New Zealand Wine Country

What makes New Zealand wine so good? From world famous Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris varieties, this small but influential country in the South Pacific has got what it takes. Could it be the climate… Or could it be the rich alluvial soil that covers much of this island nation?

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New Zealand has a farming tradition dating back to the first settlers, the Maori, around 800 years ago, a very short recorded history. The Maori cleared land to plant gardens of kumera and yams amongst other crops and when European settlers arrived more land was cleared and large-scale farming began. Along with the sheep and cattle farms, grapes were introduced with the first vineyard finding its feet in the Hawkes Bay region in 1851.

There are nine major wine producing regions in New Zealand with five located on the North Island, the most famous region being Hawkes Bay. While in Auckland, take some time to visit Waiheke Island. Just a short ferry ride across the harbour you can explore around twenty vineyards with tastings, restaurants, vineyard cafes and spectacular views of the city on offer.

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The remaining four wine regions are located on the South Island with Marlborough the most renown. It is here that some of the world’s best Sauvignon Blancs are produced. British talk show host Graham Norton was so taken with the quality of the wine that he purchased a stake in one of the wineries (Invivo Wines) apparently drinking it exclusively on his show and lending a hand with its production.

With all of this amazing wine it is no surprise that there are some fantastic eateries to be found on both islands. Auckland has an array of cutting edge restaurants and Wellington has more places to dine per capita than New York City. Queenstown, home to the Central Otago wine region, is brimming with hip cafes and smart relaxed dining.

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There is something special about New Zealand. You only truly realise it when you visit. With its friendly people, great natural attractions, immersive culture and brilliant food and wine, you will not want to return home.

Book early, save and smile with AAT Kings’ New Zealand earlybird deals! Book & pay in full by 4 July 2016 & save 5% per person on your next New Zealand Guided Holiday or Inspiring Journey! Conditions Apply.

Blog contributed by Peter Rasmussen, Web Manager – AAT Kings

 

AAT Kings’ Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors Getaway!

I was recently very lucky to be apart of a photo competition run by AAT Kings which offered the entrants of the top 2 most unique and creative photos a spot on the ultimate behind the scenes Wildlife Warrior Getaway at Australia Zoo.

The day started off early as we all filled up on breakfast before our drive from Caloundra to Australia Zoo. The anticipation of our exclusive and behind the scenes experience was building as we arrived promptly at 9am at the Zoo. First up was our morning tea and presentation from koala expert Rosie who shared with us the history and important work of the Wildlife Hospital. The hospital has treated over 8000 koalas and on average treats between 600-800 koalas every year.

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It was now time to head outside for a guided tour of the hospital’s surrounds. We walked around the different koala enclosures and met a number of the patients that were recovering from a variety of injuries and diseases. We learnt about the process of collecting different eucalyptus branches and leaves for each koala to eat…fussy bunch they are! Every day a shed is filled to the brim with an array of eucalyptus branches; you wouldn’t believe that all these branches would last just a day, with the process to be repeated each and every morning. We then split into two groups with one heading off to refill the food stock in the plantation area, where recovered koalas spend 1 month before being released back into the wild and the other group was to help tidy and clean the enclosures.

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Next on the itinerary was to head over to the zoo to have our photos taken with a resident koala. Diesel was a cuddly little koala, however deceivingly heavier than you would expect. Nonetheless he put on his best poses for the group! After this we were in for a slightly different experience as we took our VIP seats for the live Croc Show at the Crocoseum! We witnessed an amazing bird show and a few lucky attendees in the group had a rather close encounter with an eagle! The excitement started to build in the arena as an enormous crocodile made its way through the water. It was such an exciting experience to watch the keepers feed the enormous croc as your heart raced! After all that excitement it was time for a well-deserved lunch at the Feeding Frenzy Food Court.

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After lunch we made our way back to the Wildlife Hospital for our VIP and behind the scenes tour. It was a truly amazing experience to witness the vets providing world class care to a range of different animals and to see what’s possible through the Australia Zoo and AAT Kings partnership. We were lucky enough to witness koala Brash receiving his pre-release check up after recovering from being hit by a car; miraculously he had no broken bones! We saw a bird having its bandage removed after a leg injury and a carpet python by the name of Snape who had been hospitalized with deep lacerations as a result of being attacked by a duck.

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We finished off rest of the day at the zoo at our leisure. It was a fantastic experience and one I will not forget; I hope our winners enjoyed their experience just the same.

Interested in visiting Australia Zoo? See below for AAT Kings tours that include a visit to Australia Zoo.

East Coast Islands and Rainforest Guided Holiday

East Coast Beaches and Reef Guided Holiday

Crocodile Express & Australia Zoo Day Tour

Brisbane & Australia Zoo Short Break

Blog contributed by Bridget Toogood, Digital Marketing Executive, AAT Kings

Field of Light

Last week I was fortunate enough to be part of the Media launch for the Bruce Munro Field of Light. We boarded the coach at 5am bound for a unique desert destination. Our Driver Guide gave us a brief welcome and introduction, but also kept us in a certain amount of suspense. We ventured down a short dirt road, disembarked the coach and had a small walk to the first viewing platform.

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This is where my early morning start was rewarded by a scene never experienced before. The silent morning air was filled with ohhhhhhs and ahhhhhhhhs as we looked towards the direction of Uluru to where we were met with 4 acres of flowing fibre optic lights. The ohhhhhs and ahhhhhhhs soon turned to a tranquil peace and quite as everyone stopped to enjoy the fibre optic display gently changing colour with the backdrop of the Milky Way and night sky.

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After a cup of tea I wandered down to begin my walk amongst the lights, this was a magical and breathtaking experience unlike anything I have ever experienced before! You can find a place all to yourself to stand or crouch in amongst the changing fibre optic lights that gently change from green to red to purple to blue. The lights are so gentle and don’t distract from the clear night sky. I found myself looking at the Milky Way then back to the Field of Light without having to adjust my focus. As the morning progressed I could see the Desert Oak trees and spinifex grasses start to appear as the sun began to rise. This added another spectacular element to the morning, the sun slowly rising and taking over as the fibre optic lights ever so slightly started to fade away. So many wow factors in one morning.

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This experience was breathtaking, tranquil, mesmerising and is one that will remain with me for the rest of my life, a must see by all who visit the amazing Red Centre.

Blog contributed by Brett Holmes, Day Tours Manager, AAT Kings

A unique insight into the world of famils!

One of the great perks of my job is to reward agents for their hard work. These rewards can come in many different forms such as coffees, lunches, gift vouchers and famils.  Famils offer the greatest insight to our products and allow agents to get a first-hand experience of a destination and learn all the ins and outs of our products in great detail, which they can use to provide first-hand experience to their clients. When it is my job to take or participate in a famil, it is as much a learning experience for me as the agents I bring with me. No matter how many times I visit a destination I always seem to learn or experience something new. My recent famil to Queenstown in New Zealand was no exception.

It had been over 11 years since I had last been to New Zealand’s adventure capital. As soon as I landed at the airport and disembarked the aircraft I took in the view of the Remarkables Ranges and memories started to return of my last trip to Queenstown.

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Queenstown 

Our first day consisted of a cruise on board the Steamship the TSS Earnshaw which took us from Queenstown on a 45 minute scenic journey to Walter Peak. Once we arrived we enjoyed the fantastic views, stopped for some quick photos and the headed back to enjoy one of the most delicious buffet dining experiences at the colonel homestead.

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TTS Earnshaw 

On day two we set off to visit Milford Sound. Although the weather was not on our side we soon  found out that Milford Sound is even more magnificent in the wet. The constant rain over the past day or so meant there was more waterfalls at Milford than normal. My favourite experience from Milford Sound was getting what is known by the locals as a rejuvenation shower. This involves standing, generally with your arms extended up high out on the deck as the cruise approaches a waterfall and letting the mist from the waterfall engulf you along with the entire boat.

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Mildford Sound

Day 3 was all about adventure. The morning kicked off with a hotel breakfast before being picked up by the Shootover Jet crew. The Shootover Jet is definitely one of the must do’s in Queenstown. Even if you aren’t an adrenaline junkie the Shootover Jet will no doubt get you in to the adventure spirit. In order to keep the adrenaline pumping we all went for a quick ride up one of the many mountain peaks to a where we all got see  in a breathtaking view of Queenstown. This was only the start of the amazing views when we all realised that we were all about to go for a ride in a Helicopter to the Skyline restaurant. When we arrived at the beautiful  Skyline restaurant that overlooks Queenstown, we were all given passes to go experience the Luge track.  Some attendees myself included embraced our competitive nature and raced around the track as fast as we could.

The Luge Team

The Luge

After taking a gondola ride back down to Queenstown. We all enjoyed some free time to explore city centre.  The final event to top off the amazing few days in Queenstown was hosted by Gibbston Valley Wineries.  We were invited to a 5 course meal with matching wines inside there man made wine cellar. It was great way to finish the famil and all attendees really enjoyed the dinner and local wines.

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Gibbston Valley Wines

It is sometimes hard to know whether the itinerary you have created for a famil really inspires the agents to become advocates for you product upon their return. Although I was not involved in creating the amazing itinerary for this famil but I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I hope the agents and my colleagues that joined me did as well.

Blog contributed by Simon Vincent, Sales Manager NSW/ACT, AAT Kings

Hunter Valley Harvest Wine Experience

The sun was shining and what better way to spend the day than in the Hunter Valley. We were picked up by John, our AAT Kings Driver Guide and embarked on our tour to the Hunter Valley. We travelled through the leafy suburbs of North Sydney while John provided us with some insightful and interesting commentary along the way. Who would have known that the cosmopolitan suburb of Chatswood was named after Charlotte “chatty” Wood who was the gossip queen of the town? A little further into our tour we passed through small country towns and acres of green hills peppered with cows, sheep and horses. It was so nice to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city Sydney is and appreciate the countryside.

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Hope Estate

Soon we arrived at the Hunter Valley. This small wine region of NSW only produces 2% of Australia’s wine, however is visited by over 2.5 million people annually! That’s a lot of wine tastings! Our first stop was Hope Estate. We were greeted by Lynn, who gave us a tour of the cellar and explained the ins and outs of wine making at their estate. We even got to try one of their Verdelho’s straight from the vat. From there, Lynn talked us through a wine tasting class, trying both red and whites from Hope Estate. Hope Estate was beautiful, and you can understand why they host regular events in the likes of Fleetwood Mac and Elton John. The best part too is we even managed to sneak in some beer tastings, as Hope Estate also has a brewery boasting a variety of craft beers.

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Hope Estate

Our tummy’s started to grumble as we knew we were on our way to lunch. Served a buffet of meals from Salt and Pepper Calamari to Lamb Ragu penne pasta, there was something for everyone with complimentary wines to pair with each meal. As my boyfriend and I sat at the end of the table devouring what we could, John made note when we finished that this was the most food he had seen eaten by a group yet. I’m just going to go ahead and take that as a compliment. Who doesn’t love a buffet meal!?

After sneaking in again some beer tastings from Matilda Bay, we made our way to McGuigan Wines. We were greeted by Tyrone, McGuigan’s wine tasting guru, and sampled some of McGuigan’s finest wines from their World Best Semillon and Merlot, to their dessert wine and NV Personal Reserve Tawny Port. Tyrone was great at explaining the process of how each wine was made and what food would be best to pair each wine with. James and I couldn’t help but leave with a bottle of our favourite red.

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McGuigan Wines

Brimming with boutique stores and a stunning display of gardens, Hunter Valley Gardens Village was last on the hit list before heading back into the city. Here we treated ourselves to chocolate tasting and a very quick game of Aqua Golf – and when I say quick, I mean a 10 minute-one bucket of balls-hit off. There were also an array of gift stores, candy stores and even a liqueur store – something for everyone.

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Aqua Golf

With our tummy’s full and feeling ever so sleepy for some reason, we were on our way back to Sydney. What a great mid-week escape filled with new friends, great food and wine and entertaining commentary from our Driver Guide John. It’s safe to say AAT Kings made my first visit to the Hunter Valley a memorable one.

Blog contributed by Jemma Bradshaw, Marketing Coordinator , AAT Kings

 

A day in the life of a foodie in Melbourne

When travelling there appears to be an unspoken rule that one must indulge in the delicious cuisine that each destination serves up (I won’t be arguing with that). For Melbourne the list is endless, on my recent trip I was astounded by how this beautiful city is so besotted by its own love for food, coffee and cocktails. The overwhelming mix of cultures amongst the vast array of restaurants, bars and cafés across Melbourne creates a unique and eclectic dining scene.

Breakfast:

There’s no better place to be on a Saturday morning than in Melbourne joining in on the exhilarating breakfast rush…prepare to be spoiled for choice. On every corner people spill out onto the streets eager to get their spot for a morning feed. This craze has almost become a sport, you’re in it to win it and by win it I mean reward yourself with a scrumptious breakfast for all your hard work. Whether it’s a refreshing and colourful bowl of fruit and muesli that you’re after or a hot breakfast with the lot, there’s something for everyone. You’ll find a number of the hot spots around Richmond, Fitzroy and the CBD, all of which are easily accessible by public transport.

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Morning Tea:

Having indulged in a delicious and filling breakfast I decided I should walk it off while exploring the city of Melbourne. As I weaved my way through the never ending maze of laneways amongst the towering skyscrapers the smell of coffee wafting out from the café’s that fill these streets is a treat for the senses. Across from busy Flinders Street Station amongst the historic buildings the cobbled blue stone Degraves Street can be found. With the centre of the street filled with café umbrellas it gives a Parisian touch to the dining experience. Here you’ll be sure to get a good coffee or hot chocolate at any one of the cafes, however one of my favourites would have to be Degraves Espresso. Make sure to browse the cupcake selection at Little Cupcakes as well!

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Bars:

The Melbourne bar scene has taken off in recent years with a number of quirky new bars popping up across the city. Whether you’re after a rooftop bar, old school corner pub or basement bar, Melbourne will deliver. A summer favourite of mine is the Naked for Satan rooftop bar (Naked in the Sky) on Brunswick Street. It is here you’ll be treated to skyline views of Melbourne City while you ponder over the extensive drinks menu and tapas style menu. Or as an alternative take a step back in time at Eau De Vie where only a street lamp marks the entrance to the beautifully designed 1920s speakeasy bar, complete with its own whiskey room hidden behind a bookcase – located in Malthouse Lane. There’s no better time to come explore these bars, whether you head up some stairs, around a corner or down a laneway there will always be a bar waiting to be discovered.

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Dinner:

With my pre dinner drinks finished and my belly starting to rumble it’s now time set off to find a nice little spot for dinner. The wonderful thing about Melbourne is that you can walk down any street or laneway and you’re presented with a smorgasbord of restaurants that will be a feast for your eyes and taste buds. A favourite spot of mine is Hardware Lane, where the tables and chairs from the vast collection of restaurants that line the street creates a buzzing and inviting atmosphere. In saying that you can’t go past Flinders Lane which boasts some of the most well-known restaurants in Melbourne from Chin Chin, Coda, Tonka to Cumulus Inc, you’ll be sure to find somewhere good eat here.

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Blog contributed by Bridget Toogood, Digital Marketing Executive, AAT Kings

Family Holiday in Uluru

When it comes to planning the perfect family holiday the options are endless. Do we go overseas or stay locally? Will it be suitable for my children? Is it safe and will they enjoy it? All these questions plus more are asked. My family was very fortunate to travel to Uluru and experience some of the most iconic sights in Australia.

Uluru

Uluru

The holiday began departing Sydney and heading to Uluru aboard Virgin Airlines. This time we didn’t get the “Are we there yet?” , there was just too much excitement in the air! What is it like? How big is the rock? Can we climb it? It wasn’t long until we caught first glimpses of Uluru and the children’s faces began to light up. There is nothing better than seeing the amazement and excitement in your children’s faces to know that you have picked a holiday that they will truly remember forever.

Upon landing we were greeted by the friendly AAT Kings crew who delivered us safely and promptly to our accommodation at Sails in the Desert. What an amazing property. Comfy beds, great service and all the facilities you could ever want.   Definitely a great start to our holiday.

The kids after a long day

The kids after a long day

That afternoon we headed out to watch Uluru at sunset aboard our AAT Kings coach. What an experience, wine, nibbles, chips and juice for the kids, great company and service topped off with an amazing sunset. The kids were in awe watching the rock change colours and enjoyed hearing the stories told by our informative guides.

The kids enjoying Uluru

The kids enjoying Uluru

Day 2 started out early with us heading out to watch sunrise. Once again an amazing experience and despite the early start no whingeing from the kids. They were just enjoying their holiday too much to even worry about getting up at 5.00am! The day was jam packed full of fun, dot painting, guided walks, amazing scenery and the beautiful sights of Kata Tjuta.   We were entertained, informed and driven around in comfort without having to worry about a thing. The kids were so exhausted they needed an early night to be ready for the next day’s adventures.

Trying to get some shut eye on the coach!

Trying to get some shut eye on the coach!

When we thought the holiday couldn’t get any better we were treated to a Camel ride. The kids had never seen a camel let alone ridden one. The squeals of joy and happiness radiated through them as they jumped on their camels and headed off on their adventure. Definitely an experience not to be missed. After another action packed day we decided to enjoy the facilities of the resort and relax around the pool. With our holiday drawing to an end it was the perfect rest we needed.

Taking a refreshing dip after a hard day's touring

Taking a refreshing dip after a hard day’s touring

Having now returned home and reflecting on our family holiday I can definitely say Uluru should be on everyone’s lists. The culture, sights and activities are just amazing and my kids say it was the best holiday they have ever had!

blog entry contributed by Jody Grossfeldt, AAT Kings Regional Day Tours Manager