A Travellerspoint blog

February 2012

Mel-bourne again

by Kt

O.M.G!!! In the cheesiest, squeakiest Californian accent ever!!! ... I LOVE Melbourne. I thought I might. It would have been on my vote for 'if you could only go to one place in Oz'. But then I've thought that before. I always thought I would love San Francisco but despite loving certain aspects and places (Tonga Rooms, Redwood Room and Lori's Diner to name but a few), despite a couple of attempts it's never quite done it for me.

We didn't get off to a great start here in Melbourne. First night was booked in a cheap hotel in the city centre - the room was basic and did the job but the down side was the huge thunder and lightning, armageddonesque storm which descended on us not long after heading out to explore. We managed, eventually to find some interesting drinking spots and some yummy dumplings.
I think you become fairly quickly aware that Melbourne has an arty and interesting vibe, but it's still tricky to find cool things in a downpour without having done much research, so Mark was fairly unimpressed. But regular reader may have noticed there is a bit of a recurrent theme with Mark. He often hates first few days of a new place but by the time we leave he wants to stay forever. I don't think it'll happen quite like that in melbourne, but I now know enough to ignore his first few days of lacking enthusiasm.

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Our second day we had to catch a tram up to our next place to stay, north of the city centre. Another airbnb venture, it's a mini flat in the city suburb of Carlton. This is prob first time we had to travel a proper distance with our rucksacks. Actually it was much better than the carrying by the handle we had been doing for so long. I'm too freaking short to carry a heavy rucksack half my height by the top.
But it was still back ache inducing. At least the tram system in Melbourne is actually fantastic and simple and our 7 day, go everywhere ticket was definitely a step forward in our haphazard travelling style. It's nice we can just jump on a tram and go for a stop or two if we're getting tired walking around (especially in the heat).

The owner of our property was leaving us a key so we located that and let ourselves in via the back gate. The property is at the back of a house and contains only 3 rooms - a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen diner. There is also a very private little garden to sit in. It is a small and simple but perfect for us and the first place we have had to ourselves since we left for the trip.
She's got lots of arty and vintage things and the place has a quirky and calm feel to it. It is also immensely private and not overlooked anywhere. Lack of privacy has been something we have struggled to deal with so hiding away here is a real treat.

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Going out to explore our surroundings, I soon realised I'd hit bullseye with this location. Fitzroy is one of those areas that years ago was lowdown and grimy. It was full of vice and every space was covered in graffitti and tags. The vice moved out but the graffitti and tagging stayed. The artsy people who moved into the area embraced it and although the area has been gentrified to a certain degree, the look of many stores and bars is to leave things with a worn, grungey outside. The place is just jam packed with cool stores, vintage and new stuff and amazing bars and restaurants. The other, odd thing I noticed is that everywhere we went on the main street seemed to smell really lovely - like a lovely, natural, expensive aromatherapy oil. I've noticed this walking down streets as well as in restaurants. It's very subtle and I'm yet to get to the bottom of it. But having fallen in love with the area I found it mind blowing that everywhere I walked smelt to good too!!

We've done some exploring further afield to some of the other areas in north Melbourne. More food, more great bars and interesting shops.

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We hung out in this area for a day or so, having a lovely time. Mark got a tattoo of stick men down his leg, in a very amazing tattoo place who do some amazing work. We ate well, we drank well. Even when we tried to go home one night, we came across an open door with a light flashing the word 'bar'. It could have gone horribly wrong, but we had discovered a bar called 'I know a place' which had it's own massive courtyard with a huge, painted wall overlooking the proceedings.

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We popped back into the city for a visit to the city's contemporary gallery, ACCA, which was a hot walk, south of the (oddly brown) river Yarrah. It was this huge, stunning building but inside it for some reason only had art it two rooms. The main room had these two layered carpets which you laid back on and then look up to the ceiling where they showed a film with ethereal soundtrack and images.

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I then took Mark to a bar I warned him might be a bit 'girly'. 'Madame Brussels' was accessed through a nondescript entrance to what looked like a normal working 70s office block. Up in a grim Otis lift to the third floor. The lift then opens up to a floor which has pastel green and pink chairs and tables on astroturf carpet, opening out onto a terrace overlooking the city. Flower displays and people dressed in white 50s style short dresses or shorts with white ankle socks. Mark clarified that this was not just a BIT girly. Fair point. The terrace was jam packed so we had to
sit in a cute little two-seater trelissed booth. They sold garden party style snacks like sandwiches, sausage rolls and cakes. It was definitely hen-party heaven. I liked the sweet touch of supplying pretty parasoles to the people sitting outside. I didn't keep Mark there long and promised that we would find a nice manly pub for him to go to next (but I'm pretty sure he rather enjoyed Madame Brussels anyhow).

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We went back to Fitzroy after and found some cool and suitably grungey and muso to balance out the girliness.

In just a few days I have to rate Melbourne possibly knocking New York off the top place for my favourite places. Time will tell if anything puts me off.

Posted by KtandMark 17:12 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

News about Roos and Muuus...ic

by Kt

Yes I know, I asked Mark for a title suggestion. All time low? You decide.

So, we pretty much wasted an entire saturday with me dealing with the bank over the fraudulent activity and then taking umpteen buses to go pick up our macbook (which is a whole other saga I won't go into). The bus and tram system in Adelaide is fantastic, except that the service is reduced so most buses only run every half an hour on a weekend. Couldn't fathom why they would do that because surely they would want to attract people into the city centre at weekends!?! The weather had turned lovely so it was a bit of a shame to be spending so much time on buses or on uninteresting trading estates. We did at least like the 'adult' shop opposite the mac shop which clearly had made a mistake when ordering their signage as they listed 'exotic' toys - skipping ropes from Papua New Guinea perhaps??
After all the faffing, we got back into the city centre about 4pm and having the heavy macbook to lug around, didn't quite know what to do with ourselves. We headed up to Rundle Street an area we hadn't explored yet. A street full of restaurants and the Exeter Hotel, a pub I had read about as being a classic in Adelaide, so it would have been rude not to venture in.

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That brings me to an important note about drinking in Australia we have found so far. So far, in every pub or bar, my glass of wine has been cheaper than Marks beer. I am enjoying that very much - as any girl in a couple who's had the 'your drink cost loads more than mine you should drink beer lecture'. So happily for the moment the tables are turned on that score.
We needed lunch even though it was nearly evening as our day had been all over the place and we found an amazing cheap eat called 'Dumplings R Us'. I looooove steamed dumplings and had been wanting some ever since we went travelling, so this was a true delight for me and Mark is now definitely a convert.

We headed home and caught the bus further up the main road to get some beer/wine. The main supermarket place was closed (although you can't buy booze in the supermarket anywhere -pain!, but this had an off license/bottle shop next door). So we headed over to the Sip n Save only to find this was a drive-in bottle shop. They had fridges of wine on either side of a drive in area and just a man at an outside counter. We found this very bizarre and even more so that they didn't have any bags - clearly no-one ever walked there apart from the weirdo English tourists.

We got back to the house and John and his friend Kirsty were cooking up some dinner which we didn't have any room for, having so recently consumed a huge amount of dumplings, but we did partake of Kirstys homemade meringue which had dates and choc chips and nuts and berries and was amazing - home cooking gets me very excited these days!
After eating, then John who is has recently started to play the double-bass, Kirsty who is a professional cellist and Mark, Mr Piano of course, got down to some rather sophisticated jamming.

Mark was quite nervous at first but once he got into the swing of it (and had a few beers), he had a great time and they produced some fantastic music. First they did 'I'm Yours', the Jason Mraz song with the lead on cello. It sounded fantastic (well at least to their audience of one!) and Mark did a great job working his way through the music considering he doesn't know the song. How he doesn't know one of the most played songs of the last few years, I'll never know. They tried out some other pieces, including a few older, French sounding tunes from the 40s which sounded great. After a few hours and a bit more wine and beer and after the magic had died, they called it a day, but it had been a surprising and unusual evening and we had a great time.

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The next day we went out to Cleland Wildlife park which had been a suggestion from John. This place had just Australian animal and birds in a park set in many acres up in the hills above Adelaide. It was a fantastic, laid back place and the animals had tons of space. We saw a bunch of animals we had never seen before such as kangaroos, ecidnas (my personal favourite), tasmanian devils and dingoes.
We got bags of feed when we went in and fed a bunch of stuff as we went around. Bandicoots (cute little creatures like large mice), a variety of birds and the kangaroos and wallabies. I was amazed by the gentle nature of the kangaroos. We were a bit nervous and wary at first as some of them were pretty big, although they didn't have the classic, huge breeds that would dwarf us. But we got more confident and if you were laid back and calm, so were they.

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I have noted that all of the birds in Australia give you the beady eye.

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I loved this pic of the wombat - we saw nothing more than it's backside which looked like another rock. Australia has the most ugly, but somehow endearing species.

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We also got to stroke a koala - I wouldn't normally like the sound of such things but they just had the koalas out for 30 minutes at a time and you really just stood next to it and gently stroked its back leg while it munched on it's leaves. Ours was an older lady koala who had buck teeth - you couldn't not fall in love with her!

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On our last major activity day we hit the city centre again. Although we'd stomped around the city a few times already and covered most of it, now that the temperatures had reached mid 30s the distances were much tougher and slower to walk.
We did the main art gallery which was not so much our cup of tea as there wasn't a huge amount of contemporary work but it was an amazing place. Rather than the usual white walls, many of the walls were painted in gorgeous, deep, jeweled colours or even in wallpaper to offset the art. It worked really well.
The South Australia museum had some interesting things about the biodiversity of the area, but it also had lots of really bad taxidermy - understandably from the old days, but it did make us laugh.
We ended up back at the Central Market where we learned, to our pleasure, that at closing time you could get some real bargains.
We bought some amazing ingredients for the meal we were to cook John and Kirsty that night. I'd deliberately chosen to do something with mushrooms so I had an excuse to go to the mushroom stall!!

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We cooked a simple Jamie O pasta recipe and sat out with John and Kirsty on the deck to eat. The only down side, as ever in these hot countries, was the mozzies trying to take chunks out or our legs. We were hoping one of the possums would come down to pay a visit, but alas I'm not sure we're going to see one before we go - hoping to catch up with one somewhere. Kirsty has recently moved out to the sticks, on the edge or a national park, so we were wide-eyed when she told us that they had kangaroos round by their place and how she was wide-eyed herself when she saw the huge male for the first time, towering up a he reached up to food on a tree. We also talked about the risk of bush fires. It's a real and serious threat to anyone who lives out into the bush. This makes the properties way cheaper. When John had driven us up into the hills to go to the wildlife park he had showed us many houses which he said would be worth very little and hard to sell.
Kirsty hasn't lived out there that long and had previously lived close by to where we are staying and she said she couldn't quite get her head around the possibility of losing any of her possessions. Of course you can put important things in a suitcase ready to grab if you have to leave or you can put things into storage to keep them safe, but what is the point of hiding your favourite things away so you can't enjoy them. Especially if something does never happen. A tricky one. I can't imagine having to think about that.

Posted by KtandMark 22:06 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Adelaide, our entry to Australia

by Kt

We were sooo looking forward to getting to Australia. I had always longed to go and Mark for the guaranteed sunshine. So of course it was a little disappointing when we turned up to Adelaide to a few not so warm and rainy days. Couple that with having to traipse around the city to get our macbook looked at once again and although I'd taken an instant shine to the city, Mark was not instantly impressed with Adelaide/Australia - due to his lack of guaranteed sunshine. I had a load of hassle to deal with upon discovering someone had been fraudulently using one of my bank card details back in the UK - lots of pizzas, and taxis and online shopping for those scumbags!!! Luckily, First Direct have been really good at sorting it out but it is tricky with time differences and having to have long, expensive telephone conversations. It did add a bit more hassle and stress that we didn't need.

Skip forward a few days and Mark would happily live here, especially in the house we are staying, more about which later. The temperatures have zoomed up into the 30s and it's difficult not to fall in love with this characterful, laid back city.

Let's start with where we are staying. Having turned our back on hostels for now, this was our first booking with the airbnb site, where you basically stay in someone's spare room, or sometimes your own place. Mark was reticent about sharing someones home, but I had figured it was better sharing a few peoples homes, who care about their homes, than with tens of transient folk who aren't really bothered.
The house bowled us over immediately. It's a 70s juice factory converted into two properties. It's very industrial but not too harsh. A huge open space with the long, amazing kitchen - a swing (I kid you not) and to Mark's utter delight, a baby grand piano.

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There are glass doors covering half of two walls, leading out onto a decked area that over looks a park and just under a huge eucalyptus tree.
This massive tree is home to a couple of possums who we haven't seen as they live up high during the day and sneak down at night. We did miss one by about 5 seconds as he'd scarpered by the time we were alerted to his presence. Apparently the occasional koala goes up there too. I nearly wet myself when I heard that - how lame - but it's exciting!!! Also, I am clearly ignorant as I didn't realise that firstly, koalas would ever turn up in such suburban areas, I thought they were all out in the sticks. Secondly, I didn't realise that they wander about at night, which is when they find their new digs. I have since seen the 'careful of walking koalas at night' signs on the roads.
I have also since learned that at some point in Adelaide, they made the conscious decision to have as many trees in the streets and parks as possible to encourage all the native creatures back into what was at one time quite a baron city.
The birds out the back of the house are also pretty cool. Lorakeets, bright coloured parrot type creatures and rozellas (or something like that) which are gorgeous colours and come in pairs - awww. There's loads of other ones of various styles and sizes. It's lovely to sit out there although they are noisy little buggers!!!

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The part we are staying in is like it's own mini apartment. A kind of front room/study where we can watch tv or use the desk, leading onto a bedroom (with a filled bookcase - oh joy!) and that leads onto a small dressing room which leads onto the bedroom. After the hotels and hostels we've been staying in, we were super excited to see this luxury and this space.

On our first day, after getting a taxi from the airport to an out of the way mac repair shop to drop our laptop off, which was a rigmarole I won't go into, we made it to the house in the Kensington suburb that would be our home for the next week. We went out to stock up on a few things from the local shops, the house's owner, John, had left us a map to the nearest supermarket.
Once we'd done that, tired and a bit bewildered after an early start in New Zealand, we stopped at a bar opposite the supermarket. It was a bit rough n ready but did the job. We were so tired we decided we would wait and eat there as there didn't seem to be much else about.
Luckily, John phoned us and saved us - apparently 10 minutes the other way was an area called Norwood which is a hotbed of cafes and restaurants. Now that was more like it. We found a lovely bar to grab a drink in before chowing down in a fantastic, authentically atmosphere-filled, Italian called the European Cafe. I must point out that I was quite stunned that the bar had their patio heaters on. I mean I know it wasn't quite the weather we were expecting but it was still around 20 degrees. Crazy!

The next day we hopped on a bus to explore Adelaide. The city centre is oddly surrounded almost entirely by a park in a square shape. It makes it easy to navigate, especially with the mainly grid system streets. The architecture was all quite cute and as a city as a whole, there was a nice mixture of old and new and it became quite clear, early on that food is a major thing here.

We hit Gouge Street, noted as one of the key foodie streets and despite having best intentions not to eat out, the array of smells just reeled us in. We stared longingly in many restaurant windows, wincing slightly at the prices and then headed into the small china town area and into a very basic, plastic chaired, uninspiring food hall. There was around 20 - 30 mini counters where you could get a variety of asian food. Mark quickly spotted the stand for 'all you can eat for $6.80' - I went with it because, to be honest, everything else seemed to confusing - I'd never have worked out what I wanted. Despite, the pastic plates and trays and the cheaper price, the food was really rather good. Of course, Mark, being a man, took the all you can eat thing, rather than a good way of getting good food, as a 'challenge' and piled his plate so high it was a high risk he wouldn't make it to a table without some kind of collapse.

After eating we went into the Central Market. This is an undercover market, but has an outdoor feel and is foodie heaven. Every stall you can thing of selling everything you could dream of. The mushroom stall, the smelly cheese stall, fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, sweets, bakeries, frozen yoghurt - everything. Having been back since the first time, we have discovered that going to the central market and the food hall, just before closing time, is the way to go - loads of food and produce is reduced. Get us getting into the swing of this backpacker budgeting!!! Oh,
alright, it was purely by accident we turned up close to closing time, but still - 'strawberries for $1 - got to be a result :)

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Later on our first visit to Adelaide we were a little perturbed when it rained for a good chunk of the afternoon. I say perturbed, Mark was right royally p'd off. Australia had promised him sunshine. Where on earth was it? I have to admit, it was a little dis-heartening after dreaming of the hot weather for so long in New Zealand. But we managed to check out a fair chunk of the city. Mark found a second hand camera lens he'd been looking for for ages, so that cheered him up. I gave in, having resisted for 2 months and bought an umbrella. That did the trick and the rain stopped. Of course!!!

So we went home and celebrated by Mark cooking us kangaroo steaks and salad which was really rather delicious.

Not only is the house we are staying in lovely, but the area is really lovely with a ton of character properties like the old boot store building up the road and the 'Rising Sun' an old fashioned pub which is now an amazing restaurant and bar. The thing that got me super excited is that along the roads where they have planting beds, often around areas designed to slow the traffic (the sign says 'Slow Point', no prices for guessing what Mark did when he saw this sign!) - but they have rosemary planted in them. A herb that I am slightly obsessed with and love the idea that if you run out while cooking your roast, you can pop out onto the street!

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Posted by KtandMark 22:07 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

New Zealand - in summary

by Kt

I hate to say it, but as the end of our New Zealand trip loomed we were definitely ready to leave. This was in no small part due to the weather. The New Zealand summer had been pretty much a failure and in our month there we probably only had about 6 or 7 sunny days. That sounds like a lot, but that leaves a lot of days in the cold, hanging about not doing anything. Admittedly, it wasn't massively cold and I'm sure to everyone out there suffering freezing temperatures it is most annoying to hear someone moaning about temperatures in the mid to low teens (celcius - I don't ever fathom Fahrenheit). But we had set out an itinerary to generally follow the sun, we didn't have anything in the way of thick clothes and were loathe to blow our budget investing in some just to have to get rid of them in a few weeks when we left the country for (hopefully) warmer climes. This of course led to the hugely disturbing 'Mark's fat lady jeans' debacle. He'd picked them up in the 'free clothes bin' in the Keri Keri farm stay - when we were indeed suffering in the cold and if it wasn't bad enough him wearing them there, he proceeded to take them with him and insisted on wearing them around Wellington, the cool capital city. Not only were these jeans cut to a ladies style, they were also made of the lovely stretchy denim which allows more movement and stretching. This meant of course that over time, after sitting in the car a lot, they stretched.... and stretched.... and with no belt to keep them up, not only did he walk the streets of Wellington in the unflatterying jeans, he also had to walk along keeping trying to hold them up with one hand. Add to this the fact he hadn't cut his hair or shaved for some time, and he was wearing socks with his flip flops, it did look somewhat like I was taking someone 'special' out for a walk. Happily, it was the fact that they no longer would stay up which eventually lead to him agreeing to leave them behind in Kaikoura. Oh happy days. I must confess that I too became responsible for major crimes against fashion when it got majorly cold - also rocking the sandles and socks look along with a Fijian floral shirt covered up by a leopard print cardie. However, I never walked the streets in such attire, this was purely to nip to the toilets when I had to go outside into the cold.

Anyhow, I digress, but the weather was a bit factor for us for a couple of reasons.

1. When you are in a hostel, if the weather is not nice, unless you have the appropriate attire and like going out and doing outdoorsy things in rubbish weather (no to both), you are stuck either in your small, basic room for hours, often days on end, unless you venture out into the shared living areas which are usually crammed with other travellers in a similar or in fact, worse situation if they are sleeping in the dorms. Although the idea before we left of spending hours reading was very appealing, after a lot of time, in small spaces, it can get extremely boring.
Anykind of wirless internet became our Mecca and even then that generally meant we'd coughed up loads of money for it and just had it on the laptop, which then became the biggest bone of contention and cause of arguments. Each of us pretending that the tasks we had to perform on the laptop were more important or that we hadn't been on it all that long. We really did squabble like a couple of kids with only one toy to play with.

2. When you are travelling on a budget, the alternative to being outdoors, or stuck in your room, pretty much always costs. A lot.
Save the odd gallery or museum which would be cheap, nearly everything came at a pretty tidy price in New Zealand. Even a cup of tea to get out of the cold felt like a bit or a rip off (although nothing will ever beat the 3 quid I paid for a mug of tea at Giraffe in Brighton, which I'd upgraded from the 2 quid 'cup' and was delivered to me as a mug of hot water, a bog standard Yorkshire Tea teabag and a small jug of milk).
It was partly a bad exchange rate with the pound but even some New Zealanders I met said that the price of things had gone up and that the cost of things versus the fairly low average wage, was causing problems, particularly for families. People who once went holidaying in holiday parks where now going for cheaper self catering options, even hostelling. People were trying to get together and sell to each other produce that they grow or make, vegetables and fruit in particular, which in fact, rather unfairly the government was trying to clamp down on. There was also a nationwide scandal, discussed on the various news programmes about the cost of milk.
So the cost of everyday stuff was high and so, as is the way of the world, the cost of touristy things was then very high.
Trips to do anything were 'blow the budget' high and as we sat and thought about doing any of them, it always seemed the cost outweighed what we'd get out of the 'experience'. The fact that we'd quite likely be very cold whilst doing much of them, also didn't help.

I think you'll notice on the blog that all our lovely looking, happy days out, happen to be the sunny ones (or at least sunny half days, or an hour or so!).

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So, we spent a lot of time in New Zealand not doing things. We'd done much the same in Fiji, but when it's warm, tropical and you're by the beach, that's a satisfying kind of 'not doing'. In New Zealand, were were quite frankly down right bored a lot of the time. And yes I know that 'only boring people get bored' but you really do have limited options when you're carrying your life around in your bag and you just don't have that plethora of things that you have at home to entertain you and you don't have your own space in which to do anything. If we were different types of people we would have gone off and hiked up something, despite the crud weather, but having never owned a fleece or a sensible pair of shoes, it was never likely going to happen. I can get much more with the concept, like in Fiji, of trekking when it's somewhere tropical but the chilly, drizzly greenery on offer wasn't going to make me have a change of character.
It's not to say we didn't enjoy or like New Zealand, it's just that we felt we spent too long there because while we were there we started to feel fed up and frustrated due to the weather and cost. When we spent the week in the lovely seaside town of Kaikoura, we could have easily whiled away the hours happily on the beach if only the sun had stayed out for more than a few hours.
Instead, the highlight there was when we said 'sod the budget' on our last night and had an exceptionally good meal at one of the restaurants along the seafront. We had started at the nearest pub, in a slightly ropy hotel down the road from our hostel. We'd been there briefly when the sun was out as they had the most fantastic beer garden. Oddly, it doesn't seem the New Zealanders appreciate them as much as us as the only people in the garden that evening were a bunch of mainly expats celebrating someone's birthday by having a bbq.
So, upon our return to this pub, we had to be in door as the weather was pants as usual. Well, if you could take all the folks from 'The hills have eyes' and put them into a room, that would best describe the clientele. We are no stranger to weirdos or ruff'ns in Brighton - but this was on a different level. We have generally found that the pubs that have pokies or gambling slips for the horses etc in, although cheap, are often best avoided. So, after one drink we ran away from this place and ended up in a rather lovely boutique hotel around the corner where the wine was good and the menu had us drooling. But the plan had been to have a quick one and then go back and do battle in the hostel kitchen to make some kind of pasta meal with our left over food. So we left the boutique hotel and half way down the road concluded that maybe one more drink wouldn't go amiss and ended up going into a restaurant bar of a place which looked pretty non-descript from the outside and was a bit dark wood/old skool inside. We made the mistake while supping our drinks to read through the menu. Big Mistake. All sense of will-power went out of the window and we convinced ourselves that we had 'saved' hundreds of pounds by not doing the various activities/trips which had seemed so pricey so we ought to spoil ourselves. And of course, the determination that 'we'll just have a main course' slipped quickly to the wayside.
The meal was, unexpectedly, one of the best meals I've had in the last 9 months, including some of the best of Brighton. The decor and definitely the outside of the place did not convey the delights within and despite a hefty bill, it was a fabulous treat when we had been denying ourselves so much.
The name of the restaurant, by the way, was The White Morph. When I posted a picture of the sign on Facebook and commented that this was what Chas has been doing in his retirement, I was extremely disappointed that none of my UK friends picked up on that - shame on you!!

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Anyhow, it did feel a shame that it was cheaper (and it wasn't cheap, I can tell you), to go out and have a mind blowing meal than it was to go out for a couple of hours on a boat. But hey, that really was a great meal!

I think basically we just didn't enjoy our New Zealand trip as much as we could have, but that really that isn't a reflection on New Zealand itself, but more on our expectations and bad luck with the summer's weather, the realisation that staying in hostels all the time isn't for us and us struggling to budget in a country which felt like home and the where the pound was so weak.
I also think my lack of planning and knowledge of the country before we went didn't help. I'd do the planning while in Fiji, which was scuppered when our macbook died. So we were doing a lot of things on the fly and I'm sure if we'd got ourselves in gear and got in touch with
Sally earlier, she and Adrian's local knowledge would have put us on a better path (literally).

So that is my summary of our trip, but here is my summary of the country, which oddly is a contrast.

New Zealand is a great place. The people and life-style is much more laid back than the UK. It's quite possibly more like the UK was years ago and possibly is in small corners, where you can leave your windows and doors unlocked. You are friendly to people you know as well as strangers. You help people out. It's safer to let your kids out to play.
Obviously there's dodgy areas, especially more in the citites and dodgy people to boot, but not so many. That could possibly also be down to population. According to some google statistics, there are 4,367,800 people in New Zealand compared to 62,218,761 in the UK. That's a huge difference considering New Zealand is only slightly larger than the UK. I think in New Zealand they know that as the population grows, so will crime and social issues, but they've got a way to go. Not that they don't have social issues of their own. There is, like in so many places, a wannabe gang culture amongst the disallusioned, usually poor teens and youngsters. Adrian, who we stayed with, works with young people and he told us that the red/blue colours, synonymous with the old school gangs in the US, are taken so seriously that his sons prefer to avoid wearing those colours, just to avoid any kind of trouble. Yet this is in the same area where Sally leaves her car door unlocked and the kids can play freely in the streets. It seems to be more about acceptance, machismo and boredom rather than wanting to trash your neighbourhood. But of course over time things can escalate and perhaps an issue for some of New Zealands poorer young people is that they don't really have many options of where else to go.
But for now and probably for a fair while to come it is a safe country. We found it quite alarming when we stayed in the Keri Keri farm hostel that there wasn't even a lock on our bedroom door and they certainly didn't lock up at night but we the longer we were in the country, we got more and more used to not worrying so much about security and being more trusting of people in general. So much so we realised we'd better wise up to go to Oz, or we'd be in real trouble.
The friendliness, the helpfulness and the safeness are all reasons I can totally understand why people move here, particularly when they have kids. Although the weather is temperamental and you can have four seasons in one day and we have experienced a non summer, the weather is generally milder and life is much more outdoorsy - another bonus for families. Of course finally, outside the cities and even in the cities to a large extent, the size of the property you can get for far less money is also a big thing. It's difficult not to stare into the estate agent windows and gawp at the house prices which with a lousy exchange rate seem crazy compared to the UK and in particular South East England. In some areas we could have a veritable mansion with acres for the price of our Brighton flat. But it's not really about those extremes or being greedy about what you can get, it's more about being able to get a reasonably priced, usually detached nice family home with a nice garden and space to park your cars. That's pretty uncommon back home. Detached in particular comes at a big cost and although we've done well from the rising house market over the years, it has gotten to a depressing point where your average family often struggles to afford a quite basic, small, family home.
Of course the kids over here like the same things as all kids - TV, computers, mobiles etc, but they do also get more freedom and more of an outdoor existence, probably more like I remember when I was young. It was most charming when Tori and Jasmine, the two little girls we stayed with, whilst giving me a rundown on their life, listed their many pets, their neighbours pets and then went on to tell me about lots of fishing expeditions with their dad and holidaying down at the Coromandel. I only learnt that their favourite TV show was Sponge Bob Square Pants (yey - kindred spirits), when I specifically asked!

So there's much to like about New Zealand and I could have easily settled down for a few months, but would have to be earning to counterbalance the cost of things. I was quite keen on Wellington and Auckland, Wellington in particular. Enough of an artsy scene to keep it interesting, with the seafront to let Mark lose on (if he'd ever be able to afford to dive) and lots of vintage shops. I think I'd find it tough in the smaller towns, where you definitely get a everyone knows everyone and everything that goes on vibe.

An important lesson I have learned here is that travelling the hostel way, you are in a bit of a bubble, you tend to barely talk to locals. For the younger travellers I think their backpacking experiences are more about meeting other travellers and having lots of major experiences, but we found that wasn't really for us and definitely staying at Sallys and Adrians was a highlight to just chat about every day stuff and ask daft questions about stuff you've observed. Day to day life is more interesting, to me, maybe not Mark, than the big experiences or even hanging out at the beach. And funnily enough, when we felt at home with the New Zealanders, the sun finally came out big style!!!!!

New Zealand highlights, faves and funnies:

The thermal activity, despite the smell.

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Staying in jail. Oddly fun.

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Kune pigs - I love these ugly things:

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Kia Ora means kind of hi/welcome in Maori, so it's the first thing you see when you fly in and it pops up all over the place.
However, being around in the 80s, any kid who went to the cinema knows Kia-Ora as the soft drink with the cool advert.

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Reminisce or enjoy this classic advert for the first time here

So we couldn't help it, every time we saw it, we thought, if not said, 'it's too orangey for crows' and 'i'll be your dog'

Irish bars:
In all the Irish bars we went in, in New Zealand, they unashamedly played Westlife and Ronan Keating. Of course they are Irish, but no self respecting Irish pub I have been to anywhere else would class such music as worthy. It just always made me smile, I do like a bit of Westlife - I'm not ashamed. Oddly when we were in Fiji, from the not huge catalog of songs played on guitar and sung by the guys in both our Tuvunnu and Maqai resorts, they played both a bit of Ronan and Westlife too.

Old buses:
For some reason, all over New Zealand, north and south islands, in the middle of nowhere or in towns, there were loads of properties which had old buses outside. Just the one, that clearly hadn't gone anywhere for 20 years at least. It just became a really odd thing that I noticed time and again. Maybe they use them as mini house extenstions - somewhere dry for the kids to hang out? Maybe bus owners get charged a fortune to scrap them after use - I have no idea. It's something I observed but am clueless to the reason.

Bad, bad, buskers:
I have never known a place with worth buskers. Everywhere, they were terrible and for some reason, usually playing electric guitar.
From the metal head in Auckland with his amp up loud making a row, to the guy down the road doing some kind of jazzy jamming which may work ok at home but did nothing but sound a wreck for the masses. No matter where, they were always just terrible. Although, the really drunk bloke in Christchurch belting out irish songs, although not officially a busker, was at least entertaining.
For a nation which produces some good music, they really should up their game and at least ban electric guitar busking!

The latest 'don't drive and drive' ad campaign:

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Auckland tipping:
Tipping isn't a big thing in New Zealand and it tends not to go on the bill but there is often tip jar on the counter of restaurants and bars.
In Auckland, the bars tended to have little amusing signs on the tip jars. I can't remember most of them, but here are the two I liked enough to remember -
- Tipping is sexy
- Everytime this jar gets filled a Justin Bieber fan dies

The fact that the supermarket trolleys are called trundlers:

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The accent:
I LOVE the New Zealand accent. I always have and this trip did nothing to discourage that. I could listen to it all day. It's not quite so enjoyable of course to listen to Marks tragic attempts. Considering his attempt at an irish accent usually consists of him saying 'I'm Irish' in a mainly west country accent, it was never going to bode well for his attempts further afield. He started the trip to New Zealand solely talking in an Australian accent/with Aussie phrases which I was sure would get us beaten up. So, I suppose at least I could be grateful he finally noticed the difference and gave it a go. And he hasn't ruined it for me, thankfully. Shame they got rid of Shortland Street at home :(
I also love the Maori accent and having watched the fantastic film 'Boy' at Sallys, have copied 'Whale Rider' from them, I at least can get my fix of that while travelling in Oz.

Posted by KtandMark 21:04 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

End of New Zealand - a treat on the day of the treaty

by Kt

So, we finally released from the Jailhouse in Christchurch, not without being put on record first of course..

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We then hopped on a short flight back to Auckland where we were met at the airport, very kindly, by Sally, who's home we would be staying in for the next couple of nights.
Sally was great mates with Marks sister, Karen, and had moved to New Zealand about 11 years ago. Mark hadn't seen her in probably 15 years and I'd never met her, but she graciously offered us to come stay withb her. She lives about half an our south of Auckland airport in a small town called Pokeno. She lives there with her husband Adrian, two gorgeous girls Tori and Jasmine. Adrian has a bunch of older boys too who stay often, who's room we knicked and Cane, the 19 year old who lives in the garage and has it too good to ever leave. We can understand that having stayed for a few days - it's a lovely, chilled out place to be and was an incredibly welcome break after traipsing around the hostels for the last 2 months. No matter how nice or interesting the places we had been before, you can't get that sense of normality and comfort that you can in someones home. Just sitting chatting, watching TV, listening to the kids place make-believe, playing with the pets, Venus the cat, Freddy the mouse, Princess Chocolate Face the rabbit and the visiting neighbour's one-eyed dog, Oscar - it really was what we both needed at a time we were starting to feel homesick.
Plus Mark and Sally had a massive catch up about everyone from their school days and looked back at some old photos and her year book from school with some particularly interesting photos of Karen that I had never seen before. They had a great reminisce while Adrian and I rolled our eyes and watched a fantastic documentary on the demolition derby up northlands in New Zealand. If you can find away to watch 'Kaikohe Demolition' - it's a blast!
We'd arrived on Waitangi Day which is a bank holiday to commemorate the day a, still controversial) treaty signed in 1800s between the Maori chiefs and the british. So, everyone was off work and school.
It was nice to chat about New Zealand from an insider perspective and to ask about the odd things that I'd been wondering about or noticed. Adrian is Maori so knows the place inside out and Sally has been there along time but us being there reminded her or some of the silly little differences you notice.
The weather finally perked up and we had a drink down at a bar just outside of town, down by the river which was a lovely settings. It re-iterated to us one of the big differences in New Zealand, outside the cities, much like in the US, if you want to go to a restaurant or pub/bar, you have to get in the car. Although many village pubs at home are closing, it's not that often you don't have somewhere you can get to on foot.
We then had a major treat of a lamb roast - oh how we'd missed roasts, which Mark cooked, most impressively, while we chilled out in the garden. We had to honour the 'land of lamb' with this huge leg of lamb, accompanied by Kumara, the sweet potato cooked traditionally in New Zealand along with silver beat, kind of like swiss chard, grown in their garden. Yum.

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The next day Sally, once again very kindly, dropped us off at our airport motel, but not before we all had a min science lessen in the form of how frogs become tadpoles. They had a tank of tadpoles at the front of the house, which just as we were leaving, Sally noticed, had started to turn into frogs. It's not since primary school have I seen tiny, baby frogs and more interestingly half tadpole, half-frogs in various forms, tadpoles with just back legs or frogs still with long tails. Not particularly fascinating thing to blog about but it just took me back to when I was young and had more time to look at such things. It's a good metaphor for New Zealand as a whole. It's a more laid back, chilled out place and also from a slightly more innocent times. Sally rarely locks her car door, parked out the front of her house. The kids can happily and safely run around the neighbourhood. I can definitely see the appeal of New Zealand for people with families. You not only get so much more space from a property, it is safer and priority is on family and home much more than work.

Anyway, after a lovely few days, our last night, predictably from an airport 'lodge' was a bit bleak. The place, although it had a pool, was a bit battered and grim. Our room had clearly at some point been an office as it was off the main lounge, had a 'Private' sign on the door and an empty corkboard up on the wall. Most strangely though was on the bedside cabinet they had 3 cards with pictures of dogs - I can not for the life of me imagine why.

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We went to the hotel next door for a bite to eat and had probably the only bad meal we had in the whole time we were in New Zealand. Calamari that appeared to be re-constituted fish rather than have any squid in it. Garlic bread that you have in the freezer and has a tiny bit of garlic butter that melts when you heat it up - nothing wrong with that, but at these prices! Marks lamb curry, he is convinced, came out of a tin of dog food. I, myself, was not surprised but was quite disconcerted that my usual 'safe' choice of spaghetti in tomato sauce was also pretty gross. How on earth can you get that wrong???
We should have settled into the hotel with a sandwich and a packed of crisps from the garage but hey ho. We needed an early night as we had to get up at 5am to catch our flight anyhow.
Auckland airport was, as ever, super efficient and to our surprise, our cheap flight to Adelaide with Pacific Blue, ended up being with Air New Zealand. This was pure luxury, especially compared to the 2 hideous 10+ hour flights we'd had on the way over to Fiji.
Comfy seats, individual TVs with tons of TV choices (have you noticed TV has become a major luxury in our lives).
The video for the in-flight safety talk was hilarious and culminated in a naked old lady - has to be seen to be believed!!!
The flight was longer than I'd thought, being around 4 and a half hours. Happy with that! I settled down to the pilot of 'New Girl' which I liked so much I watched twice - then a bunch of other great new shows, such as Modern Family and Mr Sunshine with Matthew Perry. Mark, disturbingly, watched first a Susan Boyle documetary then Brittany Spears in concert!!!??? You know that you can know someone a long time and sometimes find that you never really knew them at all? Hmm.

Posted by KtandMark 17:26 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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