10 Day Self Drive Tour of New Zealand

So you want to explore new Zealand but don’t have much time? I would suggest you choose North or South island and don’t try to do both. Quality over quantity will ensure you are not rushed and enjoy every day without too much driving.

Take a look at my suggestion for a 10 day tour of North Island starting in Auckland and ending in Wellington. You can easily fly back to Auckland for any onward flights.

Day 1: Arrive into Auckland City
Accommodation: Waldorf Stadium Apartments
Day 2: Explore Auckland and surrounds
Accommodation: Waldorf Stadium Apartments
Day 3: Drive south through the rich fertile farmland of the Waikato and maybe stop at Hobbiton Village on your way to Rotorua
Accommodation: Bella Vista Rotorua
Day 4: Your day in Rotorua could be spent discovering Maori culture or thrilling adventure rides
Accommodation: Bella Vista Rotorua
Day 5: First head to Lake Taupo before travelling east to the Hawke’s Bay
Accommodation: Pebble Beach Motor Inn, Napier
Day 6: Discover the Art Deco architecture, vineyards and gannets of the Hawkes Bay
Accommodation: Pebble Beach Motor Inn, Napier
Day 7: Drive south through the Hawkes Bay and the Wairarapa region to the boutique vineyards of Martinborough
Accommodation: The Claremont, Martinborough
Day 8: Travel over the Rimutaka Ranges to Wellington
Accommodation: Hotel Ibis Wellington
Day 9: Uncover the charms of Wellington City, including the quirky cafes and fascinating museums
Accommodation: Hotel Ibis Wellington
Day 10: Depart Wellington today

The details below are for each of the days where there is a major driving leg. Times are based on a reasonable average of between 70 and 80 kph (45-55 mph approx).

Day 3 – Driving distance and time: 220 kms / 136 miles : 2.6 hours

Day 5 – Driving distance and time: 210 kms / 131 miles : 2.4 hours

Day 7 – Driving distance and time: 271 kms / 168 miles : 3.3 hours

Day 8 – Driving distance and time: 73 kms / 45 miles : 1.0 hours

Day 10 – Driving distance and time: 6 kms / 4 miles : 0.1 hours

Take a look at the tours you can add on to the above trip:

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Become immersed in The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit films when you visit the actual Hobbiton movie set. Located just outside of Matamata – in the heart of the lush Waikato farming region, your two hour tour will begin with a drive through a picturesque sheep farm. You’ll then be taken through Hobbit Holes, The Green Dragon Inn, The Mill and the Party Tree while your guide shares behind-the-scenes tales and fascinating insight into the making of the films.

Rotorua Canopy Tours – The Original Canopy Tour
Embark on a three hour adventure through native New Zealand forest. Journey through the beautiful forest canopy via an incredible network of trails, tree platforms, Ziplines and swing bridges. See breathtaking views of the woodland valleys and hills as you fly through tight openings in the trees.
In between the thrill of the ziplines and suspended tree bridges, your guides will share their passion and knowledge for the forest and the conservation challenges to preserve it. 

Rotorua to NapierTwilight Odyssey Progressive Winery Dinner

Take a scenic drive through the vineyards as you learn about the region and its wines. Enjoy a full interactive wine tasting alongside gourmet platters at Vidal. Take in the breathtaking panoramic views from Te Mata Peak while enjoying a glass of bubbles as the sun sets from 399m above sea level (overlooking the glimmering lights of the Twin Cities in winter).

Wellington Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary Night Tour

Taking a night tour of Zealandia wildlife eco-sanctuary is an unforgettable experience and one that comes highly recommended. A conservation success and safe haven for some of New Zealand’s rarest native animals, Zealandia is home to many remarkable species of birds, reptiles and insects living wild within a beautiful 225 hectare (one square mile) valley – just 10 minutes from the central city.

Your tour begins with an interactive exhibition before you walk through the gates of Zealandia predator-exclusion fence into the sanctuary. Your guide will then lead you on a torch-light walk through the native New Zealand bush. Possible sights include Kiwi foraging on the forest floor, tuatara hunting for food, glowworms shining, tiny Maud Island frogs in their enclosure, pateke (brown teal) ducks feeding at night and kaka (parrots) coming in to roost.

Zealandia is one of the best places to see kiwi in the wild. Over 100 of these nocturnal birds live freely in their natural environment inside the safety of the sanctuary valley – so your chances of seeing one is very good.

Wellington Middle Earth Tour

In a small group, you will head out to the Valley to explore the filming locations for Rivendell where Frodo recovered from his knife attack; the River Anduin where the Fellowship voyaged to Amon Hen; the Gardens of Isengard, where Gandalf rode to see Saruman and the site of the orcs felling the trees; see the quarry used for the filming of Helms Deep in Rohan and Minas Tirith in Gondor. Then back to the City to visit the Mount Victoria lookout and Buckland Forest where you can take a “shortcut to mushrooms”, “get of the road” and hide where the Hobbits hid from the Black Riders before taking a run to the Buckleberry Ferry and discovering Dunharrow Rohirrim encampment along the way.

My recommended hotel in The Atacama Desert, Chile

Fly from Santiago to San Pedro to Atacama – 2 hours
Arrival airport – San Pedro de Atacama
Transfer time – 1 hour

Hotel Alto Atacama

This amazing hotel is located in the lush Catarpe Valley of the Salt Mountain Range, just over a mile from the local town and plaza of San Pedro. I opted for the the inclusive 3 night package which offers great value as you get all meals, drinks and excurions included in one price. On arrival we were greeted by the excursion concierge who gave us lots of great information on the choices of trips that we could go on. You get one full day or 2 x half day trips included each day. My choices were as follows:

Valley of The Moon
This tour allows guests to enter a sanctuary of nature and geology. The Valley of the Moon is a spectacular geological formation created through the conflicting pressures of the Andes and the Cordillera de Domeyko. As one of the most breathtaking and iconic views in the entire region, travellers from all over the world migrate here to enjoy the sun setting over the Valley.

Atacama Salt Flats and Toconao Village
This varied tour starts with a visit to Toconao, a local village known for its masonry and architecture which is typical of the area, as well as its important agricultural heritage. Next, continue to Tamarug´s forest, a woodland region en route to the National Reserve of Los Flamencos, one of the most iconic and memorable spots to enjoy the renowned sunsets of the Desert.

The Full Moon Walk
This night time trek is only possible during periods of complete illumination from the light of a full moon. You will begin by travelling the Cordillera de la Sal, and through the appropriately named Valley of Mars. Once you have scaled to a decent height, enjoy views of the Cartarpe Valley, the oasis of San Pedro, Salar de Atacama, the Andes and Cordillera de Domeyko, all visible by the unique and eerie light offered by our celestial cousin

The local town of San Pedro is just 20 minute away and you can book a free transfer and pick up from the hotel. A lovely little quaint town with lots of unusual artisan shops, art galleries, quirky bars and restaurants.

Let see what the concierge expert at Alto Atacama recommends

Review from Carrie Gibson

Carrie stayed at Ravanela Attitude in Mauritius. Her party was 2 adults and 2 children ages 10 and 8.

“Michelle booked us a family holiday back in January to Mauritius, her service was outstanding and whatever questions or queries we had she responded straight away. We have just come back from that holiday and it was amazing, Michelle’s recommendation for the Ravenala Attitude Hotel was perfect for us and our 2 children 9 & 8. We had the best time there and went on an amazing trip that we booked through our brilliant rep. I had an accident whilst away and got in touch with Michelle to tell her, she arranged special assistance at the airports and changed our seats on our flights so I would be nearer the facilities on the planes. I genuinely don’t think if I had booked through a general travel agent I would have had that service. We will definitely be going back to the hotel and will definitely be booking through Michelle for this and any other future holidays that we book. Thank you Michelle for our amazing holiday!”

Review from Fiona Lawton

Michelle has been so helpful and so patient! She has come up with some amazing recommendations for our Honeymoon next year and has really been able to go into detail in terms of what we could expect and what places are really like. She’s been incredibly quick to respond and really patient when we were flitting between locations and really being very indecisive customers! We can’t wait for our Honeymoon and would definitely recommend her services to others. Thank you Michelle!

A Year in the Life of The Travel Genius

So the festive season is upon us again!

One of the most important aspects of my job is to explore destinations myself which therefore enables me to speak from experience so I can make the best recommendations when making personal suggestions for your holidays. Booking amazing trips for my clientele as well as worldwide site visits have kept me extremely busy this year. The personal service and attention I give every single booking is proving to be very popular these days, as it’s a rarity in the travel business.

My Year:

Orlando – Visiting all of the Disney hotels and staying at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Comprehensive training regarding the Disney experience, including:  how to avoid queuing, restaurant reservations, efficient day planning, pre booking of Fast Pass tickets and special events. For research purposes I obviously had to try out all the rides including the scary ones!

Brazil – Featuring stays in Rio De Janeiro, Buzios Beach, Iguazu Falls and the Amazon Rainforest. An amazing two week trip which included excursions such as:  viewing Iguazu Falls from both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides, searching for Caiman and piranha fishing in the Amazon River, jungle trekking in the rainforest, riding the cable car up Sugarloaf Mountain, exploring the beaches of Buzios in Jeeps and the iconic Christ the Redeemer in Rio.

tribe photo

Amazon Indigenous Tribe

IMG_6592 (Edited)

Iguazu Falls, Brazil


Juma Lodge, Amazon

Thailand – Staying in both Bangkok and Phuket. This trip included the spectacle that is the Grand Palace in Bangkok along with numerous other temple visits and a long-tailed boat trip down the river. Phang Nga Bay in Phuket was a particular highlight as you can all probably recognise the scenery in background below.


Big Buddha, Phuket


Phang Nga Bay, Phuket

Lisbon, Portugal – Exploring the historical old town and the nearby medieval town of Sintra, as well as being serenaded by the famous Fado singers.

Cologne, Germany – The unveiling and inaugural voyage of the new Riviera river cruise ship, the MS Emily Bronte.

The Algarve, Portugal – Attending a conference at the Club Med Balaia.

Krakow, Poland – A trip planned in December to experience the Christmas markets in all their festive glory.

I’m hoping to make 2018 even bigger with Chile and China trips already planned. I am always looking to expand my travel knowledge even further to ensure I have the expertise necessary to book the best holidays for you.

So, where will your next holiday take you?

Most of my clients wait until after Christmas to contact me regarding their next holiday. Why wait? Beat the New Year rush and contact me now.  Both tour operators and airlines offer early booking discounts so get in touch as soon as possible and make 2018 a year to remember.

I hope you and your family have a lovely time over the festive period and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Michelle Stammers
07757 113814

Want To Have Breakfast With Giraffes?

Giraffe Manor is extraordinary! Where else in the world can you have a “breakfast with the giraffes” experience? Situated just 30 minutes from central Nairobi it’s easily accessible and can be added on to any itinerary for a holiday in Kenya. So even if you just stay one night, you will be able to get up close and personal and create unforgettable memories. I recommend a stay of around 2 nights to be able to comfortably enjoy everything here.

This exclusive boutique hotel is an iconic stately building built in the 1930’s and is set in 12 acres of private land. The resident herd of Rothschild giraffes visit the hotel morning and evening poking their heads through the long windows of the hotel hoping to be given treats by the guests before retreating back to their forest sanctuary.

Children are very welcome at Giraffe Manor so this is wonderful way that families can be together and enjoy being so close to these beautiful creatures. Now that would be a great “show and tell” for your kids when they go back to school after their holiday!

At 5,889ft above sea level, Nairobi is cool at night and warm in the day, with two rainy seasons March to May and mid-October to December. Situated close to the equator, seasonal differences are minimal, however in June, July and August, temperatures can be as low as 35˚F / 2˚C. Just remember it is closed in May.

How Much Does It Cost?

A 2 night stay with full board meals, most drinks and return airport transfers from Nairobi costs approximately £400 per person (international flights are extra).

For more information contact:


07757 113814

So how much does it cost to go to the Galapagos Islands?

Guide to the Galapagos

Ever since they appeared out of nowhere several million years ago, the Galapagos Islands have been showing travellers from across the world just how special they are. Today the islands are home to one of the world’s most unique eco-systems where wildlife roam free fascinating travellers from across the world. From the giant tortoises, birds, seals and penguins that occupy the land to the whales, turtles and fish that call the waters home.

Visiting the Galapagos Islands on an adventure cruise is a truly special experience that is sure to live with you for a long time and perhaps even be the start of many visits to the islands to uncover their mysteries even more. Adventure style Galapagos cruises are designed to get you up close with the islands and make sure that your time is spent exploring. Galapagos boats range from just 12 passengers up to a maximum of 100 and each ship has its own unique features that make it great for exploring.

Whichever boat you choose to see the Galapagos, you are sure to have an amazing holiday to the Galapagos Islands and you can be sure you are in expert hands.
On the following pages, you will find our guide to the Galapagos which should help answer some of the questions you may have to help find the right adventures cruise for you.

A Typical Cruise
Each cruise is different and individual to the ship. It is our recommendation to take a cruise of 8 days, which will mean you get to see a fantastic variety of sites and wildlife. Shorter cruises work for those with less wildlife interest, less time available or those that want to combine the Galapagos into a wider holiday to South America, they still offer a great flavour!

Below you will find some typical prices for the different levels of ship that operate in the Galapagos. However, the exact price will depend on the ship, itinerary and time of year.

5 Day Cruise from £3000 – £4950 per person to include international flights from London and internal flights.

8 Day Cruise from £3550 – £6950 per person to include international flights from London and internal flights.

Lowest prices shown are for budget ships rising to highest prices shown are for luxury ships.

Most Cruises Include
• Accommodation
• All meals
• Landings on the Islands
• Naturalist guides (normally 1:16 guests)
• Snorkelling gear
• Luggage handling
• Taxes
• Transfers in the islands
Most Cruises Do Not Include
• National Park Entrance Fee (US100.00 per person payable locally)
• Ingala Card (US20.00 per person payable locally)
• Drinks
• Tips (around $10-$15 per person, per day recommended)
• Wet Suits (around $25 per person)
• Shop purchases or items of a personal natures
(Please note the inclusions and exclusions above is not an exhaustive list)

Big Ships vs Small Ships

Small Ships
Most are typically 16 passengers or less, which only requires 1 National Park Guide. (This is the maximum ratio of guests to guide set out by the National Park) So your cruise will operate like a group tour with everyone doing the same thing,.
• 16 Passengers means you can get on and off the ship very easily
• Maximum time to explore
• The most popular type of ship
• The most options available from budget to luxury and caters for a range of budgets
• Access to all the sites in the Galapagos National Park including the smaller ones
• Can get closer to the wildlife
• The whole ship will be doing the same thing, at the pace of the slowest
• Less facilities and space on board
• Need to be sociable as you will live in close proximity to your fellow passengers
• Smaller ships feel the movement of the sea more for those nervous about sea sickness

Big Ships
The maximum ship size permitted is 100 which is still a very small ship! However more passengers means more National Park Guides which allows the ship to be split into groups for activities and offers a choice of what you would like to do.

• More passengers means more guides
• Landings can be split into groups giving you a choice of what you would like to do on land
• Ship will have more facilities including perhaps a second dining option, jacuzzi and additional lounges (dependent on ship)
• More space to find a quiet corner and often more deck space to observe wildlife
• More stable for those nervous about sea sickness

• More passengers means getting on and off the ship takes a little more time (but often very well organised)
• Larger ships can’t access some sites with very restricted visitor numbers
• Time exploring will be less taking into account the logistics

When to Go
There is not bad time to go to the Galapagos! But there are differences depending on when you go. Here is our guide;

• Warm Air Temperature (Between 22C and 30 C)
• Beginning of the rainy season in highlands (average 2.5cm)
• Warm Water Temperature (Average:24.5 C)
• Land Birds start nesting
• Sea Turtles nesting
• Marine and Land Iguanas mating season (bright colours)
• Flightless Cormorants, Penguins and Greater Flamingoes breeding and nesting (year-round, depending on food supply)
Pros: Ideal month for snorkeling, colorful iguanas, more tourists
Cons: Strong Sun, rainy season (but more downpours rather than sustained periods)

• Warm Air Temperature (Between 24 C and 30C)
• Rainy Season (Average 2.5 cm in highlands)
• Warmest Water Temperature (Average: 25 C)
• Magnificent and Great Frigates nesting
• Marine and Land Iguanas nesting
• Flightless Cormorants, Penguins and Greater Flamingoes breeding and nesting (year-round, depending on food supply)
Pros: Best Water Visibility, highest water temperature
Cons: Strong Sun, rainy season

• Warm Air Temperature (Between 24C and 31C)
• Rainiest month (Average 5.1 cm in highlands)
• Warm Water Temperature (25C)
• Green Sea Turtles nesting
• Marine and Land Iguanas nesting
• Magnificent and Great Frigates nesting
• Tortoises laying egg
Pros: Best Water Visibility
Cons: Rainiest Month in the highlands, strong sun, high humidity

• Warm Air Temperature (Between 24C and 31C)
• Rainy Season (Average 3.8 cm in highlands)
• Warm Water Temperature (25C)
• Green Sea Turtles nesting
• Marine and Land Iguanas nesting
• Magnificent and Great Frigates nesting
• Waved albatross mating and nesting
• Tortoises laying egg
Pros: Rainy season ending, the islands are quite green and full of life, turtles and tortoises hatching Cons: Strong sun

• Warm Air Temperature (Between 22C and 28C)
• Dry month (Average 1.9 cm in highlands)
• Warm Water Temperature (24.5C)
• Green sea Turtles nesting season ending
• Marine and Land iguanas nesting
• Waved albatross nesting
• Tortoises laying eggs
Pros: Beginning of the dry season, offers one of the most pleasant weather of the year, the islands are green, courtship of blue-footed boobies, hatching of sea turtles, hatching of iguanas,

• Warm Air Temperature (Between 21C and 26C)
• Dry month (Average 0.6 cm in highlands)
• Water Temperature cooling (Average 23C)
• Red-footed boobies and masked boobies breeding and nesting (year-round)
• Waved albatross nesting
• Magnificent and Great Frigate birds nesting (year-round on North Seymour Only)
Pros: good weather, humpback whales migrate to the Galapagos
Cons: end of nesting season

• Cooler Air Temperature (Between 20C and 26C)
• Dry month (Average 1.3 cm in highlands)
• Water Temperature cooling (Average 22C)
• Blue-footed boobies start to breed
• Waved albatross nesting
• Start of California sea lion breeding season
• Humbolt Current strengthening making marine wildlife more active
• Dolphin and Whale Spotting
Pros: marine wildlife abundant, whale season
Cons: Stronger winds and currents, cooler water, more tourists

• Cooler Air Temperature (Between 19C and 26C)
• Dry month (Average 0.6 cm in highlands)
• Water Temperature cooling (Average 21.5C)
• Blue-footed boobies nesting
• Waved Albatross Nesting
• California sea lion breeding
• Fur sea lion begin breeding
• Tortoises lay eggs (Santa Cruz only)
• Dolphin and whale spotting
Pros: marine wildlife abundant, whale season
Cons: Stronger winds and currents, cooler water, more tourists

• Cooler Air Temperature (Between 19C and 26C)
• Dry month (Average 1.3 cm in highlands)
• Water Temperature cooling (Average 22C)
• Blue-footed boobies nesting
• California Sea Lion breeding
• Fur Sea Lions breeding
• Appearance of the Brown Pelican
• Dolphin and whale Spotting
Pros: marine wildlife abundant, whale season, very active bird nesting and sea lions
Cons: Stronger winds and currents, cooler water

• Cooler Air Temperature (Between 20C and 26C)
• Dry month (Average 0.6 cm in highlands)
• Cool Water Temperature (Average 22.5C)
• Waved Albatross nesting
• California sea lion breeding
• Fur sea lions breeding
• Tortoises lay eggs
• Dolphin and whale spotting
Pros: good snorkeling as green turtles are easier to spot, whale season, sea lions puppies can be seen
Cons: Days are not always sunny and rains can be expected, mist in the morning

• Warming Air Temperature (Between 21C and 26C)
• End of Dry Season (Average 1.3 cm in highlands)
• Water Temperature warming up (Average 22C)
• Blue-footed boobies nesting
• Waved albatross nesting
• Green sea turtles begin mating
• Fur Sea Lions and California sea lions breeding
• Dolphin and whale spotting
Pros: pupping of sea lions, seas are calmer, great weather, good visibility for snorkelers
Cons: winds are still present, some occasional drizzling

• Warmer Air Temperature (Between 22C and 27C)
• End of Dry Season (Average 1.3 cm in highlands)
• Water Temperature warming up (Average 22.5C)
• Blue-footed boobies nesting
• Waved albatross nesting
• Green sea turtles mating
• Marine and Land Iguanas begin mating
• Fur sea lions and California sea lions breeding
Pros: start and the end of breeding season making wildlife encounters very attractive, blue skies, greening of the islands
Cons: stronger sun, more visitors

18-81-galapagos general.jpg-BasicCrop-size-500x500gala 2gala 1

Phuket Top Dining Tips

I’m in Phuket staying at the lovely Movenpick Hotel at Karon Beach.

If you’re anything like me then you will want to explore when you are on holiday and part of the joy of being away is trying all the lovely local restaurants.

I usually head for the classier restaurants with nice tablecloths and a decent menu to be sure of better quality food and service but here in Phuket I’ve found the exact opposite seems to apply!

After trying of couple of the nicer looking places and being stung on cost and also receiving surly service, I realised shabby chic was the way to go!

At the better looking restaurants we were paying £35 for a steak, £20 for a chicken dish,  a glass of wine was £6 and a beer was £4.

At the local cafe style restaurants we had great smiley service and lovely quality food all for a fraction  of the price of the posh restaurants that stung us on cost. We paid £16 for a steak (beef is expensive here at its imported from Australia), £8 for a chicken dish, a glass of wine was £2.50 and a beer was £2.50.

So don’t be put off with what the restaurant looks like from

the outside here in Phuket, head for the cafe style places and you won’t be disappointed. If you’re unsure, check out the toilets – if they’re clean, it usually means a clean kitchen too!

Your children expect a beach holiday? you give them elephants!

I get lots of parents asking me to suggest “something different” for their family holiday.

So how about giving your children something they don’t expect? Do you always go to a beach resort and end up doing the same things every day? Can you imagine how they’ll feel if you give them elephants, climbing, cycling, buffalo and trying weird food they’ve never seen before?

How about this exciting 2 week family adventure in Sri Lanka? This will stretch your children’s imagination, give them WOW moments and make incredible memories that will last a lifetime.

On this family friendly itinerary, you and your children will have the opportunity to do lots of amazing activities:

  • Climb to the top of Lion’s Rock
  • Cycle through local villages
  • View elephants in their natural habitat on a game drive
  • A chance to see leopards and buffalo at Yala National Park
  • Visit a tea plantation.
  • Visit the famous Temple of the Tooth Buddhist temple
  • Explore a spice garden to see how herbs and spices are grown
  • Watching how silk is weaved at a sari factory and have fun dressing up
  • Walk through a rice field to a local village to try some unusual local delicacies
  • Take part in some traditional Sri Lankan sports activities
  • The last 3 nights of the trip are spent by the beach relaxing

You will spend 12 nights in hotels all with ensuite facilities.

Sri Lanka has a tropical climate. Some rain can be expected but its all in the fun of the trip to experience this.

This trip is available on selected departure dates from April 2017 to April 2018. Family prices for 2 adults and 2 children under 12 years are from £7500 to include return flights and transfers. An extension to add on a trip to the Maldives is possible at the end of  this itinerary (just a 60 minute flight).

Please contact me if you would like further details and the full itinerary.

Email – travelgenius@brillianttravel.co.uk

Call – 07757 113814