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A whole lotta summer lovin

Summer vacations have a huge premium attached to them.

New Zealand

Summer vacations have a huge premium attached to them. Whether it is backpacking alone or a romantic break, it is that time midyear when everyone needs to experience a place in its entirety. The right mix of leisure, fun, personal time and exclusivity are a must. With highly individualised set of preferences being articulated and options galore,vacation seekers are spoilt for choice.

Centring the vacation on a unique experience has a far greater sense of fulfilment. For instance in New Zealand, make sure to head on to Queensland, the mecca of adventure activities. If horse riding is your forte, make a dash to the Andean mountains in South America. Animal lovers can go to any of the amazing safaris in South Africa, Botswana and Tanzania returning with their ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ moments, and South Africa does offer exciting combinations of wildlife, hiking and long drives. Europe in summer is a perennial favourite, with Tuscany a picture perfect choice. Moreso, when you decide to drive through small towns on the Italian border, with sunflower fields stretching as far as the eye can see. For history lovers and those wanting to experience old world charm, French speaking Montreal and old Quebec City are a perfect combination. San Francisco, with its old and new world attractions and lifestyle is another great vacation spot where creative juices overflow in the summer months. Water babies and those wanting to just do nothing as they laze on warm sands and cool waters, Fiji is a great destination. Honolulu takes this further with ample opportunity for children and families to participate in exciting sporty stuff. For golfers too, summer is the perfect time to plan a trip around Scotland and Ireland to tee off in some of the legendary golf courses on Earth.

SKIING IN NEW ZEALAND

A ski holiday in Middle Earth comes with a number of guarantees with its postcard views at every ski turn, alpine peaks, azure lakes, resort towns, extremely hospitable locals and plenty of peace and quiet. New Zealand is a major skiing destination in the Southern Hemisphere, due to its high latitude, mountainous terrain and welldeveloped attractions.

While there are several ski resorts on the North Island, most are found in South Island. There are both major commercial resorts and smaller intrepid and club skifields which provide access to affordable skiing for club members. There are also specialist backcountry skiing areas such as Mount Potts and Invincible Snowfields which provide heliskiing and snowcat skiing for adventure-seekers. Other forms of skiing include kite-skiing and snow-kiting, a relative new sport with an avid following especially when the annual Wanaka festival is held. Skiing on the active volcano at Mt Ruapehu in North Island is also much sought after in what is the country’s largest commercial ski area.

The South Island is home to three main ski areas which have their own ski schools and accommodation facilities close to the snow fields. They provide all amenities including transportation to and fro from door-to-slope with packages for beginners and pros. Skiing here is geared not just to suit diehard ski enthusiasts but also tourists. Good restaurants and a range of wineries keeps everyone entertained when away from the ski slopes. South Island has nine commercial ski fields within easy reach of Queenstown or Christchurch. Recommended ski trips include those to Queenstown’s Winter Wonderland, Ski Canterbury and Mount Cook Mackenzie and South Island. Aoraki / Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand, reaching a height of 3,754 metres (12,316 ft). Whether it’s the North Island or South Island, expect dramatic scenery, fantastic snow and diverse runs.

ROAD TRIP THROUGH TUSCANY

Experiencing Florence, or for that matter Italy, on a road trip entails driving across the countryside of Tuscany, a sheer delightful affair. Tuscany in summer offers the best of itself, with long sunny days, wine coloured nights and cosy restaurants to dive in and dig into fresh cuisine as you drive through. Veteran road travellers recommend expanding the road trip to include San Gimignano, Siena and Montepulciano.

In northern Tuscany, visit Pisa, Lucca, Florence, Pistoia and the Versilia coast. In addition to driving, the public transport system, especially trains, buses or taxis can take you to smaller towns in the nearby area of Calci and Vicopisano. For exploring southern Tuscany’s hilltop towns and gentle rolling hills, then driving is preferred. Driving on the slow winding roads through the countryside will take you through tiny medieval towns and villages. Travelling here in summer is preferred as many local festivals dedicated around local produce start in early summer and continue on through the fall as local specialties (truffles, wine, olive oil, marroni chestnuts) come into season.

While driving in Italian cities can be overwhelming, driving through the Tuscan countryside is easy and relaxing. As you head south out of Florence towards the abandon ruins of the Medieval Abbey of San Galgano and just before turning down the final road to the abbey, you will be stunned to see a riot of sunflowers that loom on the horizon with endless stretches of yellow sun drenched fields. As you head eastwards, you will pass the hill towns of Montalcino, San Quirico and Pienza. Brace yourself for amazing views with each little town presenting photo ops and temptations to halt and sample local food and wine. A short visit to a winery for wine tasting is highly recommended.

WILDLIFE IN SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa has an abundance of wildlife and scenery, from sandy beaches, forest-covered cliffs and amazing marine life off its coastline to arid deserts, peak-filled mountain ranges and open bushveld savannah. This diversity of habitats is echoed in the country’s peoples and history. Whether it is witnessing the Serengeti’s Great Migration, tracking a rhino on foot or gently gazing at some of the world’s last mountain gorillas, there is so much to choose from.

For ‘classic’ wildlife safaris with great game viewing and a real sense of wilderness, head to the vast 38,000km² of red Kalahari dunes in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park which is the best wildlife safari park in Africa for viewing meerkats and cheetahs. Wildlife safari experiences in Kgalagadi are best for experienced Africa travellers as they are part of a self-drive safari and not particularly advisable for brief visits. Whilst elephants are usually absent from Kgalagadi, they are common in the more accessible Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape. These include the well-known Shamwari, lesser-known spots like Kariega and the excellent Kwandwe. Samara Game Reserve is similar, and here the study of endangered species is the key driver.

For whale-watching, Hermanus is undoubtedly the best destination in Africa. Come from August to November, when southern right whales migrate here to mate, calve and rear their young and can

often be seen from boats or cliff-top walks. The most popular game park in South Africa remains Kruger and the best time to visit is from May to September. This is the dry season when animals congregate around waterholes and rivers. There is little to no rain, skies are clear, most days are sunny and there are fewer mosquitoes.

Hippo-infested swamps of the Limpopo are as fascinating as are the soaring snow-capped peaks of Drakensburg, and dozens of sun-drenched beaches tucked away on the country’s 2000-mile coastline. There are the Big Five (elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo), the big cats, lesser known wildlife, over 200 mammal species, marine mammals and fish, the crocodile and other reptiles, not to forget the birdlife. The Kruger National Park alone has well over 10,000 elephants and 20,000 buffaloes. Plan your South Africa sojourn, where untamed wilderness meets lavish comfort with iconic safari lodges and breath-taking beaches, to sparkling coastal cities and world-class vineyards.

QUAINT CHARM OF MONTREAL AND QUEBEC

Montreal is a versatile and multifaceted city with a melding of the Old and New Worlds. Its 18th century structures wondrously blend into its 21st century skyline. Old-fashioned houses have converted themselves into funky fusion restaurants and overall there is a strong French influence. A short elevator ride exposes you to a fascinating part of the city – a mini township located several stories below ground level. Restaurants, offices, shopping arcades and food courts vie for attention and are lifesaving in the harsh winters when the city is shrouded in thick layers of snow.

Being in Montreal is incomplete without spending a big chunk of your time in the Old town. Whether you walk alongside the ancient cobblestoned streets of Vieux-Montréal, exploring historic cathedrals or enjoy a slow paced cup of freshly brewed coffee with cup cakes in one of many traditional French cafés along boulevard Saint-Laurent, you can see history come alive. Not much has changed in this neighbourhood despite the city’s rapid urbanisation. Horse-drawn carriages traverse cobblestone streets and meander past sites as the Basilique Notre-Dame, the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), the Vieux-Port (Old Port) and Marché Bonsecours (Bonsecours Market).

Here you can mingle with Montrealers at sidewalk cafes while overlooking the river, or enjoy the summertime street performers at Place Jacques-Cartier. This is also a popular shopping area with numerous bars and clubs. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the only walled city north of Mexico. Inside its fortifications, charming cafés and antiques shops rub elbows with historic

attractions like the Citadel and Notre-Dame Basilica. When all the sights start to blend together, take in a breath of fresh air at Battlefields Park or Montmorency Falls. A walk along the scenic Terrasse Dufferin is supplemented with fantastic city views. Once you are done with the bustling downtown area shopping, hiking or cycling along Parc du Mont-Royal, head towards St-Denis to spend the evening, for this is where the city’s night life is vibrant.

Visit to Quebec City is an experience like none other. Winding cobblestone streets and towering cathedrals tempt many with French roadside cafes filled with aromas of fresh-baked bread and pungent cheese, creamy café lattes and buttery croissants.

BEACHES IN FIJI

Without a doubt, Fiji is home to some of the most idyllic and beautiful beaches in the world. With so much geographic diversity among its 332 islands, Fiji possesses some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. Just two of the lovely 332 Fijian islands contain almost 90% of the nation’s population which means there is a lot of gorgeous, unspoilt beachside scenery to enjoy. From secluded beach side huts to developed resort getaways offering shopping and nightlife, there are many reasons to return to this paradise.

When in Fiji, you are just a short boat ride or quick helicopter flight away from a pristine virgin beach hardly anyone would know about. In fact, many of the beaches pictured on glorious postcards and screensavers that we use are found in the Mamanuca or Yasawa island groups, which are very close to the main island of Viti Levu. These islands contain soft, white sands, crystal clear water and snorkel-perfect reefs. If you are staying on the big island of Viti Levu, there are several day cruises and helicopter tours that will take you to these beautiful islands. However, nothing beats staying at an island resort.

Kadavu, the smallest and least developed of Fiji’s “big” islands, is best known for scuba diving and bird watching. Vatulele Island Beach, Natadola Beach with its vast wind sands, is the best beach on the island of Viti Levu. Consistent waves and inviting water depth make this an ideal spot for swimming and snorkelling. Volivoli Beach features a beautiful wide lagoon with a stunning view towards the island’s mountains.

Nanuya Lailai Island is known for its lovely natural setting and crystal clear waters that have an abundance of water sports activities including kayaking, diving and fish feeding. Matana Beach on Kadavu Island is the perfect beach for relaxation. Fringed with tall palm trees and offering striking views of the surrounding mountains, it also has diving, snorkelling, kayaking and boat rides aplenty. Vatulele Island Beach is located close to beautiful coral reefs and has an air of exclusivity. Beautiful beaches, inviting coves and warm Fijian hospitality make this a popular destination any time of the year.

WEATHER IS KING IN SAN FRANCISCO

The charm of San Francisco, the air conditioned city of the world which straddles both the modern and the old worldly with elan, makes it a place that is difficult to leave. The Bay Area is home to Napa Valley and Sonoma, waterfront towns, beaches and Silicon Valley. With enduring sights of its crimson bridge, quaint cable cars that are the country’s only mobile national historic landmark, a sparkling bay, streets lined with elegant Victorian homes and lots to do within the city and outside, you can spend weeks exploring its many facets.

Summer is particularly a good time since the weather is great and so are the line-up of cultural, artsy, theatrical and music festivals. San Francisco is well-known for its unique architecture and every summer it has a full house for its month-long architecture and design festival that includes walking tours and other events. Opening performance events of the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony, a two-week live theatre event, the SF Fringe Fest, the weekend of Bay Area Blues Festival, Opera in the Park, free comedy day, Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival, Chinatown Autumn Moon Festival, Dragon Boat Festival over on Treasure Island and the famous leather fair on Folsom Street ensure there is a little bit of something for everyone.

SFO has a wide range of accommodation to choose from. Regulars insist that it is better to stay in the heart of the city so you can avail of public transport to fully experience the Californian buzz. Walking near Pier 39 or Golden Gate Bridge, feel the breeze which can be chilly even in sunny September. Head out to the beach which, in spite of its blistering sands, will have cold waters of the Pacific Ocean. Head out in a boat for whale watching, sailing, bay cruises and ferry rides over to the North Bay or East Bay.

GOLF IN SCOTLAND

Scotland is ‘Home of Golf’ with golfers world over nursing a dream to play on one of its classic courses. Beautiful scenery, top-class hotels and the best Championship golf courses on the planet make Scotland golf trips extremely special. Whether it’s the world-famous links courses of Fife, Ayrshire or the Highlands, or the varied collection of immaculate parkland courses, a golf break in Scotland will never disappoint. The best time for a Scotland golf vacation is between May and early October. Late spring to early fall are the warmest months however weather changes constantly and even in summer, you may be chilled to the bone.

Veteran golfers who have been coming to Scotland to play golf advice that rather than try and see everything from Ayshire to Dornoch, build an itinerary that keeps you out of the car. Scotland roadways are seldom straight lines, especially when navigating the lochs around the coastline. While you may wish to play on courses you have seen the pros master in the tournaments, note they are the most expensive and toughest to get a tee time, and sometimes, not even as much fun as the lesser-know golf clubs like Fife, Crail, Leven Links or Scotscraig. The experience of playing in Scotland will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

East Lothian and the Kingdom of Fife are the best for this, or you can play three Open championship hosts, Turnberry, Royal Troon and historic Prestwick all within an hour of each other on the Ayshire coast. Along the way enjoy beer at roadside cafes and pubs and soak in the Scottish air. St. Andrews is perpetually busy and filled with tourists, as it is the best golf town in the world and a visit here therefore a must. Combine it with spare time to hang around Jigger Inn, Dunvegan Inn or go over to the Old Course Hotel overlooking the Road Hole and watch golfers get foiled by the Road Hole for hours.

HORSEBACK RIDING IN THE ANDES

South American horse riding traditions and terrain make this region a great destination for horse riders for all experience levels. Rides are organised in remote mountain areas, superb beaches and stays in working haciendas. Catering for families, small groups, singles and couples, trips are planned keeping in mind different levels of horse riding skills. Off-the-beaten-track and away from trekkers, South American horse-riding programmes range from luxurious accommodation to adventurous camping.

On horseback, you access remote and beautiful countryside of Ecuador, Chile and the rugged regions of Patagonia. There are also riding trips that allow you to explore the varied landscapes of Uruguay, from sunny beaches to pine forests surrounding beautiful lagoons. Riding between haciendas, farmhouses and inns, the trips could vary from five days to even a fortnight, tailor-made to accommodate the preferences. Some of the popular rides include the 8-day trail across the Andes that takes you from Puerto Varas in the Lake District of Chile to the Argentine national park Nahuel Huapi near Bariloche. The trek follows the old pioneer trail crossing the remote Puelo Valley; a route once used by smugglers. Moving through the hidden valleys of the pristine Patagonia Wilderness, you will pass crystal clear lakes and ancient forests, staying in the homes of local pioneers, which is an experience in itself. The pace is steady, views are stunning and the trip exciting. Horses used for most rides are Chilean Criollos which are strong and even tempered. Their hooves are thick and their dense double coat makes them well suited for cold-damp and hot-dry weather. They do well in the steep, rugged terrain and higher altitudes.

Another in-demand ride is the ‘Army of the Andes’ which is a 12-day Andean horse riding adventure with breath-taking scenery, taking you past imposing Mount Aconcagua (6,962m), the highest mountain in the Americas. Sure-footed mountain horses carry you over the narrow, windswept passes and through steep sided gorges. The expedition continues, fording fast-flowing streams before descending into lush and tranquil valleys. Experienced Argentinean horsemen (gauchos) guide the expedition, while pack mules carry the camping equipment and supplies. This is an adventure for serious riders seeking a challenging 8-day trail ride through one of the most spectacular mountain ranges in the world.

FAMILY TIME IN HONOLULU

From flying in the air on a jet pack, to underwater exploration, facing sharks and sunning on the beach, Honolulu is a treasure trove of fun. For the quieter zones, head not far inland to raging Manoa Falls, cascading in the middle of a lush rainforest jungle. There are endless outdoor activities that the entire family can enjoy together and cherish for a lifetime.

Face your fears by cage diving with sharks as you get to the centre of swimming sharks in a cage with a mask and snorkel. Outside of Honolulu is the island’s best snorkelling at Hanauma Bay, a protected reef with flourishing underwater life. Spend a day at the Sea Life Park and Dolphin Adventures. Get aboard a submarine and dive into the some of the most spectacular waters on Earth, marvelling at sunken aircraft and shipwrecks – the “new homes for fish”. Swimming just above coral rocks and spotting amazing sea creatures is a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend the day on the island of Oahu where basic lessons are conducted for beginners. The Hawaiian Reef has 300,000 gallon Hawaiian Reef tank where you can watch divers swim with stingrays, turtles and various schools of tropical fish residing here. For those with interests in fishing, the Hawaii Sport Fishing & Oahu Fishing Charters are a great way to try your hand at year-round big game fishing. Choose from a variety of different sport fishing vessels, charter types and departures. One of the best fishing spots in the world, you may just land a Blue Marlin, Striped Marlin, Black Marlin, Yellowfin Tuna (Ahi), Dorado (Mahi-Mahi) or Wahoo (Ono). End the day with a sunset dinner cruise aboard the luxurious The Star of Honolulu.

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