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Bondi to Coogee Walk – a not so lazy Sunday

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Sydney is a city possessed with trendy eateries. Forget the mantra ‘you are what you eat’, now you are where you eat. A side effect is that everyone seems to flock to the same place to dine. Rather than being deterred by a swelling crowd buzzing around a busy café, locals feel reassured. We walked past several perfectly good café’s on our way. No matter, this is just what they do in Sydney.

Fifteen minutes later, we fold ourselves into a small table and chair arrangement in a corner by the window. We have to acknowledge the table besides us as they are part of the dance to accommodate our party of three. The stool I park up on wobbles enthusiastically. Vying for attention from the busy staff, we place our order as they rush about trying to feed half the suburb at once. We give up a spare rickety stool to a grateful patron. My muesli and smoothie ensemble is good and it needs to be. My brother and husband gorge on brunch and we do not mess about. There are more people waiting and we have a mission before us.

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Down the road, Bondi Beach snakes around the coastline to Coogee. This popular expanse of shoreline seems to be like the café we just emerged from. Everyone in Sydney wants to be on this particular track. We take up position on the path in a throng that resembles ants rushing up and down clifftops. We really should have got up earlier but who does that on a Sunday morning?

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A fine mist hovers in the breeze, issuing the welcome scent of sea salt. The sun takes centre stage and we are ready with SPF 50+ and hats. A clear sheen cascades our foreheads. Remember to bring a water bottle. Boats intersperse the horizon and the Tasman Sea looms beyond. We navigate rocks as a trail eases over clifftops. There are dubious clusters of rocks with phallic resemblance that have caused a pile up. Cameras and selfie sticks have been drawn from backpacks. They are all bonkers if you ask me. Of all the scenery on either side of these bloody unfortunately shaped rocks, this is what will adorn the digital walls of Facebook for the next twelve seconds.

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A park opens up behind the trail and offers a rest spot which we gratefully accept. Back on the trail we curl around towards Clovelly. Another piece of prime real-estate is taken up by a quiet group of unassuming residents, Waverley Cemetery. Coogee is still away from our sights but it’s time to make a U-turn and head back to Bondi. We surprise ourselves with the distance covered, the changing scenery removes all inclination for complaint or fatigue. The afternoon is farewelled in style with a beverage and a snack at the local pub. Sydney does it again and the first place we try turns us away. By Sydney standards, I guess that would have been a really good one then.

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Airport Lounging

I’m in a massage parlor of sorts but there’s not even a lude curtain in sight. Instead, there’s a lookout to terminal six where planes line up, load up and ship out in a constant stream of activity. An elderly gentleman has been sitting at the end of the row of seats and he has no qualms about freeloading. The departures board at Auckland International Airport is whirring with boarding instructions. Our flight lounge hasn’t even been announced yet. Time is in abundance, I need to kill some. A soothing visit to the Massage Cafe will limber our muscles before flying, I consider. My husband and I make a beeline for two souped up lazy boys.  The electronic screen next to the coin slot orders me to relax in an authoritative digital scrawl. I obediently lean back, open my book and wait.

Airport initiation

Airport initiation

The large black leather chair tilts back and swallows me whole. Plastic shackles clasp my ankles and proceed to squeeze the air out of my previously circulating legs. Large fists punch through my back, pummeling from side to side. A machine is battering my body and charging me one dollar for three minutes worth. I am likely to pay double for it to stop half way, but that is not an option. At the end a muffled robotic voice asks me to pay money or exit the chair. “You didn’t ask the elderly man to move, did you?” I enquire. A man in a black shirt with a badge emerges from a door. He applies a damp cloth with disinfectant to clean the comfy looking chairs. The mooching elderly gentleman is suddenly nowhere to be seen. This experience has taught me that man is superior to machine, when it comes to massages anyway. No more coins enter the slot. I return to the less plush seating for a comfortable wait.

Phillip Island Grand Prix

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Tranquil bushwalk

I look over my helmet visor to find yawning blue coastal surrounds. Behind me is a cluster of native gum trees. Contented cows graze in the paddock beyond. This idyllic island setting is well suited to tranquil tourism. That’s not why we came. There is a lingering smell of petrol and a chorus of 9Hp Honda GX 270 engines punctuating the silence. Ah, that’s more like it.

Meet a local

Meet a local

A swell of aspiring petrol heads congregates at the desk and we are ushered to a back room. I’m paired with my husband and a bunch of young male hooligans. Oh great. Safety first, the Nana in me was taking notes. I winced when discovering there are roll bars. My name is called towards the end of the group. I can’t help but think that it is a likely reflection of my impending performance. Last in and last out. I approach my kart with a teensy bit of apprehension. It’s red, which is good. Except all the karts are red, negating the speed advantage entirely.

It's race time

It’s race time

The supervisor tugs at the starter chord and the engine chokes into life. His colleague gives us a pep talk of champions. “Conditions are good and there aren’t any kids on the track. You should be able to get some good speed up. If you don’t then… you’re shit.” With those words of wisdom echoing in my ears, we weave the concrete curves that replicate the real Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit. Although I must confess that the real circuit is five times this size.

The name says it all

The 4.45 kilometre Philip Island Grand Prix Circuit is regularly featured on television hosting a multitude of international super car and bike races. It flaunts stretching views over the cliffs to Bass Strait. This Go Kart track leads a double life, however. When there is MotoGP or Super bike racing on the big circuit, the go kart circuit becomes a “Trackside Campground.” Fortunately for me today is not one of these days.

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The Circuit

After the first few corners, the frontrunners are whipping past me leaving testosterone fuelled vapours. To be fair, we did get started at different times. Supervisors insisted that we are racing ourselves, not the others on the track. I level the accelerator and gulp down the fresh air rushing through my helmet. Images of my youth flash past. I take a glance at the exquisite view then drop the accelerator and “flatten” the corner before switching back into acceleration. This is fun.

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Red Racer

Results are in and it dawns on me as to why my photo was snapped at the beginning. There I am in dead last. A printout is produced for my statistical analysis. I don’t need any further evidence. I have become a fully-fledged Nana. And I’m very proud of it.

Go Kart sessions on the Circuit are for 10 minutes and family cars for driving children are available. For more information, click here.

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History in the making

Results are in - eek!

Results are in

Take Me to Niagara Falls

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Dave, the ebullient bus driver stood at the Niagra Falls bus terminal at the start of his shift. With a dapper haircut, a starched navy blue uniform and an enormous smile, this job suits him to a tee. A local mechanic stopped by for an old fashioned chinwag. The workshop in this small, remote town grew quite lively this morning. A gargantuan rodent was discovered in the lunchroom. In the ensuing commotion, a mechanic stepped backwards. Crunch. “How did the rat meet its demise?” Dave asked. “His boot was enough to finish the job.” The mechanic explained succinctly. Immediately I went on alert for oversized rodents.

The bus ride was as short as the town is small. Perhaps we should have walked. “Alright folks, we’ve got two people on board that came all the way from New Zealand so please make them feel welcome.” Dave announced. Luckily there were only about five people onboard. “Are you here long?” a local passenger initiated a bus wide conversation. What a friendly wee town it is. Minutes down the main road, we rounded a corner and Dave motioned for us to hop out. “Clifton Hill” he announced.

Niagra Falls sits quietly at the bottom of the gradual hill filled to bursting with attractions that appear to be borrowed from a theme park. Bright colours, loud noises and soft edges line the street as far as the eye can see. I wondered if were in the right place. I also wondered what one would do if they felt a bit queasy walking down this street carnival. Luckily I was fine, despite travelling on a train, two busses and finally by foot. I looked up from the clowns to see a large body of water hurtling over the American border and into the emerald green river below. You couldn’t get a more opposing scene. It is evident that on the other side, the Americans have made their own mistakes. They erected a large concrete road to nowhere alongside their falls. They have also placed a bright red zig-zag walkway towards the river’s edge.

The Canadian Falls, located further down the road are actually larger. This is probably the one time another country can claim to be bigger than the supersize Yanks. The wall of water cascades into a horse shoe mist and vastly increases the sale of yellow plastic ponchos from the gift shop. Snow capped the border of trees around the rim of the Canadian Falls and slippery ice blanketed all surfaces. I didn’t realise what an intrepid adventure this would be, battling the elements to secure a few digital memories.

The journey became more perilous as darkness rolled in and it dawned on us that we’d lost track of time. Oh dear. My mind flashed to the rat story from earlier. I didn’t fancy sticking around. Both our hands waved furiously for a taxi and we quickened the pace with a hint of panic. Christmas lights appeared against the evening sky reinforcing our tardiness. The low temperature was exacerbated and frost nipped menacingly at our extremities. A yellow cab emerged onto the road with a shining bright light on top. It slowed at the insistence of our flailing hands and we were saved.

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“I’ll take you to the connecting station for $135,” the taxi driver offered.

“No thanks,” came our reply, even before we realised we had already overpaid for the return tickets in our pockets. The small transit centre came into view and we clambered inside looking like we desperately needed to use the bathroom. We were merely attempting to regain feeling in our fingers and toes. It was a balmy minus six degrees out. “When is the next Go Bus?” I enquired. “It left five minutes ago” the woman in the ticket booth replied. “Rats” my husband was dejected. “Eeek. Where?”

Oz Whale Watching

Sydney, New South Whales

WhaleRippling turquoise currents ebb beneath the moving vessel. The motor stops and we bob about on the Tasman Sea. They’re here. People begin lightly tapping the rail of the boat, peaking curiosity. Within minutes, a large body bursts into the salty air creating a pop-up fountain.

I am metres away from two Humpback Whales, who are in cruise control on the open ocean. The Humpbacks are migrating 4,000 nautical miles from the Southern Ocean to the Coral Sea. My aeroplane journey was closer to 400 miles. I feel comparatively lazy.

20150829_140054On board Oz Whale Watching’s Jerry Bailey boat is Sean the Skipper, Biggles our “Whale Tragic” Guide, Alex the Chef and Ryan. The crew set sail and I soak up the Sydney Harbour view. Biggles warns “we only go back for hats and sunglasses with heads still attached to them.” Fair enough. Chef Alex indulges us in a Barbeque Buffet lunch. I peek through the window as he washes dishes. Alex has an enviable view from the ship galley. The city skyline dissolves behind us while spring colours burst brightly against the sun and sea.

Lunchtime

My Brother and I are lazily reclining on the lower deck. A spray of salty water sploshes over the side and wets our feet. That got our attention. This must be why the crew advised to bring a raincoat. Waves grow larger as we leave the harbour, “welcome to the Tasman Sea” Biggles says. To find the Whales, the crew rely on combined years of experience and advanced optics technology: “two eyeballs.” Signs are promising, with four other Whale Watching boats nearby.

There is camaraderie amongst the competition, on the sea at least. Operators are passionate about sharing the Whale experience with passengers and help each other. We approach the mighty creatures from the side of the boat. My eyes clock a collection of bubbles on the surface. A vast inky silhouette flashes into viewpoint and disappears just as quickly. Was that my imagination?

Whale 3 Whale 2

We are in the company of two juveniles stretching 10 metres long and weighing 10 tonnes each. Who is watching who? I wonder. I am captive on the luxurious boat while our young Humpback friends glide alongside fascinated. They are familiar with regular operators. “They know the boat and we follow the rules,” Biggles confirms. A word of advice, take a seasick tablet. Sunny on-shore conditions did not hint of what was to come once we reach three miles out at sea. Today is a touch rougher than normal. “How do you get sea legs like that Ryan?” I ask, as I attempt to traverse the vessel in an awkward dance between chairs. “Like what?” he laughs. Fortunately, Whales get more airborne in choppier conditions, today is no exception.

Biggles Csolander

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Humpback Whales feed on Krill and fish before fasting for the journey north. As Biggles says, they are migrating on one “blubber-load.” The Whales hitch a ride on ocean currents ensuring they expend the least energy possible. Winter and spring is when Humpbacks give birth and mate while in warmer waters. Biggles calls this their “carousing grounds” with a chuckle.

The Australian Government banned whaling in 1979, enabling the Whale Watching tourist industry to flourish. Humpback Whales are experiencing healthy population growth of 10.9% per year. Oz Whale Watching and Volunteers like Biggles contribute data to National Parks and Wildlife and CSIRO which estimates population growth and size as well as reporting and tracking entanglements.

Returning to Sydney Harbour, Biggles points out Kiribilli House where Australian’ Prime Minister Tony Abbott lives (Not for much longer, thanks to Malcolm Turnbull). Next door, Admiralty House is host to visiting heads of state and dignitaries. The vice regal flag is up, telling us that Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove is home. “We had a young Pommy regal couple Kate and Bill and their young son George visit last year. There might have been some carousing there because I hear there is another young one, Charlotte now.”

The writer travelled as a guest of Oz Whale Watching. For more information on Oz Whale Watching click here.

Three Sisters and a Cheeky Brother

“What the hell are you doing? Are you ill?” I ask my brother who is in the middle of pulling a face. He seems unimpressed to say the least.

“I’m imagining my three sisters.”

“Oh”

He doesn’t have to imagine much, I’m standing right next to him and the other two are just a multimedia message away. New South Whales’ hazy Blue Mountains have a collection of three dilapidated rock formations that resemble a preschooler’s clay sculpture. This trio of rocks is more commonly referred to as ‘The Three Sisters.’ Aboriginal Legend explains that the three sisters are named Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo and they were unfortunately turned to stone.

The real Three Sisters' in the Blue Mountains, New South Whales

The real Three Sisters’ in the Blue Mountains, New South Whales

The landscape surrounding us is like a basin where Mother Nature has turned a tap and a blue tinted fog has gushed out. It sits between the green canopy and the clouded sky in a blurry illusion. The technical explanation for the blue appearance is that fine drops of eucalyptus oil vapors are released and dispersed from the trees into the surrounding air.

See that famous blue mist from the Eucalyptus Oil

See that famous blue mist from the Eucalyptus Oil

Tourists bustle along every inch of the guard rail like ants on the valley’s edge. I shut it out and stare across the abyss below, the landscape invokes a sense of calm in me. I was here as a scraggly teen almost twenty years ago with my two sisters and the rest of the family. I was the first in line to lurch off a cliff via scenic railway, which is much more daring than the name suggests. With a fifty two degree incline, it had us literally holding onto our seats. Today I’m content to pause and smell the Eucalyptus on the bush walk to Echo Point Lookout.

These people were here once

These people were here once

The Blue Mountains are an easy train ride from Sydney’s city centre. We knew we were getting closer when the view from the train window changed from suburbia to bush and the tracks began a slow incline into the mountains. Lunch was a non-event in the sense that it was ordered but never arrived. Perhaps the staff wanted to teach us touristy, city slicking hipsters some patience and show us how things work around here.

Up close with nature

Up close with nature

On one side of the main street there is a snazzy Double Decker bus that charges a small fortune. You can cross the road for the no-frills local bus that meanders down the road, around a few corners then arrives at the desired location for a few dollars. You could also walk, which is precisely what we did on the return journey to town. The hills are great for toning legs and burning calories too.

After returning to the city I skim past Facebook only to find my face mounted atop the tallest of the three sisters alongside to my two siblings. Next to us is my brother, pointing in our direction with that same begrudging look.

Tiki Tours Back Home

There’s something about my homeland that is unparalleled. Perhaps it’s that it is the first country to glimpse the sunrise each day. Perhaps it is the remoteness from the rest of the world. Perhaps it’s the abundant landscape in glossy brochures. Nope, that’s not it. New Zealand holds memories, familiarity and a sense of belonging for me. The New Zealand government has recently launched a campaign called The New Zealand Story aimed at businesses to show just how great our wee little country really is. Despite the business purpose, it gives a peek at our national pride. It makes us forget fierce regional rugby divides and come together as one people.

I experienced this feeling on my last trip back home. Our 777 aircraft passed through a very long white cloud. The grey metal beast emerged from the sky, flying over a green checkerboard that is surrounded by immaculate beaches. We touched down on home soil and the feeling grew stronger. Our friendly bus driver checked if we had any mates missing before we departed for home. There was a child on board but surprisingly no screaming. There were snorers in the seat in front catching zzz’s. Fantastic views of middle earth were just beyond my grasp. Spring lambs bounded about in dewy paddocks that sat pronounced against a baby blue sky with stretches of clouds drifting above. We passed Mount Taupiri where the legend Billy T James is buried. All that was missing from the experience was a mince pie from the corner dairy, and you can get one when the bus stops. This is home. This is what it is all about.

I know the country intimately, from the Coromandel beaches to the mighty peaks of the Southern Alps. I know the people will be laid back, practical and friendly everywhere you go. We say hello in lifts, we live customer service, we are proud to be a part of such a great country. We invented some great things, bungy jumps, jetpacks and pineapple lumps. When travelling overseas, people ask where you are from and I proudly reply: New Zealand. It doesn’t matter that they do not know where it is, that we are some remote pairing of two little islands and lots of tiny ones that have been cobbled together, that it takes at least three hours by plane to the closest neighbor, Australia. It doesn’t matter that we are the youngest country on earth and we don’t have rich history dating back thousands of years.

We embrace the history we do have, we unite as one group of people, we fight for what we believe in and hold our politicians to account (Rainbow Warrior protests, involvement in international peacekeeping, first women to get the vote). Kiwis love to travel. Politicians trivialise the exploitative nature we possess and label it the ‘brain drain’ but sometimes you have to leave in order to appreciate your own back yard. When we return from our Kiwi OE, we all say the same thing every time: there’s no place like home. And there really isn’t. Not by a long shot.

Go the Kiwi’s Black Caps for the win today, kia kaha!

Fijian Flight of Fancy

I’m sitting on a wooden bench seat next to my travel partner, staring out over several shades of blue, as it glistens under the afternoon sun in the nearby lagoon. Palm trees loaded with coconuts border the white-sand beach. Pristine gardens are filled with the tropic’s best: my favourite frangipani, vibrant hibiscus and expertly manicured hedges which separate bures from the beach.

Beautiful tropical hibiscus

Beautiful tropical hibiscus

I guess you could call this the airport lounge, Fiji style. Small does not begin to describe the plane that rolled down the tarmac to greet us. It could probably fit into a car parking space. There are a total of six seats inside and one has my name on it.

“Bula” the friendly pilot and co-pilot welcome us into their vehicle with wings.

“Bula” we reply with a more authentic accent than the first time we spoke the word upon arriving on Malolo Island. There’s not much aisle room in this thing. I certainly don’t see any food and drink trolleys fitting down that. It’s for the best as I probably would have spilt it anyway.

There is a total of three passengers on board for the flight to Nadi. I’m up front with the cockpit in full view. It doesn’t seem to worry the pilots though, they’re much more accustomed to this setup. We are each issued with headsets, they’re not for watching movies though. They serve a more practical purpose of drowning out the noise and rattling equipment. The plane lines up on the runway and the pilot hits the pedal. We’re off.

Ready for takeoff

Ready for takeoff

An aerial view lends a new perspective to the paradise we’ve lived for the past week. There are golf carts transporting visitors down below, people congregating at the restaurant and swimmers splashing about in the pool. Soon they’re all tiny ants and we’re looking down on the lagoon with hues of blue and green that could fill a paint shop twice over. Neighbouring islands jump into view and disappear just as quickly.

The mainland creeps into view just as I’ve started to loosen the grip of my fingernails on the vinyl seats. I clench my body in anticipation of the landing but I needn’t fret, it’s a clear day and we’ve had smooth sailing. Departing the aircraft is the quickest I’ve ever experienced, one of the perks of a six seater plane I guess, no queues. Departing an island holiday on a small plane does seem a bit like the lives of the rich and famous. They might just be onto something.

The Facts: We stayed in Plantation Island Resort, on Malolo Islands in Fiji in 2008 and flew back to Nadi on the mainland via small plane. For more information, click here.

Love Locks

“I wrote a letter to my love and on the way I dropped it, someone must have picked it up and put it in their pocket, it wasn’t you, it wasn’t me, it wasn’t Father Christmas, look behind your back!”

He loves me... He loves me not...

He loves me… He loves me not…

That chant was repeated over and over in my primary school days, it was even endorsed by the teacher as a legitimate form of exercise and a way to distract unruly children for an hour. Love and romance are hardly a novelty, but it is quite fascinating how we come up with funny little ways to symbolise it. The little song from my childhood is a perfect example. Another fond memory is where you pick each petal off a daisy and chant “he loves me” then “he loves me not” and the number of flowers supposedly seals your romantic fate.

Southbank Bridge evening view

Southbank Bridge evening view

When eating an apple with the stalk still attached, you can also superstitiously conjure romance. Simply twist the stalk in time with reciting the alphabet, when it breaks, that is what your future love’s name begins with. Gosh, I didn’t realise how love-obsessed I was as a child.

A new phenomenon sweeping Melbourne and around the world is what I overheard a young child describe as ‘Love Locks.’ On the Southbank Bridge, lovers gaze out over the Yarra River and toss the keys to their lock overboard after securing it on the wire railing. The ritual symbolises unbreakable love. The scene has been captured many a time in tourist and wedding albums alike. Maybe it’s time to add it to the itinerary, fellow travellers.

Love locks on Southbank Bridge, Melbourne

Love locks on Southbank Bridge, Melbourne

Like many trends, the concept dates back to over 100 years ago in Serbia during World War I with a ‘Most Ljubaci’ or Bridge of Love. It is rumoured to have started in France but that is likely to be the revival. Either way, locksmiths are rubbing their hands together. They probably haven’t seen an opportunity like this since we started engraving our Pet’s details on their collars.

Oh, the romance!

Oh, the romance!

Yesterday a woman passing the love locks told her friend of a bridge collapsing in France under additional strain from the volume of padlocks. Google confirmed her tale to be true. If you visit the Southbank Bridge and look closely then you’ll see my name amongst them. After a childhood filled with romantic daydreams, I’m hardly about to stop participating in romantic traditions now, am I?

Planning a Trip?

Negotiations in my house this week would rival those of two countries on the verge of war. The husband wasn’t the biggest hurdle either.  He went weak at the knees with promise of one of the “best winter destinations in the world.” It was an easy sell. The difficult negotiation was the debate inside my head. Should we or shouldn’t we? Bugger it, we should.  I steeled my nerves and watched the bank balance droop as I clicked the mouse in acceptance. That was it, we’re going to Canada.

Time to get the passport out

Time to get the passport out

I entered into a state of euphoria as I realised that this time in six months and one week, I would be on holiday. Actually, I’ll probably be folded into economy reading and watching everything I can get my hands on, nevertheless, I’ll be on my way.

Enough about me.  When you next face the similar tribulations of whether to lock in a vacation, you must visit Planapple. As the aptly exotic title hints, this site is the answer to your travel planning dreams. It removes the hard work from planning.

Here’s what Planapple can do for you:

  • Surf the web to find interesting ideas on sites you like.
  • Save those pages to your trip on Planapple with the bookmarking tool.
  • Talk about stuff with trip mates back on Planapple via comments in the discussion section.
  • Organize things into lists, make decisions, and perhaps build an itinerary.
  • Go on your trip and access the stuff you saved on Planapple from the mobile app.

Now all you need is a trip idea. Happy Planappling!

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