NZ 2015 Part 3: Hamilton and Cambridge

When we were researching for our New Zealand holiday, we found two activities near Hamilton that we were keen to check out – Hobbiton village (a tour of the set of The Shire from the Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit movies), and the Playground

The playground in Hamilton next to the lake

Our accommodation was another AirBnB booking, this one based on a dairy farm about 10 minutes out of Cambridge proper. We managed to arrive early enough to enjoy a tour of the farm with one of our hosts – Marc. First stop on our tour was to see the milk sheds, which were in full operation for the cows’ afternoon milking.

Next, we drove / walked up the highest hill, which gave us a fantastic panorama view of the farm and its surroundings.


View over the farm

The last stop on the tour was somewhat unexpected, but turned out to be one of the main highlights of the trip for Oscar. Marc asked if Oscar wanted to sit in the tractor – which of course, he did. Then he asked if Oscar wanted to go for a drive in the tractor – which of course, he did. Finally, he asked if Oscar would like to actually have a drive of the tractor – which, of course, he did. He even got to pull the lever to move the bucket up and down!

Driving the tractor

Oscar driving the tractor

Once again, we were impressed with our AirBnB booking. Marc and his wife Maria were wonderful hosts, welcoming us with drinks, cheese and biscuits. It was great to chat and get to know them a bit, while both of the kids played around inside, doing their best not to wreck their house. Our villa also had a full-size gas BBQ on the deck, so we bought some steaks and local vegetables and cooked up a great dinner for ourselves. To top it all off, breakfast was once again provided as part of the booking, so we were well slept and well fed by the time we left the next morning.

Given that driving a tractor is pretty hard to top, the best rating we could really expect from Oscar for the Waitomo Glowworm Caves was “also good”. It was obvious just from the building (and the amount of tourist busses that were there) that this was a well funded, well organised tour.

Entrance building

Entrance to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves

The tour was thankfully as good as the first impressions had promised. We descended down about three flights of stairs and straight into the heart of the caves, which were full of stalagmites and stalactites. Different areas of the cave had different features and things to see; for me, the stand-out was the section called “The Cathedral”. This was a fairly large and open part of the cave, and featured a group of stalagmites to the side which had formed loosely in the shape of pipe organs. Our guide told us that they often hold concerts in the cave to an audience of about 200 people!

Glowworms are only visible in the absence of light, and as such, the final segment of the tour was in the pitch black. We all boarded a small boat, then we were were taken through the river exit, all the while looking upwards to the glowworms on the ceiling. There were thousands of them – it was like star gazing! Oscar wasn’t totally happy about our instructions to “be silent” for the boat tour (so as not to disturb the glowworms) but he did an admirable job – even Leo managed to be mostly quiet! (I learned afterwards that Kristy was singing quietly in his ear to keep him amused.)

Unfortunately (for me, anyway!) you’re not allowed to take photos inside the cave; the only place they allow photos is at the exit, after you’ve hopped off the boat. As such, this is the only photo I managed to get to remember our visit.

Glowworm caves

Exit from the glowworm caves

Next to the carpark, we found a quick scenic walk up to a lookout, so we wandered up to check it out. By now, the view was familiar – beautiful, rolling green hills everywhere – but had I have known how many stairs were involved, I probably wouldn’t have bothered lugging Leo up them all in the heat. Oh well… anything for a photo op.

Kristy and the boys

Kristy and the boys at the lookout

Overall, it was a great visit to Waitomo, and it did a nice job of breaking up our long day of driving.

Posted in life in australia

NZ 2015 Part 2: Coromandel

We drove from Auckland to the eastern coast of Coromanel on Monday, after a brief visit to Ponsonby Road (summary: it was crowded). The drive took about two-and-a-half hours, and as we got further from Auckland, the scenery became greener and more rural. Our accommodation was at a farmstay at Hahei (“HAR-hey”), and we made ourselves at home as soon as we got there.

Hahei Farmstay

The accommodation at Hahei Farmstay

The guest quarters are actually an old school hall, and the main room – which serves as the kitchen, dining, lounge, and master bedroom – still has a large chalkboard featured on one of its walls. Sadly for us, we only found the chalk for it as we were packing up to leave! The hall also commands enviable views down the hill to Hahei beach on one side, and up the beautiful green rolling hills on the other. The animals have no idea how lucky they are!


Cooking with a view


The view from the porch

Hahei farm has sheep, cows, horses, geese, chickens, and a donkey who is very, very loud (though doesn’t speak much, thankfully!). Kristy and the boys were a bit tentative when they first met donkey, but he turned out to be pretty friendly, and was very glad for us to be offering him our scraps of food.

Meeting Donkey

Meeting Donkey

There’s certainly no shortage of things to do from Hahei. Our first port of call was the main beach, where we played in the sand, dug some holes, and then walked to the end where we found a cave in the rocks.

Hehei Beach

The cave at Hehei Beach

Early one morning, we embarked on the hike towards Cathedral Cove. Mel and Ben had loaned us a toddler hiking pack, so Leo got to travel in first class! Poor Oscar wasn’t quite so lucky – but he did well to make it down many steep hills to Stingray Bay, which is about the half-way point. We decided that instead of pushing him to walk the rest of the way, it would be prudent to call it a day and commence the tougher uphill journey back to the car.

Stingray Bay

Stingray Bay

The main thing both Oscar and I had been looking forward to doing in Coromandal was the Glass Bottom Boat tour. Our original morning booking got rained out, but they managed to squeeze us in on the afternoon tour. Our ship’s captain – Joe – was fantastic; really personable, well humoured, and knowledgeable about the area. Our tour started from Whitiangia (“fit-ee-YANG-ah”), then took us through the Marine Reserve to Cathedral Cove, Stingray Bay, then around the back of the islands in Mercury Bay.

Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove

At the entrance to one particular cave, captain Joe pointed out where two distinct rock segments met, which corresponded to the fault lines running underneath the ocean.

Fault lines

Fault lines meeting at the top of the cave

Of course, we saw loads of fish through the boat’s glass bottom, and Oscar was pretty stoked that he got to sit on the glass floor as the boat sped through the water. It certainly wasn’t the cheapest activity that we did, but it was well worth the money.

Glass Bottom Boat

Riding on the Glass Bottom of the boat

Hot Water Beach is one of the top “things to see” in Coromandel, so we paid it a visit late one afternoon (along with about 200 other tourists). The same fault line that we saw from our boat tour runs directly under the beach, and by digging down at low tide, you very quickly create a well of hot water coming up from the sand. We had a few false starts, but it didn’t take long before we hit the jackpot – hot water (around 60 degrees celcius) started pouring out of our well. It was surreal, and quite tricky to balance the super-hot water from our hole with the comparatively freezing water from the ocean! I regret not taking a camera to capture the moment.

We had no trouble filling in our three days around Coromandal and Hehai – certainly a place worth another visit when we make it back to New Zealand!

Posted in holidays, new zealand, travel

New Zealand 2015 Part 1: Auckland

With our last proper holiday now over 12 months ago, we figured we were well overdue to “get away from it all”. Kristy and I had been debating the merits of a number of destinations, but with its close proximity to Australia, its promise of amazing food and scenery, and most importantly – its lack of need for any power converters at all – New Zealand kept coming up on the top of our lists. Originally, we had figured we’d drive from Auckland to Dunedin (essentially, the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island) but with only two weeks to play with, and so very much to see, we decided to stick to just the North Island for this trip.

It turns out that getting overseas travel insurance when one of your crew has Cystic Fibrosis is rather an ordeal – most companies will outright exclude you as soon as the words are mentioned. Thankfully, Insure And Go promised “all medical conditions considered”, and sure enough, after answering a number of questions specific to Leo’s health, they agreed to insure us (for a reasonable added premium). Huzzah!

Ready to fly

Oscar and Leo ready to fly

Our flight left Brisbane at 7 PM on Friday night, and with a three-hour flight time, plus the three hour time difference, we touched down in Auckland at 1 AM on Saturday morning. Once we finally cleared customs and super-shuttled to our accommodation, it was a *very* late night – we didn’t get to bed until after 3:30 AM local time!

Auckland accommodation

Our Auckland accommodation

The first accommodation we had booked was an AirBnB at Parnell. And although I’m sure AirBnB is a bit of a gamble sometimes, boy did we luck out (in the good way)! Our host – Lyn – turned out to be amazing, as was her beautiful house, which to me looked like something straight out of Grand Designs. Staying with Lyn was more like visiting your overseas Aunty, to the extent that she cooked us dinner on our last night, played Lego with the kids while I made everyone coffee (she had a Viebemme espresso machine! A Domobar Junior, I think) and even pegged out our washing when we left it in the machine after heading out for the day. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to start off our holiday!

What’s more, Parnell turns out to be rather swanky – and hilly! It’s on the South-Eastern fringe of the city, and enjoys a wonderful view out over the bay. And, the local park had the greatest climbing tree I’ve ever seen – not to mention a wonderful playground for the boys.

Climbing tree

The climbing tree in Parnell


The slide in Parnell’s park

Sadly, we didn’t end up spending enough time in Auckland proper for it to make much of an impression on us. We had allocated Sunday exploring the city, but it was almost lunch time by the time we actually got out of the house (curse you, jetlag!). Priority one was of course finding coffee, and it took us three attempts to find somewhere open (curse you Chuffed; bless you Remedy Coffee!).

Our next stop was the Sky Tower, and although it was a touch on the expensive side at NZD$56, but it did afford us a wonderful view of the city and its surrounds. We even got to do the whole, “Hey I can see my house from up here!” thing (though technically it was more like, “I can see the park next to our house from up here!”).


Auckland looking East from Sky Tower

Both of the boys were ready to crash by the time we got back to ground level, so we let Leo nap in the pram while we walked back to the car. Oscar joined him in napping while we drove to Mt Eden, where upon arrival we found another playground for the kids to explore. Suffice to say, Auckland does playgrounds very well.

We only had three jetlagged days in Auckland – but it was enough to get a taste for the city, and we liked what we saw (well, I did at least). We’ll be back (hopefully)!

Posted in holidays, new zealand, travel

Landscaping: Before and After

Back in September, we commissioned a huge landscaping project at our house, taking a gamble on a guy we found on Gumtree. His sales pitch was admittedly not the greatest, but he won us over on two factors.

  1. His price was (in our opinion) very good – hard to beat, I expect (based on our experience of previous landscaping quotes we had done after our renovations).
  2. Secondly, he said, “I’m not the sort of guy that likes to have a job drag on; I like to get in and get out as quick as possible, to get the job off the books”.

Sounded perfect really – it was only September, and we estimated that there was two to three weeks of work to be done. So, even allowing for a delay or two here and there, it should easily be done by Christmas!

Oh, how wrong we were. I mean, things started off great! On the first day, his crew came in, ripped out a lot of the old trees, pruned back the ones at the back, and immediately the yard was looking cleaner! Sadly, that was the last we saw of him for that week – of course that wasn’t his fault; he kept trying his absolute best to make it over, but inevitably, things just kept on coming up to prevent him!

And that pretty much set the tone for the next eight months, as the job dragged out further and further. Yes, eight, long, months. Chrismas came and went, along with promises and reassurance that the job would be finished. Then, New Year’s. Then Australia Day. Easter. Gone, gone, gone. Every time we tried to set a deadline, there’d be more promises, more reassurance that everything would “definitely, definitely be done by then”. So, finally, at the end of May, after waiting almost three weeks for very last part of the job to be finished (laying six pavers), we paid off the balance of our account, and we were done. Huzzah!

On the upside – although it took so very long, we’re quite happy with the net result. Before and after shots below.

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Posted in life in australia

New job!

Back in September last year, I was quite excited to be taking up residence at my old workplace. It was different going back – I was working a slightly different role, there were some new faces, and the outsourcing team had been significantly expanded. But after only a few days, I knew that I had made the right decision – I was thoroughly enjoying going to work each day, and I was excited by the direction that the company was headed in – new clients, new projects, and new opportunities were all on the near horizon!

Sadly, the company’s direction changed significantly early this year. Whilst I respect that board members are entitled to make decisions that they believe are in the company’s best interests, I fundamentally disagreed with their choices. Obviously I had very little sway over the company’s direction, which really only left me with one option – to resign.

Luckily for me, a contract for a Senior Developer had become vacant at Ben’s workplace. Although it was a bit of a mental adjustment to go from full time employment to a contract, it sounded like an interesting project and interesting work – so I bit the bullet and applied. After what I thought was a very well run interview, I was offered the role, and I accepted the position.

I’ve now been there for about six weeks, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s in a very different business domain to what I’ve worked in in the past (environmental monitoring), and the technology stack is the hotness. So its a big win! And needless to say, there’s the added benefit of working alongside Ben again… we really should start a consulting firm one of these days!

Posted in work

Camping at Lake Broadwater

A few weeks ago (quite a few weeks now, actually), Rob and I joined Piet and Ben on their annual camping trip. “Annual” may be a little generous – this being only the second year the trip has been run – but trip number one was about the same time the previous year, so I guess they’re now two-for-two. Our destination was Lake Broadwater Conservation Park, about half an hour’s drive out of Dalby.

I picked up Rob mid-morning on Saturday, and we drove out to Toowoomba to meet up with Piet and Ben. We stopped for lunch at Phat Burgers, and suffice to say they were well named; I don’t think I’ve ever held a bigger burger in my life.

Phat Burgers

After another quick stop for supplies (firewood and beer), we headed to Lake Broadwater and setup camp. Being the camping enthusiasts that we are, we knocked up a perfect looking tent in absolutely no time flat!

Our perfectly setup tent

Ok sure, it may not look quite perfect, but I assure you it was more than adequate, and its healthy lean was courtesy of a broken support strut, and not at all due to our incompetence.

We had a great afternoon/evening enjoying our drinks by the fire, watching the sun go down and the stars coming up. I thoroughly enjoyed whiling away the hours with the lads, talking about pretty much anything and everything, including some very random games of “Would you rather…”.

Drinks by the fire

Piet had an awesome app for his phone which allowed you to point it anywhere in the sky, and it then told you what you could see (or at least, what you should have been able to see). It named satellites as they flew over our head, and showed us roughly where the different constellations were. As we were so far out of the city, the light pollution was minimal, which made it much easier to see the night sky. I wish I knew how to take photos of stars better, as I felt like I did a rubbish job of it. A tripod probably would have helped!

Night sky

I can’t say that we did a great job with our dinner. I know that a poor tradesman blames his tools and all that, but we really hadn’t built the fire to be a good one to cook on (because apparently that’s a thing), and our experience (or lack there of) really showed through. Regardless, we still managed to whip up some tasty (enough) hotdogs with bacon and onion, and we had enough tomato/BBQ sauce to hide our cooking sins. I recently read a tip that you should cook your meals before you go, and then use the fire to simply heat them up – a tip that I shall employ next time, me thinks.

We all got about as much sleep as we had anticipated that we would (i.e. not much), and we were consequently up shortly after sunrise. The upshot of this was that we got to watch the sun coming up over the lake, and we had a bit of a wander along the shore in the morning’s rays.


Rather than attempt cooking a second breakfast over the fire, we instead packed up and headed back to Toowoomba to make use of a gas BBQ at a park. Given that I had planned a fairly optimistic breakfast menu (Currimundi wraps), I’m confident this was the right decision!

More photos in the Camping at Lake Broadwater album on Google Photos.

It was an awesome, awesome weekend – one that I hope to repeat again!

Posted in life in australia

Melbourne Junket

We’re hosting two of our offshore developers from the Philippines at work at the moment, and given that they’re both well into their sports, the powers that be decided it would be prudent to take them down to Melbourne to show them a game of AFL at the MCG. Both of my bosses pulled out of the trip for various reasons, leaving their tickets wide open, so Andy and I snapped them up!

A 7 AM flight ex-Brisbane on Saturday morning meant a very early start (to the tune of 4:30 AM), but we made it to the airport in plenty of time. Good thing too; Andy had “somehow” forgotten that he had a 6 inch camping knife in his knapsack, and suffice to say he did not have any luck sneaking that one through security! Similarly, Carlo had somehow managed to wedge a drillbit into his wallet, and that too was disallowed; Giovanni and I could only watch on with some amusement as all the contents of both Andy and Carlo’s bags were tipped onto the table for closer analysis. Thankfully, security let them both off with a stern look, and we proceeded to the flight otherwise unencumbered.

An uneventful flight and a fast Uber pickup had us in Melbourne city with a few hours to spare before the game, so we walked to Fitzroy Gardens, toured Captain Cook’s house, and grabbed a bite to eat before making our way across to the MCG.

Calamari and chips

Fitzroy Gardens

That’s the first time I’ve been to the grounds and I was well impressed by the sheer size. At some point through the game, Andy asked me how many people I thought were there; I guessed the stadium was about half-full and hence it would be about 25,000. Well, I was right on one hand – it was about half-full, but that meant it was closer to 50,000 in attendance! For a round two game! I have to say Melbourne, you certainly know how to turn on the crowds.

Carlo and Giovanni at the MCG

Though our seats were rather hot (we were sitting directly in the sun), I thoroughly enjoyed watching the game (Richmond Tigers vs Western Bulldogs) – especially the final quarter which had much more intensity than the previous three. It also helped that in the final quarter, the Bulldogs (who won 85 – 66) were kicking towards our end, which meant much of the action was right in front of us.

Our flight back to Brisbane wasn’t until Sunday evening, which left us the remainder of Saturday and most of Sunday to fill for ourselves. We managed to cover quite a lot, including the view from the Eureka Tower, St Kilda markets, Acland Street, Little Creatures Brewery, Queen Victoria Markets, and a few rides on the tram. We also found ourselves walking a lot of kilometres, and by the time we got on the plane on Sunday night, my legs were well tired.

View from Eureka Tower

Looking across the Yarra

Unsurprisingly, we also ate and drank extremely well in Melbourne. Brother Jason was on hand to pass on a few great recommendations, and I thoroughly enjoyed coffee from Brother Baba Budan, and my bacon bap from Cumulus Inc. Oh, and the donuts from Walkers Donuts!

It was a long, exhausting weekend, but I really enjoyed our little junket to Melbourne!

All photos from the trip available in the Melbourne Junket album on Google+.

Posted in travel, work

Five days at the Gold Coast

Mom and Dad’s unit at Grande Florida had quite a bit of vacancy in March, so we felt it was our duty as good family members to go down and keep it company last week. We really lucked out (in the US definition of the phrase) with the weather; the forecast said it was going to be cloudy every day with a sprinkling of rain, but mostly we enjoyed blue skies and warm sunny days. Which, of course, meant plenty of time spent in the pool!

Oscar on the Daddy Bus

The unit (and us, of course!) also enjoyed some visits from friends and family, starting with Mom and Dad on Friday. They were kind enough to sponsor a night off for Kristy and I, so we got to enjoy a dinner at a restaurant, sans-kids! We checked out Bắc to Nam and were impressed not only by their food, but their prices. Premium Australian beers at only $4 each!

Jason and Susan visited on Saturday, as did Al and Suz and their cohort of kids. We trundled down to the beach with Jason and Susan to do some building in the sand; Jason and I also hit the surf with Jason’s GoPro and hand fin. I was well impressed by the quality of the images!

Jason catching a wave

Kristy had found a list claiming to have the Top 10 places for coffee on the Gold Coast, so naturally we made it our mission to visit as many of them as possible. Borough Barista came out on top as our favourite, and we paid them at least three visits in our five days down there. We also loved Commune, but unfortunately we only checked it out on our way back to Brisbane. Next time we’re at the coast we’ll be sure to eat there; the prices were great and the food looked spectacular!

Speaking of food, we ate extremely well. Dee – from my work – told us that we had to try the Fish Tacos from California Tacos, and we were not disappointed! Their chicken California burrito was also excellent, but oh my was it filling! And of course, no trip to the Gold Coast would be complete without ribs from Hard Rock – and we enjoyed taking the G:Link tram to get in and our of Surfers Paradise. How very handy that it accepts payment via gocard!

We were predictably disappointed when Sunday rolled around and it was time to go home, but we overall very pleased with how our mini-vacation had gone. Poor Leo didn’t love sleeping in the portacot, and it was only on our last night there that he managed to sleep right through. Clearly a sign that we should have stayed longer!

Farewell, Summer!

A few more photos online in the Five days at the Gold Coast album on Google+, or on Facebook if you prefer.


Posted in holidays, life in australia

The pursuit of sleep (part 2)

After finding out I suffer from severe obstructive sleep apnoea, the first step towards treatment was to go back for a second sleep study, during which I’d be rigged up to a CPAP machine. Whilst I wasn’t looking forward to a second round of sleeping whilst covered in sensors, I figured it couldn’t be any worse than the first time!

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Posted in healthy living

The pursuit of sleep

I’ve never been a great sleeper. To be fair, this probably wasn’t the case when I was a child, and even as an adult, I’ve never had any trouble falling asleep – it’s just when I wake up in the morning, I don’t feel refreshed, seemingly no matter how much sleep I’ve had. What’s more, just getting out of bed is a struggle some days. When Oscar heard this, he suggested that “maybe we should get bunk beds for our room, so that Mummy can sleep in the top bunk, and Daddy can sleep in the bottom bunk, which would make it easier to get out of bed!”. A novel suggestion sure, but I’m not sure it would solve my dilemma.

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Posted in healthy living

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Random Photos

Conservatory in the Bellagio

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The 100 Year Stone

The house from the front


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