I was pinching myself before embarking on this trip and now that I’m home, I’m still pinching myself.
How did I not only get to see one of my bucket list destinations but also ticked boxes that would’ve been on many of my friends’ bucket lists. Like skydiving, riding in a McLaren and landing on an alpine mountain by helicopter? But surreally it all did happen plus more, and I didn’t have to pay for any of it.
If you’re wondering how, it’s because I was invited to be part of a famil group by Tourism New Zealand.
Wish I could take home this window view at Glendhu Bay Woolshed, Wanaka.
Actually to be more accurate, my boss was invited and she couldn’t go. So lucky me. But if you’re asking what a famil or fam is, it’s short for familiarisation – basically a program organised by various tourism interests / organisations to wine, dine and entertain strategically chosen visitors to show off what they can offer travellers or visiting business delegates. I got there because I write for a travel trade publication.
Oh yeah, there was sheep shearing too. At Glendhu Bay Woolshed, Wanaka. Pic by Geoff Marks, Lake Wanaka Tourism.
Prior to this I’d only been on one famil lasting almost a day in my local Melbourne area. That was nice, with a lunch at the iconic Donovans in St Kilda, a visit to a brewery, a coffee-roasting tour and a guided walk through Melbourne’s city lanes. On any given day it beats sitting at your desk in your (home) office surrounded by stacks of paper and reminders of things to do.
But New Zealand put on an interactive show that left me and all my travel buddies smiling so hard it’s even harder to see our squinty Asian eyes.
Faster than you can say Tom Cruise. At Highlands Motorsport Park, Cromwell.
We travelled at the end of May (winter) for eight days, mostly on the South Island and were told to bring everything from a swimming costume to snow boots. We soaked in hot pools at Tekapo Springs, enjoyed salmon sashimi at Lake Pukaki where Heston Blumenthal sourced his fish daily for his Fat Duck Restaurant in Melbourne, got wet jet boating where Bear Grylls had done some TV shooting, rode in a McLaren, skydived in one of the most beautiful locations in the world, went sailing on an America’s Cup yacht and popped champagne after landing by helicopter on a snow-capped mountain. The only thing I said no to was bungy jumping!
Boarding our skydive with Skydive Wanaka, New Zealand. Pic by Geoff Marks from Lake Wanaka Tourism.
With my famil travel buddies soaking in Tekapo Springs, Canterbury, New Zealand.
We were put up at great hotels like The George in Christchurch, Sofitel in Queenstown and the Langham in Auckland. (I got upgraded to a junior suite at The George too, which was very nice). And we ate really well. To tell you the truth, food was furthest from my mind when you’re thinking about preparing for a skydive so I was pleasantly surprised at how good the food was (not to say I was expecting anything subpar at all). New Zealanders showed as much commitment to their ingredients, quality of cooking and presentation as I’ve seen at top restaurants in Melbourne. If I was living in a Tourism NZ bubble please don’t prick it.
Elegantly dressed for dinner at Rippon Vineyard, Wanaka. Pic by Geoff Marks of Lake Wanaka Tourism.
Dessert served at CINZ MEETINGS 2017, Auckland, New Zealand. Thin layer of lime (or was it mint!) jelly gives way to a silky cream filling. Decorated with flowers and transparent jelly blocks.
My famil team. Pic by Geoff Marks of Lake Wanaka Tourism.
Irene Hayword, owner of Canterbury Trails Personally Guided Tours was our excellent guide and driver from Christchurch to Queenstown, New Zealand.
I forgot to mention one more thing we did.
After a night of catching up with other famil groups from America, India and China over a slow-cooked, fall-off-the-bone roast lamb in the stunning Rippon Vineyard, we popped outside the dinner hall where prepared for us (if we could see them) were beanbags, hot chocolate and marshmallows to enjoy a stare at NZ’s amazingly clear night sky and learn about the stars from an expert astronomer. Yup, we could see the milky way with our naked eyes. They really thought of everything.
Starry, starry night where we could see the Milky Way, the main constellations, even Jupiter and Saturn. At Rippon Vineyard in Wanaka. Pic by Geoff Marks of Lake Wanaka Tourism.
This writer was a guest of Tourism New Zealand and Air New Zealand. All views are her own.