Rafting the Kaituna

Rafting the Kaituna

After our trip to Hobbiton, in New Zealand, in the afternoon we went rafting on the Kaituna (Okere) river. It has the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world on it, with a 7m drop. The rafting lastest about an hour, with several waterfalls and a lot of rapids.The raft was very bouncy and floaty. Our raft did some crazy flip spin thing going down the waterfall, so the guide and I both managed to fall out and have a swim in the water becasue we were on the same side! It made me feel better that he fell out too! We bought the photos of the trip which came on a raft shaped memory stick with Matt particularly appreciated.

Rafting the Kaituna

Rafting the Kaituna

After a busy day, we headed into Rotorua and found some dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant. They were very friendly, the food was yummy and they had entertaining place mats – Matt’s had a flow chart on it for working out what type of pasta your pasta was!

The next day (Christmas Eve) we headed to Te Puia. This is a geothermal area with bubbling mud pools and geysers, as well as a lot of Maori culture including carved houses and giant canoes. We booked tickets to the cultural show in thee big carved meeting house. Before it started we gathered at the meeting point and were greeted by our Maori guide. She explained we weren’t allowed in until the Maori people had determined if we were friendly or not. We nominated a leader for our group, and the Maori warrior ran at him with a giant spear. He performed the Hakka and made him an offering. Our leader accepted it, they rubbed noses in the traditional way and we were allowed in. The performance was really good with a lot of traditional signing, dancing and ball spinning. The men performed the Hakka and explained about it and then had a lot of the men from the audience join them on stage to do it together.

 

The Hakka

The Hakka

After the show we joined a guided tour of the park to learn a bit more about it. We saw the Prince of Wales geyser erupting and lots of bubbling mud pools, steamy areas and craters from old geysers too. The whole place was pretty smelly of eggs which reminded me of parts of Iceland. We saw a kiwi bird in the kiwi house too and had the biggest cheese scone i’ve ever seen for elevenses!

Te Puia geysers

Te Puia geysers

 

We had a talk on weaving as part of the tour. At Te Puia they also have a state sponsored Maori weaving school and a carving school to make sure these traditions continue with the younger generations.

Modern Maori carving

Modern Maori carving

After Te Puia we drove down to Lake Taupo. We found out about an attraction called the Prawn Park – a prawn based theme park! You can go fishing for prawns, go on a prawn themed ride and play prawn golf. We really wanted to go, mainly becasue it sounded so cheese but unfortunately we got there late and it was closed the next day for Christmas. Instead in the evening we walked from near our campsite up to Huka falls. Huka means foam in Maori. Its a very impressive falls with 220,000 litres of water a second going over the falls. Most of the falls is quite a shallow gradient down a 15m wide slot in the rocks, with the actual main drop only about 12m.

Haka falls

Huka falls

The next day was Christmas Day. We started off with a walk around Aratiatia rapids. The rapiuds are next to a dam, and about 3 or 4 times a day they release the dam which makes the rapids fill up from hardly any water to massive rapids over anout 15 minutes. We watched the dam release, and the water level actuially went up a fait bit slower than I expected. It was cool to see. They filmed the barrell scenes from the Hobbit 2 here, where the dwarves and Bilbo escape from the Elves in barrels down the river. I guess they could contorl the dam release how they wanted for that which made it safer for filming.

Rapids

Aratiatia Rapids

From there we drove over to Wiatomo, via the Tongariro National Park. Its where Mt Ngauruhoe is, which was Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately it was quite a cloudy day, so we couldn’t get a good view of the mountain. We did go on another short walk to a nice waterfall with a plunge pool though, and drove up into the ski fields where we found some actual Chrismtas snow!

NZ17

Christmas snow

 

Carrying on the drive we went past this T-Rex made of driftwood, and a giant sculpture of a man shearing a sheep in Hangatiki, the sheep shearing capital of the world!

Driftwood T-Rex

Driftwood T-Rex

Stay tunes for next week’s post on our Christmas evening in Waitomo and Boxing Day caving adventures!

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!

Giraffes pulling silly faces

Giraffes pulling silly faces

I’ve been working up in Brisbane a lot recently, and at the start of August got to spend a weekend there. Rather than hang around the city, I decided to go for a mini adventure up the Sunshine Coast.

I hired a car from the pace conveniently right next to my hotel and headed up the coast on Saturday morning. On my adventure I went to Australia Zoo, saw the Big Pineapple, stayed in Noosa Heads and headed back down the coast via the Ettamogah Pub and Glasshouse mountains.

Australia Zoo is the Steve Irwin zoo. There’s a lot of crocodiles, conservation messages and  ‘Crocoseum’ where that have a daily show with lots of birds (and crocs). ‘Crikey!’ Animal wise its pretty similar to Taronga, but with less variety and no harbour views. There weren’t any penguins.  My favourite animals of the visit were the tigers. They had two, and while I was there a man was feeding them (grass) and being filmed for a TV show. The tigers were eating out of his hand, getting patted on the head just like giant cats and they played together cheekily.

Big croc - Crikey!

Big croc – Crikey!

Big cat

Big cat

Australia has a lot of ‘big’ things. The Sunshine Coast grows a lot of tropical fruit, so it of course has a big pineapple. I went to see the pineapple. Sadly it was shut so you cant go inside any more and none of the shops there were open. There were people with vans selling fruit but I didn’t really want a whole pineapple to myself! It was worth a look as it was on my route, but I wouldn’t go out the way to see it.

The Big Pineapple

The Big Pineapple

On Saturday night I stayed in Noosa Heads. Its a pretty beach resort type place, which was surprisingly busy in winder, so probably rammed in the summer. I took a walk up to the lookout in the early evening. When I got to the viewpoint at the top, most people were actually looking the other way. It turned out there was a koala in the tree watching the sun go down too whilst having his eucalyptus dinner. Awww! 🙂

I made it back down the hill to the beach for the last of the sunset, and saw a dolphin swimming in the sea quite close to the beach. The up and down movement of its fin convinced me and the other spectators it was a dolphin rather than a s-h-a-r-k.

Wild koala at Noosa Heads

Wild koala at Noosa Heads

That evening I had some dinner at one of the well known Hogs Breath Cafe chains. My steak was OK, but I am a fan of rare which they don’t do because they slow cook them for 24 hours so they come out medium rare. It was a good texture, but my meal was fairly cold, with undercooked curly fries. I’ll probably need to give another branch a try.

The next day I headed back down the coast and went for some lunch at the Ettamogah Pub. Its a pub on the main Bruce Highway, which was built based on a pub from a cartoon strip dating back to 1959. It looks like a caricature and is very high, with massive beams inside from the trees they felled to make space for it. Ettamogah is Aboriginal for ‘ a good place to drink’. I had some nice squid and admired the cartoons on the walls. You can read more about the pub here. 

Ettamogah Pub

Ettamogah Pub

Between there and Brisbane I went to some lookouts and short walks to check out the Glasshouse Mountains. These are really very cool! Rather than being a mountain range they are 11 of spread out peaks which are plugs from extinct volcanoes. They were named by Captain Cook in 1770 becasue they reminded him of glass furnaces in Yorkshire. I really liked how they stood out from the flat and low coastal plain around them. I didn’t get to walk up any as the two I visited had tracks closed due to rockfalls, but seeing them was very cool.

 

Glasshouse mountain

Glasshouse mountain

Glasshouse mountains

Glasshouse mountains

Taronga zoo in Sydney is great. You can go there on a ferry, ride a cable car and it has great views over the city, not to mention lots of cool animals to see. I wrote about it here.

They have a sister zoo, Dubbo Western Plains. It’s 5-6 hours drive west of Sydney, past the Blue mountains, on the edge of the outback. We headed out there one weekend in June, setting off on Friday after work, and stayed in a cabin In a caravan park. As it’s winter and inland it gets to low single digits at night, so camping wasn’t on my agenda! On the drive out we hit 1 degree, and it was 3 degrees in Dubbo by the time we got there.

You can stay in the zoo itself, which includes some additional animal tours. It’s very expensive though, so it decided it was better to save money for another stuffed animal for my collection! We stayed in a cabin in Dubbo, which was 70’s retro and

I love animals, so needless to say I enjoyed the zoo. We had bacon and eggs for breakfast there looking at the lemurs on an island in the lake.

had a massive fan heater bolted to the wall. It did heat the place up nicely, until you turned it off!

The zoo is really more like a safari park. The main route around is 6km, and you can hire bikes to cycle it, or a golf cart! Needless to say we went for the active bike option. I managed to cycle around without any accidents, just one near miss with a kid running at me on a narrow path whilst looking behind him. I shouted at him! You only ever ride for a little while, then stop and go and see the animals. Its the same if you drive – rather than being like Longleat you need to park and get out to see the animals. The ticket is valid for two days, so you can go back the next day if you’re really keen.

By fluke we managed to time our route around to see feeding time with the hippo (called Happy), elephant (called Cuddles) and the Siamang apes. They were all very cool, and the apes were really noisy – it sounded like they were signing a song and were great to watch. Near the end it started to rain, but we managed not to get too wet. Here’s a load of pictures of cute things!

DubboMeerkats

DubboHippo2

DubboHippo

DubboElephant

DubboSiamangs

DobboRhino

DubboTiger

DubboKoala

 

 

Geocaching

Geocaching

 

Matt and I have always liked going for walks. To make them more interesting, a few years ago we took up the hobby of geocaching. This combines walking with some technology, and the excitement of a treasure hunt. There are over 2.4 million around the world! We have almost hit 500 now.

The simplest caches give you co-ordinates, where you go along and find the cache, which might be a tuppaware box, old school film canister, a tricky to find mini-container or something that cunningly looks like a rock or branch. We have found ones before that are an owl, a frog, a bat, a rat and a chameleon! Inside is a notebook where you write your name to prove that you found it. The caches also have toys and little things inside them. The etiquette is you can take something if you put something back. It’s mainly small plastic toys, rubbers, stickers and kids stuff, so it appeals to kids.

There are clues you can look at if you get stuck and can’t find it. Normally you can make a walk to combine several caches, and some are even designed as a series along a circular walk. Once you get into it you can make and place your own too, as long as you register them officially and follow a few simple rules – like not putting it too close to another one or on private property.

Some caches are harder, where you have to solve a puzzle or series of clues to work out where it is actually hidden. And some have a hard ‘terrain’ rating. They go from 1 to 5. We have done a few number 5s which were very cool, one where Matt had to abseil down a cliff and another one where we kayaked to the middle of Lake Wanaka in New Zealand.

Another dimension of geocaching is ‘Travel Bugs’.  These are objects which you put a special registered tag on, and put them in a geocache. Other people take them, log them and move them to another geocache. You can set them objectives like wanting to go to lakes, or get to the other side of the world or reach a specific destination. We registered one which is a blue plastic duck and can track him online (his number is 79Z2HD). He’s been a massive 31,382.4 km since November 2010, hitting 164 places and is currently in Holland. We’re going to make another one soon, and have a go at placing our first actual geocache too.

You can geocache with just a pen and a GPS enabled mobile phone, but a GPS is good if you want some more accuracy, especially if you’re going into woods where the phones don’t always have good signal.

You can read more about it on the official website, here, and register an account.

Why not give it a try?

Batty cache

Batty cache

My Agricola farm

My Agricola farm

Liking: Living in the new flat. There are lots of birds, its very green around, and apart from the trains its pretty peaceful. I’m also enjoying being able to walk to work, which takes about 25 mins. I see a lot of birds, including parrots, kookaburras and even a couple of bush turkeys!

Disliking: I was ill with a horrible virus and off work for a few days. It really knocked me out and I slept for 16 hours one day!

Watching: While I was ill I watched a lot of Wire in the Blood on my iPad. I really like that show. now we have the internet back finally I’m back on the iPlayer, and we’ve started Coast Australia seeing all the places we need to go and visit!

Playing: We bought a new game called Agricola – all creatures big and small. We already have Agricola which is a farming game where you collect animals, grow crops, feed your family, improve your farmhouse all to get points. This version is for two players, and mainly all abut the animals. That was my favourite part of Agricola anyway, so I like the new simple version.

Consuming: I have found a new exciting kind of biscuit through work. Its called a Monte Carlo, and is like a jammy dodger only much better becasue instead of shortcake the biscuits are oaty like a hob nob. And inside as well as chewy jam they have a creamy filling. Tasty! The new oven is much more powerful than the last one. The last one needed you to cook things for at least double the recommended time for them to be anywhere near done. This one, even with it adjusted for the fan its about half. So since moving in we’ve had a few meals on the slightly well done side! We’ve tried out the café down the road which does a yummy brunch.

Buying: In the old place we had two outdoor chairs and a small table. Now we have a giant table on the big balcony, so we bought six more chairs and cushions to go with it. We also bought all the chemicals for the spa so have been learning some chemistry about that, and got an almost free rubber duck thermometer!

Thinking about:  Holidays. We’re doing some planning about holidays at the moment, to see about buying leave for next year. We only get 20 days basic, and have to use 6 at Christmas for the shut downs, which doesn’t leave a lot, especially if we come back to the UK for a visit.

Visiting: In early June we had a Bank Holiday for the Queens’ Birthday – huzzah! We got invited away with our friend Paul and a bunch of his friends, who hired a big house down the south coast near Nowra. In the area there is good sea cliff climbing and awesome beaches. We had a great weekend including cream tea, a visit to kangaroo valley, climbing (of course), BBQ, roast dinner, walk on the beach and a game of sardines in the big house.

Missing: My old job – sad I know. My new job is fine, but I really liked my old one. We also missed some good friends weddings this month which we would have loved to be at. All the bets Mr and Mrs Frame! 🙂

Looking forward to: At the end of June we’re going to the Dubbo Western Plains zoo, way out west. You hire bikes and cycle around as its a big safari park, so I’m looking forward to seeing all the animals. We also have Ellie from the UK visiting for ten days, so we’ve got some exciting plans lined up for that too.

The main pavilion in the Chinese Friendship Garden

The main pavilion in the Chinese Friendship Garden

 

Near the centre of Sydney at the bottom of Darling Harbour is the Chinese Garden of Friendship.

It was built as a  symbol of friendship between Sydney and Guangzhuo in China, to mark Australia’s bicentenary in 1988. The garden was designed and built by Chinese landscape architects and gardeners following the Taoist principles of ‘Yin-Yang’ and the five opposite elements—earth, fire, water, metal and wood. Unlike western-style gardens, there are no planted flowerbeds or manicured lawns. Instead, wild aspects of nature are recreated in landscapes that feature waterfalls, mountains, lakes and forests. Admission is $6.

You can walk around the garden itself quite fast if you wanted to, easily in under half an hour, but that wouldn’t really do it justice. I sat about reading my kindle for a while, enjoying the peace and quite. There is also a tea shop where you can have tea and dumplings.

Chinese Garden waterfall

Chinese Garden waterfall

The garden is in a busy bit of the city, but its got a good sense of calm.The waterfalls and ponds are very scenic, and of course the pavillions too. There were a few lizards about too, with one quite big one. On my way out I also spotted a couple of these colourful Rhino sculptures. They were all around the city to raise awareness of Rhino conservation. If you’ve got week or so in Sydney I’d put it on the list to have a look around, and Chinatown is right nearby for some crispy duck after or nitrogen gelato!

Rainbow Rhino

Rainbow Rhino

 

 

Port Stephens

Port Stephens

Back in late February we made a last minute decision to get out of Sydney for the weekend (at 7pm on Friday). I was put on the spot a bit, and came up with the idea of Port Stephens, about 2.5 hours up the coast, which I’d heard good things about.

Luckily I managed to convince Matt we should get a cheap motel rather than camp, as it was meant to be a super wet weekend. We set off on Saturday morning and the weather was terrible! The wipers were working flat out, and I was cursing Matt for saying he missed overcast damp days!

Port Stephens is actually a habour rather than a place. It was named by Captain Cook when he passed by in 1770. Here are some of the highlights from the weekend:

Tomaree lookout: We walked a kilometre or so up a steep hill to the lookout over the bay and the view was excellent. There are lots of little islands, nice sandy beaches and hills that run down into the sea. One of the islands has penguins living on it, so I’ve pencilled that in for a bat trip or kayak adventure!

Tomaree Lookout

Tomaree Lookout

Tea Gardens: The place we stayed was a small town called Tea Gardens. We arrived too late for high tea, but got a famous fish cone dinner at the pub instead (a bargain for $10), followed by some ice cream sundaes and chocolate fudge cake.  

Wildlife potential: The area had good wildlife potential with a koala reserve down the road from our motel and lots of koalas in the general area and some dolphins who come up the river to feed in the mornings. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to spot any exciting wildlife beyond a lot of giant pelicans, but it was nice knowing it might be around!

Myall Lakes NP: On Sunday we drove back via the Myall Lakes NP and went on a chain ferry across the lake. It was scenic with a giant lake on one side of the road and big dines and the sea on the other.

Giant sand dunes: We went to the edge of the giant sand dunes on the Worimi Conservation lands. According to the guide book they are the ‘longest moving sand dunes in the southern hemisphere’ and stretch over 35km. I’m not sure how they define it, as really all sand dunes move, but anyway it looked cool. You can go on 4×4 rides, try sand boarding and ride a camel! It was a soggy day so we added that to the to do list for another time.  

Camels!

Camels!

There were lots of tourist activities in the area including Putt Putt (mini golf), a shark and stingray centre, a toboggan run, an aviation museum and plenty of things involving driving through or boarding down sand dunes. It would be a good fun place to spend another weekend when the weathers a bit better!

Our kayak

Our kayak

In March we finally got around to hiring a kayak and going for a paddle on the Harbour.

We got a duo (for two people) and of course Matt got the back seat so he could control the steering with the rudder and encourage me periodically by saying “Keep paddling Elly”!

We rented it from Spit Bridge, which is in the Middle Harbour. Its quieter up there as the main Harbour gets really busy with lots of boats and can be quite choppy too. We went for the 5+ hours option, and started about 9.30am. The rental company had a pretty laid back Australian attitude. They gave us a map, but nobody asked us if we had paddled before or had any idea what we were doing. We paddled until about 3.30pm which turned out to be pretty hard work! We were both knackered by the end and very achey the next day.

Captian Matt

Captian Matt

There were a lot of pretty fancy yachts and sailing boats around, as well as some houses with seriously good views and water access. We saw a lot of fish and birds, and luckily no sharks! We did practice some ultra fast paddling a few times, in case we needed to escape in a hurry! We paddled around lots of little coves, some of them quite peaceful as they were too shallow for the big boats. We went up to some Mangroves and stopped a couple of times for a Tim Tam snack in a picnic area at a wharf, lunch on the beach and then  a final stop for an ice cream before dropping the boat back off. 

Me and my kayaking hat

Me and my kayaking hat

The boat people warned us about some winds expected in the afternoon, and sure enough they came. We got off the water about 9- minutes before a giant thunder storm which was good timing. The weather the next day was pretty wet, so we did well with our choice of day.

It was a good day out and I’d be keen to paddle some other bits of the Harbour or other places in future as its a good way to see things and get some exercise too. It felt cooler on the water compared to when we got off it. Next time though maybe we wont try and go quite so far!

 

Fancy houses

Fancy houses

Elvina Bay

Elvina Bay

We have a book called ‘Sydneys Best Harbour and Coastal Walks’. We ticked off walk number 3 recently, Elvina Bay.

Its a medium grade, 2.5 hour walk over 6km. It starts from Church Point, about 40 minutes drive north, on the edge of the Ku-ring-gai Chase NP. The walk is pretty exciting becasue to get to the start and once you’re finished you have to go on a ferry across Elvina Bay. It runs in a circle so on the way out it takes about 30 mins, around Scotland Island, and then 10 mins on the way back.

The ferry goes every hour, and we just missed it so we took the opportunity for some light refreshments at the cafe in Church Point in the form of a cream tea. Now I am a bit of a cream tea critic so need to get off topic for a moment to write about it. On the plus side the pot of tea was gigantic, and the scones were gigantic and warm fresh out the oven which was great. However, there were three issues with the cream tea:

1. No fruit in the scones. I like fruit in a scone, becasue it tastes nice and also it makes me feel that it is marginally healthier! I know scone purists might say this is wrong, and can forgive plain scones, but fruit is my preference.

2. Not enough jam. This is a common bugbear or mine with cream teas. I prefer jam over cream and we had one small pot for two massive scones. Nowhere near enough. As it was mainly a lunch place I decided not to ask for more, but this has been known in the past!

3. It was served with squirty cream! This is a total cream tea crime! Now I’ve not had any other cream teas here in Australia yet to know if this is common, but it did make me pretty sad!

Anyway, back to the walk! The ferry ride was very scenic, with lots of houses backing right onto the water and with superb views. We got slightly lost at the start, as the description in the book wasn’t quite as clear and reliable as usual!

Church Point Ferry

Church Point Ferry

Near the beginning was a climb up a hill to a look out with views over the beach, bay and boats. A bit further on there was a series of pools with a water view beyond, which was also nice. Matt had a little dip in the water and we had a bit of a picnic lunch (although admittedly really we were still pretty full from the epic scones). Getting to the end of the walk was a big area of tessellated pavement and some aboriginal carvings including shields, kangaroos and an emu which were cool.

The majority of the walk wasn’t that impressive compared to some in the Blue Mountains, but overall with the cream tea and ferry ride it was a good day out and I’m glad we went.

 

Aboriginal kangaroo engravings

Aboriginal kangaroo engravings

 

Mini-waterfall in the Grand Canyon

Mini-waterfall in the Grand Canyon

No, we didn’t go on holiday to America – there is a Grand Canyon in the Blue Mountains.

This is one of the classic and popular Blue Mountains walks. When we first wanted to do it it was closed due to path work, so we headed back in January. It was a boiling 33/34 degrees, which is officially currently too hot for me to cope with very well! Luckily the majority of the walk is down in the canyon where its shady, cooler, damp and probably around 10 degrees cooler.

The walk is a loop and only 5.5 km, but because of the amount of ascent and descent at the end of each canyon and the path being quite steep and a bit slippery in place they recommend 3.5-4 hours for it. We smashed it in 2 hours 10 mins, even with the heat! You start and end at Evans Lookout with cool views down the valley.

The walk itself starts with a fairly dull road section, and then descends through a glen into the canyon. There are lots of cool undercut rock formations from when the river used to be a lot hire, and even a totally enclosed tunnel which you go through – although its under 20m long its pretty dark! A lot of the walk is probably about half way down the canyon – looking down into it was quite cool – in some places there are just really narrow slots with vegetation so you cant actually see the bottom. There is a relatively short section along the actual canyon floor near the end of the walk where you go along the river and past pools.

Big Water Dragon

Big Water Dragon

The area is popular with canyoners and we saw some abseiling into the start. We also saw a giant water dragon. I was deep in discussion and walked right past it. Matt called my name so I turned around and jumped when I saw it sat on the rock right by me as I hadn’t expected it. He was pretty cool and let us take a few pictures before Matt encouraged me to leave him alone!

I enjoyed the walk, especially ducking along all the rocks and the shady coolness relative to the temperature at the top! The National Pass walk is probably slightly more scenic and varied, but then it does also have a lot more steps to contend with!

Me and the lizard

Me and the lizard

Our house in Feb 2013 just before we left

Our house in Feb 2013 just before we left

I’m coming to the UK soon for a holiday. In fact, I’m probably in the air now. Before leaving I thought about all the things I want to do while I’m over, and here’s the list. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Visiting:

1. See family
2. See friends
3. Hang out in a country pub, preferably with a fire
4. Visit a building over 200 years old
5. Walk in the countryside, potentially with a dog
6. Have some chips on Brighton beach
7. Go and see our house and nose about inside

Food and drink: (There seem to be a lot of things in this category)

8. Drink a lot of tea
9. Eat a proper cream tea
10. Eat a pub dinner including chips with vinegar on them
11. Eat a roast dinner
12. Eat a lot of marmite and buy lots of smuggle home
13. Eat melting middle fishcakes and Tesco veggeburgers (not together)
14. Have a BBQ using charcoal

Purchases: 

15. Go clothes shopping (including in H and M, Next, Debenhams and of course Marks and Spencers)
16. Get some work shoes from Clarkes
17. Buy the board game Cards Against Humanity

Other stuff 

18. Watch the BBC News
19. Play board games
20. Go on a single decker train
21. Complain about the weather
22. Sort out some stuff we left in people’s attics (not my idea of fun, but I feel a moral obligation)

I’m looking forward to you Poms stll at home helping me out with these!

Day 18: Philip Island to Albury
4071 km, 67 hours 9 mins

When in Melbourne I had a bit of a change of plan for my trip and swapped a second night in Philip Island for a night near Lake Hume on the NSW VIC border. This meant I didn’t have an 8.5 hour drive one one day and I realised that apart from the penguins there wasn’t too much on Philip Island to warrant a second day there.

So I efficiently packed up the tent all by myself, and managed to get it back in its bag! The lady from the caravan park even complemented me on how quick and efficient I was which made me feel rather smug. The drive was super boring, back west, around Melbourne and then north for 5.5 hours in total. A lot was freeway so very dull, even with my awesome playlists! I even stopped for a power nap to relieve the boredom!

I camped by Lake Hume and although the water looked temping with the weather a balmy 26 and stark contracts to the mornings’ 16 degrees it was a bit muddy so I gave that a miss. After masterfully performing surgery on the broken tent pole with a mallet, concrete block and a lot of tape I went to see the dam. It’s right by the campsite and very big. It’s in a scenic area with lots of trees downstream and if you walk across you can cross the state border to Victoria the other side. The footpath was closed or I’d have been tempted. I cooked some pasta by the lake as the sun went down which was very scenic, although the wind meant the stove took forever!

Lake Hume Dam

Lake Hume Dam

Day 19: Lake Hume to Snowy Mountains
4415km, 72 hours 17 mins

The next day I drove the windy and scenic Alpine Way up into the Snowy Mountains in the Australian Alps area. They are part of the great dividing range. I stopped at a couple of lookouts on the way and in the village of Threadbo to pick up a pass for my car and some leaflets about the area. Threadbo is a very pretty village which is a major skiing centre in the winter as it’s right up in the mountains. There were chair lifts and chalets aplenty, along with lots of places to stop and out on your snow chains along the road. On the way I went past one of the big sites of the Snowy Mountains Power Scheme, a giant hydroelectric power system with multiple power stations.

Snowy Mountains Power Station 1

Snowy Mountains Power Station 1

30km further I reached Jindabyne and had lunch by its giant lake while lots of people came and launched boats and jet skis for some hooning about. The final campsite was about 15 minutes north from there, 5 mins inside the park boundary. After chucking the tent
up again and a nice cup of tea I went for a drive the other way up the valley into the mountains and ski area. I went through Perisher with its giant, empty, potholed car park and static ski lifts and on to Charlottes Pass at the end of the road. You used to be able to drive on a lot further but the area was getting damaged so they shut the roads. At the lookouts to Mount Kosciusko I saw actual snow again! There were quite a few bits of it this time and it certainly felt a chilly 13 degrees at the pass (1900m elevation). The views of the mountains were good, although they were the quite vegetated rather than totally rocky variety. There were lots of white snow gum trees – lots of them had lost all their leaves, maybe fire damage, I’m not totally sure. Apparently the gum tree is the only tree which exists in deserts, alpine environments and the bit in between.

Charlottes Pass View - with snow

Charlottes Pass View – with snow

On the drives around there were a lot of birds including a massive flock of flying cockatoos (over 60 I reckon) and red and green lorikeets too. On way way back to the camp in the evening I saw a group of kangaroos, and some more at the campsite who had been hanging out earlier in the day at the adjoining fields. I had a BBQ for my dinner and headed to bed.

Day 20: Mount Kosciusko
4510km, 73 hours 42 mins

My main reason for coming to Kosciusko was to go up Mount Kosciusko, Australia’s highest peak at around 2230m. The walk started from Threado so I headed back there for about 10am. The walk is billed as 13km and 4-6 hours from the top of huge chair lift which takes you to about 1900m. This was half the amount of up from the Cradle Mountain walk and they classed it as moderate!not hard, so I figured I’d be fine. To do the walk from the village is another 4km and 2 hours as it’s very steep. I always planned on getting the chairlift down because of my dodgy knee which breaks going down hills. The return pass for the lift was only a fee more dollars than the single so I figured I’d get the lift up too. The lift ride itself was very scenic, although chair lifts do scare me slightly as you can just lift the bar up!

The walk itself was either metal boarded or had a well defined path, so wasn’t particularly hard. There were lookouts along the way including of Australia’s highest lake (Cootapatamba). Along the way there were lots of granite boulders, wild flowers, crows and several deposits of snow. One was just a short walk off the path to touch but I decided to resist the urge to feel snow again and stick to the path like the signs said! The views along the walk and at the top of the great dividing range were great and it was nice and clear too – they went on for a a long way! It was a good temperature for walking with a nice cooling breeze too. Along the way there were various signs including about the Aboriginal peoples use of the area as a sacred place where lots of different spirits live.

Lake

Lake Cootapatamba

In the end I got to the top in 90 minutes, spent half an hour there eating lunch and admiring the scenery and then got down in about 80 minutes. The walk wasn’t particularly strenuous and I did feel slightly cheated as I’d expected it to take a whole day. If I’d have known that I probably would have walked for the bottom! You can do it from Charlottes Pass too which is 18km and 4 hours each way (allegedly) so if we come back I think we should try that.

After the walk I had some tea at the highest cafe in Australia as I wanted a brew and the views were better than at the one down the bottom!

At the top of Mt Kosciousko

At the top of Mt Kosciousko

Day 21: Home time!

So after a 3 week holiday it was finally time to drive home. The trip back to Sydney was about 6 hours and pretty unremarkable!

So all in all in our trip we drove a whopping 5009km for 79 hours and 7 minutes (although some of this was looking at views and faffing rather than driving!) That’s an average of 238km a day and 3 hours 45 mins a day. It was an excellent holiday with a lot of variety, especially for me with the extra week. Three weeks is long enough to totally forget about work so going back is going to be really strange!

Summermas

First up, as Christmas here is weird in the heat and I struggled to get in the festive mood, I renamed it Summer-mas! Summermas has decorations, presents and holidays in the heat.

This Christmas Matts’ work had a two week compulsory shut down, and mine had three! We figured it was a good excuse for a holiday and decided on driving down the coast to Melbourne and catching the ferry to Tasmania and then travelling round there before heading back again. The Barrier Reef and Kakadu in Darwin are also high on the list, but as I’m still getting used to the summer heat and they’re both up north it didn’t seem like a good plan to head there.

As we’re had a big trip I’ve broken it over a whopping 9 posts so get ready for a bumper special with posts every other day!

After looking at options for flying and hiring a car or driving we decide to drive, so we could take lots of camping gear and do the drive down the coast too. Price wise it was pretty similar and Jeffrey (the car) also wanted an adventure!

Day 1: Sydney to Eden
481km, 6 hours 26 mins 

After horror reports on the Sydney Christmas traffic I dragged myself out of bed and we left by 7.30am on Saturday morning. The drive done to Eden was one of the longest on the trip but we made it in good time and hardly saw any traffic issues. In fact one we got out of Sydney there weren’t a lot of cars about at all. The drive was scenic with lots if trees and we stopped off regularly to swap over and grabbed some lunch in Batemans Bay.

We also dropped into the cheese factory in Bega, where Bega cheese comes from. We had some samples, watched a film and I ate a toastie! They also make tinned cheese which looks pretty nasty, mainly for export apparently. Matt was brave enough to sample it and decided it was rubbery.

In Eden we camped right on the edge if Lake Curalo and a couple of minutes walk from the choppy sea. We went to a couple of lookouts and last the Whale Museum which has the skeleton of Old Tom the giant killer whale, but it was shut so we didn’t go in. The town has a long whaling history – the killer whales used to help drive the other whales into the bay for the fishermen to hunt them in return for a share of the meat. After a few games, including our latest game, Ingenious (travel version) we went to bed pretty early after the long drive.

Pirate golf - yaaaar!

Pirate golf – yaaaar!

Day 2: Eden to Yanakie
995 km, 13 hours 3 mins (cumulative total, not in one day!)

Day two was another long drive down the coast to Yanakie on the edge of Wilson’s Promontary National Park. After about half an hour we crossed the border into Victoria and drove through lots of trees and then lots of fields. Again we made good progress, overtaking various caravans and campers on the way.

We stopped for lunch in Lakes Entrance on the edge of the big Gippsland lakes. Lakes Entrance is also on the edge of 90 Mile Beach which we cheeked out quickly although because of the angle you couldn’t see very far. There were some rock and roll (or evil) black swans chilling out in the river. The guide book mentioned mini golf, a Short favourite so we set of in search of the courses. We found two next to each other, one pirate themed and the other unthemed, so it was a bit of a no brainier. The course had boats, a whirlpool, light house, beach hut, mermaid and of course pirates! Surprisingly I actually won, and by a whole 5 points, woo! I reckon I must be better with the upside down gravity down under!

At the camp site I practiced putting up the tent myself successfully and we had a BBQ dinner. We camped right on the edge of the bay, near the beach again. About 15 mins from the end of a walk along the bay thunder started. My tent construction was tested to the limit with a big thunder and lightning storm and some serious rain, and proved good – woo! No leaks or collapses and we both had a good nights sleep!

Exciting news – we have a new page on our website!

On our fridge, and in more detail in my head, we have a To Do List. It’s not one of those boring ones about hoovering and chores though, but about all the places to go and things to do while we’re over here in Australia. We’ve added the new page to share it with you and you’re more than welcome to give us ideas too! I’ve also summarised what we have done so far with handy links in case you want to know about something in particular.

You can get to it by clicking the button under the main picture called To Do List (to the right of Home) or by clicking HERE.

View from top of the National Pass

View from top of the National Pass

We went with our UK friends Phil and Rhiannon recently to do the National Pass walk in the Blue Mountains. Its a 4.8km circuit, graded hard with 210m ascent and descent, timed at about 3 hours.

Our Best Blue Mountains Bushwalks book says: “Distant views, stone steps hewn into the side of sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, ferny grottos and swimming holes all combine to justify the reputation of the National Pass as one of the Blue mountain’s classic walks’. The walk is very popular, but as we went on a weekday it was nice and quiet.

We modified the walk slightly and did it in reverse to make sure we got to the cafe before it shut and we couldn’t get an ice cream. As it was over 30 degrees this was an important consideration! Luckily the walk is mainly in the valley so its nice and shady.

The views were great with a number of waterfalls including Wentworth Falls. The steps up the end were a killer though, I counted over 800 and could still feel my legs hurting 2 days later! We didn’t stop for a swim, although that was definitely an option if you don’t mind chilly water.

A few signs give information about how the walk was built in the early 1900’s with dynamite blasting and a lot of elbow grease – much more impressive than me walking up 800 steps! There are also little lizards and cool birds to be seen along the route, as well as metal sculptures of them too.

It was an excellent walk and I’d definitely do it again – once we’ve done the 100’s of others in the book!

koalawild

I was so excited recently by seeing wild koalas, I thought they really deserved their own post!

We went on holiday with Phil and Rhiannon from the UK along the Great Ocean Road which is west of Melbourne in Victoria. You can read more about that here. On our first night we stayed in a cabin in the Great Otway National Park at a place balled ‘Bimbi Park – Camping Under Koalas’. For me, the name was a give away that there might be some exciting wildlife around!

On the drive we stopped near the Kennet River for some initial koala spotting. After a few minutes Matt won with the first sighting.

Now, koalas sleep for over 20 hours a day, so generally they’re spotted as round balls of cute fur nestled in the joins of branches in Eucalyptus (Gum) trees. They blend in well with the tree colour. Seeing them awake is fairly unusual, even at the zoo. In the Kennet area we managed to spot 9 koalas, including a few awake ones and one going for a walk along the forest floor – I did have to be restrained (= warned about snakes and spiders) as I excitingly bush bashed my way through the undergrowth for a closer look!

That morning the friendly checkout lady at the supermarket where we got our obligatory road trip supplies (including TimTams) informed us that koalas are actually really noisy, especially at night and make a very deep noise. In the Kennet area we got our first proof of this, and the noise was terrible. Its a low grunting / neighing noise, that you might expect to come from something like a big bear, gorilla or distressed horse. At first it sounded like they were deeply unhappy, but it seemed to be their normal call.

The road to the Bimbi Park campsite was full of more koalas. After checking in, we went for a walk and got in a koalas count of over 30 in the end! Seeing them in the wild was awesome. Around the Otway a lot more of them were awake and eating or wandering about, some of them quite close to us and seemingly not too bothered. Some of them had gone quite far out in the trees into some quite small and bendy branches in search of yummy leaves. We saw a mum and baby too – super cute.

Unfortunately the Otway area is actually becoming overpopulated with koalas. While this is good for spotting them its not good for their food supply which is fast running out or for their survival. The locals and the Government are working together on a relocation program and on some bush burning to regenerate the trees and bulk the food supply back up. Hopefully this will be successful. We did see some migrating sitting in the road! Looks like they’re getting the message to move, but hopefully they’ll learn sitting in the road isn’t a good plan!

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww!

2koalas

In early December we were luck to have our good friends Phil and Rhainnon visit from the UK. They stayed with us for a few nights in Sydney and then we hijacked the next part of their holiday! We flew together from Sydney down to Melbourne and spent 5 excellent days driving along the Great Ocean Road, checking out the Grampian Mountains and spending time in Marvelous Melbourne.

The Great Ocean Road is fantastic. I can easily see why its meant to be one of the best drives in the world. It stretches for about 240km from a place names Torquay in the east to Warrnambool in the west. The road was built by ex-servicemen from World War 1 to help them reintegrate. You can read more about it here. Our new website cover picture is of the road.

Kookaburra

Kookaburra

We drove the road over 2 days, stopping in Cape Otway National Park overnight, which is koala central! (More on that coming soon). The scenery on the drive is spectacular and the windy coastal road makes for an awesome drive. There are masses of viewpoints, places to stop for an ice cream or other refreshment and walks which range from short to multi-day (in fact you can walk  most of the route if you’re that way included).

There are so many things to see and do, taking the trip over two days was certainly a good call, and you could easily spend longer doing it.

Here are some of the many highlights.

Seeing wild koalas and camping with them in Cape Otway National Park. We spotted over 30 in total. I’ll do a whole other post on them!

Many spectacular beaches with rolling hills behind and a nice windy road along the front. The sea was very blue and had good surf in some places too. There were a fair few picturesque lighthouses too, including the one from Going Round the Twist (80s kids TV) which we visited.

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

The 12 Apostles sea stacks (although there are only actually about 9). Not only were the stacks themselves great, the water and sky were both soooo blue it looked really idyllic.

Wild emus, koalas and kangaroos at Tower Hill, a cool ancient volcano. We also saw a Copper Head snake here, although it was far away from us on a board walk.

Wild emu

Wild emu

‘London Bridge’ arch. It used to be a double arch connected to the mainland, but it fell down one stormy day and left two people stranded on it who had to be rescued by helicopter!

Grampian mountains – we walked up Mount William for some awesome views and went to many other lookouts with good walks and equally good views. The B and B we stayed in had complementary port which I was extremely happy about! Sadly the Halls Gap mini-gold was closed on the Monday when we went there – I’ll have to go back to that one!

Climbing at a waterfall in the Grampians

Climbing at a waterfall in the Grampians

I’d totally recommend the Great Ocean Road as a must do on any trip to Australia.

Round the twist lighthouse

Round the twist lighthouse

Happy Christmas everyone!

We decided we should have a Christmas Special blog post, so have finally finished preparing the adventure video from our New Zealand honeymoon. There will be a more scenic video at some point too.

You can read more about our awesome honeymoon here. This time last year we celebrated our first hot Christmas with the Millis family in Wanaka, including a picnic and spot of kayaking in Lake Wanaka. Also featured in the video are sky-diving, bungee jumping, Queenstown luge, caving, sea kayaking, lake kayaking, canyoning, jet boating, cycling and of course some rock climbing!

Warning: This video contains footage of what may be considered ‘extreme’ activities. Sensitive parents may find some scenes distressing. No Shorts were harmed in the  making of this film. 

My room (bottom right)

My room (bottom right)

I recently had a week off work, and Matt didn’t. I’d been working hard, so was keen to make the most of the time, but wanted to be a bit considerate and do something Matt wouldn’t be massively jealous of.

After some thinking I decided to go to Mangrove Ashram. An Ashram is a center of learning for Yoga. It is the largest one in the Southern Hemisphere, and just under 2 hours north of Sydney out in the bush. I booked in for 3 nights. I had a recommendation from a friend that it was good, so decided to be brave and get over my fears that it might be full of hippies! (Not that there is anything bad about hippies, I do have hippy tendencies…)

There is a daily program, with some variations each day. There is a fair bit of free time which I mainly spent reading an talking with other people. I also went on a bush walk up to the cliffs at the top of the Ashram which was good – nice and peaceful.  I arrived just before lunch on the first day and settled in. I soon got talking to people and met a lot of people to speak too on the second morning at the visitors meeting.

Two of the three mornings I managed to make it up for the 5.30am yoga class. I’m not a morning person so it was a big challenge for me, but it set me up really well for the day. You end up feeling very awake and refreshed. There was silence each night from 8.30/9pm when the evening activity finished until 7.30am after breakfast. I even managed that too!

One of the daily classes was Yoga Nidra which is Yoga for ultimate relaxation, and it is totally relaxing. So much so I had an embarrassing moment on the second day (after the 5.15am start). You do the class lying on the floor, covered with a blanked for warmth. I was listening, I was relaxing, it was going well. Then the teacher said ‘and now we’ll end with three Ohmmms together’. I thought, ‘Its a bit off doing Ohmms on the floor, but OK.’ We did them, I opened by eyes and then realized everyone else was sat up. I had fallen asleep! Oooops! I manged top stay awake the next day!

I did some volunteering slots in the kitchen to help out, and discussed some book readings at the morning meetings. We also watched a film called The Way about the Pilgrims Way in Spain/France which was good and another film all about Yoga.

The other bit I really enjoyed which surprised me a lot was the Kirtan and chanting. I’d never heard of Kirtan before – its basically singing hymns or mantras with a harmonium playing. Some of the teachers played and sang really really well. We did quite a few sessions of it and I really liked it. The first time I actually found it quite emotional and I don’t know why – allegedly because my heart was touched or opened according to the Yogis. Quite a few other people I spoke to said they were also reluctant initially but then really liked it.

The classes were all quite gentle and relaxing, nothing very strenuous. I did get some help to practice my head stands which was much appreciated. The food was very tasty – all vegetarian and mainly vegan too. One day we got chocolate cake for a birthday – yum! The whole place was just really relaxing. It did take me a little while to wind down after my hectic work and life, but after the first afternoon I was totally in the tempo of the place. The people were all really lovely and just the whole place had a really positive, caring amazing vibe. I came back feeling great!

I would definitely  go back, although with a limited amount of holiday and loads of places I want to explore then probably not for a while! It definitely made me want to do more yoga which I’m doing.

I was really pleased I tried something that I was initially a reluctant about. I had a really good time, ended up feeling great and learnt some more about myself – including finding out I like things which I hadn’t expected. Why don’t you try something new this month? You don’t know, you might like it!

Any questions or thoughts?