A Special Birthday Holiday - By Cynthia Lenain - Surrey England - February 2018

What a wonderful time we had.

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When we decided to go to New Zealand for a special birthday holiday, we wanted to make sure we would have comfort, variety and hopefully an experience of a lifetime.  Friends recommended the Exclusive Travel Group and they tailor-made the trip for us – we were not disappointed.

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After a few days downtime, staying with friends we went on our first organised experience.  A boat trip around lake Tarawera.  We arrived to find a luxury yacht, a charming skipper and beautiful scenery. 

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The trip included travelling around the peaceful waters, walking in warm volcanic pools and having a delicious BBQ lunch onboard.  Very relaxing, so much so that I spent most of the return journey asleep on deck.

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Our first hotel was representative of the pure quality of the accommodation we stayed in throughout the holiday.  The world renowned Huka Lodge, by Huka Falls a little bit of hotel heaven.  The setting is idyllic.  There are wonderful river views, spacious rooms and we found the attention to detail supreme – and we can be quite fussy.  We ate like kings (and queens!)

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And my husband who is a keen dry fly fisherman, had a day Trout fishing with a local specialist.  He said it was the best fishing he had ever had – all wild Trout and he caught 12 in a morning!  Meanwhile I was being pampered with an aromatherapy massage in our room.

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The following day we flew to White Island by helicopter which collected us from Huka Lodge.  Imagine landing on the moon but not having to get there by rocket.  Grey stone everywhere, steam and smoke belching out from crevices and stunning bright yellow sulphur scattered all around.  Its just the most amazing experience and it is what White Island has to offer. 

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We arrived by helicopter and apart from the pilot we were the only people on New Zealand’s most active volcano.  I just didn't want to leave.  It was like being on a Star War’s film set without the bother of the cameras and the crew.  The whole trip will stay with me forever and if I could I would go back in a heartbeat.

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We left White Island and flew to Hawkes Bay (Craggy Range Lodge) by helicopter.  It isn’t often that you spend over an hour in a helicopter looking at what New Zealand has to offer, but it was more than worth it.  Peter Jackson did it daily when he was doing recces for the Lord of the Rings film series and I can understand why.  It’s the only way to get the full picture – pardon the pun!!

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We flew over huge mountains,

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Volcanoes, lakes, dense green forest, picturesque Maori settlements, and sparkling blue sea.  It was just the best way to experience the total vastness and diversity of this intoxicating country.  It was an absolute privilege to travel this way and the memories will be with me always.  What’s more we landed on the Lodges front lawn – I liked that!

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We spent three nights at this most beautiful house – Craggy Range Lodge.  Set amongst the vines and vineyard of this famous New Zealand winery.  Delicious food, wine and a wonderful art deco day spent in nearby Napier rounded off a memorable trip to the Hawkes Bay.

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From there we flew to Nelson and of course spent three extraordinary days with Peter and Bobbie (the owners) at Edenhouse Hotel.  We were told they were legends in the hospitality industry in New Zealand and they didn’t disappoint.  Edenhouse was beautiful and the hosts extraordinary.  Unfortunately, we caught the full force of a cyclone that had blown down from the Pacific Islands whist in this area so spent two days wine tasting and eating waiting for the storm to pass. 

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We did manage our private cruise out into the sounds whale and dolphin watching with a glorious picnic.  The Marlborough sounds are breath-taking in their beauty – the serenity of that day was in stark contrast to the howling winds of the cyclone we experienced for the next 2 days.

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We left this region by car, driving down the coast road to Christchurch.  The road had just re opened after the earthquake of 2 years ago.  We were driving for about 2 hours when we had to turn back due to slips closing the road because of the cyclone and rain.  We then had to take the in-land route to Christchurch which took us over 8 hours in pouring tropical rain.  We were heading for Otahuna Lodge – the largest wooden mansion in the Southern Hemisphere.  We were relieved to arrive and the welcome we received was so comforting.

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We were late for dinner but that didn’t matter.  We were shown up to our room the ‘Veranda Suite’ The most glorious suite I have ever stayed in – the bathroom even had an open fire.  We quickly changed and went down to dinner.  Otahuna is renowned for its organic kitchen garden and famous chef and he didn’t disappoint.  Even though we were late it was scrumptious.

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We spent the next two days exploring the Garden City region before leaving for our 6-hour drive to Queenstown.  The day dawned still, clear, sunny and warm (thankfully the storm had finally passed) The drive to Queenstown is a must do for everyone. 

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Passing high country hills and mountains, lakes so blue that they don’t seem real, open countryside that is so huge its hard to take in and lovely small towns that welcome travellers like old friends.

I wasn’t expecting to visit a Swiss ski village in the Southern most tip of New Zealand, but driving around the bend in the road, there it was – without the snow.  There was a bit of snow on a distant mountain range, which encircles picturesque Queenstown. 

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We were travelling in the New Zealand summer but there was truly a ski resort feel about the place – which is not surprising because in winter it is.!  In summer the water sports take over.  Queenstown is surrounded by a stunning lake and from our balcony we could see masses of aqua activity set against a backdrop of snow topped peaks as well as impressive mountains in shades of green and brown, which change colour as the sun moves across them. 

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Not only is it worth staying in Queenstown for the views and the sports, it has excellent restaurants, art galleries and designer shops.  It is also only a helicopter ride away from the most awe-inspiring scenery you are ever likely to see.

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We decided to include a six-hour helicopter tour from Queenstown airport as part of our itinerary.  We went with friends who met us in Queenstown.  We were greeted by our delightful pilot who made us feel instantly at ease. 

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He had to be inventive on his choice of route because the weather patterns were changing before our eyes but handled the situation with calm and professionalism. 

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We landed on a beach overlooking the Tasmin Sea.   

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We stood on the edge of a peacock blue glacier looking out over miles upon miles of mountains and valleys, with alpine plants and flowers at our feet, beside a high mountain lake called a Corrie.

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We swept into Milford Sound from the sea.

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Then took off again to land on the snow-covered glacier, where our friend wearing shorts decided to have a snow ball fight. 

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We visited places that no one has ever walked on before and made about 12 /13 landings.  

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On our way back to Queenstown we landed on a mountain meadow high above the lake and town for our champagne picnic lunch.  It was an unforgettable experience for which we were so grateful.  Our own tailor-made picnic paradise with the enormity of nature all around us.  My husband thought it was the highlight of his birthday trip, Oh, and by the way, our friends played a few golf shots with biodegradable golf balls – the best tee off ever.!

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We finished off this most extraordinary of days with a delicious early dinner at Rata and we were all in bed and asleep by 10pm.  Looking forward to the new day to come.

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Our new day, bright, sunny and warm as we drove from Queenstown to Wanaka to connect with the most exciting Jet Boating adventure in New Zealand.  

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Beneath glaciers, Mount Aspiring and Lord of the Rings locations in the magical Matukituki valley.  Travelling at speed we experienced thrilling spins, stopping in turquoise pools. 

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Deep in the mountains we took a 50-minute walk through moss covered forest, waterfalls and beneath avalanche glacier. (Used in the Tolkien battle scene) It was such a fun afternoon and stimulated all the senses.  In fact, I am sure I saw and elf sitting on a boulder…

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18 days filled with wonder, excitement and awe.

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Thank you Exclusive Travel Group.

 

Exclusive Travel Group