8 things to do in and around Queenstown New Zealand

8 things to do in and around Queenstown New Zealand

Queenstown is a must-do on anyone’s South Island itinerary, after all its not the adventure capital of New Zealand for nothing! Of course, there are TONS of things to do there, but here are 8 of my recommendations…

 1. Ride the gondola

Although Queenstown is famed for its fun and adventure, lets not forget that this is New Zealand, meaning that it is also quite pretty. The best way to take advantage of all that scenic beauty is to ride the gondola, which is STEEP (it’s actually the steepest cable car lift in the Southern hemisphere!) but so worth it when you reach the top and take in those gorgeous views.

Skyline gondola Queenstown

2. Have fun on the luge

Once you’ve ridden the gondola up to Bob’s Peak, you may as well enjoy some of the activities on offer up there. My recommendation is the luge – so much fun! You take a chair lift up even higher and then pick one of the two luge tracks to travel back down. There’s a more gentle, scenic track which everyone must do on their first ride and then there’s also a faster paced, steeper track. We ended up riding the luge 5 times!

Luge track in Queenstown New Zealand

3. Try a famous Fergburger

If you read my post about 3 fast food burgers you must try in New Zealand then you will already know about Fergburger. Although to be fair, you probably already know about Fergburger because literally anyone who has been to Queenstown has raved about this place. It’s not really “fast food” as you’ll probably be queuing about 45 minutes for it but it’s still worth trying at least once. Or twice in my case.

Burger and fries at the legendary Fergburger

4. Go horseriding

45 minutes drive from Queenstown is the town of Glenorchy, home to Dart Stables where we admired yet more of New Zealand’s beauty but on horse back. We did the beginners trek named Hobbit’s Hack and saw where some of Lord of the Rings was filmed. I can’t claim to be a LOTR fan but I did enjoy the scenery.

Horse riding in Glenorchy New Zealand

5. Spin and splash on the Shotover Jet

The Shotover Jet is quite simply, a jet boat ride on the Shotover River. Running since 1965, they are the only company permitted to operate within the Shotover River’s canyons. High speeds and 360 spins are guaranteed – you might even see rainbows in the mist!

Shotover jet boat ride in Queenstown, New Zealand

6. Bungy jump

So I have a small confession to make… I didn’t actually do a bungy jump because I don’t have that part of my brain that makes me want to pay $195 to tie a rubber band to my legs and throw myself off a bridge. However, my husband is a bit of a secret adrenalin junkie and did the AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge jump in Queenstown – the world’s first commercial bungy jump.

He loved it and wouldn’t let me write this list without including it!

Bungy jumping on the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand

7. Visit wonderful Wanaka

We only spent one day in Wanaka which really wasn’t enough. It was pretty and peaceful and we enjoyed a lovely lunch by the lake. It’s also home to two fabulously quirky attractions – Puzzling World and Cinema Paradiso. If you want to know a bit more about Wanaka then take a look at my post Quirky things to do in wonderful Wanaka.

Quirky Wanaka New Zealand - Puzzling World!

8. Take a day trip to Milford Sound

I admit this might be an odd choice given that my trip to Milford Sound was my worst day travelling but I know other people who have been there and had a great time. I can’t say more than that. Go read my post Milford Sound – is it worth it? and decide for yourself on this one.

Milford Sound - is it worth it?
Milford Sound – image not my own unfortunately. Image via Unsplash.

Have you been to Queenstown? What was your favourite thing to do? Comment below. And for more inspiration, follow my New Zealand Pinterest Board.

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8 things to do in and around Queenstown New Zealand

Cuba Beyond the Beaches and Havana

Cuban Crocodiles, Sugar and Steam Trains

We decided that it would be nice to see a bit more of Cuba without venturing too far from Varadero, and so we booked a tour to see a sugar mill with steam trains, as well as a crocodile farm and a replica indigenous village on the Zapata Peninsula.

Is this Cuba? It certainly is!
Zapata Peninsula

I’m sure the more intrepid of travel bloggers would have hitch-hiked their way there, but bugger that! I went for the easy and comfortable option of an air conditioned mini bus! The heat and humidity are almost unbearable if you are away from air conditioning or a swimming pool for too long.

Steam train at a sugar mill in Cuba
Ride a steam train at the sugar mill

The first step was the sugar mill museum where we learnt how sugar is produced and then tasted some sugar cane juice. It tasted very sweet (as you would imagine) but also had a ‘rooty’ kind of taste I can’t describe. Afterwards we took a little ride on one of the several steam trains they had there.

Take a tour of a sugar mill in Cuba for something beyond the beaches and Havana
Take a tour of a sugar mill in Cuba

Next step was the crocodile farm in Boca de Guama where we got to see the famous Cuban crocodile, from teeny babies to giant beasts. The Cuban crocodile can grow up to a whopping 5 metres in length although the ones we saw weren’t quite as big as this.

Famous Cuban Crocodiles
Cuban crocodiles!

We also got to see a few more of Cuba’s famous animals – iguanas, turtles and jutia, an endangered mammal that reminded me alot of the quokkas on Rottnest Island in Australia.

Jutia - large rodent of Cuba
Jutia

After lunch at a Paladar (private restaurant), we headed back to where the crocodile farm was situated to catch a boat across Laguna del Tesoro (Treasure Lagoon). The lagoon was named for the gold that the Taino (aboriginals) supposedly hid in its waters. The boat ride took around 20 minutes and was a joy to feel the wind in my hair!

Boat ride on the Treasure Lagoon in the Zapata Peninsula
Treasure Lagoon

When we arrived we could walk around a replica Taino village, where people can actually stay although to be honest, besides a bar and a couple of gift shops, there’s not alot else there.

Once we’d got the boat back across the lagoon we headed back to Varadero (which took just over an hour and a half) and jumped straight into the hotel pool!

Replica Taino Village in Cuba
Replica Taino Village
Replica Taino village in Cuba
Replica Taino Village

I would love to have seen a bit more of Cuba’s native creatures (flamingos live in the Zapata Peninsula although we didn’t get to see them) but I enjoyed my day of seeing a bit more of Cuba beyond the beaches.

Liked this? How about 24 hours in Havana?

A beginners guide to Geocaching

Now we’re finally seeing the signs of summer here in England, it’s great to get out and about in the sunshine. So put down the Pokemon Go and listen up, kids – I’ve got a real treasure hunt for you… Geocaching!

A beginners guide to geocaching

What is Geocaching?

Geocaching is a “real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS enabled devices”.

What you need

  • A mobile phone with Geocaching app. There is a free version which is quite limited and a paid for subscription which, although pricey is alot more accurate and shows alot more caches available.
  • A pen for writing in log books
  • Trinkets and toys for swapping (optional)
  • Gloves – i.e. garden gloves for if you need to put your hand into a bush or something (optional)
  • A good pair of eyes!

a beginners guide to geocaching

How to play

  1. Download the app and register as a player. The username you assign yourself will be what you sign in the log books that you find.
  2. Switch on your GPS and use the app to discover just how many geocaches are near you.
  3. Once you’ve chosen a cache to find, follow the compass on the app to head to the location. Read the clues as to what you are looking for and get searching!
  4. Once you locate the cache, sign your username and the date in the log book. If you take any of the “treasure” inside the cache, be sure to replace it with something of equal or greater value.
  5. Put the cache back where you found it and don’t forget to mark on your app that you found it. Also leave a little comment for the person who created the cache, as well as future geocachers, to let them know what you thought of it.

Signing the log book in a geocache

Terminology

Cache – A cache can be as big as a lunchbox or as small as a USB stick. A cache is the “treasure chest” so to speak.
Log Book – Usually a piece of paper rather than a book. Sign this when you locate a cache.
Muggle – Like the term from Harry Potter, muggle refers to non-geocachers. When geocaching, try not to reveal a cache to a muggle. Keep it secret – it’s more fun!
Swag – Trade items left in caches. Most are cheap plastic toys and tat but some might be trackables. Most caches are too small for swag anyway.
Trackables – Also known as Travel Bugs, these are specially purchased trackable tags which are tracked online at geocaching.com. If you find one, the idea is to move it on to another cache so it can travel around.
DNF – Did Not Find. If you see this a few times on the app for a particular cache, chances are the cache has been tampered with unbeknownst to the cache creator.
FTF – First To Find. Pretty obvious – written by the first person to find the cache.
TFTC – Thanks For The Cache.

Placing a trackable into a geocache

Me and my husband have taken up geocaching as a quirky summer hobby. We started last year as a fun way to explore the local area and have just started to do it again this year now the weather is warm again.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of trackable travel bugs when the Geocaching.com founder Jeremy Irish released 7 deadly ducks (based on the 7 deadly sins) into the wild. In honour of the 15th anniversary, the 7 deadly ducks have been reincarnated in a race lasting from 20 July to 20 August (International Geocaching Day) in a competition to see how far these trackable tags travel. So hubby bought the ‘greed’ duck and we have now released him out into the geocaching wilds. I will keep you posted on his progress – wish us luck!

Greed - 7 deadly ducks - geocaching race

Have you taken part in The World’s Largest Treasure Hunt? or are you a Geocaching Muggle? Drop me a line below…

24 hours in Havana

24 hours in Havana - what's a great way to spend a day in Cuba's vibrant capital?

So you have one whole day in the capital of Cuba? Well here is my recommended way to spend 24 hours in Havana.

Morning

Take a tour of the city in a vintage car. You can’t visit Havana and not take a ride in one of these beauties. Although they are available to hire all over the city, we chose to pre-book our tour before we left the UK. We booked with Old Car Tours as they had good Tripadvisor reviews, plus you could choose which car you wanted to ride in. I chose a pink one (obviously!) – a 1952 Chevrolet to be exact. You will get taken to all the main historic sites such as El Capitolio and Revolution Square in style!

Iconic Che Guevara at Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba
Iconic Che Guevara at Revolution Square

Rather than returning us to our hotel in Vedado district, we asked our driver to drop us off at Habana Vieja (Old Havana) at the end of our two hours.

Posing in a 1952 pink Chevrolet at Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba
I’m a Barbie Girl in a Barbie World

Late Morning/Early Afternoon

Stop for refreshments at a shady terrace of one of the cafes at Plaza de Armas (or indeed any of the Plazas) and spend some time meandering the four main squares of Habana Vieja. Afterwards, head up Calle Obispo for shopping and you may want to stop for a daiquiri in the air conditioned comfort of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite haunt – El Floridita, although it was too crazy busy in there for my liking so I didn’t bother, can’t say I’m familiar with Hemingway’s work anyway!

Calle Obispo - a pedestrianised shopping street in Havana
Calle Obispo

At the El Floridita end of Calle Obispo, cross the street to see all the vintage cars parked opposite the iconic El Capitolio and the beautiful architecture of Gran Teatro de la Habana.

From the Gran Teatro de la Habana, you can take a stroll along Paseo de Marti – reminiscent of Las Ramblas in Barcelona – leading on to the Malecon.

El Floridita - apparently the best place for a daiquiri in Havana
El Floridita

During our time in Havana we stopped for drinks and sandwiches at several different cafes in the squares, Calle Obispo and Paseo de Marti, so there are plenty of options to choose from depending on how hungry/thirsty you are feeling. Just remember to take a map with you!

Late Afternoon

You will most probably be craving a refreshing dip in your hotel pool after all that sightseeing! We stayed in the Vedado district so walked along the Malecon to get to our hotel, although there are plenty of taxis touting for business to take you where you want to go – just remember to agree a total price beforehand.

Alternatively you may wish to go and get some ice cream – Cubans love ice cream! The most popular place being Coppelia, although I didn’t try it for myself as the queue was incredibly long and it was over 30 degrees heat!

The queue outside Coppelia - a very popular ice cream parlour in Havana, Cuba
The queue outside Coppelia

Evening

After rejuvenating yourself from the heat of the day, get dressed up for dinner. We enjoyed a meal at Cafe Laurent, one of Havana’s most famous Paladars (a privately run restaurant). It is situated in Vedado and has a pleasant outdoor rooftop terrace where we could watch all the vintage cars drive by below. The restaurant is fairly popular so I would recommend making reservations in advance. We had a couple of fish dishes which were beautifully presented. My husband was a fan of the house red wine but I wouldn’t recommend the Tropical Daiquiri (unless you like papaya, that is!).

Enjoy a meal at Cafe Laurent, Vedado, Havana
A meal at Cafe Laurent

After your meal, take a walk down Avenida 23 and stop by Sofia for some drinks and live music. You can eat here too but I’ll be honest, the music and atmosphere was alot more enjoyable than the food in my opinion (although to be fair, I didn’t enjoy much of the Cuban food to be honest!).

After drinks and perhaps some spontaneous salsa dancing at Sofia, make your way to La Zorra y el Cuervo – Havana’s premier Jazz club. You enter the club through the quirky London-style phone box. The club opens at 10pm, we arrived a few minutes before and got a table no problem, but if there is a popular act on any particular night, people have been known to start queuing as early as 9pm. For a price of 10 CUC per person you gain entry as well as two drinks – pretty good! The club closes at 2am but we only stuck around until 12.30am.

La Zorra y El Cuervo during the daylight - Havana's premier Jazz Club opens at 10pm
La Zorra y El Cuervo during the daylight

Of course there’s more on offer in Havana but if it’s cars and culture, mojitos and music you’re after, then this is a good place to start!

Mojitos and jazz are a winning combo at Havana's La Zorra y el Cuervo
Mojitos and jazz at La Zorra y el Cuervo

Have you ever been to Havana? What would you recommend doing or seeing? Let me know in the comments below!

The day I attended Spy Academy

…and got offered a job!

Yeah you read that right, but let me start at the beginning.

Our day as aspiring 007s began at Spy Games HQ – a large warehouse in the middle of a field. I can’t tell you where it was because that is classified information.

Oh ok, it was just outside of Milton Keynes.

Anyway, as we entered the Spy Games HQ with our fellow James Bond wannabes, we were promptly divided into 3 groups of around 14 (although the academy does have a larger capacity). Each group was to then rotate between the different activities, spending around an hour at each.

HOUR 1

First up, axe throwing and laser tag battle. Our group of 14 was then split into two, half of us doing axe throwing and half doing a laser tag shooting battle and then switching over at half time.

The laser tag battle involved using laser guns and running around piles of tyres and abandoned trucks and caravans with the aim of shooting your fellow spies out of the game. I sadly lost 9 of my 10 lives fairly quickly but I managed to cling onto my last life until it was game over and I was only 1 of 3 left standing.

When it came to the axe throwing part of our Spy Academy training, first we were shown pistol draw techniques with dummy pistols and then we were taught how to throw axes into a wooden board. The axes don’t look how you would imagine them to, these axes were more like a star shape on the end of a pole – kind of like a deadly sharp metallic fairy wand. Axe throwing was not my strong point but our teacher was really humourous and lively.

Axe Throwing at Spy Academy

Hour 2

Out of the elements and into the warehouse, we were taught about bugs and surveillance gadgets. We were told stories from real ex-SAS men and we learnt about all the possible places you could hide a camera – from coffee cups to smoke alarms etc. In fact we had several hidden cameras watching us as we sat there!

Spy Games in Milton Keynes
There are multiple hidden cameras in this picture

After that, we then were taught unarmed combat and some basic self defence. Although the Spy Academy instructors do stress that what you learn there is for entertainment purposes only and not to leave there thinking you’re some kind of superhero.

Hour 3

Again, we were divided into 2 groups of 7, me being the only girl in the group this time. We used airsoft machine guns and were challenged to run up a stretch of ground yelling our heads off while shooting wooden targets with mean looking characters painted onto them. This was really fun but so tiring!! I’m not sure if it was the screaming or the running that wore me out first!

Fun and games at Spy Academy Milton Keynes

We also got the chance to shoot targets with sniper rifles. We had a couple of burly men show us how to do it and then we were given 5 small pellets to shoot our targets with. Once we had shot all 5 bullets, the men checked our targets and asked “who’s on lane 6?”. I raised my hand. The guy gave me a surprised look and shook my hand. I had managed to score two bullseyes (10 points), two shots in the 9 point circle and one shot in the 8 point circle.

Shooting a sniper rifle at Spy Games

My sniper target from Spy Academy
She shoots, she scores!

He then called his colleague over who asked me if I wanted a job. Haha! I think I took them by surprise as I don’t think they expected the tiny blonde girl to beat 6 blokes at such a macho task! I was feeling pretty proud of myself because, you don’t understand, I am literally good at nothing, especially anything vaguely sporty.

And that pretty much sums up our day at Spy Academy! At least I can be safe in the knowledge that if the zombie apocalypse ever happens, as long as I have a sniper rifle and a safe vantage point, I can pretend I am Sasha from The Walking Dead! RAAA!