A Travellerspoint blog

What's So Manly About It?

from museum to beach

sunny 23 °C

Today was one of those lovely days where you expect the weather to be overcast and humid (as Sydney has been lately. Ick.) and so you plan to spend the day doing something indoors, but you're pleasantly surprised to see the sun shining once you step outside, so the whole itinerary changes.

One of my favorite places to visit in Sydney is the Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay, where they currently have an exhibit featuring photos by Annie Leibovitz taken between 1990-2005. She's snapped images of US presidents, movie stars, musicians and other performers, as well as desert landscapes and international travel. Her work has been published in Vogue and Rolling Stone magazines and I've always really admired how personal her photos are, but I wasn't too impressed with the photos on display; the curator seemed to have chosen the "safe" photos from her collection, rather than some of her more famous raw images. Who could forget this one?

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Still, it was cool to see more of her work mounted on the wall, rather than small snippets in my magazines.

Since the weather was holding up nicely, we decided to hop on the next ferry to Manly Beach and go stick our toes in the ocean. We were greeted by several dozen dead bluebottles dotting the sand, but it was funny how unfazed the surfers appeared to be as they ran into the water with their boards. I certainly didn't go jumping back into the ocean after I was stung in Hawaii....

We have this favorite Mexican restaurant at Manly that makes a killer sangria and homemade guacamole, but upon realizing it had closed down, settled for another beachside spot that served Dos Equis with our chips and salsa. It was here that I witnessed my first celebrity sighting on this trip: Manly-based pro surfer Layne Beachley, who won seven world championship titles before retiring a few years back, was seated at the table directly across from us. I didn't know who she was, but I figured she was a pretty big deal when Paddy turned bright red and had a brief freak-out.

For photos of this excursion, click here

Posted by Alykat 18:34 Archived in Australia Tagged annie_leibovitz manly_beach layne_beachley mca Comments (0)

The [Other] Bay

spending some time on the south coast

all seasons in one day 23 °C

After a week of recuperation in Sydney, Paddy and I caught the six hour bus down to Batemans Bay, his beachside hometown. The weather was ridiculously hot in the city (it ended up being a record-breaking heatwave once we left), and since Paddy's "neighbor" is Surf Beach, we didn't hesitate to grab our swimmers and head down there as fast as possible.

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The weather remained beautiful for a few days, and since most of Paddy's sibilings were due to start school that week (there are six Tegart kids in total; Paddy's the oldest at 21, and they go down in 2-year increments from there, so there are 4 kids living at home right now. Hectic household!), we spent a lot of time swimming at the beach, watching movies, playing cricket (I learned how to "bowl," or pitch, and pretty much sucked at it) and, in the boys' case, playing video games. I enjoyed getting to know Paddy's two sisters and chatting with his mum over coffee while the boys killed each other's video zombies.

Cyclone Yasi striked near Cairns a few days into our trip, and the weather turned pretty sour after that: although the two towns are separated by more than 2,600 km, the bay was pelted with days of rain, high wind, and a few pretty incredible thunderstorms. (Imagine flicking on a fluorescent light and watching it flicker a few times before fully turning on - that's what the thunderstorm looked like.) Between bad weather spells, we grabbed chicken schnitzel burgers at Malua Bay (they're absolutely legendary), said hello to the white lions at Mogo Zoo, went hiking above Wimbie Beach, dined on magnificent BBQ pizza at Heat (where Paddy worked in high school), and enjoyed some of the clearest snorkeling I've ever experienced at Guerilla Bay.

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A great week!

For the full album, click here

Posted by Alykat 18:23 Archived in Australia Tagged surf_beach batemans_bay guerilla_bay malua_bay Comments (0)

New Zealand - The Visuals

finally posting photos!

all seasons in one day 24 °C

Indulge yourself in the photographic experience of our New Zealand trip...

For the complete Auckland album, click here.

For the complete Wicked van and post-Wicked Auckland album, click here.

Enjoy!

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Posted by Alykat 00:51 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand Comments (0)

Wicked Adventures

eight days of hippie living

all seasons in one day 25 °C

Just as we did in July 2009 for our Great Ocean Road trip, Paddy and I hired a Wicked campervan to get around New Zealand's North Island. The following week was a series of tests as we navigated the van past sleepy beach towns, gorgeous overlooks, through Amazon-like rainforests, and over the sheep-dotted rolling hills, because nothing really went as planned...

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Equipped with a Lonely Planet guide and some light research done back in October, we figured the North Island would be a breeze: it was much more narrow than Australia, so the plan was to hop between beach towns along the Coromandel Peninsula, follow the Pacific Coast Highway around to wine-rich Gisbourne, maybe dip down to vineyard-happy Napier, hike through the Tongariro National Forest, and then whip back up to Auckland for one more night in the city. We didn't account for a few problems:

1. Petrol cost NZ$2 per liter (so about US$8 per gallon. Yikes!), and Wicked vans drink it like water. Due to the hills and rough terrain, we probably pumped NZ$40 into the van every single day.

2. It rained for the second half of the trip. Boo.

3. In winter, when you're heading south (away from the warm equator) and waking up to a 3-degree (Celcius) morning, most folks don't rent campervans. Thus, the cops aren't out looking for you, so you have the luxury of parking anywhere you please (which is how we enjoyed spectacular sunrises from the semi-warmness of our van in July.) In summer, it's a different story: you'll be fined if you're parked at a beach overlook or on the side of the road, so we had to seek out holiday motor parks and conservation sites each night. (We even paid to sleep in a YHA parking lot one night - heck, it was cheaper than a bed!)

The conservation sites ended up being one of the better aspects of the trip: for about $10 per night, we parked on a family farm located a minute from a near-empty beach, and a campground near a sweet waterfall and freshwater stream with secret "pools" at the top (thanks to a tip from the campground manager).

Best of all, these campsites were not included in our guidebook, allowing us to explore off the beaten tourist track.

We had only two cds with us to provide our road trip soundtrack: The Best of Buddy Holly and some random Bob Marley disc. Here were some of the highlights of the week:

Tapu Beach & the Cross-Coromandel Drive

This was the first beach we visited after picking up the van, and while Paddy went swimming, I laid on the cushions in the back of the van, salty sea air blowing through the open windows, enjoying a Tamara McKinley novel as the sun dipped towards the horizon.

Parked next to us was an older Kiwi couple and their Canadian friends, who they were showing around the Coromandel Peninsula. We asked him for a recommendation on where to go, and he suggested we cut through the bush and head to Whitianga (in Maori, "wh" makes an "f" sound, so the name reads "Fitianga"). Great!

With about a quarter of a tank in our van, we were greeted with this signage:

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The drive was nail-biting as we curved around the mountainous road, keeping one eye on the majestic scenery and the other on the petrol guage, but it was spectacular.

Cathedral Cove Walk, Hahei

This was a 45-minute walk along a picturesque trail - think ocean views the whole way (the photo of the Wicked van above was taken near this trail). We stopped to check out the "snorkel trail" at Gemstone Bay, but because the weather had been less than stellar, the water was full of sea crap and therefore pretty difficult to see through.

Next stop was Stingray Bay, where we did actually see one stingray - or at least saw a young Aussie girl scream and run out of the water after sighting one. Haha.

Cathedral Cove was a lengthy walk through shady palms and ferns, but the beach was nice. The "cathedral" cutout actually looked like the shape of a stained glass window, so the name is certainly appropriate.

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Wentworth Falls

Driving through Waihi, we were looking for a cheap place to rest for the night. Consulting our handy conservation campsite guide, we followed a gravel path for about three miles before arriving at the Wentworth Falls campsite run by an Australian surfer. The guy - I think his name was Dean - immediately took a liking to Paddy's surfie ways and proceeded to fill us in on his insider info: where to find the glowworms in the nearby mining caves, the best vantage point to view the waterfall, and where to find a private freshwater swimming hole above the waterfall that no one ever visited.

Skinny dipping, anyone?

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Gisbourne

We awoke to the sound of rain tapping the metal roof of the van in the holiday park we stayed at in Opotiki and had a decision to make: stick out the rain and hope for the best? Or take our chances and drive the long, winding, rocky highway to sunny Gisbourne? Of all the stops we'd planned for this trip, Gisbourne was my #1: it's a small (population: 16,000) beach town on the east coast of the North Island dotted with wineries (18 in total) who - get this - is the first city in the world to see the sun rise. We had to see this place. (That, and it has a funny history: this was the first place Captain James Cook landed in NZ, but because he didn't find anything he needed to replenish the supplies on his ship here, he named the nearby waterway "Poverty Bay" and left.)

The drive took a while, but after driving through pelting waves of rain for a couple solid hours, the clouds broke open and sunshine poured over the road, illuminating the sheep-dotted hills as we winded our way towards the wine country. (Pretty much all the grassy hills on the North Island are full of either cows, sheep or horses.)

Settling ourselves in a beachfront holiday park for two nights, we set off to do some research about things to do in this town: catch a movie at the beanbag cinema? Taste the yummy chardonnays and gewurtztraminers the hot region is known for by bike? Watch a Maori cultural performance? After flipping through countless brochures, we settled on the Gisbourne Wine Centre's wine tasting tour (by van, as it was forecast to potentially rain.)

But first, we had to catch the sunrise. (A bit of an epic fail, as we realized too late that the beach we'd so cleverly settled on was actually too far south to see the sun rise. We caught some lovely pink clouds coming over a statue of Captain James Cook though.)

We were picked up in the Wine Centre van by Ray, a kind driver who'd originally made his living shaping surfboards in the Gold Coast (in Queensland, Australia. Naturally, he and Paddy had plenty to talk about too) and John, an 80-something year old man who had flown into Gisbourne from Auckland that morning, joined us for two winery visits, and left to catch a plane back to Auckland armed with three bottles of wine. Interesting little man.

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We visited four wineries:
- Millton, well known for their crisp chardonnay (which was fabulous.)
- Matawhero/Brunton Road, where we enjoyed a lovely lunch, but their chardonnays were pretty sour.
- Hihi, pronounced "hee-hee" and was easily the favorite winery of the day. The winemaker, Andy, started making his own wines after taking a viniculture class in 2005 and has since won 34 competition medals. They were certainly well deserved, and we ended up buying his Gizzy Savvy sauvignon blanc and five-grape blend, the Gizzy Summer Red.
- Wright Winery, where we snacked on dukkah (a mix of crushed nuts and seeds eaten by dipping a piece of bread into olive oil and then coating the oiled bit with the seed mix. Yum!) and played with their two little boys. I wasn't too taken by these wines either, but we must have stayed for over an hour just chatting with the winemaker couple and helping finish off a few bottles of wine.

As if the day could get better, to make up for the missed sunrise, we caught a ridiculous sunset:

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Taupo

Fun fact: The Taupo region is where the scenes involving Mordor, Emyn Muil and Mt. Doom were filmed for Lord of the Rings.

We didn't intend to stay in Taupo; rather, we stopped here to stretch our legs after several hours driving from Gisbourne and grab some food before heading to Raglan for the night. Being that it was 5 p.m. and most holiday parks were going to close their reception soon, we weighed our options: speed to the little beach town and possibly get stuck hiding the van on the side of a quiet street, or spend the night in the parking lot of the nearby Taupo youth hostel. We picked the second option and spent the evening enjoying burgers and beer as the sun sank over Lake Taupo. Glorious.

Heading back to our van, we passed an info center advertising all the crazy activities NZ is known for: bungy jumping, sky swings, abseiling, skydiving - basically everything that involves scaring the living daylights out of you. Figuring we'd be silly to leave without signing up for at least one daring activity, Paddy and I picked the "cliff hanger": a giant rope swing contraption we would sit in together as we're taken to the edge of a 44-meter (144-foot) platform anchored over the Waikato River. We're both terrified of heights (and believe me, I was white-faced when we arrived on the platform), but it was AMAZING.

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Raglan & Manu Bay

Fun fact about Raglan: this is where the hobbits lived in the Lord of the Rings. Neat, huh?

This was our last night on the road, so we took it easy. Ray had advised that we check out Raglan for a little west coast flavor, so we took a short drive around the tiny beach town, passed the holiday park we were staying at, and stumbled upon... Manu Bay. Remember "the longest left hand ride" enjoyed by the two guys in the first Endless Summer movie? We found that beach. (Too bad there was hardly any surf when we got there.)

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We spent the evening playing cards in the van as the rain started up again... and continued through the rest of the trip.

Still, it was a really great week, and we finished it perfectly: once we got back to Auckland, we headed back to Ponsonby for a fab 3-course dinner (paired with the Gizzy Summer Red wine), and spent the next morning walking through artsy Parnell and the Auckland Museum before dashing off to the airport. Despite the expense, I loved the North Island, and hope to check out the South Island next time! (Maybe then we'll also find some Kiwi birds...)

Posted by Alykat 18:05 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand north_island hahei raglan cathedral_cove lord_of_the_rings taupo_bungy wentworth_falls gisbourne manu_bay Comments (0)

Don't Call Them Aussies

a few days in Auckland, NZ

all seasons in one day 26 °C

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These signs are everywhere, posted in the windows of restaurants, bakeries, and an electrical hardware store. Even in the height of the busy summer season, merchants and restauranteurs still take time out to enjoy the holidays with their families and do a bit of traveling.

So, we took off too.

Arriving in Auckland, New Zealand on Wednesday night, I was greeted by the ATM with a wonderful surprise: the receipt had provided the exchange rate between the NZ$ and the AU$ (which at this point was dead even with the US$), and for my NZ$100 withdrawl, my Aussie bank account had only gone down AU$84. Excellent.

Since it was past midnight, we hopped into a shuttle and rode into the city with a few other passengers to the Auckland City Hotel, a charming place located a five-minute walk from the CBD (and thanks to the exchange rate, costing us much less than you'd expect.) Before getting out at our stop, I asked the shuttle driver, an Auckland resident since 1974, where he recommended we grab coffee in the morning - a crucial question, of course. His response? "Oh, I usually just swing by McCafe [the cafe version of McDonald's]. Their coffee isn't too bad." Oh my. We were going to have to do some exploring.

On Thursday, we grabbed coffee and breakfast at a corner cafe called Ronnie's (on Albert Street, haha), where dining options included meat pies, bacon-and-egg croissants, sandwiches, various other egg dishes, and a Down Under specialty: spaghetti on toast. Paddy couldn't believe I'd never seen that before.

With no real plans for the day, we set off to wander around the CBD: shopping on Queen Street (think Union Square-type shopping, but with more Billabong and Rip Curl surf shops), cruising through Albert Park, checking out the University of Auckland (which is gorgeous), and walking along the harbour before stopping for drinks at Mac's Brewbar, where we made a fabulous discovery: New Zealand-brewed beer. Upon learning we were out-of-towners, the bartender walked us through each beer on tap, giving us tastes of any we were curious about. We finally settled on schooners of our two favorites: Sassy Red (an amber ale that, in a blind tasting, may be mistaken for Anchor Steam) and Isaac's Apple Cider (something I'm not usually a fan of, but it was delicious.) Settling into leather couches in the library-themed bar, we relaxed and discussed what we wanted to do in the week ahead. Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped for a late lunch at a hidden Korean restaurant called Red Pepper, where we doodled on the wall-length chalkboard alongside French and German messages.

We had planned to go out that night, but within five minutes of leaving the hotel, we were caught in a raging downpour, forcing us to spend the next hour in the Sky City casino (which boasts the tallet sky tower in the southern hemisphere) and blow four bucks on the slot machines. Oh well.

On Friday, we woke up early to pack our backpacks with water and snacks and catch the 7:30 a.m. ferry to Rangitoto Island, the largest of 50 volcanic islands off the coast of Auckland. The early ferry was much cheaper than the 9:15 a.m. one, so we figured that meant we could each enjoy an extra Sassy Red later. However, upon reaching the ticket desk at the dock, we were informed that the 7:30 ferry only runs on weekends. Crap. We shared a laugh at a group of backpackers who arrived just after us to receive the same response, then walked back to the hotel to chill out until the next ferry.

I wish I could say the island was worth all the trouble, but neither Paddy nor I were all that impressed with it. We decided early on to separate from the tourist groups and take the opposite path around the island, walked for 2.5 hours past endless piles of volcanic rock to MacKenzie Beach, where we took naps on the sand and splashed around in the warm Tasman Sea. Another 40-minute hike brought us to the summit of the island, and although the views were lovely, we realized we could have seen the same thing from the top of the Sky Tower - for about the same price. We rewarded ourselves for the long day of hiking with Starbucks frappucchinos.

For dinner, we took a bus to Ponsonby Street: a bustling line of bars, cafes and casual restaurants that had been highly recommended by Lonely Planet (then again, they had also upsold Rangitoto.) Ponsonby was a wonderful find, and we enjoyed our last night in the city at an ourdoor table at The Crib over wine and pizza.

[To see my Auckland photo album, click here]

Posted by Alykat 16:44 Archived in New Zealand Tagged auckland rangitoto_island ronnie's_cafe spaghetti_on_toast sky_city Comments (0)

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