So I sit here writing this entry when -perhaps- I should be starting to pack… I am less than 48 hrs away from departure but my packing list (serving me faithfully since 1997…) serves as my security blanket. I proceed writing here not too preoccupied with my packing slackness. Of course, packing will also be interrupted by a Mexican dinner with friends tonight and, I am sure, by other things tomorrow!
I will leave Monday and the trip will, for sure, be long. But not as long as my trip to Tanzania which had 2 very long layovers in London and Dubai… I found a great fare to/from LA in the US with Air New Zealand taking me to Sydney, then including the leg from Melbourne to Christchurch, and finally bringing me back from Auckland. To and from LA from Atlanta, I used frequent flyer miles. (Sadly, I had enough miles with Delta for a first class seat all the way but the partner airlines serving Oz and NZ did not have availability EVEN FOR COACH! Frequent flyer miles are becoming more and more valueless with time.)
So what am I doing? After a lot of research online (websites, Twitter, etc.) and in travel guidebooks, here is the plan I settled on:
- Starting on June 3rd for short of a week: Sydney and vicinity. I have friends in Sydney so a longer stay is nice. I hope to visit the Hunter Valley, the Blue Mountains, the Jenolan Caves as well as all the key sites in Sydney proper.
- 2nd week of June through June 18th: Melbourne and, maybe, a short hop to Tasmania (I know, should spend more time there…).
- Then I go to New Zealand where I will spend 11 days visiting: Christchurch, Franz Josef Glacier, Milford Sound, Te Anau, Queenstown, Auckland, Rotorua, Waitomo, and Taupo. It was hard deciding whether to focus on one of the two main islands or how to divide my time between them. Lots of good advice but usually with differing suggestions. In the end, I read about what there was to see and just chose based on what drew me the most (glacier, fjords, geysers were tops). I will be taking an independent tour for part of this itinerary. I had not heard of independent tours before but it fits me very well as I didn’t want to drive on my own (plus it is winter and I don’t know the roads or the likely conditions) and I also didn’t want to be trapped in a guided tour. The independent tour arranges all transportation and accommodations and some key activities but, in general, they leave you on your own so you can choose what you want to do at the various places you go. I like that a lot.
I am very excited at seeing friends in Australia and at FINALLY getting to visit Australia and New Zealand! I know I leave other things unexplored but I will hope I get to return someday to go more off the beaten path and explore other parts of these countries more in depth.
Any recommendations on good places to eat (“hole-in-the-wall” types) or lesser-known but outstanding sightseeing jewels in Sydney, Melbourne, Christchuch, Queenstown or Auckland??
I have reached a great milestone: I have finalized my travel plans!! The only details that remain are those that will be finalized once I am in Australia. As usual, planning the trip, exploring the possibilities, figuring out routing and logistics, etc. are great fun for me. But that fun has ended and the real fun is about to begin!
I have decided to first visit my friends in Australia since their schedule was better this way. I will first get to Sydney via LA and Auckland as I decided to fly Air New Zealand.
(NOT a sponsored blog post! just like their logo!)
I decided on ANZ for price and itinerary. Since the last bit of my trip is New Zealand, I didn’t feel like trekking back to Australia before heading home (once the trip is over, I will just want to get home!). I did not pursue United as generally I don’t like it. I did have enough frequent flyer miles to get there with Delta even first class but they do not start flying there until July and I had to travel in June. Delta‘s partner airlines didn’t work out to get there on miles which was a big bummer as I had hope to fly Singapore Airlines first class all the way. (The good news is those miles will take me elsewhere in the future!)
So, back to the itinerary, Sydney first. After a week or so there, I trek over to Melbourne to visit my other friends. I am hoping to visit some wineries in the Yarra area. My Melbourne friends want to make a long weekend trip with me and we are toying with Uluru or Tasmania. I am hoping for the latter myself as I have read wonderful things about “Tassie”.
From Melbourne, I say goodbye to Australia wishing I had gotten to see Darwin, the Kimberlies and Perth. I could have spent the next 2 weeks seeing those places but have decided that New Zealand is much higher on my priority list. This is a hard-to-get-to place in the world for me to get to so I had to go off priorities (much as I like to think I will be able to go back someday). I arrive in Christchurch, NZ where I signed up for an independent tour of the southern island for about a week. An independent tour, which is a new concept for me, means they provide transport and accommodations but it is not a guided tour and you are not necessarily traveling with the same people the whole time. Both of these things appeal to me. I wish I could have driven around the island but traveling solo, I didn’t feel this time like dealing with everything by myself (though there are self-drive tours that seem pretty good for anyone wanting to drive).
The tour I have opted for will take me through glacier territory, fjord waters, mountain towns, and hopefully wine territory near Blenheim (of Sauvignon Blanc fame!!!). I decided to spend the majority of the time in the south island though I realize I am forgoing some key sights in the north island. I will have little time in the north island and mainly in Auckland from where I will depart to head home.
I am so looking forward to this trip!
A few weeks ago, through my Twitter account (ilivetotravel), a friend connected me with the Amateur Traveler Travel Podcast ( http://amateurtraveler.com/ ). Chris Christensen runs this website and he interviewed me a couple of weeks ago to share my experience visiting Krakow and the neighboring region. Being interviewed is not necessarily a daunting thing in and of itself but being recorded for playback did feel more daunting!
The podcast was published this past weekend (episode 185) and you can hear it by going to his site and either clicking the play button above the picture or downloading the mp3 or the enhanced iTunes version. The iTunes version will play different pictures of what is being spoken about, some are my pictures and some other not.
Overall, it was a great experience and a great way to continue the work of spreading the word about the rewards of travel and specifically about Krakow and its vicinity! Check out my podcast and check out all the podcasts Chris has developed. It is an impressive list of destinations for which he has podcasts!
I find myself with the benefit of extra time where I can make a trip somewhere for 3 or 4 weeks and I have set my sights on Australia and New Zealand. I have friends in a couple of towns in Australia so it seemed maybe a good time to head down. Also I have always cringed at trying to visit on 2 week vacation as it is far for me and costly!
The first question is what of all that there is to see should I plan to see and will the amount of time I have be sufficient.
The second question is how that potential list of destinations matches with my friends’ schedules.
Finally, the logistical matters for the solo part of the my trip take center stage for my last question. For example, I hear NZ is best handled driving but, as I would be there on my own, I don’t feel I want to handle driving. So I have to figure out what options do I have to get to explore NZ in a different manner. I am searching through various blogs and websites as well as posting questions on twitter (@ilivetotravel) to see what may be possible. I am a fan of wines so I have been wondering if tying seeing the country while visiting its wine regions may be a good way to marry both interests. Are there operators that provide those types of tours and on a short enough itinerary to fit my overall itinerary?
I found a great site that breaks up the two main NZ islands into regions and then provides descriptions of each region with their “must see” attractions. I am finding it a great way to study where I may want to focus my limited time in NZ. A week is not enough, I am told, for NZ but my time constraints do not allow much room for more.
In terms of Australia, my visits to Sydney and Melbourne will be the anchor of the trip as I want to see my friends. However, places like Tasmania and Uluru are high on my list. I would also love to explore wine country and the Kimberlies and see places like Perth and Darwin. But there may not be enough time for it all so, in the end, I suspect my final itinerary will depend on what works out best from a scheduling and cost standpoint.
One snag on my plans was that it seems I will not be able to use my Delta/SkyTeam frequent flyer miles to get there. I had enough accumulated over time for even a first class ticket and I had been saving the miles for this trip. However, Skyteam does not have many ways to get me down under and the only ways they have (Singapore Airlines and Korean Airlines) do not work for my schedule. However, I have to say that I found very cheap fares from LA for about $1100 including my travel between NZ and Australia. By the way, Qantas and Air New Zealand have fantastic features on their websites for planning multi-city itineraries. Kudos!
I hope my next entry contains more solid details as I am 3 weeks away from my potential departure!
Open to suggestions about what are “must see” destinations or ways to see NZ without driving?
Back in the times when I lived in Paris, a fellow expat and I decided it would be a great idea to leave Paris a Friday afternoon and head down to Switzerland by car for the weekend. It was actually crazy and last minute but most definitely worthwhile, even if rushed. We realized we would only be scratching the surface of what western Switzerland has to offer but we kept talking about it as a “research trip” to see how Switzerland was. A sampler trip if you will.
We departed Paris in the late afternoon and drove a few hours to our planned overnight stop at Besançon. We stayed at a small hotel close to the casino. We mistakenly thought it may be interesting to enter the casino but it was way too smoky so we just walked around town and grabbed dinner at a run-of-the-mill cafè. What struck us was that Besançon itself could have been a destination as the city looked like it had areas to explore. A visit for some other time…
Besançon was close to the Swiss border so Saturday morning it did not take us long to make it to Switzerland proper. At the border we had to buy a sticker to allow us to drive a foreign car on Swiss roads – something we were not aware of until we got to the border. We drove in the Jura region which had beautiful scenery (not an uncommon thing in Switzerland!) until we made it to Lausanne. We were not planning on exploring it on this trip so we it was strictly a drive-by. It looked like a town worth checking out but our goal was to get to Bern where we had planned to stay overnight and visit Interlaken that afternoon.
We wanted to see Interlaken that afternoon but since we had no hotel reservations for Saturday night, we drove into Bern first, went to the tourist info office, and got a hotel room. I have to say the tourist info office was fantastic and efficient in helping us secure accommodations. Why am I not surprised or am I stereotyping? The small hotel was in the town center and we had fun driving to get to that part of town. Bern is set in an enclave surrounded by the Aar River on 3 sides. One of the best views of the town is actually from the opposite site of the river where you can take in the town’s setting and charming architecture.
After checking in, we quickly departed Bern to hit Interlaken before it was too late in the day. The drive south to Interlaken was very short and, again, beautiful. I remember listening to Billy Joel during the drive but don’t ask me what that has to do with anything; the memory just came up as I typed… Interlaken is, as the name suggests, between lakes and the setting could not be more spectacular. Of course, the tourist shops take away from the scenery a little bit so we walked away from that part of the town (after having a beer!) to find a place to eat that would not be at the heart of the tourist zone (yet, we were tourists – the irony, huh?). We found a nice place and had a great meal. Highlight of the meal was these two young women who were tourists who after the meal ordered what they thought was a dessert and it turned out to be this massive bowl of some sort of soup. They kept giggling and since they were speaking English we asked them what was up. They were embarrassed but we all laughed together at this example of the fun experiences one can have when one explores.
That night in Bern we went out to check out some of the night scene. We ended up sitting outdoors in some bar that seemed happening. We enjoyed sitting out there soaking in the scene before calling it a night.
Sunday came too fast (what did we expect?) and time to head back to Paris. We decided to make our way back via Lucerne where we stopped to have lunch lakeside before the long road ahead. We left Switzerland near Basel and made it “home” safely.
Though the trip was way too short, we enjoyed sampling some of what Switzerland has to offer. And the research trip clearly yielded a desire to go back and spend more time.
Does anyone have recommendations on unique things in Lausanne, Bern, Interlaken or Lucerne to see or do? How about any small towns in that part of the country that are picturesque/worth seeing?