Zoo Party

We finally celebrated Pickle’s second birthday, just a few weeks late, with some of his little friends (and their families) joining us for afternoon tea and general hilarity. Given his love of animals, a zoo party was a logical – and incredibly simple – choice.

I made invitations featuring Pickle’s favourite noisy lion, RaaRaa, and used pictures of the same (free colouring pages from the internet) to make a simple bunting. Cups and serviettes featuring a menagerie of animals were on the table (paired with plain green plates), with a little zoo animal for each guest to take home. Add a few orange balloons and a zoo made from Duplo and our animal collection – done.

RaaRaa Invitation Zoo Party Zoo Party Zoo Party Party Balloon Zoo Party RaaRaa The Noisy Lion The food was simple too (a change for me, as I tend to go overboard and then get flustered because I have so many things to make), and chosen with toddlers and preschoolers in mind. Sweets, crisps and fruit, cocktail sausages (of course), popcorn and homemade gingerbread panda bears and tigers.

Panda and Tiger BiscuitsI had an absolute cake disaster to begin with (trying a new recipe combined with a failure to measure my cake tin was the issue – lesson learned!), but my go-to chocolate mud cake recipe saved the day, and I’m quite happy with my decorating attempt. Again, simple but recognisable, and the birthday boy loved it.

Zoo cakeZoo PartyHe had a great afternoon, and was exhausted by the end of the day – at one point I’m sure he was close to falling asleep in his cot while his friends, and Tiny’s, leaped about in his room!

Pickle and ShortPickle is two!


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: Buenos Aires

We visited Buenos Aires twice on our South American adventure. It was our first stop after Sao Paulo, and we enjoyed it so much that we decided to stay another few days after our trip to Uruguay.

Buenos Aires is such a cool city – it’s huge and it’s busy, vibrant and colourful, energetic and pretty. There are parks and trees and green spaces right in the centre of town (not to mention in the suburbs). It reminded us of a little New York (one of my favourite cities), and also had a very European feel to it. It is a very easy city to navigate and there are lots of gorgeous statues and monuments to orient yourself towards. The riverside has been redeveloped and is a lovely area to stroll along, with lots of cafes and swanky-looking restaurants serving awesome steak and seafood dishes.

The weather was perfect while we were there – both times – and we spent all our time walking from one area to the next. There is so much to see in Buenos Aires, but even just wandering is a fulfilling exercise.

We visited the Museo Nacional de Ballas Artes and various other wonderful museums and art galleries, picnicked in parks and strolled the exclusive streets of Recoleta. We watched tango in a public square and went to the zoo; while it was sad to see some of the animals obviously going a bit stir-crazy (we watched a brown bear run maniacally around the little pond in his small enclosure), there were these crazy kangaroo-rabbits roaming everywhere, and little baby otters about the size of a computer mouse.

Tall got his football fix (kind of) and took a tour of the Boca Juniors stadium; he was hoping to get to a game but our timing wasn’t right. He also went to Recoleta Cemetery, (where Eva Peron and other famous and iconic Argentinians are buried) one afternoon when I needed to have a nap, and came back to report that it was worth the visit.

We stayed at a serviced apartment right in the heart of the city, and then in Palermo (at a cute hostel with a feisty kitten and a young host with whom we played wii until the early hours of the morning) where we had a great time exploring the neighbourhood with its funky bars, delicious restaurants, groovy boutique stores and relaxed atmosphere.

We had a few good restaurant experiences in Buenos Aires. At one, the wine Tall ordered was served in a penguin-shaped ceramic jug, and in another, he was unable – for the first time ever – to finish a piece of steak. I think his cattle-farm-boy pride was wounded on that occasion!

At another, I ordered a pork fillet dish which was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten – the waiter provided a steak knife, but the pork was so tender that it wasn’t necessary. On the same occasion, we chatted to an older American gentleman who had lived in New Zealand for 10 years. Suddenly our waiter was at our table with the wine list, explaining that the gentleman wanted to buy us a bottle of wine! Needless to say, we were extremely surprised – that only happens in the movies, right??! – but the gentleman insisted, saying that New Zealand “did so much for [him]”, and that it would give him much pleasure to do this for us. Being pregnant, I think I sampled half a glass, meaning that my husband was very tipsy by the time we left!

We left Buenos Aires reluctantly, and only the promise of more adventures further south softened the blow of leaving. Would I return? You betcha – in a heartbeat!

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!