A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Bakerfam

TALE OF TWO CITIES

MELBOURNE & SYDNEY

sunny 27 °C
View BakerTravels - Sept - Dec 2014 on Bakerfam's travel map.

We kick started the final month of our trip landing in Melbourne, Australia. Staying in an area called St Kilda, right next to the botanical gardens, a stones throw from the beach and we found ourselves dropping another gear in pace. Throughout the trip there have been locations where we have naturally decided to not do too much other than take in the local area - sometimes for Ollie's sake, sometimes to recharge after transit days and sometimes just because!

We were lucky to be staying close to Acland Street, which runs parallel to the esplanade. A vibrant spot with a plethora of cake shops, coffee shops, ice cream parlours and the best Vegetarian cafe! Happy days.

We spent some time in Central Melbourne which is very beautiful for a busy, bustling city centre. We took time out for packed lunch and some people watching in the lovely Federation Square before heading north to explore Gertrude Street in Fitzroy. Fitzroy is a gentrified suburb full or cafés, boutique clothing shops and very nice record and book shops. In one of the a record shops I spent maybe 15 minutes chatting to the owner who was sitting behind his counter (a very cool, knowledgable man with extremely big hair) he was telling me about local events, which bands were coming through town, where the 'heat' is kept (the expensive hard to find records - which were locked away safely behind the desk) when with excitement he leapt up said 'Oh! and we have a funk roller-disco on tonight if you fancy coming?' whilst rolling out backwards from behind the counter on what can only be described as some skates from the 60's. With a big smile I politely declined and said that 'I had left my Bauers in the UK, but maybe next time'. Classic stuff.

After a brief but fun time in Melbourne we packed up and headed due east to Sydney. The 2 hour flight was the worst of the trip so far. Extremely turbulent mixed with a real sense that the pilot was NOT in control. A terrible landing ....various gasps and white knuckles all round and not a peep from the pilot or crew!! ....not the greatest of starts....anyway...we roll on.

We spent the first night in Potts Point, an area east of Central Sydney with an abundance of classy architecture, tree lined roads and well turned out locals....it felt slightly french in it's make up. Unfortunately our apartment was cockroach ridden! (Apparently quite common at this time of year in Sydney) but we were not prepared to settle for this so the next morning (Scott and Anna style) we packed up, found new digs and headed to CBD (Central Sydney) to be closer to the sights and make the most of our time here.

A highlight of our stay was a cruise around Sydney harbour (very touristy, we know) but we had perfect weather, Ollie fell asleep and that left Anna and myself (beer in hand) to enjoy it. We had the coolest patriotic old-school Ozzie gent narrating the trip with nonstop facts ranging from World War II stories of Japanese submarines invading the harbour to where Hugh Jackman lives....something for everyone, a fascinating history lesson!

We spent the next few days exploring the rest of Central Sydney and it's more common attractions The Rocks, The Opera House, immaculate Botanical Gardens and fantastic shopping streets. By this time we were really getting a feel for the pace of day to day life in Sydney and we liked it a lot. A clean, stylish and friendly city.

For our penultimate day in Sydney we headed out east to visit a few beaches. Starting off at Coogee beach we kicked back for a while, watching the numerous 20-something travellers come and go before taking our 30 something asses on the 6 km Coogee to Bondi coastal walk. Slightly ambitious with a 3 year old in tow due to the various bays and steps that you encounter, but being the no1. Trip Advisor activity in Sydney we had to experience this. A beautiful way to really see this coast line and have a real decent workout! From Bondi we boarded the bus towards Watsons Bay, for the most incredible sunset views looking back at the city...a fitting end to a long and adventurous day.

That night, by sheer coincidence a friend of ours was playing at a Redbull Music Academy event nearby, so leaving Anna and Ollie snoozing I popped out for a 'schooner' and some music before hitting the hay.

The first two legs of our adventure in Australia had treated us so well, two extremely attractive and cosmopolitan cities with what a feels like a great lifestyle mix for the inhabitants. Now we are preparing for our flight to Cairns to pick up our campervan which will be home for the next 21 days.

Posted by Bakerfam 16:00 Archived in Australia Tagged #australia #sydney #bakertravels2014 #melbourne Comments (3)

KIA ORA

SOUTH ISLAND PART 2

all seasons in one day 24 °C
View BakerTravels - Sept - Dec 2014 on Bakerfam's travel map.

Queenstown, home of the bungee (or bungy) and a plethora of extreme sports, was our choice for a four day pitstop to pause on the driving for a bit. With toddler though backpackers and boozers don't quite work so we stayed out of town in the beautiful Pinot noir wine region of the Gibbston Valley. Air bnb came up trumps this time with an old stone cottage on a farm, perfect. The drive here was probably the best so far, with more stunning mountains and a big landslide at Diana Falls. This showed us the more dangerous side of the NZ landscape; climbers on ropes had quickly fixed a thirty metre cable mesh net to the rock face to catch the debris which would otherwise hit cars on the road beneath! After the rockfall we passed Lake Hawea which even in NZ terms was wowing, requiring a photo stop, again.

Anyway back to the Gibbston Valley. Four days afforded the opportunity to have a day trip to Queenstown and cycle around the lake which was crystal clear, tranquility only broken by the jet boat, plus some stone skimming on the beach. Next up was a trip to nearby Arrowtown, a super cute colonial riverside town bursting with shops/cafés/restaurants and a really nice vibe, kind of NZ Leigh-on-Sea for those who know our hometown, but with no Tesco or Costa!! We went to their fireworks display too, put on by the local volunteer fire brigade, small scale but very friendly. The Gibbston Valley is also home to Kawarau Bridge, site of the first ever commercial bungee operation.

Next stop was a 3.5 hour drive south east to the 'Edinburgh of the South' Dunedin. We found ourselves staying with a wonderful local couple (in their annexe) located on the Otago Peninsular. Keen conservationists, their home (Possom's End) commanded impressive views of both sides of the peninsular and all proceeds from their holiday rental are fed back into their work regenerating the local landscape. This stage of the trip and accommodation was without a doubt a highlight - if you are visiting this area, stay here! After a rest we built up energy for a busy day; visiting the beautiful Larnach Castle (one of only a few castles in NZ) in the morning, hitting Dunedin cinema after lunch to watch 'Maya the Bee' (remember we have a 3 year old...it's all about balance!) before an evening at the Royal Albatross Centre, to watch little blue penguins emerge from the sea after a 12+ hour day fishing. Like something from an Attenborough documentary, an Albatross flew overhead as group after group of blue penguins emerged from the water and waddled up the beach back to their families with dinner. Windswept and immensely satisfied we called it a day.

Onwards and driving via the beautiful Lake Tekapo our penultimate stop was Christchurch, we stayed in the suburbs and managed to explore a good portion of the city by car and on foot. The effects of the recent earthquake still striking (see photos) the city centre was relatively quiet when we visited, and that, along with the debris and mass of construction/re-building made for a thought provoking if not slightly sombre visit. Nonetheless the spirit of the Christchurch people is evident with such projects as re:start, a box park for shops that had been displaced, now being located in different coloured shipping containers. The park has now become a key tourist spot in Christchurch. In fact the shipping containers were used throughout the city, holding up walls here and there, making for temporary offices etc. Large pieces of street art were around every corner (due to most art galleries being knocked down or being rebuilt) and really helped to lift the mood of the city.

With three days left in NZ we headed north along the east coast to Kaikoura. Two of the main reasons that you would visit this town are to sample the local seafood (Kaikoura means 'meal of Crayfish') and to go whale watching (it is also an extremely picturesque location just FYI!). We were lucky enough to do both of the above and neither disappointed. The Crayfish was awesome however the real highlight was seeing two sperm whales and some dusky dolphins in their natural habitat. The coastline off of this part of NZ attracts many whales due to the seabed sloping away before dropping a dramatic 800m, this allowing for specific nutrients to be washed up to a perfect feeding level. We were lucky enough to see two whales (16 meters in length) come to surface, breath for around 10 minutes before diving back down and flicking their tails as they dive back underneath. We were literally blown away and Anna had a few tears at getting to see these majestic creatures in the wide open ocean. Extremely grateful.

After 31 days on the road, exploring the North and South Island ('the fish and the canoe') we headed back to Christchurch for our flight to Melbourne, Australia. We had truly been spoilt with some of the most beautiful landscapes and nature. The people that we met along the way were welcoming, fun and above all genuine. It did however feel like time to be moving on, mainly to start absorbing and reflect upon the experience of the past month from a distance.

Posted by Bakerfam 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged #newzealand #bakertravels2014 #dunedin #gibbstonvalley #christchurch #kaikoura Comments (1)

TE WAIPOUNAMU

SOUTH ISLAND PART 1

all seasons in one day 25 °C
View BakerTravels - Sept - Dec 2014 on Bakerfam's travel map.

The ferry trip south brings you into the port of Picton via Queen Charlotte Sound. New Zealand's fjords are tipped to be spectacular whichever guide book you favour, and we thought so too; serene is probably the best way to describe the still waters and lush forest-covered mountains you sail through as you pass through the QC Sounds. It makes for a very relaxed arrival on the South Island!!

Straight off the ferry and on the road to our first stop on the South, the Abel Tasman national park. It's a beautiful drive through the Nelson wine region to get there and as luck would have it we passed the Giesen vineyard, maker of the Riesling we've been enjoying so brakes on we stopped and picked up a case from their cellar door shop, what a total result!

Our day in the Abel Tasman was brilliant, thoroughly recommended. We boarded a little boat from Kaiteriteri beach an hour north to a secluded beach where we watched the tide fill the lagoon before tackling a short hike to Bark Bay. At the risk of repeating ourselves to describe this place, we'd have to say beautiful beaches, easy to navigate walks, gorgeous untouched/ un-inhabited landscape! On the boat to and from the park we also saw some sea lions, so much more beautiful in their natural habitat, and got a commentary on the park history and some of its features from our lovely skipper Adam. Split apple rock was pretty impressive, photo attached.

Lots to cover on the South Island so we moved on next to Cape Foulwind, tipped off by friends about this place to see more sealions. Aptly named it is beautiful, but raw, with sheer cliffs and powerful winds, so much so we saw a base jumper in flightsuit on our walk to the sealion colony!! The walk itself was brilliant, hilly and bracing, a bit like a cliff walk in Dover or Devon. The seal colony was awesome, if a bit tricky to photograph as you're on a viewing platform on the cliff with the sealions way below on the rocks, which they look like when still. Then a 'rock' starts moving and you realise it's a sealion having a stretch! We've attached some photos which if you zoom in reveal a super cute baby sealion finding its feet (or flippers?!). The views of the ocean here at Cape Foulwind demand over 180 degrees of your vision, you really can see the curvature of the earth - truly stunning.

After two nights in the cape, we drove south along the west coast highway to the glacier region. This was a pretty long drive where Ollie deserves a mention for being very patient. It's all about the stop offs it seems so first one was at pancake rocks or Punakaiki. When we were told about these by friends, we'd imagined some low level round flat rocks on the beach, the sort you can scramble over. Erm, wrong! More pancake mountains than short stacks, these are geological monsters rising maybe 10-20 metres vertically from the sea, creating blast gorges where the waves crash and roar as they break inside the spaces between the rocks. There's a great decked walkway above the rocks so you can walk over the tops and between them, which was incredibly windy. At this point Ollie decided he'd like to have a run, i.e. sprint, round the whole decked track, scaling the viewing turrets then racing off again. Oh and he'd like to do this in character, as Spider-man (Ollie), Firestar (Anna), and Iceman (Scott). Go with it is often our approach with Ollie so we duly raced around the track much to the amusement and confusion of our fellow tourists, part at the safety risk of his pace on the high decking, part at us shouting superhero names and commands to each other. Still, between ice bolts Scott managed to get some good photos so you can see what we mean. Carrying on down the west coast highway the drive is spectacular, with the Tasman sea on your right, and the southern alps on your left. New Zealand is awesome.

We stayed at the rainforest retreat to see the Franz Josepf and Fox glaciers. It's aptly named as it rained almost constantly for our first night and day there! Queue an impromptu laundry and sort out day, plus films and hot tub, possibly more fun when raining. Sadly though, the rain meant the path to the glacier base station was 90% closed due to flooding the following day when we attempted the walk. It's a common occurrence here in rainy season apparently and a reality of a trip with a schedule, which meant we didn't have days spare to wait for better weather. So, seeing as much as possible from a distance of this and neighbouring Fox glacier (photos attached, beautiful alpine mountain scenery!) we rolled on further south towards Queenstown, home of bungee jumping. So far the South Island has been a complete delight, and we're only one week in!

Posted by Bakerfam 02:31 Archived in New Zealand Tagged #newzealand #bakertravels2014 #abeltasman #capefoulwind #franzjospeh Comments (3)

HOW MANY HIGHWAYS?

NORTH ISLAND PART 2

all seasons in one day 20 °C
View BakerTravels - Sept - Dec 2014 on Bakerfam's travel map.

Our final five nights saw us make our way to Wellington for the ferry crossing to the South Island. With so much to see you have to makes choices what to miss/include, so in roughly chronological order we kind of went as follows;

From the sunny Bay of Plenty we drove inland to Lake Taupo and south of it Tongariro National Park. We’d planned to stop at Rotorua, a biggie on the typical tourist route it seems to see volcanic bubbling mud and geothermal pools and spurting hot water geysers but due to Ollie being asleep we didn’t manage the walk around lake Rotorua where you’d see all of these, and instead did a drive through the town and kept moving; a reality of touring with toddler!!

En route the impressive scenery continued, mountain landscapes mostly with stops to see Huka Falls and after Rotorua, some consolation bubbling mud! Waterfall factoid; the amount of water that goes over the falls every minute would fill five olympic swimming pools! We’ve posted a photo but not sure it conveys the size of the falls, and certainly not the noise, Niagara must be deafening!

The famous 18km alpine crossing trek across Tongariro National Park was a bit beyond us, but we managed to see the three peaks in the park nonetheless on a few shorter tramps (Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu). This is active volcano region, the lake being created then enlarged by two eruptions 26000 and 1800 years ago. It was interesting to see how the locals are all eruption-ready just in case another one happens at any point; not something we’re typically used to in Blighty!!

Having covered the circumference of the lake on foot or by car, we then headed for the coast once more; South-East to Napier. Seemingly random farm photos attached were taken en route, a stop as much for me as for Ollie. What’s not to like about spending a few hours feeding a menagerie that includes lambs to cuddle plus rabbits, not forgetting a full-size tractor you’re supposed to play on!

On then to Napier; the art deco capital of NZ, which lived up to its reputation; literally like stepping back to the era of The Great Gatsby. The photos show how pristine the buildings are, a bit too pristine in some ways, making the town a bit like a film set, rather than a living thing, but very gorgeous.

Last up, a drive through wine country, from Napier to Wellington. If anyone is planning to head this way, we’d recommend a detour just before Wellington to take in Greytown and Martinborough; both extremely pretty old-world towns, full of gastropubs/delis/restaurants and of course lots of wine tasting on offer.

Wellington didn’t disappoint either; recently named “the coolest little capitol in the world” by Lonely Planet, we can see why. It has special significance for us as the hometown of a dear friend, so armed with insider tips, we hit the town! Highlights were record shopping, excellent coffee, finding a second Riesling to add to our faves list, and a brilliant morning in the Te Papa museum with some new friends (incidentally a great museum for kids; life size model of a whale’s heart that you can crawl through to see the inside!!). New Zealand has been wonderful for us so far, as the notes and more-so photos probably show. Roll on South Island!!!

p.s. Re. the title of this post; we’re referring to the amount of driving in NZ, which takes you along highways named for their scenery. On the North island we’ve driven on the Pacific Coast Highway, Thermal Explorer Highway, Volcanic Loop and finally the Classic NZ Wine Trail, excellent!!

Posted by Bakerfam 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged #newzealand #bakertravels2014 #wellington #napier #laketaupo Comments (2)

LAND OF THE LONG WHITE CLOUD

North Island Part 1

all seasons in one day 22 °C
View BakerTravels - Sept - Dec 2014 on Bakerfam's travel map.

After a ten day chill in Fiji, we boarded the short flight to Auckland. How lucky Aussies and Kiwis are; not only do they have their own amazing countries, their ‘short flight’ holiday destinations are Bali, Fiji and the Cook Islands!! When we said this to said Oz travellers we met they returned knowing smiles and started to share their top tips for places to check while we’re there which we were super grateful for. Anyway, on to NZ….

We started on the North Island, we will try to explain how good it is, but the photos again might say more so we’ve uploaded lots.

We'd had a tipoff that within Auckland, Ponsonby was a nice place to stay so with hire car collected we drove straight there and checked in to the Great Ponsonby Art Hotel (B&B). If you’re headed to Auckland this place is worth a look as its filled with artwork and stories collected by the owners who are extremely seasoned travellers, which made for Attenborough worthy history/geography/anthropology lessons with breakfast. Ponsonby itself was a super-stylish foodie heaven and a great base to see Auckland from.

In central Auckland we loved the art gallery which coincidentally had a lego event on, result. Auckland is really small so you can bus or walk most places which was handy to avoid downtown traffic. At Ollie’s request we stopped off at the city’s bowling alley, some home comfort activities thrown into the travel-mix seem to keep the balance right for him. After he thrashed Scott and me we headed to Real Groovy, Auckland’s biggest independent record store. Scott in arcadia, Ollie and me amused ourselves with the Star Wars backpack selection, something for everyone!

With the Spring weather (read lots of rain showers) in full force, we took a drive out to Mission Bay which is a small seaside town in the greater Auckland area. Lush and leafy with more great food on offer, it was a bit San Francisco-esque with a nice atmosphere despite the rain.

After three nights we said goodbye to Auckland and drove to the Coromandel peninsula. We were really looking forward to seeing this coastline and thankfully the weather turned for the better. We were able to do our first short hike (called tramping in NZ) over a coastal rockery and saddle to the otherwise inaccessible New Chums Beach. We have no idea why it has such an odd name, but we do know why it’s in the Lonely Planet top 20 beaches in the world; it’s pretty beautiful, more bracing than desert island, more Wales than Fiji!

The Coromandel coast is full of numerous beaches and towns, typically harping back to the goldmine era, surrounded by lush forests and of course the South Pacific ocean which made for a constantly changing visual feast. A highlight on this leg of the trip was 'Hot Water Beach' on the east coast of the peninsular - arrive within 2 hours of low tide, grab yourself a spade and go dig your own natural hot water pool in the sand.…awesome! Anna, Ollie and I, all with spades (of respective size) began to dig our own spa-hole along with numerous other folk. Before long we all joined forces and dug a very large communal bath - this was really good fun and made for a strange sense of camaraderie with a group of strangers from across the globe, all working towards the same thermal bathing goal!

Before long we struck gold…someone hit a thermal spring and everyone else constructed walls to contain the water and stoped to enjoy the thermals. Water can be as hot as 64 °C here...so buckets of cold sea water were thrown in to adjust the temperature until perfect....a great way to spend a Wednesday morning!

Leaving the Coromandel, we spent the next couple of days driving South to Lake Taupo, with an overnight stop at Papamoa Beach. Half coastal drive, half panoramic mountain inland route, this was our first big taste of the reason NZ is brilliant driving tour territory!! You almost get complacent about the scenery as it's endless.

Our first six nights in New Zealand had been fab, and we'd definitely dropped another gear in pace and are in full travelling flow now. Possibly the reason for such a gap in blog posts?!...to be continued...

Posted by Bakerfam 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged #newzealand #coromandel #bakertravels2014 Comments (2)

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