Destination Feature

Destination Feature: Great Barrier Island

Great Barrier Island Collage.jpg

Wild, unspoilt and stunningly beautiful – Great Barrier Island lies just 62 miles off the coast of Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city – yet is a world away. 

With a permanent population of around 940 people, visiting Great Barrier Island feels like you have stepped back in time. It offers off-the-beaten-track bays and coves, stunning deserted beaches, beautiful rare birdlife, illuminating sunsets, peace and tranquility and a completely unique New Zealand experience.

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Seeking a truly special off-the-beaten-track travel adventure, myself and my husband took a trip to Great Barrier Island during a year we spent living in New Zealand and we were blown away by how different it felt from not just the rest of New Zealand, but from anywhere else in the world we had ever been.

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and take the 30 minute flight from Auckland. Immediately on landing you are aware you have landed somewhere special. You feel an imminent sense that you want to explore, and your best choice is hiring a car and exploring the island yourself. In fitting with the laid-back style of the island, the cars tend be a little ‘historic’, which only adds to the experience.

The stepped-back-in-time-feel extends to everyday basics one might usually take for granted – including electricity! There is no mains power on the island so they rely on generators and solar power. Arriving at a cafe at lunchtime one day we were offered ‘only coffee’ but we could have food after 4.30pm when they switched the generator on! The locals (many of them barefoot) were incredibly friendly and welcoming.

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Whilst being quaint and unusual Great Barrier Island also has much to offer the off-the-beaten-track traveller. Most of the beaches were completely deserted – shining with desolation and untouched beauty. The least accessible beach but perhaps the most stunning, was Kaitoke beach – down a steep gravel track and really worth the trip.

There are many panoramic lookout spots (Windy Canyon was our favourite) on the island that can be reached by a number of hikes. You can also take a hike to the fantastic Kaitoke Hot Springs and bathe in your own natural hot springs amongst the shade of the trees, listening to the birds sing.

The wildlife on Great Barrier Island is also very special – we spotted many smaller native birds (tui, brown teal) and were very lucky to see a few of the rare and beautiful North-island kaka. We also heard the little blue penguins on the beach at night.

The serenity and peacefulness, as well the stunningly beautiful scenery and very different way of life make Great Barrier Island a truly special and unique timeless paradise, and an escape from nearby city-life.

Make sure you include it on your New Zealand itinerary – you won’t be disappointed.

All photos are copyright of Blue Penguin Travel.

This article was also published in the Huffington Post’s Travel Section.

Interested in travelling to Great Barrier Island as part of your trip to New Zealand? Let Blue Penguin Travel help. We are an independent travel company who offer a bespoke itinerary planning service, to help you create an amazing off-the-beaten-track travel adventure in New Zealand. Feel free to drop us an email: nicola@bluepenguintravel.com or check out our Facebook page.

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Categories: Destination Feature, Huffington Post, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Destination Feature: The Stunning Mount Cook, New Zealand

Mount Cook Collage

The highest mountain in New Zealand – Mount Cook – is one of its most striking assets. Standing at 12,218ft high Sir Edmund Hillary (the first man to summit Mount Everest) is one of the most famous men to have ascended Mount Cook, back in 1948.

Today Mount Cook attracts not only climbers and mountaineers from all over the world but tourists too. Despite its incredible beauty and surrounding scenery Mount Cook is still often overlooked on many New Zealand itineraries. Located approx 4 hours from Christchurch and 3 and a half hours from Queenstown, Mount Cook is fairly remote, and because of this maintains an element of serenity and peacefulness.

The road to Mount Cook

The road to Mount Cook

There are still some facilities for tourists (including the Hermitage Hotel, among other accommodation options, including camping), and a few excellent food options for those that stay in the village. But there is no supermarket, or post office (or bank etc.) and so it still retains a quaint charm.

As soon as you head out on the road up to Mount Cook (not forgetting to stop at Peter’s Lookout on the way) and should the weather be good enough you will be able to see this vast mountain stretched out in front of you.

The stunning scenery is the main reason to visit this area and the huge variety of walks that are on offer to even those with the most limited mobility. Take a look at this DOC leaflet detailing the walk and cycling options. This DOC leaflet also gives more detail on walks around the village.

Glacier Explorers Boat Trip

Glacier Explorers Boat Trip

As well as the interesting and varied wildlife to spot in the area, there are also other amazing activities you can take part in at Mount Cook:

  • Glacier Explorers Boat Trip – an incredible boat trip out on to the Tasman glacier lake where you can get up close to the icebergs and terminal face of the glacier, and take in the striking views all around.
  • Helicopter Flight over Mount Cook – there are a variety of flights that depart from Glentanner Park and are operated by The Helicopter Line.
  • Helihike on the Tasman Glacier – operating out of the Mount Cook airport take a helicopter trip up on the glacier and have the fantastic opportunity to hike across the glacier.
  • Stargazing – take a trip to an outdoor stargazing site to explore the brilliant night sky.
  • Tasman Valley 4WD and Argo Tour – take a 4WD tour through Mount Cook’s amazing alpine scenery.
  • Horse trekking – on offer are guided horse treks of varying length through the spectacular scenery , that depart from Glentanner Park.
  • Skiing, snowboarding and ice climbing – Alpine Guides offer a variety of more extreme winter sports in the Mount Cook area.

Visiting Mount Cook is an incredibly memorable event and Mount Cook is a destination that most certainly should feature on everyone’s New Zealand itinerary.

Blue Penguin TravelInterested in visiting Mount Cook and exploring more of New Zealand? Let Blue Penguin Travel help. We specialise in creating amazing off-the-beaten track travel adventures in New Zealand and offer awesome travel advice, care and expertise to create fully personalised travel itineraries. We can help you have the adventure of a lifetime in the most beautiful country in the world.

All photographs are copyright of Nicola Barnard Photography.

Categories: Activities, Blue Penguin, Destination Feature, New Zealand, Photographs, South Island | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Destination Feature: The off-the-beaten-track Catlins region of New Zealand

Catlins Collage

The Catlins region of New Zealand is one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets. It is one of the most beautiful and best places to visit in this amazing country. It has variety – stunning waterfalls, amazing wildlife and beautiful beaches. It is also ‘off-the-beaten-track’ and so much quieter than other parts of New Zealand (and given how quiet New Zealand is in general that is really saying something!).

Yellow-eyed penguin in the wild

Yellow-eyed penguin in the wild

One of the best things about this area is being able to see yellow-eyed penguins in the wild. At the petrified forest in Curio Bay the yellow-eyed penguins come ashore and waddle across the beach to nest. It takes a bit of patience, but if you get your timings right (ask at the local campground store for advice on the best time as this varies seasonally) then it is a really magical sight. Make sure not to disturb the penguins – keep your distance and a zoom lens on your camera comes in handy for getting photos of them (also do not use a flash).

The drive from Queenstown down to the Catlins follows the Southern Scenic route and is a very beautiful drive – this links all the way up to Dunedin on the east coast. It passes alongside the striking Lake Wakatipu via Kingston, on to Te Anau and the gateway to Milford Sound, Tuatapere (NZ’s sausage capital!), and passes hidden gems such as Gemstone Beach. Detour off the Southern Scenic to get deep into the heart of the Catlins to areas such as Curio Bay.

Check out this map for things to do in this area. Highlights of the region include:

Cathedral caves

Cathedral caves

★  Cathedral caves – only accessible at low tide these caves are a spectacular sight. The walk that takes you to the caves down through the forest and along the beach is beautiful – it is through private land so a $5 fee is payable.

★  Slope Point – this is the most southern point on mainland New Zealand and the scenery here is beautiful. You take a 20 minute walk from parking your car along a track through some fields, and can pose with the signpost indicating the distance to the equator and the south pole. Check out the famous windswept trees on the drive out here.

Purakaunui Falls

Purakaunui Falls

★  Purakaunui Falls – one of the most photogenic waterfalls in New Zealand this waterfall is a little hidden away down a gravel track but definitely worth the effort. Only a 10 minute walk from the car park this three-tiered waterfall is simply stunning.

Hector dolphin

Hector dolphin

★  Seeing hector dolphins at Porpoise Bay – summer and autumn are the best times of year to see the resident population of the world’s smallest and rarest of dolphins – the hector dolphins – playing in the surf in the Curio Bay area.

Florence Hill lookout

View from Florence Hill lookout

★  Florence Hill lookout – located along the southern scenic route near Papatowai, pull up and stop here for incredible views down to Tautuku Bay. The waves rolling into shore and the beautiful beach make for a picture postcard photograph.

Nugget Point lighthouse

Nugget Point lighthouse

★  Mclean Falls – another wonderful waterfall in this area. Take the narrow and windy gravel road not too far from the turnoff to Cathedral Caves. Falling 22 metres in total this waterfall is very picturesque and descends a number of terraces.

★  Nugget point lighthouse – pass Roaring Bay on the drive up and wait in the hide there to see yellow-eyed penguins from a distance. Carry on the road up to Nugget point, where a short walk takes you to the lighthouse, with great views all around.

Curio Bay Accommodation

Curio Bay Accommodation

The region also contains one of the most special accommodation places in the whole of New Zealand – Curio Bay Accommodation. It has recently been voted one of the top 25 places to stay in New Zealand and rightly so. The view of the beach from your boutique studio is simply stunning. Little blue penguins nest underneath the house too so you might be lucky enough to hear them in the night!

The Catlins feels like a really special unique place when you are there – it is such an incredibly varied and beautiful area and is sure to create such wonderful lasting memories.

Blue Penguin TravelInterested in visiting the Catlins and exploring more of New Zealand? Let Blue Penguin Travel help. We specialise in creating amazing off-the-beaten track travel adventures in New Zealand and offer awesome travel advice, care and expertise to create fully personalised travel itineraries. We can help you have the adventure of a lifetime in the most beautiful country in the world.

All photographs are copyright of Nicola Barnard Photography.

Categories: Activities, Blue Penguin, Destination Feature, New Zealand, Photographs, South Island, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Destination Feature: The beauty and serenity of Queenstown, New Zealand

Beautiful Queenstown

Nestled in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island lies the resort town of Queenstown. Famous for its snow sports and adventure activities, Queenstown is also a stunningly striking place – home to the beautiful Lake Wakatipu amidst the snow-capped Southern Alps.

Popular with tourists, it is a busy town with lots of activities to do and always lots going on. Visit the Kiwi Birdlife Park to see kiwi and native birds; take the skyline gondola up to Bob’s Peak for stunning aerial views or a fun luge ride; brave a jet boat ride out across the lake; eat a legendary Fergburger; take a bungy or canyon swing; ski or snowboard with the most beautiful backdrop at The Remarkables or Coronet Peak; or take a helicopter trip high up above with a snow landing.

Queenstown dusk

Queenstown at dusk

After doing all of these things, or as many as you can fit into your trip – you will notice that as much as Queenstown is a place of colour and vibrancy, it is also a place of peace and calm. In fact its real charm lies, it could be argued, in its serenity. Seek this out by taking a walk along the Frankton arm at dusk, away from the people and appreciate its pure beauty.

View from Queenstown Hill

View from Queenstown Hill

Take a walk up Queenstown Hill and take in the 360 degree panoramic views that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Camp at the remote Moke Lake and wake up alone with nature and take in its gorgeous views.

Enjoy the multicoloured skies produced by its gorgeous sunsets.

Queenstown Sunsets

Make an effort to seek out the beauty and serenity of Queenstown and you will be richly rewarded.

Blue Penguin TravelInterested in visiting Queenstown and exploring more of New Zealand? Let Blue Penguin Travel help. We specialise in creating amazing off-the-beaten track travel adventures in New Zealand and offer awesome travel advice, care and expertise to create fully personalised travel itineraries. We can help you have the adventure of a lifetime in the most beautiful country in the world.

All photographs are copyright of Nicola Barnard Photography.

Categories: Activities, Destination Feature, New Zealand, South Island | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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