To Middle Earth, Beautiful Part: Milford Sound

Rudyard Kipling very famously (and unsourcedly) called Milford Sound the Eighth Wonder of the World.  I’ve often called Rudyard Kipling the Eighth Most Uninteresting Writer Based on Half of a Book I Read in High School, so the connection was immediate. Put simply, Milford Sound is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. My journey to Milford Sound started very similar to many others.  There are quite a few tour operators that will trot you out to the Sound for a scenic boat tour, and the one with the best reviews on Tripadvisor was a lovely organization called Real Journeys.  If you’re in Queenstown they’re hard to miss.  Or even if you’re on the internet, they’re hard to miss.  The second you type in New Zealand to Google, for about the next six months all you’ll see are Real Journeys ads.  I found them a good value with great service. They sent a taxi to pick me up at 7am from the Hilton (included in the tour ticket) to take me to the bus station.  It was a bit chilly that morning, so the taxi driver very graciously offered to let me stay in the cab where it was warm.  Soon enough the bus pulled around and we were on our way.  Real Journeys has coaches that are perfectly suited for sightseeing in a place as dramatic as the Milford Road, with clear glass windows and seats that are angled towards the windows. Milford Sound is near pretty much nothing,… read more

To Middle Earth, Part IV: In And Around Queenstown

So I left you with a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of the last post.  Hopefully it’s worth the wait.  If it’s not, I’ll happily refund your money. Getting to Queenstown So why did I pick Queenstown?  One of the travel bloggers I follow pretty closely, Lucky from One Mile at a Time, rated this as one of his favorite places in the world, and quite frankly I didn’t really know what else to do, so I thought why not? Liked I mentioned before, I booked a really pricey flight to Queenstown because I waited for the last minute and there weren’t really any cheap options in the first place.  As I was quasi-planning this trip, I had to constantly remind myself that August is the height of winter down there, which is Queenstown’s busy season, so it made sense that there weren’t cheap flight options available. We flew from Wellington in an Air New Zealand ATR72.  I actually like turboprops, but this flight got a little cantankerous for me.  The weather was pretty bad in Queenstown, so the closer we got the cantankerouser it got.  I’m fine with bumps and turbulence that’s up and down, but this turbulence felt like the back end of the plane wasn’t going in the same direction as the front, so it was a little worrisome.  The approach path into Queenstown is between two mountains, so there was a bit of a wind tunnel effect that I wasn’t expecting.  Whenever there’s turbulence… read more

To Middle Earth, Part III: The Part Where I Actually See Something From Middle Earth

I awoke in Taupo the following morning, very jetlagged.  I eventually made my way down to breakfast, which was in the restaurant attached to the hotel (which, in an effort to serve you better, I faithfully forgot to take pictures of) and…went back to bed for a nap.  My nap came to a peaceful end around 11am, at which point I decided my vacation would be better spent doing things than sleeping, so I got dressed and tried to figure out what to do. New Zealand is very volcanic, as the islands are quite new geologically (geologists universally agree that New Zealand was formed at least 40 years ago).  The Taupo area is particularly volcanic, with geothermal vents/pools all over the place (there’s one literally next door to the Hilton Near Lake Taupo).  One of the highly-rated ones from TripAdvisor is Orakei Korako, so I made my way back to the epic and legendary Nissan Tiida and made my way in the right laneNO OK IN THE LEFT LANE to the highway. After a short drive, I made a right turn and followed the signs.  New Zealand handles tourism very well, as the roads have great signage pointing you to all manner of attractions, so I was able to get there pretty quickly (it’s about 30 minutes from the hotel). So, a short aside (I know, I don’t really do short asides, but bear with me).  I talk often about how much I love driving in foreign lands.  I love… read more

To Middle Earth, Part II: To Taupo! (via Coromandel)

I begin this episode of What Did Andy Do To Cause Others To Laugh At Him with a confession. I’m an aspiring rugby fan. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, there’s a field where a bunch of players run into each other, with fervent aggression, until everyone dies of injuries/bludgeoning. There is allegedly a ball involved, and most likely some sort of scoring system, but I’ve covered the basics and the parts people really care about. When it comes to rugby, there are teams and then there’s The Team: the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team. Imagine if you will a group of men the size of small hatchbacks, hell bent on causing you bodily harm. Your only defense against them? Aside from the sheer human will to live, not much, just some blokes who have run some drills with you who also do not have pads. Then it begins. The haka. Haka is a Maori word that, loosely translated, means “Ha, you guys read the rules about the ball and the scoring while we practiced tackling and infliction. This will end badly for you.” There’s simply nothing like it. Observe the haka against the French, who you’ll notice are wearing white and holding hands: All Blacks Haka As we wish our French readers well as they leave offended, we move on to New Zealand’s match against Australia on August 24th in Wellington. Had I used Planning, I would’ve realized that this was happening and booked my… read more

To Middle Earth, Part I: Part One

Welcome back, to another trip report from Andy’s Travel Blog. This one is sure to be the absolutely best trip report I’ve ever written since the one about my round the world trip in April. If you read my post about my next trip, then you’re missing out on a bit of the surprise, but I went to: New Zealand! Home of Middle Earth, and…ummm…well, that’s what I was going to find out. So, how would I get there? Let’s start out with some philosophical banter on how I like to use miles. You need some objective way of determining how good of a deal you get when redeeming miles. A frequently used metric is cents per mile. This is found, unsurprisingly, by taking the number of cents a trip would cost and dividing it by the number of miles it would take for an award ticket. Lots of credit cards will let you use their points to purchase airline tickets at 1 cent per mile (cpm), so that’s the absolute minimum I’d want to use for an award ticket. In other words, if it’s less than 1cpm, it makes more sense (to me) to just buy the ticket. Now, I live in Dallas, and American never really has any reason to discount fares out of DFW, so there are times I’ve had to spend a bunch of miles on an award ticket when I didn’t want to drop a ton of money on a ticket, so it happens. It’s… read more

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