Birdwoods Gallery

Birdwoods Gallery

Birdwoods Gallery (298 Middle Road)

Birdwoods Gallery is a cutesie little spot just outside of Havelock North. It is such a great spot to visit when you are showing off Havelock (and the greater HB region) to visitors as it just does everything right. It used to be just a sweet shop (think old school lollies in glass jars, lining the wooden walls in a one room cottage) with an art gallery next door, but over time it has expanded to also include fresh fruit ice cream, a (very large) gift shop, a cafe and an acre or so of grounds with a pond, ducks, and numerous statues to explore.

The cafe offers  a small selection of kitchen made goods, a cabinet with some quite large, delicious cakes, tarts and slices and a drinks menu (they are fully licensed). The food is good; we found the pulled pork burger to be tasty but quite small (and not really pulled pork, but it was still yum), the artisan grilled chicken sandwich to be essentially a glorified toastie (which was still nice mind you, albeit a tad overpriced) and the beef and cauli pie to be exceptionally hearty, filling and just downright yum.

There are seating options both inside and out; it was such a beautiful day that we all opted to sit outside. There are blankets available in case the wind picks up, and the inside toilet is well worth a visit! Make sure you save some room dessert – whether it be the cabinet food, the sweet shop next door or a real fruit ice cream; you won’t be disappointed!

Bethel Woods

Bethel Woods

Bethel Woods (73 The Terrace)

Not a bad spot for a catch up with friends. Or a post-work drink. Or a quiz night. Actually, Bethel Woods has a fair bit going for it! It has a super cool buzz, with its southern American decor down pat, a cute rooftop bar upstairs, and plenty going on in the restaurant itself. The soundtrack is always full of bangers, and the menu is reasonably priced with decent food (the quality is not the best, but it is better than average) and okay portions. It’s at the opposite end of town to basically everything else, which makes for a nice change, and it’s know to do host decent functions too. Not somewhere I would go out of my way (personally) to visit, but would never resist the suggestion of going there.

The Old Quarter

The Old Quarter

The Old Quarter (39 Dixon Street)

As a massive lover of Mr Go’s and Chow, I was always destined to be a fan of The Old Quarter. Named after the Old Quarter in Hanoi, the menu is exciting, innovative and certainly ‘modern’ Vietnamese. The chef has come from 16 years at Chow, so you can expect food of a similar nature; fresh, funky and delicious.

The Old Quarter is nestled amongst a shoe shop and a Mexican restaurant. It used to be Satay Kajang, a Malaysian BYO restaurant that had certainly seen better days. The Older Quarter is a drastic improvement; it is no longer dark and dingy, rather there are modern comfortable booths, bold wall decor a bright, bustling atmosphere. The staff are friendly, happy and attentive, more than willing to offer their recommendations for dishes and serving sizes.

The menu was broken up into sections (bao, curries, salads etc) and you should expect to pay between $14 and $20 for most of the dishes. We were advised that the array of food we had ordered would be ample; which was a shame because I would have quite happily ordered more. Between us we ordered the pork bao, the crab bao, the cashew peking duck, the salt and pepper calamari and the pork three ways (spring rolls, patties, and fried).

I’m one of the world’s biggest fans of bao, and this bao was no exception. The crab was exceptional (I had been unsure about it when we ordered it) but the spicy mayo really cut through the richness of the fried crab. The pork was incredibly flavoursome, and the coriander finished it off perfectly. The other meals were all great too.

If you are in the mood, there is a bunch of cocktails available (including a vietnamese espresso martini) and a decent sized dessert list. We wanted dessert, but there was no way we were going to be able to fit it in. Maybe next time!

 

La Bella Italia

La Bella Italia

La Bella Italia (10 Nevis Street, Petone)

Yum, yum, yum, this place has the goods! People had told me that it was a good place to visit out in Petone, but I never really paid any attention until we spontaneously decided to go. This place is seriously awesome! It was like a big Italian warehouse, with so much happening and so much to look at, all at once! The walls are thoroughly decorated with all things Italian, and there is different tills lining the wall; there is the pizza man, the coffee man, the meats and cheeses man, the desserts… the list goes on. AND, on the other side there are a few shelves of Italian goods, if you want to transport yourself to an Italian supermarket.

The menu is authentic (there are plenty of Italian words used throughout!) and not too badly priced. The staff are lovely, charismatic and passionate about the food (like all good Italians). Both the pizza and the pasta dishes are of decent portion sizes; I had wanted dessert so badly but just absolutely could not fit it in.

This place is DEFINITELY worth your time. Even better, it’s not just a restaurant AND supermarket AND mini Italian museum, they also offer cooking classes and plenty of events. WOW.

Thai Lagoon

Thai Lagoon

Thai Lagoon (8 Alexander Road, Raumati)

For a romantic getaway, Raumati is just the place. There is so much more going on here than anyone ever told me, and if I knew we would have made this trip a whole lot sooner.

For a romantic (and delicious) date night, I highly recommend Thai Lagoon. The staff are so accommodating and fuss over you just to make sure everything is perfect. The prices are really reasonable, and the portion sizes were decent. We had a great time choosing our order, because the menu was typically huge. This was seriously some of the nicest Thai I have had in a long time, and I certainly didn’t expect to find it in Raumati!

Make sure you book, because the Saturday night we went it was literally booked out.

Franks

Franks

Franks (116 The Terrace)

Oh how I do love Franks. It’s exactly the sort of place I picture when I want to go somewhere spacious, light and zen-feeling to blog. Unfortunately for me, it’s at the opposite end of town to where I work so I don’t often make it here (Lucky for me though, I have been on secondment ON The Terrace for the last few weeks, and because it’s so short term, I make every excuse to visit Franks!). It’s deceptively small downstairs; when you walk in, more often then not there is a queue of people lining up at the teeny weeny counter. That teeny weeny counter though is always covered in several delicious looking donuts, and other delectable treats (but the highlight is the donuts!). This is the extent of the menu, so get in quick. After making your order, head upstairs to where it is far more spacious (although still quite a small spot overall) and take a seat. There is one big shared table, and a number of smaller ones. Franks is funky, tasty and in my experience, the staff are always super friendly. Highly recommend!

Uluwatu

Uluwatu

Uluwatu was one of the more surfy and relaxing spots we went to. Lots of Australian accents drifting past, and lots of modern dining options. We were advised to stay near Padang Padang beach, and although our hotel’s description of ‘beach front’ was pretty misleading, Padang Padang was a pretty cool spot. The Uluwatu Hotel Guna Mandala was all round pretty dingy, but although it wasn’t beach front, it couldn’t have been much closer.

Padang Padang Beach was just across the road, past the entry fee (!! Thankfully not much) and through a long narrow tunnel, around which the monkeys tended to frolic. The beach was incredibly small, and far too crowded for any of our likings, but if the beach had been deserted it would have been positively stunning. The water was clear, warm and shallow for days. There was also a cave right nearby which was extremely fun to explore.

 

On our second day there we hired scooters and hit the road running. We made our way to Bingin beach, and clambered down the hill (over far more steps than what we could count). Bingin beach was a popular surf spot, evidenced by the boards in the water and the schools lining the shore.

After a delicious lunch stop at The Cashew Tree (read about all the yum places we ate at here) we kept on scootering to Dreamland Beach. This place had massive waves that broke really shallow, which made for some hilarious people watching as people took tumbles more often than not. After observing for a bit, we were confident in our ability to master the timing and make it out past the break without being dumped by the waves. Once past the break, it was easily the best beach we swum at our whole time in Bali. The water was crystal clear and like being in a bath; we literally stayed in the water for hours.

To get our daily dose of culture we headed along to the Uluwatu Temple for sunset and then bought tickets (100,000 IRD) to the Kacek dance afterwards. Again there were monkeys frolicking about, so again I had to take a wide berth. The dance show went for about an hour, so it is actually worth getting there about fifteen minutes early in order to secure a good seat. I would also recommend taking water and snacks… it gets a little slow in places. By the end of it, the others were quite impatient to leave – however I still thought it was really good to see.

Ubud

Ubud

We left Nusa Lembongan at 8am and caught a ferry to Sanur. From there, our pre-organised taxi driver (courtesy of our Lembongan hostel) met us and drove us to Ubud. It only took about 1.5 hours, so we were there by mid-morning. Our Air BnB was lovely, and our host organised for us to be picked up almost immediately and taken on a tour. We went to a number of spots across the course of the day, and our driver Gede would just wait for us at each spot.

First we went to the Tegallang rice fields in Gianyar. This would have to be one of the most photographed sights of Bali, and it was easy to see why. Loads of people (unsurprisingly) but still worth the trip. We actually ate lunch at a wee restaurant overlooking the fields, and it was such a beautiful setting for a meal. It was a really nice way to appreciate the fields from afar, because there is not much else to do there besides walk around the fields (and then you are right up close). After lunch we headed down into the terraces; it was extremely hot and I was very glad for my waterbottle. We probably spent about 45 minutes walking around and taking plenty of photos.

From here we headed to Tirta Empul Tampaksiring, a temple where people go to bathe and be cleansed in the holy water. The queues were massive, and to be honest the water looked pretty grotty (especially when filled with so many bodies) so none of us were keen to get in. We ended up walking around for a bit and then moving on. Leaving the temple actually required walking through so much market space, where the vendors were all highly competitive and almost confrontational. I think we all actually ended up buying something – probably mainly to shut them up! It was definitely fun though, and provides for an interesting experience.

 

From here we went to Mount Kawi. This was a temple with a lot of steps! We noted that both temples we had visited had made all four of us (i.e. the boys included) cover up our shoulders (they lend scarves). We set off down the steps (sooooo many steps) into a wee temple valley, where there were lots of temples (slash remains) surrounded by pretty dense bush. It was rather beautiful. The hike back up the hill was much harder, and we were very relieved to see a sign for ice-cream as we approached the top.

The last stop of our tour was Monkey Forest. It was such a cool experience, and that’s coming from someone who is extremely hesitant about monkeys. It is quite a big park in which you can just wander around and watch the monkeys play. You can also buy food to feed them (they will happily climb all over you) but I was much happier watching from afar. They can get pretty aggressive – I would definitely recommend leaving your valuables in the car (sunglasses being a classic example of things they love to pinch!).

Ubud was certainly the most cultural feeling place we went to. There is some very cool markets and shopping generally. There are loads of places offering massages, and The Yoga Barn is certainly famed for its yoga and all round zen habitat. I think that of all our destinations in Bali I thought Ubud was the most interesting and had the most to do (with the obvious omission of no beach). The food was also extremely delicious (check out that post here).

Nusa Lembongan

Nusa Lembongan

Nusa Lembongan couldn’t be more different than Gili T. Given that we had just jumped from one island to another, we had expected them to be somewhat similar, so it was exciting to see such a massive change. Gone was the party, the hectic streets and the mass of vendors; Nusa Lembongan was all about the scooters, the rural villages and the different spots to explore.

We stayed at Lembongan Hostel. Upon arriving on the island we got into a tuk-tuk which dropped everyone on the boat at their respective accommodation. We weren’t sure whether it was free or if it was part of the ferry ticket, but it sure made our journey hassle free. The hostel was clean and very well air-conditioned. The bunks were incredibly high (the kind that I hate to imagine the damage caused if you fell off the top). The showers were a bit gross, and the breakfast pretty simple, but the staff were so incredibly helpful – they were the real highlight of staying there. The hostel was down a long gravel road which had too many potholes to count.

There are a few different spots you can stay when you are at Nusa Lembongan, although it doesn’t really matter because you basically have to scooter everywhere you go anyway. Down in the village would be ideal, not only is there a good beach, but most of the bars and restaurants are down there too. On our first evening there we hired scooters (70,000 IRD per scooter) and headed to Sunset Point to, you guessed it, watch the sun set. The scenery is certainly spectacular. Not far from there is Devils Tear, which is another awesome spot to watch the sun go down. It’s also absolutely incredible at high tide; it reminds you just how powerful the ocean can be.

 

There are two spectacular day trips to be had from Nusa Lembongan and I don’t even know which one I would recommend more.

The first is doing a snorkeling trip. There are so many cool spots to snorkel at, including swimming with manta rays. This was one of the coolest things I have ever done, even though I felt the execution of the trip was nowhere near as good as it could have been. We were picked up from our hostel at about 2 pm, and taken to Mushroom Beach were we climbed aboard a pretty small boat. There were six of us snorkeling, and just the one driver (who only spoke limited English). We set off, and about half an hour later pulled into the first of our three snorkeling spots where we were told to ‘jump in’. It was my brother’s first time snorkeling, and he looked at our driver as though he was joking. Upon realizing that he was deadly serious, he questioned where the life jackets were. And understandably so. The swell was huge, and we were surrounded by sheer cliff faces that didn’t look all that pleasant to crash into (in fact, they looked deadly!). What was worst though, was that right next to where we had stopped the boat,there was a floating, bloated dead DOG. It was awful. We spent our time in the water taking ‘dog shifts’, because we wanted to stay as far away from that thing as possible. There was a stack of rubbish in the water, which was actually really sad to see, because the ocean in those parts of the word is so painstakingly beautiful, and receives next to no TLC from its people.

However, the real purpose for jumping in the water was to see the manta rays. The moments that weren’t spent watching for a certain dead dog were spend with our heads underwater, absolutely in awe of these massive creatures that were so majestically gliding about. Occasionally they’d pop up for air, and if you happened to be looking at the right spot at the right time, you could this massive animal launching itself about the surface. It was quite scary when they came close – they are so big (and quite ugly!) but they certainly lived up to their gentle giant reputation.

After our time with the mantas we headed to snorkel spots #2 and #3. Firstly we snorkeled on a coral reef, and lastly on a mangrove reserve. I was actually feeling pretty sick and contemplated sitting the last stop out, until the others jumped in and stressed just how much I was missing out on this spectacular mangrove reserve. So in I got, and man I did not regret it. The mangroves growing underwater formed a thick grassy terrain, which provided the most spectacular backdrop for some pretty interesting fish. It was definitely one of the best snorkeling sites I have ever visited.

The other day trip well worth making is one across to Nusa Penida. It is possible to stay on this island, and I daresay we would have if there was any more time. Instead we got up early and headed down to the Yellow Bridge where we negotiated our way to a return fare to Nusa Penida. The boat ride took about an hour, but felt so much quicker because the whole way we were entertained by the smallest puppy I have ever seen. Once we got to the island we hired two scooters and we were off (80,000 IRD each).

The island is actually pretty big, and so much bigger than I ever realised. From the get go we were going to be pushing to make it to all the places that we had talked about, but we decided to give it a crack anyway. Our first stop was Ahtu Beach. We headed off around the island through villages and along the coast, up and down hills; boy it was even further than we realised. We got to the top of the biggest hill yet and noted that Andy and Summer’s scooter was almost on empty. Because we were basically in the middle of nowhere, we thought we should make filling up a priority. After about half an hour I think we found what must have been the only petrol station on that side of the island. Half an hour behind schedule, we continued on.

Following the signs to Ahtu Beach we made our way onto a gravel road, which got increasingly bumpy and narrow. Summer and Andy kept suggesting we park up and walk the rest of the way but Jamie and I wanted to press on as much. Well, until we saw Summer and Andy’s scooter hit a rock and slide out sideways beneath them. Summer was a bit grazed, but the worst part was that the scooter wouldn’t start. Panic set in, and Jamie and I helped the other others drag the scooter to the side of the ride and park it. We fiddled for a bit and realised that it definitely was not about to start. Jamie and I managed to convince the others (I’m not kidding when I say it took some serious persuasion) to lock the scooters and just head along to the beach anyway. It was quite a trek down, and everyone was pretty tense. Unfortunately it made the beach trip a little less enjoyable, as the others would pretty worried about how the afternoon was going to play out. It wasn’t entirely unwarranted, given that we were literally in the middle of nowhere. The beach was beautiful to look at, but average for swimming as the undertow was full on. I thought it was far too hot not to swim; but I was the only one.

We were so incredibly thankful to get back to the scooters after the hike up the hill (it felt like forever!) and then a miracle happened when both scooters started on first attempt. We were keen to get out of there pronto and back to civilisation… just in case. We stopped at The Gallery on the way back for lunch – even though it was such a hot day the curry sounded too good to resist; it was definitely the right decision by moi!

Up next was the iconic Klung Klung beach – or more famously known as the T-Rex beach. Another long scooter ride (and in the opposite direction) saw us bouncing over many a pot hole, topping up with petrol (AGAIN) and all getting rather a lot of sun. The views at this beach were absolutely incredible. We didn’t go down to the water’s edge (it was a very long way and it looked so hard and steep that we didn’t know if we would have the energy to climb back up!) but we did manage to get some epic photos.

In the end we had to forego the waterfalls we had planned to visit, because we were just too pushed for time. If I had the option, I would probably choose to stay two nights on Nusa Penida, just to ensure a more thorough exploration of the island.

 

Gili Trawangan

Gili Trawangan

Getting to Gili T (as it’s more fondly known) is pretty easy to get to, even if it feels time consuming. Most places you visit in Bali assume that visiting the Gili islands will be on your itinerary somewhere, and can suggest, even organise, your means of transport. Our hostel in Canggu organised ours. It was pretty confusing: we got picked up in a shuttle van and driven around a bunch of places picking up people, but our driver did seem quite lost so maybe that is while it took awhile. It was hard to tell what was going on, we just had to trust he would get us to the ferry on time. We arrive at Pai Beng and with hundreds of other people, joined the queue. Again it was hard to tell quite what was happening, and when we finally climbed aboard, we were all a bit reluctant to part with our bags – which were taken from us to be stashed on the top of the boat. A little over 2 hours later, we finally arrived.

We stayed at an Air BnB which was so nice we ended up extending our stay. It has two rooms (three beds) and two bathrooms. (Get in touch if you would like the details of the host). We were fortunate that it was incredibly close to where the boat had docked – none of us were keen on catching the horse and cart taxis (the horses all looked pretty miserable). Although Gili T has a rep as the ‘party island’, there is definitely so much more going on than clubbing. Here are some of my favourite recommendations:

1   Hire a bike and cycle the island. It is possible to walk it, but biking gives you so much more freedom to take your time and stop at the different beaches, without ever being too far from the finish line. It probably takes about 2 hours to cycle it (at a meandering pace) and would definitely take less if you didn’t stop at all.

2   Outdoor food market. Occurring each night, it is possible to sample local Balinese deliciousness at incredibly cheap prices. There are both sweet and savoury options and is always bustling with locals and tourists alike. Be a little bit careful though; no-one wants Bali belly whilst on holiday!

3   Sunset swings. Probably easiest to do as you are cycling around the island, but you may need to plan ahead if you intend on cycling in the dark. You can’t go to Bali and not get a photo with these iconic beauties! It isn’t essential that the sun is actually setting when you snap that shot, but it is pretty important to make sure the tide is high enough that the swings actually have water below them (and not just grotty sand).

4   Experience the night life. There are a bunch of cool bars and clubs dotted along the waterfront which are sure to provide a good time. We were pretty careful with out drinks, sticking basically to beer (and almost exclusively Bintang). There is a place which is set up entirely for beer pong, and you get free popcorn (as if you needed any more incentive!). Sama Sama Reggae Bar (turns out you can actually stay here too!) was a real highlight; great atmosphere + live music = great combination for a fun night out!

5   Sign up for a snorkelling tour. Hands down one of the best things I did while in Bali, it certainly created some lifelong memories. On every street corner (and every second vendor between) are stalls with people offering a variety of tours, each one more keen than the last for you to sign up. Shop around, or just pick one – it doesn’t really matter, but at least once you do sign up you can tell the other vendors that. On our snorkelling trip we went to three different spots as well as Gili Air for lunch, and we were fortunate enough to spot several sea turtles. The trip goes for about 5 hours and it is ideal to go in the morning in case the wind picks up.

6   Gili Air is only a short boat ride away and Gili Meno is even closer. Gili Meno is the smallest of the three islands and basically consists of a turtle sanctuary (it was off the coast of Gili Meno that we swam with turtles). Gili Air is larger, and is known to be more serene and beautiful than Gili T. It is popular with those looking for more of a peaceful retreat. Even though we didn’t spend too much time here, it is somewhere I would seriously consider staying next time I’m in Bali.

7   Gili Yoga. It was a lovely way to begin the morning, especially when we finished it off with breakfast at The Banyan Tree next door. There is an abundance of healthy options on Gili T (and of course, some not so healthy options too), you can read my post on food on Gili T here.