Tuesday, 29 January 2019

The guided tour

Jenny and I are just back from a 16-day guided tour of New Zealand. We wanted to visit New Zealand, as everyone kept telling us how beautiful it was, and the best way seemed to be the guided tour. We didn't fancy driving thousand of miles and we didn't want to visit only the major cities, we wanted to see as much of the country as possible.

We were a bit hesitant about signing up for a tour. Suppose we loathed all the other people on the tour? Suppose the long daily drives were hell on earth? Suppose the arrangements were chaotic, the hotels sub-standard and the coach driver a heavy drinker? We decided to take the plunge anyway and assume all our worries were groundless - which as it turned out they were.

The tour was a wonderful experience. The other people were all very interesting, the hotels were superb, the daily drives didn't seem that long at all, and everything went remarkably smoothly.

The plus points:

1) Michelle was a brilliant guide. She lives in Wellington and knows New Zealand very well. She gave us constant commentaries on the native wildlife and plants, local characters, the history of New Zealand, its volcanoes and earthquakes, its economy, Maori culture and lots more.
2) We visited all the major towns and beauty spots and saw absolutely stunning scenery in the mountainous South Island.
3) It was a great overview of New Zealand, from the big cities to sleepy villages and remote townships.
4) Hotels were all four and five star, and we had delicious food wherever we went.
5) At some places we could also pick from a range of great outings.
6) The coach seats were rotated daily, so we all had good and less good views.
7) Michelle was always helpful with any problems, like catering for vegetarians, allowing for disabled passengers, finding new camera batteries etc.
8) Everything was organised impeccably, from outings to hotel check-ins and meal times.
9) The long distances travelled went by very quickly because of Michelle's commentaries, stops for toilets and food, and stops to look at beauty spots.
10) Reece, the coach driver, always drove safely and was never reckless.

The minus points:

1) We were always on the move and didn't stay anywhere for longer than two nights. We would like to have spent more time in Christchurch.
2) The morning starts were very early - usually 7.30 or 8.00, with suitcases collected an hour earlier.
3) We were always in the company of other people, and would have liked more time on our own to explore the cities.
4) We thought some of the hotels had a lack of awareness around catering for vegetarians, which surprised us.

But the plus points so outweighed the minuses, we thought this particular company (APT Touring) did a fantastic job. If you want to see the best of an unknown country, we'd definitely recommend a guided tour.

Pic: Mount Cook, South Island


  1. Welcome back I imagine you'll share more of your experience once you settle back into reality!

    Guided tours have always put me off but others, along with yourself, have enlightened me. Great way to see a country completely.


  2. Wow, I was wondering this morning when you'd be back. That sounds like a fabulous tour. Like you, my spouse and I have concerns about the other people and quality of food and lodgings. But not having to plan everything takes so much of the worry off of your shoulders. My parents spent most of their retirement doing tours like this over the states, as well as Canada and Nova Scotia and the Caribbean. They loved it and even made new friends to travel with.

    I hope you do some other posts of your trip.

  3. New Zealand is high on my list, but a few years out.

    I've done a few guided tours with my kids in Costa Rica and Tanzania, which I really liked. It helps to have someone else managing things when you are dealing with young children. I chafe at tours otherwise - I really like to set my own pace. I might do it in a place where I didn't speak the language at all.

  4. I think a tour is a fabulous start.

  5. I'm glad we took tours when we were younger and healthier. It's good to have those memories in our old age. We especially enjoyed European River cruises with Vantage Travel as you check into your boat once then it takes you from city to city so you don't have that bags at at the crack of dawn nuisance until the last day. And the docks were right downtown so you could walk ashore if you wanted to see things at your own pace.

  6. www: Indeed, settling back into reality is quite difficult after such an extraordinary experience - possibly the best holiday we've ever had! Glad to know we've modified your own view of guided tours.

    Bijoux: The fact that everything was planned for us, down to the tiniest detail, was very relaxing. Having to organise everything yourself is more flexible but also hard work. We met several people who seemed to be serial travellers. One woman was going on a five-month cruise after she left our tour!

  7. Agent: There were one or two days when we would have liked to set our own pace. We were very taken with Christchurch and would like to have lingered there a bit longer.

    Joanne: Agreed. It was a great overview of the country and we got an idea of what places would be worth an extended visit. Though I don't think we'll be going to NZ again. Those long-haul flights are pretty gruelling!

  8. Linda: Good point about river cruises and not having to keep shuttling your luggage from place to place. A river cruise is quite appealing (though not on one of those monstrous ten-deck cruise liners!).

  9. Welcome back!
    What a fabulous way to start the New Year! Was it warm there?!

  10. Ms Scarlet: Indeed, starting 2019 with a bang!

    It was pleasantly warm in New Zealand, around the mid twenties celsius. We moved on to Sydney, where temperatures were in the low thirties - drenched in sweat most of the time!

  11. Even one of those 10 deck cruise ships can be enjoyable if you pick the right cruise. Ours were hosted by Roger Ebert focused on movies followed by discussions at dinner tables. We never went ashore but we sure had a good time. Our first one was with Gene Siskel as co-host then a couple more with Richard Roeper as co-host. All on Disney cruise ships out of Miami. We also cruised the Hawaiian islands and got to take a 12-passenger van out to walk across dead lava fields one day and from the deck see an active volcano at night--what a show!

  12. Linda: I wouldn't fancy a cruise hosted by a celebrity. And I wouldn't want to stay on the boat, I'd like to explore the places visited. Can't say I'm a big Disney fan either. I think we have very different expectations!

    Jean: It was one of our best holidays ever. We saw so much of the country in a very short time.

  13. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much!
    Forty degrees in Sydney today, then the cool change and we're down to 22!

  14. Nice to see you blogging again and what a surprise that you went off to New Zealand. You seem to have had a good trip all told and I wish that I had had more time at my disposal to see more of NZ when I had gone there on business many years ago. It is now too late for me but may be I will consider a guided tour within India after reading your experience.

  15. Kylie: It was a dazzling experience. Michelle was a mine of information about so many things. The temperature here is around -1 celcius!

    Ramana: I would heartily recommend a guided tour as a great way to see the most of a country without the stresses of trying to do it all under your own steam.

  16. it sounds like a wonderful time to me! and I'm glad you're back too.
    I also have trouble with the vegetarian thing. when you live in the middle of BEEF country it's just a given I suppose. but next to the fabulous scenery you enjoyed that's a small price to pay. I'm like Rummy...no more 'other countries' for me now. but I might totally enjoy one in my own country. still so much to see!

  17. Our celebrity hosted cruise was a very small portion of the people on the ship. I think maybe 100 people total? And that cruise didn't go anywhere we wanted to go ashore anyway; it was just a weekend and they went to Nassau which is so heavily tourist oriented you don't get any sense of what the Bahamas really are. What I liked about it being a Disney cruise is how informal they are--no need to pack an evening gown or suit and the food is child friendly for us non-adventurous eaters. I dislike having to choose from foods you don't know how to pronounce.

  18. Tammy: There's so much wonderful scenery in the States, you could spend your whole life exploring it, I guess. You don't really need to go anywhere else!

    Linda: That's another thing that would put me off a cruise, if they have some fancy dress code. There was no dress code on our tour of New Zealand. And why do you object to foods with unpronounceable names? They might be delicious. Do you object to foods with Italian names like tagliatelli or focaccia?

  19. I don't think I could stand 16 days of a guided tour - apart from anything else I loathe driving and prefer to get about under my own steam as it were. Having said that, I often used to enjoy press trips - but they only last a few days max. I have to admit there is something tempting about the idea of having everything beautifully organised I must say!

  20. Jenny: Sixteen days does seem a bit daunting, but the days went very quickly and we learnt so much from Michelle that we wouldn't have known otherwise. It was quite a jolt to end the trip and go back to organising everything ourselves!

  21. Glad you had such a good trip and the tour went well. Had heard NZ a beautiful country from friend whose relative visited there a few years ago.

  22. Joared: It's astonishingly beautiful and unpolluted, but I wonder how long that will last.