From Australia to New Zealand…and back

Sydney was our first destination after leaving Singapore. When we arrived at the airport we decided to get a taxi to our hotel for convenience and the taxi driver was less than happy with the recent weather, it’d been wet, very wet. The sun was shining then so we were happy, after booking into our hotel and grabbing a map we headed out through the botanical gardens to the harbour.

Sydney is full of slim, beautiful, young people. I began to feel quite old. No matter this wasn’t a beauty contest and we soon were seduced by the iconic views of Sydney. The sun was beating down as we strolled around the harbour, choosing a harbour side restaurant at random we enjoyed a fabulous late lunch watching the glamorous folk stroll past. Queen Mary 2 was in dock and the views were amazing.

After our snack we headed round to the Rocks area then to the bridge and watched a glorious sunset. Heading back to the hotel, with the botanical gardens closed we inevitably got lost and ended up walking miles further than necessary but we found a fabulous pizza restaurant and rested our feet whilst we ate the best pizza I’ve had since our honeymoon in Italy.

Then the rain started.

And it barely stopped for the next 3 days we were in Sydney.

This didn’t stop us enjoying the area, getting our first taste of antipodian pies (pies then became our go to snack), going on a free walking tour, exploring on our own, seeing the biggest scariest bats we’d ever seen, loving the wildlife in the botanical gardens and finally celebrating Js birthday with a lovely lunchtime meal before heading to the airport for our flight to New Zealand.

We arrived at Christchurch airport in the early hours of the morning and were glad we’d booked a room in a hotel only a few minutes stroll away.

After picking up the hire car we headed to our first destination Sumner, a suburb of Christchurch. It was a hot day and this pretty seaside village was alive with flocks of people enjoying the sandy beaches. Our b&b was a converted space in a garage and was really delightful. A huge bed, pretty decor, a great bathroom and the best home made granola I’ve ever tasted.

NZ - Sumner beach

The next day we headed for Akaroa, with its French history it seemed like a great location. Using the car sat nav we set off only to find the road closed as a result of last years devastating earthquake. After a faff we found an alternative route and delighted in the amazing scenery en route but also loving all that this tiny, pretty village had to offer.

The following day we left Sumner and headed across country to Hokitika, it was a wet day so we missed seeing Arthur’s Pass at its best but we did have our first NZ pie from the village of Sheffield and boy was that an amazing pie.

Arriving at Hokitika the sun came out and we were so pleased with the views from our accommodation (again it was part of the garage, there seemed to be a theme here). We overlooked the river and we had our first view of Mt Cook. Hokitika also gave us the best sunsets of our entire trip and the 50+ photos I have of them are testament to their beauty.

NZ - Hokitika sunset (8)In Hokitika we had fish (blue cod) and chips wrapped in newspaper and discovered Hokey Pokey ice cream, which then became my 2nd obsession after pies and the cause of the expanding waistline.

Whilst here we visited the Pancake rocks, Hokitika Gorge and Lake Kaniere. All amazing sights and we ran out of words to describe the beauty each place offered.

One of the peculiarities of this particular area was the single track bridges, some quite large span bridges only wide enough for one carriageway, sometimes it was with a bit ofNZ - Greymouth single track road and railway line (1) a wish and a prayer that you headed onto the bridge hoping that nothing was coming the other way. And one particularly weird bridge the road was shared by the railway track.

We loved the west coast and Hokitika and in an ideal world we would have loved to spend longer here as it was oozing with spectacular sights but with another destination booked we left this lovely place and headed along the west coast. First stop was Franz Joseph Glacier. We took the walking route to the glacier on the basis of cost plus neither of us particularly fancy helicopters as a mode of transport. It was a lovely walk, reasonably busy and if I’m being really honest the final view was not much more impressive than the first view we’d had about an hour previously but the exercise was a good way of burning off those pies and ice cream.

NZ - Franz Joseph Glacier (26)Next was the mirror lake or Lake Matheson to give it its proper name. Here the views of Mt Cook were spectacular and hoping for a calm lake we took the walk to the lake. Unfortunately it wasn’t calm enough to give the mirror reflection but still it was awesome. We met a young German man who said that he’d visited previously and had still not experienced the mirror effect so I guess you just have to be very fortunate to see it in all its glory.NZ - Lake Matheson (21)

A very long drive later we finally arrived very late at our next two night accommodation, not quite a garage conversion this time but not far off.

Hawea Flat was another good base to explore the ‘middle’ of South Island. We took a circular route the next day to Arrowtown, going over the mountains through Cardrona with more stunning views. Arrowtown Arnold gold mining village has been restored (possibly a little too shiny) to its former glory and now its pavements are teeming with tourists. I found the town too hectic to fully enjoy but once we headed down to the river it was much more pleasant and we spent some time watching hopeful souls panning for gold in the river.

Leaving Arrowtown we drove back to our accommodation via the Gibbston Valley a stunning wine growing region with vineyards enticing you in to taste and buy their excellent wines. New Zealand wine really is quite lovely and nothing like some of the stuff found on the shelves of the supermarkets in the UK.

Our next stop was Te Anau the base to explore Milford Sound. Te Anau seemed to have little purpose other than to be a ‘holding area’ for visiting the Sounds. It’s a busy place, not terribly attractive and mainly filled with restaurants and travel companies.

After a bit of research we decided to visit both Milford and Doubtful Sounds. We drove to Milford Sound as that was the most economical way of doing the trip, it was an early start but was much better than taking the long drive following lots of coaches. At one point we stopped the car to swap over driving, as we passed by the back of the car I glanced over Js shoulder to see three HUGE birds sitting on the ground watching us. In the gloom of the very early light I thought they were eagles of some sort and quickly leapt into the car. They came very close to the car and when I started to open the window to get a photo they got very excited and started moving even closer. We quickly departed. I later found out they are Kea Birds who after being fed frequently by tourists they have turned into ‘muggers’ following anyone in the area and trying to steal their food. It is a shame that tourism has had this effect on these inquisitive birds.

NZ - Kea birds

Milford Sound is a beautiful trip and even though it was cold and wet the views were very impressive.NZ - Milford Sound (8)NZ - Milford Sound (27)

The next day another early start but this time we were taken by coach to Doubtful Sound, the trip is very well organised with a boat across Lake Manapouri, another coach over Wilmot Pass and finally a cruise through Doubtful Sound to the Tasman Sea. If we were impressed by Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound was spectacular. Again it was cold and wet but this didn’t detract from the beauty.

Heading back north the next day to Fairlie for our next two nights we saw more amazing sights but the one that kept the camera busy the most was Lake Tekapo, the bluest of blues and with a clear view of the snow capped Mt Cook it was a sight to behold. I’m not sure that the photos do it justice but here’s a taster.NZ - Lake Tekapo (4)

Our accommodation in Fairlie came complete with a West Highland Terrier, which coincidently was the spitting image of my late Mothers dog. He assumed all rights to come and go in our apartment and was a cheeky little fella, we fell in love with him but soon realised he shared his love with anyone who gave him a bit of attention.

A circular drive from Fairlie took us to the coast and I was on a mission to see penguins. After an amazing brunch en route we stopped at a Penguin viewing area, however they were apparently out for the day doing what penguins do and were expected back later that evening. Unable to wait that long we took a walk around and lounging on the jetty were basking seals, just a couple of feet away from us.NZ - Oamaru seal

Delightful as they were they weren’t penguins, so off we went again and I spotted a small sign saying there was a beach where penguins were. After scouring the beach, and getting chased by an irate seal (he obviously knew I preferred penguins) a woman beckoned us over. They were researching the penguins and weighing any they found and they’d just found one hiding in the bushes. I was so excited. My photo isn’t great they didn’t want me to get any closer so I just had to zoom in with the camera and hope for the best.

As happy as Larry I skipped off the beach and we continued our route.

A final trip to this place, Burkes Pass, before we headed back to Christchurch. It was a haven for anyone who loves old cars and Americana.

Our flight to Melbourne the next day ended up being cancelled and we were booked onto a flight the next day, but with not enough time to explore Christchurch we settled for getting lost (for a change) and then having a lovely dinner at our hotel.

We only had one day in Melbourne and how we wished we’d had longer. Melbourne was hot, beautiful, chilled and friendly. We loved it. We ended up walking FIFTEEN MILES that day; we heard Adele sound check for her gig that night, we walked through the botanical gardens, we saw Melbourne Cricket Club, we rode a tram, we took a bus tour and walked and walked and walked, finally getting back to the hotel with blisters on feet and sleeping like logs before heading off to the airport for our flight to Singapore and one last night with the family.

It was an incredible month away; I personally achieved so much by taking so many flights and also travelling on boats (another fear of mine) and we both had an experience we never dreamed we would have. We are even considering going back to New Zealand to see the northern part of South Island which we couldn’t get to this time.

Slinging in Singapore 

Singapore was our original (and first) destination of our holiday. The first thing that strikes you once you’re out of the airport is the heat and humidity, it’s overpowering. Air conditioning is an absolute must but even that barely touches the heat at times, everywhere you go you’re looking forward to the next air conditioned area just for a brief respite. My nicely coiffed hair went from sleek and shiny to a frizzy mess within hours, no amount of hair conditioner or coconut oil could tame the suddenly wild locks, any attempt to look chic and sophisticated disappeared immediately. But enough of my hair issues what is Singapore like?

It’s clean, bright, full of modern architectural wonders and busy, very busy. It’s a place that awakens and overpowers your senses, there isn’t a journey that doesn’t involve constant head turning and exclamations of ‘look at that’. We were only there a week but I cannot imagine that you’d ever get blasé about the sights. The incredible Marina Bay Sands complex Singapore - Marina Bay Sandswith a giant surfboard atop which has an elegant and expensive bar, as well as an infinity pool and goodness knows what else was the first place we visited and even on a hot and very rainy day (note photo is not of the rainy day) it didn’t fail to impress.

I didn’t mention the rain did I? Oh my goodness can it rain. It was like standing with someone pouring bucket after bucket of water over you for up to an hour and longer. One day when we decided to go out on our own exploring we rejected the offer of an umbrella. Big mistake. On our way back our 10 minute walk left us wetter than if we’d just jumped in the river fully clothed.

Aside from all the glitz of the gleaming new buildings there is some character, Chinatown was especially exciting, full of shops and stalls, brightly coloured and selling everything you could imagine and crucially at a fraction of the cost elsewhere. As a bargain lover I was in my element. Yes of course there’s tat but there’s also plenty of beautiful things to buy too, plus I got my supply of Tiger Balm (the best thing for all aches and pains, coughs and snuffles).

Yes Singapore is expensive, there’s no denying it. Alcohol is almost(!) prohibitively expensive. One of the exceptions to this is public transport, that is good value and as you would expect very efficient. The other exception is the Hawker stalls selling glorious food at silly prices. As lovers of good food we went to the only Michelin recognised hawker stall for lunch, we queued for nearly an hour (this was the only stall where there was a queue) and watched as the food was freshly cooked, then expertly chopped up to be served on paper plates when you finally got to the front of the queue. Some customers waved their arms in celebration as they finally got served their meal that they had been patiently waiting for. Was it Michelin quality food? I’m not sure, it was excellent that is certain, it was fresh, full of flavour and beautifully cooked so if that’s the criteria that Michelin looks for then yes it is. We loved our meal, that was what was important and we can certainly tick off that as one of the Michelin restaurants we’ve visited and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. And best of all the total cost for both our meals….$4.50 the equivalent of about £2.50.

Of course no visit to Singapore is complete without a trip to Raffles Hotel for cocktails. We loved it. It’s a beautiful colonial building, with friendly and efficient staff and it delivers what you expect, a tasty drink, in classy surroundings with a touch of authenticity.

Aside from the food and of course the joy of spending time with the family other things that were amazing were the Gardens by the Bay and the Botanical Gardens, both these places were stunning. Filled with plants, animals, sculptures and of course lots of people. We took the most photos in these places, everywhere we looked there was something exciting to see and the grandchildren clearly loved visiting them even though it was probably the umpteenth time they’d done so in the short time they’ve lived there.

Would we visit Singapore again? Whilst we’ve got family there definitely yes, otherwise no. It’s a striking place and we’re glad we’ve been but it lacks a soul. It is a large business district essentially that has areas, beautifully designed and executed areas, for pleasure but it isn’t a holiday destination in my view.