New Zealand

  • Adventure in Queenstown

    Queenstown will always be one of my favorite places on earth. Home to never ending mountain views, pristine lakes, a small town feel and more restaurants and shops than imaginable. Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand will always be a place I long to call home. Whether it’s jumping off a mountain or out of a plane, hitting the trails on a day hike or skiing trip, tasting wines, jetboating, or simply relaxing; Queenstown truly has something for everyone.

    View of Queenstown | Photo Credit: Sarah Herman

    View of Queenstown | Photo Credit: Sarah Herman

    Through the Mountains

    A must-do for those with prior dirt bike or ATV experience, Nomad Safari’s Quad Safari was an outing that I’d absolutely do again. Per the norm with activities in New Zealand, first came the safety briefing and gear fitting. We were advised that quad biking is the most dangerous activity you can do in Queenstown. After a brief tutorial on how to operate the ATV’s, we drove out to the test track to polish up on our skills. Here, they determine if anyone is unfit to journey on their own ATV – and if so they will simply ride on the back of one of the guides bikes.

    Quad Safari | Photo Credit: Nomad Safaris

    Quad Safari | Photo Credit: Nomad Safaris

    After a few rounds on the test course, we were off and ascending Queenstown Hill. Delighted to find fresh snow, we quickly made our way through powder and mud puddles. We stopped at every gorgeous outlook imaginable. We enjoyed hot chocolate and biscuits over the most beautiful snow-capped mountains. Riding through hills, we made our way through more puddles of mud and slush. All too quickly it was time to head home.

    Driving Through Queenstown | Photo Credit: Nomad Safaris

    Driving Through Queenstown | Photo Credit: Nomad Safaris

    On the Water

    I had never been white water rafting, but it was high on my list. We went for the ambitious Shotover River, graded 3-5, and had a blast. After safety briefing and wet suit fittings, and the treacherous journey on the road through skippers canyon, we arrived at the launch site. They broke us up into groups of 5-8, and paired us up with our guide. Then, we got right in the rafts and advised of the basic rafting commands. After practicing the slew of commands and ensuring we were ready, we paddled off and braced for the rapids.

    Shotover River | Photo Credit: Go Orange

    Shotover River | Photo Credit: Go Orange

    The river had five or six main rapid sections, broken up by calm stretches of the river. We were even given the ability to hop in and go for a swim. I didn’t have to be asked twice to jump in the Shotover River! Although it was freezing, it was sparkling clean – and when was I going to get this chance again?! After getting back in the raft, we headed for the highlight of the river; the cave. This is one of only two rivers in the world that has a cave you raft through. At the end of the cave was the biggest rapid of the river, and after ducking down and surviving, our incredible journey had come to a close. Out of all of the experiences on my trip, this is the one I would do again in a heartbeat.

    View in Queenstown | Photo Credit: Sarah Herman

    View in Queenstown | Photo Credit: Sarah Herman

    In the Air

    Milford Sound is one of those iconic “must-do’s” for every visitor to Queenstown. In my opinion, there’s no better way to see it than hopping in a helicopter and flying there. By road, the trip to Milford is around 4.5 hours one way. By helicopter, it’s about 30 minutes. We flew over the mountains and into the fjord, and were surrounded by unmatched beauty. On the flight back, we landed on top of a glacier where they stopped the engine of the helicopter so that we could simply enjoy the serene setting and breathe in the fresh air. After snapping some photographs and relishing in the moment, it was back in the chopper and back down to Queenstown.

    Milford Sound | Photo Credit: Milford Ultimate Heli Flight

    Milford Sound | Photo Credit: Milford Ultimate Heli Flight

    View of Milford Sound | Photo Credit: Milford Ultimate Heli Flight

    View of Milford Sound | Photo Credit: Milford Ultimate Heli Flight

    The Big Swing

    If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, look no further than AJ Hackett’s experiences in Queenstown. They have a handful of bungies and swings to choose from, and we chose the biggest swing of all: the Nevis Swing. After traveling out to the site, we waited our turn and contemplated our lives – our choices, our regrets – okay but seriously watching the people go in front of you is terrifying! Once harnessed into the swing, we were slowly brought out over thin air and stared down at the canyon below – an over 500 foot drop.

    It began with a misleading countdown of “5….4…..3….2…” before we were dropped and free falling for a few seconds, before swinging toward the other side of the canyon.  The total arc of the swing is just shy of 1,000 feet. After swinging back and forth a few times, and wiping the tears from our eyes, we were able to spot a few goats at the bottom of the canyon while we were pulled back up to safety.

    Returning to Queenstown brought a rush of adrenaline and tons of adventure activities, something that Queenstown specializes in!

     

    As a graduate of Eastern University with a degree in Anthropology, I have always valued the experiences one can find in other cultures. I’ve spent time in Belize, Honduras, Mexico, Kenya, and backpacked across Western Europe seeing 12 countries there. I have lived in Sydney and used it as a base for travels across the country. I’ve also spent time in New Zealand; and my latest trip back was a luxury lodge tour across both islands, seeing first hand some of the most breathtaking accommodations and properties that New Zealand has to offer. With the passion and longing for every individual to experience at least one other culture in their lifetime, I have found myself at Swain; with the opportunity to bring this passion to life.

    January 5, 2018 • New Zealand, Sarah Herman, Travels • Views: 3285

  • Exploring New Zealand’s South Island

    While Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island may be best known for the devastating earthquakes it has suffered in recent years, this city is certainly worth the visit – especially for its breathtaking surrounds. After spending an afternoon exploring the downtown, we had one day to try and see just what Canterbury was all about before hopping on the TranzAlpine to the West Coast.

    South Island | Photo Credit: Sarah Herman

    South Island | Photo Credit: Sarah Herman

    Flying over Christchurch | Photo Credit: Sarah Herman

    Flying over Christchurch | Photo Credit: Sarah Herman

    Exploring Christchurch

    The day began with a brief drive through downtown Christchurch, before ascending the hills on the way to Akaroa. Stops were made to view the incredible scenery. We also stopped for tea down by the water before heading into town. Once in Akaroa, we meandered through some local shops before heading to Black Cat Cruises for our adventure.

    After receiving a safety briefing and getting fitted for wet suits, it was time to hit the water. A short 20-minute cruise to the edge of the harbour was all it took to spot the first Hectors Dolphins. We were advised to never reach out and try to touch one of the dolphins. We were to respect their rights as wild animals. After assessing the wild dolphins, the brave jumped right into the freezing ocean for a closer view. After treading water and seeing dolphins in the distance, it was time to move locations for a better view.

    Dolphin Jumping | Photo Credit: Black Cat Cruises

    Dolphin Jumping | Photo Credit: Black Cat Cruises

    For the next hour or so we were hopping in and out of the boat, cruising through the harbour and swimming alongside of the dolphins. It was an incredible experience, and one that I’ll never forget. Once back on dry land, it was time for a hot shower and some fish and chips for lunch before heading back to Christchurch.

    TranzAlpine

    The TranzAlpine Train is the preferred method of travel from the East to the West side of the South Island. This five-hour train ride seemed more like five minutes. You pass through breathtaking scenery of rolling hills and planes, gorges, and snow-capped mountains. We were just a few weeks early for wild flower season, but the colors of the countryside did not disappoint. Each traveler on the train has assigned seats, and there is a full café on-board. The highlight of the train is the open viewing carriage. There are no seats, and the windows are wide open with no glass to obstruct the view.

    TranzAlpine Train | Photo Credit: Canterbury Tourism

    TranzAlpine Train | Photo Credit: Canterbury Tourism

    After taking the TranzAlpine and driving a few hours down the coast, Franz Josef is the perfect place to spend a few nights. Its remote location is emphasized by a few restaurants and handful of shops, but the beauty of the West Coast is stunning. The biggest feature of Franz Josef is its proximity to the glaciers, most notably Franz Josef Glacier.

    Flying Over Franz Josef

    We lucked out with the weather, and were able to take the only trip they were running the entire week. After safety briefings and handing out gear, the excitement begins with a five-minute helicopter flight from town to the glacier. Due to recession, the only access to the glacier is by helicopter – and you don’t hear anyone complaining about that! After getting a bird’s eye view, we touched down on the glacier and were instructed on how to properly put on our crampons. Then we were off! We weaved our way in and out of ice tunnels and across the face of a gigantic slab of ice. After what seemed like no time at all, it was time to head back to the helicopter and back to reality. I think most of us would have camped up there if given the chance!

    View Over Lake | Photo Credit: Sarah Herman

    View Over Lake | Photo Credit: Sarah Herman

    As a graduate of Eastern University with a degree in Anthropology, I have always valued the experiences one can find in other cultures. I’ve spent time in Belize, Honduras, Mexico, Kenya, and backpacked across Western Europe seeing 12 countries there. I have lived in Sydney and used it as a base for travels across the country. I’ve also spent time in New Zealand; and my latest trip back was a luxury lodge tour across both islands, seeing first hand some of the most breathtaking accommodations and properties that New Zealand has to offer. With the passion and longing for every individual to experience at least one other culture in their lifetime, I have found myself at Swain; with the opportunity to bring this passion to life.

    December 21, 2017 • Articles, New Zealand, Sarah Herman, Travels • Views: 8599

  • New Zealand’s Sub-Tropical Paradise

    For most travelers who dream of one day exploring New Zealand’s landscapes, their thoughts likely drift toward the mountain peaks, glacial rivers, blue alpine lakes, and the black sand beaches boarded by frigid seas. Many parts of both the North and South Island country do contain these wonders; however, there’s a mellower side to the land that is less visited but no less beautiful known as the Bay of Islands.

    Bay of Islands | Photo Credit: TIME Unlimited Tours

    Bay of Islands | Photo Credit: TIME Unlimited Tours

    Helena Bay

    The Bay of Islands is known to the Kiwis as the “winterless North.” This sub-tropical region found at the very top of the North Island rarely sees temperatures dip below 60 degrees, even in winter. In the summertime, highs hover between 72-80 degrees. Few places take advantage of this temperate region’s wonderful geography as well as the luxury lodge Helena Bay. I was lucky enough to visit Helena Bay in May of 2017 with a group of fellow travel professionals. To say I was wowed is a true understatement.

    Exterior | Photo Credit: Helena Bay Lodge

    Exterior | Photo Credit: Helena Bay Lodge

    Situated 40 kilometers north of the town of Whangarei, Helena Bay is located next to the sea. It is only a 45-minute helicopter flight from the capital city of Auckland.  The lodge’s five waterfront suites are the perfect location for soaking in the scenery. Also, there is access to an array of aquatic adventures including stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, swimming, and small craft boating.  During my stay, I chose the time I wanted to go paddle boarding and was then met by an employee on the beach. My board was on the sand and a paddle was pre-set to my size.  The opportunity to paddle the waters and take in the surrounding green hills from the solitude of the sea felt like New Zealand truly personified.

    Pool | Photo Credit: Helena Bay Lodge

    Pool | Photo Credit: Helena Bay Lodge

    Lounge Area | Photo Credit: Helena Bay Lodge

    Lounge Area | Photo Credit: Helena Bay Lodge

    Cattle | Photo Credit: Helena Bay Lodge

    Cattle | Photo Credit: Helena Bay Lodge

    So Much To Do

    The opportunities for fun on land were no less abundant and our group made good work of the lodge’s many options for exploring the property’s 800 acres.  Before Helena Bay was turned into the picture of luxury for travelers, it was a sheep farm.  Today, cattle are raised on the property and the lodge keeps miniature donkeys, alpacas, and chickens as pets for the guests to enjoy.  A quick ride on the electric all-terrain vehicles delivered us among the farm life.  Later in my stay, I opted to go off-the-beaten path via a mountain bike. I had a blast climbing hills and visiting secret beaches all to myself.  Although they offer many outdoor activities, if the weather is poor, the fully equipped indoor gym, heated lap pool, sauna, and steam room should keep the active crowd satisfied.

    Paddle Boarding | Photo Credit: Helena Bay Lodge

    Paddle Boarding | Photo Credit: Helena Bay Lodge

    Kayaks | Photo Credit: Helena Bay Lodge

    Kayaks | Photo Credit: Helena Bay Lodge

    Biking | Photo Credit: Jayson Repko

    Biking | Photo Credit: Jayson Repko

    Amazing Cuisine

    Finally, I have to mention the food.  Michelin-starred Ristorante Don Alfonso of Southern Italy operates in Helena Bay. The philosophy is respecting the local food culture while incorporating the age-old traditions of the Sorrento Peninsula and Amalfi Coast.  A good deal of the produce we found on our plates for each meal is grown on-site. We had farm fresh eggs at breakfast each morning.  The staff and overall experience our group found at Helena Bay was second to none.

    Dinner | Photo Credit: Helena Bay Lodge

    Dinner | Photo Credit: Helena Bay Lodge

    New Zealand Cuisine | Photo Credit: Jayson Repko

    New Zealand Cuisine | Photo Credit: Jayson Repko

    Dessert | Photo Credit: Jayson Repko

    Dessert | Photo Credit: Jayson Repko

    As New Zealand’s newest luxury lodge, Helena Bay is still under the radar. However, with the unrivaled Kiwi experience offered, it won’t be long before the waiting list fills up quickly.

    I’m am East Coast native (Philadelphia) who relocated to sunny Southern California. Growing up I was lucky enough to visit all over the United States with my family going on snowboarding trips along with excursions to some America’s best beaches. After a trip to Costa Rica I was hooked on international travel and have since visited ten additional countries including New Zealand and the Cook Islands and I can’t wait to add many more. I’ve worked in the travel industry for six years now, starting with Home Exchange before moving to become the Marketing and Sales Manager for the Cook Islands Tourism Board’s North American Office. I’m thrilled to be a part of the Swain Destinations Team as the Relationships Manager for American Express Travel.

    September 5, 2017 • Jayson Repko, New Zealand, Property Highlights, Travels • Views: 4250

  • New Zealand, Every Day A Different Journey

    New Zealand can feel like an epic, once-in-a-lifetime dream trip. But in fact, it’s the type of place worth returning to repeatedly—and one where even during a single visit, each day is intriguingly different from the last.

    How, you wonder? Well, your week in New Zealand may go something like this…

    Monday: Giving it your best shot at Over the Top Golf—what a view! Gotta be the world’s most remarkable par-three hole.

    Wednesday: Navigating the Dart River in a Funyak inflatable canoe. Around the next bend? A film location used for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbiton movies.

    Friday: Waking up to a scenic helicopter ride that whisks you away to a secluded alpine setting for a gourmet picnic paired with fantastic views.

    Saturday: Experiencing Maori culture, starting with the traditional greeting known as hangi. Done with a pressing of the noses, hangi means we are considered family.

    At home in Middle-earth_LOW_RES

    The film location used for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbiton movies. | Photo Credit: Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tour

    Such thrilling activities are just one aspect of the New Zealand journey; the range of accommodations also comes into play. Take your pick among award-winning luxury lodges, intimate B&B’s, and architecturally stunning private homes. What they have in common are welcoming hosts who really know how to deliver outstanding service and experiences. On the North Island, Wharekauhau Lodge, which is also a working sheep station, provides insight into a livelihood that still exists today.

    Wharekahau Photo Grant Sheehan (7)

    Wharekauhau Lodge | Photo Credit: Wharekauhau Lodge

    New Zealand’s lodges are also a fantastic jumping-off point for embracing the outdoors, with hiking trials and wildlife encounters just beyond the doorsteps. A great example is Blanket Bay, located in Glenorchy on the South Island. From here, you can indulge in activities including fly-fishing, heli-skiing, and horse riding. If you prefer to meet the local wildlife, head to the North Island’s The Farm at Cape Kidnappers for a Kiwi Discover Walk, which brings you up close to the farm’s native bird population.

    The-Dramatic-Coastline

    Cape Kidnappers coastline | Photo credit: The Farm at Cape Kidnappers

    Your Kiwi experience starts, however, even before you check into your room. It starts when you board your flight with Air New Zealand. You are encouraged to ask the flight attendants about their favorite breakfast spots or an out-of-the-way hiking trail. Moreover, you can expect a warm, informed response from proud locals happy to share their insider knowledge. It comes straight from the heart, from an airline that is constantly renewing and reinventing itself. Air New Zealand now serves five North American getaways (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Honolulu, and Vancouver), connecting to a network of 50-plus cities in 15 countries.

    Over The Top - Milford

    Over The Top helicopter tour of Milford Sound | Photo credit: Over The Top

    The final ingredient is enlisting the service of experts who can put together your ideal New Zealand experience. Swain Destinations creates tailored, independent vacation packages, and our dedicated staff shares a unified passion and commitment to providing exceptional service to every traveler.

    Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply looking to go on a one-of-a-kind vacation, Swain Destinations will personalize your journey from start to finish —in New Zealand and beyond.

    June 25, 2016 • Articles, Destinations, New Zealand, Travels • Views: 2355

  • Experiencing Hapuku Lodge and Tree Houses

    As I flew into Blenheim from Auckland over the small islands that start the South Island of New Zealand, the lush green countryside began to unfold amongst the crystal clear water, separating the finger-like peninsulas jutting out. Budget had my car ready and off I drove for the 70 mile journey to Kaikoura. It is amazing how this coastline is almost as untouched as it was when the Maoris first came here; a real treat. As I approached, the Treehouses and Lodge at Hapuku Lodge came into sight. Continue Reading

    April 9, 2015 • Bloggers, Destinations, Ian Swain Sr, New Zealand • Views: 4305

  • Top Ten Things to do in Auckland

    Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest and most cosmopolitan city, offers the visitor a modern buzz blended with old world charm. Continue Reading

    June 5, 2014 • New Zealand, Property Highlights • Views: 9830