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 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)

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.


Tales of Travel: Mendoza

From Santa Cruz, we stopped off in Santiago for two nights before heading back into Argentina again. We managed to find some pretty cheap flights from to Mendoza, so instead of a 7-hour bus ride, we enjoyed a 50-minute flight directly over the Andes – and it definitely was worth it for the views of the mountains.

Flying over the Andes

We had high hopes for Mendoza, and certainly weren’t disappointed. For a city with a population of about one million, it had a relaxed, small town feel to it that was a nice surprise. Most Mendocinos enjoy a long siesta in the afternoon, which means the streets are virtually deserted from 1-6pm. It appeared that only crazy gringos venture out at that time of day.

We spent a hot afternoon wandering to and around Parque General San Martin, a huge inner-city park that is home to a stadium, a school, a pool, a zoo, tennis courts and a golf course, a lake and an observatory. After a couple of hours we’d only covered a third of the area! It was a popular place for families to picnic, and we spent time lazing on the grass, listening to the far-off sounds of the city mingling with birdsong.

Parque General San Martin

Of an evening, we wandered to the Christmas markets, and listened to buskers. There are four main squares in Mendoza, each decorated and tiled in a different way, so we had fun navigating our way to each corner.

A tiled square

We chose to go on an organised wine tour due to the sheer number of wineries in the area – doing it ourselves seemed too much a daunting task! Our tour had 14 people on it…and half of them (us?) were kiwis! The first winery had Aconcagua (the highest peak in the Andes) as its backdrop, but the wine was unfortunately not the best. The next was an organic winery which had been operating for 50 or so years, and while the wine was just okay, it was really interesting to hear how they use fruit trees to attract the birds and insects, olive trees as a natural barrier, and how all of the harvest gets used – from wine to compost. The third winery was smaller again, and was the only place we got to try a malbec which we found quite strange, considering Mendoza is famous for this variety!

Cecchin Organic Winery

We finished with lunch at Cava de Cano. When we walked in, everyone’s jaws dropped – the table was heaving with food, and our guide said, “Take it easy, this is only the starter…”. The food was amazing (served tapas-style, with an array of traditional and local dishes) and seemed never-ending, and the wine flowed. Needless to say, it was a very quiet bus trip back as everyone nursed full bellies and the beginnings of wine headaches (not me, obviously).

The starters!

Tall was satisfied after finally going to a football match in South America – a local Mendoza team played a visiting team from Buenos Aires and he said the atmosphere was brilliant, despite the end result being a draw.

Mendoza certainly lived up to our high expectations, and was a great place to finish our visit to Argentina.

Tales of Travel: St Albans

St Albans, a twenty-minute fast train north of London, was our home from February 2008 until February 2009. Tall’s job was there, and my commute from outside of London to Piccadilly Circus was still shorter than most of my colleagues’ who lived in London-proper. We lived in a simple but sizeable one-bedroom flat near the train station, and just a 10 minute walk from the town centre. There were a trillion pubs and a gazillion Indian takeaways within a 500 metre radius, and when my sister et al. moved to England in June 2008, I found them a lovely house to rent that was conveniently only 15 minutes walk away. Plus we could leave home, jump on a northbound train and be ready to board an international flight from Luton Airport in under an hour.

St Albans is an historic market city with a population of around 70,000. Given its proximity to the capital, and more “rural” surroundings, it’s considered a commuter’s town, and peak-time trains are always packed to full capacity. On days when there are train strikes, or when extreme heat or extreme cold affects the tracks…getting to and from St Albans could take some time!

St Albans Cathedral

Voted in at the “Mayfair” spot in a revised Monopoly game in 2007, St Albans is an affluent city with a rich history. It was settled in pre-Roman times, and once the Romans arrived, was known as Verulamium. It was renamed St Albans after Saint Alban, the first British Christian martyr, was beheaded there in AD308 (for refusing to give up his beliefs, as ordered by the emperor at the time). His remains are said to be enshrined in St Albans Cathedral, which is a beautiful old church with expansive grounds that are a popular picnic place in the summer.

The old city walls in Verulamium Park

Evidence of St Albans’ Roman history is everywhere, from the old city walls and amphitheatre in Verulamium Park, to the mosaic floors showcased in the St Albans Museum. The park is a wonderful recreational space, with sports grounds, a gorgeous lake (which freezes over every winter and is turned into an ice skating rink), and a myriad of paths to meander along.

The amphitheatre in Verulamium Park

On the edge of the park is “Ye Olde Fighting Cocks“, a fantastic little pub that is said to be (one of) the oldest in Britain, built some time in the 8th-Century – tall people should remember to duck their heads! They serve a very tasty Pimms cocktail, and their meals are amazing – although every time we ate there, I could never go past the delicious ploughman’s lunch (hold the pickled onions, thanks!). It’s a dog-friendly pub, and is always, always packed at a Sunday lunchtime.

The lake in Verulamium Park

The Saturday market is a bit of an institution; no visit to St Albans would be complete without strolling the main street, looking for a bargain or buying fresh produce – the cries of “Pound-a-bowl” are forever ingrained in my memory – and they regularly hold a French market where you can buy the most amazing duck salami and the ooziest, stinkiest soft cheeses imaginable.

St Albans is well worth the trip if you’re ever in London; catching a fast train from St Pancras Station is the easiest way of getting there, and you’ll be glad you made the effort. We can also recommend it as a place to live, even if you’re working in London, and really enjoyed our year living there.

Tales of Travel: Melbourne

Melbourne has always been one of my favourite cities. It forms a bit of a “triangle” with Dunedin and Wellington, in that if you’re from one of these three cities, you’re likely to feel quite at home in the other two. This is certainly true for me – love Wellington, love Melbourne…could quite happily live in either!

Anyone visiting Melbourne should be aware of the following:
~ the shopping really IS as good as you’ve heard;
~ your taste buds will think you’ve taken them higher than heaven; and
~ a small part of your heart will forever remain there.

You could spend days getting lost in the CBD, wandering up and down the main streets and straying into narrow alleyways which offer up hidden cafes, bars and little boutiques. The CBD is incredibly east to navigate, with a grid-like street system. You’ll also find that Little Collins Street comes after Collins Street, making for a simple, albeit unimaginative, way of getting your bearings.

A visit to the world-famous Queen Victoria Markets is a must; you’ll know you’re getting close when you start to smell the fare. The crowds haggling and jostling for the best products at the best price are a sight – and sound – to behold.

See if you can wrangle a ticket to an exhibition opening at the National Gallery, and make sure you visit one of the many modern art galleries in and around the city. Watch the world go by in Federation Square – the lunchtime rush near Flinders Street Station is an interesting spectacle.

Old Melbourne Gaol
is a gloomy but interesting attraction, with a particular focus on hangings, Ned Kelly and his gang. I found the history behind the gang and their capture fascinating, but the deathmasks made for eerie viewing, and I didn’t feel wholly comfortable there.

Wine fans should head an hour south to Mornington Peninsula and Sorrento – the drive is lovely and the wine is definitely worth the trip! There are lots of wineries, galleries and cute seaside villages to explore.

Sovereign Hill, in Ballarat (an hour-and-a-half to the west) is an interactive open-air museum which makes for a fun day trip – although I’d recommend taking a picnic lunch as the restaurant is highly overpriced.

Healesville Sanctuary
, just over an hour to the north-east, is a fantastic place to take kids. It’s home to native Australian animals that have been rescued and rehabilitated, and the bird show is a highlight.

There’s also Melbourne Zoo, with its awesome orangutan enclosure; in March of this year we were lucky enough to see a teeny tiny baby with spindly little arms and a mop of sticky-uppy hair.

Many of Melbourne’s suburbs are worth exploring too – hop on a train and see where you end up! Wander through Albert Park and watch the radio-controlled boats racing on the lake; take in the tacky splendour of St Kilda or wander around Cherry Lake and try to spot the pelicans. Visit Williamstown for more galleries, boutiques and antique stores.

I’ve been to Melbourne four times, and every visit, I find something new to love about the city. There’s so much to see and do, and it has such a vibrant, friendly atmosphere. Now that my sister and her family are based there, I’m sure we’ll back as often as we can!