I just wanted to reach out to you once again to express my appreciation for all you did in making our trip to New Zealand an absolute success. I did write a review on Trip Advisor but I'm not sure I submitted it correctly.
As I'm still on quarantine with time on my hands I thought I would share a few things about our trip that you may use in working with other travelers.
First, we were so grateful that upon arriving in Christchurch you had a driver meet us to take us to our accommodation. After that long flight I'm not so sure we could have figured out the GPS system, how to drive on the opposite side of the road, and get to our hotel without being totally stressed. Our driver, Norm, was delightful...and we had him the next morning for our trip to the train station. Again, awesome to have had a driver.
The places and accommodations you selected for the four of us were spot on. You had us in lovely towns (or pretty cool remote locations like Waikiwa Bay), close to restaurants as we like walking to dinner when possible. You picked some amazing houses/apartments, such as the Paparoa Beach Hideaway. What a way to kick off the trip. It was a very cool place.
We tend to lean towards more "off the beaten path" activities but we were so glad you suggested a few guided excursions. Our Kepler Track heli-hike was a great one. We thoroughly enjoyed spending time with our knowledgeable guide Becs. We learned so much and had many of our questions answered. It was a delightful day. Luck was with us when your office rescheduled our Southern Discoveries Milford Sound tour to a Trips & Tramps tour. We again learned so much from our guide. Plus he made several stops for short interpretive walks and afternoon tea at a lovely picnic area. Another great day. Thank you for encouraging us to include a few guided tours.
To accommodate our "off the beaten path" natures, we purchased a book titled "NZ Frenzy" by Scott Cook. The South Island edition breaks the island down by region and then lists and describes the top tourist attractions, well known second tier must sees and his favorite obscurities along with an "Obscure -O-Meter". We did his "Don't Miss" suggestions and had a blast exploring some of his obscure hikes. Cannibal Bay in the Catlins with its sea lions was a treat, as well as a hike into Glacier Burn Valley near Wanaka. His book was a perfect resource for us.
One item for you to note is that we learned the Rippon Winery in Wanaka is by appointment only. We opted for an obscure walk instead!
Funny story. The guides for our kayak in Akaroa were from our home state of Wisconsin. One of the guides is from a town only 45 minutes from our home! And in the summer he leads kayak trips on Lake Superior for the company we used for our kayak/camping trip a few years ago. Small world! Great sea kayak trip; the guides were extremely knowledgeable about the area, history, geology, bird and marine life.
The highlight of our trip was the overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound. We were lucky enough to have good weather. The cruise was nothing like I had expected. The ship was large, the rooms and beds were comfortable, the food was delicious and plentiful, and the Nature guide was impressive. The water, scenery, stars and sunrise were beautiful to experience. Having done this first made Milford Sound seem small and extremely commercialized!
Lastly I want to give a shout out to First Light Travel. We called the office twice, both times on the weekend. The gentleman/men who answered the calls were extremely helpful. Our first call had to do with the Milford Sound bus transport issue. Within minutes he had it resolved and before he could call us back with an update we already had an email from Trips & Tramps confirming our morning van pickup. Our second call was in regards to the US issuing a travel level 4 warning to return home immediately. The Bokerns were quite stressed over this and the travel consultant they talked with in your office did a great job of calming their fears, talking through our options and giving sound advice. Your email response, though you were out of the office, was greatly appreciated as well. We put our concerns aside and did another obscure hike near the Rob Roy track!
We had a fabulous trip...tramped over 200km, drove over 3000km, experienced the South Island from end to end and side to side. Thank you again for being part of our adventure.
Barbara & Michael Bartling, Emily & James Bokern - USA