South Caucasus: Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan 2022

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South Caucasus: Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan

At the crossroads of civlisations

Space Available
Early Booking Discount Expires 14 July, 2022

South Caucasus: Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan

Every day a new experience

The three countries of the South Caucasus – Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia – interlock like puzzle pieces across the Caucasus range at the border of Europe and Asia.  They share stunning mountain backdrops, sturdy stone architecture, and a legendary devotion to hospitality. The food and wine of Georgia in particular rank among the world’s most underrated gastronomic pleasures.

In this fascinating part of the world, rich in history and culture, each day brings something different.

Tour at a Glance

Tour PricesPrice $13,985 per person, share twin
$1,950 single supplement

Tour Dates27 September – 16 October, 2022

Map

Your Tour Leader

Mandy Page

Mandy is one well-travelled person, having visited all 7 continents!

She is interested in the arts and has an unquenchable fascination with ancient history and cultures. You’ll benefit from Mandy’s extensive travel experience, and especially enjoy her infectious laughter.

Fantastic, Mandy went out of her way every day to check up on everyone, was very inclusive and informative. An excellent leader, strong and direct.

Mandy an exceptional tour leader. A lovely caring personality. Always fun.

Mandy did a great job of meeting the needs of a disparate group. We enjoyed her roadside walks and ability to keep us amused with stories, jokes, crosswords, etc.

Fully Vaccinated Requirement

All travellers joining this tour must be fully vaccinated. Your 'My Vaccine Pass' must be brought on the tour as proof of full Covid 19 vaccination.

It is important that the date of your final dose is at least 14 days before the tour departure date.

Fully Vaccinated Requirement

All travellers joining this cruise must be fully vaccinated. Your 'My Vaccine Pass' must be brought on the cruise as proof of full Covid 19 vaccination.

It is important that the date of your final dose is at least 14 days before the cruise departure date.

Booking Conditions
Cancellations
Inclusions
Variations
Travel Insurance
General Information
Health & Fitness
Covid 19 Vaccinations
Terms & Conditions

  • Booking Deposit of $750 per person
  • Final Payment Date: 16 December, 2021

  • Between 44 – 31 days, 50% of tour cost
  • Less than 30 days, 100% of tour cost
  • No refunds will be made after travel has commenced

  • 4 breakfasts, 2 lunches and 1 dinner
  • Accommodation in 4.5 star boutique hotels
  • 2 wine tastings
  • E-Bike and a helmet
  • Full technical and back up support with a vehicle and an experienced driver/guide
  • All shuttles as per itinerary
  • Luggage transfers
  • Services of a Tours Direct Tour Leader
  • Airport transfers

  • Domestic airfares
  • Travel Insurance

To safeguard your deposit and tour payment in the event of you having to cancel your reservation or curtail your tour, we highly recommend you take out travel insurance.

call us on 0800 868 748 if you like a travel insurance quote

The bike trails in the Hawke’s Bay are easy to ride and generally flat and smooth. Introductory Level.

If you have never ridden an E-Bike before we can help you learn, usually in 15 minutes. These trails are great to build confidence and increase your riding skills.

Needless to say the fitter you are the more you will enjoy the rides. Most days, 2 – 3 hours on an E-Bike (with frequent breaks).

All clients and support crew are required to be fully vaccinated.

Extensive Terms and Conditions are outlined in the free Information Pack

Booking Conditions
Cancellations
Inclusions
Variations
Travel Insurance
General Information
Health & Fitness
Covid 19 Vaccinations
Terms & Conditions

  • Booking Deposit of $750 per person
  • Final Payment Date: 31 January, 2022

  • Between 44 – 31 days, 50% of tour cost
  • Less than 30 days, 100% of tour cost
  • No refunds will be made after travel has commenced

  • 4 breakfasts, 2 lunches and 1 dinner
  • Accommodation in 4.5 star boutique hotels
  • 2 wine tastings
  • E-Bike and a helmet
  • Full technical and back up support with a vehicle and an experienced driver/guide
  • All shuttles as per itinerary
  • Luggage transfers
  • Services of a Tours Direct Tour Leader
  • Airport transfers

  • Domestic airfares
  • Travel Insurance

To safeguard your deposit and tour payment in the event of you having to cancel your reservation or curtail your tour, we highly recommend you take out travel insurance.

call us on 0800 868 748 if you like a travel insurance quote

The bike trails in the Hawke’s Bay are easy to ride and generally flat and smooth. Introductory Level.

If you have never ridden an E-Bike before we can help you learn, usually in 15 minutes. These trails are great to build confidence and increase your riding skills.

Needless to say the fitter you are the more you will enjoy the rides. Most days, 2 – 3 hours on an E-Bike (with frequent breaks).

All clients and support crew are required to be fully vaccinated.

Extensive Terms and Conditions are outlined in the free Information Pack

Inclusions
Variations
Booking Conditions
Cancellations
Travel Insurance
General Information
Health & Fitness
Covid 19 Vaccinations
Terms & Conditions

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Inclusions

  • Return airfares from Auckland (including all taxes) flying on Emirates and Flydubai
  • One night's stopover in Dubai on the return
  • Accommodation in 4-star & 5-star hotels
  • 16 breakfasts, 11 lunches & 10 dinners
  • Visa for Azerbaijan
  • Services of English-speaking local guides
  • Assistance of your Tour Leader, Mandy Page
  • Gratuities to local guides and drivers

Variations

  • Land Only price on application
  • Extending your stay – before or after Tour Dates
  • Domestic flights within NZ to get to Auckland to start the tour
  • Travel Insurance

Inclusions

  • All meals, including a pre-show dinner at Dockside Restaurant on the Wellington waterfront
  • Entrance fees
  • All transport by comfortable, air conditioned coach (maximum of 18 travellers)
  • Services of your knowledgeable guide
  • Quality accommodation chosen for a “sense of place”

Variations

  • Domestic airfares
  • Travel Insurance

Inclusions

  • Return airfares from Auckland (please ask us about flights from other airports – there could be a price adjustment).
  • All meals
  • Entrance fees
  • All transport by comfortable, air conditioned coach (maximum of 18 travellers)
  • Services of your knowledgeable guide
  • Quality accommodation chosen for a “sense of place”

Variations

  • Land Only price on application
  • Travel Insurance

Inclusions

  • All meals
  • Entrance fees
  • All transport by comfortable, air conditioned coach (maximum of 18 travellers)
  • Services of your knowledgeable guide
  • Quality accommodation chosen for a “sense of place”

Variations

  • Domestic airfares
  • Travel Insurance

Dates: 14 - 28 June, 2023

Day 1    Osaka

Arrive at Honshu’s largest port city Osaka where modern architecture and a vibrant dining scene are nestled alongside the 16th Century shogunate Osaka Castle, and transfer to your hotel where our group will spend the first night of the expedition. This evening meet your fellow voyagers and expedition guides over dinner at the hotel.

Day 2    Kobe

Enjoy breakfast at the hotel before exploring Japan’s seventh-largest city and the third largest port – Kobe. In 1995, Kobe was hit by the Great Hashin-Awaji Earthquake, which killed more 5,000 people. Today the city is completely rebuilt, and few signs of the terrible event remain. Today you will have a variety of excursions on offer alongside time to explore for yourself including visiting Pure Water Temple Kiyomizudera, one of Japan’s most revered temples and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, built over the Otowa Waterfall and dating back to 780. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before exploring Buddhist temple Sanjusangendo or Rengeo-in, renowned for its 1,001 statues of the goddess of mercy Kannon, and the ultimate torii gate experience Fushimi Inari Shrine, dedicated to the gods of rice and sake. This afternoon board Heritage Adventurer, moored in Kobe, settle into your cabin and familiarise yourself with the ship.

Day 3    Takamatsu

Takamatsu has had a long history as a port town earning itself the nickname ‘Gateway to Shikoku’, although more recently locals have been calling it ‘Udon Kingdom’. If you have an interest in plants a visit to Ritsurin Park, considered one of Japan’s finest gardens, is sure to be a highlight. Next you will enjoy a visit to Kinashi, one of Japan’s main bonsai production centres, where you will learn about traditional methods of growing bonsai. For those more interested in history and art you may wish to travel to Naoshima Island for a full-day excursion. Shikoku Island is known for its art and this excursion to Naoshima will have you admiring its architecture and art museums, including Chichu Art Museum and Benesse House, featuring work by Japanese and international artists.

Day 4    Miyajima & Hiroshima

This morning we plan to visit Miyamjima, a small island off the coast of Hiroshima and location of the famous giant torii gate which appears to float over the water at high tide and is ranked as one of Japan’s three best views. Miyamjima is also home to one of Japan’s most famous sites Itsukushima Shrine, which like the torii gate, is built over water. Spend the afternoon in Hiroshima, the epicentre of the world’s first nuclear bomb attack in 1945, now rebuilt as a centre of peace and reconciliation. We plan to visit the beautiful Peace Park and Museum, with its sombre cenotaph containing names of atomic bomb victims, and the permanently lit ‘Flame of Peace’.

Day 5    Uwajima

Today sees us exploring the city of Uwajima, on Japan’s Shikoku Island. One of Japan’s premier pearl producers, we will have the chance to learn about the traditional process of cultivating and harvesting pearls during a visit to a pearl farm. We also plan to visit Uwajima Castle, built in the Edo Period (1603 – 1867), it features spectacular panoramic views of the town, harbour, and the tranquil Tenshaen Garden built in the Samurai era. We will make sure you have free time today to explore the town or perhaps visit one of the many gardens including Tenshaen and the island’s largest Nanrakuen Gardens. Other options include meandering along a cherry tree-lined lane in Yoshida, or visiting the historic Kabuki theatre.

Day 6    Yakushima Island

Renowned for being the wettest place in Japan, Yakushima Island is located among the southern Japanese island chain of Osumi. Considered an eco-paradise, this 200-square-kilometre island is home to almost 2,000 species of flora including the hauntingly beautiful primeval temperate rainforest of giant sugi (Japanese cedar). Earning this small island UNESCO World Heritage status (Japan’s first), these ancient cedars have stood for upwards of 5,000 years with the incredible Jomon Sugi thought to be 7,200 years old making it one of the oldest trees in the world. Experience the majesty of these ancient giants on a trek through Yakusugi-Land while keeping a look out for Yakushima deer and monkeys, and gain further insight through the interactive displays at Yakushima Environmental and Cultural Village. The island is also known as an important nesting site for endangered Loggerhead and Green turtles and, with all that water, boasts some seriously impressive waterfalls.

Day 7    Amami Oshima

With 65% of Amami Oshima, the largest island in the Satsunnan Amami archipelago, forested in lush jungle and the location of Japan’s second-largest mangrove forest this tropical outpost is rightly famous for its rare and diverse birdlife and primeval subtropical Kinsakubaru Virgin Forest. Beyond white sand beaches explore crystal clear underwater worlds and stunning wildlife filled coral gardens while on land a rich human history and unique cuisine charms. Visit the Nature Observation Park for a wilderness experience followed by a thrilling immersion into the island’s culture including observing the incredible detail that goes into creating the revered Oshima Tsumugi silk which has been used to make high-quality kimonos for centuries.

Day 8    Okinawa Island

Dubbed the ‘Hawaii of Japan’ and the centre of the Ryukyu Kingdom for centuries, Okinawa Island only became part of Japan in 1868. Today we will discover the kingdom’s historic importance and the devastating impact of World War II which resulted in losses of more than 100,000 Japanese troops and thousands of US troops over 82 days. Options include a deep dive into the WWII history with a visit to the battle-scarred tunnel complex now a tribute to the former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters, the Peace Memorial Park dedicated to the more than 200,000 lives that were lost, and the Himeyuri Tower which honours the female high school students and their teachers who lost their lives after being put to work in army field hospitals in caves. Or explore the lush subtropical rainforest and Valley of Gangala, a limestone cave system created hundreds of thousands of years ago and working excavation site. Believed to have been the dwelling site of pre-historic humans who existed some 20,000 years ago, structures dating back thousands of years have been found at this site along with a giant banyan tree estimated to be 150 years old. Discover the ancient Shurijo Castle, the former residence of the Ryukyu kings was left in ruins following the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and restored and opened as a national park in 1992.

Day 9    Ishigaki, Yaeyama Islands

Surrounded by turquoise coastal waters, the idyllic subtropical Ishigaki Island combines coral reefs and jungle-clad mountains with being the commercial centre of the Yaeyama Islands and the largest island in the chain. Renowned for its pristine beaches, here we have the opportunity to explore the mangrove-lined Miyara River with its prolific butterflies and birdlife, take in the sensational views of the Hirakubo Peninsula from the Tamatorizaki Observatory and experience island traditions including weaving the distinctive Minsa textiles. Discover the hidden treasures of Ibaruma Sabichi Cave resplendent with stalactites and leading to beautiful beach. A highlight of the day will be visiting neighbouring Taketomi Island where we will enjoy transport via a traditional buffalo cart to see the island’s iconic bungalow-style houses with their terracotta roofs and hibiscus and bougainvillea covered walls.

Day 10    Keelung, Taiwan

Surrounded by mountains and proudly presided over by Taipei 101 – the 1,600-foot-high skyscraper and former Taipei World Financial Center styled on a bamboo stalk – Keelung, Taiwan’s capital, combines an exciting mix of Asian and Western influences. Rightly famous for its prevalent street food, be sure to sample its variety of xiaochi (little snacks) while exploring top attractions including the Chinese-influenced Martyrs’ Shrine; Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, commemorating Taiwan’s former president; and the National Palace Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of Chinese art. For those looking for a nature fix, head to Yehliu Geopark with its world-famous surreal landscape of honeycomb and mushroom eroded rock formations and Japanese-era mining complex turned tourist attraction Gold Ecological Park where hillside walkways connect 1930s offices, workshops and dormitories for an insight into early mining history.

Day 11    Hualien

Taiwan’s second-largest city Hualien, located on its mountainous east coast, is our gateway to the world-famous 19-kilometre-long canyon Taroko National Park and its namesake Marble Gorge. The spectacular marble walls here soar to more than 300 feet high and are surrounded by verdant green bamboo forests promising an unforgettable experience. Comprising some 227,000 acres and varying altitudes, from near sea level at the mouth of the Liwu River to towering more than 12,000 feet high at Mt Nanhu, the park’s dramatic landscape provides a diverse array of vegetation and habitats which boast a third of Taiwan’s vascular plants, half of its mammal species, the rare Nanhu Salamander and more than 140 resident bird species.

Day 12    Batan Island, Philippines

Part of a tiny archipelago of 10 islands, the Philippines northernmost province Batan was the country’s first landmass to succumb to Japan’s invasion during World War II. Offering an intriguing mix of historic churches, the unique architecture of its Ivatan houses, rugged coastline and rock formations, panoramic vistas and beaches, we will have the option to join local guides who will share the island’s harrowing WWII history with us during a visit to a tunnel used as a hideout by Japanese soldiers. There will also be an option to venture to the top of former lighthouse and U.S. weather station Radar Tukon where incredible 360-degree views across of the island can be enjoyed. Take in the charming country/ocean views of the endless grassy undulations at Vayang Rolling Hills and explore the town plaza and the striking Santo Domingo de Basco Church, one of the first limestone building to be built under the Spanish regime in 1812.

Day 13    Vigan

Anchoring in the port of Currimao this morning, our day starts with an exploration of the culturally rich North Luzon. At Badoc we plan to visit Juan Luna Shrine, the restored home of famous Ilocano painter Juan Luna’s and Badoc Church where a 400-yearold image of the Virgin Mary, La Virgen Milagrosa de Badoc, found by fishermen in the 17th Century is displayed. In Bantay the iconic 16th Century Bantay Church Bell Tower, built in 1590 with Baroque and Gothic inspired architecture, takes centre stage and offers a glimpse into the region’s colourful history along with incredible views from the top, before making our way to Vigan. Considered Asia’s finest example of a planned Spanish colonial city, the perfectly preserved 16th Century Vigan’s grid street pattern and architectural influences fusing Philippine building design and construction with colonial European architecture earned the city UNESCO status in 1999. Wander the historic cobblestone streets, consider the unique architecture and pay a visit to the traditional Pagburnayan pottery makers and learn about Vigan’s famous hand-crafted earthenware Burnay jars.

Day 14    Hundred Islands National Park

Despite its name, Hundred Islands National Park is comprised of 124 lushly vegetated, mushroom-shaped islands and islets scattered across the turquoise waters of the Lingayen Gulf, believed to be formed more than two million years ago. Decreed a national park in 1940 the collection of islands combine white sand beaches lapped by tranquil crystal clear waters, caves, fascinating limestone cliffs and rock formations, coral reefs teeming with marine life, and bird and wildlife-filled forests and mangroves. We spend our last day exploring one of these magical islands birding, beachcombing, snorkelling and Zodiac cruising among this wonderland.

Day 15    Manila

This morning we arrive in the Philippines’ bustling capital Manila, a former port town now buzzing commercial hub, heritage centre and culinary hot spot. After breakfast there will be a complimentary coach to a central hotel or to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. To allow time for disembarkation procedures and travel from Manila, we do not recommend booking flights departing before 1300 hours. During our voyage, circumstances may make it necessary or desirable to deviate from the proposed itinerary. This can include poor weather and opportunities for making unplanned excursions. Your Expedition Leader will keep you fully informed. Please note: Voyages are planned and scheduled pending final regulatory approval.

 

Dates: 1 - 15 June, 2023

Day 1    Otaru

Arrive in Otaru, a port city in Hokkaido known for glassworks, music boxes, sake distilleries and the picturesque Otaru Canal flanked with shops and cafes built within its repurposed 1920s warehouses, and transfer to your hotel where our group will spend the first night of the expedition. This evening meet your fellow voyagers and expedition team over dinner at the hotel.

Day 2    Otaru

Enjoy breakfast at the hotel before exploring this unique city. This afternoon you will board your ship, settle into your cabin and familiarise yourself with Heritage Adventurer. We will also take the opportunity to introduce you to your expedition team and our voyage plans.

Day 3    Hakodate

Today we sail into the port of Hakodate, located at the southern tip of Hokkaido. This morning will see us venturing to Onuma Park where we plan to explore its picturesque, island- dotted lakes and majestic dormant volcano, Mount Komagatake. Explore the lakes’ endlessly fascinating and Instagram-worthy peninsulas and islands, many of which are connected by small bridges, by foot. Back in Hakodate, this afternoon, there will be an option to enjoy a city tour including the enchanting Fort Goryokaku. This massive star-shaped citadel was built in the last years of the Edo Period, but repurposed now as a quirky public park boasting more than 1,000 cherry trees along its moats.

Day 4    Noshiro

Famous for its local beef, pork and chicken and rice soup known as Kiritanpo, tranquil Noshiro is a modern city flanked by nature with the Yoneshiro River winding through its heart. Gateway to the iconic Juniko (12 Lakes) park, this national treasure is actually a collection of 33 crystal clear ponds and lakes formed by an earthquake in 1704 and surrounded by ancient beech forest. Here we will have the option to explore the forested walks that lead to these serene blue holes including 10-metredeep Aoike (Blue Pond). Other options may include visiting stunning Lake Towada, a 2,000 year old double caldera 400 metres above sea level, and its surrounding forest in TowadaHachimantai National Park and Japan’s largest pine forest, Kaze no Matsubara, where more than 7 million trees were planted to prevent coastal erosion. Known as the ‘Wind of Matsubara’, in 1996 it was designated as one of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan.

Day 5    Sado Island

Today we plan to explore remote Sado Island off the coast of Niigata. Comprising the mountain ranges of Osado and Kosado flanking the Kokunaka Plain, Sado was once a destination of political exile. It now boasts its own rich cultural and religious life incorporating puppet theatre, Okesa folk songs, Ondeko drumming and demon dances, and Noh theatre thanks to some of its more famous displaced figures. Home to the Japanese Crested Ibis, extinct on the Mainland, and the iconic taraibune tub boats, this island off the beaten path combines stunning natural scenery including Senkakuwan Bay and Ogi Peninsula, and wilderness and wildlife with a rich history including gold and silver mining, Samurai warrior culture and unique agri- and aqua-culture practices. Sado Island is widely considered a perfect, miniature version of Japan.

Day 6    Kanazawa

Today spend the day exploring the rich art centre of Kanazawa discovering some of the unique styles of Japanese art. Kanazawa is rightly famous for its Kutani-style pottery, exquisite lacquerware, gold-leaf workmanship, hand painted silk, and classical Noh dance-drama performed since the 14th Century. Wander winding cobblestone streets, elegant restaurants, craft galleries and visit the impressive Edo-period Kenrokuen Garden, one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, and explore the Omicho Market boasting everything from flowers, to crafts and food.

Day 7    Matsue

We set sail towards the port of Sakaiminato and the entry point to Matsue, known as ‘the town of water’ due to being situated between Lake Shinji and Lake Nakaumi. A highlight of our visit will be the Matsue Castle, a national treasure and one of Japan’s few largely intact 17th Century castles. Other options today may include exploring Daisen-Oki National Park, steeped in beauty and history it’s also the home of rare flora and fauna including the giant salamander, visiting the picturesque Yuushien Garden, the Adachi Museum of Art, learning about the art of Japanese paper making at the Yakumo-mura village, or perhaps you may wish to spend some time exploring the picturesque streets and local canals.

Day 8    Hagi

Relax on board as we sail south to Hagi, originally a minor fishing port but now famously known for its traditional pottery making, which you will have a chance to learn about. We will also have the opportunity to discover the Teramachi District with its temples and shrines, including the famed ‘Ninja Temple’, the Jokomachi District with its old Samurai houses, Hagi Castle ruins at Shizuki Park, and beautiful Zen Tokoji Temple.

Day 9    Ulsan, South Korea

Today we cross the Sea of Japan to Ulsan in South Korea where we plan to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Gyeongju. The capital of the Shilla Dynasty and dating back to the first millennium, Gyeongju is known as ’the museum without walls’ and is full of ancient Korean history and Buddhist culture. Enjoy strolling through hundreds of excavated monuments, temples, tombs and pagodas and enjoy Korean delicacies, cultural performances, and visit the National Museum with its gold jewellery, metal weapons, and distinctive pottery. Today provides a perfect taste of South Korea.

Day 10    Karatsu

Once a major stop for ships and trading post between Korea and China, Karatsu is well known for its medieval heritage including the Karatsu Castle. Built on a plain, construction began in 1602 and the castle is also known as the ‘flying crane castle’ as its shape resembles a bird in flight. We will tour the castle including the Exhibition Hall, which houses the floats and artefacts used in the annual Karatsu Kunchi autumn festival. If you have an interest in plants and/or pottery, an alternative option for today is a visit to the city of Imari celebrated for its porcelain pottery kilns and the flower-laden Mifuneyama Rakuen garden.

Day 11    Ube

From our base at the historic port city of Ube, today we will be exploring the Yamaguchi prefecture, the last point on the main island of Honshu. Options here include visiting the Hofu Tenmangu Shrine, believed to be the oldest Tenmangu in Japan having being built in 903, and dedicated to the god of learning. Alternatively, visit the five-storied Pagoda, symbol of Yamaguchi and national treasure Rurikoji Temple. Built in 1442, this Buddhist temple is considered one of Japan’s top three temples and set amidst the beautifully manicured Kozan Park. Take the opportunity to visit the museum which houses thousands of national treasures and explore the beautiful gardens.

Day 12    Uwajima

Today sees us exploring the city of Uwajima, on Japan’s Shikoku Island. One of Japan’s premier pearl producers, we will have the chance to learn about the traditional process of cultivating and harvesting pearls during a visit to a pearl farm. We also plan to visit the Uwajima Castle, built in the Edo Period (1603 – 1867), it features spectacular panoramic views of the town, harbour, and the tranquil Tenshaen Garden built in the Samurai era. We will make sure you have free time today to explore the town or perhaps visit one of the many gardens including Tenshaen and the island’s largest Nanrakuen Gardens. Other options include a meander along a cherry treelined lane in Yoshida, or visiting the historic Kabuki theatre.

Day 13    Hiroshima & Miyajima Island 

Despite its history including being the site of the world’s first atomic bomb attack on the 6 August 1945, Hiroshima is a vibrant and thriving cosmopolitan community. We plan to visit the beautiful Peace Park and Museum, with its sombre cenotaph containing names of atomic bomb victims, and the permanently lit ‘Flame of Peace’. After visiting the Peace Park we will travel to Miyajima Island, considered one of Japan’s most scenic spots and the location of the Torii Gate and the Daisho-in Buddhist temple. For those after a nature fix, ascend Mount Misen on Miyajima Island by cable car and enjoy a hike, admiring the views below of the Shinto Shrine and Torri Gate.

Day 14    Takamatsu

Our next stop on Shikoku Island will be Takamatsu. Takamatsu has had a long history as a port town earning itself the nickname ‘Gateway to Shikoku’, although more recently locals have been calling it ‘Udon Kingdom’. If you have an interest in plants a visit to Ritsurin Park, considered one of Japan’s finest gardens, is sure to be a highlight. Next you will enjoy a visit to Kinashi, one of Japan’s main bonsai production centres, where you will learn about traditional methods of growing bonsai. For those interested in history and art you may wish to travel to Naoshima Island for a full-day excursion. Shikoku Island is known for its art and this excursion to Naoshima will have you admiring its architecture and art museums, including Chichu Art Museum and Benesse House, featuring work by Japanese and international artists.

Day 15    Kobe

This morning sail into Kobe, Japan’s seventh-largest city and third largest port. Considered one of Japan’s most beautiful cities, Kobe was rocked by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995 which killed more than 5,000 people and destroyed tens of thousands of buildings. Today the city is completely rebuilt, though a few signs of the terrible event remain. After breakfast there will be a complimentary coach to a central hotel or to the Osaka airport. To allow time for disembarkation procedures and travel from Osaka, we do not recommend booking flights departing before 1300 hours. During our voyage, circumstances may make it necessary or desirable to deviate from the proposed itinerary. This can include poor weather and opportunities for making unplanned excursions. Your Expedition Leader will keep you fully informed. Please note: Voyages are planned and scheduled pending final regulatory approval.

 

Dates: Apr - May 2023

Day 1    Auckland - Dubai

We start out Central Asia adventure with a flight to Dubai with Emirates.

Day 2    Dubai – Bishkek    (B)

A day to enjoy in Dubai before flying on to Bishkek, (hotel rooms available until we leave).

Day 3    Bishkek    (B,D)

We start the day with easing into the local time zone. A gentle walk about with your Tour Leader will help adjust to being in Kyrgyzstan. In the early afternoon we will visit the Osh Bazaar. The sights, smells and sounds of bazaars are part of the sensory experience of Bishkek.

Day 4    Bishkek    (B,L,D)

Today we have a city tour of Bishkek and travel out of the city to visit Archa National Park. We finish the day with a fabulous meal which includes a performance of local music.

Day 5    Bishkek - Lake Issyk-kul    (B,L,D)

After breakfast, set out overland to Lake Issyk Kul. En route, stop in Tomok town to take in Burana Tower, a remnant of the old silk road. Later we will witness the young Kyrgyz men practicing some of their horse games including Ulak Tartysh, a sort of polo. The day will then be completed with a local demonstration of felt making.

Day 6    Lake Issyk-kul    (B,L,D)

In this beautiful area we will take in the petroglyphs created by tribes of the Neolithic period and imagine life before written words. Moving in to Grigorievka Gorge, we will walk up the valley to enjoy some fresh air and fantastic scenery. Along the way we see an eagle hunting demonstration and have an opportunity to hold these amazing birds.

Day 7    Lake Issyk-kul - Almaty    (B,L,D)

Today we travel to the border and enter into Kazakhstan. The journey will be a great opportunity to see the local geography and understand how these countries developed.

Day 8    Almaty    (B,L)

We start the day with a visit to the Central State Museum,a building which houses the Golden Man, a warrior’s armour made from 4,000 gold pieces. There are also displays of Kazakh handicrafts, jewellery and clothing. Then its on to meet a fascinating local who looks after falcons, owls and vultures and he will introduce us to these clever birds and their skills.
After lunch at a local restaurant it will be time to take a walk in Panfilov Park where we can learn about Soviet involvement with this region and of course visit the colourful Zenkov Cathedral. To keep our energy levels up we will finish the day with a visit to a local chocolate factory.

Day 9    Almaty    (B,L)

This morning we drive out of Almaty to spectacular Charyn Canyon, or “Valley of Castles.” We can walk down this beautiful canyon to the river enjoying its strange but colourful rock formations. Lunch will be near the river before we return to Almaty.

Day 10    Almaty - Tashkent    (B,D)

Today we say goodbye to Kazakhstan and hello to Uzbekistan. After our short flight to Tashkent we will enjoy a visit to a local ceramics studio. In true Uzbek hospitality, enjoy fragrant tea and sweets while conversing with Alisher Rakhimov about his art and passion for preserving and passing on his family’s prized ceramics legacy.
When we arrive at the hotel, enjoy a short walking orientation of the local area.

Day 11    Tashkent    (B,L)

Today we have a city tour which covers some of the highlights of Tashkent: The Courage Monument dedicated to those who suffered in the 1966 earthquake, Independence Square, and your first glimpse of the Muslim influence in Central Asia.

Day 12    Tashkent - Khujand    (B,L,D)

Before we start out journey to Tajikistan, we take in the impressive Railway Museum (outside) and the wonderful Applied Arts Museum (inside). The former is to place the importance of transport into the Silk Road connection and the latter to appreciate the beauty of the tradition and customs of this region.

Day 13    Khujand    (B,D)

Central Asia has a vast history and foremost amongst its influences are the Sogdianas, so we start the day with a visit to the Historical Museum of Sogdiana, a small but fascinating museum, complete with a mural of Alexander the Great’s life.
Then its on to the Muslihiddin Memorial Complex, which includes a 16th-century mosque and 19th-century minaret. We round out the day with a visit to the pink painted covered Panjshanbe Bazaar, filled with fresh fruit, bread, flowers and goods to buy. The Bazaar is next to a Friday Mosque and today being Friday, we hope to observe the men at prayer.

Day 14    Khujand - Iskanderkul    (B,L,D)

We set out overland towards Iskanderkul this morning. This trip into the mountains has a mixture of local villages, stunning scenery and remnants of centuries of travellers. Iskanderkul is a turquoise lake high in the hills and is unique for its beauty and location.

Day 15    Iskanderkul - Dushanbe    (B,L)

This morning join an optional walk to the nearby waterfall before we set off to Dushanbe.
On arrival this afternoon we visit the new National Museum of Tajikistan and Flagpole Park, home to the world’s tallest flagpole. Completed in 2011, the flagpole stands at 541 feet (165 metres).

Day 16    Dushanbe    (B,L,D)

Hissar Fortress is just outside the city and well-worth a visit so we will take in its walls, mosque, madrassah and ruins.
Time for a walk as we take in Ismail Samani monuments and the nearby Rudaki Park. Afterwards we have a special visit to the Gurminj Museum of Musical Instruments to listen to some Sufi music and appreciate the variety of stringed instruments from across Central Asia.

Day 17    Dushanbe - Penjikent    (B,D)

Today we head out overland to Penjikent to get us back near the Uzbek border. However, Penjikent is a lovely place, full of local colour and a place few Westerners get to. There is an opportunity to enjoy a walk to the lively bazaar and maybe pick up a bargain or three.

Day 18    Penjikent - Samarkand    (B,L,D)

This morning we cross back into Uzbekistan and onto Samarkand, the stuff of poetry and legends. A visit to Samarkand has to include the extraordinary ensemble of buildings known as Registan Square. This collection of buildings includes tall facades, domes, beautiful tile work and a special atmosphere.

Then it’s on to Gur-Emir Mausoleum, the final resting place of Tamerlane. The interior of the mausoleum has been restored and is brilliant in gold leaf and fresh tile.
For a change in pace, we then visit internationally recognized fashion designer Valentina Romanenko’s studio. We enjoy a short presentation with graceful Uzbek women modeling Romanenko’s sophisticated creations as exotic music plays.
Dinner this evening is at the home of the local Dilfuza family.

Day 19    Samarkand    (B,L,D)

There are still wonders left to visit in Samarkand and chief amongst them is the Bibi Khanum Mosque, built by Tamerlane to be the largest mosque in the Islamic world. Also, on the list is the row of tombs and mausoleums collectively called Shah-i-Zinda, or “place of a living king”. Even on hot days the mausoleums remain shady and cool and are full of surprising visual delights. Then its on to the Ulug Bek Observatory where we can appreciate how clever and determined Tamerlane’s grandson was to understand the stars.
Lastly we visit the Afghan-Uzbek Silk Carpet Factory and learn how to make our own carpets.

Day 20    Samarkand - Bukhara   (B,L)

We wet out this morning overland towards Bukhara with an en route stop in Gijduvan. Here we will visit the ceramics workshop of the Narzulaev family. We get to tour the kilns and the studio, and enjoy a meal in the showroom, where glowing handmade ceramic plates and bowls are on display.

Day 21    Bukhara   (B,L)

An oasis in the desert, UNESCO-listed Bukhara offers cool shade and rest to the modern traveller as it did to the camel caravans that plied the Silk Road hundreds of years ago. Bukhara is as old as Samarkand, and has preserved its ancient architecture and design; just wandering the streets is a delight. Our visit in Bukhara starts with a walking orientation of the old city.

Day 22    Bukhara    (B,L)

Just outside the city is Bakhaudin Naqshband Mausoleum We will visit the final resting place of this 14th century Sufi mystic to appreciate the beauty of the buildings but also to observe pilgrims visiting the site. Nearby is the Palace of Moon and Stars, or the Summer Palace of the last Emir of Bukhara. The palace was built for the Emir at the turn of the century, after the Russians took control of Bukhara. It was designed to keep the emir in luxury, but removed from the city, isolated and politically impotent.
After lunch, enjoy the afternoon and evening exploring old Bukhara and its many shopping and photography opportunities.

Day 23    Bukhara - Khiva    (B,L,D)

Today we head towards the desert fortress town of Khiva by train. The journey is a fascinating glimpse into rural Uzbekistan and gives us an appreciation of the harshness of the desert.

Day 24    Khiva    (B,L)

We have a half day walking tour around Old Town Khiva. Archaeologists have found traces of human habitation around Khiva dating from the 5th century BC. It was for hundreds of years a stop on the old Silk Road and is a living museum. There is so much to enjoy in Khiva we have allowed time for you to explore on your own or with your tour leader.

Day 25    Khiva - Ashgabat    (B,L,D)

This morning we head to the border and cross over into Turkmenistan. after lunch we fly to Ashgabat a strange and unusual city.

Day 26    Ashgabat    (B,L,D)

Just outside Ashgabat is Nisa, a place which was once a major centre of the ancient Parthian Kingdom. Though Nisa was ruled by a succession of dynasties, it remained an important centre in the ancient world until the 13th century, when the Mongols sacked it.
Then it’s on to the huge $100-million-dollar Kipchak Mosque, big enough to hold 10,000 people and covered in more gold and marble then you can imagine.

Whilst we are outside the city, we will visit a horse-breeding farm devoted to the renowned Akhal-Teke horse, arguably the oldest cultured breed of horse in the world.

Day 27    Ashgabat    (B,L,D)

We start the day with a dip into the National Museum of Turkmenistan, with its grand approach and panoramic views. The museum introduces modern Turkmenistan on the ground floor and ancient history in the galleries above.
We have lunch at a local restaurant with a performance of Turkmen music.
This evening we have a Farewell Dinner at our hotel.

Day 28    Ashgabat - Dubai - Homeward    

We fly to Dubai this morning where we transit through to our flight to New Zealand.

Day 29    … Home

Home with special memories of our time in Central Asia.

Dates: 27 Sept - 16 Oct, 2022

Tue 27    Auckland - Dubai

After checking in at Auckland Airport we board our Emirates flight to Dubai.

 

Wed 28    Dubai – Baku

We transit through Dubai airport this morning and fly to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.  On arrival at Baku airport this afternoon we are met and transfer to our hotel.

 

Thu 29    Baku: The White City & Flames (B,L,D)

Gather in the hotel lobby this morning at 9.30am and set out on a full day exploration of Baku.

Baku’s inhabitants stayed behind the 14th century walls of their town almost until the 19th century, when the Russian empire began exploiting in earnest the great oil reserves under the waters of the Caspian. An oil boom that lasted from 1880 to 1915 left a region of beaux arts mansions built by the newly-rich.

We are going to stroll through the Martyrs’ Cemetery, or Martyrs’ Lane, set on a terraced hill above Baku’s harbour, to obtain a panoramic view of the Old and New city and across the Caspian Sea. Then its on to the National Museum of Azerbaijani Carpets, a modern building full of ancient treasure. The extensive collection of wonderful carpets dates back as far as the 16th century. 

Lunch will be at a local restaurant followed by an afternoon at leisure.  

Dinner is at the hotel this evening.

 

Fri 30    Baku: Old Town (B,D)

Baku’s Old Town, or Icheri Sheher, was once the whole city, and is the best place to picture its history.  It is completely encircled by the old city walls with their medieval gates.  The winding streets and alleyways are home to private residences, mosques and madrassahs, carpet merchants and tiny shops.  

Overlooking the sea to one side and the Old Town to the other stands the Maiden Tower, the oldest component of Baku's UNESCO-listed district. Stories and theories abound about the tower: that it once touched the sea, that it was a place of Zoroastrian sky burial, that a maiden chose an honorable death by plunging from its parapet to the sea, or that it was simply a part of Baku’s defensive battlements. Those who want to can make the climb to the top of the Tower for great views of the city.

On a hill above the walled Old Town, the Shirvan Shah Palace complex, was founded in the 13th century; most of the complex was built in the 15th century.  Encompassing the royal residence, mosques and tombs, it is a highlight of Azerbaijani architecture.

Located just outside the Old Town walls is Baku’s Fountain Square. The square is a pedestrian plaza, a place to sit and relax, and a great vantage point from which to people-watch. We will stop here for an independent lunch at one of the many charming cafes.

After lunch we will visit the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre, the swooping architectural work that has become a landmark of modern Baku.  The 619,000-square-foot building was designed by famed Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, one of the most influential female architects of the 20th and 21st century and the award-winning master behind such buildings as the London Aquatics Centre, the Rosenthal Centre for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Guangzhou Opera House in China.

After a break we will meet in the hotel lobby to walk to dinner at a nearby restaurant.

 

October 2022
Sat 1    Baku: Rock Carvings & Oil (B,L)

Forty miles outside Baku lies an important site of ancient petroglyphs, Gobustan.  The record left by these ancient people does attest to a far vaster Caspian Sea, and gives insight into details of daily life such as hunting and recreation, culture and economy.  An excellent modern museum adds to the experience.

On our way back to Baku we will stop at Bibi-Heybat Mosque. The original 13th century beauty, constructed in honour of the sister of Imam Ali, was completely destroyed in 1934, as a result of Stalin’s decrees.  Local legends say that a white-robed woman was seen disappearing into the sea the day after the mosque’s destruction.  Reconstructed from plans and photographs, the new mosque was dedicated in 1998.  Today it sits near one of Azerbaijan’s first oil fields, which grew during the first oil boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

After lunch at a local restaurant, the afternoon is at leisure.  Dinner is independent.

 

Sun 2    Baku – Sheki (B,L,D)

Today we set out overland for the city of Sheki with stops in Shemakha and Lahij en route.

Shemakha is a renowned grape growing and wine-making district. Present-day Shemakha is known for its finely woven carpets and the 10th century Djuma Mosque, the oldest mosque in the Caucasus. There will be opportunity to visit the Friday Mosque.

Near Shemaka we will visit a local village farm to learn how the Azerbaijanis make their yogurt and butter. Afterwards, enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.

Lahij is an ancient, almost untouched village that seems worlds away from Baku.  Virtually isolated in its location surrounded by tall mountains layered with limestone, sandstone and clay, its inhabitants speak an ancient dialect of Persian known as Tat, as well as Farsi, Azeri and also Russian.  The village is known for its apple orchards and is home to coppersmiths and carpet weavers, trades which have been practiced here since the Middle Ages.  Beautiful hand-tooled plates, goblets, trays and samovars are produced.

We will visit the studio of a copper master, and learn about the traditions and techniques of casting and working with copper.

Dinner will be at the hotel this evening.

 

Mon 3     Sheki: The Romance of the Silk Road (B,L,D)

Sheki is one of the oldest towns in Azerbaijan, claiming to have been founded some 2,700 years ago.  It is set in the foothills of the Greater Caucasus and surrounded by beech and oak forests. Having chased out Persian rule, Sheki was an independent khanate until the 1820s when Russia finally got a grip on it.  It is home to a well-preserved khan’s palace with 500-year-old trees in its rose garden.  The town is renowned for its carpets and its special type of sweet halvah.

We start he day with a walking tour of the town, exploring some of its small gems including the local crafts market, where old-fashioned manufacturing is alive and well, and stop in at a local bakery to sample baklava or halvah.

We continue on to Kish Village. On the bank of the River Kish, little Kish Village is all that remains of the original Sheki before the 18th century mudslide. Since 1998, archaeologists have been excavating near a 6th century Albanian church that survived the slide. The oldest discoveries have been ceramics dating from the Early Bronze Age of the Kur-Araz culture, about 3000 BC.

Back in Sheki we will visit an original Caravanserai, one of the remaining links to Sheki’s rich past. This massive stone building, is one of five the city was home to. Caravanserais were the inns of the Silk Road, with the courtyard serving as stables for camels and horses while their merchant owners slept in private rooms above them.

Dinner this evening will include a musical performance.

 

Tue 4    Sheki – Signagi: Goodbye Azerbaijan, Hello Georgia (B,L,D)

After an early breakfast at the hotel, we check out and begin the journey overland to the border with Georgia. First stop is Kakheti, or wine country. Georgians were originally sun worshippers and believed that the sun’s chosen plant was the grape vine.  St. Nino, who brought Christianity to Georgia, was said to have made a cross of grape vines and bound it together with her hair, symbolizing the sun’s rays.  The winding characters of the Georgian alphabet resemble the trailing growth of the vine, and this motif is found in Georgian architecture throughout the country. 

Today lunch will be at Marleta's Farm. Marleta’s is a homey restaurant named after chef Sofi Gorgadze’s first cow, Marleta.  Dishes might include their wonderful goat cheese, crusty fried corn cakes, crispy katchapouri with homemade cheese, grape leaves stuffed with meat and served with a sour plum sauce, and home-made prosciutto.

After our midday meal we will make a brief stop at the Alaverdi Monastery complex and Alaverdi Cathedral, one of the tallest churches in Georgia and in its simplicity, one of the most striking. 

Afterwards, we will travel on to Signagi, arriving in time for dinner at a local restaurant.

 

Wed 5    Signagi: Hill-top beauty (B,D)

It's a joy to wander the narrow streets of Signagi, a beautiful hill-top village surrounded by defensive walls. The views across the valley are totally spectacular!

This morning we will visit the Signagi Archaeological & Ethnographic Museum. The museum has a particularly good collection of artifacts collected during archaeological digs around David Gareja Monastery. 

Just up the road is Pheasant’s Tears wines, where we taste some local wine. The name of the winery comes from a Georgian legend in which the hero claims that it takes a “wine beyond measure” to make a pheasant cry tears of joy. Learn about the aging process of natural wines in huge ceramic vessels lined with beeswax.  Called qvevri, the clay jugs have been used for winemaking for over 8,000 years in this part of the world. 

A little over a mile from Signagi is 9th century Bodbe Nunnery, where St. Nino is buried. The working convent overlooks the Alazani valley, and was used as a coronation venue by the kings of Kakheti.  Its main basilica features some fine frescoes, and its surrounding gardens are refreshing. 

Enjoy some free time this afternoon for independent exploration or rest and relax before dinner.

We return to the Pheasant’s Tears Winery this evening for a traditional Georgian Table, accompanied by a folk ensemble and costumed dancers performing the spirited dances of the Caucasus. 

A Georgian Table experience can last several hours, with dozens of dishes and countless toasts.  The table is covered with plates of delicacies balanced on top of each other – chicken in crushed walnut sauce, kachapouri (a savory cheese pie), puff pastries, little meat dumplings called khinkali, salads and marinated vegetables, just to name a few.  A large feast, or supra, will have a sort of toastmaster, called a tamada, who is charged not only with toasting and inviting others to toast, but with telling stories and jokes and sometimes leading songs.

 

Thu 6    Signagi – Tbilisi: Country to City (B,L)

This morning visit the village of Zemo Magharo to meet-up with a home silk producer, who raises silk worms, rabbits, sheep, and chickens, and also cultivates a flourishing garden.  She is happy to share her encyclopedic knowledge of silk, silk weaving, and silk worms. 

We continue on to Tbilisi and see the Tbilisi outskirts filled with modern suburbia and housing complexes – some are brand new, some are from the Soviet period.  We pause for lunch at a local restaurant and then visit the Chronicle of Georgia Monument. 

We will then check in to the hotel this afternoon and enjoy an evening at leisure.

 

Fri 7    Tbilisi: Ancient meets Modern (B,L,D)

After breakfast we take a walking tour of old Tbilisi which will include a three-minute funicular ride up the wooded slopes of Mt. Mtatsminda to ancient Narikala Fortress, with a mid-stop at the Monastery of Father David. The 4th century Narikala Fortress seems to grow from the rock above the city of Tbilisi, keeping watch on the narrowest part of the Kura River. The 8th century Arab occupiers of the city used the fortress’ strategic location to defend their position in Tbilisi, adding to the original foundations.  When David the Builder re-conquered the city in the 11th century, he again expanded the fortifications.  Much of what remains today is from the 16th and 17th centuries, and has been recently restored. The citadel overlooks the Central Botanical Gardens and offers excellent views of the Old Town.

We will wander through the red-roofed Old Town, its houses sporting carved wooden balconies and lacey shutters. This area of Tbilisi was last razed in 1795 by Aga Khan, and most of the current buildings date from that time. 

Following the narrow streets of old Tbilisi we will find the 6th century, the Anchiskhati Basilica, the oldest church in Tbilisi.  Its name means "Icon of Anchi" because the church originally contained an icon of Christ made by a 12th century goldsmith.  Also in this area is the Sioni Cathedral, at the spiritual heart of the Georgian Orthodox religion.  Though a cathedral has stood in this spot since the 5th century, what remains today tells the story of Tbilisi itself in its many reconstructions throughout the city's history.  

We end the walking tour with lunch at a local restaurant including a wine tasting of local Georgian varieties.

The afternoon is at leisure to allow time for independent exploration.

We end the day with the best of Georgian Culture at dinner this evening at Georgian House with a traditional Georgian Dance Performance.

 

Sat 8    Tbilisi: day trip to Mtskheta, Gori and Uplistsikhe (B,L)

Today will be a full day tour to outside Tbilisi. First stop is Mtskheta, an important market town.  As the centre of the Iberian civilization, Mtskheta was also significant spiritually and culturally.  Georgia's conversion to Christianity took place here in 337 AD, and the Orthodox churches built during this period are considered among the finest in the country.  A tour of Mtskheta includes a visit to the 11th century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, its interior decorated in murals. Next stop is Jvari Monastery, set at the confluence of the Kura and Aragvi Rivers. The 6th century monastery, containing one of the first Christian churches in Georgia, is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mtskheta. The cross-shaped church at Jvari was built over the spot where St. Nino erected the first wooden cross in Georgia.

Then it's time for something completely different as we visit Stalin’s House Museum. The city of Gori is perhaps best known for its connection with Stalin, who was born here in December 1879 and lived here as a boy.  The museum is stuffed full of Stalin memorabilia. 

Lastly we will visit the cave town of Uplistsikhe, meaning Lord's Castle, once one of the most important along the trade route linking Byzantium with India and China. People may have populated the naturally occurring caves before 1000 BC and they show evidence of many past civilisations. 

Back in Tbilisi we have an independent dinner this evening.

 

Sun 9    Tbilisi (B,D)

This morning we visit the Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia, a component of Georgia’s National Museum, with a look at some of the country’s most significant archaeological finds. On display is one of the largest collections of ancient gold decorative arts:  5th century BC golden jewelry and artifacts discovered in a tomb in Akhalgori, along with a golden trove of treasures from 3,000-year-old burial mounds of the Trialeti culture.  The most famous exhibit here is the 1.8-million-year-old Homo erectus skulls unearthed at Dmanisi, Georgia.

We have an independent lunch and an afternoon at leisure.

Enjoy dinner this evening at a local restaurant with a specially invited group of Georgian singers.

 

Mon 10    Tbilisi – Yerevan: Farewell Georgia, Hello Armenia (B,L,D)

We drive along the scenic route from Tbilisi to Yerevan today, stopping en route at Lake Sevan and Sevan Monastery.

Blue-green Lake Sevan, at over 6,200 feet above sea level, is one of the largest alpine lakes in the world. Located on a peninsula that was once an island is Sevan Monastery, made up of two remaining churches – the Church of Saint Astvatsatsin and the Church of Saint Arakelots – though it was a much larger compound at one time and ruins of other buildings can be seen. 

We continue on to Yerevan, arriving in time for dinner at a local restaurant.  The capital city of Armenia is older even than Rome. Yerevan was founded under the name Erebuni in 782 BC. The city centre today includes a wide range of architectural styles as a result of the fusion of Armenian and Russian design.  

Dinner will be at a local restaurant.

 

Tue 11    Yerevan: Art on tap (B)

Our hotel is located on Republic Square, the centre of Yerevan. At night you can enjoy the sound and light show featuring the dancing fountains outside the Ballet and Opera just opposite. 

On our schedule today is a visit to the giant "Cascade" stairway which links central Yerevan to the Mother Armenia Statue in Victory Park. The top of the Cascade and along the stairway offer fantastic views of Yerevan and Mt. Ararat on a clear day. Modern sculptures dot the outside of the structure and the Cafesjian Museum of Modern Art, is located inside and focuses on sculpture, glass, and paintings from contemporary artists.

For something a bit different, we will visit the unique Sergei Parajanov Museum representing over 600 of the revered filmmaker and artist’s works, including collages, film sketches, assemblages, dolls and drawings.  The museum honours Parajanov’s unquenchable creativity during a life that brought him into conflict with Soviet authorities. 

Take this afternoon free for rest and independent exploration.  Lunch and dinner are independent.

 

Wed 12    Yerevan: Musical Caves  (B,L)

Outside of Yerevan, we will visit the Temple of Garni standing on a cliff near the Azat River valley. With walls of huge basalt blocks, the temple was once the summer palace of King Trdat I who built it in the first century AD. We will be entertained with a private acappella concert, where we can listen to the melodic sounds of sacred music in this special place.  

We have lunch at Sergey's house with a lavash baking demonstration.

In the afternoon we visit Geghard Monastery, one of the most fascinating monuments in Armenia. Beside the river at the foot of the rock, the church dates from 1215.  It provides access to another building that has a roof formed by stalactites. 

Lastly we view the Khachkar Crosses; these masterpieces can be found all over the country, and are a unique art form, distinct to Armenia, which originally appeared in both pagan and Christian periods.  

We return to central Yerevan for an independent evening.

 

Thu 13    Yerevan: A view of Mt Ararat (B,L,D)

This morning we visit the  Armenian Genocide Memorial standing in a park at the top of Tsitsernakeberd, or “Swallow Castle.” According to scholarly estimates, over one million Armenians perished as a result of policies of the last Ottoman government between 1914 and 1918. 

We then continue on to Khor Virap. This small monastery is set on a ridge above the flat Ararat Valley, and behind it looms snow-covered Ararat. Gregory the Illuminator is said to have been imprisoned here for 13 years before converting King Trdat I to Christianity.

Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before an afternoon at leisure.

We gather tonight for a farewell dinner at a local restaurant.

 

Fri 14     Yerevan – Dubai: Homeward Bound (B)

This morning we transfer to Yerevan airport for our flight to Dubai.

On arrival at Dubai airport we are met and transfer to our hotel.

 

Sat 15    Dubai – New Zealand

We transfer back to the airport this morning for our homeward flight.

 

Sun 16     … Home

Home to New Zealand with special memories of our time in the South Caucasus.

Covid-19 Travel Requirements

All travellers joining the South Caucasus tour must be fully vaccinated (two vaccinations and a booster).  You need to get your booster dose within nine months of your second vaccination and at least 14 days before the tour departure date.

It is mandatory that you bring your valid International Travel Vaccination Certificate on tour. You will need to present the Certificate on arrival in Azerbaijan and Dubai.

Please ensure you have a printed Certificate and a Certificate on your Smartphone.

Azerbaijan - No pre-departure PCR test or quarantine required for fully vaccinated travellers.

Georgia - No pre-departure PCR test or quarantine required for fully vaccinated travellers.

Armenia - No pre-departure PCR test or quarantine required for fully vaccinated travellers.

Dubai - No pre-departure PCR test or quarantine required for fully vaccinated travellers.