March of the Noëls

Our dear friends Aubain and Ingrid flew half way across the world – with their girls who are both under five – just to see us! OK, they came to see Julian and Shelley and baby Alby too, and I guess they were also doing it just to have a bit of a holiday, but let’s be honest; we were clearly the main draw card!

It was a wonderful whirlwind two weeks, one of those holidays where afterwards you can barely believe that it’s only been two weeks given how much we packed in. Here’s a few of the highlights.

Beechmont Escape

After allowing for a few days to recover from jet-lag, we hired a big house up in the hills of the Gold Coast hinterland via AirBnB. The house had a huge backyard, complete with a massive fig tree which provided the perfect ambiance for meals on the back deck.

The tree in the backyard of our Beechmont House

The tree in the backyard of our Beechmont House

To keep the older kids active, we invented a game (inspired by Aunty Chellsie) which we uncreatively called called “Obstacle Courses”. The basic premise was: come up with a short course of things to do (e.g. “run around that tree twice, run up that hill, then down backwards, then do five star-jumps, then race back to the finish line). The kids loved it! And nothing is better at bed time than super sleepy kids!

We spent the rest of our time exploring the area, conquering a few of the walks around Lamington National park and on Tambourine mountain. We especially loved The Caves circuit at Lamington, though we followed a recommendation I had read somewhere-or-other and turned back after the half-way point (rather than continuing on to the end and facing the walk back along the road).

We even stopped in to Cousin Bill’s brewery – Fortitude – for some delicious pizzas and beers on our way back to Brisbane!

Indoor sky diving

Kristy had an insider tip about iFly – an indoor skydiving centre that had opened up in Surfer’s Paradise. Colour me keen! In fact, everyone was keen to give it a try, and given that they allow kids three and over to have a flight, even Oscar and Elise signed up for a “jump”! The lucky kids even got superhero suits to jump in!



The package that we bought gave us all two jumps each, and it was interesting to see how much your “skills” improved just from the first jump to the second. Aubain, Julian and I also signed up for a “high flight”, where an instructor came into the wind tunnel at the conclusion of the second jump and flew up right up to the top and back down again, like a yo-yo. Unfortunately, my goggles came loose on our way up to the top, which slapped up my face pretty bad and made it near impossible to see anything. But otherwise it was ace – I’d definitely sign up to do it again!

Aubain at iFly

Aubain at iFly

The Beach

If you’re going to be showcasing “the best of Brisbane”, it’s hard not to go past the beach. Mom and Dad were kind enough to loan us their place at Caloundra, which was big enough to house us all and put us within walking distance of both Kings and Bulcock beaches. And, since Kristy and I have made both of those journeys numerous times, we’ve got all of the best coffee places along the way worked out (Lamkin Lane Espresso Bar on the way to Bulcock beach, or Coffee Cat when you get to Kings).

Both beaches were in prime condition each time we visited, and we whiled away many hours digging holes in the sand or swimming in the shallows.

Playing at Bulcock Beach

Playing at Bulcock Beach

Elise and Oscar playing in the shallows at Bulcock Beach

Elise and Oscar playing in the shallows at Bulcock Beach

Shelley borrowed a couple of body boards from her parents (who conveniently live just around the corner!) and we took them down to Kings beach for a run. Oscar and I took one of them out a number of times, and we had quite a few good rides together! He handled himself brilliantly in the surf – even after a nasty nose dive, he put on a brave face and then went back out to try again!

Bellingham Maze

Who doesn’t love a good hedge maze? More accurately; who knew there was a good hedge maze only 20 minutes drive from Caloundra? Certainly not I! And, Kristy even managed to find a Groupon deal which gave us entry for about half price! It was a maze with a puzzle, centered around Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Although we did (eventually) manage to find all of the dwarfs in the maze, I don’t think any of us had the tenacity (or more accurately – the lack of nagging children) to actually solve the puzzle. I guess that gives us something to do for the next time that we visit!

Leo powering through the hedge maze

Leo powering through the hedge maze

A word of warning: if you’re going through the week – double check that they’re open before you turn up! As it turned out, we arrived about 20 minutes before they opened their gates, though even that was a pretty lucky outcome given that some days they don’t open at all!

Noosa BBQ Boat

One of our finest memories of the UK was the day we hired a boat with Aubain and Ingrid and took a leisurely cruise along the Thames. The closest we could find of replicating that experience here in Australia was to hire a BBQ boat for a cruise along the Noosa river. The boat even came with fishing gear, so we all took turns at throwing a line out to try and catch some dinner.

Julian's Fish

Julian’s Fish

Thank goodness Julian has immaculately groomed fingernails!

Some of us were more successful than others; the best I managed to catch was a rather nasty looking toadfish. Kristy, Julian and Shelley all managed to haul in a few bites, but we threw them all back to sea. After all, I dare-say none of us really knew how best to “prepare” a live fish for cooking!

Lesson for next time: make sure you test the BBQ before you set off from shore. Ours had a problem with the regulator, which only became evident after “a waterfall of flames” (as Julian described it) erupted from the bottom of the grill. Turning the gas off was no easy feat (the canister was behind the flames)!

Farewell to Brisbane

We’d have been fools not to take advantage of the Lewis’ superior view over Brisbane and The Story Bridge at least once, so – fittingly – we headed up to their rooftop deck on the Noël’s last night here. Julian and Shelley cooked up a feast of kebabs while the rest of us choked back our “The holiday is over!” tears and took photos of the sun going down over Brisbane.

Brisbane city after sunset

Brisbane city after sunset

Shelley even had an old tripod lying around from her ex-career as a Hollywood film director, so I hooked it up to my SLR and managed to take this rather awkward shot of us all!

Sunset on Julian and Shelley's rooftop terrace

Sunset on Julian and Shelley’s rooftop terrace

What a way to remember the holiday!

There’s really only two tactics for dropping off such wonderful friends at the airport, especially when you’re unsure of when you’ll see them again. First, there’s the slow and painful way – park the car, walk them inside, linger around while they check in, all the while getting progressively sadder and sadder, until you finally say “farewell” and have been reduced to little more than a sobbing puddle of tears.

We instead opted for the “ripping off the band-aid” method – dropping them on the curb outside check-in, stealing a few very emotional hugs and kisses, then speeding off without looking back as if we were nothing more than Uber drivers.

There’s obviously so many things I haven’t detailed – the board games, the card games, the fun car (championed by Aubain and I, naturally), the quiet game (also part of the fun car), the laughter, the tears… we had it all. I can’t express my thanks to Aubain and Ingrid enough for braving the long (long!) flight from the UK with their two little kidlets. We’ve already started planning our next vacation adventure with them all… now all we need is time, and money!

Posted in life in australia

First day of prep

It seems as though 2016 has started as a year of milestones; first, with Leo’s second birthday, and then in the same week, Oscar’s first day at prep!

Oscar's first day

Oscar ready for his first day of prep

Oscar sailed through his first day with smiles, and was even happy to go back for the second day! Since it was the Australia Day public holiday week, he only had those two days to start off, and given that he’s a home-body at heart, I’m not sure how he’ll feel about having to go for an entire week! But as I pointed out to him – even if he doesn’t love it, it’s only for the next 13 years.

Posted in life in australia, oscar

Leo’s 2nd Birthday

Last weekend, we headed up to Nonni and Poppi’s holiday home to celebrate Leo’s second birthday. Two years old already! As has become tradition, Leo woke up to find balloons scattered all over his room (which – at the holiday house – is shared with Oscar).

Birthday balloons

Waking up to birthday balloons

Oscar was only too happy to help his little brother unwrap his presents, and just like at Christmas time, once Leo had opened one present, he was pretty uninterested in anything else! Poor old Nonni and Poppi’s presents barely even got a look in by the time we got downstairs!

Birthday breakfast consisted of pancakes, and Leo was pretty chuffed about it.

Breakfast pancakes

Pancakes for breakfast

Our morning routine at the beach house is all but set in stone by now: wake up, breakfast, physio, coffee, beach! So off we trundled to Bulcock Beach (via Lamkin Lane for coffee) for a morning of digging holes and splashing in the shallows.

Mia and Pa had arrived by the time we got back (more presents!), so we ate our lunch and then tucked into Leo’s birthday cake. Kristy had whipped up a chocolate swimming pool cake, held together by a boundary of TV snacks with jelly acting as the water.

2nd Birthday cake

Leo’s 2nd Birthday cake

Probably Leo’s favourite thing about his birthday was having everyone sing “Happy Birthday” to him, and immediately upon finishing he insisted we start again. “Peease Happ Birfday ‘gain!” he’d say… and how can you say “no” to that? In fact, over the course of the day, I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up singing “Happy Birthday” at least 30 times!

The weather was forecast to be pants in the afternoon, but luckily for us, the worst of it bypassed Caloundra, which allowed us a second trip to the beach! We headed to Kings this time, and enjoyed digging a big trench just near the waterline.

Home for a swim, dinner, and then off to bed as one very exhausted and happy little two year old. Happy Birthday Leo!

Posted in birthdays, leo

An Evening with David Sedaris

Back when we were living in London, we accompanied Ariella to a David Sedaris show which was being live recorded for the BBC. Though Kristy had never heard of him before, I was well familiar with his work from many years of listening to This American Life.

Fast forward to my birthday last year, and what do I find in my card from Kristy? Tickets to another David Sedaris show! Of course, I would have preferred that the tickets were once again to a show in London – with flights and accommodation all included, of course – I wasn’t going to complain. And as it turns out, there were three tickets in the card, and Kristy instructed me that dear old Julian would be coming along with us. How swell!

Fast forward once again to last Wednesday night – showtime! Julian and I even made an evening of it, with a few pre-dinner drinks at Brew, followed by dinner at Pappa Rich – which I decided is basically the Malaysian version of Wagamamas. We met up with Kristy outside City Hall, then in we went.

City Hall

City Hall

The only downside of the show being in city hall was that I found the air conditioning a bit temperamental, and during some of the slower parts of the show, while it was a bit warm, I found myself starting to feel rather drowsy.

But that aside – it was a great! And in my opinion, quite a contrast to the last time that we saw him. I’m not sure this was due to the fact that he wasn’t being recorded for a radio show this time, but overall I thought he was much more candid; more “authentic”, if you will. His show followed the same “recipe”, in that he had once again selected a number of his stories which he read aloud, expressing all the humour, wit and charm that he’s famous for. However, he also went to some effort to engage the audience between the stories, talking off the cuff. He even entertained a few questions from the crowd at the end, which I was completely unprepared for (though judging by the quality of the questions, everyone else was also unprepared for this).

We skipped the post-show book signing given that it was already well past our bedtime (and because we don’t actually own any of his books), and headed home instead. All in all, a wonderful present, and a wonderful evening out.

Posted in life in australia

New office

One of the great things about my work used to be the location – we were at South Brisbane, just opposite the Cultural Centre. This was great for a number of reasons:

  • Access to transport was fantastic. It was literally just across the road from both a major bus hub, as well as a train station. Best of all, the train line was one that went to our local station (Mitchelton) with no transfers!
  • Since I boarded my homeward train before going through Central, I always got a seat. Actually, I often had the whole carriage to myself for the first two stops!
  • There were quite a few places to eat within about 10 minutes walk, and a supermarket only a few minutes down the road.
  • Two Trees was less than five minutes walk from work, and their friendly staff (Jordan, Stu and Mim) made delicious coffee!
  • There were quite a number of car parks, which meant the occasional drive to work was possible – not to mention free parking on the weekends if we ever needed to go to South Bank (which, as it turns out, we didn’t).
  • The office was on a fibre link, which meant we had fairly reliable internet, and decent enough speeds for most things (30Mbps up and down).
  • Access to The Museum was amazing – I must have visited countless times on my lunch break! (By “countless” of course I mean “a zero count”.)

What’s more, I was even allocated a desk with a window!

Old desk

My old office desk, looking out towards a rail bridge and carpark

Although the view was – shall we say, “less than inspirational”, it still meant I had natural light coming in.

For all the pluses though, I have to admit there were a few minuses as well:

  • The dank. I don’t think anyone was surprised when they told us the building was going to be demolished, as it felt like it hadn’t been given a good clean since the war years.
  • It was noisy. That big concrete block you can see out the window was actually a train bridge, and trains were quite regular. To be honest, I didn’t mind the noise, and its amazing how much you filter it out when you’re concentrating. But when you’re not concentrating, and a train came past – boy was it loud!
  • The shower was only a marginal upgrade from the days at Dingu Blue when we had to “shower in the sink”. If scientists ever took a sample from the tiles in the shower recess, I’m sure they’d find a whole host of new bacteria that they could have named along a “Pacificus Environmentus” theme.
  • On a similar vein, the toilets – or lack there of – were only cleaned a few times each week, and boy did they show it. Ugh…

On the whole, it was a nice enough office to work in, but for reasons still unclear to me, we were forced to move. The original reason I heard for our forced departure was that the building was marked for demolition, and was going to be replaced with a block of residential apartments. However, over the last few weeks of our tenancy I saw a number of people walking through the office with a look on their face that could only be described as, “I know exactly which desk I’m going to put smelly Norm in.”. So either the building is no longer getting demolished, or the new tenants are in for a nasty surprise!

Anyway – even if the building is staying put, it seemed as though our course was set in stone: we were moving out. The powers that be (read: “people other than me”) searched for a number of months for a new location, until finally settling on 240 Queen Street (a.k.a. The old Commonwealth Bank building). The technology team was first to move, and we had our first day in the new office on Wednesday this week.

All I can say is: What an upgrade!

New office desk

My new desk, looking down Edward Street towards the river

Better yet, somehow I managed to snag a very nice desk, with a very nice view to match! Its early days still, but so far as I’ve seen so far, the new building is far better in almost all regards:

  • Did you see that view?
  • The train journey – though only two stops less – is 10 minutes faster.
  • Access to everything that the city has to offer: the Queen Street mall starts on the other side of Edward Street, Woolworths is literally across the road, there’s a Guzman on our block, and there must be about five coffee vendors between the train station and the office.
  • It’s so quiet. Almost disturbingly so – though to be fair, only our department has moved across so far, and I dare say it’ll be quite a bit noisier once the rest of the office moves in next week.
  • Clean toilets! And more than one! Did I mention that they’re clean? In fact, they’re cleaned twice a day!
  • Clean showers! Three of them! Admittedly, they’re shared between all the tenants of the 25 story building – but they’re clean! So clean!
  • Ridiculously fast internet – 200Mbps up and down!

There’s probably only a few downsides compared to our old quarters. First, since I’m now getting on the train at Central with all the other city workers, I’ve lost my early boarding advantage, and nabbing a seat is now much more of a battle. Secondly, there’s no parking here, so driving in to work is pretty much out of the question (not that I’d really want to anyway, but occasionally it was handy). Also, cycling within the CBD is not the most enjoyable thing to do, given all the pedestrians and buses. Thankfully, that only affects very final leg of my journey (well under 1 KM), but I’m yet to find a way of getting from Roma Street Parklands to Edward Street that doesn’t involve alighting from the bike, and is relatively safe from traffic.

All in all, I think it’s a major upgrade. Yes, its still early days, but for the most part, I think I’m going to thoroughly enjoy this office!

Posted in work

NZ 2015 Part 6: Wellington

The drive from Hawke’s Bay to Wellington was a touch over 300 KM, and in driving time terms, was by far the longest leg of our trip at over four hours. It was, however, also one of the nicest drives of the trip, with a little bit of everything to see – rolling green fields, tree filled gorges, and rugged coastline. My favourite part was driving past the Te Āpiti wind farm, and I regret not stopping somewhere to take a photo.

We got to Wellington mid-afternoon and were greeted us with some fairly nasty wind and rain, but we were determined to do some exploring and walk off our “car legs”. So, we headed down from our hotel to the Te Papa museum, which had heaps of things to do for the kids. It was a great investment of time – both kids especially enjoyed climbing around inside the life-sized heart of a blue whale. Totally funducational!

Wellington Cable Car

The Wellington Cable Car

Thursday’s weather forecast wasn’t much better, but we were once again determined to get out and explore. And thank goodness we did – the forecast was much gloomier than the actual weather was! Our first port of call was the iconic Wellington Cable Car, which we practically had to ourselves, and so naturally sat right up the front. At the top, we walked through the botanical gardens to the children’s play area – yet another fantastic NZ playground – but we didn’t stay long due to the rain (which started up again while we were there).

The playground in the botanical gardens

The playground in the botanical gardens

I had been noticing a disproportionately large number of barber shops around town (yes, really – so much so it’s been written about) so I figured that Wellington must be very hipster friendly. And, as always seems to be the case when we go on holidays, I was in desperate need of a haircut, so I did a bit of research before deciding that Godfather’s Barbers was the place for me. It was my first time at a barber shop, and I was impressed! No appointment needed, no fuss, just a decent haircut for a decent price. If I didn’t already have a great hairdresser in Brisbane, I think I’d make the switch!

Oscar and Leo’s main interest in pretty much any place we visited was the playgrounds, and Wellington certainly has some good ones. As mentioned, the one in the botanical gardens was a winner, but by far the favourite was Frank Kitts park. It’s shining feature (pun intended) was a tall lighthouse equipped with an equally tall slide, which Oscar sped down countless times. In fact, his wish for the day was to “go to a playground and stay for two hours” and I think it was just about granted on the lighthouse slide alone. Suffice to say, he slept very well that night.

Lighthouse Slide

The Lighthouse Slide

Seemingly, the main place to do anything in Wellington is Cuba Street, and Kristy had tactically chosen our accommodation to be within close walking distance. We could have happily whiled away much more time strolling along and browsing at Cuba Street’s shops were it not for the fact that shopping turns out not to be the kids’ favourite activity. But we still managed to pick up a few cool things, not to mention eat at a few trendy places – Grill Meats Beer was a standout.

Since we had a car, we also took the opportunity to get out and explore Wellington’s surrounds. We drove up to the Mount Victoria Lookout and were impressed by the 360 degree view – but oh my was it windy up there!

Mt Victoria

The view of Wellington from Mt Victoria

Kristy had also read about a great milkshake shop called Scorch-o-Rama in Scorching Bay – which I thought was supposed to be an ironic name because it was freezing, but apparently it can get quite hot in summer months. The milkshake lived up to its reputation – a real old-school chocolate thickshake, just like and old fashioned milk bar.



All in all, I quite enjoyed our visit to New Zealand’s capital, and I suspect I’d be quite happy to live there – yes, even with the wind and the rain! (I can’t say the same about the rest of our party though.) We had three full days there to see the sites – which in retrospect was probably one day too many – but it meant we could do things entirely at our own pace, and we weren’t hurried to get anywhere.

And so completed our two week holiday to New Zealand’s north island, and what a wonderful holiday it was!

Flying home

Flying home

More photos from the trip in the New Zealand: North Island album on Google photos.

Posted in holidays, new zealand, travel

NZ 2015 Part 5: Hawke’s Bay

It was an easy and pleasant drive down to Hawke’s Bay, and we arrived in the town of Napier a around two hours after leaving Taupo. Obviously, the first thing that we needed to do was to get coffee, and Kristy had thankfully already done the research on where to go – Groove Kitchen Espresso. I’m not sure precisely where she got the recommendation, but it was bang on the money – this was easily a competitor for the best coffee that we had on the entire trip! But more on that later.



Napier was mostly destroyed by an earthquake back in 1931, and afterwards, the towns’ folk decided to rebuild it entirely in Art Deco style – as was the fashion at the time. We picked up a “Children’s Art Deco Explorer” pack from the Art Deco Trust, which took us on a short (about 1hr) self-guided tour around the town. Along the way, there were activities to do, and some (pretty simple) clues to decipher, all which were supposed to help teach you more about the Art Deco styling and different buildings on the route. It was a great idea, and quite enjoyable – though I’ll admit that the learning aspect can’t have been too well executed because shortly after the fact, I had completely forgotten everything I had learned.

Getting a pencil rubbing of an arrow on the Children's Art Deco tour

Getting a pencil rubbing of an arrow on the Children’s Art Deco tour

Our search for accommodation in Napier proper had come up short, so instead we chose an AirBnB on the outskirts of Hastings – the next town over and about 20 minutes’ drive away. I don’t mean to harp on here, but once again, AirBnB really delivered for us! The house was an “Eco House”, tucked away behind a small farm, and by the furnishings that were there, it was clear that the owners were regular occupants. (As it turns out, the owners used to live there, but have since emmigrated to Australia.)

Eco House

Main living area at the Eco House

One unique feature was the bathtub in the master bedroom. As in, it was literally in the master bedroom, just sitting there at the end of the bed. But no complaints – the lack of curtains on the huge glass doors provided a beauitful view of the starry night sky (both from the bathtub and the bed!).


The main bedroom at Eco House

Oscar and Leo were also happy to have another place that included a hammock!


Boys in the Hammock

Hawke’s Bay is home to a huge number of wineries, and correspondingly, there’s a huge number of winery tours that you can participate in. We decided to give the On Yer Bike tour a shot, which – as the name suggests – sees you jumping onto some pushies to cycle between the vineyards. They even accommodated for kids, with a little bike trailer that was big enough for both the boys to sit in!

On Yer Bike

The Boys on the On Yer Bike tour

Unfortunately, this was one of those things that sounded much better on paper than it worked out in practice. We both struggled a bit for the first couple of kilometres simply due to the gravel roads – they’re slippery to turn on and it’s easy to lose your balance. What’s more, towing the boys behind me on a bike that was – shall we say, not in its peak condition – felt like I was riding with my brakes on. It also didn’t help that the bike was way too small for my ample stature, so I was cycling like a hunchback the whole time. And, we were once again both blessed and cursed by the weather – blessed because it was a beautiful clear day, but cursed because it was crazy hot!

However, complaints notwithstanding, it was actually a nice way to see the countryside. The wineries each had their own charm – we most enjoyed the wine from Selini Estates, and the cheese platter from Abbey Cellars. The blue cheese was especially good!

Abbey Cellars

Abbey Cellars Winery

Our final morning in Hawke’s Bay saw us departing as early as we could (which turns out to be around 10 AM), as we had our final (and longest!) drive ahead of us, down to Wellington.

Posted in holidays, new zealand, travel

NZ 2015 Part 4: Taupo

Probably the strangest thing about visiting Lake Taupo and its surrounds was that every time we asked someone how to pronounce “Taupo”, we got a different answer. The best we could work out was that the modern interpretation was “TOO-poh”, but the traditional Mauri pronunciation was more like “TOE-paw”. Kristy and I decided on our own interpretation; “too-PAY”.

There’s plenty to do around the Taupo area, and we consequently booked ourselves in for three night’s accommodation in a traditional New Zealand holiday house, known as a “bach”. This was yet another AirBnB booking, and for the third time in a row, it was wonderful. It was a three bedroom house, with a well stocked kitchen, and Oscar’s favourite feature – bunk beds. It was clear that the owner of the bach had set the place up as a long-stay holiday house for her own needs, as there were lots of features that made it stand out from the usual run-of-the-mill motel room – such as decent quality cookware, unlimited internet, and even a couple of hard drives full of media connected to the TV. Not to mention the hammock, of course.


Oscar lying in the hammock at the Bach

Here’s a few of the local attractions that we managed to visit while we were there:

Huka Falls

Huka Falls are reputedly the “most visited natural attraction” in New Zealand. We did a bit of research and found a walking route which promised to be “a flat, 5.5 KM round trip”, and although we knew it would be a bit of a push for Oscar, we decided it would be worth a shot. Once again, he did a fantastic job, walking almost the whole way himself with only a few segments that we carried him on. It was an especially good achievement given that the walk turned out to actually be quite hilly, and the hot, hot day didn’t make things any easier. But, our efforts were rewarded with some beautiful fresh air, and some spectacular scenery.

Walking to Huka Falls

Walking to Huka Falls

Kristy and I were both awed by the falls. 220,000 litres of water flow over the falls every second – enough to fill five Olympic sized swimming pools in under a minute. The roar of the falls is incredible!

Huka Falls

Huka Falls

I especially liked watching the water being forced into the (relatively) narrow bottleneck before the falls themselves, creating a short section of rapids. It reminded me of one of those “Whitewater Adventure” type of tire rides that you go on at a theme park.

Huka Falls Bridge

Bridge over Huka Falls

Oscar, however, was not so impressed. Though we did our best to highlight the magnitude of water flowing through, his reaction was, “but it’s so small!”. We tried to point out that a “waterfall” has two components, the “water” – which Huka Falls had in abundance – and the “fall” – which is only about 15 metres. But to Oscar, it’s all about the “fall”. As such, the most impressive part of Huka Falls for Oscar was not Huka Falls themselves, but instead, the playground next to the car park at the beginning/end of the walk. To be fair; I guess that means there was something for everyone!

Craters of the Moon

I couldn’t come up with a way of describing the Craters of the Moon better than they do on their website, so I’m just going to cheat by quoting them:

A geothermal walkway (that) wanders through a weird, other-worldy, landscape featuring bubbling craters and steaming vents”. The walkway was a circuit which took about an hour to walk around, and as promised, we saw loads of steam vents, and even some boiling, bubbling mud.

Craters of the Moon

Craters of the Moon

It certainly was a unique place to visit, but in retrospect, taking the stroller on the walk was a poor decision. We had figured it would be ok since their website advertised it as an “accessible” attraction, but it turns out that a large proportion of the circuit is gravel, and the hard plastic wheels on the stroller were really no match for it. Otherwise though, it was well worth the minimal entry fee!

Huka Prawn Park

I’m not sure why this is called a “park” when its really more of a “farm”, but none-the-less, this turned out to be quite a novel place to visit. Once you’ve paid the rather hefty admission fee, you then have full access to the fishing ponds, where you can basically fish for prawns until your heart’s content (or at least, until the park closes). With absolutely no prior experience, I had pre-rated myself as a pretty awesome prawn fisherman, and was confident that we’d be hauling in more prawns than we’d know what to do with!

Prawn fishing

Prawn fishing

Oh my, how wrong and deluded I was. I spent between two and three hours trying to catch us some dinner, and for my efforts I was rewarded with two prawns. Two, measly – but delicious! – prawns. Yes, I realise that sounds like I was a total failure, but of the 50 or so people that were also fishing around the lake, I only saw two others have any success – so by my reckoning, I was still the best prawn fisherman out there. Given that our NZD$69 admission fee netted us only two prawns, by my calculations, that made the price of each single prawn nearly $35, which would have to make the Huka Prawn Park one of the most expensive places to get fresh prawns in the world.


Our catch of the day

It’s not all bad though; for the admission fee, you also have access to the other attractions on their grounds, the highlight of which was a behind the scenes tour of the facilities. We even got to hand feed some infant prawns, which involved holding tiny little pellets in your hand, then submerging your arm under the water so the prawns could walk up and grab them. Feeling their spiky little feet crawling over your hand and up your arm was a little… disconcerting.

Feeding prawns

Feeding the infant prawns

Huka Honey Hive

We had no idea what to expect from the Huka Honey Hive – we hadn’t really researched it, and paying it a visit was a bit of a last minute decision. As it turns out, its basically a giant shop – but it was still a worthy visit! They had a perspex cover over over an active hive, so we got to watch the little worker bees doing their thing. Also, they have a huge honey tasting station – I was particularly impressed by the lavendar honey!

Huka Honey Hive

Photo Opportunity at the Huka Honey Hive

As you can see, it was a very busy three days in Taupo, and in retrospect, we probably should have stayed longer than three nights. But we were thankful for the time we had, and there was so much more to see! So, we regretfully said “farewell” to our little bach and its bunk beds, and continued on to our next destination!

Posted in holidays, new zealand, travel

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 Waitomo Glowworm caves. To cover them both in two days, we set up our itinerary such that we’d drive from Hahei to the Hobbiton Village tour, stay overnight in Cambridge, then head to our next destination via the glowworm caves.

On further research though, we decided that perhaps the Hobbiton Village tour was not for us – for a few reasons (though actually, just for one reason). It was expensive. Like, really expensive. Like, we’re talking “only for the die-hard fans” (which we are not), or perhaps, “so different to anything you’ve ever seen before and totally worth the money!” expensive. As such, we decide to skip Hobbiton Village, and instead have a leisurely day travelling to Cambridge. We stopped for lunch in Hamilton and were rewarded with yet another fantastic playground, down by the lake – New Zealand really does playgrounds well!


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 holidays, new zealand, travel

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

Recent Comments

  • Ben: What a wonderful two week adventure.
  • joe: Bonjour Pouvez vous me donner votre mail pour vous expliquer ? Merci pour votre reponse . Joe,
  • gerrod: Les photos sont dans le domaine public , mais je préfère savoir ce que ils sont utilisés pour.
  • jo: Bonjour , les photos de cette articles sont elle libre de droit ? Merci J.
  • Mia: Looking forward to Part 4.

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