Along the Away

travel, dream, create, inspire, appreciate

We had a whole week for our trip to Adelaide so we decided to spend two of the days on a trip to Kangaroo Island – I’m so glad we did as it was the highlight of our trip!

We wanted to make the most of our time so we booked to go with Adventure Tours Australia. My sister had been on a tour with them in Western Australia and had an excellent experience so we booked on the 2 day Kangaroo Island Explorer trip which cost just over $400 – and was worth every cent!

Starting bright and early on day 1 we were picked up from our hotel by a mini-bus and then transferred at the bus interchange onto a large coach to Jervis Cove where we would get the ferry to Kangaroo Island. We were a bit confused as the driver told us everyone else on the bus was doing a 1 day tour and he was going to transfer us to another group at the ferry – we didn’t have much more information then that, but it all worked out. When we got off the ferry after a 45 minute trip across the Fleurieu Peninsula to Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island, we found a small minibus and our tour guide, Kate, waiting for us. 

Kangaroo Island Ferry

Kate was a brilliant tour guide, she was cheery, upbeat, and a great storyteller with a wonderful sense of humour.

We had a full bus, so about 12 of us from all walks of life though mostly in the 20s-40s age group.

Our first stop was Rob’s Shearing and Sheepdogs, a family operated sheep farm.

Rob's Sheep Shearing

This was a great experience as Rob himself spent an hour or so with us showcasing the work he and his sheepdogs do to get the sheep shorn.

Rob's Sheep Shearing

Rob is a real salt-of-the-earth guy, friendly, humble and good natured, he was very engaging and entertaining. His sheepdogs were also all of the above!

Rob's Sheep Shearing

They quivered with anticipation ready to jump at their master’s command. One was an older more experienced dog, the other was younger, more enthusiastic and a bit more easily distracted. It was interesting to watch the dynamics between the dogs and Rob, and how he made sure to be firm and show them who’s boss but also give them positive attention and affection when they did a good job. The pecking order was very obvious and as entertaining as they were to us, we could see they worked as a well oiled machine to get the job done.

We watched Rob give a shearing demonstration with just one of the sheep and it looked like bloody hard work! Impressive that he chatted to us through the whole process, efficiently working over the sheep, explaining the tools and the sling to protect the shearer’s back and telling us all about what happens to the wool. He passed around samples of freshly shorn wool which looks really dirty and matted on the outside and is soft and pure on the inside. Really fascinating!

Rob's Sheep Shearing

Next we hopped back in the bus to keep on track with the day’s schedule. There was always plenty to see out the window and time to pull over to admire the gorgeous coastal views and Summer’s day.

Kangaroo Island Tour

We continued on to Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery – which produces and distributes eucalyptus products around the world. I recognized the label from some beauty products I have been gifted from a friend, it was nice to see the actual place it came from. 

Mostly there was a big store with all the products, plus a small theatre showing an info-video about the distillery. It was very dated, the video is in need of a revamp I think (it was a bit comical) but the theatre has a tractor that you can sit in to watch the video so I guess that’s a novelty for kids.

Most exciting was that this stop was where we had lunch, which was organized by Kate – she brought out lots of containers of salad ingredients, bread, meats and veggie patties and fruit. It was a great spread of fresh healthy ingredients, fuss free but filling, I was impressed (as a vego I have learnt to not expect too much from tour group food, I was pleasantly surprised on this tour!)

We sat on the back patio at picnic tables, kept company by an emu who was watching us from the other side of a wire fence bordering the property and a sweet Joey who was in residence after being rescued (I believe her mother was killed on the road). She was quite tame and used to humans so let us carefully approach to say hi – I couldn’t help getting some pics and a kangaroo selfie (I’ll save that gem til the end of the post!)

Kangaroo Island Tour

We went to visit the Seal Bay Conservation Park, where a wild breeding colony of Australian sea lions live. 

This excerpt from the Seal Bay website explains why the colony is so important and in need of protection:

Australian sea lions (Neophoca cinerea) are part of a group known as ‘eared’ seals. They use their front flippers to prop themselves up and their back flippers to help them to ‘walk’ on land. In the water their back flippers act as a rudder.

These fascinating creatures are one of the rarest species in the world. The entire population is estimated at around 14,700. Of these, 85 percent live in South Australia and the other 15 percent in Western Australia.

Seal Bay supports the third largest colony of Australian sea lions with a population of around 1,000. This is about five percent of the world’s total. The Australian sea lion was nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century. We can count ourselves lucky that places like Seal Bay exist today. 

We entered through the information Centre which has displays to learn about the sea lions, then were taken as a group down to the beach by a park ranger guide.

Kangaroo Island Tour - Seals

We walked on raised wooden boardwalks which gave a great vantage point of the seals down on the beach.

Kangaroo Island Tour - Seals

We headed down the stairs and stood on the beach keeping well back from the sea lions. They can be aggressive in self defense and when you realize the size and weight of them you really just want to keep them feeling very safe and secure!

Kangaroo Island Tour - Seals

It was a joy to watch them riding the waves, rolling in the surf and coming up to shore. They are so graceful in the water, such a contrast to when they are on land.

We called into the sand dunes of the Little Sahara, where some in our group went sand boarding. I was tempted for a few minutes but it was just so hot and I was enjoying watching everyone else stacking it down the dune. Some were really good and had a good ride down, but most got stuck every few meters or were toppling head over heels – very funny!

Kangaroo Island Tour - Dunes

On our drive to our accommodation for the night we stopped to see these iconic Australian mailboxes along the side of the road. Each are numbered for different properties in the area. There are multiple fridges, microwaves, crates, oil drums and other strange ‘mail vessels’ where the mailman/mailwoman leaves the mail!

Kangaroo Island Tour

We stopped at yet another jaw dropping lookout to take in the view, just look at it!

Kangaroo Island Tour

We arrived at our accommodation , Vivonne Bay Lodge, in the late afternoon. 

The tour description had indicated so many activity options to enjoy here but we actually didn’t arrive til about 4pm so we didn’t really have time. We could have kayaked on the Harriet River (free kayaks available), gone walking along the property’s marked tracks, or taken out the trail bikes. Instead we went for a walk, following the bush track to Vivonne Bay Beach with a group of other girls on the tour.

On the way there we stopped to watch a mama and baby kangaroo, then on the way back we spotted koalas in the trees.

Kangaroo Island Tour

We walked through the scrub toward the beach and more kangaroos skipped across our path as we surprised them in their dusk-time grazing.

The ocean was perfect for a body surf, and the sun was just right to relax on the beach for awhile. As the sun prepared to set we walked back and took turns using the showers to get ready for dinner.

That night it was New Years Eve, but it was very low key. We had our BBQ dinner out on the back verandah as the sun set, most had brought along some wine or treats (Jo and I had a nice sparkling from our winery tour). We sat and talked with others until midnight approached and we went into the Rec room and watched the Sydney firework on TV. So even though we escaped our home town for NY, we still ended up celebrating with it – that’s because it really is a spectacular show :-)

As mentioned above, I’ll leave you with this. My Kangaroo Selfie, which is apparently a thing!

Kangaroo Island Tour

We intended to spend our third day in Adelaide making the most of the city’s free bike program, which is open to everyone, everyday. Free bikes are located all around the city at places like tourist attractions, education centres, and hotels, and can be hired for daylight hours just by providing ID. It sounded like a great way to enjoy more of the path by the River Torrens, especially as the path runs all the way from the CBD to Henley Beach via the Linear Park Trail (more information is provided on the SA Trails website and on the Bikely website).

Unfortunately, despite our grand plans it was not to be. Free bikes can’t be booked ahead, it’s first in first served so we decided we better get in early. We walked to one of the university campus bike hire locations but sadly temperature restrictions kicked in! Bikes won’t be hired out on days forecast to reach over 38 degrees. This was a disappointment as we thought we’d be able to handle the heat considering we were starting so early in the day, however it is good to have safety precautions for the Australian heat.

We decided to get the tram to Glenelg Beach and walk along the coastal path there instead of cycling. The tram was easy enough to navigate to using the Metro trip planner again. Glenelg is at the end of the line so it was obvious when we arrived – especially the fresh salty air and beach greeting as right at the tram stop.

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

The Glenelg Jetty is a beautiful site stretching out 215m into Holdfast Bay, in the Gulf of St Vincent. It is a shorter replacement of the 381m original built in 1859 which suffered damage on a number of occasions over the years due to storms, a lighthouse fire and finally a freak cyclone in 1948 when it was replaced.

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

We started on our walk making a few decisions to navigate around some hotel and shop developments to pick up the coastal path. The one-way distance is 7.5km which was bearable in the heat thanks to the coastal breeze and opportunities to walk along the water’s edge to cool our ankles as we walked along West Beach.

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

We were careful to keep lathering the sunblock on as there is no shade along the walk at all, we walked on or beside the sand the whole way.

The are numerous art sculptures and memorials along the way which are nice to stop and admire.

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

Henley Beach is a gorgeous long beach which also has a long jetty and a smaller, quieter row of cafes and shops than Glenelg.

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

I loved the pretty chalk art on the pavement in Henley Square outside the Surf Life Saving Club.

Chalk Mehendi at Henley Beach

Ironically, along our walk we noticed a number of people riding free bikes along the coastal path so some of the hire outlets obviously did not get the weather forecast memo that morning!

Henley Beach SLSC

By the time we arrived at Henley Beach we had worked up not just a sweat but a raging appetite. We had lunch at a cute cafe called Swedish Tarts. I had the Mushroom flatbread and a coffee slushie – yummo!

Swedish Tarts - Henley Beach

We also bought some tarts to take with us back to the beach. We went for a swim which was delightfully refreshing. There was no surf so it was very relaxing just floating around. By this time of day the heat was pretty brutal, we kept intending to get out of the water but found it hard to leave. Eventually we got out and join the crowd of sunbathers all crammed into the shade formed under the jetty.

Relaxing at Henley Beach

That was a pretty funny sight as the long sparkling stretch of sand was left empty while we all sheltered from the sun. It was just too hot, but we were still able to relax and enjoy the beach and our treats!

Relaxing at Henley Beach

We decided to walk back to Glenelg in the afternoon – which was pretty bearable for me but my sister suffered a bit. It was HOT walking beside the sand reflecting the sun’s heat back up at us! Our idea to walk in the morning was a better one than in the extreme heat of the day.

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

By the time we got back to Glenelg we were hungry again so we decided to have dinner at a restaurant called Goodlife – delicious healthy salads and bread to share. It was good food, but a ridiculously looooong wait, though perhaps that was the exhaustion setting in.

We grabbed some gelato from a nearby store while we waited for a tram back to the CBD. It was great to have an active day to feel that healthy summer buzz but we sure did sleep well that night :-)

Our second day in Adelaide began with an early morning walk along the River Torrens. We were up and out the door before 6.30am, I was eager to start the day on a healthy note as I knew it was going to end up being pretty indulgent by the end of it. It is all about balance (and easing guilt ;-)).

We headed past Rundle Mall, and over to the Elder Park Rotunda, which was erected in 1882 – making it 101 years older than me!

Walking along the Torrens River, Adelaide

I was quite taken by the ‘paper boat’ sculptures appearing to float in the river. I’ve since discovered they are an installation by local artist Shaun Kirby, titled ‘Talking Our Way Home’. The five glass and steel origami style boats are representative of Kirby’s mid-sixties immigration to Australia as a ‘ten pound Pom’. An excerpt from this article about the boats provides:

Dispossession is one aspect of this dialectic: another is migration. The floating boats touch on the experience of moving from one geographical and cultural zone to another and for the artist “of being out of your depth, between places… not really grounded here, but no longer in England”. The fragility of glass points to the fragility of self in this whole process. The folded boats carry text too, printed and fired onto the glass surface: the text is from settlers’ and migrants’ journals and diaries.

Walking along the Torrens River, Adelaide

We continued on our walk picking up the path alongside Torrens River, which is also know by its native Kaurna name ‘Karrawirra Parri’, meaning redgum forest.

Walking along the Torrens River, Adelaide

What a glorious time to be out for a stroll! So nice to enjoy the fresh morning air before the heat sets in and the morning light gleaming on the water. We saw a few other people out as well, walking dogs or riding bikes.

Walking along the Torrens River, Adelaide

After crossing the river and walking back on the other side, we crossed again and retraced our steps to the hotel with time to stop briefly at Cafe 55 for brekkie.

Walking along the Torrens River, Adelaide

Our big adventure for the day was a tour of the Barossa Valley vineyards! I compared a couple of options online and booked a full day tour with the Taste of the Barossa company. It is consistently rated highly on Trip Advisor with excellent testimonials – I have to agree, we had a wonderful time so I will join the hordes of people who highly recommend them.

We booked online, and had two friendly phone calls the day before, once to confirm our pick-up location and second to slightly change our pick-up time due to other pick-ups being made. We were ready and waiting around the corner from our hotel when a mini-bus pulled up and our very friendly driver/tour guide gave a big wave and hello from the window. We hopped in and off we went. Our guide had really positive energy and a great sense of humour. He provided lots of anecdotes and history for the first 30 minutes or so as we headed out of the city. Then he turned up the music and let us enjoy the view out the window for awhile which I appreciated – sometimes it’s nice to be left to soak up your surroundings.

Our first stop was Murray Street Vineyard, which was a great start as the picturesque stone building and rolling green vineyards were absolutely dazzling under the brilliant blue sky and sunshine. We had about 15 minutes to wander around the garden and sit on bean bag chairs to enjoy the sweeping views. Then we were led inside to a large tasting room with wine barrels lining the walls and a long table to all sit together at.

Taste of the Barossa wine tour

We listened as our glasses were filled and we were told the history of the vineyard, which is relatively young having only opened in 2004. Owner and chief winemaker Andrew Seppelt is a 6th generation Barossa wine maker who has worked in wine regions around the world though, his wines are heralded as bridging ‘old’ and ‘new’. The wines we tasted were really lovely, as was the lady who led us through our tasting. After some purchases were made we hopped back in the mini-bus to continue our tour.

Murray River Vineyard

Over the course of the day we went on to visit Peter Lehmann, Hermera (formerly Ross Estate) and Chateau Yaldara. All were very enjoyable with a good range of wines and friendly, informative sommeliers.

We stopped at Menglers Hill Lookout where there is the Barossa Sculpture Park, which was a great opportunity for some photos and a wander in the sunshine. The original 9 marble and granite sculptures were created by artists hosted by local residents for the park’s opening in 1988. For the 20th anniversary another 8 sculptures were made and installed.

Taste of the Barossa wine tour Taste of the Barossa tour Golden grass in the Barossa

By the time we stopped for lunch at Peter Lehmann I was pretty hungry after all the wine sipping. We were presented with the most delicious lunch platters, fresh breads and cheeses and antipasti. The platters were shared between two, with ample food for all. As a vegetarian I was provided my own mini-platter for one, and it was such a generous spread I couldn’t eat it all. I wish I had taken a photo but I must have been too hungry!

Peter Lehmans

Hermera Estate, formerly Ross Estate, was a very entertaining stop thanks to the cheery personality of the woman who showed us around. They were so busy that they were at capacity in their usual tasting area so she set us up in their warehouse section complete with wine glasses balanced on a pallet of cardboard boxes!

Hemera Estate Winery

We did enjoy a wander throughout the storage areas, the smell of the wine where the barrels were stored was intoxicating (pun intended!) Like being inside a red wine bottle, really heady and earthy. Delicious!

Hemera Estate Winery Hemera Estate Winery

 

Chateau Yaldarra was our last vineyard so at this point I was starting to decline some of the tasting (hot day + red wine = feeling it!) but I did find room for a couple – I loved the 20 year old tawny especially. The chateau building and grounds themselves are pretty special as well, though we did not really have time to spend looking around.

Chateau Yaldara

We stopped at Tanunda town for a stroll on our way back to Adelaide, there was not a lot happening there but it was good to stretch the legs, walk off some of the wine, and look in the old lolly shop and gift stores.

It was such a big day, once we got dropped off we went back to the hotel and had a rest for awhile. By the time we felt hungry again it was somewhat late-ish. We remembered on our walk that morning we had walked past Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italian restaurant. We have previously attempted to go to the Sydney restaurant a couple of times but never made it as we’re too last minute to make a booking. Given how quiet we were finding Adelaide we decided to give it a try – it was busy but we were able to get a table straight away. Despite the earlier indulgences our appetites came roaring back – the black truffle risotto and raspberry pavlova was delicious, yum! :-)

A special end to a fabulous second day in Adelaide!

Jamies Italian

Once again I find myself doing a little belated post-holiday updating! Seems to be often the case, but that’s OK – the reminiscing is good for the soul ;-)

Over the last new year break I went on a getaway trip to Adelaide with my twin sister. While my hometown is famous for its spectacular NYE celebrations, the mega-crowds it attracts can make planning anything around town a bit of an effort, so we fancied spending the holiday out of Sydney.

We decided only a few weeks before that we’d take the trip, so I spent about a week googling ideas and asking friends for suggestions on things to do. For some reason Adelaide has a reputation for being a bit… plain. A lot of people responded with “WHY!?!?!?” when I said I was going to Adelaide for New Years. After a truly wonderful, jam packed  7 days I’m going to tell you why over the next series of blog posts! The key is to do some research ahead of time and have a rough idea of what you want to do and when. Adelaide may not be the best city to just turn up and see what’s happening – the streets are so quiet, and at times we found ourselves musing ‘where is everyone?’ in a tone on the border of FOMI (fear of missing out) and eeriness (was there an apocalypse? has the city been evacuated?)

Here’s an overview of our one week itinerary in Adelaide:

Day 1: Fly into Adelaide early, day trip to Hahndorf

Day 2: Day long Barossa Valley Wine Tour

Day 3: Tram to Glenelg Beach and a coastal walk to Henley Beach and back

Day 4 & 5: Two day tour to Kangaroo Island

Day 6: Mountain biking down Mt Lofty, picnic in the Botanic Gardens

Day 7: Panda experience at Adelaide Zoo, lunch and shopping in the city, evening flight home.

It was a jam packed week, which I’m now going to relive here, one day at a time…

So the day after Boxing Day, after a quick coffee and bagel at the domestic terminal, we left Sydney EARLY at 6:45am with Jetstar and had a good flight to Adelaide.

Airport Waiting

Compared to the Sydney comparative we were impressed how cheap and easy it is to get a bus into the city from Adelaide airport. Relying on my iPhone map app we got off the bus in the right place and found our hotel, the Grand Chancellor on Currie St. I had booked it through Webjet after comparing a few CBD alternatives, we were happy to find it clean, comfy and conveniently located.

The great thing about our early flight was that we arrived with the whole day ahead of us. In my research I’d read that the German heritage town Hahndorf is a great day trip excursion from the city and easily accessible by bus. We’d purchased a Day Trip Metroticket for the airport bus for $10, so it was a good economy to go to Hahndorf that day.

We were on our way there within an hour of checking in to the hotel using the Plan My Journey feature on the Adelaide Metro website. We spent a few minutes walking up and down the block outside our hotel trying to work out which of the three bus stops we were supposed to be at but we found it eventually. It was about a 50 minute journey and easy to know when we’d arrived – the main street is just as described.

Hahndorf town

Lots of quaint shopfronts, tree-lined footpaths, cafes with tables and chairs clustered out the front.

Hahndorf town

First order of business was coffee and scones sitting in the sun on the veranda of the Herbees Garden Café, which is a historical German house built in the 1850’s.

Cute cow milk jug, Hahndorf

We spent a couple of hours wandering down the Main Street, there are lots of stores worthy of popping into – bakeries and fudge shops, and giftware and designer boutiques.

Street art, Hahndorf

We had lunch at Café Assiette which was packed went we first wandered by. I usually can’t help myself and check online for recommendations for food and coffee when I am somewhere new. Trip Advisor reviews raved about Café Assiette so we decided to take our chances on loitering nearby for awhile – and we got lucky! The wait staff were rushed off their feet but going out of their way to make everyone happy. The food was really great (veggie pie was delicious), made even better sitting outside under the trees, listening to the live music playing next door.

Hahndorf town

We spent some time in the Hahndorf Academy art gallery and museum, a beautiful 19th century heritage building which was once a boarding school and then a maternity hospital. There is a mix of contemporary art on display as well as some rooms presenting art and artifacts from the area’s past. There is a shop with an interesting range of gifts including local art and jewellery – it is well worth a visit.

Art in Hahndorf town

It was a bright, sunny day so we stopped by one of the artisan ice cream shoppes before we hopped back on a bus to Adelaide.

Hahndorf town Hahndorf town

We finished off our first day of sightseeing with a walk through a deserted Rundle Mall (seriously, where is everyone?) which hosted a number of interesting street sculptures and Christmas decorations.

Rundle Mall

 

In general, work/life balance for me is not an evenly dispersed kind of thing but more like all-consuming-projects punctuated with an annual travel adventure when I disappear overseas for four weeks. I used to want to balance it all out, but now I accept that I actually like life being ‘all on’ when I’m hooked on a project and then changing track and escaping somewhere else when it’s done. Something I could do better is managing my wellbeing across these times. I tend to burn out, thinking I’ll sleep/breathe/recharge later. Well… I really don’t really want to sleep/breathe/recharge once or twice a year. I’d rather that be an all of the year thing.

So I started looking after myself better. I cut down on chocolate (I haven’t eaten any since the 28th June 2015 actually). I didn’t let my morning bush walk slide off my schedule when I was busy, it has become a non-negotiable. I started a regular weekly yoga practice after years of patchy attendance, and I sat down to daily meditation. I’ve kept to it all pretty faithfully and the result was that at the end of a pretty big work project last year I needed some time out for sure, but I wasn’t an exhausted shell left barely standing. I had energy, so after my work trip to Singapore I hopped on a plane to Koh Samui and straight to Vikasa Yoga Retreat. I stayed for 15 days.

I found Vikasa through a Google search, it sounded promising with great Trip Advisor reviews and plenty of travel blog trip reports.

Yoga paradise at Vikasa Yoga Retreat

It is set into the cliffside on the west coast of Koh Samui, with the cafe/reception area sitting up the top and everything else – accommodation, yoga shalas and swimming pools – cascading down the cliff. That means steps – and lots of them! I didn’t find this a problem at all, though I’ve seen some complaints on tripadvisor about them. I think if you’re there to do yoga then a five minute walk up the stairs should be within your ability to manage. And where there’s a climb there’s a view – and this one is worth the effort!

They have multiple accommodation options which is a great way to make the retreat possible for yogis of all budgets. I contemplated the options but after my hard work I decided to treat myself to a balcony facing the ocean with the Ocean Room. My first impression of the room was that it’s a lot smaller than it seems on their website, and also nestled quite close to the other rooms/bungalows either side; the balconies line up next to each other with no privacy from your neighbors, you feel like you need to keep your window curtains closed for that purpose as well. It would just be perfect if they were more private, but having said, they were clean, had aircon, an outdoor shower, and as time went on and I became friendlier with my neighbors privacy was not such a concern.

One curtain I always kept open was on the window facing the ocean so I had a front row seat in the morning when the sun rose over it right in front of my bed! I’m an early riser anyway so when my eyes flicked open in the mornings and caught sight of the horizon changing color I always jumped out, made a cup of peppermint tea and sat out on my balcony for an hour as it rose.

Vikasa Sun Rise

Vikasa calls itself a yoga retreat, I would describe it as a yoga resort, a subtle difference, but resort more accurately infers the freedom you have regarding how much yoga you do. There are three outdoor yoga shalas; the weekly timetable of scheduled yoga and meditation classes for guests are all held in the White Shala which is large and breezy. It’s entirely up to you what classes you attend – if any, no one keeps track of you, there are no expectations.

White Yoga Shala Vikasa Yoga Retreat

I tried to do at least one meditation and one yoga class a day, though sometimes I managed all classes (which was up to 6 some days). I found this freedom great as the first couple of days I took it easier as I adjusted to the heat, but by the end I craved going to as many as possible, though sometimes skipped some due to exploring the island or just physically needing a break.

Practising during the afternoon and evening tropical storms was a real treat. The rain thundered down and skittered under the roll-down shutters on the wind to land on my skin as I sweated away. The thunder boomed and the lightening sparked, it was magic. It rained probably half of the days I was there (September) but getting to practice yoga during the storms made up for the lack of beach time on those days. That and being curled up on a beanbag with a smoothie and a book in the cafe.

My favorite teachers were Simon, a South African born but now Koh Samui local who has a brilliant sense of humor and a very relaxed approach to practice, and Christian, a visiting London based yoga teacher who was more dynamic. The other teachers were all good as well, but as in life you click with some people more than others, which was the case here too.

Yoga Class at Vikasa Yoga Retreat

I came to Vikasa alone with no worries as I travel solo a lot, however I will admit that on the second day I had a moment of doubt. I hadn’t yet clicked specifically with any one, most of those I met were there on the teacher training group and were already in close groups. On the second night I started chatting to an Aussie girl after class though and we had dinner together. Then I met a Danish guy, then a Singaporean girl and an Aussie guy, an American girl and a Dutchman… I was set! The group of friends I made and hung out with each day at mealtimes and inbetween classes really made my holiday. I had such a fun time then, yoga was rewarding in itself but bonding with like minded yogis was the best.

Together we took taxis to beaches on the other side of the island- to Chaweng Beach for drinks and junk food, to Bophut for delicious Thai food at the Happy Elephant. We walked to Crystal Bay to get massages, and went on a jeep jungle safari in the rain and mud (so much fun clinging onto the side of the jeep and being flung about) which also stopped at some jungle water slides plus a few other key Koh Samui attractions. We did the Just Jungle tour which avoided all animal attractions, something I feel pretty strongly about not supporting.

I spent some time exploring on my own too. I got a taxi to the far side of Chaweng and walked the length of the beach, which was a feat in the heat but I was really missing walking by then. The roads in Thailand do not make for a pleasant stroll as the motorcycles travel along the kerb as well. It’s tempting to walk with an eye constantly over your shoulder to make sure they see you. Chaweng is a long flat beach so I was able to get into my walking headspace and chill out, stopping to swim or lay down and read along the way.

Chaweng Beach

I remembered when reading about Vikasa, that there was a gym across the road – Sky Gym – where Vikasa guests can go for free with tokens given out at reception. So I checked that out as a walking option. An energetic music playlist was always pumping when I went, and there’s pretty much everything you need there, for me that was just the treadmill so I could walk! The cardio equipment is all lined up next to windows that give the gym its name – there is a fabulous view on the blue sky days, but even on the cloudy days like when I took this photo it’s pretty nice to workout in front of!

Sky Gym

On my last night, a group of us who were all on the verge of leaving Vikasa went to Bophut for drinks on the beach at the gorgeous CoCo Tams, which has swing seats at the bar and big beautiful cushions around low wooden tables on the sand by the water. After a few drinks we wandered around the markets buying random finger foods (I ate a deep fried cricket…!!!) and taking in the atmosphere with new friends who felt like old ones.

I returned back to Sydney feeling happy, healthy, stretched out and sun-kissed.

Selfie in Chaweng

It was a feeling that stayed with me a long time, in fact I have maintained a yoga practice much more intense than I ever have before, averaging 3-5 classes a week even 5 months later. If I ever get the chance to return I will. I just hope that when I do, I meet just as lovely people as I was lucky to meet this time.

Heart Buddha Vikasa Yoga Retreat

If you are wondering why my post is a lot lighter on photos than usual, it would be because about 24 hours after getting home to Sydney, I was walking along the beach and drowned my phone in a failed but spectacular leap of enthusiasm over the lagoon channel… I sadly lost all my holiday photos, all except for the four I had allowed myself to post on Instagram while I was there and the few I sent on Messenger to my Mum. It just goes to show, it doesn’t pay to have a complete social media break while away… Hope you enjoyed this reflection on my blissful yoga holiday.

Chaweng Elephant

It was the beginning of 2014 that I set myself the challenge to walk all 37 coastal walks from the Coastal Walks Sydney book… I did 6! But luckily they’re not going anywhere, so I’m still ticking them off in 2015.

I just came off a BIG work project and after weeks without a day off I had five days stretching out in front of me. It’s the end of winter at the moment but Sydney was boasting that gorgeous feels-like-summer weather that often dazzles us at the end of the cold season. I was craving some outdoor time after too many long weeks in the office so the book came off the bookshelf and I did three coastal walks over the next five days.

Spit to Manly walk

First up was the Spit Bridge to Manly walk which is a very well known coastal walk in Sydney. Obviously it can be done in both directions, but I prefer doing it from south to north so that I end up at the beach – and judging from the people I passed it seems to be the most popular direction!

It is a truly beautiful walk, the water is alongside the track almost the whole time, except for a section that heads upwards. It’s fairly steep but nothing a reasonable level of fitness can’t handle. Where there’s a climb, there’s a view – and this one is amazing.

Spit to Manly walk

I was so happy to be back in my natural habitat under the sunshine, amongst the trees and beside the ocean. Nature is a great healer.

Spit to Manly walk

The walk is about 10km and according to the Coastal Walks Sydney book should take about 3.5 hours. Once again, similar to other walks I’ve done in the book, I took much less time to finish – about 2 hours and 40 minutes. I did that with plenty of stops along the way, probably about 20 minutes worth. I’m a pretty brisk walker once I get going!

There are a number of toilet blocks along the way and water bubblers/taps to refill your water bottle. I recommend filling up at every tap you see as they are not as frequent to chance that you’ll see one when you need it. When I did the walk in summer I struggled in the last 30 minutes with an empty water bottle, so this time I topped up at every chance.

Spit to Manly walk

Once I walked into Manly I wandered around looking for a brunch spot to refuel. I discovered a new cafe called Bare Naked Bowls on Market Lane. I was heading to the Swedish Fika Kitchen which is a fave, but Bare Naked Bowls caught my eye. I wandered in to look at the board and on recommendation from the waitress decided to try the Chia Bowl – it was delicious, as was the coffee.

Once nourished, it was time to relax! The glorious thing about coastal walks is that once the hard work is done there is a beach to relax on, which I did… for about three hours! I may have even fallen asleep on the sand. Considering how stunning the weather was I was surprised how quiet it was, I’ve never seen Manly beach this deserted – I guess that’s the perk of being there on a weekday when most people are at work.

Spit to Manly walk

In regards to transport, the walk is fairly easy to get to, coming from the lower north shore I drove to the Spit Bridge and parked in a side street just north of the bridge. There is a timed carpark there but it can be costly, I have always been lucky to get an untimed spot on the road. Once I was in Manly I got the bus back to the Spit. It was a bit tricky as I didn’t realise the footpath stops before the bridge on the north side where I got off the bus. I had to chance my luck across the road and then walk up the steps and around the suburban roads – all without a phone thanks to my battery dying. Next time I will get off south of the bridge where the foothpath extends… or else get the bus the whole way.

So having made it to Akaroa in one piece I checked into the hostel I booked online before arriving, Chez la Mer Backpackers. The next morning I woke up feeling glad that my hairy night driving adventures were behind me!

The hostel was small, a bit on the ‘lived-in’ side, and I can’t say the bathrooms were great – shower pressure, water temperature and cleanliness felt a bit poor – but the other travellers I met there were really friendly and down-to-earth. The hostel also provided hot water bottles for all, free wifi and a nice living room with armchairs to chill out in. I think you have to be flexible with the places you stay, sometimes you get better than you paid for, sometimes it doesn’t quite live up to expectations. As long as the essentials are taken care of – it all evens out!

Also, in this case, it’s pink.

Akaroa - Along the Away

Akaroa is an old British and French settlement; ships carrying both nationalities arrived in the early 1830’s and England claimed New Zealand under the British Realm in 1840. Meanwhile, a French Captain had purchased a large parcel of land here in the 1830’s and returned with French settlers in 1840 to find the British had just staked their claim. They still established a French settlement which is why there is a French influence in Akaroa.  I love finding little French corners around the globe – a favourite was Pondicherry in India – the obvious influences in Akaroa are the French street names, French Cemetery and various monuments acknowledging the early colonial past.

Akaroa is located in the heart of an ancient volcano, on the Banks Peninsula.

Akaroa - Along the Away

Akaroa - Along the Away

The waterside is so pretty, lovely for an early morning wander, which I topped off with a delicious brekkie at one of the cafés, including a hot coffee to warm me up against the outside chill.

Akaroa - Along the Away

Akaroa - Along the Away

With a free day ahead of me and no intention to get back in the car, I stopped in the post office and bought a printed walking tour map somewhat similar to this one. It took me from the centre of town across this pretty bridge.

Akaroa - Along the Away

And along the water.

Akaroa - Along the Away

It was a day for a leisurely pace, armed with my camera and rewarded with a gorgeous view at every turn.

Akaroa - Along the Away

I stopped to admire the very pretty Akaroa Lighthouse, a 140+ year old antique which was moved in three parts in the 1970’s when an automated light was installed in its place at the entrance to the harbour.

Akaroa - Along the Away

Also a good place for a timer selfie – yes I look cold!

Akaroa - Along the Away

Then I found the entrance of the little track that took me up a hill, away from the water and through a bush walk with a well worn track to follow to the town’s three cemeteries.

The Anglican Cemetery has an envious view – it was probably the perfect distance out of town when it was established in 1858. There is some historical information here in the Graves of the Gardens walking guide if you are interested in such things.

Akaroa - Along the Away

The crazy earthquake activity in New Zealand has left not even the dead unaffected – it was eery to see the destruction to 150+ year old grave stones.

Anglican Cemetery Akaroa

Daniel Watkins seemed like he was kind of a big deal in his day – Akaroa’s first Doctor, first Registrar of Birth, Deaths and Marriages, and the Surgeon Superintendent of the “famous first four ships”.

Akaroa - Along the Away

The view was certainly worth the walk, not that it had been that steep, but in the drizzling rain it was a bit slippery and cold.

Akaroa - Along the Away

I wandered back into town and that concluded the day’s walking exploration. I only stayed in Akaroa the one night so had to head off mid afternoon to get back to Christchurch. On the drive out of town I stopped by Children’s Bay and admired a rainbow from afar.

Akaroa - Along the Away

Akaroa - Along the Away

My drive out of town was all the more interesting to me seeing as the drive in had been so veiled in darkness, pouring rain and the threat of an empty tank of petrol. Who knew there had been rolling green fields around me the whole time?

Akaroa - Along the Away

And you remember that bar at the the top of the mountain I so gratefully pulled into for help? Well I was able to enjoy the view in the daylight… NOT! Just delightful fog. And a sheep. And a delicious lunch!

Akaroa - Along the Away

And this finally brings me to the end of my wonderful New Zealand adventures. I drove back to Christchurch in an uneventful 90 minutes. Checked into my hotel 5 minutes walk from the airport, leaving the rental car in the carpark for pick-up. I headed to bed super early ready for my 3am wake-up to get on the first flight out in the morning.

As my plane took off I kept my eyes pressed to the dark morning out the window. As we soared skyward I saw the beautiful glow of a new day peeking up on the horizon.

Goodbye New Zealand - Along the Away

I thought about all the wonderful memories I have from my time in New Zealand, I definitely look back on my Kiwi adventures with a smile.

Goodbye New Zealand - Along the Away

I never stay sad for long when I’m coming home to Sydney though; it’s still the best place on Earth. And as I landed on the glow of a sun rise, I was happy to be home.

Hello Sydney - Along the Away

All visits to lovely towns eventually come to an end, and the best way to ease the sorrow of leaving is to have an interesting next destination to head to.
And so it was when I packed up and departed the Roslyn Apartment, back in the car for the northward part of my road trip.

I hadn’t yet explored much of the Otago Peninsula even though there is much to see there, so I decided I would squeeze in a detour in the morning before I hit the road north. It’s possible that later in the day I might end up regretting that decision (spoiler – I DO!) but the day stretched out ahead of me and it seemed like I had time for anything…

So I drove to the Larnach Castle which is New Zealand’s only castle and seemed like a novelty to check out.

Larnach Castle - Along the Away

The castle was built in 1871 by William Larnach, a banker and politician, for his first wife Eliza. He and one of his sons were horseriding on the Otago Peninsula when they chose the site for the castle – it’s easy to see why they chose it!

Larnach Castle - Along the Away

It took more than 200 workmen three years to build the Castle and a further 12 years designing and furnishing the interior.

William’s story is quite tragic. His first wife Eliza had all six of Lanarch’s children and then sadly died at the age of 38. He later married her half-sister who died five years – also aged 38! His oldest daughter passed away in her twenties, he remarried one more time but then tragically took his own life in the New Zealand Parliament Buildings in 1898. The family struggled after this and sold the castle in 1906. The current owners bought the castle in 1967.

I paid the small fee to enter the grounds and explore the gardens which were quite charming.

Larnach Castle - Along the Away

I opted not to pay for entry to the castle as I was short on time and had already gotten my fill with the Olveston House visit. I did visit the tea rooms though and enjoyed coffee and fresh scones.

Larnach Castle - Along the Away

The grounds have a few little Alice in Wonderland influences hidden in crooks and crannies, such as a Cheshire Cat in a tree. I later learnt that it is a tribute to the New Zealand reference made in Lewis Carrol’s famous work.

“I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downwards! The antipathies I think… but I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know. Please Ma’am, is this New Zealand?”

 

Larnach Castle - Along the Away

Larnach Castle - Along the Away

The grounds actually reminded me more of another classic book, one I was a bigger fan of as a child – The Secret Garden. There were so many nooks and hideaways around the gardens, some felt like they were all but forgotten until I stumbled on them.

Larnach Castle - Along the Away

Larnach Castle - Along the Away

Larnach Castle - Along the Away

Larnach Castle - Along the Away

Time to depart as the day was pressing on and I had a 5+ hour drive to Akaroa. I left the Otago Peninsula with a few sneaky detours down some dirt roads to the coastline and stops by the roadside to snap some pics.

Otago Peninsula

My good friend Leah, a pal I met while travelling in India and who I caught up with in Auckland, told me about a great restaurant called Fleur’s Place which she highly recommended I visit as I was passing. WOW – I’m so glad I did!  It is a small cosy ocean side restaurant at Moeraki. While there I saw books on the shelf that had a photo on the cover of the smiling woman who greeted me – Fleur Sullivan. I thought she must be someone interesting to be on the cover of a book so I did some Googling. This interview reveals a fascinating and inspiring woman!

Fleurs Place, Moeraki - Along the Away

Fleurs Place, Moeraki - Along the Away

I sat inside by a pretty window and enjoyed a delicious seafood chowder and fresh bread.

Fleurs Place, Moeraki - Along the Away

Fleurs Place, Moeraki - Along the Away

The restaurant is located on right on the water – like, water on three sides! It was incredibly pretty. The site was an early whaling station and is built from gathered collectables and demolition materials from all over New Zealand.

Fleurs Place, Moeraki - Along the Away

OK, so I referred earlier in the post to regretting taking my time heading north.

I lingered a little longer than I should have, and by the time I hit the road I was pushing hard to get to Akaroa before sundown, which I wanted to do seeing as I didn’t know the area at all.

Holy moly. Worst. Drive. Ever.

So I stopped to fill up with petrol at one point. It seemed a bit strange at the time, but even though the station attendant was right there chatting to a truckie, I had to use the pre-pay station. Actually, I was a little put out at the time, because I didn’t know what the go was with the whole pre-pay system (I haven’t come across it in Australia). I picked up the nozzle up and it wouldn’t work, so I was trying this and that, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. The station attendant saw I was having trouble and called out the instructions to me- I had to first walk across the station and use the pay machine before filling it up. I thought it was a bit inconvenient at the time, couldn’t he just interrupt his chat to help me out? But it saved me big time later that night, you;ll see! I hit the road and drove straight through to Akaroa… which got HAIRY people. HAIRY.

Storm clouds rolled in. The sun set. The rain shattered down. My petrol tank emptied. AHHHHH!

It got later and darker, the road got steeper, and then every turn became a hair pin.

road to akaora

Every ten minutes or so a set of headlights would rapidly come up behind me, and in the pouring rain, my windscreen wipers on the highest setting, it would overtake me impatiently. I didn’t pass a single car in the other direction. There wasn’t a building or street light in sight for what seemed hours. As I drove up the incline, I steadily cast glances at the navigation system as my car plodded along the road next to a vast nothingness. I couldn’t see a thing out the window but at some point I realised I was on the water’s edge. I anticipated every minute that the car would run out of petrol and for the first time in my life I had a moment where I thought –

“OK. This is how it ends”

I had a vision of the car stopping, and me being stuck on the narrow road, tucked behind a hairpin and a car coming behind me and nudging me off the road into the water below.

But I kept chugging forward, up the incline, corner by corner. I leaned forward in the drivers seat, hands gripping the steering wheel, peering through the rain on the windscreen, praying to see a building of some sort – preferably a petrol station. I searched on my phone, I searched on the navigation system – no luck!

FINALLY I came across a pub at the top of climb. I eased into the car park and ran inside to find them closing. I explained my plight and the bartender shrugged, he didn’t seem too fussed. I stressed the urgency and he said there was a petrol station at the bottom of the hill, about 15 minutes. I figured if I coasted down I wouldn’t need to use any petrol, so I hopped back in the car and did just that. I drove into the petrol station on the whiff of nothing. AND WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT? It was a self serve petrol station. Which I would not know how to use if it had not been for the station attendant earlier in the day. Without that lesson, I would have assumed the place was closed. But I recognised the self-serve machine and was able to cruise in and fill up. Another five minutes down the road, with a full tank of petrol, I was in Akaroa and outside the hostel I was staying at for the night.

PHEW!!!!!

Lessons learned:

  • Plan ahead.
  • Fill up at every petrol station (almost).
  • When driving alone at night, pack a flashlight at the very least!
  • Be grateful for the gift of every day.
  • And for having a brave heart to make the most of it.