The Qantas Airways Blog Lounge
On My third trip to the Cook Islands in as many years, I really thought I had seen it all and experienced it all. But there always seems to be something come along that I have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing.
On this trip, I had 3 wonderful evening meal dining experiences and I was only in the Country for 5 Nights!!!
1. Manuia Beach Resort Restaurant: This Resort has recently been purchased by a new owner who has placed a very vibrant young couple to Manage the entire property and restaurant. The first thing Alex & Loren did was change the menu at the already very well located beach restaurant. With the sand floor and ambiance of traditional Cook Island Musicians playing in the background, you just know you are in for a real treat. I had the Seafood Platter....a lovely variation of just about everything sea food that you can imagine, presented beautifully and absolutely delicious. I did pay attention to the other meals that were being delivered to tables around me. The meals were all of a high quality similar to that you would find in a Fine Dining restaurant, but in a casual dining restaurant. This was very much in line with what Alex & Loren were explaining to me about taking the restaurant from a burgers/fries & pasta joint to now become a total dining experience. I was totally amazed by the food /location and ambiance. I would recommend anyone to eat at the Manuia Beach Resort restaurant, after all, it was good enough for Hillary Clinton during her meetings in Rarotonga, so it is more than good enough for me!
2. Plantation Dinner at Island Living: Luis & his family have taken a dining experience to new heights. The first time that I have ever experienced such a dinner. Firstly, this is a home dinner hosted on a Plantation House with significant historic experience. On arrival you are invited to sit on lawn chairs actually on the lawn for a few appetizers and a drink. After everyone arrives (maximum 20) Luis takes you an a walk around the Plantation explaining everything about the food they grow themselves and are about to feed you. Talk about wetting the appetite! It is a really edcucational experience and then you get to taste the flavors you were told about in the massive garden, and you really can taste the flavours. As it is grown on their Plantation, and freshly prepared that day, the flavours are strong and delicious. One of their gorgeous children leads the party in Grace (Cook Island Maori traditional language) and then it is time to enjoy the feast that Luis's wife has prepared. It is a BYO concept, you bring your own drinks as they will not provide any for you, other than water or coconut water. There is no corkage fees. At the time we experienced this wonderful evening, it was a cost of NZD95 per person which included a round trip transfer with Raro Tours from our hotel and back.....there were 12 in our group, all of which were totally breath taken with the entire experience marking this as one of the highlights of their time in Rarotonga. Try it, you won't be disappointed!
3. Tepunas Restaurant Aitutaki: Nesteld in the hills of Aitutaki, is a lovely little restaurant that has been running for 15 years by a chef named Tepuna. The setting is truly beautiful...surrounded by trees, with a kind of a rustic shack type appearance, but you can tell that it is not reeally a rustic beach shack, it is purposely designed that way to give it a casual feel. Tepuna has been the toast of the island for many years. The Sand Floor Restaurant experience, never gets old in my book and was very well received on this rainy evening in Aitutaki (yes it does rain their sometimes :-) ) Earlier in 2011, an Australian TV Chef came to Tepunas kitchen and asked her to show him how she prepared her signature Mud Crab entre....after that Tepuna had to take it off the menu as she could not keep up with the orders....it is so much in demand that patrons are calling from Australia to book a table and the Mud Crab months before their arrival! I was lucky enough to ask for he Mud Crab while she had one in stock.....and yes it was the best Mud Crab I have ever eaten...I did not leave any crab meat at all on that plate....and it was huge too. The restaurant filled quickly as it is quite small, so reservations are a must. Order the Mud Crab for sure, but also order the appetizer Ika Mata (raw fish dish salad & coconut milk with lime), it truly is sensational....and give our regards to Tepuna please.
Talk to one of our team to learn how you can be chowing down on this Mud Crab in Aitutaki
Ever wanted to swim with Dolphins in their natural environment? It can be quite difficult to pull this off when the Dolphins are in their Natural Environment. The Dolphins off the coast of Adelaide in South Australia have a 90% success rate for their customers.....making it well worth while heading to Adelaide if Dolphins are on your Bucket List.
Glenelg Dolphin Swim operates round trip transfers from Adelaide and even contribute funds towards the conservation of the Dolphins.
South Australia is a Nature Lovers Paradise.....wildlife is a major attraction of nearby Kangaroo Island.
For an example of value travel packages that include South Australia....go to:-
It seems that honeymooners today are looking for more than just the beach and a coconut tree to lay under. Perhaps it is the more active lifestyle that people of todays generation live that leads the honeymooners of today to explore somewhat more full experiences when enjoying their first few days together as newly weds.
Booking honeymoons is something that Downunder Travel is extremely good at, and have noticed over time this shifting in momentum to an experience rather than a vacation.
From this, Kangaroo Island has emerged as one of the leading places for honeymooners to consider in Australia.
Downunder Travel will be introducing Kangaroo Island as the perfect honeymoon destination over the next few weeks.
|Yulara is the name of the Ayers Rock Resort Area where people mostly stay when they visit Uluru (Ayers Rock). It is located about 20kms from Uluru and is only a 20 minute drive away. There are four hotels ranging from 2 Star through to 5 Star and all are within a 20 minute walk of each other. There is a shuttle bus that continuously travels between the hotels and the airport. This is operated by AAT Kings Tours and is a free service.
There is also a campground in the Yulara town site area.
This area can quite often be fully booked completely, hence, advanced reservations are very important.
Handy Tip: The Desert Gardens is a 4 star property which boasts stunning views of Uluru from their Deluxe Rooms. The Sails in the Desert Hotel (5 Star) does not offer any rooms with a view of Uluru…except a few of their rooms do have a view of Uluru from their balcony. The Desert Gardens Deluxe Rooms are highly recommended. For value and Rock View. Open you curtains in the morning to a view that you just cannot get anywhere else in the world. There are plenty of harbour view rooms/beach view rooms/mountain view rooms etc, but there are no other rooms in the world that will offer a view like Ayers Rock!
The resort area of Yulara has a Town Square In the middle with services such as restaurants/shops/grocery store/noodle house/deli and even a post office. It is a really pleasant area with a nice green space towards the front of the Town Square. Yulara management Voyages has set up some great initiatives for the public to enjoy for free that are staged in this Town Square area. Initiatives such as:-
i) Aboriginal Cultural Dancing
ii) Aboriginal Art Classes
iii) Guided Garden Walks
iv) Bush Tucker Talks
v) Didgeridoo Playing Lessons
vi) Aboriginal Cultural Stories
These are daily activities for guests of the resort, whether they are camping or staying in the resort hotels.
The Value is certainly there for guests to spend 2 nights minimum in the Rock Area and enjoy the full offerings of the resort area, not just the Rock and the Olgas. Besides it is nice to unpack for two nights rather than just one night.
If you stay for 2 nights in this area, you then avail yourself to the Sounds of Silence Desert Dining Experience with Ayers Rock in the back drop and then learn about the stars of the Southern Constellation from a local astronomer. This is a wonderful Outback Experience which many people have enjoyed over the years.
Tourism to the Ayers Rock region only started developing in the 1950’s. The last 60 years has seen this tourism area grown extremely fast….the first 30 years or so were not as respectful of the Aboriginal Culture as it could have been…..but the good news to this story is that since the 1980’s, Australia really has worked tirelessly with the local Aboriginal communities to correct this. For every visitor it is made very clear from all guides that this is Aboriginal Land and we are merely fortunate visitors.
This area is a must do for all visitors to Australia, it is of my somewhat ignorant opinion that this area may not be open to the public for much longer.
For some Iconic Australian Experiences Click Here
What’s in a Tour?
After over 15 years of selling tours and packages to the Red Centre of Australia, I finally made the pilgrimage for myself to see it personally. Alice Springs, Ayers Rock and the Kings Canyon Areas are the last on my check list of all places in Australia to explore. Obviously, Australia is such a large continent that it takes time to tour around all these places especially while you are trying to raise a young family in a land far away from Australia.
It is always a concern when I do this; concerned that I had been advising people in correctly for all these years as learning from endless supplier training sessions and reading everything on the area one can get his hands on……there could be something that might not be as good as it should be.
So now that I have done the traveling myself in this vast area, I have some first hand comments to share….and happy to report that I have been advising people entirely correctly all this time! But good advice about touring this region stems from , and is entirely based around what there is to see here; what are the major tourist attractions:-
1. Ayers Rock
2. The Olgas
3. Kings Canyon
These are the big three attractions that are considered “must do’s”on everyone’s Red Centre itinerary. How you do it, really adds to the experience or like wise takes away from the experience.
I chose to travel this region on a tour. From traveling around other parts of remote Australian regions, I know the highways can be extremely remote and a wrong turn can put you in all sorts of trouble. Sharing the road with the huge road trains (Semi Trucks with 4 trailers in toe) can be a little intimidating to say the least, and of course fatigue and wildlife create more perils to the self drivers. But above all, I did the tour as I wanted to experience and learn about the area. Which would be impossible without the tour leader to guide and advise us.
There are big coach company tour groups/small tour groups/camping tours/hotel tours, something for everyone and every budget.
We trusted our touring with AAT Kings who (at time of writing this) have the Yulara Resort / Airport Transfer and Shuttle Bus Contract. Definitely the best option in the area for a large coach operator. They have a desk and a number of staff at the Yulara Resort area and all the staff seemed to know exactly what time the tour bus would be picking us up without even looking. The hotels were always very nice and comfortable…a reflection of a good tour operator.
Above all, the tour guides we had during our stay in the Red Centre were outstanding. Their knowledge of the area is immense. Quite often while on our walks around Ayers Rock or Kings Canyon, people (self drivers) would follow our group and listen to the interpretation here and there, ask a question now and again, and always our guides would oblige them with a brief, polite answer to their questions….but never the full story, that is reserved for their paying guests. I could not imagine traveling all the way from Canada to Ayers Rock and not learning about the cultural significance of the area….after all that is the only reason anyone would go there in the first place. So they may save a few bucks at the front end, but really, they have wasted a lot of money and time going there in the first place….unless of course they are extremely well educated on the area. (It would take an awful long time to learn as much as your AAT Kings Tour Guides can share with you while on tour)
While on our way back from Kings Canyon to Alice Springs (400kms), our coach passed an accident involving a Britz Campervan (single vehicle accident), where the van rolled over….on a dead straight highway. “Likely to be fatigue, you see a lot of this on these roads” explains our guide/driver. The bodies laid over the road was not a pleasant site and it looks as though at least 2 will perish from this horrible crash.
In short, I have been advising people to take a short tour through this region for many years. Now I know for sure, it has been solid advice, advise that I can sleep at night knowing my clients have all been traveling with truly great guides in comfort and safety. I shall not change my advising on this area, but will be more convincing to get people to visit this most incredible part of the world.
For some Iconic Australian Experiences
As a Dedicated Destination Specialist for Australia, it is almost a question that is asked daily. Should I climb the Rock or not? Or Can I climb the Rock?
It seems to be human nature to want to climb things of any significance…..a part of our chemical engineering which gives us a sense of achievement and self esteem. Add to this a world that challenges and beckons us to climb everything from a bridge to a mountain and everything in between,….is it any wonder that so many people want to climb Uluru.
The difference with climbing Uluru is that it has significant Aboriginal Religious beliefs. These are beliefs are held with high regard and respect with all people who live in the area, Aboriginal or not. It is kind of like the catholic church,…everyone and anyone can walk on the alter area of a church at any time, we all have the choice, but we don’t out of respect for the church and the God we believe in.
The Climb has become very restricted over the years due to various accidents to climbers, in total over 70 people have died from Climbing the Rock. For example if the wind is considered a little too strong at the top, or if the day is too hot, or if there is an Aboriginal Cultural reason or if the rock is wet from recent rains, the Climb will be closed for the day. The Tour Guides report that the Climb is only open about 10% of the time now days.
Most people only spend one night in the Rock area, and due to the progressive heat during the day, visitors are given a choice of doing the Climb or a Base Walk. The Base Walk will give you a thorough interpretation of the Aboriginal Culture and the history of Uluru. The Climb gives the visitor bragging rights.
It is of my opinion that the rock is there for anyone to climb if they like, however , it is my advice to not book your trip to Uluru based on your burning desire to conquer Ayers Rock, as the chances are that the Climb may be closed that day you are there anyway., It is also my advice that visitor look beyond the Climb and the feeling of self achievement as there is way more to be learnt and understood about this amazing icon when taking the base tour.
For some Iconic Australian Packages
Being my first time to Ayers Rock, I was really not sure whether to do the Sunrise or the Sunset tour of the Rock….so I conducted some research before departing which lead me to doing both.
Time of year being mid April, and the weather being a little cooler than normal with just a few light clouds on the horizon. Not a breathe of wind.
I am told that it is hard to judge as you never know what tricks the sun will play on this mystical phenomenon….however, on my visit, it really did not matter whether it was the sunset or the sunrise, as there was no difference in the sight that I took in. However, in saying that, it truly is an amazing scene to be at Ayers Rock for either Sun Rise or Sunset.
They have some viewing platforms set up in key locations for the many photographers (amature &professional….with the majority who lie somewhere in between) all standing around like some Aztec Sun Worshipers waiting for something spectacular to capture on film, displaying them proudly on Facebook as though they are the only ones who were able to capture the moment in it’s true essence.
The truth of the matter is that it is not necessarily the sunrise or the sunset over Ayers Rock that is magnificent. It is the Great Aussie Outback and Bush Scene that makes it spectacular. Imagine if you took Ayers Rock and placed it in the middle of Saskatchewan, it would not nearly be as inspiring without the Aussie Bush and Outback surrounding it.
At the Sunrise Rock viewing, I noticed that the viewing platforms are actually on the East Side of the Rock, so from this perspective, the sun does not actually rise over the rock. It rises from behind the viewing platforms. It was only the eye of the most keen photographers who noticed the spectacle that can only be captured in the Australian Outback….the sun rising over the Bush and scrub creating a silouhette like no other.
In short, I was not privied to any changing colours or moods of Ayers Rock during my viewings, so cannot report on whether or not Sunset or Sunrise is better…..like most visitors before me, I can only advise that you do both and judge it for yourself…..but don’t forget to turn around and capture the sun rise over the Beautiful Australian Outback.
For some iconic Australian Experiences
Contiki Holidays, providers of quality escorted tours for young people around the world have partnered with legendary Adventurer & Explorer Jacques Cousteau's grand daughter Celine Cousteau to help nurture our precious environment.
Check out Celine's Video message at this link:
Contiki Holidays are serious about sustaining the environment...hats off to Contiki for such initiatives.
Contiki Holidays have extensive touring options for 18-35 years olds through Australia & New Zealand. Talk to your Downunder Travel Ltd Destination Specialist to see which tours work better for you.
Let the detours begin! We were supposed to fly from Wanaka to Christchurch, pick up a rental car and drive to Blenheim but the Wanaka airport closed because of a snowstorm. Being the intrepid travellers that we are we jumped on a bus to Christchurch only to arrive late at night in the midst of their snowstorm! Most hotels were full but we managed to find a room at the Addington City Motel. The owner was kind enough to come pick us up from the airport. Early next morning we took a shuttle back to Christchurch airport and spent the entire day trying to get a flight out to Blenheim. It was not to be so we booked a night at the lovely Chateau on the Park and arranged to take the TransCoastal Train the next morning. We now had to skip Blenheim as were behind schedule now. The train was due to depart at 7am so we pre-arranged a courtesy shuttle to pick us up between 615am to 630pm. Guess what? Not only did the shuttle not arrive but they did not even call to say they weren't coming! At this point I was ready to grab my bags and head out into the street and start hitch-hiking. We could not afford to miss this train. Fortunately a taxi arrived to pick up someone else who had already left and we made it to the train station just before 7am. But then the train was delayed and did not depart until 755am. It totally felt like an "Amazing Race" moment! The train travels along the east coast of New Zealand's southern island and it is a very scenic and comfortable way of travel. There is snack bar on board and they give commentary on the way as well. We arrived in Picton early that afternoon and took Cougar Lines (water taxi) to the Portage Resort which is located on the Queen Charlotte Track. Anxious to stretch our legs we took a 2 hour walk along a portion of the track. If only we had time to do the full length but that would take about 3 to 4 days. Next morning we were to take the Interislander Ferry from Picton to Wellington but once again the weather was not cooperating. All sailings were cancelled because of rough seas! Alison, owner/manager of the Portage Resort stepped in and helped us rearrange our itinerary. Now the plan was to have a short cruise on the Queen Charlotte Sound before being dropped off again at Picton. The kind folks at Marlborough Travel picked us up and we went off to lunch at the Wither Hills Winery just outside of Blenheim. Only a short and scenic drive from Picton. After a short flight from Blenheim to Wellington we were met by Todd from Flat Earth Tours who gave us a short city tour with several stops at different museums. Te Papa Museum was defintely a highlight and you could easily spend and entire day there. Todd was certainly a character and he is also an actor who had a role as an extra in one of Peter Jackson's movies. They were all excited in Wellington because they had received snow and he wanted to take us up in the hills and show it to us. We said no thanks...........don't need to see anymore snow for a while! Our last night in New Zealand was spent at the Amora Hotel (formerly the Duxton) in Wellington. It is in a great location within walking distance to shops, restaurants and attractions. Fly home tomorrow and fingers crossed that all goes smoothly!
After our Doubtful Sound Cruise we arrived at the Remarkables Lodge which is about 15 minutes away from the Queenstown Airport. This is a property that is a total experience all on it's own! From the luxurious decor to the world class meals it is a must for the discerning traveller. The owners, Brian and Colleen sailed around the world before aquiring the lodge and they have created something truly special here. You feel as though you have been invited into their home to enjoy stimulating conversation by the fireplace along with being pampered from the moment of arrival.
Our next stop was Wanaka! Only a couple of hours by bus from Queenstown. Our adventure for the day was with Lake Wanaka Eco Tours doing a lake cruise and island nature walk. We cruised Lake Wanaka to the Mau Waho Island Nature Reserve where I promptly became separated from the rest of the group. I was just so excited to get going on the trail that I just assumed that everyone was right behind me. No worries though as there is only the one trail leading up to the bluff. We did all reconnect at the top much to the relief of my guide. The really cool thing about this place is the hidden lake on top of the island. And also the very friendy Buff Weka which is a very curious flightless bird. Before leaving the island we planted a native tree to give back to the environment.
Wanaka is a lovely little village and we stayed at the Edgewater which is located on the shores of Lake Wanaka. It is only a 15 minute stoll along a lakeside path into the centre of town where we had lunch and stocked up on some New Zealand goodies at the local grocery store. Yummy chocolate bars and twisties. And did I mention chocolate milkshakes and chai lattes?
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- Kangaroo Island for Honeymooners Part 1 by webadmin
- Yulara Resort at Uluru by webadmin
- What's in a Tour? by webadmin
- To Climb or Not to Climb??? by webadmin
- Sunset vs Sunrise at Ayers Rock by webadmin
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