Experience the Wonders of New Zealand’s South Island with VBT


As the fall winds down and the onset of winter is looming, we thought we’d tell you a bit about a destination that is getting warmer by the day—New Zealand. VBT offers two distinct vacations to the gorgeous and geographically diverse South Island of New Zealand—our biking vacation, New Zealand: The South Island, and its sister vacation, Walking New Zealand: Splendor of the South Island. Although both vacations are on the South Island, they each visit completely different areas within the island—so there’s no reason not to do both at some point If you’re not too familiar with this amazing country and find yourself asking things like ‘what is tramping?’ or ‘why are they called Kiwis?’ just continue reading to find the answers to these questions and so much more as we discuss our favorite things about the wonderfully diverse South Island of New Zealand…

The Wildlife
When you think of New Zealand what term to describe the locals pops into your head? Kiwis! Did you know that this Tawaki penguinnickname is derived from one of the islands native birds? A kiwi is a flightless bird endemic to New Zealand that is about the size of a domestic chicken. We’ll have the chance to view the rarest species of kiwi, the Okarito Kiwi, when we visit the Okarito Lagoon—a rich wildlife haven noted for its unspoiled beaches—on our biking vacation. Be on the lookout for some of the more than 70 species of birds during an optional hike or kayaking excursion. Speaking of unique birds, cycling travelers in November and December will have a chance to see the coveted Tawaki penguin—about 10% of their population breeds in the dense coastal rainforest that surrounds the Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge, our accommodation for 2 nights.

Split RockNew Zealand is known for its aquatic life as much as its ornithological treasures. Picture yourself  taking a boat cruise past Split Apple Rock—a massive granite boulder cleaved in nearly equal halves by wind and water—to Tonga Island, known for its colony of fur seals that frequent its pristine beaches and turquoise waters. Or having a chance to view whales, dolphins and more fur seals as you stroll along the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, where an array of information panels offers insight into local history and wildlife.

The Kiwis (People not the birds)
Although the North Island of New Zealand is more populous—only 23% of New Zealand’s 4.5 million inhabitants live on the South Island—we’ll have plenty of chance to interact with some local “Kiwis”.  New Zealand is home to a large maorinumber of ethnic groups with the largest being of European descent due to the popular gold rushes in the 1860s that brought many British, Dutch—the country is named after the Dutch province of Zeeland—and  French settlers.  You’ll also find indigenous Māori and Asian descendants.  A great way to learn about the history of the island’s inhabitants is through museum visits and other optional tours during your free time in Christchurch at the beginning of each vacation.

If a Kiwi greets you with eyes bulging from a tattooed face, tongue stuck out, feet stamping, and fierce rhythmic chanting, don’t run away. It’s just a haka, an ancestral Maori dance. In fact, the beloved New Zealand national men’s rugby union team—known as the “All Blacks”—has made the haka famous by performing it before a match to intimidate their rivals. And while the haka is certainly a war dance, it is also used to express tribal solidarity, a hearty welcome, respect, or just pride and vitality. Of course, when the All Blacks take the field and start their roaring haka, you might just want to get out of the way!

The Geography
GlacierThe South Island is unique in that it has a variety of microclimates from the lush rainforest of the west to the glacial mountains in the center to the coastal Fiords (New Zealand omits the “j” in their spelling) of the north.  You can  even experience a couple climate changes in a matter of hours on a  one-of-a-kind train ride known as  The TranzAlpine Express—often regarded to be one of the world’s great train journeys for the scenery through which it passes— from the city of Christchurch through the famed Arthur’s Pass, en route to the west coast. The west coast is home to amazing beaches, rainforests—due to its geographic isolation, 80% of New Zealand’s flora is unique— and even towering mountains with glaciers. We’ll hop off our  bikes to walk up to the bottom of the 12km long famed Franz Josef Glacier, which uniquely descends from the Southern Alps to meet the lush temperate rainforest, making it one of the easiest glaciers in the world to visit. The area surrounding the glacier—as well as the nearby Fox glacier—is known as “Te Wahipounamu” and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site park.

On our walking vacation, you’ll “tramp” the northern coast along trails overlooking sparkling alpine lakes—most notably Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa—amidst robust beech forests, soaring mountain peaks and clear, tranquil streams. A sure highlight is walking a section of the Queen Charlotte Track — a 71km long walking track that leadsNZ Walking through native bush along the ridgeline of hills—that offers incredible views over the Marlborough Sounds. Over time, the process of subduction— when one tectonic plate moves under another—has submerged some high mountain ranges on the south island’s northern coast thus creating spectacular sounds and fiords. The Marlborough Sounds are a pristine example of these ancient sunken river valleys where forested hills rise steeply from the sea making the sounds ideal for hiking, boating and kayaking.

If it’s clear out at night be sure to look skyward for the Southern Cross, a constellation that can be seen year-round, but only from the Southern Hemisphere. The Southern Cross contains four bright stars that depict the extremities of a Latin cross. The stars are very bright and located close together, making the constellation very easy to spot.

Talk Like a Local
Here are a few New Zealand colloquialisms that may be of interest for anyone visiting. Kiwis are very nice people and a great way to gain insider knowledge or pick up some local lingo is to simply strike up a conversation at a bar or restaurant.

Aotearoa – The tradition Māori name for New Zealand, translated as “Land of the Long White Cloud”

Eh - used at the end of a sentence when expecting a response; pronounced like “A?”

Footpath – pavement or sidewalk (not where you’ll be walking or “tramping”)

“Get off the grass” – an exclamation of disbelief, similar to “stop pulling my leg” or “no way”DSC_0044 2-L

Gidday -Hello

Good on ya, mate!” – translates to “Congratulations, well done, friend!”

Knackered – sleepy or exhausted

Loo or Dunny: bathroom

Mainland: The South Island of New Zealand (It’s larger in size despite being less populous)

Push Bike: bicycle

Sunnies: sunglasses

Tea: what kiwis call Dinner

Tramping – known elsewhere as hiking or walking on trails


The Native Cuisine
New Zealand cuisine is largely driven by local ingredients from both the land and incredibly fresh seafood—including oysters, scallops, abalone, whitebait and crayfish from the sea. When traveling with VBT you’ll have the chance to cruise around Kenepuru Sound and sample some Greenshell Mussels, a local delicacy. Similar to Australia, New Zealand has traditionally had a British-based cuisine like bangers (sausages) and the popular “take-away” (fast food/takeout) of fish and chips. However Asian and Māori influences are becoming more common in mainstream Kiwi food. Present day Māori cuisine mixes traditional fare with British cooking methods. If you can, be sure to sample a “boil-up” of pork, potatoes, kumara (indigenous sweet potatoes), dumplings and more.

Some uniquely Kiwi foods you can try are Marmite—a spread similar to Vegemite that is made from yeast extract, a by-L&Pproduct of beer brewing—or some authentic Kiwiana candy like lollies, licorice, and toffee pops if you have a sweet tooth that needs satiation. Wash down these treats with Lemon & Paeroa —aka L&P—a soda made from lemon juice with carbonated mineral water from the town of Paeroa.

For those with a more sophisticated drink palate try some of New Zealand’s wines. There are 10 different wine regions spanning both of New Zealand’s main islands and we’ll visit two of them on our walking vacation. We’ll have the chance to visit a boutique vineyard in the Moutere Valley and sample some excellent local wines. We’ll also get to visit the Yealands Estate winery where we will tour the facility and discover the secrets to the achievement of carboNZero certTM certification.
Yealands estate Winery

We hope you enjoyed reading about New Zealand and that we have given you some fun insight into the country and provided some reasons to join us here in 2014. For more information about the New Zealand: The South Island ​ biking vacation please click here and for information about our  Walking New Zealand: Splendor of the South Island​ vacation please click here.

VBT’s Bike and Barge Vacations: A Day in the Life

Barge Lead
In 2014 VBT is offering four “Bike and Barge” vacations throughout the Netherlands, Belgium, France & Germany. With the ease of unpacking only once, this alternate way of travel transports you through some of Europe’s most art- and history-rich destinations and immerses you in fascinating cultures, easily and comfortably.  By barge, you’ll be able to cover more territory and gain different views of the countryside than on your bicycle alone. From your private island in the river, you enjoy a constantly changing panorama of sights and sounds, and views of your mooring points from both far and near. Once ashore, you see it all again from the other side—on your bicycle.

Step aboard our private Barge and away you go! Settle into your comfortable cabin, unpack your bags and prepare for Travelers on Bargenights of uninterrupted relaxation. Your barge captain and crew pride themselves on exceptional quality service—after all, you are a guest in their private home on the water! As always, VBT’s bilingual Trip Leaders will join you for the ride, sharing their secrets for the best cultural discoveries that await on land, at each mooring point.  On the barge you’ll enjoy breakfasts and many dinners prepped by our onboard chef, who will create delicious meals using fresh, local ingredients, with regional wines and a selection of cheeses served at dinner. Enjoy evenings mingling with your new friends on the sun deck, or in the barge’s salon and bar. At night, you’ll retire to your cabin with twin beds and private bath with a shower. To get a feel for a Bike and Barge vacation read this typical “day in the life” of a barge vacation and watch the travel videos posted below.

A Typical Day on VBT’s Barge Bicycling Vacations

8:00am—Holland and Belgium Bike & Barge (Brussels)
Windmill crop
It’s important to start an active vacation off with a hearty morning meal. On Day 9 of our Holland and Belgium (Brussels) vacation we’ll enjoy our chef-cooked breakfast onboard as we cruise along the tranquil river Noord and admire an unfolding landscape. We are en route to Kinderdijk, where 19 of Holland’s famous windmills—some more than 260 years old—decorate the horizon. We’ll spend the morning exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we’ll learn how these iconic structures were used well into the 20th century.

10:00am—Holland in Springtime Bike & Barge—New for 2014!
A mid-morning ride is a wonderful way to start the day. On Day 5 of our new Holland in Springtime vacation we’ll cycle Flowersto the Hortus Bulborum, a unique garden museum dedicated to the preservation of rare and historic bulbs. More than 4,000 tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other flowers are planted in the museum’s five-plus acres of flowerbeds, and each spring, they burst forth in a profusion of fragrances and colors, as we’ll discover during a guided tour.

12:00pm—Heart of Europe: Bike & Barge
tunnel bike
Cultural interactions are a huge part of any VBT vacation—what better way to learn about the country you are visiting than from the locals themselves? On Day 5, after a morning riding on an old rail trail in Eifel, Germany—through tunnels, over bridges and past small lakes formed from collapsed volcano craters—we’ll meet a local German family. We’ll visit them at their rustic cabin in the woods for a delicious lunch of simple, home-cooked German fare and to learn about life in this beautiful valley.

3:00pm—Heart of France Bike & Barge
After riding from Neronville on Day 7, we’ll hop off our bikes for a mid-afternoon cultural experience in Chateau Landon—a fortified commune. Perched on a rocky spur, its ramparts and towers make for a dramatic approach. Once we arrive a local VBT friend, Gillian, will lead us on a personal guided walk where we’ll learn all about the town’s history.

6:00pm—Holland and Belgium Bike & Barge (Amsterdam)
dessert bargeBack on board our barge on Day 5, we’ll relax before dinner while enjoying a tasting of Belgium’s favorite beverage, beer. Although Belgium is quite a small country, it has more than 178 registered breweries that produce an infinite number of outstanding beers. Originally the domain of monks, Belgium is known for its classic “Trappist” varieties like dubbel and tripel that are “Abbey brewed” in a monastic style. Our tasting culminates in a delectable dinner made with fresh, local ingredients prepared by our onboard Chef.

10:00pm—Holland in Springtime Bike & Barge
All of our Bike and Barge vacations end with a night in a hotel in the tour’s final city. On Day 10 of our new Holland in Springtime trip you’ll have the night free to stroll along the magnificent city of Amsterdam’s endless canals lined with charming gable-roof houses. Perhaps you’ll enjoy a night cap at one of Amsterdam’s pubs and toast to another successful active vacation before retiring to your hotel for the evening.

To hear about the experience from our travelers themselves, please watch these short tour videos: