A Gay Traveller’s Off The Beaten Path Paradise

Meet two more of our trusted LGBT locals, Steve and Pete. Hear their thoughts on why Golden Bay is such a great destination for gay travellers.

gay traveller paradise
Pete and Steve lovin’ life in Golden Bay

Pete and Steve own and operate gorgeous Ratanui Lodge at the top of the South Island,  and they are phenomenal hosts! I adore spending time with them in their slice of paradise. If you’re a gay traveller who seeks a more remote experience immersed in nature, Golden Bay is where it’s at!

Located at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, and over the infamous Takaka Hill, Golden Bay is often skipped by travellers who think it’s too far away. It’s exactly that ‘end of the road’ location that makes Golden Bay so idyllic.

What makes Golden Bay so special?

Golden Bay: Where if you are normal you are weird.  The small community here thrives on diversity and acceptance, and is full of such a range of people from dairy farmers to retirees to old hippies living off the grid to amazing artists.  Golden Bay is warm and sunny in summer, with 17 beaches. It has easy access to the Northern Abel Tasman National Park, and is an end of the road destination free of tour buses and mass tourism.  The people here make the experience; the beaches and scenery make tourists want to linger.  There is more to explore here than most expect.  As access to the southern Abel Tasman National Park is at capacity over the summer months, the Northern Abel Tasman offers a wilderness feel where you can still have a golden sand beach all to yourselves!

new zealand beaches
A scenic flight from Golden bay, takes in mountains, rugged coastlines and deserted beaches

How is the Golden Bay area for LGBTQ people?

Very open and accepting.  LGBTQ people are an important part of the community and are celebrated. We have lived together in Golden Bay for 11 years as an out couple, and have been treated with acceptance and respect.

Gay traveller paradise
Gay Owned Ratanui Lodge in off-the-beaten-path Golden Bay offers exceptional customer service and local knowledge, tips, and advice.

Why do you think NZ is so gay friendly compared to many other countries in the world?

New Zealand is a remote destination with a small population, and is a young country by European standards.  There is still an “end of road” feel where everyone relies on each other and depends on each other.  New Zealand is a small community relatively speaking as well and there is a need to get on with your neighbours.  The conservative Churches that preach separation don’t have a strong influence in New Zealand culture.  It seems that New Zealanders in general are less concerned about who you love than how you interact with the community as a human being.

Why did you move to NZ permanently Steve? Was our gay-friendly attitude part of the decision?

Steve and Paul at beach
A Beach of their own

I moved here because I met Pete here on my travels in 2006.  When we decided we were going to live together as a gay couple, the immigration standards here were much more friendly toward a gay couple than if we had tried to settle in the States.  I was able to obtain a temporary work visa very quickly as a result of my relationship with Pete, and over time that led to temporary residency, followed by permanent residency, and last year to citizenship.  The Immigration New Zealand family track is inclusive of gay couples.  At the time we were starting out together, that wasn’t the case in the States and it would have been virtually impossible for Pete to join me in the US on a permanent basis.  Also, I fell in love with New Zealand anyway, so it was an easy decision for us to make our home in New Zealand.

What makes NZ a great destination for gay travellers?

As a gay traveller, New Zealand offers a different experience than say Fire Island, Key West, or Mikanos.  It’s not a huge party/nightlife scene.  It’s an opportunity to see the most beautiful country in the world, with a stunning variety of scenery, in a safe, welcoming environment.  As the gay Traveller matures and looks for experiences that are beyond gay-centric, but still gay-friendly, New Zealand offers warm welcomes, little judgement, and a chance to explore remote places away from the crowds.  Basically as a gay traveller you can experience all the adventures that the rest of the tourists to New Zealand are here for, but without any threat or bias.

New Zealand remote beach
Deserted Beaches

Golden Bay is a truly unique place with so much to do. It’s a perfect destination for semi-independent gay travellers who have time to get off the beaten path and explore.

 

Nicky and Lisa Discover LGBTQ Friendly New Zealand

For the second of our interviews with our trusted LGBT locals, we chatted with Nicky and Lisa. These Irish gals found LGBTQ friendly paradise in New Zealand, have made it their home, started their own cycle tour business, and become Kiwis!

Biking New Zealand back roads
Biking New Zealand’s back roads

How did you end up in New Zealand?

Nicky and I first set foot on the land of the Long White Cloud in December 2009. We were in New Zealand to have a holiday of a lifetime. We did some extensive research into what we wanted to do once we got here but hadn’t thought about whether or not it was a country where LGBTQ travellers would be welcomed or shunned. To be honest we were just prepared to roll with whatever attitude was put forward, after all we were living in Northern Ireland at the time, a country that was and still isn’t LGBTQ friendly in many ways.

The first stop on our holiday was a sailing trip at the Bay of Islands. We met the couple of guys who were running the trip and to our delight we realised that they weren’t just business partners but life partners as well. So just by sheer luck the first Kiwis we met were gay! This really set up the rest of our holiday. Our next stop was back to Auckland to a B&B in Ponsonby. We were greeted by our host who, without any questions to us, said that he had a great film for us to watch about New Zealand’s first transgender Member of Parliament. Immediately this easy attitude towards LGBTQ issues put us at ease in this fabulous country.

Upon our return to Northern Ireland, we both realised that New Zealand felt more like home than Northern Ireland did. It was hardly surprising that very quickly we made the biggest decision of our lives. We decided to emigrate to New Zealand.

Mapua Beach
Biker’s Paradise

A year later we had our visas, sold our house, packed up our belongings and placed them in the shipping container. Flights were booked, and we and the cat returned to New Zealand as residents.

Where are you living now and is it LGBTQ friendly?

We settled in the top of South Island in a small village called Mapua, about 30 mins drive out of Nelson. We bought a house out in the rural area just outside the village itself. As we started to settle into our new surroundings and life, it quickly became apparent that we were not the only lesbians in the village. In fact, we were not the only lesbians on our road! There were at least 2 LGBTQ couples within 4km stretch of road.

The more we became integrated into our local society the more LGBTQ couples we met. Mapua has a population of around 3,000 and with the amount LGBTQ families in the area we could probably run our own Pride March.

As Mapua/Nelson region has so many out-LGBTQ families it has never been an issue for us to live in any way that is not honest. We live our lives quite openly and are fully accepted as a couple both in social circles and business.

Bikers at beach
Soak in the views

Tell us about your cycle tour business.

Cycling is a passion of ours and our region lends itself so well to be explored by bike so in 2011 we set up our cycle tour business, Wheelie Fantastic. One of our first group bookings that year was from a company in America that caters for gay men. They booked a group of 14 with us and have been returning each year since. Many of them talk to us about how refreshing it is to be in a country where sexuality is not an issue.

New Zealand road cycling
From trail riders to road cyclists, Wheelie Fantastic has a ride for you!

Our local knowledge allows us to create a wide range of cycling experiences in the Nelson Tasman area. We create rides to suit your budget, length of time you have, and your riding ability, from trail riders to road bike enthusiasts. Tours can be self-guided, guided and/or vehicle supported. Most importantly, we help you discover the hidden gems of our area.

New Zealand biking
Mapua’s diverse landscape makes for fun rides

What would you tell LGBTQ travellers considering New Zealand?

We believe you will be welcomed into Aotearoa with a genuine warm reception no matter where you are from and secondly you will be treated with respect and equality regardless of your sexuality.

Nicky and I have travelled to other parts of the world where we have felt it to be impossible to act as anything but friends. But here in New Zealand we are proud to live our life as we are and never hide our sexuality. In New Zealand, we have found a truly liberal minded country and we are now proudly Kiwis. We are proud to be lesbian Kiwis. Just make sure you are an All Blacks supporter (That’s our national rugby team). That’s all Kiwis really want to know about you. Whether you’re LGBTQ or not they don’t care, but just shout loudly for the ALL Blacks.

Nicky and Lisa take care of every last detail to create the perfect ride for you and their outstanding level of service is second to none!  Join us on our  South Island Sojourn in March 2018 to meet Nicky and Lisa and ride the gorgeous Mapua region with them. You won’t regret it!

A self drive discovery of New Zealand

By Deb B.

Have you ever thought to yourself, I just need to get away, clear the head and immerse myself in nature’s beauty? I am sure that you have at one stage or another. After a long three years without much self time out, I decided on the spur of the moment to contact Debbie at New Zealand Awaits to plan my get away from the day to day monotony, and Australian heat J

With the kids settled into school and a plethora of relatives on hand to help out, Debbie and I planned an incredible trip to the North and South islands. Debbie was on hand with helpful tips and must-see places, as well as reality checking about what exactly I might be able to achieve in the thirteen days spent traversing this glorious country. This is very helpful if you don’t know the country, or if you do and don’t have a lot of time to plan the arrangements yourself.

So many people asked me, why did you do a self drive of New Zealand? I am very quick to point out the obvious benefits of my self-drive tour:

  1. You wake up when you want, and go to bed when you want, in what can only be described as fantastic, and often unique accommodation – a mix of B&Bs and luxury hotels.
  2. You go to places you want to see without distractions– you see exactly what you want to see, and when – important on a time limited trip
  3. You have great conversations and meet amazing people, and you don’t have conversations when you don’t want to
  4. You can play YOUR songs in the car, and leave Justin Bieber for the school run when you get home
  5. You can stop anywhere you want to and B-R-E-A-T-H-E it all in, it is hard not to come away from such a trip without knowing more about yourself and with clarity about your future direction.
  6. You have to problem solve issues that arise – the benefit of course when you have an amazing travel agent such as Debbie, is that you are never really facing any tough issues by yourself.

And that is exactly what I did.

For anyone considering a self drive holiday and wanting a level of comfort, having a credible travel agent who has checked out the places, has the business relationships for great deals and knows the country, is a big relief.   Debbie is incredibly professional and knows her content. She had me on the plane in less than two weeks in peak season, with a planned holiday that allowed a mix of fun and rest – no easy feat!

And I had a ball!

White Island, active volcano
White Island, active volcano

The highlights of the self drive tour in the North would be White Island at Rotorua, where I took a helicopter ride directly from my accommodation at the Black Swan Resort to the island and back, with lovely companions from the hotel. The resort is incredible and the hospitality endless at the Black Swan, thanks to Arthur and staff.

white-island-helicopter
Enjoying the helicopter ride to White Island

The highlights from the South Island would have to include the fly over Milford Sound with Fly Fiordland and also the self drive through Arthur’s Pass and Haast Pass.

Milford Sound from the air
Milford Sound from the air
By the river in Haast Pass
By the Haast River

Both were equally as stunning, with dramatic scenery that took my breath away and in moments brought tears to my eyes. Nature certainly puts on a show in New Zealand.

Arthur's Pass scenery
Arthur’s Pass scenery
Wanaka view
Wanaka view

As a vegan (yes one of those), it is always hard to travel. However, John’s three course vegan meal at Kapitea Lodge, Hokitika was incredible and he made every effort to accommodate the diet, taking it to another level with his scrumptious dishes that other guest were envious about at the end of the night.

The days went quickly, and all too soon the holiday was over. I can say that I will be back again, as this trip opened up my imagination to the possibilities and gave me a new lease on life. New Zealand is an incredible country, with so much diversity of landscape and interesting history. There is still so much of it to explore.

Doubtful Sound Wilderness – Rain or Shine

There are few places on earth that are so easily accessible, yet so wild, as Doubtful Sound. Rugged, remote, and lush with rainforest, this sound will take your breath away. Whether it’s pouring rain, or brilliant sunshine, Doubtful Sound never fails to deliver.

Spending an overnight in Doubtful Sound with Chris from Deep Cove Charters, a local who has spent his whole life in the sound, is an experience every visitor to New Zealand should not miss!  Completely disconnected from the rest of the world, the power and solitude of Fiordland enveloped us. Rather than dampening our trip, the rain added to the awe of this moody sound and provided a spectacular display of hundreds of waterfalls. We saw dophins, fur seals, penguins, and albatross. We fished, kayaked, and just breathed in the serenity and peacefulness of this exquisite wilderness. Chris pulled up crayfish for lunch, and we fished for dinner to accompany the venison previously hunted by Chris. At dusk We enjoyed a drink with new friends, discussed the privilege of being where we were, and were lulled to sleep by the sound of silence.
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The day after we left Doubttul Sound, my sister, her husband, and another couple spent three days kayaking and camping in the sound. Their weather couldn’t have been more different.

 

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doubtfulsound doubtfulreflectionWhether from the comfort of Chris’ boat, or roughing it in a kayak, Doubtful Sound is truly magic.

9 Reasons Why I Love New Zealand

I’ve lived many places around the world, but there is nowhere quite like home: New Zealand. Here’s my 9 reasons why I love New Zealand so much.

1. Our Nature – our wild, rugged, remote, and stunning places.

Whether it’s our pristine beaches, our lush native bush, our glaciers and mountains, or our blue, blue skies, it’s all just so damn spectacular. Ask anyone who has been. I give thanks every day that I was born here.

Wild New Zealand
Wanaka High Country

2. Our laid-back, ‘yeah, whatever’ attitude towards LGBT people

Most kiwis could care less if you’re LGBT or not, making New Zealand a great place for LGBT folks to live and visit. I think this is due to our socially progressive, open-minded attitude about many things. We were the first country in the world to give women the right to vote in 1893, and 34% of our parliament members today are female. We were the first country to have an openly transgender member of parliament, Georgina Beyer, elected in 1999, prior to which she’d been a rural town mayor for five years. Go Georgina! Granted, it took us a little longer to get gay marriage, but that did finally get legalised in 2013.

3. Our sense of humour. We’re irreverent, sarcastic, and tell it like it is.

We make fun of ourselves, and love to kid others too. And we expect to give as good as we get, so let your guard down a little, and don’t be afraid to poke fun when you’re in New Zealand. Don’t be surprised either when we give it right back – it’s a sign of affection and means you’re seen as ‘one of us’.

4. Our connection to nature and the outdoors.

Kiwis love the outdoors. We love our beaches and BBQs in the summer, our ski-fields in the winter, and we love getting out to explore and enjoy our own country. Even our homes are designed with big sliding or bi-fold doors that spill the dining room or living room out onto our decks for outdoor living. We’re also a pretty active nation, and we love to take advantage of our endless hiking trails (we call it tramping – but that doesn’t make us tramps!), our diverse mountain biking and cycling trails, the endless water-sports on offer with our spectacular coastline, lakes, and rivers. And we’re the world leaders when it comes to adventure sports too – bungy jumping, jet boating, zorbing (all invented in New Zealand), caving, ziplining, paragliding, skydiving… we just can’t find enough different ways to walk, paddle, pedal, glide, whizz, and fly though our great outdoors.

New Zealand Outdoor Living
Outdoor Living
donut_island_view
Paddling a favourite spot on the Coromandel Peninsular

5. Our dedicated volunteers who are committed to protecting our unique environment.

When you start learning about the huge number of eco-sanctuaries in New Zealand, and the vast numbers of New Zealanders who are the reason these places exist, you can’t help but be impressed. Many Kiwis understand the fragility and importance of our unique flora and fauna, and that we need to protect and restore it, for our own sake, that of our children, and the many generations to come. It’s something about New Zealand that I’m so proud of.

New Zealand Wildlife
Rare and Endangered Takahe in at Maungatautari Ecosanctuary

6. Our delicious, fresh, seasonal foods, and our world-class wines.

It’s not hard to get excellent quality, fresh, locally produced cuisine here. Even small cafes will often have locally sourced, fresh and seasonal produce. And pair that delicious meal with some local wine from one of our numerous wine growing regions. Our Sauvignon Blancs are well appreciated all over the world now, but we also produce spectacular Pinot Noirs, as well as other varietals. Wine tastings are such a fun way to learn about new wines and support local winemakers.  You’ll love what you discover!

Farm to Table Food
From the farm to the table

7. Our modern banking systems.

When I first returned home a few years ago, my sister repaid me some money via her banking phone app within a few seconds. I couldn’t believe it. “What do you mean you can’t do that in the U.S.?” she asked. “We send cheques,” I explained. “What?” she asked like I was nuts. NO ONE uses cheques here anymore, except our mother, who is 82! EVERYTHING is done electronically in New Zealand, mostly on mobile devices, and has been for years. It’s SO easy. I love it!

Easy Pay Bank App
So easy to pay back your sister!

8. Our All Blacks!

If you don’t know who they are, then you’re missing out. We are a rugby-crazy nation, but then we are the best in the world, so why wouldn’t we be! Everything stops when there are games on. And if it’s the World Cup final (meaning a true ‘world’ cup final… not a ‘World Series’ that involves only one nation), then the whole country comes to a grinding halt. We celebrate, and sometimes mourn, with our boys in black. Check out the haka below. Gives me chills!

9. Last but not least, our electoral campaigns are only about a month long – yes only a month!

Legally, no longer than 40 days. Ok, so I’m really only adding this because Donald Trump is all over our TV, in New Zealand! And has been for months. Ugh!! One month – imagine that? It’s so refreshing!

I may be biased, but it’s the best country in the world. Come home with us to see for yourself!

Is there a need for a New Zealand gay and lesbian travel company?

LGBT Rainbow Flag
(picture by torbakhopper 2012 https://flic.kr/p/didgDi)

 

A little over a year ago my partner, Karen, and I resigned from our jobs as educators to follow my dream of starting a travel company bringing travellers to New Zealand, my home county. New Zealand is such a stunning country, magnificent scenery, friendly people, unique wildlife, great food and wine, and I’m completely passionate about it. I’m also an avid traveller. During my 20s, I lived and worked in Japan, England, and Hungary, back-packed through Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel, China, Macau, Hong Kong, and Singapore, cycle-toured through Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, and travelled in numerous more countries for shorter trips. I was bitten hard by the travel bug at a time when most of the world was safe for a woman to put a back pack on her back and head off into the unknown. I loved every minute of it. Now I’m in my 40s, it’s a natural fit that I would want to share my passions of both traveling and New Zealand with others from around the world.

 

We were pretty sure we wanted to serve the LGBT community in our new venture. We weren’t sure if there was a need for a New Zealand LGBT travel company given New Zealand is pretty gay-friendly, so we asked the following questions.

 

Why wouldn’t LGBT travellers looking to join a group tour just travel with one of the numerous other NZ travel companies available?

Well… I think many do! However, here’s my take on that question. In 2008 Karen and I went on a cruise of Alaska with my mother – her dream trip. Every night we cringed at the thought of whom we’d end up sharing dinner with (random seating each night) and how they would react to us. The worst night was the homophobic, socially conservative, right-wing Christian who thought he had the right to condemn us. It’s what most of us dread, right? Certainly we didn’t really care what they thought of us, but it was hardly a fun evening! If only we’d been on an Olivia cruise!

 

How would we differ from established tour operators who are ‘gay-friendly’?

Some companies will show up as ‘gay-friendly’ on a google search, or in the ‘Gay Tours’ category of web listings, but when you visit their website, there is nothing identifying them as being gay-friendly. As a lesbian traveller, that’s a pet peeve of mine! Are they really gay-friendly? Or just after my pink dollars?

By boldly stating that we are an LGBT travel company, everyone travelling with us knows this. There is no risk of being forced into travelling with the likes of, God forbid, a certain Kentucky County Clerk!

 

Aren’t there already plenty of other LGBT Travel Companies in New Zealand?

Short answer here! I found two. Neither offering all the services we are, especially small group trips for LGBT travellers.

 

Will gay-friendly straight travellers join us?

Of course! We love hanging out with our straight friends and really enjoy the mix and energy of everyone when we all get together. We know there are plenty of straight allies out there who will enjoy traveling with us.

 

On a personal level, why is it important to serve the LGBT community?

Throughout the world, the fight for equality is still not over. Just look at Kentucky and the huge numbers of supporters she has (I can’t bear to mention her name on our site). Not to mention the numerous countries that still criminalise homosexuality.

We are so fortunate in New Zealand and Massachusetts (where we spend part of each year), and we don’t take for granted the rights we now enjoy in our lives thanks to countless courageous LGBT folks who have paved the way for generations before us. Not only would it feel right to honour them by taking care of LGBT travellers in New Zealand, we also want to ensure those who are still in the midst of the fight can have a true vacation free from that kind of persecution.

 

Debbie at Boston Gay Marriage Rally, 2006
Debbie at Boston Gay Marriage Rally, 2006

 

So that’s who we are. A travel company committed to ensuring that everyone has an amazing travel experience.

LGBT or straight, what do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this.