Along the Away

travel, dream, create, inspire, appreciate

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 weren’t 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.

Have I mentioned before how much I love being in transit? It’s always one of the best parts of travelling for me. The practice of travelling somewhere is equal in anticipation to actually arriving somewhere in my mind. Not only do I enjoy the carved out pocket of time where I can just be where I am and that is enough, but I love all modes of transport where I can look out a window and let the world pass me by. Or stand between train carriages and have my hair blown wildly around as I hang on and enjoy the biting wind on my cheeks and the fresh air filling every breath. Not on a Sydney train of course – I’m talking about scenic railways such as the Taieri Gorge Railway in Dunedin!

Taieri Gorge Railway - Along the Away

I read about the railway in a brochure I picked up in the Visitor Centre and knew straightaway I was going to get myself on that train. I went down to the Dunedin Railway Station – quite a nice building in its own right – and booked onto the return journey from Dunedin to Pukerangi for the next day. It was less than $100 and I had no problem booking on with such late notice. The journey covers 112km in a four hour trip which includes several stops to stretch our legs and most importantly – enjoy the view!

Taieri Gorge Railway - Along the Away

I rocked up with time to spare in the morning, had a poke around the station and hopped on the train when the whistle was blown. I found my carriage and settled in. There is a food and drink carriage on board and I also came prepared with my chocolate stash from the Cadbury World factory tour. I was all set – all aboard, let’s go!

Taieri Gorge Railway - Along the Away

After traveling out of Dunedin the train heads south where it turns at Wingatui Junction onto the Taieri branch.

Taieri Gorge Railway - Along the Away

Taieri Gorge Railway - Along the Away

Taieri Gorge Railway - Along the Away

The train travels across the Taieri Plains and into the Taieri Gorge, a narrow and deep gorge carved out by the ancient Taieri River.

Taieri Gorge Railway - Along the Away

Taieri Gorge Railway - Along the Away

Taieri Gorge Railway - Along the Away

We were free to stand on the platforms between the carriages to enjoy the thrill of the ride and snap photos as the front of the train leads the way, curving around the mountain and offering snap-worthy shots every minute.

Taieri Gorge Railway - Along the Away

Taieri Gorge Railway - Along the Away

We chugged along through ten tunnels and bridges galore – picturesque at every turn.

Taieri Gorge Railway - Along the Away

Towards Pukerangi one of the train drivers tapped me on the shoulder and jerked his head to the back of the train. “Go stand on the back platform in five minutes, you’ll get the most breathtaking view as the train heads over the bridge.

I didn’t need to be told twice! Down I headed and I spent twenty minutes out the back snapping pics and leaning into the wind.

Taieri Gorge Railway - Along the Away

My eyes were streaming and my hair was a-crazy, but I had a big smile on my face. It was amazing!

Taieri Gorge Railway - Along the Away

The tunnels were also fun – though I held on tight to my camera and kept all limbs rigid as a board by my side!!!

Taieri Gorge Railway - Along the Away

When we got to Pukerangi we stopped for awhile and waited for people who were boarding; then we headed back the way we came :-)

Taieri Gorge Railway - Along the Away

We travelled back the same way, which was A-OK seeing as once was not enough. What a wonderful half day adventure :-)

While in Dunedin I stayed in a one bedroom apartment at Roslyn Apartments. The apartment was beautifully furnished and offered a nice, quiet, cosy retreat from the hustle and bustle of being on the road for almost a month.

It was a bit out of the city centre, but just across the road and up a little is a supermarket and a row of cafes and stores for any immediate needs/coffee, and being up on the hill offers a great view.

Dunedin City Tour

It only took me about 20 minutes to walk down hill from the apartment (maybe 25 minutes on the way back home). Surely it would be an inexpensive taxi ride, though I always walked because it was an enjoyable, pretty journey.

Dunedin City Tour

Dunedin City Tour

Although I often avoid them, sometimes the best way to explore a new city is on a sightseeing bus – you get to cover a lot of ground while someone tells you everything you need to know – plus a lot of interesting trivia.

I was in the iSITE Visitor Centre when I overheard a guy thanking one of the staff for recommending the Good Company Dunedin Tour he had gone on the day before on their recommendation – I intercepted him as he was walking out the door and asked him what else he’d enjoyed doing in Dunedin. Cue a 30 minute conversation chatting with a fellow traveller; he gave me heaps of tips for the South Island, and I gave him tips about the North Island where he was heading next.

I went back into the centre and booked on the afternoon tour, which gave me a couple of hours visiting some of the local stores before hoofing it back to the centre for the bus pick-up. We went in a mini-bus, myself and three older couples, Aussie and English.

Our friendly driver/tour guide launched straight into telling us all about Dunedin – which turns out started out as a southern hemisphere Edinburgh, designed by two Scottish Presbyterians who wanted to create a Presbyterian town free of the politics that plagued their homeland. Dunedin means Edinburgh in Scottish Gaelic; they intended to build the town with Edinburgh’s street layout but had to change it when they arrived and realised that mountainous New Zealand equals a hilly Dunedin, not quite as flat as Edinburgh. One of the more interesting things I learnt was that the  Knox Church was built at the top of the hill, and the Speight’s Brewery was built at the bottom – much to the annoyance of the Presbyterians whose blessed water ended up at the bottom to be used by the brewery!

Dunedin City Tour

Also very interesting is that the Otago girls school opened before the boys school in 1870! Quite progressive for its time.

We stopped for a ten minute walk through the University of Otago which was very pretty; definitely feeling the Scottish influences here – almost a little Hogwarts-esque may I dare say.

Dunedin City Tour

Dunedin City Tour

At the top of Signal Hill Lookout the views encompass the Otago Harbour and Otago Peninsula – so beautiful on a clear Winter’s day.

Dunedin City Tour

There are two large statues at the top, sitting almost Buddha-like, watching over the city. Our tour guide shared a local conspiracy that the statues were ordered to be made in London by the City, but in a cost-cutting measure, they took in two statues that were originally made for a temple in India – hence the robe-like clothing and prayer-like crossed legged poses! I have no idea how much merit that theory has, but regardless, the male figure represents History and faces West, holding a book with the years 1848-1948 engraved on it.

Dunedin City Tour

The female figue represents Future and gazes East, holding ‘the thread of life’ on her lap.

Dunedin City Tour

Along the harbour there are a row of teeth. Strange, yes. Officially know as the ‘Harbour Mouth Molars’ – the sculpures are six wisdom teeth.

Dunedin City Tour

We drove to the Otago Peninsula and stopped to enjoy the rolling green hills and brilliant blue water views. Iconic New Zealand!

Dunedin City Tour

Dunedin City Tour

After getting back downtown as the sun was setting, I walked home past St Pauls Cathedral.

Dunedin City Tour

On the advice of the traveller I met at the Visitor Centre I went to the Olveston Stately Home the next morning and did the house tour there. I’m a nerd and love period homes – probably because I also love period novels and film, so getting to visit a period home furnished is fun (because I can swan around pretending I’m Lizzie Bennet or Miss Fischer).

Dunedin City Tour

I couldn’t take photos inside, but it was an excellent tour – the house is indulgently decorated with many ‘mod-cons’ of the early 20th century as well as furnishings and artwork from across the globe. The tour guide and caretakers know alot about the Olveston family and history so the tour is full of interesting facts and information. Olveston was built for a Dunedin businessman, collector and philanthropist David Theomin, his wife Marie and their two children Edward and Dorothy, who travelled extensively prior to building the home in 1906. Unfortunately no further generations lived in the home as Dorothy was the last family member who died without heirs. She left the house to the City of Dunedin who at the time thought it was a bit of a drag and seen as only an expensive drain on tax payers money – until they looked inside and realised what valuable collections were there.

Dunedin City Tour

My next day in Dunedin was one of my favourites in New Zealand… stay tuned – we are nearing the end of my Kiwi tales but there are still a few adventures to share :-)

So it turns out I rocked into Dunedin the week of the Cadbury Chocolate Festival… Yes, poor me. The trials of the wanderer are fierce.

It was honestly quite the coincidence – you would think an extreme chocoholic like myself might have had a bit more of an intentional hand in such synchronicity, but no. As unplanned as it was there was clearly the hand of the universe at play, which has a way of revealing our destiny to us at the appropriate moment.

Cadbury Chocolate Factory, Dunedin

Unfortunately I was leaving the day of the famous Jaffa race which was the event I would have been the most interested in. I had heard of this many years before from a Kiwi housemate – the steepest street in the world is in Dunedin (Baldwin St) and the city makes good use of it by unleashing thousands of jaffas down its slope one day every year. The jaffas are all branded with a number, each one funded by members of the public. The first ones to reach the bottom of the hill win their owner a prize. Very cool! But unfortunately I missed it.

I did go to the Cadbury World factory though and signed up to go on the tour. It was brilliant. Sometimes these kind of things don’t really live up to expectations, but the tour was really interesting, we got given heaps of Cadbury products in our goody bags, and our lovely tour guide was genuinely enthusiastic about everything she had to show us.

The tour cost $22 and is best booked at least a day before if you’re on any particular schedule. The full tour takes 75 minutes and runs every half an hour during the day so you’ll likely get booked on one with short notice. When I turned up for my time slot I was invited to wander around looking at some momentos from Cadbury’s history until it was time to start.

Cadbury Chocolate Factory, Dunedin

Within five minutes I was approached by an Ompaloompa. I know, that’s a different chocolate factory, but I was flummoxed when a short person came up to me in purple overalls, white long sleeved arms and a white puffy hairnet. I looked around and there was quite a few of them – virtually indistinguishable from each other! My Oompaloompa asked what time slot I was in and asked me to meet by the door, where she would lead the tour from. Our small group of 6 assembled and we started. First of all we watched a short video about the history of the Cadbury family, then we all donned hairnets, and for the guys with facial hair, beard snoods (!!!) All jewellery had to be removed or taped down onto the skin. Our guide explained that the Dunedin Cadbury factory is the last working chocolate factory in the world that you actually tour through and see things in action. It means that we have to take precautions to ensure the factory remains hygienic and up to food safety standards. The walkways we stuck to as we wandered through the place was separated from the actual chocolate production, but it was still reassuring to see the extent they go to to keep the products protected.

Cadbury Chocolate Factory, Dunedin

Cameras are not allowed on the tour so I have no pictures to share, however I’ll paint you a picture of my highlights.

My absolute favourite part was the coloured pipes on the ceiling. There were four colours, and they ran unpredictably, sometimes all four together, then randomly splitting off and criss-crossing across each other. Each colour pumps a different kind of chocolate to each of the machines. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, and couverture chocolate. Depending on the Cadbury product that is made at each station depends which coloured pipes run to there. The only Cadbury product made with all four types are Choc Bits, which turn up in the baking aisle of the supermarket.

I was mesmerised by the Choc Bits being piped down onto the conveyor belt in a grid of about a hundred bits or so. There must have been a blockage on one of the nozzles as watching the grid of bits trundle past on the conveyor belt there was a single ‘Bit’ missing in every grid. A little blank space in the neat orderly rows of Choc Bits.

The grand finale of the tour was walking into one of the tall towers that are so dominant from the street. Here, a tonne of melted chocolate is dropped from the centre of the tower and thunders past us. The same chocolate is used for a whole year – it is collected at the bottom, kept warm and pumped back up to the top again for the next group. So obviously, this is not chocolate you would want to put in your mouth!

Luckily they had a special batch for us to try which came from a machine that squirted tablespoons worth down into a tray of about 12 mini-cups. I really loved seeing the machinery aspect of the factory, so efficient!

There is a cafe on site, where the mochas are delicious and served with a chocolate fish!

Cadbury Chocolate Factory, Dunedin

Dunedin is not just about chocolate – it’s a pretty cool town actually! More on my four day visit in the next post.

Yes here I am, still continuing on with my New Zealand travel posts. From last year. From August. Oh well!

So there I was in Christchurch, with a week left before my flight to Sydney.

It’d been on my heart list for awhile to embark on a solo road trip. I’ve done this a couple of times in the past (my favourite to Byron Bay in 2007) and a couple of duo road trips (my faves were a week around the Irish coastline with my friend Anna when I was 21, and an almost-week meander around Tasmania with my friend Anette when I was 28).

After a while I start to feel a yearning to hit the road again.

For my last week in New Zealand I knew I wanted to hire a car and road trip. I studied the map and decided to take a mosey down the south east coast of the South Island.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

I booked a budget (but not bomb) option on a website called Economy Car Rental. I had a bit of trouble finding the pick-up location because the receipt named one local business pick-up but it actually operates out of another one – it wasn’t really made that clear on their website or booking process but other than that the hire experience was really positive. The guy at the local Scotties Rent a Car pick-up location was very helpful, setting up the navigation console and giving me multiple contact numbers in case I ran into any trouble.

I set my sights on driving south to stay the night in Oamaru. It took about three hours, and I ended up driving pretty much straight through as I left at 3pm and it fell dark before 6pm. It suited me to get into the swing of a long stretch in the driver seat listening to Jack Johnson on shuffle and sinking into the blissful nowhere-to-be, no-one-to-see state of mind after three weeks of jam-packed activity.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

2014 New Zealand (3614)

I stayed at the Empire Backpackers which I found online and booked that morning. I had a lovely stay there, appreciating the homely vibe and the main street location. I was welcomed by the hosts, given a tour around the common areas and accompanied up to my room whilst generously being offered suggestions for my short visit.

I stayed in a private room which was just perfect – a big comfy bed, heater, lamps – simple but clean and very ‘guest room’ like, it felt like staying with friends. I highly recommend a stay there if you end up in that part of the world.

2014 New Zealand (3612)

I walked the main street looking for somewhere to have a hearty meal; the neighbourhood was quiet and cold, but really beautiful – I knew it would look completely different in the daylight.

2014 New Zealand (3604)

I had a delicious bowl of soup at the Star and Garter Restaurant and then had an early night – there was not too much happening in Oamaru on a Saturday night!

2014 New Zealand (3601)

I was up early in the morning and took a stroll around the corner towards the Victorian Precinct. As is always my morning priority I looked for the perfect cosy cafe to enjoy breakfast and coffee, my absolute favourite meal of the day. There were a couple of contenders, I loved this sign at Steam Cafe, this sums it up ;-)

Roadtrip to Oamaru

But I kept on walking as the crisp morning beckoned and I wanted to explore a bit more.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

The Victorian Precinct is quaint! Such beautiful architecture; the European kind; the we’ve-been-around-for-ages historical kind; the kind we don’t see too often in the relatively young Down Under territory.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

There is a fascinating building called Steampunk HQ right in the heart of the precinct. On the website they explain:

Steampunk is a quirky and fun genre of science fiction that features steam-powered technology. It is often set in an alternate, futuristic version of 19th century Victorian England.

The Steampunk future is driven by unusual steam powered devices – the ‘world gone mad’ as Victorian people may have imagined it. Examples are machines like those in the writing of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, and in tv shows such as Dr. Who.

Oamaru is an ideal setting for Steampunk art and activities, given the wonderfully preserved and thriving Victorian buildings.

It was closed up when I walked by so early, I would have liked to go into the museum but settled for watching the interactive train/art piece out the front.

Steampunk HQ, Oamaru

Roadtrip to Oamaru

The Victorian Precinct feels like a step onto a movie set, the 19th century buildings are mostly made from the local limestone. The community has cultivated the olden day atmosphere of the buildings into the local businesses. Cafes, book stores, art galleries, gift stores. A stroll through feels quite magical.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

I stopped in for breakfast at the Woolstore Cafe, in the old Woolstore Complex, a grandly restored storehouse built in 1881, 100 years before I was born. I sat by the window and watched the early morning foot traffic made up mostly of people setting up for the weekend market.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

The precinct is located right on a small harbour so I walked around the back of the buildings towards the water.

It was eerily quiet, just me strolling around, the wind cool on my cheeks and my breath puffing out in little clouds in front of me. The texture of the buildings on this side was even more gorgeous, weathered away by the seafront. Old railway machinery rusted away.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

When one travels alone, occasionally they must use rusted railway machinery as a makeshift camera stand…

Roadtrip to Oamaru

I snapped, snapped, snapped away. Every turn I fell in love with the grungy-ness, the weathered beaten sturdiness of the buildings.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

The aching lonliness of the disused, once vital, infrastructure.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

It reminded me a lot of parts of England, like Cornwall maybe?

Roadtrip to Oamaru

The local tourism authority has done a good job of historical preservation balanced with just the right amount of visitor infrastructure and information. Too much and it ruins the atmosphere; but here, it is just enough.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

Roadtrip to Oamaru

Roadtrip to Oamaru

I stayed for half a day before feeling like it was time to get in the car. If I had all the time in the world I would have been happy to linger. I could have gone to the Steampunk HQ museum, visited the little penguin colony, explored more of the local cafes, but as it was I think it was enough.

I hopped in the car and headed toward Dunedin with my heart set on stopping to see the Moeraki Boulders on the way.

Somewhere before I came to them I followed a signpost to a lookout – I can’t even recall the name of it now, it was one of those whims you take while on the open road. Anyhoo, wherever this place was, I met a lovely sheep.

Roadtrip to Dunedin

Check out the view he has, just beautiful!

Roadtrip to Dunedin

About half an hour down the road I followed the turn-off signs and parked near the Moeraki Boulders Cafe & Gift shop. There is a direct access staircase to the beach directly next to the boulders which is signposted for patrons of the cafe only. I headed down to take a look at these marvelous mega-pebbles (I made that term up).

Roadtrip to Moeraki Boulders

Aren’t they spectacular?

The boulders started forming over 60 million years ago on the bottom of the ocean, and over the course of time ended up on shore. The biggest ones are 3 metres in diameter and weigh over a tonne. No wonder they aren’t floating off into the ocean!

Roadtrip to Moeraki Boulders

It was cool to spend some time walking along the beach watching – and dodging – the waves as they crash over the boulders, keeping them smooth and rounded.

Roadtrip to Moeraki Boulders

It started to rain after I had taken about a hundred photos so I climbed back up the stairs and took shelter in the cafe, had lunch and watched the ocean from the window. I wrote out some postcards as I lingered over a coffee.

Solo road trip at it’s best.

In my own time, in my own way.