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Learn to Ski At Cardrona Queenstown

It’s a case of now or never. If I don’t start skiing now, I never will.

The beginner’s slope at Cardrona

Helpful Emily, at the I-Site bureau in Queenstown recommends an Easy-Ski beginners’ family package at Cardrona, “the easiest place in Queenstown for beginners”. I’ve heard this “easiest place” pitch before and I’m sceptical. Ski-ing from any viewpoint across my considerable span of years, always looked hard and that’s why I’ve never tried it before. But as I said, it’s now or never. So, with vouchers in hand we head to over to Quest on Shotover Street for waterproof jackets, pants, gloves, goggles and helmets. Oh the blessings of being average. Everything I try, fits.

Next morning, 7.45 sees us garbed in ski-gear, waiting in the dark at the bus-stop on Frankton Road. Our orange easy ski bus arrives and on we hop. Our driver, Sean is a cheery chap, with a repertoire of self-deprecating witty banter, interspersed with advice for the wise and well-behaved skier. During Sean’s silences, the radio pumps out current hits and two cherubs in matching blue helmets, goggles and overalls engage in a deep and lengthy battle of knowledge. The journey is long (45 minutes) but this background soundtrack helps to pass the time as we coast around the lake and wind up through the snow-dusted tussock and into the perfect white world on the mountain.

We descend from the bus into the aftermath of a pillow fight, or so it seems. Little white feathery flakes fill the air. “It’s snowing!” the cherubic know-alls announce. We hurry towards the sanctuary of a low, dark wooden building and in through a door marked rentals. I find myself at a screen, scanning in my mi-ski pass and then filling in onscreen details of weight (average) height (ditto) and age (a glance around the room tells me this is well above average) At the other end of the room room, I’m swiftly bundled into boots, and with skis and poles under my arm and voucher in hand, I clump out to class.

I’m relieved to find that while most of my classmates are children, there is one older couple. Our “classroom” is gentle 6-foot incline. Monika, our instructor is Swiss and from the easy way she lopes around in her skis, it’s clear she’s spent a lifetime on them. As soon as attach mine, I begin a backwards slide but, in a flash, Monika stops me. Step 1, she explains as she spins me sideways, is standing still on skis. From there, she marches me in crab-walk up the side of the slope – Step 2!

Once we’ve mastered standing, walking and stopping, we graduate to the beginner’s slope. This is serious stuff, with a “carpet” to carry you to a ledge at the top. Up here, we learn to turn and slow down. I suffer some spectacular falls, my skis fall off, I battle to snap my boots back into them, I drop my poles and whizz down the slope without them. But, by the end of the morning I can follow Monika in a cautious crocodile. By the end of the day, I can zig-zag down the slope and weave my way through a line of poles. I’m having such fun that I can’t believe I’ve never skied before.   

B&B luxury at Akaroa’s Beaufort House

The high point of our visit to the beautiful little seaside village of Akaroa in Aotearoa New Zealand last January, was our stay at Beaufort House luxury BB.

Built in 1878 by English Barrister, George Nalder and his wife Mariane, Beaufort House was originally named The Wilderness, because of its location on an untamed hillside in the, then, remote Grehan Valley. In their “wilderness” the Nalders constructed a grand house of native timbers – totara, rimu, matai and kauri – complete with servants’ quarters tucked away further up the hillside. They surrounded it with magnificent gardens and trees, roses, camelies, magnolias and a Bunya Bunya or Monkey Puzzle.

In late 2012, the current owners, Sharon Rees-Thomas and Noel McGuigan, bought Wilderness House.  At the heart of 21st century Akaroa, it is no longer a wilderness but a carefully tended one-acre garden with lush lawns and flower beds. A boutique vineyard slopes across a hill behind the house and birdsong echoes through the tall, leafy trees. 

Although Sharon and Noel have renamed The Wilderness as Beaufort House, they have carefully preserved its story in the antique furnishings and in the names of the five guest bedrooms. 

The Nalder Room was named, of course, after George Nalder. His keen interest in Botany and Ornithology is reflected in the décor. Through the window you can see the monkey puzzle tree, the magnolia grandiflora and the cornus he planted 135 years ago.

The Shepherd Room recalls Wilderness House’s second owners – Constable and Mrs Shepherd.  This room has its own private balcony, which gets the first of the morning sun all year round. 

The Fyfe Room remembers the Fyfe sisters who ran Wilderness House as a boarding establishment in the mid-19th Century. From this charming corner room, you can see all the way down to Children’s Bay and the surrounding valley. 

The Walker room is named after the Walker family who owned the house in the late 20th Century. In their time, extensive renovations were completed and the vineyard came into its own. The spacious bathroom, looks out, fittingly, over the vineyard.

The latest addition to Beaufort House, the ground floor Beaufort Room, is furnished with an antique French Queen size bed, a chandelier and overhead reading lamp, complete with an authentic tassel-pull cord.

Beaufort House is stunning in every way. It’s a grand old house, gleaming with gorgeous native timbers. The furnishings and the décor are perfect. The rooms are comfortable and cosy, with immaculate bathrooms stocked with delicious toiletries. In every corner of the property there is something beautiful to behold.

What makes Beaufort House truly special though, is its delightful hosts. After years of masterminding weddings, cocktail parties, corporate lunches and special events in their Christchurch restaurant, Noel and Sharon are experts at hospitality. No detail is spared to make their guests’ stay memorable.   

Despite the practical demands of this busy B&B, Sharon and Noel are always up for a chat.  Both have interesting stories. Sharon worked for many years for a prominent telecommunications company, while Noel travelled to numerous exotic destinations as senior driller in the offshore oil industry. Past businesses include a 500-acre farm and a ski and snowboard rental shop. Noel is also the proud owner of a 40’ Beneteau yacht named ‘Roaring Meg’ and a veteran of many ocean voyages.

An early evening aperitif is a Beaufort House tradition. So, after an afternoon exploring Akaroa village, a nap in the sunny Walker Room and a soak in the bath with its vista over the vines, we joined Sharon, Noel and our fellow guests on the sunny terrace in front of the house to enjoy an antipasto platter with a glass of Beaufort House Chardonnay.

In the morning, we all met again for breakfast in the dining room, at a huge round table set with antique china, glassware and silver. Much of the produce served at Beaufort House is home grown in the kitchen garden or sourced locally. It includes fresh juices, cereals (including Sharon’s home toasted muesli) seasonal fruit and natural yoghurt, Noel’s country breakfast (bacon, eggs, tomatoes, sausages …) freshly baked croissants (bien sûr, in this former French settlement!) with homemade jams, along with freshly ground coffee and wide selection of teas.

Our one-night stay at Beaufort House was all too brief, but we’ll be back, certainement!

It’s nice to know, too, that this grand old house is protected by the local Council as a notable historic Akaroa building and the Nalders’ Monkey Puzzle tree is protected as a notable Akaroa landmark.

Uprising Beach resort, where Fiji’s Sevens Rugby Team prepared for Olympic gold

When Fiji defeated England 43 to 7 in the Olympic Rugby Sevens Competition, it marked two historic firsts. It was Fiji’s first gold medal and it was won in the first Olympic Rugby Sevens competition since 1924.

The palm-shaded beach at Fiji's Uprising resort where the Fiji Olympic Sevens Rugby Team prepared for gold
The palm-shaded beach at Fiji’s Uprising resort where the Fiji Olympic Sevens Rugby Team prepared for gold

The win set off a world-wide flurry of Fiji fervour. Within minutes Fiji’s Olympic victory went viral. Within hours the Fijian Rugby Sevens team was a social media sensation. By the end of the day, the most searched subject on Google was Fiji.

Lush tropical gardens at Uprising Beach Resort where the Fijian Rugby Sevens Team prepared for Olympic gold
Lush tropical gardens at Uprising Beach Resort where the Fijian Rugby Sevens Team prepared for Olympic gold

Googlers who clicked on Fiji images would have found page after page of pictures of calm blue sea, palm-fringed sands, verdant bush, and lush gardens. That’s Fiji, the South Pacific island paradise that produced the best Sevens Rugby Team in the world. Luckily we don’t have to go all the way to Fiji to experience beach life, just take a look at this
beach house barrie ontario for example, but it would certainly be nice to visit.

The view from a beachside villa at Uprising
The view from a beachside villa at Uprising

Read on with to discover Uprising Beach Resort, the corner of that tropical paradise where the Fiji Rugby Sevens team prepared for their historic win. Do you love all things rugby related? If so you might be interested to learn more about how to bet on rugby. Betting on rugby is a unique way to make friends, and celebrate the successes of your favorite teams.

A garden villa at Uprising
A garden villa at Uprising

Uprising Beach Resort is on the Coral Coast, at the southern end of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island. Set on the edge of the lagoon, in a secluded garden of frangipani, hibiscus, bougainvillea and coconut palms, it is quintessential Eden. The only sounds are birdsong, the whisper of waves on sand, the rustle of the wind in the trees and the occasional thud of a falling coconut.

A villa beside the sea at Uprising
A villa beside the sea at Uprising

Uprising’s villas have all the charm of traditional and colonial Fiji, with thatched rooves, native timber interiors, cool paved floors, ticking ceiling fans and wooden shutters, as well as all the luxuries of 21st century life, like room service, air-conditioning, refrigerators stocked with Fiji water and sumptuous bathrooms, both indoor and outdoor, with generous supplies of fluffy towels and coconut-scented toiletries. French doors open onto a veranda with steps leading down to a deserted beach.

The garden pool and restaurant at Uprising
The garden pool and restaurant at Uprising

Life at Uprising, at least for holidaying guests, is bliss. Days begin with breakfasts of local fruits and patisserie (bacon and eggs if you must) Hours are filled with strolls along the sand, swims in the sea or the pool, canoeing, windsurfing, paddle boarding, volleyball or horse-riding and massages with tropical oils. Days end with cocktails (mango daiquiris) at sunset in the beachside bar and dinners of local cuisine (say kokonda or raw fish with cassava chips) on the restaurant terrace.

Uprising Beach Resort, Fiji Travelstripe
Sunset at Uprising Beach Resort, Fiji

Seclusion, scenic beauty, luxury and leisure – these are the essentials of the heavenly retreat. Uprising has all of these and more. The things that set Uprising apart from any other resort in the world are the Rugby field alongside the drive, the evening training sessions that bring players together there and “the big house” for group and team accommodation at the rear of the complex. The most interesting points of difference, though, are the story behind Uprising and the man behind Uprising’s story.

Tropical gardens at Uprising Beach Resort
Tropical gardens at Uprising Beach Resort

Uprising Beach Resort was the brainchild of René Phillippe. René enjoyed an idyllic childhood just up the road, in Pacific Harbour, hanging out and playing Rugby with the other local kids. When they finished school, the inevitable move away for work or further study meant the end of the idyll. Rene was determined to find a way to retrieve that idyll, to bring that team of kids back together as adults and to keep Pacific Harbour Rugby alive. Uprising Beach Resort was that “way”.

Uprising Beach resort's Rugby goals tower behind a roadside stall
Uprising Beach resort’s Rugby goals tower behind a roadside stall

The name Uprising comes from the Bob Marley album, a boyhood favourite. It’s a name that says it all. Uprising Beach Resort did bring that original group of neighbourhood Rugby players back together. Many now work at Uprising. For others it’s a home away from their far-flung, new-found homes.

Now, Uprising is a centrepoint not only of local but also of national Fijian Rugby. The careers of notable international players have been launched from the Uprising Rugby field. And, yes, now, Uprising Beach Resort can lay claim to nourishing and sheltering the world famous Fijian Sevens Rugby team as they prepared to carry off Olympic gold.

So, for all those who’ve fallen under the spell of Fiji images and are heading off to the South Pacific paradise, don’t miss Uprising Beach Resort. Luxuriate in tropical island bliss and take in some Fijian Rugby magic too.

Taylor 100% pure New Zealand

Browsing among the elegant and superbly cut collection in Wellington’s Taylor Boutique in the Old Bank Building on the corner of Customhouse Quay and Hunter Street, one might well wonder if the name Taylor is play on the name of the age old trade.

Taylor, in the old Bank Building, Customhouse Quay
Taylor, in the old Bank Building, Customhouse Quay

But no, Taylor is the family name of founder Vicki Taylor, daughter, as it happens, of a fashion industry family.

Still, exquisite tailoring, along with impeccable production and the closest attention to detail, is a hallmark of Taylor pieces. So is fine cloth and all fabrics are carefully selected form the world’s best mills.

The house of Taylor is staunchly Aotearoa New Zealand. Taylor  fashions are fully designed and manufactured in New Zealand. Furthermore, Taylor has steered clear of global stores and outlets. Taylor collections are sold only in Taylor boutiques and online stores.

Careful, classy and 100% pure New Zealand – that’s Taylor!

Tamaki Drive, Auckland’s most beautiful stretch of road

Tamaki Drive is certainly Auckland’s, and arguably New Zealand’s, most beautiful stretch of road.

The Pou at Achilles Point at the end of Tamaki Drive
The Pou at Achilles Point at the end of Tamaki Drive

On one side is a succession of lovely bays, where the sparkling blue waters of the Waitemata Harbour lap gently on golden sands. There’s Mission Bay, with its pretty park, old stone church and fountain, Kohimarama, where young mums and kids congregate on the foreshore and Ladies Bay, the nudists’ paradise. Just offshore stands the mystical island volcano Rangitoto. Its name, which means in Te Reo Maori, blood red sky, is a reference to the time of its last eruption when the sky behind it streamed with blood red lava.

On the other side of Tamaki Drive lies some of New Zealand’s most highly priced and desirable real estate – high end boutiques, chic cafes, ritzy restaurants and million dollar mansions behind high security fences. Yet, among all this, some surprisingly ordinary kiwi bungalows survive, with sea-weathered paint, where togs and towels dry on the ledges of windows flung open to the sun and the breeze.

Undoubtedly, the most highly prized and priceless piece of Tamaki Drive is Bastion Point. Its story is one of the determination, endurance and triumph of the Tangata whenua (local people) Ngati Whatua. In the 1970s this tract of ancient land was appropriated by the government for luxury housing developments. Ngati Whatua refused to move. There was a siege and a stand-off which lasted for years but, in the end, the government gave in. Ngati Whatua won their land back.

The Bastion Point case was a watershed for Treaty of Waitangi land settlements. Since then much land appropriated by the Crown has reverted to Maori ownership. Most of the land occupied by Universites and Museums around is now owned by the people of Ngati Whatua.

Bastion Point remains today, with a Marae (community centre) and some Ngati Whatua housing in one corner and a huge expanse of parkland that everyone, Aucklanders and visitors alike can enjoy.

On the sea edge of the point stands the magnificent memorial to Michael Joseph Savage, the grand old man of the New Zealand Labour Party. Visitors stroll the paths bordered by flower beds and children take an illicit swim in the pond which reflects the tall stone plinth.

Achilles Point marks the end of Tamaki Drive and the point itself is marked by another magnificent monument. The three massive and beautifully carved Pou or pillars were the gift of the Tainui Iwi, or tribe of the region just south of Auckland.

Aoraki Mount Cook Mackenzie, magnificent but merciless country

This story was published on the Flight Centre blog in February 2015


Roughly half way down Te Waipounamu, the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand, lies Aoraki Mount Cook Mackenzie. Running up to the Southern Alps in the west and down to the edge of the plains in the East, it’s a region with a handful of small towns, few people and vast isolated farms. It’s a place that is rich with legends and ripe for adventures, where the earth is spectacular and the sky sublime.

Burke's Pass
Burke’s Pass

These high, remote lands were known only to Maori who had hunted there for centuries, until, in 1855, James Mackenzie fled there with 1000 stolen sheep. His story became legend and the ancient Maori hunting ground became the Mackenzie Country, home to hardy graziers, their tireless collie dogs and tough Merino sheep.

We’ve traced Mackenzie’s trail up through peaceful Fairlie, then higher, through hills and bush, to Burke’s Pass.

Beyond the pass the land flattens, the sky lowers and the light brightens. Golden tussock stretches away to the horizon on one side. Thick clouds race across the sky and roll down the hills on the other. There’s nobody here, no other cars – just us, following a straight, undulating line across the empty landscape. There’s nothing here but earth and sky.

Earth and sky in the Mackenzie Country
Earth and sky in the Mackenzie Country

The road ends at Lake Tekapo. Framed by Mount John and the Southern Alps and   coloured an unbelievable blue by the glacial rock-powder suspended in its waters, it gleams in its mountain setting like an opal. On the foreshore stands the little stone Church of the Good Shepherd, a memorial to the Mackenzie Country’s pioneers. Nearby, the faithful collie is immortalised in bronze. It’s a scene that has inspired countless artists and untold photographers.

Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo

But Tekapo isn’t just a pretty face. In winter the skiing is superb on Roundhill and Mount Dobson. In summer the lakes are brilliant for water sports. The scenic walking, cycling and horse trails are stunning in any season. Most weather is fine for a round on the rugged golf course. Any time is a good time to luxuriate at Tekapo Springs. On the summit of Mount John, the Astro Cafe, is, according to Lonely Planet “the best place on earth for a coffee”. The Good Shepherd Church, with its altar window overlooking the lake, is always the perfect setting for a fairytale wedding.

On any clear night, though, the star attraction here is the sky. Above Aoraki Mount Cook Mackenzie are 4,367 square kilometre of pristine, Gold Status World Heritage Dark Sky Reserve, the largest, and one of only two, in the world.

It’s a rare and magical sight. From the lakeshore we gaze spellbound at the thick clusters of stars, clouds of silvery dust and trails of vivid light and wonder How did it begin? Is there anybody out there? Where does it end?

Mount John Observatory’s Earth and Sky Tours offer a closer look at the stars, through telescopes, with astronomers to address those big questions.

Next morning, we’re deep in the Mackenzie basin. Sometimes a lonely mailbox, or a driveway marks a farm. Merinos, dark with summer dust, watch as we pass. The land slopes upwards and clouds, backlit by a blazing sun, hang low above it.

Lake Pukaki
Lake Pukaki

The road leads to Pukaki, the Long Lake of Middle Earth and a “star” setting in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. The lake is surreal, rock-powder blue, the land is muted gold and the distant hills are hazy mauve. Away at the top of the lake Aoraki Mount Cook towers against the sky, his summit crowned with a circle of cloud. It’s a movie dream scene. But beneath it lies the cautionary legend of Aoraki who was exploring here with his brothers, when a vicious wind froze them forever into the peaks of the Southern Alps.

The land at the top of Lake Pukaki is Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. It is a magnificent but merciless terrain of soaring mountains, swift rivers, shadowed valleys, glaciers and capricious skies, where Aoraki reigns supreme. To anyone, it’s compelling country but to adventurers, it’s irresistible. On Aoraki’s formidable heights, Edmund Hillary honed his skills for the conquest of Everest.

There are innumerable ways to adventure here. “Extreme” adventurers scale Aoraki and ski down. The extremely “soft” can enjoy views of Aoraki from the cafe at the Hermitage Hotel and adventure vicariously in the theatres of the Hillary Centre. We take a family tramp up the Tasman valley. It leaves us breathless on a high rock ledge, not because of the steep climb, but because the milky glacier lake below, with its floating icebergs, is breathtaking.

Tasman Glacier Lake
Tasman Glacier Lake

Leaving Aoraki Mount Cook Mackenzie, we pass through Twizel, once a booming Hydro town, now a quiet sanctuary and through country where canals spill into dams and pylons march across the land.

Our journey ends at Omarama, gateway to the Waitaki Valley. Here the sky is high and clear and paved with thermal pathways, where adventurers from far and near, including living All Black legend Ritchie McCaw, come to glide. Here, the earth begins to change from gold to green and to fill with dairy cows and sinister ranks of giant irrigators.



Saint Remy de Provence

Set in a lush, fragrant and verdant valley, Saint Rémy de Provence is one of the region’s “must sees”.

It sits on the site of one of the oldest archaeological sites in Europe. Traces of the ancient city of Glanum, founded in the 3rd century BC by the Romans are still visible, including the Triumphal Arch, which was feature of many Roman settlements.

The house of Nostradamus, St Remy
The house of Nostradamus, St Remy

Saint Rémy’s most famous son was undoubtedly the prophet Michel de Nostrodame or Nostrodamus who was born in Saint Rémy in 1503. After working initially as apothecary, or doctor, in 1555 he published a collection of prophecies among which were suggested threats to the family of the King, Henri II. They caught the attention of the Queen, Catherine de Medici and Nostrodamus was summoned to court where he was put to work writing horoscopes for the Royal children. By the time his death in 1566, Nostrodamus was the Counsellor and Physician-in-ordinary to the young King Charles X. Throughout history Nostrodamus has attracted many followers. He is credited with predicting many significant worlds events including the Fire of London, the rise of Napoleon and Hitler, the death of Princess Diana and September 11.

Because of its picturesque scenery and its extraordinary light, Saint Rémy attracted many artists. The most famous of these was Vincent Van Gogh, who produced more than 150 works which featured Saint Rémy and its surrounds. During his time in Saint Remy he was treated at the psychiatric centre of the Monastery of Saint Paul de Mausole.

Today the narrow streets of Saint Rémy are lined with lovely old houses, beautifully restored. They open into shady squares with fountains. There are elegant restaurants and boutiques stocked with all kinds of wonderful things, including clothes, homewares and produce, all with the unmistakeable stamp of the South of France.

Gordes, Le Village Perche

At the summit of a perilously steep cone of rock, surrounded by plains of rolling Luberon farmland, in the South of France, is the “village perché” (literally, the perched village) of Gordes.


Viewed from an equally perilous (and unfenced!!!) cliff top on the approaching road, Gordes is absolutely breathtaking. Its church and its 500-year-old castle dominate the skyline. Tiers of bleached stone dwellings spill down the hillsides below.

Gordes centres around a quiet, village square, shaded by the church. Steep, narrow streets lead away from it, always downwards. Views of the sunlit countryside below, come and go, framed between the dark buildings, like the glimpses of distant paradise often seen in the background of classical paintings.


Dating back to the time of the Romans, the ancient town of Chartres has a long and rich history.

The Cathedral at Chartres
The Cathedral at Chartres

Most of the stories of Chartres, however, are lost in the shadow of its most famous and most prominent landmark – the magnificent Gothic Cathédrale de Notre Dame.

Sited on a hilltop in the centre of Chartres, the cathedral dominates not only the town but the plain that surrounds it.

Building began on Notre Dame in 1193 and when it was finally completed in 1250, it was the largest cathedral in France. It still holds that claim.

In floor of the cathedral is a beautiful mosaic labyrinth, a typical feature of Gothic places of worship, which has visitors running round in circles as they follow its twists and turns.

The most striking features of Notre Dame de Chartres are its exquisite “vitraux” or stained glass windows which feature the incredible bright blue that has come to be known as “chartreuse”.

La Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Chartres is a UNESCO World heritage site.

St Malo

Positioned right on the edge of Brittany in the west of France, with views out over the English Channel and surrounded by thick stone ramparts, is Saint Malo, home of adventurers,  sea-farers and a fiercely independent breed of  people.

The beach at Saint Malo
The beach at Saint Malo

Jacques Cartier was born in Saint Malo in 1491. He had already completed many expeditions when, in 1535, he sailed up the Saint Lawrence River to Quebec and laid the foundations for the French settlement in Canada.

It was in Saint Malo that the notorious Corsairs made their home.  The Corsairs were to all intents and purposes pirates. However, their targets were ships belonging to countries at war with France and their piracy was authorised by the French King. The plundered ships were sold at auction and a portion of the proceeds went to the Corsair Captain. As they acted on behalf of the King, the Corsairs were exempt from the penalty for piracy which was death by hanging.

Saint Malo has a long tradition of autonomy. From 1490 to 1493, it declared itself an independent republic, taking the motto, “not French, not Breton but Malouin”.

The pride in belonging to Saint Malo and being part of its continuing traditions and connection to the sea persists even today. There are always watchers on the ramparts, people on the sands, boats bobbing in the bays and ships setting sail towards the horizon.