on providing a personalised and tailor-made wedding/honeymoon that is perfect for you, and I genuinely care that you both have the best possible time. I will get to know you and always go that extra mile and will help you create a completely unforgettable experience. I am also available 24/7 so can be there when it is convenient for you. Get in touch today and let’s start planning the wedding and honeymoon of your dreams!”

Please visit my website: http://www.travelcounsellors.co.uk/nicola.barnard and Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/nicolabarnardtravelcounsellor/ for more information and to get in touch.

Thanks so much to everyone for reading 🙂

Categories: Activities, Australia, Cook Islands, New Zealand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exciting new business expansion – my new venture as a travel counsellor!

Travel Counsellors imageI have some super exciting news. I have been lucky enough to work with clients all over the world through Blue Penguin Travel (my previous travel consultancy company which specialised in off-the-beaten-track bespoke itineraries in New Zealand) which has been brilliant but I have now decided to take the next step in my travel journey and I have completed my training to be a fully independent home-working travel agent for an amazing company called Travel Counsellors, which is a very exciting new venture for me.

Based from my home in Frome, Somerset in the UK I will now be able to plan/book holidays anywhere in the world for global clients (including of course those wishing to travel to New Zealand as I have such vast knowledge and experience of this country).

I will have access to great prices, packages and offers for any different type of holiday you can think of, and can also book different parts of the trip individually e.g. accommodation, flights, etc.

I have over 15 years experience of planning and booking trips (including my own destination wedding to Lake Tahoe, California, and our round-the-world honeymoon) and have run Blue Penguin Travel for the last 3 and a half years.

The focus of our company – Travel Counsellors – is on a special personalised tailored service, where I work as the client’s own Personal Travel Counsellor – really getting to know my clients and helping them plan and book the perfect trip. We will also be there for you 24/7, which high-street/online travel agents cannot promise! We are an international company based in 7 countries and have over 1400 employees across the world – and we will always go that extra mile for you. 

If anyone reading this is interested in having me help them book their holiday or trip away then please take a look at my Travel Counsellors page, my Facebook page and get in touch through either of those (or use my Contact page on here!). 

I just love helping people to travel and see the world so feel so lucky to be able to do it as a job! 🙂

Categories: Accommodation, Activities, Australia, Blue Penguin, Cook Islands, New Zealand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Photography items for sale!

 

RedBubble Page

My RedBubble Page

For some time now I have been selling my photographs and photography items (iphone cases, cushion covers, canvas prints etc.) on a site called RedBubble. I usually make a couple of sales a week which makes me just so happy – the thought that people love my work so much they would like to have it in their home or give it as a gift 🙂

I thought I would share the link to my RedBubble page in case anyone is interested in taking a look – either click the image above or click here to explore my page. It features photographs from New Zealand, Australia, The Cook Islands, Iceland and the UK.

A few of the Christmas order dates have passed (not many!), depending on where in the world you live, but check out this link for more details if you are interested in purchasing items for Christmas.

Thanks so much for your ongoing support and for reading 🙂

Categories: Australia, Cook Islands, New Zealand, Photographs | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ever wanted to visit Paradise (aka The Cook Islands)? Let Blue Penguin Travel help!

With vast experience of travelling to and exploring the amazing island of Aitutaki, Blue Penguin Travel have now decided to expand the services that we offer to include planning trips to Aitutaki in the Cook Islands – which is simply paradise!

Blue Penguin TravelWho are Blue Penguin Travel?

To give you a little bit of background – Blue Penguin Travel is my own travel consultancy company that I set up back in February 2013, inspired by living in the most beautiful country in the world – New Zealand! Since then, after living in New Zealand for a year and travelling to almost every far-fetched corner of this stunning place, I have moved back to the UK and had a beautiful baby boy. Since setting up my company I have helped some wonderful clients have incredible adventures in New Zealand and I have loved every second of it.

In a nutshell, Blue Penguin Travel specialises in creating amazing off-the-beaten-track travel adventures in New Zealand and we offer awesome travel advice, care and expertise to create fully personalised travel itineraries. We can help you have the adventure of a lifetime in New Zealand.

We have now expanded our services – and will be offering clients assistance with planning their trips to Aitutaki in the beautiful Cook Islands. We can create personalised itineraries for your special trip to this beautiful island.

Aitutaki Lagoon

Aitutaki Lagoon

Why would I want to visit Aitutaki?

It really is so unimaginably unspoilt and many of the places you visit appear to have been taken straight from a picture postcard. Aitutaki is a tiny island, part of a group of islands called The Cook Islands – located deep in the South Pacific Ocean.

With its gorgeous pristine beaches and inviting turquoise waters, it is the ideal location for a honeymoon, special anniversary/birthday trip or a relaxing break away. The island is just developed enough to ensure you have a wonderful trip when you visit, but the facilities provided do not ruin or spoil the beauty of this incredibly beautiful island. It really feels like one of the very few unspoilt paradises left in the world.

Where is Aitutaki located?

The map below shows where Aitutaki is located (indicated by the star) – it really is in the middle of nowhere and is surrounded by a strikingly beautiful turquoise lagoon.

Many people have heard of Rarotonga – the largest of the Cook Islands, but Aitutaki is only a short flight from Rarotonga and much quieter, less developed and more relaxed. It is an incredibly beautiful place that has to be seen to be believed!

Aitutaki Map

A holiday house

A holiday house

What is life like on Aitutaki?

There are no high-rise buildings on the island (nothing above one storey), very few cars (many people travel around by scooter) and a very laid back way of life. Islanders refer to ‘island time’ as the time they live by – where no one rushes and no one can be early or late! All the islanders are incredibly friendly and lovely. As you explore the island by scooter (or car if you wish) they will often wave as they pass you on their scooter, or wave from their houses. Often goats and pigs roam free and it isn’t uncommon to find a loveable wild pig in your back-garden (we did!). Much of the fresh fruit and vegetables on the island are grown there and other food is shipped in once a week.

Deserted beach

Deserted beach

Where could I stay and what could I do on Aitutaki that is really special?

There are many different accommodation options to choose from to suit varying tastes and requirements – varying from small private villas and holiday houses to beach-front bungalows. You can sleep just metres from the gorgeous lagoon and listen to the waves lapping at the shore , or relax on a hammock and enjoy a cocktail on the beach looking out into the lagoon.

There are different activities you can take part in, but one of the most special is taking a private boat trip out on the lagoon to explore the other tiny uninhabited islands that surround Aitutaki for a day – get dropped off on your own private island, enjoy time in the sunshine on the pure white-sand beaches, snorkel, swim and relax – completely alone and away from any form of civilisation.

How can Blue Penguin Travel help me?

Let us help you put together an itinerary for your trip to Aitutaki that is completely personalised and tailored to you. We have insider information on the best food places and accommodation options, the best hidden secret beaches, the best swimming and snorkelling spots and the best boat trips out on the lagoon or activities to take part in (including fishing, scuba diving and traditional ‘island nights’).

How can I contact you?

Take a look at our website, our cook islands page and please contact us using our contact page or drop me an email at nicola@bluepenguintravel.com if you are interested in travelling to the stunningly beautiful island of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands and would like a personalised quotation. We can help you plan the trip of a lifetime to paradise!

Categories: Accommodation, Activities, Blue Penguin, Cook Islands, Destination Feature | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An anniversary to remember in paradise (Aitutaki in the Cook Islands)

Beautiful Maina Island

Beautiful Maina Island

Aitutaki is a really really special place – and in some ways difficult to describe because until you have been there it is hard to imagine it exists. The clearest blue lagoon with sparking waters, bright white deserted beaches, almost constant sunshine, very few people and lots of peace and quiet, lovely friendly locals, and a very relaxed way of life.

What a wonderful two weeks! We haven’t long been back from our trip ‘deep in the south pacific’ to the small island of Aitutaki in the Cook islands to celebrate our three year wedding anniversary. We first visited Aitutaki three years ago on our honeymoon and had the most incredible time. We got married at Lake Tahoe on the beach in August 2010 (which was a truly magical day) and flew from LA to start our honeymoon in Aitutaki, spending 5 days back then. This time around we decided on staying for two weeks. We also opted for a different type of accommodation this time too. Last time we stayed at the lovely and intimate Etu Moana (voted number 1 on Trip Advisor) and had a great time, but decided this time it would be nice to have more space and our own house. We discovered some amazing holiday houses and chose Are Kapakapa as where we would like to spend our time. The hosts of the house – Miles and Emma – were incredibly helpful over email when booking the house, and we definitely made a great decision.

Our holiday house

Our holiday house

We departed Auckland on Saturday 3rd August for Rarotonga – flying with Air New Zealand. We actually arrived on Friday – because we had crossed the date line and had to wind our watched back 22 hours! We had a few hours to wait at Rarotonga airport – which is pretty tiny and mostly outdoors! We also found that a funeral was actually taking place at the airport – my husband John inadvertently found himself sitting right in the middle of it without knowing, so after spotting the coffin soon moved!! There was lots of loud singing and it seemed more of a life’s celebration rather than a sombre affair. Life in the Cook islands is so different to anywhere else and this was certainly a different introduction. We then hopped on our Air Raro flight to Aitutaki which took about 45 minutes. We arrived in the evening and were greeted by Emma who had arranged a taxi to take us to our house – Are Kapakapa. It was a beautiful house – with loads of space and all the amenities we would possibly need, two bedrooms, a lovely kitchen, big outdoor living area, and great bathroom. The space around the house was also huge with a big garden and we felt really private. It was definitely a great choice! It was also a snip of the price of the two luxurious resorts around the island.

Aitutaki lagoon

Aitutaki lagoon

We spent the next two weeks on the island really enjoying relaxing and living on ‘island time’ as the locals call it. There simply isn’t much to do and that is the appeal! You can relax – enjoy the gorgeous sunshine and swimming in the amazingly blue lagoon.

Practically the island is pretty remote and as such the food situation is pretty different! I think the options they have are good despite their remoteness. The shops don’t stock that much, so bear this in mind if you are planning a trip. Some people bring things over with them from New Zealand.

Eating at the Flying Boat

Eating at the Flying Boat

They mostly some random tinned goods, some frozen goods, a few bits of cereal, crisps etc. There are some loaves of bread on the island but these sell out pretty quickly, and there is no fresh milk. Fresh fruit and veg are also quite hard to come by! So it can be quite difficult to buy enough food to make a good meal. As such most people on the island usually eat out, and there are some good options. Our favourite places to eat were Puffys who did delicious fish and chips, Koru Cafe (with very friendly owners and a varied menu) and the Flying Boat at the Aitutaki Lagoon resort.

Heading to dinner

Heading to dinner

At the flying boat we enjoying drinking Mocktails and eating their pizza. The view from here is also amazing! And definitely the best view we have ever had at a restaurant. It is also lovely to take a walk out onto the sandbar where you can watch the sun disappearing behind the island. What is also really lovely about the Flying Boat is a short boat trip you get across from the main island to the tiny island where it is located. It takes about a minute but has beautiful views around the lagoon. There isn’t much wrong with island life, but one of the very few negatives is mosquito bites, but they are just part of life on the island – which even the locals say! If you use good insect repellant you will avoid getting loads, but there are lots of them around so you won’t be able to avoid them all together. Make sure you take cream or something to help with the itching or pain and you will be fine. We weren’t that bothered by our bites at all really!

Our lovely scooter

Our lovely scooter

We got around on the island via a scooter which we hired from Rino’s Rentals. We had a few teething problems with two earlier scooters, but we ended up with a lovely vintage looking one. We only hired one as John was happy to drive and I was comfortable on the back. It cost us $20 a day to hire as we had it for 2 weeks. It was great driving around the island on it. They don’t provide helmets but the fastest you are allowed to go is just under 30mph (40kmph) and the island is so small and there aren’t too vehicles so you are safe as long as you take care when driving. We also had to get a Cook islands drivers licence for $2.50 from the local police station. John met the two police officers there who, when they found out John was from England, just wanted to chat about English football!

One beautiful sunset

One beautiful sunset

Some of our real highlights of our time on the island included watching the beautiful sunsets. The best beach for watching the sun set was a 5 minute walk away from our holiday house, and usually we had the whole beach to ourselves. It was amazing just to be able to sit, relax and watch the gorgeous colours fill the sky. We were also lucky enough to swim in the wonderful lagoon every day.

Nearby beach

Nearby beach

We usually swam down at our favourite beach called Ootu beach as it was deep enough to swim there, and there was never anyone around. We also swam at the beach where we watched the sun set. There was another beach that we spent time at, which we found just off the side of the road. Aitutaki is a really quiet island anyway, but it was great to discover another little hidden cove where only we were. We spent time here relaxing and enjoying the gorgeous views.

On honeymoon island

On honeymoon island

The real highlight of our trip came on our three year wedding anniversary – Monday 12th August. We decided to charter a boat for half a day, so we would have the boat all to ourselves and could go wherever we wished. We did the same thing on our honeymoon three years ago and had a wonderful time. This time around we used the same company – Wet & Wild, and were taken out by Quinton and a really memorable time.

Arriving at One Foot island

Arriving at One Foot island

We decided we wanted to do some island hopping, spending a bit of time on our favourite islands in the lagoon. We visited Honeymoon island, stunningly beautiful Maina island pictured at the top of this post (where we walked round the whole island), One Foot Island (where the lagoon looked an incredibly amazing blue) and volcanic Rapota island.

The boat we chartered that was used in the TV shows

The boat we chartered

For those of you who can remember the British TV show ‘Shipwrecked Battle of the Islands’ the Aitutaku lagoon was the setting for that show and two deserted islands in particular – Rapota and Moturaku were used to home the two teams (Tigers and Sharks). I always remember watching the show and thinking how amazing the islands looked and now we have been lucky enough to visit! They were also used in the American reality show ‘Survivor’ in the ‘Cook islands’ season a few years ago. We spoke to a few people who were involved with the filming of both shows and it was great finding out some insights and secrets! We discovered the boat that took us out on our trip was used to ferry contestants back and forth to the islands on Shipwrecked (and rather geekily watched a few bits back on youtube since and have seen it!).

Views from Maungapu

Views from Maungapu

We had such an amazing day out on the boat, got some stunning photos (see more in my gallery below) and just loved spending time together on our special day.

We also took a walk to the highest point of the island one morning – quite early so it wouldn’t be too hot. At only 124m it is hardly Everest but Maungapu was a steady climb and provided great views around the lagoon. We were able to see our favourite swimming spots, and where we took the boat over to our favourite food place.

Overall our trip to Aitutaki was truly unforgettable and we will never forget our incredible South Pacific adventures. To be able to spend so much time together relaxing, and just enjoying being together in such a beautiful place was simply priceless. 🙂

Happy in Aitutaki

Happy in Aitutaki

If anyone is interested in learning more about taking a trip to Aitutaki my company Blue Penguin Travel can certainly help. Whilst we specialise in trips to New Zealand we also have experience in the Cook islands, so please feel free to contact me to learn more.

Categories: Accommodation, Activities, Cook Islands, Photographs | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Paradise (Aitutaki in the Cook Islands) here we come!

Maina island - taken in 2010

Maina island – taken in 2010

Honeymoon island - photo taken in 2010

Honeymoon island – photo taken in 2010

This time tomorrow (although it is kind of this time today because of confusing time/date issues!!) we will be on the beautiful tiny island of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. We visited Aitutaki – this gem of an island deep in the South Pacific – back in 2010 on our honeymoon and had one of the most amazing weeks of our lives. As we have been living in New Zealand for almost 11 months now  and we are so much closer to this wonderful place we decided to return to the beautiful island of Aitutaki to celebrate our 3 year wedding anniversary in the middle of August. We booked our trip back in January and leave from Auckland early tomorrow morning. Because we cross the international dateline we leave tomorrow but actually arrive today – it’s crazy! We fly from here to Rarotonga (which takes about 4 hours), and after a 3 hour wait will board the tiny plane that will take 50 mins to take us across to the amazing island of Aitutaki.

Drinks overlooking the lagoon

Drinks overlooking the lagoon

We will be staying in a lovely holiday house called Are Kapakapa where the hosts Miles and Emma have been incredibly lovely and helpful via email. We have hired a scooter for the two weeks and will make our way around on this – there are very few cars on the island, and it is very quiet and relaxed.

Have a look at Wiki’s travel guide for more info on Aitutaki if you are interested. Aitutaki has a population of just over 2,000 people and is only just under 7 square miles!  Visiting Aitutaki really is like going back in time to an untouched and unspoiled world, and it is exactly like the picture postcards of paradise.

There is very little internet access on the island, so I may not be able to post about our time on Aitutaki until we return, but it will nice to put our feet up and relax without thinking about the ‘outside world’ for a bit!

We are really excited about the next chapter of our adventure and our return to paradise! 🙂

Categories: Cook Islands, Photographs | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Two weeks in paradise (Aitutaki) booked to celebrate our wedding anniversary!

Visiting Aitutaki in the Cook Islands (deep in the South Pacific) back in 2010 on our honeymoon was one of the most incredible weeks of our lives. Being located in New Zealand and so much closer to this wonderful place we have decided to return to the beautiful island of Aitutaki to celebrate our 3 year wedding anniversary in August. Things book up ridiculously quickly in Aitutaki because it is such a tiny island and flights and accommodation are quite limited. So we have decided to get in early and have booked both our flights and accommodation.

Drinks overlooking the lagoonWe depart on Saturday 3rd August and arrive on Friday 2nd August – as we cross the international date line!! We are then staying for 2 weeks and return on Friday 16th August.

We have booked to stay in a wonderful holiday house (pictured below) called Are Kapakapa where the hosts Miles and Emma have already been incredibly lovely and helpful via email. Last time around we stayed in a small villa resort (which was very pricey!) but this time around we know the island a bit more and have chosen a more spacious and private holiday house.

Have a look at Wiki’s travel guide for more info on Aitutaki if you are interested. Aitutaki has a population of just over 2,000 people and is only just under 7 square miles!  Visiting really is like going back in time to an untouched and unspoiled world, and it is exactly like the picture postcards of paradise. We can’t wait for our return to paradise!

Cook islands holiday house

 

Categories: Accommodation, Cook Islands | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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