Hobbiton review – movie set tour, prices and discounts

At the top of our list of must-do attractions in New Zealand was the Hobbiton Film Set near the town of Matamata. A must for any movie buffs like us and a chance for us to get our geek on and immerse ourselves in this amazing fantasy world.

Hobbiton movie set review 2015Located in the centre of the North Island of New Zealand, the drive to Hobbiton was like entering a different world before we’d even arrived!

The lush green rolling hills that we remember so clearly from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies are not a one-off occurrence at the set. In fact our drive from the Waitomo caves was one of the best of the entire trip, winding through beautiful hills and valleys, sheep grazing on the undulating landscape.

The weather was on our side, warm and sunny like a beautiful spring day, just right for exploring an outdoor film set!

Starting our tour

We arrived at Hobbiton HQ in our glorious Maui Motorhome where we found a cafe, souvenir shop and check-in reception for the tour. Its from here that you join a tour group and your guide to be taken over to the Hobbiton film set, hidden within a valley just a couple of km away.

There’s some great souvenirs here worth checking out, really unique items that makes great gifts for any LOTR fans.

We were very lucky to visit the site in a private mini-van, perfect for us to take our time and make the most of this amazing place, usually tours are taken to the site in a large green coach completely with tour guide.

The drive over to the film set is very picturesque with plenty of sheep in the farmer’s fields all around us, in fact they have full roam of the road too so occasionally we slowed to give way to our furry friends.

As we drove through the hills the landscape opens up with a majestic panoramic view of the Hobbiton set, with parts of it facing back towards you as you drive along the upper most edge of the site. It’s a surreal moment where visions from movies you’ve seen in the cinema and on TV suddenly take tangible form and tease you as the drive concludes at a small car park. We were very eager to start exploring as was our 18 month old daughter.

hobbiton review

The Green Dragon

Our first stop was The Green Dragon, One of the few buildings on this outdoor movie set that is actually a fully working building, the rest of course is movie magic with facades of hobbit houses in the lush green hillsides.

The Green Dragon pub serves as a centrepiece to the entire site and facilities for tourists including refreshments and toilets.

Review of Hobbiton movie set tour

The attention to detail here is truly stunning with beautiful round windows, dark rustic interior and crackling log fire in various rooms of the pub.

Its almost impossible not to feel you’re somewhere real, somewhere thats been here for hundreds of years with a rich history displayed on shelves and mantlepieces.

You have to repeatedly remind yourself that none of what you see existed before 1999 when work started on building the set and the Green Dragon itself only opened in 2012.

Hobbiton tour guides review

Lunch was provided in true Hobbit style with a fantastic board of hearty sandwiches and pies all washed down with an “authentic” tankard of local beer. It also gave us a chance to quiz our guide about the Hobbiton film set and challenge her uber-geek levels of knowledge about the films.

Some 2,000 tourists visit the set during peak season scheduled tours throughout the day.

This helps keep visitors numbers to a manageable amount and stops the film set from being swamped by people.

We’re all here to see the set after all, not the hoards of paying customers, so this crowd management makes a huge difference to the enjoyment levels.

Lunch at Hobbiton

While we may be geeks there are far more geeky visitors to the site than us (although maybe not on this particular day), some come in full Lord Of The Rings fancy dress, there’s been birthday celebrations and even weddings here too.

The Green Dragon has a function room in the form of a large yellow marquee tent, this has to be the ultimate place to have a party! Maybe I’ll get an invite one day!

Review Green Dragon Hobbiton

After our scrumptious lunch it was time to explore this incredible site. First a walk along the edge of The Water along to East Farthing and on to The Garden where real vegetables are being grown and either used in meals at the Green Dragon or the lucky gardeners get to take some home.

Either way it means this area of the set is a hive of activity and looks positively alive, adding a real sense of community to the whole place. Its hard to believe this entire site was once swamp land and was drained in 1998 when work began on building the set.

An easy walk up the hill on green and orange footpaths leads you past plenty of “Hobbit Holes“, small houses fit only for a hobbit, built in to the sides of hill.

They look so natural here and in dare I say a very inviting way to live too! The warmth of the earth around you and pretty gardens to tend to with beautiful views of the countryside. Perfect!

Hobbiton movie set review 2015

Hobbit Hole Highlight

The films would of course have you believe that the insides of each and every house is a cosy wooden interior with log fires, ancient hobbit artefacts and a general slice of “old England” but in reality its very different.

The doors lead to no where, well that’s not strictly true, they usually lead to just enough space to store extra umbrellas should the heavens open above Hobbiton and catch out unprepared tourists.

Most doors are kept closed to keep the movie magic alive, all except one door you’ll find up in Bag End at the top of the village. Overlooking the entire site you’ll find a dark green door surrounded by beautiful flowers and sense of uniqueness about this particular Hobbit hole. Hobbiton set reviewFor this is Bilbo Baggins home and it looks like he may have left in a hurry as the door is open slightly.

Its a tantalising doorway suggesting a world of adventure and excitement within. Amazing how such a little thing can tease us visitors and of course everyone is desperate to have their photo taken here.

To stand outside such a famous door it really brought the movies in to a much more 3 dimensional realm.

A tangible change from what we’d seen on the silver screen, to something real, or at least perfectly faked.

Bilbo Baggins House

Hobbit Party

The centrepiece of the site is The Party Tree and Party Field, a communal area that featured heavily in the first movie of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. A place where hobbits come to party and hold festivals.

The enormous tree towers over the site and the children’s playground here is not only rustic enough to sit perfectly within the grounds, its also enjoyed by tourists! Our daughter delighted at going up and down on the see-saw with another visitor’s child.

Its the little things like this that bring what is essentially an uninhabited and faked village to life with laughter and happiness.

Hobbiton guided tours review

After a pretty walk along the Merry Meander through the woods past the Watermill, also a function room, back to the Green Dragon, we stopped for a quick refreshment and a chance to take a few more photos in this beautiful venue.

Even the toilets look authentic here with dark woods and rustic charm. Being English and living in the west England countryside too, I felt very at home here. It made me feel very lucky to live somewhere that has pubs not too dissimilar to this one.

Only their age and history differ. One could argue the significance of this pub beats many old English pubs anyway!

Green Dragon interior

Somewhere special

Its this feeling of being somewhere so special, that meant so much to the 500 strong cast and crew that worked here making The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies, that means so much to the many millions of fans too, I could have stayed here all day.

From every vantage point around the movie set you feel you’re taking in a view that deserves to be savoured. There’s no sign of 21st century living anywhere around you when you’re walking along the paths by the cute Hobbit Holes.

The authenticity here is amazing, even the clothes on the washing lines are changed regularly to give a real sense of a village very much alive and lived in.

The only downside to our tour was having to leave, we were even teased with the fantasy of laughing off our return to reality and heading back to the Green Dragon instead for another pint of Hobbit Ale and dinner. Something we would have done in a heartbeat!

Hobbiton photography

A huge thank you to Hobbiton Tours for the hospitality and fantastic tour. Our guide was wonderful, very friendly and welcoming with a seemingly endless knowledge of the movies the set and everything that has ever happened here.

There was no question left unanswered and we had plenty too! A visit to the Hobbiton film set instantly makes you want to watch the movies all over again and I could happily revisit the set and explore all of their tour options.

The evening banquet experience definitely caught my attention!

Find out more

You can book a tour online at www.hobbitontours.com and be sure to check out their Facebook Page for all the latest news too. They’re also on twitter and Instagram so worth following there too.

Where to book hobbiton tickets

Prices and Discounts

For the latest deals on group visits, private tours and even booking the venues within Hobbiton for private events check out hobbitontours.com

Read more

Thank you to our sponsor Mai Motorhomes for their support on the #GoByCamper road trip in New Zealand. To see what else we’ve been up to in New Zealand check out the links below.

Waitomo cave tour review

Waitomo cave tour Review – See glow worms!

We’ve seen so many great sights on our whirlwind road trip tour of New Zealand.

From the mountains and glaciers of the south island to the rolling hills and valleys of the North.

So many highlights of our trip already but we were keen to add another with a place we’d heard so much, the Waitomo Caves.

Hidden beneath the rolling green hills of Waitomo lies a underground wonderland quite unlike any I’ve ever seen before. Rather than visiting just one set of caves there are many options here and not just walking tours either.

We were so excited to be invited a long to check out one cave system that was perfect for even our toddler to enjoy.

Waitomo cave tour review

We headed out from our Top 10 Holiday park in Waitomo, for just a short drive to the “Legendary Black Water Rafting Company“. An easy place to find thanks to its big signs and busy car park. Many of the tours start from here with minivans picking up groups and whisking them off to one of the cave system. Their name probably tells you all you need to know, they were the first company to offer water rafting opportunities underground in New Zealand!

Their friendly staff soon had us checked in and there’s a small cafe there to grab a last minute snack before heading to the caves. We opted to follow the mini-van as we had our Maui Motorhome with us. We stopped at a couple of points along the way to pick up more tourists and within 15 minutes or so we were at a secluded and quiet spot where we parked up and continued on foot.

Today we were visiting the Ruakuri Cave system which, according to Maori legends was discovered over 400 years ago by hunters who were attacked by wild dogs that appeared from the cave entrance. “Rua” translates to Den while “Kuri” is Dog. The cave system has been open to the public since 2005 so is relatively new for a dry cave walk.

Ruakuri Caves

I was very interested to see how this tour would work as we had our 18 month old daughter in a stroller and were told this wouldn’t be a problem. The Ruakuri Caves are actually marketed is fully pushchair and wheelchair accessible which the first time I’ve ever seen that on a cave tour.

We arrived at the cave entrance, a small group of just 8 or so and a friendly guide who welcomed us in to the concrete bunker like structure with a locked door leading to the caves. After a short safety briefing he invited us inside and along a curved wall where we waited patiently.

Our guide flicked a switch and slowly each level of a giant spiral ramp illuminated. The spiral just went on and on, an amazing sight appearing in the darkness beneath us. I had wondered how we’d ever get a stroller down in to a cave system and this was definitely the answer! It’s a very easy descent down the ramp to a heavy door taking us in to the start of the cave system.

Ruakuri Cave tour review

The cave walk consists of numerous tunnels opening up in to wider cave areas. Most of the walk is along metal gantries that lift you above the uneven and often damp slippery rock surfaces. The lighting here is turned on as you walk through each section creating a dramatic reveal every time you enter a new section.

Our daughter was happy to be wheeled about in her stroller and often let out a “wow” or an “oooh” when the lights were turned on, entertaining the other tourists as we toured the caves.

It was great to see that even an 18 month old found the cave tour entertaining.

Ruakuri Cave review

There’s an overwhelming number of stalactites and stalagmites all around you here with a repeated warning to avoid them as you walk.

There’s even an alarm system at certain points to help you stay away from some of the more delicate structures. When you learn how long it takes for one of these structures to be formed it really does blow your mind. A few centimetres can take hundreds of years to form, with larger structures taking many thousands.

The lights here have been set up to make the most of the incredible structures with ribbons of limestone so thin the light shines right through.

review of Ruakuri Caves

At one point the dry walking tour that we were on met with the rather wet and wild tubing tour that was floating along an underground river, a canyon with a handy torch we could use to browse its mighty walls and see the tourists below.

New Zealand really is filled with wild activities to do everywhere and it seems this even includes underground cave systems too!

I was almost a little jealous of them as they let out screams of excitement, bouncing through the rapids of Ruakuri although part of me was very happy to be dry and warm with my 1 year old daughter.

Book your Waitomo cave tour here

Glow Worms

One of the highlights of any cave system in the region is without doubt the glow worms, a name that makes them sound so cute and friendly. In reality glow worms are really the maggot stage of the Arachnocampa. In the dark of course all you see is their beautiful glow, a ceiling of light blue stars above you and often all around you too.

We had a number of opportunities to enjoy the sight of these tiny creatures who seek out the cool wet and dark surroundings of cave systems  to call home. Our guide turned all the lights off and requested we keep our phones and cameras off for a moment to enjoy them in total darkness.

Its only then you realise just how many there are all around you. Definitely not very easy to take a photo of in such low light but I gave it a go anyway!

Glow worms tour NZ

These little creatures have more in common with spiders than flies as they cast out lines to catch passing prey. Its for this reason they live in caves where there’s very little wind to tangle their nets. One glow worm can cast up to 70 “snares” that dangle down from the cave ceilings and walls.

To see hundreds of thousands of snares like this was an incredible sight, something I’ve never seen before in my life. Its amazing to think that these ancient cave systems are home to life, in fact huge communities of creatures.

Book your Waitomo cave tour here

Definitely something that has to be seen to be believed and Waitomo caves sure make it easy.

Glow worm Waitomo caves review

Caverns and passages

Our tour took us deep in to the cave system to some very interesting collections of limestone formations. One of my favourites was “The Pretties” where its very easy to get up close to an amazing display of stalactites and stalagmites.

With ample lighting here its a great place for a photo opportunity and a chance to quiz the guide about how these structures were made and also how they were named.

There are some great names too like “The Ghost Passage” and “Holdern’s Cavern” named after the owner of the land, James Holden who opened the caves to the public back in 1904.

In fact the Holden family still own much of the land in the area and work with the local Maori community to preserve these sacred sites too.

Waitomo Cave tours review

The 2 hour tour seemed to whizz by and all to soon we were heading back towards the spiral ramp and out of the Ruakuri caves.

The cool air of the caves gives way to warm humid air outside. I could have gladly headed straight back inside for another 2 hours as there’s so much to see down there. Its quite incredible to think that underground wonderlands like this exist just below us.

The rolling hills of Waitomo are filled with these magical cave systems, made easily accessible to the public and definitely worth a visit when you come to New Zealand. It makes you wonder how many other undiscovered caves there must be beneath our feet. The Pretties

Thank you

A huge thank you to The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. for their wonderful hospitality and excellent guided group tour of the Ruakuri cave system.

I highly recommend a visit to any caves in the Waitomo region but especially the Ruakuri which is excellent for small children and wheelchair users too.

I really didn’t think cave systems could be made quite so accessible! Also many thanks to Maui Motorhomes for their continued support on this epic road trip project. Check out the links below for everything else we’ve done on our road trip so far.

Book your Waitomo Cave Tour here.

Review: Great Barrier Reef with Cruise Whitsundays

No road trip in Australia would be complete without visiting the Great Barrier Reef at some point. One of the world’s most spectacular coral reef formations spanning some 2,300km along the east coast of Australia. Its so vast it can be seen from outer space and is the world’s largest living structure with over 2,900 reefs and over 900 islands. The stats are as staggering as the coral is beautiful so this has been high on our bucket list for many years. Finally thanks to Cruise Whitsundays we had the chance to explore the reef for ourselves and see just what you get in a one day tour.

Sailing to Hardy Reef

We were staying at the Big4 Holiday park just 8 minutes away from Port of Airlie where we’d be jumping on board our Cruise Whitsundays Catamaran, a huge and very modern ship that looked fast just sitting there bobbing in the harbour. A sea of smiling faces greeted us as we boarded at 7:45am ready for departure at 8am. While the ship alone doesn’t need quite so many staff, the pontoon we were heading to and the activities available required 27 crew to look after us, making the journeys there and back all the more enjoyable.

Cruise Whitsundays tour review

The ship soon made its way towards the reef stopping at Hamilton Island for more tourists after an hour or so. We grabbed a table seat by the window, perfect for entertaining a toddler for the 3 hour journey out to the reef. The sun was shining, the water was calm and not a hint of any seasickness. Perfect conditions for our one and only day at the Great Barrier Reef! Before we arrived there were various presentations on snorkelling techniques, diving opportunities and the all-important safety aspects of our activities. There was also a tasty morning tea with free hot drinks and succulent fresh fruit. Plus a well stocked shop with plenty of treats and drinks too, the perfect setup to start our day.

Reef world Pontoon

After an enjoyable journey we finally neared our destination for the day. The Reef World Pontoon situated right next to Hardy Reef. This stretch of coral is well protected from the pacific ocean currents making snorkelling and diving very easy for all skill levels. The floating pontoon is securely moored and has everything you need for a multitude of activities. There’s plenty of dive and snorkel gear on board as well as wet suits and stinger suits for all sizes.

Cruise Whitsundays review

Of course getting in the water is a priority here but there’s plenty more on offer. Firstly there’s a couple of fantastic viewing areas on the pontoon, a small opening in the floor at one end where you can clearly see fish swimming about and two massive grouper , one male and one female, that like to hang out all day just below the water. They are quite staggering in size, akin to a small shark or dolphin! At the other end of the pontoon there’s a truly breathtaking underwater viewing area with plenty of steps to sit on and enjoy the view of thousands of fish swimming past the toughened glass windows.

Great Barrier Reef day trip review

You can even see snorkelers and divers here if the visibility is good. Our 1 year old daughter thought this area was amazing, yelping every time she saw a big fish swim past. Its truly the easiest way to see the marine life here but I was eager to jump in the water and see it up close! We went down to this are numerous times and I highly recommend it as a place to just chill out away from the sunshine and watch the underwater world go by.

Snorkelling and diving

Whatever your skill level Cruise Whitsundays have made it super easy here. Plenty of additional services like guided tours and beginners lessons as well as plenty of equipment for those that just want to jump right on in. Snorkelling is included for free and with the reef so accessible it was so easy to quickly grab the right size gear for me and get involved. Everything was clearly marked and I was soon donned in a fashionable stinger suit and flippers. There’s a simple set of steps leading to a partially submerged platform that makes getting in to the water safe and simple.

Snorkelling the great barrier reef

You do have to pick the right moment as you’ll find plenty of eager tourists doing the same as you, so be patient and if you can, swim out to a spot along the reef where others have yet to explore. Your really don’t have to go far along Hardy Reef before you see plenty of amazing coral formations and sea creatures. Friendly parrot fish, clown fish, humbugs and all manner of other marine life all within 50 metres or so of the pontoon.

Great Barrier reef cruises

Swimming against the current, however gentle is tiring work so its always best to head up-stream first and let the current bring you back to the pontoon. I snorkelled twice during our 4 hours and found the best coral and fish were found closest to base anyway so you really don’t have to go far at all to see the best of the reef. There’s a few simple rules here. Don’t touch the coral, don’t swim over the top of it and stay close to the guide ropes too.

Other activities on offer

Not content with just snorkelling or diving, there’s so much more you can do at the Reef World Pontoon. View the entire coral formations from above with helicopter rides, just a short boat ride over to the floating helicopter pads. Or maybe a free 30 minute trip in a semi-submersible boat with a glass bottom. We really enjoyed this as it almost feels like you’re diving but with a guide who you can instantly ask questions to about everything you can see. The pontoon also has a sun-lounger deck and plenty of space to have an amazing buffet lunch. 4 hours just flew by and I really could have stayed there for at least another 4! We just managed to cram in all the included activities before it was time to board our boat once more and head back to the mainland.

Semi-submersible tour of Hardy Reef

Amazing customer service

One aspect I feel compelled to tell you about is the level of service we encountered from all the staff on board. I really was surprised how friendly, competent and knowledgable they all were. We had plenty of questions throughout the day and everyone we asked always had the answers for us. They were wonderfully attentive with our 1 year old daughter too and while at the Pontoon they double as your life-guards, there to look after you so your day goes without a hitch. You can clearly see that they all enjoy their jobs and why wouldn’t they! Spending every day visiting some of the most breath-taking reefs in the world. I can see why they’re so enthusiastic about their work.

Taking a child to the Great Barrier Reef

Thank you

A huge thank you to Cruise Whitsundays for their hospitality on our day trip to the Great Barrier Reef. It was an unforgettable experience that definitely made me want to explore more of this amazing living structure. A special thank you to the staff of our catamaran for their boundless energy and enthusiasm. I was surprised how much we could do at the reef and only wish we could have stayed longer. You can find out more at their website cruisewhitsundays.com and be sure to follow them on twitter and Facebook too for all the latest promotions.

Also thank you to Britz Campervans for their support on this road trip of a lifetime. Definitely the best way to explore Australia!

Cruise Whitsundays day trip tour review 2015

Check out all our Australia #GoByCamper posts here

  • Introduction to the #GoByCamper road trip in Australia
  • Video message from Sydney
  • Port Stephens and Port Macquarie
  • Coffs Harbor and Byron Bay
  • #GoByCamper photoblog – Part 1
  • Progress report from Byron Bay
  • Taking a break in Brisbane
  • Fraser Island tour
  • Visiting Rockhampton
  • Family reunion in Townsville
  • #GoByCamper photoblog – Part 2
  • Reaching Cairns

Visiting Bequia Island in St. Vincent & The Grenadines

SVG is made up of some 6000 lush tropical islands, most of them are inhabited and all of which are a great excuse to leave the main island of St. Vincent and explore. The next stop on our SVG Live Liming Week was Bequia, pronounced “Beckway”. It’s often touted as a more relaxed and authentic experience compared to the hustle and bustle of the main island. Bequia has a population of just 4300 people scattered across 7 sqaure miles. Its undulating landscape forces the roads to hug the coastline and the beautiful turquoise waters are worth the trip alone.

Getting to Bequia

bequai express ferryWhile Bequai does have a small airport for mostly chartered flights there is a much cheaper and fairly short ferry ride from St. Vincent. The journey only took an hour on our “Bequai Express” which lumbered along, rocking from side to side in open water. The crossing can be a little wobbly at times especially in inclement weather but our journey was pretty smooth and you’re soon back in to the calm seas around Bequia. The port is the busiest area of the island but everything moves at a decidedly Caribbean pace. There’s usually no real rush to get things done and after a few days in St. Vincent & The Grenadines we were used to this way of life, enjoying the relaxed vibe that everyone seems to exude here.

Bequia Beach Hotel

Bequia Beach HotelOur first stop in Bequai was the modern yet rustic styled “Bequia Beach Hotel”. A short drive in an open air taxi, essentially a pickup van with a high roof and comfy padded benches in the back. The winding roads create great vistas around every turn and the path dipped down around the resort and entering its wonderful colonial styled beach front buildings. Situated in and on the sides of a natural valley, the Bequai Beach Resort had a real european touch to it. I’ve had the pleasure of staying in places like this before where a european expat sets up a new resort and brings with them European standards of building and management. The resort has a mixture of pretty little colourful cottages, beach facing apartments, hill side hotel rooms and even a 4 bedroom villa with a private pool that overlooks the landscape and beach.

Cocktails and dinner with the owner Bengt Mortstedt gave us the opportunity to find out what made him pick Bequai and build a new hotel here. Like others before him, the high pressure career coupled with a chance holiday to Bequai created a life long passion for the island and a new career in the hotel industry was born. Bengt was keen to tell us that Bequai is the “original Caribbean”, before the tourists really came to the Caribbean islands like Barbados and Jamaica, influencing their culture. While its hard to pinpoint how much this is true its definitely apparent that Bequai has retained its own unique way of life that locals and tourists love.

Sugar Reef

Sugar Reef Hotel BequiaHidden amongst the palm trees and hills of Bequia there is a small community of expats that have been here since the 70s in some cases. Clearly in tune with the Bequai vibe that has prevailed through the decades. The owners of the Sugar Reef Hotel are part of this expat community, with a cute boutique style resort nestled in a small bay on the east side of the island. With just a few houses dotted around the hills there’s a great sense of space and seclusion here and both the location and the decor of the hotel feel very connected with nature. With just a handful of beach-front rooms and more rooms with spectacular views up at the “French House”, Its easy to see why they created the hotel here. A cocktail reception gave us a chance to meet some more of the local expat community and find out what it is about this tiny island that has kept them here so long.

We met a great range of people, from artists who have happily called Bequia “Home” since the late 70s, to young couples who have lived here most of their lives as their parents run hotels or local businesses. Bequai can be frustrating at times, I’m told, with a slower pace of life its hard to get things fixed quickly and island life makes getting deliveries and supplies all the more challenging, not to mention expensive. Besides all this the pros of living in Bequia clearly outweigh the cons as everyone we met adores the island, its people and its awe-inspiring views. There’s just something about Bequai.

Tour of Bequia island

bequai-coastal-viewsWhile its nice to find beautiful hotels to do some real Caribbean Liming, this little island is worth exploring too not just for the views but also for some great local characters. The “Old Hegg” Turtle Sanctuary is definitely one of those places. The sole creation of Orton “Brother” King, once a professional diver for 35 years, he said creating his turtle sanctuary was a calling for him and he successfully nurtures around 50 turtles at any one time. The sanctuary is small and a fairly humble affair, just a few pools and tanks for turtles of different ages. He also has an impressive goat farm and collection of dogs too that love to follow him around and lounge out in the sun.

One of Bequia’s most colourful characters and possibly the island’s happiest man,”Nugget” is famous for his model boats . We were invited in to the Sargent Boat Works, filled with the most beautiful ornate wooden boats of all shapes and sizes. He gave us a tour and told us all about how he puts these beautiful ornaments together. Some take up to 3 months to create and involve hundreds of pieces of wood. He’s often asked to create model replicas of yachts that people own around the island. Following the original plans and painstakingly carving every little detail. He was an infectiously happy guy and a real pleasure to meet, its the local characters that always make a place what it is, even more so on such a small island.

Leaving in style

Flying from Bequia to Union IslandWith word that our ferry on to our next destination was out of action we, were left with no choice but to  charter a plane. Before this trip I’d never been in anything smaller than a jetliner so with some trepidation we headed to the small air strip right on the coast, built on reclaimed land. Our re-assuringly posh and well dressed pilot greeted us next to his tiny little 10 seater aircraft. The “Britten Norman Islander” was by far the smallest plane I’d ever been in and with a clear view of the pilot ahead it was a very new experience for me.

The flight lasted just 20 minutes and was quite spectacular. With so many islands in St. Vincent & The Grenadines there really is no better way to see them all than from the air. From the moment you take off the views are amazing, heading out over the Caribbean Sea passing island after island, floating amongst the clouds and eagerly watching the view below. The smooth journey was an all-too-short experience I’d so wished had been longer, with such stunning blue waters, sail boats parked by private islands and local life continuing below us.

The landing at Union Island was an exciting end to our time on Bequia. Just a couple of days to sample its delights and a glimpse in to a very different island life, both for locals and the expats who so lovingly call Bequia “Home”.

Want to know more about St Vincent & The Grenadines? Check out the official Facebook Page here and enter their competition to win your own amazing holiday in SVG! You can also see lots more of my photos of St. Vincent here and check out the video of climbing La Soufrière volcano too.

Barbados Bridgetown marina

Guided tours of Barbados – A review and what…

While the calm west coast waters of Barbados are the perfect place to relax and unwind, exploring a new country is always an exciting proposition. On the Barbados Blogathon we were invited on two enlightening tours of this island nation. Exploring the coast line and parishes, sugar plantations and towns. Then a tour of the capital city, Bridgetown and guided walk with a local celebrity.

Exploring the coast of Barbados

Holetown in Barbados tourOur drive for the day picked us up at The Club Barbados Resort & Spa, located on the west coast along with a string of exclusive resorts and accommodation. The cute town of Holetown is just a short walk away and an interesting drive. We passed lots of pretty and colourful Chattel houses, the traditional style of houses on the island and something the locals are very proud of. Holetown was actually the first location the British set foot on the island in 1625 and there’s a memorial statue here, with an incorrect date they decided not to change.

We visited Speightstown, driving past many more Chattels and some larger more exclusive houses. Many rich and famous people have second homes in Barbados, the likes of Cliff Richard and Richard Branson both have sizeable properties, the latter even had a public road moved to expand his property. St Charles Bay is also a very exclusive marina with houses costing millions of US dollars. Its an impressive coastline of luxury hotels and luxury houses.

Barbados St Charles Marina

Sugar cane is the primary crop on the island and our drive took us through some impressive plantations. Towering over us and a wonderful contrasting colour with the bright blue sky above. There’s 4 major plantation companies, all using modern refineries these days but a few sugar can windmills still exist, a dutch technological influence. Before the modern factories there were over 800 of these windmills all over the island. It must have been quite a sight. Now the preserved windmills are a tourist attraction and seem quite surreal with the backdrop of a tropical island.

Sugar cane plantations photo

Northern coast of BarbadosMost of the island’s 280,000 inhabitants are Anglican although there are over 100 religions on the island. The island is split in to 11 parishes with some impressive churches in prime locations. The northern tip of Barbados is in St Lucy’s Parish and has some impressive coastline. The Atlantic Ocean meets the coast here and the waves are huge, even on a relative calm day. Crashing against the coast with such ferocity. A great place to visit and take photos. There’s also the animal flower cave here which is an interesting place to visit. Once home to many anemone in the rock pools that get filled by crashing waves. Now it only contains a handful but its a fun, if slightly slippery place to visit. You get great views of the coast through cave framed openings. Its not often you get to explore caves made entirely of coral either so its well worth a look.

Heading over to the east coast across the island took us through plantations and woodland, up to St Nicholas Abbey, the peak of the hill is called Cherry Tree Hill although the trees in the area now are actually mahogany. with absolutely stunning views of an area known as “Scotland” on the other side. Its comparison starts and ends with “hills”. The weather is rarely anything like Scotland but the views can be similar. The drive down is very pretty and the road often meets the coastline at gorgeous paradise beaches. Leaning palm trees, bright sand and water that is a blue i’ve never seen before.

Cherry Tree Hill in Barbados

We were invited for lunch at The Cane, a time-share resort of some size, along with a gorgeous stretch of beach. The winds and waves are still stronger here than the west coast but the gorgeous blue water is still very inviting. Lunch was provided but an odd choice of venue. The Beach bar is hidden in behind a sand dune with not much in the way of facilities. Lunch was an expensive salad in a polystyrene container. I would have preferred the much more inviting Azure restaurant in the pretty courtyard of the resort. Still it was a fun stop on our tour before heading back across the island to our luxury resort on the West coast.

A guided tour of Bridgetown

The capital city of Bridgetown is now a fairly modern and thriving city, over 100,000 of the island’s population live and work here. There’s no better way to understand the history of Barbados and its capital than a walking tour with a local historian. Morris Greenidge is not only the expert on the island, he’s also something of a local celebrity. In fact during our tour he said hello, waved and shook hands with pretty much everyone we encountered! He knows everything there is to know about Barbados and was a great story teller too.

Bridgetown guided walk tour

Bridgetown is so called after the bridge discovered, once wooden, now a lifting bridge allowing beautiful yachts to moore along the waters edge. Its a very walkable city with a number of tourist attractions within easy reach of the centre. The government buildings and churches of all denominations are beautiful to walk around, especially with the deep blue sky as a backdrop. The British colonial history is apparent at every turn here, with churches dating back to the start of colonisation. There have been a number of great fires in Bridgetown too, wiping hundreds of buildings each time, the last was in the early 1900s. The positive side of these fires has been the improvement of the city layout and better building quality in the centre of the city. Its also helped develop the city as a cultural centre and shopping mecca for the local community and tourists.

Bridgetown walking tour in Barbados

We had a very pleasant lunch at the Waterfront Cafe, probably the best spot in Bridgetown for a meal and a drink while watching the world go by. From here you’re likely to spot boats coming in and out of the marina, occasionally with a catch of fish, as well as a great place for people watching in this laid back country. Everyone is very friendly and talkative, a vibe you get all over the island.

Barbados Bridgetown marina

The best way to explore any country is always a private guided tour. The ability to ask any questions you like and have immediate detailed answers really connects you to the place you’re in and its one of the most rewarding experiences of visiting any new country. Whether its a taxi tour around an island or a walking tour around a city, chatting with local historians about the rich history of a country is always great value for money. Highly recommended if you’re ever in Barbados.

With thanks

A big thank you to our sponsors, the Barbados Tourist Association, Elite Island resorts and Tropical sky for making these tours possible. For more information on the Barbados Blogathon go here

 

Deer on the Isle of Arran

Visiting the Isle of Arran in Scotland

A friend of ours described the tiny Isle of Arran as a “miniature Scotland” which seemed an unusual description for such a tiny island off the west coast of Britain. Technically its an island off the west and east cost of Britain, sandwiched between two parts of the mainland in the Firth of Clyde. I’d often heard of Arran and having spoken to a number of Scottish people in the past weeks we’d heard only great things about the place. But would the miniature Scotland live up to its description? Our road trip has taken all over Scotland and now it was time to find out.

Some Arran facts for you

  • Arran really is tiny, just 167 square miles
  • It has an equally tiny population of around 5000 people
  • The island was created during very intense volcanic activity over 60 million years ago
  • Human habitation of the island has been traced right back to the Bronze age
  • The Hamilton family once owned the entire island and in 1800s sold off, merged and generally caused havoc for the locals, reducing the population from over 6000 to around 4000.

Getting to Arran

Thanks to this island being sandwiched between the mainland of Scotland there are a couple of options. We decided we’d take the longer and more scenic route around to Kintyre, often described as looking like a key. The scenery was suitably Scottish, amazing rolling hills with a great view along the coast and Arran often present on the horizon. The ferry port is a tiny concrete ramp that’s down a single track road. We were first in line of only 3 cars and 2 men on bicycles. Such a cute little ferry and fun crossing.

Basking sharks off the coast of Arran

Before we even landed on Arran we had a wonderful surprise. The captain of our ferry took a detour and announced that there were basking sharks on our port side. Once we’d worked out which side was Port we ventured to the top deck to get a better view. between the coastline and our ferry was a large shimmering basking shark with its fin and tail visible out of the water. We watched it for 10 minutes or so. A real treat for us newbies to the island!

Deer on the Isle of Arran

No sooner had we left the ferry and driven the port town of Lochranza, we came across 3 deer grazing by the coastline. Happy to be watched by locals and tourist alike, they seemed very at home and it was amazing to be able to get so close to them. We even recorded some video of them too! See the video below.

Staying in a Bunkhouse

Corrie Croft BunkhouseWe’ve stayed in a number of hotels, B&Bs and hostels but this time we’d be staying in a bunkhouse. Have you ever stayed in one? The idea seems to be a hostel with very little staff. You still get kitchen facilities, great common areas and bunk beds but with less staff involvement. Perfect if you want to relax, make the place your own for a few days. The Corrie Croft Bunkhouse is one such place. It was quite a challenge getting up the steep hill to the bunkhouse even in our full laden car. The twisting and winding road could be even more of a challenge in bad weather, thankfully the sun was shining on us. Once at the top you’re rewarded with an amazing panoramic view of the coastline and Scottish mainland on the other side of the water.

View of Arran from the bunkhouseThe Corrie Croft bunkhouse was comfortable if a little quirky in places. Being up a steep road you really need to plan ahead. We had just enough food to prevent us going back down the hill on our first night. The kitchen was big and had a few basics although lacked some really obvious things like kitchen towels and a tin opener. Other than that it was lovely. A great dining area, conservatory with comfy sofas, books, an amazing view to enjoy and we had a great chat with another guest about our travels and this crazy Great British Road Trip project of ours.

  • Address: North High Corrie, Isle of Arran
  • Rates: Twin double £16, Mixed dorm £14
  • Website: Book online here

Exploring Arran

Brodick Castle in ArranWith one full day in Arran we drove back down the hill and ventured along the coast to circumnavigate the island. We stopped at the town of Brodick which is a port town to the mainland and also the home of a very impressive castle. The Hamilton family once owned the entire island and Brodick castle was renovated over the years from a castle fort to a summer-house in the 1800s. Its gardens are beautiful and its interior was packed with ornaments, history and even a huge collection of deer heads the family successfully shot over the past 100 years!

The historians in each room gave us a great amount of detail of the family, how the castle has changed over the centuries and lots more about the many ornaments inside. Its a great place to spend a couple of hours and really soak up the grandeur of the place. The views outside of the surrounding land are great and there’s even a good quality (if a little expensive) cafe within the house.

Driving around the coast of Arran

Beach in ArranWe had great fun driving around the island. Its coastal road offers amazing views all the way around. We even stopped at a beach for a walk along the sandy coast. The sun was shining and it was surprisingly warm without a strong wind. The water was calm and as if waiting for an audience another Basking Shark appeared and swam around for our entertainment just off the coast in shallow waters.

King’s Caves

Kings CavesIf walks are your thing then you’ll love Arran. One interesting walk is down to the King’s Cave. A stretch of coastline with a 2 – 4km walk that takes you up and down along the side of a forest before heading down to the pebbly beach where there are numerous caves. The most impressive of which is more like a church! A large iron gate guards the entrance and inside the wedged rocks that create the cave meet at the end forming an alter of sorts. It is said that one of the caves was the resting place of Robert the Bruce too who had a mysterious run-in with a spider.

The caves have actually be inhabited for thousands of years with a number of Pictish and christian symbols found on a number of the walls. Its an interesting place to explore with very few tourists. The walk can be a challenge at times but we found it rewarding once you reached the caves.

Kings Caves church

We really enjoyed our short but very sweet Isle of Arran experience. Its easy to see why people call it a miniature Scotland. It’s beautiful coastlines, rolling hills, grand mountain peaks and its fair share of castles and caves really gives you a great amount to see and do for such a small island.

With thanks

A big thank you to our sponsor HostelWorld and to the Corrie Croft Bunkhouse on the Isle of Arran for their hospitality. We had a great time and highly recommend a visit for a miniature slice of Scotland!