Accommodation

Exciting new business expansion – my new venture as a travel counsellor!

Travel Counsellors imageI have some super exciting news. I have been lucky enough to work with clients all over the world through Blue Penguin Travel (my previous travel consultancy company which specialised in off-the-beaten-track bespoke itineraries in New Zealand) which has been brilliant but I have now decided to take the next step in my travel journey and I have completed my training to be a fully independent home-working travel agent for an amazing company called Travel Counsellors, which is a very exciting new venture for me.

Based from my home in Frome, Somerset in the UK I will now be able to plan/book holidays anywhere in the world for global clients (including of course those wishing to travel to New Zealand as I have such vast knowledge and experience of this country).

I will have access to great prices, packages and offers for any different type of holiday you can think of, and can also book different parts of the trip individually e.g. accommodation, flights, etc.

I have over 15 years experience of planning and booking trips (including my own destination wedding to Lake Tahoe, California, and our round-the-world honeymoon) and have run Blue Penguin Travel for the last 3 and a half years.

The focus of our company – Travel Counsellors – is on a special personalised tailored service, where I work as the client’s own Personal Travel Counsellor – really getting to know my clients and helping them plan and book the perfect trip. We will also be there for you 24/7, which high-street/online travel agents cannot promise! We are an international company based in 7 countries and have over 1400 employees across the world – and we will always go that extra mile for you. 

If anyone reading this is interested in having me help them book their holiday or trip away then please take a look at my Travel Counsellors page, my Facebook page and get in touch through either of those (or use my Contact page on here!). 

I just love helping people to travel and see the world so feel so lucky to be able to do it as a job! 🙂

Categories: Accommodation, Activities, Australia, Blue Penguin, Cook Islands, New Zealand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 5 affordable places to stay in New Zealand

I have been debating whether to write this post and let out my secrets of some truly magical places to stay in New Zealand, but luckily for you I have decided to!

I am aware with an unlimited budget you could stay in places even more spectacular, but these places to stay are more for the ‘everyday’ traveller and will not blow your budget.

New Zealand has some of the most incredible and breathtaking scenery in the world, and whilst travelling through the country we stayed in some wonderful places. So, here we go with my Top 5:

1. Little Greenie, Golden Bay

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Buried away up a gravel track in Wainui Bay in the Golden Bay on New Zealand’s South island lies Little Greenie – somewhere so very special, that once you have stayed there no where else will quite stack up.

Lawrence and his team have created somewhere not only the most energy efficient and best eco-home in New Zealand, but somewhere you will never ever forget staying.

IMG_7141.jpgLittle Greenie is a completely liveable sustainable home (with electricity, hot water and indoor shower) and harnesses the sun’s power. Its unique position atop a hill over looking the bay is unique – you cannot see another person from this stunning vantage point. You can even take an outdoor bath underneath the stars!

Details:

Where? Close to Wainui Bay, Golden Bay.

Cost? $185 – $260 NZD per night.

Access? Up a narrow gravel road, accessible by 2WD car. Follow the signs.

 

2. Curio Bay Accommodation, Catlins Region

IMG_0363Curio Bay StudioTucked away in a quiet corner of the off-the-beaten-track region of New Zealand called the Catlins, lies Curio Bay Accommodation – a gem of a place.

Boasting incredible views these boutique studios are on the beachfront. Little blue penguins nest underneath the decking so you may hear then heading out to sea in the morning or returning at night. In the summer you may even see hector’s dolphins playing in the surf right outside your door. No wifi or TV so you can escape from it all.

Details:

Where? Curio Bay, Catlins region.

Cost? $160 – $200 NZD per night.

Access? Located on Curio Bay Road, route is a mixture of sealed/unsealed roads (depending on the direction you are coming from).

 

3. Oaks Shores Hotel Apartments, Queenstown

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IMG_9069The Oaks Shores apartments offer some of the best views for their price in the whole of Queenstown. Avoid the hotel rooms as they are pretty small, and opt for either a 1 or 2 bedroom apartment with a lake view (best views are from level 5). All apartments come with a full kitchen and underfloor heating and some have laundry, gas fire etc. Views of the surrounding mountains from the balcony are just out of this world! From here you can sit, relax, watch the sun go down and the moon rise.

Details: 

Where? Queenstown

Cost? 1 bedroom lake view apartments start from $214 NZD per night.

Access? Easy, off the main road heading into Queenstown on the lefthand side.

 

4. Abri Apartments, Paihia (Treetops chalet)

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The Treetops chalet at the Abri Apartments will provide you with a comfortable, relaxing and memorable stay. Sit out on your balcony and take in the wonderful view. The microfibre sheets in our chalet were the softest and most comfortable in all of New Zealand!

The chalet comes with air con, which is handy as the Bay of Islands experiences some of New Zealand’s nicest and hottest weather! And it also comes with a spa bath so you can relax and rest your legs from your day’s walking.

Details:

Where? Paihia, Bay of Islands

Cost? $149 – $299 NZD per night.

Access? Easy access, not far from the centre of Paihia, with 32 stairs up to entrance.

 

5. Aoraki Court, Mount Cook Village

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IMG_3521Aoraki Court is a brilliant alternative to the big-player in the area, the Hermitage Hotel (which is also nice, but just a different experience). It is a lovely boutique motel that provides luxury accommodation in the heart of Mount Cook Village. The units are extremely comfortable and have stunning views of the surrounding mountains with all directly facing majestic Mount Sefton. Parking is super easy and there is unlimited free wifi. Some units also have a spa bath – perfect for soaking in after a long day exploring the amazing surrounding scenery. It has all you need to relax and feel at home.

Details:

Where? Mount Cook Village

Cost? $165 – $325 NZD per night.

Access? By sealed roads, easy to locate in the village.

So there we have it – my Top 5 affordable places to stay in New Zealand. I hope you enjoyed reading about them and feel free to share any brilliant affordable places you have stayed.

Blue Penguin TravelIf you are interested in travelling to New Zealand and would like help planning your itinerary then let Blue Penguin Travel help. We are an independent travel company who offer a bespoke itinerary planning service, to help you create an amazing off-the-beaten-track travel adventure in New Zealand. Feel free to drop us an email: nicola@bluepenguintravel.com or check out our Facebook page.

Categories: Accommodation, Blue Penguin, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, South Island, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ever wanted to visit Paradise (aka The Cook Islands)? Let Blue Penguin Travel help!

With vast experience of travelling to and exploring the amazing island of Aitutaki, Blue Penguin Travel have now decided to expand the services that we offer to include planning trips to Aitutaki in the Cook Islands – which is simply paradise!

Blue Penguin TravelWho are Blue Penguin Travel?

To give you a little bit of background – Blue Penguin Travel is my own travel consultancy company that I set up back in February 2013, inspired by living in the most beautiful country in the world – New Zealand! Since then, after living in New Zealand for a year and travelling to almost every far-fetched corner of this stunning place, I have moved back to the UK and had a beautiful baby boy. Since setting up my company I have helped some wonderful clients have incredible adventures in New Zealand and I have loved every second of it.

In a nutshell, Blue Penguin Travel specialises in creating amazing off-the-beaten-track travel adventures in New Zealand and we offer awesome travel advice, care and expertise to create fully personalised travel itineraries. We can help you have the adventure of a lifetime in New Zealand.

We have now expanded our services – and will be offering clients assistance with planning their trips to Aitutaki in the beautiful Cook Islands. We can create personalised itineraries for your special trip to this beautiful island.

Aitutaki Lagoon

Aitutaki Lagoon

Why would I want to visit Aitutaki?

It really is so unimaginably unspoilt and many of the places you visit appear to have been taken straight from a picture postcard. Aitutaki is a tiny island, part of a group of islands called The Cook Islands – located deep in the South Pacific Ocean.

With its gorgeous pristine beaches and inviting turquoise waters, it is the ideal location for a honeymoon, special anniversary/birthday trip or a relaxing break away. The island is just developed enough to ensure you have a wonderful trip when you visit, but the facilities provided do not ruin or spoil the beauty of this incredibly beautiful island. It really feels like one of the very few unspoilt paradises left in the world.

Where is Aitutaki located?

The map below shows where Aitutaki is located (indicated by the star) – it really is in the middle of nowhere and is surrounded by a strikingly beautiful turquoise lagoon.

Many people have heard of Rarotonga – the largest of the Cook Islands, but Aitutaki is only a short flight from Rarotonga and much quieter, less developed and more relaxed. It is an incredibly beautiful place that has to be seen to be believed!

Aitutaki Map

A holiday house

A holiday house

What is life like on Aitutaki?

There are no high-rise buildings on the island (nothing above one storey), very few cars (many people travel around by scooter) and a very laid back way of life. Islanders refer to ‘island time’ as the time they live by – where no one rushes and no one can be early or late! All the islanders are incredibly friendly and lovely. As you explore the island by scooter (or car if you wish) they will often wave as they pass you on their scooter, or wave from their houses. Often goats and pigs roam free and it isn’t uncommon to find a loveable wild pig in your back-garden (we did!). Much of the fresh fruit and vegetables on the island are grown there and other food is shipped in once a week.

Deserted beach

Deserted beach

Where could I stay and what could I do on Aitutaki that is really special?

There are many different accommodation options to choose from to suit varying tastes and requirements – varying from small private villas and holiday houses to beach-front bungalows. You can sleep just metres from the gorgeous lagoon and listen to the waves lapping at the shore , or relax on a hammock and enjoy a cocktail on the beach looking out into the lagoon.

There are different activities you can take part in, but one of the most special is taking a private boat trip out on the lagoon to explore the other tiny uninhabited islands that surround Aitutaki for a day – get dropped off on your own private island, enjoy time in the sunshine on the pure white-sand beaches, snorkel, swim and relax – completely alone and away from any form of civilisation.

How can Blue Penguin Travel help me?

Let us help you put together an itinerary for your trip to Aitutaki that is completely personalised and tailored to you. We have insider information on the best food places and accommodation options, the best hidden secret beaches, the best swimming and snorkelling spots and the best boat trips out on the lagoon or activities to take part in (including fishing, scuba diving and traditional ‘island nights’).

How can I contact you?

Take a look at our website, our cook islands page and please contact us using our contact page or drop me an email at nicola@bluepenguintravel.com if you are interested in travelling to the stunningly beautiful island of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands and would like a personalised quotation. We can help you plan the trip of a lifetime to paradise!

Categories: Accommodation, Activities, Blue Penguin, Cook Islands, Destination Feature | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beautiful Hahei Sunrise

Sunrise in Hahei

Sunrise in Hahei

I thought I would share one of my favourite sunrise photos from New Zealand today. It is of a sunrise in Hahei on the gorgeous Coromandel Peninsula. This photo was taken back in 2010 when my husband and I were in New Zealand on our honeymoon. We were lucky to be staying in a beautiful holiday house that overlooked Hahei beach and the sea and one morning awoke with a bright red light streaming in our windows and looked out to see this absolutely stunning view! Just one of so many happy memories we have of this incredible country 🙂

If you are interested, prints and products with this image (along with many of my other New Zealand photographs) can be purchased via my Redbubble page.

Categories: Accommodation, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A brief stopover in Singapore and the end is nigh . . .

View from our balcony

View from our balcony

The last part of our amazing year away had come – a stopover in Singapore on the way back to the UK from New Zealand. For anyone who is a regular reader of my blog you will know both myself and my husband, John, have had THE most incredible year in New Zealand. We have also been lucky enough to spend a month in Australia (travelling the Great Ocean Road, visiting amazing Tasmania (in particular the incredible Cradle Mountain) and spending time with my sister in Sydney and the Blue Mountains, and two weeks on the stunningly beautiful island of Aitutaki deep in the South Pacific Ocean.

August 27th – the date had arrive for us to leave our beloved New Zealand. We departed from Christchurch (such a lovely airport) and flew with Singapore Airlines to Singapore. The flight passed pretty quickly and we were soon in Singapore. Stepping off the plane the strong heat and humidity hit! We had visited Hong Kong before so knew what to expect, but it still gives you a good shock! We had arranged for a car to collect us from the airport and take us to our lovely hotel (the luxurious Pan Pacific – we had splashed out). On checking in we were given an upgrade to a room with a view of the city and water – it was lovely.

The Flyer

The Flyer

We spent the next few days recovering from a little bit of jet lag and exploring the wonderful city state of Singapore. We were dazzled by the high rise buildings and super-modern malls. We spent time at the National Museum of Singapore, and took a trip on the Singapore Flyer for amazing views of the city. We also spent a couple of hours (in the crazy heat!) at a wonderful hidden gem of a place called Haw Par Valley. I had received a recommendation from a friend of the family that I should visit this place – so we took the MRT (for those who have visited London, think uncrowded/clean/cold-air-filled version of the tube!) on a fairly long journey from Promenade station (the nearest to our hotel) to the station at Haw Par Villa.

The amazing Haw Par Villa!

The amazing Haw Par Villa!

On arriving we knew we were in for something special as the decoration that filled the entrance was amazing! The ‘Your Singapore’ website says it is “like no other place in the world” and they aren’t wrong! The whole place is adorned with rather ageing statues and dioramas telling the stories of various Chinese legends and folklore. It is classified as a ‘historical’ theme park – and in my opinion has much charm!! Loads of the statues were just so random – such as the pictured crazy rat with a gun!

Our favourite part – and not for the fainthearted – was called the ‘Ten courts of hell’ which tells the stories of various scenes of punishment and reincarnation. The statues were pretty graphic and have been known to scare young children – and as such I will not be posting them here – but think gruesome statues depicting scenes such as being sliced in half and killed on a bed of nails (just to name a few!). If you really wish to see photos then take a look here as this website documents it well. It was actually a fascinating place! Soon the heat became too much for us, and after exploring as much of the park as we could, we left. Definitely an off-the-beaten track gem as we only saw a couple of other people in the whole park whilst we were there.

In Singapore Pizza Hut

In Singapore Pizza Hut

We also enjoyed a couple of trips to good old Pizza Hut (yes a favourite of mine) – which tasted pretty nice! We also discovered we could get to the restaurants and mall without leaving our hotel – we had a special entrance and such avoided the crazy heat which was a real plus!

August 30th was soon upon us and the time had arrived for us to leave Singapore and fly back to the UK. We took a taxi from our wonderful hotel to the airport, and after a slight blip from Singapore Airlines (try arriving early to check in and being told our flight was full and we were going to be put on one over 12 hours later!! I wasn’t having any of it though and in true ‘Kinnie spirit’ I soon had them telling us we could fly on our original flight and printing our boarding passes 🙂 ) we were all checked in and waiting at the airport. We knew my parents would be meeting us the other side at Heathrow and we were really looking forward to seeing them as had missed them lots.

As we sat waiting to depart our minds took us back to our truly incredible year. We had seen and done so much more than we had ever dreamed off – and had so many amazing experiences. It really had been the most amazing New Zealand adventure! As I said on our last post our year away has really changed us, and we plan to take this with us on onwards in our journey through life – wherever it may take us.

What is next? Who knows, but I am excited to find out!

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One last New Zealand road trip

Sunday 25th August – Tuesday 27th August: Queenstown to Mount Cook to Christchurch

So our final road trip in New Zealand was upon us. 600km, 48 hours – us and a free Toyota Camry!!

It has taken me a while to write my last post about our time in New Zealand – it is now well over a month since we took our final road trip. I think I partly feel that once I write this our amazing New Zealand adventure is over – that writing this closes that chapter on our life. However, I want to try and feel like the memories and legacy from this trip will live on in everything we do and in how we live our lives.

Our Camry

Our Camry

As my last post explained, we sadly left Queenstown on the Sunday morning, but what it didn’t mention is where we were headed next and how! During our time in Queenstown we always knew our next step was going to be that we flew to Christchurch before staying for a couple of days and flying out of there on the Tuesday. Now despite feeling like we should see Christchurch and spend time there, all we really wanted to do was spent time in our favourite place in New Zealand before flying out – Mount Cook. So we decided to make a change – we decided instead to cancel our flight (we had got an incredibly cheap deal via grabaseat and paid months ago so could afford to let this go) and hire a car instead and drive ourselves from Queesntown via Mount Cook to Christchurch airport.

We love Mount Cook

We love Mount Cook

Having spent a year in New Zealand we knew this was one of our favourite and most scenic drives, and also after three previous visits to Mount Cook that we couldn’t leave without saying one final goodbye. I gave Thrifty in Queenstown a call (who we had hired a couple of cars with previous and had been great) and discovered that could offer us a relocation (or a ‘relo’ as they put it!) for FREE! They needed a car taking from Queesntown to Christchurch airport within 48 hours and all we had to do was pay for petrol 🙂 The best bit was what car it was – a lovely amazing Toyota Camry! It was huge, and posh and completely wonderful! We never had so many comments on our journey about what a great car it was – and all for free! Thank you Thrifty.

So despite leaving Queenstown with a heavy heart back on that Sunday, we knew we still had one last road trip and one last adventure to come. Being in the Camry was a real dream, and John said it was so comfortable to drive it didn’t feel like he was really driving! It made all the difference on our two long journeys.

At Peter's Lookout

At Peter’s Lookout

We set off on the road to Mount Cook, passing through New Zealand’s beautiful scenery, passing the mountains we had come to know so well. We said goodbye to Lindis Pass as we passed, and hello to lovely Twizel. We made a stop here to visit one of our favourite places to eat in New Zealand – Shawtys – to eat their delicious pizza! After our lunch stop we headed for Mount Cook, taking that turn off up to the stunning scenic road that winds alongside the gorgeous Lake Pukaki. We stopped at one of our favourite lookouts – Peter’s lookout for some photos across the lake towards Mount Cook. We carried onward and soon Mount Cook was out in front of us, as we drove ever closer –  and soon arrived. We checked in to our favourite place to stay at Mount Cook – Aoraki Court Motel – where we were given a lovely view towards the mountains. We felt at home!

View from Hooker Valley bridge

View from Hooker Valley bridge

We headed out shortly after arriving to a really memorable spot for us at Mount Cook – the first Hooker Valley swing bridge. All of our visits to this area have included a walk here – particularly one with my parents when they visited back in December. There is something really special about the walk from the car park through the stunning scenery, to the viewpoint over Mueller lake and the walk down to the bridge below. It will always hold such lovely memories for us. The following morning we took a walk to Kea Point – where we were the only ones on the walk and had it all to ourselves. We reached the lookout and enjoyed the scenery and silence. We said goodbye and took one final visit to the visitor centre, before heading back to our Camry for the last part of our journey.

As we headed off leaving Mount Cook behind, I think back to October last year and our first visit to Mount Cook – venturing out for the first time on walks in the area (many in the rain!), and our amazing trip out on the Tasman lake with Glacier Explorers. And on to our two other visits since then (including one in our spaceship). So much has happened and we have come so far.

Beautiful Lake Tekapo

Beautiful Lake Tekapo

We made a final stop at Lake Tekapo and took a walk down by the lake to take in its beauty. Lake Tekapo will always hold a special place in our hearts as it was the first place in New Zealand we visited on our first trip here back in 2006. We drove from Christchurch airport late at night and woke up in the morning in a motel overlooking the lake to the most amazing view. I will never forget that feeling of amazement at seeing the shimmering beauty of Lake Tekapo and feeling a strong love for New Zealand after only one day! Now 7 years later we were at the end of an epic year here, and it felt like a fitting final place. We took our lovely Camry on his final leg to Christchurch airport, stayed overnight in a motel near the airport and flew out early Tuesday morning.

So our amazing New Zealand travel adventure had come to an end – this will be my last post about our time in New Zealand – and have one last post left about our stopover in Singapore, which will be my last about our year away.  New Zealand had given us so much – it really is hard to put into words. But as I said we will take our amazing experiences and memories with us on our journey through life, and especially take that amazing positive kiwi mentality! Goodbye New Zealand – we will be back.

Categories: Accommodation, Activities, New Zealand, Photographs, South Island | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A final Queenstown goodbye

Sunday 18th August – Sunday 25th August: Queenstown

Snowcapped mountains from the air

Snowcapped mountains from the air

The time had come – we had to say goodbye to Queenstown. Part of us really wished we could stay, but the UK was beckoning and after spending as much time as possible in our year over in New Zealand in Queenstown we knew this would be our last week in our favourite place in NZ.

Let me take you back to our arrival back into New Zealand from the beautiful Cook islands. We flew from the beautiful island of Aitutaki (read about celebrating our anniversary in paradise here) to Rarontonga, where we had an overnight stay, and then flew on to Auckland. Here we had a 4 hour wait, where I made a call to my parents who I hadn’t spoken to for ages, so it was lovely to have a catch up. Our last flight in New Zealand was from Auckland down to Queenstown – and again we flew with Jetstar. Being a budget airline in NZ we hadn’t heard great things about Jetstar but we have nothing but praise, after having really positive experiences with them. We didn’t experiences any cancellations or major delays, and were really happy with all our flights with them. We would definitely recommend flying with them if you are looking for a cheap internal flight option in new Zealand. On our flight to Queenstown the scenery was stunning – we saw lots of snow on the mountains as we flew over Lake Wakatipu to the airport.

Queenstown Beauty

Queenstown Beauty

We touched down amongst the beautiful snow-capped mountains of Queenstown that surround the airport – just as stunning as remembered. We headed to our accommodation – the Alexis Motel – where we were staying for 3 nights in a Panoramic Studio with wrap-around view across Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. We loved our room here and it was a great place to stay and only a 10 minute walk from Queenstown centre. The remaining 4 nights were spent back at Lake Edge – a holiday rental we stayed at back in May. Lake Edge is the lower section of a larger house – managed by Liz who lives above, and who is just the loveliest person. She made us feel so very welcome and we enjoyed our chats with her! The place is completely self contained with an amazing view of Lake Wakatipu and only a short walk from the centre.

We spent the week enjoying all our favourite things in Queenstown – including playing mini golf, walking the Frankton Peninsula walkway, taking the gondola up Bob’s Peak, and having pizza at the amazing Winnies. We spent a month living in Queenstown back in January and were lucky to spend a further two weeks here in winter.

In Arrowtown

In Arrowtown

We also hired a car from Thrifty – a nice white Corolla – to explore some of our favourite areas around Queenstown. We took the amazingly scenic drive to Glenorchy (where we lived for a month back in February), stopping off along the way at Wilson’s Bay and a lovely beach (thinking back to a wonderful Valentine’s Day we spent in the area) and and took a final walk down the jetty – reminiscing about all our favourite times there. We also drove beyond Glenorchy towards Paradise, stopping at some of our favourite places on the way – including where they filmed Isengard from LOTR.

We also took a drive out to Arrowtown and explored the old Chinese Settlement one last time, and drove round to Kingston stopping at some lovely spots along the way.

Soon the time had come to leave – the morning of Sunday 25th August. We had one final travel adventure left, which I will blog about next and which will be my last post about our amazing year in New Zealand.

Leaving Queenstown with a tear in my eye I glanced up to the mountains above, remembering the amazing helicopter trip for my 30th birthday, waved goodbye to our Christmas house where we have such lovely memories of a family Christmas, took a final look at the stunning Lake Wakatipu behind and thought back to the hot summer’s day when we took a glacial dip, and said farewell to some of the happiest times of our lives.

Happy in Queenstown

Happy in Queenstown

Categories: Accommodation, Activities, New Zealand, Photographs, South Island | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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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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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Tasmania Days 6 and 7: The beautiful and memorable Cradle Mountain

Thurs 11th July – Fri 12th July: Cradle Mountain and Russell Falls

Highlanders Cottages

Highlanders Cottages

So for the next instalment of our Tasmanian adventure – we had now arrived in the beautiful Cradle Mountain area. As I explained on our last post we were staying in a gorgeous cottage at Cradle Mountain Highlanders Cottages – called Buttongrass. It was a lovely wooden cabin with a fire box fuelled by logs to warm it nicely. This is definitely one of our favourite places we stayed. The people were so friendly and welcoming and the cottage was perfect  – with lots of lovely extra homely touches.

Enjoying the snow

Enjoying the snow

It had also snowed quite significantly a few days prior to our arrival, and so the whole area looked especially pretty with snow everywhere. We certainly made the most of the snow and went out on lots of snowy walks to explore! It seemed quite surreal being in the snow in Australia – as it is one of the very few places where it does snow!

Pademelon in the wild

Pademelon in the wild

Cradle Mountain is also one of the best areas in Tasmania to see wildlife in the wild. On our first evening we were visited by a lovely pademelon on our front porch! And the evening after that we also saw more of them. Whilst we moved around the area we also spotted wombats by the side of the road. As it had snowed so much we saw them mainly on areas where snow hadn’t settled on the grass.

Loving Cradle Mountain

Loving Cradle Mountain

Thursday was our main day in the Cradle Mountain National Park. We had already purchased our national park pass whilst down in Coles Bay, so were able to explore the park. We also received tickets for the park shuttle bus. On the day we wanted to take our walk they weren’t allowing cars through to park by the starting points for the walks so everyone took the shuttle bus. This meant they were pretty in demand – even off-season! Apparently it is just crazily busy here in summer. We waited for around 45 minutes for the bus, which wasn’t too bad. It was quite icy and snowy everywhere though so we had to take care not to slip up!

The shuttle bus picked us up in the morning outside the visitor centre and took us to the Dove Lake walk car park. The drive up was beautiful and we loved seeing everything all snow-covered. On arriving at Dove Lake we took some brilliant photos of Cradle Mountain reflected in the lake. My favourite one is below:

Cradle Mountain reflected in Dove Lake

Cradle Mountain reflected in Dove Lake

On Dove Lake walk

On Dove Lake walk

It looked just stunning – especially with such clear and sunny weather. We headed off on the walk around the lake, which was pretty precarious because of the snow and ice! I certainly wouldn’t have recommended it to any families or older people in the snow! We absolutely loved the walk – despite it being quite tough in the weather. The snow and ice still lay on the paths almost the whole way round, which did make it very slippy in places – some on the edges with sheer drops below! We took great care though and I managed to only fall over once!! And I fell nice and cushioned on my bottom!! We also stopped for a nice picnic once about halfway round the lake. The views almost the whole way were amazing – we looked out over the lake with Cradle Mountain ahead of us.

View from Glacier Rock

View from Glacier Rock

Towards the start of the walk we climbed up to glacier rock, which was a high viewpoint with fantastic views out over the lake and of Cradle Mountain. The walk around the lake was quite strenuous as it did have a couple of tough climbs/drops, but I think without the snow we would have found it easier! However, we didn’t mind as the snow made everything look even more beautiful! We think it is definitely one of the most beautiful walks we have ever done.

On arriving back at our cosy cabin after the walk we warmed up by the fire and enjoyed a lovely evening in relaxing and watching a film. We felt content after one of our best days on our entire trip since leaving the UK last September.

Russell Falls

Russell Falls

The following morning – Friday – we sadly had to leave Cradle Mountain. We awoke early and got on the road as soon as it was light as had a long drive ahead. We were heading down to Russell Falls, and took people’s advice that it was best to head back through Sheffield and Deloraine to the midland highway and take that down to Russell Falls. We stopped at Ross on the way – which resembled a pretty and quaint English town.

On arriving at our Russell Falls accommodation, we headed up there to do the walk to the waterfall which looked awesome! You need a national park pass to enter and visit the falls, so we were lucky we had our season park pass which meant we could enter. The walk is around 20 minutes through beautiful forest. The falls themselves are just stunning! We took a few pics here and headed back to relax for the evening.

Our time in Cradle Mountain was just incredible – and a time we will never forget. Next stop – Bruny island!

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Tasmania Day 5: The road to Cradle Mountain and ‘that’ crazy shortcut

Kangaroo in the wild

Kangaroo in the wild on the road to Cradle Mountain

St Columba Falls

St Columba Falls

Whilst not a post heavy on scenic photographs I still thought the road to Cradle Mountain warranted its own post. To carry on the tale of our Tasmania adventure, after we left beautiful Binalong Bay (see one of my previous posts for photos) we were heading for Cradle Mountain. Our first stop on the road was St Columba Falls – which are approx 30 minutes drive west of St Helens., and at 90m high is the highest waterfall in Tasmania. A short walk from the car park (mostly downhill going there) takes you to the foot of the falls which were pretty spectacular! The positioning of the sun made taking a great photo a little tricky but I got one which is ok. It was brilliant to just stand and watch the powerful waterfall rush and flow cascading down the rocks in front of us. It was definitely worth the trip.

Next up we needed to head back to the main road to get across to Launceston and then on to Cradle Mountain. We had a detailed map of Tasmania we had purchased before our trip and noticed there were a few minor roads which linked up with the main road much further on – as opposed to going all the way back to the A3 and all the way round the top. Now, we have taken a few shortcuts in the past that have worked out well (and a few that perhaps haven’t!), but we thought long and hard as to whether this would be a good idea – and decided it was. The main reason we decided this is because this route took us past a tourist site – Ralph Falls – and we thought that the road couldn’t be that bad if it passed this place – we were WRONG! Anyone reading this who may have driven this road may feel differently and feel that this road was no trouble – but in all our experience of all the crazy roads we have ever driven (including some very crazy ones in Iceland and New Zealand) this was officially the worst!! We (rather naively perhaps) thought that any roads unsuitable for normal cars would have ‘4WDs only’ signs, so proceeded even when the road started to get very rough. And when I say rough I don’t mean gravel, or stones, I mean small boulders!! What vehicle were we in you ask? No, not a Monster truck, not even a dinky Rav 4, but a Hyundai i20! And a white one (which wasn’t white at the end of the trip I might add!). Our car most definitely should not have been driving on this road. This was compounded when the only other vehicle we met was in fact some version of a monster truck. 🙂 The problem was, once we had started heading down this road it became more difficult to turn around the further we went – of course we should have turned around as soon as it became tricky! The other disconcerting thing was that our sat nav refused to recognise the route we were going, which made us worry slightly that this could in fact be a road to nowhere. We did genuinely believe we were going to break the car, and for almost the whole journey (which lasted for a few hours) we had no phone signal, and as such would not have been able to call for help had we broken down. Maybe it is the kiwi spirit which has been installed in us over the last 10 months but we didn’t row, we didn’t shout, we were both really calm and kept reassuring each other the whole time it would be ok (when we had no idea it would!). The main reason that we were ok was down to the incredible driving skills of my husband John who somehow managed to avoid every large boulder and large pot hole that got in our way, and negotiate tight corners with steep drops below. He did amazingly!

The one saving grace of a completely crazy shortcut was that we were lucky enough to see two lovely kangaroos in the wild, whilst in the middle of nowhere. The two kangaroos just hopped out in front of the car and I managed to grab my small camera (without the large zoom, but never mind!) and take a quick shot – as you will see above.  We were delighted to see them! We also felt a little that they were possibly thinking ‘what on earth is this car doing out here’?!

So, as I am writing this you know we survived and aren’t still stuck out there! Definitely a memorable part of our amazing Australian/Tasmanian adventure – but not a journey we would like to repeat!!

Oh, and it was the C428 heading west from Columbia Falls towards Ringarooma – for anyone interested in avoiding it in future! 🙂

Our cosy cabin in the snow was waiting

Our cosy cabin in the snow was waiting

Cradle Mountain was calling, and after a brief stop in Launceston for food shopping we headed on. We took the recommended route via Deloraine and Sheffield (via the B13 and B14) and finally on to Cradle Mountain. As we drew closer we spotted snow had fallen in this area, and was either side of the road – it looked so pretty. Excitedly, we pushed on and soon arrived at our accommodation surrounded by lots of snow – the beautiful Cradle Mountain Highlanders Cottages, where a warm and cosy cabin heated by a lovely log fire awaited. But that story is for another day! 🙂

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The beginning of a Tasmanian adventure and a trip to Port Arthur (Days 1 and 2)

Sat 6th July (PM) and Sun 7th July: Hobart Airport, Tasman Peninsula and Port Arthur

Beautiful lookout

Beautiful lookout in Tasmania

The day had finally arrived – we were off to Tasmania! When we first started researching places we would be interested in going on our trip to Australia Tasmania quickly came out as a firm favourite. It seemed to have everything we loved in a travel destination – and more!! The wildlife was a particular appeal for me and my husband John. The idea of seeing lots of wildlife out in the wild was really appealing. We had also read it was quite a bit like New Zealand – in that it was very scenic, some of the scenery was similar, and it would be less crowded and quieter than some other parts of Oz.

Our car

Our car

After a morning in Melbourne we headed over to Tullamarine airport and took a flight with Jetstar over to Hobart. We picked our car up from Bargain Car Rentals. Despite the slightly disconcerting name (!) we absolutely loved this company and would HIGHLY recommend it! They were so much cheaper than the big guns (Hertz, Avis, Europcar etc.) but in our opinion better (and we have rented A LOT of hire cars). They claim to offer new cars at bargain prices – and they really do! The two guys who greeted us were awesome – they were really friendly but also really professional and explained everything really clearly. The other great thing about this company is that you can take your car on Bruny island too (which most major operators don’t allow). Anyway, we collected our lovely white Hyundai i20 and set off for the first place we were staying – Hobart Airport Tourist Park. We were staying in one of their cabins, which was actually lovely! It was warm, a great size, with a good bedroom and bathroom – perfect for a night’s stay and right by the airport. We were happy and content to have arrived in Tassie and slept well, excited by what tomorrow would bring.

Tesselated Pavement

Tessellated Pavement

The next morning we started the drive down the Tasman Peninsula to Port Arthur. We stopped off at various sights along the way, including the Tessellated Pavement (where we took a lovely walk to a beautiful beach), Tasman Arch, Devil’s Kitchen, and the Blowhole – see my gallery below for more photos.

We also passed through an awesome town called ‘Doo Town’ – where all the house names had ‘Doo’ in them e.g. one house was called ‘Much-A-Doo’, another ‘Love-Me-Doo’ and there was loads of others (read them on Wikipedia if you are interested!).

Penitentiary at Port Arthur

Penitentiary at Port Arthur

We arrived at Port Arthur Historic Site at about lunchtime, and purchased the Bronze Pass for $35. Port Arthur is the site of a past convict settlement back in the 19th century – where mainly British and Irish convicts were sent and spent time in jail here. It is a really fascinating place – and obviously quite a haunting and thought-provoking place too, as there was so much sadness here in the past. The way they have preserved the site is excellent and there is so much to see and read and learn about – you can easily spend a whole day here. Despite the obvious sadness in the place it was really fascinating exploring all the different buildings and sites.

Enjoying our day at Port Arthur

Enjoying our day at Port Arthur

I think they have over 30 different buildings to explore – including the penitentiary, the hospital, the church, the asylum, governor’s house, and the guard tower, among loads of others. They also have ruins, gardens and museum houses packed full with loads of artefacts really well displayed. On arrival they give each person a special Port Arthur playing card, which correlates to a convict character – that is part of their below museum display. As you enter the museum you follow the instructions depending on which card you have, and find out which convict character you are and learn your fate – it was a nice and unique addition. Our ticket also included a boat trip out towards the Isle of the Dead, with great views of Port Arthur as we returned to shore.

A tour round Port Arthur

A tour round Port Arthur

The weather was also really beautiful – with clear blue skies – which really enhanced our trip. There was so much to see and do that we returned the following morning to finish seeing all the buildings/sites. There is quite a lot of walking involved (and some up and down quite steep sections), so that is something to bear in mind if you are planning a visit, but they cater for this well – offering mobile chairs you can take on your walk, and a shuttle service which travels around the paths collecting people as and when needed to transport them.

View from Bay Retreat

View from Bay Retreat

On leaving Port Arthur we headed to our accommodation for the evening which was the incredibly beautiful holiday house we had rented – Bay Retreat. It was a little cold at night (although we found this a common theme in Tassie!), but this was definitely one of our favourite places we stayed – it was so peaceful and tranquil, with a gorgeous view of the water. It also had its own short walk to a private jetty, from which we watched the sunset. A magical end to a wonderful first day in very special Tasmania.

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A brief stay in Melbourne

Melbourne

Melbourne

Thurs 4th July – Sat 6th July AM: Melbourne

Free wooden tram

Free wooden tram

We had a brief stay in Melbourne – in between finishing the Great Ocean Road (see my previous posts here and here) and our trip to Tasmania. We made the most of our time there, while also recovering from a very busy few days on the road previously.

We awoke on Thursday morning in Port Campbell and took the inland drive back to Avalon airport. Here we took the bus into the centre of Melbourne and checked into our lovely city centre apartment at City Tempo.

Museum of Moving Image

Museum of Moving Image

During our time in Melbourne we were blessed with lovely sunny weather which was great 🙂 We took the free wooden tram, which was pretty busy (jam-packed in fact), but it was an experience. We visited the Melbourne Museum, which was interesting in parts – mainly the Australian history. We also went to the Melbourne Museum of Moving Image which was free and really interesting! We explored the area which looked at the history of tv, film, the internet etc. I especially loved the sections on Neighbours! We also spent some time at Federation square which is a bustling meeting place, and took a walk through some of the parks.

Federation Square

Federation Square

I must admit that as much as we enjoyed our time in Melbourne I still prefer cities like Sydney and Auckland, which just have a little more about them! No offence to anyone who lives in Melbourne or is from there, but I was just struggling with what was ‘special’ about Melbourne. Yes, it is a beautiful city and has a great mix of old and new buildings, some beautiful buildings, and very pretty parks, but I guess I just wasn’t feeling it – I was missing that special quality or spark that in my opinion cities like Sydney have.

Anyway, our Melbourne adventure was soon over, and our Tasmania one was soon to begin! Stay tuned for tales of amazing wildlife, stunning scenery and beaches and an unforgettable time in the snow.

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The spectacular Great Ocean Road (days 1 and 2): beaches, surfers, stunning scenery, lookouts, koalas and kangaroos

Mon 1st July – Tues 2nd July: Manly to Torquay and Torquay to Apollo Bay

On the Great Ocean RoadLet me start by saying we had two of the best days of our entire 10 months away from home – out on Australia’s Great Ocean Road. It is a truly beautiful road, and up there with the best we have driven (including those in New Zealand, and Highway 1 I visited with my parents when young).

I have split the drive into two posts (with days 1 and 2 in this post and day 3 in the next post) – as there is just so much to say and so many photos to post! I have also written a special post focussed on the completely wonderful koalas we saw in the wild in two different places (including tips on where and how to spot them!).

Victoria is the place to be!

Victoria is the place to be!

We left Sydney on Mon and flew into Melbourne’s Avalon airport, with Jetstar. We are yet again very impressed with Jetstar as have flown with them numerous time in New Zealand, and they are just as impressive over here. They are a budget airline as their prices are so cheap, but they are so professional, their seats are comfy with enough space and whenever we have flown they have never been late. We chose this airport over Tullamarine because Avalon was much closer to the start of the Great Ocean Road – and it was a brilliant decision. We picked up our hire car from Avis – where we were told we were the second people only to drive our car – awesome! It was a lovely blue Yaris that we named Zulu (after it having ZUL on its number plate).

Sundial in Torquay

Sundial in Torquay

We drove down to Torquay and checked into the wonderful Torquay 1903 cottages. My parents had driven the Great Ocean Road back in August last year and had stayed here and highly recommended it, so we decided to stay here too – and we are so glad we did! The cottage was incredibly warm and homely – with a lovely fire, big comfy bed and spa bath. There were also lots of lovely extras such as chocs, and the owners were very welcoming and friendly – even commenting they remembered my parents who they said were lovely people! We also read my parents’ comments in the guestbook which was quite strange! And comforting too 🙂 We took a quick drive down to the beachfront where we looked at the awesome and beautiful sundial that was there. It was cloudy and quite windy but the scenery was very pretty and we loved the feel of Torquay.

Bells Beach

Bells Beach

We awoke the next morning to wonderful clear blue sky and excitedly set off on our Great Ocean Road adventure. Our first stop was the completely beautiful Bells Beach (*sat nav tip: use Jarosite road for your sat nav – I will be including these along the way, as we found some places that would have been difficult to find without a sat nav direction!). This is definitely up there with our favourite beaches in the world and was simply stunning! The views down from the viewpoint by the car point were just gorgeous and the views from along the beach were even better.

Surfers

Surfers

We took the steps down, and were joined by a lot of surfers. Apparently Bells beach is one of the best surfing (if not the best!) beaches in the whole of Australia and we could see why! There was loads of surfers all the in water, waiting patiently to get on the end of the most impressive waves. The surf was up and the waves were pretty high. We watched them riding the waves effortlessly and took a few photos (see my gallery below for more), and here are just a couple.

Surfers at Bells beach

Surfer at Bells beach

We could have spent hours just watching them! We loved the beach and the great weather just enhanced its beauty.

Kangaroos

Kangaroos

The Great Ocean Road was calling and soon we were back on our way. We had picked up a brilliant map from Avalon airport which we used to guide some of our stops along the way (The Great Ocean Road touring map), so I would highly recommend this if you are planning to drive it. We also did our own extensive research to find more off-the-beaten track places to stop at too. Not far from Bells beach we stopped at Angelsea Golf Club (*sat nav – 1 Golf links road – Angelsea) to see kangaroos. I suppose technically they are not ‘in the wild’ as they are living on the golf course, but they weren’t in any kind of zoo/park etc. so we pretty much class them as that! They were just happily sitting on the course. We did have to peek over a fence to get some shots, but it was amazing to see them 🙂

Split Point Lighthouse

Split Point Lighthouse

Next stop was Split Point Lighthouse (*sat nav – Federal street, Airey’s Inlet) – which is the actual lighthouse they used in the filming of the old Aussie TV show ‘Round the Twist’. Only if you are a fan will you remember the awesome theme song – “Have you ever, ever felt like this? Strange things happen when you’re going round the twist!”. What a great show! And it was great being able to see the lighthouse for free (take note Cape Otway lighthouse!), with an optional paid-for tour to the top – which we didn’t do.

Us near Split Point Lighthouse

Us near Split Point Lighthouse

There was a short walk with fantastic views just past the lighthouse, and we took some more snaps here. Next was the Great Ocean Road memorial arch (in Eastern view) – where you can just stop by the side of the road and have a look. In Lorne – where we stopped next – there is a pretty beach, and a great lookout called Teddy’s lookout (*sat nav George St, Lorne).

Koala in the wild

Koala in the wild

A real highlight of the day (and possibly our lives!) was next though when we headed out to Kennet River and took the Grey River road looking for koalas. I had read a few tips online (buried away!) about the possibility of koalas out here, and after 1-2kms along the road we spotted some high up in the trees! It was really just so amazing to see them. They were pretty high but I go some photos using my excellent zoom lens on my camera, and we also filmed them a bit. They were mostly sleeping but one of them moved around a little. There were about 7 in all and it was fantastic to see them! We really loved just watching them. We also saw them on day 3 of our trip, so I will definitely write a separate post about them to include the additional photos I took! 🙂 We then headed to Cape Patton lookout for awesome views before arriving at our lovely motel in Apollo Bay (which was excellent value at $89).

Today was just incredible – with seeing the koalas in the wild a real highlight, and watching the surfers at Bells Beach. I am posting retrospectively so will post more about our amazing day 3 soon.