Monthly Archives: August 2013

An anniversary to remember in paradise (Aitutaki in the Cook Islands)

Beautiful Maina Island

Beautiful Maina Island

Aitutaki is a really really special place – and in some ways difficult to describe because until you have been there it is hard to imagine it exists. The clearest blue lagoon with sparking waters, bright white deserted beaches, almost constant sunshine, very few people and lots of peace and quiet, lovely friendly locals, and a very relaxed way of life.

What a wonderful two weeks! We haven’t long been back from our trip ‘deep in the south pacific’ to the small island of Aitutaki in the Cook islands to celebrate our three year wedding anniversary. We first visited Aitutaki three years ago on our honeymoon and had the most incredible time. We got married at Lake Tahoe on the beach in August 2010 (which was a truly magical day) and flew from LA to start our honeymoon in Aitutaki, spending 5 days back then. This time around we decided on staying for two weeks. We also opted for a different type of accommodation this time too. Last time we stayed at the lovely and intimate Etu Moana (voted number 1 on Trip Advisor) and had a great time, but decided this time it would be nice to have more space and our own house. We discovered some amazing holiday houses and chose Are Kapakapa as where we would like to spend our time. The hosts of the house – Miles and Emma – were incredibly helpful over email when booking the house, and we definitely made a great decision.

Our holiday house

Our holiday house

We departed Auckland on Saturday 3rd August for Rarotonga – flying with Air New Zealand. We actually arrived on Friday – because we had crossed the date line and had to wind our watched back 22 hours! We had a few hours to wait at Rarotonga airport – which is pretty tiny and mostly outdoors! We also found that a funeral was actually taking place at the airport – my husband John inadvertently found himself sitting right in the middle of it without knowing, so after spotting the coffin soon moved!! There was lots of loud singing and it seemed more of a life’s celebration rather than a sombre affair. Life in the Cook islands is so different to anywhere else and this was certainly a different introduction. We then hopped on our Air Raro flight to Aitutaki which took about 45 minutes. We arrived in the evening and were greeted by Emma who had arranged a taxi to take us to our house – Are Kapakapa. It was a beautiful house – with loads of space and all the amenities we would possibly need, two bedrooms, a lovely kitchen, big outdoor living area, and great bathroom. The space around the house was also huge with a big garden and we felt really private. It was definitely a great choice! It was also a snip of the price of the two luxurious resorts around the island.

Aitutaki lagoon

Aitutaki lagoon

We spent the next two weeks on the island really enjoying relaxing and living on ‘island time’ as the locals call it. There simply isn’t much to do and that is the appeal! You can relax – enjoy the gorgeous sunshine and swimming in the amazingly blue lagoon.

Practically the island is pretty remote and as such the food situation is pretty different! I think the options they have are good despite their remoteness. The shops don’t stock that much, so bear this in mind if you are planning a trip. Some people bring things over with them from New Zealand.

Eating at the Flying Boat

Eating at the Flying Boat

They mostly some random tinned goods, some frozen goods, a few bits of cereal, crisps etc. There are some loaves of bread on the island but these sell out pretty quickly, and there is no fresh milk. Fresh fruit and veg are also quite hard to come by! So it can be quite difficult to buy enough food to make a good meal. As such most people on the island usually eat out, and there are some good options. Our favourite places to eat were Puffys who did delicious fish and chips, Koru Cafe (with very friendly owners and a varied menu) and the Flying Boat at the Aitutaki Lagoon resort.

Heading to dinner

Heading to dinner

At the flying boat we enjoying drinking Mocktails and eating their pizza. The view from here is also amazing! And definitely the best view we have ever had at a restaurant. It is also lovely to take a walk out onto the sandbar where you can watch the sun disappearing behind the island. What is also really lovely about the Flying Boat is a short boat trip you get across from the main island to the tiny island where it is located. It takes about a minute but has beautiful views around the lagoon. There isn’t much wrong with island life, but one of the very few negatives is mosquito bites, but they are just part of life on the island – which even the locals say! If you use good insect repellant you will avoid getting loads, but there are lots of them around so you won’t be able to avoid them all together. Make sure you take cream or something to help with the itching or pain and you will be fine. We weren’t that bothered by our bites at all really!

Our lovely scooter

Our lovely scooter

We got around on the island via a scooter which we hired from Rino’s Rentals. We had a few teething problems with two earlier scooters, but we ended up with a lovely vintage looking one. We only hired one as John was happy to drive and I was comfortable on the back. It cost us $20 a day to hire as we had it for 2 weeks. It was great driving around the island on it. They don’t provide helmets but the fastest you are allowed to go is just under 30mph (40kmph) and the island is so small and there aren’t too vehicles so you are safe as long as you take care when driving. We also had to get a Cook islands drivers licence for $2.50 from the local police station. John met the two police officers there who, when they found out John was from England, just wanted to chat about English football!

One beautiful sunset

One beautiful sunset

Some of our real highlights of our time on the island included watching the beautiful sunsets. The best beach for watching the sun set was a 5 minute walk away from our holiday house, and usually we had the whole beach to ourselves. It was amazing just to be able to sit, relax and watch the gorgeous colours fill the sky. We were also lucky enough to swim in the wonderful lagoon every day.

Nearby beach

Nearby beach

We usually swam down at our favourite beach called Ootu beach as it was deep enough to swim there, and there was never anyone around. We also swam at the beach where we watched the sun set. There was another beach that we spent time at, which we found just off the side of the road. Aitutaki is a really quiet island anyway, but it was great to discover another little hidden cove where only we were. We spent time here relaxing and enjoying the gorgeous views.

On honeymoon island

On honeymoon island

The real highlight of our trip came on our three year wedding anniversary – Monday 12th August. We decided to charter a boat for half a day, so we would have the boat all to ourselves and could go wherever we wished. We did the same thing on our honeymoon three years ago and had a wonderful time. This time around we used the same company – Wet & Wild, and were taken out by Quinton and a really memorable time.

Arriving at One Foot island

Arriving at One Foot island

We decided we wanted to do some island hopping, spending a bit of time on our favourite islands in the lagoon. We visited Honeymoon island, stunningly beautiful Maina island pictured at the top of this post (where we walked round the whole island), One Foot Island (where the lagoon looked an incredibly amazing blue) and volcanic Rapota island.

The boat we chartered that was used in the TV shows

The boat we chartered

For those of you who can remember the British TV show ‘Shipwrecked Battle of the Islands’ the Aitutaku lagoon was the setting for that show and two deserted islands in particular – Rapota and Moturaku were used to home the two teams (Tigers and Sharks). I always remember watching the show and thinking how amazing the islands looked and now we have been lucky enough to visit! They were also used in the American reality show ‘Survivor’ in the ‘Cook islands’ season a few years ago. We spoke to a few people who were involved with the filming of both shows and it was great finding out some insights and secrets! We discovered the boat that took us out on our trip was used to ferry contestants back and forth to the islands on Shipwrecked (and rather geekily watched a few bits back on youtube since and have seen it!).

Views from Maungapu

Views from Maungapu

We had such an amazing day out on the boat, got some stunning photos (see more in my gallery below) and just loved spending time together on our special day.

We also took a walk to the highest point of the island one morning – quite early so it wouldn’t be too hot. At only 124m it is hardly Everest but Maungapu was a steady climb and provided great views around the lagoon. We were able to see our favourite swimming spots, and where we took the boat over to our favourite food place.

Overall our trip to Aitutaki was truly unforgettable and we will never forget our incredible South Pacific adventures. To be able to spend so much time together relaxing, and just enjoying being together in such a beautiful place was simply priceless. 🙂

Happy in Aitutaki

Happy in Aitutaki

If anyone is interested in learning more about taking a trip to Aitutaki my company Blue Penguin Travel can certainly help. Whilst we specialise in trips to New Zealand we also have experience in the Cook islands, so please feel free to contact me to learn more.

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Categories: Accommodation, Activities, Cook Islands, Photographs | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Paradise (Aitutaki in the Cook Islands) here we come!

Maina island - taken in 2010

Maina island – taken in 2010

Honeymoon island - photo taken in 2010

Honeymoon island – photo taken in 2010

This time tomorrow (although it is kind of this time today because of confusing time/date issues!!) we will be on the beautiful tiny island of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. We visited Aitutaki – this gem of an island deep in the South Pacific – back in 2010 on our honeymoon and had one of the most amazing weeks of our lives. As we have been living in New Zealand for almost 11 months now  and we are so much closer to this wonderful place we decided to return to the beautiful island of Aitutaki to celebrate our 3 year wedding anniversary in the middle of August. We booked our trip back in January and leave from Auckland early tomorrow morning. Because we cross the international dateline we leave tomorrow but actually arrive today – it’s crazy! We fly from here to Rarotonga (which takes about 4 hours), and after a 3 hour wait will board the tiny plane that will take 50 mins to take us across to the amazing island of Aitutaki.

Drinks overlooking the lagoon

Drinks overlooking the lagoon

We will be staying in a lovely holiday house called Are Kapakapa where the hosts Miles and Emma have been incredibly lovely and helpful via email. We have hired a scooter for the two weeks and will make our way around on this – there are very few cars on the island, and it is very quiet and relaxed.

Have a look at Wiki’s travel guide for more info on Aitutaki if you are interested. Aitutaki has a population of just over 2,000 people and is only just under 7 square miles!  Visiting Aitutaki really is like going back in time to an untouched and unspoiled world, and it is exactly like the picture postcards of paradise.

There is very little internet access on the island, so I may not be able to post about our time on Aitutaki until we return, but it will nice to put our feet up and relax without thinking about the ‘outside world’ for a bit!

We are really excited about the next chapter of our adventure and our return to paradise! 🙂

Categories: Cook Islands, Photographs | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

A week in Sydney and the end of our amazing Australian adventure

Sydney Panoramic

Sydney panoramic

Mon 15th July – Mon 22nd July: Sydney/Manly

Cockatoos on Kat and Darren's balcony

Cockatoos on Kat and Darren’s balcony

After arriving back from a memorable 9 days in Tasmania we were lucky enough to have another week staying in Sydney with my sister – Kat, and her boyfriend – Darren. They live in a lovely flat in Manly – a short ferry ride away from the CBD. We spent 5 days with them before we left for the Great Ocean Road and Tassie – where we visited the Northern Beaches, and the Blue Mountains.

Opera house

Opera house

We did a whole mixture of things in our second week there and had a really great time. We spent quite a bit of time in the centre of Sydney – taking the ferry across from Manly each time. It only costs $9 one way, and takes about 30 minutes. It is a beautiful ride, as you leave the Manly wharf behind, and arrive at Circular Quay with the most beautiful view of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Views from park

Views from park

We walked across the harbour bridge, and spent time in the park down in Kirribilli where there is a brilliant view across to the centre of Sydney and up to the bridge. We enjoyed pancakes at Pancakes on the Rocks and spent time exploring the wonderful Rocks area. We also took a walk through the Royal Botanical gardens – which are huge! We only walked through a small section and they were very beautiful.

National Maritime Museum

National Maritime Museum

Whilst in Sydney we visited the National Maritime Museum and spent time exploring the huge ships they have there – with amazing histories. We were able to board these ships and learn about their past and life out on the water. The main ships we explored were the patrol boat, the submarine, the Vampire and the endeavour (which is a full-sized replica of Captain Cook’s ship that he used on his famous 1768-71 world voyage).

Endeavour replica

Endeavour replica

There were excellent indoor exhibits containing great artefacts. We were also lucky enough to visit the Elysium exhibition, which contained photographs and video taken on a fascinating trip to the Antarctic in 2010. I especially loved the photos of the penguins! Find out more here about this amazing exhibition.

Another museum we spent time at was the Australian Museum. John was especially interested in learning more about the aboriginal history of Australia, so we spent time in this area of the museum. Whilst here we also spent time at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition, which contained some really stunning photographs.

Goat and city at Taronga zoo

Goat and city at Taronga zoo

For many of these activities we used discount vouchers (between 10% and 20%) that we found in guidebooks/leaflets we picked up from the information centres in Sydney, so if you are visiting make sure you pick up some.

View of city from the zoo

View of city from the zoo

We also visited Taronga Zoo with Kat and her friends Ben and Pia who also live in Manly. We had a fantastic day at the zoo and seeing all the animals! It was a huge zoo with so much to see and do and we spent all day there. It was also great catching up with Ben (who is from my hometown of Frome) and his girlfriend Pia 🙂

Cool chicken we saw :)

Cool chicken we saw

I took a few snaps but we mostly focussed on enjoying watching the animals. The zoo is also in an amazing location, so you can look across the water and see the city – with the opera house and bridge in sight. Whilst on the cable car which takes you across the zoo you can also see the city as it comes into view, which is awesome.

View from our room

View from our room

Whilst visiting Sydney we also treated ourselves to one night staying at the very posh and luxurious Shangri-La. Our room was beautiful and we had paid a little extra for an incredible view of Sydney harbour! We could see both the opera house and the harbour bridge. There were brilliant window seats too so we spent hours just sitting there enjoying the view!

Our Shangri-La room

Our Shangri-La room

The room was huge, and so was the bathroom – it was awesome! You could even play music in the bathroom! The hotel was also located in the Rocks areas, so a great location. We enjoyed some food at Crust Pizza, and just enjoyed relaxing in our lovely room with such a wonderful view. Definitely an experience we won’t forget!

Manly beach

Manly beach

On our penultimate day – Saturday we spent time relaxing in Manly. We walked along from Manly to Shelly Beach, which was simply beautiful. It was a lovely walk along the water.

Enjoying time in Manly

Enjoying time in Manly

We also enjoyed a nice ice cream as we sat on the beach and watched the surfers. It was a beautiful late afternoon in Manly, and the weather was just amazing – we felt lucky to be there!

On our final day with Kat and Darren we celebrated Julymas – Christmas in July!

Christmas decorations!

Julymas decorations!

Apparently it is ok to celebrate a second Christmas over in this part of the world in their winter, so we thought we would make the most of this – and as anyone who knows me I LOVE Christmas so jumped at the chance! In the morning me and John made some decorations and wrapped a few presses we had bought Kat and Darren to thank them for having us to stay, and then we all went to a local farmer’s market to buy food for lunch.

Blue penguins

Blue penguins

In the afternoon we went to the aquarium in Manly which we all loved! We had actually arrived just as the blue penguin feeding was about to start so we headed up to Penguin Cove and saw them being fed. It was just brilliant being able to watch them – they seemed so happy and well looked after – we all loved it. We also explored the rest of the aquarium which was equally fantastic. The underwater walkthrough area is great, and we saw huge sharks, turtles and stingray. They have a huge selection of fish and other underwater animals. Overall it was a really great afternoon and a lovely way to spend our last day with Kat and Darren.

Big Sis and Lil Sis

Big Sis and Lil Sis

In the evening we enjoyed a delicious Julymas dinner cooked by Kat and Darren and relaxed together. The next morning it was sadly time to leave, as we caught a taxi to the airport. I’m not sure when I will see my big sis again as she lives in Manly and in a month I will be returning to the UK, but we made sure we left saying ‘see you soon’ rather than ‘goodbye’ after a wonderful few weeks together. 🙂

Amazing Australia

Amazing Australia

So this brings me to the end of mine and my hubby’s amazing Australian adventure. Australia has been so very kind to us – offering us some experiences of a lifetime – from stunning scenery, beaches and wildlife on the Great Ocean Road to a memorable experience in the snow in Tasmania, more wonderfully sunny days out on the road exploring and some wombat friends for life! We are sad to leave, but happy to return to New Zealand for a few more weeks before it is time to head back to the UK. We have one final adventure left – a trip to the Cook Islands so are really looking forward to that – which I will post about soon.

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Tasmania Days 8 and 9: Bruny Island and amazing albino wallabies

Rare albino wallaby on Bruny Island

Rare albino wallaby on Bruny Island

Sat 13th July and Sun 14th July: Russell Falls to Bruny Island and time on Bruny island. 

Another incredible wildlife highlight came in the shape of beautiful albino wallabies in the wild on Bruny island – such a wonderful sight! 🙂 More to come about that later . . .

Us on Bruny Island

Us on Bruny Island

Let me take you back to the start of our trip to Bruny Island. In my last post I wrote about our amazing trip to Cradle Mountain, and our trip down to Russell Falls. On Saturday morning we awoke and left the Russell Falls area heading for Kettering to catch the ferry to Bruny Island. It was really simple and easy to catch the ferry – we arrived at the ferry terminal and purchased our tickets, then parked in line to wait. We got a quick hot drink at the cafe while we waited, and it was soon time to board. It was a well-designed ferry which you drove on one end and then off the other (rather than the ferry to Fraser Island, which you have to reverse on to over what is basically a narrow plank of wood!). The journey was quick and we soon disembarked on Bruny Island.

View from The Neck

View from The Neck

Bruny Island is just off the coast of Tasmania – and has a population of around 600 people yet is actually really large – at 100km long! So as you can imagine it is a pretty quiet place – and also a beautiful one. What is interesting is that we had read it was really remote and wild, yet in our opinion it wasn’t that different to other parts of Tasmania we had visited. This isn’t a criticism, but it just wasn’t as different as we were expecting I guess! Especially after having been to Fraser Island further north, and Great Barrier Island in New Zealand – both of which feel very different to the mainland.

Still, we were going to enjoy the peace and quiet and take some time to explore what Bruny had to offer. On arriving we headed for South Bruny – passing through the ‘Neck’ which connects North and South Bruny. We climbed the steps to the top here and took some photos – the weather was a little cloudy but we still had a good view.

Our boutique spa studio

Our boutique spa studio

Inside our studio

Inside our studio

From here we headed to Adventure Bay and had some lunch at the Penguin cafe (the only place we found that was open – it was pretty deserted!). Also as a note, there are very few shops and no ‘supermarket’ on Bruny so we bought food on the mainland at nearby Kingston prior to taking the ferry over. Next we checked into our accommodation – 43 Degrees. This was a boutique spa studio very near the beach at Adventure Bay – which was also especially environmentally-friendly designed – using solar power etc. It was a beautiful apartment and a lovely place to stay. Because of its design it was also really warm, which was lovely in Tassie’s cold winter, and definitely the warmest place we stayed.

Misty Adventure Bay

Misty Adventure Bay

Unfortunately during our time on Bruny the weather didn’t cooperate – and we could hardly complain after near-perfect weather in Tassie so far for the previous week! We had lots of rain on Saturday afternoon after we arrived, and all-day Sunday – our main full day on Bruny. What was actually great about this is that we didn’t feel any pressure to go out and do loads of things which was lovely – and a nice break! Although it has been amazing being on the road in Tassie it has also been pretty exhausting, so it was nice just to have a relaxing day. We explored the Adventure Bay area, walking along the beach and also walked part of the Grass Point walk.

Me and the albino wallaby

Me and the albino wallaby

This brings me to the wildlife spot I mentioned at the start of this post. Bruny island is the ONLY place in the world where the rare albino wallabies still live in the wild, and we spotted two of them on this walk. For anyone interested in looking for them, we walked along the adventure bay beach to the end, and headed inland, following the Fluted Cape walk signs. Once on land and faced with a left turn towards the coast or a right turn further inland, we took the right turn and that is where we spotted the albino wallabies on the grass. It was really amazing to see them. We took some photos and just enjoyed watching them. We felt so lucky to have seen them! 🙂

Amazing albino wallaby

Amazing albino wallaby

We also spotted some other wallabies with them, which were great to see. On the two nights we spent there we also spotted wallabies just outside our apartment eating the grass at night!

Happy in Tassie :)

Happy in Tassie 🙂

We just really relaxed the rest of the time on Bruny and enjoyed spending time in our gorgeous apartment. On Monday morning we woke up, packed up and drove up to the ferry terminal before getting the ferry back to the mainland. We spent some time in the historic town of Richmond before arriving at the airport in time for a flight back to Sydney in the afternoon.

The time had come to say goodbye to Tasmania and we were really sad! We have seen some really incredible places in our time in New Zealand, and in Oz but Tassie was just really extra-special to us – we were so lucky to have seen such wonderful animals in the wild, and our Tasmanian adventure will remain with us forever. 🙂

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Categories: Accommodation, Activities, Australia, Photographs, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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