How Travel Inspired Me To Change My Life

I trained to be a teacher back in 2012, but I am not a teacher – instead the power of travel pulled me away from the only job I thought I would ever do – and now I have qualified as a personal home-working travel counsellor. I love to travel and now I get to help others have amazing holidays as my job!

IMG_6319.JPGFinishing my PGCE (teaching qualification in the UK) back in the summer of 2012 was a real achievement. I won’t lie, the year had been the hardest of my life. There had been so many highs and lows, often in the same day, or even the same hour. Training to be a Secondary English teacher was such incredibly hard work and also so rewarding too. There were so many moments I loved — lessons that had gone really well, getting praise from fellow teachers, school trips, student achievements, making a positive difference to students’ lives, taking our year 9 girls on an adventure to Paris.

However, being a perfectionist I wanted every lesson to be good, to be amazing even, to be the best it could be. I wanted to do the best I could for every single child in that class. I didn’t want to cut corners, but the reality is teachers need to cut corners. In my opinion there aren’t enough hours in the day to do every single thing that is expected of teachers.

I started applying for jobs after finishing my qualification and for one reason or another I wasn’t getting them. Without sounding arrogant I knew I was a strong candidate (my previous pupils and teachers vouched for my excellent teaching style and aptitude for teaching) but somehow these jobs weren’t being offered to me.

I started to question myself, and I thought, I was so right for teaching. Yes it was hard, but I had felt I wanted it. But did I? Did I just think I wanted it? Maybe the alternative was just too scary, too unspecific, too unlike me? I had been sensible my whole life — reliable and trustworthy Nicola, always doing well at school and succeeding in everything I did. Teaching was just next on the list and I would soon be a teacher.

But then I stopped and I asked myself the most important question of all, was I truly truly passionate about it, deep in my heart? And my answer was no.

Maybe it was time to find another path, the path I was passionate about, and destined for.

I spoke to my sister (who was living in Australia) on the phone, and she asked me, somewhat out of the blue, if I could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Without hesitation I answered, Queenstown, in New Zealand.

Having been lucky enough to have travelled all over the world, this was the place that came to mind.

We had visited New Zealand twice before, once back in 2006 on a round the world trip and again in 2010 on our honeymoon. After two previous amazing trips I always felt like I had left part of my heart in New Zealand — and in Queenstown in particular. It had just never crossed my mind before to go back to live.

One thing led to another and the next thing I know I am suggesting to my husband John that we move to New Zealand to live for a year! Within a month we had booked our flights to leave a few months later and I started planning. We were going to have a 5-week holiday first before settling down somewhere we could get work. I loved planning our itinerary for the trip (I had spent the last 15 years planning and booking trips all over the world, including our honeymoon, as well as various trips for friends and family).

The time had soon come to leave the UK on a jet plane and not look back. Some might call the decision rash; I was turning my back on a teaching career after all, and after such a challenging year training to be a teacher, but it just felt right, really right.

IMG_0029.jpgWe had a really amazing first few months in New Zealand. It was during this time that I was inspired to set up my own business helping other people to have their own amazing travel adventures in New Zealand.

I got to work, a strong passion burned inside of me like never before, an entrepreneurial passion. It felt like, although it might sound cheesy to some, this is what I had been destined to do. Over the next few months I worked with branding and IT experts and a logo design company. I created a logo, wrote all the copy for and designed my own website, designed packages and services to offer my clients, collected feedback on my idea and website, set up a Facebook page, created a youtube video for my website, and much more. My business, and my passion – Blue Penguin Travel – was born.

For the next three years and a half years I was lucky enough to work with clients all over the world in helping them arrange bespoke itineraries for their trips around New Zealand – including a Christmas honeymoon. I loved working on their itineraries and being a part of their own life-changing travel adventures.

After living in New Zealand for a year we moved back to the UK in 2013 and the following year had a wonderful baby boy called Elliott (now 20 months old), who is just amazing – so sweet and cheeky and he fills my days with smiles and laughter.

Since having Elliott, and despite loving my business with a passion I have felt that I could do so much more. The idea of working as an independent travel agent is one I often thought about but had never made into a reality. I felt that if I did this then I would be able to not only plan trips for people, but book them too – with full financial protection behind me. This idea repeatedly came back to me – and so after much research I found the amazing Travel Counsellors. They provide the option to run your own business, using their own amazing support system (both in terms of their incredible IT system with access to all areas of travel, and their support teams).

Travel Counsellor’s focus is on personal tailor-made holidays for travellers — where we as travel counsellors get to know the client and tailor the holiday of their dreams just for them and will always go that extra mile. This ethos very much fitted with my own, and as a result I have qualified to work as an personal travel counsellor – where I can book any kind of trip anywhere in the world!

New Zealand, and travelling in general have changed me, inspired me and I’m excited for the future – I am ready to finally be who I am supposed to be.

This article was also feature on the Huffington Post.

Travel Counsellors imageI work as a personal travel counsellor and have over 15 years experience of planning and booking trips – including my own destination wedding to Lake Tahoe, California, and my round-the-world honeymoon. I have specialist experience in planning bespoke off-the-beaten-track New Zealand itineraries.

Take a look at my Travel Counsellors web page and Facebook page.

Categories: Huffington Post, New Zealand, Photographs | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 5 New Zealand Museums

New Zealand is full of rich, wonderful and culturally significant museums. I have chosen my Top 5 favourite museums across the whole of this beautiful country. Enjoy!

1. Te Papa, Wellington



Probably New Zealand’s best museum, Te Papa has something to offer everyone. The museum’s website tells you when visiting Te Papa you will ‘discover the stories of New Zealand’. From the historic right up to the contemporary (The Lord of the Rings included!) the museum has a huge number of displays and art work, and hosts exciting events and amazing exhibitions.

The content and layout of the museum is brilliant. The variety of items in the museum, along with the innovative and interesting design make for a fantastic visit. Favourite sections of ours were the sections about New Zealand’s native wildlife, as well as the 20th century displays.

It is a place that has to feature on your Wellington itinerary!

  • Opening hours: 10am-6pm, 365 days a year.
  • Cost: Free.
  • Location: 55 Cable Street, Wellington.


2. Otago Settlers Museum


IMG_0538The Otago Settlers Museum tells the stories of the people of Dunedin from the earliest settlers through to those who have recently arrived. The museum traces the lives of the settlers – indigenous Māori, the early Chinese, and other migrant groups – and their technological innovation, domestic life, fashion, art and transport.

It is an incredibly innovative and well-planned out museum. It has lots of interactive sections, and an amazing array of items covering a large period in history.

Immigration boat reconstruction

A special area of the museum is the reconstruction of being under deck on a boat that would have brought immigrants into New Zealand – it is dark and has all the noises as part of the reconstruction.

They state on their website they are ‘New Zealand’s newest and most innovative museum experience’ so be sure to check them out.

  • Opening hours: 10am-5pm, except for Christmas Day.
  • Cost: Free.
  • Location: 31 Queens Garden, Dunedin.

3. World of WearableArt™ and Classic Cars Museum, Nelson


IMG_6772.jpgA unique collaboration of two very different interests, the ‘WOW’ (World of WearableArt) and car museum offers the chance to see the world-class collection of classic cars, as well as amazing wearable art from all around the world.

The selection and layout of cars is absolutely brilliant. The information about the cars is excellent and the cars are arranged thoughtfully, with extreme care taken over their preservation.

The fashion art gallery is very innovative and unique and unlike anything we have seen before. It contains over 60 World of WearableArt garments which are fascinating to see.

This museum is a fantastic collaboration and you find something for everyone on your visit.

  • Opening hours: 10am-5pm, except for Christmas Day.
  • Cost: $24 for adults and $10 for children, concessions also apply.
  • Location: Cadillac Way off Quarantine Road, Annesbrook, near Nelson.


4. Auckland War Memorial Museum

IMG_9650A very popular museum, the Auckland War Memorial Museum is a large museum with a huge array of displays and exhibitions. It is set in a beautiful location with a view looking down towards the city.

Their website states they are ‘New Zealand’s first Museum’, and that the museum ‘tells the story of New Zealand, its place in the Pacific and its people’. It also has one of the top three heritage libraries in New Zealand.

IMG_9624The collections it houses include pre-eminent Māori and Pacific collections, social and military history collections, significant natural history resources and arts and pictorial collections. The museum is also highly involved in local education programmes.

With such a variety of collections, and in such a beautiful location overlooking the city, this museum is a must-visit on your trip to Auckland.

  • Opening hours: 10am-5pm, except for Christmas Day.
  • Cost: $25 for adults and $10 for children, free/donation for NZ residents.
  • Location: The Auckland Domain, Parnell, Auckland.


5. Southward Car Museum, Paraparaumu


IMG_1352Named after its namesake – Sir Len Southward – The Southward Car Museum is a wonderful collection of over 400 cars and bikes and really is a fantastic place to visit.

Their website claims they are the ‘largest and most comprehensive car museum in the southern hemisphere’ and their selection of vehicles are in beautiful condition and are really well presented in a huge exhibition hall. They also have a lower level within the museum, which is down some steps housing yet more cars.

More off-the-beaten track than the other museums in this list, this museum will not disappoint and may prove to be a highlight of your trip!

  • Opening hours: 9am-4.30pm, except for Christmas Day and Good Friday.
  • Cost: $17 for adults and $3 for children.
  • Location: Otaihanga Road, Paraparaumu, approx an hour’s drive north of Wellington.

There are other wonderful museums that could have made this Top 5 list, so feel to share yours with me! 🙂

Categories: Activities, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, South Island, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 5 affordable places to stay in New Zealand

I have been debating whether to write this post and let out my secrets of some truly magical places to stay in New Zealand, but luckily for you I have decided to!

I am aware with an unlimited budget you could stay in places even more spectacular, but these places to stay are more for the ‘everyday’ traveller and will not blow your budget.

New Zealand has some of the most incredible and breathtaking scenery in the world, and whilst travelling through the country we stayed in some wonderful places. So, here we go with my Top 5:

1. Little Greenie, Golden Bay



Buried away up a gravel track in Wainui Bay in the Golden Bay on New Zealand’s South island lies Little Greenie – somewhere so very special, that once you have stayed there no where else will quite stack up.

Lawrence and his team have created somewhere not only the most energy efficient and best eco-home in New Zealand, but somewhere you will never ever forget staying.

IMG_7141.jpgLittle Greenie is a completely liveable sustainable home (with electricity, hot water and indoor shower) and harnesses the sun’s power. Its unique position atop a hill over looking the bay is unique – you cannot see another person from this stunning vantage point. You can even take an outdoor bath underneath the stars!


Where? Close to Wainui Bay, Golden Bay.

Cost? $185 – $260 NZD per night.

Access? Up a narrow gravel road, accessible by 2WD car. Follow the signs.


2. Curio Bay Accommodation, Catlins Region

IMG_0363Curio Bay StudioTucked away in a quiet corner of the off-the-beaten-track region of New Zealand called the Catlins, lies Curio Bay Accommodation – a gem of a place.

Boasting incredible views these boutique studios are on the beachfront. Little blue penguins nest underneath the decking so you may hear then heading out to sea in the morning or returning at night. In the summer you may even see hector’s dolphins playing in the surf right outside your door. No wifi or TV so you can escape from it all.


Where? Curio Bay, Catlins region.

Cost? $160 – $200 NZD per night.

Access? Located on Curio Bay Road, route is a mixture of sealed/unsealed roads (depending on the direction you are coming from).


3. Oaks Shores Hotel Apartments, Queenstown


IMG_9069The Oaks Shores apartments offer some of the best views for their price in the whole of Queenstown. Avoid the hotel rooms as they are pretty small, and opt for either a 1 or 2 bedroom apartment with a lake view (best views are from level 5). All apartments come with a full kitchen and underfloor heating and some have laundry, gas fire etc. Views of the surrounding mountains from the balcony are just out of this world! From here you can sit, relax, watch the sun go down and the moon rise.


Where? Queenstown

Cost? 1 bedroom lake view apartments start from $214 NZD per night.

Access? Easy, off the main road heading into Queenstown on the lefthand side.


4. Abri Apartments, Paihia (Treetops chalet)



The Treetops chalet at the Abri Apartments will provide you with a comfortable, relaxing and memorable stay. Sit out on your balcony and take in the wonderful view. The microfibre sheets in our chalet were the softest and most comfortable in all of New Zealand!

The chalet comes with air con, which is handy as the Bay of Islands experiences some of New Zealand’s nicest and hottest weather! And it also comes with a spa bath so you can relax and rest your legs from your day’s walking.


Where? Paihia, Bay of Islands

Cost? $149 – $299 NZD per night.

Access? Easy access, not far from the centre of Paihia, with 32 stairs up to entrance.


5. Aoraki Court, Mount Cook Village


IMG_3521Aoraki Court is a brilliant alternative to the big-player in the area, the Hermitage Hotel (which is also nice, but just a different experience). It is a lovely boutique motel that provides luxury accommodation in the heart of Mount Cook Village. The units are extremely comfortable and have stunning views of the surrounding mountains with all directly facing majestic Mount Sefton. Parking is super easy and there is unlimited free wifi. Some units also have a spa bath – perfect for soaking in after a long day exploring the amazing surrounding scenery. It has all you need to relax and feel at home.


Where? Mount Cook Village

Cost? $165 – $325 NZD per night.

Access? By sealed roads, easy to locate in the village.

So there we have it – my Top 5 affordable places to stay in New Zealand. I hope you enjoyed reading about them and feel free to share any brilliant affordable places you have stayed.

Blue Penguin TravelIf you are interested in travelling to New Zealand and would like help planning your itinerary then 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: or check out our Facebook page.

Categories: Accommodation, Blue Penguin, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, South Island, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.


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.


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: or check out our Facebook page.

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

My 50 favourite places in New Zealand

New Zealand leaves an imprint on your heart and will stay with you forever.

To celebrate reaching 200 blog posts I have decided to write a post which reveals my 50 favourite places in New Zealand. Having been very privileged to have lived in New Zealand with my husband for a year, and visited New Zealand twice previous to this, I have been to some incredible, special and truly memorable places.

I thought now would be the perfect time to share them with you. There are many more I could have included and I could have written a 1000! Here we go:

1. QT bench   2. Mount Cook Kea Point

3. Medlands beach

4. franz josef glacier

5. Wilson bay

6. elephant rocks

7. Purakaunui falls

8. Mount Cook

9. boundary creek



12 fire at hobbiton

13 milford sound

14 awana beach


16. Clay cliffs





21.moke lake

22.glenorchy pier23.cathedralcove









32 qthill.jpg

33marokopa falls


35.rees river.jpg

36.greatbarriersunset.jpg37.governor's bay.jpg






43. kingstonbay.jpg




47. hanmer springs conical hill.jpg




Categories: Activities, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, South Island | 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

Photo of the Day: Hobbiton

Bag End

Bag End

Today’s photo comes from the amazing place that is Hobbiton! As a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films we had the most incredible time visiting the set and exploring the home of the hobbits. This photo of Bag End is one of my favourite of the day and brings back such wonderful memories. We visited Hobbiton back in May 2013 when we were exploring in New Zealand in our camper-car, the spaceship. Check out my blog post for a detailed description of the tour and our day. Hobbiton also features in my Top 10 things to do in New Zealand post.

If you are a fan you cannot leave New Zealand without visiting Hobbiton – you will remember it forever!

Blue Penguin TravelInterested in visiting Hobbiton 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.

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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

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

Top 10 things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown is one of our favourite places in the whole of New Zealand – and we had the privilege of living in this beautiful town for a month, as well as taking numerous trips there during our year living over in New Zealand. I have put together some suggestions for the Top 10 things to do in Queenstown. Despite leaving out many other amazing things to do in this area, this list is varied and contains something for everyone!

  1. Beautiful Queenstown

    Lake Wakatipu

    Take a dip in Lake Wakatipu – New Zealand’s third largest lake, Lake Wakatipu is icy cold (around 8 or 9 degrees celcius), even in summer! To cool down on a hot summers day you can brave the cold water and take a refreshing dip. It is an incredibly beautiful lake, with mountains all around – including the spectacular Remarkables mountain range.

  2. Sking and snowboarding – Hugely popular with snow-sports enthusiasts Queenstown offers some of the best ski fields in the whole of New Zealand. Among the best include The Remarkables and Coronet Peak. Views from both ski fields across Lake Wakatipu towards the centre of Queenstown are simply stunning.
  3. IMG_4691

    View from snow landing

    Helicopter trip with snow landing – Take a helicopter ride up above the town, with amazing views of the alpine scenery. Snow landings are highly recommended, with fantastic views stretching across the mountain ranges.

  4. Visit Kiwi Birdlife Park – One of the best places in New Zealand to see their native kiwi bird, the Kiwi Birdlife Park is strongly committed to protecting New Zealand’s native flora and fauna. See the kiwi being fed or their very popular Conservation Show.
  5. Cycle along the Frankton Arm – Popular with walkers and cyclists but away from the hustle of Queenstown’s centre, the Frankton arm track runs along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. The views around every corner are simply spectacular. The walk begins/finishes at Queenstown gardens, where you could find time to fit in their now legendary disc golf.
  6. View from Queenstown Hill

    View from Queenstown Hill

    Walk up Queenstown Hill – The Queenstown Hill Time walk is one of the best walks in Queenstown, with incredibly rewarding views for the climb! Taking you mostly through pine forest, the steep walk is a 500m climb, reaching the summit of Te Tapu-nui (meaning mountain of intense sacredness).

  7. Adventure activities – for the brave at heart or the thrillseekers, Queenstown offers an abundance of adventure activities. Some of the most popular include jet boat ridesbungy jumping and skydiving.
  8. T. S. S. Earnslaw

    T. S. S. Earnslaw

    Get out on to Lake Wakatipu – jump aboard the historic T.S.S. Earnslaw for a unique expereince on a steamship over 100 years old. Other smaller companies also offer cruises around the lake. Another option is to hire a kayak and take in the views from a different angle.

  9. Skyline gondola and luge – taking the gondola up to Bob’s Peak provides you with incredible views out across the whole of Queenstown. Whilst there hop aboard the luge for an exciting downhill ride! Some walking tracks depart from the summit. A good short easy option is the loop track or for a full-day walk try the Ben Lomond Summit walk.

    Early morning Moke Lake reflection

    Camp at Moke Lake – one of the less well-known things to do in Queenstown, the turn off to Moke Lake is located just a 10 minute drive away – from here you follow a track (often 4WD depending on season) to the remote and very beautiful Moke Lake. The DOC campsite here is very quiet and scenic and there is also a loop walk around the lake. Wake up to pure serenity overlooking this stunning lake.

Wherever we went in New Zealand Queenstown would always call us back. In many ways it felt like home and will always hold a special place in our heart.

Categories: Activities, New Zealand, Photographs, South Island, Top 10 | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Queenstown – a town for all seasons

Beautiful Queenstown

Beautiful Queenstown

However you first cap eyes on beautiful Queenstown – whether it is arriving by plane taking in the stunning views across Lake Wakatipu as your plane touches down amidst the surrounding mountains, or by road as you get your first glimpse of the lake framed by a picture perfect mountain backdrop – it is certain to stay with you forever.

A resort town on the South Island of New Zealand, Queenstown is one of the most popular places to visit in New Zealand and on many people’s ‘Must See’ list. Films such as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and TV series Top Of The Lake have also been drawn to the unique beauty of Queenstown and its surrounding area.

Well-known for its adventure activities and snow sports Queenstown is often overlooked in other seasons but has a lot to offer all-year round.


With beautiful clear blue skies and temperatures reaching 30 degrees Queenstown is a popular place to visit in summer. Queenstown can offer you a typical kiwi Christmas and New Year by having a BBQ on the beach and watching their famous firework display. For those brave enough the icy cold glacial waters of Lake Wakatipu can offer a brief refuge from the hot summer sun. Spend time by the lake enjoying a picnic on the beach, take a kayak out and explore the shores of the lake, watch the gorgeous sunset from one of the many surrounding walks, take a hike up Queenstown Hill and view the scenic panorama from the top, or brave a jet boat ride across the lake. Camping at the DOC site at nearby Moke Lake is also popular at this time of year. It offers a challenging drive to reach it but you are rewarded with serenity and incredible views to wake up to!


AutumnEnjoy the seasonal colours in Queenstown in autumn with a walk along shores of Queenstown or a cycle along the Frankton arm. You can also get out and about explore the surrounding areas which look especially beautiful at this time of year – visit the historic gold mining town of Arrowtown or enjoy Wanaka‘s vibrant colourful trees that line the shores. Taking a boat trip out on the famous T. S. S. Earnslaw steamship is another good option in the autumnal sunshine, as you take in 360 degree views across the lake. With less visitors to Queenstown at this time of year you can skip the longer queues at world-famous Fergburger and enjoy eating your legendary burger overlooking the beautiful expansive surrounding Southern Alps.



Queenstown is perhaps most famous for its snow season – with the Remarkables and Coronet Peak offering two excellent ski fields for sking and snowboarding. Other options at this time of year include taking a trip up the skyline gondola to look down over the town and across the snow-capped mountains. Whilst at the top and for the more adventurous among you take a bungy jump with AJ Hackett Bungy. For those with a bigger budget a helicopter trip up onto a nearby snow-covered mountain on a sunny day can provide some of the best and most scenic views in all of New Zealand. Once back on the ground warm up in the nearby relaxing Onsen hot pools.



Spring in Queenstown tends to be quieter and a perfect time to take a stroll through Queenstown gardens, admiring the spring flowers or perhaps taking in a game of the legendary disc golf. Visiting the Kiwi Birdlife Park off-peak means you avoid the crowds and can have more time alone with the beautiful birds and kiwis – and your entrance fee goes towards helping protect New Zealand’s native flora and fauna. Or you could visit local picturesque Lake Hayes taking a circular walk or cycle around the lake – and there are excellent wineries nearby for those who wish to relax with a glass of wine. Another option nearby is to spend time in the small town of Glenorchy. The drive there alone is worth it – with incredible views along the road that hugs the side of the mountain twisting and turning alongside Lake Wakatipu. Take a Dart River Wilderness Trip (including an exhilarating jet boat ride) and explore Mount Aspiring National Park, or take a horse trek through Paradise with Dart Stables.

Queenstown really does cater for everyone and has proven itself as one of New Zealand’s best all-year-round destinations.

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, Food, New Zealand, Photographs, South Island, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flashback time – Bay of Islands and Breaching Whales!

Whale breaching

Whale breaching

Jumping dolphins

Jumping dolphins

This time two years ago we were travelling around the beautiful Bay of Islands region of New Zealand. Exploring the area was great and there were some really beautiful things to see. Take a look at my blog post about our trip for details of exactly what we did – this is a rather honest account where I had some issues with the ‘Dolphin Discoveries’ boat trip we took. However this also brought us one of the highlights of our time in New Zealand – seeing beautiful humpback whales jumping out of the water! I was able to capture a few shots of them (again see my post for more!) and the above shot is my favourite. Apparently this is a very rare sight in this area and only 2-5% of trips are as lucky as we were. We also saw dolphins who put on a bit of a display with their acrobatics – jumping high out of the water.

Photographing wildlife is one of my favourite things to do, and check out my photography website for more shots of some wildlife I have been lucky enough to capture.

Cape Reinga signpost

Cape Reinga signpost

We stayed in Paihia, which although one of the busier areas of the Bay of Islands was the perfect location to get out and explore the best of this area. Other highlights of our trip included the long drive up to Cape Reinga (where we timed our trip perfectly so we were the only ones at the famous signpost and lighthouse which was great) and exploring off the beaten track and seeing the kauri trees and the beautiful Rainbow Falls. We were also blessed with gorgeous weather during our stay and enjoyed the warm sun and clear blue skies.

The Bay of Islands has the perfect mixture of beautiful scenery, beaches and wildlife – with easily enough to do for a short break.

Categories: Activities, Flashback, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beautiful Hahei Sunrise

Sunrise in Hahei

Sunrise in Hahei

I thought I would share one of my favourite sunrise photos from New Zealand today. It is of a sunrise in Hahei on the gorgeous Coromandel Peninsula. This photo was taken back in 2010 when my husband and I were in New Zealand on our honeymoon. We were lucky to be staying in a beautiful holiday house that overlooked Hahei beach and the sea and one morning awoke with a bright red light streaming in our windows and looked out to see this absolutely stunning view! Just one of so many happy memories we have of this incredible country 🙂

If you are interested, prints and products with this image (along with many of my other New Zealand photographs) can be purchased via my Redbubble page.

Categories: Accommodation, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Flashback time: Glenorchy and Dart River Jet Boat!

Two years ago exactly today we went on one of the best trips in the whole of our time in New Zealand during an amazing three night stay in the beautiful town of Glenorchy. We spent three wonderful days just before Christmas in Glenorchy and treated ourselves to the Dart River Wilderness Jet Safari. It really was an incredible trip which combined a coach trip through the aptly named ‘Paradise’ deep into The Lord of the Rings country, a beautiful forest walk, and a exhilarating jet boat trip – and you can read more about this experience in my blog post about it here. It also features in my Top 5 things to do in New Zealand blog post.

We first visited Glenorchy in October 2012 when we took an awesome private 4WD Lord of the Rings tour and explored locations used in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. Then, we returned to spend just a few days in Glenorchy back in December 2012 which was such a brilliant experience that we actually ended up living there for a whole month in February 2013. Leaving Glenorchy was really hard to do and inspired a special goodbye post. It is such a wonderful unique place – so quiet and stunningly beautiful, and definitely worth spending longer there than an afternoon or even just a few days. The scenery from every corner of this little town is breathtaking and can be enjoyed from the various surrounding walks (including one of our favourites – the Glenorchy Lagoon walkway, which features in our Top 5 walks on South island). The drive from Queenstown, that winds alongside the gorgeous Lake Wakatipu (part of my Top 5 road trips post), is absolutely amazing and worth driving simply for the scenery itself – let alone the stunning town you find at the head of Lake Wakatipu!

Often overlooked in favour of nearby and well-known Queenstown, I believe Glenorchy is one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets and it will always have a special place in our heart 🙂

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

Beauty of New Zealand Video

Recently I have been reminiscing about our amazing time in New Zealand a lot. I came across the video I made during our stay in New Zealand – including a variety of photographs and some video taken over the course of the year. It includes New Zealand’s stunning scenery and wildlife. I thought it was worth sharing this again on my blog and I hope you enjoy watching it! New Zealand = awesome!

Categories: Activities, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, South Island, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Memories of New Zealand at Christmas

Queen Street Santa

Queen Street Santa being constructed in Dec 2013

Santa in 1960

Santa in 1960

Despite not living in New Zealand any more I still like to keep up with the news and recently one Christmas-related story in particular caught my eye. It was about the famous big Santa who lives on Queen Street in Auckland around Christmas time. I remember the first time, when walking through Auckland that we clapped eyes on the 18 metre height Santa. They were in the process of constructing Santa in his usual spot above Whitcoulls. Being a huge fan of Christmas I instantly loved it! And although some feel it is over the top and extravagant I think it is unique and memorable!

The story I refer to explains how the funding was cut for the big Santa and as such he would not be appearing in his usual home on Queen Street. Yet just the very next day the NZ Herald then reported that in fact big Santa had been saved by funding offers from an Auckland property development firm and SkyCity.

Santa himself has a long history on Queen Street and in fact was first constructed (with a somewhat different look to nowadays) back in 1960 above the original Farmers building on Queen Street.

The New Zealand Herald are calling it an Auckland miracle – brilliant! 🙂

A festive Auckland sky tower

A festive Auckland sky tower

Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights

Thinking about this made me remember our time in the weeks leading up to Christmas that we spent in Auckland back in December 2012 – including seeing the beautiful Christmas lights on the famous Franklin Road. We took a walk through Auckland to look at them one night, and also witnessed the Sky Tower lit up so beautifully!

We were then lucky enough to spend our first kiwi Christmas with my family who flew over from both the UK and Australia to be with me and my husband. We enjoyed an amazing traditional UK Christmas dinner cooked by my Mum in our gorgeous holiday home we had rented overlooking Queenstown lake. Lovely memories 🙂

Family Christmas in NZ

Family Christmas in New Zealand

Categories: Christmas, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, South Island | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thinking of Hobbiton . . .

With the release of the final The Hobbit film this week it got me thinking back to our visit to the amazing place that is Hobbiton back in May 2013. Being big fans of The LOTR trilogy and the newest The Hobbit films we were really keen to visit the land of hobbits and took our chance whilst touring both islands of New Zealand in our Spaceship for 9 weeks (during our amazing year living there).

I wrote about our wonderful day at Hobbiton right here on this blog last year.

It also featured on my Top 5 things to do in New Zealand blog post I also wrote last year.

Hobbiton really does look exactly like it does in the films! We feel really privileged that we were able to visit during our time in New Zealand. We loved every second of our time there and also felt lucky to have visited on such a wonderful sunny day.

Hobbiton really is a magical place so if you are interested in visiting take a look at the official website for tours now!

Categories: Activities, Flashback, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, Spaceship | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

New Zealand = the best country in the world!

Beautiful New Zealand

Beautiful New Zealand

New Zealand has been voted the world’s best country in the Telegraph Travel Awards 2014 – to read the article click here. The article asks why it is the third year in a row that it has won the award and answers: “Perhaps it’s because New Zealand is a country that delivers almost everything a traveller could want in one easy-to-use package”. I couldn’t agree more! Having been lucky enough to spend a year travelling around New Zealand with my husband – exploring almost every corner of this amazing country – I completely agree and had the most incredible time.

The Telegraph have come up with 26 reasons why New Zealand is the world’s best country – so take a look here to see their reasons.

I have come up with my own Top 5 reasons I believe you should visit this phenomenally beautiful country and wanted to share them with you:

View of Lake Hawea on the way to Queenstown

Stunning scenery

Top 5 reasons to come to New Zealand:

1. The scenery is amazingly beautiful, varied and unspoilt – covering rain forests, glacial lakes, snow-capped mountains, beaches, glaciers and much more!

2. The road trips – The roads in New Zealand are easy to navigate, well-kept and surrounded by such beautiful scenery that driving almost anywhere is a pleasure.

Gorgeous scenic drives

Gorgeous scenic drives

3. The kiwi people – Laid-back and incredibly friendly and welcoming the New Zealand people make New Zealand that bit extra special.

Amazing wildlife

Amazing wildlife

4. The stunning and unique wildlife – rare and endangered animals can be seen in the wild if you know where to go – including kiwis, whales, dolphins, blue and yellow-eyed penguins, and birds such as the kaka, kakapo and kea.

5. The weather – with a temperate climate New Zealand has a well balance climate, with very lovely and long hot summers and winters with enough snow to enjoy and for snow activities.

If you are tempted by this wonderful country and are interested in planning your own trip to New Zealand then please take a look at my own travel company’s website – Blue Penguin Travel or get in touch via email at

Categories: Blue Penguin, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, South Island | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Our Amazing New Zealand Adventure is back!

Me and Elliott

Me and Elliott

It has been so long since my last post (over a year!) and I have the best reason in the world for not writing for so long – a lovely baby boy! We have welcomed our gorgeous son Elliott into the world and he will be 10 weeks old tomorrow.

Baby Elliott

Baby Elliott

On coming back to my blog I am delighted to see that despite not having written for so long that the number of visitors to my blog has dramatically increased! Thank you to each and everyone of you who is visiting my blog and reading this. I also have almost 250 followers, so again thank you to all of you for being a part of our adventure.

It is over a year now since we returned from our amazing New Zealand adventure living in New Zealand for a year. So, what brings me back to my New Zealand travel blog? Well I was contacted about 10 days ago by someone interested in working with me and my company Blue Penguin Travel (we specialise in helping people travel to and around New Zealand by providing personalised off-the-beaten-track travel advice and itineraries) and wanted help planning their New Zealand itinerary. Being officially on maternity leave and with a little bundle of joy to look after I initially didn’t think I had time to help. However, on reading her emails I discovered the woman that contacted me was planning her honeymoBlue Penguin Travelon with just 3 weeks notice and planned to spend Christmas and New Year in New Zealand! I was really excited by the prospect of helping her and also knew it would be the ultimate challenge – being that New Zealand is SO popular and busy at this time of year.

I got working and in just 3 days we had planned a fantastic 12 day trip to New Zealand and booked all accommodation for their stay (including an incredible overnight boat trip on Milford Sound over Christmas Eve night) – it was pretty amazing! I worked pretty solidly on it, but really loved helping them plan the trip of their dreams. They arrive in NZ on the 21st of December and I know they will have the most amazing time.

The road to Mount Cook

The road to Mount Cook

The other thing that brings me back to my blog is my love of New Zealand. We bought our own home back in April and have just got round to choosing some acrylic photographs to go on the wall from our recent year in New Zealand. I relished the chance to look back at all the photos we took while we were away and felt we were spoilt for choice (not to blow my own trumpet too much!). Eventually we chose our favourite image of the road to Mount Cook to grace our wall. It is a daily reminded of what an incredible country NZ is, and how we would love to return there soon with little Elliott in tow this time. Check out my photography website for more of my photos.

So I have now decided that Our Amazing New Zealand Adventure should live on and I plan to blog as much as I can about all sorts of New Zealand related things – including my Blue Penguin Travel business, my photography, and about what a truly wonderful country it is.

If you are keen to know more about Blue Penguin Travel then please visit our website, check out the services we offer, or read some of our lovely testimonials. You can also email me at if you are interested in receiving help in planning your own adventure to New Zealand.

Thanks for reading this post and bye for now! 🙂

Categories: Blue Penguin, New Zealand, Photographs | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Photography website launched!

My photography website

My photography website

Since returning to the UK after our amazing new zealand travel adventure I have decided to develop my own photography website. Regular followers of my blog will know I was lucky enough to visit some truly amazing places on our year away in New Zealand and having always loved taking photographs I decided now would be a good time to collect together my favourite images on my own website.

I have also been fortunate enough to visit other amazing destinations around the world including Australia, Iceland and the Cook islands and some photographs from these places feature too (along with a few from the UK). One of my favourite things to photograph, other than landscapes, is wildlife and my website also features some of the loveliest wildlife I have encountered on my travels.

So, take a look at Nicola Barnard Photography and see what you think! I have a Portfolio page with 6 portfolios containing a selection of my favourite images. There is also a Purchase page containing links to both my RedBubble store and my Photobox store where you can purchase various print and gift options, including 2014 calendars and iphone cases. Alternatively if you have any comments or feedback about my sites then please contact me through the Contact page on my site.

Thanks for taking a look and for the continued support!

I have included a mosaic below of just a few of my favourite images from my travels 🙂

Categories: New Zealand, Photographs, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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