Tales of {NZ} Travel: Dunedin {part two}

Tales of NZ TravelFor a small city, there is a lot to do in Dunedin, depending on your interests, travelling companions and budget. Since having children, I’m more inclined to seek out interesting places and things to do, and it’s been wonderful seeing my home town through renewed eyes. I love it here, and even though we probably won’t stay here forever, it’s a good place to be right now.Cargills Castle Dunedin New ZealandPlaygrounds
If you’re travelling with children, and the day is fine, you’ll be spoiled for choice with playgrounds. Playgrounds we love are Marlow Park in St Kilda (locally known as “The Dinosaur Park”, after its giant dinosaur slide), and Arthur Street in City Rise (the flying fox is great fun). Dunedin Botanic Garden is great for children – you can feed ducks, clamber all over Peter Pan and assorted other sculptures, enjoy a coffee in the café, chat to the birds in the aviary, and wander through the Rose Garden. Woodhaugh Gardens is often very sheltered when the rest of the city isn’t; during the summer, there’s a wading pool for the kids, and the recently-upgraded playground is loads of fun. There are walking tracks to explore too.

Woodhaugh Gardens Dunedin New ZealandDunedin Botanic Garden New ZealandMuseums
Otago Museum is a great place to explore, for kids and adults alike. There’s the Animal Attic (a collection of wild and exotic animals), Discovery World (lots of fun hands-on scientific experiments), and the Tropical Rainforest (ideal for a cold day; full of beautiful butterflies). Toitu Otago Settlers Museum has a focus on early Otago, with a photograph hall full of the earliest settlers (including ancestors of mine), and a wonderful transport hall with vehicles you can “ride” on. Toitu is also the home of Josephine, a fabulous train that every kid seems to love.

Being a coastal city, Dunedin is spoiled for beautiful beaches – but be prepared for chilly waters, even on the hottest of days! Most popular are St Clair and St Kilda, which are great for swimmers, sunbathers and surfers alike, but if you are a beach-lover, it’s worth investigating smaller beaches such as Smaills, Tomahawk and Brighton. Long Beach is perfect for rock-climbing, and the walk down to Tunnel Beach is dramatic and beautiful.

St Clair Beach Dunedin New ZealandThe Peninsula
Quite possibly one of Dunedin’s most explored areas, The Peninsula can be explored in one day if you have a car. There’s the Albatross Colony (expensive, and only worth the time and money when the birds are in flight, coming and going from their nests), the currently-closed-for-earthquake-repairs  aquarium, Broad Bay China (a vintage crockery lover’s heaven) and assorted places to spy penguins (try Sandfly Bay for guaranteed sightings, but be prepared for the size of the sand dunes!).

Port Chalmers
On the other side of the harbour to The Peninsula lies sleepy, quaint Port Chalmers. This is where cruise ships dock during the summer, and it is home to a number of fabulous galleries and second-hand shops. There is a seafood festival held every two years, which is definitely one for the calendar.

Dunedin is a city of hills, and the great thing about hills is that they offer amazing views. Put on your walking shoes and clamber up Mt Cargill, or Flagstaff, or to the Organ Pipes. Take a drive up to Signal Hill, and meet The Buddhas.

Signal Hill, Dunedin, New ZealandTourist Attractions
As with any city or town, there are always places deemed “tourist attractions”. In Dunedin, that means Baldwin Street (the world’s steepest), the gorgeous Railway Station, and the clocktower of the University of Otago. There’s also Cadbury World (I recently took Tiny on the 75-minute tour, and he loved it), First Church, Larnach Castle, historic Olveston and Speight’s Brewery.

Larnach Castle Dunedin New ZealandShopping
If shopping is your thing, there are the usual stores and malls on the main street, with good op shops and fabulous designer stores dotted around the surrounding streets. On a Saturday morning, The Otago Farmers Market (widely regarded as one of the best in the country) is a great place to buy local produce, or grab a bite to eat.

Eating Out
There are too many cafés and restaurants worth visiting to list them all here, but personal favourites are Plato, Scotia, Two Chefs and Table Seven, with Modaks, Nova and Mazagram as my picks for the best coffee.

I could go on and on about what there is to do here, but I won’t, because I’m hoping the little I’ve shared will be enough to entice you to come and see how beautiful and fun this little city truly is!


Tales of {NZ} Travel: Wellington

Tales of NZ TravelI’ve had the pleasure of visiting Wellington a few times, and I’ve gotta say, I love it there. There’s a “triangle” that people refer to which encompasses Dunedin, Wellington and Melbourne, and it’s said that if you live in one of these cities, you will fall in love with the other two. They are all similar – on different scales, of course – and I love all three; there is something familiar about each of them that is hard to pinpoint.

My last visit to Wellington was back in 2006 – Labour Weekend, in fact, so exactly seven years ago. Golly – I bet it’s changed since then! My trip coincided with Diwali, so the friend I was staying with took me to the city’s celebrations and we had such a great time.

Wellington is a very creative city, as well as being our nation’s capital; the arts and politics seem to sit rather harmoniously side-by-side, which is a bit of a juxtaposition. It is a pretty city, famous for its wind, and there’s a vibrant atmosphere. There is so much to see and do, but here are some of my favourites:

Oriental Parade
Even though the winds tend towards the “brisk” side, a walk around Oriental Bay is a must. If you start further out from the city, you can walk around and reward yourself with a nice cold beverage at one of the bars on the foreshore. A popular place for corporate lunchtime runners, if I remember correctly.

Mount Victoria
The walk (or, if you’re foolish like me – the run) up the hill is rewarded with fabulous (if windblown) views across the city

Mt Victoria(Image from Catching the Magic)

Embassy Theatre
Most famous for the premiers of The Lord of the Rings movies, and for being adorned with a giant gorilla for King Kong, this is a theatre worth popping into, even if you don’t want to watch a film.

Te Papa
Our beautiful Museum of New Zealand – such an interesting and fun place to visit. I’m keen to get back to Wellington with our boys, as I think they’d love it, and it’s also important to us that they have a firm feeling for where they come from.

Cuba Street
Probably Wellington’s most famous street, home to an eclectic mix of cafés, shops, boutiques and bars, as well as the Bucket Fountain and lots of quirky artistic pieces. Worth strolling down, even just to soak up the atmosphere. While you’re strolling around this and the other city streets, look down – the storm-water drain covers are pieces of art too.

Chocolate Fish Café
If you’re staying with a local, or if you rent a car and ask someone where you should dine, you will invariably be sent the way of this café. They serve great coffee and amazing seafood (as well as other non-fishy dishes); be warned that if you arrive at your “usual” brunch or lunch time, you’ll probably have to wait for a table.

For more tales of the fun that can be had in Wellington, pop on over to see what these local lovelies have to say about living there:

The Adventures of MNMs
Catching the Magic

Things I’m Loving

~ more Elvish fun with Fernando; hard to believe there are only 3 mornings left of Tiny rushing off to find him.

Elf7 Elf8~ this dribbly little fella; the gums are swollen and the dribble is continuous, so we’re expecting a tooth any day now….but fully aware that it might be a long way off.


~ taking the boys to Toitu, the re-vamped Otago Early Settlers Museum; seeing the Tiger Tea bus once more, but no longer in a dusty, musty, fusty old museum = fantastic.


~ reliving my childhood and taking Tiny to see Pixie Town at Toitu.


~ discovering Santa sitting unassumingly and non-commercially in the corner of the museum, and being able to take my own photos.


~ little boys asleep in sun shades outside.


~ being able to celebrate Christmas early with my parents, so they could enjoy watching their grandsons* open their gifts.


* obviously Pickle is too small to open presents, but don’t worry, Tiny helped him (and everyone else) out.

Linking up with Meghan for my last Things I’m Loving of 2012 (I’ll be taking a bloggy break over Christmas and New Year)


Tales of Travel: Puerto Madryn

When Tall suggested we visit Puerto Madryn, in the Patagonian region of Argentina, I shrugged nonchalantly and said, “Yeah, if you want.”

When he said, “We can walk among penguins…”, I grabbed our guide book from his hands and began to plan our itinerary. To say I was suddenly excited is an understatement; even now, I’m struggling to find the words to explain how amazing our few days there were.

So I’ll let some photos do the talking, as well as this extract from an email I sent our families at the time:

day 1: puerto madryn
arrive 17 hours after leaving mar del plata. brains appear to have been left on bus. wander around in zombie-like fashion (however, coherent enough to realise that this town is so much nicer than mar del plata). crawl into bed, exhausted, by 10pm. lights out.

Tree art

day 2: punta tombo
go on wicked tour down the coast. first stop is an hour’s boat ride to see commerson’s dolphins. warned by tour guide that might see 2 dolphins, or might see 50. lucky enough to see about a dozen or so. tiny, predominantly white, super-fast; love playing in the wake of the boats. awesome start to tour. more driving. yawn. arrive punta tombo – penguin time!! spend 2 hours walking amongst (behind, beside…within a metre…) little magellan penguins. perfect timing – hatching season. lots of babies and eggs. amazing to be able to get so close – definitely not shy! brilliant day.

Punta Tombo

Tall discusses the state of the nation with Mr Penguin

Tiny, but fast!

day 3: punta loma ([Tall] only – pregnant ladies not allowed)
one very smiley husband returns from swimming and snorkelling with sea lions. says they wait on the rocks for the boat to arrive and then dive into the water to come meet it; love to play. lay back in water and the little sea lions climb on him and go in for a kiss. bigger sea lions chill out under the water. quote: “awesome. pretty up there”.

Kisses with a sea lion…fishy.

day 4: peninsula valdes (480km of reserve land)
another incredible day trip. start off with boat trip to see southern right whales…expect to see 1 or 2, and from far away. get up close and personal with a 5 or 6 mum-and-bub pairings. one mum approaches and SWIMS UNDER OUR BOAT. water so clear we can see entire mammal – barnacles, individual markings, EVERYthing; beautiful, massive, breathtaking. impossible to describe without gushing. to quote [Tall]: “wow”. watch 2 bubs socialising which is apparently very rare. phenomenal start to day. drive to see elephant seals. see maras (the weird rabbit-kangaroo things) and llama-type things. more driving to see a few penguins (been there, done that!) and more elephant seals. beautiful location; watch a little guy try to take on someone 3 times his size – ultimate elephant seal bullying tactic: lying on the other. cool, cool day.

Up close and personal with Southern Right Whales

day 5: ecocentro
have excessive amounts of time to kill before night bus. nothing open on sundays; windy, crappy day. play cards, drink coffee, [Tall] watches football. get blown along coast to ecocentro – interesting, arty, interactive museum about patagonia’s marine life. get blown back along coast to town centre. sand in ears.

A truly amazing area to visit, and somewhere we could have spent hours exploring. The organised tours are so well done (on our Peninsula Valdes tour, our lovely guide spoke perfect English, French AND German, as well as Spanish, of course!), and such good value.

If you’re ever thinking of visiting Argentina, then do not, I repeat, do NOT miss out on visiting Puerto Madryn and its surrounds!

(November 2009)

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: Cardiff

We visited Cardiff on a whim, one chilly weekend in December 2007. Tall and I were suffering a little from cabin fever in our first English winter, and decided that a cheap weekend away would be just the ticket.

We loaded up our trusty old car – Gordy, named after Tall’s grandfather’s favourite 10am tipple – and drove south-west, across the border into Wales. It was probably just our imagination, but the temperature seemed to drop a few degrees the closer we got to Cardiff, and by the time we arrived, Gordy’s seat warmers had had a pretty good workout.

Cardiff is quite a small capital city (the population is just over 340,000), and is really easy to get around both by car and on foot. The central shopping district was quite compact and the shopping wasn’t too bad. The Christmas Markets were in full swing, and to this day, Tall and I both drool in remembrance of the spit-roasted hog sandwiches we devoured there. Best roast pork ever. Seriously.

Cardiff Castle

We took a tour of Cardiff Castle, which was rumoured to once be the home of King Arthur, and “admired” the interior design by William Burges. I say “admired” because we found it all a bit fussy and gaudy, but apparently he was very influential in the 19th Century. At night, the outer walls of the castle were adorned with twinkling coloured lights, which I’m sure would have made Burges proud.

Butes Park

Next to the castle is Butes Park, named for the family who own the castle. We took a brisk stroll along some of the myriad of walkways criss-crossing the park, and really did admire some of the pagan relics.

Welsh National History Museum

One of the girls from our hostel suggested we drive 15 minutes out of town to St Fagans, home of the (free) Welsh National History Museum. This is an open-air museum set on 100 acres of land that was gifted to the people of Wales by the owner of St Fagans Castle. They’ve rescued many old buildings from all over Wales and lovingly relocated and restored them for the public to see how Welsh life was lived many many moons ago. The day was incredibly foggy and due to low visitor numbers, the museum was very quiet and the atmosphere was eerie as we wandered around. It was definitely worth a lengthy visit, and well-worth making the trip out of town.

We never made it back to Wales, but enjoyed this little taste. The Welsh truly are the friendliest, and we hope to go back one day to spend a bit more time exploring the other regions.