New Zealand’s South Island also boasts of the most astounding natural setting in the country: the majestic Milford Sound and jaw-dropping Franz Josef Glacier are recognized as two of the world’s most stirring landmarks.
In glacier country, about a 5-hour drive from Queenstown, visitors enjoy unrivaled tranquility while basking in the Glacier Hot Pools formed by the melting waters of the gigantic nearby glaciers.
Native Maori legend has it that the glaciers are frozen tears shed by a princess weeping for a lost love. The waters form three idyllic pools in a forest where visitors can revive their bodies and mind.
The newly refurbished, 130-room Scenic Hotel Franz Josef, a member of the 13-hotel Scenic Hotels collection that operates throughout the South Pacific, is a sprawling, two-wing property at the edge of the Westland World Heritage Park. It is a short drive to the entrance of the glaciers and pays homage to Maori culture and its surroundings. Here, travelers will find the often-feted New Zealand experience accented by superb accommodations amidst spectacular scenery. Active travelers will find guided tours of the two major glaciers, along with hikes to lakes, bird sanctuaries and lagoons through stimulating scenery iconic to the region.
Rates run from about $98 pp dbl to about $248, depending on amenities. The resort regularly offers special packages during different seasons.
While New Zealand is relatively small, travelers who have not made proper plans will often find a visit vexing due to the intricacies particular to the country. There are a number of caveats that only experienced travel agents and tour operators can point out.
According to Emma Cottis, Goway Travel’s product and marketing manager, “New Zealand has always been and remains a desired destination for North American travelers. The New Zealand Tourism Board has done a fantastic job of promoting the ‘pure’ aspect of the country’s brand and not focusing on competing with other long-haul destinations on price. We still continue to benefit from travelers inspired to visit New Zealand from watching ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movies. In fact, the upcoming release of ‘The Hobbit’ in December will see a surge in interest.”
Movies aside, New Zealand offers unparalleled experiences guaranteed to enthrall. However, most tour operators agree that it’s a difficult destination to sell without having the proper knowledge of what lies within the magical island nation.
According to Cottis, the tricky details of selling New Zealand are due mostly to two reasons.
“While there’s no doubt that there are some spectacular and unique accommodations, including high-end lodges and various levels of B&B properties, the wide spectrum of New Zealand requires the knowledge of an expert to ensure that travelers are matched with suitable accommodations,” she says. “We offer a range of accommodations to suit all budgets,” Cottis adds, “from motels to hotels, B&Bs and lodges.”
The second reason is that “it’s really important to know the destination and average drive times because, while New Zealand is relatively small, the distances between places of interest are great. To sell this destination a tour operator must be familiar with the places of interest one will find en-route. Without the assistance of a travel agent, travelers may find the New Zealand experience falling short of expectations.”
Goway’s most popular tours are typically self-drive itineraries—pre-planned and ideal for those with a general interest—or customized for specific interests like food and wine.
The Nature Lovers Self-Drive itinerary, for example, consists of a 12-day pre-planned self-drive of the North Island; it starts at $1,107 land-only. The dual-island, 10-day Best of Both Islands tours is $975 land-only, and a more extensive 18-day North and South Island self-drive starts at $1,671 land-only.
Goway’s Lord of the Rings package (price varies, depending on accommodations and amenities) is a captivating 14-day jaunt through New Zealand’s spectacular mountains, active volcanoes, deep fiords, rugged coastline, picturesque lakes, streams and beaches, bubbling mud pools and geysers and also offers an introduction to the country’s unique Maori culture.
For those who prefer to let someone else do the driving, Goway offers a full range of escorted motor coach vacations with options that include a choice of tours, accommodations and different daily dining venues.
Travel agents are encouraged to explore the various packages that often highlight special offers, including meals, early booking, payment discounts and more.
Arriving to this almost magical land is made easy by Air New Zealand, the highly rated airline with daily flights from Los Angeles. A recent offering listed roundtrips from LAX to Auckland for approximately $1,500 pp. It’s a long journey made pleasant through a configuration allowing more legroom in coach. Air New Zealand also excels in its exquisite business and first class service.
Air New Zealand: (800) 262-1234; airnewzealand.com
Goway Travel: (800) 557-2841; gowayagent.com or goway.com
Rydges Lakeland Resort Queenstown: rydges.com/queenstown
Scenic Hotel Franz Josef: scenichotels.co.nz/hotels/scenic-hotel-franz-josef-glacier
Tourism New Zealand: (310) 395-7480; newzealand.com/travel/trade