South Island strolls – sampling New Zealand’s Great Walks
Five of New Zealand’s 9 Great Walks are situated on South Island, but if you don’t have the time or fitness to take on the whole route, there are shorter samples of these famous scenic walks on offer – and our Kiwi Travel Specialist Lauren tried out two of them…
Nelson/Abel Tasman Region
Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand’s smallest National Park, is a place I had dreamed of visiting. Its beauty is absolute; the sea sparkles like diamonds and the secluded beaches and numerous walking trails make it a must visit on the South Island…
For our first night on South Island, we stayed nearby Nelson and made our way to Kaiteriteri beach the following morning to catch the Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle into the Park. The boat trip alone is absolutely mesmerising. Native birds soared next us and fur seals either frolicked in the sea or were laid on the rocks soaking up the sun.
As a practical service, the shuttle is fantastic as it makes many stops along the park’s coastline, giving you the opportunity to choose what walk you would like to do, knowing you have transport to meet you at the end. The famous Abel Tasman Coast Track takes 3-5 days to complete, but if (like us) you prefer a shorter stroll, I can thoroughly recommend the Sky Track walk which takes you to a truly amazing viewpoint over turquoise seas and golden sand...
In Abel Tasman itself we stayed at the beautifully situated Peppers Awaroa Resort, which is well known for its Eco Lodge status. There are some great walks you can do from the lodge (including the Sky Track) ranging from 30 minutes to 7 hours, as well as opportunities to go off and explore by kayak.
Queenstown and the Routeburn Track
Queenstown is a gateway to a lot of activities – bungy jumping, skydiving, jet boating, it is also a 40 minute drive away from the Routeburn Track, another of New Zealand’s most famous scenic walks.
The Routeburn Track takes 2-4 days to complete, weaving through beech-forested valleys, glistening alpine lakes and surrounded on all sides by spectacular views of the Southern Alps. To get a taster, I joined Guided Walks NZ for a day trip.
Peter, our guide, was enthusiastic and passionate about the area and had a fantastic sense of humour too. My husband and I walked the Lake Sylvan Track, which we followed to the lake itself where we stopped for lunch and to take in the beauty of the area. The pace was relaxed and not strenuous at all, but this can be adjusted to suit the needs of clients on the day if you want a more invigorating tramp.
Peter showed us how to survive in the wild, finding plants you can and can’t eat and also what you can use for medicine. He then took us to a Maori Cave where we learnt how to start a fire; it was a great moment sitting in the cave looking down on the people walking along the track who didn’t even know we were there. It really helps you get a sense of why the Maoris’ choose the area to live and hide from their enemies.
Other short walks to try on South Island:
- Fiordland National Park: You can do short sections of the Kepler Track from Te Anau (the gateway to the National Park) – read up on the selection here. For a short stroll with beautiful sunset views, the half-hour stroll to Frasers Beach from Manapouri is a stunner.
- Franz Josef glacier: there are many ways to see the incredible Franz Josef glacier – including this 1.5hr return walk along a riverbed to the lookout near the glacier’s foot. Note: this track is rocky and sometime closed due to ice collapse and other factors. Glaciers should be treated with caution and visitors should follow all signs and barriers.
Want more? Read about all New Zealand’s 9 Great Walks.
Alaska from the air: glacier helicopter sightseeing
Liz Lunnon, our Product Development Manager, travelled to Alaska recently – a helicopter ride over Colony Glacier was a highlight, and here’s what she has to say about the experience:
Following a splendidly scenic cruise on Prince William Sound, revealing bald eagles, sea otters and an array of glaciers, we continued our journey to Girdwood to meet our pilot at Alpine Air Alaska.
Taking off into a rather off-putting bank of dense low cloud, we emerged to a spectacular vista of snow-dusted forest and the soaring white peaks of the Chugach Mountains. Spotting tracks in the snow below, we found three moose relaxing amongst the trees. The advantage of a helicopter flight being that we could swoop down for a closer look at these wonderfully ugly creatures!
Continuing we rounded the side of a mountain to suddenly reveal the breathtaking sight of Colony Glacier. Endless towering crags of dazzling blue ice rose in wave after wave below,
stretching away into the distance where the waters of Prince William Sound lay sparkling beyond.
Landing high up on the glacier we were able to sweep aside a light layer of freshly fallen powdery snow to see the ancient river of blue ice beneath. Surrounded by snowcapped peaks against the backdrop of a vivid blue sky, it was an overwhelming sight to witness.
Returning to earth we flew once more through the swirling mist, landing on what appeared to be a grey and overcast day. The thick cloud offered no hint of the majestic mountainous world just beyond...
Tempted to travel? Find out more about travelling to Alaska with Discover the World
5 destinations to discover your inner Viking
Far from just being the bloodthirsty raiders of popular myth, the Vikings were prolific traders and travellers who rowed and sailed their longships all over the known world. The BP exhibition Vikings: life and legend at the British Museum (on until 22 June) aims to tell their real story… Follow in their wake on a Viking-inspired vacation – here’s a few ideas of where you need to visit.
Scandinavia: the Viking homelands
Ferries (and trains) connect Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen, the modern day capitals of Scandinavia, so you can travel between these four cities (mostly) by water. Oslo and Stockholm in particular celebrate their Viking heritage, but each maritime city has plenty of more contemporary attractions so you can balance ancient and modern.
In the far north of Norway, Borg on the Lofoten Islands is home to the fantastic Lofotor Viking Museum, where you’ll find an 83m Viking longhouse – the longest ever discovered – which has been reconstructed in its entirety, and a replica of the Gokstad Ship in an inlet nearby.
Iceland: the land of the sagas
The Vikings play a rich part in Iceland’s history, and the famous Icelandic sagas – although written in the 13th and 14th centuries – provide the most accurate and detailed accounts of Viking life in existence. The Saga Museum in Reykjavik (Grandagardi 2, near the waterfront) has many of the legends from the Icelandic sagas.
And if you stay at the 4* Hotel Reykjavik Centrum, you can visit the museum in the hotel's basement which is built around archaeological remains of a Viking longhouse dating back to 871AD.
Outside of the capital, you can visit many of the places mentioned in the sagas. Njál’s Saga, for example, centres around Hvolsvöllur on the south coast and the Saga Centre there depicts Viking life and the bloody and tragic saga story.
Greenland: sail in the footsteps of Erik the Red
When Erik the Red was exiled from Iceland for murder in 982AD, he sailed west and discovered, and named, Greenland. Three years later he had persuaded some 500 people to accompany him to Greenland (although not all the ships survived the journey), and eventually settled at Qassiarssuq.
Today you can visit the ruins of Erik's homestead, and the church of his wife Thjodhildur. The Viking population of Greenland survived for around 500 years, and its disappearance remains a mystery…
Newfoundland: Old Norse meets New World
Continuing the family tradition of discovering new lands, Erik the Red’s son, Leif Erikson is thought to be the first European to visit North America. The three regions he explored and named Helluland, Markland and Vinland are thought to be modern day Baffin Island, Labrador and Newfoundland respectively.
In 1968, archaeologists Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad discovered a cloak pin, which lead to the excavation of a Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows. You can visit this World Heritage site, and nearby Norstead – a recreated Viking trading port.
Sail Scotland to Svalbard: Raiders in reverse
The fearsome reputation of the Vikings comes in part from their predilection for attacking religious – such as the attacks on Lindisfarne monastery recorded by the Venerable Bede. These raiders sailed across from Scandinavia, and you can now recreate a similar route back across the North Sea, sailing from Scotland all the way to the Svalbard archipelago in Arctic Norway.
This voyage cruises via the Orkneys and Shetland Islands where you can see Stone Age villages as well as Viking relics. The other draws of this epic journey are the chance to sail into the Midnight Sun, explore the beautifully rugged Norwegian coastline (which is itself rife with Viking history) and see a huge variety of wildlife in the seas and skies.
Find out more about the BP exhibition Vikings: life and legend
Artists wanted: Design a suite at Icehotel #25
Calling all artists! Submit your design for a hotel room made of ice and snow before 7th May 2014 for a chance to be part of the 25th anniversary of the iconic Icehotel in Swedish Lapland.
Creativity is an integral part of every year’s Icehotel. Whether you’re an experienced sculptor or a new artistic talent, if you have a great idea that you’d love to bring to life in ice, the ICEHOTEL wants to hear from you.
Submissions for Art Suite designs to be part of the 25th Icehotel (winter 2014-2015) are now open for individual artists and teams of two.
This year, in Icehotel #24, artists created a London Underground carriage, dancing polar bears, a mini cinema and a pre-Big Bang universe. What will you dream up?
If your design for an Art Suite is chosen, you’ll need to be able to construct your design from ice yourself (although an experienced support team will be available for advice in design, construction and general tips) and be available for 14 days practical work on site at ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden in November/December 2014.
Are your creative juices flowing? Here’s what you need to know…
What do I need to do?
A complete application, consisting of the following elements, should be compiled into one PDF document as a portfolio and emailed to email@example.com
- Artwork submission form (1 page)
- Artwork and design concept description (max 1 page).
- Images/Visuals of both an overview of the design and specific design elements (2-4 pages).
- Relevant experience / CV / resume including your personal details, education, and any exhibitions, teaching, curatorial projects, awards and grants, and residencies (max 1 page).
For all categories, the artwork descriptions must be written in English.
When is the deadline for submissions?
Your PDF portfolio, containing your design and the supporting documents outlined above, should be submitted by 7th May 2014.
How are designs chosen?
Winning designs are selected by a jury against three main criteria:
- How original is the artwork?
- How progressive is the artwork?
- The artist’s visualisation and description of the artwork.
See a suite brought to life...
To find out more about staying at the ICEHOTEL, visit icehotel.co.uk
Whale watching around the world
Undeniably, there's something special about watching whales feeding and cavorting in the water – just as well whale watching is a spectacle you can enjoy in some of the world's most beautiful places!
Discover the World has a long history with whale watching – we launched the first commercial whale watching trip in Iceland over two decades ago, and now whale watching has become one of the key ingredients in many of our holidays.
So to celebrate all things cetacean, here are some of our favourite whale experiences - from watching killer whales feast on herring in Iceland and snorkelling with the belugas of Canada’s Hudson Bay, to spying on sperm whales in Norway or gazing in wonder at the plethora of species found in the polar regions.
The waters around Iceland play host to a diverse selection of whale species, so there are plenty of options for whale-watching year round. Husavik, in the north, is known as Europe's whale watching capital; spot minke, humpbacks and even the shy blue whale between April and November. There’s also the Whale Watching museum to visit while you’re in town.
Over the winter months (January to March is best) large schools of herring are found around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula – attracting pods of orca, white-beaked dolphin and plenty of seabirds too.
Many species of whale traverse the magnificent Norwegian coast, but the most reliable place to spot them is in the north.
There’s a 95-99% chance of seeing sperm whales feed over a sea trough called Bleik Canyon, which is just off the coast of the Vesteralen islands (neighbours of the dramatic Lofotens). Minke, orca and humpbacks also frequent these waters.
Whale watching is hugely popular on both Canada's Atlantic and Pacific coastlines - in fact, Canada is home to 33 species of whale! April to October is prime cetacean-spotting time, and there are plenty of options.
You could kayak with orcas around the islands of British Columbia or snorkel with belugas in Hudson Bay. You might see belugas and minke whales in the St Lawrence River. Other species you may spot on straightforward boat trips include grey, fin and blue whales. And the world’s largest population of humpbacks congregates off the shores of Newfoundland.
Famous for its wildlife on land and on sea, Alaska's waters are the summer feeding waters of humpback whales in particular, but you might also spot orcas, grey, minke, fin and even belugas in the fjords, inlets and iceberg-spattered seas.
The best areas to aim for are Kenai Fjords National Park, the Inside Passage, Frederick Sound and the Icy Strait.
Kaikoura, near Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island is a world-famous whale watching hub, for good reason. Sperm whales are the main draw, but the clear coastal waters of New Zealand are home to a wide variety of whales and dolphins, almost wherever you choose to travel.
There’s everything from the chance to swim with dolphins in the beautiful Bay of Islands in the north, to whale watching flights out of Kaikoura.
The Antarctic oceans are home to an impressive list of whales including humpback, orca, fin, sei and minke whales. Late February/early March departures of are best for watching whales in these waters.
Your best option is to take a small ship expedition voyage as the smaller the ship, the more frequent the opportunities will be to go out in zodiacs (or even sea kayaks).
In the Arctic Ocean, beluga, shy narwhal and the rare Greenland whale can be seen along with orca, grey, minke, blue and humpback whales.
Want more whales?
Cathy Harlow has been keeping a trip diary of the Northern Lights and Killer Whales sightings from this season. Check it out here.
Discover the World offers a variety of whale watching holidays and excursions all over the world.Visit our website to find your perfect trip.
Islands, Fjords and Waterfalls: The Best of Iceland’s WestThinking of visiting Iceland this year? Vikki Beale, one of our Travel Specialists, got off the tourist trail to explore the wilder side of the Land of Fire and Ice - something she highly recommends for summer 2014.
I was thrilled to be travelling to the West Fjords, Iceland’s wildest and oldest region, and one famous for fjords (as its name suggests), mountains and thrilling coastal roads. And visiting in summer meant long hours of daylight - perfect for packing as much into our days as possible.
But the West Fjords wasn’t where our journey began. Our starting point was Snaefellsnes Peninsula, specifically Stykkisholmur, where we took the ferry across Breidafjordur bay for an overnight stay on Flatey Island; a little slice of solitude renowned for its bird life.
We were welcomed to Hotel Flatey, a lovely accommodation comprising two charmingly-renovated old houses, and where we had a warm and cosy night’s sleep. We were lucky enough to be given a tour by one of the locals, which included a walk around the island, passing old painted houses that have been lovingly restored over the years. We also visited the old library and a church with Flatey’s history stunningly painted on its walls and ceiling: quite a sight.
This is an enchanting place to visit and looking back, one of the trip’s highlights. You don’t necessarily have to spend the night here - taking the morning ferry and returning on the evening service will give you enough time to continue to Brjanslaekur in the West Fjords, which is exactly what we did the following day.
Our journey continued across Breidafjordur - at no extra cost the car went ahead of us the previous day and was waiting for our arrival at Brjanslaekur harbour. Onwards, then, to Latrabjarg, Europe’s westernmost point, the largest bird cliff in Iceland (and indeed in Europe) and one of the West Fjords’ must-see attractions. We parked the car and in true Icelandic fashion experienced all four seasons in the 10-minute walk to the the top of the cliffs. Their sheer height is enough to make you dizzy; they’re absolutely momentous.
On departing the west shores we prepared for the long drive to Isafjordur on route 60. A must-see en route is the Dynhandi set of waterfalls. With a cumulative height of 100 metres they’re quite something to look at, and can certainly hold their own with the arguably more famous waterfalls on Iceland’s south coast.
You definitely get a sense of isolation the deeper into the fjords you go, but by no means are these fjords inaccessible. The drive for the most part was on long and winding gravel roads, which have been intricately carved from the sides of mountains and around deep uninhabited fjords with turquoise waters. The roads are virtually traffic-free and the remoteness is something to savour - with such a large number of majestic mountains surrounding you (their slopes covered with moss in every shade of green imaginable; the higher you go the blacker they become, dotted with patches of white snow), you almost feel as though the landscape is exclusively yours to enjoy.
For travellers who want to explore the more remote areas of Iceland, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Flatey Island and the West Fjords come highly recommended. You can experience all three on our Best of the West holiday, one of our most scenic itineraries and the perfect adventure for summer 2014.
Ice sculpture workshop at the Icehotel: the only penguin in the Lapland...
While staying at the Icehotel in Swedish Lapland in January this year, Discover the World's Content Editor Clare Wilson tried her hand at ice sculpture. Here's how she got on...
There's something magical guarding all the wishes made in the Icehotel's Secret Garden lobby this year; it’s a pure, brilliant white unicorn – crafted by Anna Sofia Maag, the woman who had just handed me a well sharpened chisel.
Before we headed into the workshop, she had taken us down to look out over the frozen river Torne. The river still flows sluggishly far beneath its frozen surface, and Anna Sofia explained a little about the process of growing the ice; it is by clearing off insulating layers of snow from the surface, that ice-farmers can harvest the huge blocks of ice that go into creating a full hotel from scratch every year.
And it’s the same ice that we – the afternoon ice-sculpting group – were about to attempt to carve.
Where the magic happens...
The ice sculpture workshop, like the Icehotel, is kept at a constant -5C and before letting us loose on our own blocks, Anna Sofia demonstrated a few basic techniques (shave, don't stab), gave us some safety tips and advised us to get a mental picture of what we wanted to make before getting started.
I've always been a bit creative and, OK I'll admit it, I'd had a brief go before - so I knew roughly what to do. The hardest part is deciding what you want to make.
My colleague Jennifer's ice-racing-car ambitions were somewhat stifled by the blocks being of a 'portrait' orientation, but she gamely started carving her car nose-down - all was going well until two slightly over-enthusiastic chips knocked one back wheel and the tail off. All was not lost, however - Anna Sofia came to the rescue with a basin of what we thought was some special glue... and turned out to be water!
"More 'Pingu' than 'March of the penguins'..."
I'd decided I'd make a penguin, although not having too-clear an anatomical idea of a penguin's physical proportions, it ended up far more Pingu than March-Of-The-Penguins. Hopefully I won't be sounding too smug, but the satisfaction of seeing a definite beak and flippery wings emerge from the ice was incredible, and the afternoon passed incredibly quickly for both of us.
Whatever your level of creativity (and whatever the success of your chiselling) after trying your hand at ice-sculpture you'll come away with a renewed appreciation of the incredible talent and artistry that goes into creating the rooms and suites of the Icehotel itself.
Profile of an Ice-sculptor
Profile: Anna Sofia has been a professional sculptor for 13 years; she first came to the Icehotel as an artist 8 years ago and has been a regular at the Icehotel for the last 5 years. As well as ice, she has worked in clay and concrete.
Best thing about working in ice? The transparency - it's the only medium that you can see all the way through. I also like that you can instantly see what you've done.
Most challenging thing about working ice? The same things!
What's your favourite thing about running the workshops? It's such a different craft - it's fun to see peoples' ideas. Some people know what they want to make, some people do something completely crazy!
You can see more of her work at www.annasofia.se
Why should you travel to Iceland to see orcas and auroras?
Gary Ward is embarking on our Killer Whales and Northern Lights escorted holiday in Iceland this spring for the third year running. We caught up with him to find out why the trip has such an appeal.
What was your opinion of escorted holidays before going on the Killer Whales and Northern Lights tour?
I had an idea that everything was very regimented and to a rigid schedule. That you’d almost be compelled to do what you were told to do – that there would be no options or choice about it for you.
That perception that wasn’t based on any personal experience (or even experience from friends or family) but sometimes – like we often do – you just pluck an idea out of the sky without actually having any base of facts and, I’ve got to be honest, that’s what I did.
What made you change your mind?
Before the Killer Whales and Northern Lights trip, I’d actually been on two city breaks with Discover the World to Iceland. I went on a trip to try and see the northern lights, but unfortunately, I saw nothing so I couldn’t tick that one off.
That’s when the first Killer Whales and Northern Lights trip was coming up and, as I have an interest in wildlife as well, it was ‘kill two birds with one stone’. Unfortunately we were the only group that didn’t see the northern lights – the cloud didn’t break for the four days that we were there – and that’s how trip number two came about! I was like a dog with a bone then, I couldn’t put it down – I had to see the northern lights.
Did you see them on the second trip?
Absolutely! It still stands as was one of the best auroras of 2013 while we were there, which more than made up for the grey skies of the year before!
We were also extremely lucky with the killer whales – there were loads of them in flat-calm waters, blue sky, and we were there for as long as the whales so it was just win-win on all counts. Last year was absolutely excellent.
I had no intention to book a third trip, but January, February, March – it’s like dead time in a way isn’t it? What do you do? There's nothing going on, so I thought ‘I know… northern lights again!’ No-one ever sees the northern lights and thinks ‘oh, I don’t want to see that again’.
What stands out as a highlight for you?
Last year we went out to a hillside near the waterfall just out of the village to see the northern lights and it just came on; it was like switching on Blackpool illuminations, and I’m there – a grown man – with a great lump in my throat. It is just overwhelming to see it in full flow like that – the sky burning green like that was just wow.
Are you worried about going back again after such an amazing experience?
I know there’s every possibility I could go there again and it be another completely overcast four days, but when you’re into wildlife and nature, you know that those sort of things don’t perform on demand; you understand the risks.
Did you enjoy travelling as part of a group?
Yes, everyone was really like-minded – just good, decent people, all with an interest in the same kinds of things, and appreciation of that. They were also perhaps people who, like myself, have travelled a bit further and wider than your typical package holiday, so you can talk about each other’s travel experiences in far flung corners of the world as well as your own. That small, sort of little social circle that you form – well, its just good.
What did the guides bring to your experience?
Cathy [Harlow] is a fantastic guide! Her knowledge and enthusiasm is second to none – that really rubs off on to you and makes you enjoy the whole experience even more. It gets you involved in your surroundings more than perhaps would otherwise be the case if you’re just driving through yourself.
On the first year, there was also Vassili [Papastavrou] the whale expert who was also extremely knowledgeable and very enthusiastic about whales – he just imparted his knowledge to you in a very informal manner, it was a really relaxing education!
I now appreciate that travelling with a guide can be more advantageous to myself in terms of the knowledge you can gather, picking out the best spots and things that you might not know about if you were just to turn up to a location yourself.
If like Gary you want to see the northern lights in Iceland, Discover the World has several trips to choose from, and it's not too late to travel this spring. Try Killer Whales and Northern Lights to combine seeing orcas and auroras; our Northern Lights Special if you're interested in visiting the Golden Circle too; or Volcanoes and Northern Lights to explore other-worldly volcanic landscapes and the dramatic Highlands.
Northern Lights and Killer Whales – Cathy Harlow’s trip diary 2014
Cathy Harlow, one of the expert guides of our Northern Lights and Killer Whales escorted holiday, gives us her updates on the 2014 season so far...
12 March - The perfect end to the day...
“Over the next hour we went from a timid green glow hiding behind the clouds to sheets of rippling light bursting from the night sky above us. This was the perfect end to a day, whose prelude was a fjord full of beautiful orcas.”
9th March - As spectacular as ever!
“Today was the group's last chance to see the killer whales from the boat. The wind had dropped, the sea was settling into a gentle swell and conditions looked promising. We only needed the orcas to head out of the inner fjord under the bridge. As we steamed out of Grundarfjordur harbour, word came in from the research team that the whales were doing just that.
“We encountered the first fins and blows at the entrance to the fjord and then gently followed alongside the group of twelve orcas as they turned into the open sea. The mountain backdrop was as spectacular as ever and those on board enjoyed great photo opportunities.”
3rd March - a calm sea at last!
"The DTW group headed out of the fjord on board Laki and just 30 minutes into the trip we found a small group of orcas making their way slowly towards Kolgrafafjordur. The light was beautiful and we photographed a majestic male orca silhouetted against Kirkjufell, Grundarfjordur's signature mountain.
"Then the orcas paused to circumnavigate a rocky islet - what had caught their attention there? Later those on Brimrun witnessed one of the group baring teeth to show off a fishy mouthful. Back on shore, the researchers commented that this group of orcas has been witnessed catching seals in Shetland last summer."
27th Feb - A night to remember
"A night to remember for most colourful auroras I've ever experienced. Grundarfjordur was overcast but we took a chance on a break in the cloud as we headed to the south side of Snaefellsnes. It was a good move as beyond the watershed we saw the first streaks of light dance in and out of the clouds. We pulled off the road, huddling for shelter in the lee of the coach as the clouds parted to reveal a star-studded sky.
"And then the show got going, as beautiful curtains rippled overhead and bursts of light showered down like fireworks in slow-motion. But it was only when we looked at our photos that we saw the true range of amazing colours: pink, deep-red, crimson and many hues of green."
18th Feb - Whalefest are getting spoiled!!
“After a day of gorgeous sunshine on the Golden Circle Tour, the Whalefest group travelled west to Grundarfjordur on Snaefellsnes. Edging along the peninsula, Snaefellsjokull volcano was silhouetted in the fading light of a pink sunset as the first stars appeared overhead.
“Then, in the darkness of Kolgrafafjordur, we found the aurora bow arched across the sky. What luck to witness a wonderful display of northern lights before we'd even arrived at our destination. After dinner we stood outside the Hotel Framnes and watched the aurora dance well into the night.
“Next day, we sped out of the fjord in search of an orca pod that had been sighted earlier. They were heading for the next fjord, where 80,000 tons of herring are on the orca menu. We sailed alongside as the pod of ten porpoised in a choppy sea.
“The sunlight and silvery mountains were a dreamy backdrop to the orcas' graceful movements as they surfaced, arched and dived again. But all too soon they were off with a tail slap and a splash, steaming into the inner fjord.”
10th Feb – officially off duty, but…
I am officially off duty during this group, which is one of Alexa's, but I did go on the boat trip yesterday so here are a couple of photos and a snippet of info...
“After a night punctuated with auroras that danced for hours, there were a few bleary eyes on the morning whale watch trip. Heading out of the fjord we passed a dozen or more white-beaked dolphins feeding, but we were keen to press on to the next fjord, where orcas had been spotted gorging on herring.
“Typically, we've been seeing between ten and fifty whales at a time in this scenic, sheltered fjord. Cruising among the fins and blows, we observed orcas resting, feeding and travelling. In one group we noted a tiny calf, whose white patches were still pink, so this winter's baby. A cheeky youngster spy-hopped right by the boat, clutching a herring in its teeth - all too quick for the cameras though.”
8th Feb - we did it!
“After three nights of aurora hunting frustrated by overcast skies, we were ready for a lucky break. Whilst Grundafjordur looked set for another cloudy night, on the south side of Snaefellsnes, a break in the cloud was forecast. Now all we needed was for the solar activity to step up. A solar flare two days before was due in but would it arrive in time?
“We took a chance and headed through a snowstorm to the south side of the peninsula. Finding a gap in the clouds, we drew off the road. Within minutes, shafts of green light, edged in crimson, shot across the sky in waves and ripples. We did it! With tripods juddering in the gusty wind, photography was challenging, but hand-holding our cameras, braced against the bus, we captured the magic of the moment.
“Next day we ended the tour with a soak in the Blue Lagoon and discovered that yes, the sun does shine in Iceland in winter.”
4th February - 'our' orcas are full of surprises
“The winds that lashed us overnight had passed by the time we boarded Brimrun. Soon we were sailing for Kolgrafafjordur, where snow-dusted peaks frame a fjord teeming with thousands of tons of plump herring.
We never know which orcas we might encounter in this gourmet fish eatery but today's 'clients' included a trio of young killer whales, who were in the mood for fun. As they entertained us with playful spyhops, rolls and tail-slaps, we replied with a volley of shutter-clicks. While the juveniles cavorted on the surface, the adults in the group were hunting herring, and gulls and gannets dropped from the sky to grab the scraps. What a feast for the eyes.
Later, the research team told us that three of this group had previously been spotted in the Shetland Islands. 'Our' orcas are full of surprises!”
(The group were also treated to the northern lights over Kirkufjell on the night of Saturday 1st Feb into Sunday morning - this photo of some of the group is from Cathy's fellow guide Alexa Kershaw:
Pam Forrest, who was on the trip, had this to say about the display:
"Auroral hunting is all about being ready so when the knock on the door came just before midnight, I threw on my salapettes over my pyjamas and rushed out the back of the hotel for the start of an auroral display that pretty much lasted over two hours. It really varied in intensity, sometimes disappearing, sometimes dancing, but with the prospect of more to come.
"As the auroral started to build again, we walked away from the hotel to get a view of Kirkufjell with the lights behind - still in PJs! So, basically I ended up lying on a rock at about 2am with the wind whipping around me taking long exposure shots of the NL all the time chuckling cos I was still in my pyjamas! Quite simply the best way to watch the auroral as you're ready for bed when it's all over..."
29th January - orcas in every direction
"29th Jan was clear and crisp with a flat-calm sea. We sped out of Grundarfjordur aboard Brimrun, knowing that orcas had already been sighted in the neighbouring fjord. En-route, hundreds of gannets torpedoed, piercing the sea either side of the boat, their splashes reminiscent of orca blows.
Suddenly, Alexa shouted out ‘orcas’ and there they were, a row of fins lined up on the far shore of the fjord. But these orcas were in no mood for hanging about and were on their way out of the fjord. Soon we had a second group in our sights and before long they had us surrounded – orcas in every direction. A youngster breached and the lucky whale watchers with cameras at the ready captured a magic moment.”
23rd January - what a treat
“We encountered our first group of orcas just 10 minutes out of port and cruised with them alongside as they steamed out of Grundarfjordur towards the open sea. Then, inside neighbouring Kolgrafafjordur, we spotted tell-tale blows on the horizon and within minutes we were in the company of two further groups of whales.
“A row of dorsal fins broke the surface of a mirror-calm sea. For a while it seemed like they didn't want us around so we hung back, then suddenly a playful youngster breached, and spy-hopped just 20 yards from the boat. What a treat. All around, flocks of gannets patrolled the skies, diving torpedo-like in pursuit of herring.”
In celebration of Waitangi Day – where once were warriors…
Lindi Sprenger, our New Zealand Product Manager, explains why she loves the historic Waitangi area – and why you should visit.
One of my ultra-favourite places in New Zealand lies in the heart of the Bay of Islands. Waitangi is known as the birthplace of the nation, and is arguably the most historically significant part of the country. If you are planning a visit to the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ then the best starting point for your holiday is undoubtedly the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
The history of Waitangi Day
On 6th February 1840, the founding document of New Zealand – the Treaty of Waitangi – was signed between the pakeha (Europeans) and Maori chiefs, under the watchful eye of Governor William Hobson, Queen Victoria’s representative. Today there are celebrations at Waitangi and across the country to commemorate this historic event.
Nowadays, Waitangi evokes a wonderful sense of peace and tranquility, far removed from the fierce and intense Maori battles of long ago. Evidence of these can be seen in the picturesque village of Russell where musket ball holes are still visible on the old weatherboarded walls of New Zealand’s oldest church, Christ Church (built 1835-6).
The views here are simply spectacular and worthy of as much time as you can spare. This is now a place of great peace and a real connection with Maori and so, to experience Waitangi in all its glory, I would recommend that you join a guided tour of the historic Treaty House with its delightful heritage gardens and the beautifully carved Maori Meeting House, Te Whare Runanga.
Don’t miss the Maori cultural performance which is always immensely moving and sometimes utterly spine-tingling. So when you are planning your New Zealand holiday, please make sure you include a visit to this very special and captivating part of this wonderful country.
More historic sites to in New Zealand
We will be delighted to include a free VIP Pass allowing you entry to one of the properties featured in New Zealand’s Historic Places Trust, including Kerikeri Mission Station or Pompallier Mission and Printery in the Bay of Islands.
Images © Destination Northland
See the northern lights in March
Spring – with its longer hours of daylight and warmer temperatures – isn’t far away and as the aurora’s still in the sky, February and March are a great time to travel to see the northern lights.
Think ‘spring’ and chances are you’ll imagine a hint of green growing on the trees, snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils poking up through the ground, gambolling lambs… but maybe not the northern lights.
The Spring Equinox
Although it’s still somewhat of a mystery to scientists, the period around the spring (or ‘vernal’) equinox is often considered the real peak of annual northern lights activity. Although there is never any certainty of seeing the aurora, traditionally, auroral activity is strong in the weeks around an equinox. The spring equinox is on 20th March and, as we’re still in the ‘Solar Maximum’, there’s still potential to see glory in the skies in February and especially in March.
This is fantastic news if you’re one of the many who people dream of seeing the northern lights as travelling to see the northern lights late in the season has other bonuses too.
Why should I travel to see the Northern Lights in March?
Whether you’re up in Swedish Lapland staying in Jukkasjarvi at the Icehotel, visiting the Aurora Sky Station at Abisko and exploring the winter wilderness at Kangos – or indeed watching killer whales in Iceland – things are starting to warm up in February and March.
As well as increasingly mild average temperatures, the ‘Kaamos’ (polar night) is over and the regions have longer hours of daylight. More light means more time to take part in the many activities offered in these northern regions.
What can I do during the daytime?
While you’re waiting for night to fall, and the chance to hunt the aurora, there are a host of things you can try.
In Scandinavia, we can arrange for you to try ice-driving, snow-shoeing and ice-sculpting. You could also learn to mush your own team of huskies on a wilderness adventure, go snowmobiling, join a horseback safari to search for native reindeer and moose – there are plenty of options to fill the daylight hours!
Or perhaps you’d like to explore craggy volcanic landscapes, hike on glaciers, visit frozen waterfalls, watch pods of orca cavort in sheltered fjords, or relax in natural thermal hotsprings? In that case, head to Iceland to combine your search for the aurora with a plethora of natural wonders.
- Follow @DTW_Aurora for Discover the World’s daily aurora forecast tweets
- Check out Will Gray’s tips for photographing the northern lights.
- Watch Aurora Sky Station’s live camera.