To summarise my recommended road trip around the South Island of New Zealand I’ve mapped the whole itinerary into Google Maps complete with directions and driving times. I’ve also integrated all of the content from each part of this blog series so, when you click on each leg of the road trip, my full description of what to do and what to look out for will appear (it’s easier to use if you click on the link to view a larger version of the map).


View Awesome Road Trips – South Island, New Zealand in a larger map

If you want to read up on any of the previous blog posts then the full list is below:
- Awesome road trips – South Island, New Zealand – Part 1
- Awesome road trips – South Island, New Zealand – Part 2
- Awesome road trips – South Island, New Zealand – Part 3
- Awesome road trips – South Island, New Zealand – Part 4

The South Island of New Zealand is a stunning place and there are so many amazing places that I just could not squeeze into what is an already ambitious itinerary. However, if you do have extra time in New Zealand, then this is what I’d recommend:
- Abel Tasman
- Doubtful Sound
- The Catlins
- Stewart Island

Have a great trip!!

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Yesterday our partner, British Airways, announced that they are to provide 5,000 business class return flights to small and medium-sized businesses to help boost overseas sales during the economic crisis. Today, we’re delighted to announce that Avis has agreed to support this campaign (that is also supported by the Daily Mail) by offering 1,500 free car rentals to small businesses worth more than £175,000. Small businesses are often referred to as being “at the heart of the economy” so it is a real pleasure to be able to help this campaign succeed in achieving it’s very important objective.

We’re currently in the process of agreeing terms and conditions of the proposal with the government’s UK Trade & Investment, which is also backing the campaign along with British American Business. Full details will be posted on www.avis.co.uk within the next few days and I’ll update this blog post with the full link once details have become available.

In the meantime, firms who want to apply for BA’s return business class flights can do so on the UK Trade & Investment website (UKTI).

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The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has updated their travel advice for Mexico, advising against all but essential travel to this country. The announcement follows news that two British tourist have been confirmed as having swine flu.

Their website provides this summary of the update:

“Visitors to Mexico should be aware of an outbreak of influenza. The Federal Health Ministry issued a nationwide alert on 22 April after learning that a number of people had died from what appears to be a new form of influenza.

Cases have been reported in Mexico City, together with the states of Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi, Mexicali and Baja California. Travellers should consult a doctor immediately if they show signs of flu-like symptoms.

The Mexican Secretariat of Health has advised people to avoid large crowds, shaking hands, kissing people as a greeting, or using the subway. Maintaining a distance of at least six feet from other persons and frequent hand washing may decrease the risk of exposure.”

If you are planning a trip to Mexico then I’d recommend visiting the FCO website for more information and advice.

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Bluebells in the woodsToday might be a little dreary but we did have some stunning weather this weekend. However, it was something else that made this weekend feel that little bit special. I was driving around the country roads of Kent yesterday and it struck me just how colourful our trees are looking at the moment – they’ve been hit by a bit of that Spring-time magic when our trees blossom into a kaleidoscope of pinks and red and browns… and, of course, greens. And it’s not just the trees either. Head into the woods and you may be lucky enough to stumble into a sea of bluebells. Add this colour into the browns and bright greens of a woodland scene, then dimly light this scene with those few stray rays of sunshine that manage to sneak through the tree-top cover, and you’ve got yourself one magical setting.

Spring really is a beautiful time of the year in this country. So whenever the weather looks good, make sure you get out and enjoy it before the seasons move on!

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BattleMaybe it’s just me but St. George’s Day never seems to be much of a celebration in England and in most years it tends to just pass me by. It’s a shame really because it’s a good opportunity to celebrate the traditions of our country and there are some great events organised for this weekend.

For those based around London, Boris Johnson has put on a programme of free events. Top of the bill this Saturday is ‘Concert On The Square’ in Trafalgar Square, promoted as “a unique opportunity to hear some of the finest folk inspired music coming out of England today”.

And across the country you’ll find a number of historical and traditional themed events, some of which include re-enactments of the legend of St. George. You can also expect to find knights sword fighting, archery, jousting, storytelling, parades and plenty of traditional music. The enjoyEngland website gives an overview of of the top events planned for this weekend in Ironbridge Gorge, Birmingham, Wrest Park, Corbridge, Richmond Castle, Hastings and Salisbury.

As for me, I’ll be back home in Kent this weekend to watch the Betteshanger band entertain at Dover Castle. So make sure you get out this weekend and celebrate St. George’s Day!

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Alastair Darling’s 2009 Budget saw an increase in fuel duty by 2p per litre from September and 1p per litre above inflation each year from 2010 to 2013. An increase in fuel duty is always frustrating for motorists but unsurprising given the extent of government debt and committments to cut carbon emissions.

Also announced was the introduction of a car scrappage scheme, similar to what has previously been adopted in France and Germany. From May 2009 to March 2010 you will be able to trade-in your old car for a guaranteed value of £2,000. To qualify, your car must be at least 10 years old and you must have been the registered owner of that car for at least 12 months. The aim is to help boost new car sales to support car industry during the recession. There could also be a modest benefit for the environment with newer cars tending to be more fuel efficient.

Are you going to benefit from the car scrappage scheme? How do you feel about the increase in fuel duty? As always, your thoughts are welcome. For more details on the 2009 Budget, check out the BBC website.

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Today I’ll continue with my recommended road trip around the South of New Zealand, kicking off with Day 10…

Day 10 – Franz Josef to Westport
Set off between 9 and 10am to arrive at Greymouth in time for lunch. Greymouth is not the most inspirational place you’ll come across but there are plenty of options to find lunch and re-fuel. After lunch head further north to Punakaiki where you’ll find the Pancake Rocks. Walking around the rocks is a relatively short affair although you’ll find they look unlike anything you’ve seen before. They’re pretty hard to describe (and I won’t try) so it’s probably best you just check out the photo gallery below. Afterwards try one of the other walks around Paparoa National Park before heading off to Westport.

Day 11 – Westport to Kaikoura
You have several options over how to spend day 9: you could potter around Westport for a bit, leave early and get some time soaking in a thermal pool in Hanmer Springs or arrive in Kaikoura early and relax in this charming coastal town. One things for sure – you’ll get to drive through the beautiful Lewis Pass Highway as you make your way across the island.

Day 12 – Kaikoura
You’ll need at least days in Kaikoura (or one full day and two half days in this case) – partly because there is so much to do and partly because it will give you some time to just chill. But it’s also because some of the activities that you’ll really want to do are weather dependent so a bit of extra time might give you a second opportunity in the event of a weather-driven cancellation. The ocean conditions at Kaikoura attract wildlife in abundance and here you’ll get the opportunity to swim with dolphins and seals or seek out sperm whales and the mighty albatross. Personally, swimming with the dusky dolphins is one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever done and you can expect to come face-to-face with literally hundreds of these acrobatic marine mammals. If you want to swim with dolphins then book at least a week in advance to avoid disappointment with Dolphin Encounter. If you’re trip does happen to get cancelled then put your name right on the waiting list so you’ll be called in the case of cancellations in subsequent trips. I knew a few people (including myself) who got lucky this way.

Be sure to hike the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway: a two-hour loop taking you round the picture-perfect peninsula that takes you past a couple of fur seal colonies along the way. If you have time you can also take a day trip up north to the world famous Marlborough wine region in Blenheim’s backyard. Otherwise to simply kick back and relax in this laidback coastal town is a nice enough experience in itself!

Day 13 and 14 – Kaikoura to Christchurch
Enjoy as much of the day in Kaikoura as you can before making the final drive down to Christchurch on day 13. Treat yourself to some good New Zealand grub on your final evening and reflect over the awesome road trip over a nice glass of local wine. Fly home on day 14!

[flickr]set:72157616969206967[/flickr]

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View from the top of Cheddar GorgeIf you choose your holiday destinations based on where will offer you the most spectacular scenery then have you thought about travelling somewhere a little closer to home? Flicking through “The Escape Guide to Spring Days Out” in The Observer on Sunday reminded me just how stunning Great Britain is.

The guide is actually an overview of Britain’s top 20 walks, based on The Ramblers new book: “Walking Britain’s Great Views”. It is an excellent guide and includes all the vitals such as start/finish points, walking distance and a description of each walk that will have tieing up the laces on your hiking books before you’ve even had the chance to put the guide down. With spectacular scenery just a drive (or a cheap flight + drive) away, going away somewhere that little bit special suddenly doesn’t feel so expensive.

This guide has already got me planning a number of short-breaks in the UK and I’m pretty excited about hiking the Stiperstones, the Norber Erratics and the Fleetwith Pike walks. But the biggest trip I’m planning is for Scotland: a road trip from/to Inverness Airport that aims to cover the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye. I’m planning to go in October as I’ve read that is when the odds of seeing the Northern Lights is highest. Having found flights for around £60, I never thought I’d be able to see sights that are so spectacular for so little money!

If you’re interest, The Ramblers book: Walking Britain’s Great Views, goes on sale on the 7th of May and is available from Amazon. Or check out the great summary guide on The Observer/Guardian website.

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So on to day 7 of my recommended road trip around the South Island of New Zealand…

Day 7 – Wanaka to Haast/Fox Glacier
In the morning, head out of Wanaka and make your way to Haast where you’ll find yourself on yet another stunning drive through Haast Pass. The road trails the Haast river and you’ll be wanting to make various stops, enticed by road-side signs that hint at the next stunning waterfall or a beautiful, ice blue river. If I’m honest I didn’t spend a lot of time in Haast itself but I do know that it sits within the Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area and I met plenty of people who were enthusiastic about the tramping there. You can decide to lay rest here (and it is a very small but functional settlement) or make the 2 hour drive further north to Fox. The latter option will give you a head start on the day ahead.

Day 8 – Fox Glacier to Franz Josef Glacier
Today you get to hike a glacier which, I have to say, is an awesome experience. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to glaciers in New Zealand and many people struggle to decide whether to go for Fox or Franz Josef. Personally, I decided to hike on Fox and then do some of the trails around Franz Josef to check out the various viewpoints. Why Fox? Because it is much less crowded, marginally cheaper but, quite frankly, they both look very similar. They are certainly awesome to look at. They’re a bit special too and I’m told they are the fastest moving glaciers in the world. Despite being around since the last ice age, the Fox Glacier is currently advancing at one metre a week. It’s amazing to think that something with so much history is changing so rapidly.

You can choose to do either a half day or full day hike. With a half day hike you only get 2 hours time on the ice as it takes an hour to get to the glacier and an hour to get back. So a full day really represents much better value as the whole extra 4 hours you’ll get will be spent on the ice. And as it costs just an extra $30 it really is well worth the extra money. Although if you have a bit of extra cash to blow then I would go for the heli-hike where a helicopter drops you half way up the glacier to commence you’re hike. You’ll enjoy some awesome views from above and higher up on the glacier.

One word of warning though. DO NOT go past the safety barriers and approach the terminal face without a guide. Due to the constant changes these glaciers can be unstable. Tragically, two Australians died at Fox just weeks before I arrived after more than 100 tonnes of ice fell on them. This tragic event should serve as a warning to all planning on visiting the glaciers.

Spend the evening in the Franz-Josef village, which is that bit more livelier than Fox.

Day 9 – Franz Josef Glacier
I’d recommend spending today walking some of the trails around the Franz Josef glacier. You’ll find some awesome viewpoints. The Sentinel Rock trail provides a nice view and is a very short, 20 minute walk. The Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere trail will get you as close as you can get to the terminal face without a guide. Both are accessible from the glacier car park.

But for the best views, walk the trail to the top of Alex Knob: one of the peaks that over-looks Franz Josef. The walk itself takes you through a moss-covered woodland that looks like something out of fairy-tale. At the top the views are truly spectacular and, as few people hike this trail, you can expect to have this view all to yourself. Just be careful that you don’t let cloud cover spoil it. It tends to set around mid-afternoon. And I should warn you that the walk can be up to an 8 hour round trip so come prepared!

Eventually, you’re gonna have to leave this magical, tranquil spot. When you do, make your way back to the Franz Josef village where you’re probably going to want to hit the hay and spend the night sleeping like a baby!

[flickr]set:72157616561202382[/flickr]

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Have a think about everything our great planet has to offer. Imagine all of those spectacular mountains, canyons, beaches, oceans, lakes, deserts, forests, glaciers and, of course, the incredible wildlife that inhabit them all. Equally, humankind has made its own mark and across our world you can find a wealth of diverse cultures and magnificent man-made structures that are steeped in history.

It is a real privilege that we have the opportunity to experience all of this for ourselves. But, to enjoy this privilege, we need to respect the responsibility we have to protect and preserve those cultures and those places we visit: not only for future generations but in respect to the hundreds, thousands or sometimes millions of years of change, evolution, call it what you will, that has shaped the world as we know it today.

Being a responsible tourist is not difficult and it should not limit what you can do on your travels. If anything, it should enrich the experience. It is simply about being respectful of the environment you are visiting. Here are my four tips for responsible travel (for more tips/information, the Lonely Planet also does a very comprehensive guide)…

1. Research in advance
If you are visiting a culture you are not familiar with then always take the time to read up on the local rules and customs in advance. It’s really sad to see overly confident male tourists strutting down the streets of Bangkok with their shirt off. Yes Bangkok is an increasingly international and culturally diverse city but that does not mean that shirt-less men are not going to embarrass the locals who view this as taboo. To get the most out of your cultural experience you want to immerse yourself, not ostracise yourself! The Lonely Planet guides always include very good overviews on local cultures.

2. Follow the rules
This is quite a simple one really. There are a number of global, national and local organisations, who are all keen to protect the wonders they are responsible for, laying down the law and making sure this law is enforced. So if you are told not to take photos of a sacred religious artefact then please do not take a photo. If you are told to keep away from the coral then keep your flippers away from the coral. And if you are told, not to feed the animals, then please, don’t feed the animals!!

3. Stick to the beaten path
I know that it can be exciting to get off the beaten track and find something few other people have seen but please make sure you take these decisions responsibly. Perhaps, you fancy a ramble through one of Utah’s stunning national parks. But go off the beaten track and you may damage the park’s delicate vegetation or, even worse, destroy the cryptobiotic crusts that the desert is so reliant on. You may think you’re treading on crusty dirt but, in fact, you are treading on a microbial community that is responsible for sustaining desert vegetation and wildlife! The reality is that, when you go off the beaten track, you never know what damage you may be doing to that ecosystem.

4. Use common sense!
Sadly I’ve come across a couple of sites that have been closed to tourists due to mindless vandalism. And I’ve come across way too many places whose beauty is spoilt by the rubbish that litters them. In fact, while I was in Australia, I heard rumours that self-drive adventures on Fraser Island may soon be a thing of the past due to the impact litter and pollution has had on the island’s ecosystem. Simply put, there are some things everyone knows they shouldn’t do!

As always any thoughts or suggestions around responsible travel are welcome!

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