Australia: Tasmania


Fly Sydney –> Hobart, Swansea (1 night) –> Freycinet National Park, St Helens (1 night) –> Bay of Fires, cheese farm, lavender farm, Launceston (1 night) –> Torwunna animal sanctuary, Mole Creek Caves, Raspberry farm, Narawntapu National Park, Devenport (1 night) –> Cradle Mountain (1 night) –> Gordon River Cruise, Strahan (1 night) –> MONA and drive to Hobart (1 night) –> Port Arthur, Tasman Peninsular, fly Hobart to Melbourne

Tasmania is Australia’s best kept secret. Quiet, with amazing national parks, endless countryside, beautiful mountains, white beaches and crystal clear waters, wildlife at every turn and some fantastic hiking. Definitely my favourite place in Aus. I went to Tassie with Phil and my sister Nat – we flew into Hobart from Sydney to start our road trip. Public transport is pretty much non existent, so hiring a car or camper is essential! We were travelling in January, so peak season and hire cars were more expensive and accommodation scarce, so we had pre booked the entire trip. However, we soon realised when we arrived that peak season in Tassie actually means five people on a beach and four full tables in a restaurant!

It was lovely to escape the unbearable heat of Sydney and our road trip began by heading up the coast from Hobart to the seaside town of Orford, where we had a beachside picnic lunch and a paddle through the water, who knew that Tasmania had such beautiful beaches?! We were staying overnight at Swansea backpackers, and after dropping our bags we headed off to walk along seven mile beach. As we found in mainland Australia, it is pretty much impossible to find restaurants in Tasmania serving food after 8pm outside of a city, some here only had kitchens open from 5-7pm(!)- so be sure to plan your evening meal otherwise you could be left hungry!

We were up early the following day to drive to Freycinet National Park. After buying our car entry permit, (I think for the car it was around $60 and let us get into all National Parks during our stay), we started off on our Wineglass Bay loop walk. The walk took us to a look out point where you could view the iconic wineglass bay, before going down to the beach itself, where we sunbathed, had a picnic and took a quick dip in the icy waters! The pictures really don’t do this place justice – it is absolutely stunning! From here, we continued back to the park entrance via the Hazards range, passing secluded bays and white sandy beaches along the way – a lovely walk, but we did start to get a bit tired towards the end!

Late afternoon, we drove from Freycinet National Park to St Helens, where we were staying at the Hillcrest Tourist Park. In the morning we set off for Binalong Bay, and after parking up, we went on a walk along the Bay of fires – so named because Captain Tobias Furneaux saw the fires of Aboriginal people on the beaches. Again, the beaches are beautiful, with white sand, aqua water, and orange coloured boulder rocks separating different coves (so coloured because of the lichen growing on them). Rain was forecast that day, so we watched as the blue skies got taken over by grey ominous clouds and quick footed it back to the car! Our road trip continued in the rain taking us to a cheese farm for delicious cheese tasters, a pub for late lunch and some pretty lavender fields for dessert and some photos. The drive itself was scenic, with rolling hills, forests and lots of echidna sightings along the way too! That evening we stayed in Launceston and had a delicious Thai dinner before an early bed after our action packed day!

The following morning we headed for the Torwunna animal sanctuary. They have a wide range of animals and lots are involved in breeding programmes. Kangaroo roam freely and you can buy some special feed to give them and get up close. The tours of the sanctuary included in your ticket are great, very informative and give you a chance to learn more about the animals. My new favourite animal might just be a Tasmanian Devil – so cute and absolutely amazing! They have a cloaca, and when giving birth, a mucus delivers approximately 40 tiny rice grain sized joeys into her pouch. The mother has only four teats in the pouch so only four joeys have the opportunity to live. Talk about survival of the fittest! We got to see wombats, quoll, eagles, Tasmanian devils, kangaroos and lots of birds – well worth a visit!

After our animal encounter, we continued on the road to the nearby Mole Creek Caves for a tour. If you haven’t ever been in a cave, or seen glow worms then it’s worth it, otherwise it could be missed if you’re tight on time. We continued onwards to a raspberry farm, which disappointingly only had pricey products, but you could get raspberry sorbet! We dropped our bags at our air B & B in Devenport before continuing onto Narawntapu National Park – Tasmania’s version of the Serengeti. We went on a walk through the park, saw kangaroo, wallabies, pademelon, lots of different bird species, but no wild wombats – the search continued!

After a big breakfast at our air B&B we drove to Cradle Mountain National Park. Free shuttle buses are provided to/from the park at the information centre with a valid park ticket (there is very limited parking within the park itself).Here we went on a hike from Ronny Creek, up to Marions lookout for a picnic lunch, and then descended via Lake Lilla to Dove Lake. We checked into the Cradle Mountain Hotel and enjoyed the hot tub facilities before heading back out again. We had been told that at dusk the wombats come out! So we drove back up the road and into the park, where we pulled up at Ronny’s Creek and saw lots of wombats out grazing!

The forecast for the next day was rain. We awoke in the morning to a thick fog and drizzle! We had booked onto an afternoon cruise of Gordon’s Bay, so leisurely drove to the town of Strahan and checked into the Strahan holiday retreat. We went on the World Heritage cruise and it was absolutely fantastic despite the weather! We bought some wine and chocolate onboard and enjoyed the captain’s commentary during the journey. We had two stops, one at Sarah island (an ex- penal colony) and one at a rainforest. The guides were brilliant and the whole trip covered everything from the colonisation of Strahan, the penal colony on Sarah island, the fish farms and the ecology of the area to the logging industry. A fantastic trip despite the weather! Apparently it only has an average of 16 clear days a year, so you are quite likely to experience similar weather, but don’t let it put you off!

The next part of our road trip was the long drive back to Hobart – about five hours of scenic driving with not a great deal en route if it’s a rainy day. We stopped at Tarraleah cafe for lunch before arriving at the MONA (museum of old and new art) just outside of Hobart. The building is pretty spectacular and most of it is underground. Musicians play on the lower level and there is a bar to enjoy a drink or two. The best exhibit was a waterfall that formed words randomly selected by google. However, the rest of the art exhibits weren’t up my street and some were downright bizarre (“Tattoo Tim” – where you stare at a man’s tattooed back and “The Great Wall of Vagina” being just some of the bizarre exhibits). After finishing our museum tour, we headed to our accomodation in Hobart before heading to some bars and a Sushi restaurant for dinner.

On our final day, we decided to visit Port Arthur. On our long journey from Strahan to Hobart, we had listened to the Casefile podcast on the Port Arthur Massacre to learn about the awful recent events that took place at this ex – penal colony site, so it was quite eerie visiting. It took about and hour and half to reach Port Arthur from Hobart, and in the entry ticket is included a short boat ride tour and a walking tour of the grounds. It is well worth a visit and really interesting.

On our return journey to Hobart airport, we stopped at the Tasman peninsular for a walk along the beach, visited the Blow Hole and Tasman Arch and happened upon “doo” town, where all the houses have a name plate that includes the name Doo!

Unfortunately our trip to Tasmania had come to an end and it far exceeded all of my expectations! I fell head over heels for Tasmania and all it had to offer. Don’t plan a trip to Australia without spending at least a week exploring this beautiful island, you won’t be disappointed.


Australia: Road trip from Sydney to Jervis Bay

On New Year’s day after a recovery brunch with Gareth, we collected our hire car and started our road trip down the coast. Feeling tired from the night before, we slowly drove along the coastal road, stopping at various viewpoints along the way until we reached Wollongong. The countryside along the way consists of green rolling hills, but it is no Great Ocean Road drive. After checking into our hostel, we made our way to the beach for a late picnic lunch and walk. We weren’t overly enamoured with Wollongong, so we were glad we were only staying there one night. It seemed quite a soulless place, lacking any character.

We continued our drive down to George’s Basin, stopping at Kiama for a stroll on the promenade and to the view the blowhole, Shoalhaven for seven mile beach and Huskisson for a walk and a coffee overlooking the sea. We had been told that the local golf course near to our air B&B (The Country Club St George’s Basin), was teeming with kangaroo, so we drove there to watch them grazing and even got to see a little Joey! I have no idea how they don’t get hit by rogue golf balls, but it obviously doesn’t bother them. It was this night that we learnt that restaurants outside of main cities or large towns close their kitchens by 8pm. At 8.30pm we were panicking that we would be going to bed hungry. We drove around in the pouring rain desperately trying to find anywhere open and thank goodness we managed to find an Indian restaurant open and keen to feed some English curry lovers!

In the morning, we drove to Booderee National Park, (I think the entrance fee was around $12 for the car), and visited Green Patch beach where there are lots of colourful parrots and nice short bush walks. The National Park is quite small, so you can easily cover most things in two days. We continued through the park to complete the easy Murray beach circuit. We enjoyed the walk, but recent bush fires have made parts quite barren. After hopping back into the car, we visited the lighthouse for a picnic lunch and were lucky enough to see an Echidna having a nap under a bush! We then drove to the Cave beaches – despite it being a little overcast and the beach filled with washed up jelly fish, we had a pleasant walk and particularly enjoyed the swamp side loop walk where we saw a wallaby, an eagle and another echidna! Exhausted from a day of long walks, we returned to our air B&B for our left over Indian take away!

Our breakfast each morning overlooking the front garden gave us a prime kangaroo watching platform and we could see them hop up and down the residential streets. After checking out of our air B&B we took a walk around George’s Basin, then drove north of Hyams beach, parked up and took a forty minute walk down to it (parking nearby is a nightmare). It was worth putting up with the sweaty walk down- it was like paradise – white sand, clear waters and the sun even came out to greet us! We had a picnic and enjoyed some swimming and sunbathing before getting back on the road late afternoon and heading back towards Sydney, stopping at an air B&B in Dapto overnight.

On our final day of the road trip we drove to the Royal National Park just south of Sydney. Our initial plans were hampered by the ticket office being closed from our direction, so we took a detour to Garie Beach to buy our pass. A beautiful coastal walk extends from this beach in both directions, so we decided to do this instead, enjoying clambering over the rocks in the cool sea breeze. We then hopped back into the car and continued onward to Winfrey Falls. This walk is very steep, and pretty exposed, so make sure to take plenty of water, a hat and sunscreen! At the bottom, we were rewarded with a beautiful waterway and took advantage of the chance to cool off!

Back in Sydney, Phil had booked us tickets for the third test of the Ashes. Freely admitting that I’m not a cricket fan, I was sceptical whether I would enjoy the day. I in fact ended up having a really good time, despite a somewhat bad performance from our side. Fortunately we were situated in the shade for the whole day, so we had a great time feasting on our picnic, eating ice creams and soaking up the atmosphere! (Everyone had to wear pink to support breast cancer hence our choice of attire).

Our next stop…Tasmania!

Australia: The Blue Mountains and NYE in Sydney

The morning after Phil arrived in Australia we were up bright and early and boarding a train to the Blue mountains. I was on a mission to fit as much as possible into Phil’s month and having been here a month already I had plenty of time to investigate an itinerary. After a scenic train ride we arrived in the town of Katoomba and headed to our Air B&B to drop our bags and make a fuss of the resident dog Puccini! We headed to the bottom of town (it’s a pretty hilly area), for a picnic at the three sisters viewing point. The Blue mountains are so called because of the mist the Eucalyptus trees emit giving them a blue haze appearance. It was heaving with tourists, which somewhat detracted from the view. We took the clifftop walk which was thankfully quiet and very pretty along to the town of Leura before looping back home for a nap and a shower. Our bed and breakfast host was an eccentric English man, who was very generous, offering us unlimited beers and wine. Unfortunately for me, he also introduced us to his “pet” house huntsman spiders, so I spent the rest of the stay keeping one eye on the creepy crawlies!

Tip: You can use your Opal travel card to get to the Blue mountains and on the buses there

The next day, our host kindly dropped us at Evans lookout near Blackheath. Here, we took the beautiful Grand Canyon Loop walk which we would thoroughly recommend. The walk descended into a Canyon, passing over streams and through cool woodland. After completing this walk quicker than expected, (most walks in this national park take just over half the stated time if you are active), we continued walking and took the cliff top walk to Govetts Leap. After having completed the two walks, we started to feel the effects of the hiking and intense sun. Thankfully we managed to end up at a bus stop, so we jumped aboard and back to Katoomba. After a late lunch at a great restaurant called “8 Things”, (it is so good we went back for dinner too), we relaxed back at our air B&B enjoying the company of Puccini and the local cockatoos and parrots.

We left the Blue Mountains and returned to Sydney to meet back up with my sister Nat and with Phil’s brother Gareth and his friend Hetel. We had a light lunch followed by a competitive round of crazy golf at Holey Moley in Newtown. In the evening, courtesy of Gareth we headed to a fancy restaurant in Darling Habour called Lumi and had an amazing tasting menu meal.

New Years had crept up on us, and after brunch with Nat and her flatmate Anna we headed to a nearby gin and whisky distillery for a tour and tastings – the drinks definitely put hairs on your chest! Nat had got us tickets to see in the new year at Luna Park with her and her boyfriend Bruno. Luna Park is a cool retro looking permanent fair ground under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is a combination of roller coaster rides, fair ground games, waltzers and old school style slides. It was a great night, and we spent the evening running around like kids on all the rides, taking advantage of the mat slides and mirror maze and of course seeing the fireworks! We were so distracted by the rides we didn’t actually make it to see any of the DJs perform. A brilliant and fun way to start 2018 and Phil’s Aus trip!

New Zealand Part 2: The Southern loop (and a little back on the North Island)

Te Anau (2nights) —> Queenstown (1 night) —> Christchurch (2 nights) —> Hanmer Springs (1 night) —> Reefton (1 night) —> Abel Tasman (2 nights) —> Blenheim (2nights) —> Paihia, Bay of Islands in the North Island (2 nights) —> Auckland (2 nights)

Get a cup of tea ready, this is a long one…..

The second part of our trip begun in Queenstown in the South Island, and after picking up our hire car and stocking up with supermarket supplies, we set off on the beautiful scenic drive to Te Anau Kiwi Holiday Park. Our holiday park was great, with cute little triangular huts and modern communal kitchen and bathroom facilities. After arriving, we went on a lakeside walk and visited the nearby bird sanctuary, where for a gold coin donation you can see lots of native species!

The following morning we were up bright and early for our 5.45am kayak trip with a company called Roscos (highly recommended). We had a beautiful drive to Milford Sounds on a small mini bus, with photo stops along the way from our tour guide. Upon arrival at Milford we were kitted out with thermals and given a short dry paddle practice before boarding our two man kayaks and taking to the water! Apparently it is often raining in Milford Sounds, but we were really fortunate and had glorious sunshine! The scenery is stunning and experiencing the sounds from kayaks is definitely worth it! Our luck didn’t stop with the weather – we even got to kayak with dolphins! Thanks to Phil’s new found Olympic Kayaking skills, he sped us about 200metres ahead of the group to catch up with the dolphins and we were surrounded by them until they started to chase a nearby motorboat. We also got to see sea lion and a couple of swimming penguins!

The next morning, arms burning from kayaking, we did a short three hour hike at the start of the Kepler Track before driving back to Queenstown – very pretty and a nice easy walk, (although beware of the sandfly)!

After settling into our next hostel, we hit the town, bought some beers and ciders and enjoyed the afternoon sun on the beach. Queenstown had a really nice atmosphere and we definitely could have spent another night. There are lots of nice bars, live music and a great dessert cafe called Patagonia.

Determined to maximise our time in Queenstown before our early afternoon flight to Christchurch, we decided to climb the Gondala hill (I’m sure it has a name but I don’t know it!). Being too tight to pay for the gondala, and as we enjoy hiking, we decided to take the harder route. Unfortunately, the luge down the hill was closed when we were there. The walk up is fairly steep and quite tough in places, but it is largely shaded in pine forest so nice and cool and you get to watch all the off road mountain bikers fly down the hill! After reaching the top, we realised that we didn’t have long before we had to drop our hire car off! So after taking an obligatory selfie and some panoramic photos we quickly started our descent and begun to jog down the hill to shouts of “We’ve got runners!”. After reaching the bottom we realised we had twenty five minutes to spare…could we squeeze in the famous Queenstown “Ferg burger”? We continued our jog into town and joined the epic queue at the burger restaurant, praying our service number would pop up and that the wait would be less than twenty five minutes. After twenty minutes Phil ran back to get the car…I was getting twitchy…finally our number came up! I grabbed the take out bag and legged it up the road and we made it to the hire car place in the nick of time! The burger was worth the wait and additional stress and the huge queues are justified -you’ve got to try one! Sadly there is no photograph of this momentous burger so you’ll just have to let your imagination go wild.

We were picked up from Christchurch airport by Phil’s’ cousin Graham. Graham and his partner Rachel kindly put us up for a couple of nights and when we arrived at their house, Rachel had made a delicious Kiwi BBQ dinner for us! The drive into town in the morning was really eye opening – Graham showed us swathes of land that had been housing, which had either been destroyed in the earthquakes or marked as a danger zone and people forced to move. The land is grassed over now, street lamps scattered across the fields the only evidence it was once a massive residential area. Most of the city centre has been destroyed by the earthquakes, which unfortunately means that it feels quite disjointed at the moment. We spent the day wandering around town, visiting the major sites, eating (!) and exploring the botanical gardens, before meeting Graham for drinks in the afternoon and then heading to the coast for a fish and chip dinner!

We picked up our next hire car and continued our road trip to the town of Hanmer Springs, famed for its thermal spas! Donning our swimming costumes, we went to the local thermal pools to soak in boiling baths for the afternoon- the mood slightly ruined by lots of screaming children! We spent the night at Kakapo lodge and the next morning, continuing our activity based trip, we hired mountain bikes and did a lovely woodland trail.

Our road trip continued to the town of Reefton, where we were staying with my friend Ace, (whose one of many amazing achievements has been running across the USA! Check out her travel blog Ace took us for a lovely stroll of Reefton via the river and after some wine and pizza at a local restaurant we drove to a neighbouring village for live music. The neighbouring village ended up being a fifty minute drive into the sticks! We turned up at a tiny village in the middle of nowhere to a pub filled with bikers and a covers band. We had a fun night, albeit it somewhat surreal dancing to “I would walk 500 miles” with a load of bikers.

The next day we drove to Abel Tasman National Park. We were staying at Barn Backpackers at the entrance to the park in a cute little pod hut. We took a loop walk along the nearby beach and booked up our activities.

Having enjoyed kayaking so much in Milford Sounds, we booked onto a kayak tour the following day. We were taken by water taxi to the heart of the park and dropped onto a beach, where we picked up a kayak and begun our open water trip to several bays and beaches that can only be reached by water. Despite not getting to do as much kayaking as we would have liked, it was a relaxing day, great weather, and we got to see yet more sea lion. On our lunch stop beach we were told that to get to the toilet spot, it was best to climb over a mound of rocks to the next beach for privacy. So off I clambered, only to be greeted by a huge grunting male sea lion on the other Side! Safe to say it wasn’t a relaxing bathroom break!

On our last day at Abel Tasman we took a water taxi to Anchorage and did a beautiful coastal hike back to our holiday camp, stopping at coves along the way. It was a lovely couple of days and Abel Tasman is truly a special destination.

Our road trip continued along the north coast of the South Island to a town called Blenheim. En route we took the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive with views over the Marlborough sounds, before settling into our fabulous air BnB in the evening. After a little bit of a lie in, we were picked up from our accommodation by Bike2Wine Cycle Tours and driven to their base at Ranwick to pick up our tandem bike and start our wine tour! Armed with a wine trail map we set off on our self guided tour – tandem biking is far harder than it looks! We stopped at a mix of small and large vineyards, each giving at least five free tasting glasses! By vineyard three I was already feeling worse for wear – so to combat the combined effect of sun and alcohol we devoured a cheese board. By vineyard four I was having a nap on a deck chair in the gardens! That evening, Phil’s other cousin Chris kindly picked us up from Blenheim and drove us to his house in Havelock, where we had lovely pizzas cooked on the BBQ with his family, alfresco drinks and a good catch up.

Our tour of the South Island had come to an end and it had been absolutely fantastic! But we still had a few days left in New Zealand – our next stop – flying to the Bay of Islands at the top of the North Island.

Our Apartment in Paihia in the Bay of Islands was amazing (Abri Apartments) – basically an adults version of a tree house, complete with a jacuzzi bath, a balcony with great views and a Barbecue, which was great for burgers as well as cooked breakfasts – a step up from our holiday camps! After we arrived, we hired bikes and went on a loop ride to a nearby waterfall. Unfortunately the bike hire company decided to give us city commuter bikes rather than mountain bikes, which made the hills hard work and small children heckle us with shouts of “nice bikes”! There were great views along the way and Phil even befriended an evil looking duck by sharing his sandwich!

After a leisurely barbecued breakfast, we boarded our dolphin sight seeing tour. It was quite an overcast day with a freezing wind! I had intended to swim with the dolphins, however seeing as I was too cold on the boat, I didn’t think I’d survive the water. We approached several adult dolphins on the boat, snorkelers were kitted out (including Phil) and what ensued was quite a spectacle! About thirty people jumped overboard, naturally the dolphins started swimming away and myself and other passengers were pointing to the swimmers so they knew which direction to swim in. Some passengers had clearly never done open water swimming and were floundering a couple of metres from the boat, others were swimming in the wrong direction, whilst Phil and about five people attempted to follow the dolphins, but they were having none of it! Back on the boat, we set off again and managed to find a small pod of dolphins who swum just in front of the boat. Again, a somewhat entertaining swimming attempt was tried, but the dolphins weren’t game! After everyone had dried off, we made a stop at a nearby island and the sun came out to greet us! It was a great daytrip and thoroughly recommended!

The next morning we boarded the ferry to nearby Russell – the first permanent European settlement and sea port in New Zealand. We enjoyed exploring the little old coastal town and nearby beaches, before catching the ferry back and hopping on a bus to Auckland.

That evening, we met up with the Coopers, (Phil’s friends James and Sophie) for dinner and drinks in Auckland and had a great night. We managed to get up fairly early in the morning to make the most of our last day in New Zealand. We took the ferry to Waiheke island, enjoyed lunch in the sunshine and a coastal walk, before heading back to the mainland for dinner at the fabulous Armano restaurant.

New Zealand is an amazing country and if you like outdoor activities, then plan a trip!

New Zealand Part 1: The North Island loop The

Auckland (2 nights) —> Hobbiton —> Rotorua (2 nights) —> Tongariro (2nights) —> Stratford (2nights) —> Waitomo Caves —> Auckland (1 night)

Our November trip to New Zealand began with a brilliantly timed rendezvous at baggage reclaim in Auckland airport (mine and Phils’ flights landed ten minutes apart). We drove to our air bnb overlooking the marina and our lovely host let us in at 7am to crash out. Our first day was a bit of a jet lag haze of napping, brunch, a walk around town, yet more napping, and dinner.

On our second day in Auckland we were more productive! After a morning swim at our air bnb we headed up to Mt Eden to walk around the volcanic crater and take in the views of the city. Unfortunately the heavens decided to open and we got drenched! We quickly continued our walk to the Auckland National Museum for a well earned tea and cake and to spend the afternoon sheltering from the rain. There was the national geographic wildlife photographer of the year exhibit on which was phenomenal and probably the best thing in the museum.

The following morning we started our road trip. The north island scenery is very much like Wales (apart from the odd volcano) – rolling green hills and lots of sheep. Our first stop was Hobbiton! Now although I’m not massive Lord of the Rings or Hobbit fan, I have read the books and seen the films, so was pretty excited to be heading here. We had parted with a hefty amount of cash ($78 pp) for our entry fees. Unfortunately it wasn’t worth it. Whilst the setting was every bit as beautiful as it looks in the films, the whole experience was quite disappointing. Yes the hobbit holes were nice, but you can’t go inside any of them, so you are basically looking at a lot of doors in a hill. There are also thousands of tourists (there is a LOT of camera trickery to avoid them in the photos below), you have to stick with your tour guide, (so can’t see everything at your own pace) and there isn’t any atmosphere – no live music or people dressed as hobbits etc. It did provide a great midday stop to break up our journey, but it isn’t really worth parting with the cash if you’re on a budget. Still, the photos do look good…..!

Our drive continued to Rotorua where we had booked to stay two nights at one of the hostels. We arrived late afternoon and took a long walk around the edge of the lake before cooking dinner. The town has an eggy smell from the geothermal activity, but it is really only strong right by the lakeside.

The next day we got up fairly early and went to the Waiamangu volcanic valley park. There is an entrance fee to get in, but the place is beautiful and when we were there we only saw a handful of other tourists! The park has a lovely walk through geothermal areas with information boards along the way and a bird watching platform at the very end. It is definitely worth a trip and you feel like you’ve entered Jurassic Park!

In the evening we had booked the Mitai Maori Village Experience (thanks to my friends James and Adam who gifted me this)! We had a lovely time getting to see how they prepare the traditional Hangi meal and ate a plentiful dinner buffet, watched warriors in traditional dress paddle in an ancient canoe, see a traditional Maori weapon, poi and dance display as well of course as a Haka! We also took a short bush walk, saw glow worms and went to the neighbouring Rainbow Springs where we got to enter the kiwi enclosure and see Morepork, Kea and Tuatara. Yes it was a touristy evening, but fun all the same!

The following day we had planned to leisurely drive via Taupo to Tongariro, stay overnight at our accommodation (Adventure Lodge and Motel), and then do the Tongariro crossing. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas and the forecast for the day we had planned was heavy rain! So, we set our alarms at 4am and drove from Rotorua to Tongariro for the hike! We had chosen a lovely clear sunny day.

The start of the Tongariro crossing hike isn’t very beautiful – there is lots of scree and limited vegetation. The first part is quite easy but it isn’t long before the uphill parts begin and there are lots and lots of steps! Make sure to pack lots of layers. Whilst a T-shirt is fine at the bottom, hats, scarves and gloves are needed at the top! The walk takes about 7-8hrs and is pretty tough at times – but you get to see steam vents, glacial valleys, and crater lakes along the way. The views from the top are pretty spectacular, but to be honest, it was so cold that I left Phil taking photos and battling with the wind while I legged it down the other side to find some shelter! My fingers got so cold on the hike that they literally doubled in size (wearing socks on your hands is no substitute for buying gloves)! It is a long and gruelling walk, so lots of snacks are needed en route, but well worth it if you dress appropriately!

T-shirts and smiles at the bottom!

After getting back to our accomodation, we quickly booked our slot in the hot tub. The relaxing experience somewhat tainted by Phil exclaiming that my entire toe nail had come off in the tub, only to realise it wasn’t my toe nail at all! Safe to say we cut our session short! After cooking some dinner, we drove up to Whakapapa to admire the views as the sun set.

We awoke to rain the following morning (our 4am start the day before had been worth it), and drove back on ourselves to Taupo. Seemingly having not done enough hiking already, we went on a walk to Hukka Falls – definitely worth doing and free!! You also pass some natural thermal pools on the walk if you fancy taking a dip. The power of the river is something worth experiencing, with 220 000 litres a second of water flowing down the narrow canyon.We then popped into town for a lake side coffee before heading back to Tongariro and to the local thermal springs for some relaxation!

In the morning we started the next leg of our road trip to Stratford where we were staying with Phils’ friend from work Tim and his family for a couple of nights. We drove along the Forgotten Highway – the views are absolutely spectacular, but you might want to take a motion sickness tablet as it’s a bit like being on a rollercoaster!

At lunchtime we arrived at Tim and Sandie’s house which has amazing views of Mt Taranaki. After providing us with a lovely lunch we drove to to the base of Mt Taranaki and did a loop walk to a waterfall. In the evening we were treated to a traditional Kiwi barbecue with the family and a never ending supply of red wine!

In the morning we drove to New Plymouth where we went to the free and interactive museum (worth a visit), had lunch and did a coastal walk along the promenade before heading to a nearby beach. Tim and Sandi spoilt us again that evening with a delicious lamb dinner and a never ending drinks supply! We had a lovely couple of days with our fantastic hosts and it felt like a home from home.

The next day we had a long drive back to Auckland. We broke this up with a stop at the Waitomo Caves. We took a tour with a company called Footwhistle- the glow worms are amazing! Sadly my camera couldn’t really capture the effect. After our glow worm tour we drove to the free short Ruakuri Bush walk, which is really lovely and apparently has glow worms too if you are in the area at night! We continued our journey back up to Auckland where we stayed before our morning flight to the South Island the following day. We had covered a lot of ground already but the trip hadn’t felt rushed and we had a fantastic start to our New Zealand Adventure.

Tip: pick up the New Zealand magazine when you get off the plane as it has lots of discount vouchers in the back. It is also worth going on the website bookme which has fantastic deals on trips and tours.

A Portuguese Road Trip

Our September getaway saw us take a very last minute trip to Portugal, (largely due to the rainy weather elsewhere in Northern Europe). So in our usual style, we boarded a plane to Porto with only a hire car and our first nights accommodation booked and the rest would be made up as went along. 

Tip: When getting a hire car in Portugal, do pay extra for the in car automatic toll reader – they have a very confusing toll system and certain roads don’t have booths but have cameras and you have to pay for your journey three days afterwards in a Post office. We decided to take the hassle out the trip and for it all to be automated.

We planned to do a large loop of Portugal starting and ending in Porto, partly because the hire car was a lot cheaper if returned to the same airport, and also because I was meeting my friend Sam in Porto on our final weekend.

Tip: Portugal in September was really sunny, but the Atlantic wind from the ocean was ice cold, (as is the water), so make sure to pack some trousers and jumpers as well as summer wear! 

After picking up the hire car we drove about an hour South to the town of Aveiro. We stayed in Aveiro Rose B&B which was a great stop for the night. Aveiro is a small town with several canals running through it, some quaint tile clad restaurants and cafes and not a lot else. We had a lovely first night sampling amazing marinated king prawns and in the morning went for a walk along the canal before setting off on the road.
We drove from Aveiro inland to the Bucacao National Park sited near Coimbra. The park consists of a beautiful old monastery with wooded grounds and we spent several hours hiking the trails and hills around it, enjoying a picnic while taking in the beautiful views. From here, we drove to Alfarim south of Lisbon for the night.

After stopping in the seaside town of Sesimbra for coffee and breakfast with a view (which due to a language barrier, ended up consisting of stacks of buttered toast), we continued our road trip down the coast enjoying the beautiful seaside drive and multiple stops on the way to the town of Porto Covo. Here we had a picnic and enjoyed a cliff side walk before continuing South to the Algave along a beautiful cross country route. 

We arrived at our lovely hotel called KR hotel in Albufeira and soaked up some sun poolside. We later found out that the town is apparently stag and hen do central, but we were on the outskirts so it wasn’t a problem at all. The following morning we drove to Praia de Marinha for a beach day! We walked along the stunning cliff path for an obligatory photo of the “M” shaped cliff before hitting the beach. Despite this being the end of the summer and the water supposedly at its warmest, it was FREEZING! Even rash vests couldn’t keep us in the sea for more than ten seconds! After a few hours on the beach, we headed along the coast for a cliff side picnic before heading back to our hotel and out for dinner. 

The following morning we walked to the local beach, relaxed and enjoyed some smoothies, before hopping back into the car and driving to the wonderful Lisbonaire apartments right in the heart of the city of Lisbon. That evening we explored the Barrio Alto district and enjoyed drinks in an old square before finding a wonderful back street wine and tapas restaurant.

On our second day in Lisbon we had booked to go on a live history walking tour for three hours (tours for tips). We had a great guide and despite the initial drizzle, had a fantastic time learning about the history of Lisbon from a local. Feeling somewhat tired from all the walking, we spent the late afternoon perusing the shops before cooking a steak dinner in our apartment.

Our final day in Lisbon also happened to be my 30th birthday! Phil had surprised me with a morning of spa treatments at the Float in spa. First, we had forty minutes in a floatation tank filled with Epsom salts – exactly like the Dead Sea and once the initial salt sting has subsided it’s very relaxing, followed by an hour long full body massage. Safe to say we both left feeling thoroughly relaxed! In the afternoon we took an uber to the Belem district, famous as being home to the Portuguese pastry Pastel de Nata (if you watch the Great British Bake Off you’ll know what these are). We explored the waterfront of Belem and enjoyed a picnic, before heading into the town area and to the Pasteis de Belem and grabbing our Pastel de Nata! Delicious! You can walk around the cafe which is in a lovely old building and see the pastries being produced – there are thousands of them! In the evening, we had booked a table at the “Sommelier ” restaurant not far from our apartment. Amazing wine, amazing steak tartare and rare tuna steaks and beautiful port. A wonderful end to a great day – and not a bad way to see in my thirties!

We checked out of the apartment the following day and drove to Sintra. After getting a little lost in the town centre, (it is extremely busy and as the guide books suggest probably best to do as a day trip), we managed to find free parking at the entrance to the Palacio de Seteais. We walked away from town to escape the crowds to the Palacio de Monserrate – it cost €8 each to see the gardens and house and we enjoyed a picnic, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. We caught the bus back into the town centre, ambled the pretty town streets, saw the National Palace and other beautiful buildings, before returning to the car. All the monuments are very expensive in Sintra, so if you intend to see some I would advise pre-planning! 

From Sintra, our next stop was the town of Obidos. We stayed in the quaint old Casa do Fontanario de Obidos, right at the entrance to the walled old town and with a welcoming glass of ginjinha (a local tipple) too! We explored some of the town as dusk fell, before enjoying a lovely dinner and making new friends. The following morning we got up and walked the town walls. Obidos is like a mini Dubrovnik, although the city walls have no sides so it is extremely hairy walking it!

Our final stop was Porto. We dropped the car back at the airport and got the metro into town to the “Spot Hostel”. After meeting with my friend Sam there (we met in Brazil a few years ago), we wandered through the shopping district, enjoyed a lovely risotto and wine dinner before crashing out. Phil had to catch a flight to a stag do in Berlin that morning and leave at 4am. The last member of our dorm, a 70 year old man decided to come back from his night out at the same time as Phil was leaving and proceed to make howling pain noises as he tried to get comfortable for a good two hours – a stark reminder of how irritating other people can be when sleeping in dorms! 

The next couple of days Sam and I enjoyed exploring the city, taking an old tram to the seaside for lunch and a stroll, shopping, taking a walking tour of the city, a crazy night out, dinner with other travellers and enjoying the sunshine! Our only advice would be don’t eat a Francesinha – it really isn’t worth the calories – think fatty meat sandwich, covered in rubbery cheese and sitting in a bowl of the tomato sauce that comes with spaghetti hoops! Despite our bad lunch choice, it was a perfect weekend and a wonderful way to finish my trip to Portugal. 

Italy: Cinque Terre, Massa and Lake Maggiore

For our July trip we decided to head to Italy to visit my Dad. Massa had transformed from the quiet beachside town that we had visited in February to a bustling seaside resort! The first day was spent on the beach relaxing, soaking up the sun and enjoying some Italian food and wine.

The following day, armed with our backpacks, we set off on the train to walk between the coastal fishing villages of Cinque Terre. We got the train from Massa to La Spezia, then a bus to Portovenere to start our walk. Our first stop was to be the town of Riomaggiore, which was five hours walk from the start point. The views were absolutely spectacular along the way, with large parts of the walk being along the coastline and there were hardly any tourists on this stretch. Unfortunately the paths aren’t well labelled, so we somehow ended up following coloured arrows down a “short- cut”, which was pretty much a vertical slope downwards that we slid and skidded down before having to crawl up the other side on our hands and knees! 

After five hours of walking in the heat we finally made it to the first village of Riomaggiore. By this time it was quite late in the afternoon and we were keen to continue onto the next village of Manarola where we had booked our accommodation. The Italian tourist board however, had usefully forgotten to mention on our map or in the tourist office that the cliff side walk connecting Manarola to the villages either side had eroded away years ago. This left us with the option of climbing back up the mountain we had just walked down for a further two and a half hour walk or getting the train. Having already walked 33,000 steps and climbed the equivalent of 255 storeys, we chose the latter! We arrived in Manarola and at our lovely Guesthouse “Da Paulin”. We got some beers and olives at the local deli and enjoyed relaxing by the harbour, enjoying the beautiful sunset over the colourful village. 

The following morning we got up early to start the next leg of our walk. This took us via the cliff top village of Corniglia to Vernazza where we had booked to stay the night at La Perla Della 5 terre. The stretch between Corniglia and Vernazza was packed with people, and bus loads of tourists walking this part. Unfortunately the number of people somewhat ruined the tranquility of the walk, but it was enjoyable all the same. After relaxing on our balcony, we headed to the harbour for some drinks and dinner.

Our final days walk was a mere two and a half hours to Monterosso al Mare. The town is split into an old part and a newer part with a tunnel connecting the two. After buying a sun umbrella, we headed to the free beach of Fegina and lazed on the beach enjoying the sea, the view of the huge statue of Neptune and resting our legs. After an enjoyable day, we hopped on the train back to Massa.

The following weekend, we went on a road trip to Lake Maggiore and over the border into Switzerland to visit my Dad’s aunt and cousin. The lake sits on the south side of the Alps and is surrounded by beautiful green mountains. We had an enjoyable couple of days catching up with family, eating dinner while being serenaded by acts at the Moon and Stars festival in Locarno and strolling around the lake edge.

We had a fantastic ten day trip and managed to combine the perfect amount of travelling and activity with relaxing beach days in between. A beautiful part of the world to visit.