Sydney Travel Guide

Sydney is probably the most recognisable city associated with Australia, it is a major gateway to Australia and has lots of world famous landmarks and famous beaches. I have been lucky enough to travel to Sydney on many occasions with my work.

With the airline I work for we stop over in Sydney for about 36 hours, and stop in Singapore for 48 hours on the way to Sydney and stop back in Singapore again on the way back. The Singapore/Sydney trip is a 9 day trip and is actually one of my favourite trips to do with work, as I love both Singapore and Sydney and they have both started to feel like second homes now.

The first time I went to Sydney with work I was so excited as I had never been to Australia before, and couldn’t wait to go exploring. On my first ever trip to Sydney I actually got to spend 3 days there as unfortunately for our passengers our aircraft went tech, and parts had to be flown over from London Heathrow. I have to admit I was over the moon to get some extra time in this exciting city.

Since my first ever trip to Sydney I have done many more Singapore/Sydney trips and always try to visit an area or place that I haven’t been to before. My brother in law lives in Adelaide and on one particular trip I bought my husband along and my brother in law flew up from Adelaide to meet us which was great, as I love having a layover with family it makes it feel like a mini holiday, even though I was really tired we packed lots in, and met up with some of my husbands friends that now live in Sydney too.

Sydney has so much to offer from beautiful beaches and bays, to world famous surf spots and landmarks. Sydney has a really cool vibe and there is always something going on in the city.

Sights & Activities

Bondi Beach

Most people I speak to seem to prefer Manly Beach to Bondi Beach. I think maybe I’m one of the rare few that actually prefer Bondi Beach. I just think Bondi is so iconic all around the world, and has so much to see and do there, it really does have something for everyone. It has lots of street art to admire, surfing or watching surfers, and lots of cafes, bars, restaurants and shops. Even if your not a big fan of swimming in the Ocean you can swim and relax at the ocean pool at Icebergs Club.

I really love the atmosphere around Bondi it’s got a really cool laid back atmosphere to it, but with a bit of a quirky edge. Even if your not a surfer just going to the beach and sunbathing here is great, I have been to Bondi on several occasions and always have a great time there.

Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk

The coastal walk between Bondi Beach and Coogee Beach was one of the best coastal walks I’ve ever done. We started from Coogee Beach and walked to Bondi Beach it is approximately 3.5 miles, and takes just short of 3 hours to walk, it is a leisurely walk taking in many bays, rock pools, cliffs and coves along the way and lots of breathtaking scenery.

This is one of my favourite things I’ve done in Sydney, I went when I took my husband and my brother in law and their friend that lives in Coogee took us along the walk, and we also had some of the other crew that I was working with join us. It was a beautiful sunny day when we went and we had breakfast then headed off for the walk, we took our time and stopped to admire views and take photos. I cannot recommend this walk enough it is an absolute must do in Sydney!

Chinatown

Sydney’s Chinatown is like most other Chinatowns around the world, the Main Street which is Dixon Street is the heart and soul of Chinatown, it has a huge selection of Asian eateries and shops. As Sydney can be quite pricey this is the place to go to get cheap eats if you are on a budget and craving some Asian food.

The Main Street also has some ornate gates either end of the street which are decorated with dragons, bamboo tiles and golden writing. If your in Sydney for a while I would recommend having a stroll through Chinatown, and not too far from the Main Street is Paddy’s Market.

Circular Quay

Circular Quay is one of the main tourist hubs in Sydney, with many of Sydney’s main landmarks located within the area. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House and The Rocks are all located within this horseshoe cove.

Circular Quay was once where Australia’s first European settlers came and was once home to ex convicts, sailors and whalers and had lots of brothels and pubs. Today it is home to upmarket bars and restaurants offering champagne breakfasts overlooking the opera house, lots of street performers and the many tourists and locals coming in and out on the many ferries that run from the harbour.

Circular Quay is a bustling vibrant area of Sydney, I always really enjoy having a wander around the Quay and seeing what’s new, sometimes it’s lovely to just sit and relax with a drink and watch a cruise ship coming in.

City Hall

Sydney City Hall was constructed between the mid to late 1800s. It’s function and use is very different today and is mainly used now for meetings, events and exhibitions and is home to the council and civic offices. When exploring Sydney try to stop by this historical building in the heart of the city centre.

Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour is a former dockland which was regenerated in the 80s and is now home to a numerous amount of restaurants and cafes. It has lots of Sydneys tourist attractions such as a Sealife Aquarium, Sydney Wildlife Zoo, Madame Tussaud’s and various museums and parks.

Darling Harbour is an upmarket area of Sydney, I enjoy wandering around Darling Harbour and grabbing a drink here, however I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time here it’s great to wander around maybe for an hour or 2 but you won’t find the authentic Sydney experience here it’s more purpose built and office spaces.

If your in Sydney during Australia Day go to Darling Harbour as they normally put on lots of family friendly activities and entertainment, and some years have beautiful firework displays on in the evening which is a perfect way to finish off the day.

Manly Beach

Manly Beach is Sydney’s second most famous Beach after Bondi Beach. Over a mile long stretch of golden sand beach makes up Manly Beach and lined by pine trees. Manly Beach attracts lots of tourists and locals, every time I have visited Manly it’s always been busy that’s one reason why I tend to prefer Bondi as I always find it less busy.

Manly Beach however is still iconic to Sydney and is a must visit on any Sydney Itinerary. I do love wandering down the Main Street of Manly and looking in all the shops which sell a selection of clothes as well as souvenirs. Manly also has lots of cafes and restaurants that line the beach front.

Paddys Market

Paddy’s Market is located right next to Chinatown in a large brick building. It has a variety of take away or eat in food options. Paddy’s Market is ideal for budget conscious travellers looking for a bargain. It is a traditional market and offers women’s fashion, kids clothes, accessories, jewellery, food, souvenirs, gadgets, and lots more. Paddy’s Market in Haymarket is open Wednesday – Sunday, and is a great market selling a variety of products.

Royal Botanical Gardens

The Royal Botanical Gardens are a free attraction which expand over a huge area of Sydney, you can enter these gardens next to the Opera House. The gardens have a huge array of plants and trees from both Australia and the rest of the world. The gardens were created in 1816, and is steeped in history. There are several free walking tours from November to March, and aboriginal tours are also available for approx AUS$40 per person.

When I visited the gardens it was on my first visit to Sydney and we wandered through the gardens in the morning before heading to the Opera House. If your only in Sydney for a short period of time I wouldn’t make the Botanical Gardens a must do on your itinerary unless your an avid gardener. However if you do have time I would suggest walking through the gardens while visiting the Opera House – time permitting.

The Rocks

The Rocks is located in Circular Quay, and has lots of old buildings and quirky lanes which is quite rare for Sydney as many of the cities buildings are modern and high structures and more high tech buildings being built, its great to see The Rocks being maintained and preserved.

The Rocks used to be a maritime hub and was known in the old days for its open sewers and dingy alleyways, since the 1970s it has been transformed into a tourist hub. The Rocks is now home to some amazing restaurants, bars and pubs.

As well as having lots of places to eat and drink there is some gorgeous little boutiques, and also has a weekend artisan market which has stalls selling local arts, crafts and food. On Fridays there is a foodie market which has lots of street food and local products available, and during the month of December there is a Christmas market.

The Rocks also hosts many festivals and live music events, and there are several museums and galleries to visit, The Rocks is the cultural core of Sydney and should be on every Sydney itinerary.

Watson’s Bay

Watson’s Bay is a quick 15/20 minute ferry ride from Circular Quay. Watson’s Bay is a quiet suburban area of Sydney which is a lot less well known compared to other beaches in Sydney.

On one of my trips here I got the ferry over with one of my colleagues, and we had the most lovely day. As we arrived during lunch time we started our day at Doyle’s Fish and chips take away, and then wandered along the South Head Heritage Trail which took us past Lady Bay, which to our surprise was a nudist beach, we didn’t go down to it as we didn’t know where to look. We carried on over to the Hornby Lighthouse which has breathtaking views over the cliffs below and out the vast Pacific Ocean.

After having a little walk we decided to go and sunbath at Camp Cove which has the most gorgeous beach and calm clear waters which makes a change from both Bondi and Manly’s crashing waves. There is a small beach bar located at Camp Cove, if your needing some rest and relaxation, this is the beach for you.

Wildlife Sydney Zoo

The Wildlife Sydney Zoo is located in Darling Harbour next to the Sydney Sea Life Aquarium. This is a small zoo which houses lots of Australian native insects, reptiles, snakes and other small critters as well as having kangaroos and koalas. It’s a small zoo in comparison to Taronga Zoo which I still haven’t been too, however if your short on time and want to see some Australian wildlife without leaving the city this is a great little zoo.

You can purchase combo packages too with the Aquarium next door, if your just wanting to visit the zoo it was AUS$40 per person, I visited here on my first trip to Sydney when we were delayed and we spent a few hours here and really enjoyed it.

Food & Beverage

Bondi Icebergs Club

When visiting Bondi then a trip to Bondi Icebergs Club is a must, on weekends it is absolutely heaving as it offers great value casual bistro dining with excellent views over Bondi Beach. If you don’t fancy eating here then you can just go in for a drink as there are 2 bars inside.

As well as having a restaurant and bar you can pay to access the famous Ocean Pools which were the Bondi Baths, and have been there for over a 100 years in your ticket price you also get access to the sauna. When I visited Icebergs I went there for lunch and got a lovely salad, the portions are big here I ordered a side of chips with my salad that I really didn’t need.

City Extra

City Extra boasts an amazing location in Circular Quay with great views overlooking Sydney Harbour Bridge with both outside and indoor seating areas. It’s a great spot with incredible views and also good for people watching. The food is modern and delicious and not only is it a great place for dinner but also a great for breakfast too. The food is also reasonably priced considering it’s location. Its also open 24 hours a day so even if your jet lagged and can’t sleep this is a great find to come and grab some food or drink.

Coogee Bay Hotel

Coogee Bay Hotel is a little gem right on the beachfront of Coogee it has a really friendly and casual atmosphere. It’s great to come here for drinks or dinner. We came and had a few drinks at their beach bar and also ordered some food from their menu which serves up comfort food that is affordable. After dinner my husband, brother in law and some of their friends and crew sat outside enjoying some drinks, we really loved the mood here and the view of the beach.

Doyle’s

Doyle’s is situated in Watson’s Bay and was set up and is still run by the Doyle family since 1885. They serve up a selection of seafood dishes and delicacies. They have their restaurant which is Doyle’s on the Beach which is more up market sit down restaurant, or if that is a bit out of your price range, go to Doyle’s on the Wharf takeaway which is just opposite the restaurant, and also has some seating but is more laid back and affordable, we ordered some fish and chips and it was delicious and great value.

However if your a big fan of seafood and want something special I would suggest reserving a table at Doyle’s on the Beach, try to book in advance as it gets extremely busy. Doyle’s is associated with Watson’s Bay and is well know by many locals and tourists.

Fish Shack

Fish Shack Is situated in Manly directly opposite the beach and serves up fish and chips either as a takeaway option or you can sit in. They also sell drinks here too so if you fancy a cold beer that’s close to the beach then this place is for you.

Gloria Jeans

I am obsessed with Gloria Jeans! They are a coffee shop chain situated all over Sydney and the rest of Australia, they are kind of similar to Starbucks. I always love their cold iced drinks which change seasonally, Gloria Jeans offer up great pick me up drinks and snacks which are great for on the go.

Kazbah

Kazbah overlooks Darling Harbour and specialises in Middle Eastern cuisine such as grills, meze, sharing platters and tagines etc. It’s interior is sleek and stylish and has touches of Moroccan flare.

North Bondi Fish

North Bondi Fish is my favourite bar in Sydney and sits overlooking Bondi Beach. It is a bar but serves up fresh and delicious food, and amazing cocktails and on a weekend there is a DJ. North Bondi Fish just oozes cool and is full of the most beautiful people I have ever seen. Their cocktails and sharing jugs are so tasty and easy to drink I usually always loose track of time in there.

Olivo

Olivo is set overlooking Darling Harbour and when your jet lagged and craving a decent breakfast this is my go to place. Their breakfast is fresh and tasty and affordable and always hits the spot. It is an Italian restaurant and has a great menu on offer for lunch and dinner too.

Opera Bar

As you may have guessed Opera Bar is situated just by the Opera House. Opera Bar is always busy with both tourists and locals, it has amazing views overlooking the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Opera Bar on a hot sunny day is the place to be in Sydney, and I always like to come here for a glass of prossecco. Sunset at Opera Bar is always pretty magical and I can’t recommend this bar enough.

Ribs & Burgers

Located in the heart of the Rocks is Ribs and Burgers and you guessed it, it just sells ribs and burgers but done really well. It’s a casual restaurant you order at the till and orders are cooked up fresh. Staff here are really friendly and welcoming and the outside seating area is perfect on a warm day. They also offer take out and delivery too.

The Glenmore

The Glenmore is a heritage listed building and has been in The Rocks since 1912. It is a popular watering hole and had a large refurb a few years back. The rooftop bar is great and has amazing views across the harbour. The Glenmore is also a great spot for a casual lunch on the rooftop.

Tropicana Cafe

We went to the Tropicana Cafe in Coogee before walking along the Coogee to Bondi coastal walk. I’m not normally a huge fan of breakfast but the breakfast at the Tropicana Cafe was one of the best I’ve ever had, I had the chicken breakfast wrap and it was absolutely delicious. I would recommend starting your day off here before heading off on the coastal walk if your starting from Coogee.

Transport & Getting Around

Sydney is really easy to get around once you get used to it. Sydney has lots of public transport available from buses, trains and ferries. I always tend to try and get ferries when visiting the various beaches and bays in Sydney, as I find it easy to leave from Circular Quay.

The Opal Card is widely available throughout Sydney and can be purchased and topped up in many newsagents around the city. The Opal Card is capped at AUS$15.80 per adult for a day of travel on all public transport.

I would suggest before travelling to Sydney or venturing out for the day to plan your public transport, as there are quite a lot of options, it can be quite daunting for someone who isn’t familiar with the city, and Sydney is quite spread out. You can plan all your travel plans online at Transport New South Wales.

Top Tips

Sydney is a great city and iconic all around the world. It’s best in the Australian spring and summer, I have spent time in Sydney when the weather wasn’t great and I have to admit it does loose some of its charm when the weather isn’t great.

This city has lots to offer, but it’s also one of the cities you don’t have to spend weeks getting to see everything. You could easily spend a day or 2 exploring the city and a bit more time if you want to spend time on Sydney’s many beaches and coves.

Sydney is quite expensive so be prepared this is not a cheap city. However a lot of the main sites and attractions are free, such as the Opera House. I would recommend sitting at Opera Bar at the Opera House and treating yourself to your favourite tipple and enjoying the view of this iconic building on a sunny day.

I would also recommend if you are strapped for time in the city but would like to see some of the beaches and coves then try and squeeze in the Bondi to Coogee Beach Walk, it takes about 3 hours but you will take in so many beaches and coves along the way and can see two of Sydney’s famous beaches, which is great if you don’t have much time and gives you a taste of the beach life in Sydney.

One last tip would be if your flying into Sydney, then prior to landing make sure to look out the window of the plane, as you get the most spectacular views of the Blue Mountains and the coastline of Sydney.

Important Information

 

 

The Great Ocean Road Travel Guide

My husband and I travelled along the Great Ocean Road a few years back, as my brother in law lives in Adelaide. We decided to fly out to Melbourne to meet him there and spend a few nights there then all drive along the Great Ocean Road together back to Adelaide. We spent a few days in Adelaide and also visited Kangaroo Island too then spent a few more days back in Adelaide before flying home.

The Great Ocean Road is a 150 mile stretch of heritage listed road along the south eastern coast of Australia. The Great Ocean Road makes an excellent choice for an epic road trip. There is so much to see and do along this iconic road from seaside towns, coves and bays, lighthouses and lots of wildlife.

The good thing about the Great Ocean Road is that you can make the trip as long as you like, most people tend to drive along the Great Ocean Road over 3-4 days. We drove the Great Ocean Road over 5 days as we drove on further to Adelaide. I would really recommend the Great Ocean Road to anyone as it has something for everyone and could easily be done over 3 days if your strapped for time.

Torquay

Torquay is either at the very start or very end of the Great Ocean Road depending which way you come from. We started our Great Ocean Road adventure in Torquay. Torquay used to be a sleepy seaside town but now Torquay is world famous as Australia’s Surf Capital.

Torquay is also home to Ripcurl and Quicksilver which are two huge iconic surf brands which originally started out as wetsuit makers. Torquay was one of my favourite stops along the Great Ocean Road, from getting to visit the world famous Bells Beach and the surf museum, there is so much to Torquay than meets the eye.

Sights & Activities

Australian National Surfing Museum

No trip to Torquay would be complete without a visit to the Australian National Surfing Museum. There is a huge array of Australian surfing memorabilia, the surf hall of fame and lots of information, videos and displays on surfing culture. This small but interesting museum is a must and is reasonably priced at just AUD$12 per person.

We all really enjoyed visiting the museum and learnt so much about surfing culture and the history behind it. We spent a few hours wandering around the museum and reading all of the information.Bells Beach

Bells Beach is world famous and also home to Rip Curls Pro Bells Beach Surf Competition which is the world’s longest continuously running surfing competition. There are viewing platforms located above Bells Beach where you can take in breathtaking views of the world famous beach and the waves as well as the sandstone cliffs surrounding the beach. Bells Beach shouldn’t be missed when cruising along the Great Ocean Road.Surf City

Surf City is a shopping complex in Torquay which sells all kinds of surf essentials from wetsuits and surf boards to lots of iconic surf brands selling clothing. We stopped here and did a spot of shopping when we first arrived in Torquay. If your into your surf brands you need to check this place out as all the major surf brands from Billabong, Quicksilver, Ripcurl and many more are all in one area.Food & Beverage

Fishos

Fishos is located along the shore front in Torquay, and serves up fresh, delicious and non fuss fish and chips. We chose the Bells Share Platter which serves 4 people for AUD$72 which worked out slightly cheaper than ordering individual meals and came with fish, calamari, chips and sweet potato cakes it was really filling and tasty.Accommodation

The View on Grossmans

The View on Grossmans is a great location and located just 2 minutes drive from Torquay Beach. This small family run bed and breakfast has everything you need and also includes a pool and tennis courts as well as a bbq area. The rooms are clean, comfortable and modern and affordable.

Anglesea

After leaving Torquay in the morning, we made our way to Anglesea which is approximately a 20 minute drive from Torquay. We made a quick stop for breakfast and had a walk along the Anglesea River which meets the ocean and is the most gorgeous bright blue colour.

Food & Beverage

Four Kings

Four Kings Cafe is located right on the Great Ocean Road and overlooks the seafront. It serves up breakfast, brunch and lunch and a selection of drinks. It also has a good selection of vegan and vegetarian food. All the food is simple, fresh and healthy. If your leaving Torquay in the morning stop here for breakfast.

Aireys Inlet

Aireys Inlet is midway between Anglesea and Lorne. Aireys Inlet has some beautiful stretches of coast, beaches and creeks.

Split Point Lighthouse

Split Point Lighthouse was built in 1891 and is still operational today. It was also used for filming for the popular children’s TV series ‘Around the Twist’. It is only accessible by booking a tour, however you can walk up to the lighthouse and have a wander round and get some great views of the coast without booking and paying for the tour.

Lorne

Lorne is a major tourist attraction in itself, this quaint little seaside town attracts lots of tourists and day trippers during the summer months and has a great selection of shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. The beach is great for families as it has a beachside swimming pool, trampolines and skatepark.

If sitting in a beachside cafe isn’t your thing then there are lots of bushwalking tracks nearby too. We stopped in Lorne for an afternoon and wandered around the shops and grabbed and ice cream.

Food & Beverage

Stone Cold

Stone Cold is an ice cream parlour situated along the beachfront and serves up a large variety of ice cream flavours as well as smoothies, juices and salads. We stopped here for some ice cream and sat outside watching the world go by.

Separation Creek

After about 20 minutes of driving out of Lorne we drove through the gorgeous Separation Creek, which is a small costal Village. There isn’t much to see and do here but there is some gorgeous views of the coast. There is also a 250 meter long beach which you can visit here too. We didn’t stop however if you have time and want a quiet beach, this is the place to stop.

Apollo Bay

Apollo Bay is situated about an hour drive from Lorne and is one of the Great Ocean Roads larger towns. Apollo Bay is also a great place to base yourself to explore Cape Otway. When we drove along the Great Ocean Road we stayed in Cape Otway which was great, however in hindsight we would have been better staying in Apollo Bay as we had to drive back to Apollo Bay when we realised there was nowhere to get something to eat or drink in Cape Otway.

Apollo Bay has a great selection of restaurants and bars to choose from and a gorgeous white sand stretch of beach. We stopped along here for the beach and came back here in the evenings for dinner as it’s only about 25-30 minutes drive to Cape Otway where we were staying.

Food & Beverage

Cafe 153

Cafe 153 is located along the Great Ocean Road in Apollo Bay, it is a laid back cafe which serves a selection of wine and alcohol and modern Australian cuisine with fresh, local and organic ingredients. It’s more of a breakfast and lunch type place, however we came here late afternoon for an early dinner before they closed. It’s a family run business and has a warm and welcoming intimate atmosphere.

Great Ocean Road Brewhouse

Another evening we visited the Great Ocean Road Brewhouse in Apollo Bay which serves up hearty pub grub and a huge array of craft beers. It’s a large family friendly Brewhouse and whether it’s food or just a drink you want this place is a great spot. It was reasonably priced and delicious food, I had the chicken schnitzel which was really tasty and filling. After dinner we sat by the fire and had a few drinks, which was a lovely way to wind down after a day of road tripping . There is also a beer garden too which is great for warmer days.

Cape Otway

Cape Otway has a beautiful and rugged coast line to explore as well as lots of nature, wildlife and rainforests. Cape Otway is the second most southerly point of mainland Australia. Most of Cape Otway is within the Great Otway National Park.

We spent 2 nights in Cape Otway as we love exploring nature and enjoy seeing wildlife. In Cape Otway you can also see an abundance of koalas and kangaroos living in the wild, we pulled over several times to watch Koalas in the trees above and even had one koala walk past our car and down the road which was amazing. We were also lucky enough to see an Echidna too.Sights & Activities

Artillery Rocks

Artillery Rocks was a real highlight for us, these rugged rock formations slope out into the ocean with a backdrop of rainforest hills behind. We came on a bit of wet, grey and rainy day but it didn’t stop us taking a stroll along these rocks, in fact it worked out well as we had the area to ourselves.

While here we had planned on having a picnic and bought lots of snacks and nibbles, and because of the bad weather ended up having a picnic in the car. While having our picnic I spotted a koala strolling past on the road behind our car so we all got out and followed it a few meters behind to see where it was going, it was amazing to see a koala in the wild. It eventually climbed up a tree and my brother in law managed to feed it some leaves.

Cape Otway Lightstation

Cape Otway Lightstation is the oldest lighthouse on mainland Australia that is still standing. There is more to see here than just the lighthouse from aboriginal cultural sites to world war 2 bunkers within the grounds. The lighthouse was built in 1848, it was also known as the Beacon of Hope. Hundreds of people were lost along this shipwreck coast which led to the building of the Lightstation on the cliffs edge.

Visiting the Lightstation is a great day out with lots to see and do and great value for money general admission was AUS$20 per person and includes entrance into the lighthouse, history talks, world war 2 bunker, whale interpretation site, aboriginal culture bush talk and entrance into the light keepers quarter and much more.

There is also a cute light keepers cafe which is in a gorgeous old sandstone building and serves home made cakes and pies which are delicious as well as some hot drinks which were perfect for us on the chilly windy day we visited.

The Redwoods

The Redwoods Forest is great to stroll around, the Californian redwood trees were planted along the river back in 1939. The forest has some pathways through the trees, we visited the redwood forest just before leaving Cape Otway you only need about 30 minutes to wander through the walkways stay longer if you bring a picnic, it’s the perfect spot for lunch.

Accommodation

Bimbi Park

Bimbi Park is located not too far from the Cape Otway Lightstation and has a whole range of accommodation to suit all budgets from camping powered and unpowered sites, caravans, bunk rooms and cabins. When we stayed at Bimbi Park we booked a standard cabin without an ensuite.

The cabins have everything you need with small kitchen and sitting area, and a bedroom. It was clean, comfortable and affordable at only AUS$65 per night. We really enjoyed staying here it was quirky and had lots of wildlife around the park from koalas, kangaroos and lots of native birds.

Even though we really enjoyed our stay here I would recommend staying in Apollo Bay if you want more to do in the evenings, or if you are staying at Bimbi Park take food and drink supplies, as there aren’t many amenities near by and the reception only has snacks on sale.

Port Campbell & The Twelve Apostles

The Twelve Apostles are probably the most iconic image of the Great Ocean Road. These stacked limestone towers scattered off shore near to the cliff edges in the Port Campbell National Park are a natural masterpiece, however now only 8 apostles can be seen from the viewing platforms. No trip to the Great Ocean Road would be complete without a visit to the rugged coastline to view the apostles. The road through Port Campbell is stunning with lots of sheer cliffs and beaches.

Warrnambool

Warrnambool is the end of the Great Ocean Road, and used to be a whaling and sealing station now times have changed, and it is now a bustling hub with historical buildings and a whale watching centre. We stopped off here on our final stop along the Great Ocean Road, and went to a whale viewing point. Unfortunately we didn’t see any whales when we went but certain times of the year whales can be seen swimming in the distance.

Mount Gambier

We drove the whole of the Great Ocean Road, and continued on through Mount Gambier, Beachport, Robe and Meningie which aren’t part of the Great Ocean Road but thought I’d include them on this blog incase you decide to drive from Melbourne to Adelaide.

Mount Gambier is a major town on the limestone coast and lies beneath on the flatlands below an extinct volcano. What makes Mount Gambier a great stop is it’s stunning turquoise blue crater lake and caves. It takes just over 2 hours to reach Mount Gambier from Warrnambool.

We stopped in Mount Gambier for a drink and to go and visit the Famous Blue Lake, which changes colour depending on the season, and lies in a volcanic crater.

Beachport

Beachport is a small coastal town along the limestone coast, with quant stone buildings this quiet town isn’t the most buzzing town, however if you want relaxing and quiet this is the place for you. Beachport also has a famously long jetty which is nice to walk along, although we went on a cold windy day and got very windswept.

Robe

The small fishing port of Robe doesn’t look much when you first drive into it, however I was pleasantly surprised by Robe. It has a lovely little high street with a good choice of great eateries and shops. Robe has become a popular holiday destination for holiday makers from both Adelaide and Melbourne. If your planning on visiting Robe over the Christmas or Easter period make sure to book accommodation in advance as it does get booked up way in advance.

Sights & Activities

Guichen Bay & The Obelisk

The Obelisk was built on Cape Dombey in 1852, which was created to help navigate the entrance into Guichen Bay and also to store rocket lifesaving equipment. The Obelisk is a landmark of Robe and has gorgeous rugged views over the Guichen Bay. This is one of the top sites to go and see in Robe, I loved watching the crashing waves here.

Food & Beverage

Caledonian Inn

If your looking for a traditional pub in Robe look no further than the Caledonian Inn, this pub is on the high street and is set in a gorgeous old stone building and has a great atmosphere and a good selection of wines. The pub has a very English feel to it and is a traditional pub and has been in Robe so long that it is now seen as a landmark itself. We stopped in here for a few drinks after dinner.

Vic Street Pizza Project

Vic Street Pizza Project is a casual restaurant but with delicious food and fresh jugs of pimms. The Vic Pizza Project offers more than just Pizza and pasta it also has a specials board which is updated daily, when we were there they had tacos on offer. One thing I love about Australian restaurants is how fresh the food is and also that you go up and order your food and pay for it at the start. It saves time with the bill at the end. If your in Robe check this place out as it’s right on the high street.

Accommodation

Lakeview Motel & Apartments

Lakeview Motel is set on the shores of the Lake Fellmongery, it is a great location in Robe and is close proximity to all amenities within the town. The motels and apartments have a variety of rooms and rates on offer. We booked the standard rooms which are equipped with kitchen, bathroom and a small sitting area, which was great value for money we paid about £75 for the night and were really impressed with the size of the room.

Meningie

Meningie is a small town on the south of Lake Albert in South Australia. This was the last place we stopped at to stretch our legs on our road trip before continuing on to Adelaide. It has some gorgeous views over the lake and some native birds. If your are driving all the way to Adelaide this is a convenient place to stop to have a walk and some fresh air.

Important Information

 

 

 

Melbourne Mini Guide

When visiting Australia one place that is always mentioned is Melbourne, and after visiting I can see why. Melbourne is a large cosmopolitan city on Australia’s south east coast. Melbourne is really quirky and has a cool edge to it, with lots of bars, restaurants, shops and street art you definitely won’t be bored here.

My husband and I travelled to Melbourne a few years back, as my brother in law lives in Adelaide. We decided to fly out to Melbourne to meet him there and spend a few nights there then all drive along the Great Ocean Road together back to Adelaide.

We spent a few days in Adelaide and also visited Kangaroo Island too then spent a few more days back in Adelaide before flying home.

We only stopped in Melbourne for 2 nights and only really had about a day and a half there, before heading off to explore the Great Ocean Road. While we didn’t spend long in Melbourne we managed to pack quite a lot in, and this is one city I would love to go back to.

Sights & Activities

Birrarung Marr Park

Birrarung Marr Park is located in the inner city on the Yarra River bank. The park is split into 3 sectioned terraces, the lower terrace follows the river and has lots of elm trees. The Middlele the Upper Terrace has views of the Arts Centre, Melbourne’s spire and St Paul’s Cathedral.

We had a lovely stroll through this park and it has lots of art and sculptures dotted around. It was a sunny day while we were here, and the park was just beautiful and had lots of people sitting and enjoying the atmosphere of this gorgeous inner city park. If your in Melbourne give this park a visit and maybe take a picnic too.

Flinders Street

Flinders Street is one of the main streets in Melbourne and runs parallel to the Yarra River. Flinders Street is also home to Flinders Street Station which is has been around since the early 1900s. We stayed at the Rendezvous Hotel on Flinders Street too as it’s a good central location, and has lots going on with places to eat and drink.

Flinders Street has lots of landmarks and attractions and is a great street to base yourself on. Attractions on Flinders Street include Federation Square, St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne Aquarium and Batman Park.

Hosier Lane & Melbourne Street Art

Walk down the famous Hosier Lane and admire the street art that has made the Melbourne urban art scene known across the world. This street is full of colourful art work that has been created by local and international artists. We walked down here and viewed all of the different artwork, however if you wanted to find out more about the artists and the stories behind the artwork you can book onto a walking tour.

While wandering down Hosier Lane take a slight detour onto Rutledge Lane which is another great street to see lots of original artwork, including the wheelie bins which are also covered in artwork.

The street art around Melbourne is a huge draw for people, and also one of the main reasons I loved Melbourne so much. I think more cities around the world should embrace street art, it really gives a city more identity and character.

Old Melbourne Gaol

The Old Melbourne Gaol is Victoria’s oldest surviving prison, and also has an old magistrates court. The Gaol was built in the mid 1800s, and housed some of Australia’s most dangerous criminals.

The Gaol was home to 133 hangings between 1842 until it’s closure in 1929, including the famous Ned Kelly. The Gaol is a really interesting attraction with lots of history, and you can see how the men and women would have lived there all those years ago. The Gaol also provides lots of information about the Aboriginals lives and what they went through.

We found the Gaol really interesting and learnt lots, there were also prison warden actors which were great and made the tour around it more authentic. When visiting Melbourne try and make a trip here. It’s also pretty reasonably priced too, we paid AUS$28 each. There are also some evening and night tours too which look really good and quite spooky!

Queen Victoria Market

The Queen Victoria Market has been around since 1878 and has gone through many changes and controversy over the years and has gone from being a cemetery, livestock market and fruit and vegetable market. Today the market still retains much of its Victorian charm and in its original beautiful building, but now is home to a large array of shops and market stalls ranging from everything and anything.

You can also take foodie tours there too, as there is a huge selection of food and drink stalls there. Lots of it is local produce from nearby farms. We loved visiting here and spent a while wandering around the different stalls, I was in my element as I love shopping and picking up little trinkets everywhere I go. We also went there in the morning for our breakfast on our last day in Melbourne.

Royal Arcade

The Royal Arcade is the oldest arcade in Australia and was opened in 1870. It was also Melbourne’s first arcade. Melbourne has lots of Victorian architecture still today and it’s great to see that they are preserving these beautiful buildings for the next generations.

The Royal Arcade is an upmarket shopping centre with lots of boutiques, gift shops, arts and crafts and coffee shops. This beautiful arcade really reminds me of some of the Victorian arcades which we have here in the UK. If your a shopaholic like me, you need to have a wander through.

The Art of Banksy Exhibition

While we were in Melbourne there was The Art of Banksy Exhibition on at the Federation Square. We couldn’t resist and had to go and visit it, as all of us love street art. Unfortunately the exhibition is no longer running, however it’s always worth seeing what exhibitions are on in Melbourne as there is always something happening in Federation Square. Who knows there may always be another Banksy Exhibition in the future, we were just in Melbourne at the right time.

Food & Beverage

Queen Victoria Market

We visited Queen Victoria Market for some breakfast, I couldn’t resist some mini pancakes! However for any meal or snack this place has so much to offer with lots of local venders and stands offering up some of Melbourne’s most delicious food, and it doesn’t break the bank either.

Ponyfish Island Bar

We visited Ponyfish Island Bar early one evening and it was busy, but don’t let the busyness put you off, we found some seats quite quickly. This is a really quirky bar set on a small island in the Yarra River, it is surrounded by water and great views of the city. You can grab a bite to eat there or just grab a drink and watch the sunset. It’s set under the pedestrian bridge on the southbank and is accessible down some stairs.

Riverland Bar

Riverland Bar is located on the Yarra River just by Birrarung Marr Park. It is a great spot to sit and relax by the river and people watch. We came here for a drink in the afternoon, if you want a bar with outside seating and good location, then head to this bar, we had a jug of pimm’s to share and watched the world go by.

Accommodation

Rendezvous Hotel

We spent 2 nights at the Rendezvous Hotel, the location is excellent and it is right in the heart of the city, set on the busy Flinders Street. The Hotel is basic and not much to write home about, however if you want affordable accommodation in the city centre with clean and comfortable rooms, then this is the hotel for you. We spent about £60 a night here room only, which is a bit of bargain for a room in Melbourne. When staying in a city you hardly spend much time in the room anyway, so I hardly ever see the point in spending out masses.

Transport & Getting Around

Melbourne is a great city for pedestrians I would recommend walking everywhere, and while walking around the city take in the the huge amount of art work this city has to offer.

Melbourne also has lots of public transport from trams, buses and trains so if your not feeling like walking then there is lots of options available and affordable.

City Trams

The trams in the city centre are free for everyone to use. A hue section of the city is covered by these free trams from Melbourne’s CBD to the Docklands, there’s a map that shows the area that is covered by the free trams.

Top Tips

Melbourne is Australia’s cultural capital, this is one of the coolest cities I’ve ever visited. When visiting Melbourne try and have a look at what festivals are on while your visiting as there is always something going on in the city.

Important Information

 

Kangaroo Island Mini Guide

Kangaroo Island is an absolute must when visiting South Australia. I haven’t heard of many people I know visiting it, and really can’t understand why more people don’t travel over to this gorgeous island. It is absolutely stunning and has so much to offer to anyone visiting.

My husband and I travelled to Kangaroo Island a few years back, as my brother in law lives in Adelaide. We decided to fly out to Melbourne to meet him there and spend a few nights there then all drive along the Great Ocean Road together back to Adelaide. We spent a few days in Adelaide and booked a tour over to Kangaroo Island, then spent a few more days back in Adelaide before flying home.

We booked onto the most amazing overnight tour to Kangaroo Island, at the time when booking it seemed quite expensive, but while on the tour we realised how much great value for money the tour actually was. The tour cost approximately £250 each, but included everything. We booked through a company called Groovy Grape which I found out about while reading through the Australia Lonely Planet book.

The tour through Groovy Grape included so much from ferry’s over from Adelaide, overnight accommodation, sand board hire, kayak hire, entrance fees, food and drink and your own tour guide to take you to all the most scenic spots around the island as well as some hiking trails. We all really enjoyed this tour and can’t recommend it enough! If you haven’t got much time then this 2 day tour is the perfect answer.

Below I will be writing about all the places we visited while on the Groovy Grape Kangaroo Island Tour.

Sights & Activities

Admirals Arch

Admirals Arch is a natural landmark on Kangaroo Island. The Arch is a rock bridge which has taken 1000s of years of erosion to create. The arch is located on the southwest coast of the island, and has a beautiful scenic boardwalk which leads up to it.

At the arch you can also view the seal colony living below. It was great to see the seals swimming around in the rock pools and lounging around on the rocks.

Admirals Arch is also the beginning for several hikes throughout the Flinders Chase National Park. The Admirals Arch Boardwalk leads to the Cape du Couedic Lightstation. The Remarkable Rocks which is another natural landmark on Kangaroo Island is also located near by to Admirals Arch.

Clifford’s Honey Farm Shop

We stopped off at Clifford’s Honey Farm Shop, which is a family run honey farm. The Honey Farm Shop provides a selection of honey products, regional produce and also aims to provide information on the unique Ligurian Bee which is found only on Kangaroo Island. The farm shops sells the most delicious honey ice cream which we devoured, it was so tasty! If you stop of here I really recommend trying it.

Flinders Chase National Park

Flinders Chase National Park is a scenic coastal park, which includes lots of natural landmarks such as Admirals Arch and The Remarkable Rocks. The park has lots of wildlife and vast wilderness areas and beautiful wild beaches. There are also lots of hiking trails within the National Park. We really enjoyed exploring the National Park and it’s stunning landmarks.

Harriet River

Harriet River is a large stream that runs through the south central part of Kangaroo Island until it reaches the Southern Ocean at Vivonne Bay. Our tour guide took us here on the second day and supplied us with kayaks to paddle up and down the river with. We really enjoyed the kayaking and this was another great reason to book through this tour as all equipment that was supplied to us was included.

Little Sahara Dunes

Little Sahara Dunes is located in the south of Kangaroo Island set back from Vivonne Bay. The dunes are heritage listed to ensure they are protected and preserved. We visited the dunes after visiting Seal Bay as it’s not too far from there. At the dunes you can sand board down the dunes, the highest one is 70 meters above sea level. The sand board hire is also included in the cost of the tour.

Sand boarding down the dunes was a real laugh as we were messing around with other people on the tour, the only downside to sand boarding is once you have sand boarded down the dunes, you then have to walk back up the dune in the heat, walking back up the dunes is not easy!

Penneshaw

Penneshaw is the main ferry port of Kangaroo Island, and is a beachside Town located on the north of the island. The ferry takes approximately 45 minutes from the Fleurieu Peninsula which is about a 90 minute drive from Glenelg in Adelaide. We didn’t stop long in Penneshaw, but it looked like a really cute and quiet town, there are several attractions here such as a golf course, maritime museum and the towns beach – Hogs Bay.

Pennington Bay

We stopped at Pennington Bay for a quick photo opportunity and stroll along the beach. Pennington Bay sits on the south coast of Kangaroo Island. It is a beautiful bay that is famous for its surfing. Sometimes Dolphins and whales can be spotted swimming off shore. The beach is surrounded by some bush land, which is home to a variety of wildlife too. If your on the Groovy Grape tour you will stop here, however if your visiting kangaroo island on your own be sure to add this beautiful spot to your itinerary.

Seal Bay

Seal Bay is located in the south of Kangaroo Island and is absolutely gorgeous with a beautiful white sandy beach. Seal Bay is a Conservation Park which is home to Australia’s largest sea lion colony. There is so many of them sunbathing along the beach and swimming in and out of the ocean. Aswell as having lots of seals and sea lions that live here there is also a huge amount of seabirds here too.

Seal Bay has a visitor centre at the top of the walkway, the walkway winds through cliffs and sand dunes, here you can also see seals and sea lions getting shade under the boardwalks.

There are tour guides to ensure the safety of the seals and sea lions and to ensure visitors do not get too close to the wildlife. The guides also explain lots of facts about the colony that live here which is really interesting. While on Kangaroo Island I would really recommend a trip here, this was one of the highlights for me, as I absolutely love wildlife.

Snake Lagoon Hike

After our first day of exploring Kangaroo Island, while sitting around having dinner our guide asked if we would all be up for an early start the next day to go to Snake Lagoon. We are so glad we got up early to do the Snake Lagoon Hike as it was really worth it. The hike takes approximately 2 hours return, and is located in The Flinders Chase National Park.

The trail starts by winding through sugar gum trees before then descending into the Rocky River valley. The trail crosses the Rocky River and goes along its bank to the mouth, providing amazing views through the valley and across the Southern Ocean. The beach at the end of the hike is breathtaking, and was one of our favourite spots on Kangaroo Island. We were the only ones on the beach and it was just amazing.

The Remarkable Rocks

The Remarkable Rocks is located in the Flinders Chase National Park, these huge granite boulders have taken millions of years to create through various weather elements. These rock formations are truly stunning and are located on the coast with lots of picturesque views of the coastline and beaches. The Remarkable Rocks was great to see as they are huge in size and like no other rock formations I have seen before.

Accommodation

Flinders Chase Farm Lodge

While on the Groovy Grape tour they organised our accommodation at the Flinders Chase Farm Lodge. The farm is a working farm and set in a typical Australian bush setting, located at the remote west end of Kangaroo Island, and has a great location on the island, as it’s located near most of the main attractions like Flinders Chase National Park, The Remarkable Rocks, and Admirals Arch.

We spent 1 night here which we really enjoyed, the accommodation was basic and we stayed in a dorm with some others from the tour group. We spent the evening having a bbq there which our tour guide cooked up in the kitchen, we even tried kangaroo meat which actually tasted pretty good! Whilst having dinner we did end up sharing some of ours with the local farm residents – the farm dogs!

After dinner we sat and relaxed around a camp fire, and even saw some koalas high up in some of the farms trees. We also got chatting to some of the farms workers which were Swedish backpackers staying there on working visas. So if you are planning a working trip to Australia this farm could be a potential place to stop off and work for a bit.

We slept pretty good here considering it was a dorm and the good thing was the bathroom was attached to the dorm, which was convenient. We did hear something rustling around in the wall in the early hours of the morning we weren’t sure what it was but as the farm is surrounded by lots of wildlife we didn’t mind too much as that sort of thing is to be expected.

The next morning we got up early and our guide prepared us some breakfast in the kitchen to start the day off. Even if I wasn’t on this tour I would recommend staying here as it’s quirky and something different, the farm also offers private rooms too if your not a massive fan of sharing dorms.

Top Tips

My top tips for Kangaroo Island is if you are visiting on a holiday then I would advise if your time constraint to book onto the Groovy Grape 2 day tour as it packs all the main sites into the tour and is great value for money. You literally don’t have to worry about an itinerary, planning, finding your way around and cost as everything is done for you and everything is included in the price.

However if you are travelling around Australia for a while I would recommend spending some time here if you can, we met a couple that were driving around the island in their camper van, and even had a kitten living in their camper van with them that they had rescued on their road trip around Oz.

When visiting Kangaroo Island do take a fly net, I never have even thought about a fly net before until visiting here and how bad the flies were on the Snake Lagoon hike. One of the girls on our tour come fully prepared with one, and I was so jealous that I didn’t have one, they might look ridiculous but they are so practical here! Also be prepared for lots of other bugs, if your biggest fear is bugs like me take some calms.

Important Information

 

Adelaide Mini Guide

Adelaide isn’t the first place that people tend to think of when they think of Australia, normally Sydney, Melbourne and the Gold Coast seem to over shadow this small city in South Australia. I was pleasantly surprised by Adelaide, this quaint city actually has lots to do both in and out of the city.

Adelaide is South Australia’s cosmopolitan city on the coast and has lots of museums and art galleries on offer, as well as hosting lots of major sporting events. Glenelg Beach is a gorgeous beach with lots going on in the town. Kangaroo Island is also easily reached from Adelaide and is an actual must! Adelaide is also known for its many vineyards and fresh farm produce.

My husband and I travelled to Adelaide a few years back, as my brother in law lives in Adelaide. We decided to fly out to Melbourne to meet him there and spend a few nights there then all drive along the Great Ocean Road together back to Adelaide. We spent a few days in Adelaide and also visited Kangaroo Island too then spent a few more days back in Adelaide before flying home.

As my brother in law lives out there and has permanent residency, my husband and I plan to go out to Australia every couple of years and do a new area of Australia and then tag Adelaide onto our trip for a few days to visit him or meet him elsewhere in Australia.

Even though Adelaide might not be the most well known place in Australia, if your travelling around Australia or plan on doing the Great Ocean Road try and allow a few days to visit Adelaide.

Sights & Activities

Adelaide Arcade

Adelaide Arcade is a beautiful Victorian shopping arcade which was built back in 1885, it is located in the heart of Adelaide’s city centre. Today it houses over a 100 unique shops, boutiques and cafes. The decor is stunning and still has its Victorian charm.

Adelaide City Centre

Adelaide City Centre is really nice and easy to get around the city isn’t huge so everything easily accessible by walking. The city itself is surrounded by parks, and in the centre it has a wide range of shops, department stores, boutiques, cafes and eateries as well as host of fine dining on offer. The city itself is also home to South Australia’s Art Gallery.

Glenelg

Glenelg is located 25 minutes tram ride from Adelaide city centre, and is a seaside town which sits on Holdfast Bay. Glenelg has something for everyone with its long sandy beach, shops, sidewalks with lots of cafes and restaurants and it also has a lively bar scene.

We visited Glenelg one afternoon while we were there and would love to go back and visit and explore some more. You can also swim with wild dolphins here which I have done before in New Zealand, but would love to do it here too.

Glenelg has a really nice seaside town charm to it, as well as it being rich in history and still having many of its old colonial buildings still in tact.

There is lots to do in Glenelg you could easily spend a few days here exploring its coast, wildlife and history, and enjoying the seaside appeal of this gorgeous little town.

Gorg Wildlife Park

Gorg Wildlife Park is a family run wildlife park which has been open since 1965. It’s a small park with lots of Australian critters and wildlife to see. You can also cuddle a koala here too, they have set times and dependant on weather conditions to ensure the Koalas don’t become too hot.

You can also walk with wallabies and kangaroos here and feed them. As well as having lots of Australian wildlife here such as Tasmanian devils, wombats, dingos, reptiles and Australian bats and birds there are also other exotic animals, which I have to admit I wasn’t too keen on.

I think this park would be better to just showcase Australian wildlife. They seem to look after the Australian wildlife pretty well with decent enclosures and open spaces, however the exotic animals I didn’t feel were looked after as well and the enclosures weren’t very big.

I think as it’s small I park I feel they would be better just sticking to having small animals and sticking to Australian wildlife. I think by them adding all these non native animals to the park they are trying to do too much. We did really enjoy our afternoon here and if your keen to see koalas and wallabies then this is great little park to visit.

Hahndorf

Hahndorf is a small town located in Adelaide Hills and is Australia’s oldest German settlement. It was originally inhabited by Lutheran migrants who came over in the 1800s to start a new life. It used to produce most of the fruit and vegetables for Adelaide and the surrounding area.

Hahndorf today is now and upmarket town with a pretty high street full of boutiques, cafes, restaurants and bars. The town has lots of German influence which can be seen in its architecture, food and boutiques selling traditional German trinkets and local crafts.

We spent an afternoon here and enjoyed having a drink in one of Handorf’s wine bars and enjoyed a cheese board and wandered around it’s many shops. Hahndorf is a great place to spend a day walking around it’s gorgeous main street and sampling all of its food and wine in the many restaurants and cafes as well as a spot of retail therapy.

Moonlight Cinema

The Moonlight Cinema in Adelaide is a seasonal outdoor cinema which plays new releases and big named films. The cinema normally runs from December to February and is set up in Botanic Park. If your visiting Adelaide while the Moonlight Cinema is on I really recommend it.

It was the best cinema experience we have ever had, it was so relaxing sitting outside on the giant bean bags under the stars watching the film Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. We also bought a picnic with us and got there early and had a lovely spread of nibbles for dinner before the film started. While the film was playing it was pretty magical as there were loads of fire flies flying above us, which just added t the ambience.

Mount Lofty Summit

Mount Lofty Summit is the highest peak of the Mount Lofty Ranges in the Adelaide Hills. It is located just outside of Adelaide, and provides the most amazing panoramic views across the cities skyline and out towards the coast.

At the top of the Summit there is also visitor information aswell as a gift shop and cafe. There is also a few walking trails from here that you can take. When we visited we just went to the summit to have a look at the amazing view. As we were flying back to the UK that night we didn’t have much time to spend here.

Food & Beverage

Gepettos

Gepettos is located in Hahndorf, and is one of my brother in laws favourite restaurants. It serves up traditional rustic Italian food and uses fresh local ingredients sourced locally from around Adelaide. The pizzas here were really fresh and delicious.

Sazon

Sazon is situated in Mount Barker and is a small cafe which serves up great Mexican food with a twist. We came here for breakfast and I had the most tasty sweet corn fritters. This place is great for breakfast or brunch, especially if like us you love Mexican food!

Udder Delights Cheese Cellar

Udder Delights Cheese Cellar is also located in Hahndorf and while here we decided to order a cheese board to share which come with olives, chutney, crackers, nuts, gherkins, meats and a great selection of cheeses. This was perfect sitting outside enjoying the sunshine and having a sharing platter of delicious cheeses in Hahndorf.

Top Tips

My top tip would be if you are thinking of driving the Great Ocean Road, just to carry on driving that little further and head over to Adelaide for a few days. This little city really doesn’t get enough exposure for how good it is and everything that it has to offer it’s visitors.

My other tip would be to plan your trip and work out roughly how much money you will need, as Australia is not cheap and you will end up spending more than what you would in other places you may visit. In Adelaide there are so many great places to eat and drink, try to budget a bit extra so you can splash out on eating out, as the food here is some of the best we have ever had.

Important Information

 

 

New Zealand’s South Island Ultimate Guide

New Zealand was somewhere my husband and I had always dreamed of travelling to. We both managed to get 2 months off work, and decided to go to New Zealand for 5 weeks, and added on the Cook Islands, Hong Kong and Macao towards the end of our trip.

My husband had always wanted to go on a campervan holiday, and New Zealand is best explored by campervan as it caters so well for campers.

We had always wanted to venture to New Zealand but always said we would only go if we could spend at least 3-4 weeks there, as it’s so far away to travel to. We knew we wouldn’t be able to do everything that we wanted to do in just 2 weeks alone. Even though we managed to do all the main sites in 5 weeks, we would both love to travel back and spend some more time there.

When you travel to New Zealand it’s clear to see why it’s a prime location for film and TV sets. New Zealand is unlike anywhere else I have traveled to before. The landscape is so diverse and goes from so many extremes.

The North and South Islands are completely different from one another. The North Island is much more populated than the South Island, although all of New Zealand only has a total population of 4.5 million people. The North Island is home to 3 quarters of the total population and is home to the largest city in New Zealand – Auckland.

The South Island is known for its mountains, lakes, glaciers, the southern alps and a cooler climate. When travelling to New Zealand I would always advise to try and travel to both islands as they are so different from one another.

In this blog I am going to write about the places that we visited in the South Island, and what I would recommend and some helpful tips.

Picton

Picton will be the first Town you come across on the South Island when coming in on the ferry from the North Island. Picton is located in the north of the South Island, and is located within a sound. It is the main Traveller port and is busy in the summer months.

There isn’t a great lot to do in Picton, however there are several museums, and the lovely harbour area. There are also some great restaurants, cafes, bars and boutiques. We spent our first night on the South Island in Picton as we arrived late at night on the ferry. We also spent a few hours walking around Picton when we came back prior to catching the ferry back up to the North Island.

Sights & Activities

Blenheim

Blenheim is a small agricultural town about 15 miles or so from Picton, it’s not the most exciting town however if you have some time to kill before getting the ferry back it’s worth having a wander around.

Pelorus Bridge

As we drove from Nelson to Picton we stopped at Pelorus Bridge it is one of the filming set locations for the film The Hobbit. The Bridge crosses over the Pelorus River and there is a scenic reserve. The river is crystal clear and there are forest glades, waterfalls and rock pools to explore nearby as well as several walks and hikes.

Picton Waterfront

The waterfront area near Picton’s town centre is lovely to walk around on a sunny day, there’s a small beach area, a war monument and some lovely views of the surrounding sound.

Food & Beverage

Cafe Cortado

Cafe Cortado has a prime location on Picton’s Waterfront and has a South American themed menu, and offers a selection of tapas, seafood and pizzas. We didn’t eat here but stopped here for a drink prior to getting the ferry as it has a really good atmosphere here and some outside seating.

Accommodation

Waikawa Bay Kiwi Holiday Park

Waikawa Bay Kiwi Holiday Park is only 5 minutes drive from Pictons ferry terminal, we stopped here for our first night on the South Island and if arriving late it is a great place to stop for the night.

The park offers a range of accommodation options ranging from cabins, self contained units, motel, tent and campervan sites.

The campsite is clean with lots of facilities such as a swimming pool and volleyball court etc. The campsite also offers great views of the bay.

Kaikoura

So the award for my favourite place in the whole of New Zealand goes to Kaikoura! I know it’s a big statement but I completely fell in love with Kaikoura, and it’s breath taking scenery and wildlife, and it’s cute and quirky little high street and the friendly welcoming locals.

We travelled to Kaikoura after arriving in Picton and stopping there for the night. Originally we were only going to stop for a night and ended up staying 3 nights.

Kaikoura is an absolute must when travelling to New Zealand. I also had one of the most amazing and memorable experiences of my life getting to swim with wild dolphins in the ocean, which is honestly one of the best things I have ever experienced.

Here you can also book on whale watching tours which we did but unfortunately due to bad weather the tour was cancelled.

Sights & Activities

Fyffe House

Fyffe House is Kaikoura’s oldest building which has survived since 1844, by colonial settlers using whale bones as foundations. It’s a small two storey cottage with gardens. It is steeped in history and used to be a whaling station. We didn’t go into look around the museum, we just went to have a look at the outside of it, as it is positioned on Kaikoura’s peninsular.

Dolphin Encounter

Kairkoura’s Dolphin Encounter was honestly one of the best experiences of my life. I had always wanted to swim with dolphins but never would have swam with them in captivity, as I don’t agree with it morally. So when I found out you could swim with wild dolphins in New Zealand I knew we had to book on!

The tours have been awarded certificates of conservation, and invest money back into wildlife conservation and research. When we arrived at the centre we got suited and booted into our wetsuits, and were given a safety and information briefing, the video explained that sometimes the dolphins aren’t interested in coming up to humans and that if they did we were really lucky, and it also explained how we were the dolphins entertainment not the other way around.

After the briefing the tour then buses you over to the boats, there are only 3 tours that run a day each with approximately 25 people on which are split between 2 boats, so it doesn’t feel crowded and overly touristy. Once on the boats you get some great views of Kaikoura’s coast and drive out about 30 minutes to find the dolphins. When we found them there was literally thousands of dusky dolphins jumping in and out the water.

The tour company doesn’t feed the dolphins or anything to tempt them over so everything feels very natural, we got into the water and within seconds we had dolphins swimming around us to come and investigate what we were, the tour also advised to make noises as the dolphins are intrigued by new sounds.

This was one of the most amazing experiences of my life getting up close to wild dolphins they are so intelligent and to hear them squeaking and communicating with each other under the water really is a once in a lifetime experience. We also had one dolphin in particular that kept circling us and coming up close to our faces to have a look through our masks. They are truly stunning. We spent a good hour in the water and then moved onto another spot for some more dolphin encounters.

This tour was such good value for money it was approximately NZ$85 which is so worth it, I also think because the tour company down played that it is the dolphins choice to come up to you, I wasn’t expecting too much and the fact the dolphins were so interested it was amazing.

One tip I would suggest is taking sea sickness tablets prior to the trip as both my husband and myself were both sick on the boat along with a few others, other than that this tour is great and is a must when in Kaikoura, try to book in advance to avoid disappointment, as the tours do get booked up quickly, however you can put your name down for any cancellations which is what we did and managed to get on one of the tours luckily.

The same company which offers the dolphin encounter also offers tours such as a seal encounter and an albatross tour. If you have time it would be worth booking onto one of these too, as there is so much wildlife to see in Kaikoura.

Kaikoura High Street

Kaikoura’s small high street is full of quirky charm and is so cute. It has lots of great little places to eat and some great boutiques and gift shops. While staying in Kaikoura make sure to park up and have a wander up and down, and chat to the friendly locals.

Kaikoura Musuem

The Kaikoura Museum is newly refurbed and opened just after the earthquake in 2016, it used to be in a small building just outside of the town, now it is in the town centre in a brand new purpose built building and has tons of information about Kaikoura, it’s history and it’s residence.

The museum has tons of artefacts and memorabilia covering a variety of topics from nature, Maori and colonial, Kaikoura’s history and other quirky artefacts. You can easily spend an hour or so visiting this museum and it is run by some friendly locals who can tell you lots more information about the area.

Point Kean Seal Colony

The Seal Colony in Kaikoura is a must, it’s free and great to see the seals in their natural habitat. There are some amazing views of the coast here and a few small walks to do near by. You can also see tons of sea birds too. Just make sure to wrap up warm, when we went it was a particularly windy day! We also managed to stumble into a seagull nesting ground and nearly got savaged by protective parents so take care!

Southern Paua & Pacific Jewels

Southern Paua and Pacific Jewels is a large shop at the end of the high street which sells Paua Shells and a variety of jewellery. If you are looking for some souvenirs to take home, this shop is great and just next door is a really cute and quirky gift shop and retro hair dressers, they also have surf boards and surf wear for sale and hire. While wandering up the high street go and check it out, there is also parking right outside too.

Whale Watch Kaikoura

Whale Watch Kaikoura is meant to be amazing we heard so many good reviews about this tour. We booked onto the tour however unfortunately due to bad weather the tours got cancelled that day and it was our last day in Kaikoura, we were so disappointed that we didn’t get chance to go, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you visit Kaikoura be sure to add this to your to do list.

Food & Beverage

Bean Me Up

If your like my husband and need constant coffee pick me ups this quirky little coffee stall along the high street is great and serves up a selection of drinks and snacks and has a small seating area too.

Kaikoura Bakery

This cute little bakery in Kaikoura has a huge range of pastries, cakes, sandwiches, pies and much much more. If you want a little snack for on the go or a quick and easy breakfast or lunch snack then this place is a great find. It’s cheap and cheerful and fuss free. I really recommend the pies on a cold day to warm you up.

Kaikoura Seafood BBQ

This has to be one of the best food stalls I have visited, the location is lovely and overlooks the sea, the food is fresh and delicious. It’s no frills but that adds to the charm of this little place and it’s great value for money for what you get and great if your on a budget.

The Craypot

The Craypot is a restaurant and pub with a great selection of food and drinks. We didn’t stop here for food but did stop in here for a few drinks as it had a lovely little sofa area complete with crochet throws to kick back and relax on after a day out at sea.

Tiki Takeaways

Tiki Takeaways is towards the end of the high street and serves up tasty fish and chips as well as some other fast food options. This has to be one of the cheapest places we ate at in New Zealand for 2 portions of fish and chips it came to approximately £7. It was one of the best fish and chips we had ever had and if your in New Zealand for a while food costs can start to add up a bit so it’s great to find little cheap places to eat that deliver great food.

Accommodation

Kaikoura Alpine Pacific Kiwi Holiday Park

We stayed in Kaikoura Alpine Pacific Kiwi Holiday Park for 3 nights, like all other Kiwi parks it has excellent facilities and a good location. We signed up to the Kiwi card here which gave us discount on the dolphin encounter which was well worth it. While sleeping 1 night here we did experience a small earthquake tremor which can be expected, as Kaikoura is still experiencing a few aftershock tremors from its 2016 earthquake.

Christchurch

Christchurch wasn’t my favourite city in New Zealand that we visited. However I loved all the street art around everywhere, and just walking around the city there is so much colourful art to see. I didn’t feel there was tons of things to see here so we only spent half a day in Christchurch.

Christchurch is still undergoing lots of rebuilding work from the damage of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. While we were there it was great to see it bouncing back and tons being invested back into the city. There is so many repurposed shipping containers and lots of new modern buildings, you can’t come to the South Island without making a stop in Christchurch.

Sights & Activities

Cathedral Square

Cathedral Square is located in Christchurch’s city centre, and it has the remains of the Christchurch Cathedral which was brought down by the 2011 earthquakes, which destroyed its stain glass windows and 63meter high spire. Many of the heritage buildings which were also set around the square were also badly damaged.

There is still much debate going on with what to do with the ruins of the Christchurch cathedral some want it rebuilt, while others want it adapted and others want it removed completely. At the moment you can still go and see the ruins.

A modern sculpture which survived the earthquakes was the Chalice which was created in 2001 to commemorate the new millennium.

Christchurch City Centre

Christchurch city centre is a great place to walk around it’s so colourful considering all the damage that the earthquakes caused. Christchurch has an amazing street art scene, it’s a great city to with lots of artwork to take in. In the city centre you can see the old fashioned trams still running too.

Christchurch still has lots of building work continuing and you can still see lots of damage from the 2011 earthquakes.

Re:Start Mall

Re:Start Mall is really quirky and was created after the 2011 earthquakes. It’s made out of lots of repurposed shipping containers. It has a variety of little boutiques and shops ranging from fashion and big brands to gift shops and local arts and crafts.

Food & Beverage

Re:Start Mall

The Re:Start Mall also has a selection of street food stalls selling everything you can think of from Italian, greek, middle eastern, Mexican and Asian cuisine along with many others. While we were here we tried out J-Bings which offer Chinese street food wraps, they are absolutely delicious and have crunchy wonton crisps inside.

Twizel

Twizel is a great town to base yourself for all of the natural scenes just outside of the town. I have to admit Twizel wasn’t my most favoured of places we stayed in. I found the town to be a bit dull, and a little bit dated, however don’t let that put you off as it’s a great base to explore other areas around it, as it is really central to everything to see around this part of New Zealand, as well as having a few little restaurants and bars to keep you occupied in the evenings.

Sights & Activities

Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki is the largest of 3 almost parallel alpine lakes running along the northern edge of the Mackenzie Basin. Lake Pukaki is a glacial lake that lies beneath Mount Cook. Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo are roughly 30 minutes drive apart and driving between them you can take in breath taking views of the mountain ranges. As well as a gorgeous viewing point at Lake Pukaki there is also lots of tramping tracks around this area to explore.

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is also located in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island and lays at the base of the southern alps. The lake is absolutely stunning with snow peaked mountains and the turquoise blue waters of the Lake. The lake is also a hydro lake producing electricity for New Zealand’s main grid.

Tekapo is part of the largest Dark Sky Reserve in the world, meaning the night’s sky is unbelievably clear to see stars, and sometimes even the Southern Lights. There are several stargazing tours you can book onto. Lake Tekapo is the second largest of 3 lakes running north to south along the northern edge of the Mackenzie Basin, the others are Lake Pukaki and Lake Ohau.

At the southern end of Lake Tekapo township, is the stone Church of the Good Shepherd, which is a popular tourist attraction.

Lindis Pass

Lindis Pass is a Road that links up the Mackenzie Basin to central Otago. The Road runs through stunning valleys and at certain times of the year you can see snow peaked mountains. There are some of the best views here, the landscape is vast and unspoilt, it makes you really realise how small we are in comparison.

Driving along Lindis Pass is a must, this is one of the reasons we loved our road trip around New Zealand because of the empty roads like this, with the most stunning landscapes that you can enjoy while driving along on the open road, with lots of places to pull over and admire the surroundings.

Mount Cook

Mount Cook is a 700 square kilometre mountain range and national park, it is part of a world heritage area. A large area of the park has snow covered mountains all year round. Mount Cook itself is New Zealand’s largest mountain.

When visiting Mount Cook pay a visit to the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre located in the Mount Cook Village, there is a whole range of information and displays in there as well as information and advice on weather, tracks and helpful tips etc. There is also a gift shop and booking agent there too.

Unfortunately when we went up there the weather took a turn, and was raining and really misty so we didn’t walk along on any of the bush walks as visibility was not good. Instead we drove along the Mountain ranges. We were really disappointed and this is somewhere we would love to go back to and visit.

New Zealand Alpine Lavender Farm

New Zealand Alpine Lavender Farm is another great place to stop off at on the way to Mount Cook. It’s got a large beautiful field filled with lavender, and a small farm shop selling lots of lavender products from soaps, toiletries, bath salts and other souvenirs. It’s free to enter and to take some great photos, it’s also got some seating to relax in and enjoy the lovely smell of lavender.

Lupin Fields

Lupin fields are located as your driving into Twizel and the surrounding areas. Lupins are gorgeous bright coloured purple, pink and blue flowers which bloom between November – December. It’s lovely to see fields and fields of beautiful bright flowers in bloom, it’s also a great photograph opportunity.

Food & Beverage

Jasmine Thai Restaurant

If your a big Thai food fan like myself then go Jasmine Thai restaurant for your Thai food fix, they have a large selection of Thai food on their menu it’s simple and non fussy and well priced. It’s also located in the centre of Twizel town.

Ministry of Works Bar & Eatery

Ministry of Works Bar and Restaurant is a must go to if your craving comfort food. It’s menu ranges from pizzas, chicken wings to burgers etc. It’s portions are a good size so you definitely won’t leave feeling hungry. It’s also a great place to go for a drink after a long day of exploring the wilderness and nature beyond Twizel.

Accommodation

Twizel Holiday Park

Twizel Holiday Park is a small holiday park which also offers a selection of cabins. The grassed site was really nice and we parked up in a lovely spot underneath a tree. The shower and kitchen facilities were also clean and well equipped too. Twizel Town centre is just a few minutes up the road.

Wanaka

When visiting Queenstown and Wanaka a lot of people compare them. However I found even though they have a lot of similarities with both of them sitting on a beautiful lake setting, and gorgeous mountain range overlooking the towns. Both towns have quite a different astmoshere and draw different crowds, Wanaka is also cheaper in comparison to Queenstown.

My husband absolutely fell in love with Wanaka it was his favourite place in New Zealand after Milford Sound. The town has quite a laid back atmosphere with lots of sophisticated bars and restaurants.

Sights & Activities

Bradrona

Bradrona is a quirky tourist attraction, we drove past it as we were leaving Wanaka. It’s a long fence covered with hanging bras to raise money for breast cancer. It started out as just a few random bras that just appeared there, and over time more and more kept getting added. In 2015 they rebranded it Bradrona and placed donation boxes to raise money. Pull over and make a donation and get a great photo op here.

Lake Wanaka

On a hot day Lake Wanaka is just the perfect area to relax. The views of the lake and mountains are just breathtaking, and the lake is so clear and clean it’s perfect to go for a dip or take a swim to cool off. There is a rocky beach to sunbathe on and have a picnic too.

As well as lots of rest and relaxing on Lake Wanaka, if you do like a bit more action there are water sports readily available, such as paddle boarding and kayaking etc. There are lots of hiking and tramping trails around Lake Wanaka, if you don’t like sitting still for to long.

When we visited it was a lovely hot day and we spent all day lounging around and swimming in the lake, and made a picnic which we enjoyed with the most incredible views. If you do have time I would recommend just spending a full day relaxing and enjoying the lake as it really is beautiful.

That Wanaka Tree

Just around from the main rocky beach there is a small car park where you can go see the famous Wanaka Tree also known as the Lone Tree, it is one of the most photographed areas in Wanaka.

Wanaka Artesian Farmers Market

Every Thursday between 3pm – 6pm Wanaka hosts an Artesian Farmers Market. Which is held on the green just in front of the Lake, there is a selection of stalls selling arts and crafts as well as farmers selling fresh produce and artesian foods. It’s got an excellent atmosphere so if you are in Wanaka on a Thursday go and take a wander over to it.

Food & Beverage

Amigos Mexican Grill

If like us you love Mexican food go to Amigos. They have a huge selection and variety of tacos which were delicious, as well as cocktails. There is also a good choice of sides which were only NZ$5 each.

Big Fig

Big Fig restaurant is a very hipster restaurant but we loved it in there. It serves up fresh organic food which is quick and delicious. You choose the size bowl you want and then choose what you want to fill it with from the counter. It was well decorated and casual inside it was a little pricey for what was basically a posh cafe but the food was so tasty. You can eat in or take away.

Speights Ale House

Speights Ale House is a chain around New Zealand it’s similar to Wetherspoons like we have here in the UK. The drinks are affordable and they have a variety of beers and other drinks on offer. In Wanaka the Speights there has an excellent location, right in the town centre overlooking the lake, and has an outside seating area which is always good on a hot day. The staff here were also really friendly and welcoming.

Accommodation

Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park

Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park is located 5 minutes drive away from the centre of Wanaka town. Its location is ideal and has lovely green pitches and lots of trees. Again as it is a Kiwi holiday park all facilities were to an excellent standard, which we found at all Kiwi parks we stayed at.

Te Anau

We stayed in Te Anau over Christmas as it’s a great location for visiting Milford Sound, as the Milford Sound area only has one DOC campsite which has no shower facilities. So most people tend to use Te Anau as a base as it is the gateway to Fiordland.

The town sits on Lake Te Anau which is New Zealand’s second largest lake. The lake was gauged out by a glacier and the lake itself is extremely deep.

Te Anau is a pretty sleepy town but it does have a reasonably good selection of bars and restaurants as well as a high street with a selection of little shops.

Sights & Activities

Lake Te Anau

Lake Te Anau is stunning like most of New Zealand’s lakes it has a beautiful backdrop of forested mountains. There isn’t much going on in or around the lake, but it’s lovely to take a stroll along and we also grabbed some chai lattes from a nearby cafe and went and sat on one of the benches down by the lake admiring the view and watching the world go by.

Punanga Manu O Te Anau

Punanga Manu O Te Anau is a free bird sanctuary with large aviaries set by the lake. It gives visitors the chance to see some of New Zealand’s rarest birds which normally would be difficult to spot in the wild. There is an information board and donation box by the entrance which provides information on the work they do here. It’s not very large and you could spend an hour or so here.

Milford Sound

A trip to New Zealand isn’t complete without a visit to Milford Sound. Milford Sound is stunning and you will probably find you haven’t been anywhere quite like it in the world. With huge mountains rising out of the waters, cliffs covered in forests and cascading waterfalls. Milford Sound is unique as it has freshwater sitting on top of warmer seawater and attracts a variety of marine life.

We stayed in Te Anau on Christmas Day and booked a kayaking tour for Milford Sound for Boxing Day, it was an early start but so worth it. There isn’t really anywhere to stay in or around Milford Sound, so most people tend to stay in Te Anau or Queenstown and normally day trip there.

We decided to book the Milford Cruiser Tour with Roscos Milford Kayaks which started at 8.30am, so we left Te Anau early as it takes about 2 hours to get there and wanted to allow abit of extra time to make sure we found it ok. We didn’t fancy the packed tourist boats and really wanted to be as close to the water as possible. My top tip would be to book onto an early tour so you beat the busy bus loads of people coming into Milford Sound.

The tandem Kayaks were excellent as my husband did most the paddling while I sat and chilled and took lots of photos. Roscos take you out in small groups with approximately 8-10 people at a time and they give you a full safety briefing before hand, as well as kitting you out with thermals and waterproofs and everything you will need out on the water.

I cannot recommend Roscos enough this to us was the best way to see Milford Sound in all its glory, it really does make you feel so small in comparison. We were also lucky enough to see some dolphins right by our kayaks. The guide explained that sometimes Dolphins come right into the sound to clean themselves of any parasites in the freshwater. Seeing dolphins that close to our Kayaks was the cherry on top for me.

Mirror Lakes

Mirror Lakes is a good place to stop off on your way to or way back from Milford Sound. These small lakes provide amazing reflective views of the Earl Mountains. This is an easy walk suited to all ages and only 5 minutes walk from the car park. There are some wooden viewing platforms along the lakes and on a calm and sunny day the reflections are really clear.

The Chasm Walk

The Chasm Walk is another great place to stop at while visiting Milford Sound. There are 2 foot bridges over the Cleddau River which offer great views of a series of powerful waterfalls, which also allow you to see into the large gorge. Over 1000s of years of swirling water the rocks have been sculpted into various shapes. The sheer power of the water gives you an idea of how much rainfall there is in the Milford Sound area.

The walk is only a 20 minute loop on a path through a forested area. I really enjoyed stopping off at all these places on the way back from Milford Sound there is just so much to see in this area.

The Milford Road

The Milford Road was one of the most impressive and stunning roads we drove along in New Zealand with huge Mountains, plunging waterfalls and temperate forests there is so many places to pull over at to admire the pure beauty and wilderness of the area.

On clear days watch out for Keas which are New Zealand parrots. These parrots are very confident and land on your car and try to get in hoping to get some food. We had 2 land on our campervan and even attempt to get in our open window, they definitely aren’t shy and are used to tourists feeding them.

Food & Beverage

Miles Better Pies

Miles Better Pies is located right in the town centre of Te Anau. It has a huge selection of pies available both savoury and sweet. When we visited there didn’t appear to be any vegetarian savoury pies available so I had a blueberry and apple pie, however if your a meat eater there was a wide selection of pies available including lamb and venison. The pies are cheap and cheerful and make a great on the go lunch or snack, there is a few seats inside and outside of the cafe, however taking it down to eat by the lake is much nicer.

Olive Tree Cafe

Olive Tree Cafe is located along the high street in the town centre and is a lovely cafe/restaurant. It has a small courtyard out the back which is great on a sunny day. They have a large menu offering a wide variety of dishes, I had the vegetarian stack which was full of flavour. All the food was beautifully prepared and delicious and the staff were warm and friendly.

Accommodation

Te Anau Top 10 Holiday Park

We stayed at the Te Anau Top 10 Holiday Park Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It is a small park but with great facilities like all other Top 10. It has a great location right opposite Lake Te Anau. The best part about this holiday park were the hot tubs which face out to the lake. As a treat we booked a hot tub on Christmas Eve, and sat in it with some beer and wine. The hot tubs were great and so affordable at a mere NZ$15 each, and as we were the last customers of the day the receptionist said we could have it for as long as we wanted and no rush, which was a great way to finish our Christmas Eve.

Queenstown

Queenstown really does have it all, it’s a small town with a big attitude. Queenstown is a tourist hotspot in New Zealand, and when you come here you will soon see why it attracts so many tourists from all around the world.

Queenstown is an adrenaline junkies ultimate fix with tons of extreme activities on offer ranging from bungee jumps to skydiving. Queenstown also has a stunning location set on Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by gorgeous mountains it looks like a picture postcard.

There is so much to do in Queenstown from exploring its natural beauty and coves, extreme sports, bars and restaurants and lively nightlife and there is so much to see and do in and around Queenstown and the outskirts including vineyards and golf courses. Queenstown really does have something to offer everyone and expect crowds all year round.

Queenstown is also very popular amongst Brits this was one area in New Zealand where we come across so many familiar accents. If your looking for a working holiday Queenstown definitely has lots of jobs going as most shops, bars and restaurants we went in we seemed to be served by British people over on a working visa.

To complete your epic trip to New Zealand make sure Queenstown is firmly on your itinerary.

Sights & Activities

Arrowtown

Arrowtown is located about a 20 minute drive from Queenstown and many day trippers tend to visit Arrowtown. Arrowtown started to become populated in the 1860s when gold was discovered in the Arrow River.

Arrowtown still has 60 of its original gold rush buildings lining the street. Arrowtown today is more of a tourist hot spot and has a great selection of shops and restaurants on offer. The Chinese settlement here is also very interesting to go and see, and has lots of information on the history of the area and migrants that worked there all those years ago.

When staying in Queenstown take a trip out to Arrowtown as it really does take you back in time and is a great little place to spend a morning or afternoon.

Arthur’s Point

Arthur’s Point is a rural area just 5 minutes away from Queenstown centre. A lot of people base themselves here as it’s close to Queenstown centre but without the price tag. There is also several things to do here such as the Jetover Jet Boat, which we watched speeding down the water under the large bridge in Arthur’s Point.

Blue Pools

The Blue Pools can be reached from either Queenstown or Wanaka. We visited Blue Pools after we left Queenstown as we headed up towards the west coast. The Blue Pools are deep river pools that are located where the Blue River joins the Makarora River.

The walk to the pools is about 15 minutes each way from the main entrance point. There is also a suspension bridge across them which can only hold a certain amount of people at each time.

There are also several walking tracks around the Blue Pools. When we visited we just went to see the pools and to walk around them, the pools are beautiful and the colour of blue is insane the pools are the brightest shade of blue.

Fantail Falls

Fantail Falls are not far from the Blue Pools, so you can easily do both on the same day. Fantail Falls can also be reached from Queenstown or Wanaka, we visited these Falls after leaving Queenstown, and went to the Falls after visiting the Blue Pools.

The Fantail Falls is a fan shaped waterfall that is fed by Fantail Creek from the Haast River. The Falls only take 5 minutes to reach from the car park. The Falls are good place to stop at but you don’t need to spend long here, it’s great to see the Falls and the dozens and dozens of stacked up rocks that people have piled up all around the area.

Frankton

Frankton is a small suburb and town on the outskirts of Queenstown, and also home to Queenstown airport. There may not be much going on in Frankton itself, however around Frankton and the surrounding areas there are so many beautiful views of the mountains. Coming into Queenstown we pulled up on so many occasions to admire the views.

Glenorchy

Glenorchy is only about 45 minutes drive from Queenstown and the drive is known as the drive to paradise. It’s a small town with beautiful surrounding and mountains and sits on the north end of Lake Wakatipu.

Some of the scenes from Lord of the Rings were shot around Glenorchy and if your a big fan you will probably recognise some of areas around Glenorchy. You really get the sense your in middle earth when visiting here the mountain views are breathtaking.

Glenorchy has lots of walks and tramping options to explore. You can download a free walking brochure from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. We decided on one of the easier walks which was the Glenorchy Walk Way which took about 1 hour. This walk way was amazing as we saw so many great views of the lake, mountains, lagoon and some of Glenorchys swamps. Around the swamps there are some boardwalks and seating areas.

There is also a small Red boat house set on the lake in Glenorchy which is one of the most photographed in this area and is iconic to Glenorchy.

Lake Wakatipu

Queenstown sits on Lake Wakatipu, the lake was one of the best lakes I’ve visited the crystal clear waters are beautiful. Lake Wakatipu is huge and has 212km of shoreline and tons of stoney coves to explore. Not only is the lake huge it’s also extremely deep and has 5 rivers flowing into the lake.

Lake Wakatipu is also the second most purest lake in the world after Blue Lake in New Zealand. Scientists have tested the water and it’s almost 100% pure. It’s so clean that you can drink the water straight from the lake, the water is also extremely cold.

While in Queenstown take a 5 minute drive around to Sunshine Bay there’s a quiet rocky beach. While your there you can also walk a small trail along the Sunshine Bay walk which provides you with more excellent views over Lake Wakatipu.

Queenstown Centre

Queenstown has so much to offer from lots of brand shops to quirky boutiques, high end restaurants to cheap eats and of course one of its main draws is it’s good selection of bars and pubs which seems to be the large draw for the many brits working here. Just walking around the centre of Queenstown is great and you can easily spend hours exploring this great buzzing town.

Queenstown Gardens

Queenstown Gardens is set right on its own little peninsular at the front of Queenstown Bay, and was created back in 1876 by the victorians. The beautiful gardens are really well kept and maintained.

There are some beautiful rose gardens, and this garden is great to walk through on a hot day. There’s lots going on in these gardens from bowls, tennis, frisbee golf etc. The park attracts a whole range of different people who come to enjoy the pretty garden settings for picnics, afternoon lazing and catching up with friends. The park also has several memorials too.

Skyline Gondola

The Skyline Gondola is a must do when in Queenstown it’s one of the top attractions. The Skyline Gondola gives some great views over Queenstown on the way up and on the way back down, there is a whole complex at the top with a cafe, restaurant, souvenir shop, observation deck, luge, bungy and ledge swing. The Gondola is the steepest in the Southern Hemisphere and takes you over 450 meters over Queenstown.

We booked the Gondola pass which included a ride on the luge as wasn’t much more expensive. We paid approximately NZ$40 each we saved a few dollars on top of this as we prebooked our tickets at the campsite we stayed at. A lot of accommodation providers offer discounts to top attractions so it’s always worth asking at your accommodation front desk.

The luge is a must and is great fun, while up there you can buy tickets which allows you several go’s on it, however we were happy with just going on the once.

The Bead Shop

If your a girly girl like me and love accessories and jewellery The Bead Shop is the place for you. I dragged my husband in here for like a good hour why I browsed through all the beads and made my own bracelets for a few friends back home, and of course for myself. It’s really reasonably priced and so much choice and great that you can make your own jewellery how you want it. Even if your not into jewellery but know someone back home who is, it’s the place to pick up a gift and even make one for someone.

Underwater Observatory

The Underwater Observatory is a reverse aquarium where the people are behind the glass and it’s a chance to see what lives in Lake Wakatipu. The observatory is located right in the heart of Queenstown on the bay. It’s only NZ$10 each and was really quiet when we went, we were the only ones in there.

We saw so many fish in the lake from trouts, eels and lots of diving ducks. There’s a food release box which is coin operated where you can feed the fish. I really enjoyed the observatory as I love wildlife and was great to see what lies beneath the lakes water.

Food & Beverage

Fergburger

The hype around Fergburger is insane, with a minimum 45 minute queue outside just to order and people returning and saying it was the best burger they have ever had. We had to see what all the fuss was about. Time and time again you will see Fergburger appearing in guidebooks, one of the must places to eat in Queenstown and so many recommendations. Even though we weren’t impressed with the wait I really wanted to try it.

My husband and myself ordered Bun Laden Burger (Veggie Burger for me), Ferg Deluxe Burger, fries and onion rings. We enjoyed the meal when we eventually got it after waiting for it. You have to queue literally for about 45 minutes just to order the food they then give you a ticket with your order number on. We went and sat in a bar as they have an online tracker to tell you when it’s ready so you don’t have to wait there. In total we waited about an hour and half for the food. There isn’t much seating in Fergburger so we perched up on a wall outside to eat it. They were good burgers but are they really worth the wait?! My husband and myself both didn’t think so and we couldn’t quite understand all the hype around Fergburger?!

Yes they were tasty but not really worth all the effort of queuing up for and then waiting longer with your order number. Apparently a lot of locals say that Devil Burger is just as good as Fergburger and less busy.

I would recommend Fergburger if it was quieter and if you can get there before the busy rush then give it ago, however I wouldn’t go back to it again. Worth trying for yourself and see what you think and if it’s worth all the hype. You can also call and place your order over the phone if you really don’t want to queue, wish we had done this and saved the time.

If you want to experience some of the Ferg hype, without all the waiting why not try Fergbaker and Mrs Fergs next door for tons of baked treats, pies and gelato.

Mrs Fergs

After Fergburger we went into Mrs Fergs next door which is less crowded and doesn’t have the crazy queues! We treated ourselves to some of their yummy gelato for our dessert.

1876

1876 is a bar and restaurant in Queenstown’s old stone courthouse and serves up a selection of pub grub, beers and drinks. 1876 has a great atmosphere and has a outside seating area. This pub also offers an excellent happy hour too and is great for pre dinner drinks. If your on a budget and don’t want to spend a fortune on a few drinks then head to this place, even if your not there in time for happy hour, the drinks are reasonable and there are normally offers on.

Accommodation

Creeksyde Queenstown Holiday Park

Creeksyde has an excellent location in Queenstown and is really central. It’s only about a 5-10 minute walk from the centre of Queenstown. The campsite has a garden setting with quirky reception and shared amenities building. The price per night was slightly more than what we had paid at other campsites, and we might have been able to get a campsite slightly cheaper out of town, however it was nice we could walk everywhere and just leave the campervan there all day.

The facilities were really clean here and the staff at reception were really helpful. If your looking to book any Queenstown attractions ask the reception as on some of the main attractions they have special offers and discounts for guests staying at the campsite.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier was great to go and see as some people tend to choose between Fox Glacier and Franz Josef, and I’m so glad we decided to do both. I would really recommend that if you have time to try and see both glaciers.

Fox Glacier is a small and quiet town with not much going on, other than a few shops and restaurants to cater for the tourists visiting the glacier. Fox Glacier town feels smaller and has a little less going on than that of Franz Josef in comparison.

Sights & Activities

Fox Glacier Lookout

There are all types of different options to go and see Fox Glacier from glacier hiking tours, walk ways and helicopter tours etc. We decided we just wanted to go to the look out as the tours can be quite pricey, and we wanted to spend a bit more time in Franz Josef. The look out is one of the best view points from land to see the glacier, however with the retreat of Fox Glacier you can just see a small part of it.

The walk to the Glacier from the car park is about 1 hour return but is a leisurely walk through a valley and you get some amazing views.

Food & Beverage

Bigfoot Bar & Restaurant

I wasn’t a massive fan of the campsite, however the restaurant and bar was actually alright. They serve up typical pub grub comfort food in a casual atmosphere. Bigfoot Restaurant serves up a good selection of beer and cocktails, and their food menu has a good choice ranging from pizza, fish and chips and some various meat options such as wings, ribs etc.

Cafe Neve

The cafe is located right in the town centre and serves up a good selection of drinks and cakes and other sweet treats as well as offering a savoury food menu including pizza. We stopped in here to get a chai latte before heading to the glacier.

This cafe isn’t anything overly exciting however in such a small town where there isn’t a lot of choice this is definitely a good place to grab a bite to eat or drink on the go.

Accommodation

Bigfoot Bar & Restaurant

The Bigfoot Bar & Restaurant was probably the worst campsite we stayed in and I’ll use the word campsite loosely, it was just their car park you park up and camp in. The facilities were ok but a little run down and tired looking. We left the accommodation to last minute and the campsites we did want to stay in were fully booked so we ended up here.

I would recommend avoiding staying here if possible unless your desperate, or you have a real urge to stay in a carpark and be stumbling distance back to your camper from the bar!

Franz Josef

Franz Josef is a must I really enjoyed our stay here, it has a bit more going on than Fox Glacier but i would recommend if you have time to try and see both glaciers as they both offer a stunning natural walk up to the glaciers and I enjoyed seeing both. There are some great little restaurants and bars in Franz Josef as well as the west coast wildlife centre which was great.

Sights & Activities

Ka Roimata O Hine Hukatere Track

Ka Roimata O Hine Hukatere Track is a really great and easy way to see the glacier. The walk is suitable for everyone and follows a rocky riverbed path, as you walk along you can also take in some waterfalls too. The walk takes approximately 1 and half hour return back to the car park.

We both really enjoyed this walk and the view of the Glacier was great even though the glacier has retreated it was still amazing to see the size of it.

Peters Pool

While visiting the Franz Josef Glacier viewpoint after returning back to the car park you can do a small walk to Peters Pool. It’s a small walk that goes through the temperate rainforest to a small kettle lake. The walk only takes 20 minutes return and is really worth seeing after you visit the glacier.

West Coast Wildlife Centre

The West Coast Wildlife Centre is a small and unique wildlife centre in Franz Josef, it’s a small centre but with a big purpose of trying to breed 2 of the world’s rarest kiwi birds. There is also several other native wildlife exhibits. Once you have paid admission which is about NZ$40 each you can come and go to the centre as many times as you like within 24 hours.

There is a bush walk through enclosure which has Kiwi birds living inside just make sure to be really quiet and turn off your flash light as the centre are trying to make their habitat as close to the one they have in the wild, and eventually these kiwis will be released when they are old enough.

My husband and I decided to pay a little extra and get the backstage pass, where you get a tour of the incubation and hatching rooms and get to see the hand reared baby kiwis. Tours are limited to 8 people so try and book in advance so you can get the time slot you would prefer.

We went back several times to see the kiwis in the enclosure. It’s a great little centre with tons of information on offer and the fact you can go back as many times as you like so if you have no luck seeing the kiwis the first time it’s good to know you can try again within that 24 hour period.

Food & Beverage

The Copper Pot

The Copper Pot is along the main little street in Franz Josef. It’s honestly one of the best curries I’ve ever had, it doesn’t quite fit with the Franz Josef scene however it was quite bleak and chilly when we visited Franz Josef, so what better way to get warmed up than with a curry. The staff were warm and friendly and the food was delicious and reasonably priced too.

Snakebite Brewery

Snakebite Brewery is right in the centre of Franz Josef and offers craft bars along with Asian street food. We didn’t eat here but stopped here for a drink and there’s an outside seating area which is nice to chill in after an afternoon of walking.

Accommodation

Franz Josef Top 10 Holiday Park

Like all other Top 10 Holiday Parks you always know your going to get a clean and comfortable campsite with excellent facilities and a good location. We mainly stayed at Kiwi holiday parks as we had the membership card but from time to time we stayed in a Top 10. The Franz Josef Top 10 Holiday Park was clean and the showers were great!

Greymouth

Greymouth is the west coasts largest town. We spent New Year’s Eve here and it was a particularly grey and miserable rainy day. So we weren’t blown away with greymouth to say the least. There isn’t a much to do here, however there are tons of diversions close by and interesting attractions nearby.

Greymouth is also the start or end depending which way you go of Arthur’s Pass. Greymouth is a great place to base yourself for Arthur’s Pass and the many attractions near by.

Sights & Activities

Greymouth to Punakaiki

The drive between Greymouth and Punakaiki is stunning, the highway offers the most beautiful views of the coast, with lots of coves and rocky bays on one side of the road and on the other steep bushy hills.

Pancake Rocks

Pancake Rocks has an easy 15 minute walk looping around it, we loved the Pancake Rocks we have never seen anything quite like it. Located in Punakaiki these rocks have been through a weathering process which has carved the limestone into what looks like piles of pancakes which gives it the name. Try to make it for high tide, and witness the swills in the caverns and blowholes. It really makes you realise just how powerful the ocean is.

Food & Beverage

The Gap Cafe

The Gap Cafe is located in the centre of Greymouth and offers a great selection of cakes and scones. As well as hot lunches and vegetarian options. It has a homely feel to it and staff are friendly.

Accommodation

Greymouth Seaside Top 10 Holiday Park

We stayed at Greymouth Seaside Top 10 Holiday Park over New Years and it was clean and quiet like all Top 10 and Kiwi holiday parks they are always a high standard of cleanliness and facilities available.

Unfortunately the weather was miserable on New Years and there didn’t seem to be much going on in Greymouth so we decided to go wild (being sarcastic) and order a Dominoes delivery to our camper van and watched a film on the tablet. It was actually a great way to see in the new year as naff as it sounds, just being in New Zealand in our camper van which I came to love, and with my husband chilling, it was just perfect, and it helped that the holiday park had everything we needed.

We even managed to get a good space near to the showers so when it was raining I was able to make a dash to the toilet from the camper van.

Nelson

Nelson is a tourist hotspot attracting both Kiwis and international tourists. It offers a great climate and excellent beaches. Nelson has quite a big art scene and offers a number of galleries and a number of craft boutiques. Nelson has a bustling town centre with lots to keep you busy and occupied.

Sights & Activities

Nelson Town Centre

If like me you like browsing around boutiques and quirky shops head into Nelsons town centre for an afternoon, on one of the days we were there the weather wasn’t ideal so we decided to have a walk around the town centre and grab some lunch. There is an array of great little boutiques and quirky shops and gift shops here. There are also some lovely cafes to grab a hot drink and a slice of cake.

Tahuna Beach

Tahuna Beach is a huge sandy beach in Nelson and backed by dunes. It also has lots on offer for families such as playgrounds, roller skating rink, bumper boats and much more. In the summer months it is very busy and attracts lots of families. We really enjoyed Tahuna Beach and loved walking along it in the evenings when it had quietened down.

Westport

Westport is the capital of the northern West coast, we didn’t stop in the town however we drove along Westports coast which is stunning and has lots of places to stop and take in the views of the coast.

Food & Beverage

Farmers Market

The Farmers Market in Nelson is definitely a must visit if your a foodie, its held every Wednesday come rain or shine. It sells lots of fruit and vegetables which was great for us to stock up on some delicious strawberries and bits for our camper van. The market doesn’t just sell fruits and vegetables but also sells lots of delicious treats and has a selection of food stalls, we tried the Nepalese Momos which were yummy and a great pre lunch snack.

Maru Korean & Japanese Restaurant

Maru Restaurant was a great little find in Nelson, it’s nothing fancy but offers delicious Korean and Japanese food. It caters well for vegetarians and was really well priced, aswell the service was great. This place is perfect for lunch, if like us your a big fan of Asian cuisine give this place a go when in Nelson.

Sweet As Cafe

This cute cafe in the centre of Nelson is a great place to stop for a pick me up. It has a huge selection of cakes and sweet treats. It also serves up savoury dishes and lunch snacks too.

Yello Cafe

Yello Cafe is a simple cafe and no surprise it is painted bright yellow. It offers a selection of hot drinks and snacks. We came here for breakfast one morning which is pretty busy time so service was a little slow however when it did arrive it was tasty and worth the wait.

Accommodation

Tahuna Beach Kiwi Holiday Park

Tahuna Beach Kiwi Holiday Park was the largest campsite we stayed at by far. It reminded me of Glastonbury it was that large, it attracts mainly kiwi families that come to Nelson on holiday. The families that stay here come fully prepared for camping with lots of bbqs, gazebos, pools and some even come with pop up wardrobes and beds!

Even though this was a very busy and popular campsite it sat right on Tahuna Beach which was great as every evening we would go for a walk along the beach, we also had a lovely view of the beach from our camper van.

As this was a Kiwi campsite it had great facilities that were clean and well maintained. There was lots to do for families such as playgrounds and bbq areas.

Transport & Getting Around

Campervan

The only way I would recommend getting around New Zealand in general is by camper van. You will see so many camper vans driving around because honestly it’s the best way to see New Zealand. You can pull over at all the breathtaking view points and make random pit stops and just enjoy the stunning scenery.

Plus all of the camp sites dotted around New Zealand are so well equipped and clean. The showers in the camp sites were some of the best showers I’ve ever had, they were more powerful than my shower at home! The kitchens are also really well equipped.

If you are going to drive around New Zealand, download the app called Campermate it shows you all the campsites in the location your looking at and you can read write ups and reviews to help you make the best decision for you.

We booked our campervan through Happy Campers as they worked out to be the cheapest and as we needed one for 31 nights in total they can work out quite pricey, but when you think about it, it’s your accommodation and your mode of transport all in one.

When driving around you will see tons of camper vans and RVs. We booked a basic campervan with a bed in, as we stayed at campsites every night, we didn’t need a toilet and shower as we used the campsite facilities. We had a small camping stove in the back and storage under and behind the bed.

I actually slept really well in the campervan and found it really cozy and was quite sad when we had to hand it back in.

Ferry

There are several ferry companies linking North Island and South Island which go between Wellington and Picton. Make sure to book in advance as sometimes the ferries can become very busy, the ferry takes approximately 3 hours and you can either go on as a walk on or drive on, once you have parked your car or camper van you can then go upstairs where there is plenty of seating, a restaurant and WiFi.

If you go during a clear day you can get the most amazing views of both North and South Islands. The main ferry companies are Interiander and Blue Bridge.

Plane

If your on a tight schedule and don’t have a lot of time, New Zealand offers lots of domestic flights between the main cities and towns, however this can work out quite expensive but worth it if your limited on time. Have a look at Air New Zealand if this is the case.

Bus

Buses tend to be much cheaper than air travel, and New Zealand’s bus service is frequent and reliable. Have a look at Intercity which is New Zealand’s National bus company. There are also a whole range of tours you can book onto through companies like STA, Kiwi Experience and New Zealand Coach Tours etc.

Train

New Zealand’s Trains are not cheap or fast to use, however they are regular and reliable. We didn’t use any public transport while in New Zealand so cant advise much on this other than from what I have heard.

Hitchhiking & Biking

Believe it or not you wouldn’t believe the amount of people we saw hitchhiking and biking around New Zealand. So many people with a tent and camping equipment attached to their bag or bike making their way around. However both of these are time consuming so would only be achievable if you have no time limit or you have a good couple of months in New Zealand.

Top Tips

My biggest tip if your camping around New Zealand would be to invest in either a Top 10 Holiday Park Card or a Kiwi Holiday Park Card.

These campsites tend to be of a really high quality with regards to their amenities, and by signing up and paying for membership you receive discount on your nights stay, discounts on favourite nearby attractions and entrance fees etc, and receive discounts at some restaurants too.

We saved quite a lot of money by signing up to the Kiwi Holiday Park Card, maybe have a look at which parks your more likely to stay at and sign up to one or the other rather than both.

I-Site is New Zealand’s official tourism information and you will see plenty of I-Site offices these are really helpful when getting ideas of what’s around the local area your in, and provide a wealth of tourist information on attractions and places to stay, and the staff are always really knowledgable and helpful.

The Department of Conservation also known as DoC are New Zealand’s agency for conservation. They ensure that New Zealand’s natural beauty and wildlife is preserved and looked after and will last for many years to come, while ensuring it’s enjoyable and accessible for locals and visitors.

DoC also provide lots of tracks and trails all over New Zealand as well as campsites. However the campsites don’t have facilities as such other than toilets so we didn’t stay at any of the DoC campsites as we needed showers and more facilities as or camper only had a bed, and I’m a girly girl and didn’t want to rough it too much.

While in New Zealand the plan was to do lots of cooking in the camper van and at the campsites to save money on food, however my husband and myself don’t particularly enjoy cooking at the best of times and especially while we are on holiday.

We did end up eating out in the evenings, my tips for self catering on the road would be to keep meals simple just think the more cooking the more food, herbs and spices you need to purchase and the more washing up!! We kept breakfast simple and healthy and ate fruit in the mornings and cereal or cereal bars. Then for lunches we tended to buy picnic type items so we had salads, olives, crisps, gherkins, tomatoes, cheese and breads etc and tended to have mini spreads for lunch.

If you purchase jars of olives, beetroots, gherkins, mini peppers etc they keep well and tended to last us a few days to go with our lunches and keeps the costs down.

Prior to going to New Zealand I bought some boxes of cereal bars, mug shots and hot chocolate to take with us as food shopping in the UK is much cheaper, and having a few snack type items for on the go was really helpful.

Itinerary

We covered a huge 3750 Miles of New Zealand, below is a map of our road trip itinerary, and all the places we stayed at and places we stopped off at to visit. I did loose track of how many times we actually pulled over to admire views and off the beaten track wonders of natural beauty. This was what my husband put together prior to our road trip.

Important Information

 

New Zealand’s North Island Ultimate Guide

New Zealand was somewhere my husband and I had always dreamed of travelling to. We both managed to get 2 months off work, and decided to go to New Zealand for 5 weeks, and added on the Cook Islands, Hong Kong and Macao towards the end of our trip.

My husband had always wanted to go on a campervan holiday, and New Zealand is best explored by campervan as it caters so well for campers.

We had always wanted to venture to New Zealand but always said we would only go if we could spend at least 3-4 weeks there, as it’s so far away to travel to. We knew we wouldn’t be able to do everything that we wanted to do in just 2 weeks alone. Even though we managed to do all the main sites in 5 weeks, we would both love to travel back and spend some more time there.

When you travel to New Zealand it’s clear to see why it’s a prime location for film and TV sets. New Zealand is unlike anywhere else I have traveled to before. The landscape is so diverse and goes from so many extremes.

The North and South Islands are completely different from one another. The North Island is much more populated than the South Island, although all of New Zealand only has a total population of 4.5 million people. The North Island is home to 3 quarters of the total population and is home to the largest city in New Zealand – Auckland.

The North Island is known for its Maori culture, volcanic activity, geysers, hot springs, and a much warmer climate. When travelling to New Zealand I would always advise to try and travel to both islands as they are so different from one another.

In this blog I am going to write about the places that we visited in the North Island, and what I would recommend and some helpful tips.

Auckland

Auckland is a quirky and hipster kind of city. It has tons of amazing places to eat and drink, and you will be welcomed everywhere with a smile, Aucklander’s are a super warm and friendly bunch.

The city has a really nice feel to it, it feels intimate and not too large and overwhelming. Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city but it doesn’t feel over crowded and hectic, it’s got a great laid back charm to it.

You can easily see all the main sights of Auckland’s city centre within a day or 2, however if you have longer I would suggest venturing out of Auckland to see some of the beaches etc.

Sights & Activities

Albert Park

Albert Park is a Victorian formal garden located in the city centre, and used to be part of the Albert Barracks. On a sunny day it’s lovely to walk around and maybe take a picnic. The Park is lovely to have a wander around and it’s great to see some of the old Victorian buildings and fountain still in tact. There are also some commemorative statues of UK royals dotted around the park.

Aotea Square

Aotea Square is a large paved area located in Auckland’s city centre. The square hosts concerts, parades, festivals and markets throughout the year. While we were there we witnessed several events and stalls occurring.

Auckland Town Hall

Auckland Town Hall is located just by Aotea Square, although it won’t be the most impressive building you will ever see it’s worth going to have a look at it, as it’s really central and you will more than likely walk by it at some point while walking around the city.

Britomart, Viaduct Harbour & Silo Park

Britomart is made up of historic buildings and new developments, it is home to some of Auckland’s best bars and restaurants and houses some of Auckland’s top fashion designer boutiques.

The Viaduct Harbour is located just by Britomart, and used to be a busy port then in the early 2000s was given a major makeover. The Viaduct is now an upmarket dining and boozing area in the city. It’s a great place to sit in the sun with a drink and people watch and admire the yachts.

Silo Park is just by the Viaduct Harbour, and is a public park which is a former industrial site which has been repurposed for festivals, outdoor cinemas and markets etc.

Karangahape Road (K-Road)

The K-Road was our favourite area in Auckland, we also stayed on the K-Road as it’s a great central location. It has a great selection of bars, cafes and restaurants, as well as a ton of cool, quirky and inexpensive vintage shops and boutiques.

We found there to be a great selection of affordable places to eat, and it shows off Auckland’s diverse culture through its many cuisines on offer. If you stay in Auckland try and stay in or around the K-Road as there is so much variety.

We ended up walking up and down the K-Road on most days whilst in Auckland, and each time we would find something different that we hadn’t noticed before, such as a cool street food place or hipster cafe or shop to look around.

Ponsonby

Ponsonby is a suburb and Auckland’s busiest restaurant and bar strip. Ponsonby is one of the hippest areas in Auckland and is home to up market boutiques and cafes. If your a foodie this is defiantly a must visit on your Auckland itinerary.

Queen Street

Queen Street is the main commercial hub in Auckland, here is where you will find high street brands and chains. There is also a variety of pubs, bars and restaurants. This street was definitely the busiest street we came across while in Auckland.

Sky Tower

The Sky Tower is the Southern Hemispheres tallest structure, and it can’t be missed when coming into Auckland, and also walking around the city. There is also a sky bar and lounge at the top of the tower, we never went up the tower, as there are so many bars to choose from in Auckland, however if we ever return to Auckland this is something I would like to do.

St Kevin’s Arcade & Myers Park

St Kevin’s Arcade Links the K-Road and Myers park. The arcade is a gorgeous historical building, with lots of character. It has some charming boutiques and places to eat. It’s worth having a look around and going down to Myers Park which is a small quiet park worth having a walk along.

Food & Beverage

Best Ugly Bagels

Best Ugly Bagels are all made fresh on site and offer a wide range of delicious fillings. This place is great for breakfast, brunch and lunch or just if you love bagels. It has 2 locations in Auckland and 1 in Wellington . We visited the one in the City Works Depot in Auckland. The site is industrial and quirky and worth a check out.

City Works Depot

City Works Depot used to be council workshops that have now been converted into commercial leases. The building has an industrial chic look and is home to a range of food places such as Best Ugly Bagel, &Sushi and Beer Brothers to name a few. As well as food places on offer there is also a selection of small shops.

Cocos Cantina

Cocos Cantina is opposite Haka Lodge on the K-Road where we stayed in Auckland. When we first arrived in Auckland we were starving and drawn to Cocos by its shabby hipster presence. It’s quirky and a little bit hippie inside which adds to its charm. If your a foodie you will fall in love with this place. The menu is homestyle italian cooking with a seasonal and rustic twist. While we were there I had the Arancini which was fresh and delicious. Try to book a table in advance as the evenings can become very busy.

Eight Thirty

If your abit of a coffee addict like my husband you need to check out one of the Eight Thirty cafes. They are renowned to have the inner cities best coffee. There are several locations dotted around Auckland, we visited the one on the K-Road. The cafe is decorated in bright white industrial decor, which adds to its hip vibe.

Gypsy Caravan

If like me your a girly girl and love somewhere flamboyant head to Gypsy Caravan. The decor is amazing I was in heaven, it offers a quirky selection of cocktails and a small and simple dining menu. We stopped here for a coffee while wandering around Ponsonby late afternoon and would love to go back here for an evening.

Holm

Holm is a minimalist coffee house which offer a selection of coffees and offer some delicious brunch options. Again this is also set along the famous K-Road.

Krung Thep Thai Street Food

If you love Thai food as much as I do, check out Krung Thep Thai Street Food, it’s got a wide selection of Thai food available at affordable prices. This no nonsense establishment is along the K-Road and offers up delicious food which you order from the counter.

Little Easy

Little Easy is a laid back pub which is in Ponsonby. It’s menu is great for home comforts such as a selection of burgers, wings and sharing foods at affordable prices. If you go between 3pm-7pm all burgers are only NZ$10. It’s great value and good quality food and beer.

Ponsonby Central

Ponsonby Central is a strip lined with gourmet food vendors, chic cafes and bars. There is also a selection of shops offering local produce and crafts. There is a wide range of food available from burgers, pizzas, crepes, kebabs, sushi and lots more on offer.

Queen Street

If your on a budget and looking for cheap eats, and a wide variety of food choice then cross over the street from Aotea Square and Auckland Town Hall onto Queen Street. Set along this road are lots of small take away and fast food places such as pizzas, kebabs, churros and Asian food etc.

Rasoi

Rasoi is situated along the K-Road and is a non fussy order at the counter eatery. This is a great value vegetarian Indian place to eat. If your on a budget and want a full belly this place is great. They also offer a wide range of colourful Indian sweets and desserts.

Accommodation

Haka Lodge

Haka Lodge is in a great location along the K-Road, it used to be an old run down pub and is now one of Auckland’s best hostels. They offer a range of dorms and private rooms. Haka Lodge is one of the more up market hostels I have stayed in. We booked a private room with a shared bathroom, and everything is really well thought out.

The rooms are really clean and comfortable and well decorated. The bathrooms are immaculate, and the kitchen is well equipped.

The hostel offers free unlimited WiFi, and has a range of facilities on offer such as a laundry room, cinema room and social area. The hostel also offer a range of tours and sightseeing packages. The hostel is really well suited for flash packers on a budget. If I went back to Auckland I would stay here again and would always recommend Haka Lodge for anyone needing accommodation in Auckland.

Hot Water Beach

After spending a few nights in Auckland, we picked up our camper van from Happy Campers, and after going to the supermarket and stocking up on food and drink and camping chairs etc, we headed straight to Hot Water Beach, we didn’t spend the night here this was just a stop on our route to Rotorua.

Sights & Activities

Hot Water Beach

Hot Water Beach is a stunning long beach which got its name from its geothermal activity beneath the sand. Approximately 2 hours either side of low tide you can hire a spade, and dig your own hot bath out of the sand. Unfortunately we arrived at the wrong time, so didn’t get to experience digging out a hot bath, so when travelling do time it right, and check the tide times.

Even though we didn’t get to witness digging down to bubbling hot water, we did have a nice stroll along the beach which was lush on a sunny day.

Food & Beverage

Hotties Cafe

Before having a stroll along the beach, we stopped at Hotties Cafe and got some lunch. Hotties is the only place to eat directly on the beach, they offer up fresh dishes using local produce.

They offer take away or they have seating both inside and outside with great views over Hot Water Beach. If you go try the Fish Tacos they are delicious! However you get 2 quite large ones so we shared them and just ordered some chips and salad to go with them, works out a little cheaper and was plenty of food.

Rotorua

Rotorua is a must when visiting the North Island, there is so much to see and do here from stunning lakes, traditional Maori culture, geysers and so much more. On our road trip Rotorua was the first place we stopped at for a few nights in our camper. We drove from Auckland, had a brief stop at Hot Water Beach, then continued on to Rotorua.

Rotorua has something for everyone and seemed to attract a wide range of travellers from backpackers, campers, tour groups and many more.

Sights & Activities

Lake Roturua

Rotorua is a city surrounded by lakes, Lake Rotorua is probably the most well known, and is the second largest lake on the North Island. Lake Rotorua is worth having a walk around and has some boarded path ways. Just by the lake you can also view the Government Gardens with hot steaming pools dotted around.

Lake Okareka & Lake Tarawera

Both these lakes are just outside of Rotorua and are both lovely to drive around, there is also Green Lake and Blue Lake just by these too, which are also worth visiting. Tuhourangi is a small lay-by near Lake Tarawera, which gives the most amazing view over the lakes and its surroundings, plus there is also a tall monument.

Redwood Whakarewarewa Forest

Redwood Whakarewarewa Forest is a man made forest which was created back in 1899 to see which tree species could be grown. The Californian Redwoods give this forest its grandeur. There are several walks to take around the forest ranging from a 30 minute wander through to a full days trek.

Whakarewarewa Village

This was a real highlight while in Rotorua, there is tons to see at Whakarewarewa Cultural Village. The village is set on thermal hot springs and had bubbling pools of water and mud dotted around. The residents that live here show you around and provide lots of information on the Maori way of life and what it was like and how it is today.

There are also daily shows which show traditional Maori dances and the Haka. There is also a selection of shops selling local arts and crafts. You can also purchase a buttery corn on the cobb which is pulled straight out of a hot mineral pool and makes a good snack.

It’s easy to spend a good few hours here as there is so much to see from the natural hot pools, Maori meeting houses and the show etc.

Food & Beverage

Air Stream Cafe

While driving around the lakes make a pit stop at the Air Stream Cafe which is situated on Blue Lake, it serves up a selection of drinks, snacks and lunch options.

Mitai Maori Village

While in New Zealand I would recommend booking a dinner at a Maori show, it’s really interesting and you learn a lot about Maori culture. We chose the Mitai Maori Village as its family owned and included a glow worm bushwalk.

It’s approximately 3 hours in the evening and included pick up from our campsite. The cost when we went was NZ$116 per person and includes a show and a traditional Hangi feast, then after dinner a glow worm bushwalk which was a really nice way to end the evening.

Accommodation

The Backyard Inn

The first campsite we stayed at was the Backyard Inn, it’s a little run down and you feel like your stepping back in time. However they had everything that you need such as hot showers, cafe and restaurant, kitchen area and a small pool.

Taupo

Taupo is most well known for its lake, Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake. This area is very similar to Rotorua with volcanic activity and geothermal hot springs, the geology in and around Taupo is stunning. It is very much a family tourist hot spot with plenty of activities and resorts available.

Taupo is another must on your New Zealand North Island itinerary. We drove to Taupo from Rotorua which took just about over an hour.

Sights & Activities

Craters of the Moon

Craters of the Moon is a geothermal park with a loop walkway around it where you can take in views of the steaming craters, and bubbling mud from the ground beneath.

The walk takes approximately 45 minutes and you get great views of the surrounding mountains. There’s a kiosk at the entrance with information and entrance is only NZ$8 per adult. I really enjoyed our trip here, it’s a nice easy and relaxing walk.

Huka Falls

Huka Falls are part of New Zealand’s longest river – The Waikato River. The falls mark a narrowing which causes the dramatic drop into a gushing pool.

There’s a footbridge overlooking the falls where you can witness the full force of the river. There is also a look out where you can get great photo opportunities.

We drove to Huka Falls and parked up, there is a kiosk by the car park too which has some useful information. However you can also walk the Huka Falls Walkway from town which takes about an hour.

Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake, it’s so large the it looks like an ocean. Taupo is set on the north eastern shores of the lake. There are tons of activities to do in and around the lake such as fishing, water sports and hiking etc.

If your happy just walking along the lake front you can take in some picture postcard views of the snowy peaks of the Tongariro National Park on a clear day.

When we visited the Lake it was a lovely sunny day and we sat by it and had a picnic and admired its beauty.

Wairakei Terraces Thermal Health Spa

After a day of sightseeing we decided to visit the Wairakei Terraces Thermal Spa to relax in. Mineral waters from the geothermal steam grounds nearby cascade over silica Terraces creating hot pools.

We visited on a particularly hot day so didn’t spend too long here as we did find we were getting uncomfortably hot, however there are different pools with different temperatures to choose from, so you can find one that is best suited to you.

The entrance was NZ$25 per person when we visited. There is also a range of treatments at the spa that are extra.

Accommodation

Wairakei Thermal Valley Holiday Park

The Wairakei Thermal Valley Holiday Park is really cute and quirky, it’s basic but has everything you need with hot showers, kitchen and an onsite cafe.

If your an animal lover like myself you will love this place, tons of chickens, peacocks, cats, sheep and alpacas running around. There’s also some hutches with rabbits too, this campsite was really peaceful and relaxing and the owner had a good sense of humour too. If your on a budget this place was great value for money and a great location.

They also offer a geothermal walk onsite, and their onsite cafe offers Devonshire cream teas.

Wellington

Wellington is New Zealand’s capital, it’s only a small city, smaller than Auckland in fact. Even though Welly is a small city it has a ton of character, it’s a stunning city with gorgeous views overlooking the harbour. It has lots of old quirky Victorian buildings, funky boutiques and a huge array of amazing restaurants to eat at.

Welly is known for being a Windy City, however when we visited we had the most gorgeous sunny weather. When we visited we stayed with one of my husbands friends that lives there. His flat was set into the hillside with a steep uphill walk, and it had the most gorgeous views over the city and harbour. We spent a day and night here prior to getting the ferry down to the South Island, then stopped here again for another night when we got the return ferry back to the North Island.

The city has a very hipster vibe to it, and I would really recommend visiting and spending a few days here especially if the weather is nice and if your planning on taking the ferry down to the South Island.

Sights & Activities

Cuba Street

Cuba Street is wellingtons eccentric Bohemia Street, it is a creative and culinary melting pot of buskers, galleries, graffiti-filled alleyways, cafes, top named restaurants and exhibition spaces.

There are also tons of second hand vintage shops and boutiques, the street is pedestrianised so it’s great to walk up and down, each time spotting something new and different.

Cuba Street has also been registered a historic area due to its Victorian buildings and heritage. No trip to Welly would be complete without visiting Cuba Street. Food & Beverage

Beach Babylon

Beach Babylon is a gorgeous little beach side cafe, its decor is retro and cool and the food is delicious. I think I actually had one of the best brunches in my life here. They have an amazing brunch menu on offer, I recommend the creamy garlic and thyme wild mushrooms on toast.

The cafe can become busy we were lucky and managed to get one of the last tables outside, so we did see people having to wait for a table, which just goes to show how popular this place is.

Capital International Market

If you want quick cheap eats and a variety of choice head to Capital International Market which hosts an array of street food vendors.

Husk

Husk is a bar and brewery and coffee roastery and also serves up food and small plates. If your into your beer you can also get a beer taster. We stopped here for a drink while having a wander around and it’s not far from Cuba Street.

Olive

My husbands friends housemate that we stayed with in Wellington worked at Olive, so we decided to go there for dinner. It was so good that when we returned to Welly we went there for brunch too.

Olive serves up seasonal and rustic dishes, and has the most gorgeous little cozy courtyard outback, if you do visit try and get a table outback.

The Arborist Roof To Bar

The Arborist is located in Welly’s city centre, it’s up 7 stories high and is an oasis and has stunning views over the city. On a sunny day it’s easy to sit here and drink sangria and enjoy the weather, this bar has a great vibe and worth a visit on a nice day.

New Plymouth

New Plymouth is situated on New Zealand’s west coast and its main draw is Mt Taranaki and the surrounding farmlands around New Plymouth. It is a port town with an artsy scene with art galleries and lots of quirky cafes. The town also has lots of surf beaches and attracts many surfers from all over.

We drove to New Plymouth after we had arrived back in Wellington, it’s quite a long drive there but was on our way back to the North of the North Island.

Unfortunately while we were in New Plymouth the weather wasn’t great and we couldn’t see Mt Taranaki as it was overcast and grey and kept raining. We did have a walk around the town and went to visit the Puke Ariki museum which is a must when in New Plymouth.

Sights & Activities

Puke Ariki

Puke Ariki is a free museum and library which translates into ‘Hill of Chiefs’. There are lots of Maori artefacts, colonial antiques, geology and wildlife exhibits. The museum literally has everything you need to know about New Zealand and it’s history and wildlife.

When we visited there was a whole exhibit on beach wear through the ages which was quite cool to see, and fits in well with New Plymouth’s beach town vibes.

There is also a cafe and restaurant on site too so you can have some breakfast or lunch before or after visiting.

Urenui Beach

Urenui Beach isn’t in many guidebooks, however it is a great find and place to stop when passing. It’s approximately 30 Minutes north of New Plymouth.

I personally have never been on a beach like it, Urenui Beach has pure black sand and when we went on a drizzly day looked a bit gloomy. However I thought the Beach was so different we are all so used to seeing pure white sand beaches why not black sand beaches?!

We stopped here and walked along the beach and loved it here, so if you want to go to a beach with a difference definitely add this to your New Zealand itinerary.

Food & Beverage

Arborio

Arborio is one of New Plymouth’s fine dining restaurants, it is situated in the Puke Ariki museum and has views overlooking the ocean. It’s decor is funky and stylish, and the restaurant sources New Zealand’s most freshest ingredients.

It’s a little on the pricey side but has a great ambience, we stopped here for a drink and a breakfast snack before entering the museum. There is a bar too and a light snacks menu, so if your on a budget you can still stop here to experience it without spending a lot.

Waitomo

When we visited Waitomo we decided to stay in Otorohanga, which is situated in between Waitomo and Hamilton and close to Hobbiton, so that we found it easy enough to travel between all of these main attractions.

Sights & Activities

Hamilton

Hamilton isn’t one of the most glamorous or exciting cities we have visited, and there isn’t a great ton to see and do here, it’s main site is the Waikato River, which runs right through the city, however the layout of the city almost ignores this river.

Hamilton does however have a good selection of vibrant cafes, bars and restaurants and you can also visit the Hamilton Gardens.

I would recommend if your pushed for time then knocking Hamilton off of your itinerary as there isn’t a great deal to see and do, and there are cities and towns in New Zealand with a lot more going on. However if your staying around Waitimo and near Hobbiton and have a spare few hours like we did it’s worth a wander.

Hobbiton

Hobbiton is the movie set from The Lord of the Rings films and is situated in Matamata which is a small country town until it was put on the map by the popular film trilogy.

I myself am not a huge fan of Lord of the Rings but felt I couldn’t come all the way to New Zealand without seeing Hobbiton.

The attraction is a must see whether your a huge fan or not. I would recommend booking in advance, however we were lucky when we turned up and managed to get spaces onto one of the tours.

Tours buses leave from the I-Site in Matamata and take you to the set of Hobbiton, and the guide tells you all the behind the scenes stories and facts, which is really interesting.

The tour lasts approximately 2 and a half hours and finishes off in the Green Dragon Inn where you get a choice of a complimentary drinks. The guide allows enough time to sit and enjoy your drink before getting back onto the bus to take you back to the I-Site in Matamata.

I really enjoyed looking around Hobbiton and the surrounding views are stunning, when we visited it was NZ$84 per person which is quite pricey, but I’m so glad we visited Hobbiton I think I would have regretted it, if we hadn’t.

Waitomo Caves

Waitomo Caves practically always comes up in every guide book about New Zealand and must dos while visiting, and I can’t say that I disagree. The caves are abit of a tourist trap. However the vast amount of glom worms is stunning and looks like a night time sky.

There are several options when booking Waitomo, we decided to book a package deal which was the triple cave combo which included near by Caves called Ruakuri Cave and Aranui Cave, finished off with visiting the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. The triple cave combo package saved a lot of money and wasnt much more than visiting just one of the caves.

The guide tours around the Ruakuri Cave also allow you to take photos of the glow worms as long as your flash is off, where as in the Waitomo Cave photos of the glow worms are not allowed under any circumstances.

When we visited we spent NZ$97 per person on the cave package which saved a lot and we got to see so much. I would recommend doing one of the combo packages as the Waitomo Caves alone are around about NZ$50 per person, I would advise spending a little more and getting to see some caves near by on guided tours.

Raglan

Raglan is a laid back surfer town. It has a great selection of bars, restaurants and boutiques. It has a gorgeous harbour area and a good selection of surf beaches. It’s quite an artsy town and has lots of craft and art shops too. Raglan just oozes cool and is a great little place to add to your New Zealand itinerary.

Sights & Activities

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls is a 55 meter plunge waterfall and is located just on the outskirts of Raglan. You can walk all the way down to the base of the falls and the pool it’s created. These were some of the best waterfalls I’ve seen in the world, the surrounding plants, trees and greenery around the falls make it absolutely gorgeous. If your staying in Raglan it’s worth taking a drive over as it doesn’t take up a lot of time, we spent about 45 minutes here viewing the falls from the different platforms and walking down to the bottom.

Manu Beach & Ngarunui Beach

Manu Beach is the most popular surfing beach around Raglan and is about 1 mile away from Ngarunui Beach. Manu Beach is also known around the world by surfers to have the world’s longest left hand break, this is due to its position and angle where the Tasman swell meets the coast.

Ngarunui Beach is where you will find lots of novice surfers taking lessons and surf schools teaching on the beach and in the water. It’s a large beach with black volcanic sand, and it’s great to sit on and people watch, we didn’t take any surf lessons but really enjoyed watching all the waves and surfers taking to the water.

Ulo

Ulo isn’t really a tourist attraction, however when in Raglan this quirky shop run by Japan born artist Kyoko Shirai has some bright colourful artworks unlike anything I have seen before. The shop sells vintage and second hand clothes along with lots of prints, clothing and homeware customised by Kyoko in her unique style. My husband and I fell in love with her artwork and the originality of it which combines Japanese, Maori and Pacific Island influences.

Whale Bay

Whale Bay is a lot quieter than Manu Bay and Ngarunui Beach, but is still a favourite surf spot. Many of the surfers have to climb over the rocks to get out to the break, but here we saw watched some experienced surfers, and also found a nice spot to have a picnic. I wouldn’t recommend surfing here unless your an experienced surfer, however on a sunny day it’s a great place to come and watch the day go by.

Food & Beverage

Aroha Sushi

Aroha Sushi is a small sushi restaurant and take away and is located next door to Ulo shop. The small restaurant is really good value for money and has a selection of sushi and Japanese dishes available, there are also a few tables outside. I opted to have the Katsu tofu which was delicious and filling. We also got a starter to share. This is a really good little find, especially if your on a budget and travelling around New Zealand for a while, this is a great and cheap place to eat.

Orca Restaurant & Bar

Orca Restaurant is located right on the sea front in central Raglan. The restaurant focuses on seasonal and fresh food and has a great selection of wine, and a bar area too if you just wanted a drink. We tried out the fish and chips which was delicious. The restaurant was really popular with locals and can get quite busy. The food wasn’t overly pricey either and had a great laid back atmosphere.

Accommodation

Kev’s Place

Kev’s Place was as a great little find, it was probably one of the most random places we stayed at, and was pretty basic, however it had the most amazing view overlooking Raglan, and it’s beautiful coastline. Kev’s place is located on Maungatawhiri ridge and the sunsets here were the best we witnessed while staying on all different campsites around New Zealand.

Kev’s place also offers chalets aswell as campervan and tent pitches. The toilets and showers are basic but it has everything you need. To add to Kev’s place quirky charm is the boat overlooking the campsite where you can check in at.

This campsite has no powered sites and is pretty much off grid and has a very laid back vibe to it. If you love dogs it’s also great as Kev’s dogs are always hovering around and love abit of attention. As Kev’s place is also away from everything you get the most amazing views of the stars at night.

Ahipara (90 Mile Beach)

Ahipara is situated at the end of 90 mile beach, this isn’t a huge bustling town, it’s mainly just locals and visiting surfers and tourists to see 90 mile beach. The area is mostly know for the beach, sand dunes and gum fields. When visiting bare in mind that this isn’t a great deal of choice for food and drink places, so if your on a budget and self catering ensure to stock up at a supermarket on the way.

Sights & Activities

90 Mile Beach

90 Mile Beach is not actually 90 miles long it’s more like 55 miles. There are several theories as to why 90 mile beach got its name, but the most common comes from when missionaries travelled on horse back and on average would cover 30 miles in a day. The beach took 3 days to travel therefore earning its name, but the missionaries did not realise the slower pace of the horses walking in the sand, so thinking they had travelled 90 miles when in fact they had only travelled 55.

90 Mile Beach stretches from west of Kaitaia towards Cape Reinga along the Aupouri Peninsula. This beach is officially a highway, but is really only suitable for 4WD vehicles and is safe to drive only at specific times of the tides. We personally didn’t feel comfortable driving along the beach in our campervan incase we got stuck and decided to book onto the Sand Safari Tour.

Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga is the most northernly point of New Zealand and the North Island. Cape Reinga is a historic site for Maori as they believe that departed souls jump off Cape Reinga to make their journey to the spirit world.

The light house is a steady walk and overlooks the ocean where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. The views up here are breathtaking and really make you feel like your at the end of the world. We were taken here on the Sand Safari tour too.

Sand Safaris

Sand Safari Tours is a great way to see 90 Mile Beach and Cape Reinga. After the drive along 90 mile beach, they take you to the sand dunes and provide complimentary sand boards. The tour also includes a lovely picnic bbq lunch at the beachey cove of Tapotupotu Bay which is on the way to Cape Reinga. The tour when we did it was NZ$55 per person, if your staying at the Ahipara Holiday Park we also received a small discount on top of that too.

This tour is really good value for money and personally I think this is the best way to see 90 Mile Beach and with confidence that your vehicle isn’t going to get stuck, we did see one car stuck in the sand while driving along the beach, so do take care if going alone.

Shipwreck Bay

Shipwreck Bay is at the southern point of Ahipara Bay, and contains a number of shipwrecks which are visible at low tide.

Shipwreck Bay is also well known as an excellent surfing area. The bay is sandy with a few rocks around the tip. We went and drove up to it however there is a charge for parking so we didn’t stay, I would advise driving up to it but we didn’t think it was worth paying for parking.

Food & Beverage

Bidz Takeaways

Bidz Take Away is the best and only fish and chips in Ahipara, there isn’t much choice in Ahipara, we saw one other little restaurant/cafe but it wasn’t open while we were there. So we went and got fish and chips at Bidz and I have to say for a take away it was really good and fresh. There are some tables outside to sit at if you don’t want to take away. They also offer burgers and a selection of other fast food on the menu. There is also a small grocery store attached which is handy if you need to stock up your campervan.

Accommodation

Ahipara Holiday Park

Ahipara Holiday Park is a large site which offers powered and unpowered campsites along with cabins and backpacker lodges. There is plenty of outside space and a well equipped kitchen. The reception area also has some snacks and food on sale and the lounge area around the reception is great to if you want to sit and relax. The Holiday Park is also part of Kiwi Holiday Parks which means its of a high standard and if you have a Kiwi Card you can receive discount on the cost of your overnight stay.

Paihia (Bay of Islands)

Paihia is where the Bay of Islands is situated, and it is also the birthplace of New Zealand and where the treaty was signed between Maori Chiefs and the British.

Sights & Activities

Fullers Dolphin Cruise

Fullers has been around for over 125 years, it is a well know and reliable cruise company which offers a range of cruises around the Bay of Islands. We booked the Dolphin and Hole in the Rock cruise which is a 4 hour cruise, and costs about NZ$107 per person.

On this trip it departs from Paihia and stops at Russel and takes you all around the islands in the bay, and we saw lots of dolphins which were coming up close to the boat. The boat also sailed through the Famous Hole in the Rock, this can only be done on days when the sea is calm.

The Cruises was really interesting and we got told a lot about the history and heritage of the Bay of Islands and about the wildlife that surrounds the bay. This is a must when in Paihia, it was a really relaxing day out which we both enjoyed.

Haruru Falls

Haruru Falls are some horseshoe falls, which have a walkway that leads from the treaty grounds along the Waitangi River. If you don’t fancy the 5 kilometre walk, you can drive straight to the car park. The falls are only small and you can walk along them and dunk your feet into the small pools.

Food & Beverage

Avo Sushi

Avo Sushi doesn’t look much from the outside but we liked it so much we ate there twice!! It’s got a display cabinet of a large variety of sushi and asian savoury snacks like spring rolls, chicken sticks, tempura etc. Prices range from as little as NZ$1 per item, so it’s really good value and really filling we only had a small box each of bits we had chosen and was full. There is also some tables and chairs outside Avo Sushi or you can take away with you, definitely check this place out even if it’s just for a snack or a cheap lunch.

Pizza Shack

Pizza Shack is located in the centre of Paihia, and is a laid back restaurant which sells a good selection pizzas and an option to build your own pizza. It is reasonably priced and delicious food and has a selection of starters and sides if your in need of a carb overload.

Accommodation

Bay of Islands Kiwi Holiday Park

Bay of Islands Kiwi Holiday Park has a lush green setting surrounded by tall trees, the patches are quite large and popular with Kiwis for their family camping trips. The showers were really clean and powerful here and it wasn’t far from the centre of Paihia. This campsite is also part of the Kiwi Holiday Parks which again if you have the members card you can gain discount off your stay.

Transport & Getting Around

Campervan

The only way I would recommend getting around New Zealand in general is by camper van. You will see so many camper vans driving around because honestly it’s the best way to see New Zealand. You can pull over at all the breathtaking view points and make random pit stops and just enjoy the stunning scenery.

Plus all of the camp sites dotted around New Zealand are so well equipped and clean. The showers in the camp sites were some of the best showers I’ve ever had, they were more powerful than my shower at home! The kitchens are also really well equipped.

If you are going to drive around New Zealand, download the app called Campermate it shows you all the campsites in the location your looking at and you can read write ups and reviews to help you make the best decision for you.

We booked our campervan through Happy Campers as they worked out to be the cheapest and as we needed one for 31 nights in total they can work out quite pricey, but when you think about it, it’s your accommodation and your mode of transport all in one.

When driving around you will see tons of camper vans and RVs. We booked a basic campervan with a bed in, as we stayed at campsites every night, we didn’t need a toilet and shower as we used the campsite facilities. We had a small camping stove in the back and storage under and behind the bed.

I actually slept really well in the campervan and found it really cozy and was quite sad when we had to hand it back in.

Ferry

There are several ferry companies linking North Island and South Island which go between Wellington and Picton. Make sure to book in advance as sometimes the ferries can become very busy, the ferry takes approximately 3 hours and you can either go on as a walk on or drive on, once you have parked your car or camper van you can then go upstairs where there is plenty of seating, a restaurant and WiFi.

If you go during a clear day you can get the most amazing views of both North and South Islands. The main ferry companies are Interiander and Blue Bridge.

Plane

If your on a tight schedule and don’t have a lot of time, New Zealand offers lots of domestic flights between the main cities and towns, however this can work out quite expensive but worth it if your limited on time. Have a look at Air New Zealand if this is the case.

Bus

Buses tend to be much cheaper than air travel, and New Zealand’s bus service is frequent and reliable. Have a look at Intercity which is New Zealand’s National bus company. There are also a whole range of tours you can book onto through companies like STA, Kiwi Experience and New Zealand Coach Tours etc.

Train

New Zealand’s Trains are not cheap or fast to use, however they are regular and reliable. We didn’t use any public transport while in New Zealand so cant advise much on this other than from what I have heard.

Hitchhiking & Biking

Believe it or not you wouldn’t believe the amount of people we saw hitchhiking and biking around New Zealand. So many people with a tent and camping equipment attached to their bag or bike making their way around. However both of these are time consuming so would only be achievable if you have no time limit or you have a good couple of months in New Zealand.

Top Tips

My biggest tip if your camping around New Zealand would be to invest in either a Top 10 Holiday Park Card or a Kiwi Holiday Park Card.

These campsites tend to be of a really high quality with regards to their amenities, and by signing up and paying for membership you receive discount on your nights stay, discounts on favourite nearby attractions and entrance fees etc, and receive discounts at some restaurants too.

We saved quite a lot of money by signing up to the Kiwi Holiday Park Card, maybe have a look at which parks your more likely to stay at and sign up to one or the other rather than both.

I-Site is New Zealand’s official tourism information and you will see plenty of I-Site offices these are really helpful when getting ideas of what’s around the local area your in, and provide a wealth of tourist information on attractions and places to stay, and the staff are always really knowledgable and helpful.

The Department of Conservation also known as DoC are New Zealand’s agency for conservation. They ensure that New Zealand’s natural beauty and wildlife is preserved and looked after and will last for many years to come, while ensuring it’s enjoyable and accessible for locals and visitors.

DoC also provide lots of tracks and trails all over New Zealand as well as campsites. However the campsites don’t have facilities as such other than toilets so we didn’t stay at any of the DoC campsites as we needed showers and more facilities as or camper only had a bed, and I’m a girly girl and didn’t want to rough it too much.

While in New Zealand the plan was to do lots of cooking in the camper van and at the campsites to save money on food, however my husband and myself don’t particularly enjoy cooking at the best of times and especially while we are on holiday.

We did end up eating out in the evenings, my tips for self catering on the road would be to keep meals simple just think the more cooking the more food, herbs and spices you need to purchase and the more washing up!! We kept breakfast simple and healthy and ate fruit in the mornings and cereal or cereal bars. Then for lunches we tended to buy picnic type items so we had salads, olives, crisps, gherkins, tomatoes, cheese and breads etc and tended to have mini spreads for lunch.

If you purchase jars of olives, beetroots, gherkins, mini peppers etc they keep well and tended to last us a few days to go with our lunches and keeps the costs down.

Prior to going to New Zealand I bought some boxes of cereal bars, mug shots and hot chocolate to take with us as food shopping in the UK is much cheaper, and having a few snack type items for on the go was really helpful.

Itinerary

We covered a huge 3750 Miles of New Zealand, below is a map of our road trip itinerary, and all the places we stayed at and places we stopped off at to visit. I did loose track of how many times we actually pulled over to admire views and off the beaten track wonders of natural beauty. This was what my husband put together prior to our road trip.

Important Information

 

Aitutaki Travel Guide

I have been wanting to travel to Aitutaki for a long time, so when my husband and I decided to travel to New Zealand, I knew we had to tag The Cook Islands onto our trip, as it’s pretty straight forward to reach The Cooks from Auckland, and to take an internal flight to Aitutaki from Rarotonga.

Aitutaki is probably one of the most instagrammed islands in The Cooks, just looking at the photos of Aitutaki makes you feel complete wanderlust!

Aitutaki is the second most visited island after Rarotonga. Many visitors to Aitutaki tend to just travel there for the day with Air Rarotonga, which is great if your really strapped for time, however I think if your paying that much to travel there for a day, why not spend a few more days in paradise?!

The island of Aitutaki has a different vibe to that of Rarotonga. I found the locals on Rarotonga to be a lot more friendly and up beat. However Aitutaki is stunning like no other place in the world I have been to before. The lagoon is just picture perfect and the coral and marine life is fantastic.

I think Aitutaki is not to be missed when visiting The Cooks, as much as Aitutaki is very quiet, and may not have a lot going on, there is more to do than you might think, with scooters readily available to wizz around the island, a peak with gorgeous views and unlimited amount of snorkelling to be done in the lagoon, you definitely won’t be bored on this gorgeous island.

I fell in love with Aitutaki and it’s beautiful lagoon and marine life. In this blog I will be writing about my recommendations, tips and about places that I have visited.

Sights & Activities

Aitutaki Lagoon

The biggest draw in Aitutaki, has to be its lagoon. With crystal clear aqua water and white sand beaches, and lots of small isolated motus dotted around the lagoon, it really is a slice of heaven. This for me was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Aitutaki. I had seen photos of the lagoon and thought it just looked like paradise. The programme shipwrecked was also filmed on some of the small islands in the lagoon.

The lagoon is a must when travelling to The Cook Islands! Air Rarotonga do offer a day tour to Aitutaki however it is very pricey, and personally I think if your going to fly there, why not spend a few nights and get around Aitutaki, and spend longer on the smaller islands in the lagoon.

Aitutaki Marine Research Centre

The Marine Research Centre is well worth a visit, it’s free to enter however you can make a donation if you wish to. It’s not particularly large, and you will likely spend around 15 minutes or so there. It has several large tanks where they breed giant clams which are placed into the ocean when they reach a certain size.

There was a large decline in giant clams so The Cook Island government set up a marine centre to breed clams to get the numbers back up, and to reestablish the clams back into the lagoon, as octopuses can eat them when they are still quite small. There are also some large coconut crabs to see as well.

The Marine Research Centre is on the north of the island, not to far from the airport. If you have a scooter definetly wizz round to have a look, as the clams are the most beautiful and bright colours.

Arutanga

Arutanga is Aitutakis only town, but really it is more like a village with a church, a few places to eat, and a supermarket. There is not a lot to do in Arutanga. It’s worth having a look though if you have a scooter as it’s nice to drive around the whole island.

There is also the local market, but when my husband and I drove there the only thing that was left to buy was a few coconuts, and that was at about 10am! There is also The Cook Islands Christian Church located here which is the oldest church in The Cooks, it was built in 1828. If you have time try and attend a Sunday service.

Honeymoon & Maina Islands

Honeymoon and Maina are 2 small motu islands in the lagoon, which are very close together you can swim between them as they aren’t far apart from one another. We did a lagoon cruise and stopped here for lunch. You can also get dropped off here for the day by a water taxi, and have both to yourself for most of the day. They are both stunning, neither of them have anything on the islands apart from palm trees, so take plenty of supplies such as water and sun tan lotion if you are getting dropped off for the day.

Kia-Orana Cruises

Kia-Orana Cruises was a great day out, Captain Fantastic as he likes to be called, is knowledgeable and takes you to the 7 wonders of the lagoon. The 7 wonders are 7 small motu islands which are dotted around the lagoon. This tour is really great as it’s a small group no more than 10 people at a time, unlike some of the larger tour companies like Teking and Vaka Cruise, which take approximately 40-50 people on their tours.

The cruise was reasonable for what you get included in the tour, it was NZ$125 per person when we went on the tour. Kia-Orana Cruises picks you up from your accommodation, and the tour consists of snorkelling, seeing 7 different islands and getting off to explore them and being told about the islands folklore’s and myths. They also provide a lovely fresh local lunch cooked for you on Maina Island.

I highly recommend this tour as you can take in so much of the lagoon all in one day. With enough time for snorkelling around One Foot Island too. They are also one of the only tour companies to operate on a Sunday.

Maungapu

Maungapu is Aitutakis highest peak which is 124meters, up at the top you get the most amazing view of the island and the surrounding lagoon and atolls. If you do have a scooter you can drive up most of the way then walk the remaining bit up for about 5 minutes, which is quite steep and challenging especially on a hot day. Make sure you wear trainers rather than flip-flops, as there is some loose gravel towards the summit which can be quite slippy.

One Foot Island

One Foot Island was one of my personal highlights of our trip to The Cook Islands. We visited One Foot Island on the Kia-Orana Cruise, however I decided I wanted to go back the following day, and was dropped off there by water taxi which cost NZ$60 per person. We had the whole of One Foot Island to ourselves until about midday when some larger tours come and had lunch there, but as soon as they were finished with their lunch they left and we had the island back to ourselves again.

There isn’t anything on One Foot Island other than a small wooden shack and small post office which opens when the large tours come on, there you can have your passport stamped and also send postcards to back home and purchase some drinks, but this is only while the tours are there.

The snorkelling is great and you see lots of giant trevellys, corals and some giant clams which have been put back into the ocean, there is a boy floating above them so you can snorkel over to have a look. It’s also really lovely to walk around One Foot Island as you get some amazing views out towards the edge of the lagoon. It really makes you feel like your at the edge of the world on One Foot Island, as you can see the waves crashing against the corals edge at the end of the lagoon, and then the Pacific Ocean for miles and miles. You can walk around the whole island in about 10-15 minutes and it is really worth it for the views.

Food & Beverage

Boatshed Bar & Grill

The Boatshed Bar and Grill is a lovely laid back restaurant and bar. It’s full of maritime memorabilia, and the food and drink is quite reasonably priced. I recommend the fish and chips it’s very fresh and the portions are large, I was stuffed afterwards. The menu has lots of choice and caters for vegetarians too. If you go on a nice day try and sit out on the front deck for views over the ocean. Unfortunately when we went it was pouring with rain so we sat inside.

Cafe Tupuna

Cafe Tupuna was one of my favourite restaurants in Aitutaki, it is the only independently owned restaurant on the island, and is in a rural setting behind the hills of Arutanga, make sure to take insect repellent as I got bitten quite a lot here, as it’s set outside undercover.

It can also be quite hard to find as it’s quite tucked away, take a phone with satnav or maps on if you can. Try and make a reservation prior to going as we went early and only just managed to get the last table!

The food served here is delicious and serves up fresh, authentic Polynesian food! It can be a little pricey, however it is definetly worth it as a treat. They also have a great selection of wine too.

Koru Cafe

Koru Cafe is great for sandwiches, salads and all day breakfasts. We went for breakfast when we arrived on Aitutaki, and the service was great and friendly and the food was reasonably priced too. Koru Cafe also offer take away meals, picnics and bbq packs which is great if your going to get dropped off at one of the motus for the day, or to just have on the beach, as there is not many restaurants readily available on the beach and islands around the lagoon.

Puffys Beach Bar & Grill

Puffys wasn’t the best place we ate at, however as there isn’t a huge amount of options near by or on the island, we decided to walk down one evening as it’s only a few minutes away from where we stayed at. Puffys is more like a take away than a proper restaurant it has some tables and chairs to sit at, but you order your food from the front.

I decided to have fish and chips and my husband had chicken and chips. They were both ok, but nothing particularly special and we found it quite pricey for what it was. If your staying on Aitutaki for a while I would suggest going here for somewhere different, however if your not on Aitutaki for that long I wouldn’t really bother.

It is good for a drink if you wanted to go there in the evening as the alcohol is quite reasonably priced in comparison with the food. They do also host an island night once a week too.

Tamanu Beach Front

We went to Tamanus Island Night which they host every Thursday, it’s meant to be the biggest and best on Aitutaki, I only went to this island night so can’t compare it to any others. However the buffet was delicious and had a wide variety of dishes available with lots of traditional Cook Island food. The band was great and played lots of island music. The entertainment came after the dinner and had a lot of traditional dances and fire dancing, at the end they did ask for audience participation which was great fun.

The island Night can be quite expensive at NZ$70 per person plus drinks on top, however it is still much cheaper than the island nights that are held on Rarotonga. If you don’t fancy forking out for dinner you can just attend the entertainment after the dinner is served, and just purchase a drink and still get to watch the show.

Tauono’s Garden Cafe & Market Shop

We loved Tauono’s as it was so convenient, it was located a few minutes walk from where we stayed at Matriki Beach Huts. It could be accessed along the beach or by the front along the main road.

Sonja a Canadian-Austrian who runs it is a delight. Sonja makes the most delicious coconut cake which she makes with fresh coconuts. She also sells fresh organic fruit and vegetables from her own garden. This place was really handy to grab some fruit for our breakfast, and some lunch bits. She also makes fresh bread most days which is available to buy.

We didn’t eat in her cafe, but I’m sure the food is amazing as we bought some cakes and bread from her most days, and all were really tasty. If your self catering definitely pay Tauono’s a visit, as the stores around the island don’t really sell much fresh fruit, vegetables or other fresh produce.

Accommodation

Matriki Beach Huts

When we were on Aitutaki we stayed at Matriki Beach Huts. They were reasonably priced, and were not too big with only 2 beach huts and 1 double storey beach hut, and a garden unit.

They had a really good location set right on the beach. They were knocked up and kind of thrown together, however I think this added to the charm of the place. There were shared toilets, the huts themselves however were self contained with bed, small kitchenette and an outside contained shower and a deck area.

The deck was lovely to sit out on at night and listen to the sound of the ocean. There is also a bbq and social area and everyone that stayed at Matriki was really friendly.

There’s also a coconut cutting area and a pole to hook down the coconuts from the trees. This was good fun as the weather wasn’t great on one of the days we were there, and a couple we had made friends with and ourselves decided to get some coconuts down, and cut them open and have drink.

Matriki also offer bikes and scooters available to hire as well as offering lagoon tours, and water taxis. However I would recommend pre-booking a lagoon tour, when I made the booking a few months before our arrival, I asked if I could book a tour and they advised me they would arrange it on my arrival, but when I arrived they said they would let me know as soon as possible. Then 2 days past with glorious sunny weather, then the weather took a turn for the worse, and they said they could not take the boat out, which is fine I understand that bad weather can be dangerous, but I started to worry thinking we wouldn’t make it out to the lagoon, which was the whole reason why we traveled to Aitutaki.

We amended our flights back to Rarotonga to later ones so we could give ourselves some more time to get out onto the lagoon, and we ended up booking Kia-Orana Cruises in the end, which I wish we had just done in the first place, rather than waiting for Matriki to decide on a day to take us. Other than the tour mess up, Matriki did make it up to us and took us out on our last day to One Foot Island and dropped us off there for the day.

I would recommend Matriki as a place to stay as the beach huts are cute and quirky, I would recommend also using Matriki for water taxis, but would advise pre-booking a lagoon tour with Kia-Orana Cruises or another lagoon tour operator as their boats are better equipped incase of bad weather.

Transport & Getting Around

Airport Transfers

Most accommodation providers will organise or provide airport transfers for NZ$20 per person each way. Prior to arriving try and organise airport transfers as the airport is very small, and there isn’t much at the airport. If your accommodation provider doesn’t provide airport transfers book in advance with Island Tours.

Buses

Aitutaki has no public bus services.

Scooters & Bikes

Scooters and bikes are readily available to hire all around the island, however with scooters you need a valid motorcycle licence, alternatively you can obtain a licence for a fee and a practical exam from the police station in Rarotonga. Aitutaki is a lot more relaxed than Rarotonga and don’t ask for a motorcycle license to hire the scooters. Some accommodation providers hire out scooters and bicycles which is the best way to get around the island. The roads are very quiet and the speed limit is low.

Taxis

Aitutaki has no taxi services, however car hire is available from Popoara Rentals, Ranginuis Retreat and Rinos Beach Bungalows and rentals.

Top Tips

My top tips for The Cook Islands would be take lots of bug repellent my husband and I got eaten alive while we were there. If you have snorkels and masks take them with you, as there are lots of great snorkelling spots within just a few meters swim out from the beach. My husband and I have invested in some full face snorkel masks which are great and don’t steam up, and best of all not having to breathe through a snorkel.

Another tip would be to explore the island of Aitutaki by hiring a bike or scooter, and spending a morning driving around the island, also one evening at dusk head to some of the mangroves around the island, and see if you can spot the crabs coming out of the ground from their dens.

While on the island try and spend as much time as you can out on the lagoon, and on the beach as it’s truly stunning. I noticed most tourists that were staying in the larger resorts would be sat by the pool rather than on the beach. Which was great for us, as most days we had the beach to ourselves, but also made me think The Cook Islands is a long way to travel to, to then sit by a pool and not admire the beautiful beaches.

Important Information

 

Rarotonga Travel Guide

Rarotonga will always be your first stop in the Cook Islands, as this is the largest and most visited island in the Cooks. This is down to it being home to the Cook Islands capital Avarua, and the international airport which has direct flights from Auckland, Sydney and Los Angeles.

When we went to Rarotonga we flew direct from Auckland with Virgin Australia, and decided to spend 3 nights there before flying over to Aitutaki, and then on the return spent 1 more night on Rarotonga.

We fell in love with Rarotonga as there is lots to do, and its also a great place to relax. The locals are some of the warmest and friendliest people we have ever met. As the island is so small everyone knows everyone, and locals will wave hello to you as they pass, and even stop and offer you lifts if they see you walking along the roadside. There is also nightlife on the island if you want it, with party buses, organised bar crawls and island Nights.

Rarotonga really does have it all from paradise beaches, snorkelling and water sports, jungle treks, island nights, bars, shops and lots more on offer. Even though Rarotonga has lots going on on the island, it is by no means touristy and busy like other places around the world. It still has a very laid back Island feel to it.

As soon as you step off the plane and into the airport you get a warm welcome from a man playing the ukulele at the baggage belt, and being met with a flower lei as you walk through arrivals this is just the start of the warmth you will receive from the locals.

Kia Orana is the saying around the Cook Islands, and you will be greeted with this everywhere you go, Kia Orana means may we lead long and fulfilling lives. While in the Cook Islands try and greet the locals back with it as soon as you arrive, by the end of your trip you definitely will be as you won’t be able to help but say it after a day or 2.

Rarotonga really is an amazing place to stay and visit. In this destination guide I will be recommending places that I myself have visited and tried out, so I hope you find the below helpful.

Sights & Activities

Ariki Adventures Night Paddle Tour

Ariki Adventures is a tour operator that offer a wide range of water sports and tours. We booked onto the night time paddle board tour, which was a highlight in our trip. My husband and myself had been wanting to try paddle boarding for a while, and decided to book onto the night tour. The tour is a great for all levels of paddle boarders, they give you a quick lesson on the beach before heading out on the lagoon at sunset, the views over the lagoon are stunning at sunset. The tour also bring along their mascot dog Tama who loves to be on the paddle board and joins the tour most nights.

The paddle boards all have neon lights attached to the bottom which light up the water beneath, and with a selection of neon colours to choose from of course I decided to choose the flashing disco lights. When the sun had set we all turned off our lights on the boards and huddled near each other and laid on our boards to look at the stars, a real amazing experience I can’t recommend this enough.

Ariki Adventures offer rentals for bikes, kayaks, paddle boards etc. They also offer sea scooter tours which look amazing! We were booked onto a tour but unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse so it wasn’t safe to go out on that day so we didn’t get chance to experience it, which was a shame as it looks amazing so if you can, try and book on the tours straight away on a clear sunny day.

Avarua

Avarua is a town and district on the north of Rarotonga, and it is the Cook Islands capital. It not like any capital I have ever been to in the world, it is more or less a street with some shops, bars, restaurants and some banks.

There isn’t a great amount to do here, however there are several sights and historic buildings such as the Cook Islands Christian church which is a white washed church that was build in 1853. They hold a service at 10am every Sunday which all are welcome to attend, Cook Island church services are well known for their lively singing. Unfortunately we had a tour booked on a Sunday while in the cooks so didn’t get chance to experience a cook church service, but everyone says how energetic and welcoming they are are, if you get a chance definitely try and make a church service anywhere in the Cook Islands.

There is also the Para O Tane Palace which is where the treaty accepting the Cook Islands status as a British protectorate in 1888 was signed. Just behind the palace is the Cook Islands Museum and library which has a variety of Pacific literature and some small exhibits.

Black Rock

Black Rock is situated on the northwest of the island, and is a great natural sight to visit. It also hosts one of the best snorkelling spots on the island. Traditionally it is believed that spirits of the dead travel from Black Rock to the afterworld.

Koka Lagoon Cruise

There are several lagoon cruises available, after researching we decided to go with Koka Lagoon Cruises they were the same price as other operators but a percentage of all bookings made is put towards marine conservation.

The tour leaves Muri Beach on a glass bottom boat and consists of snorkelling, and a small cruise around the lagoon with lots of singing and music from the guys running it. You definitely feel like your in the South Pacific on this tour with their traditional island sounds and music, after snorkelling they provide a traditional Cook Islands lunch and BBQ on the small motu island of Koromiri which you can also swim/walk over to from Muri Beach.

After lunch they play lots of games and love to have lots of audience participation it’s abit tacky and tourist but it was so much fun, and everyone had a real laugh. My husband was even dragged up to attempt to climb up a coconut tree. The tour lasts approximately 4 hours and finished off with hermit crab racing. Koka lagoon cruises is great to do on your first day in the Cooks to get you into the island spirit.

Muri Beach

Muri Beach is one of the most stunning places on Rarotonga with its white sand beach, and views over the aqua blue lagoon and the 4 motu Islands that surround it. The water around Muri Beach is really clear and great for snorkelling with lots of bright colourful fish. There are also tons of water sports available on Muri.

Even though Muri is one of the most popular places to visit it is still relatively peaceful and not to busy, and you can enjoy lots of peace and quiet. When staying on Rarotonga try and base yourself in or around Muri, as there are some great places to stay as well as some restaurants and Muri night Market which offers a selection of tasty food.

Food & Beverage

Ariki’s Shack

Ariki’s shack is also owned by the same owner who runs Ariki Adventures and Ariki Bungalows. Ariki’s shack is a great little place set along Muris main road and serves up a selection of coffee and drinks. When we went they had just started to serve bagels and jams which were perfect for breakfast, we walked down there most mornings to grab a bagel and a drink. Ariki’s shack also serves as a booking office for Ariki Adventures, and you can hire a selection of equipment here such as bikes and boards etc.

La Casita

La Casita is set along the main drag in Muri, and although this place is tex-mex they offer a bit of island flare by serving up local fresh fish in their dishes and island brewed beers. They also offer some Italian dishes such as pasta and pizza. La Casita is a great place to go for comfort food if you have had a busy day out on the lagoon.

Mooring

Mooring is a converted blue shipping container which serves up a selection of sandwich’s and smoothies. They use fresh local fish in their sandwiches although other fillings are available such as chicken, salad etc. We decided to go for the tuna options they were delicious and fresh!

Mooring is situated on the main road just before you come into Muri and is easy to walk up to from Muri. The alfresco dining option is a great place to sit for lunch with gorgeous views over the lagoon. Mooring isn’t open for dinner so make sure you try and make it there for a lunch.

Muri Night Market

Muri Night Market is a must when staying on Rarotonga. The market is only on Tuesday – Thursday nights and Sunday night. There’s lots of choice with lots of local dishes. The portions are huge to so make sure you go hungry, there’s some great stalls to choose from with fresh fish curries, Asian Pacific dishes, meat skewers, papaya salads, and some great slabs of deserts and cakes.

Occasionally there is also live music to playing. We loved the market so much we went a few times as the food is great, and it’s really reasonably priced too, and we tasted the best ever brownie we had there as well. Muri Night Market is a must to your Rarotonga itinerary.

Accommodation

Ariki Bungalows

We stayed at Ariki Bungalows as it was a great location just set back from Muri Beach. The accommodation was clean, comfortable and the hosts Jules and Kave were warm and welcoming. Ariki only has 3 rooms available, and a great social area/bar where guests can use the BBQ facilities, and socialise with drinks. Ariki Bungalows is also owned by the same owners Jules and Kave who run the Ariki’s Shack and Ariki Adventures.

When staying at the Bungalows you received 10% discount off tours with Ariki Adventures. The Bungalows are decorated in traditional island decor, and all have ensuites with small kitchenette and fridge. We really enjoyed staying here and was a few minutes walk down to the beach and the main road which runs through Muri is just down the driveway. Ariki Bungalows is also reasonably priced and was affordable. If your on a budget definitely check Ariki Bungalows out as you get a lot for you money here.

Transport & Getting Around

Airport Transfers

Most accommodation providers will organise or provide airport transfers for NZ$20 per person each way. If you do not organise transfers there’s several desks as you come through arrivals which offer transfer services. There is also a bus stop next to the airport however you may have to wait for the bus as the buses run clockwise and anti-clockwise around the island.

Buses

Rarotonga buses are a great way to get around the island as you can just wave them down at the side of the road. The buses run clock wise and anti clockwise. However you could wait a little while for them. We decided to go around the island while we were there and bought an all day unlimited pass and hardly used it, as we started walking between the stops instead of waiting, and as locals saw us walking would stop and offer us a lift.

Scooters & Bikes

Scooters and bikes are readily available to hire all around the island, however with scooters you need a valid motorcycle licence, alternatively you can obtain a licence for a fee and a practical exam from the police station.

Taxis

Taxis are available around the island for around about NZ$3 per kilometre. Look out for the bright green cars and vans also known as the Cook Island taxi association. While we were on Rarotonga we didn’t use any taxis as found we could walk to most places whiles in Muri and only went out of Muri during one day which is when we used the bus and lifts from locals.

Top Tips

My top tips for the Cook Islands would be take lots of bug repellent my husband and I got eaten alive while we were. If you have snorkels and masks take them with you as lots of great snorkelling spots. My husband and I have invested in some full face snorkel masks which are great and don’t steam up, and best of all not having to breathe through a snorkel.

In the Cook Islands and around the Pacific tattoos are extremely popular and part of their history and culture. While we were in the Cook Islands I decided to get a more permanent keepsake, I wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate our trip.

On the island there is a tattooist Croc Tatau, I really wanted to go to him for a tattoo but he only offers traditional Polynesian tattoos, and I wanted a Flower or palm tree. Just down the road from Ariki Bungalows is a tattoo shop called Images of the Soul so I booked in there and got a small palm tree on the inside of my ankle. If you are also looking to get any ink while in the cooks I can highly recommend Images of the Soul tattoo shop.

In the Cook Islands internet WiFi is not readily available everywhere. The Cook Islands is so remote that they offer data packages, but it has to be bought at either the airport or one of the Bluesky sales offices. Bluesky is the main internet provider to the Cook Islands and has hotspots around the island where you can access the internet. Either go without WiFi for the duration of your trip, or purchase some data before you leave the airport.

Important Information