Exploring the best of New Zealand with Scott McRae

Let me start this travel tale with a statement of fact. 

I love New Zealand. I have loved the land of the long white cloud since my first visit, even though I was warned not to come back for a couple of years.  

My first visit was as an actor, hired to portray an Aussie vacuum salesman sitting in a Kiwi bar bragging to all that would listen about how Australians had won the Rugby World Cup and the netball and the cricket and the rugby league, much to the disgust of the barman and patrons. The advert was for Diflam throat lozenges and finished with the tag line, “sick of the irritation? Diflam will remove that annoying niggle”.

It was all in good fun, much like the ever-present Kiwi-Aussie banter that has made our countries’ relationship what it is. Problem was – it was successful! Good for my pocket, but not good for a return visit anytime soon. 

Fast forward a few years and thankfully I was allowed back, this time as a travel show host and I was excited to get outside of Auckland and see if Aotearoa would live up to the high expectations I had set. Of course I had seen photos and done some research and on paper it certainly looked like a winner. 

Our partners for the episodes were a mob called Grand Pacific Tours. An Australian family-owned coach-touring specialist. This was a totally different experience to start with. Coach touring was a unknown quantity for me and to be honest something that I had never really considered. Sitting in a coach with a bunch of people I didn’t know, being shipped around the country, sticking to schedules and not being in charge of my own destiny – well, that’s how I pictured it would be.  

Well the thing was, the people on board were all like-minded travellers excited to explore, just like me, and friendships were fast formed between us.  

Having everything set out for you actually gives you peace of mind. I knew most of my meals were inclusive, my bags were taken care of for the entire journey and if I wanted to indulge in any optional extras I just had to ask the coach captain or the tour guide to organize it for me. Simple! Grand Pacific Tours have been doing what they do for years. They know New Zealand and they know the best way to showcase it to you.  

They also understand that you may not always want to be on a schedule and include plenty of free time as well. This allows you to do some investigating of your own, and I am all for that. 

Let’s have a little look at some of the standard inclusions and attractions that are on many of their tours.  There are way too many to mention, but here are a few of my favourites! 

The North Island’s best features for me would have to start at the top end and the spectacular Bay of Islands and a visit to the The Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This is spiritual and informative without being dull. This is the place where Māori chiefs first signed their accord with the British Crown - the Treaty of Waitangi - Te Tiriti of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document. You will love the grounds, the surrounds and all the Maori magic of the Treaty House, Meeting House, Flagstaff and Ceremonial War Canoe. 

Hobbiton is an absolute beauty too. Part of the original movie set from the Hobbit series and Lord of The Rings here you will have a wonderful guided tour where you will see Hobbit Holes, The Green Dragon Inn, The Mill, double arched bridge and other structures and gardens built for the films. 

You will be transformed to Middle Earth and feel like your going on your own adventure. 

Rotorua’s Te Puia would have to be another North Island winner for me. Rotorua is a geothermal wonderland and to walk amongst bubbling mud pools and geysers that shoot into the skies is a real experience - and it doesn’t take long to get used to the strange smell in the air. 

You will also receive a guided tour from some very knowledgable locals, that will engage with all sorts of Moari culture. That night also features a Hangi and concert and the chance to strut your stuff with the performers. Don’t be shy; it’s great fun!

When it comes to the South Island, and just quietly my favourite, there are so many highlights. I will try and not get carried away and just mention a couple, you can visit www.gptnz.com to see all the others.

Without a doubt the cruise on Milford Sound is right up there. The first time I visited it just smacked me in the face, in a good way! Towering cliffs that seem to reach through the sky. Waterfalls tumbling metre after metre into the deep green sea. These Fiords were 100,000 years in the making and it is like discovering the land that time forgot. Definitely a destination that will remain in your mind for years to come. I would also suggest that you make the effort to indulge yourself in the overnight experience on the Milford Mariner, which makes it extra special. 

The journey on the TranzAlpine Rail Journey is pretty special too and is a great way to travel through amazing Southern landscapes.  

Obviously depending on what time of year you travel the landscapes and surrounds will differ. During my last trip I was blessed with lots of green pastures out of Christchurch across The Canterbury Plains, which was followed up by impressive peaks, gorges with crystal blue waters flowing and some very notable waterfalls. When you add to this the longest tunnel in the southern hemisphere a couple of outstanding viaducts and its got all the markings of a train journey of distinction, even if you’re not a train buff.  

When it came to optional extras, there was no way I was leaving this magnificent country without ticking off a few must do’s. The problem was – which ones to leave out? 

Jet boating on the famous Shotover River was a lay down messier and with 50 years experience under their belts I knew I was in safe hands with Shotover Jet. Power and beauty combine together here to leave you screaming in delight as you are delivered gravity-defying spins. You will gasp for air as you skim past steep canyon walls and rocky outcrops by what feels like millimeters. 

The west coast of New Zealand is really mind blowing and I implore you to take a chopper flight over Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. It is an adventure not to be missed and when you land on the top of the ice pack you will feel so insignificant while being overcome with the enormity of where you stand. Thousands and thousands of years of nature doing its thing and you have no choice but to be in awe of what she delivers.  

Something far less exhilarating but still most enjoyable is a visit to the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua. Overlooking the lake you can just relax, rewind and recharge here. The hot minerals spring pools are a delight and there are many to choose from. So If you’re not keen on joining the masses, I suggest you grab yourself one of the private pools and enjoy the serenity. 

I have only touched the surface with the touring options they have on offer so I suggest you head to www.gptnz.com for a full rundown and to download their brochures, or just give them a call. 

Grand Pacific Tours cater to mature age travellers with all budgets and interests. That’s a nice way of saying they specialize in an older age group. So if you’re 18-35 years old and looking for that Contiki/Intrepid type of adventure, these guys are not for you. However if you are entering the carefree years of life, let’s say 50 years and above, then without a doubt Grand Pacific is the way to go. 

New Zealand to me is like Tasmania on steroids! The natural beauty is big, bold and beautiful. The native New Zealanders are warm, welcoming and wonderful. The food and wine are distinctive, delicious and delightful. 

Do yourself a favour and make sure that at some time in your life you make the effort to visit our Kiwi cousins and their amazing homeland. You will not be disappointed I guarantee. And don’t worry – there’s plenty of room too as you know half of the country lives here in Australia! Sorry but I had to sign off with a little joke, because that’s how we roll. 

If you are after a special offer from Grand Pacific Tours, just mention our ambassador Scotty McRae when you Freecall 1800 622 768. Book by 31 March 2018 and you will receive $200 per couple discount!

KIA ORA!

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