I’m Lucy. I’m 22 years old, a recent History graduate and am lucky enough to live in Cambridge – one of the most beautiful cities in the UK. Seriously, if you like architecture come to Cambridge. I love to travel and my favourite type of trip is definitely a city break – I love exploring and soaking in the culture. A highlight city break for me was my trip to Paris at Christmas 2011 which created some incredible memories. Although, as I get older with more responsibilities, I can see the draw of just lying on a sun-soaked beach with a good book and steady stream of cocktails. My, other, interests include; Zumba, running, gin, fruit teas, and reading countless books.
I’m writing this blog because in 11 days, on Saturday 21st November, (yes I have been obsessively counting down for the last 7 months) I will be boarding a plane to New Zealand for a 3 week trip of a lifetime. I’m flying Heathrow – Dubai – Bangkok – Sydney – Christchurch, 30 hours all in all. I have never ventured as far from home before and it’s safe to say I’m currently swinging from extreme excitement about the trip, to complete and utter panic. Oh, and another thing – I’m going completely on my own and have never done so before. I’ll be fine, right?
So, why New Zealand? Back in May, as I was approaching graduation, I decided to leave student-hood behind by getting as far away from England as possible. My brother, Mark, currently lives in New Zealand in a little town called Timaru on the South Island, and I’m forever hearing about all the things he does, how amazing his life is, how incredible the scenery is etc. So, I decided to see for myself what all the fuss is about, and what better time to go than when I have my big brother out there to show me around?
Now, I just have to point out one thing here – when I booked this trip I had absolutely no money. I was the epitome of a poor student. This is where STA Travel come in. STA is an amazing company, which will book your trip for you, plan your itinerary and be with you for any question you may have right up until you are back home after the trip. Like, for instance the other day I emailed my travel agent, Zoe, about what the hell to actually do when I need to transfer planes and she wrote me a lovely email back explaining everything – despite my question clearly highlighting my travel ignorance. STA also let you secure your flights (which if you’re a student or under 30 you get discounted with their ‘blue tickets’) for a small deposit of £49 and then pay off the rest up to 8 weeks before your trip. All I did was email Zoe with my dates, she found the most convenient flights at the best price and then I paid the £49 deposit – simple. I was going to New Zealand! Booking with STA and all the pre-trip preparations has been really easy, fingers crossed the trip goes as well.
At this point, I had no concrete plan of what I was going to do once I actually got to New Zealand, just a vague idea that I would meet up with my brother and prevail upon his hospitality. However, as a complete travel pro (he has literally been everywhere), Mark suggested I do an organised tour of some kind so that I could meet up with fellow travelers and see some of the sights for myself before meeting up with him. There are a number of companies that run bus tours in New Zealand, such as Stray Travel and Kiwi Experience. These companies are great if you want flexibility and a hop-on-hop-off approach to touring. As a first-time solo traveler I decided that this particular type of tour wasn’t for me, as I wanted the stability of knowing my destination for every day and that I have a guaranteed bed for the night (with Stray and Kiwi you have to tell your coach driver on the day if you want a bed for the night and they ring ahead to the appropriate hostel). Therefore, STA recommended Contiki. Contiki run adventure tours across Europe, Asia, America, Australia and New Zealand for 18 – 35 year olds and all their tours have a complete itinerary where you are on the same coach for the whole tour, with the same group of people. They are similar to Trek America in this respect. They were also perfect for me because you only have to pay a £60 deposit to secure the tour, and then pay the rest off 10 weeks before departure.
I chose to undertake the ‘Sweet as South Reverse’ trip – details of which can be found at http://www.contiki.com/destinations/new-zealand/tours/373-sweet-as-south-reverse. The price of the tour includes coach travel, all over night stays, all breakfasts, 3 dinners and a few excursions. The trip will start in Christchurch (where I am flying into) and head straight to Franz Joseph Glacier via the former gold rush town of Hokitika on the West Coast. I will then be spending a day at Franz Joseph Glacier and am hoping to undertake a helihike – where you get a helicopter up onto the Glacier and have a chance to explore the ice. Alternatively, I am thinking of doing some quad biking whilst I am there – but will keep you posted! From Franz Joseph we’re heading to Queenstown via Haast Pass. We’ll be spending 2 days in Queenstown as it is, supposedly, the most exciting place in New Zealand and the place where most people opt to do bungee jumping and sky diving. I, however, will be taking a boat trip to see the stunning Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage listed site. Somewhat less of an adrenaline rush, but much more my scene. From Queenstown we head to Dunedin – New Zealand’s student hub – and then onto Lake Ohau via Moeraki. After a stay at Lake Ohau we’ll sadly be heading back to Christchurch where the tour ends.
My trip doesn’t end there though, and I am taking a bus up to Kaikoura to undertake a Dolphin encounter. I will then be heading back to Christchurch the next day to finally be reunited with my brother after a year apart, when we will embark on our own adventure (as he likes to call it – LJ & MJ on tour) where he promises to take me to ‘off the beaten track destinations’. I am seriously hoping we won’t be camping, but I fear it is a distinct possibility as my brother is a properly outdoorsy macho man and wants to toughen up this soft Southern lass. Oh dear.
So, there you have it. For anyone who is umming and aahing about whether to book that trip you’ve always dreamed about – do it. There are companies out there who will help you plan and guide you and, most importantly, let you secure the trip with a minimal deposit. Take a chance and don’t look back!
I will be keeping you updated with all my preparation before my trip, including what I’ll be packing (this will genuinely probably take up most of my time in the next 2 weeks) and then I’ll be here to regale you with all my adventures from the trip when I am back! Thanks so much for reading, I hope you have enjoyed the post.
If anyone has ever been on a tour with Contiki and has an experience to share or has any tips for my trip, please leave a comment – I would love to hear from you!