Around The World
There and back again, how to travel around the world and places we have been, so far.
- Easter Island
- Galapagos Islands
- Komandoo Island, Maldives
- New Zealand, South Island
- New Zealand, North Island
We have been on two around the world journeys, first one we did was in our mid twenties, backpacking on a shoestring, like so many do on their first trip. Second one was more as adult travellers, with more funds to spend. Ørjan worked for many years at Kilroy Travels in Norway, specializing in student tickets for those young people travelling for a gap year, or just for a shorter period. He has booked many a first adventure for many different people, and the experience gained here, is still valid for travellers today.
We will try and give some tips, some experiences gained on our two trips. There will also be a selection of favourite destinations, like Australia, New Zealand, Easter Island and The Galapagos Islands.
How to start?
First of all, you need to decide if you want to do this, commit to doing it, and making a plan. If you are a couple like us, it’s good to remember that you will live on top of each other for all the while this trip lasts. If you are just friends, it’s easier to split up for a while, if you are a couple, not so easy if you have packed a common bag for the whole trip. Decide how long you want to travel for, we have been away for between 3-4 months on both our trips, and for us that was more than enough time. It is hard to know exactly how long you should go away for, it always depends on what you want to see, and the time you have at your disposal. The first trap you may fall into, is being too ambitious, wanting to see too many things in too short time. If you are going to Australia, you need to pick out the places you want to visit, just dotting back and forth between sights is not the best way. And Australia is huge! I would say that minimum 3 weeks to see some of the sights are what you should aim for. Same goes for New Zealand, if you travel this far, 1 week is just not enough. Minimum 3 weeks if you want to travel most of the two islands. People who travel in Asia, Africa or South America would say the same, take your time, maybe instead of doing an around the world trip, just do 3 months in Australia?
On our first trip, we had about 3 weeks in Indonesia (Bali and Lombok) 6 weeks in Australia, 1 month in New Zealand, 1 week in Tonga and 1 week in Fiji. We stayed in the cheapest places possible, did buses in Australia and New Zealand, and rented a wreck in the US. We had little money, so shoestring budget, with flexible student tickets from Kilroy Travels.
Our second trip was back to New Zealand for 1 month, 1 week in Tahiti, 1 week in Easter Island, a few days in Santiago De Chile, 1 week in Galapagos Islands and 3 weeks in Western USA. This trip was with rented cars, hotels and good motels, and no pot noodles to be seen the whole trip.
If you are a student or a young whippersnapper, first check out the student travel agencies like Kilroy or STA, they both have good options for around the world travel tickets with flexibility. They also have experts that can give you plenty of advice on where to go and what to do. If you are a bit older like us and want to see what is on offer other than those agencies, then I would like to recommend to check out the different airline alliances. We used One World on our last trip, the reason for this being that they were the only alliance that had tickets via Easter Island with LAN Chile which had that route from Tahiti via Galapagos to Santiago De Chile. So it’s important that you check first where you want to go, and then check what airlines traffic those routes. Star Alliance also has a good programme, check out what they have to offer.
So, now you have a ticket, what now?
Visas: check rules and regulations for the countries you plan to visit, and how long you can stay in each country. Some countries do not allow for one-way tickets into their country, without an exit ticket, so check this if you are doing overland from let’s say Bangkok to Singapore. Also make sure that you have a valid passport for at least 6 months after you plan to return to your home country. Vaccines: a very important thing as well. Contact you GP or nearest travel vaccine office and ask what you need to take, what you should take and what’s maybe not necessary but OK to take. Reiseklinikken in Oslo are very good if you have questions, or need some vaccines.
Some prefer to have a backpack, and they now come in many different sizes and forms. From traditional backpacks, to combo roller and backpack, to pure roller bags. We have done both, and both work fine, just think about what you are going to do on the trips. If you plan a whole lot of walking and trekking, choose a backpack of course. On our last trip we both had roller bags, knowing that we would have rental cars and only had small daypacks for our treks, worked good for us.
Not much we can say here, it’s up to you and what you like to wear but remember that washing is not always so easy to do on the road. The washing facilities are often only cold water. One advice we do have is not to pack white clothes, they will go dirty and grey fast, especially when trekking or driving in open cars in the desert! Bring a pair of good hiking boots that’s been walked in for a while before your trip. We have come across many people who have had new shoes and paid the price with blisters and sores. Bring Compede blister bandaids, it’s a must!
Most likely the most magic and otherworldly place we have ever been. One of the more mythical places on earth, those stone statues are engraved in the psyche of anyone remotely interested in the weird and unexplainable.
Absolutely in the middle of nowhere, one of the most remote populated places in the world, the whole island is something else from the rest of the world. The nearest populated place is Pitcairn island, around 2000 kilometres away, Chile is 3500 kilometres away, and the other direction lies Tahiti at mere 4200 kilometres distance. It was a lifetime goal of especially Ørjan to visit Easter Island, since he was a kid, he had watched the great Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl on his adventures, and the visits to the figures on Easter Island captivated a young kid. Visit the Thor Heyerdahl Institute site and read more about this great explorer, and check out his movies and documentaries online, they are documents of a bygone era when explorers really laid their lives on the line.
Easter Island itself is tiny and steeped in mystery and folklore. National Geographic and History Channel has excellent pages on the history of the island.
We flew from Tahiti to Easter Island (and we visited during Easter) a stopover for the LATAM flights on their way to Santiago De Chile. This is the only way to get to the island, so if you are planning on a visit on a around the world trip, it’s important to choose the right airline. LATAM is today (as per 2020) the only airline servicing Easter Island, and they are part of One World Alliance.
We stayed in a hut like run down hotel with cardboard walls, didn’t really matter though. It was located just by the sea, so we fell asleep and woke up to the wonderful sound of waves thundering onto the shore and beautiful horses roaming on the lawns outside. It was a short walk into Hanga Roa – the main, and only city on the island. There are just under 8000 people living on the whole island. The settlement of the island is debated, like many other things about the island, legend has it that Easter Island was populated by chief Hotu Matu`a who arrived in one or two canoes with his extended family. They are believed to be of Polynesian ancestry, and today DNA links all living direct ancestors of the indigenous people to Polynesian heritage. Literature suggests population from 300-400 AC, but some claim that this could be a late as 1200 AC.
The Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen “discovered” Easter Island on the 5th of April in 1722 (easter, hence the name), giving the first accounts of the inhabitants and tall (around 2 metres) and they had distended earlobes with great discs in them. On the early visits of Europeans in 1722 and 1770 (Spanish) all statues were standing up, when James Cook visited in 1774 many were reported toppled. The huri mo’ai – the “statue-toppling” – continued into the 1830s as a part of internal conflicts among islanders.
Today Easter Island has a mix of Chilean and indigenous people, and there is a struggle to free Easter Island from Chile and become independent. On the 26th of March 2015 a local minority group called Rapa Nui Parliament took control over large parts of the island in a non-violent revolution, their main goal is to gain independence, this situation has not yet been resolved as per 2020.
Day 1 we did a guided tour around the island. Just to see the main sites, and there is no better way to see a new place than having a local tell the stories about the different places and the myths behind the giant stone statues (called Moai) that the island is famous for. The quarry on the Rano Raraku volcano is where you see the statues in most pictures, as this is where they made them from the volcanic stone. You only see about 1/3 of the statue itself, the rest being buried in the ground. The reason for this being that after they had hewn the statue from the rock, they put them in holes in the ground, so that they could work on the details without scaffolding. The statues that are finished have intricate carved tattoo like patterns and hands engraved on their bodies. Dotted around the island are ceremonial stone platforms called ahus, where the finished statues were placed, with a red volcanic stone hat, and eyes made of stone and corals.
The statues most likely depicted ancestors, protecting the people, they were put on their ahus, facing inland, thus keeping an eye on their tribe. There are over 900 statues around the island, weighing up to 13 tonnes, the biggest being a hefty 82 tonnes. The production was likely stopped after environmental consequences of deforesting brought on by either climate change or war between the tribes of the island (the two prevailing theories), and the statues were toppled from their ahus during internal wars or by tsunamis. There are no written records from the inhabitants of Easter Island, just observations from the first Europeans, and scientists of the modern era trying to understand what happened when they changed from their ancestral worship of the statues, to the Birdman cult of Orongo that followed it.
The Rano Kau volcano is also something to behold, the biggest on the island, and a very cool lake at the bottom. The main reason for visiting this site is to see the remains of the birdman cult and the Orongo ceremonial village. Composed of about 50 ceremonial elliptical stone houses, and only being inhabited in the days before the ceremony of The Bird Man or Tangata Manu.
A competition between the island clans to collect the first egg of the manutara bird (sooty tern) on the small island opposite the volcano (they had to swim there and back, plus scale the huge cliff of the volcano) and the first who came back with an egg claimed government and a godlike status for their chief and for their tribe for the next year until next birdman ceremony. I urge you to read up on the history of the island, it is fascinating.
So, we saw most of the best-known sites, and some unknown that first day. The next day we rented an old jeep beat up jeep with no licence plates from a local dude and drove around ourselves, revisiting some of the most interesting sites. We had the whole site of Rano Raraku alone for hours and walking among those stone statues in solitude was epic. We walked into the inner part of the volcano, the bigger statues are on the outside of the volcano wall, but on the inside, there are also many smaller statues, waiting to be put on their ahus. It was very cool to walk amongst the Moai and look at the difference in their faces and demeanour. One of the nearly finished statues was looking into space at an angle, and there is also a smaller kneeling statue at the edge of the area.
We had one of our most special swims ever at the beach thought to have been where the first islanders arrived, with moai standing guard at the beach. At a small kiosk you could buy a beer and a Fanta, and drink this in a 50/50 mix, this was a very local thing we found out. Beautiful horses are roaming freely around the whole island, owning horses is a big deal for the families living on the island today. We followed a map we had and saw some really remote sites with ahus and toppled moais. The feeling of being alone and on a remote part of the world was very palpable, we saw no one for hours, only horses and moais keeping us company.
During our walks in the village, we were adopted by scruffy the dog, he followed us for our whole visit. It was like he could smell us the moment we left our hut, and staying by our side, and under our restaurant table every night. We were explained that dogs roamed freely, but were looked after by everyone, and they often adopted tourists during their stay. We attended a local dance, and it was very similar in both music and feel to what we saw in Tahiti and other parts of the Pacific we have been to. The food was great, lots of fresh fish of course, with our dog placed to warm our feet below the table. We called him Thor, naturally.
The otherworldly magic, the feeling of remoteness and the friendliness of the locals made Easter Island a unique experience, it is still a visit we reminisce about often.
When we arrived at Easter Island, we had no cash, thinking that there must be a cash dispensing device at the island. The only machine only took Mastercard, and we had Visa. And since it was Easter the bank was closed. An elderly lady overheard us saying to our guide the first day that we had no cash, so we could not buy any lunch on our guided tour. This lady was from USA, and she offered to lend us some money, paying her back whenever we could when we got back home. She hoped that her own kids would enjoy the same courtesy and help if they ever got in a pickle abroad while on travels. This gesture of kindness still lives with us today, always remembering her kind and generous offer, she basically gave us 100 dollars, without any collateral. We of course tracked down a dodgy money dealer on the island (and paid a premium to get cash from him) and got her money back before we left the island, but still, this is a rare thing, trust among humans. It touches us still. Our saving angel is front left on picture.
The Galapagos Islands, Equador
Galapagos, just saying the name conjures up images of David Attenborough frolicking with giant turtles while surrounded by baby seals and marine iguanas. A must see and must do on many a bucket list around the world. It had been high on our list ever since we as small kids saw programmes from those strange islands in the middle of nowhere. Where it seemed like no creature had any fear of man, and they were some of the strangest beasts we had ever seen. Indeed this must have been what Charles Darwin thought when he arrived at the islands with HMS Beagle in 1835, and for 5 weeks he studied those strange animals, and started a thought process that would end up as the book “The Origin Of Species” in 1839, where he put forward the theory of biological evolution stating that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. Darwin is perhaps the most linked name to the Galapagos islands.
How to get there and how to travel around
Galapagos (named after the Spanish word for turtle: galapago) is part of the country of Ecuador (lying squarely on the equator, hence the name) and you will need to catch a flight from either the capital Quito or the port city of Guayaquil. The flights land at the main airport called Seymour Airport on the island of Baltra, where you will have to pay a tourist tax of around 100USD upon arrival. The island of Baltra lies next to the main inhabited island of Santa Cruz, there is a ferry between the islands. Most of those who arrive do the same as us, and board one on the many charter and cruise boats directly from Baltra. The islands entertain around 200 000 visitors a year, and this number is capped, and once on the islands you will not feel like its crowded. To see the different islands, and there are many, you need to go on a boat. We chose a smaller boat, there were the two of us, 8 Italians and an American couple on their honeymoon on the boat. A naturalist who was our guide on the landfalls on each island, and a crew to man the boat. We stayed for 7 days on the boat, visiting a new island every day. It is an all year-round destination, with only small variations in weather due to the position on the equator, if you are looking for rain, you will find the highest amounts of that stuff in April.
It has been 15 years since we had our Galapagos adventure, and the memories are still fresh in our minds. Unfortunately, we tend to forget what islands we visited during those 7 days, and our journals from that trip have been lost. So, we will try to excerpt small stories, the feelings, and the impressions from this magical mystery tour around the most spellbinding of places, The Galapagos Islands.
Our cabin in the boat Eden was small, but it had what we needed, beds and a toilet. The captain gave us good advice “on top of boat it rolls, on bottom not so much, choose bottom cabin” and sure enough, that first night of voyage across the sea in high waves made many an Italian and American green around the gills. We got the same seasickness but had our minds about us from previous boating that if you get queasy, go outside in the fresh air first of all. So, most of that first night was spent outside, on deck in front of the wheelhouse trying not to feed the fish. Others were not so wise; the Americans were convinced that they were the only ones that had food poisoning (of course they were seasick like the rest of us) on the boat and ate nothing but dorritos for the rest of the trip. The Italians just smiled and kept on with their business.
So the next 6 days we spent travelling by night to the next island, dropping anchor in the early morning (and you wake up with a literal BANG when the anchor drops) getting some tea and some biscuits in our bellies before setting off in the dinghy to the island you have anchored up by, to see wildlife before the sun rises and it gets too hot for everyone. Back on the boat, breakfast and relaxing before lunch, maybe some snorkelling and relaxing before the evening trek around the island, dinner and then bed, pulling up the anchor to sail to the next island on the itinerary. Glorious days! Our sea legs grew, and by the time we got back on land after 6 days at sea, we felt the ground heaving like the sea for many days before it all settled back to normal.
The most surprising, counter intuitive and most fascinating thing about all the animals on the islands, is that they have no fear of man. You do not need that super humongous tele objective on your camera to take wildlife photos. When you walk the paths, you will encounter birds nesting on the trail “you looking at me?!” wibe from them all.
We had encounters with giant seals blocking our way on our path to sunbathing iguanas basking without a care in the world on the rocks. It is such an adventure just walking around and seeing the abundance of wildlife just getting on with their business. Not caring if you shove a camera in their nose, although a frigate bird took a nab at Ørjan for getting too close.
The snorkelling and the diving for those who do that, is most epic all around the islands. We spent hours in the water, playing with seal pups. They are like small puppiedogs under water, extremely curious, and very playful. If you have the luck to find a small colony, you will have hours’ worth of entertainment. They will swim around you, come up to your face and examine you closely before blowing airbubbles in your general direction and dart off in another direction. Just be aware of the beachmaster, the boss of the colony, do not get in his way if he chooses to have a swim. We were sure to be killed when he came at us under water at 100mph just to weer off inches before impact, just to show who was boss.
We had beautiful encounters with giant sea turtles, grazing on rocks by the shore, we spent a long time just looking at them calmly eating their dinner while we floated around them. Galapagos is also famous for having the northernmost penguins, endemic to the islands the Galapagos Penguin is the only penguin found north of the equator due to the cool waters brought by the Humbolt current. Swimming with those penguins at the island of Bartolome` was a blast, they were like small bottle rockets under water. We also encountered a Galapagos shark, rays and plenty of fish of course.
On land each island brings its own habitat, their own species who have found that this place is the best place for them. The islands also range from quite old to very fresh in geological terms due to the thin earth crust and volcanic activity in the area that have created the islands, so the different habitats are well suited for many kinds of animals. One island will be filled with the wonderful marine iguanas, while the neighbouring island might have none. On the beaches you will encounter seals basking in the sun. You feel sorry for the small pups calling out for their moms who are out catching fish. The Sally Lightfoot crabs are all around and make excellent photos in their vibrant colours.
On one island we visited a big colony of the frigate birds, tiny birds with an enormous wingspan, known for stealing whatever they can get their hands on from fish to building materials for their nests. Hence the name. They can not land on water, so they soar for days and weeks on end. In the mating season the males lay on their nests of stolen twigs and inflate their big red pouches on their neck to attract females. Every time a female fly past all the males shout “OIOIOIOI!” which makes for a spectacular quire of catcalls. The females will land by their chosen male and scrutinise their nest, sack (no pun intended) and general maintenance of the place, they will mate for life.
The blue footed boobie makes for great jokes, so does the red footed boobie, and perhaps also the masked boobie. Boobie jokes are easy to make, and the boobies are easy to love. The name is a corruption of the Spanish word “bobo” that means “clown” or “fool”, and indeed they are. They have huge blue or red feet and are extremely clumsy on land. Their dance is quite endearing, the couple will stand facing each other and lift their big blue feet in front of them to show their partner “Look at my big blue feet!” and the other one will repeat the dance “I have them too!” and great rejoicing and singing will ensue.
To visit a big colony of waved albatross is quite awe inspiring. Those massive birds seem like they should not be able to fly, but they are the most magnificent flyers in the world. Soaring for weeks without a single flap of their enormous wings. They come to mate at the Galapagos islands, and they mate for life. Meeting up after months out on sea and performing the most elaborate and passionate dance and song of reuniting. Each bird mimics the other with beak bobs, nuzzles and screeching. Ørjan was a bit disappointed when he called out “Albatross!” and nobody answered…
The marine iguana is perhaps one of the strangest and most unique creatures in the Galápagos. You see them basking on the rocks after lengthy dives under water to feed on the green algae. They need to heat up their bodies after the cold swim since they are ectothermic and need the sun to warm them up, and while they do this, they expel the salt from the algae via their noses in what looks like very wet sneezes. Perhaps surprisingly, Darwin did not like marine iguanas, referring to them as “clumsy lizards… imps of darkness.”
The Galapagos land iguana is another unique animal to the islands. It has a cool yellowish colour, and you see them often along the paths. The giant tortoise is also an enigmatic inhabitant of the islands. Found on many places throughout, it varies in size and shape of their shells in different habitats. We got to see a few on our voyage.
The Darwin finches could fill a book or two on their own. Darwin himself did not see the true significance of those birds until much later when an ornithologist friend explained that he had not brought with him different kind of species back to England, but the same species with different adaptations to different habitats on the different islands. Thus, spurring the thought process on evolution, not that every bird had been created simultaneously by one god, but that they had evolved through natural selection. You will see the finches all over the islands when you visit.
The Galapagos islands are literally like nothing else in the world. You can feel it every minute you spend travelling around the archipelagos, experiencing the uniqueness of every island. For us it was a dream come true to see for ourselves what we had only seen in books, magazines and on television. It is a magical place in every sense of the word. Just walking among thousands of cooing albatrosses, seeing the boobies dance, the seal pups riding the waves, the iguanas sneezing in their sunbathing glory, the feel of the whole place is like nothing else. This visit left a life lasting impression in us. It is an adventure into the rabbithole of evolution, and we got to be Alice frolicking with animals that exist nowhere else on the planet. If there was ever ONE destination that should be on everyone’s bucket list, it is the Galapagos Islands.
Komandoo Island Resort, Maldives
For us Komandoo Island Resort is the ultimate destination, it is the place we dream of returning to, and a place where we have had the most magic of times. We have been so lucky that we have had the chance to visit twice, first time was on our honeymoon in 2004. And our last visit was Christmas 2019. Komandoo is the leading adults only resort in the Maldives, located on the Lhaviyani atoll, a scenic 40-minute seaplane flight from the Velana International Airport on the main island and capital of the Maldives, Malè.
On both our visits to the Maldives we had the pleasure of flying with Qatar Airways from Oslo via Doha to Malè. When arriving at Malè airport we were met with representatives from Komandoo, and we had a short drive with a minibus to the terminal of the seaplanes that are used to fly guests to the different resorts and atolls in the Maldives. Should you choose to stay at resorts closer to the main island, the water taxis are just outside the arrival’s hall at the airport.
The Republic of Maldives is a small archipelago state in South Asia, situated in the Arabian Sea of the Indian Ocean, southwest of Sri Lanka. The Maldives is one of the worlds most geographically dispersed states and it is also the smallest Asian country. It consists of a chain of 26 atolls stretching across the equator. The best time to visit the Maldives is from November to April. The island nation is warm and sunny year-round, but consists of a dry season and a wet, rainy season.
Komandoo Island is a small island resort with a 5* rating with an award-winning spa. There are two bars, the main bar Kandu with evening entertainment and excellent inside and outside seating. There is an infinity pool next to the bar. There is also a beach bar at the south side of the island where the sunset can be enjoyed with a glass of goodness. Komandoo has its own Prodiver diving operator were gear can be rented and diving trips can be organized. Komandoo has 3 different kinds of accommodation, beach villas that are hexagonal wooden pine huts with four-poster beds and front veranda that steps directly onto a pure white beach. And to be fair the whole island is a pure white beach so wherever you are and go, there will be pure white sand. The jacuzzi beach villas are the same but with a jacuzzi. There are 15 water villas, and they are suitably impressive with solid teak furniture and a fantastic private terrace with steps directly into the lagoon. On our first visit in 2004 we stayed at a beach villa, and on our last visit we had the privilege of staying in a water villa, a long-time dream of ours. Our villa had a big four poster bed, a cool big lounge chair, a big bathroom with jacuzzi bath, shower and toilet. The outside private terrace was grand with sunbeds, parasol, and a big lounge bed in the shade. The stairs went down into the lukewarm water of the lagoon and of course instant snorkelling possibilities. All around our water villa there were stingrays, big parrotfish, and other assorted fish with dazzling colours.
Even for a small island (its about 500×100 meters) Komandoo boasts 2 restaurants, Falhu is the main sand floored buffet restaurant where you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner either inside or outside on the deck jutting out over the crystal-clear water. The food in simply to die for, you tend to spend the day waiting for the meals that are simply divine. Every evening has a new theme, everything from Indian to seafood to beef and BBQ. They have a tandoori oven where there is the most delish naan bread with tandoor chicken and beef is prepared. Everything is served fresh, made to order omelette at breakfast or fish in the evening. There is also a fine dining at the Aqua restaurant, newly opened and serves a la carte in the evenings only. It seats 18 people only, so for that super romantic meal this is the place to go.
For us Komandoo epitomizes total relaxation, no stress, no worries holiday. We have not been anywhere else that gives us such a feeling of pampering and being well looked after by the fantastic team of people at the Komandoo resort. For our honeymoon this was the perfect place 16 years ago, we asked our travel agent for something different and he suggested Komandoo. It was then a newly opened resort, no Wi-Fi back then (there is now) and the water villas had not yet been built. When we wanted to return many years later, we found the same romantic island that we had left with heavy hearts in 2004. There was a “welcome home” rose petal message from the management on our bed and we got t shirts commemorating our return to the island – a nice and touching gesture. Komandoo enjoys fierce and loyal guests who return year after year and it’s not hard to see why. To walk on powder white sand barefoot for a week is a privilege, no shoes are needed at Komandoo.
The house reef surrounding Komandoo is teeming with fish, sharks, moreen eels and turtles. The occasional stingrays, eagle rays and other assorted sea creatures visit the lagoon frequently. It is hard to explain just how fantastic the snorkelling around the island is. Donning our snorkelling gear at our own private terrace and just walk down the stairs to underwater paradise is our absolute favourite activity anywhere in the world but we have not seen so many fish on such a short distance of reef anywhere else in the world. Just a few metres outside the wave breakers there is a magical world of the sea.
Thousands of fish in all the colours of the rainbow. On one of our outings on the reef we encountered a large black tip reef shark, it startled Tanja a bit but it just swam past us and on into the deep blue. Floating above one of the cleaning stations where small cleaner wrasse offer their service to bigger fish is awesome. Large parrotfish swim up to the large rock that is the cleaning area and do a peculiar sideways swim to say, “I’m ready for my spa appointment now” and the wrasse schooling around the fish to clean it for small parasites. You can also go on excursions to diving and snorkelling sites around other islands and shipwrecks, but we have found if snorkelling is your thing, there is no need to leave the house reef around Komandoo. Around the wave breakers there were several turtles swimming around to feed on the algae living on the breakers. We had daily dates with 3 turtles lounging in the waters, snacking just in front of our masks. It is so cool to float and watch those turtles just being total Keanu Reeves surfer dudes and doing not much more than they must. On one occasion there was a bit of a traffic jam between the breakers, Tanja and I were swimming in, and two turtles were adamant on swimming out the narrow gap. There was a pileup of turtles and humans and we are sure that one of the turtles flipped us the bird. Close encounter for sure.
The days on Komandoo are used to enjoy the company of your love, frolicking in the crystal-clear waters, snorkelling, lounging under a parasol on the beach or on your own private deck of a water villa and of course eating all those amazing meals. And that is maybe the biggest selling point for us, the lack of shopping, no need to decide where to eat, and you know that the beer will be drunk in a magic bar with epic views of the stars and the ocean. The staff are the friendliest people we have ever met, and they will do all they can to make your stay as good as possible. Komandoo is for us the most romantic and magical place we have ever visited. A dream location and somewhere we will always hope to return to, our spiritual relaxing home away from home. We love Komandoo!
New Zealand, South Island
Twice we have had the absolute pleasure of visiting New Zealand, or Aotearoa in native Maori meaning the land of the long white cloud. And it is a spectacular place. New Zealand is made up of 2 main islands, the South Island, and the North Island plus around 700 smaller islands. Owing to their remoteness the islands were the last large habitable lands to be settled by humans. Between 1280 and 1350 Polynesians began to settle the islands and developed the distinctive Maori culture. Traditional Maori arts play a big role in the New Zealand, including the whakairo (carving of wooden figures), the raranga (weaving), kapa haka (group performance, seen performed at the beginning of every match by the mighty New Zealand rugby team All Blacks), whaikorero (oratory) and the ta moko (tattooing of face and torso).
In 1642 the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman became the first European to sight New Zealand. In 1840, representatives of the United Kingdom and Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which declared British sovereignty over the islands. The treaty was interpreted very differently between the British and the Maori and this led to the New Zealand wars between the British settlers and the Maori. Lasting from 1845 to 1872. After the war, the British more or less disregarded the treaty and as a result land was lost or simply stolen from the Maori. From the 1950s and onwards Maori increasingly sought the use of the treaty as a platform for claiming additional rights. And it has been a long and hard journey for the whole nation to make right all the wrongs suffered by the Maori. In modern New Zealand the Maori are a part of that whole fascinating tapestry that makes up a nation unlike most others. To visit a Maori traditional village is a must when staying in New Zealand, their culture is unique and fascinating. To be greeted at the village gate by a fierce warrior and to be challenged “are you friend or foe?” is spine tingling.
To say hello in Māori is one of the finest greetings in the world, the traditional Māori greeting, the hongi is performed by two people pressing their noses together; some include, at the same time, the touching of foreheads. In the hongi, the ha (breath of life) is exchanged in a symbolic show of unity.
And as Tanja likes to point out, there are no poisonous animals on the islands, so unlike Australia you can ramble around the bush without worrying about being killed around every corner. There is a small and exceedingly rare exception though, the near mythical Katipo spider. It exists in very small numbers near the beaches of the North Island. It is a shy spider, only the female will bite, and there have been no recorded deaths in at least 100 years. A bigger worry is the Australian Redback spider who have been accidentally imported to New Zealand but still, they only exist in small, localised populations in the North Island.
Our first visit was in 1997 as a part of our first around the world adventure. We had backpacks, tickets for the awesome Kiwi Experience, and it was cool to ride the bus service with other shoestring budget backpackers and used the bus service to see the highlights of both islands. We stayed at hostels in multi person dormitories and ate pot noodles and spaghetti with ketchup. It was a shoestring budget, but New Zealand is very much a tourist’s paradise and caters in a great way towards everyone from backpackers to VIP glam packers. Our second visit was part of our second around the world trip in 2004. We needed to go back and explore more and have the freedom of our own rental car. Staying in hotels and motels, this trip was a bit more luxury than the first one. We could even afford to eat at restaurants and drink in bars outside happy hour.
It is hard to give exact council on a country we visited more than 15 years ago but we would like to try and convey the feeling of places and why we love New Zealand so much.
The Lord of the Rings is a film series of three epic fantasy adventure films directed by New Zealander Peter Jackson. The movie are based on the novel by J. R. R. Tolkien. The films were shot on location all over New Zealand. The Fellowship of the Ring was released in 2001, The Two Towers in 2002 and The Return of the King in 2003.
There are also two distinct timelines of New Zealand culture and tourism, and that is pre and post Lord Of The Rings. When we visited in 1997 New Zealand was “just” New Zealand with its natural beauty and crisp air as its biggest selling point. When we returned in 2004 it had renamed itself “Middle Earth” and our inflight security video was inhabited by Hobbits! The LOTR movie franchise kickstarted the NZ tourism industry after the release of the first movie in 2001, and after the last movie premiered in 2003 the whole country had jumped the bandwagon. And the release of The Hobbit movie trilogy in 2012 kept the momentum for the country. We did not mind a bit, we love LOTR (and The Hobbit) so we got to see some great locations from the LOTR movies, especially on the North Island. For a comprehensive guide to locations please check out LOTR filming locations.
South Island is a natural loop road, the middle being occupied by towering alpine mountains, home to Aoraki Mt. Cook at 3724 metres above sea level. The mountain range runs along the entire length of the island. In the southwest is Fjordland National Park with steep sided Milford Sound. In the north is Abel Tasman National Park, known for its trails and ocean kayaking. Queenstown is famed for all its adrenaline sports from bungee jumping to paragliding and mountain biking. We started both our trips around New Zealand from Christchurch. We were saddened by the devastation of Christchurch in the earthquake of 2011 and the senseless terrorist attack in 2019, it is an incredibly beautiful town, very English, but not English and it deserves all the visitors it gets. Most people arriving in South Island will land at Christchurch International Airport since this is the only major airport on the island. South Island is a very laidback place, very friendly people, and no stress whatsoever. The South Island boast stunning Lord of The Rings locations like the Edoras site in the Asburton hills, the Pelennor fields in Mackenzie county (near Twizel) and the River Anduin and Fangorn Forest in the Fjordland area.
In New Zealand you have the major roads called state highways, designated by numbers. For example, state highway 6-9 are the key South Island highways, 2-5 are the Key North Island highways. And the mother road is State Highway 1 that runs from Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island to Bluff at the bottom of the South Island.
From Christchurch we headed down State Highway 8 to Pukaki and Lake Pukaki and then do the small No80 road along the lake, you will end up at Aoraki Mount Cook Village and the start of the Hooker Valley trail, even if you don’t walk the trail, there are spectacular views of Mount Cook and the glaciers from the village, and if you walk for no more than an hour or so along the trail, the views will go from spectacular to epic. We spent the night in a small cabin in Twizel and had the most fantastic view from our porch of the mountain.
We continued south on highway 8 and then 6 on to Queenstown. Queenstown was visited on both occasions, dubbed “the action sports capital of the world”- you can find the first bungee site on a bridge outside of town, downhill biking and tobogganing can be done by taking the skilift up the mountain by the city centre. Everything that can be hurled down a mountain can be ridden in Queenstown. The location of Queenstown is spectacular nestled among mountains at the shore of lake Wakatipu.
Unfortunately, we never got to see the fabled Fjordlands National Park south of Queenstown, the weather of both occasions not allowing us to go there, it looks beautiful, and we will go there some time. It is one of the “must sees” on the South Island so we were a bit bummed that we never got to see this area of outstanding natural beauty. Our comfort is that Norway has some great fjords as a consolation.
From Queenstown highway 6 runs across the island over the magnificent Haast pass to the western coast of the South Island. The west coast is wilder, more rugged, and truly spectacular with its dense green fern forests, rivers, and glaciers. Highlights are the Fox Glacier and the Franz Josef glaciers. There are numerous treks along rivers on the whole coast, we trekked along few rivers we cannot remember the name of, and it is sometimes great to just get out of the car and do a random walk. Walking the paths along the rivers with lush forests of ferns all around you is something incredibly special, and something very New Zealand for us.
. There is a reason for the fern being a national symbol. There is also a rich gold prospecting and mining history in the area, so make sure to visit some of the old sites and learn a bit of history on the way.
Punakaiki Pancake rocks and blowholes are spectacular sight on the edge of Paparoa national park. The Pancake Rocks at Dolomite Point near Punakaiki are a heavily eroded limestone area where the sea bursts through several vertical blowholes. The walk is easy and the sights are amazing!
Further north on the northern tip of the South Island is the magnificent Abel Tasman National Park with its golden beaches and archipelagos great for kayaking and trekking.
If you decide not to take the western road all the way north to Abel Tasman and instead cross over the mountains to the east there are some excellent hot springs along highway 7 over the Lewis pass. A great road and it is dotted with thermal springs and spas along the way. Soaking in the excellent Maruia hot springs or the more family oriented Hanmer springs are both excellent respites along the way. If you are feeling more adventurous and want a trek to deserve a hot pool, there are plenty like for example Cow Stream. Check out the excellent website NZ Hotpools for more info on pools all over New Zealand.
The small town of Kaikoura on the east coast made all our dolphin dreams come true. We had been dreaming about swimming with dolphins for years but never found the right opportunity. On our first visit we were tipped to do dolphin swimming in the Bay of Islands on the North Island but we saw no dolphins there whatsoever. So, on our second visit we made sure to go to the best place in the world for dolphin swimming.
The area and town of Kaikoura is unique since the sea gets very deep a short way offshore on the Kaikoura peninsula south of town. The ocean currents bring an abundance of nutrients from the deep sea into the shallower waters along the coast, and so the waters are abundant with whales, dolphins, fur seals and birds like albatrosses eating and frolicking in the sea. Kaiokoura is perhaps the best place in the world to watch sperm whales and to swim with dolphins. The dominant organisation in Kaikōura’s whale watching industry is Whale Watch Kaikōura, which is run as a charitable organisation. There are sperm whales in the area year-round, but the best months to see both sperm whales and migrating humpback whales is June to August. If you want to swim with Dusky dolphins like we did, this is the place to do it. Our experience with Dolphin Encounter was nothing short of awesome. The pods of dolphins inhabiting the waters around Kaikoura are big, we found ourselves surrounded by around 600 playful curious dolphins for our whole experience in the water. There are limitations on how many can be in the water at the same time, so it will never get crowded. Swimming in the cold blue water and suddenly being passed by hundreds of dolphins is a memory of a lifetime. We have never experience anything like it in our lives. True magic and something we will remember for ever!
When ending our South Island adventure, we drove our car up to Picton in the north to take the ferry that runs between the South Island and the town of Wellington on the North Island. You could also drive back to Christchurch and hop on a plane to the North Island. There is also a spectacular coastal train service along the coast from Christchurch to Picton. We think that taking the ferry over the Cook Strait is a great way to leave the South Island and a great way to start the journey on the North Island. There are two ferry companies servicing the Cook Strait, Interislander and Bluebridge.
New Zealands South Island is a rugged and wild dream where you can trek the wildest of wildernesses and enjoy everything from hurling yourself into the abyss from a bridge or have a serene swim with the majestic dolphins in the sea. It is a unique place, and we love it.
North Island, New Zealand, kia ora!
New Zealand’s North Island is a quite different place to its “little brother” the South Island. Home to about three-quarters of New Zealand’s population, it is a busier and more crowded place than the more sedate and remote South Island. The North Island is known for the spectacular volcanic peaks of the Tongariro National Park (home to Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy movies) with Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe. The beautiful lake Taupo and the geological active areas around Rotorua. It is home to the lookalike of Mount Fuji in Japan, the magnificent Mount Taranaki. The North Island has the country’s largest city, Auckland. Surrounded by bays and islands, it is known as “the city of sails”. In the northern most region, our favourite place, Bay of Islands and the 90-mile beach that ends at the very northern tip of New Zealand, Cape Reinga. And finally, not to forget the fellowship of the movie buffs, in the North Island you can relive all your Hobbit fantasies in Matamata and visit The Hobbiton Movie set.
Like our trip to The South Island, it has been a while since we visited New Zealand. This post is a continuation of our South Island post where we started both our trips to New Zealand in the past. For the North Island we will try and convey our experiences and warm feelings towards the North Island and New Zealand in general. It has been too long to be able to recommend hotels and restaurants, but our experiences and the beautiful nature we visited and saw, has not changed.
Tongariro National Park, Mount Doom (Mount Ngauruhoe).
The Tongariro National Park is the oldest national park in New Zealand, and it is acknowledged by UNESCO as a world heritage site. It is a spectacular area with volcanic peaks and home to one of the world’s best one-day hikes, the Tongariro Crossing, its literally like hiking in Mordor! The active volcanic mountains of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongarori are all located in the centre of the park. For people like us who just want to see the LOTR sites and gawk at the peaks and remnants of volcanic eruptions, the easiest way to do this is to take the state highway 47 and then 48 on the western side of the park. The road winds spectacularly between old lava fields and blackened lava flows. At the end of the road is the Iwikau Village and the Sky Waka gondola that will take you a bit up the mountain. In the winter this is a ski area where you can ski down an active volcano. Just next to the parking area is Meads Wall, used in the LOTR movies and this wall and background can be clearly seen at the beginning of movie 2 where Frodo and Sam gets lost in the maze of the mountains.
Just north of the Tongariro National park lies the beautiful Lake Taupo and Taupo town. Lake Taupo is the largest freshwater lake in New Zealand, and it is an old volcano caldera who filled with water. North of the lake we would recommend visiting the awesome Huka falls. The Waikato river enters a small ravine just before Huka falls and this ravine works like a firehose. More than 220 000 litres of water per second roars down the narrow chute before hurling itself down the 11 metres Huka falls. You can feel the force of the water in your soul as you stand on the pedestrian bridge spanning the ravine.
Sitting within the Pacific Ring of Fire, Rotorua is the bubbling, fizzing and popping geothermal centre of New Zealand. If you want to see shooting geysers, bubbling mud pools or visit thermal spas, this is the town for you. South of Rotorua along state highway 5 lies what we thought was the most spectacular geothermal site of Wai-O-Tapu. It is as we write this (January 2021) closed for renovations, but when they open, we are sure it will be every bit as spectacular as when we visited. There are many paths that run along bubbling pools of many colours, like the fantastic champagne pool. In the surrounding forest there are geysers, mudpools and steaming waterfalls. Spectacular. A short distance further north towards Rotorua lies the Waimangu thermal valley, also worth a visit for sure.
Coming by car from the south on state highway 5 you will encounter the Whakarewarewa living Maori village that has the Te Puia thermal park with the Pohutu geyser within it. The Maori village is award winning and is one of the more tourist friendly ways if experiencing the Maori culture.
North east of Rotorua on state highway 30 is another cool site with a relaxing spa, with the aptly name Hells Gate.
Matamata and Hobbiton Village
Northwest of Rotorua lies the small village of Matamata. Not much happened here until Peter Jackson decided that the fields outside of town should be the site of the Hobbit village in The Lord of The Rings trilogy movies. The films were shot, and the production company had promised the farmer whose land they had used for the set, that they would tear it all down and put things back to how they were. The process of reclamation was hindered by winter, and before all work had been done, the movies were released, and movie buffs started to come to what was left of Hobbiton.
When we visited in 2005 the whole visitor thing was a slightly organized, we had to buy tickets and were transported by an old bus to the site. The site itself was recognizable as Hobbiton, partly by the big party tree, the small lake, and the remains of some Hobbit holes. Most of the holes were just planks that supported the small openings, the only hole that you could walk into for about a metre was Bilbos hole at the top of the hill. There were some paving slabs outside and stairs, and you could see some remains of Styrofoam shaped to be cobble stones on the outside wall of the hole. And that was it basically, and we were of course stoked beyond stoking by the whole experience. Now after the Hobbit movies production in 2012, they kept the set as built, so now the site looks like the real Hobbiton from the movies. We are not sure what would be cooler, visiting an almost deconstructed site and using our imagination with only a few other movie buffs, or visiting a full on tourist destination….
Blackwater Rafting, Waitomo caves
By far the most spectacular, scary, and most adventurous things we have ever done is the Blackwater Rafting at Waitomo caves. The limestone caves of Waitomo started forming over 30 million years ago, as bones and shells of marine life started hardening over millions of years on the seabed. Tectonic activity rose the seabed up out of the sea and one million years ago and the rock was exposed to rain and started to erode into large cracks and eventually into the caves that dot the area today. Inside the caves today there are millions of small glow-worms that light up the roof of the caves like starry skies. You can do the more sedate boat trip into the caves and see the glow-worms or you could do what New Zealand do best, the adrenaline experience! Blackwater Rafting is more like a caving expedition.
At the surface you don wetsuits, helmets and of course a torch for light. You then head 80 metres below the surface via ropes, ziplines and climbing until you reach the bottom of the cave and the underground rivers. It was a total blast being ziplined in total darkness into the abyss and then jumping into the river Styx itself. We then proceeded to float on inflated rubber tires down the river system. When we extinguished our torches the roof of the cave lit up like the milky way above our heads. Millions of glow-worms lit up the cave, and it was like inhabiting a glass domed spaceship floating down liquid space. After 3 hours in subterranean darkness, we climbed back into light and warmth of day again. We were so excited by this first experience that we immediately booked the next trip that was the more demanding 5-hour caving expedition. We had no doubt we needed to do this! Starting the whole experience by abseiling into a small hole that expanded to the size of a church dome with no sight of the ground below was epic. We climbed, jumped, ziplined and crawled our way through the caves. At one point we were on our backs crawling through a space so narrow that my nose touched the ceiling all the while a small creek of water rushed around me. Emerging at the other side we found ourselves in a small chamber with just enough space for two people and the large waterfall that came roaring down from somewhere above us. Climb up it we must! Exiting the cave into the light and warmth of the surface was very welcome indeed! This full day of blackwater rafting is something we still remember with reverence all these years later, we are not sure if we would dare this adventure today.
With its natural harbour and stunning location, Auckland is a great city. Also dubbed “the city of sails” due to its proximity to the sea and the number of sailboats moored in and around the city centre. First settled by the Maori in around 1350 it was valued for its rich and fertile land. A British colony was established in 1840 and it was named capital of New Zealand. It was replaced as capital in 1865 by Wellington. The greater urban area of Auckland holds about 1,5 million people. We really liked Auckland, but it is a long time since we visited. What we remember as being cool was the waterfront, like all major cities with a goods and shipping district from the old days, Auckland has spent a lot of money sprucing up old quays and dockyard areas. Parnell is the oldest district in Auckland and needs to be visited. It looks very much like an old-time village, and boasts upmarket boutiques, cool cafes and a rather nice rose garden. The biggest draw to the area is the La Cigalle French Market that runs every weekend. Foodie paradise and no Auckland trip would be complete without a visit. And no visitor has truly been in Auckland before he or she has been to the top of Sky Tower. Soaring 328 metres above the city the Sky Tower has for almost 25 years has been the icon of the city. The view from the public area 220 metres above ground gives unparalleled views of the harbour and the lands surrounding the city. The cool thing is that you can clearly make out the cones of volcanos both in and around the city centre, reminding you that this city has a violent past. If you feel like getting down to the ground the fastest way, there is a Sky Jump (of course there is, this is New Zealand after all!). Hurl yourself 192 metres in a zipline that takes you from the top to the bottom faster than you can say “I can see my house from here!”. We chose the elevators.
The Northland Region
North of Auckland lies what the New Zealanders call “the winterless north” due to its mild climate. We really love the Northland; it has some of the nicest and coolest areas and golden beaches of New Zealand. And the fact that that the climate is year around mild makes it a great destination. The main population centre is around the city of Whangarei and Kerikeri. The region is also home to the last pockets of Kauri trees in New Zealand. Although many of the regions giant kauri tree forests were felled during the 19th century, some areas still have remaining giant trees to behold. New Zealands largest tree, Tane Mahuta, stands in the Waipoua forest south of Hokianga harbour. We visited the forest and the tree, and it is truly a giant. Estimated to be anything between 1250 and 2500 years old, it is so big that it is impossible to imagine before you stand under it.
The western coast is dominated by several long straight beaches. The non-accurate Ninety Mile Beach (only 55 miles) is a local road, so you can drive it! Superfun! Just make sure not to get too cocky and strand your car in the waves, you will have some explaining to do to the rental car company. The huge sand dunes by the beaches all along the coast can be walked and used to sled down if you rent a boogieboard. Be prepared to have sand in every crack and crevice on your body when you stop at the bottom of the sandy hill. It is great fun!
Bay Of Islands
On the eastern coast there are several nice small coastal villages to visit. We have stayed on both our visits in the town of Pahia. First time we visited we were told that Bay of Islands was the place to swim with dolphins. When we got there, it was the wrong season, and we did not get to swim with any kind of dolphin or other sea mammal. There are resident pods of dolphins in the bay, orcas, long-finned pilot and Bryde’s whales, but they are not as abundant as in Kaikoura in the South Island. Needless to say, we were very disappointed with our first visit, and hence we swam with the dolphins of Kaikoura on our second visit to New Zealand. Still Bay of Islands is well known for whale watching, and the majestic humpback and blue whale can be spotted migrating to and from the Antarctic waters in spring and autumn. Orca can be spotted during summer from October to March.
From Pahia there is a ferry to the historic town of Russel on the other side of the bay. Russel is one of the major historic sites of New Zealand, being the first permanent European settlement and port city in New Zealand. The towns has its original street plan from 1843 and it is home to some of the oldest and most significant buildings in New Zealand. The oldest existing church from 1835 complete with holes after musket balls being fired at the church in the battle of Kororareka in 1845. Kororareka (Maori name for Russel) was known as “the hell hole of the Pacific” for a long time due to the number of brothels, grog houses and general pandemonium that follows sailors on shore leave. The local Maori tribes also traded fiercely with the ships passing by. Read more about this history of settlement, wars, and expansion from the first Europeans here. There are great walks around Russel, and they are all well marked, we did a really nice walk in the surrounding areas of Russel. The beachfront of the town is also nice for eating lunch or just sitting and watching people walk by.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
Just north of Pahia lies Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This is maybe the most important historic site of New Zealand. Waitangi is the place where the treaty of Waitangi was signed on 6th of February 1840 between representatives of the British Crown and Maori chiefs from the North Island.
The history of the treaty is turbulent, it was inaccurately translated from English to Maori, where the Maori text said that Maori would keep chieftainship over their lands and villages, the English text cedes “all rights and powers of sovereignty” to the Crown, thus leading to the New Zealand wars between 1845-1872.
Cape Reinga is where New Zealand ends in the north. The clash of two mighty oceans makes for an imposing view beyond the cape lighthouse. The Tasman sea and the Pacific do battle when they meet in the swirling currents of the sea. Cape Reinga is the end of the road, even though it is not the northernmost point, that honour goes to the North Cape further north.
We would say that the drive up to Cape Reinga should be done via 90-mile beach on the way up, it makes for a spectacular trip. The walk up to the lighthouse and the imposing views across the ocean makes the cape feel like a special place.
At the northernmost tip of the Cape is a gnarled pohutukawa tree, believed to be over 800 years old. According to Maori oral history, the spirits of deceased Maori leap from this tree into the ocean to return to their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki.
Thank you, New Zealand!
On both our visits to New Zealand we spent between 3 weeks and 1 month on our trips across the South Island and North Island. We think this is a minimum for both islands if you want to get an impression of the country. Combined with the rather long voyage from Europe, you should at least have 3 weeks to explore.
While driving around NZ we of course stopped at random spots for lunch, we had a small cooler in our car so that we could keep some food items refrigerated. The spots we found were always epic, with views to die for.
The North Island beaches are fantastic, from the surf beach at Ragland, to the hot water beach on the Coromandel peninsula and our favourite beach in Whale Bay, Northland. We stopped at quaint coffee shops along the way, great fish and chips was consumed in the art deco city of Napier.
There is so much to see and do in New Zealand, the whole country is one big adventure park. Thrills and adventure around every corner. It also has a deep spirituality about it, we find it hard to put a finger on this aspect ourselves, but we feel a deep connection with New Zealand that will never go away. The next time we visit we think that a deeper dive into the Maori culture is something we will pursue for sure. It is an amazing place; we love New Zealand!
More to come here, Australia, snippets from Tahiti, Tonga and Fiji. Watch this space!