Tripologist: South Island rings the bell for postcard scenery

Postcard perfect ... Milford Sound, New Zealand.
Postcard perfect ... Milford Sound, New Zealand. Photo: Getty Images

I have two friends visiting from Finland in March and would like to visit New Zealand. They are particularly interested in Lord of the Rings scenery. Do you recommend the North or South island? We have six to eight days and would like to hire a car. Is that enough to visit both islands? Can you recommend a possible itinerary?
- N. Bringolf, Blacktown

Wild and wonderful, South Island is the postcard side of the country. To sample the forests and mountains that featured in the Rings series, South Island is where you want to be. Eight days is tight, however.

If you depart Sydney for Wellington on an early flight you can take the Interislander or Bluebridge ferry from Wellington to Picton. The town is the base for exploring the Marlborough Sounds, and the filigreed waterway at the top end of North Island. Plan to spend two nights here.

Valle de la Luna, Atacama Desert.
Valle de la Luna, Atacama Desert. Photo: Getty Images

Pick up a hire car from the Picton ferry terminal and drive to Nelson following Queen Charlotte Drive as it twists around the edges of the sounds. After an overnight stay, a long drive south-west will take you through the mighty Buller Gorge to Greymouth, from where you continue along the coast to Westland National Park. This is New Zealand's glacier country, and Fox and Franz Josef are among the most accessible glaciers on the planet. Spend two nights here, and don't miss a trip to the wind-flayed west coast beaches. Continue south to Haast and turn inland along the Glacier Highway.

Your destination for the last nights of your stay is Queenstown, New Zealand's adventure headquarters and the base for exploring the wonders of Mount Aspiring/Fiordland national parks.

It was here that much of The Lord of the Rings series was filmed, and you only have to stroll out among the furry forests of Antarctic beech and glacier-fed rivers to conjure up the elvish kingdom of Lothlorien and the peaks of the Misty Mountains.

From Queenstown you can take a direct flight to Sydney with Qantas on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays.

 

Patagonia beckons, with Cape Horn the peak

We want to go trekking in the Atacama Desert for about seven to 10 days, preferably joining a group. Any suggestions? Also, anything nearby worth visiting?
- F. Boger, Guildford

If you Google "Atacama Desert tours" you can find plenty of material on the internet, including some helpful suggestions from past visitors on TripAdvisor.

Sydney-based World Expeditions has an Atacama Adventure trip although at just four days, this might not satisfy your needs. However, you could talk to them and see if you can negotiate a more extensive itinerary.

The main base for exploring the area is the town of San Pedro, and there really is no reason to go there other than to experience the Atacama. Further afield, Chile has a five-star portfolio of adventures. High on the list is Torres Del Paine National Park, where a wall of 3000-metre peaks rises almost vertically from the glacier lakes and grasslands of southern Patagonia. Torres del Paine National Park can be walked either as a fully supported lodge-based hike or a more challenging wilderness walk, which involves hiking with food supplies.

Another highlight is cruising through the fiords that infiltrate the glaciated mountains of Tierra del Fuego. Cruceros Australia operates three- and four-night cruises between Punta Arenas and Ushuaia aboard small, expeditionary vessels. Expect daily trips to calving glaciers, walks through spongey forests, soaring condors on the mountain peaks and - the icing on the cake - a landing at Cape Horn, weather permitting.

 

Bath awash with options

Last year we spent a week in the Cinque Terre walking, eating local delicacies, sightseeing and drinking, based in Levanto and using the train for day trips. In 2013 we have a week in late April in Britain where we would like to do something similar. Given it is spring and possibly still cool, should we stay in the south? Group tour or not? Hire a car or travel by train? Far too many options — any and all suggestions are welcome.
- E. Bajusz, Coogee

My pick is the Georgian city of Bath. Base yourselves there and you have a wonderful World Heritage-listed city on your doorstep and easy access to the Cotswolds, Glastonbury, Wells Cathedral and Stratford-upon-Avon.

The surrounding county of Somerset also has some glorious gardens and natural landscapes. The list includes Exmoor National Park, the National Arboretum at Westonbirt, the remarkable Cheddar Gorge, England's largest oak forest in the Forest of Dean, and the parks around some of England's stateliest homes. You could easily take the Severn Bridge into Wales and explore the Brecon Beacons.

If the weather is sour, Bath has indoor attractions including the Roman Baths, No.1 Royal Crescent, the Jane Austen Centre, the Victoria Gallery, Bath Abbey and the Sally Lunn Historic Eating House and Museum. The Visit Bath websiteas a detailed look at what the city has to offer.

A car will magnify your touring options. Feed your details into VroomVroomVroomWebcarhire, or Google "compare car hire" and find a keen deal. Bath is within easy reach of London by train.

 

Week to explore, week to thaw

My wife and I have booked a four-week holiday in February commencing in Oslo. We have booked the first half with a couple of days in Oslo then travelling to the west coast for a seven-day cruise up the coast to Kirkenes. We have nothing planned for the remaining two weeks other than wishing to visit Copenhagen and Stockholm. We would prefer to "self tour" and would appreciate any travel advice.
- P. Feltscheer, Collaroy

You could easily spend a week exploring Copenhagen and Stockholm, which leaves you with another week to spare, and you might think about thawing out. Sicily and Malta are just two of the places that you could reach fairly easily from Scandinavia, where you could drink your coffee outside in comparative warmth while observing the foibles of the lively culture around you.

If you feel like a self-driving tour, Sicily would be a better choice. Malta is sufficiently small that you could base yourself in Valletta and make day trips to explore this fascinating and historic island and its neighbours, Gozo and Camino.

Malta also has the advantage that English is widely spoken, and prices are slightly lower than in mainland Europe.

 

Digiwatch

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If you have travel questions, we'd love to hear from you. Include the name of your suburb or town  and send it to tripologist101@gmail.com. Personal correspondence is not possible. Only questions appearing in print can be answered. One published letter each week will win a Lonely Planet guidebook.

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