Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands

For Christmas we went on camping holiday for a week to the North Island of New Zealand. We didn’t get there before when we went on our honeymoon to the South Island. We flew into Auckland and picked up our little car. Our first stop was up north, in the town of Russell in the very Scenic Bay of Islands. After about half an hour is started to rain – very hard. Even Matt said he wondered if the campsite we were going to had cabins! As we got the car ferry across the bay to Russell it was still drizzling, but luckily we hit a brief dry spell when it was time to put the tent up.

Pahia

Pahia

On our first full day we booked on a 5 hour boat tour around the Bay. We started off getting the passenger ferry back across the bay and exploring the town of Pahia, which was bigger than Russell and where most people visiting the area seem to stay – we preferred our quieter spot the other side. After some lunch, and then some tea, cake and beer on the wharf, our boat trip started. The bay had hundreds of islands in it and is surrounded by green rolling hills, wich was all very scenic. We managed to see dolphins three different times which was really good, and even got some pretty good pictures of them too.

Dolphins at the Bay of Islands

Dolphins at the Bay of Islands

 

Dolphin at Bay of Islands

Dolphin at Bay of Islands

The trip went out all the way to the edge of the bay to the Hole in the Rock sea arch, and the boat even went through it because luckily the tide was right. Matt got dripped on, which according to Maori tradition is lucky. They used to paddle out to the rock and go through the hole before important events. Near the rock we spotted a seal hanging out on the rocks. On the way back we stopped at Otehei Bay on one of the islands, and went for a short walk up the hill to a lookout with excellent views all around the bay. We got to have a quick paddle in the sea too, before it was time to head on back on the boat.

Hole in the Rock, Bay of Islands

Hole in the Rock, Bay of Islands

The next day was mainly spent driving back to Auckland, and through it onto our next campsite at Rotorua. Rotorua has a high level of geothermal activity, with a lot of sulphur in the air, so it smells quite eggy. We were staying out of town up in the hills by Blue Lake, which was much less smelly. After an ice cream and Matt having a dip in the lake, we stocked up on some supplies and had a tasty BBQ dinner with some local wine.

Gandalf at Hobbiton

Gandalf at Hobbiton

After all the driving, the next day was quite action packed. In the morning we drove north west to Mata Mata, to go on a tour of Hobbiton. It’s the movie set where they filmed the scenes for Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit which were in Hobbiton, including the Green Dragon pub.  You arrive at  the visitor centre with a cafe and gift shop, and then get the bus down to the set. Tours leave very regualrly, about every 15 minutes in peak time, but the routes seem to be fairly well thought out so although you could see the other groups it didn’t seem too busy on the site.

Bilbo's Hobbit Hole

Bilbo’s Hobbit Hole

There were lots of Hobbit holes around, which were very cute. We saw Bilbo and Sam’s holes, and lots of other ones too. There were lots of props around like vegetables, pots of honey, washing, carts and little benches, as well as an allotment area. Our guide was full of lots of interesting facts about the films and the set, like how they made the fences look old with yoghurt! We got to go inside one of the holes. Sadly there is actually nothing inside – all of the inside scenes were filmed somewhere else! The farmer on the land managed to keep secret that the set was there until after the films came out which was quite impressive.

Sam's Hobbit Hole

Sam’s Hobbit Hole

We learned that the tree on top of Bilbo / Frodo’s hole is actually fake. It was moulded based ona  real old oak tree, so looks realistic, but it was thousands of artificial leaves, all made and added on with wire by hand! At the end of the trip you get to go into the Green Dragon pub for a complementary drink. It was cool inside with a fire and lots of props like cloaks hanging up, dragon carvings and old looking books.

The Green Dragon Pub

The Green Dragon Pub

After Hobbiton, we headed back towards Rotorua through the town of Tirau where we had some lunch. The town has lots of art including giant sculptures made of wrought iron. This sheep below is actually surrounding a shop, which you walk into through its mouth!

Sheep in Tarau

Sheep in Tarau

Stay tuned for the next post on the rest of our trip, featuring rafting, mud pools, geysers and caving!

Girls Night!

 

Liking: I had a girls night out with my friends Mel and Karen which was great fun. We ended up dancing till late and eating pizza at Frankie’s bar in the city which plays some cool tunes! We’ve also done a few canyons which I find amazing. I’ll write a separate post up on them.

Disliking: Builders have taken over our balcony! They are doing work on the face of the building, so have set up a swinging stage off scaffolding from our balcony. We’ve asked the landlord for a rent reduction becasue of the disruption, so fingers crossed for that!

Scaffolding on the balcony

Scaffolding on the balcony

Watching: We watched the first two Hobbit films on DVD again before seeing the third at the cinema. Now we’re working our way through the extended editions of LOTR as follow on. Each one is about 4 hours, so we’ve only got through the first one so far (in two sittings). I’ve also been getting into Silent Witness on the iPlayer.

Playing: Our latest new game is Smash Up! Its a card based deck building game where you can be Alien Dinosaurs, Zombie Pirates, Trickster Wizards or any other combination you fancy!

Reading: I’ve just read a book called The Letter by Kathryn Hughes. I paid £1 for it on a special Amazon deal. It was pretty well written compared to the free books I often read. Its about a woman in an abusive relationship who finds an old love letter in a coat at a charity shop, talking about a baby. She tracks down the people involved in the letter and the story of what happened to them all unravels in parallel with her own relationship issues.

Beetroot chocolate brownies

Beetroot chocolate brownie

Consuming: I’ve been having a healthy February, but wanted to make some cake for a girly get together, so I made ‘healthy’  (*relative to normal ones) beetroot brownies. It was quite red going in the oven, but came out nice and brown. You couldn’t taste the beetroot at all and the texture was really really moist – you need a fork to eat them! Although they were rick they were fairly light too. I shoved some Toffiee’s in the top – becasue why not?! I don’t know I’d make them again becasue its a bit of a weird thing to cook, but glad I gave it a try. The recipe is here, and I agree with the other reviewers they take longer to bake, even in our oven which zaps everything.

Seahorsey!

Seahorsey!

Buying: I bought myself a new handbag with some Christmas money. Look how seahorsey it is! 🙂

Thinking about: I’ve started my new job and its going well, so lots of new things to think about with that.

Visiting: Canyons! So far we have done Jugglers Canyon, Grand Canyon and Gobsmacker Canyon. We’ve had issues with the camera on each one (forgetting it and then breaking it), so not many pics I’m afraid.

Gobsmacker Canyon

Gobsmacker Canyon

Missing: Going out in Sydney made me miss the excellence of some of the good old Southampton night-spots, where the music is brilliant, the people are less overly self-obsessed and the vibe is totally cheesy!

Looking forward to: Coming up in March we’re going to the Melbourne Grand Prix. At the end of the month we’ve got a long weekend for Easter, so we’ll be making some plans for that too.

 

Kayaking Kangaroo Valley

Kayaking Kangaroo Valley

 

For a while we’ve been meaning to do a kayaking trip down in Kangaroo valley, and finally got around to it in November (I know, it’s taken me a fair while to get around to this post!) We went down with my old boss, his wife and kids and Penny who I know from my old work.

We headed down Friday night, and after some BBQ bacon and eggs for breakfast on Saturday headed off to get the boats. There are a lot of different trips you can do in the area, including some multi-day ones which we’re keen to try in future. Between us we had two kayaks (with two adults and a kid in each one) and Penny in the kayak.

 

The 'rapids'

The ‘rapids’

The trip we did was a short 5km one for 2-3 hours, from Hampen Bridge to Bendeela. Towards the end there was a fair bit of wind, which made it a bit tough going. It’s one of the most scenic parts, with lots of forested hills around, big water dragons hanging out on the rocks and a lot of birds of prey circling around too. There were some small rapids for a bit of adventure, and we stopped off for a swim to cool down.

Matt was mean and tried telling the kids there were crocodiles in the water, but there definitely aren’t! You can read more about the trips here. On Sunday we went to a nearby spot for some rock climbing and a picnic.

Big Water Dragon

Big Water Dragon

I like canoeing – its far more calm and relaxed than white water kayakiung! Back in June 2012 we did an overnight canoe trip on the River Wye in the UK on the Queens Golden Jubilee weekend. Here’s a flashback to that! (The weather was a bit different.)

Kayaking the Wye

Kayaking the Wye(

P.S. Today, 14th February 2015 (Valentines Day) we have been in Australia for two years. It’s flown by!

Pierces Pass

Pierces Pass

Just after Christmas we had Jane and John Short (Matts parents) to visit, which was excellent. A few days later Hannah Short arrived too, and stayed on a while after Jane and John went on to New Zealand.

We had a lot of mini-adventures together. Here’s some of the highlights. You too could do these fun things if you come and visit us! 🙂

When they arrived we had a second Christmas with a lot of exciting presents, including a number of jars of marmite, a Christmas wasjig and a flying drone with a camera on it. After an introduction to Tim Tams we went for a short walk from our place to Balls Head Reserve, with good views over the city and spotted some birds and lizards. On the way back we stopped for some lunch, and then Matt and I headed off to the supermarket for some supplies while our guests had a nap to get some decent sleep for the first time in 36 hours!  That evening we went to the revolving O Bar Restaurant for dinner with some excellent views over the city and nice food.

O Bar

O Bar

On Day 2 we took a day trip to the Hunter Valley wine region, about 90 minutes north of Sydney. We started the trip with a ‘Hunter 101’ tour at First Creek winery. It was really excellent value. For $15 each we got a personalised tour all around the winery for about an hour, learning about all the different equipment. We got to go and see the bottling area too, as there they bottle a lot of the wine for the other vineyards. Our tour also included a cheese platter with our tasting which was massive, and had some very tasty cheeses. I bought some wine, and with the tour we got $10 each off some wine, so the whole personal tour and the cheese cost just $5 each! Matt picked up some UK beers, we visited the Smelly Cheese Shop for lunch and went back there later for some delicious ice creams. We visited quite a few different wineries and took the scenic route home through some nice countryside (no kangaroos though).

First Creek Winery

First Creek Winery

The next day Hannah arrived in the morning. After picking her up we went on a ferry ride across the harbour to Watsons Bay, and had a nice lunch by the sea. My fish platter was massive and yummy. Because of the time of year it was the busiest we had ever seen it, so we got a fairly early ferry back (after standing in a very big queue!) Back in the city we walked around the Opera House and stopped for a nice refreshing cold drink in the Opera Bar, overlooking the bridge and Opera House.

Opera Bar

Opera Bar

We popped back home, collected some things and then went out for the evening to have a picnic and wine at the Outdoor Cinema, watching the preview of The Imitation Game. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan During during WW2, trying to crack the Enigma machine. We went posh for the Gold Grass tickets in a prime spot and with bean bags. I totally thought this was worth it! There were lots of bats flying around like last year which was cool, and they even made it into the movie a few times!

Fruit bat

Fruit bat

The next day was New Years Eve. In the morning we headed up to Ku-Ring-Gai National Park and saw kangaroos and a lyre bird at the nature reserve area. We also walked around the mangroves and saw lots of small mud crabs, including orange ones, green ones and purple ones. We had a yummy lunch down by the marina, including a massive box of massive prawns, and made a few souvenir purchases in the gift shop.

It was New Years Eve that day, so we headed home and went out to Garden Island where Matt works for an excellent view of the fireworks over the harbour. There’s more about that in another post, here.

After a late night we had a bit of a lie in the next day, and a lazy morning with some bacon and egg sandwiches cooked on the barbie. We took a drive up to Palm Beach and Barrenjoey in the afternoon, but it was so busy we couldn’t park and annoyingly had to drive all the way back home again, via a quick supermarket pit-stop. Back at the flat we had a BBQ including some camel burgers (not that exciting), played board games and ate some awesome pavlova that Jane made.

Outdoor cinema

Outdoor cinema

The following day we went on another day trip, this time to the Blue Mountains. We have a bit of a tour route going on there now, which is getting gradually refined. On MKII of the trip we started with morning coffee at a lively cafe in Bilpin, and then headed to Pierces Pass for a walk of about an hour, with amazing views down the valley. We tried to take the loop track back, but it turns out it doesn’t go (or we didn’t find it), so that bit won’t make it into MKIII of the tour! Next up we drove via Harley Vale, which was very scenic, to Govetts Leap lookout over Bridal Veil Falls. From there we headed into Katoomba via Cliff Drive and a few more lookouts, including over a lot of areas damaged by recent bush-fires which was sad. We had some lunch in Katoomba (including kangaroo burgers), and visited the Hattery where John got a genuine kangaroo leather bush hat. After Katoomba we headed for the mandatory stop at Echo Point with all the coach trippers, looking out over the Three Sisters, and visited the gift shop where I found some more Aussie Christmas decorations for my collection. From there we went to the lookout at Sublime Point, which I’d not been too before, which was much quieter. Then for the final stop in an action packed tour we headed to Wentworth Falls for another short walk to the falls, and saw another lyre bid as well as a crimson rosella. 

The next day Jane and John had to leave for New Zealand in the morning. In the afternoon we went for a snorkel at La Perouse (Bare Island), where they filmed Mission Impossible. It was also very busy, and I discovered my snorkel mask strap had snapped – grr!  Its meant to be one of the best spots in Sydney but we didn’t managed to see very much and the water was surprisingly chilly – I think it was even colder than about 6 week previously.

On Sunday we finally finished the wasjig! Then Hannah and I went into the city and looked around the Rocks Market, the Rocks Discovery Museum and Darling Harbour, including the yummy Guilyian chocolate cafe. We passed the evening playing some more board games (Smallworld and Muchkin) and eating kangaroo meatballs.

 

Completed wasjig

Completed wasjig

On Monday evening we checked out the new burger place in the city, the Burger Project for dinner. Their burgers were pretty good, with a nice sauce on them. I was slightly disappointed becasue on some reviews it said the chips came with vinegar and they didn’t – boo! I think for me Grill’d is still better because it has more burger choice, but if you want shakes and ice cream after your burger than the Burger Projects the place to go. From there we headed over to Kings Cross to try the new Messina Dessert Bar. Its next to the ice cream shop and you can create your own sundaes and cones with lots of toppings and sauces. It was pretty exciting, so i’ll do a separate post on that.

Macaroons!

Macaroons!

On Tuesday Hannah made me a yummy risotto dinner and we had a move night with the film Divergent, which was really good.  The next day I wasn’t working so we headed up to Chatswood to do some shopping and run some errands, rewarding ourselves with some yummy dumplings and food from Din Thai Fung. When we got back we made some salted caramel macaroons from the Adriano Zumbo packet, which turned out pretty well for a first attempt. Once it got dark we went down the Blues Point to check out the cool view and play around with some photos using my tripiod and flash. After all the activity we were pretty tired so had to chill out in the hot tub before bed!

We have Lizzie Short visiting in April, so will get some fun stuff lined up ready for that!

 

Blues Point

Blues Point