Tales of Travel: Sunshine Coast

The brief my husband gave me when we decided to book a family holiday: “somewhere sunny and warm, with a beach. That’s it.”

We tossed up between Fiji and the Sunshine Coast (both of which fit the brief), and in the end, it came down to a matter of (a) cost, and (b) flight times. The former is a pretty obvious consideration, but the latter is also important when travelling with little people; when we took Tiny to Rarotonga, we spent a lot of time in transit, and our flight times weren’t the best, and I couldn’t face doing that with two little ones this time around. When we realised we could fly direct to Brisbane and hire a car, the decision was easily made, and our timing couldn’t have been better: they were experiencing the hottest last-week-of-May for 120 years!

Caloundra
Caloundra is such a lovely town, and one we knew nothing about prior to arriving. I loved the esplanade, with its playgrounds, sculptures and boardwalks. Every day we strolled along the coastline, stopping for the boys to have a play in the parks before getting coffee from Coffee Cat (who also make the most amazing gluten-free limey citrus tarts), then hitting Kings Beach. We also spent a lot of time in the pool in our apartment complex, which gave Tiny a huge boost of water confidence.

Caloundra (6)Caloundra (18)Caloundra (37)From Caloundra, we took a day trip (as it’s less than 25 minutes drives) to Australia Zoo, which was wonderful. Both boys loved it, and I really liked that the focus is on Australian animals (although I did love seeing the giraffes, zebras and tigers); walking amongst kangaroos and being able to pat them is pretty special. Tiny thought the crocodiles were awesome, while Pickle was enamoured with the koalas.

Caloundra (74)Caloundra (66)
Noosa

We’d heard great things about Noosa, and it didn’t disappoint. Our accomodation was just behind Hastings Street, the main shopping and dining area, and less than five minutes from Main Beach. The beach itself is lovely, with gentle surf and gorgeously-soft sand. We went for daily walks in Noosa National Park, which is just a five minute walk from Main Beach. We passed quiet little bays, headed uphill for beautiful views across the water and strolled through silent forests. We saw a koala bear having a sleep in a tree right beside the path, and watched paddleboarders and surfers enjoying the water. We ate delicious and cheap burgers, and drank mighty-fine coffees at Mali Burger, but the winner of best meal for the entire trip goes to iS Tapas Bar in Noosaville – the most amazing tapas, and a thirst-quenchingly-good sangria.

Noosa (26)Noosa (41)We visited the Eumundi Markets, where the sheer number of stalls is quite overwhelming – there are 550 of them! The food carts all looked amazing, and if I wasn’t limited by having braces, I think I could have eaten from every single one.

On our way back to Brisbane, we cruised down the coast roads, and stopped in Mooloolaba for a stroll along the coast, a play in the parks, and the second-best meal of our trip. I’m glad we chose not to stay there (it is much more built-up than the other towns along the Sunshine Coast, and lacks any real character or charm), but it was a nice place to stop and take a break.

The Sunshine Coast was the perfect spot for a family holiday, and gave us a much-needed dose of vitamin D to see us through the winter months.

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Back in the Game

Crikey. It feels like forever since I’ve had the time and mental capacity to blog. I wonder if anyone’s actually still here? Hellooooo?

Between escaping the cold weather for a family holiday to the Sunshine Coast, and organising our kindy centenary celebrations, I feel like I’ve been absent from real life for quite some time. The holiday in the sun with my boys was just what I needed, coming back relaxed and rejuvenated, but it seems a distant memory now as I’ve been spending every waking moment researching, planning, photocopying, meeting and organising.

Caloundra Sunshine Coast Caloundra Sunshine CoastThe centenary celebrations – high tea on an almost non-existant budget – were yesterday, and I can’t tell you how relieved I am that it’s over. Everything turned out amazingly, we had a far greater turn-out than expected, and everyone had a lovely time….but not having to spend my spare time organising everything feels pretty darn good.

Centenary Celebrations St Clair Community Kindergarten High TeaNow, I can concentrate on the big list of things that has been shoved aside for the past few months, and spend more time playing with my boys instead of asking them to hang on just one minute while I finished making a call or sending an email or finding more historical information.

And I might blog a bit more regularly again too, yuh-huh.

Tales of {NZ} Travel: Northland

Tales of NZ TravelIn 1997, I went on a road-trip with my then-boyfriend and his parents, from Dunedin to a tiny little place called Te Kao, at the top of the North Island. This was my first time out of the South Island, and I saw so much of the North as we travelled up the country by campervan.

We didn’t do any sight-seeing as such; we were there to spend time on the family’s marae with various aunts, uncles and cousins who had come home for the new year. We stayed for around a week, eating hangi and drinking Lion Red beer, and being shown the area by the locals.

90 Mile BeachWe went pipi-picking on 90 Mile Beach, and drove along the sand for a good long while. I was shown how to dig for the shellfish with my toes, then grab the pipi as quickly as possible to bite the “tongue” before it snapped away.

We went to an uncle’s oyster farm and it was reinforced that I don’t like raw oysters. We laughed about Houhora‘s claim to fame (painted on the side of a shed, no less) of having the last pub north, but ate our words when more beer was required on New Year’s Eve and that pub opened up just for us to make a purchase.

White Sands Parengarenga HarbourOn New Year’s Day, we went to Kokota Sandspit in the Parengarenga Harbour, home to the blinding white sands which are used to make glass. The water was so clear and the boat ride across was amazing.

Cape Reinga2 Cape Reinga1We went to Cape Reinga, and watched the sun setting over the water where the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea meet. Cape Reinga is said to be where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld; it had an incredible atmosphere and I distinctly remember feeling the hairs on the back of my neck prickle as I watched the sun descending from the sky. The cape is mistakenly called the northernmost point of New Zealand, but that honour goes to the Surville Cliffs.

It was such an interesting part of the country to visit – ruggedly beautiful, achingly poor, endlessly uninhabited – and I feel privileged to have been welcomed onto the marae at that time. And although that relationship ended after five years, I still think fondly of this trip.

(Photos from 1997)

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Tales of {NZ} Travel: Nelson-Marlborough

Tales of NZ TravelGolden sand. Hot summer days. Crisp sauvignon blanc. These are the words that spring to mind whenever someone mentions Nelson and Marlborough. Having spent some time in this region in the midst of summer, I can confirm that this is certainly what you get.

BlenheimNelson
A visit to Nelson is about two things, really: beaches and national parks. Of the former, there are a number of gorgeous beaches to explore; Tahunanui and Kaiteriteri are the most notable. Of the latter, there are three within 90 minutes of the city: Abel Tasman, Nelson Lakes and Kahurangi. They each offer something different and unique. In the city itself, you can climb up to the not-exactly-geographical centre of New Zealand, which affords fantastic views.

Tahunanui Beach, NelsonBlenheim
Wineries. That pretty much sums up why you’d visit Blenheim. There’s no shortage of them, but our recommendations are Wither Hills (mainly for the lunch, which is divine), Hunter’s Wines, and Allan Scott.

BlenheimPicton
Known mainly for its ferry terminal for crossing Cook Strait to Wellington, Picton is a small town with one major tourist attraction: the Edwin Fox. It’s the world’s 9th oldest ship, permanently moored in Picton. You can wander through it; I’m not a ship fan normally, but when I went through it as a 16-year-old girl, I found it pretty interesting like, okay, I guess. Picton is also the gateway to beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound.

Marlborough Sounds

Tales of Travel: Lisbon

It was a hot weekend in July 2009 when we visited Lisbon, the beautiful capital city of Portugal.

I spent the entire weekend drinking copious (and unusual) amounts of Diet Coke and feeling particularly unfit as we wandered around the city and surrounds…and a few weeks later discovered that I had been in the very early stages of my pregnancy with Tiny.

Ruins of Carmo Church, part of the convent that was destroyed in an earthquake of 1755

Lisbon is the vibrant, chilled out, slow-paced city that holds court as Portugal’s capital. Beautiful by day, soulful by night; an energetic, pastry-loving, tram-rattling place that seems not to care what the rest of the world is up to, and moves to its own fado-inspired beat.

Azulejos are everywhere, and in Lisbon….it just works!

Famous for azulejos (tiles), which cover every possible surface: buildings, metro stations, doors, churches, footpaths….they are everywhere and the history, colours and detail are amazing.

Cruising on Tram 28

It’s all about risking life and limb on Tram 28, trundling its rickety way up the winding hills; an experience not to be missed.

Looking out over the city from Castelo de Sao Jorge

It’s about exploring Alfama, getting lost amongst the cobbled streets that wind in and out, crossing each other in a strange dance, leading to Castelo de Sao Jorge, resplendent on the top of the hill. Amazing views over the city and the river towards Christi Rei, a minature Christ the Redeemer. Stumbling upon the best, most wonderful cafe (Santo Antonio de Alfama) where the salmon salad and the sea bream are to die for.

Cascais…find a spot and stick to it!

It’s about sweltering and battling with the sun-seeking, sand-searching hordes in Cascais, a popular beach town out of the city. Feeling caught between a rock and a hard place, between the blistering hot sand and the icy cold Atlantic Ocean.

Castelo dos Mouros

It’s about Castelo dos Mouros, in the fairytale town of Sintra – top of our “Castles We Have Seen” list. A 9th-Century Moorish castle, nestled 400-odd metres above sea level. The ramparts snake across the hill; stagger to the highest keep where the views are breathtaking and you can see the city in the distance.

Palacio Nacional da Pena

It’s about Palacio Nacional da Pena, an extravagant palace built by the nephew of crazy King Ludwig II of Neuschwanstein/Bavarian/Disneyland fame. The colours are faded and the facades are looking weathered, but it’s lavishly adorned in eclectic fashion. The views back to Castelo dos Mouros are impressive and it’s so peaceful being so high up in the hills.

Looking back towards Castelo dos Mouros

It’s about street peddlars with complete-and-utter crap to sell, and passing whispers of “Hashish? Cocaine?” if a dancing donkey isn’t to your liking.

At the top of Castelo de Sao Jorge

It’s about sticking to the cobbles outside the best Ginjinha bar in town, where the locals try not to spill a drop of the cherry brandy, and the tourists wonder silently whether they should eat the petrified cherry at the bottom of the cup.

Pasteis de Nata – seriously the best baked treat in the entire world!

And it’s about Pasteis de Nata – the gods’ and Lisbon’s little secret. Like a custard square, but baked into a light, flaky pastry shell, with the most delectable, silken creamy centre. Heaven in a pastry shell.

Tales of Travel: Sardinia

Take one island, five days in April 2008, a blue Chevrolet lovingly nicknamed Luigi and a well-charged camera battery. Add a dash of Italian and copious amounts of sunshine, and voila! –  you have Sardinia.

Luigi!

Sardinia is an Italian island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the most consistently beautiful places I have ever been – rivalling New Zealand for stunning landscapes and striking views. Rugged mountains, hidden valleys and unspoiled coastline take your breath away with every turn as you wind your way up mountains and through narrow, cobbled streets, swerving to avoid hitting randomly-parked cars parked and rickety three-wheeled trucks.

This trip was about relaxing and soaking up some much-needed sun after a long English winter; no church or museum or historic building was entered, and this isn’t a place where you need to visit such sites to experience the culture and beauty of the island.

Cagliari

We spent our first night in the capital, Cagliari. In search of a beach famous for its endless white sands (Poetto), we wandered aimlessly for about four hours and ended up climbing a rather steep hill, quite by accident. However, the views were amazing and we saw the beach we were aiming for…we just never actually made it there.

Arbatax

We then travelled to Arbatax, on the east coast, where the beaches were amazing and deserted. Considering the time of year (April), the water wasn’t all that warm, but the views were picturesque: the water was green and blue and crystal clear, the sand was white and soft, and the sky was such a deep neon blue. We took a drive to Baunei late one afternoon, and the views were breathtaking as we climbed higher and higher into the mountains.

Baunei

From there, we journeyed on to San Teodoro, home of the best pizza we found in all of Italy (in fact, food in Sardinia was far superior to most of the meals we had in mainland Italy). We stumbled upon a beautiful, quaint little village one evening – Santa Maria Navarrese – which was an absolute treat. There were gangs of old men sitting outside homes and on the edges of parks; they looked like gossiping old women, with a touch of mafia about them.

Santa Maria Navarrese

The food, the wine, the scenery, the people – everything about Sardinia touched our hearts and memories like no other place we have travelled to. Perhaps it was the lack of other tourists, or the way we were welcomed into restaurants like the locals and offered dishes that were not on the menu.

Pizza in San Teodoro - this one was called "San Teodoro"

Or perhaps, it was the fact that on our favourite beach – the gorgeous, deserted Lido di Orri – my super-unromantic then-boyfriend* took me completely by surprise by proffering a small wooden box and dropping to one knee in the pristine white sand. I’d just picked two very pretty shells** off the sand and was wondering about making a necklace from them, when he distracted me with the most beautiful, sparkling diamond, and those amazing words, “Will you marry me?”

Needless to say, I said a very shocked but very ecsatic “YES!”, and the rest of our trip was spent in a blissful, sparkly haze of newly-engagedness (<– not a real word. Should be).

Lido di Orri - the most romantic beach on the planet!

Even if this trip hadn’t had such an amazing punchline, we would still view Sardinia as one of our favourite destinations. It’s the perfect place to relax and unwind, and renting a car or scooters is the best way of getting around. It’s a magical place with scenery to die for, a Mediterranean climate, and an abundance of fresh seafood – you really can’t go wrong with that combination!

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* My wonderful husband and I often joke that he saved up all his energy for that one romantic gesture, and that it will be another few years before he has the energy for another. He had been planning this proposal for some time, and on the day we left, he had to rush madly into St Albans to pick up the ring he had chosen because he’d been too late to collect it the night before. He spun me some line about having to go into town to pay his cricket subs, and I spent the entire train journey to Luton Airport silently fuming because I was sure we’d almost missed our flight because of his bl**dy cricket! I did apologise once I knew the real reason he’d had to race into town – all was most definitely forgiven at that point!

** I vaguely remember asking Tall to hold those shells for me, and to this day, neither of us can remember what happened to them…

Our Island Getaway

Rarotonga. I could wax lyrical for a while about how wonderful our holiday was, but I don’t think anything I write could capture how amazing this little island and its inhabitants are. Instead, I’m going to let a few pictures and short sentences do the talking.

I loved:

~ the heady fragrance of the welcome Ei, thrown around our necks when we arrived at the airport:


~ the tummy-jiggling bus ride to our resort, on a road without streetlamps, where the stars seemed so close you felt as though you could reach out and grab one to tuck away in your heart

~ being forced to take siestas with Tiny, and watching a big grin spread across his face as he woke beside us:


~ the bus destination labelling system: ‘Clockwise’ and ‘Anti-clockwise’

~ falling asleep with the sound of the sea in our ears, and waking up to the best view imaginable:


~ watching Tiny charm the pants off all the resort staff – plus everyone else we met – and seeing his delight at all the cuddles and kisses he was plastered with on a daily basis

~ enjoying a divine meal, beachside, at Vaima Polynesian Bar & Restaurant, and trying (and loving) Ika Mata, an island specialty

~ ordering wine and giggling at the consistently generous pours, which we affectionately dubbed ‘The Rarotongan’:


~ spending six whole days with both of my boys, and watching Tiny and his daddy bond more and more:


~ sunshine, swimming, sand and snorkelling:


There was only one thing I didn’t like about Rarotonga…and that was leaving!

Snow Envy

St Clair Beach

Living by the beach is great. We can be wriggling our toes in the sand barely five minutes after leaving the house, and some of the best cafes in Dunedin are just a short walk away.

But today, I wish we lived on a hill.

Snow!

While the miniscule amount of snow we did have has long since melted, my friends living up high are still frolicking in inches of delightful powder. Some of them are even complaining about it already, while I’m glumly looking at their photos on Facebook. Some of them are enjoying an extra day at home with husbands/wives/partners, while I watched Tall drive oh-so-carefully away – in my car, no less, because his is “too heavy” – this morning. Some of them have built snowmen and taken photos of their little people’s first steps in the snow, and have shaken off wet clothes to then warm themselves in front of fires and heat pumps…

Down, Little Green Envy Monster, down!