Victoria, BC

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Mike and I exited Vancouver rather glamorously via a HeliJet from Canada Place to Victoria. This was way cooler, more convenient and cheaper (last minute deal of around $85 each) than the ferry. Seeing Downtown Vancouver, Stanley Park and Lions Gate Bridge from the air was an added bonus.


Photo Mike's
There wasn't much accommodation left when we booked Victoria Regent Waterfront Hotel and Suites. We were upgraded to an Executive Suite - two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and massive living area with an amazing view of Victoria. Breakfast was included (Continental). The suite included numerous beauty products, a spa bath, fireplace and balcony.

Victoria Regent Hotel, Source: expedia.ca
Our 90 minute ride with Victoria Hippo Tours on Happy Hippo (a school bus converted into something part bus, part boat) was informative and fun. We learnt the history of Victoria, saw the Government Buildings, Museum and Empire Hotel from both the street and the water. We also passed Chinatown, the Children's Zoo, Beacon Hill Park, and saw a lighthouse.

The Empire Hotel

Government Building
On our walk back to the hotel along the busy waterfront we stopped at The Docks for dinner, scoring 15% off with our tour ticket.

Victoria is cute and very English - I wish I'd had time to have High Tea at the Empress Hotel, but we could only stay one night so after breakfast the next morning we checked out and headed for the Victoria Clipper Terminal for our ferry to Seattle.

Waiheke Island

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Easily accessible via a short 40 minute taxi ride from downtown Auckland, Waiheke Island has a micro-climate and relaxed feel. Getting around is easy with the option of taking a car ferry, or hiring a scooter or car over there.

Expect to pay around $60 to cross the island (8km) from the Ferry Terminal to the beach via taxi, but for only $9 you can get an all day bus pass which is much better value. Then, if you were to only get off the bus at one stop and wanted to visit as many wineries as possible, Onetangi Road clusters Te MotuStonyridge (for views and great cheese platters), and Wild on Waiheke together.


If you are looking for somewhere to stay, Onetangi Courtyard Apartments are spacious and sunny apartments with washing facilities, full kitchens and access to shared amenities including a spa pool. They are not just near the beach but also Charlie Farley's and 4th Avenue which are easy brunch/ lunch solutions.


For a special meal, Casita Miro, is in Metro's top 50 in Auckland in 2014. Our host prompted us to try Sherry, Green Olives and Roasted Almonds, all of which were lovely. The fish and octopus were highlights.


                   

Cable Bay is a final must-visit. The views from the lawn of Auckland City on a clear day are amazing.

Vancouver

Thursday, 21 August 2014

When Laura and Caitlin moved to Vancouver I promised to visit as soon as I could.

Science World at night
Mike (and his broken hand) came with me and we were stoked our requested upgrades (one allowed per year as Air New Zealand Silver Airpoints members) to Premium Economy came through. Our Space Seats were awesome.


Do

For familiarisation we took a hop-on hop-off bus tour with Vancouver Trolley Company. The first time we hopped off was at The Stanley Park Teahouse for lunch.

The bus pass also gave us a one way pass on a small ferry to Granville Island to see Vancouver from the water and peruse the markets. 

We had a window shopping wander down Robson Street and then Laura took us along the waterfront from Canada Place and into Stanley Park for sea and mountain vistas. We passed Seaplanes, the grassy Convention Centre, houseboats, and the Light Shed artwork and totem poles.




A group of us Kiwi's saw the Vancouver Canadians (canadiansbaseball.com) at Nat Bailey stadium. They lost, and it was not a high scoring game, but it was really fun.




Stay

I booked Riviera Hotel on Expedia, which is amongst a bunch of dated highrise hotels before the Korean end of Robson Street. Our first floor room was not cheap averaging $330 per night and it looked out over a carpark.

Key Learning - pictures on Expedia are not necessarily to be believed as they are obviously promoting the hotel in best posible light. When our three nights were up we moved to The Sheraton at Vancouver Wall Centre for the next three - an upgrade of two stars for very little extra money.

Food

Laura and Caitlin took us to Cactus Club Vancouver Coal Harbour offered yummy burgers and Calamari as well as a Watermelon Margarita on special.



Craft Beer Market was another recommendation by our hosts. It has over 100 beers on tap. I had the locals tasting float which changes weekly, as does their International alternative.


Tim Hortons (which I wanted to visit thanks to How I Met Your Mother), Johnnie Foxes Irish Snug, The Winking Judge and Breka were all rated highly on TripAdvisor and proved their worth.

North Vancouver

Free shuttles run regularly from the city to Grouse Mountain and Capilano Suspention Bridge Park and Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver both of which I recommend visiting.

Photobombed on Capilano Suspension Bridge

The Grouse Grind - 2083 steps, 2.9km climb up Grouse Mountain took me 1 hr 22 minutes and was much harder than I anticipated.

Halfway
At the top we saw bears, a bald eagle and a (really cheesy) lumberjack show and recovered with peach cider  and a salmon burger. It was cloudy so the promised view of Vancouver was absent.



After 5 days in Vancouver Mike and I were ready to move on and see more of Canada. Stay tuned!



You don’t have to quit your job to travel

Friday, 8 August 2014

I follow a number of travel blogs and sites where the authors were able to quit their jobs and travel full time. I get a major case of FOMO reading these but in reality it’s not something I can do right now.


Reasons why you may not be able to quit your job and travel
  • You might have a really great job, a job you’re loving or equally a partner with an amazing job unable to be quit
  • Being around family might be a priority right now
  • Grown-up responsibilities such as a mortgage or children could keep you in one place

A few of my reasons

I’m finally at a place in my career where I can afford to travel overseas and not limit myself to a strict budget when doing so, allowing for a bit of luxury.

While many of my friends are living overseas most of them are working worse jobs than they’d have at home and are earning much less as they bounce around the globe. It’s great to have the freedom to be able to earn a decent salary, visit them and not burden myself with debt. It also gives me a ‘best of both worlds’ situation where I have travelled fairly extensively without ever working overseas or experiencing a dreary overseas winter and homesickness.

I can also live in the same country to those most important to me.

How I travel around my employment

I live in isolated New Zealand where the closest international destination is a three hour flight away. I get four weeks annual leave per year plus 10 Public Holiday days. Tagging a couple of days leave onto a long weekend gives you more time off for less leave.

Last year I went into negative leave (-135 hours) as my employer wouldn’t allow me to take unpaid leave for a trip to Spain and Greece I’d booked months before I started working there. It took 7 months to work my way back to a positive leave balance and I’d never do it again. If you can afford to and your work will let you take unpaid leave to travel for longer periods than you might otherwise be able.

I currently save 15% of my take home pay in a short-term savings account which is mostly spent on travel. Recently I was made redundant and was lucky enough to not only get a new job quickly but to negotiate my start date and travel for a month between jobs.

This situation has allowed for my recent trip to Sydney and upcoming trip to Canada, making the most of the end of the Northern Hemisphere Summer. Then I will be working and saving until Christmas and summer in New Zealand.

Sydney

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

My three trips to Sydney have been very different. Staying with family on my first trip when I was 18 and went to see The Lion King, camping on a friend's parents apartment floor when five girls headed over for a 21st, and finally being able to afford to stay in my own hotel room when I went recently.

Isha met me on the Airport Train Station Platform bright and early on Sunday morning and we took a quick mission to Parramatta to get me checked into the Holiday Inn. Having stayed at Holiday Inns in New York and Athens I know they're a sure bet. An added bonus is that being an IHG member means I get discounts, free wifi, late checkouts and the occasional upgrade!

Back in town we walked from Central Station, through China Town, up George Street and all the way to Circular Quay to take in the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. It was a beautiful day and there were people everywhere.








The next day, with a 'Skinny Flat White' from Workshop Espresso on George Street in hand I browsed in my favs Topshop and Myer before meeting a friend for lunch. Kevin took me to Home Thai - it had a queue, quick service, good food and legit looking ladyboys.


Before he headed back to work we got Macaroons from Zumbo Queen Victoria Building. Apparently the Cronuts are amazing but were not stocked at this outlet. There's an episode of Masterchef Australia featuring a Macroon Tower which I will have to refer to in order to grasp the relevance of Zumbos.

                  


On Tuesday Isha and I got the ferry to Taronga Zoo and between walking and taking the bus and Skyline gondola effectively saw pretty much everything. I'm not generally a fan of Zoos but the views of Sydney from Taronga are amazing and there were numerous animals I'd not seen anywhere else previously.





                        

On my final day I had brunch at Circa Espresso Parramatta. Set in a garage with Amy Winehouse playing they produced good looking, but weak and milky coffee. I should have checked they served double shots.
I ordered Hierloom Tomatoes on an avocado, feta, ricotta and pea mash with a poached egg and pesto on Sourdough. An unusual combination but it worked.


                  




After a final shopping mission in Parramatta Westfield I had to get the train to the airport and head home. By now I was a Sydney Trains Expert.

I love Sydney and it produced warm winter days last week similar to Wellington's summer. On previous visits I've taken the ferry to Manly and hit Bondi, the Fish Markets and Kings Cross. I've also been lucky enough to eat at Waterfront and Longrain, both amazing restaurants, as well as Peace Harmony which served up some impressive fake meat.

I still feel there is a lot more I could do there.

Food Porn - Top Auckland Restaurants

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

A recent hobby is frequenting the Auckland restaurants which appear on the Top 50 lists published by Metro and Cuisine Magazine. Here are the first few which have impressed me.

The Sugar Club

5.30 makes for an early for dinner but enabled us to watch night fall up the Skytower. 

The menu at The Sugar Club is based on small plates designed for sharing. All the dishes we ordered were amazing but the Inari Pocket Tempura, Fish and Watermelon Salad were the stand outs. The staff were hugely attentive and extra amuse-bouches kept appearing between courses. The Sugar Club's location high up the Skytower makes it a lovely spot for a celebration.



Euro

We waited 20 minutes at the bar for a table when our party of two arrived without a booking on a Sunday evening at Simon Gault’s Auckland haunt Euro. Kim Dotcom and his newly formed Harem soon set up camp two tables away.

Euro is the type of venue where bubbles seemed the only appropriate drink option but I found it very difficult to order food given the number of yummy choices on the menu. All the mains were priced much the same and the staff were happy to help - even the most difficult question I could think of was answered immediately in a way I understood.

Euro (Click for image souce)
We ordered Breads as a starter. I then had the Prawn and Asparagus Farotto (like a risotto of different grains). The veges of the day were Zucchini and Eggplant which was a welcome variety from the standard Broccoli, Carrots and Cauliflower you're most likely to be served elsewhere, and I loved the Shoestring Fries with Parmesan and Truffle.

I thought Euro was quite reasonably priced at $150 for two mains, two sides and four drinks. My only disappointment was that I was too full for desert.

Baduzzi




The Potato and Saffron Gnocci with Goats Curd, Burnt Butter and Confit Figs was a small plate but it was delicious and about right for lunch. I haven't been able to stomach supermarket gnocci (plain and rubbish) since.

The Tiramisu with Baileys and Amaretto Lady Finders and Chocolate Cream was an amazing, well put together desert. I am glad I shared and didn't attempt to eat a whole one by myself.

Federal Delicatessen

The bar alongside the kitchen makes Federal Delicatessen is perfect for the solo diner not wanting to sit alone at a table.

Al Brown himself was serving on when I visited on a Thursday night in May and he took the time to chat to me about what I’d ordered. He also sparked up a conversation between myself and my neighbour, another solo female business traveller which I think we both appreciated.

I ordered the Salmon Latkes without entirely knowing what I was ordering but it was amazing and I don't think you can go wrong here. Unfortunately my phone was too flat for my camera to open so I have no pictures.

For desert I ordered the Banana and Toffee Pie with Caramel Popcorn at the suggestion of the waiter. On a previous visit the bf and I had ordered the Chocolate Cherry Pie with Pretzel Crunch. When it came out it was apparently slightly undersized so we were bought an additional piece at no cost.

The Fed also a great spot for brunch with bottomless coffee and blueberry hotcakes.

A South Island Ski Trip

Monday, 7 July 2014

Dunedin

I flew into Dunedin on a Wednesday night to meet Mike who'd been there for a conference at the Scenic Hotel Southern Cross - an old hotel nicely done up to modern standards.

The next day we had  Banana Bread, Eggs Benedict and Porridge along with sparkling water and soda served in a Jam Jar for breakfast at Nova in The Octagon before driving by Mike's old flats and then up Baldwin Street, aka The World’s Steepest Street.




We were down south intending on going skiing but the snow was late and the ski report wasn't looking promising. From Dunedin we headed south along State Highway 1, through towns such as Gore and Invercargill to Bluff rather than directly to Wanaka.

Bluff

Bluff features on my 30 Before 30 list – ‘See where my Grandfather grew up’. As well as the tourist spots such as the Lighthouse, Lookout and Signpost we drove along Bill’s old street. Finally we had wine and Oysters at the Anchorage Wine Bar.

                  

With the closure of the industries such as the Flaxworks down there I’m sure Bluff is not the place it was in my Grandfather’s day, but it was a brilliant Winter day and there was still much more to it than I had anticipated.

Wanaka

We stayed at Edgewater Resort in Wanaka for three nights on the shore of Lake Wanaka. Our unit was bigger than both our two apartments put together and was as close to the Spa Pools and Sauna as we could get.

Lake Wanaka
We found some great spots in Wanaka thanks to TripAdvisor - Ritual Espresso and Kai Whakapai for brunch, and Francesca's Pizza Restaurant delivered one of the best pizza's I've had outside of Italy with a delivery cost of only $5.

Brunch - top and right at Ritual Espresso, bottom photos Kai Whakapai

We saw the very sad movie The Fault in Our Stars at Rubys Cinema - a cute 1920's style bar and movie cinema in a tucked away part of Wanaka.

Cardrona

With it being only my second time skiing (and first on an actual ski field) I took a two hour lesson, learning important skills such as how to turn and stop on the beginner slope. Having gained a bit more confidence Mike then took me up the Chair Lift to attempt the beginner trails during the afternoon.

We finished the day with Mulled Wine at the picturesque Cardrona Hotel.



Queenstown

I’d heard so many good things about Fergburger in Queenstown that it was a must visit and it definitely lived up to the hype. While the queue to order was short and I had to make my mind up faster than expected, there was a 45 minute wait for our order (I've heard of friends waiting an hour and a half so I was pretty happy with this).

Fergburger
The alcohol licence probably means people are more inclined to stay - a Warm Apple Cider was the best thing to wait with. The 'Holier than Thou' Vegetarian Burger with fried tofu replacing a meat patty was fantastic proving this joint is not just for true beef burger eaters. The staff were awesome too despite having to work extremely hard to get burgers out the door and keep the punters happy.

On our last afternoon down south we tried to get into Amisfield for lunch, but Will and Kate's visit earlier this year seems to have made it super popular and there was a waiting list. We stayed and did wine tasking ($8pp), buying a Riesling to take home, the wine tasting guy referring us on to Gibston Valley Cheese for more wine and a Cheese Tasting Plate. His only slight error was recommending the Autumn Gold which was a strong, stinky cheese and not my personal favourite.

From Queenstown I flew home to Wellington, disappointed to find was not much warmer than the 9 degrees off the ski field.

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