Can you please tell me about some of the hidden paradises in the islands surrounding Tahiti, such as surfing in Huahine? - Shane Baeuerlen

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater write:

A popular excursion from Tahiti is Moorea, less than an hour away by ferry from Papeete. Turquoise lagoons, coral beaches, and towering peaks surrounded by bush abound on this island, as do adventures like climbing mountains, quad biking, surfing, snorkelling and diving, to unwinding on expanses of sand.

Northwest of Tahiti (40 minutes by direct flight), Huahine, with its snoozy Polynesian charm, boasts some of the best and largely undeveloped beaches in the country. But if you've got energy to burn, there is hiking and snorkelling. Culture buffs will enjoy Maeva, one of French Polynesia's most extensive complexes of pre-European marae.


A similar distance away, Bora Bora is an over-the-top celebrity magnet. Its little sister, Maupiti, however, remains unblemished, quiet and relaxed, with only one road and virtually no cars. There's plenty of scope for activities, including kayaking, snorkelling and diving.

Further afield (three hours' flight from Tahiti), the unspoiled Marquesas are covered in volcanic peaks, ravines, waterfalls, secret bays, and forests. The islands also offer historic sites dating from pre-European times. Hiking, horse riding and diving will keep you busy.

If you're short on time, book a cruise aboard the Aranui, a cargo boat and passenger vessel that serves the six inhabited islands of the archipelago.

My girlfriend and I have booked a two-week holiday in Vietnam, which we don't know a lot about. We are starting in Hanoi and finishing in Ho Chi Minh City. Can you suggest any "must-do" experiences? Also, we are confused about our visa options: should we obtain one from the Embassy in New Zealand (around NZ$100), or get them online for about US$40-60 ($48-$72)? We're concerned about the legitimacy of these sites and whether we could be refused entry. - Aaron McFarlane
Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater write:

Begin your trip by acclimatising in Hanoi, taking in a temple or two, wining and dining, and tasting the city's street life in the Old Quarter. Then head to nearby Ninh Binh for a couple of days. It's the gateway to the striking scenery of Tam Coc and the primates and trails of Cuc Phuong National Park.

A long train or bus journey south will deposit you at Hue, the imperial capital of old, from where you can head over (or under) the mighty Hai Van Pass to charming Hoi An. This is the place for sightseeing, shopping and sunning yourself on the sand - before venturing to Nha Trang, the biggest and brashest beach resort in Vietnam.Or carry on south to Mui Ne Beach, a tropical idyll with budget accommodation, towering dunes and kitesurfing.

Finish up in Ho Chi Minh City, where you can shop dine and enjoy the liveliest nightlife in the country.

Most foreign nationals, including New Zealanders, must prearrange a tourist visa or approval letter to enter Vietnam. Although the paperwork is fairly straightforward, the process remains expensive and time consuming.

Assuming you are arriving by air, it will be easiest and cheapest to get your visa in advance through a visa-service company or travel agent. Contributors to our online forum, the Thorn Tree, prefer this method because they avoid having to deal with Vietnamese bureaucracy or give up their passport for any length of time; it also usually works out cheaper than going through the embassy in their own country. Recommended companies include Vietnam Visa Center and Visa Vietnam.

A few days after you provide your passport details, the visa agency will email you an approval document that you need to print and bring with you. On arrival in Vietnam, present the approval document, your passport and a passport photograph, then pay US$25 for a single-entry stamping fee.