Inaugural Cruise on the Norwegian Escape FAM – November 11-14,…
I departed on Air New Zealand to Auckland and flew coach, which wasn’t too bad! More legroom then I expected and had great recline. The flight was only 12 hours. A great point to make for those that think it’s a 15-20 hour flight. A great option for families is the sky couch seats. The foot rests come up and snap into place to make a bed.
After clearing customs we were met by Tim Scott from Unparalleled Journeys and our driver, Maggie. Unparalleled is exceptional. A quick 30 minute drive into the city and we arrived at the Stamford Plaza Hotel. A good 4-star hotel and with a 7 minute walk to the wharf, it’s ideally located!
We booked with Unparalleled Journeys and got the meet and greet! One of the staff met us at the airport, escorted us to hotel, and reviewed the full itinerary and answered any questions we had. It is truly a great way to start the trip! I can’t stress how nice the service is and it really leaves you worry free!
You can’t go to Auckland without a day trip to Waiheke Island. Only a 35 minute ferry ride; it’s a quick trip and worth the excursion! There are multiple wineries and beautiful beaches! It’s definitely an adventure worth taking. My favorite winery is Mudbrick, but Stonybrook and Tantalus are two other great wineries.
A private tour and guide is the best way to see the island, but there is also a bus tour you can do if you want to explore on your own. Ananda Tours met us at the ferry and our driver, Nikki, took us around the island. It is so worth having a car and driver! It’s such a beautiful island outside the city.
After a little rest, we met Tim from Unparalleled Journeys who invited us to his home for a drink before taking us to dinner at Soul. Soul is a fantastic restaurant on the waterfront and I highly recommend it!
We also visited Blenheim! Here’s what’s great about flying within New Zealand – no TSA, they don’t check ID, and no security machines. Just like the old days! You get your boarding pass and walk on the plane. I can’t tell you how refreshing that is!
We arrived at Blenheim and picked up our car. Beautiful vineyards everywhere. It’s about a 10 minute drive to Marlborough Lodge. What a beautiful piece of serenity! The rooms are beautiful, have large marble baths and great views of the grounds. We grabbed bikes and rode through wine country and stopped at Rock Ferry vineyard for wine tasting. Such a cute place and only $5 NZD for tastings. We had a fantastic cheese platter to boot!
When we got back to the lodge we did a garden tour with Marie! A lovely woman who’s been there for years and she keeps the place beautiful. The grounds are fabulous with fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits – it is a true farm to table! Chef Sam made a fantastic dinner. The menu changes daily, but you can have a little bit of everything. After dinner, we sat outside by the fire pit and looked into the constellation to see the Southern lights, which was fun to see since we don’t live in the Southern Hemisphere!
Marlborough Tours handled everything including the boat ride to Picton. We headed out on a gorgeous day into the Marlborough Sound. It’s just stunning with the mountains and inlets. They took us to a mussel farm to see how it’s done then served us fresh steamed green shell mussels and fresh clams. Absolutely fantastic. It doesn’t get any better than that. They also took us to the salmon farm to explain how that is run then we cruised for another hour before returning. This experience should be a must see and do for anyone in this area.
The following day we drove from Marlborough to Nelson, which is about 1.5 hours through the mountains. We stopped in Nelson for their famous Saturday market and then drove to Bronte to our lodge, Te Koi The Lodge at Bronte. It’s a beautiful lodge with only 5 rooms. We had a villa facing the water. Just gorgeous! Breakfast is included. And they’ll do dinner at your request with notice. Ian and Ali own and run the lodge and are a delightful couple. Formerly restaurant owners, they understand service and good food!! They want everything to be perfect for you!
Next we headed to Abel Tasman National Park! The weather was spectacular to start! Capt. Rod Stewart (yes, that’s his name) took us out on his catamaran with Abel Tasman Charters. They go out of a private cove called Stephens Bay. No crowds and parking is a breeze. The beaches are stunning, the water crystal clear with tones of greens and blues that makes the cruise breathtaking! Now throw in the schools of dolphins and I’m in heaven. He said it was rare to see that many or to see them at all… so we were extremely lucky. They were everywhere! Playing, jumping, and coming under the boat, left to right. Every direction we turned they were there. Truly a special moment.
We stopped at the Te Pukatea Bay, one of the best beaches in New Zealand. We hiked to the top to see some of the most incredible views. No buildings or homes are allowed inside the park so it stays pristine and ecofriendly. A law was passed in the 1940s saying you could keep your property until you died or 50 years, whichever came first. So those homes that were there, no longer are. Birds are returning and vegetation is bountiful. It’s truly magical in its beauty and a must for anyone going to New Zealand.
Now onto Queenstown! A 30 minute flight to Wellington and then down to Queenstown, we go! Our driver met us and took us to Matakauri Lodge. This is an amazing 5-star lodge that is truly spectacular. We had the deluxe suite and it was outstanding. Service is top notch, cuisine is fantastic and the property is beyond amazing. They do offer shuttle service into town, but honestly when there you don’t want to leave.
The next day was our adventure day. Started out river rafting! The morning was overcast and cold, but by the time we got there it was partly sunny and was the perfect day for it. Half way down you have the option of bailing off the raft and floating down. So of course when in Rome…I did it. I forgot my head wasn’t in a wetsuit so I nearly went into shock when I jumped overboard! That is COLD mountain water!
From there we came back and took the gondola up to the top of Queenstown where the views are magnificent! We then walked to our zip line to begin that adventure! It’s not a big zip like in Belize or Costa Rica, but it was great fun! Then we couldn’t leave without jumping on the luge! Not dangerous or scary, but good fun!
Queenstown is such an active and adventurous town. So much to do. One could easily spend a week here. We only had 3 days so we crammed in as much as we could.
We ended the trip on a high note. Flew into Kerikeri at the Bay of Islands. From there a 35-40 minute drive to The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, also a Relais & Chateaux property. Absolutely stunning. The Lodge sits up high overlooking an incredible golf course and the ocean. We were in a deluxe suite, which are fabulous villas all with ocean views.
We were probably the only non-golfers here, but there were plenty of other things to do. The golfers we met loved the course and for many it had been on their to-do list. We did a culture tour with Michael, who heads up guest relations. He’s extremely knowledgeable and proud of his heritage. The grounds are amazing and vast. The acreage goes for as far as the eye can see and it was great. We went off road at times and walked a bit. He took us on a 2.5 hour journey and we saw some amazing views. We ended up at the famous Pink Sand beach where I had surprised my friend with a picnic for her birthday. The staff had come down and set it up before we got there so it was a fun surprise. In summer the Lodge sets up barbecues and cocktail parties for the guests to enjoy because it is such a private and beautiful beach. And it really is pink with all the tiny pink shells!
New Zealand is fantastic. You can do as much or as little as you’d like. It’s full of adventure. The people are what make the country so grand. They are nice, thoughtful, caring, giving, the list goes on. They will do anything for you and always with a smile. It was my 4th trip, but it had been quite some time since I last explored it, but I remembered why I love it so much and want to return for more.