Category Archives: Features

Art in London: The Great Museums and Collections

May 17-23, 2014

Join Portland-based art historian Amy Osaki on her new art tour to London. Begin with the history and architecture of London reveling in the monuments that are a feast for the eyes—the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Delve into the extraordinary richness of London’s museums including the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, the Royal Academy of the Arts, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern. Refuel at small private collections including Sir John Soane’s Museum and the Courtauld Gallery. Experience the joy of art in situ at St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and the church at St Martins in the Fields. Free evenings invite you to add your own theater experiences or concerts.

Sign up now to reserve a spot on this extraordinary journey! This trip is a guaranteed departure. When you join Amy Boyce Osaki on one of her art-focused trips you walk softly into the world of art, history and architecture. Immerse yourself in a rich diversity of museums, and explore art “in situ” for a deeper insight into its role within a living culture. These carefully crafted “art feasts” occur only once or twice a year.

Amy Boyce Osaki studied art at the Louvre Museum in Paris, holds a master’s degree from Winterthur Museum, and worked as a museum professional for over a decade including six years at the Portland Art Museum. She has led art trips to Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Barcelona, Budapest, Krakow, Florence, Peru, Japan, China and Russia for the past sixteen years. Many of the trips were offered for graduate credit from Portland State University. As a travel professional, Amy has led at least seventy-eight trips to seventeen countries on four continents. She is fluent in French and speaks Spanish, as well. Her photographs have been exhibited in juried exhibitions, group exhibitions, and can also be found in private collections. Amy is a Certified Travel Counselor, a level of professional certification that is the travel industry’s highest.

Trip Price: $4295 per person, based on double occupancy
Single room: $1090 supplement

Contact your Willamette agent and reserve a spot on the London Art Tour with your $400 per person deposit today! 503-224-0180 or info@wittravel.com. Ask us for pre and post tour travel suggestions and arrangements.

Want a preview of London before your trip? Check out the National Theatre Live program, which broadcasts productions at the World Trade Center in Portland each month. Portland’s own theatre company Third Rail is hosting NT Live’s “live-captured” performances shortly after the original performances. This spring season you can see “The Habit of Art,” “Hamlet,” “Coriolanus,” “War Horse,” and “King Lear” with world-class London actors right in downtown Portland! Buy tickets here: http://www.thirdrailrep.org/ntlive.php

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Filed under Art & Architecture, Europe, Features, Top Experiences In..., UK, Vendors, Where in the World is the WIT Client?

What you should know about Renting a Car Abroad

Driving in a foreign country can be a little disorienting! Be sure to read up on the latest updates about renting and driving a car internationally. To help ensure you have a wonderful (and stress-free) experience abroad, here are some of our basic guidelines for prospective renters to consider.

photo by Ugg Boy, creative commons

–          Drivers. Consider who will be driving. Drivers can miss some sights and signs. The driver needs a passenger with a talent for maps (even if they have a GPS) and for reading signs. There may be an additional driver fee to be paid at the front desk.

–          International Driving Permit. An IDP is often required to rent abroad. The permits are merely official translations of an individual’s driver’s license, and can be useful if traveling in a country where English is not widely spoken. For a full list of countries that do require, the IDP, click here.

–          Car versus Train. Small villages and quaint countrysides are often not accessible to those relying on public transport such as trains and buses. Train travel is a huge part of European networks, but it can be limiting. Cars can grant you the freedom to explore the hills of Tuscany or the Basque country on your own time and at your own pace.

–          Time period. European car rental companies rent by the 24-hour period, not by the day. This means if you pick up a car at noon and drop it off at 1PM the next day, you have rented it for 2 days, not one.

–          Insurance. Some car companies will never allow you to rent without some type of insurance. They will provide their own if you don’t have any. However, it’s definitely worth checking if your credit card company already covers international car rentals collision damage—this can save you from paying extra for insurance you may already have. Major credit card companies like VISA and MasterCard offer some collision damage coverage. Whoever your provider, double check that they do cover your destination(s). You can rent in certain countries without insurance, just be sure to purchase travel insurance that covers up to 35,000 for CDW. Speak to your travel agent for more information on insurance.

–          Fees. You should be aware of extra fees that may be included: higher fuel costs, one-way fees, per diem road tax, airport surcharges. If you are in an accident or illegality, there will be processing fees.

–          Different Rules & Regulations. Be aware that driving in Europe may be extremely different than what you’re used to—single highway speed limits, roundabouts, different sides of the road. Tail gating is not an unusual habit of drivers abroad. Ask your travel agent for a country driving guide.

–          Gas. Many cars use diesel instead of unleaded. Check with the car rental company if you are unsure.

–          Car Size. When selecting your car size, there are many factors to consider. Full size in Europe is definitely smaller than a full size in the USA. If there are only two passengers but you have a lot of luggage, economy will be much too small. A size up can mean considerably more leg room and space for baggage, while if you’re on a solo business trip opt for a smaller size instead. If you’re thinking of traversing harsh terrain, an SUV might be the best bet. Have a specialty request or luxury class in mind? Ask us about our resources.

–          Manual versus Automatic shift. Cars with manual transmission are often less expensive than automatic in Europe. If you do drive it here, drive it there! However, there are exception to the rule. We recommend that in certain countries, such as the UK and Ireland, where drivers drive on the left side of the road, opt for automatic shift as it is one less thing to think about!

–          Deductibles. A deductible is when a car company holds an amount on your credit card as collateral. This can often be very high, occasionally equal to the whole value of the car. You can sometimes ask for a zero deductible. This will add to the overall cost on your car but there will be no hold on your credit card. We often recommend to our clients to take the -0- deductible. Christina, CEO of Wittravel, has one anecdote to share: “Once we were driving in England and were rear-ended. We had -0- deductible insurance. We called the car company, and they had their nearby office drive out with a new car. There was no trip interruption at all. For stress-free driving, think about the -0- deductible if it is offered.” The bottom line is, when in doubt, as your travel agent.

–          Leasing. Renting for three weeks are more? Consider leasing instead. It’s tax-free and sometimes includes zero deductible collision and theft insurance. It could be very cost effective especially with insurance if you are renting for at least 21 days, and sometimes as low as 17.

–          Map. Don’t forget a map! Keep a detailed road map or atlas in your car at all times. If you want extra security and ease of mind, consider renting a GPS. We can offer this to you when we book your vehicle. We also have a GPS in house that clients can rent. Ask us for more details.

The best thing you can do is ask your travel agent. We have booked thousands of cars all across the globe for our clients. Call us at 503.224.0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

photo by Matt Buck, creative commons

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Filed under Features, Travel by Car, Travel Tips

Facts you didn’t know about the Vatican

Buon Giorno and Happy Easter Monday! The new Pope is elected and Catholics all over the world are celebrating. But did you know these little-known facts about the Vatican?

  • Vatican City is a country with its own sovereignty, passports, bank and, yes, stamps. It’s been a nation since 1929, and is the smallest in the world with only about 800 residents and 0.17 square miles.
  • The special security team that protects the popes is called the Swiss Guard. If you want to join the guard, you have to be between 19-30 years old, male, at least 1.74 meters tall and have been born in Switzerland. They can, however, get married after 3 years of service.
  • The Swiss Guard have a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/gsp1506
  • The museums contain one of the largest art collections in the world, with over 9 miles of pieces and 1400 rooms.
  • One of our preferred vendors, Tauck, offers an exclusive after-hours Vatican Museums tour. View the remarkable Sistine Chapel, Candelabra Gallery, and tapestries after all the crowds and lines have left for the day. Quite the memorable experience.
  • The day a Pope is elected is considered a holiday during his term in office.
  • Animals are not allowed in the Vatican.
  • The ATMs are in Latin.
  • Every Wednesday morning the Pope holds a Papal Audience and addresses the public in multiple languages. Drop by on this day to receive a holy papal blessing with the crowds!
  • The Church’s Chief Exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth, claims to have expelled more than 300 demons a year.
  • The Vatican still has the letter from Henry VIII requesting the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, which they promptly refused.
  • All the artwork in St. Peter’s Cathedral are mosaics instead of common paintings, ensuring that the beauty of the chapel they would persevere through the ages.
  • Pope Francis is the first pope to come from Latin America.

Thinking of a trip to Italy? Do you prefer the hustle and bustle of Rome or the languid hills of Tuscany? Our agents have been in and around Italy several times and can advise you on air tickets, rail, villa rentals, hotels, and the best time to go! Give us a call at 503.224.0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Filed under Europe, Features, Italy, Tauck, Vendors

Top 2013 Destinations

This has been a fun and fabulous year at Willamette International Travel, and our agents are just as excited about 2013! Here are our top destinations to watch next year:

1. ICELAND

Thingvellir. photo by Daniel Williams, Creative Commons.

Iceland—land of midnight suns, eerie landscapes, wild frontier. Iceland has some of the finest natural wonders available to see in a small area. In 2008, the government established Europe’s largest national Park, Vatnajökull, covers about 12,000 square km. Visit ice caps and glaciers, spewing geysers, sulphuric deserts, golden falls, glacial lagoons, and some of the most dynamic volcanic activity you’ll ever see. During midsummer, the sun dips to the horizon, but never sets—and creates some gorgeous pale colors in the night sky. Visit hip Reykjavik and the therapeutic Blue Lagoon. Don’t miss Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site, where the Vikings held their seat of government; or Snæfellsjökull National Park and its ice-smothered volcanic crater. The recent currency crash, devaluing the krona by nearly 75%, has opened up Iceland to travelers mindful of their budget. Beat the majority of tourist throngs by booking this year.

Brush up on: Icelandic. English is widely understood however, especially by the younger generations.

Bring: rainproof coat, sturdy walking shoes or rubber boots, leggings

Wittravel can customize some great adventures and assist you with airfare, accommodation, and car for traveling the fabled Ring Road.

2. SRI LANKA

Polonnaruwa Ruins. Photo by R Barraez d’Luca, Creative Commons.

Sri Lanka is an island that is recovering quite rapidly from a decade of civil conflict and the devastating 2004 tsunami. Let not the long flight from the continental USA deter you—Sri Lanka is an incredible destination. The tourism industry is stretching its wings, prices are affordable, low-cost flights from Bangkok, tickets are still affordable with much to see. There’s an array of topographies, climates, wildlife zones. Sri Lanka is a land where 2000+ years of culture and history is packed in just 25,000 square miles—from temples, old-style villages, green tea plantations, wild jungles, and coconut beaches. Head over to Yala National Park for some spectacular safari experiences and spot water buffaloes, birds, primates, elephants and leopards. Surfing is quite popular, as is the hike up Adam’s Peak, a mountain considered sacred by 4 local religions. Wander through the old Buddhist ruins of Polonnaruwa from the 12th century, stroll the ramparts of Galle, say hello to the world’s oldest living tree, Anuradhapura. Try the local delicious curry, feast on seafood on Negombo beach, visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and scale the steep Sigiriya rock fortress.

Brush up on: Sinhala, Tamil. English is commonly used in official areas and spoken by about 10% of the population.

Bring: mosquito repellents and creams

WIT agent and owner Christina has traveled to Sri Lanka. Call her up for more information.

3. GEORGIA

Svaneti – Svan Tower in Mestia. Photo by Deguonis, Creative Commons.

Georgia is a land of mountainous scenery, ancient churches and wine regions. The country’s complex history speaks in its cultural influences from Turkey, Persia, Russia, Central Asia, and Europe. Explore sophisticated Tbilisi and admire its unique, fragile architecture, then head over to Gori, Stalin’s hometown, which still reveres its most famous resident. Venture out of the main cities into the ancient Christian town of Mtskheta or the fertile wine region of Kakheti. Curious travelers should wander into the mysterious and beautiful region of Svaneti, renowned for its mountain villages, tower architecture, and remote village communities. If you have time, check out the lush and green Rioni region in the west hills–known in ancient times as Colchis, the land of the Golden Fleece. The capital of Kutaisi is worth a visit to see the magnificent Bagrati Cathedral, Gelati Monastery, and the Rioni river.

Brush up on: Georgian in most regions, Russian if you are traveling where ethnic minorities live.

Bring: Study and comfortable walking shoes for rough terrain. If you do any sort of traveling inside the country, expect to leave the main road.

The MIR railway company offers a great two-week itinerary through Armenia and Georgia starting around 4,000 per person.

4. TANZANIA + ZANZIBAR

Zanzibar. Photo by Harvest Barrison, Creative Commons.

Tanzania is probably known best for the Serengeti safari plains, Ngorongoro Crater, and Mt. Kilimanjaro. There is no end to National Parks around the country, the northern ones tend to have more tourist infrastructure, while in the southern ones there are more wild fauna. Camping ranges from luxury tents to affordable ones. You can also visit numerous historical slave trade sites, kayak, scuba dive, or climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Spend a week traveling the plains of Tanzania and then retreat to the languid resorts on the isles of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous archipelago off of the fabled Indian Ocean. Zanzibar possesses a rich blend of African and Arabic heritage. There are a number of great resorts for indulging the traveler after a busy safari, and many fishing villages to keep you occupied. You may also explore Jozani Forest and its red Colobus monkeys or swim with dolphins off one of the many sandy beaches.

Brush up on: Swahili, Arabic (for Zanzibar). English is widely understood.

Bring: It tends to be very hot and dry in Zanzibar, so bring light, airy clothes that are still modest. The island tends to be conservative so be sure to pack a full body swimsuit!

We can recommend some top-level itineraries to Tanzania and Zanzibar. Our agents Pam, Linda, and Christina have been!

5. PERU

Machu Picchu, photo by audrey_sel, creative commons

Peru is a diverse country both in landscape and culture. From the wildlife-rich Amazon Basin, to ancient Incan Ruins around Cuzco and the lost city of Machu Picchu, the adventurous and curious traveler will never be idle. Wander through the streets of the colonial capital of Lima, sail on Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian Border, take to the sky and see the stunning Nazca Lines from the best bird view on offer. Peru is also home to some delicious and indigenous food—ceviche, rocoto relleno (meat-stuffed peppers), anticuchos (spiced grilled beef heart). If you’re brave, try a sampling of the infamous roasted guinea pig, and wash it down with the local cocktail pisco sour (grape brandy, lemon juice, egg whites, sugar).

Brush up on: Spanish, Quechua

Bring: anti-malarial medication

Avanti Destinations offers some great tour itineraries to Peru. Packages typically include tours, dinner, and transfers. Our agents Pam and Barb have been and would love to share their experiences with you.

6. BORNEO

borneo

Mt. Kinabalu, photo by s-a-m, creative commons

Borneo is the third largest island in the world, with the area of square kilometers of 287,000 square miles. It’s divided among three countries: Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Borneo has long been a magnet for adventurers, naturalists and explorers. As a traveler, you can enjoy the plethora of adventures and wildlife the island has to offer. The highest peak is Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, with an elevation of 13,435 feet. Enjoy a night safari in the Danum Valley, visit the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, cruise up Oxbow Lake, visit Selingan Island for the turtles, journey through rural Sarawak, share your evening with the Iban people at one of their longhouses. Borneo is also known for its major river and cave systems—Clearwater Cave has one of the world’ longest underground rivers, and Deer Cave is home to 3 million + bats, with guano accumulated to over 330 feet deep.

Brush up on: Malay. English is spoken widely throughout the country.

Bring: Clothing fit for a rainforest—long-sleeved shirts, sturdy boots, wide brimmed hats, full-length and quick-drying pants with pockets.

G Adventures has a number of itineraries to Borneo that range from 10-19 days in a variety of activity levels to suit the client. Sleep in a variety of jungle lodges, mountain huts, villa huts and permanent camps during your stay and experience real adventures on Borneo.

7. INDONESIA

Indonesia market street. photo by craftivist collective, creative commons

Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world, and as expected of a country composed of 17,508 islands its regions are diverse both geographically and demographically. The most popular islands are Java, Sumatra, New Guinea, Sulawesi, and Bali. Tourists can venture out here for a real adventure. Catch glimpses of the legendary Komodo Dragon, visit golden temples in Yangon and Bagan, visit the fishermen of Inle Lake, go on a catamaran cruise or jungle safari. Indonesia has dozens of tropical forests, and when combined they make up the second largest rainforest in the world after Brazil’s. Shop around in the markets of Jakarta and Bali, or kickback in an idyllic villa in Ubud. A popular stop to Indonesia is Singapore. Spend a few days in the world’s busiest port, where it’s illegal to chew or sell gum.

Brush up on: The official language is Indonesian, but as expect with such a diverse landscape, there are 742 different languages and dialects.

Bring: Weather tends to be hot and humid, so pack lightweight, airy clothes.

Kensington Tours offers customizes tours to Indonesia for every type of traveler. They build in air and land transfers in your tour—important in an archipelago as large and diverse as Indonesia! Several of our agents have been—give us a call!

8. NEW ZEALAND

Aoraki. photo by Michael Bridgen, creative commons

With the recent release of the Hobbit, New Zealand will be sure to attract even more attention in this coming year. The country has always been a haven for adventurers and active enthusiasts. From the Southern Alps culminating in the highest peak Aoraki Mount Cook, to the breathless beauty of Fiordland National Park and the gorgeous Milford Sound, there’s no shortage of natural wonder here. Travelers can climb the massive glaciers at Fox and Franz Josef, or venture into the towns of Queenstown, Dunedin, Christchurch and Auckland. Head over to Rotorua and its landscape of geysers, hot springs, and volcanoes. Head south to the Catlins for some amazing glimpses of marine wildlife—penguins, albatross, seals, sea lions. Hike into the rainforests and see the isles’ unique animals: the kiwi, the takahe and the tuatara.

Brush up on: Maori. English is one of the official languages of New Zealand but there’s such a rich culture in Maori, and many place names are still in Maori.

Bring: You will definitely need a good pair of hiking boots to take full advantage of New Zealand’s famous outdoors.

Qantas Vacations offers self-driving itineraries in New Zealand, and Willamette Intl Travel can customize your travels by hand based on your preferences. Most of our agents have been and can provide you with firsthand knowledge and tips.

9. BRAZIL

Iguazu Falls, photo by Phillie Casablanca, creative commons

When it comes to tourism, Brazil is on the cusp of a gigantic boom. With worldwide events such as the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016, travelers have already started looking and planning their itineraries. Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, with diverse landscapes to match (and explore). About sixty percent of the Amazon Rainforest is within Brazil’s borders; it is also home to one of the world’s largest tropical wetlands, the Pantanal. Don’t miss Iguaçu Falls (check out both Brazil and Argentina sides for the full effect), go to a soccer match, or dare through Carnival, a giant festival of parades, costumes, and revelries in February or early March.

Brush up on: Brazilian Portuguese.

Bring: Slippers and swimsuits. If you enjoy Rio’s famous beach, you’ll definitely want to pack these.

Avanti Destinations offers some great tour itineraries to Peru, fully customizable! Give us a call for more specifics.

 

10. YOU PICK

What do you think will be one of the hottest destinations of 2013? Tell us in the comments!

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Europe, Features, News, Oceania

Winter Holidays Around the World

A few weeks ago, the agents at Willamette Intl Travel teamed up with our friends at the Portland Floral Institute. We spent the evening weaving wreaths to benefit Our House, a local AIDS hospice. It got us in the mood and since then we’ve just been really excited about the winter holiday season!

So how about the rest of the world? How do cultures across the globe celebrate the wintry season? Today let’s take a look at how other countries or religions get in the spirit:

Bodhi (Dec 8) – Buddhism. Buddhists believe that Buddha achieved Enlightenment on this day. Many cultures celebrate this day differently, but modestly: studying the Dharma, eating cake and tea, or performing kind acts toward others. In Japan, Zen monks stay up the entire evening before meditating and studying sutras.

Photo by Scott skpy. Creative Commons.

Hanukkah (Dec 8-16) – Judaism. Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights that commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century b.c.e. Jews observe the holiday by lighting the menorah candelabrum—one candle on each of the eight holiday nights. Other common traditions during this time are the eating of latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts), the spinning of dreidals and gift-giving.

Saint Lucia Day (Dec 13) – Scandinavia. This is aScandinavian holiday honoring the Catholic Saint Lucia. St. Lucia (283-304 c.e.) is the patron saint of the blind, who died a martyr during the Diocletian persecution. On this day, one girl is elected to portray St. Lucia and dons a white gown, a red sash, and a crown of candles on her head. She leads a procession of similarly clad girls and sings a haunting melody known as Sankta Lucia.

Kwanzaa (Dec 26-Jan 1) – African American. Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration that honors African heritage in the United States. It was established in the 1960s as a means for African Americans to reconnect with their cultural heritage and celebrate the seven moral principles of unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Kwanzaa is often celebrated with a feast, gift-giving, libations, colorful decoration, the wearing of kaftans by women, and musical and dance performances.

Hogmanay Street Party in Dornoch, photo by John Haslam. Creative Commons.

Hogmanay (Dec 31) – Scotland. Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year’s, celebrated with traditions that stretch back centuries. Some historians believe that the festival was passed on from the Vikings’ celebration of yule. Traditionally, pieces of mistletoe, juniper and holly would be placed around the house to ward off mischievous spirits, and a rowan branch would be set above the door for luck. Nowadays, it is customary to clean one’s house to welcome in the New Year. Nighttime is a time of festivity, feasting, and socializing. The city of Edinburgh celebrates Hogmanay in style—with firework displays, a torchlight procession, and massive bonfires.

Saint Basil’s Day (Jan 1) – Greece. The celebration of St. Basil in Greece originates from the 4th century, during the time of Basil the Archibishop of Caesarea. According to tradition, Basil was a major establisher of the eastern monastic lifestyle, promoting community life, manual labor, liturgical prayer, and the care of the poor and underprivileged. On the evening of St. Basil’s Day, many Greek homes bake a special cake with a coin hidden inside. In the evening, just before midnight strikes, all the lights are turned off for a minute to signify the dawning of a new year. The cake is then cut: one slice for St. Basil, one for each family member, and the largest slice for all the poor people in the world.

There are of course many more winter celebrations, but too many for us to fit here! Want somewhere special to spend your winter weekends? How about the Triple Creek Ranch in Montana? See more details on our blog’s right sidebar or call us up for a chat!

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Itinerary: 13 Days in South Island

Today we are featuring a self-drive itinerary in New Zealand. This is an actual trip designed and created by WIT Agent Wailana for clients heading out in March 2013. They are picking up their car in Christchurch and heading out to take in the best the country have to offer in the way of cultural excursions, natural beauty, stunning landscapes, and rugged roads. Their mission? To make a loop around the South Island, exploring glowworm caves, Franz Josef, Milford Sound, the Cairns, and Lake Pukaki along the way.

Day 1: Arrive Christchurch.

After you arrive in Christchurch, take a day to adjust and shake off your jetlag. Spend the afternoon idly exploring the city. In Feb 2011, Christchurch was hit by a huge earthquake, and suffered the destruction of much of the city’s beloved neo-gothic architecture. In the past year, the city has made serious efforts to recover, and it still remains a beautiful hub for fine dining, comfortable hotels, and fun activities such as surfing or biking. If you have time, check out the thermal pools at Hanmer Springs and the vineyards in Waipara Valley.

(With more time, you can include the north coast as well, and take the ferry from the North Island. This enables you to build in Abel Tasman National Park and Auckland to your itinerary.)

On your second day in Christchurch, you’ll pick up your car at the airport. WIT recommends automatic cars, and if you’re heading to the mountains, pick up a 4WD. Two driving tips:Don’t forget to drive on the left side of the road, and be prepared to share the road with lots of sheep!

To keep yourself up to date with the latest info on Christchurch following the earthquake, check out these links:

http://www.christchurchnz.com/planning/christchurch-travel-update.aspx

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/new-zealand/christchurch-and-canterbury/christchurch/travel-tips-and-articles/76957

Accommodation: Two nights at Heartland Hotel Cotswold or similar.

Day 3: Drive Christchurch to Greymouth via Arthur’s Pass

If you’re driving from Christchurch to the West Coast, take Arthur’s Pass. Reaching more than 900 meters through Arthur’s Pass National Park, this is the highest and most visually stunning road of the Southern Alps. On the eastern side you’ll see wide riverbeds and oceans of beech forest. Descending on the western side, you venture through dense rainforest, driving along and over river gorges. You can either drive or take the spectacular Tranz Alpine rail. There’s plenty of hiking to do in this area, and chances to spot the rare alpine parrot, or kea. Check out the historic Otira rail tunnel or take a brief hike to the Devil’s Punchbowl Falls just outside of Arthur’s Pass Village. In wintertime, skiers and snowboarders head to the Temple Basin Ski Area.

Arthur’s Pass. Photo by Rickcox, Creative Commons

Day 4: Greymouth

Greymouth is a treasure trove for adventurers. Wander into Paparoa National Park—a land full of deep caves and gorgeous rivers. Go blackwater rafting through the stunning glowworm caves. This area is one of the few places you can spot greenstone, or pounamu, a durable rock important to the Maori culture. Check out the amazing Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and their blowholes—head over around high tide for the best action. There’s a lot to see around Greymouth so good thing you have your own transport!

Accommodation: Two nights at Ashley Hotel or an upscale option.

Punakaiki Blowhole. Photo by Sally Quiltsalad, Creative Commons.

Day 5: Franz Josef Glacier

Note: Between Greymouth and Franz Joseph the road also is shared by the railroad, so this can make for some exciting driving!

Next, head up to mountains and ice—the magnificent Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. These glaciers, being some of the few that still flow to sea level, are among the most accessible in the world. Hike in to the foot of these massive ice giants, and spot the vast cliff scars from where the glaciers retreated. Fox Glacier is the larger of the two, over 8 miles (13 km) long and 300 meters thick above the river valley. For some unforgettable and spectacular views and adventures, book a helihike. You’ll be lifted up above the glaciers in a helicopter and taken on a guided hike on top of them.

Accommodation: Two nights at Glenfern Villas or similar lodging.

Franz Josef Glacier. Photo by edwin.11, Creative Commons.

Day 7: Queenstown

Queenstown is a popular destination for adventurers, with activities ranging from bungee jumping, sky diving, canyon swinging, jet boating, horse trekking, and riverrafting all year round. For more mellow travelers, check out boutique shopping, sample excellent cuisine, take a small hike, go on a city tour and indulge yourself at the spa. There’s so much to do that you may want to spend a few nights here!

Just minutes from Queenstown are several other fantastic destinations—Arrowtown a historic gold mining town, Paradise Valley, or Mt. Aspiring National Park.

Accommodation: Two nights at Copthorne Hotel and Apartments or similar lodging.

Day 9: Te Anau

Te Anau is the main stopping post for visitors of Fiordland National Park. The park covers over 1.2 million hectares and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here we find three of NZ’s famous walks: the Milford, Kepler and Routeburn Tracks. Enjoy some of South Island’s rare fauna: the takahe, previously thought to be extinct, the kakapo, the world’s only flightless parrot. Cruise along Milford Sound, a stunning bay that Rudyard Kiping described as the 8th Wonder of the World. In the Fiordlands, there are endless places to explore, whether by kayak, airplane, or on foot.

Accommodation: Two nights at Kingsgate Hotel Te Anau or more upscale lodging.

Fiordland National Park. Photo by Harald Selke, Creative Commons

Day 11: Southland

Southland is a unique and vast landscape with some spectacular marine views. From Te Anau, drive through the Southern Scenic Route, which hugs the wild coast down through Te Anau, Invercargill, Manapouri and the Catlins. Don’t forget to stop and see the sights: the mysterious Moeraki boulders and Oamaru’s whitestone architecture. For more on this route, check out our blog post on it!

The Catlins are not to be missed on any itinerary of Southland. Take the Catlins River Walk that leads you through, a 160 million year old fossilized forest. Head over to the Nuggets, a dramatic seascape with a lighthouse, where you can enjoy fantastic glimpses fur seals, sea lions, spoonbills, gannets, shags, penguins, and sooty shearwaters. Drive down to Slope Point, the southernmost tip of the island.

When you’ve seen your fill and perhaps sampled the famous Oysters at Bluff, drive over to Dunedin. Dunedin is known as the “Edinburgh of New Zealand,” with a plethora of Scottish heritage, one of the best-preserved Edwardian cities in the southern hemisphere. Check out incredible wildlife, the world’s rarest penguins, and the world’s only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatross at Taiaroa Head.

Accommodation: One night at Kingsgate Hotel Dunedin or more upscale lodging.

Day 12: Mt Cook National Park

Mt. Cook National Park (also known as Aoraki National Park) is an alpine wonderland—with towering peaks, massive glaciers and permanent snow fields. At 12,316 feet (3,754 metres), Mt. Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand. The park is very accessible by road, drivers can take the State Highway 80 up to Aoraki/Mt. Cook Village, which rests beside scenic Lake Pukaki. Don’t miss the mighty Tasman Glacier—stretching about 16 miles (27 km) in length! Hike around the surreal landscape and photograph yourself on the foreground of one of the park’s incredible milky lakes. For a real challenge—only recommended for the most experienced of mountaineers—scale Mt. Cook itself and count yourself among the best climbers of the New Zealand Hall of Fame. This impressive list includes Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man ever recorded to climb Mount Everest in 1953.

Accommodation: One night at The Hermitage, Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village or similar.

Mount Cook and Tasman Valley. Photo by awiemuc, Creative Commons

Day 13: Christchurch

Congratulations, you’ve made a full circle! After your self-drive adventure, park your car at one of the depots in Christchurch. Use the extra day to unwind and relax from your whirlwind of a trip, before heading out. Now all you need to decide is your next stop: the North Island? Or maybe Australia and the islands of the South Pacific?

Most of our agents have traveled to New Zealand, and we’d love to share all of our expertise and knowledge with you. Call us for more information at 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Video: 100% Pure New Zealand

Most of our agents have traveled to New Zealand, and we’d love to share all of our expertise and knowledge with you. Call us for more information at 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Filed under Features, New Zealand, Oceania, Videos