Browsing Category

Tours

Chile Santiago South America Tours Valparaíso

Valparaíso: Chile’s Painted City on the Sea

August 15, 2017

“Valparaíso, how absurd you are…you haven’t combed your hair, you’ve never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you.” – Pablo Neruda

Valparaiso is colourful, vivacious, chaotic and a little surreal.  It’s grungy, a little wild and the life of the party.  Only 115km from Santiago though, this port-town has to be seen to be believed.

Try as I might to sum it up, sometimes you just come across a description that fits perfectly.  This is Valparaiso to a tee…

Poets, painters and would-be philosophers have long been drawn to Chile‘s most unusual city. Along with the ever-shifting port population of sailors, dockworkers and prostitutes, they’ve endowed gritty and gloriously spontaneous Valparaíso with an edgy air of ‘anything goes.’ Add to this the spectacular faded beauty of its chaotic cerros (hills), some of the best street art in Latin America, a maze of steep, sinuous streets, alleys and escaleras (stairways) piled high with crumbling mansions, and it’s clear why some visitors are spending more time here than in Santiago. – Lonely Planet

Colourful houses perch precariously, crammed in next to each other on the port hills.  Funiculars shuttle locals and tourists alike whilst those that choose to amble the streets are rewarded with incredible works of art, found in the most unlikely of places.

It’s a bit of a mess but it sure is beautiful!

To find your way around this unique city we suggest you join a walking tour to help get your bearings.  The city is fabulous but there are some areas that you probably don’t want to venture into.  Joining a local first will help give you the confidence to head off exploring on your own after the tour.

Good news travels fast and after a few people recommended Valpo Street Art Tours we planned our day around making it to their afternoon tour.  If we weren’t so jet lagged we’d have preferred to join their 10.30am tour (leaving us the rest of the day to explore) but sometimes you just can’t fight your internal body clock so the 3.30pm tour was the one we decided upon.

The tour itself was absolutely fantastic.  Eddie, our guide, was full of knowledge and passion.  He shared with us everything we could hope to learn – from the origins of graffiti in New York City in the seventies to the uniquely Chilean spin locals put on it now.  We came away with an understanding of the materials and processes involved in making this amazing works of art and a massive appreciation for the artists that pour everything into their projects.

Is Valpariso Safe?

It’s fair to say the port area doesn’t offer visitors much – it can in fact be a dangerous part of town.  By all means, make sure to visit the city but keep your wits about you, as you would anywhere.  Try to avoid walking on the flat parts of town when it gets dark and limit the amount of cash you take with you.  Don’t wander the city with your camera around your neck (unless you’re on a tour as they’ll ensure you only visit the safer areas) or your phone sticking out of your pocket.

We comfortably walked from the bus stop to the meeting point of our tour – it took approximately 30 minutes and we felt more than happy doing so.

Once it got dark though we hailed one of the local buses which took us directly back to the bus terminal.  Doing so is easy – just stick your arm out on the main road and jump onto any bus… they all head in the same direction.  You’ll pay 280 pesos for the pleasure and be there in a snap.

Chances are, walking would have been fine but why run the risk?

Getting from Santiago to Valparaiso

Getting from Chile’s capital to Valparaiso is a relatively straightforward process, even with minimal Spanish.  We used this helpful transport guide to get there but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll summarise the journey.

Though there are several spots from which you can catch an intercity bus, it’s easiest to do so at the last bus stop in Santiago city which is also conveniently a metro stop.  You’ll find Pajaritos on the red line, most likely in the direction of San Pablo.

As you exit the metro, simply follow the signs towards the ‘Bus Transfer’ area.  Once there, you’ll find the ticket counters directly in front of you and the buses to your right.  The main providers that run this route (Turbus and Pullman) do so every 15 minutes or so and there were plenty of seats available when we were there so there’s really no need to book in advance.

At the ticket counter we’d suggest asking for one of the following depending on your needs:

“Un boleto de vuelta a Valparaíso, por favor” – a return ticket to Valparaíso please.

“Dos billetes de ida y vuelta a Valparaíso, por favor” – two return tickets to Valparaíso please.

“Un boleto a Valparaíso, por favor” – a ticket to Valparaíso please.

Or you can do as we did and have your request pre-programmed onto your Google Translate app as back-up.  As it turns out, my accent is indistinguishably off so being able to flash my request up on the screen was invaluable (just turn your phone to the side to display it in an easy-to-read size).

Tickets can be purchased one way or return but they are cheaper if purchased at the same time.  We found a one way trip to be 5,700 pesos each but the return portion was only an additional 3000-and-something pesos (sorry, we threw out the ticket – silly us!)

If you do opt for a return ticket, you’ll be given an open-ended one.  When you’re in Valparaíso and are ready to head back to Santiago you’ll just need to approach the ticket desk, pass them your ticket and ask for

“La próxima salida por favor” – the next departure please.

Just don’t forget to get off again at the first major stop, Pajaritos (pronounced pa-ha-ri-tos) ready to catch the metro back home.

Valparaíso is unlike anywhere else we’ve ever been.  It’s gorgeous, a little crazy and undoubtedly real.  This city doesn’t try to hide who it really is, instead it embraces it and we’d encourage you to do exactly the same on your trip to Chile.

Barcelona Europe Reviews Spain Tours Western Europe

Bouncing Around Barcelona – The bike tour with a difference

August 4, 2017

Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia and the second most populous municipality in Spain, has many claims to fame – a world-renowned football team, impressive tourism figures and weather to make most jealous – but there’s something special about this incredible city that most people aren’t aware of.

It plays host to one of the best tour guides around!

Kris, the owner-operator of Bounce Around Barcelona is one of the most energetic, vivacious guides you could ever hope to meet.  He’s hard-case and finds the perfect balance between professionally and approachability.

With the option of private and group tours around the city, guests can get around either by foot or on Kris’ funky old-school bikes.  We figured the bikes would allow us to cover more ground so it was an easy choice for us.  Fortunately the city is incredibly well laid out for cyclists, being largely flat and home to countless cycle lanes.

Before departing, Kris sat with us to determine the key spots we wanted to visit, orientated us on the map and promised to take us to some of the local hideaways.  Our tour was custom designed for us, based on what we hadn’t managed to see yet.  In the end, it covered off all of Barcelona’s must-see spots and, as promised, delivered lots of gems that we’d never had discovered by ourselves.

Our tour really did have it all…

Food?  Check

Architecture?  Double check!

Natural beauty?  You bet.

Throughout our tour, Kris shared a wealth of information about Barcelona, the Catalan region as a whole and Spain itself.  I have no idea how he manages to retain the depth of knowledge that he has but there’s no doubt in my mind that Kris was absolutely born to do this job.

As much as we’d love to share our map and all of the top-spots Bounce Around Barcelona showed us, there’s no better way to see Barcelona than on one of their tours.  We were given the opportunity to skip over a couple of the locations that we’d already passed through but once we realised how much better it was seeing everything through Kris’ eyes we quickly asked for those spots to be added back in.  We didn’t have the back-story when we visited independently nor an understanding of the history but Kris of course changed that.

They have one motto and it’s something Bounce Around clearly live to their core – “Come as a guest, leave as a friend”.

Don’t take our word for it though – I dare you to visit Kris and his team and walk away with anything but the more positive things to say.

We’d bounce around practically anywhere with Kris!


Love Barcelona as much as us?  Pin this post!

Discover the best tour in Barcelona, Spain. Bounce Around Barcelona will plan an amazing itinerary and show you the best tourist sites in the city. From Gaudi to the best secret bar, this tour covers off all the highlights and then some!Discover the best tour in Barcelona, Spain. Bounce Around Barcelona will plan an amazing itinerary and show you the best tourist sites in the city. From Gaudi to the best secret bar, this tour covers off all the highlights and then some!

I know this post sounds unbelievably gushy but we really were blown away by Kris’ zest for life and obvious passion for what he does.  To date we’ve only met one other guide that left us feeling like we walked away more as friends than guests (Bessi, we’re talking to you!) and we figure, you’ve really got to celebrate the good guys.

We were invited to put Bounce Around Barcelona through their paces and as always, all thoughts are our own.

Destinations Europe Scotland Tours United Kingdom

Checking Out Scotland’s Highlights with Highland Explorer Tours

July 31, 2017

With its rolling green hills, towering Highlands, fantastic people and intriguing history, Scotland is both as gorgeous as it is accessible.

Before visiting, we’d heard great things about Edinburg so we knew it was where we wanted to base ourselves.  With that said, nobody comes to Scotland with dreams of its cities – lochs, crags and munros – the countryside’s where it’s at!

With a few potential highlights in mind, we locked in two action packed day trips around this beautiful country – one longer day headed up to the infamous Loch Ness and another to Stirling Castle.

Loch Ness Explorer

Nessie – real or imaginary?  Regardless of your stance, you’ve gotta take a look for yourself!

After years of hearing about Loch Ness and Nessie, the monster living in its depths, a visit to the loch was top of my Scottish wish-list and though it was a big day on the coach, it was absolutely worthwhile.

Though it was Loch Ness that originally drew us to this itinerary it ended up being only a small part of the day’s highlights!  We admired the beauty of Glencoe, loved exploring the small town of Fort Augustus (and getting down on the best fish and chips), laughed ourselves silly on the loch cruise and fell in love with Pitlochry – one of the most photogenic towns we’ve ever visited.

Loch Lomond, Stirling Castle & the Kelpies

After a busy day on the bus we were excited to hit the road in a more relaxed nature and this day trip ticked exactly that boxl  Lots of real Scottish highlights without endless hours on a coach?  Sign us up!

We started with a visit to The Kelpies – 30 meters of towering steel, crafted to create gorgeous horses – designed by Andy Scott.  These statues stand in recognition of the key role that horses have played throughout Scotland and as a nod to the mythical kepie.  Known for their gorgeous looks and malevolent spirit, these creatures are as beautiful as they are deadly.

The statues are fantastic and even more gorgeous at night when they’re lit up – regardless of how you get out there, it’s worth the short trip out of Edinburgh.

From there we continued onto Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park where we wandered along a quiet forrest path.  The walk didn’t end up being the highlight of the trip as it wasn’t quite as long as I was expecting but was beautiful all the same.

After a great wee lunch stop we continued onto Stirling Castle which really did end up being a surprising highlight of the trip.  Though we appreciate a good castle we were really taken by the beauty and history of this one in particular – I think we may have a new favourite!

Why Highland Explorer Tours?

When we first reached out we were taken by the professional manner in which the booking team replied.  We were pretty unsure as to which tour(s) we wanted to attend and they were happy to give us plenty of information without once putting the pressure on – that’s exactly what we look for in a tour company.

Would we recommend touring Scotland?

We sure would! 

Edinburgh is gorgeous (just look at it) but the real Scotland lies outside of the city.

Both of our tour guides were chocka-block full of knowledge and delivered their tours with a great sense of fun.  The included stops were interesting and allowed us enough time to enjoy each one of them without having to race to the next destination.  We also loved that there were options available to ‘upgrade’ the tours but there was no pressure to do so – a real bonus for people travelling on a budget.

Though we only had a short time in the country, we left with a newfound appreciation for not only Scotland’s natural beauty but of it’s history and the hard-case people that call this beautiful place home.


Why not help us spread the word about this fabulous two day-trips?  Pin your favourite image to Pinterest!

Looking for tours in Scotland?  Leaving from Edinburgh, join us as we share our two day itinerary to Glencoe, Stirling Castle, Loch Ness, The Kelpies, Trossachs National Park and much more!Looking for tours in Scotland?  Leaving from Edinburgh, join us as we share our two day itinerary to Glencoe, Stirling Castle, Loch Ness, The Kelpies, Trossachs National Park and much more!

Thank you to Highland Explorer Tours for showing us the beautiful Scottish countryside – we had a great time!  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Europe Malta Tours

Captain Morgan’s Defender Gozo Jeep Safari Tour – A Flop in Malta

May 14, 2017

Finding and booking with the right tour company for your next destination can be a hard, even for an experienced traveler.

Why? Because the company you book with has absolute power to inspire or discourage your impression of a destination or activity during your time with them.

I thought I had found a great tour in the Captain Morgan Defender Gozo Jeep Safari. I was looking for was a small group tour with a great mix of sightseeing, action and the opportunity to learn about Gozo as a destination.

Unfortunately we thought wrong.

Though we generally look on the positive side of things and understand that travelling can bring with it its own set of challenges, this tour did unfortunately miss the mark for us.

Find out why and see what we’d recommend you do instead to make the most of gorgeous Gozo…

Choosing our Gozo Tour in Malta – What we were Promised

The Captain Morgan page for the tour offered limited information, mentioning that travel would be ‘in comfort, luxury and style in Land Rover Jeeps and followed the same route as the Gozo Jeep Safari’ (a link to this tour was provided to check out the description). There was mention in the inclusions the tour was in a chauffeur driven jeep and separately in the same line a Safari Tour Leader was indicated.

Further information available on the linked ‘Gozo Jeep Safari’ tour included mention that the tour is ‘probably the best way to see the island of Gozo, where we take you to all the places of interest that our sister island has to offer and drive through beautiful countryside and valleys, taking different routes from your ‘normal’ excursions’.

The following paragraph described the day’s itinerary:

‘You will be collected from your accommodation from 7:00am onwards and taken to the Jeep Safari Terminal (departure point) from where the Safari departs for the Gozo Ferry. Upon arrival in Gozo, we will start our Safari to discover the magical island of Calypso. We drive to the village of Qala and then on to Nadur, down to the red sandy beach of Ramla l-Ħamra (Ramla Bay) and then on to the very quaint village of Xagħra. From here we go onto Victoria, Gozo’s Capital City where we will stop for some free time and lunch. After lunch we head off for Marsalforn which is a very popular tourist town and then on to Dwejra the ‘Inland Sea’. From here we head to the Fishing Village of Xlendi and then back to the ferry.’

Aside from the limited information, the tour sounded like it would give a unique perspective to Gozo and online reviews mentioning the Defender Gozo tour generally had positive narratives.  Sure there were less-than-positive reviews but always ones to look on the bright-side, we passed over them.

I hoped the higher cost (in comparison to other tours on the market) was a true reflection of a superior quality tour – it would make sense, after all, wouldn’t it?

Booking the Defender Gozo Jeep Safari

Booking the tour was easy. I called the company direct and the lady I spoke with was helpful taking our booking. Email confirmations came through quickly and we were also offered a chance to amend our morning pickup spot to a more convenient location. This was a great first impression!

Advertised Stops on the Tour

Qala and Nadur

I don’t remember the Qala or Nadur villages specifically… Apparently, our tour should have driven through them but nothing of interest was pointed out on the tour – the GPS on our phones didn’t actually show us reaching Qala so we’re not even sure we did.

We did get taken to a high point where our driver got us out of the Jeep and with no explanation pointed us through a set of gates to a lovely lookout over the coast and sea. Since the tour I found out Nadur in Malti actually means ‘lookout’ and our stop was at the Ta’ Kenuna Tower (Kenuna Look Out Tower) – a beautiful spot for a photo and quiet contemplation.

Ramla Bay (Ramla l-Ħamra)

We did not go down to the sandy red bay at Ramla as mentioned in the original description.

Instead became a stop at what is sited as Calypso’s Cave, which provided views out over over Ramla Bay (and beautiful ones at that).

If you are interested in mythology you might recognise the name Calypso from Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’. In short, Calypso, a beautiful nymph, kept the great Odysseus as a ‘prisoner of love’ in her cave for seven years during Odysseus’ quest. Calypso promised immortality to entice him to stay but instead he escaped to return to his wife Penelope.

I love mythology, so this sparked my interest, but stopping here with our ‘guide’ for the day meant we were left to our own devices. We read about the significance of the site from a run down plaque before following a trail up to a lookout.

The cave sits alongside a viewpoint of Ramla Bay. Blocked from access with steal bars to mark the spot, I couldn’t even bring myself to take a photo of the ‘cave’, a small crevice-like opening leading down into the rocky cliff – it really wasn’t what I’d imagined.

It wasn’t all bad though as we were treated to a spectacular view – check it out!

Xagħra and Marsalforn

Similar to previous stops, there was nothing of interest pointed out as we went through Xagħra or Marsalforn.

Are you starting to see a pattern now?

Beyond journeying through these seemingly uninteresting villages, we stopped roadside in the middle of nowhere across from what will one day be an impressive frontage to a beautiful church. We were let out of the jeep for 20 minutes at what I now know to be Ta’ Pinu in Gharb. The landscaping out the front of the church was under construction, but with the stunning blue sky behind it, the church’s solitary form on the landscape was beautiful. Inside marble and wood sculptural details added additional textures to the carved stone and stained glass decoration and to the back of the Church we found a small hall full of family history and photos which was interesting to look through.

Just down the road from here we stopped at what I aptly named the Tourist Trap Store. I could only guess the store was filled with locally sourced items. Hosting a range of sweets, drinks, jewelry, trinkets and even woollen products it could have been an interesting stop, had we had someone taking an interest in interacting with us as other larger groups in the store did. I might have even purchased a few foodie items to try, had I been able to find out what it was I was purchasing.

Victoria

The Cittadella was the main attraction for our stop at Victoria and we were given around an hour to explore the site before lunch. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, we enjoyed a short video introduction of the extensive history and cultural influences of Gozo before entering to explore. We wandered through tiny streets forged in medieval times, explored the beautifully restored fortress walls with far-reaching outlooks and ran our hands along worn stone ruins of the medieval castle that once stood proud on top of the hill.

This was one of two highlight stops on the tour and we’d certainly recommend a visit to the site!

We had lunch a short walk from the entrance of the Cittadella – more on that soon.

Dwejra

One of Gozo’s world famous attractions located at Dwejra (the Azure Window), was a stunning location to take a few snaps and scramble about on the rocks in the afternoon sun.

This natural limestone rock formation was one of the most recognisable locations in Europe, featured more recently as a Game of Thrones location and in the Clash of Titans movie.

We count ourselves lucky to have seen it as sadly, on the 8th of March 2017 the arch collapsed into the ocean, leaving nothing to show of the once natural window.

Xlendi

Stopping at this fishing village we were given twenty minutes and were pointed to a cliff with a few stairs cut into them.

Though we weren’t told of the significance of the area, upon reaching the top we were rewarded with a stunning view over the beautiful bay.

Tour Review – What we Really Got in Gozo

Unfortunately, the tour really failed to inspire us. Described as ‘action-packed’ and ‘the best way to explore Gozo’, we were left wanting – they’re certainly not phases I would use as part of the narrative to our experience.

Key points of interest which we thought were included, like the Neolithic Temples (a site with construction older than the pyramids of Egypt) were left off the itinerary. I was gutted to have missed it.

Questioning the guide while waiting for the ferry we were first told the attraction was closed (I promptly called them to find last admission for the day was 4.30pm) and then another guide was called over to explain it wasn’t on the scheduled stops, even though both Mark and I, along with the other two tour participants understood it was. Our misunderstanding was forgivable, I may have read its inclusion on a review somewhere online instead of directly on the company website, however the other tour participants were told that the tour visited the temples by their booking agent.

Regrettably I seem to have learnt more about Gozo and where we visited by writing this blog post than actually taking the tour!

Upon return from the tour I emailed Captain Morgan to highlight my disappointment from the day, mentioning the following points of contention:

  1. Timing. Our tour was described as 8am – 5pm. After waiting in the cold and a phone call to the company, greeted with a short-tempered answer to wait and they would be there soon we were picked up after 8.30am. At the end of the day we were back at the ferry terminal heading for Malta before 3pm and dropped off before 4.30pm. This was at least an hour less than the expected tour time.
  2. The Tour Leader. The jovial older man who collected us from the roadside with “Captain Morgan?” and a beckon towards the jeep opened the door to the smell of someone who had stumbled out of a pub. I had the sneaking suspicion he had just finished a cigarette in the vehicle. Sitting behind the driver, I had to notch the window open and deal with the cold chill on my face to allow me to breathe; the stench of smoke was so bad. Also, the driver was not concerned about speaking loudly on his mobile throughout the day while hurtling down motorways and through the narrow roads on Gozo.
  3. Communication. Our ‘Tour Leader’ aka our driver had not introduced himself when we were collected, nor did he extend any further information to us after two others joined us. During the drive to the ferry I asked his name, to which I got an inaudible response. Mark and I hoped he was a pick-up driver and we would meet our Tour Leader for the day at the Jeep Terminal. We had no such luck.  Our ‘Chauffeur’ and ‘Tour Leader’ for the day was merely a driver who’s English consisting of the words ‘lady’, ‘[attraction name] over there’ and ’20 minutes stop’. His lack of interest in his tour group became more evident during the day; he was more engrossed in speaking loudly on his mobile and disappearing to chat with his buddies at each stop than accommodate us at all.
  4. ‘Action packed’ stops. The tour description let itself down by stating ‘action-packed’ stops (this now seems to be removed from the website description). Our day consisted of getting in the jeep, getting out of a jeep, being pointed towards a view and being given a time to be back at the jeep, usually 10 – 20 minutes. With no guidance or background to the significance of the stops or areas passing out the window we were left to read signs and look at the view. Thrilling.
  5. A local’s lunch. Lunch was an incredibly processed affair absent of any form of local feel. Sat at a table without a welcome or any interaction with restaurant staff, the courses silently placed in front of us consisted of a simple tomato and penne pasta starter, chicken leg and potatoes mains and what looked like a child’s sundae (two small scoops of processed ice-cream). There was nothing on the plate that inspired me to think it was anything other than mass produced for tourists.
  6. Price disparities. The lunch stop had instigated chatter with the two other tour participants and this continued into the afternoon. While the driver was off chatting with his buddies waiting for the 3pm ferry Mark and I shared our concerns and displeasure about the tour with the two other guests (yes, we gossiped). Our comments were met with agreement and similar insights from the day. The cost of the tour arose. Their €60 per person price and a free harbour cruise certainly trumped our €80 each leaving us feeling cheated.

In effect, we paid a lot for what was little more than transport from one location to another – we’ll leave you to decide if that offers fair value or not.

The response from my email was a ‘We will look into it and come back to you’.

I am yet to get a further response which leaves us hesitant to suggest that Captain Morgan are working hard to improve their tours.  One can hope but based on the other less-than-glowing reviews, it doesn’t look positive.

Gozo Done Right

Overall, from what we saw from the back window of a Defender Jeep and a few 20-minute stops, Gozo looked like an enchanting place to explore, but based on our experience I could not recommend doing it on a Captain Morgan tour.

Instead, hire a car and take it across on the ferry (prices are very reasonable to do this) or use one of the hop-on hop-off bus services to give you a bit of freedom during the day.

Mix your stops by choosing to wandering through villages, stop at coastal sightseeing spots and sunning on beautiful beaches and definitely get into the historical sites.

I would say a well-planned day would easily see you cover everything you wanted to get to in a much more efficient and enjoyable manner.


Headed to Gozo?  Pin this post for future reference…

Gozo, Malta is a stunning part of the world but plan your itinerary carefully and be even more careful when choosing your tour company - or better still, organise your own trip. You'll see a string of highlights whilst having the time to soak in the gorgeous views.Gozo, Malta is a stunning part of the world but plan your itinerary carefully and be even more careful when choosing your tour company - or better still, organise your own trip. You'll see a string of highlights whilst having the time to soak in the gorgeous views.

Jade and Mark were paying customers on this tour.  Of course, all thoughts are their own and not necessarily indicative of experiences others will have with Captain Morgan but there does seem to be an unfortunate pattern occurring.

Thank you to Sidetracked for their gorgeous cover photo.

Activities Eco Tourism Europe Iceland Scandinavia/Nordic Countries Tours

Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Better Than Iceland’s Golden Circle!

March 9, 2017

Some things just feel like they were meant to be.

Places, rugged and wild, that are so gorgeous, they just have to be seen.  Iceland was that for us.

Likewise, some people seem like they were born into their jobs, a perfect fit for what they’re doing.  Bessi of Moonwalker tours is the epitome of someone who’s found their calling – it’s practically impossible to imagine him doing anything else.

So you can imagine our excitement at getting to spend two whole days with him exploring the Land of Fire and Ice, my dream destination, Iceland!

Upon Bessi’s recommendation, we booked in to spend our first day at Snæfellsnes Peninsula and decided to rejoin him for the Golden Circle, Iceland’s most iconic day trip.

We didn’t initially know much about the Snæfellsnes Peninsula but, putting our faith in an Icelandic expert, we set off on what was to be one of our very best days on the island.  The following is our review of the day…

Meeting Bessi and Hitting the Road with Moonwalker

Incase you hadn’t already figured it out, the second we met Bessi we clicked.  I’d been speaking with him over email for a number of months where it was clear that his passion for Iceland and personable nature was to be a real highlight of our tour but somehow he exceeded our already high expectations.

The writing was on the wall when a few days before our tour Bessi flicked us an email – the northern lights were out over Reykjavik and knowing that we were in town and desperate to spot them, he took the time to let us know.  At that stage we’d not even met him in person but when he went out of his way to help us live out our northern-light-spotting dreams, we knew that Bessi was far more than your average tour guide.

With Moonwalker, nothing is ever a problem.  Bessi’s got an amazing sense of humour, is kind, patient and incredibly knowledgable about practically everything (music, history, folklore – I challenge you to ask him something about Iceland that he doesn’t know!).  There’s a reason he consistently pulls perfect Trip Advisor ratings out of the hat and trust me, he deserves every one of those stars.  Every single one.

Our Snæfellsnes Itinerary

As promised, Bessi arrived on time ready to show us the best of the west coast of Iceland and with the sun still well below the horizon, we set off on the Ring Road.  We stopped briefly on what Bessi assured us was normally a road – mountains of snow covered the tarseal and we bounded around in it, enjoying the slowly forming sunrise.  Before long it was onto the first of our many gorgeous stops for the day!

Búðir Church

One of the few remaining black churches in Iceland, the Búðir church was built in 1703 and after a checkered past, was finally reconstructed for the last time in 1987.  Covered in tar to protect its wooden cladding, this black church provides striking photos against the snow and cotton candy skies that Iceland is so well known for in winter.

Arnarstapi:  Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss

Not far from the Búðir church, we found ourselves standing in front of an intentionally placed pile of rocks.  A little unsure at just what we were looking at, Bessi shared with us the first of many Icelandic tales.  Legend says that Bárðar Snæfellsáss (deity of Mt. Snæfell), the guardian spirit of the area, was born half-man, half-giant.  As he grew, so did his giant-nature until he disappeared into the Snæfell Glacier, his spirit forever guarding the local people and surrounding area.

The sculpture was commissioned and later created by Ragnar Kjartansson, representing Bárðar’s spirit, an important part of local folklore.

From Bárðar’s sculpture we headed over to the coast, at times knee deep in snow, to admire the rugged beach below.  Centuries of waves crashing on the lava fields have left a collection of swirling basalt columns, unique to Iceland – I could have stayed there all day, watching the waves crash against the cliffside.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula Moonwalker Tours Iceland Nathan, Sarah and Bessi

Snaefellsjoekull National Park

Svalpufa-Pufubjarg: Londrangar

Our favourite basalt columns made another appearance further around the peninsular, only this time they were even more impressive.  Rising up from the ocean, their resilience against the harsh ocean was a sight to behold.

Londrangar and the adjoining hill, Svalthufa, form the remains of a volcanic crater, much of which has been eroded away over the years.  With the addition of younger lava fields, the topography of the area is amazing and if you take a second look, you’ll be able to spot what looks like an old ship in the silhouette of the pillars.

Dritvik Djúpalónssandur

Continuing our journey, we stopped at Dritvik Djúpalónssandur, a beautiful, secluded black pebble beach.

After climbing down to the shoreline, weaving our way between basalt boulders and pillars in a setting that absolutely belongs to the Icelandic elves we came across a series of ‘lifting stones’.  These perfectly formed little boulders were used for testing the strength of local fishermen in years gone by – starting with the monster Fullsterkur (full strength) weighing 154kg, to Hálfsterkur (half strength) at 100kg, Hálfdrættingur (weakling) at 54kg and working down to Amlóði (useless) at 23kg, would pit their strength against mother nature.

To qualify for work aboard the ships, potential fishermen had to lift at least the ‘weakling’ stone to hip height – how on earth they did it is anyone’s guess though!  Bessi warned us that we wouldn’t be able to lift even the lightest of the stones and though we tried, unsurprisingly he was spot on!

Once we realised we couldn’t manage much more than rolling the stones around (trust me, they weren’t normal 23kg stones!) we ambled through knee deep snow, marvelling at the valley we found ourselves in.

Upon reaching the shoreline we spotted countless pieces of debris from the Grimsby fishing trawler, a local boat that wrecked on Dritvik Djúpalónssandur back in March of 1948.  It was hard to believe how far inland the wreck had travelled, making it clear just how strong the waves could be at times.

Enjoy Iceland’s beaches but be mindful of their incredible power at the same time.  A safe visit is a good one.

A Black-Sand Beach Detour

It was the small touches on our tour with Bessi that we loved most.  If there was ever an opportunity for an extra photo stop or touch of fun, you could be sure that Bessi was already onto it.

Not quite sure of what to expect, he pulled over to the side of the road, urged me to turn on the GoPro and raced off onto one of Iceland’s many black-sand beaches.  Without another soul in sight – that’s what Iceland’s all about!

Stopping to Visit our Furry Friends – The Icelandic Horses

Fluffy, hardy, iconic.  Iceland is synonymous with its gorgeous horses!  To the rest of the world, they generally only get to pony height but in Iceland they’re definitely considered horses and boy are they cute.

I knew I wanted to get up close and personal with some Icelandic horses at some point in our trip and luckily for us, Bessi knows just the place!  A few times a week he pops along to a farm owned by a lovely elderly couple and, with a loaf of fresh bread in hand, helps ensure they maintain their ‘winter coat’.  With a few honks of the horn, these three characters come charging over – there’s no doubt they know what’s coming and that it’s the absolute highlight of their day!

 

With the  sun starting to sneak closer to the horizon, it was time to move on from our furry friends.  Our next stop was one that we could see clearly from the paddocks – the most photographed mountain in all of Iceland – Kirkjufell.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula Moonwalker Tours Iceland 4wd vehicle Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellsfoss

Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellsfoss

With its distinctive peak and cascading waterfalls in the foreground, Kirkjufell (Church Mountain) is a firm favourite with photographers and for good reason.  It’s absolutely breath-taking.

Towering over the landscape at 463m high, there’s a perfect photography spot tucked in just behind Kirkjufellsfoss (Church Mountain Falls) where, with a wide angle lens, you can snap the picture-perfect image that has become infamous.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula Moonwalker Tours Iceland Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellsfoss

With the sun setting on a gorgeous, fun-filled day of Icelandic sight-seeing, we begrudgingly began the trek back to Reykjavik over a mountain pass.  Bessi’s truck made short work of the deep snow but without his truck and driving experience, we wouldn’t have stood a chance on the road (if you could even call it that without any real sign of it!)

We had the most amazing day exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and though we loved the Golden Circle, if we could only have done one of the trips with Moonwalker, I’m going to make a controversial call and say that it’s the Snæfellsnes Peninsula that we’d recommend.  The scenery was beyond beautiful, the landscape diverse (it is after all known locally as offering everything you could want to see in a day trip) and the drive comfortable.  With the added benefit of being comparatively off the tourist trail, we often had stops entirely to ourselves which is exactly what you dream of when you think of Iceland’s great outdoors.

What are you waiting for?  The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is waiting for you!


Headed to Iceland?  Pin this post to help with future planning and to share it with other travellers!

Leave Iceland's Golden Circle behind and head out to Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  Everything you could want in an Icelandic itinerary all in the one place!  We recommend touring with Bessi of Moonwalker - he was absolute magic! Snaefellsnes Peninsula - One of our favourite day trips from Reykjavik (it beats the Golden Circle, hands down!) Leave Iceland's Golden Circle behind and head out to Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  Everything you could want in an Icelandic itinerary all in the one place!  We recommend touring with Bessi of Moonwalker - he was absolute magic!

Thank you to Bessi at Moonwalker for so generously showing us the sites of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  After two days on the road he felt more like a friend than a tour guide and we could not recommend him enough!  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Adventure Africa Eco Tourism planning Tours

How to Pick an African Overland Tour – A Guide to Booking the Trip of a Lifetime

February 26, 2017

Overlanding in Africa is a once in a lifetime trip – one that I had been dreaming of since I was a young girl collecting promotional wildlife cards from the petrol station.  Fortunately for me I was able to live this reality last year, spending seven weeks overlanding  in Africa, exploring nine countries, and getting a taster of what the truly incredible continent of Africa has to offer.

The biggest challenge I faced before for departing on this amazing journey was choosing what overland company to book with.  There are so many options, all offering amazing destinations, different price brackets and similar itineraries and it was a little overwhelming, to say the least.

If you’re looking at overlanding in Africa without spending a fortune, this post is for you!  Read on to find out my top tips on how to select the perfect budget overland trip for you and your needs.

Flexibility

Being flexible with the duration of your trip and your start and end dates, opens up staggering possibilities of trips, routes and options, often saving you money in the process.  Many of the overlanding operators in Africa offer similar routes and itineraries and though it’s hard to tell from many of the websites, a lot of the companies operate a looping system – this means that there is flexibility when selecting both your route and start locations.

Keep an Eye on Your Budget

Really look into every detail of what is included in your overland trip.  There can be a lot of added expense and Africa can be surprisingly expensive (especially tourist activities).  Commonly, overland trips are divided into two payments, one for the tour and one as a local payment (which can be nearly as high as your tour payment).  The local payment is for your day to day expenses in Africa (such as groceries, petrol and campsite fees).  When setting your budget, do not only account for your flights, trip payments, and additional tourist activities, include a budget for nights that meals aren’t included at the campsites (these add up), upgraded accommodation (you will have the opportunity to upgrade from your tent to other guest accommodation in many locations), lunches (if not included in your tour) and any other day to day expenses – small expenses can add up over a period of months.

Check the Included Safari Adventures

The main priority for most people overlanding in Africa is to see the amazing wildlife. Safaris are brilliant – the knowledge of your game driver is mind-blowing and it’s an experience not to be missed.  Unfortunately the harsh reality is a lot of the safaris are not included in your tour payments.  Be sure to research what safaris are included as part of your tour and the costs involved in the game drives that aren’t included.  Safaris are relatively expensive and the added costs of the game drives will quickly add up.

Contributing – Consider How Much You’re Willing to Do Yourself

Traveling at the best of times is exhausting work and an overland trip is definitely not an exception!  The cheaper your trip the more you will have to contribute towards the day to day running of the tour and that can be hard work.  Your responsibilities might include setting up and putting down your tent (you will be a pro in no time), packing the truck with all the gear (tents, luggage and cooking facilities), setting up the cooking facilities, cooking dinner (for a large group), cleaning the dishes and the truck (obviously not all at once, there will generally be a rota).  This can be challenging work, and generally where the tension and conflict amongst the group will playout.  Be aware of these factors and the required responsibilities before selecting your trip – if you’re looking to relax after a day out on the road, then chances are, you’ll want a more inclusive-tour.

Dig Into Reviews

Reviews are always an extremely helpful consideration and whilst obviously these are all down to each individual’s personal preferences, if there is common opinion across the reviews it can really show the difference betweenc companies/routes.  I would recommend reading the reviews with a focus on the company itself, tour guides, outside operators (for game drives) and reliability of vehicles as all of these factors will impact your trip significantly.

 Research, Research, Research

While this can be a tedious task it’s one that will ensure the best adventure for you. I found the best place to start was determining a rough time frame for my trip and the places that I couldn’t miss (for me this was the great migration, trekking with the mountain gorillas, visiting a local village and fitting in as many game drives as possible).  Once I had decided on these factors I started the research process.  What was the best company for me, the best route to take, what was included in the tour and the optional activities?   Eventually by changing my itinerary and starting and ending in different locations I was able to see everything I wanted plus a tonne more.

Reach Out!

Don’t be afraid to contact tour companies for advice and options.  All of the companies I had contact with were extremely helpful and also gave me options that weren’t listed on their webpage.  They’re the experts and are there to help – be sure to reach out.

Ready to Begin Planning your African Overlanding Adventure?

To get you started with your planning, here some popular budget African overland companies.  All have fantastic reviews and offer a range of overland tours to suit different needs and budgets.

Tucan Travel – Absolute Africa – Intrepid Travel – G Adventures

Happy planning!


Headed to Africa or want to help someone that is?  Pin this post now!

A guide to booking an amazing African overland trip - on budget and on point! Booking an African overlanding trip can be overwhelming - this guide will help you come in under budget with an amazing trip!

Activities Eco Tourism Europe Iceland Scandinavia/Nordic Countries Tours

Iceland’s South Coast – Exploring with Arctic Tours

February 13, 2017

Iceland, widely known as the land of fire and ice, is a country of extremes.  Gorgeous, breathtaking, incredible extremes.

During our time on this stunning island, we joined Hörður on a winter tour of Iceland’s South Coast – an experience we enjoyed every moment of.

Whether you plan on joining a tour with Arctic Tours Iceland (previously known as VIP Tours) or intend to drive yourself, the following guide will help you plan out your itinerary.  It is worth noting though that although some of these locations are easily accessible from the Ring Road in your own transport, others require a serious 4WD and the experience that only comes with years of driving in harsh Icelandic conditions – because of this, we certainly recommend joining Hörður to make the most of your day on the South Coast.

Setting Off

Arriving bright and early as planned, Hörður collected us from the Radisson Blu with open arms and a warm smile.  It’s always such a pleasure to put a face to the name when we’ve been talking with someone online and after discussing our exciting Iceland plans with him through the internet, it was a treat to finally be in Iceland and about to set off on our tour!

With short daylight hours in the depths of winter, the first part of our journey was cloaked in darkness.  The upside to a low-hanging sun, as we were to find out though, are the seemingly endless sunrise skies – a major benefit to be had.

To get around outside of Reykjavík can take a fair bit of time, with many sights being spread out.  Fortunately the roads are smooth and comfortable and the scenery breath-taking (when the sun rises makes an appearance, anyway)!

Riding in Style

Comfort is key when you’re covering a decent number of kilometers and Arctic Tours Iceland have you covered in this regard.  The seats are roomy and comfortable, the suspension on the Land Cruiser is top-knotch and there’s an ever present supply of heating should you want it.

As an Instagram addict, I was delighted to find that Hörður also supplies his guests with complimentary wifi so you can be as connected as you want to whilst on the road.

Pro tip:  Cellphone batteries aren’t made for the cold!  My phone (that normally lasts almost a whole day on one charge) was dead after our first pitstop.  Be sure to take your charging cable with you and Hörður will sort you out with a power source.

Key Sights Around Iceland’s South-East Coast

Gljúfrabúi Waterfall

Next to Seljalandsfoss, you’ll find Gljúfrabúi, the lesser known of the two waterfalls.  Though we didn’t venture inside (it was the start of our day and wet boots didn’t seem like the best of choices), you can climb over the small rocks into the cavern and up close with the waterfall.

It’s an absolutely gorgeous spot and somewhat an undiscovered gem compared to its more famous neighbour.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

One of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls (though there are many!), water tumbles down Seljalandsfoss at a great rate of knots!  Paths lead up both to the left and right of the waterfall allowing for plenty of prime viewing opportunities and, when the weather allows, you can actually head in behind the waterfall itself and take stunning photos looking out.

Reynisfjara – Black Sand Beach

Sometimes a destination really surprises you and Reynisfjara was exactly that for us.

We have black sand beaches in New Zealand, not too far from where we’re normally based in Auckland so I must admit, though we went with open minds, I didn’t expect to be blown away by the beach.  After all, we’d seen it before.

We were so wrong!

The sand itself is inky-dark and on the day we visited, snow and hail sat in stark contrast to the sand to be swept away by the outgoing tide.  Bordering the beach, incredible basalt columns puncture the sky, beckoning visitors to take a closer look.

If you sneak around the corner of the bay, you’ll find a cave amongst the rocks, but be careful.  Whilst we were there, we saw a tourist get caught in a wave – she was incredibly close to being swept out to sea and I must admit, it really scared me to see someone come so close to what could have been a very tragic end.  As with all waves, they come in sets which means there will be the occasional one that’s a bit bigger – because the beach here is so flat, a little difference in a wave results in a large difference in the height it reaches.

Enjoy yourselves, just don’t turn your back to the water.

Dyrhólaey

From the gorgeous coast, we worked our way up to Dyrhólaey, the rocky outcrop we could see from our original beach vantage-point.  The drive to the summit was steep and the road snowy so I wouldn’t consider making this trip by yourself in the winter – without doubt, it’s a job for Hörður’s Toyota!

From the summit, we braved the strongest hailstorm we’ve ever experienced, headed for the most spectacular views.  Nathan succumbed to the weather (not that I blame him!) whilst I managed to snap a few photos before racing back the the 4WD.  Even on a day with such dicey weather, the views from Dyrhólaey were spectacular!

Skógafoss Waterfall

After a quick bite for late-lunch at the neighbouring restaurant (which is well worth a stop – surprisingly they made some of the best food we ate in Iceland!) we raced up the stairs to the top of Skógafoss, a gigantic waterfall found on the way back to Reykjavik.

The views from the top were well worth the hike up, though we saw a number of visitors a little scared to step out on the platform.  Strike up the courage to it is and you’ll be rewarded with a brand new perspective of Skógafoss and the valley below.

Seriously gorgeous, right?!

After racing around the South Coast for the day, we made our way back to Reykjavik in the last of the fading sunlight, more than happy with our decision to join Arctic Tours Iceland.  We had a fantastic day chasing waterfalls and checking out the rugged, natural beauty of this island paradise with Hörður.

Sure, it’s not a traditionally beautiful island destination but I can whole-heartedly say it’s my new favourite place in the world.

Iceland is spectacular – whatever you do, don’t miss out!


 Exploring the South Coast of Iceland with Arctic Tours - why this needs to be a stop on your Icelandic itinerary! Iceland's South Coast - Diverse and exciting, it's the better option than the Golden Circle! Iceland: South Coast Highlights, Road Trip Itinerary and Tour Review

Thank you to Hörður of Arctic Tours Iceland for so graciously showing us the highlights of Iceland’s Southern Coast.  We had a fantastic day out and completely recommend both Arctic Tours and the Southern Coast in general.  As always, all thoughts are 100% our own.

Activities Mid-Range New Zealand Oceania Reviews Tours

Not All Those Who Visit Matamata Are Lost: A Visit to Hobbiton

December 9, 2016
Exploring Kiwis Hobbiton review Matamata

What better way to kick off my debut travel here on Exploring Kiwis than with Hobbiton? After all, for many foreigners, Lord of the Rings is probably the first thing that springs to mind when they think of New Zealand – and I don’t blame them.

In truth, this isn’t my first visit to Hobbiton either – but I could never turn down a second trip! The first time was with my loving partner, Michael, as a birthday gift in winter. This time, I was doing the gift giving, with my family taking my nana for her birthday. Both trips were equally as thrilling, although with it being Summer in NZ now, this time around was a whole lot warmer. You won’t find me complaining about that!

So what is it about this place that has me coming back? I’m not a huge fan of tacky tourist spots, and while reading all of the books (sans Silmarillion) and watching the extended cut of all the movies might make me sound like a mega-fan, I’m actually not crazy about Lord of the Rings. No, it’s not the mere sight of a tourist attraction, nor a fangirl experience I’m looking for. When it comes down to it, Hobbiton really is just a magical experience, and a gorgeous part of New Zealand to explore – with a little production trivia in there that the film degree sitting in my room is very excited about.

It’s a gorgeous spot, that provides both a look into a hugely detailed film set, as well as a beautiful miniature town, that has you enjoying both the scenery, quaintness, and sheer dreaminess of it. It truly makes you wish this place was real – just so you can spend more time there!

I’m always impressed by the detail that went into it – and without spoiling any of the surprises, I can promise you’ll find yourself looking intently at each little hobbit hole!

It’s also fairly interactive at times – it’s not a museum, you can touch almost everything! There’s even a party field where you can play around with some of the party games. But only if the weather’s good.

But more than that, this is a great experience for those hoping to see a slightly embellished version of the Kiwi country life. There are streams, bleating sheep, and a gorgeous mini lake – in fact there’s even beer and meat pies at the end of it all!

It’s not all gravy though, I will say this, I wish you could have more time in Hobbiton. The sheer numbers of people who go through the site means that the tour is sped through, and there is little time to dawdle. If it were possible, it would be absolutely wonderful to be able to go at your own pace, and stay in the Green Dragon to drink your pint of mead as slowly as you’d like, or even kick your feet in the lake if you want to. It’s a serene spot – but the speed you have to go through it is anything but!

Unfortunately, if we all had the time to stay as long as we’d like, they’d find themselves overcrowded within hours. Logistical nightmares aside, it’s still a dream I like to contemplate.

So would I recommend it? Absolutely! It’s kid friendly (my 3 year old nephew had a BLAST even though he hasn’t the faintest idea what a hobbit is), it’s full of details and film trivia, it’s beautiful, and it’s a great little bit of excitement in a region of New Zealand where you might be wondering, what should we do today?

This was my second trip to Hobbiton, but I’m sure it won’t be my last!

Practical Information to Help You Plan Your Trip to Hobbiton

If you’re interested in hopping over to Hobbiton yourself, it takes around two or so hours of driving through the gorgeous New Zealand countryside to get there from Auckland.  Tour tour itself costs $79 for adults, $39.50 for kids 9 and up, and a gobsmacking $0.00 for anyone younger than that. I’d also recommend getting the tour that starts in Matamata – it’s the same price, but during the bus ride you’ll hear some solid Matamata and Lord of the Rings trivia, which is always nice!


Hobbiton Review Exploring Kiwis Worth the Visit

I hope you enjoyed reading my first travel post!  Granted this isn’t technically my debut blog (you’ll find that one here) but I’m excited to bring my travel experiences to Exploring Kiwis and to get to know you all better.  Happy travels.

Activities Dubai Mid-Range Middle East Reviews Tours United Arab Emirates

Exploring ‘The Palm’, Dubai – Xclusive Tours Review

December 5, 2016
Palm Boat Tour Dubai Xtreme review

Looking for a different perspective for your Dubai sight-seeing?  Check out our review of the Xclusive Tours Palm boat tour…

Dubai is known around the world for its countless unique sky scrapers; these marvels of engineering dominate the skyline, making the city unlike any other.  The tallest building in the world, the tallest residential tower, the only seven star hotel in the world – the list goes on – if Dubai had a motto, it would surely be ‘go big or go home’.  With so many people living and working in the city, it’s no wonder that traffic can sometimes be an issue so when you’re looking to sight-see, why not blow off the motorways and hit the water instead?

Not far from Dubai Marina Mall, Xclusive Tours leaves on guided trips through the largest man-made marina in the world, ducking in and out of the main highlights around the iconic Palm.

Safety is paramount with life vests being handed out before leaving the dock (and if I do say so, they were pretty stylish ones!) and staff that are obviously highly trained.  Though we’re comfortable around water, I’d imagine anyone would feel at ease on one of this tours.

After slowly making our way out of the marina (and turning back to admire the view), we sped out to the first major stop on our tour, a picture-perfect view of the infamous Atlantis hotel.  The ride out was quite the adrenaline rush and we were surprised by how much power the RIB had – it sped through the water with ease and provided us with a comfortable and thrilling ride out to the point.

With seabirds surrounding us and a sea of sail boats out on the water, it was such a pleasure to be away from the madness of the city and out on the water – there’s nothing like a little sun and fresh, sea air to make you feel awesome!

Once everyone had snapped their photos, we continued on towards the Burj Al Arab – perhaps one of the most recognisable buildings in the world and a true symbol of luxury.  As the only seven star hotel in the world, complete with  impressive aquarium-view rooms and a heli-pad-come-tennis court, there’s absolutely no doubting where you are.  In the background, the Burj Dubai towers over the rest of the city – all 830 unbelievable metres of it.

From the Burj Al Arab, we made our way around the other side of the man-made Palm, swinging by a private island and a number of palaces owned by the Sheikh’s before passing underneath the first monorail in the Middle East which connects the mainland with Atlantis out on the top of the islands.

No matter how often we visit Dubai, we’re always blown away by the level of construction (it’s no wonder then, that Dubai has more cranes than any other city on earth!) and the Palm didn’t let us down in this regard with beautiful new hotels popping up everywhere we looked.

With our tour wrapping up, we made our way back into the marina, past the Cayan Tower (which was once the tallest building in the world with a 90 degree twist, surpassed now by only one building in China) and the Princess Tower (the tallest residential tower in the world) – this city does not do things by halves!

We had a fantastic afternoon out on the water and really enjoyed seeing Dubai from a different angle.  It was a pleasure to escape the crowds and cool off and no matter how many times we see them, we continue to be amazed by the incredible engineering and architecture that we find in Dubai.

Next time we have guests, you can guess where we’ll be taking them!


Xclusive Tours boat trip Palm Dubai

Thank you to Xclusive Tours for inviting us along to review their Palm tour; of course, all thoughts are our own.  

If you’re heading to Dubai and would like to join them, check them out on Facebook and Instagram!

Activities Adventure day trip Europe Iceland Itineraries planning Scandinavia/Nordic Countries Tours

Bring on the Snow! Planning our Iceland Trip…

November 24, 2016
Iceland itinerary planning

Iceland – the land of puffins, fluffy wild horses, natural geothermic pools, towering waterfalls and giant glaciers.  In less than a month we’ll hit this winter wonderland and I couldn’t be more excited!

We’ve got the most amazing itinerary lined up, some accommodation locked in and an awesome Jeep with our name on it.  Snuggly warm clothes have been purchased and (with a little luck), the DJI drone that we’ve got on order might make it to us in time – we’re about as ready as can be.

I’m in the process of finalising our plans and practically burst with anticipation each time I see photos pop up on my Instagram feed.  As Kiwis, we’re pretty accustomed to beautiful scenery and exciting activities but there’s something about Iceland that’s really calling to me.

I know we aren’t the only ones obsessed with this island national though – I’ve already spotted countless fellow travellers announce plans to visit for themselves in the coming six months so thought I’d put together this list to help people undertaking their research.

So, if you’re looking to book a trip, let us save you some time – these are the best of the best that we’ve come across so far.  Each and every person that I’ve emailed has gone out of their way to help us and they all have reviews that speak for themselves.

Bring on December when we can bring you our own personal thoughts!

As if you needed any more reason to visit Iceland – here’s a set of fantastic wanderlust-fueled Icelandic photos to help get you excited too!


Adventure Activities

Ice Caving – Glacier Adventure

When winter sets in and the ice caves stabilise, adventurer seekers have the opportunity to go exploring under the ice.  The way the light defuses through the ice is absolutely mesmerising – I can’t wait to see it for myself!

Snorkeling in the Silfra Rift – Scuba Iceland

If you’re looking for an activity that’s unique to Iceland, check out the Silfra Rift.  This is the only place in the world where you can dive or snorkel between two continental plates.  Done a dry suit and jump in – you’ll struggle to find water clearer than this anywhere!


Sight-Seeing Tours

Snæfellsnes Peninsula & Golden Circle Tours – Moonwalker

Known for their adventurous, go-anywhere attitude, Moonwalker organises both private and group tours through the best parts of this Nordic country (and seriously, check out those 4WDs!)  Bessi has been awesome to deal with and we’re excited to meet him in person.

South Coast Tour – VIP Tours

Specialising in personal tours around the Southern and Western Coasts, Hörður, a born-and-bred Icelander crafts tours to suit the needs of his guests.  He’s lined up some awesome spots for us and with any luck, he’s told us we might be able to spot the Northern Lights as we head back to town too!

VIP Tours Iceland Exploring Kiwis

Northern Lights by Boat – Special Tours

When tossing up between visiting Iceland in December or March the main factor we considered was the likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights.  Everything we read said that they’d potentially be backing off come March so we promptly booked for December.  Of course, nothing’s set when it comes to mother nature but we wanted to give ourselves the best chance of catching them.

There’s the option of heading out of the city by car/van/truck but to make things a little more interesting, we decided to join Special Tours on their boat trip to hunt down the Northern Lights.  It will be nice to get a different view of the capital, whether or not we manage to catch the lights.


Relaxing in Iceland

Geothermal Spa – Blue Lagoon

Swimming spots don’t come much more iconic than the Blue Lagoon!  Though it isn’t cheap and there are other geothermal pools around the country (each town has at least one of their own), there’s something impressive about the sheer scale of this one.

Have you planned your winter yet? #BlueLagoon #Iceland

A photo posted by bluelagoonis (@bluelagoonis) on

Foodies Tour – Wake Up Reykjavík

When it’s cold outside is there much better than warming up inside with delicious local food?  Iceland is known for it’s traditional food (rams testicles, fermented shark and sour sheep heads anyone?) and though that doesn’t appeal to us so much, the idea of popping into Reykjavík’s most popular restaurants (alongside the local best-kept-secrets) certainly does.  Renowned for showing everyone an awesome time, we can’t wait to chow down!

GOOD MORNING from REYKJAVIK ??? What is your favourite about Iceland?

A photo posted by Wake Up Reykjavík (@wakeupreykjavik) on


The Essentials

Warm Clothes – Kathmandu

Having spent the last year-and-a-bit living in Abu Dhabi, we’ve been caught noticeably short on clothing designed to keep us warm but Nathan’s about to bring some awesome adventure gear back from New Zealand for us and I can’t wait to try it on and get snuggly!  Kathmandu is one of my favourite shops back home – camping gear, hoodies, jackets –  whatever the product, we always find it fit for purpose and well-made.  I can’t wait to get my hands on some quality Kiwi-designed products again – especially my new jacket!  The technology they’ve managed to incorporate into it is seriously impressive.  They’ve taken the best of down and managed to waterproof the jacket which should result in us being snuggly-warm regardless of the weather.

Snow has fallen! ? @thompsonfilm

A photo posted by Kathmandu (@kathmandugear) on

Transport – Geysir

Iceland as a country is fairly compact but to make the most of your time, you’ll definitely want to get out of the capital.  We’ve booked on a number of tours (and they’re very kindly picking us up) but to get out to the ice caving (+ the abandoned DC10) and to enjoy the Northern Lights out of Reykjavík, a car was on our ‘must have’ Iceland list.  Geysir have some awesome options – lots of late-model 4WDs to make getting about really easy.

Full on moody skies. ? by @donalboyd #GeysirAdventure

A photo posted by Geysir Car Rental Iceland (@geysircarrental) on


Accommodation

Galaxy Pod Hostel

Our first night we’ve booked into a quirky little hostel in Reykjavík – far better than bunk beds, we’ll each be sleeping in a little self-contained pod.  With accommodation prices in Iceland being relatively high, we’re more than happy to be staying here.  It looks like the perfect way to save some money, meet other travellers and enjoy a unique accommodation whilst retaining the privacy that we’re used to.

Hali Country Hotel

Part of the appeal of Iceland is the ability to get out into the back-country and heading out into the wilderness means finding a spot to stay.  The Hali Country Hotel tick all the boxes for us – a great restaurant, comfortable rooms, wifi and a beautiful, remote location.  It looks like it’ll be a great place to unwind after our day out in the ice cave!

Radisson Blu Saga

After a marvellous stay at the Radisson Blu in Sohar, Oman, we’re very excited to experience the Blu hospitality again on our upcoming visit to Reykjavík.  We’ve already booked in for dinner and can’t wait to relax here between tours and activities.

Kex Hostel

Recommended by another travel blogger, Kex is known locally for being a fantastic hangout spot, popular with musicians and those looking to have a good time.  With industrial, quirky styling, Kex looks like a hostel with a real sense of character.


Stay tuned for updates from Iceland along with our experience visiting Amsterdam for the first time and touring Southern Norway in an RV.  Bring on Christmas!

Update: We’re in Iceland and absolutely loving it!  Check out our post detailing how to find Sólheimasandur’s abandonded DC3 – an absolute must-see on the South coast.  Also, our review of Wake Up Reykjavík, the Galaxy Pod Hostel and our amazing Kathmandu jackets.

Unfortunately our ice caving was cancelled due to bad weather but we managed to visit the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach along with the Skaftafell Glacier – all of which were fantastic alternatives on the South-East Coast.

Have you visited Iceland, Norway or Amsterdam before?  If so, we’d love your recommendations – especially for Norway and Amsterdam!


Feeling inspired?  Save this post for future reference and help another traveller out in the process!

Bucket-List Moments in Iceland - Plan your itinerary 8 Activities not to miss in Iceland

%d bloggers like this: