Tag Archives: New Zealand

The Radar: Travel Lately

30 Apr

The mineral-rich Champagne Pool in Wai-O-Tapu thermal park near Rotorua. (Photograph by Francesa Onesti, My Shot)

The Radar – the best of the travel blogosphere – is a regular feature on Intelligent Travel every Wednesday.

Here’s this week’s:  

  • New Zealand is known for its incredible natural beauty, and the geothermal wonder just outside Rotorua is no exception. Old Faithful, meet your match in Wai-O-Tapu. (If you’re wondering, that’s Māori for “sacred waters.”) @wanderlustersuk
  • São Paulo may be Brazil’s largest city (and the world’s eighth largest by population), but it’s often overshadowed by Rio de Janeiro, its sister city to the north. Find out why this South American metropolis is a treasure in its own right. @thismyhappiness
  • This time of year, visitors swarm Washington, D.C. to see the cherry blossoms. But with crowds as unrelenting as a filibuster and lots of ground to cover, you’re sure to work up an appetite. Check out this guide to the best eats in “the District.” @packDsuitcase
  • Lyon is located halfway between grande-dame Paris and the seaside swank of the Cote D’Azur. Though other French destinations have more star quality, this cultural center has its own brand of charm. @InspirngTrvlrs 
  • Only have a day to spare in Montreal? There’s no way to see everything anyway, so why not embrace it by trying the immersive approach? Check out this 24-hour guide to the heart of French Canada to get off on the right foot. @atlasobscura

The Radar: Travel Lately

10 Best Cities to See From Above

29 Apr

For the ultimate bird’s eye view of your destination there’s no more thrilling way to get your bearings than zooming over the landscape in a helicopter. Whether hovering over a kaleidoscope of corals at the Great Barrier Reef or soaring around the Statue of Liberty in New York, here are 10 of the best places in the world to see from above.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon View

Grand Canyon View

The world wonder of the Grand Canyon is so immense you’ll have to take to the skies to get a feel for its true magnitude – an incredible 446 km long and up to 29 km wide. Helicopter flights have become a hugely popular way of viewing the canyon, with various flight paths taking in Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, the Kaibab National Forest and the Grand Canyon National Park. Best of all, you can fly through the canyon itself, plummeting 1,500 feet beneath the rim for a spectacular journey through the Dragon Corridor, the canyon’s widest and deepest section where the vast expanses of colored rock showcase millions of years of geology.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas Strip

Las Vegas Strip

Don’t blow all your cash on the slot machines because there’s an even better way to take in the dazzling lights of Las Vegas – by helicopter. Fly over the famous Strip at night for the most atmospheric views over downtown Vegas, the Stratosphere Tower and the Luxor Pyramid. Keep your eyes peeled for overhead views of New York New York, Bellagio, Paris, the Venetian, Caesars Palace and Treasure Island, as well as getting the chance to peek into the famous resort pools and hotels. Prefer a daytime flight? Combine it with a flight over the nearby Red Rock Canyon where you’ll get views of the Nellis Air Force Base, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Mt Charleston.


Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

Swap the urban sprawl for an up-close encounter with Hawaii’s stunning natural scenery with a helicopter flight over the most tropical state in the US. Fly over dense rainforest, crashing waterfalls – including the epic ‘Wall of Tears’ – and volcanic peaks for a breathtaking airborne adventure. Best of all, you can look down on one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Kilauea, which is often oozing lava from its gaping crater.

New York

New York City Skyline

New York City Skyline

Few city skylines are as iconic as New York’s but the only way to cram all the city sights into one tour is by soaring overhead. Helicopter flights over New York head up the Hudson River, taking in the Financial District, the Yankee Stadium, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the George Washington Bridge and Central Park, as well as offering unbeatable aerial views over Manhattan, New York Harbor and Staten Island. The main highlight though, is the chance to circle the inimitable Statue of Liberty – the city’s most legendary landmark.

San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco.

If you can’t make it to New York, flying over the San Francisco skyline comes a close second, with its exhilarating mix of towering bridges, rolling hills and urban beaches. Flights swoop over the notorious Alcatraz Island, the magnificent 1.7-mile long Golden Gate Bridge, the picturesque San Francisco Bay and the historic Ferry Building, but for the most atmospheric views, take to the skies at night when the city will be aglow with neon.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Often deemed the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ Australia’s underwater marvel is one of the country’s biggest attractions. Divers and snorkelers flock to the northern shores to experience the colorful coral gardens of the Great Barrier Reef, but to really grasp its size, take a helicopter ride over the ocean. Flights not only offer a bird’s eye view of the reef – an otherworldly mass of corals – but take in the World Heritage Rainforest of the Daintree National Park, the surrounding white sand cays and the nearby city of Cairns.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

There are few better ways to mark your arrival in Los Angeles than looping around the iconic Hollywood sign in your own personal VIP helicopter. Couple it with a glamorous aerial tour of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the Hermosa, Redondo and Manhattan beaches, then soar over the celebrity studded haunts of Beverly Hills and Bel Air’s luxury mansions. Your guide can even point out the most iconic LA sights from above – the Hollywood Bowl, Sunset Strip, Downtown LA and Universal Studios.

French Riviera

Villefranche Bay, French Riviera

Villefranche Bay, French Riviera

Join the European jetset for a James Bond esque retreat to the star-studded French Riviera, where you can enjoy a taste of the highlife with a helicopter tour over the famous Mediterranean coastline. Floating overhead, the shimmering ocean, luxury yachts and endless beaches provide the perfect backdrop, but the real highlights are the panoramic views of sights like the Prince’s Palace, the Rock of Monaco, the Monte Carlo Casino and the Monaco Grand Prix race track.

New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand

The self-proclaimed adventure capital of the world offers plenty of ways to take flight, but if you’d rather not jump out of a plane or turn yourself into a human yo-yo, get a view while safely strapped into a helicopter seat instead. Choose from a jaw-dropping flight over the glistening Franz Josef or Fox Glacier on the South Island’s West coast; a close up view of the iconic Sky Tower and volcanic Rangitoto Island in Auckland; a bird’s eye view of the famous Craters of the Moon and the mighty Huka Falls at Lake Taupo; or hovering over bubbling mud pools in Rotorua.

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

Taking the pilgrimage to the famous Christ the Redeemer Statue at the summit of Corcovado Mountain is a right of passage for visitors to Rio de Janeiro, but for an even better view of the holy man, take a helicopter flight over the mountaintop instead.  That’s not all; you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the legendary Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, Sugar Loaf Mountain, the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake and the Maracana Stadium. Make sure to toast your safe return with a Caipirinha – Brazil’s national cocktail.

10 Best Cities to See From Above

The World’s Strangest Beaches

29 Apr

While white sand beaches with azure waters and billowing palms are nice, they’re far from unusual. For those looking for a truly unique coastal experience, the following beaches provide just that. Barking sand, star-shaped fossils and natural underground hot springs are just a few of the strange experiences you can have on the following strangest beaches.

Hoshizuna Beach, Okinawa, Japan

Hoshizuna Beach is one of the unique beaches in the world where you can find star-shaped sand (the other two are on Taketomi Island in Okinawa, Kaijihama Beach and Aiyaruhama Beach). The tiny stars are actually fossils from thousands of tiny crustaceans. That being said, locals have a mythical story to go along with why the beaches contain star-shaped sand. Legend has it that there once was a star mother and father who had a star baby. While they consulted God of Sky about the birth they left God of Ocean out of the decision making, who became infuriated and killed the baby star with a big snake. The snake’s feces became the fossils we see today on the beach. Additionally, God of Sky put the baby star into the heavens as a fossil, which is why you see stars in the sky today.

Gulpiyuri Beach, Llanes, Spain

Gulpiyuri Beach; World's Strangest Beaches

Gulpiyuri Beach, Llanes, Spain. Photo courtesy of guillenperez via Flickr.

While there’s nothing unusual about a beach with golden sand, crystal waters and waves, it is when its location is in the middle of a meadow. The 131-foot (40-meter) shoreline of Gulpiyuri Beach offers a whole new type of beach serenity, as you can cool off in the translucent salt waters while taking in both beach and rolling countryside hills.

Loango National Park, Gabon, Africa

For those who want a mixture of pristine beach and wildlife spotting, Loango National Park is the place for you. The park extends all the way to the white sanded coast, where you can watch hippos, gorillas, buffalos, leopards, elephants and wild pigs take a dip in the water — and sometimes even surfing. It’s definitely not your usual day of building sand castles and playing beach volleyball.

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska. World's Strangest Beaches

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska. Photo courtesy of brewbooks via Flickr.

Petroglyph Beach will take you back in time. Nobody is quite sure how the 40 rock carvings got there, but they make the beach quite unusual as you take in the boulders etched with faces, birds and fish, thought to be carved over 8,000 years ago. For a mix of mystery, history and culture, Petroglyph Beach is a must.

Barking Sands Beach, Kaua’i, Hawaii

Just as the name says, the sand on Barking Sands Beach makes a barking noise when rubbed. This means that as you walk over its 17 miles (27 kilometers) of coastline it will sound like a rambunctious dog. What makes this strange beach even more unusual is it’s also home to a rocket-launch site and missile-defense testing center.

Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas

Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas. World's Strangest Beaches

Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas. Photo courtesy of dany13 via Flickr.

While white- and golden-sand beaches are commonplace, when is the last time you laid out on a beach of striking pink sand? Pink Sands Beach is over three miles (5 kilometers) long and 50 to 100 feet (80 to 161 kilometers) wide. The cause of its unusual hue is Foraminifera, a coral organism that leaves behind its pink shell when it dies.

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand. World's Strangest Beaches

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of eliduke via Flickr.

Due to intense geothermal activity on the Coromandel Peninsula, visitors to Hot Water Beach can dig holes into the sand to create natural hot spring pools. The water gets as hot as 147°F (64°C), and makes for a relaxing and unique beach experience.

Schooner Gulch, Mendocino Coast, California

Also known as “Bowling Ball Beach,” visitors to Schooner Gulch can witness thousands of boulders of equal shape, size and spacing sit lined up like soldiers defying the tides. What’s truly amazing about this rare phenomenon is it is completely natural, with no human interference. The geological explanation is that these concretions are created from resilient minerals and materials that have been able to withstand damage from the Pacific Ocean.

Giant’s Causeway, Near Bushmills, Northern Ireland

Giant's Causeway, Near Bushmills, Northern Ireland. World's Strangest Beaches

Giant’s Causeway, Near Bushmills, Northern Ireland

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway is home to 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, created by volcanic eruptions. These natural formations feature precise hexagonal shapes laid out like honeycomb clusters that disappear into the sea.

The landscape is so dramatic in appearance it has inspired local legends of giants walking over the water to Scotland, hence the word “causeway.”

Chandipur Beach, Chandipur, India

At high tide Chandipur Beach may appear like any other; however, at low tide the water recedes about three miles (five kilometers) from the shore, exposing the seabed to beach-goers. Visitors can see unusual seashells, driftwood, crabs and  other organisms  usually not exposed on the beach, giving them the feeling they’re walking into the sea.

Genipabu Beach, Natal, Brazil

Genipabu beach. Natal, Brazil. World's Strangest Beaches

Genipabu beach. Natal, Brazil. Photo courtesy of Leandro’s World Tour via Flickr.

Genipabu Beach offers much more than just swimming, as the landscape is a mix of beach and desert. Enormous sand dunes allow for sand boarding and camel riding, while the Atlantic Ocean provides opportunities for water sports. Basically, this unusual beach offers two completely unique experiences in one.

Perissa, Santorini, Greece

Perissa Beach, Santorini, Greece. World's Strangest Beaches

Perissa Beach, Santorini, Greece.

While we’ve all seen white and gold sand — and sometimes even strange beaches glowing with hues of pinks, oranges and reds — Perissa Beach in Greece is the complete opposite. The endless beach’s pitch black sand creates a strikingly eery yet beautiful landscape. These dark volcanic granules are extremely soft and fine, as well. From the beach you can also walk to the ancient city of Thira, thought to have once been a Spartan colony, by hiking up the Perissa’s backdrop mountain of Mesa Vouno. Warning: Because of the sand’s dark color it tends to get extremely hot, so bring your flip flops.

The World’s Strangest Beaches

The World’s Coolest Caves

29 Apr

Caves have always fascinated human beings. We have used them for shelter, for food storage, as canvases for our art – we have even transformed them into homes and temples. Caves tend to have an otherworldly mystery about them, with their often tortuous, claustrophobic chambers, their strange creatures and the intensity of their darkness. It is no wonder we are drawn to them. And there is no shortage of caverns to explore — the United States alone has more than 55,500 caves, with over 1,000 new ones discovered each year, according to the National Speleological Society. There are countless to choose from, but here is a list of eight of the world’s coolest caves to get you started.

Majlis al Jinn Cave, Oman

Inside the Majlis al Jinn cave

Climber ascending from the floor of Majlis al Jinn. Photo credit: Michaelmcandrew via Wikimedia Commons.

Discovered in 1983 by Don Davidson, a geologist studying water resources in the Sultanate of Oman, Majlis al Jinn Cave boasts the ninth-largest cave chamber in the world (as measured by the surface area of the floor). You come here for the adventure and the scale. To give an idea of how big the entrance chamber is, the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt (the largest Egyptian pyramid) would fit inside almost exactly — its base is approximately the same as the chamber floor and its height is roughly equal as well.

Majlis al Jinn is located in a remote area of the Selma Plateau, 60 miles southeast of Muscat. Access to the cavern is via a free descent down from one of three vertical entrances in the ceiling, meaning you’ll be lowering yourself down on a rope or, if you’re brave enough, base-jumping with a parachute.

Cave of the Crystals, Mexico

The Cave of the Crystals is located 1,000 feet underground in the working Naica Mine near Chihuahua and contains the largest crystals ever discovered. Some of its translucent selenite crystal columns are more than four feet in diameter and 30 feet long! The cave was discovered in 2000 by two brothers who were drilling in a lead and silver mine.

Nothing remotely like the gigantic crystals they found inside has been discovered anywhere else. The crystals were formed from groundwater saturated in calcium sulphate which, when warmed by the hot magma about a mile below, began filtering through the cave system millions of years ago. Unfortunately the cave has a rather hostile environment, with more than 90% humidity and temperatures reaching up to 136 degrees. Because of this access is restricted to a few researchers and much of the cave remains unexplored.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

Glowworms in the Waitomo Caves

Glowworm strands in the Waitomo Caves. Photo credit: Tim Parkinson via Flickr.

Located deep in the lush, subtropical hills of New Zealand’s North Island, visitors come to the Waitomo Caves not for the caves themselves, but for the quarter-inch-long bioluminescent glowworms that radiate a tiny blue light and dangle everywhere from the ceiling. These Arachnocampa luminosa, which are found exclusively in New Zealand, are a type of fungus gnat species, which tend to glow at their brightest in their larval stage. The strange bugs lower down sticky, filamentous, glowing ‘fishing lines’ to attract prey, and the hungry ones glow brighter than those which have just eaten. The blue light they emit is actually a chemical reaction occurring inside a special capsule in their tail.

Although glowworms can be found in many other caves, their densely concentrated numbers in Waitomo transform the inner chambers into a turquoise starscapes, making this grotto unique.

Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, China

Artwork in the Mogao Caves

Artwork in the Mogao Caves. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The largest collection of Chinese Buddhist art is not to be found in some museum in Beijing or Shanghai, but rather buried inside hundreds of caves along on an isolated stretch of the ancient Silk Road near Dunhuang in Gansu province, China.

The Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, also known as the Mogao Caves, contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art in the country, with more than 2,000 multicolored sculptures and intricate paintings that span a period of more than 1,000 years. They were first dug by wandering monks in the 4th century as places for meditation and worship, then eventually developed into pilgrimage sites for the public. The caves became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Mountain River Cave, Vietnam

Concealed by dense tropical rainforest in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park,  the Mountain River Cave in Vietnam wasn’t discovered until 1991. It is now considered the world’s largest cave passage, stretching for 2.5 miles and reaching more than 600 feet high — five times larger than the Phong Nha cave, previously considered the biggest cave in the country.

The coolest thing about this cave, besides its great volume, is the underground river that roars through it, echoing of the limestone walls. In several places the ceiling has collapsed, creating skylights — some more than 100 feet in diameter — that permit sunlight to shaft in, which has created a unique underground ecosystem.

Carlsbad Caverns, USA

Inside the Carlsbad Caverns

Inside the Carlsbad Caverns. Photo credit: Mathieu Lebreton via Flickr.

Carlsbad Caverns is one of the most popular cave systems in the United States. Its largest cave chamber, the Big Room, is almost 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 350 feet high at the highest point — the third largest cave chamber in North America and the seventh largest in the world. One thing that makes Carlsbad so popular is accessibility. It has an elevator that takes you 750 feet below to the Underground Lunchroom.

Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves, Austria

The Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves, located within the Tennengebirge Mountains 25 miles south of Salzburg, is the largest system of ice caves in the world. It consists of more than 26 miles of tunnels and chambers, though only the first kilometer is covered in ice (the rest is just your normal everyday limestone).

The Ice Caves are very different from normal caves, and visitors often report an eerie, otherworldly feeling when walking among the ice formations and frozen waterfalls. Before its official discovery in 1879 the Eisriesenwelt was considered by locals to be an entrance to Hell, and people refused to explore it. From May 1st to October 26th 75-minute guided tours take in several of the immense ice caverns. Be sure to wear warm clothes, as temperatures inside the cave are usually below freezing.

Puerto-Princesa Underground River, Philippines

The impressive rock and mineral formations of the Puerto-Princesa Underground River, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, have earned it the title of one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. As the name suggests, the cave is a subterranean waterway, containing a five-mile section of the Cabayugan River before it dumps into the South China Sea.

Tour boats ferry visitors 2.5 miles into this stalactite-filled world, where you’ll see, among other things, a 360-meter-long chamber with approximately 2.5 million square meters of volume — one of the largest cave chambers in the world. The cave is surrounded by the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park and is located 30 miles north of Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

The World’s Coolest Caves

10 Best Places to Hike in the World

28 Apr

Whether climbing Everest is at the top of your bucket list or you’d prefer a gentle hike through the British countryside, the world is full of jaw-dropping natural landscapes that beg to be discovered on foot. From Iceland’s otherworldly topography to unveiling the real Middle Earth in New Zealand, here are 10 of the best places to hike in the world.

New Zealand

Mount Cook in New Zealand

Mount Cook in New Zealand

Immortalized on film as the magnificent backdrop to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, New Zealand’s many attractions and dramatic scenery have had a revival of late, with Peter Jackson’s most recent offering, The Hobbit, reminding travelers what they’re missing. It’s no surprise that hiking – or tramping as it’s known to New Zealanders – is one of the best ways to take in the scenery, and well marked routes traverse the length and breadth of the country, served by a wide network of government-run campsites. Most popular are the nine Great Walks including the one-day Tongariro Alpine crossing, passing by the famous Mt. Ngaurube volcano (otherwise known as ‘Mt. Doom’ from the Lord of the Rings films); the 82km Heaphy Track, which passes a varied terrain from dense rainforest to rugged coastal cliffs; and the 53km famous Milford track, which offers spectacular views of New Zealand’s tallest waterfall.


Mount Everest

Mount Everest

Nepal’s legendary Annapurna Circuit tops many a hiker’s bucket list and the 230km loop is renowned as one of the world’s most impressive treks, tracing the awe-inspiring Annapurna massif and crossing the Thorung La pass at a breathtaking 5,416 meters. Nepal’s other famous challenge is, of course, the mighty Everest, and trekking to the base camp of notorious peak has become a popular undertaking even for non-climbers. Nepal’s appeal isn’t just the challenging trekking and ruggedly beautiful Himalayas though – the Buddhist country is noted for its unique hospitality and soaking up the culture is as much a part of the experience as the hike itself. Hire a local Sherpa guide, bed down in a traditional mountain village, visit serene mountaintop temples and sip yak butter tea with the locals, as you uncover a whole other world thriving in the wilderness.


With short walking trails and rambling long distance treks running to every corner of the British isles, the United Kingdom makes the perfect location for hikers to test out their navigation skills, with well marked routes doing away with the need for a guide.  Head to one of England’s world renowned National Parks like the Lake District, the Peak District or the Yorkshire Dales, where the vast moorlands and sweeping hills are dotted with cobblestone villages and traditional pubs, or attempt the 182km Coast to Coast trail, spanning the entire length of England. It’s not just British soil that’s well trodden – you can also visit the Scottish Highlands which are home to the UK’s highest peak, Ben Nevis and a vast network of footpaths provide dramatic views over the windswept glens and glistening lochs of the northernmost county.


Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia, Turkey

From scrambling through the volcanic valleys of Cappadocia to trekking the vast Taurus Mountains, Turkey has plenty to offer lovers of the outdoors away from sun and sand of the Mediterranean coast. The 500km Lycian Way, running along the coast from Fethiye to Antalya, and the St Paul’s Trail, following in the footsteps of the legendary evangelist from Perge and Aspendos to Yalvac, are the country’s two main long distance hiking routes, passing a number of key historic sites and showcasing the country’s incredibly diverse terrain.


Hiking in Iceland

Hiking in Iceland

With majestic glaciers, bubbling hot springs and looming volcanoes, hiking through Iceland’s otherworldly landscape offers some of the world’s most unique photo opportunities. Hiking is possible almost anywhere, but most adventurers head for one of the national parks – Skaftafell national park is a wonderland of shimmering ice caps and jagged mountains, whereas Landmannalaugar’s striking rhyolite mountains provide the focal point of the celebrated 4-day Laugavegurinn trail.  Another popular trek is scaling the country’s highest peak Hvannadalshnúkur, at 2110 meters, where you’ll be afforded spectacular views over the Vatnajokull glacier – one of the world’s largest.




The gateway to Antarctica has fast become a popular destination in its own right – a wintry playground of glaciers, penguin colonies and snow-dusted mountains. Stretching across the southernmost parts of Argentina and Chile, visiting Patagonia means seeing some of the continent’s most magnificent surroundings – swollen glacial valleys, pristine lakes and towering mountain peaks. The UNESCO biosphere reserve of Torres del Paine National Park, on the Chilean side, is a hotspot for hikers with well-marked trails offering expansive views of the famous pink granite Paine towers, or else make the pilgrimage to see the wondrous Perito Moreno Glacier, the ‘smoking mountain’ of Chalten volcano or the windswept archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, the ‘Land of Fire’.


Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Hikers could spend a lifetime exploring the US on foot, but the varied terrains of California make the perfect place to start. While there are few pockets of wilderness left undiscovered, America’s third largest state still has plenty of jaw-dropping hikes up its sleeve, including some of the country’s most iconic landscapes. Hikers can choose from exploring the epic canyons and dunes of the Death Valley desert; the granite cliffs, tumbling waterfalls and vast rivers of Yosemite National Park; or visiting the world’s largest tree, the General Sherman Tree, in Sequoia National Park. The world famous parks aren’t the only options – the Joshua Tree National Park, Redwood National Park, Big Sur and the Golden Gate National Park all lie within Californian borders, with the landscape ranging from snow capped peaks to arid desert basin.

The Alps

Chamonix, Switzerland

Chamonix, Switzerland

Hikers traveling to Europe will find it hard to miss a walk in the Alps, Europe’s principal mountain range, sprawling across eight countries. Throughout winter the Alps play host to some of Europe’s glitziest ski resorts but as the snow thaws, hiking the alpine slopes becomes one of the region’s most popular pastimes. Color-coded signposts mark out routes throughout the Alps, Europe’s open border policies means hiking between countries isn’t a problem and there’s such a high concentration of peaks over 4,000 meters that you won’t have to walk far to get a view. Explore the traditional villages and cheese factories in the Swiss foothills; follow one of the acclaimed tracks through the lush valleys and glacial passes of the French Alps; or tackle the hugely popular trail encircling the iconic peak of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, straddling the border between France and Italy on a Half-Day Trip to Chamonix and Mont Blanc from Geneva.

Canadian Rockies

Canadian Rockies in Banff

Canadian Rockies in Banff

Taking the famous train journey through the towering Rocky Mountains are one of Canada’s most celebrated attractions but to truly experience their magnitude, you’ll need to don your hikers and take to the hills. The vast Rockies harbor myriad opportunities for hiking but the best-marked trails and a network of alpine huts lie within the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage site. Notable trails include the famous Berg Lake Trail, running through the Mount Robson Provincial Park and scaling the highest peak in the Rockies; the Mount Fairview trail in Banff National Park, offering panoramic views of the dazzling Lake Louise; and the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit in Yoho National Park, a scenic route through lush woodlands and shimmering glacial valleys.


Ticked the other nine off your list? Now’s the time to get truly off the beaten track and discover some of the world’s most inspiring and least-visited landscapes – hikes long overlooked by the tourist hoards. Kazakhstan has been steadily building a reputation among serious hikers for its remote and unspoiled wilderness, and with a number of reputable trekking companies operating in the country, it’s easier than ever to explore. The Tian Shan and Altai mountain ranges hold the most popular routes, with ancient pathways tracing the borders of Russia, China and Mongolia. Just make sure you take a local guide.

10 Best Places to Hike in the World Argentina , banff , California , canada , Chile , England , featured , France , Geneva , Iceland , Kazakhstan , Nepal , New Zealand , Patagonia , Switzerland , turkey , United Kingdom , Yosemite National Park

The 10 Best Wine and Food Festivals in the World

6 Apr

Wine connoisseurs and foodies have plenty to get excited about this year, with a packed roster of gastronomic events taking place around the globe. From celebrity studded culinary masterclasses to grape-stomping competitions, here are 10 Wine and Food festivals that you don’t want to miss.

Food and Wine Classic, Aspen

Food and Wine Classic, Aspen. Photo courtesy of Aspen/Snowmass via Flickr.

Food and Wine Classic, Aspen. Photo courtesy of Aspen/Snowmass via Flickr.

One of the most prestigious epicurean events in the States, Aspen’s annual Food and Wine Classic festival is organized by the team of gastronomes behind the monthly Food & Wine Magazine and celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2012. Each June, a world-renowned team of wine experts and celebrity chefs descend on the Rocky Mountains resort, bringing with them thousands of ravenous foodies to participate in a series of workshops, cooking competitions, parties and dinners. Most notable is the famous Grand Tasting Pavilion, showcasing a mouthwatering display of foods and wines from around the globe.

Festival Gourmet International

Mexico's Festival Gourmet International

Mexico’s Festival Gourmet International

Mexico’s most popular food and wine extravaganza has been running for almost 20 years, with local restaurants inviting a roster of celebrity chefs to collaborate on a range of creative regional cuisine. Held annually in Puerto Vallarta, the Festival Gourmet International spans 10 days, during which each restaurant produces a special nightly menu, and activities include cooking workshops, talks and the famous Chef’s Hell-Raising Party.

Taste of Amsterdam

Taste of Amsterdam

Taste of Amsterdam

The Netherlands might be better know for its coffee culture than as an epicenter of global cuisine, but the Taste of Amsterdam festival looks set to change that. The three-day festival is held in the capital each June, drawing around 15,000 food lovers to the city for a series of wine tastings, culinary demonstrations and food exhibits, culminating in a giant alfresco feast produced by a team of the city’s finest restaurants.

New Zealand’s Wildfoods Festival

Wildfoods Festival. Photo courtesy of eliduke via Flickr.

Wildfoods Festival. Photo courtesy of eliduke via Flickr.

From the gourmet to the grotesque, even the most adventurous gastronomes will be amazed with the foods on offer at New Zealand’s annual Wildfoods Festival. Held each spring in Hokitika on the South Island’s West Coast, the wacky food festival is one of the most unique culinary events in the world, with a banquet of daring delicacies on offer. This isn’t one for the weak of stomach, but where else can you dine on sautéed Lambs’ testicles, snack on fried huhu grubs and wash it down with a side of Sheep brain? Even the drinks come with a twist – pressed flower wine or worm milkshakes, anyone?

Wurstmarkt Festival, Germany

German Sausages

Homemade German Sausages.

Renowned as the world’s largest wine festival, Germany’s Wurstmarkt, or ‘Sausage Market’, is the ultimate event for European wine lovers, with a long history dating back to 1417. Held on the second and third weekend of September in the town of Bad Durkheim in Germany’s Pfalz region, the Wurstmarkt pulls in crowds of over 600,000 visitors and features over 150 different wines from locations all over the country. Wine tasting is the main event, with a dedicated Wine Village and Winegrower’s garden set up to showcase local wines, two giant wine and beer halls, and dozens of Schubkärkchler – traditional tasting stalls where wine is served up with the region’s other specialty, homemade sausages.

World Gourmet Summit, Singapore

World Gourmet Summit. Photo courtesy of Camemberu via Flickr.

World Gourmet Summit. Photo courtesy of Camemberu via Flickr.

Singapore’s biggest food and wine festival has been bringing the gastronomic glamour to Asian shores for 16 years now, with 10 days of food themed events focusing on ethnic cuisines from around the world. Cooking workshops taught by master chefs, celebrity-studded charity dinners and tastings with world renowned winemakers are all on the schedule, but most impressive is the giant alfresco Gourmet Village and 5,000 square meter Gourmet market, where mere mortals can pick up the skills and ingredients to indulge their culinary creativity.

Good Food and Wine Show, South Africa

Capetown Vineyard

Capetown Vineyard

With annual events held in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, there’s no excuse for missing South Africa’s largest and most popular food and wine show. The giant culinary industry exposition brings together internationally acclaimed chefs from all over the globe, for a weekend of gourmet events. Expect cooking demos and culinary art displays held in the four state-of-the-art Kitchen Theaters, wine tasting, hands-on cooking workshops and a gourmet restaurant area. Those with a sweet tooth will likely enjoy the annual gelato competition, whereas coffee drinkers can head to the dedicated coffee theater, host to the National Barista Championships.

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. Photo courtesy of  Trupp Photography via Flickr.

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. Photo courtesy of Trupp Photography via Flickr.

Roving gastronomes have long had the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival on their agenda and the huge 20-day event is the biggest of its kind in the Pacific. Australia’s cultural capital has been hosting the event each March for over 20 years now, featuring the country’s most prestigious sommeliers and culinary masterminds in an array of food and wine centered events. Whether you’re interested in watching celebrity chef demonstrations, sampling artisan food products, attending gourmet gala dinners and Australian wine seminars, or taking a cooking master class, there’s something for all tastes and experience levels. Even if you don’t get tickets for one of the main events, the city will be going food-crazy throughout the festival, with farmers markets taking over the streets, fun family-friendly activities being held around town and special menus and promotions running at many of the city’s top restaurants.

Food & Wine Festival, Austin

Grapefest. Photo courtesy of apbutterfield via Flickr.

Grapefest. Photo courtesy of apbutterfield via Flickr.

With so many Food and Wine Festivals taking place around the US, it’s hard to choose the best, but for a super size festival with bags of character, head to the Austin Food & Wine Festival. The Lone Star State casts away its Tex-Mex staples and barbecue grills for an annual weekend of gourmet cuisine and fine wine. Events include live cooking demonstrations from top culinary experts, wine seminars, live music and the legendary Grand Tasting Pavilion where over 80 wine, spirit and artisan food producers will be showcasing their products. Alternatively, wine lovers might prefer the annual autumn Grapefest – a riotous celebration of America’s 5th largest wine-producing state complete with endless wine tastings, an International Wine Garden, wine-themed culinary demonstrations and an hilarious grape-stomping contest.

Real Food Festival, London

Fresh knishes. Photo courtesy of citymaus via Flickr.

Fresh knishes. Photo courtesy of citymaus via Flickr.

The UK hosts a plethora of food festivals but the most patriotic has to be the Real Food Festival, specializing in homegrown, sustainably and ethically produced food and wine from around the British Isles. Held each spring in London’s Southbank center, the 3-day festival celebrates the country’s most delicious food products with a series of events and tasters run by top chefs, farmers markets and live demonstrations. Visitors will get the chance to sample and purchase artisan cheeses, chutneys, meats, hand-made chocolates and a range of regional delicacies from around the UK. Even if you can’t make it for the annual mega-event, you can get a taste of London’s finest at the weekly Real Food Markets held along the Southbank waterfront.

The 10 Best Wine and Food Festivals in the World amsterdam , Aspen , Austin , Australia , Cape Town , Durban , festivals , Food and Drink , germany , Johannesburg , London , Melbourne , Mexico , netherlands , New Zealand , Singapore , South Africa , South Island

The Radar: Travel Lately

10 Mar

Tallinn's famous Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  (Photograph by MissTerje, Flickr)

The Radar – the best of the travel blogosphere – is a regular feature on Intelligent Travel every Wednesday.

Here’s this week’s:

  • Despite a tumultuous past, Northern Europe’s oldest capital city is experiencing a rebirth. Behold, Tallinn, Estonia and its many, many charms. @Gadling
  • New Zealand doesn’t always live up to its idyllic Tolkien-worthy reputation, but these ten beaches are pretty darn close to paradise. @FlashpackerFam
  • Sometimes the best adventures are in our own backyards. After wandering the world over, an American blogger dreams up a bucket list in the United States@LandLoper 
  • For some, Burma is a dream destination; for others, it’s a political travesty. Regardless of where you fall, here’s one person’s picks for the best books on this controversial country. @Wanderluster
  • In the midst of an epic adventure in the Galapagos, Digital Nomad Andrew Evans takes pause to share tips on how to photograph the islands’ extraordinary fauna. @WheresAndrew

The Radar: Travel Lately Burma , Digital Nomad , Estonia , Evans , Flashpacker Fam , gadling , galapagos , Land Loper , Myanmar , national parks , New Zealand , ngtradar , Obama , Tallinn , The Radar , USA , Wanderluster , Where’s Andrew?

Best TV & Film Tours Around the World

9 Mar

Taking a vacation can be all about escape – and the same can be said about losing ourselves in the movies and TV shows we love. It’s only natural, then, for film and TV buffs to combine the two when we travel by visiting famous filming locations around the world.

Sometimes you’ll find out that a story set in one place is actually filmed in another place entirely (or, worse yet, on a soundstage or studio with a green screen!) – but in some cases, the location is so important that it almost becomes a character in the story. Here are some of the best film and TV tours around the world that will let you get up close and personal with the destinations behind your favorite shows.

Downton Abbey

We’ve fallen in love with the beleaguered Crawley family over three seasons, but it’s hard to say whether we would be as enthralled if the spectacular Highclere Castle wasn’t the setting for the fictitious Downton Abbey. Highclere has been a family home for hundreds of years, and even today there’s a real-life Earl and his family living in the castle. This private tour of Downton Abbey film locations includes a private chauffeur and guide, and you’ll see both Highclere Castle and the Oxfordshire village of Bampton where other scenes from “Downton Abbey” are filmed.

Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit

Hobbiton tours

Visit Hobbiton! Photo credit: Bobbi Lee Hichton.

Peter Jackson brought the fantasy world of Middle Earth to beautiful reality in his home country of New Zealand. Although some of the fanciful elements were created in studios and computers, New Zealand’s stunning natural landscapes made it instantly obvious why Jackson was the right man to bring Tolkien’s visions to life. In many cases, the structures built for the films have been removed, but the set of Hobbiton still exists – and LOTR fans will recognize the backdrops for famous scenes from Edoras, Rivendell, Helm’s Deep, Minas Tirith, and Isengard. There are several options for Lord of the Rings and Hobbiton Tours in New Zealand, depending on which locations you want to check out.

Ice Road Truckers

It’s unlikely that anyone watching Ice Road Truckers would think that doing that job full-time would be better than watching the show from the comfort of a warm living room, but visitors to Anchorage can at least get an inside look at what the task is actually like with the Ice Road Trucker Big Rig Experience. During the 2-3 hour tour you’ll go on a guided tour of a real transportation yard at the port of Anchorage, peek inside a modern sleeper truck, and actually get ten minutes behind the wheel of a big rig simulator to find out what driving on the ice road is really like.

New York TV & Movie Sites

NYC film tour - Ghostbusters

Find the fire station used in Ghostbusters in New York

The Big Apple has served as the backdrop for more films and TV shows than you can probably count, but sometimes the scenery is particularly memorable or important to the story. Grab your gal pals for a Sex and the City Hotspots Tour of filming locations such as Charlotte’s art gallery, Miranda’s cupcake bakery, and a bar the ladies frequented. Take a day trip to New Jersey on The Sopranos Sites Tour during which you’ll see the Bada Bing bar, the place where Chris was shot, and the diner booth where Tony sat in the final scene of the series.

See how the other half lives with a Gossip Girl Sites Tour of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, with stops at the hotel where the Bass and Van der Woodsen families live, the swanky building Blair calls home, the Henri Bendel shop, and Humphrey’s favorite bakery. Head for an NBC Studio Tour to see where they film The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, Dateline, and Saturday Night Live. You can also go on a New York TV and Movie Sites Tour to see more than 60 film locations for shows like FriendsWill and Grace, The Devil Wears Prada, I Am Legend, How I Met Your Mother, and Seinfeld or a Central Park Movie Sites Walking Tour to see filming locations for When Harry Met Sally, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Ghostbusters, and Love Story.

Harry Potter

Leadenhall Market, Harry Potter tours

Leadenhall Market, featured in Harry Potter films

Who among us hasn’t watched the Harry Potter films and wished we could be transported to that magical world? Well, even if you can’t conjure up any spells when you wave a magic wand, you can visit some of the places where the Harry Potter films were created. From the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour and Harry Potter walking tours in London to multi-day tours of Harry Potter filming locations in Scotland, you can satisfy aspiring witches and wizards of all ages with these Harry Potter tours.

Hawaii TV & Movie Sites

50 First Dates location, film tour on Oahu

50 First Dates film location

You’ll probably have plenty of reasons to do nothing more than lie on the beach during a Hawaii vacation, but visiting the many Hawaii locations featured in movies and TV shows actually means you’ll see some of the most beautiful spots on the islands. On Kauai, you can take a 6-hour Kauai Movie Sites Tour that includes 13 filming locations for shows like Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean, Gilligan’s Island, The Amazing Race, and Tropic Thunder. You’ll also get lunch at Tahiti Nui, where part of The Descendants was filmed.

On Oahu, you can take a 5-hour Hummer tour of Oahu TV and Movie Locations, with stops at filming locations for Lost, Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, Karate Kid II, Godzilla, and Hawaii Five-0. If you prefer a little more physical activity, you can take a mountain biking tour of Kaaawa Valley that gets you up close and personal with filming locations for Lost, Jurassic Park and Godzilla.

Pawn Stars

Rick's Restorations, Pawn Stars tour

Rick’s Restorations

Las Vegas sometimes feels like one big film set, but it’s the recent success of a reality show that’s drawing fans in droves to a real-life pawn shop in Sin City. Pawn Stars is filmed on location at the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, and the guys you’ve come to love on the show – Rick Harrison, his family, and employees – are often in the shop themselves whether filming is going on or not. In addition to seeing the pawn shop, a Pawn Stars Tour of Las Vegas also includes a stop at Rick’s Restorations, where retro appliances are refurbished, and the Toy Shack, a vintage toy appraiser.

The Walking Dead

It seems that these days we’re all joking about (or preparing for!) the zombie apocalypse. What better place to get some first-hand zombie knowledge than in Atlanta, where they film the hit series The Walking Dead and where the movie Zombieland was made? During an Atlanta Zombie Film Locations Tour you’ll not only visit filming locations for both zombie shows, you’ll also get instruction from your guide – a veteran onscreen “zombie walker” – in how to walk like a zombie. You never know when that sort of information will come in very handy, indeed.

Chicago Movie Tour

Marina City and Towers, Chicago film tour

Chicago’s famous Marina City and Towers

Chicago’s unique architecture has featured in many popular movies, whether the stories were meant to take place in Chicago or not. During a 2-hour Chicago Movie Tour you’ll visit more than 75 filming locations – which also happen to be some of the city’s main attractions. You’ll see filming locations for movies like The Dark Knight, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Blues Brothers, The Untouchables, My Best Friend’s Wedding, and Transformers 3, covering more than 30 miles through Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods.

Doctor Who

Whether you grew up watching Doctor Who or you’re a recent convert, there’s no denying the appeal of a London tour of Doctor Who filming locations from its introduction in 1963 right up through the newest BBC incarnation of the series. You’ll ride around the city in one of London’s famous black cabs and see where the “Dalek Invasion of Earth” and scenes with the Time Lord (among many others) were filmed, and you’ll see major London landmarks along the way. You’ll even see a remarkably TARDIS-looking police box.

Boston TV & Movie Sites

Cheers, Boston movie sites tour

Enjoy a beer at Cheers

The city of Boston has served as the location for so many stories over the years that during a 2-hour tour of Boston TV and movie sites you’ll visit more than 30 distinct filming locations. Among the places you’ll visit is the brownstone house featured in Parent Trap, the famous park bench in Good Will Hunting, a mob hangout for Jack Nicholson in The Departed, and the park featured prominently in Ally McBeal. And of course no tour of film sites in Boston would be complete without a stop at the original Cheers bar, where you’ll get a chance to have a drink. It’s up to you whether you want to count the number of people who yell “Norm!” as they walk in.

Best TV & Film Tours Around the World alaska , Atlanta , boston , Chicago , England , hawaii , las vegas , London , Movies and TV , new york city , New Zealand , scotland

The Place: Christchurch, New Zealand

7 Mar

Re:START, a pedestrian mall fashioned from shipping containers.  (Photograph by Steel Wool, Flickr)

Two years ago, a series of massive earthquakes shook Christchurch, New Zealand, to its spine, folding its central business district into a cordoned-off red zone. But even as the historic gateway to the South Island readies for a years-long rebuild, a spirit of innovation is rising out of the rubble to shake things up for good.

“There’s nothing ghoulish about the central city anymore — it’s full of potential,” says Anthony Wright, director of the Canterbury Museum. Case in point is the gritty yet jubilant Re:START mall, a city-within-a-city of bright shipping containers outfitted as cafes, bookstores, and shops, with winding avenues, street performers, and gardens welcoming people back downtown.

All around town, in fact, new life is sprouting in vacant spaces. At the quirky Smash Palace on a busy corner, an old bus serves craft beer and “bodgie burgers” (with egg and beetroot) in a lot strung with multicolored lights and enclosed by scaffolds wrapped with white tarps (bartenders dole out hot-water bottles in winter).

More signs of rebirth: Actor Ian McKellen has rallied around the repair of the historic Isaac Theatre Royal, and September brought the reopening of the central Hotel Ibis, with its restaurant/bar Oopen overlooking Re:START. Nearby, construction crews work on resurgent Cathedral Square.

The Place: Christchurch, New Zealand Canterbury Museum , Carrie Miller , Cathedral Square , christchurch , Hotel Ibis , Ian McKellen , Isaac Theatre Royal , National Geographic Traveler , New Zealand , Oopen , Re:START , Smash Palace , South Island

Hobbiton and Waitomo Caves Tour

19 Jan

I look down at the green grass outlining my sandals as I stand underneath The Party Tree visualizing hobbits and an unusually tall wizard dancing around it. I follow the grass ahead to the hills that surround this branchy, grey tree with green, bushy ends to see yellow, red and blue circular doors surrounded by windows less than a foot tall on houses built right into the land.

Situated down the trail beside me is a lake rippling with the wind, across it is a yellow pub with straw roof connected to a matching watermill by stone bridge. That’s the Green Dragon, where tiny locals meet up. Chimneys stick right out of the grass of properties along the lake below me, which are owned by town fishermen. Follow the trail to the top of the highest hill to see Bag End, home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.

It’s a scene dreamed about by Lord of the Rings fans all over the world, but for New Zealanders, it’s just another day in Hobbiton.

About the tour


Hobbiton. Photo courtesy of Bobbi Lee Hitchon.

Located in Matamata on New Zealand’s North Island, Hobbiton is the film set used for The Shire in The Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as The Hobbit, of which the first part of premieres in Wellington this November.

This is just one of a few stops on the Waitomo Caves and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Hobbiton Movie Set Day Trip from Auckland, a tour that will help visitors understand why Peter Jackson chose New Zealand to film Lord of the Rings and why the country’s scenery is so renowned.

The tour didn’t start on the bus or at a distant location, but upon arrival at the Sky City pick up point in Auckland where someone with a wicker basket full of muffins was there to greet me with breakfast. Arriving ahead of schedule, a large coach pulled into the station and out of it came Paul, my driver saying, “Hello doll,” in a burly voice fit for a sports announcer, big smile on his face.

This tour involves a lot of driving: two and half hours to Waitomo, two and half hours more to Rotorua, another hour to Hobbiton and two more hours back to Auckland, so I think I got lucky to have such an entertaining driver to liven up the beautiful but long drives between stops. Paul got to know all ten people I started my tour with, taught us a lot about New Zealand and the region we were traveling through and created a quiz that actually got pretty heated.

Waitomo Caves

Waitomo Caves

Waitomo Caves. Photo credit: Marcus Södervall via Flickr.

The first stop on the tour is Waitomo Caves, known for its glowworms. The one-hour tour here takes guests through temperate forests, down 130 feet of limestone and on a ten-minute boat cruise through the caves where the only light provided is by glowworms.

These bioluminescent insects, that are actually more like maggots rather than worms, have four stages of life, which our guide went through in detail. They give off a blue glow during the second or larvae stage off development. During this period they live inside a tube of silk and mucus at the top of sheltered damp surfaces, like that of the limestone caves at Waitomo. They leave sticky string dripping off their tubes to catch food.

While the tour guide pulled a 10-foot, metal boat through the underground river to an opening on the other side, I and another 20 or so passengers stared up at thousands of speckles of blue light formed in clusters all over the ceiling. It looked more like the view of the earth from space at night, rather than stars above. In fact, I started to make out countries above me.


Toi toi grass

Toi toi grass. Photo credit: Tomas Sobek via Flickr.

After Waitomo Caves, I hopped back on the bus where Paul was handing out brown-bag lunches complete with a chicken sandwich, slice of carrot cake, pastry, apple and water, and settled in for the two-and-half-hour journey to Rotorua.

With a bit of organizing, Paul worked things out so we didn’t have to rush to Rotorua and could stop at a few places in the Waikato region along the way. He told us about the Battle at Rangiriri and gave us a few minutes to visit a monument dedicated to Rewi Maniapoto who led Maori warriors in that battle. He told us facts about the Waikato River and allowed us to get off the bus and take photos of it along the way. He even pulled over to pick a piece of toi toi grass for us to feel.



Hobbiton house. Photo courtesy of Bobbi Lee Hitchon.

I was lucky to have another friendly driver pick me up for this leg of the tour. Ben drove one other passenger and myself by minivan through Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park to Matamata, where we would tour The Lord of the Rings set.

The film location is hidden by grassy hills of farmland speckled with sheep, which definitely helped to keep it secret. The land was originally and still is used for raising sheep.

I’ve been on a lot of tours in New Zealand and Hobbiton is one of my favorite. For fans of the books and films, this spot is a mecca. For others, it displays one type of scenery that makes up most of the North Island–green hilly farmland–while giving people a glimpse of everything making a film like The Lord of the Rings entails.

On the tour, I learned about all the intricate detail that went into the set, like how the crew mixed lichen paint, wood chips, yoghurt and vinegar together to create what looks like mold and splattered it all over homes and fences to make the set look older. I got to step inside a hobbit’s home and hear all the stories behind filming, like how Peter Jackson had a one-percent-alcoholic beer created for party scenes in the film, so the actors could get into character without getting too drunk.


Feeding lambs. Photo courtesy of Bobbi Lee Hitchon.

The two-hour journey back to Auckland was more of a transfer than a guided tour, but after such a heavy day, the silence and warm, comfortable bus were welcomed.

People need to drive through New Zealand to truly experience it and if they want to see Waitomo and Hobbiton from a base in Auckland, then this is the ideal way to do it while learning about and seeing a lot of the North Island. But it is a 12-hour day if it’s necessary for you to return to Auckland so just be prepared for the journey If you can move on after this tour, say to Rotorua, that will cut down on your time in transit.

Hobbiton and Waitomo Caves Tour