I have to admit I was apprehensive about spending an entire two week holiday in Sydney. This is my fifth visit since 2005, and while the most recent two were quick stopovers, they had refreshed the memory of very enjoyable previous trips—would there be enough new memories made on this trip to make it stand out?
There are also advantages to returning to a familiar place. Upon waking to cool and rainy weather on our first morning, our knowledge accumulated from previous trips meant we were quickly able to adjust our plans to something more appropriate. In need of a good brunch to cure jet lag, we knew that the cafés at Bronte beach would fulfil all the criteria—fresh tasty food, good coffee and fabulous views of the ocean. The inclement weather had generated huge crashing waves that were spectacular to watch, and the beach was deserted, giving it a very different atmosphere to the busy weekend bustle of surfers and swimmers we experienced last time.
Our café choice, Bronte Belo, was based on no criteria other than it being the most well patronised on a very quiet day, but once we sat down we had some feelings of familiarity, and the food was pleasingly excellent. There was a sudden heavy rain shower while we ate which fortunately passed over quickly, and the fresh post-rain air made it ideal conditions for walking the cliff path to Bondi, with its dramatic seascape of waves crashing into the cliffs. At Bondi the weather had taken a turn for the worse, the gusts of wind blowing cold sea-spray and painful rough sand at our exposed skin so we cut short our bare-footed walk along the famous beach and made for shelter in the hipster cafés overlooking it.
There are risks when returning to somewhere—favoured old haunts closed or a shadow of former selves—but it is also lovely to really get to know a place, discover those off-the-beaten track places, and hang out with the locals.
Update: Now with a short video (9 seconds) showing just how big the surf was!
Engelberg is a small resort, but a short train ride from Zürich which makes it an ideal place for a weekend break. We even had great weather, and a lot of fun.
A photograph from our 2014 visit that out-of-camera was a little dull so I used Luminar to bring back some of the drama that was present in the sky that day. That evening there was a huge storm.
Despite being an overcast day, the clouds cleared late afternoon and treated us to a spectacular Cornish sunset. The rest of the week featured plenty of different weathers, from glorious sunshine to driving rain.
The first four days there were constant blue skies ensuring fantastic views of the beautiful Alpine scenery, including the iconic Matterhorn. This was my second ski holiday in the Italian Alps and once again the pistes were quiet, the lift queues non-existent, the food delicious and the coffee excellent. The connection to Zermatt also provided a huge ski area and diversity of slopes.
When the weather was slightly less good, we also enjoyed warm and friendly mountain hospitality.
It has been almost six months since our visit to Wellington. After travelling through the beautiful vistas of the South Island it was great to finish our holiday with some hip cocktail bars and late night espresso.
The Lonely Planet guided us to a fantastic morning coffee stop en route from Motueka to Nelson, the Jester House Café. Despite being a popular tourist spot, the car park was not large and I was very glad we were the only camper van attempting to use it! In addition to three varieties of dairy-free cake they had excellent coffee and some impressively large native eels in the stream outside.
Our stop in Picton was only long enough to enjoy its relaxed ambience and take a short hike around the awesomely beautiful harbour. Our early morning sail out of the harbour was also blessed with fine weather and the crossing to Wellington allowed for some more fine views.
After a wonderful view of this ancient monument while driving past in a slow moving traffic jam, the lack of rain meant it seemed a great idea to pay a visit to this World Heritage Site. Sadly, being July, hundreds of other people had the same idea and a limited schedule meant I did not have time for the full £18 experience. In theory you can walk up quite close to the stones without enduring the long queue for a ticket, but the pedestrian approach from the visitor centre did not surpass the drive-by view from the A303. Lesson learned: next time I will pre-book and get up close.
Wanaka is a fun town in a beautiful setting. It was also our entry point to New Zealand’s wild, and famously wet, West Coast.
I previously wrote about the sobering but hopeful state of Christchurch. The next day we headed down State Highway 1 to Dunedin via the Moeraki Boulders. It was a another day of huge crashy-bashy surf, the boulders are mildly diverting but the coast is beautiful in its own right too.
From Dunedin we explored the Otago Peninsular and its Royal Albatross Centre. The fine weather meant the adult Royal Albatrosses were all out at sea hunting so I could only take photographs of the fluffy land-based chicks.
Seduced by the charms of Wellington on a previous visit, we were keen to return this time even though it added considerable complexity to our itinerary. Getting to Wellington from Picton is delightful, as the ferry serenely cruises out through the Queen Charlotte Sound and we did it on a bright sunny morning. Upon entering the Cook Strait the wind picked up sharply to a “walking requires effort” bluster and the outside rear observation deck emptied quickly. Inside there was a revitalising fry up to compensate for our early start, and free wifi to help pass the three and a half hour crossing time—although the coffee was not of the same standard I had come to expect after two weeks of visiting only Lonely Planet recommended cafés.
Disembarking in Wellington we immediately realised that campervans are not the ideal accommodation in a city when the nearest campsite to the city centre is an hour’s bus ride away! We worked around this by using Uber (thank goodness for free roaming in NZ on three.co.uk) but it was an inconvenience that the guide book had glossed over. On our subsequent day we just drove into the city. The SatNav made even Wellington’s one-way system straightforward and campervan-suitable parking is available near the Te Papa museum.
Having our own transport did allow us to enjoy a few sights not easily accessible from the city centre. The Zealandia wildlife sanctuary was a very worthwhile expedition allowing us to get up close to some native birds (Kākā, Tūī, Kakariki, Hihi plus the flightless Takahē) as well as Tuatara reptiles. The onsite café was excellent too, which is always important at these attractions! It was another fine day too so we also took in the views from Mount Victoria, although driving up there in a campervan was rather exciting and reminiscent of some of our South Island driving experiences! We even managed an hour in Te Papa just before it closed—it remains as excellent as ever.
After the rural and remote pleasures of the South Island, it was also a lot of fun to enjoy some city life. We were there for the weekend so there was a buzzy atmosphere wherever we went. One relaxed afternoon was spent in the garden of Fidel’s café in Bohemian Cuba Street, then later that evening we had cocktails at The Library, a fun theme bar who did not bat an eyelid when we arrived carrying a baby in a hiking rucksack and asked for a table. After dinner we found ourselves in Midnight Espresso, a late night café with a great vibe and a selection of vegan cake so large that Rosie could not eat all items then-and-there and some had to be taken away!
After the vibrant weekend scene in Wellington we expected our final night in Auckland, a Monday, to be rather quiet. The guidebook had also suggested the CBD where we were staying was not the most exciting part of the city but when we ventured out of our hotel in search of dinner about 6:30pm the streets were nicely lively. With a little bit of luck (our first choice of restaurant was a little too busy) we found ourselves having dinner at Masu. The Japanese food was excellent, accompanied by some lovely NZ wine and there was an enjoyably buzzy atmosphere—more like a Thursday or Friday than a Monday. It was a great note on which to end the holiday.
After a day of mostly driving to transition from the West Coast to the Abel Tasman we decided to take a fairly leisurely approach and booked onto the 10:30am boat to the Abel Tasman National Park instead of the more keen 9am. The departure point in Kaiteriteri was 25 mins from our overnight park in Motueka which gave us a relaxed start to the day, and in fact we even arrived in time to have a coffee and muffin at a beachfront café, soak up the sunshine (it was almost t-shirt weather), and watch the world go by for a bit.
The receptionist at the campsite had recommended two options for us as being suitable for a baby. The first was to leave the boat at the first beach, Anchorage, and walk some loop trails, and the second to go all the way to Awaroa on the boat and then an easy two hour hike back to get picked up at Tonga Quarry beach. We chose the latter as it seemed to be the more active option and we were feeling that the activity to driving ratio in our holiday so far had not been as high as we wanted. This turned out to be a very good choice as we later saw that the beach at Anchorage was hosting a group of about 60 boisterous school children whereas at Awaroa only one other couple disembarked the boat with us and we practically had a long beach of golden sand to ourselves.
It took about 90 minutes to reach Awaroa. The sun was warm so there was no problem sitting out on the too deck taking photos the entire way. The scenery is fairly homogenous: turquoise blue water meets golden sandy beaches or rocky cliffs and then dark green native forest climbs rapidly up steep hillsides into deep blue sky. There were a few interesting rock formations to provide some visual focal points for the photographs but the highlight was watching some seal pups play and splash in the rock pool of one of the islands. It was blissfully relaxing sitting in the warm sun, being refreshed by the sea breeze, as we cruised along enjoying the scenery—plus someone else doing the “driving”.
We disembarked and picnicked at Awaroa. The temperature was just perfect, warm enough to sit in the sun on a handy drift wood log, but not so hot that I felt instinct to find shade. The beach was also mercifully and surprisingly free of sandflies—this day was going really well. The first part of our walk was down the beach, then we had to go inland through a forested section. This took about an hour and was not particularly interesting—there were no good views until just before the end, as we approached Onetahuti beach. Walking along Onetahuti beach was a great way of appreciating the picture postcard warm golden sand and clear blue waters again, although it was a bit busier than Awaroa, 20-odd people perhaps on a few hundred metres of sand! A short cliff top track within sight of the water took us round to Tonga Quarry beach for our pickup, and we had just enough time to cool our feet in the crisp, cold, clear water. The sand was unusual: it had a hard and “glassy” texture but felt great on our hard-walked feet and when I had to put my shoes back on it brushed off really easily and gently, no sandpaper effect!
The pick up was a few minutes early which was a little sad as we were enjoying a rest after our walk but the scenery on the trip back was still good. The final 45 minutes of the cruise were not so relaxing after we picked up the aforementioned party school children in high spirits fuelled by fresh air and sunshine. Fortunately we were able to recover from this with another coffee at the peaceful beach front café once we arrived back into Kaiteriteri.