Travelling as a travel agent is a very different experience to that of travelling as a regular human. I can honestly say that each “fam” trip I took as a travel agent had it’s pros and cons. Having said that, the opportunity to travel to far away countries on the cheap was incredible.
In May of 2011, I had the pleasure of touring New Zealand on a “fam” or familiarization trip with TopDeck Travel. I always dreamed of visiting New Zealand, so when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped. For those not in the travel industry, familiarization trips offer travel agents the ability to travel at a nominal cost. Tour operators, tourism bureaus, airlines, etc., foot most of the bill with the hope this knowledge will help agents sell their products. It’s a successful tactic, and one I hope will never change!
First off, the flight from Vancouver to Auckland is super long. Luckily, I was able to catch a direct flight, which from gate to gate was roughly 14 hours. Unfortunately, before I left for the trip I had caught a cold and was congested. My ears did not unplug for most of the trip, but I wouldn’t let that bring me down!
Joining me on the trip was a girl from my office, Michelle, who is one of the most positive, personable people I know. She’s still a travel agent and I’d recommend her to anyone looking for stellar service and a wealth of knowledge. Hit me up if you want her contact deets! Also on the trip was a group of Canadian travel agents, a couple of agents from Brazil, one gal from Chile (I think!) and thirteen agents from Mexico. It was a fairly large group with a big language barrier, but after a few days in, we fared pretty well!
Our tour itinerary was similar to this one but was 9 days, so we had an extra day on either end. The tour guide, Danni, was a bubbly, energetic gal from Wales (Correct me if I’m wrong!).
Kids of ’88
We started the tour in Auckland, a fairly metropolitan city on the North Island of New Zealand. Recently Auckland was rated the third most liveable city in the world, which makes a lot of sense! Within less than an hour, you can reach amazing beaches, islands, beautiful hiking trails and world-class wineries.
The other Canadians and I explored Auckland on our own as a group. We boarded a harbour cruise, exploring the city from the Waitemata Harbour. It was a cool day but the sun was out and we were all pretty ecstatic to be there! We stayed in a hostel for the night before meeting up with the rest of the group and meeting Danni, Luke and Corey. The following day, we boarded the bus to head up to the Bay of Islands. If you have not seen this region before, do it. Do it now!
Danni had chosen a trip theme song, which played every time we boarded the bus. It was an “ice breaker” as well as an introduction to a Kiwi band called Kids of ’88. (I’ll embed the video at the bottom of this blog.)
The drive to the Bay of Islands is very beautiful, but as I often do, I forgot to take pictures. We stopped off for an afternoon at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, which is a very important landmark. The first treaty and New Zealand’s founding document was signed here. The world’s largest ceremonial canoe is located on the grounds as well. Don’t forget your camera, I promise, you’ll regret it!
Exploring the Coromandel
When we arrived in the Coromandel, it was pretty spectacular. We spent the next day and a half exploring a number of amazing attractions:
Driving Creek Railway, which was built by a potter to transport clay from the hillside. The railway took 35 years to build and has a few pretty cool structures along the route. The buildings and retaining walls have wine bottles built into them, a true testament to his love of wine.
Cathedral Cove is an insanely beautiful stretch of beach which can only be accessed by boat or on foot. It remained very quiet while we were there and is an incredible place to reflect. At the time, I had a lot of reflecting to do and it was an amazing spot to find some peace.
Hot Water Beach was a place that I’ll never forget. Weatherwise, It was fairly cool when we arrived and, luckily, the beach was at a low tide. Dressed in our swimsuits, we all clambered onto the beach and quickly and started digging out small pools in the sand. As they filled up with hot thermal water and we grabbed our places, it was just as if you’d found a beachside hot tub. I can honestly say that there is no feeling more relaxing.
We stopped quickly at Parry Kauri Park, which I highly recommend for anyone visiting New Zealand’s North Island. We didn’t have the opportunity to hike too deeply into the park, although, we were there long enough to spot the glow worms! If you haven’t seen glow worms, it’s pretty awesome!
Traveling with strangers gives you insight into who they are, and yet, when you all share a common interest, you quickly learn how to have fun with each other. At this point of the trip, it had only been a night or two and everyone was getting to know each other. I had started to get to know some of the other Canadians and Michelle and I befriended the Brazilian guy, Marcel. The next part of our trip would really be when the doors really opened, and the fun began.
I think that’s where I’ll end Part one. Take a listen to Kids of ’88 in anticipation of Part two. I’ll be talking about Rotorua, Tongariro National Park and Wellington, my favourite city!