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4 Days Visiting Yellowstone & Jackson – What to Know!

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My first visit to Yellowstone was circa 2012 and it was incredible. Having the opportunity to return to Yellowstone is a quick…..ABSOLUTELY! I had some airline miles on Alaska Airlines to use and the flight was completely free!

Left Thursday after work and flew from Columbus, Ohio to Seattle, Washington onward to Bozeman, Montana.

The arrival was scheduled for midnight in Montana, but based on plane troubles arrived around 3 AM. It made for a short night of sleep, but getting to the park is the highest priority. Yellowstone is a large park.

Friday morning around 9 AM left Bozeman, Montana for Yellowstone National Park. There are a couple of ways to enter the park, but drove into West Yellowstone taking the route north to circle the park ending at the Yellowstone Lodge.

As you enter Yellowstone from West Yellowstone, you have a few choices…..the option of going toward Mammoth Springs (North) was the path taken. There are a ton of pull offs to see waterfalls, paint pots, geysirs, and Mammoth Springs is an excellent spot to take a lunch break. During the stop, watched the Elk walk around the city area; these animals are beautiful but you really need to stay back as they are known to be quite aggressive.

The drive continued with stops at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and lookouts.

Several locations have animals that are close to the vehicles. It is important to know that these are wild animals and you need to keep your distance.

The bison walk next to the cars, but will become aggressive if you get too close. The same with bears, elk, deer, etc.

During this trip, I was amazed at the number of people trying to get the right picture of the animal; willing to risk their lives for a picture.

Since I have been home, there are have been two people attacked by bison and one guy ran across the Grand Prasmatic Pool – use your head and do not ruin these opportunities for everyone. If things like this continue, they will put up fencing and limit access.

Finished driving for the day and ended at the Yellowstone Lodge located on Yellowstone Lake. It is absolutely beautiful. Yellowstone is at a high altitude and even when it is summer….it can still be quite chilly. There is a lake and many people end up the hospital because of hypothermia from the lake…keep this in mind. Visiting the park in June, it can be 70 degrees one day…..and can change the next….

Woke up Saturday to snow on the ground! Based on the elevation and driving conditions several roads were closed so we drove from the Yellowstone Lodge north to the bypass and then visited the southern part of the park. Drove to Old Faithful and had lunch right after the eruption. The park service posts the time and the app (when you have cell service) will also let you know the approximate next time.


On Sunday, we drove down to Jackson, Wyoming meeting some friends and exploring the areas. This is where we saw the first bear on the trip! We drove to our hotel and checked in at the Jackson Lake Lodge. This is between Yellowstone National Park and Jackson, Wyoming.

The Jackson Lake Lodge was located pretty close to Jenny Lake (a hidden gem) and Colter Bay (another hidden gem) that are in the Tetons. The hotel was expensive but was at the base of the Tetons and had fantastic views. On Monday mid-day left the Tetons and drove back through Yellowstone on the way back to Bozeman….a few shots on the way back.

If given the opportunity to visit Yellowstone and/or Jackson, Wyoming – definitely take the opportunity. If the weather is decent, I would highly recommend white water rafting in Jackson Hole. This trip did not have time and the weather was a bit cold, but the last time…it was one of the major highlights!

–Heidi

Costs for Yellowstone:

Rental Car: Alamo: $560

Quality Inn Bozeman: $185 per night

Lake Yellowstone Lodge: $390 per night

Alaskan Airlines Flight: $450 (my flight was paid with points)

Jackson Lake Lodge: $400 per night

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72 Hours to Visit Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Bryce, and Zion National Parks–Can it be done?


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72 Hours to see Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Antelope, Bryce, and Zion National Parks

Grand Canyon Visiting Las Vegas for a whirlwind out west in 3 days! I had limited time and companion airfare on Southwest that allowed me go on a quick adventure and I can never say no!

Las Vegas is such a fun place to visit. Back when I was doing my dissertation, I spent 3 weeks out in Las Vegas writing my paper and booked 3 weeks in Kauai to finish….yes, you read that correctly. I have always enjoyed Las Vegas and while living in Ohio, the phone constantly rang and friends wanted to go to lunch or do this and getting away was perfect for writing that paper. There was motivation to accomplish goals.

For the Las Vegas Trip, it was meant to be a quick trip….Leaving Ohio after work and flying to Las Vegas staying at the New York New York for the first night. After a long day of work and travels- arrived around 10 PM Vegas time or 1 AM Ohio Time. The first stop was In N Out Burger followed by a stop down in Old Vegas.

Saturday morning; got up super early to be at the Hoover Dam before the major traffic. It has been a couple of years since I was out there, but thankfully the new highway makes the visit much more enjoyable. If you have not been to the Hoover Dam; I highly recommend visiting.

From there, trudged on to the Grand Canyon…there are a lot of options, but purchased the Park Pass for a year (National Park Service for more details) there is a Desert View Drive that has a lot of pull offs and is perfect for a short stay at the Grand Canyon….

Mind you, we are still trucking because we have booked a 4:30 Antelope Canyon tour in Page, Arizona.

The goal was when finished to see Horseshoe Bend but this trip, parking was full and fines were high for parking along the highway.

The next morning we got up early and drove to Bryce Canyon to see the Hoodoos and then to Zion National Park. With it being the height of summer..definitely busy. In order to hike the Narrows. Get there early and plan on a 45-1 hour bus ride. After driving through the park, headed back to Vegas.

We arrived back in Vegas around 2 pm stopping at In N Out when coming back to the edge of Vegas. The rest of the evening was spent walking the strip and stopping at cafes. Our last night was spent at the Venetian. Definitely worth the splurge!   

This was a quick 72 hour trip and you definitely need more time to see each of these spots, but if time is limited; I would go for it. YOLO!

– Heidi

Costs:

Rental Car: $230

New York New York Hotel: $250

Best Western: $230

The Venetian: $350

Antelope Canyon Tour: $65 per person (morning is better than evening)

National Park Pass (year) $80 for the car – already purchased

Flight: $250 (free as I was using Southwest Companion Fare)

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9 Things You Should Know Before Going to Tahiti, Moorea, or Bora Bora


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1. Know What You Are Getting Into

What You Should Know about Visiting Tahiti, Moorea, or Bora Bora:

  • It is 8 hours from LAX (Los Angeles) to PPT (Papeete aka Tahiti)
  • If you do not live in the LA area, it can be a very long day of travel
  • Plan to sleep on the plane
  • How much you want to spend and how much you are willing to spend
  • Do you want to experience everything, but really don’t want to save for a year to do this…stay tuned.

What We Did:

  • Living in Columbus, Ohio; used Southwest Credit Card points to fly out to Los Angeles
  • Click Here for the Southwest Credit Card
  • The sign up above will provide 2 roundtrip tickets from Ohio to California which is what we did; spend $1,000 in 3 months and you receive 40,000 miles. (this link provides me with a few miles at no cost to you)
  • Knowing that the flight from Columbus, Ohio to LAX is approximately 5 hours; we went to Disneyland for 1 day when we arrived for 2 reasons: 1. make sure we did not have weather delays for our flight 2. it is a long day if you are on a plane for 5 hours then layover and another 8 hours of flight time. This can start the vacation in a bad place; we opted to wear ourselves out and have a blast a Disneyland and the next day took off for Tahiti. Highly recommend this.
  • We visited Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora on this trip.

2. Know Your Budget

What You Should Know:

  • There are lots of websites out there that will take your money and lure you to believe you need to spend more money.
  • Stick with your budget

What We Did:

  • There are a lot of choices with places to stay in the South Pacific and costs range
  • We stayed 5 nights in Tahiti with a package deal that included airfare and hotel
  • We upgraded the hotel to an overwater bungalow for all 5 nights
  • We did 3 full days in Tahiti
  • 1 full day in Moorea
  • 1 full day in Bora Bora

3. Know The Time of the Year

What You Should Know:

  • There are really only two seasons in the South Pacific.
  • November – April: Hot and Humid, Rainy Season, Hurricane Season
  • May to October: Cooler Season and Dry Season, Sailing Season

Weather is 70’s-80’s year round. Night time is around 10 degrees cooler.

What We Did:

  • We went in June and the weather was fabulous.
  • During the day: shorts and short sleeve t-shirts
  • Night time: shorts and a sweatshirt
  • It did rain for a few hours on two days and it was considered the dry season when we went.

4. Know the Flight Costs and How to Get a Deal

What You Should Know:

  • The cost from CMH to LAX is can range from $300-$600 roundtrip or $5.60 each way with flight miles on Southwest.
  • The trip to Tahiti can cost $800-$1500 roundtrip from LAX.
  • The Air Tahiti Nui flight from Tahiti to Bora Bora is around $450.00 roundtrip. You may be able to buy tickets once you arrive, but if they are sold out; you will be limited on options getting there.
  • There are two higher speed ferries that operate from Tahiti to Moorea is around $11.00 USD each way. You can purchase ferry tickets on the day you are going; there are more than 7 trips a day (no need to buy ahead of time). More information on Aremiti 
  • Rental cars are reasonable.

What We Did:

  • We used the Southwest Flight Miles: $11.20 per person
  • We booked an Air Tahiti Nui Package: $1172 includes flight to Tahiti and 5 nights hotel stay.
  • We stayed at Le Meridian 
  • We upgraded to the Overwater Bungalow for all nights
  • Le Meridian Hotel is the nicest hotel of the options given for Air Tahiti Nui; some hotels have obnoxious birds that can keep you awake all night
  • Stay here even if you just stay in the hotel and not in a bungalow.
  • The pool and amenities are nice; but not super updated and renovated with bells and whistles. keep in mind Tahiti is circa 1970s; similar to Kauai
  • We flew to Bora Bora for a day; took the earliest flight and returned on the latest flight of the day costing $420.00 per person roundtrip
  • We went to Moorea by Ferry for a day.

5. Book Hotels and Excursions Before You Go

What You Should Know:

Some people will show up on a vacation and figure out hotel accommodations when they arrive. In Tahiti, this is not advisable. Hotels, hostels, and homes are booked. Just make sure you have a plan. It is advisable if you have a desired excursion that you book it before you go; with that being said, you can also talk with your hotel and they will help you book local excursions.

What We Did:

  • We did a package deal with Air Tahiti Nui and knew we would be staying at Le Meridian hotel. After booking the normal hotel option; we upgraded to the overwater bungalow.
  • Knowing that we were going to Bora Bora for a day; we wanted to do a snorkeling adventure and we booked with Pure Snorkeling by Reef Discovery; picked us up by boat at the airport in Bora Bora to start the excursion. Video of the Snorkeling We went on one of the most amazing four stop snorkeling trips possible with Pure Snorkeling: stop 1: manta rays, stop 2: eagle rays, stop 3: coral reef, stop 4: aquarium like experience-thousands of fish.
  • We booked the Moorea excursion with the hotel when we arrived.

6. Rent a Car

What You Should Know:

  • You will need a driver’s license to rent a car in Tahiti
  • It is advisable to know how to drive a stick shift car or call before going to make sure an automatic is available

What We Did:

  • We rented a car for the entire trip and it cost around $600.00 for the time there
  • Automatics were not available

 

7. Have a Plan/ Itinerary

What You Should Know:

  • The South Pacific is beautiful and you can drive around Tahiti and enjoy your entire stay there.

What We Did:

  • We arrived in Tahiti at night and took a shuttle to the hotel. The next day we rented a car and drove around Tahiti, Day 2 we took the Ferry to Moorea and did the Lagoonarium Snorkeling with Reef Sharks, Day 3 Back in Tahiti all day (Kayaked under our bungalow, drove around the island, hiked to a waterfall), Day 4: flew to Bora Bora for the Day (pre-booked the Snorkeling Package); Day 5: Drove around the island and snorkeled.

8. Bring Essential Items

What You Should Know:

  • The South Pacific is damp and humid. Mosquitos are everywhere; spray yourself and bring mosquito netting especially if you stay in an overwater bungalow.
  • 70’s and 80’s are nice temperatures, but remember at night near water it can be a lot colder
  • Bring at least one sweatshirt and a pair of jeans
  • Bring tennis shoes and water shoes

What We Did:

  • We brought mosquito spray and mosquito netting; our overwater bungalow did have the netting with holes in it.
  • Mosquito illness signs are posted in the airport so be aware that it is a serious concern.
  • Bring a spare set of clothes including a swimsuit in your carry-on, just in case.
  • Bring sunscreen because the cost in Tahiti was around $10.00USD for a very small bottle
  • The UV sunshirts are a great idea if you snorkel and spend time in the water (esp. Bora Bora)

9. What Should We Expect to Spend

What You Should Know:

  • It really depends on how much or how little you really want to spend.

What We Spent:

  • Flights and Hotel $1200 per person from LAX to PPT
  • Flight Miles and tax from CMH to LAX $11.20 per person
  • Upgrade to overwater from standard hotel $600 total for 5 nights
  • Flight from PPT to Bora Bora $450.00 per person
  • Ferry from PPT to Moorea $22.00 per person
  • Excursion to Lagoonarium $45.00 per person
  • Excursion from Bora Bora Airport all day snorkeling $145.00 per person
  • Rental Car in Tahiti $350.00 for 5 days
  • Food Costs $300.00 per person for 5-6 days
  • Taxi Ride around Bora Bora $55.00
  • Disney Tickets $105 per person

**All of these costs were then paid for by credit card points so it resulted in no cost for the trip**

Will talk about credit points in another post.

Questions? Just ask!

~Heidi

 

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50 Tips for Traveling In and Around France


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Paris.….is always a good idea…..

When traveling to Europe, there are a lot of things to consider….the time of year, the weather you wish to experience, and whether you are on a budget.

I have been to France around 10 times and have fallen more and more in love each time. This post will cover information on a few areas of France: Paris, Nice, Cannes, and Monaco.

Tip 1: Pack a carry on in case your luggage goes missing.

Thankfully on this trip my first day in Paris; I arrived 6 hours late after missing a connection in Philly due to weather. When I was at the airport; I made a report and my luggage was missing for 2 solid days. On the third day, we were headed down to the South of France and my luggage happened to show up 47 hours later to my hotel. In my shop are the Columbia Convertible Pants that make life a lot easier Similar Columbia Pants

Tip 2: Concorde La Fayette is a great place to stay for 3 reasons: Reason 1: Take Air France Bus 2 directly to this hotel which is Porte Maillot. It stops at Etoile, Porte Maillot, and Rossy CDG Reason 2. This hotel has a subway/metro in the hotel (go down the stairs through the tunnel and you are there) Reason 3: cheap transportation   Paris Metro Map

Tip 3: Prepare to Walk

Staying at the Concorde La Fayette (2 miles south of the Arc de Triomphe) to the Notre Dame Cathedral, Musee D’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, Louvre, and of course the Eiffel Tower and back without the use of a subway.

Tip 4: Stroll down the Champs Elysees and take it all in.
Renault has a wonderful restaurant on the Champs Elysees.

Tip 5: Visit Versailles at least once in your life.
Take the 45 minute RER train ride to see the great palace. It is something to see- gold embossed tips to the palace and the grounds are just gorgeous.

Tip 6: Plan to arrive at Versailles in the morning before 9 AM to queue
Lines develop way before the entry time and the wait can be hours; so get up early and sleep in another day.

Tip 6: Many Museums are closed on Mondays- Weekly Closing Days of Paris Museums
Before you visit make a list of the places you want to visit and check hours, holidays, and days closed.

Tip 7: Hop On, Hop Off Tour Bus is a great deal: 4 bus lines averaging an hour each route approximately 25 euros per person.
Allows you to see everything from a visualization standpoint and the proximity of things when you are in a double decker bus going around the city. Many of these include a boat ride.The hop-on/ hop-off bus is called L’Opentour …50 stops, 4 routes, and 1 ticket (I would suggest the 2 day pass) One day pass is 29 euros; 2 days is 32 euros and kids are 15 euros ages 4-11.
-Boat hop on, hop off- batauxbus Paris

Tip 8: If you use the metro a booklet of 10 tickets is a good deal: you get 10 tickets for the price of 8. (over time this may change)
Great if you want to quickly zip around the city or know where you want to go in a hurry.

Tip 9: Bring water everywhere with you. You will need it.
Prepare for standing and walking a lot. A few snacks would also be good if you think about it (especially with wait times in line for certain places)

Tip 10: Going to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night is the best; especially around 11:30 PM
Again, check on the times of closing and if you can get tickets in advance

Tip 11: A pullstring bag is essential because at times you will have a lot of snacks but you can fold it into your pocket when you have nothing.(Backpacks are too cumbersome)

Tip 12: Know the exchange rate 
Exchange rate was 1.60 US dollars to 1 euro and at times is 1 USD to .85 Euros; fluctuations occur often so know what you are paying.

Tip 13: Use points for hotel stays instead of money if you can

Tip 14: Bring an umbrella or Package of 5 ponchos
This comes to personal preference. I like carrying a poncho (1.99 at Walmart) more than an umbrella, but whatever you have to keep you dry is a must.

Tip 15: Bring Clip on Hand Sanitizers
Many places in France have “ran out of soap” or is just not available. Be prepared.

Tip 16: Remember that Air conditioning is not good anywhere in Paris unless you stay at the Charles V

Tip 17: Build in time to just sit, relax, and have no real plan for at least one day in Paris. A Place to Stroll

Monaco

Tip 18: You must have lots of money to go into the Casino. Everyone can walk on the grounds and go in the doors, but to actually play in the Casino; you must be independently wealthy or have wealthy friends. Regardless, it is fun to walk around the area. You never know who you will see.

Tip 19: You must be in a coat and tie to get into the Automobile Club in Monaco.
We were wandering around the Grand Prix area and found the Automobile Club; shorts will not work.

Tip 20: Treat yourself to ice cream while you people watch in Monaco

Tip 21: Remember that you are a 45 minute train ride from Nice, 30 USD round trip  You can get tickets on the day you travel

Tip 22: Trains to Monaco are every 30 minutes from Nice.

Tip 23: Once you arrive in Monaco, you can walk everywhere (the Casino and the Palace are on different cliffs-40 minute walk uphill both ways) I recommend a taxi based on time and getting to see things. There is quite a distance between these areas; there is also the Monaco Bus Service which was $4USD each way depending if you mind stops every 4 minutes.

Tip 24: Little train ride at Oceanographic Museum: 30 minute ride takes you by the Casino and by the Palace, but you must stay on the train, no stops cost 7 Euros for adults, 4 euros for kids.
– Go to Oceanographic Museum first…………if you exit the train station…..go to the right and follow the signs.
-You can walk the grounds of the Prince’s Palace without paying; 4 euros for an inside tour (not worth your money imo)

Cannes

Tip 25: A 30 minute ride from Nice to Cannes via train. Once you arrive in Cannes from the train station walk 1/4 mile to the beach.

Tip 25: When you are in Cannes, take the little train ride to see the city. 10 euros for the big tour
The narrator does a good job of explaining the town; the little train allows you to enjoy the sights.

Tip 26: When you think of Cannes, many think of the film festival. Check out the Red Carpet.

Tip 27: Nice has rock beaches and Cannes has sand beaches and so does Antibes (sand beach) Know and plan accordingly.

Tip 28: Walk around the harbor- gorgeous yachts

Tip 29: Long promenade to walk

Tip 30: Good for a day trip; no more than a day would be advisable here.

Tip 31: Shopping name brands is good: Chanel, Gucci, Prada; all the good brands!

Tip 32: Likely to see famous people walking around.

Tip 33: Haagan Dazs located across from the red carpet..another 15 USD for 2 sundaes.

Nice, France

C’est la vie……………………

Tip 34: Stay at Le Meredien
Use points to stay here (Starwood) Our room was 425 euros a night with an exchange rate of 1.5-1.6…..you do the math! We were able to stay 3 nights and get the 4th night free using points for the three nights.

Tip 35: The promenade is about 10 miles long and continues toward Monaco. Wonderful shops, hotels, and exercise along the water.

Tip 36: The train station is about a mile from Le Meredien (centrally located on the promenade)

Tip 37: Le Meridian is the only one with a beach pool and a pool on the top of the hotel (uncommon in France)

Tip 38: Wireless is 30 euros a day at the hotel (go downstairs and get it from the McDonalds for free; the lobby area you can access the wi-fi)

Tip 39: Just about all McDonald’s in France have wi-fi

Tip 40: Walking to the waterfall is about 3 miles from Le Meridian hotel.

Tip 41: The airport is about 7 miles away, but will cost you a whopping 40 euros! Consider negotiating with the taxi driver before getting in.

Tip 42: If you fly Easyjet (remember that every bag is 22 euros) one carry-on only and no more than 20kg or 44 pounds

Tip 43: If you miss your flight on Easyjet you have to rebuy another one unless you bought insurance

Tip 44: Bus service is a good option from the airport to your hotel. This is not always possible.
We took a bus from the airport to the hotel, but our return flight was super early and the bus was not running. (Bus fare is 7 euros per person, but you must know what stop to get off at)

Tip 45: People do not speak good English here……….especially at the airport.
In Paris, many people speak English and speak it well. As you go to the South of France, many young people speak English but some store owners, airport employees, bus drivers, taxi drivers may speak French only.

Tip 46: Use credit card for transactions.

Tip 47: There is a ferry that will take you to St. Tropez or Corsica (must view dates and times) (Cannes to St. Tropez and Nice to Corsica)

Tip 48: On the promenade there are music groups, dance groups, and rollerbladers, segways, and bikes all day long. It is approximately 4-5 lanes across and next to the beach so you do not cross roads. Performances all the time.

Tip 49: Make Nice your home base.
We stayed for 5 days and 4 nights on this trip and visited Cannes, Monaco, and Nice.

Tip 50: Should you have extra time, stop off in Eze or Grasse and visit the Fragonard factory.

**Always book travel insurance**

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Can You See Australia and New Zealand in under 2 weeks?


Reading Time: 7 minutes

 

I’ve wanted to visit Australia and New Zealand since I can remember. We had the opportunity over the summer of 2017 and jumped at the chance even though our time was somewhat limited.  Not sure what the optimal time is to see both countries – but most suggest at least a couple weeks for each.  That being said you can (and we did) have an amazing adventure in less than 2 weeks.

 

What to know before you go:

  • You need a Passport AND an Australian ETA/eVisitor Visa to Enter Australia (a fact that somehow eluded us but until we checked in at the airport.  Luckily we were able to sign up for one online in just a few minutes for $15.
  • This is a long trip 12-14 hours there and back and you lose about 1 day of travel each way
  • It can be expensive but there are ways to save money
  • Our summer is their winter – so dress accordingly! The Whitsundays (Australia) was 70-75 degrees but New Zealand ranged from 40-50s…brrrr!

 

What We Did:

We only had 12 days to see both countries and made the most of it.  We moved at a good clip but were not rushed and had plenty of time to relax.  The first leg of our trip we visited Sydney, The Great Barrier Reef and The Whitsundays.  The second part of our journey we hit some of the major cities in New Zealand including Queenstown, Christchurch and Auckland.  Transportation, food and lodging was not cheap but it was definitely not prohibitive.  You can save big if using points for the transpacific flight.  We booked most of our hotels through Hotels.com and even earned a free nights stay along the way.

Getting there:

The flight there and back was expensive ($2067 round trip) and long (14 hours there and 12 hours back to/from LAX). We were able to use points to cover one of the round trip tickets on American Airlines.  The intercity flights between Australian Cities and New Zealand (via Quantas and Jetstar) were not too bad at $100-$300 each.

Day 1-4:

We flew from Columbus, OH to LAX and then on to Sydney.  From Sydney we immediately departed for the Whitsundays where we spent the next 3 days.  We stayed at Arlie Beach, Queensland and were able to find a hotel at a very reasonable price.  The first day we booked a half day Excursion from Airlie Beach out to the Great Barrier Reef via Cruise Whitsundays (about $199/person).

The trip out to the reef took about 2 hours. The Seas can be rough but luckily they were not too bad the day we went.  We spent the next 2 ½ to 3 hours on a large pontoon boat right on The Great Barrier Reef where we were served lunch and then could partake in a snorkel safari, semi-submersible boat ride, and see fish and other aquatic sea life including some beautiful coral.  There were a few small sharks in the water but luckily none looked like they wanted to eat us!

 

 

The next day we took another Cruise Whitsundays Tour  (@$109) which took us around the Whitsunday islands including a stop on beautiful Whitehaven Beach .  Know that you must take a ferry or water taxi from island to island to get to pick up/drop off points for the cruises and these can cost anywhere from 50-60$ per person each way.  Unfortunately there is no other way to get around the islands unless you bring your own boat….

 

Day 4-6:

 

The follow day we flew back to Sydney where we spent the next 2 days exploring the City, Harbor, Harbor Bridge, Opera House, and Sydney Eye Tower. We took the Big Bus Sydney Hop-on-Hop-off Tour ($67/person for 2 days) which allowed us to explore the city at our own pace. We used the OPAL Card which also saved us money on trains, buses and ferries.

Our 2nd day we took a short excursion by train to Featherdale Wildlife Park where we could see much of the native Australian wildlife and we got to hold and have our pictures taken with a Koala bear! There were also incredibly cute kangaroos. The park is easy to get to (about 45 km west of Sydney, 45min by car, 1:15h by train.)  The experience was well worth it at $32/adult, $17/child.

 

Day 6-10:

 

Next it was off to New Zealand. From Sydney we flew to Queenstown which is an absolutely beautiful town perched on the shore of Lake Wakatipu and nestled in the Southern Alpine Mountains.  There is plenty for tourists to do with lots of skiing, restaurants and shops.  There is also an abundance of outdoor recreational activities.

The following morning we took a day trip to Milford Sound which maybe one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.   We had to get up early in the morning and took a bus to the sound Kiwi Discovery was purchased by Go Orange.  Once there we had about a 2 hour cruise on the Sound where we were fed lunch and took in not only the scenery but also some wildlife! $179.00 per person. The video on the bus ride back was spectacular as well: The World’s Fastest Indian

 

The next day we headed to Christcurch. It was amazing to see the amount of Devastation that still persisted more than 6 years after the 2011 earthquake. Many buildings still remained abandoned. The most striking was the Christchurch Cathedral.

The following morning we set off for a day-long round trip via the KiwiRail TranzAlpine Train from Christchurch to Greymouth (@ $260/person).  This trip takes you across through the Alpine Mountains and through Arthur’s Pass.

Day 11-12:

 

From Christchurch we left for Auckland. Once in Auckland we rented a car and drove to The Hobbiton  (“Middle Earth” where the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings was filmed) which was about 2h and 15min southeast of Auckland.  From there it was onto the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves which was about another 1.5h southwest.

 

The round trip leaving and returning to Auckland is easily doable in one day if you get an early start.  It did take bit of getting used to driving on the Right side of the road! We spent our final night exploring Auckland before departing for LAX the following morning.

 

 

In summary:

We were only able to sample some of Australia and New Zealand in 12 days but had an amazing trip and that left us plenty to see when we go back! This vacation can be a bit pricy but there are ways to save money. Overall it was well worth the cost.  Australia and New Zealand are undoubtably two of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

Questions? Just ask!