Milford Sound, New Zealand

We arrived in Te Anau late in the afternoon to embark on a day trip to Milford Sound the following morning. Taking a trip to Milford Sound requires an entire day to be set aside at minimum. It is about a two hour drive from Te Anau each way, and the road from Te Anau is the only road in. Alternatively, you could always take a helicopter, if your budget allows for it. The road is straight for the majority of the way, and reasonably well maintained. But be careful, as there are patches of moss growing on parts of the road, which may make it slippery. Also, over the winter months the road is closed, making Milford Sound inaccessible by road.

We headed out early with our thermos of hot chocolate and a few snacks. We brought along one of those old-school green Stanley thermoses and it came in very handy. There are a number of scenic stops along the road and a few short walks to break up the drive. It’s worthwhile spending the time to stop at some of these places as the scenery is stunning and it really is part of the experience in visiting Milford Sound.

We were very lucky with the weather on the day we visited, as we were told that it had rained everyday for the previous seven days. It’s quite rare to get a sunny day at Milford Sound as the area has a very high rainfall. So we were very lucky indeed.

You cannot leave Milford Sound without taking a cruise along the sound. There are a number of companies that offer cruises, which more or less offer you the same experience. We chose on the basis that the one we went with offered a fish and chips lunch included in the ticket. When cruising along the sound you see the stunning fjords and a number of waterfalls. If you’re lucky, you may also see dolphins and seals. Most cruises last for two hours, during which you can relax and enjoy the beautiful landscape.

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Essentials:

Getting There:
Milford Sound is accessible by the Te Anau-Milford Highway. Make sure you fill up before you leave Te Anau, as there are no petrol stations along the way. It is about a 2 hour drive each way, without including stops.

Stay:
We stayed at a wonderfull bed and breakfast called The Croft. Jane, the owner, has two self-contained cottages on her property which she rents out as a bed and breakfast. The cottages are spacious and cosy, and she offers a wonderful breakfast.

Queenstown & Wanaka, New Zealand

In April this year, we spent a week travelling around the South Island of New Zealand. I had seen many photos of the south island, particularly on Instagram, and wanted to see the beautiful landscapes myself.

The first 2 days of our trip was spent exploring Queenstown and Lake Wanaka. We really enjoyed Queenstown. Being the low season, the town was quite, but it still had a great vibe. We particularly enjoyed walking around the botanical gardens and the food. Queenstown has a number of great restaurants and plenty great food outlets.

Our second day was spent driving to Lake Wanaka and visiting a few of the towns and lakes along the way. Lake Hayes was beautiful, being encased in stunning autumn colours, and we enjoyed wandering through the historic streets of Arrowtown.

Lake Wanaka was a lot quieter than Queenstown and perhaps not as beautiful. But we still enjoyed taking a walk around the lake and sitting on its shores to eat our lunch. We had wonderful weather, being not too cold, with sunny days and light breezes. We also thoroughly enjoyed seeing the autumn colours, which we don’t get in Sydney.

After relaxing by the lakes for a couple of days, we headed towards Te Anau and Milford Sound.

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Essentials:

Getting there:
Queenstown Airport is located quite close to the city, about a 10-15 minute drive. We picked up a hire car at the airport and the way to Queenstown was well sign posted. There isn’t a great public transport system around the south island, so I would highly recommend exploring it with a car.

Accommodation:
We are great fans of Airbnb, so we booked a place in Arthurs Point, called Studio 28, which is about a 10 minute drive from Queenstown. It perhaps isn’t the best place to stay if you want to enjoy the nightlife of Queenstown, but we enjoyed the peace and quite, as well as the beautiful views of the pine covered mountains.

Eating:
We had a fabulous dinner at Sasso Italian. The interior was lovely, with stone walls and timber floor boards, and a fire blazing to make the space warm and cosy. The food was superb. I ordered the pappardelle with rabbit ragu (I love rabbit) and Jonathan ordered the seafood gnocchi. Both dishes were full of flavour and beautifully presented.

Mornington Peninsula, Australia

After a day exploring Wilsons Promontory, we headed back towards Melbourne to spend a day exploring the Mornington Peninsula.

First stop was the Red Hill Markets, which are open on the first Saturday of each month. They were some of the best food and craft markets that I have visited to date. Browse Red Hill Racecourse for a selection of hand made crafts and fresh produce. Don’t forget to grab some lunch from the numerous food vendors, and don’t leave without buying a jar or two of jam from the jam ladies, who have been at the markets for thirty years.

The Mornington Peninsula is also a fantastic wine growing region, specialising in pinot noir and cool climate chardonnay. Many of the wineries are small family run enterprises, rather than large commercial wineries, and are all located within the small area of the Mornington Peninsula, so it’s easy to visit a number of them within a day.

Another must do is a drive around the suburbs of Sorrento and Portsea. These two suburbs, which are located on the tip of the peninsula, are gorgeous, with lovely streets and beautiful homes. We did a coastal walk, locally known as the Millionaires Walk, which runs along the cliff front homes. The views are spectacular, as are a number of the homes.

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Essentials

Getting there:
The Mornington Peninsular is about an hour to an hour and a half’s drive from Melbourne CBD. Alternatively, you can take the car ferry from Queenscliff, near Geelong, which takes you to Sorrento. This is a good option for those arriving from Avalon Airport.

Eat:
Grab fish and chips in Sorrento and sit by the water’s edge. You’ll know where the fish and chip shop is – it will be overflowing with customers at midday.

Wineries:
Our favourite winery was Foxeys Hangout. It is a great place for lunch, with a view onto the vineyard below. The Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are great and good value for money.

Wilsons Promontory, Australia

Back in October last year, we spent a long weekend exploring Wilsons Promontory and the Mornington Peninsula. We were initially planning to go to the Yarra Valley, but a friend from Melbourne suggested visiting the Mornington Peninsula, as there are also wineries there and the landscapes are beautiful. When researching the Mornington Peninsula I came across some photos of Wilsons Promontory and thought it looked stunning. I had never heard of Wilsons Promontory, but thought it looked worthwhile visiting. Once we decided to go there, I mentioned it to a couple of our neighbours who are originally from Melbourne. ‘Oh, The Prom,’ they said, as if it was somewhere I should know of. Apparently everyone in Melbourne knows of ‘The Prom’ but we in Sydney have no idea of its existence.

Located about 200km south-east of Melbourne, it is a good 3 hour drive to reach Wilsons Promontory. It’s not quite close enough to do as a day trip from Melbourne and I’d recommended at least one or two nights, either camping or staying in the cabins at Wilsons Promontory, or staying in a town close by. We would have liked to stay in the cabins in the national park, but they were all booked out. So we stayed in Foster, which was about an hours drive away.

There are some stunning walks to do and some beautiful beaches to visit at Wilsons Promontory. Also keep an eye out for the wildlife, namely emus, kangaroo, wombats and a number of native Australian birds. We did a few of the shorter walks, as we only had a day there, but we saw enough of The Prom to be very impressed with it. And I’d definitely recommend visiting if you are in Melbourne and have a few days to spare.

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Essentials

Getting there:
You’ll have to pick up a hire car from Melbourne and drive the 200km to Wilsons Promontory, as there is no public transport.

Stay:
We stayed at Llarrinda Bed & Breakfast, in Foster North, which we booked through Airbnb. It was one of the best Airbnbs we have stayed in. The room was great and the views towards Wilsons Promontory were stunning. Our hosts, Larry and Linda, were great and very chatty, and Linda put on a beautiful breakfast. Ask her for her date scone recipe – they are to die for.

 

Ngapali Beach, Myanmar – Part 2

It has been quite a while, almost too long, since I’ve updated this blog. My last post was dated April 17, 2015, which is over a 18 months ago. We’ve had a lot going on – moving in together, renovating, redundancies, new jobs, studies, illnesses and finally moving overseas. So in between all that, this blog has fallen by the wayside. And with so much happening, we haven’t travelled much in that time either.

So here is where I left off, in Myanmar. This is the final post from our trip to Myanmar which we did over the Christmas/New Year break of 2014/2015. We woke up early on our third morning in Ngapali Beach and took a boat with a local fisherman and his son to snorkel around Pearl Island, about a kilometre off the coast of Ngapali Beach. The visibility offshore wasn’t the best, and we were in the shadow of the island, but we still saw a number of schools of fish swimming through the rocks.

After lunch, we visited a few of the small villages close to our accommodation and spent the afternoon and evening, as per usual, on the deck of the guesthouse looking out onto the beach and the watching beautiful sunset.

On our fourth day, we took a bus, well a ute with seating installed in the back, to Thandwe town, to have a look at the town and wander through the local markets. There isn’t any organised public transport in these seaside town, so you simply have to wait for a pickup on the road and ask the driver if they are heading the the direction you wish to go to. The fresh fruit and vegetable markets were not as impressive as those of 26th Street in Yangon, but it was interesting to wander through them all the same.

We left Ngapali Beach after four relaxing days to head back to Yangon and then back home to Sydney.

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Ngapali Beach, Myanmar – Part 1

We decided to spend that last few days of our trip through Myanmar relaxing at Ngapali Beach, and that we sure did. Even from the moment of our arrival at Thandwe airport, we knew that this was the place to be in Myanmar if you just wanted to do nothing for a few days. After all our wandering the streets of Yangon, spending days cruising around Inle Lake, and exploring the temples of Bagan, we enjoyed a few days by the beach before heading back to reality. Ngapali Beach is one of the most popular and most touristed beach in the Bay of Bengal, on the western side of Myanmar. But unlike other beachside resorts in South-East Asia, Ngapali Beach is unusually quiet and laid-back – although it was their peak season, there seemed to be no one around. It’s definitely not the place to come if you want to party into the early morning, but rather a place to relax, go swimming, take long walks along the beach, visit the small seaside villages and enjoy the freshly caught seafood. We were lucky enough to find accommodation on a small stretch of beach, just north of the main beach. All that was here was our lodge, a small fishing village consisting of no more than a dozen homes, two small local beach ‘restaurants’ (a ‘kitchen’ made from local bamboo and palm leaves, plus two or three tables in the sand) and a few fishing boats swaying in the water. If you really want to get away from it all, I can’t think of a better place.

We spent our first day here walking the stretch of the main beach and visiting the fishing village at its southern end. Of course, being by the seaside, we enjoyed an endless supply of fresh locally caught seafood, which by Australian standards, was incredibly cheap. Grilled prawns, tuna steaks, squid, grilled whole fish… you name it! We also tried the famous Myanmar tea leaf salad during our stay at Ngapali Beach. I wouldn’t quite say it was delicious, but it was very interesting, and had great unusual flavours.

Since the Bay of Bengal faces west, we enjoyed some incredible sunsets, usually whilst sipping a cocktail or two.

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Essentials

Getting There:
Again, if you want to same time and hassles, ditch the bus and fly to Thandwe airport, which is located about 10km north on Ngapali Beach. Most hotels should organise a pick-up service as taxis are virtually non-existent in this area.

Stay:
Our accommodation at Ngapali Beach was probably our favourite in Myanmar. We stayed at Yoma Cherry Lodge, located in a small bay just north of the main beach. Excellently run by an English lady called Sue, there was nothing that we could find fault with. The room was large and clean and looked out onto the beautiful tropical gardens. The dining area overlooked the beach and was perfect for that sunset cocktail. The staff were friendly and the restaurant food tasty. We felt as though we were staying at a friend’s beach house. And the location was excellent – we were the only lodge, bar one, on this secluded beach, located near Lin Tha village. If you want to get away from it all, this is the perfect place.

Bagan, Myanmar – Part 2

We begun our second day in Bagan with an early morning hot-air balloon flight! It was nothing less than amazing. I had flown in a hot-air balloon only once before, in Cappadocia, Turkey, back in 2013 (you can see the pics here).  And it was Jonathan’s first time. I have to say that I think the landscape of Cappadocia was more stunning, but the view of Bagan from the air, with its hundreds of temples dotted across the landscape, glowing in the dawn light, wasn’t far behind. It was incredible to see the vastness of the Bagan ‘complex’ from such a height – seeing it from the air really made me appreciate the greatness of the place. I’d highly recommend spending the bit of extra money whilst in Bagan and take a balloon flight.

We spent quite a few hours that day wandering around Myinkaba searching for the perfect piece of lacquerware. There isn’t much in Myinkaba, except a few workshops dotted amongst a few dozen homes. Myinkaba is the place to purchase laquerware in Myanmar. The people of Myinkaba have been producing lacquerware for generations, with many workshops producing their own unique styles and patterns. There are so many lacquerware workshops in Myinkaba (a small town located between Old Bagan and New Bagan) that it can be a little difficult to decide what to buy and from which workshop. Take some time to browse through a number of stores, talk to the store holders and get an indication of the price you should be paying. Most places have set prices, but will go down 10%-20% if you bargain hard enough. We spent close to 3 hours going back and fourth between the workshops, before finally setting our eyes on a particular piece, then bargaining on a price. We finally left with a stunning three piece lacquerware set (I had my eye on the piece in the first workshop we visited), which we now keep on display in our lounge room.

The remainder of the day was spent wandering around Bagan on our hired push-bikes, visiting the temples of Shwezigon Paya (with it’s beautiful gilded zedi), Htilominlo Pahto and finally watching the dusty sunset from Shwesandaw Paya.

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Essentials

To Do:
Hot-air ballooning! Just check out the photos above! Perhaps not quite as spectacular as hot-air ballooning over Capadoccia in Turkey, but it’s pretty good. Seeing all the temples, pagodas and stupas from the air at sunrise is absolutely spectacular. We spoke to a couple who have flown in hot-air balloons all over the world and they said they flight in Bagan is second only to that in Capadoccia. We flew with Balloons over Bagan, who are the pioneers of hot-air ballooning in Bagan (being the only outfit until about a year ago when Oriental Ballooning showed up) and seem run a well-oiled business. They employ experienced and well-trained pilots and have not had any incidents since their establishment in Bagan in 1999. I’d definitely recommend splurging on a hot-air balloon flight whilst in Bagan. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Shop:
If you want to purchase Myanmar lacquerware whilst on your trip, Bagan is the place to buy it. The small town of Myinkaba, located between Old Bagan and New Bagan, has been producing lacquerware for generations. There are a number of workshops in this town, so it’s worth taking the time to look around and compare styles, prices and quality. I purchased a beautiful piece from Shwe La Yaung Lacquareware Store, located on the main road of Myinkaba. I found a piece I fell in love with and the owner of the store was very helpful and informative. But do shop around before making a final purchase.