Tasman Bay, NZ

We arrived into our accommodation Te Koi The Lodge at Bronte late afternoon just as Ali (the host)  was winding up her weekly cooking class which she holds there.  Te Koi lodge sits on the end of Bronte Point looking out over the Waimea Estuary just a 20 minute drive from the centre of Nelson and it’s a blissful spot.  Ali brings a wealth of hospitality experience to the lodge and offers an all round stay experience that will always be remembered.  The estuary is tidal so the scenery changes and Geoffrey spent a lot of time looking through the binoculars during sunset and later on at the amazing night sky.  For dinner we drove the short distance to Mapua which has a choice of restaurants good.  This is another lovely spot and there is a regular ferry service that operates to Rabbit Island.

The next morning after breakfast we hopped back into the rental to explore the local area.  We headed along the scenic road toward the start of the Abel Tasman National Park track stopping along the way at Motueka and Kaiteriteri Beach.  Kaiteriteri is renowned for it’s turquoise water and golden sand beach and can be hideously crowded in summer but in April it was pretty quiet.  From here you can take water taxis up to various points along the Abel Tasman track including a number of luxury lodges.  We then took the short windy road up to the start of the Abel Tasman.  Geoffrey had walked the track many years ago and would have been keen to walk a couple of hours into it if we’d had the time.

Next stop was Neudorf Vineyard  for a short tasting and then to Motuere Hills Vineyard for lunch.  Ali (our hostess from the Lodge) had recommended the restaurant there and I admit to some concern whether we’d get a table at the sight of the full carpark. However we were lucky and we ended up having the most splendid 3 course lunch there.  It was also incredibly reasonable and it absolutely made the day.  Make a note – Forsters Moutere Hills – absolutely devine food!  Next stop was the famous Hoglund Art Glass before the return trip via the pretty Ruby Bay.

The following morning we checked out, thanked our lovely hosts and then headed to Nelson for a long lunch before the late afternoon flight back to Auckland.

If you would like more information about this destination please do not hesitate to contact me.

Start of Abel Tasman Track

Upper West Coast, NZ

It was drizzling after arriving by coach from Arthurs Pass into Greymouth.  It was typical West Coast weather and Greymouth was not looking its best as we quickly strolled through town looking for a place for lunch.  In the end the best spot was the Speights Ale House right across the street from the TranzAlpine bus station where we had disembarked!  The food there was actually very good…

After picking up the rental car we drove south to our accommodation at Rimu Lodge which overlooks the Hokitika River.  We enjoy staying at these privately owned lodges as they’re a good way to talk and meet small groups of people in comfortable and informal surroundings.  We had to forego all the local activities due to the rain but this gave us the chance to more fully enjoy what the lodge had to offer and to get to know the hosts and other guests.  We had brought our own food for dinner so ate in but most guests head back out to Hokitika (10min drive) where there are a choice of restaurants.

The following morning the rain had disappeared and the sun shone. After a scrummy breakfast laid on by the hosts we headed north again to Punakaiki.  The small settlement is based around the famous Pancake Rocks blowholes.  It’s a relaxing stroll along a well formed path and as it was near high tide we saw the blowholes near their best!  We stayed at the comfortable Punakaiki Resort and watched the sun set over the water.  You are limited to basically eating at the Resort restaurant but as we had our own food we elected to eat in again.

The following morning Geoffrey took some more photos of the Pancake blowholes before heading off again.  The whole West Coast coastline is stunning and dramatic and the scenery is helped by the road hugging close to the shoreline for large parts.   We took in the view at a leisurely pace before dropping into Westport to provision up for the rest of the trip.

After lunch we continued back along State Highway 6 through the scenic Buller Gorge where it’s especially pretty where the road runs above the Buller River.  There are not too many settlements until you reach Murchison where we stopped for coffee and to stretch our legs.

We finally arrived at our next Lodge destination in Bronte late afternoon.  From our start point in Hokitika it was a reasonable day’s drive (around 5 hours)  but it was very pleasant and enjoyable due to the stunning scenery and great roads.  We never felt the need to rush and was probably one of our best ever road day trips we’d completed in New Zealand.

If you would like more information about this destination please do not hesitate to contact me.

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

Hanmer Springs to Picton, NZ

This is one of those classic New Zealand road trips on the north-eastern South Island encompassing destinations on our bucket list, namely, SH7 from Christchutrch to Hanmer Springs and the SH1 scenic coast road south of Kaikoura all the way up to Picton (the end point of the Queen Charlotte Sound).  The trip also includes stop-overs to Blenheim and a number of surrounding vineyards.

After picking up the rental car at Christchurch Airport we made the leisurely easy 1hr 40m trip to Hanmer Springs passing through a number of small towns.  Hanmer Springs is renowned for its thermal hot pools which it is indeed an impressive complex encompassing a wide range of pools to cater for all types of experiences. However the attractive township has a lot to offer – smart accommodation and restaurants and a lot of adventure activities like cycling, mountain biking, walking trails, bungy, jetboating, rafting, off-road buggy, skiing in winter and many others.  It’s a great holiday destination over a couple of days.

We then drove back east to SH1 via Ferniehurst to maximise the scenic coast road experience to Kaikoura.  The coast is spectacular although currently still subject to road works following the December 2017 earthquake.  It’s hard to keep your eye on the road when you are constantly distracted by the views.  Thankfully there are many viewing areas with great facilities to rest, take photos or lookout for seals on the rocks.  Kaikoura is a large town and the stopover for the famous whale watching tour.  North of Kaikoura township is Nins Bin – a food caravan specialising is serving local crayfish, mussels whitebait and of course fish ‘n chips.  You devour the food on outside picnic tables so you need to be aware of the seagulls that will snatch your meal in seconds flat if you walk away.  Karaka Lobster is another option a little further north.

We rolled into Picton around 3pm to a rather dull looking afternoon.  Picton is a large town with plenty of options for eating and accommodation and of course has the large ferry terminal which runs to and from Wellington.  It is the gateway to the Marlborough Sounds with the main attraction being the Sounds themselves and the surrounding landscape.  On our boat cruise the following day we saw an astonishing variety of sealife (including numerous dolphins and seabirds) plus other birdlife on the Motuara Island sanctuary.  Given more time Geoffrey would have walked part or all of the renowned Queen Charlotte Track.

On the trip back to Blenheim airport we stopped over at a number of vineyards for wine-tasting and lunch.  There are over 30 vineyards within a 24km circuit close to Blenheim so we select just a few –  Cloudy Bay, Alan Scott,  Saint Clair (with lunch).  Geoffrey also couldn’t resist trying out The Moa Brewing Tap Room which was a pleasant find and I was delighted to discover the Matakana Chocolate factory.

All in all a great 4-6 road trip for as active or relaxing as you want to make it.

If you would like more information about this destination please do not hesitate to contact me.

Eating mussels & chips at Nins Bin, Kaikoura

The Catlins, Southland, NZ

The Catlins is one of the hidden gems of New Zealand.  Located on the remote south-eastern corner of the South Island it includes the South Island’s southernmost point, Slope Point.

What’s remarkable about this area is that it is so assessable by car and small or big enough to see on a longish one day itinerary or more thoroughly over several days. A day trip is very possible with the long daylight hours available over summer period.   Its comparative remoteness means that you’re never going to see lots of people and the roads are gloriously free from traffic. The main road of the region forms part of the Southern Scenic Route which undoubtedly is one of the best drives in New Zealand.  Best of all the Catlins offers so much – stunning rolling green farmland, coastal landscapes, shipwrecks, sandy beaches, numerous marine mammals, temperate rainforest, numerous waterfalls, many endangered species of birds, and all within easy walking distance.

If you’re a more active person there are numerous longer walks through coast, bush and heritage trails, horse riding, cycling, golf, sea or river and estuary fishing and surfing to name just a few.

Unsurprisingly the Catlins is very exposed and therefore open to frequently wild and changeable weather.  However in summer you have many long hours of daylight to make the most of your day.  The region generally has a temperate climate and average annual rainfall of 1300mm. There are many small settlements in the region – the largest being Owaka which has a petrol station (get my drift?).  But we found most settlements offered good coffee and eating to cater for the tourists

In our day trip our highlights were Waipapa Point (where Geoffrey nearly walked on a sleeping sea lion on the beach!); Slope Point – southernmost point of the South Island (where Geoffrey lost his cap over the cliff from a sudden gust of wind and dropped his phone trying unsuccessfully to retrieve it but luckily didn’t also go over the cliff!!);   Curio Bay – lovely beach coastline with a petrified forest and amazing ocean waves crashing over the rocks, plus a new cafe with an attached interactive museum.  A lovely find was the Blue Cod Blues – a quirky takeaway shop run out the back of a caravan at Waikawa where the fresh blue cod was amazing.  There are numerous scenic lookouts along the route and lots of short walks to view the waterfalls dotted along the route.

If there was a highlight it would have to be Nugget Point – an easy walk from the car to view the 360 views from the lighthouse overlooking the rocks shaped like gold nuggets.  We spotted a number of elephant seals looking down from the well-sealed path to the lighthouse

Definitely one of my favourite New Zealand destinations. If you would like more information about this destination please do not hesitate to contact me.

Nugget Point

New Plymouth, Taranaki, NZ

This was our first trip away from home for 7 months and our first during the new age of the global pandemic.  Amazingly this was my first trip to New Plymouth although Geoffrey had visited several times previously during his various tramping trips on Mt Taranaki

I had wanted to see the mountain which required good weather so we made the arrangements last minute when we saw that the forecast was promising.  It’s a leisurely 5 hour drive from Auckland which included a relaxing lunch stop at Otorohanga  township.  We also stopped at Waitara to visit friends.  It was great to see renewed activity growth and development in the small town after decades of economic stagnation.

New Plymouth is a great weekend getaway trip with many attractions but it helps significantly if the weather is good.  We were blessed with stunning views of the mountain for the 2 days.  The major attractions are Pukekura Park – a stunning 52ha botanic park close to the centre of town,  the eye-catching Lye Centre and his various artworks, and the well-constructed 12km coastal walkway alongside the Tasman Sea running from the Taranaki Port to Bell Block.  It’s a well maintained promenade suitable for walking or cycling. Or you can what Geoffrey did and run it both ways!  It’s a varied and interesting route and as it was whitebaiting season we saw a few fisherman were trying their luck on the estuaries.

There’s a good choice of cafes and restaurants in the city although we struggled to find any Chinese places so we ended up eating at the Novotel where we stayed.  There are a couple of famous bakeries / pie shops (Andres Pies and Smoko Bakery in particular) but note that they are closed weekends.  You must try Smoko’s Garlic Prawn pie!!)

On the return trip back home we stopped at Mokau at the Whitebait Inn famous for its whitebait fritters and at Te Kuiti  to see the new Sir Colin Meads bronze statue situated in front of the renovated train station.  The train station also houses an excellent cafe with tables on the veranda beside the tracks.  The steamed mussels there are highly recommended.  

It was a fast trip back home until we struck peak-hour traffic on the Auckland southern motorway and the immediate reminder of the disadvantages of living in the big city.  We were already missing the clean ocean airs, the uncongested roads, the lower prices, the easy access to the fantastic outdoors, and the majestic Mt Taranaki which one will never ever tire looking at.

If you would like more information about this destination please do not hesitate to contact me.

Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, Coastal Walkway

Chaozhou & Shantou, Guangdong Province, China

Despite going back to check on family Guangzhou many times over the years this was our first excursion to the renowned delights of Chaozhou & Shantau.

Chaozhou

It’s a 4½ drive from Guangzhou but it’s all highway so fairly easy drive but it’s a world apart from the modern metropolis that is Guangzhou.  Chaozhou is known as one of the greatest cultural centers in China and is known worldwide as a unique part of world heritage.  This is more the China that many visitors to China want to experience.  The city is a delight for the local cultural experiences (the arts, local cuisine, architecture, history etc.).  It is a magnet for local tourism and you won’t come across many tourists from outside of China here.

The Ming city wall surrounds the Ancient City where many of the historical buildings have been restored and integrated into modern life.  Paifang St is a great place to sample the traditional foods and where you can admire the ancient architecture.  We took a stroll along the Han River and on the ancient city walls past the city gate, and the famous Guangji Bridge.  Geoffrey was tempted to put on his running shoes and jog the entire city wall.

We only spent half a day here but obviously could easily have spent considerably longer in this beautiful city and would have loved to experience the city at night, especially during the more popular summer period.

If you would like more information about this destination please do not hesitate to contact me. 

Peanut nougat – a Chaozhou specialty

Shantou

Shantou is just a further 1 hr drive south of Chaozhou and lies at the mouth of the Han, Rong and Lian Rivers.  We stayed at the Sheraton which is close to the shopping district and the People’s Square.  Being close to the seaside Geoffrey immediately put on his running shoes and jogged along the waterfront catching the locals doing their tai chi  and the fishing boats heading out.  We wandered around the Shantou Old Town District which is a work in progress with considerable ongoing renovations but it will be a huge drawcard when completed.  As there are few businesses operating during the reconstruction it’s largely deserted except for visitors.  However it’s still well worth a visit with the old European architecture a throwback to the origins of Shantou’s history.  The completed renovated Post Office is well worth a visit as this was one of the first in China to operate the modern postal service.

We also looked around one of the local wet markets.  These markets are not everyone’s cup of tea but they are undeniably interesting and give the visitor an insight into what the locals shop for.  Obviously sampling the local specialties are a big attraction of any new destination and we did not hold back trying out everything from the small street restaurants to the renowned top-end restaurants.  

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to get to Nan’ao Island – probably China’s best island destinations but we’ve saved this for the next time!

If you would like more information about this destination please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sampling the local Shantou street vendor specialties

Siem Reap, Cambodia

We visit Guangzhou and Hong Kong several times each year so the side trip to Siem Reap has been on the cards for many years.  It is a major tourist attraction and you can see why it is so popular.  The nearby Angkor Wat is probably one of the most well-known and visited UNESCO World Heritage sites on the planet.  But there is so much to see and do and Siem Reap is the perfect place to base yourself to see all the attractions.  We visited in September so we experienced a couple of heavy rainfalls but September is not as crowded as other months.  It was very warm and humid and this is the norm whole year round.

Cambodia is an incredibly inexpensive place but you have to be aware that this is a poor community heavily reliant on tourism and there is a level of underlying corruption so it’s important that you bear this in mind with all your dealings with some of the local people.  Local guides are everywhere and we found one who provided us with transport and local advice and was brilliant.  There was no set price for his services and at end of a couple of days we gave him a US$150 as he refused to name a price.  There is so much to see and do and part of the trick is having a good local guide to take you around avoiding the crowds, traps and forever offering you tips and tricks.

These are the list of places and activities that we covered off in the couple of days:-

  • Angkor Wat (including the sunrise) and Angkor Thom
  • Old Market and the Night Market  (must try the street food!!)
  • Kampong Phluk Floating Village  (this is one of several villages, and a must do)
  • Tonle Sap great lake tour
  • Wat Thmey (Killing Field) (a dark chapter in recent Cambodian History)
  • War Museum  ( I passed but Geoffrey so Geoffrey saw this on his own)
  • Traditional dinner and dance show
  • Traditional Body Massage
  • Shopping (Markets great for looking but better to actually buy souvenirs from established shops.

We also visited one of the many orphanages in the town.  Geoffrey donates to one of the orphanages and the staffs were incredibly generous with their time in showing us around and explaining the workings of the orphanage. 

On our way back home at the airport the immigration officer requested a “donation” before stamping our passport.  It was a great informative trip up to then so this was an unfortunate way for it to end.

If you would like more information about this destination please do not hesitate to contact me.

Angkor Wat at dawn

Beijing to Guangzhou high-speed train

Geoffrey loves his fast trains and this was an opportunity he couldn’t resist – the chance to travel on the longest high-speed railway line in the world!   He’d complained that our previous bullet train rides had ended up been too short for him to appreciate fully.  So once making ourselves comfortable on board we sat back to enjoy the 2,298 km 9-hour journey at an average speed of 300km/hr !!

What strikes you about the ride is how incredibly quiet and smooth it is.  We were lucky to secure seats in the business class carriage which meant we had acres of space to spread out or sleep (but that would have wasted the experience for Geoffrey).  How could one compare this to the stressful, cramped, noisy experience of flying?  You may save a few hours flying but this assumes the flight will leave on time whereas trains ALWAYS leave on time.  And unlike flying you can more productively use the time to due to the increased comfort of travel.

We were spoilt in the business.  There are dedicated crew on call and a complimentary meal service is provided.  We had access to our luggage which was stowed behind our seats.

It’s a great experience and a welcome change from flying if you’re not on a tight schedule.  It is also likely to more expensive as you can often pick up a cheap fare on this popular route.  But for sheer long-distance travelling pleasure it’s hard to beat.

If you would like more information about this destination please do not hesitate to contact me.

Information:

Every day, 5 pairs of high speed G trains are running between Beijing and Guangzhou with travel time of 8-10 hours. A second class seat ticket costs CNY 862. Every Friday to next Monday, additional 6 pairs of overnight D trains are available, taking 10-10.5 hours.

They are running along Beijing – Guangzhou High Speed Railway, short for Jingguang High Speed Railway, which is the longest  high speed railway in the world with a total distance 2,298 km (1,428 miles).

As an important north-south rail line of China high speed railway, it connects Beijing West Railway Station and Guangzhou South Railway Station, going through 28 China cities, including Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou, and Wuhan. The speed was designed to be 350 km/h.

Taroko Gorge, Taiwan

After spending a few days amongst the hustle and bustle of Taipei it was great to take the opportunity to get out of the city and explore part of the Taroko National Park.

The park was named after the landmark gorge renowned for its canyons, vertical cliffs and waterfalls.  For those interested in geology, Taroko Gorge is a fascinating study.  According to geologists, this part of Taiwan is rising because of the subduction of the Philippines oceanic plate to the east.  However, Geoffrey, a keen tramper and runner was more interested in possible walks in the park and also about possibly returning to run the  Tarako Gorge Marathon one day.

We visited the Gorge as part of a 2 day tour which was great as it saved a lot of time dealing with all the practicalities of visiting the area.  It’s only about a 2 hour scenic train ride from Taipei so it’s an easy and convenient place to visit.

Major highlights were the Eternal Spring Shrine,  the Tunnel of nine turns, and the Baiyang waterfall trail. There’s a wealth of information at the Part Visitor Centre.

There’s a big range of accommodation options available at Hualien and we elected to treat ourselves and stay at one of the nearby 5 star hotels.  There was also plenty to do at night with the famous Hualien Dongdamen Tourist Night Market (the largest night market in Taiwan) close by.

If you would like more information about this destination please contact me.

Pagoda in Tiansiang

Ayres Rock, Yulara, Australia

It’s a long way to go (especially from New Zealand) to literary a place in the middle of a desert.  To travel all that way to see a rock – although admittedly, a big rock!  And yet – when you get there, stand next to it – it’s totally awe inspiring.  As a keen tramper, Geoffrey naturally wanted to climb Uluru but instantly understood why Uluru is considered so sacred when he saw it.  He understood that he was more a guest and a visitor than a tourist. He therefore respected the wishes of the local people not to climb.

We stayed at the Ayres Rock Resort which is a short (free) coach ride from the airport.   That evening we did the Field of Light Uluru tour.  There are a number of variations of the tour.  We did the after-sunset tour and the contrast of the Field of Lights with the clear starry night sky was magical.

The following day it was another early rise for the full day out to the King’s Canyon Rim Walk tour. This was excellent but admittedly we had perfect conditions – cloudless, windless and a comfortable 21 degrees.  40 degrees plus is not uncommon and in those conditions you need to carry at least 3 litres of water with you as well!

The following day it was the 12km cycle around Ularu camel riding and visit to Kata Tjuṯa.

We decided to visit over the long Queen’s birthday weekend but really 3 days wasn’t enough.

Another brilliant getaway trip (but best to avoid the summer).

If you would like more information about this destination please contact me.

Ayres Rock (Uluru)