Double Down Under – Bora Bora & New Zealand
Real Life Story: “E” is for Exclusive Amenities
Not only is this another fantastic travel blog article and client testimonial by Lauren D, it also fits perfectly as a Real Life Story in our We Speak Travel-Ease campaign, exemplifying the exclusive amenities our clients receive as a result of our Virtuoso connections.
From tropical paradise to snowcapped mountains, our latest trip to Bora Bora and New Zealand was without a doubt a once in a lifetime experience that we will treasure for the rest of our lives.
There are very few things higher on my bucket list than staying in an over-the-water bungalow. It has been the ultimate travel goal of mine for as long as I can remember and Sharon Betts of Avant Travel made it happen!
From the moment we arrived in Bora Bora, we were treated like royalty in one of the most beautiful places on earth. After landing, we were greeted by the hotel staff with leis and taken to a beautiful boat that whisked us across serene and surreally colored turquoise water to paradise. We arrived at the beautiful Four Seasons already awestruck by our surroundings. Everything about our time in Bora Bora was perfect – from the welcoming locals, stunning beaches and fun excursions, to the amazing French Polynesian cuisine and first class service. I had to pinch myself each day to make sure it was all real. Every restaurant at the hotel had delicious food and there were a variety of choices each night ranging from a Polynesian party night with fire dancers to dining on local fish with your toes in the sand.
The property was absolutely beautiful but the star of the show was our over the water villa. We would wake up every morning to gentle waves below our bungalow, spending the whole day lounging and jumping off of our own private deck into the calm ocean before winding down with cocktails while watching the sun set.
The hotel has its own coral reef gardens throughout the resort that we snorkeled in at our leisure, seeing amazing tropical fish. At the suggestion of the concierge, we chose to participate in the shark and stingray excursion and it ended up being one of the highlights of the trip. As the tour started, our two wonderful local guides began singing and playing music – so relaxing and fun! We spent time snorkeling in the reefs before getting in the water and interacting with rays and reef sharks – it was truly unforgettable and I don’t think I’ve ever smiled more in my life. We were then taken to a private island where our guides grilled fish and served us local cuisine, picked coconuts off of a tree and showed us how to open/drink them, and let us relax in the sunshine.
Our time in Bora Bora was truly a dream. While we were sad to leave, we were so excited that our trip was only just beginning.
The perfect place to begin the New Zealand leg of our trip was Auckland. This cool but manageable city really gave us a feel for how awesome New Zealand really is. From tasty restaurants, to great cocktail bars, beautiful parks and a variety of shopping, we had fun exploring this city surrounded by hills. Our favorite day in Auckland was our journey to Waiheke Island for a day of wine tasting. This island is newer to the wine growing movement in NZ and is a nice 20 minute ferry ride away, with great wine and amazing views of the beaches. Our guide arranged everything – from private tours and food-pairings, to a delicious lunch in a pristine garden overlooking the island. It was the perfect day. Our hotel was great too – we had awesome views of the skyline and were centrally located and close to everything.
Blenheim is truly a wine-lover’s paradise and we were in heaven. We stayed at the Marlborough Lodge which ended up being one of our favorite parts of the NZ trip. This 12 room lodge is small enough to give each guest personalized attention but large enough that we felt like we were the only guests there. It also comes with the best service and food we’ve ever experienced. From the time we arrived, to our last moments at the lodge, the white-glove service and personalized touch blew us away. Our room was spacious, cozy and peaceful – a true retreat – with a balcony that overlooked the immaculate gardens. Each night, the sommelier would greet us by the fire pit with glasses of wine tailored to our palates and tasty canapes. We then would head into the lodge’s restaurant, where the chef made incredible farm-to-table meals from local ingredients like fresh fish, lamb and vegetables picked right from the garden. Each morning after a breakfast of our choosing, we would try to cover as much ground as possible visiting all of the vineyards Blenheim has to offer. We not only tasted (and bought) amazing wine, but we met some really charming and welcoming Kiwis each place we stopped. We never wanted to leave this magical place.
Queenstown was the perfect spot to end our vacation. This stunning little town is situated on a lake in the middle of snowcapped mountains. Our boutique hotel was in the most ideal spot – perched on a hill right next to the mountain gondola but only a five minute walk to the center of town. We would ride the gondola up to take in the panoramic views of the town below before heading into town to walk by the lake or dine in the killer restaurant scene that Queenstown has to offer. Queenstown has a great foodie and wine scene – offering unique takes on a variety of cuisines and local wines from the Otago region. Our day trip to the gorgeous Milford Sound took us through green rolling hills filled with sheep, snowy mountains and “rainforests” before we got off the bus and took a boat ride around the sound. On the boat, we saw countless waterfalls, penguins, dolphins and seals. It was a great day.
We ended this life changing trip on a very high note – literally – by spending our last day “bungee jumping” in the adventure capital of the world. I would highly recommend doing the Canyon Swing and Fox Jump to anyone going to Queenstown. I am adrenaline-averse and was shaking like a leaf the entire time before my jump but it was without-a-doubt one of the coolest things I’ve ever done and a highlight of the trip. The Swing is a 360 ft freefall drop without the bungee-jumping snapback recoil. After falling straight down off a cliff, you are swung out over the canyon with a teal river below you. It was awesome!
We will never forget our time in New Zealand. It is such an amazing country with wonderful people, unreal scenery, natural beauty and delectable wine and food. While we “checked it off the list”, we hope to be able to come back one day and spend even more time exploring all that this stunning country has to offer.
This trip would have not been possible without Sharon Betts. In the 17 days we were traveling, we were on 11 different flights – all perfectly coordinated by Sharon. From airline and car reservations, to making sure we were staying in the best hotels that were right for us, Sharon’s meticulous planning resulted in the ultimate vacation. Not only would we have not found the perfect hotels, restaurants and excursions without Sharon, we wouldn’t have had a clue about where to even begin when planning a trip this large. At the beginning of the planning process, Sharon laid out multiple options for us, making sure to tailor the trip to the things she knows we love, while staying away from stuff that doesn’t fit our interests. This personalized, patient and hands-on approach is unparalleled and is the sole reason that our trip was as perfect as it was. Even after the main logistics were planned out, Sharon continued to add finishing touches by recommending and booking excursions, restaurants and activities. While we were traveling, we were stress free because every aspect of our vacation was handled for us. Working with Sharon and her Virtuoso connections also granted us privileged access and perks such as awesome room upgrades, free breakfasts at each hotel, nice welcome amenities everywhere we stayed, and the overall assurance that everything was handled professionally yet in a very personalized way. One of the best parts of any vacation is leaving stress behind, and working with Sharon is always stress-free, seamless, customized and truly perfection. Thank you Sharon for another amazing and life changing adventure – we will forever treasure the memories we made on this unbelievable trip.
Lauren, not only do you take the most remarkable trips which I thoroughly enjoy planning for you, but you also have become an incredible travel writer! The wealth of information and insights you provided in this blog article will be priceless for others who are dreaming of taking a vacation to either (or both) of these fantastic destinations. Thank you so much for sending this to me and for your many compliments about my service. As always, I can’t wait to hear where you’re going next!
I also want to give a shout out to Sarah Herman with Swain Destinations. Swain is one of our preferred suppliers to create customized travel itineraries for our Virtuoso clients. Working with me behind the scenes, Sarah helped coordinate several of the unique experiences on Lauren’s trip. Like us, Swain has been in business for 30 years and has been nominated for 8 consecutive years as one of the top 5 customized travel companies within the Virtuoso network. Thanks, Sarah, for helping me create unforgettable travel memories for Lauren and so many of my clients.
Co-Owner, Travel Advisor