Australia

Weeks 9 & 10 – Queensland

One of the daily tasks of travelling is finding free wifi, and lately it hasn’t been very easy! However, I am currently camped out in the cafe of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, using their free wifi and enjoying their fantastic aircon too! I am sure the art is very good too, have yet to look round.

The video below shows some of the highlights from my trip to Queensland,

Brisbane

I touched down in Brisbane on 2 November to some serious heat and humidity. I also met up again with my good friend Austyn, who used to live in Brighton but now lives in Brisbane. I stayed with Austyn for a just over a week and reacquainted myself with the city, which I last visited in 2000, 16 years ago. And boy has it changed. It really is a booming city, with office and apartment blocks springing up all over the place.

However, I think it is a city without a plan as the motto seems to be ‘anything goes’. Development seems haphazard and the historical soul of Brisbane is being crushed in the process. However, the area I stayed in is called Teneriffe (deliberate spelling with two ffs) and does have lots of renovated wool stores, old Victorian warehouses now converted with apartments, which gives the area a lovely historical feeling.

Art galleries and museums of Brisbane

Brisbane has some wonderful museums and art galleries. Plus they all have great aircon too! I did a guided tour of the Brisbane Art Gallery and learnt about the origins of modern aboriginal art. An American expedition to Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory in 1950 came across a community in Milingimbi, and they gathered up a series of their bark paintings. The bark paintings were then offered to Australian galleries, who had previously never exhibited aboriginal art.

Then, in 1971 in the central Australian community of Papunya, a new artistic movement began. The artists began to document the unique qualities of their homelands, which they had long been displaced from. Previous to then, aboriginal people drew their art in the sand or on bark, it was never intended to be sold. The community in Papunya heralded the beginning of the entire modern aboriginal art movement that we know today. Top aboriginal artists can sell their paintings for millions of dollars.

Untitled (Jupiter Well to Tjukula) by Uta Uta Tjangala
Untitled (Jupiter Well to Tjukula) by Uta Uta Tjangala (1979)
I also saw the first aboriginal piece of art ever to reference western art (Michelangelo’s creation of Adam), as 99% of their art only references aboriginal stories and history only.

Lizard and an emu
Brisbane Museum is great too, and I learnt about the history of the city – which is very young in fact as it was only founded in the mid 1800s.

Koalas, kangaroos, emus and lizards

Australia has some pretty unusual wildlife! It lurks around every corner. But to get a full picture of it all, I headed back to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, which I first visited in 2000. I got to hold a beautiful koala, walked amongst kanagroos and wallabies, saw a huge monitor lizard and two sleeping wombats and countless other unique Australian animals.

Me & my koala
Me & my koala
Kangaroo chillin'
Kangaroo chillin’

Tangalooma island

Queensland has a beautiful coastline and has many islands to visit. I spent the day on Tangalooma with a group of friends. It is about 90 minutes by boat and has beautiful white sand beaches and crystal clear blue water, as you can see from my photos below.

Tangalooma beach
Tangalooma beach
Bowls on Tangalooma
Bowls on Tangalooma

Cairns, Cape Tribulation and Far North Queensland

After visiting Brisbane, Austyn and I flew up to Cairns and stayed for a week in Palm Cove. It’s a very small place with a stunning beach, but a sea you cannot swim in, due to the presence or marauding crocodiles and deadly jellyfish! Strictly look but no touch. We did a great walk through the Daintree rainforest, in a great place called Mossman Gorge, owned and run by the local aboriginal community which was great to see.

Mossman Gorge
Mossman Gorge
One of the best things we did was a day trip to Cape Tribulation. It really felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, and we had the beautiful beach below virtually to ourselves. You really can’t go much further north than this, without having a 4 wheeled drive vehicle. We hoped to the local bird called the Cassowary but it’s pretty elusive so no sightings. No croc sightings either, but that was probably for the best!

Palm Cove
Palm Cove
Port Douglas
Port Douglas
Cape Tribulation
Cape Tribulation
Chilln' in Palm Cove
Chilln’ in Palm Cove
I also snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef. I saw some stunning corals and colourful fish too. The reef is definitely in trouble, and I did see some bleached coral. Hopefully all the efforts of the locals can help stabilise it and bring it back from the brink.

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New Zealand

Week 8 – New Zealand, Part Two

I’ve nearly completed my second and final week of my trip around the North Island of New Zealand. I have loved the time I’ve spent here, travelling all the way down to Wellington in the south and back up again. I’m coming back in December to travel around the South Island and to visit Auckland, can’t wait! Have put together a video with the highlights of my trip if you should so care to watch!

Windy Wellington

As soon as I reached Wellington, the capital city of NZ, the weather took a turn for the worse. Wellington has a reputation for that kind of thing. However, it did not spoil my time there. I started by visiting the national museum ‘Te Papa’, which is is well worth a visit. It has some great social history exhibitions including a great one on immigration, as well ones on earthquakes and Maori culture. It is all free too. They also do great vegetarian sushi in the cafe! The setting is fantastic too, right on the waterfront.

I then took the cable car up to the botanical gardens and I also drove to the top of Mount Victoria, which has spectacular 360 degree views of Wellington Bay.

Wellington as seen from Mount Victoria
Wellington as seen from Mount Victoria

One of the most interesting things I did was tour the NZ parliament (free). I learn that NZ has a proportional representation system which gives smaller political parties more chance of being represented in parliament, which seems entirely sensible to me (unless it were in the UK whereby the hideous UKIP would get more seats)! I also toured the iconic ‘Beehive’ extension, added in the 1970s and designed by British architect Sir Basil Spence.

New Zealand Parliament
New Zealand Parliament

I stayed with an old university friend which in Wellington, Richard. We had a fun evening reminiscing about uni life and looking at old photos! See the photo below, we barely look older than the day we graduated 😉

Me & Richard twenty years after graduation!
Me & Richard twenty years after graduation!

Whangaui

One of the things I love about travelling is discovering towns and places that aren’t necessarily on the tourist trail but are interesting in their own right for what they show you about life in that country. One of these places is Whanganui.

It was meant to only be a stop on the way to getting somewhere else, but I really liked this place. Set by a wide river, it is a quiet town (most NZ towns are!) with not much traffic and leafy parks. I stumbled across a cultural festival which was a real highlight. Groups from various cultures, such as the Cook Islands, India and China were performing music, singing and dancing. It was so great to watch, particularly the Pacific Islanders dancing and singing, all very colourful!

I also got to sample some great Sri Lankan curries and got chatting to a boy about how great it is to be vegetarian! He was so happy to meet another veggie 🙂 Go veggies…!

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I also got the weirdest underground elevator to the top of Durie Hill, apparently the only example of its kind in NZ! It was so old and shaky I feared for my life :-0

Me in the tunnel leading to the Durie Hill creaky elevator
Me in the tunnel leading to the Durie Hill creaky elevator
Whanganui river
Whanganui river

Taupo

Taupo is situated on a large lake in central North Island. Famous too for adventure stuff like skydiving and white water rafting – neither of which I came close to indulging in.

I did however visit Huka Falls, an impressive huge torrent of water created where the Waikato River is funnelled through a narrow opening of rocks. The video at the top has some footage of the falls, here are a few photos too.

Huka Falls
Huka Falls
Huka Falls
Huka Falls

I also drove past the impressive Mount Ngauruhoe and the famous Tongariro crossing. Mount Ngauruhoe is an active volcano and apparently was the setting for Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings.

Mount Ngauruhoe
Mount Ngauruhoe

Rotorua and the geothermal highway

The geothermal highway connects Taupo to Rotorua. Along it’s entire length there are loads of geothermal sights to see. I chose to go to Wai-O-Tapu. Quite expensive to get in but well worth it. There are loads of things to see, including the famous ‘Champagne pools’, which are multi coloured pools, the colour being caused by mineral deposits from underground coming to the surface.

The whole place smells of rotten eggs (the sulphur) so takes a while to get used to that. I also saw some amazing mud pools bubbling away. I kept wondering what would happen if there was some big eruption (answer – I’d probably die). It was very interesting to walk around, there are a few photos below plus some footage in the video at the start.

Opal Pool, Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park
Opal Pool, Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park
Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park
Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park
The Devil's Bath, Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park
The Devil’s Bath, Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park
Champagne Pool, Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park
Champagne Pool, Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park

Rotorua itself is a lovely little town, also on a lake. The Government Grounds house the impressive looking museum and are sacred to the Maori people.

Government Gardens, Rotorua
Government Gardens, Rotorua
Lake Rotorua
Lake Rotorua

Some thought on New Zealand

During my two weeks in NZ, I have noticed a few things about the country and the people…

  1. Kiwis drivers are some of the worst in the world! I’ve never seen so many overtaking attempts on windy roads. I even asked some Kiwi friends who agreed! Slow down people, what’s the hurry?
  2. Kiwis are also some of the friendliest people in the world. Everyone says hello, which can be disconcerting at first to an introverted Brit like me!
  3. There are loads & loads of German tourists here. Not sure why they love it here particularly. I even asked a German girl and she did not know why either. I’d say 50% of people in hostels are German.
  4. Wellington has it’s own weather system. The rest of the North Island was glorious. Wellington, not so much.
  5. The Coromandel Peninsula is stunning. Why it is not world famous beats me. But heh, I like it quiet so don’t tell anyone else.
  6. Maoris have a very proud and strong culture and they seem pretty integrated into Kiwi life, a lot more so than when I was in Australia and witnessed the dispossession of the Aborigine people.
  7. Kiwi food is pretty good, very fresh and the coffee is ace too!
  8. New Zealand has some great small towns, off the tourist trail. I’d recommend anyone to adventure further off the tourist map and see the real NZ.
  9. New Zealand TV – I tried it for ten minutes and gave up.
  10. The nature, the wildlife, the emptiness. If you want to go somewhere that is beautiful and where you can lose yourself, you couldn’t go wrong with New Zealand! And to top it off I’ll be back in December to do it all again…
New Zealand

Week 7 – New Zealand

So, I finally made it out of California! I was really sad to leave it behind, but there’s a whole world out there!

The Coromandel Peninsula

After a mammoth 13 hour flight from LA to Auckland, I (perhaps unwisely), decided to jump straight in a hire car and drive up to the Coromandel. I have visited NZ before, but had always wanted to visit this part of the country, and boy, was it worth waiting for.

I cannot overstate it enough how beautiful it is. I would have to say it is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited in the world. I drove up the west cost of the peninsula, from Thames to Coromandel town, then across to Whitianga where I spent two nights. The drive is spectacular, and I had the place virtually to myself. Parts of it looked like a set of ‘Lord of the Rings’, parts of it stunning vistas that would not look out of place in the Caribbean.

In Whitianga, I got the ferry across to a small place called Ferry Landing, and walked across to Mercury Bay, a place where Captain Cook anchored on 15 November 1769 and observed the transit of the planet Mercury, and subsequently named the bay Mercury Bay.  The beach there is out of this world, and as I was there at 9.30am I had the place to myself, save for a few seabirds. Heaven. Another couple of beautiful beaches are Lonely Bay and Cooks Beach, see photo below. I also walked up to Shakespeare Scenic Reserve. Apparently this is where William Shakespeare used to vacation. True story.

The other cool thing I did whilst there was visited Hot Water Beach. Wondering what the people in the photo below are up to? They are digging into the sand to create their own mini hot tubs! This part of the beach has geothermically heated water bubbling up.

 

Whakatane and the Maori people

Whakatane (pronounced Phak-Are-Tar-Ney I am reliably informed) is a lovely little town on the east coast. It also has a big Maori population. I visited the ‘Mataatua Maori Marae Experience’ and learnt all about the house that came home. A marae is a meeting ground, and they build a carved house as a place for community celebrations, funerals etc.

In 1870 the house in Whakatane was taken away to Sydney as part of an exhibition, then travelled to Melbourne, London, Dunedin and finally back home over 100 years later after a lot of negotiating It is a beautiful building and was fascinating to hear about its story.

Gisborne, Captain Cook and the first light of the new day

So Gisborne was my next stop, and as it turns out, it is rather an important little place. It is the first place in the world to see the light of the new day. It was catapulted onto the map in 1999 when the hype around the new millennium reached fever pitch and thousands descended on the town to see the light of the first day of the millennium. Apparently Dame Kiri Te Kananwa performed and everything!

Gisborne is also the place where Captain Cook first landed in New Zealand.

 

I also visited a lovely little museum there too and saw some beautiful Lalique glass bowls and vases.

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Napier and the beauty of art deco

The town of Napier in Hawkes Bay was virtually destroyed by fire and earthquake in 1931. This meant the town was then rebuilt in the height of the art deco period and the town has benefited from having some great examples of art deco architecture. Spent a lovely afternoon strolling around admiring the architecture, a few shots below.

I am not even halfway through my tour of the North Island yet (south island to come in December) but am loving my Kiwi adventure so far!

Books

‘The Girl on the Train’, ‘The Light Between Oceans’ & ‘When will there be Good News?’ – recommendations for holiday reading

Travelling gives me the time and space to do the things I always think I haven’t got the time to do. Like reading. Thought I’d do some quick reviews of the books I’ve read so far, in case anyone is looking for some ideas for books to read.

‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the train

The term ‘page-turner’ might’ve been invented for this book. I read it in 24 hours. I loved the book and can understand why it has been such an international best-seller.

It has recently come out in the cinema, with Emily Blunt in the main role. So as a quick precis of the plot, the main character is an alcoholic, divorced, London commuter. Sound fun so far? Well she loves to look into the houses by the railway line on her journey to and from work. One house she becomes particularly obsessed with, especially the couple who live there, who she imagines have a perfect marriage, a life she wants for herself following her recent divorce.

One day she thinks she sees the woman kissing another man, and this starts a chain of events, involving her ex-husband, his new wife, the police and the couple themselves, that quickly snowballs out of control.

It’s a really fast-paced novel, with twists, turns, unlikeable characters and bucketloads of suspense. Hence why I couldn’t put it down. I’m seeing the film tonight at the cinema, am hoping it’s as good as the book, though having seen the trailer, I see it has been relocated to the US, which is a shame.

‘The Light Between Oceans’ by M.L. Stedman

The light between oceans

This is another book which has been a big seller around the world, and which has also been made into a film. Like ‘The Girl on the Train’, I also could not put it down, and read it in just a few days.

It’s historical fiction, a genre I admire, as an author has to work so much harder to get the facts right so that the feeling of the book is authentic. The main narrative of the book is set after WW1, in rural Australia, specifically Western Australia, and more specifically on what I think is a fictional island called Janus, on a remote lighthouse.

I won’t give too much of the plot away, just to say that it focuses around a childless couple who have their prayers answered one day when a baby arrives on their island. The couple then have to decide what to do with the child. The plot is really interesting and unique, and I loved all the historical detail that’s included, particularly the insights into how returning soldiers from WW1 coped with the trauma they witnessed.

‘When Will There be Good News?’ by Kate Atkinson

When will there be good news?

A mother and her young family are ruthlessly and inexplicably slaughtered one day, and only one person survives, the youngest daughter. This is how the novel begins, and it then jumps ahead in time, weaving together a series of what seem like random storylines, that all become entwined.

There’s Dr Hunter and her teenage mother’s help, Reggie, her small-time criminal brother, Billy, recently married Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe, recently separated private detective Jackson Brodie and a whole cast of supporting characters. What at time seem like disconnected events all culminate in a spectacular finale.

I have never read Kate Atkinson before, but had heard of her award winning novel ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’. She is a great writer, spinning out her characters with great depth, and pushing the pace on so that you can’t wait to find out what happens next, and what became of the survivor of the original murder.

California · Laguna Beach

Week 6 – Pumpkins, Mexicans and Trump

Pumpkin time

Pumpkin time, otherwise known as Halloween, is big business here in America. Pumpkin soup. Pumpkin muffins. Pumpkin latte. If you can or drink it, chances are someone is serving it pumpkin-style around about now! Halloween is so much bigger here, it is like Christmas, in fact I think it is bigger.

I arrived a month ago and preparations were in full swing then! So to get into the pumpkin spirit I decided to try a pumpkin spiced latte today, see photo below. Well, apart from being extraordinarily sweet, it was kind of nice, in a weird sort of way! I won’t be here for the actual day, which is a shame as I think it would be crazy/fun/scary/bemusing.

Pumpkin spiced latte
Pumpkin with my yog(h)urt

Buy the best you can be

California is the home of the body beautiful. There is every kind of treatment here to make you thinner, improve your skin tone, give you shinier hair and permanently tattoo on your makeup. An interesting place I saw today was a flotation tank lounge. I laughed as it reminds of the episode of Ab-Fab when Edina buys one and gets locked in!

There are many women here in Orange County with bad plastic surgery, huge hair and bulging purses, looking for something to spend it on. So I guess flotation spas probably do pretty well!

The Float Lounge
The Float Lounge

El dilema Mexicano

The Mexican dilemma. You can’t go anywhere at the moment without someone talking about Mexicans in America. It seems to me that America has a somewhat conflicted relationship with the Mexican people living here.

Donald Trump brought the whole issue to a head when he called for a wall to be built along the Mexican/American border. Hispanics in America are an increasingly important voter block, and how they vote matters. One of the things about California I love is the Mexican influence. The food here is great, I went to a great place called ‘La Sirena Grill’ today, and had the best veggie burrito. The business seems to run entirely by Mexicans which was good to see.

However, I then turn a corner and see some wealthy white woman tearing a strip off some Mexican workmen, shrieking at them in an entirely patronising manner. It would be hard to argue that there a significant percentage of white Americans would be perfectly happy if American Mexicans carried on being their gardeners, their waiters and their builders. It is so apparent when you look around how Mexicans seem to be treated like second class citizens here, it really is quite shocking. I can only hope the politics of fear that Mr T. spouts out on a daily basis are rejected by the majority of Americans and that the politics of acceptance and inclusion win out. That goes for the rights of women and the LGBT community too!

La Sirena Grill
La Sirena Grill
California · Travelling · USA

Week 5 – Bears and vegans and chickens, oh my!

My second to last week in the USA – for now. I have seen lots of different sides to California, from the hippy lefty liberal dropout side, to the extraordinary wealthy side, as well as the great outdoors!

A trip to Ojai – vegans, hippies and wine

Ojai is a small community near to Ventura, California. It is up in the mountains and has become a magnet for vegans, hippes, dropouts and wine drinkers. My kind of place.

I visited a great wine tasting place called ‘Casa Barranca‘. My friend Liz and I tried lots of whites, roses and reds, and learnt lots about vegan and organic wines too. Did you know what kind of weird things winemakers use to filter wine? Fish swim bladder anyone? Hmm, tasty. Photo below explains more about vegan wine if you are interested. The wine we tasted was all vegan and organic and very tasty too!

Hip vegan

We visited a great cafe called ‘Hip Vegan‘ and had some lovely tempeh, Vietnamese coffee with coconut cream and a great lentil dahl. Plus another place called ‘The Farmer and the Cook‘ in Meiners Oaks, where we has a cacao, almond milk and banana smoothie 🙂

Stayed in a great place called ‘The Hummingbird Inn‘, recommended if you’re ever out that way! Though the pool is so icy you may never feel your toes again!

The Hummingbird Inn, Ojai

What is vegan wine?

Wine tasting in Ojai

Malibu – money, money, money, it’s a rich man’s (and woman’s) world

The Malibu coastline
Malibu summons up images of wealth, sunshine and beautiful beaches. And ‘Baywatch’. Having experienced it, that’s pretty close to the reality of the place. Minus ‘Baywatch’. Having driven the coast road along what makes up about twenty miles of Malibu, I can confirm there’s a lot of money there! Huge homes with private beaches hug the cliffs, with big gates to keep the riff-raff like me out. Not all of it is private though. A trip to ‘Paradise Cove‘ will put you back a mere $40 to park…!

I half expected to bump into Gwyneth Paltrow or Kim Kardashian. I’m sure they must live there, it’s their kind of place. Afterwards I decided Liz and I needed to look more glam, hence the fetching facemasks haha!

The Hanibal Lecter style facemasks

The Great Outdoors – bears and snakes and chickens, oh my!

There are lots of things that want to kill you in California. Huge killer bears. Venomous snakes. Massive vicious chickens. Never go to ‘Chicken Headquarters’, it’s where the worst ones live :-0

Chicken HQ

Bear country, Ojai style

Snakes alive!

I also encountered my first wild snake this week! Firstly I nearly trod on it, then I nearly picked it up thinking it was an old piece of rope! Well, imagine my surprise when I saw two eyes staring intently at me! Well, after a stare off, which the snake won, I ran off to recover, and returned the scene about ten minutes later to find no trace of the snake. It was no doubt some killer snake variety and I was probably inches from death. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Over and out 😉

California · Laguna Beach · Travelling

Week 4 – California love

I’ve been away for four weeks now, and the relax button has well and truly been pressed. Took me a while to get into the travelling mode, but I’m there now. It has made me realise how in my everyday life I am always looking for something to do, somewhere to be, whereas now I just wake up and think, what will I do today? Nothing? Ok then.

California love

So I admit it. I’m having an affair. It’s been going on for years, but I finally have to tell you. I am in love with California. What’s that you say? You knew already!

It’s not just because my bestie lives here. Though that helps. I just love the lifestyle, the weather, the people (particularly my new pal Jody!), the beaches, the mountains, the rivers, the lakes, the food, the wine, the sunsets….shall I go on?

I am here for two more weeks then I come back again for Christmas 🙂

Here are a few photos from my last week in the golden state.

Well I can’t see it, can you?
Pumpkins, big & small – Halloween is coming!
Laguna art walk
Laguna sunset
Sunset on West Street beach, Laguna Beach
On the beach with Liz!
Sunset on Thalia Street beach, Laguna Beach
‘Enjoying’ my mud pack…
Liz & I covered in mud

 

MacDonald sculpture garden, Laguna Beach