A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Bleaklinson

Bangkok

sunny 30 °C

Lets get this straight even before I begin; I'm an outdoorsy person, I enjoy my own space to explore beautiful, pristine nature... I also loved Bangkok.

I don't know if anyone experiences love at first sight with Bangkok. Bangkok is polluted; the smog and litter are flagrant. The canals are dirty, smelly, and barely resemble water. You walk down a street and be overwhelmed by the aroma of a streetcart barbeque, and then only a few steps later can be overcome by the stench of ... well, wherever the stench comes from. But don't let this turn you off. Think about why you wanted to go to Bangkok in the first place.

It took me a couple of days to get into the chaotic flow. In fact, after about 24 hours in the city, I had that desperate "I need to get out of here!" feeling, and contemplated a flight north to Chiang Mai/ Rai. As I sat down with my ''Bangkok must-do'' (which included a few day trips out of the city), I made a decision to get into the Bangkok frame of mind.

We stayed at the Dream Hotel. It is a conveniently located hotel (a short walk from Suhkumvit on the MRT or Asok on the BTS skytrain) at a decent price (which included a fantastic breakfast buffet). Between our hotel and Suhkumvit Road, was the (hurt so good!) Smile Massage, and George's Custom Tailoring, where we had some impeccable clothing made... not quite as much of a bargain as the ''Front Man'' (Dave) initially had us believe, but excellent value. Befriending Dave became my locals benefit, with restaurant suggestions, directions, and a taxi hookup.

Dave gave us a recommendation for a great meal at a reasonable price; a good cause, and a bit of a laugh. Cabbages and Condoms pda.or.th is worth the short walk down a dark(ish) Bangkok street. Make no mistake, this is a lovely restaurant; the patio area (with lush greenery and soft lighting) was booked out, but we were happy to have a table inside. The meal was incredible. We shared delectable Thai dishes with plenty to spare, which they were happy to pack up. (Suhkhumvit has a number of needy young families on the pedestrian overpasses that appreciate any form of charity).

I was pleased to find the Bangkok Thai Cooking Academy http://bangkokthaicookingacademy.com near our hotel. I took in one afternoon session which started with a brief stop at the markets, and finished with four very tasty dishes... and a tired arm from hand grinding our own red curry paste. The good news is I have been able to find (some form of) all of the ingredients in our local supermarket to make it at home.

All of the food in Bangkok was amazing. From restaurants, to shopping mall food courts, to street food, we did not have a disappointing dish. We did, however, have some rather unique dishes on Bangkok Food Tour's http://bangkokfoodtours.com/ lunch walking tour of Historic Bangrak. We had a few nibbles of street food before hitting the gong outside a beautiful temple. Then we embarked on five different family owned restaurants; some had been operational for nearly 100 years over 3 generations. There were Thai fusion Chinese (where we tasted liver stuffed pigs feet) and Muslim (where we had the chance to try cow brain) restaurants, a short boat ride across to an odd little Thai restaurant, a beautiful bakery, and a lovely restaurant at the end that I was too full to really appreciate. Do yourself a favour and don't eat breakfast if you are planning to take this tour.

Our food tour finished near the Skybar, which prompted the discussion about rooftop bars in Bangkok. The Skybar is thriving off it's notoriety gained in The Hangover 2, but there are plenty of others that are more reasonably priced, and that don't have such a strict dress code. The Sofitel on Suhkumvit had tasty complementary nuts and 2-for-1 drinks (... per person. I'll save you the embarrassment of asking for the bill after the first round). We had a fantastic dinner and drinks with a couple from London that we'd met on the food tour. They suggested The Nest, a cozy, loungy rooftop bar in our neighbourhood. We finished the night with drinks (and more drinks!) at the irresistible Mobile Bars on Soi 11. Picture a small street with converted VW kombi vans parked on either side. Each van has its own bumpin stereo, party lights, folding tables and chairs behind each van. The vans have articulated roofs to allow for a bar tender to stand in the van along with supplies to create more cocktails than you can even contemplate trying.

We really enjoyed the Bangkok city tour we organized with Tour with Tong. Our guide, Sam, met us at our hotel at 8am and we used public transit to visit the Grand Palace, and various temples (Wat Arun being our favourite) to see many beautiful Buddhas (including the infamous Golden Buddha, the Reclining Buddha and the Emerald Buddha). Sam was very knowledgeable and provided interesting historical facts, and insight into Buddhism. The tour was very reasonably priced (~$50 for an 8 hour tour), and individually catered. He took us on the metro, the local bus, and a few boats... and gave us the confidence to do the same on our own during the remainder of our stay. Some of our favourite memories of Bangkok include travelling alone on a crowded local bus, and hopping on the back of a motorbike taxi.

To travel to Ayuttaya, the cheapest and fastest route I heard of was to take the metro to Victory Monument and get on the minibus. As usual, the local workers were happy to help. Even though I was mispronouncing it Aiya-taya (they say Aaay-uu-tayy-ya) they lady at the ticket window not only knew where I wanted to go, but showed me where I could sit near a fan as I waited for enough passengers to fill the bus; when it got close to full, she came to get me and walked me to the minibus (there is no real schedule, the buses leave when they are full). It took nearly 2 hours to get to Ayuttaya which was likely due to the traffic in Bangkok, but we also did drop off a few locals at another town. At the minibus stop, there are tuk-tuk drivers ready to take you around, and will barter the price based on how long of a tour you want. Because it had taken so long to get out to the ancient city, and I was a bit pressed for time to get back to Bangkok, I booked the driver for a quick 3 hour tour. For me, it was enough to see all of the large ruins and temples; I did not linger, so 5-6 hours would probably be a more reasonable estimate for a small group or for those who like to take a bit more time.

When looking into a day trip to Kanchanaburi, we found tour companies to be quite expensive. So, we chose to book a taxi driver for the day at a pre-negotiated price (2000baht +tip). Dave (from the tailor) suggested a driver who had an propane car, so his price was better than other taxis could offer. He picked us up at 8am and took us west out to the Damnernsaduak floating market (and helped us barter a better price for the canal tour - they wanted 2000baht each, but we paid 3000baht total), a stop at an elephant refuge (we chose to feed the elephants and carry on, rather than wait to ride one), then a long drive to Kanchanaburi province to the Tiger Temple and the Bridge over River Kwai. The Tiger Temple proved to be a bit of a frustrating experience with somewhat of a confusing queue system. In hindsight, we would have paid the additional 1000baht to get into the express group photo line, rather than wait for nearly an hour to get the individual complementary photos (included in the 600baht per person entry fee). But, having photos with these massive, beautiful animals (a guide walks you through and takes photos for you with your own camera) was one of the days highlights. The Bridge over River Kwai was very busy, and somewhat took away from the solemn, reflective experience. If I had to do it over, I would have taken more time in Kanchanaburi, and had an overnight stay somewhere along the river. It was a massive (nearly 12 hour) day. Before our driver dropped us off at the end of it, he admitted that he'd never really been up to the Tiger Temple before, and didn't realize how far it was-- I guess he so pleased to have steady work for the day, that he agreed to the price that Dave suggested.

I believe in helping to stimulate the economy through the art of shopping. I would recommend under-packing and leaving space (and weight) in your luggage for the way home. The clothing that we had made from George Custom Tailors was fantastic value. We found some good deals at Terminal 21, The Mall Shopping Centre at Bangkapi, and MBK Mall (we were also lucky to visit the MBK on the evening that they have Muay Thai Boxing for free outside the shopping centre; the best view was on the catwalk to the metro); but not all shops have good deals, so be sure to do the conversion (¬30:1 when we were there).

My favourite is market shopping; and there is plenty of that in Bangkok. Each evening, there are market stalls on Suhkumvit Road; there were often small markets outside small shopping centres; and the biggest (and my favourite) was the weekend Chatuchak (J.J) market. I visited the J.J market on two consecutive weekends. The first time, I entered without knowing what I was getting in to. I weaved through the stalls; in and out of covered aread, basically going wherever the energy pulled me. I found an area with unique art, beautiful silk scarves and jewelry and then wandered in to lot of knock-off clothing, sunglasses, watches, and the like. I wandered until I got too hot, tired, and lost to continue. The next weekend, I stayed on the far left of the market, walking along the outside corridor until it turned to the right... I only mention this because that is where I struck market gold. This is where I found very unique jewelry and clothing; this is where the cool kids would hang out.

My favourite day was the Khao San Road day. After breakfast, and a quick consult with (tailor) Dave, I became the only Caucasian on a 8baht bus; sharing glances and smiles with locals. The bus attendant alerted me when to get off, which was sooner than I expected due to anti-government protests. I have trouble even calling what I saw protesting; they were calmly sitting and watching a speech, I did not feel threatened at all. (I had been among the political demonstrations earlier in the trip; they were not as calm - many of the demonstrators had whistles, and weren't afraid to use them!) After a short walk, I found Khoa San Road. The market shopping is slightly more expensive, but more trendy and better quality items can be found here. This is the backpacker district. I had time to kill before an appointment at Max Tattoo, and made some great buys. I have the most success bartering when I buy a couple things at once... you can see why I need a lot of extra space in my luggage. I then got the only souvenir that is guaranteed never to get lost or wear out, a beautiful tattoo. Max tattoo is highly regarded; and came recommended to me by a friend. They were clean, professional, prompt, and friendly - despite speaking very little English.

There's a natural endorphen buzz that comes from a tattoo, so perhaps that is what made that day the forerunner... there were many great days. And, really, no days that could be described similarly to the stench that I couldn't help but focus on in the beginning.

Posted by Bleaklinson 17:35 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok grand_palace tiger_temple cooking_school ayuttaya bangkok_food_tour kunchanaburi Comments (0)

Bushfires

I sit in my kitchen, and the hint of smoke drifts into the house. It is 9pm, and still well over 20degrees. The winds that gusted over 80km/hr today have subsided, with only the occasional reprieve of cool breeze – bringing the eerie smoke scent with it.

With 95 fires currently burning in NSW, and 34 listed as out of control, the fire service has called it the worst conditions in over a decade. They also said that if they lost only 100 homes in the state today, that it would be a victory. It is a very humbling and sobering experience.

There is currently one very large, and out of control fire near us. It caused evacuation and closure of the Newcastle airport, and airforce base, before changing direction and resulting in multiple road closers, and home evacuations. Many of our friends are unable to get home as most of the roads into the bay are currently closed. We are safe, and at least 20km from the fire at the moment.

On Sunday, there were two fires that were within 10km on either side of us, but we were not threatened at all. It was hot, with a very dry wind; we planned to go for a run and swim at a beach to get out of the house, and make the best of the day. We were on our way to Fingal Bay when we heard there was a fire in the bushland at Fingal, but that the beach was still open and everything was under control, so we continued on. We ran around the bay to the spit, where we looked back at the fire just over a ridge, near some homes in the village. We went for a brief swim, but soon left the area because the smoke was so dark, and things looked quite scary, and we didn’t need to be there. On our drive back, we saw smoke coming from further east; which we later learned to be a fire that would destroy 5 homes in Salt Ash. Some of our friends and co-workers were evacuated, with fire right up to their fence lines, but the fire at Fingal Bay did not result in any lost property.

Australia has a bush fire season, fires happen every year. And so, there are some particular efficiencies that I have noticed. The NSW Fire Brigade is the world’s largest fire service and has an astounding amount of volunteers. If a volunteer is unable to make it to work due to their efforts fighting a fire, the government compensates their wages to the company they work for. Anyone with a mobile phone (with location services switched on) receives a text message if they are within fire danger.

Aside from the horrific loss of property, and the threats to human life, there is devastating loss of animal life; particularly the native wild animals. Koala’s move very slowly, and live in the trees that are potentially alight. On Saturday, a few friends and I are going to receive orientation with the Hunter Koala Preservation Society to start volunteering with them. Part of what we may be doing, down the road, is walking through areas that have been burnt and locating injured animals that were not initially seen by the fire fighters.

On a bit of a lighter note; after a 30km bike ride out to survey the damage at Fingal Bay after a short day of work on Monday, I came home and did some gardening – transplanting and fertilizing some plants. I did some maintenance on my bicycle, and then sat in the back yard, enjoying the last bit of sunshine, and basking in the accomplishments of the day. I was suddenly brought back to reality by the stench of my grease and fertilizer on my hands that were sitting on my mouth, just beneath my nose... Oh well, can’t win ‘em all!

Posted by Bleaklinson 04:10 Archived in Australia Tagged bushfire Comments (0)

State of Origin, South Coast, Canberra

We had to make a weekday trip to Sydney in early June, so we decided to make an extra long weekend out of it, and take our first road trip down the south coast of NSW.

We started in Sydney, for game 1 of the epic State of Origin (a yearly rugby league battle between allstars from New South Wales and Queensland) series at ANZ. It was an amazing night, with the NSW Blues capitalizing in front of 80,380 screaming fans. I've commented about this before, but there is an infectious energy at Australian sporting events; and being among a crowd that huge was amazing.

From Sydney, we drove south through Botany Bay, stopping at the site where Captain Cook first arrived in Australia in 1770. Today, the view from Kamay Botany Bay National Park is an industry lined shore with huge tankers coming and going... not the most picturesque spot, but still worth a look. We carried on to Cronulla, and watched a few surfers making the most of a Friday on one of the many beaches near the CBD. There is a nice new tourist information site on the highway outside of Woolongong. We got a few brochures, advice, and a nice view over "the Gong". We stopped in at Woolongong Lighthouse, as the winter wind and the swell gave us wild seas to look at. The next time we travel to the south coast, we'll take Grand Pacific Drive to drive the iconic Sea Cliff Bridge between Coalcliff and Clifton (http://seacliffbridge.com/).

We camped at the Surf Beach Holiday Park in Kiama. It has a really nice kitchen with a small lounge area, which was nice because it was a bit of a drizzly winter day, so it was dark shortly after 5pm. Kiama itself is a quaint, old town with the typically gorgeous east coast beach views and laid back vibe. The Kiama Blowhole somehow slipped by our radar, so I guess that goes on the next time list.

We got to Huskisson early, and decided to take advantage of some better weather, set up camp early and got in some beach time. It's a very long beach all around Jervis Bay, so it's perfect for a long run or a stroll with a camera. The next day, we headed south toward Jervis Bay Nature Reserve, but we had to make a stop at Hyams Beach, and check their claim of having the whitest sand... I gotta say, it was pretty white. And squeeky. The Bay was very quiet, and had beautiful water; we will have to make another trip back with our stand up paddleboards, and some snorkel gear.

We drove inland, and noticed the cooler change as we approached Canberra. We found a good hotel deal, and with projected overnight lows of -2C, thought we had better get on that. Canberra is a very liveable city; well laid out, clean, classy. There are a lot of free activities, museums etc. We visited the Parliament building, which, from the top has a beautiful view down to the Australian War Memorial. The War Memorial has a fantastic museum, where you could spend as long as you wanted, I'm sure there is days of information in there. The man made Lake Burley Griffith has lovely parkland, with a lot of birds, and it was nice to see autumn leaved trees. The Old Bus Depot Market is a large, indoor market with good variety of produce, flowers, handmade foods, art and crafts. We stopped at a couple pubs; many of the pub kitchens close by 9pm, but there is a good selection for late night eats in the CBD. Mount Stromlo has good mountain biking, and we were told the Kowen Forest is developed as well. We'll have to check that out next time, as well as the National Arborteum; a forest that was burned down was later replanted with an abundance of tree species, as a bit of a tree museum, if you will.

On our way back home, we stopped in the Kangaroo Valley at Fitzroy Falls, and then make the short walk in to Twin Falls. It reminded us a lot of the Megalong Valley in the Blue Mountains; a deep cut valley filled with gum trees and nice waterfalls. It's great to have such variety in landscape without having to travel very far; and the south coast did live up to its reputation as being very beautiful, rugged and rough.

Posted by Bleaklinson 23:02 Archived in Australia Tagged canberra kiama south_coast cronulla kangaroo_valley botany_bay woolongong huskisson Comments (0)

New Zealand - South Island

sunny

As luck, (or my mother's fabulous weather-witching skills) would have it, we enjoyed an unexpectedly warm and dry trip through the South Island of New Zealand in late Feb - early March. As we were accompanying my parents on the trip, we decided it would be the best option to hire a motorhome and two bicycles, and brought a small tent for my husband and I. We enlightened my parents on our ways of cramming as much into a vacation as possible. In two weeks we saw all four corners of this lush, sheep filled island, and travelled more than 3300Kms.

Just a quick note for anyone considering camping and hiking in NZ. If you bring any of your own gear, just declare it. They put all the luggage through a scanner, and will see it anyway. They just want to ensure it is clean; free from dirt or other possible contaminants. Fortunately for us, we got off without even a stern word (no surprise that kiwis were listed among the most friendly towards tourists in a recent study). To get a list of cheap and free campsites, pick up a Department of Conservation (DOC) camp brochure. The DOC campgrounds generally have very basic services, but are comfortable and rustic. We tried to stay at DOC sites as often as possible, as most of the private grounds are quite expensive.

Our trip started in Christchurch. As fate would have it, we arrived on the 2nd anniversary of the earthquake. Most of the city is still rebuilding, and seeing the memorial services being set up, and flowers thoughtfully placed in road works pylons made it really hit home. We picked up the motorhome, bikes, a few groceries, and then headed east to the Banks Peninsula. As we had arrived on an early flight, we only made a few stops on the way to the campsite in Akaroa. We spent the rest of the day near the lake; the maiden voyage for the hire bikes was a success, we found a fun, rolly trail to the lighthouse.

The next day we drove to Aoraki National Park. We spent about a half hour at Lake Tekapo, and absolute must if you're in the area. The colour of the water is indescribable, and photos barely do it justice. The old church beside the lake is very cute and finishes the postcard. We absolutely lucked out, and had a perfectly clear day to see Mt Cook as we drove towards it. We stayed at White Horse Hill Campground, which is a comfortable, but basic campground at the foot of Mt Sefton. There's quite a few walking and bike friendly paths to get a better view of Mt Cook, and a number of people were hiking up to Mueller Hut, which we had to put on our "next time" list.

We drove south along the coast to Dunedin, stopping at Moreaki to see (and stand on) the massive boulders that sit along the ocean's edge... pretty cool. We spent one night camping at Dunedin Holiday park, which was just a short bike ride from an amazing view of some wild, windy seas. Dunedin itself has an interesting vibe, with a lot of beautiful historical buildings. The next morning, we drove out onto the Otago Peninsula, and stopped in to walk to beautiful gardens of the Lanarch Castle.

We then had an amazing couple of days in the Catlins. We started off at Nugget Point, south of Balclutha. It's a short and picturesque walk to the lighthouse and lookout, and a few fur seals to look at on the way by. After that, we had a nice hike to see Jack's Blowhole, but despite arriving at high tide, the water did not "blow", so it was somewhat anticlimactic. We drove on to Curio Bay, where we got an amazing camp site at overlooking the ocean. After dinner, we watched yellow-eyed penguins make their timid return to the beach near the petrified forest. The next morning, we had a gorgeous bike ride on the hard packed sand along the bay, and were lucky enough to see a pod of Hector's dolphins playing in the waves. We had wanted to walk on the ocean floor at Cathedral Caves, but had to miss out due to the tide schedule (it's only accessible at low tide).

We made a few quick stops in Invercargill; their tourist information was very helpful and conveniently located. They provided a recommendation for a local fish market where we got some nice fillets and local mussels (which, as it turned out have a taste most of us had not yet acquired). We drove on to Te Anau, where we stayed 2 nights at the Top10 Holiday Park. It is near the lake, near the pick-up spot for the Milford Sound tours, and they had nice (but busy) amenities kitchen. The town of Te Anau is quaint, but because it's main industry is tourism, it has anything you may need. We had a private jetboat tour of the Waiau River to Lake Manapouri; the driver pointing out set locations from The Lord of the Rings series, as well as trout fish swimming in the clear waters.

We found a good deal for a tour to Milford Sound online through "Naked Bus". Imagine the embarrassment I felt asking bus drivers and other tourists if they were on the "Naked Bus" as we searched for the bus, which we later found out was running late... When it arrived, about 40 minutes behind schedule, it said nothing about "naked", so I was glad to have asked the cashier at Kiwi Country what to watch for. The bus driver/ tour guide was a fantastic resource of knowledge and shared interesting facts about the local history, geography, and nature. We stopped a few times along the way; at a crystal clear stream and collected drinking water, and at Mirror Lake, which held true to its name. At Milford Sound we got onto a boat to cruise through the fjords; absolutely stunning. The waterfalls were plentiful, and we saw young seals sunning themselves on a rock.

We stopped at Arrowtown, but decided to drive on the Queenstown, where we set up camp for a few nights at the Top10, which we chose more for location than for facilities. Queenstown is an adventure mecca. With the buzz around town, and tourism shops on every corner, you can't help but to get the itch to want to do something crazy... we thought better of it. My parents enjoyed the luge ride, and dinner at Haka at the top of the local mountain, Bob's Peak. They had another jetboat ride, and said that one was quite a bit more wild. We were deterred by the cost of a lot of things, including the mountain bike park and hire. We rode our cheapy hard-tails up the peak, took in the fabulous view of the Remarkables. We rode down on a fun, cruisy green run and headed into town, straight to Fergburger (for possibly the 3rd time in 2 days). What's Fergburger?... quite probably the cheapest and best eats you'll find in Queenstown, lined up day and night, but totally worth it. We enjoyed a bit of pub and club culture in this vibrant mountain town; we were reminded of many of our favourites back in Canada, and wished we could have stayed.

We went for a long bike ride out of Queenstown, along a beautiful riverside trail, and over a long suspension bridge, and met my parents at the Kawarau Bridge, home of the first bungy. We got to see quite a few people jump, it was a good way to kill an hour or so. We jumped in for a cold dip at Lake Wanaka. We carried on, stopping at beautiful Ship-Creek, which was unfortunately laden in pesky sand flies... and so our battle with the sand flies began. Because they were so bad, particularly at dusk, we decided to drive until after dark, stopping for the night at Fox Glacier. We saw two Kea's at the campground, a beautiful brown mountain parrot, who are known to be scroungers.

The next day we visited both Fox and Franz Joseph Glacier. From the campsite, we rode our bikes through lovely lush rainforest, with Fox Glacier in the background. There is a well established trail, that leads you, unguided, right to the parking lot at the base of the glacier. There's a few waterfalls high up in the mountains, and quite a lovely view. Franz Joseph is quite a bit larger, and there are plenty of walking trails. We decided not to walk towards the glacier, but viewed it from the elevated lookout.

Driving the west coast was another highlight for us. We made many stops along the way to photograph and marvel in the beauty of the black sand, and rugged coastline, with many rock formations standing tall in the beautiful blue water. We stayed at Punakaiki Beach Camp, we splurged for a cheap cabin, rather than chancing a tent with all the sand flies. We sat on black rocks, watching the sun set over the wild, large swell of the ocean; and then walked to a rustic pub for a few pints and nice dinner.

Don't let the name of "The Pancake Rocks" deter you; Punikaiki's amazing rock formations are not to be missed! The rocky coastline has slowly worn away over time, leaving a distinct and stunning layered effect. It takes less than an hour to walk through the paths to views you will never forget. We travelled a windy stretch of highway (including a near miss on a one-way bridge) to meet Bruce from Wild Rivers Rafting to raft the Upper Buller River. It was a fantastic trip, a private tour from a guide who knows the river inside and out. Being the late summer, and in a dry stretch, the river was fun, but not raging. After a brief review and trial of some different strokes, Bruce let us try some pretty neat things, like sitting in an eddy before paddling upstream and dunking the front of the boat. We also had the opportunity to do a couple cliff jumps, the highest being 8m.

We made it up to Cape Farewell, via Takaka Hill, possibly the windiest stretch of road imaginable. (http://dangerousroads.org/australia/1085-takaka-hill-new-zealand.html). We stayed at Wharariki Beach, and after setting up camp we rode the bikes to the northernmost point of the south island. We continued on the Cape Farewell track to overlook Farewell Spit; through rolling farm land, amongst cattle and sheep (and their excrement... the tires were fairly ill after that). From the campground, there is a short, easy walk to beautiful Wharariki Beach and it's infamous formations on the oceans edge. My mom had made plans to ride horseback on the spit the next day, but the weather was poor, and she had been suffering from motion sickness on the road, so they managed to get onto a reasonably priced flight back to Nelson, where we picked them up at one of the many wineries in the region.

We drove south through the Marlborough region and stayed at a DOC campsite at Rarangi Bay, north of Blenheim. It's located near a beautiful, black pebble beach on Cloudy Bay. From some of the walking trails you can see the southern tip of the north island. The next day, we drove south to Kiakoura, stopping at the peninsula to look at a the seals. From Kiakoura, we drove inland to Hanmer Springs, where we would spend the last two nights of our trip.

Hanmer Springs is establishing a nice network of single track mountain bike trails; and then of course the hotsprings are a perfect remedy to any post-ride stiffness. There are some nice restaurants in the area, my parents enjoyed dinner at No. 31; and we sampled some fantastic ciders at Monteiths Brewery Bar while we watched Super Rugby on the big screen.

The next day, it was an easy ~2 hour drive back to Christchurch airport, and the amazing trip was over. We were left with a few thousand pictures and many fantastic memories of this once in a lifetime holiday. Huge thanks to my dad for driving most of the way (at his request!), to my mom for parting the clouds (on more than one occasion) and them both for quickly helping us to take in all the wonders of the south island... and of course to New Zealand and kiwis alike for happily sharing and encouraging us along the way.

Posted by Bleaklinson 01:07 Archived in New Zealand Tagged camping south_island caravan mountain_biking motohome Comments (0)

Sydney New Years Eve

About a year ago (6 months in advance) we started planning our 2013 New Years Eve. We had plans to meet up with a couple fellow ex-pat Canucks, and some good friends were coming from Canada. So, we decided to do it big, and buy tickets to an event in the Sydney Harbour. Sydney is one of the first major cities in the world to ring in the new year, with the fireworks display being shown around the world; and we wanted to be a part of it.

However, trying to decide what event to attend was not an easy task, with many parties on either side of the harbour, as well as on the water, to chose from. After much deliberation, we decided to buy tickets to the "Opera Bar", one of the events taking place on the concourse of the Opera House. We came to this decision because of the location, price, and a few videos posted on youtube that looked promising.

When it comes to NYE in Sydney, the sky seems to be the limit on price; not only for event tickets, but also for accomodation. As there was a small group of us, we decided to stay at the Sydney University Village; the dorms become available over summer, and it was a great space for our group. I secured a 5 bedroom suite with small kitchen, which allowed us all to stay together, and make a few small meals to assist in the cost of the trip (just be sure to check the room for cooking supplies before you decide what you'll be making... we didn't, but managed to be creative with the small pots and single pan).

The afternoon before NYE, we stopped in at the iconic Australia Hotel, before enjoying a Tall Ship Cruise (www.sydneytallships.com.au). The cruise was an amazing way to see the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, as well as many of the inlets and coves in the bay. The service was excellent; we sat near the back with the captain, who took time to tell us a bit of history of the boat and point out areas of interest. There was also a musician who was near the front of the boat that was very good. The food and beverage services were also top notch. I would recommend it to anyone travelling to Sydney, at any time of year.

New Years Eve day we made a big brunch and then started to get primed and ready for the big event. We arrived in droves to a well-managed, but somewhat chaotic CBD. Only event-ticket holders could get into the harbour area, so have your tickets ready as you get close, because you'll have to flash them to the security guards along the way.

The doors opened at 6pm, and we arrived shortly thereafter; but still too late to secure a table, so we had to stand and hold our beverages all night. As we expected, the drinks were rather costly, but we saved a bit by buying in bulk (jugs) and sharing amongst the group. The dinner was an array of tasty canapes that were brought out on trays by staff, who were attacked by hords of famished party-goers every time they entered the crowd.

The first set of fireworks started at 9pm, and the crowd thinned out somewhat before the grand display at midnight. The only criticism we had with our chosen location is that we were actually too close to the fireworks to be able to take it all in at once. We were on the bridge side of the opera house, so we could see the fireworks off the bridge perfectly, but couldn't see much of anything else at the same time. The fireworks shot off near the opera house were on the opposite side of us, so we could only see the ones that shot high enough to go above the opera house. There were also some fireworks shot off nearby buildings in the CBD, but again, we could only partially see them, and if we were looking for them, we'd miss what was happening on the harbour bridge.

If we chose to do another Sydney New Years Eve, and had the opportunity to be on a boat, I think being on the water would give the best vantage point for the fireworks. We chose not to do that this time because the cost of being on a charter boat was about double what we paid at the Opera Bar. The most cost-effective option (especially good for families) is having a picnic at one of the free parks throughout Sydney, but the space is limited, and we did not want to have to sit at an (alcohol free) park all day waiting for the big event.

Don't get me wrong, it was an fantastic time, mostly because of an amazing group of friends, and a few fun Adelaideans we met there. Being that close to the meyhem and hype was absolutely an experience I will not forget; but at the same time it's not something I feel I need to repeat.

Posted by Bleaklinson 16:05 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney new_years_eve Comments (0)

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