Travel Notebook

A Conversation with Sarah Farag of Southern Crossings

One of the many positive attributes Sarah Farag brings to Southern Crossings and their discerning clients is her unwavering ability to read people and use this innate talent to determine the exact places and experiences that would best suit any given traveler. It was her parents’ passion for travel and willingness to lead their family on many trips to Europe through Sarah’s childhood that sparked her own fascination with globetrotting. Visits to relatives in Portugal, Spain, and England gave her a strong appreciation of her family roots and the many cultures she encountered.

During University, Sarah studied arts and languages; further travel studies then led to independent overseas trips exploring Southeast Asia, Austria, France, Italy and Eastern Europe. Each trip opened her eyes to incredible historical and cultural experiences, yet when it came to awe-inspiring scenery, her heart and mind led her back to New Zealand, instilling a desire to share her part of the world with all those who were showing theirs to her.

The South Australian Tourism Board was fortunate to have Sarah as part of their team for a couple of years before she shifted gears to Southern Crossings, where she has worked now for 22 years. This serendipitous job has given her the perfect opportunity to make her dream a reality and showcase New Zealand to the world, not only for its natural beauty, but its vast range of experiences, accommodations and culinary treats that complement a stunning backdrop.

What began as a team of 5 in Auckland, specializing in bespoke travel arrangement solely for New Zealand eventually grew to 34 employees spread across two offices, arranging travel in both New Zealand and Australia. Seven years ago, Sarah became Director of Southern Crossings and four years ago, she took over as a co-owner. Today, Sarah is the primary director of the New Zealand division of the company. She was also recently nominated by Virtuoso as Destination & Experiences Ambassador of the Year, a prestigious honor.

The best work perk? Traveling around New Zealand with her own children, opening their eyes to the beauty in their own backyard and instilling in them a sense of national pride.

We spoke with Sarah recently about, getting the inside scoop on Southern Crossings and the hottest spots in Australia and New Zealand. Enjoy this conversation and please be in touch if we can provide you with more info about Southern Crossings and opportunities for your clients Down Under.

What’s the one spot in New Zealand most people don’t know about, an undiscovered gem? The remote West Coast of the South Island, where in the months of April and June you can visit (by helicopter only) the New Zealand fur seal colony where the pups are raised in a safe haven of rock pools. At this young age they are extremely playful and inquisitive and seeing them at this adorable and innocent phase of their life is incredibly precious.

What time of year is best to visit?

I recommend the shoulder months of October and November for garden lovers when the country is lush and green, or March and April for late summer settled weather and what I refer to as T-shirt days and duvet nights.  

What is the optimal duration for a stay that includes top New Zealand highlights?

Ideally two weeks to allow time to explore the fabulously diverse scenery New Zealand has to offer.

Best spots for family?

My favorite destination for families is the East Coast of the South Island with its wonderfully accessible wildlife, and soft adventure that suits all age groups with a pristine scenic backdrop of ocean to one side and mountain ranges to the other.

Best spots for adventurers?

Queenstown and Wanaka offer adventure to suit all adrenalin seekers — the only limits are your imagination. From sky diving, bungy jumping, canyoning, jet boat riding, quad biking, zip lining and wild wire rock climbing across waterfalls to heli-mountain biking and heli-skiing, whitewater rafting and everything in between.  

Best spots for foodies?

The Hawkes Bay region, where artisan food producers combine with boutique vineyard restaurants at a picturesque coastal countryside. Food lovers can delve into the gourmet delights of this region with a food writer and Master of Cheese to discover the locals’ latest favorites.  

Beyond New Zealand, where’s your favorite place to travel?

Fiji is my favorite travel escape. Only three hours direct flight from my hometown of Auckland, it is the perfect getaway with my family. It’s so well suited to families with children, from babies right through to the teen years; there’s an island to suit each stage. And it’s always about the Fijians – with their natural charm and innocent sense of humor, you can’t help but relax and be swept away by their enviously stress-free pace of life.  

And with respect for New Zealand, what’s your favorite, always-return-to place in the country?

The Bay of Islands. We have a “bach” (New Zealand holiday home) in this region, known as the “Winterless North,” where summer lingers longer than anywhere else in New Zealand. It has a myriad of beaches and islands to explore — so for our boating and beaching, it’s the perfect fix.

What’s your favorite New Zealand dish and wine you would pair it with?

Coming from a family of divers and boat lovers, it’s very much about the freshest catch of the day. You can’t beat crayfish (lobster) or scallops plucked freshly from the ocean, prepared simply on the barbecue and paired with a delicate Chardonnay. (I know New Zealand has an international reputation for its Sauvignon Blanc, but I personally love our Northland Chardonnays.)

What are the three biggest benefits one gets from traveling New Zealand with Southern Crossings?

  1. Our itineraries are not only curated each and every time (we have never once repeated an itinerary in 32 years), but are collaboratively designed as a team. This gives each request a very unbiased approach as the input is from an age range of 22 through to 66 years. It gives a wonderfully varied perspective and equally, fresh new eyes along with those of vast experience, collectively designing every itinerary.
  2. Our knowledge of the product and its people within the luxury sector is unsurpassed. We are constantly researching the product we endorse with our minimum benchmark being that we will only have a client stay at a property we have personally experienced.
  3. We constantly work with local operators to create experiences we feel would suit an individual request to find a gem that will be tailored to that client’s specific interests. We pride ourselves on our innovative and imaginative thought process to curate itineraries well beyond those readily sourced on the internet.

What are your three must-have items when traveling?

  1. My phone (for its camera and, confession, for logging on remotely)
  2. A wrap, one which can double as a scarf or sarong
  3. Sunglasses

Last book you read?

Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

What’s on your travel bucket list for the next 5 years?

South Africa to see the wildlife with my children, Portugal to introduce my children to my grandmother’s homeland and Italy – can never get enough of Italy.