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Great Rail Journeys of the World

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Vicki Tester

 

We are often asked what and where is the best rail journey in the world? So in answer to this we have detailed below some of our must do Great Rail Journeys of the World:

  • Consider the luxury rail experience offered by the Eastern and Oriental Express, operating between Singapore and Bangkok and taking two or three nights depending on the direction of travel. Enjoy vistas of tea plantations, rolling farmland, colonial cities and historic temples.
  • Take a rail journey in Vietnam, from the bustling city of Hanoi to the village of Sapa, located in the mountains overlooking spectacular views of the Ta Van valley’s terraced rice fields. The train operates overnight in both directions.
  • Think about the super-fast Shinkansen ‘Bullet Train’ in Japan. There are a number of routes on offer, but no trip to Japan is complete without at least one trip in the iconic Bullet Train.
Picture courtesy of JNTO

Picture courtesy of JNTO

 There are three iconic rail journeys available in New Zealand, one on the North Island, and two on the South.

  • On the North Island, the Northern Explorer runs from Auckland to Wellington through diverse countryside comprising of rolling farmland, towering viaducts and beautiful hidden valleys.
  • On the South Island, the Tranz Alpine train runs from Christchurch in the east to Greymouth in the west through stunning scenery. A stop is made in the small mountain town of Arthur’s Pass, where a stay enables a closer inspection of this Alpine region.  The Coastal Pacific runs from Picton (tying in perfectly with the ferry from Wellington on the NorthIsland)  south to Christchurch. This rail journey stops in Kaikoura en route, where a stay gives the opportunity to take a whale watching cruise.

 

  • An impressive and popular rail journey on the Devil’s Nose section of railway in Ecuador could be a part of your holiday itinerary.  Named Devil’s Nose due to the many deaths amongst workers as well as difficulty of building it, the route connects the Alausi and Sibambe stations taking a stunning trip down the rocky slopes of the Andes through breath-taking scenery.
  • Board the tourist train in Peru taking you on a journey through the Urubamba Valley or Sacred Valley of the Incas, to the marvellous mountaintop ruins of Machu Picchu.
  • One of the more popular rail routes is the Coast Starlight which takes you along the west coast between Seattle and Los Angeles stopping in Portland along the way. Why not take a day out of your itinerary to treat yourself by taking a trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train where you can relax on-board the exquisitely restored vintage rail cars and experience fine dining service, multiple course meals and the stunning Napa Valley scenery. Most people see the Grand Canyon from the skies but since 1901 the Grand Canyon Railway has been taking people right through the heart of this amazing place and you could be one of them, you’ll feel like you’re travelling back in time. For something a little different during your visit to Colorado why not travel along the 45 miles of 3 foot narrow gauge track on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway which has been running since 1881. However long your journey is travelling by rail is a definite must do during your USA holiday.
Picture courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer

Picture courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer

  • The most famous rail journey in Canada has to be the Rocky Mountaineer. With a variety of routes available you can spend a couple of days or a couple of weeks on board. One of the more popular routes is the Journey through the Clouds which takes you between Vancouver and Jasper with an overnight stop in Kamloops. With different grades of      service available this is a must no matter how big or small your budget is. If you want to travel the width of Canada in comfort and without missing the scenery as you concentrate on driving then take a ride on The Canadian. In the space of four nights and three days, you’ll get to see the lakes in Northern Ontario, the lush boreal forest, the western Prairies, and the magnificent Rocky Mountains as you travel between historical Quebec and modern Toronto.
  • Australia has some of the most iconic rail journeys in the world. There isn’t enough room here to talk about them all but here are some to whet your appetite. The Indian Pacific gets its name because it covers 4352km between Perth on the Indian Ocean and Sydney on the Pacific Ocean. The whole journey takes three nights, although you can break it up with a stop in Adelaide. You’ll travel through a variety of landscapes from towns and cities to the desert like Nullarbour Plain, from the outback to the forest of the Blue Mountains. So we’ve taken you East and West, but what if you want to go North and South? Named after the Afghan Cameleers who travelled this route, the Ghan will take between Darwin in the North to Adelaide in the South going straight through the centre of Australia. If it’s just a day on a train that you would prefer then a trip on the Kuranda Scenic Railway is perfect. It was built between 1882 and 1891 and is made up of 15 hand made tunnels and 37 bridges taking you from Cairns into the Barron Gorge National Park on your way to Karunda, known as the village in the rainforest.

 

  • Africa has a wealth of train experiences that cover the whole spectrum from world leader to leaving a lot to desire.  Rovos Rail has exciting itineraries that stretch from Pretoria, in South Africa through all their southern neighbouring countries and even a trip to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Where possible they travel during the day. The Blue Train is another South African luxury train that travels from Johannesburg to Durban and Cape Town or vice versa.
Picture courtesy of SA Tourism

Picture courtesy of SA Tourism

For further information, and for assistance planning your next bespoke, tailor made holiday which could incorporate one of these great rail journeys, please call us on 01323 446550, email us at  info@experienceholidays.co.uk 

 

 

 

Top Tips for New Zealand

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Photo courtesy of Angie Watson

Photo courtesy of Angie Watson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve detailed below some of our top tips for New Zealand – useful points for anyone thinking of visiting this spectacular country.

 

  • Explore the North Island first, and the South Island second – the scenery will become better and more dramatic as you go.

 

  • Travel in New Zealand’s spring or autumn to avoid the crowds (the summer holidays there are usually throughout January and therefore visitor attractions tend to get busy).

 

  • Visit the far south of the South Island for great wildlife viewing opportunities such as fur seals, sea lions, albatross, yellow eyed penguin and little blue penguin all found in this region, and of course the elusive kiwi found on Stewart Island along with other endemic species.

 

  • Dig in the sand at low tide at Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula and enjoy your own personal spa pool.

 

  • Plan your time carefully – We suggest at least four weeks to see the key highlights, or six weeks if you’d prefer a more comprehensive trip. If you’re limited to a shorter duration, choose one region and explore it well.

 

  • Stay in a variety of accommodation – New Zealand is fantastic for B&B’s, farmstays and boutique lodges, which provide a chance to meet the locals and learn about their way of life, rather than simply providing a place to lay your head.

 

  • Put on your hiking boots and go tramping for a few hours, a day or perhaps one of New Zealand’s famous multi-day Great Walks – you’ll find fantastic scenery and well marked trails whichever you choose.

 

  • For train enthusiasts, the Tranz Alpine is a must – cutting through the Southern Alps from Christchurch to Greymouth, and providing stunning vistas along the way.

 

  • Take an overnight cruise on Milford or Doubtful Sounds for a chance to experience the region with fewer crowds.

 

For more information, and for assistance planning a holiday to New Zealand, call us on 01323 446550, email us at info@experienceholidays.co.uk or see our website www.experienceholidays.co.uk.

New Zealand in 4 Weeks

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A comprehensive bespoke itinerary exploring both the North and South Islands. Four weeks in New Zealand provides time to explore most of the key attractions – and at a comfortable pace.

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New Zealand in 4 weeks

Four weeks in New Zealand provides time to explore most of the key attractions – and at a comfortable pace. The following plan provides an idea of how a bespoke or tailor made four week trip in New Zealand could take shape.

Day 1: Auckland

Day 3: Bay of Islands

Day 6: Coromandel

Day 8: Rotorua

Day 10: Napier

Day 12: Wellington

Day 14: Abel Tasman

Day 17: Punakaiki

Day 18: ArthursPass

Day 20: Fox Glacier

Day 22: Wanaka

Day 23: Te Anau

Day 25: Queenstown

Day 27: LakeTekapo

Day 28: Christchurch

Day 29: Depart New Zealand

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Description

Four weeks in New Zealand provides time to explore most of the key attractions – and at a comfortable pace. The following plan provides an idea of how a four week tailor made or bespoke holiday could take shape.

Day 1: Auckland

Most journeys will start in Auckland, enabling you to explore the NorthIsland first, followed by the South Island.  We usually suggest doing it in this order as both Islands are beautiful in their own way, but it is the South Island that offers the rugged dramatic scenery so often seen in photos and worth working up to!  Auckland is quite a large city by New   Zealand standards, and certainly the busiest you will come across.  Attractions include the Skytower, the ViaductBasin, various museums and possibly a day out to WaihekeIsland.  The ViaductBasin was built to host the Americas Cup a few years ago – and there are Americas Cup yachts in the basin that offer sailing trips out into the Hauraki Gulf.

Two nights Auckland

Day 3: Bay of Islands

The very northern tip of the NorthIsland is well worth a visit. The towns of Paihia and Russell are on opposite sides of the estuary, and from a base here, you might like to explore CapeReinga and Ninety-mileBeach. The Waitangi Treaty was signed near Paihia.

Three nights Bay of Islands

Day 6: Coromandel Peninsula

Coming south through Auckland, and then to the east is the Coromandel Peninsula.  This is home to Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove, and has some lovely scenery, with rain forest in the central spine.  There is some old mining history here for those interested, and good sea fishing as well.

Two nights Coromandel

Day 8: Rotorua

Rotorua was the original tourist destination in the 1800’s, featuring the extraordinary pink and white terraces, which were destroyed in a volcanic eruption in the 1880’s.  Visit the Museum where you can learn about the devastating eruption, followed by a visit to Te Puia, the Maori Arts and Craft Centre.  Te Puia is also home to Whakawerawera thermal reserve.  Follow this with a visit to the BuriedVillage – the remains of the devastation of the 1880’s, and finally LakeTarawera.  There are also a number of other thermal parks around the area.

Two nights Rotorua

Day 10: Napier

Hawke Bay is surrounded by a circle of rugged hills, giving it its unique micro-climate, and making it the perfect location for vineyards and market gardens.  CapeKidnappers is here, if birds are of interest to you and there are some good views to be had from Te Mata Peak.  Napier itself suffered a major earthquake in the 1930’s and was rebuilt in Art Deco style.

Two nights Napier

Day 12: Wellington

This is the capital city and apart from the parliament buildings and botanical gardens, it is also home to the wonderful Te Papa Museum. It is also a unique building in that the foundations are built like a sponge and sit squarely on a major fault.  They are built to withstand quite a sizeable tremor.

Two nights Wellington

Day 14: Abel Tasman National Park

Take the ferry across to Picton on the South Island, and drive around to Abel Taman. This northern tip of the South Island is so often overlooked, but it is one of our favourites.  It is here that you’ll see the crescent shaped beaches backed by lush greenery – easy to spend a full day in the park, using the water taxis to get about, and perhaps walking one of the many trails in the park.

Three nights Abel Tasman

Day 17: Punakaiki

Coming down the west coast, it is nice to break the journey with an overnight stop at Punakaiki.  This is the home of the Pancake Rocks – a strange rock formation, and the overnight stop simply allows you to take your time as these roads are so scenic that you will simply have to keep stopping for more pictures.

One night Punakaiki

Day 18: Arthurs Pass

Turning inland to the central spine of mountains that run through the South Island, this is alpine scenery at its very best.  There are plenty of walking opportunities in the area with stunning views all around.

Two nights Arthurs Pass

Day 20: Fox Glacier and Franz Josef

Returning to the west coast, the next place of interest are the two glaciers of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier.  Take time to visit one or both glaciers, the beautiful LakeMatheson and the dramatic coast at GillespieBeach.  From here also, you can take a sightseeing flight, with or without a glacier landing and hike, and hopefully good views of Mount Cook.

Two nights Fox Glacier

Day 22: Wanaka

The route to Wanaka takes you through the HaastPass and past Lakes Wanaka and Hawea.  Simply beautiful – this little town is surrounded by mountains and is the Queenstown of yesteryear.  Where Queenstown has developed, Wanaka has remained delightfully small.

One night Wanaka

Day 23: Te Anau

Te Anau is the gateway to FjordlandNational Park – for both Milford and Doubtful Sounds. For either, you can visit for a day, or take an overnight cruise. Of the two, Milford offers the more dramatic scenery but is busier. Doubtful Sound has fewer tourists and lovely scenery, but it’s not quite so dramatic.

Two nights Te Anau

Day 25: Queenstown

Sitting on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is a sizeable town with activities for every adrenalin junkie!  Here you will find bungy jumping, sky diving, a luge and plenty more.  Much of the Lord of the Rings was filmed in this area, and although the sets had to be removed, the scenery will seem familiar!  For those not into extreme sports, a drive to Glenorchy is beautiful.

Two nights Queenstown

Day 27: Lake Tekapo

This is the home of the Church of the Good Shepherd and the Collie Dog Memorial often features in brochures. This is also a great place for stargazing as it is a ‘designated dark sky’ area.

One night Lake Tekapo

Day 28: Christchurch

Coming further north is the city of Christchurch. After the earthquakes of recent years Christchurch is still rebuilding, but is still well worth a stay. Punt along the river, visit the botanical gardens or take a tram ride around the town centre. Unique attractions to pop up since the earthquakes include Re:Start – a shopping centre comprised of shipping containers, and the Cardboard Cathedral.

One night Christchurch

Day 28: Depart New Zealand

Lake Tekapo

Courtesy of Angie Watson

Mount Cook New Zealand

Courtesy of Angie Watson

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A stunning lodge in Arthurs Pass called Wilderness Lodge is a real treat and a highlight – located in stunning Alpine scenery and with friendly hosts that are incredibly knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna.

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North Island NZ

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For many visitors, the first point of entry into New Zealand is the city of Auckland – the City of Sails. Travel north from here to the beautiful Bay of Islands – the little town of Russell and Paihia attract visitors year round – and don’t forget Cape Reinga and 90 mile beach (although we are given to understand that the person measuring the beach was a little over optimistic and it actually measures nearer 65 miles!) The Coromandel Peninsula is a couple of hours drive southeast of Auckland, with Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove.

Come south to the geo-thermal centre of the North Island – the town of Rotorua. A visit to the excellent museum gives an insight into the history of the area, and the devastating volcanic eruption that destroyed much of the area in the late 1800’s. Lake Taupo remains a jewel in the centre of this undulating and extraordinary mystical land, the azure of the lake and blue of the sky, framing the outline of Mount Ruapehu on the distant shore. Hawke Bay on the east coast has its own little micro-climate, and produces some excellent wines, and not forgetting the countries Capital city, Wellington, on the southern end of the North Island.

hongi-kissing

Credit Tourism New Zealand


Pohutu geyser at night

Credit Tourism New Zealand


Sea Kayaking CathedralCove

Credit Tourism New Zealand

                    

New Zealand: Are You A North Island Kiwi Or A South Island Kiwi?

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There is a peculiar myth associated with travelling to New Zealand. This myth being that the island upon which you first arrive will be the one that you fall in love with. Of course, when you’re planning tailor made holidays to somewhere like New Zealand, you probably want to see and experience the best of all that the country has to offer. However, North Island New Zealand and South Island New Zealand are distinctly different.

Photo courtesy of Angie Watson

Photo courtesy of Angie Watson

Arriving in the North Island, travellers are met by the familiar cosmopolitan city airs of either Auckland or Wellington. One a windy city and one a harbour side city of sails daringly resting atop 47 naturally capped volcanoes, both Wellington and Auckland are visually stunning and culturally iconic cities in their own right. However, arriving at either as part of package tours or tailor made holidays to New Zealand, people sample New Zealand’s social and cosmopolitan atmosphere, prior to the Land of The Long White Cloud’s unspoiled natural magnificence.

Alternatively then, when one arrives in South Island New Zealand, one is met with much smaller city sizes, where New Zealand’s awe inspiring natural ruggedness really is just a stone’s throw in any given direction. Much more laid back, new Zealand’s South Island is home to a total population equivalent to just a quarter of that of the city of Auckland. Likewise, distances between destinations are markedly increased.

Of course, people planning self drive tailor made holidays to New Zealand will fall in love immediately with South Island’s epic expanses of mountain ranges and impenetrable bush. However, while the north of the South Island is renowned for almost year round sunshine, the South Island itself is markedly different from the North in that coastal areas especially are much more rugged and in many cases only accessible by short hiking trails.

Looking to experience the best of both islands? Itineraries which focus on facilitating tailor made holidays which sample both islands are perfect for travellers with enough time on their hands. The only question is, will where you initially arrive affect your choice of favourite island?        

New Zealand in 3 Weeks

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An itinerary idea for spending three weeks in New Zealand.  The land of the long white cloud, two main islands that hold such appeal and rightly so.  This itinerary offers a three week option, but if time allows, do stretch your time to four weeks – you won’t regret it:

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New Zealand in 3 weeks

The land of the long white cloud, two main islands that hold such appeal and rightly so.  This itinerary offers a three week option, but if time allows, do stretch your time to four weeks – you won’t regret it:

Day 1: Auckland
Day 2: Coromandel Peninsula
Day 4: Rotorua
Day 6: Napier
Day 8: Wellington
Day 9: Abel Tasman Park
Day 12: Punakaiki
Day 13: Fox Glacier
Day 15: Wanaka
Day 16: Te Anau
Day 18: Queenstown
Day 20: Lake Tekapo
Day 21: Christchurch
Day 22: Depart Christchurch

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A volcanic land of mountains, fjords, and glaciers, white sandy beaches, cosmopolitan cities, romantic hide-aways, the land of the Lord of the Rings , the Bungy Jump and the white knuckle jet-boat ride. The land of immaculate vineyards and fine cuisine; New Zealand, technically half way around the world, metaphorically just around the corner – a land so beautiful it is impossible not to fall in love again and again.

Here is one idea for a 3 week self-drive itinerary, covering the North and South Islands. 4 weeks would be even better; there is so much to see in this beautiful country.

Day 1: Auckland
Arrive in Auckland, City of Sails, taking time to climb the Sky Tower for fantastic views of the downtown skyline, harbour, bridge and surrounding hills. Auckland is built on an isthmus, a narrow of finger of land surrounded by water. Of the 3.8 million population of New Zealand, approx. one third live in Auckland and whilst it is not the nation’s capital, it is the most cosmopolitan of all cities and a past host for the Americas Cup Challenge.
One night Auckland

Day 2: Coromandel Peninsula
Collect your hire car and head south today, through Auckland and on to the Coromandel Peninsula; a delightful coastline. Dig your own thermal bath on Hot Water Beach.
Two nights Coromandel Peninsula

If time allows, a visit to the Waitomo Caves at Hamilton is interesting for their abundance of glow worms. If you feel energetic, see the glow worms on a full day abseiling and tubing excursion.

Day 4: Rotorua
Today’s journey takes you through the Bay of Plenty area to Rotorua. One of the original Tourist attractions in the mid 19th Century, the once famous pink and white terraces were destroyed in a volcanic eruption. The area has re-gained its popularity as the centre of geo-thermal activity. Visit the museum, take time out to visit the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and the Whakawerawera hot pools, geyser and bubbling mud.
Two nights Rotorua

Day 6: Napier
Follow the Thermal Explorer Highway to Lake Taupo, the largest in the country, taking a quick look at the Huka Falls en route. Continue towards Napier. The route crosses the mountains that contain Hawkes’ Bay and brings you to Napier, famous for its Art Deco style and wonderful vineyards.
Two nights Napier

Day 8: Wellington
Today’s drive takes you through the Central Plateau area .Your destination is Wellington, New Zealand’s Capital city on the southern tip of the North Island. Visit the Te Papa Museum a wonderfully informative and hands on museum. Explore the Kapiti Coastline.
One night Wellington

With more time available consider including the Taranaki area to your itinerary

Day 09: Abel Tasman National Park
Drop your car this morning at the ferry terminal in Wellington and take the Inter-Islander ferry across the Cook Straits to Picton on the South Island. The second part of the journey takes you through Marlborough Sound – a wonderful introduction to the South Island. If time permits, take the Queen Charlotte Drive eventually arriving in Nelson. The Abel Tasman Park is not far from Nelson – if you feel energetic, drive to the Park entrance and take a water taxi up the coast. The taxi will arrange to pick you up at a given time giving you several hours (or days) to hike the well marked trails.
Three nights Nelson

Day 12: Punakaiki
Coming down the west coast, stop overnight in Punakaiki. This is the home of the Pancake Rocks – a strange rock formation, and the overnight stop simply allows you to take your time as these roads are so scenic that you will simply have to keep stopping for more pictures.
One night Punakaiki

Day 13: Fox Glacier
Continuing down the coast to Fox  and Franz Josef Glaciers. Weather and time permitting, take a scenic flight around Mount Cook or visit the highly informative Visitor Centre to learn about the glacier and its formation.
Two nights Fox Glacier

Day 15: Wanaka
The journey today takes you over the Haast Pass to lovely Lake Wanaka. Simply beautiful – this little town is surrounded by mountains and is the Queenstown of yesteryear.
One night Wanaka

Day 16: Te Anau
Te Anau is the gateway to Fjordland National Park – for both Milford and Doubtful Sounds. For either, you can visit for a day or take an overnight cruise. Of the two, Milford offers the most dramatic scenery, but Doubtful is the quieter with fewer visitors.
Two nights Te Anau

Day 18: Queenstown
Sitting on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is a sizeable town with activities for every adrenalin junkie! Here you will find bungee jumping, sky diving, a luge and plenty more. Much of the Lord of the Rings was filmed in this area, and although the sets had to be removed, the scenery will seem familiar. For those not into extreme sports, a drive to Glenorchy is beautiful.
Two nights Queenstown

Day 19: Lake Tekapo
North to Lake Tekapo and a visit to the Mount Cook National Park. This is also a great place for stargazing.
One night Lake Tekapo

Day 20: Christchurch
Return today to Christchurch for your final night. This most English of cities is compact and easy to navigate. A central hotel brings you within walking distance of the main city centre attractions. With a little more time, take a trip up to Kaikoura – a sleepy little seaside town world famous for whale watching.
One night Christchurch

Day 22: Depart Christchurch
Return to the airport for your onward or homeward flight.

New Zealand

Picture courtesy of New Zealand Tourism

Auckland

Picture courtesy of Chris McLennan

New Zealand

Picture courtesy of Erehwon Colin and Pearl Frankling

Wanaka

Picture courtesy of Jim bell

Wellington

Photo courtesy of Rob Suisted

 

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