Monday, 29 December 2014

The Great Ocean Road, Australia

After a couple of days exploring Melbourne [which you can read about here], it was time to embark on a two day tour of the Great Ocean Road. We were super excited about this and put a lot of research into finding a good company to book with. After looking at packages with different companies, we decided that Ride Tours looked like the best option, for what they offer and in terms of price. Our tour was also aimed at backpackers, so we thought we would be more likely to meet likeminded people on this tour. We also sent some enquiry e-mails to other companies, who sent very confusing replies and got various bits of info wrong. You can check out the Ride Tours website here.

We were the first in the group to be picked up, which was from near our guest house, bright and early at around 7am. After we had collected the other passengers from various hostels around Melbourne by the tour company owner, we finally picked up and were introduced to Jude, our tour guide for the next two days. Jude was very lovely and enthusiastic throughout the tour and loved to tell interesting stories along the way.

road sign

Ride Tours pride themselves on doing their Great Ocean Road tour 'backwards'. This means that instead of driving for around an hour to where most people regard the start of the GOR to be, they drive for over three hours to the 'end'. This means the tour arrives at the various photo stops along the way at a different time to most of the other tour companies, of which there are a huge number. We barely bumped into any other tour groups during the two-day tour, which meant we were able to enjoy all of the beautiful scenery with uninterrupted views and great photo opportunities.

We stopped for hot drinks and biscuits at a little picnic stop after a couple of hours and parked up next to this sign for a 'Powernap Area', which we found really entertaining! It sounds way more exciting than a plain old service station. Our first big stop was at the Tower Hill National Park, which is an extinct sunken volcano. We drove in and almost immediately saw some wild wallabies. After parking up, we were greeted by several Emus and after a short walk we were absolutely delighted to discover some incredibly cute Koala Bears chilling in trees. 

cheese and wine

We drove on to a local supermarket to buy lunch, before travelling a little further to Cheese World. Jude had booked us in for a cheese tasting session here and as cheese enthusiasts, we were pretty delighted about this! After this, in the early afternoon, it was finally time to see some of the outstanding natural coastal beauty. We stopped at several viewpoints along the Great Ocean Road, each of them incredibly beautiful. Jude told us interesting stories about each place along the way. Check out the photos below to see some of the places we visited. 

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Bay of Islands

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Bay of Martyrs 

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Bay of Martyrs

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London Bridge

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The Grotto

After stopping at several locations and walking along parts of the beach, it was time to check into our hostel in Port Campbell. We had a very tasty BBQ dinner which Jude cooked with the help of some of the people on our tour. The BBQ was included in the tour price. We had to eat pretty quickly, to jump back on the bus and drive to the 12 Apostles in time for sunset. The sunset was simply amazing and probably the single most beautiful natural thing I've ever seen. It was quite busy at the viewpoint, but there was still plenty of space to enjoy the views.

great ocean road sunset
Sunset at the 12 Apostles

The following morning we had a quick breakfast [also included in the tour price], before jumping back on the bus, ready to see lots more beautiful scenery. We returned to the 12 Apostles, where we enjoyed the views in daylight from several different viewpoints. We were given the opportunity here to go on a 10-minute helicopter ride, for what we thought was a very good price. Emily is terrified of flying, but has become a lot more calm after flying 23 times this year! Emily took a bit of convincing, but the promise of stunning views was enough to sway her decision. She said afterwards that the helicopter ride was way less scary and very relaxed, compared to flying in a plane. The views were unsurprisingly insanely awesome from the helicopter and the whole experience was very exciting!

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Our first helicopter ride

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View of the 12 Apostles from the helicopter 

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View of the 12 Apostles from the helicopter 

The rest of our second day on the tour involved stopping at lots more stunning viewpoints for photo opportunities. We also stopped in Apollo Bay for lunch, where we took a picnic to the beach and watched people surfing. This little town was very relaxed and pretty and I would have loved to have been able to stay here and enjoy it for a day or two, rather than the fleeting visit.

We told Jude that we wanted to see some more Koala Bears, so she added an extra stop onto the journey to be able to spot some. There was also a little shop to buy bird food at this stop [which Grace on our tour kindly did] so we could feed wild Parrots. The Parrots go mad for the food and at one point I had four parrots feeding from my hands and on my shoulder! A parrot did a poop on one of the other people on our tour and I was pretty relieved it wasn't me!

feeding parrots
Feeding Parrots

One of the last stops on the tour was at the Split Point Lighthouse, which is famous for it's feature role in the 90s children's TV programme 'Round the Twist'. Check out the video below - I loved this programme! Looking back on it now, it was so bad that it was good. The lighthouse is impressive in itself, even if you're not familiar with the programme. We spent ages taking various silly photos, one of which you can see below.

great ocean road lighthouse
Split Point aka 'Round the Twist' Lighthouse!

As we were heading somewhere to park up and have a hot drink and biscuit break before the final drive home, we were delighted to spot dozens of wild kangaroos hopping around in a field. They're huge and interesting creatures and one of the main things I associate with Australia!

We ended up getting back to our guest house three-hours later than planned, due to Jude making many unplanned stops along the way, to see lots of extra stuff. We didn't mind this at all, as we felt like we got far more than our moneys worth on the tour. We loved the two day tour and would highly recommend you check out Ride Tours if you want to visit the Great Ocean Road. Many companies offer a one-day tour, but I really don't think this would be enough time to properly appreciate the Great Ocean Road in all it's glory.

wild kangaroos
Wild kangaroos

great ocean road tour
Our Great Ocean Road tour group

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The end for us [but beginning for other tours] of the Great Ocean Road

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Melbourne in Australia

Emily and I arrived in Melbourne after a three hour flight from Christchurch. You can read about our three week adventure in New Zealand here

We boarded the Airport Shuttle bus, which took us into the city and then used the super user-friendly train system to find our way to the Claremont Guest House in South Yarra, which we had pre-booked. This was a good value and well located place to stay. The only downside was that there were three different large school groups staying there at the same time, so it was noisy and chaotic for our whole stay! Later in the week we discovered that by chance, our friends Kim and Stew used to live on the same road, and had stayed at the same guest house as us when they first arrived! We had a quiet evening on our first night and had some Thai food from a bargain little takeaway near our guest house. It was delicious and it was nice to eat some tasty Asian food after not indulging in any for what seemed like ages [just three weeks!]

We spent the next morning exploring the city. As ever, we used a Lonely Planet guide book to help us get our bearings. Melbourne is well known for it's food and we spotted so many great looking places that made us feel very hungry! We also found the library, where we later returned to use the computers free of charge - great travelling tip! In the guide book I'd spotted the Old Melbourne Gaol, where Ned Kelly was tried and hanged. I thought this would be really interesting and something a bit different, so we headed there later in the morning. The first part of the tour involves being processed like you are a criminal in the Watch Tower area of the prison. An actor in police uniform sternly [and entertainingly] reads you your rights and briefly locks you in a cell. There is time to view the cells, including the padded one, before you can take your mugshot, as you can see below! The second part of the prison is self-guided, with lots of interesting things to see and read. The Ned Kelly area is particularly interesting, if you like a bit of morbid history!
 melbourne gaol
Emily's mugshot!

After a tasty lunch in one of the many Laneways, we headed to the National Gallery of Victoria. Art galleries are usually an interesting [and free] way to spend an afternoon and we were particularly lucky that there was a David Shrigley exhibition on when we visited. The gallery was also hosting a John Paul Gautier exhibiton, but we gave it as miss, as the tickets weren't particularly cheap for that particular exhibition. 

If you're not familiar with David Shrigley, his style is rather humourous and generally a bit silly. Take his piece 'Woman Having A Poo' that you can see below, for example...

melbourne art gallery
David Shrigley's 'Woman Having A Poo'

Check out the video below for another particularly strange exhibit, which bought back great memories of using the ROMA at infant school! Back in the day we thought it was the coolest thing ever to be allowed to programme this small robot that would move across the floor. It seems so basic now, with such huge advancement in technology since I left school.

A video posted by Josh Kinnersley (@joshkinnersley) on

There was one huge room, where you could sit and do a life drawing. This model pees in the bucket every so often and creepily blinks too. Hundreds of life drawings by members of the public are displayed on the wall. We didn't stop and create our own art, but enjoyed looking at all the interesting ones other people had done! All very creative in different ways...

melbourne art gallery
David Shrigley's 'Life Drawing'

We boarded a tram from outside the art gallery and headed to St Kilda, a beach area recommended in our guide book. Our friend Bex had also told us that you can see Penguins on the Promenade at sunset in St Kilda, which we were keen to spot in the wild! We stopped for a popular photo outside the Luna Park funfair [which wasn't open and is super expensive to visit when it is!] before sitting on the beach and enjoying possibly the best ice cream of our lives! Now there's a bold statement. We walked down the Promenade, where we spotted some cute little Penguins hiding in the rocks. This area is a carefully protected area, which was originally built to create an area for an Olympic sailing contest. Flash photography is forbidden and sadly we didn't manage to get any decent photos of these cute animals.

st kilda beach
Beware of giant killer Penguins!

st kilda beach
Bitter Blood Orange ice cream

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Luna Park Fun Fair

The following day we were both feeling a bit under the weather and slowly wandering around the city, doing a bit of shopping. We visited the Ian Potter Centre, which is part of a huge arts complex in the city. The IPC is home to lots of interesting art, including a large collection of Australian indigenous art. We had another tasty lunch in the city's Laneways, before catching up on blogging and e-mails at the library. 

ian potter centre
Ian Potter Centre

Our friend Kim recommended we visit the Meatball and Wine Bar for dinner in the city. Apparently it's always super busy and we were lucky to get there at the right time and get a table outside when we arrived, without having to wait. There is a vegetarian option on the menu, but the waitress pointed out that it has anchovie paste in it, which is really annoying. Emily had what she said were delicious meaty sliders and I opted for some sides to create my own meat-free dinner. This was mash potato, with grilled mushroom and tomato sauce. My makeshift dinner was actually pretty tasty, but it was frustrating that their only vegetarian option on the menu wasn't actually vegetarian. 

We spent the next couple of days doing an incredible tour of the simply amazing Great Ocean Road, which is easily accessible from Melbourne. Check back soon, as I will be writing about this in the next couple of days - you can view my posts about Australia by clicking here. After this tour, we had one more morning in Melbourne before flying to Sydney. We found that two days exploring the city of Melbourne and two days on the Great Ocean Road was a perfect amount of time in this area. Any longer n Melbourne and I think we would have been bored, unless we had done more relatively expensive tourist activities, many of which are the kind you can do anywhere, rather than being location specific. 

There are lots of well kept parks in the suburbs of Melbourne, and we spent our final morning chilling out in one, watching some people play cricket. We then walked to the Shrine of Rememberance, which is a very poignant and well presented war memorial, located in the Botanic Gardens. 

Our next and final stop of our adventure was Sydney, which I'll post about this week. Thanks for reading!

lest we forget
'Lest We Forget'

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

New Zealand, week three

This is my third and final blog post about our brilliant three week visit to beautiful New Zealand. You can read about my first week here and my second week here.

First and foremost, check out this hugely awesome video our friends Alyssia and Jon made. It's all about their New Zealand adventure so far, and Emily and I make lots of cameo appearances in it. We had an incredible two and half weeks travelling around NZ with these guys and we can't wait to meet up with them again elsewhere in the world in the future! They're now living in Queenstown for the next few months, or maybe longer. Wishing them all the best for their exciting year ahead :)

Our New Zealand Adventure from moose goose on Vimeo.

After leaving Franz Joseph, we headed towards Wanaka on the Kiwi Experience bus. We'd been looking forward to visiting Wanaka for ages, partly because we heard it was a particularly beautiful part of the New Zealand and more so, as we were meeting up with our friends Harvey and Rachel. We met this lovely couple when we worked with them in Verbier earlier in the year. We stopped along the way to see the stunning reflection of Mount Cook on the Lake Matheson mirror lake along the way, and have breakfast with the mountains as a backdrop. You get really spoilt with incredible views in New Zealand, but these views were particularly incredible.

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Mount Cook

lake matheson mirror lake
Mount Cook reflection on Lake Matheson

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Thunder Creek Falls

We also stopped at the Thunder Creek Falls, which is a popular photo stop to try and get a good shot of doing exactly what I'm doing in the photo above!

Harvey was the Head Chef of the hotel we worked at, so we were delighted when he suggested we go for a BBQ at the lake! Alyssia and Jon came with us and we all enjoyed an amazing BBQ that Harvey and Rachel prepared for us. It's cool that there are gas BBQs and hot plates in picnic spots all over New Zealand. I guess they'd rather provide proper facilities than people build their own fires. Public toilets are also everywhere and and always pretty clean.

Having read my previous blog post about me liking to take fire station photos around the world, Harvey suggested we stop at the Wanaka Voluntary Fire Station on the way back from the lake. The fire stations in New Zealand all set off an alarm similar to an air raid siren when there is a fire, to let the voluntary fire crew know there is an emergency. We heard the alarm and saw the engines speed off three times in New Zealand, once in Wanaka when we could also see a big black plume of smoke not far away! 

new zealand fire station
Fire station selfie!

The following day, Emily and I skipped the Kiwi bus, to stay in Wanaka for the day with Harvey and Rachel. Rachel organised a kayaking trip for us on Lake Wanaka, which was a real bargain, especially as we didn't have a guide. The lake was very calm, which was a relief as apparently it's mostly very choppy with high winds making it tough to paddle on. The views were incredible with the mountains in the background and we paddled first to a small beach, then to tiny Ruby Island in the middle of the lake. Even this tiny remote island had a gas BBQ and a public loo!

After our three-hour kayaking adventure, we had lunch and ice cream in the town, before Harvey and Rachel drove us the approx one and a half hour journey to Queenstown, in their little camper van called Harrison.

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Emily and I Kayaking on Lake Wanaka

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Lake Wanaka kayaking selfie!

For the last week or so, we'd heard the word FERGBURGER numerous times. It seems that this little burger joint is synonymous with Queenstown, with a hugely popular reputation. We headed there as soon as we arrive in Queenstown with Harvey and Rachel, with Emily ordering the Chief Wiggum [pork belly, a hash brown and all sorts of other super unhealthy indulgence] and myself ordering a Bun Laden, a vegetarian falafel treat. Our first Ferburger experience didn't disappoint and it was worth the 40-minute wait for our order! People queue up outside this little place night and day to get their burger fix. It's remarkable how popular they are!


Our first Fergburger!

We went to Ferburger again... twice in four days!

We had booked a day trip to Milford Sound via Kiwi Experience for the following day. They say this place is unmissable during a visit to New Zealand, with a popular saying that missing it would be like going to Egypt and skipping the pyramids. We were picked up from Queenstown at 7am, before travelling for around three and a half hours to Milford Sound, via a short coffee stop in Te Anau. We boarded a fairly small ferry that took us on an hour and a half journey around Milford Sound, which is famous for it's spectacular views, waterfalls and wildlife. We saw lots of New Zealand Fur Seals snoozing on rocks which was pretty cool and the captain also drove the boat into the base of a huge waterfall, so that it sprayed over the boat, which was fun.

I have to say that I was a little disappointed with Milford Sound. It was a very long way each way from Queenstown and it wasn't a great as I hoped it would be. Don't get me wrong, it's still a beautiful place, but it's hugely hyped up and there are many views which are just as good, if not better, on the journeys we have done between places around the country. To be honest, I think we've just been a bit spoilt with the scenery all around the country, so it seemed like a bit of an anti-climax, after travelling so far to get there.

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Milford Sound boat trip with Emily, Alyssia and Jon

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Sleeping New Zealand Fur Seals

Whilst in Queenstown we tried to sample as many of the awesome food options as possible, including having dinner at The Cow, which was highly recommended to us by a couple of people. The pizzas were good and we loved the garlic loaf [!] but the service was lacking a bit. Cafe Vudu was great for brunch and the Red Rock pub was fun for drinks, pool and live music. We enjoyed chilling by the small beach next to the lake in the afternoon and met up with our friend Claire, who moved to Queenstown a few months ago.

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Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown

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Emily, Alyssia, Jon and myself met up with Claire [right] in Queenstown

We decided to check out the Skyline Gondola and Luge in Queenstown, which we thought would be a good laugh. The gondola was very similar to the main gondola in Verbier, which brought back great snowboarding memories! We then went up a smaller cable car to get to the top of the luge track. We had some basic and brief training from a member of staff and then did a lap on the training run. It was so much fun and way more awesome than we expected it to be! We did a further three runs, but each of these on the much steeper and windier main track. I'd highly recommend you check this out as we loved it! There is a clip of me laughing my head off after having a bit of a crash, in the video posted earlier in this blog post. We had a packed lunch whilst up there and enjoyed the amazing views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.

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Queenstown views from the Luging chair lift

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Chair lift selfie!

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Alyssia and Jon on the Luging chair lift

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Emily racing to the finish on the Luging track

On our last day in Queenstown, we had a lovely evening with Alyssia and Jon, who we were super sad to be leaving the following day, after becoming such great friends in NZ. After our second Fergburger of the week, we went to the Ice Bar, where we enjoyed cocktails in the sub-zero bar, where the walls and features are made entirely from ice, along with the glasses you drink from! Nearly three weeks on, now I am writing this blog post, Alyssia has just got a job at the Ice Bar, which is very cool [literally!] I've seen lots of pictures of friends at ice bars in various locations around the world and had always wanted to go to one. We challenged Jon to lick the ice to see if his tongue would stick to it and we found the photo below hilarious!

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Enjoying cocktails at the Ice Bar

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Jon licking the ice. "My precious..."

We went to Fat Badger after the Ice Bar, which is popular for big tasty pizzas and huge goblets of beer, for pretty cheap prices. I enjoyed this goblet of cider, which is the equivalent to three handles [about two thirds of a pint a handle]. It was nearly as big as my fat head!

fat badger

On Saturday morning it was time to say a sad goodbye [for now] to Alyssia and Jon and head towards Lake Tekapo, back on the Kiwi Experience bus. Kiwi Experience guarantee you a room at your destination for everyday you travel on the bus, but annoyingly for us, private rooms are often unavailable. When we arrived at the holiday park at Lake Tekapo, there were no double rooms available, so we were offered this retro caravan at a reduced rate for the night. It still had a load of the owners stuff in it and the whole experience was pretty hilarious!

new zealand caravan
Caravan of dreams

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Breaking Bad campervan at the holiday park

After a glamourous stay in the caravan of dreams, we drove a short distance to the Church of the Good Shepherd on the Kiwi bus in the morning. This is a very pretty old church, situated in front of Lake Tekapo and a great photo opportunity. We also went inside the church to see the view from the large window at the back of the church, which overlooks the pretty lake. 

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Church of the Good Shepherd 

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Lake Tekapo views, next to the Church of the Good Shepherd

After another few hours of driving, we arrived at Christchurch, our final destination on the Kiwi Experience tour. We said goodbye to Jared, our driver for the last few days, who had been friendly and fun. I couldn't resist taking the oh so hilarious photo below outside the YMCA, our hostel for our last night in New Zealand.

It's fun to stay at the...

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city. You probably know that Christchurch was hit by two very large earthquakes, and many thousands of aftershocks, nearly four years ago. Life in Christchurch is still a very long way from being back to normal. Many thousands of buildings and homes were badly damaged or completely destroyed by the earthquakes and the restoration process will take many more years yet. The damage is all too apparent when you see the Cathedral, which has become the centre of much debate over whether it should be flattened and rebuilt from scratch, or lovingly repaired to it's former glory. In another area of town, a temporary 'transitional' cathedral has been erected, with the main body of it made from cardboard tubes. It's a pretty impressive sight inside, but it looks like a fairly ordinary modern building from the outside.

christchurch cathedral
Badly damaged Christchurch Cathedral

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Christchurch Cardboard Cathedral 

We met up with my old friend Bex later in the evening, which was a lovely way to spend our last night in New Zealand. Bex has been living in Christchurch for a few years now and having not seen her for a long time, it was great to catch up. We went for a delicious Mexican meal and at newly opened restaurant and had drinks at Tequila Mockingbird, which was a really nice little bar.

christchurch friends
Dinner and drinks with Bex [right]

The following day we got a shuttle bus to the airport, ready to head to our penultimate destination on our epic trip: Melbourne, Australia. We were treated to some final spectacular views from the plane window, including the crystal clear waters of some lakes.

Emily and I had an absolutely incredible three weeks in New Zealand. We were impressed every day by the amazing scenery and did lots of awesome activities. We met some amazing people and met up with some old friends too. It's so nice to have made friends and keep in touch with old ones, who ae living all over the World. 

Thanks for reading! My next posts coming soon will be about the final leg of our adventure in Australia, including Melbourne, The Great Ocean Road and Sydney. I also need to rewind to our trip to Singapore, which I ran out of time to write about while away. 

plane window view
Spectacular final views of New Zealand from the plane