Zesty Mumma's Words

A life lived without passion is a life half lived

Archive for the tag “travel on a shoes string”

The Great Ocean Road – A Road Well Visited But Always Surprising

Thirty years ago I drove a quiet back road from Port McDonald in South Australia over the Victorian Border to Port Campbell and on through to Torquay so we could be on hand to watch the Bells 25th Anniversary surf comp. By the way when I say I drove that wasn’t exactly the case, Craig my ex did all the driving, I didn’t get my license for another decade, but I’ll leave that  story till later.

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So back to the story, I called it a back road but it was in fact the Princess Highway and  the Great Ocean Road, which most people have heard of even if you don’t live in Australia. In those days it was little more than a country road but the scenery was no less amazing.

On that occasion we got to the Twelve Apostles (now it is 8 ½ Apostles) late in the day then drove on through the night, only stopping somewhere near Lorne because we sadly hit a Tawney Frogmouth Owl. Sleeping in the back of our 1968 Holden Kingswood Station wagon with stainless steel mud flaps and white metal venetian blinds was very squishy. We had a cat, my brother, surfboards and luggage but when you’re young you just handled it.

What I didn’t I didn’t realise until I recently travelled the same road with two friends (but from the opposite direction) was that because it was night on my previous trip I had missed out on so much.

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The Torquay stretch is actually a well worn path for me. When we arrived thirty years ago our stay extended to about three months so I got to know the area quite well. Since then I have travelled back on a few occasions, my son was a pro junior surfer so surfing comps at Bells were a part of my life. It hasn’t changed a lot in all those years. A few more shops, but not as many as you would think, more houses but not much else.

Bells Beach however was as mesmerising as ever, the pure power of the waves demands respect. On the day we were there a rescue helicopter had landed on the beach just before we pulled up in the carpark, I never found out why but I can only imagine. Standing at the lookout staring out to the horizon you can’t help thinking about the massive waves that are generated in the Southern Ocean and propelled at the Australian coastline. Dark and ominous it is easy to feel the icy embrace of water that originates in the Antarctic.

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The trip from Torquay to Lorne along a road that hugs impossible cliffs and runs beside exquisite sandy beaches  is only about an hour drive in distance. However, there are numerous places you will want to stop so it should take you  quite a bit longer. We stopped for a late lunch in Lorne, very pretty  but I found it a bit too commercial.

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Our next two nights were spent in Apollo Bay and gladly a lot different to Lorne. It is a lovely little town, with beautiful beaches, a great boat harbour and amazing pub meals, really huge. Most importantly it is a perfect distance from the Apostles. Stay the night, then make your way to the apostles the next day. On the way back visit The Otway Lightstation and get more that you bargain for. The road to the lightstation is about 12 kilometres and the only place in Australia I have found that seems to be riddled with Koalas, no joking. They were hanging out of the trees everywhere along the road. The koala in the picture is literally only two metres above the ground.

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The light station itself is fantastic and full of history. The most famous of the light house keepers had an amazing wife that cared for shipwrecked people and others in wretched situations. Commended for her spirit, she was described as being the “nicest of all women having only nine children” beat that all you earth mothers, lol. Who would ever describe someone as ONLY having nine children. Times were definitely different one hundred and thirty years ago.

 

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Dunedin is Not a Sunny Place – But Who Needs Sunshine for an Interesting Holiday

Dunedin is not a sunny place, but having said that, it is quite possible that the Scottish Farmers that were the founding fathers of the city probably thought it was in comparison to what they left behind in Britain. To put this in perspective when you are planning your trip, the average maximum temperature in January is 18.9 degrees Celsius where as Sydney (also in the Southern Hemisphere) has an average maximum of 25.9 for January. Trust me, this is not a place you plan on visiting for a beach holiday

But here in lies a certain amount of contradiction. The photo below is taken at a beach on the eastern side of the Otago Peninsular. During my first visit I sat on a log eating my lunch, the warm sunshine super heating me through my jeans (it was November and the only sunny day during my three days in Dunedin (the other two being drizzly and cool) and I was overwhelmed, as I often am, by the desire to swim. Maybe it was the fact that I hadn’t been in the ocean for a few weeks or the beach looked so much like home that I just had to try it.

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After changing in to my swimmers I made my way down to the shore, the squeaky alabaster sand ran through my toes as I walked. The same clear blue Pacific Ocean water that I had known for most of my life rolled in lovely shore breakers towards me, I was feeling very positive.

When the first wave touched my toes it was a bit of a shock. Like little needles really and very, very, sharp ones at that. By the time the water had reached my calves I think my legs were about to change from fire red to vivid purple and I ran from the water just like all the “cold-a-phobes” I’d always bemoaned. I did eventually manage to get to the point of lying in the water, but the moment the wave rolled over my back I was out of there, never to return.

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But the Otago Peninsular is a visually splendid place. The road hugs high cliffs most of the way around and presents amazing, “to die for”views, which doesn’t take too much imagination to believe to be quite possible. Such is the height of the hills on the peninsular, one minute you can be driving along admiring the view and the next thing you are driving through low-lying cloud as thick as any London pea soup fog.

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Things were no different on my second visit to Dunedin. The gothic nature of many of the churches and other buildings seems extremely fitting in respect to the weather. Otago stone is a renowned building material in New Zealand and has been used extensively in and around Dunedin giving the entire city a solid, stoic feeling. One of the best things to do really is looking at the architecture, built on incredibly steep hills this can be quite a physically demanding thing to do, but fantastic “old everything” is everywhere.

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If you like good food, make sure your visit includes a Saturday. The farmers market held at the world famous train station (also made out of Otago stone) is an awesome place for breakfast. You also have the chance to wander round the station, which really does deserve its notoriety. My second visit also coincided with the Thieves Alley Market, which sees the Octagon (centre of the Dunedin CBD) and surrounding streets closed for the day. On this particular day many of the Artisans from Christchurch were there and it made a fabulous market.

I stayed in the Manor House Backpackers on my first visit and it was fine, great old house close to the Octagon. Unlike the place I am too embarrassed to mention (Penny Backpackers) on my second trip and would advise you to avoid like the plague.  One of my fondest moments for the first trip was watching “500 Days of Summer” with an American Girl, two German Girls and a Chinese Student at The Manor House. The American and I may have been the only ones laughing but you knew the other girls got it they just weren’t as loud as us.

I have watched that movie many times since then and I always think of Dunedin. It helped me realise that a good chick flick can break down even the biggest language barrier.

Tips and Extras

• Port Chalmers, where the cruise boats dock has some interesting quirky shops and is a nice drive, well worth the trip, and good coffee.

• Also visit the entrance to Port Otago

• The Otago Gallery in the Octagon is great art gallery.

• Dunedin has the best op shops

Haast and Beyond, with Whitebait for Sustenance

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Heading south to Haast, the last outpost on the West Coast, you realise just how stoic the early European settlers must have been to eek out a farming existence in that verdant land. The bush closes in thickly around you at times and the ever present, misty rain implies a prehistoric past that is still very much present. This trip was my second on that road and no different the first time I travelled it.

Whitebait is a delicacy you may not have heard about but is so important to nearly every New Zealander that a love of them is almost a prerequisite for citizenship. What is it I hear you ask, actually Whitebait are tiny little fish, much smaller that sardines with a gigantic head (in comparison to their body). Every single kiwi I have met has at least one story about going “whitebaiting” when they were young, much increasing its legendary status. As you approach Haast a small hand written sign on the side of the road advertising whitebait fritters can be seen, make sure you stop. The fritters are a simple affair, prepared and cooked on a make shift bench in front of you and consist of beaten eggs, whitebait, salt and pepper, buttered bread and sauce if you want but well worth it.

South of Haast is the truly wild New Zealand, Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and onto Antarctica. The main road turns east at this point and heads up and over the Alps. If you don’t have a convoy of Motorhomes breathing down upon you make sure at some point you stop on the side of the road to marvel, slack jawed at the beauty you are heading toward. It is scenery that no amount of words I could ever say would do justice to.

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This road will take you all the way to Wanaka and on to Queenstown, it is quite narrow in places but that is never a problem because there just isn’t that much traffic. Once you are over the top it follows a route around amazing blue lakes. This is sheep country and very high so the vegetation is sparse. This trip we chose to keep going through to Queenstown but Wanaka is a nice little town with lots of accommodation. Both towns are quite modern and generally busy in all seasons. Winter bringing the skiers and late spring, summer and early autumn the travelling tourists.

It takes about an hour to get to Queenstown from Wanaka along the highest public road in the country. Just before you begin your decent into Queenstown you come upon gravel clearing on the side of the road. Make sure you stop at that spot, the view looking down the valley and into Queenstown is a must see. Late snow was still clinging to the hills around the valley on my first trip but this time it was late summer so it had all melted, still beautiful but the snow made it spectacular.

 

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It is a 300 km bus trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown and I took it the first time I was there. Unfortunately, the only trouble with that is if you’re on a bus tour you have to take 300km trip home that day as well. Actually I am only joking when I say unfortunately because the trip there was nearly as good as seeing the Sound. After Te Arnau the road takes you through vast empty valleys that had once been farmland but are now part of the National Park. The drivers are well trained and have lots of interesting local knowledge to bring the trip to life. It makes it a long day but not one you would regret. To get down to Milford you have to pass through a long tunnel. If you are a nervous driver you would be best to take a bus trip like me. I’m not a nervous driver but I was very glad I went on the bus.

My favourite thing in Queenstown is the botanic garden. After you walk through the garden there is lovely little French café down on the lake that finishes off the visit nicely. The walk up Queenstown Hill is also great. It starts at the end of some extremely steep streets but becomes less so once you are up about a third of the way.

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Arrowtown is a quaint little town about 5 km from Queenstown, It is renowned for cute little stone cottages and other old buildings but it is heavily commercialised and really not my cup of tea. Having said that I had a venison pie at the local bakery was the best pie I have ever tasted.

 

Tips

  • Top up your petrol take at Haast.
  • Try Pine Lodge for budget accommodation. The room I had on my first visit was spotlessly clean. I booked it on a last minute booking website and managed to get a twin room for four nights for $200 NZ.
  • There are two supermarkets in Queenstown – a smaller one right at the end of Shotover Street in the CBD. The second, a large New World, is just a few blocks over, just out of the CBD.
  • Unless you know you have a bargain I wouldn’t really buy any souvenirs in Queenstown, very overpriced and all made in China.
  • The bus trip to Milford costs around $150 NZ

The Wild Wild West of NZ’s South Island

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When I was seven I used to wait for my mother to finish the weekly grocery shopping. Not in a park or a library but in a milkbar. Every Saturday morning, I would take my twenty cents pocket money, order twelve cents worth of hot chips and buy an eight cent strawberry milkshake. Sitting on the soft black vinyl swivel stools at the long bench I savoured every chip that crunched and melted in my mouth, feeling very grown up. To this day I love chips, in particularly Fish and Chips, and thankfully so do New Zealanders.

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Hokitika, a small town south of Punakaiki, abut half an hour from Greymouth. It is known as the home of Greenstone, but I would like to award it with another title. It has the best fish and chip shop on the west coast, with awesome chips. That’s lucky for me, right? Well it also has amazing homemade mussel fritters and of course local fish, so whatever you do plan to have lunch at Hokitika. There is lots to see and a good stop before you head south on the two hour trip to the glaciers.

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The strip of land between the pounding waves of the Tasman Sea and the foothills of the Southern Alps is very narrow. As the moist water laden clouds hit the land they travel up and over the mountains, dropping their cargo as they go. So make sure you have a raincoat while you are there as it is wet much of the time.

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The lush vegetation that results is wild and dense, with a definite prehistoric feeling. There is so much timber washed into the sea that the stony beaches are littered with tonnes of twisted grey driftwood. The glaciers are a must to see. We stayed at Franz Joseph but took the trip to Fox Glacier, which has a good viewing area after a nice walk. This was one place that I was grateful to have the thermos cause it was raining and cold by the time we got back to the car.   * Next week – on to Queenstown

Abel Tasman totally Missed Australia and Ran into New Zealand Instead

 

 

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The road from Nelson to Motueka is a nice relaxing drive through rural and semi rural countryside. If you are into gleaning (that’s finding free food) this is the place for it. We picked up “found” apples, pears and stonefruit on roadside trees.
There was also a ready supply of vegetables on sale at little stalls in front of homes. This usually involves an honesty box but they are so cheap I would hope that everyone would actually pay the price. Some of this fruit lasted for a couple of weeks and I was stewing apples for breakfast with yoghurt right up till we left the country. Make the most of the abundance as you will save yourself a bit of money by  stocking up.

As it’s a major fruit growing area with lots of picking work in season, there is a good supply of backpacker accommodation. Be discerning however, this was one of the places  where I really wasn’t entirely happy with our accommodation. We had booked into the White Elephant (that should have been enough of a warning) and all the reviews were ok. It’s a huge old house on the edge of the town with an amazing garden. Smoking in proximity to the guest house is an issue to me and know matter how many times I asked the same people not to smoke outside our bedroom window they just kept doing it.  The other big problem was the fact that that there is no one in charge inside the house at night and it is a big house with lots of guests. Finding a guest conducting a head shaving business in the bathroom at 11.30 pm was annoying but you had to applaude his entrepreneurial spirit. The fact their newly shawn head for some reason gave them a sense of freedom that caused them to frolick loudly through the corridors till around 12.00pm was a bit hard to handle. I couldn’t help seeing the similarity to how sheep behave once they are let out of the shearing shed once they are shawn, kicking their legs, head butting each other and baaing loudly. I suppose it is New Zealand after all.

We didn’t hang around once we had booked in and headed out of town to Tarkaka, a small town in the Golden Bay area of the far North West. To get there, like everywhere else in the South Island, you had to drive up and over a dirty big hill. To give you an idea it’s really only about 54 km in distance but it takes between 1 hour and 1 1/4 hours to get there.

Tarkaka is  a funny little town set in a magical valley and is easily compared to Nimbin in Northern N.S.W. ( near Byron Bay). I only knew about it cause I had spoken to another traveller on my last visit to NZ and was significantly intrigued to eventually get there, I’m glad to say it was well worth the trip. There’s more than just the town though, scattered through the valley are artist studios, stunning coastline, the obligatory beautiful mountain scenery and great cafe’s.  The day we were there, which was a friday, a small market had been set up in a park, selling nice handmade items but more importantly there were  fantastic food options that were very affordable. We bought a french crepe to share ( plenty for two females) stuffed with great fresh fillings  and it only cost us $4.00 each.

Back in Motueka we spent the evening at Toad Hall, a lovely little old public building. By day it is an organic grocer and cafe but at night the garden outside transforms into a pop up beer garden, complete with festoon lights and wood fired pizza oven. Playing on the large raised stage was a local band called Tom Fields. They played a mix of music in a rousing folk style that totally complemented the fabulous pizza that we ordered and the bottle of nice South Island Pinot Noir. The Pizza only cost $15 and the wine was  $25 for the bottle. So we got amazing entertainment, meal and wine for $20 each, fabulous.

The next day we drove the ten kilometres to the start of the Abel Tasman track,  this is one of a series of tracks that wind through the Abel Tasman National Park.  We chose a 7.5km section from the Abel Tasman Centre to Cyathea Cove. This was a reasonably easy section with some minor inclines. The track winds around the park, through forest and along cliff faces and can be accessed in a number of ways. We drove the the start of the track but we also met walkers, going the opposite direct, who had paid a water taxi to drop them at a certain point along the track. They would then be picked up from to the car park which was our starting point. After walking 2 hours we broke for lunch and a swim at 12.00. As I have said previously the Vacuum flask is a necessity. Sitting having a cup of tea and eating the sandwiches we had made, under the Rata and Pohutukawa trees you could imagine you were in Paradise.

And then you get bitten by a New Zealand Sand fly.

As you may or may not know there is a great sibling rivalry between Australia and New Zealand. The New Zealanders like to tell you that Australia has all the bitey things in the world and that is true. They also like to tell you that they don’t have any, this however is not.  I will tell you more about NZ Sand flies another time, at this point let me just say they have the most annoying bite I have ever experience and believe me having grown up in Austalia I have been bitten by just about everything thing there is that can bite you with out killing you. So make sure you take insect repellant.

The Abel Tasman National Park was named after the Dutch explorer of the same name, who discovered the south island in 1642 purely because his ship was blown of course when he was trying to travel north. He had previous to that totally miss the great hulking  mass that is Australia and only just spotted bottom of the tiny island of Tasmania, which he called Van Diemens Land.

We left Motueka the next morning (Sunday) having visited the market in town, stocked up on a bit more fruit and Veg and headed to the west coast.

 

Good Ideas

*  Take a pack lunch

*  Always carry insect repellant

*  Buy a coffee plunger in New World ($4.49)

 

 

The Road to Nelson – the home of Sid and Night Swimmers!

What I didn’t tell you last week was that I was travelling with my friend Claire.

I used to think, when I was married and had children in tow, that I would love to be alone sometimes.  But once you are it is a very different situation.  I remember the first time I was able to wander around Byron Bay (my favourite place in the world) by myself. The first hour was great and I was able to be just Stephanie, not mum or wife, just Stephanie. But a very strange thing happened – I began wishing that I had someone to have a coffee with, very strange and very unexpected. And to coin a phrase made famous by that prophet of modern cinema, Hugh Grant, in “About a Boy”, I realised   “I was not an island”.  Anyway so, the point is I realised that I needed people, so now I travel with friends and at least the last couple of times, that would be Claire. So my advice is find a travel buddy!

We arrived in Nelson after about an hour drive from Picton, past wineries (Stoneleigh was one that I remember) and picture perfect scenery.  Nelson is  a pretty little town set by the water. It is actually a major port for fishing, timber and yachties. We had already booked our accommodation at The Bug Backpackers. It turned out to be a great choice, situated about 1km from the Nelson CBD but that wash’t a problem for us cause we had a car. It is very clean and has a great garden out the back. I was glad we had pre booked a twin room cause everything was full. It was perfect for us and  even had a sink, which isn’t always the case The owners  are an English couple who love living in NZ. They care about their backpackers and you can tell, which is more than I can say for some. In the morning there is freshly brewed coffee and fresh baked bread in the kitchen, but you have to get in quick cause  it is a first in first served situation.

Nelson is an arty town and there is plenty to see and enjoy. It is funny cause many years ago my ex and I gave a person called Sid  a lift to Sydney from Queensland. He actually came from Nelson  and worked on the fishing trawlers there. I had this badly misconceived idea about the type of person that lived in Nelson based on what Sid had told us about his live in Nelson, and that wasn’t pretty if you know what I mean.

We did try to find some live music on the second night we were there but unfortunately on a Thursday night the entertainment doesn’t start till 10 or 10.30 pm. Far too late a start for me and I can hear all you young people scoffing, don’t worry you’ll feel the same soon.

Anyway there  is something else that is very interesting about Nelson, it is the closest in Temperature to Australia than any other NZ destination. Apparently it i is very sheltered so the weather doesn’t vary too much  from Summer to Winter. The temperature in February when we were there was fabulous.

There is another interesting thing we noticed about Nelson, the residents come out to swim after seven o’clock at night. Apparently they have this tradition of evening swimming. Weird right? They have a long twilight so it is still quite light till late at night even at the end of Summer.   I heard a story while I was there about a group of swimmers in Nelson ( they were actually a club of night swimmers) that were followed by something with a fin. It was said to be a dolphin hut hey I’m Australian and I know that if you are being followed by anything with a fin at night you can bet your life it’s usually a shark.

* Nelson had great op shops in the same street as we were staying.

* We picked up the cutlery etc I mentioned last week.

* We did our shopping at a major supermarket in Nelson

* I also picked up homemade jam, relish and lemons from senior citizen stalls

Motueka and Golden Bay next week.

 

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