Along the Away

travel, dream, create, inspire, appreciate

Posts Tagged ‘ city ’

The only thing Jo and I had pre-planned before arriving in Adelaide was this very special experience visiting Adelaide’s two resident Giant Pandas at Adelaide Zoo. My sister had watched a TV segment about the Giant Pandas and really wanted to see them so we decided to gift each other the experience for our birthday (Twins! December birth date!)

Wang Wang and Fu Ni are the only Giant Pandas living in the Southern Henisphere! Why are they here? Well, they’re here to baby-make! That and help the international community to build scientific data and understanding of sustainable habitats for Giant Pandas. China have loaned Wang Wang and Fu Ni as part of the worldwide program to study the pandas’ nutritional requirements and reproductive biology. As the only pair of Giant Pandas in the Southern Hemisphere Wang Wang and Fu Ni had enabled a completely new set of scientific data highlighting the differences between hemispheres and how it affects pandas’ biology.

We were lucky to go when we did, a couple of months after they stopped the Panda Encounter indefinitely due to the breeding program.

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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

 

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.

I only spent one morning in Christchurch as on the way back here I made plans to move on to explore the south east of the island.

While I was there I stayed one night in a very cool hostel called the Jailhouse – located, you guessed it, in an old jail. It was an actual working prison from 1874 to 1999, when the last inmate left. The ‘cells’ have been converted into rooms including multi-bed dorms, but you can also stay on your own in a one bed cell (if you dare!). There is a cell preserved, with artwork from a former prisoner still on the walls – quite a cool thing to check out! I stayed in the dorm and it was a good experience; clean, quiet, friendly reception staff and great barista coffee from the reception desk (YES!)

But I didn’t spend a lot of time at the hostel, just enough to sleep and get caffeinated. I spent my morning taking a walk around town. The hostel was a bit of a walk into the CBD, maybe 15 minutes? But the path takes you along a pretty tree lined park and it’s pretty easy to find the way.

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

I found the CBD suprisingly/not-suprisingly still looking quite battered post-earthquakes (Christchurch was tragically and dramatically altered by large earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. I have read 80% of the CBD has been demolished).

Christchurch, NZ

I knew the city had been hit hard, I knew there was a long road to recovery… But 5 years later I assumed it would be further along that path that I found it to be. There is scaffolding everywhere. Everything looks like it’s being supported and braced so it won’t get worse, but not a lot looked like it was getting rebuilt.

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

The Christchurch Cathedral is smack bang in the middle of Christchurch and was built between 1864 and 1904. It’s been damaged over the years by a number of earthquakes, but none so much as the 2011 earthquake which measured 6.2 magnitude and brought down the west wall, the spire and part of the tower. The remainder is now held up with various steel structures, a stark visual in the city centre. The Anglican church has decided to demolish the structure and rebuild which has been considered a controversial decision – the cathedral being such an icon of the city’s identity. What will take it’s place? And what will it say about Christchurch?

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

Because the rebuild will take a long time, the Transitional Cathedral in Latimer Square, more popularly known as The Cardboard Cathedral, was built as the first significant rebuild project after the earthquake. I went there and had a tour by a lovely old chap, a lifetime Christchurch resident who shared with me the impact of the earthquakes on the city, which went further than the physical damage and the emotional grief. The logistics of getting everything repaired put a big strain on resources. The priority was getting all the residential damage fixed up so that people had somewhere to live; this is why the city itself, and major icons like Christchurch Cathedral are still a long way from repaired. They had to bring in Tradies from out of the city and country, but meanwhile there was a residential shortage due to the damage. People were crammed into share houses, which made it more difficult to attract workers in to help. It opened my eyes to the complexity of a recovery effort.

Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch

The Cathedral is the only church in the world built mostly out of cardboard, and is a sight of beauty. Clean lines, with a colour neutral palette that let’s the stained glass windows pop!

Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch

Downtown, the re:start precinct is a ‘shipping container mall’. It’s really quite funky, particularly the two-storey cafés and restaurants with upstairs balconies – really cool to see how inventive the creators have been. The concept brought the retail and tourism trade back into the CBD years before it would have been if business owners waited for new building developments.

Christchurch, NZ

It was such a different vibe there than walking the main streets where there is so much scaffolding and, though I’m not sure if it’s because it was a weekend, but just a general pervading sense of desolateness. Of course, maybe the weekdays or weekend afternoons are full of hustle and bustle, I don’t know, I only have my experience walking around on an early winter Sunday morning.

Christchurch, NZ

The Shipping Container Precinct was bright and colourful and full of business, it was refreshing.

Re:Start, Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

I had breakfast with some fellow travellers and then parted ways as I headed back to the Jailhouse to get my stuff. Along the way, there were signs of revival amongst the empty spaces and cleared lots.

Christchurch, NZ

Art and design; creativity seeping up through the cracks into the city.

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

I thoroughly enjoyed my morning stroll in Christchurch, it took me by surprise, the vibe, the street-scape and the innovation across the city.

Next, I headed to pick up my car rental ready for my next adventure :-0

I am now breaking the post-New Zealand holiday catch-up transmission to share something much more recent.

Last month I had the opportunity to go on my first overseas work trip! The company I work for is an Australian owned and operated company so opportunities to do business outside Australia have been limited in the past (that’s eleven years – I’m a stayer!). However, we are currently tendering for contracts in Singapore… so I got to go there for three days!

Business of course was the first priority and it consumed most of the time I was there. We stayed at the Furama Riverfront hotel which was just wonderful for our purposes. I wrote a review on TripAdvisor about it, but in summary the rooms were modern and functional, and the staff were so friendly – particularly in the business lounge. They greeted us cheerfully every morning and were so accommodating to our group of ten taking over the conference room. They kept the cappuccinos coming to fuel our long working days.

Fast forward through that bit, which was heaps of fun for me but no doubt fairly boring to you. On the Friday, after we had delivered the presentation we went there to do, we all headed to Sky on 57 for a special lunch on level 57 of the amazing Marina Bay Sands building.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

We enjoyed the three course ‘executive lunch’ there – it was delicious and is beautifully presented!

Sky on 57 Restaurant meal

That’s all I’ll say about the food, the pictures say it all. The next day I headed out with my colleagues to the Gardens by the Bay. We had spotted the gardens from the top of the Marina Bay Sands the day before and for obvious reasons they had drawn our attention. I read a review in the Sydney Morning Herald calling the gardens something out of Avatar…. and yes, they really do seem like something out of Avatar with somewhat other-worldly, playfully-vibrant infrastructure (not to mention the thriving plant life!)

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The outer gardens are free to wander around, that in itself makes for a lovely visit: a walkway along the water, various groves, ponds and nature walks and an awesome kids water playground.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

2015-01-31 Singapore (22)

Included in the paid ticket is entry into the two big glass domes and the tall purple flower structures.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The domes were so impressive, a very unique experience.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The first we went into was a mountain environment. Total eery Avatar moment. The air is really cool and floating metal walkways wind around and up the ‘mountain’. All the plants – and there is an abundance of them – are what would grow in a cool mountain climate – ie, not Singapore.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

2015-01-31 Singapore (45)

2015-01-31 Singapore (44)

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The second dome was warm and the air was sweet. It was full of…

Flower Dome, Singapore

Flowers!

Flower Dome, Singapore

Galore!

Flower Dome, Singapore

Plants!

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

And art.

Ants in the Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

2015-01-31 Singapore (61)

My favourite was this one; a gift from Changi Airport to the gardens, a sculptured family made out of bronze showing how visitors to Singapore leave a piece of themselves behind when they leave.

Flower Dome art, Singapore

I was most fascinated by the purple things so it was great to discover that it’s possible to get the lift halfway up one and stroll along the elevated walkway between the others.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Such a great way to see the city and experience the innovation and creative thinking of the people – it blew me away!

Unfortunately my time in Singapore then came to an end. My workmates and I had time for a quick wander through Marina Bay Sands and a shopping stop at Vivo mall before we headed to the airport for the overnight flight back to Sydney.

Changi airport is supposed to be pretty amazing – I’m not sure to be honest; maybe it depends on the terminal. There was this pretty awesome ‘media-tree’ when you can snap a picture and it is added to the mix.

Changi Airport, Singapore

I was able to enjoy the QANTAS flight home as the work deadline was behind me so I cozied up in my window seat and watched some movies (how good is the Skeleton Twins?!?)

As always, the window view helps pass the time as well :-) And that was the end of the whirlwind four day work trip!

Flying home to Sydney

Blowing into windy Wellington, New Zealand’s hip capital city, on the back of rainy weather, it was refreshing to see the clouds clearing just as we arrived.

First up was a drive past the long waterfront, craning our heads up the hill at the residential homes complete with cliff side personal gondolas installed to make the hefting of groceries from the car to house a bit easier. Don’t think I haven’t thought of rigging something similar to my third floor apartment balcony back in Sydney!

We stopped at the Weta Cave, an interesting hole in the wall museum at Weta Workshops, the special effects and prop studio co-founded by Peter Jackson. It’s part collector’s gift shop, part museum (some of the price tags were a pretty penny such as $700+ for a hand calligraphied contract owned by one Bilbo Baggins).

Weta Cave Troll

The coolest thing there was a tiny theatre where a 15 minute film showcasing the prop making and visual effects genius Weta have contributed to such films at The Lord of the RIngs, The Hobbit, TinTin, Planet of the Apes and Avatar to name but a few. It showed some behind-the-scenes talent, the creative minds working on such projects in their day-to-day job of a lifetime.

Weta Cave Gandalf

After that we drove up to the top of Mt Victoria for city wide panoramic views over Wellington.

Mt Victoria Lookout

Mt Victoria Lookout

We drove through the Mount Victoria Tunnel which our bus driver honked the bus horn through, oh, about twenty times. It is apparently a tradition to honk your horn while driving through the tunnel for no other reason than to get someone to honk back at you. Apparently it has recently been clamped down on by the police, which may explain why no one honked their horn back at us… :-(

In the afternoon, I took a wander through Civic Square down to Te Papa (the National Museum). There was a series of city art pieces with quotes from poems and literature about New Zealand. It was really cool.

Wellington City

Wellington City

Wellington City

I wandered down through Cuba Place where I stopped for lunch at Felix Cafe, a good place to eat and people watch.

A guy I chatted with there suggested I take the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens so of course I did!

Wellington City Cable

Wellington Botanic Garden

There is a loop walk starting from the cable car station at the top, which takes about 45 minutes and includes a sculpture walk, rose gardens and benches in pretty, peaceful spots.

Wellington Botanic Garden

It was windy! Time for a random selfie :-)

Wellington Botanic Garden Selfie

The gardens feature a sculpture trail with some really interesting pieces.

Wellington Botanic Garden

Wellington Botanic Garden

This one creates music when you run a stick along the outside of the cone!

Wellington Botanic Garden

Wellington Botanic Garden

Wellington Botanic Garden

I spent about twenty minutes down on the ground taking about two hundred photos of the cutest inquisitive bunch of little sparrows. I’m still trying to figure out my new camera so it was fun to play around with it while these little guys hopped in and around me.

Wellington Botanic Garden

And the ducks :-)

Wellington Botanic Garden

I watched the sun set with pretty colours.

Wellington Botanic Garden

I went into the observatory where there is the usual astronomy exhibits as well as an interesting showcase on New Zealanders who have contributed to global space and astronomy achievements and another on the Maori interpretation of the stars and use of the sky for navigation.

Wellington Botanic Garden

I joined a show session in the planetarium which included a screening of ‘Dynamic Earth’ narrated by Liam Neeson and then a tour through the sky by a resident astronomer. He brought up the night’s Wellington sky on the dome roof and pointed out star patterns and shapes and their European and Maori names and interpretations, it was really fascinating. For example what we know as the lion, Leo, is interpreted by Maori’s as a kind of fishing hook!

The astronomer also told us about ‘Matariki’ which is a cluster of stars that only appears once a year in winter and heralds the start of the Maori New Year. When it appears in the sky in May-June it means the new season has arrived.

Afterwards I caught the cable car back down the hill to the city (it takes about 6 minutes) and wandered down to Courtney Place for dinner at Enigma Cafe a busy cheerful place with hearty and affordable food. When I was in there a diverse range of characters sat at the tables; groups of friends having tea, couples eating dinner, a running group calling in for smoothies, three guys playing a board game, and me eating vegetarian nachos and reading my kindle, just making myself at home.

I walked back to my hotel through the relatively quiet night-time streets just soaking up the European-esque laneways and making note of quirky hole in the wall bars and restaurants (like the crumpet bar… Seriously, a crumpet bar? If only I had the time!)

As I was walking down one dark street I noticed a lost looking fellow coming towards me who stopped to ask for directions – as the words left his mouth we recognised each at the same moment from having chatted in a bar a week before in Rotorua! What in the world? Moments like this make you think maybe it’s not so big after all!

Wellington City

When I spotted this man and his dog I knew I was home for the night, my hotel being just behind it. It helps to have such handy landmarks in a new place!

Wellington City

This marks the end of my NZ North Island adventures, tomorrow the South Island is only a ferry ride away!

Along the Away NZ Trip Map Auckland

Auckland Arrival

The plane touched down just as the sun was setting so by the time I left the airport it was dark already. I kinda like arriving in a new place when it’s dark, waking up the next morning and everything looking so different from the night before. Like that time I arrived in Bangalore at midnight and had to help my cab driver locate the house I was staying in with street lights far and few in-between. I thought I was staying in some kind of ghetto only to wake up to a sunny, rather posh Indian middle class neighbourhood.

In Auckland I stayed at a backpacker hostel called The Attic, not far off Queen St on Wellesley St W. It has good reviews on Trip Advisor and is in a good location. And it has a pretty awesome cage lift (elevator), the kind where you have to drag open the cage door and close it so the lift will operate!

The Attic Hostel Lift

I opted for a single room here as the rates aren’t much more than the dorms (around the NZ$50 mark) and because I planned on mostly doing my own thing before meeting up with a local friend so I wasn’t looking to make exploring buddies there. The room was simple, clean and comfy, as were the kitchen, bathroom and rec rooms. Special shout-out for the hair dryer and straightener in the girls bathroom, seriously it’s the little things!

Attic Hostel Auckland

I was given a tour by the girl at reception and everyone was really friendly. I’d definitely recommend The Attic for any Auckland stayers – it didn’t feel party-like (though I was staying during the week) so all ages and personalities would feel comfy.

The Attic Hostel Lift

After dumping my bags I walked towards the water and then back up Queen St, I snapped pics of lots of things I want to come back to (mostly cafes and cute street corners, I’m so predictable).

Auckland Viaduct

But my eye was also caught by some cool street art; it pops up everywhere!

Auckland Street Art

Auckland Shipping Container Art

My friend recommended I check out the food options at Elliot St Stables. It’s an indoor cluster of small restaurants in a unique building circa 1910 – nice and cosy and easy to walk the perimeter past all the doorways to peruse the menu boards.

Elliot Street Stables

I decided on Torchon, a little French place with red checked tablecloths and candles. I had the most delicious mushroom crepe and glass of rosé and read up on things to do in Auckland.

Torchon Wine and Research

Some people feel uncomfortable eating at a restaurant by themselves but when you travel solo it’s important to do otherwise you’ll miss out on a lot, the people watching and immersion into the local scene for one, and decent food for another! I tend to look for cosier places with small tables for two that would work just as nicely for one :-) I avoid the places with large exuberant groups and rushed off their feet staff, instead choosing calmer places with smaller table groups and staff that have time to chat and share their recommendations both on the menu and around town. I never really have the chats I’ve had with restaurant and cafe staff when I’m with other people, when I’m on my own it just happens naturally. Eating alone gives you this plus the simple pleasure of focusing on and enjoying a meal without distraction and scene-watching which can be fascinating in a new place. If you’re nervous about eating alone while on the road don’t be – just do it!

I was later grateful to fall asleep in a comfy bed back at the hostel as I was exhausted after a long travel day. I had a weird turbulent dream, there was this awful honking noise and I tossed and turned trying to move out of the dream that was crossing in and out of reality. I bolted up in bed. What? This noise! Is it an alarm? I heard doors banging. Oh bloody hell it’s a fire alarm. Although it was more likely a false alarm set off by someone smoking in their room, at the back of my mind hovered the haunting reminder of horrendous news coverage of various backpacker hostel fires in Australia over the past couple of decades. I jumped up and grabbed my jacket, shoved my feet into boots and trooped out to the street with all the other oddly dressed sleepy people. There were about four fire trucks outside with lights flashing, so much drama for what my phone told me was 3.30am. Luckily the fuss was over in about 15 minutes and we were allowed back in.

False Hostel Fire Alarm

So the next morning started with a little sleep in to make up for things.

To be honest, when scoping out a new place and making a plan for the first day of exploration I start with a framework for brekkie and coffee and maybe lunch. I’m a cafe culture kind of person, so I Google for local blogs and figure out where the best places are in town for these three things. Then I frame the day’s plans around that. Maybe that’s just me, but I highly recommend this strategy!

Revel Cafe on K Rd (Karangahape Rd) has rave reviews online for being cosy, wholesome and located on the rather eclectic strip featuring vintage stores, cafés and ethnic flavour. So I started my day by walking there up Queen St about 15 minutes then turning right. I had a steaming bowl of organic porridge with stewed fruit, nutmeg and brown sugar – delicious and so filling I did not eat again til late afternoon!

Revel Cafe Auckland

I liked the offbeat vibe of K Rd, it’s got a vague familiarity to Sydney’s Newtown, though a bit seedier if I’m honest – but still cool to walk the length of towards Ponsonby Rd.

St Kevin’s Arcade is a treat to pop into, a beautiful building built in 1924 as the entrance to Meyers Park behind it. The light spilling in from the back was beautiful, there is a cafe making the most of it there plus an assortment of other bespoke stores.

Auckland St Kevin's Arcade

I intended to walk a certain route but I was distracted along the way and took detours where my fancy wanted to, the benefit of being on holiday!

Auckland City View

Auckland City View

I walked through Western Park, where there were marked ‘fitness trials’ (that’s cool) and lots of hilly paths.

Auckland Western Park

Auckland Western Park

There were these cool building cornices at the top; I tried to find out more info online but came up blank… tell me if you know their story!

2014 New Zealand (169)

I walked down Ponsonby Rd and past Ponsonby Central, a very groovy cluster of cafes, restaurants and food stores.

Auckland Ponsonby

I wandered through Victoria Park taking too many photos of the beautiful trees.

Auckland Victoria Park

Auckland Victoria Park

Auckland Victoria Park Trees

I ended up by the Viaduct Harbour where there is an interesting people-focused refurbishment happening.

Auckland Wharf

Auckland Wharf

Auckland Wharf

Auckland Wharf

The use of shipping containers for an information centre was pretty cool as was one converted into a library-living-room-book-exchange further along.

Auckland Viaduct Community Library Container

I loved the giant wooden deck chairs for people to take a little rest in the sunshine.

Auckland Harbour Deck Chairs

Auckland Harbour Deck Chairs

I ended up back downtown in time to meet up with my friend Leah, who I met in India in 2011 when I was on an Intrepid backpacking tour of Rajasthan. I hadn’t seen her since then and was looking forward to a catch up and seeing her city through a Leah-tour. While I waited I had a quick cup of tea in the Shaky Isles Cafe where I sat at a large communal table and got chatting to two guys in suits having a business meeting. Like Aussies, the Kiwis are super friendly and it’s not at all unusual to fall into casual conversation with complete strangers. One of the guys has a convertible and his favourite thing to do is take it on road trips around the north island. They filled me in on all their favourite spots in NZ and I made mental notes to remember the place names.

Auckland Shaky Isles Cafe

Then my phone rang and it was Leah, warning me she was a minute away and to hop outside to the corner – apparently I wouldn’t be able to miss her. I ran outside and there she was in a small zippy car with Intrepid Travel blazoned on the outside! I jumped and off we went on a driving tour of Auckland.

Driving around Auckland

First we drove up to the Auckland Domain where the Auckland War Memorial Museum sits and then on to Mt Eden which was a real highlight. Leah was a fount of knowledge about Auckland. Can you believe that the city is built on a Volcanic field? There are volcanoes galore across the city, almost every hill it seems. They are all deemed extinct however the field is dormant meaning there is still lava flow underneath. New Zealand is a rugged country to the max, I knew the south is dominated by a fault line, responsible for delivering the infamous earthquakes that have done some serious damage over the past few years but I was fascinated to hear about the volcanoes. Mt Eden is an eponymous volcano which erupted 28,000 years ago creating a huge 50m deep crater at the top. I’m sure it was messy at the time (understatement) but it’s all lovely and grassy now, looking like it would be fun to roll down (as we used to do on hills as kids) but as the crater is a sacred Maori landmark people are discouraged from walking inside it. The views are fabulous though, and the big bare tree at the top is a Pohutakawa tree (also known as the Kiwi Christmas tree) which flowers cheerful red leaves once a year and is a beautiful sight to see at the top of the hill.

Mt Eden View of Auckland

Mt Eden View of Auckland

After nearly getting blown off the hill in gale force winds we hopped back into the car and drove to Piha Beach, on the west coast of the north island, about a 30 minute drive from Auckland. We caught our first glimpse as we drove high up along the coastal cliffs, looking down on the deserted, expansive black sand glowing in the slanted light of the afternoon sun.

Piha Beach

We drove down and walked across the sand passing some brave surfers heading back to their cars. Being winter it was cold and windy but moodily ethereal as I find winter visits to beaches can be.

Piha Beach

Piha Beach

In summer, the beach is home to Piha Rescue, a surf life saving reality TV program, similar to the Aussie show Bondi Rescue. Due to the dramatic cliff faces and surf fed by the Tasman Sea the beach is a notoriously turbulent one where fisherman deaths on the rocks are not uncommon; it’s a rugged, wild place.

Piha Beach

Piha Beach

We headed back to Auckland to Leah’s favourite Indian restaurant; seeing as we met in India it seemed fitting! Our last stop of the Leah-tour was a drive out to Mission Bay where despite the cold we indulged in some Movenpick ice-cream and braved the sea front to look at the city lights across the water.

After such a lovely time, I said goodbye to Leah as she dropped me back off at The Attic where the night’s sleep was uninterrupted this time, no fire alarms, just a nice long sleep… Zzzzzzzz!