Iceland (not Finland!)

Very excited about our flight to Iceland tomorrow! (Mum keeps accidentally mixing up Iceland and Finland, hence the title!) It has been a while since I’ve had a chance for a real small-suitcase, long-flighted, prim and proper adventurous holiday with all of the extra frills of camping and songs around the campfire and canoeing and famous sights that you never knew where famous and some people blabbering strange words in strange languages but also people speaking english and log cabins and big lakes and wildlife spotting! Well, Iceland and Canada have got it all! From the sight-seeing and style of Iceland to the tree-blanketed peaks of Algonquin, Canada I think this holiday is possibly one of the best! (I’m not bragging, honestly!)

We’ve nearly finished packing! YAY! (This may sound like we are very organised but may I remind you it is only 12 and a half hours until the taxi comes to pick us up for the airport!?!!?) I have managed to shove in 2 swimming cossies (1 old, 1 new!), new (NEW!?!!?) sunglasses and sunhat and my (ALSO NEW!?!?!) playsuit and maxi dress! I can’t wait Aaaaaaaaaaaaaagh! 🙂 😀 Need to get an early night! Bye Bye! x P.S- zzzzzz!

Almost time to leave…

Just one week to go and we’ve started packing in earnest. I also just noticed that a couple of the airlines (Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand) allow you to choose your seats at any time after booking. It’s tricky keeping track when you’ve got flights with seven different carriers…

Another thing I noticed was that TAM have now joined the Star Alliance group of airlines. If that had been the case back when we were planning this, we would probably have got our round the world ticket with them. As I said before, we chose to book with OneWorld because they were the only group to include a South American airline. It did mean that we had to book our Brazillian flights ourselves though. Oh well, next time!

Travel insurance and allowed activities

We bought our travel insurance straight after buying our round the world tickets. After all, if you have to cancel the trip, it’s best to have insurance in place. We got it through Columbus and to be fair it was not expensive – something like £200 for the whole family for nearly 12 weeks worldwide cover (excluding North America). It also came with an impressive list of allowed activities including tobogganing, camel riding and water skiing.

I realised later that one thing that we were thinking of doing was not covered – cross country skiing. We will be flying into Queenstown in the south of New Zealand in ski season and we’re not skiers, so we have a booking to learn cross country skiing, which you can pick up in a matter of hours apparently. The place that offers it is the Snow Farm near Wanaka.

With all of those other activities covered, many of which look more risky than cross county skiing, I phoned to ask what it would cost to add a single day of that activity to our policy. I was quoted £50. Not a huge sum, but large compared to the basic policy and a large additional cost for one day’s cover. I think the problem is that the premiums are set up assuming that you are going on a ski holiday, rather than spending one day out of eighty in the mountains. So I held onto my money. Looking around I discovered that it is possible to buy top-up cover for just this situation. DareDirect and SportsCover Direct will allow you to buy single days of cover for extra activities. This was about half the cost of the additional premium from Columbus. Even more interestingly, New Zealand has a government backed insurance scheme that covers visitors as well as residents for personal injury. So maybe we don’t need to buy any top up at all?

Renting a car in Central Australia

We’re visiting Ayers Rock/Uluru and Alice Springs on our trip. Most flights into the red centre of Australia go to Alice Springs, but it is a 4 hour drive to Uluru, so we opted to fly direct to Ayers Rock airport and then fly out of Alice Springs to avoid making the journey both ways.

However, we discovered that getting a one-way car hire here can be very expensive. To make matters more complicated, there are going to be 6 of us, since my Mum and Dad are going to be joining us. If you go to one of the big car rental companies and look for a one-way rental for a minivan over 4 days you’ll be quoted some astronomical amounts. Luckily, Voyages, the company that runs the Ayers Rock Resort offer car hire with no one-way supplements so long as you have the vehicle for 3 days or more. It’s a bit of a pain as you can’t just book it online and I ended up phoning their reservations centre in Sydney about 4 times to get it sorted, but it does end up being significantly cheaper than elsewhere.

Japanese Rail Passes

We’ve bought our rail passes for Japan. We’re going to take the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Hiroshima and back. The passes aren’t cheap, but turn out to be about the same cost as that return journey. I thought it was slightly odd that the promotional leaflet that came with the tickets had a famous picture of a tsunami on it. Not sure many other countries would advertise their natural disasters in tourist literature! Anyway, it’s pretty exciting to be going on some of the world’s fastest trains. Check out this video of a Nozomi Shinkansen. This is the only one we can’t use our pass on, so we won’t quite make 300 km/h, we’ll have to be satisfied with 285 km/h…

Last flight booked

I’ve booked our internal flight in New Zealand. We’re flying from Dunedin all the way to Rotorua. So that means we are going to be seeing the far south of the country and the far north and missing out the whole of the middle. In the south we hope to see Queenstown, Wanaka, Milford Sound and Dunedin. In the north we are going to see Rotorua and then head to Auckland via the Coromandel peninsula. We knew we wouldn’t be able to see it all in the 13 days we have available, so this seems the best way to maximize the sightseeing and minimize the travelling time.

We’re flying Air New Zealand. If you’re looking for internal flights I recommend using Expedia.co.nz, as they can get the cheap domestic flight offers on Air New Zealand that are not available outside the country.

Pantanal

Yes, it looks like we are going to visit the Pantanal, although it was a bit of a struggle to find a good tour guide at a reasonable price. We’ve got a reservation with the Jaguar Eco Reserve for a 4 night/5 day visit including boat trips, fishing for piranhas, walking and maybe spotting those big cats if we’re lucky… I’m really excited! Coincidentally there was an article in the Independent on Saturday on Brazilian eco tourism which mentions Eduardo, who we’ve been corresponding with by email.

It’s not been easy to sort this out. First off we contacted Julinho of Pantanal Trackers who gets great reviews everywhere online. But unfortunately he was fully booked for August – obviously his reputation goes before him. He put us in contact with his cousin, who was also busy when we were hoping to be there. He put us in contact with someone else, who was also busy, at which point we gave up on that line of enquiry. We had also been in contact with Pantanal Nature who also get good reviews online. They had an offer, but it seemed a bit expensive even if we opted for camping. Last night we found that Eduardo offered transport and activities alongside accommodation and food, so we sent him an email, not expecting a quick response (it says they try to respond within a week!) but he got straight back with a good price of 500 USD per night for the family, all inclusive. So we’ve reserved it. Now we need to buy ourselves some flights from Rio and then on to Salvador….

Where to go in Brazil?

Our round-the-world tickets take us to Brazil, into Rio and out of São Paulo three weeks later. Unlike Australia (where we are taking 3 internal flights) there is no Brazilian airline in the OneWorld alliance, so any flights within Brazil will have to be bought in addition.

Having looked at various options, it seems that GOL is the best airline for cheap fares. The alternatives (TAM, Azul, WebJet, OceanAir and Trip) all seem to be more expensive. To search all of them at once, try Mundi.com.br, as I found that the flight search site I usually use (Kayak) only picks up flights from TAM. Alternatively, if you go straight to the GOL site and choose “buscar por preço” (search by price) it will show you the costs of flying on different dates, which can vary massively. Note that you also seem to get shown more days if you use the site in Portuguese than when you switch to English.

Brazil is a big country – roughly the same size as the continental USA. So we’re not expecting to see all of it. But it would be good to see more than just the area around the big cities in the south east. So some of the options we are considering are the following:

Salvador: The historic african heart of Brazil with some amazing beaches along the coast.

The Pantanal: The world’s biggest wetland, almost the size of the UK and home to jaguars and alligators.

Iguaçu Falls: One of the world’s biggest waterfalls on the border with Argentina and Paraguay.

We don’t want to miss out on seeing things, but we also don’t want to burn ourselves out. Decisions. Decisions.