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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.

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.

Canggu

Canggu

The first place we stopped off in Bali, Canggu is essentially Australian owned and Australian based. Canggu isn’t a patch on Kuta or Seminyak when it comes to drunk Australians though, and the Australian influence sure creates a good recipe for brunching options. It shouldn’t be surprising to hear that with so many Australians around, good surf is inevitably not far away.

We stayed at the Lay Day Surf Hostel. For only $16/night it was pretty decent, although you could probably get somewhere cheaper if you wanted. The hostel was supposed to be a ‘party hostel’, it wasn’t at all – but our jet-lagged selves were somewhat relieved to see that it didn’t live up to its name. To describe it as ‘incredibly social’ would be entirely accurate; everyone tended to lounge around the pool area making it a fabulous way to meet new people. The facilities were decent, and the location wasn’t too bad either.

Canggu is definitely a beach town. There is one main street, with stacks of cafes, bars and shops that touch on both rustic and boutique. There are a fair few stray dogs (my least favourite part), and stacks of scooters. If you are in Canggu predominantly to surf and you stayed close to the beach, you could almost get away without even a scooter (although a scooter does allow for better exploration). Nearby is Echo Beach, which also has good surf. The beaches themselves weren’t particularly nice for swimming though, so if you don’t actually intend to surf, you really only need a couple of days here. My favourite thing about Canggu was the vibe and the food – brunching was 10/10 (you can read about it here)

Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island

Only a short ferry ride from Auckland itself, Waiheke Island can feel like a world away. Remove the traffic, the crowds and the bustle that is the big city, and you’ll find yourself in the serenity of Waiheke Island. It’s not completely deserted though, it is far more commercialised than Rangitoto Island for instance. There is so much to do and see there, yet there is actually so little at the same time: we only had a day, which was enough – but I can see how it would be easy to spend a whole week there.

Jump aboard the boat from Auckland’s Queens Wharf, it costs $36 for a return ticket and leaves half hourly. The trip takes about 40 minutes. On arrival, it is possible to hire a car, or you can just head outside where you will quickly spot the abundance of buses. My family and I jumped on a hop-on hop-off bus which I think is a very convenient way to see the island if you only have a short period of time. The hop-on hop-off buses come every half hour to a number of stops across the island, so it is really easy to fit everything into a day.

First stop was Oneroa, which was only 5 – 10 minutes from the ferry terminal. This town was definitely the most touristy on the island. There are lots of cute cafes, boutique shops and gift shops. I was surprised at how affordable all the shops were – I certainly had an expectation that the prices would all be bumped. The beach is also right there, so everything is basically at your fingertips. Make sure you check out the Island Grocer for fresh produce and other supermarket goods (the prices here are definitely inflated) and also Hot Shot Espresso for your caffeine fix.

  

Back on the bus, this time to Ostend. This area could be described as the local hub. The industrial area is nearby (which includes home-ware shops, gardening shops and also a recycling station) and every Saturday there runs a cute wee market with arts and crafts, knick-knacks and a few food stalls. Typical me, I couldn’t go past the fudge stall without stopping, trying and eventually buying – the pineapple lump fudge is to DIE for.

 

The last main area that is worth a mention is Onetangi. A beautiful sandy beach, with clear flat waters, this is definitely one of the prime spots on Waiheke. It would be so easy to spend a week away here, and judging by the number of baches dotted about the place, I’m not the only one who thinks so. It was certainly limited for food options though; due to winter closures we literally had the choice of just the one (Charley Farley’s) – thankfully it was good.

There are stacks of wineries on the island, including Stoneyridge, Cable Bay Vineyards and Wild on Waiheke to name a few, but note in advance that a number of them shut down across winter for scheduled maintenance. Waiheke Island is a fantastic trip from Auckland. You can either glam it up and taste around the wineries, or do as we did and set out on more of an exploration of the island. Too easy!

 

The Riddiford Bar & Bistro

The Riddiford Bar & Bistro

The Riddiford Bar & Bistro (16 Riddiford Street, Newtown)

With a prime location of across the road from the hospital, business here should be booming. Unfortunately, I think The Riddiford probably needs a bit of a revamp before this happens. It took me a while to visit here because I’d heard extremely mixed things about it, but when I did I was pleasantly surprised.

We came here for lunch (so I still can’t really review the dinner options I’m afraid) and I was pleased to see that the place was relatively busy. It is essentially two rooms joined together to form the cafe, but with a big wide open door so that it basically feels like one. It’s quite cramped, but that works positively for the vibe.

The coffee beans are those of Mojo, so I was immediately looking forward to my coffee arriving. The menu itself was rather plain; I wasn’t sure whether to keep it simple or to mix it up. I opted nervously for a chicken quasedilla with fries, and I kid you not, it was absolutely delicious. I had such a good meal here that I wouldn’t hesitate in coming back to order the exact same thing again. I also tried the open chicken sandwich, which was also pretty nice, but not as delicious as mine.

Overall this place exceeded my rather low expectations, and while the overall experience was good, The Riddiford probably needs to up its game if it wants to stay in competition with the other fantastic options Newtown has to offer.

Greytown

Greytown

 

Such an easy getaway from the flurry of the city and sub-par weather that epitomises Wellington, yet it is somewhere that I have always only thought of as nothing more than a town that I pass through on my way home to Hawkes Bay. Not this time though. We only left Wellington Saturday after lunch, and a short 90 minutes later we were at our Air BnB. It didn’t take us long to settle and so we wandered down to the main street for a mosey.

 

Greytown is full of charming cafes, boutique shops and high quality second-hand shops. So many knick-knacks there for the taking; it’s amazing how quickly you can chew through time when absorbed in shops like these. There are also some delicious eateries – see my posts on 2 Short Whites and La Pancetta for just 2 of Greytown’s gems, but if you were in the mood to purchase some goodies to takeaway with you, check out The Lolly Jar for a sensational selection of sweets, or Schoc for some of the regions finest crafted chocolate.

Don’t worry about the excess consumption; Greytown has so many nearby tracks for walking and cycling (there are numerous bicycle hire places on the main street); the Rail Trail is suitable for both cycling and walking and is only minutes away from the town. If it’s a rainy day check out the Cobblestones Museum, or head across to Martinborough for the cinema or some more wining and dining (Poppies is a must visit!).

2 Short Whites

2 Short Whites

2 Short Whites (74 Main Street)

Despite being on the main street of Greytown, this little gem is somewhat tucked away. We went for a wander on early Saturday evening, and had we not already heard of it I think we would have walked straight past it. Heading north, it’s just on the left hand side of the road in the middle of town, with a coutyard out front. It’s large and spacious, and has wonderful sliding doors that can open right up.

The menu was delicious sounding; there were enough people around me ordering the open sandwiches that I thought I should follow suit and see what the fuss was about. The slow cooked lamb shoulder open sandwich was absolutely divine. The smoothies looked fantastic, although I just stuck to my usual long black on this occasion.

There was a great option of wee slices and other desserts, presented beautifully on a wall front. There was even a wee something for dogs. At the time of posting this, 2 Short Whites was up for sale – here’s hoping it passes to someone who maintains the wonderful standard of this superb cafe in Greytown!

Morocco

Morocco

Before I went to Europe I had barely even given the country of Morocco two thoughts. Little did I know that my €30 flights would give rise to one of the coolest experiences of my life. Flights (or ferries) from Spain always tend to be relatively cheap, so if you are down that way and have the time then there is really no excuse. It was certainly a trip unlike I had ever had in my life. Despite wearing one of my rings on my engagement finger, and being accompanied by a guy mate of mine, I couldn’t believe the number of catcalls and crazy suggestions that the men over there continually came up with. Further, the cheek of some of the people in order to just get a dollar; it took outrageousness to a whole new level. When we walked through the main square of Marrakesh one of us was always on ‘monkey-duty’ because even mere eye contact with someone metres away from you that was in possession of a monkey would more often than not result in them forcing the monkey onto your shoulder and then demanding money for it. There were so many crazy memories such as this one, and so many insanely cool memories (such as sleeping under the stars in the Sahara Desert) and all of them combined resulted in me having one of the most fun and interesting holidays of my life.

Wellington Walks

Wellington Walks

There are some fabulous walks in and around Wellington. It never ceases to amaze me how we live in the capital city of New Zealand, but nature is right there. We have so many different options surrounding us if we want to immerse ourselves in some nature; everything is really accessible. It doesn’t take much to feel like you have escaped the hustle and bustle of the city. Outlined below are some of my favourite walks (this blog post is a work in progress, so I will keep adding to it as I do new walks. It’s also a chance to show off some of Wellington’s incredible scenery, so excuse the photo overload!):

 

  • Red Rocks

A pleasant walk along the south coast of the North Island, a good day will expose you to some glorious views of the South Island, some seals, and some sound fresh air – but on a bad day, you will just be exposed to massive winds (and plenty of fresh air) so I would avoid at all costs! It is easy to get to; just head out to Owhiro Bay and once at the ocean, take a right and drive around until you spot the car park at the end of the road. If you don’t have a car, you can bus to Owhiro Bay and walk from there.

The walk is basically along the beach front; but expect stones, not sand and definitely keep your eyes peeled for seals. The rocks are quite literally red (formed by underwater volcanic eruptions many years ago) and you can keep walking basically for as long as you want. A common turnaround point is Devil’s Gate which is about 1 hour from the carpark, making for a 2 hour return walk.

  • Butterfly Creek

Located out in Eastbourne, this walk is definitely easier if you have a car to get there (although catching a bus, or even a ferry, is entirely an option). It begins with a dramatic incline that definitely levels out as the walk goes on (use the panoramic views of the harbour as an excuse to stop if you need!); it had us panicking that the walk was going to be super hard, but thankfully it wasn’t. It is a path that winds through a lot of native bush; it is very refreshing and makes your lungs feel wonderfully revitalised and healthy.

The track is well sign-posted, just keep following your way to the picnic area. The track ends at a lovely little campsite / picnic area with a stream nearby. It is easy to find your way home; just turn around and walk the same track back. You could stop off for an ice-cream in Days Bay on the way home if it’s a nice day.

  • Paekakariki Escarpment Trail

This is an absolutely beautiful walk stretching from Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay and rising above the Kapiti Coast, with stunning views that stretch out to Kapiti Island and beyond. It is almost 10km exactly, and takes a couple of hours to do. I would definitely recommend taking some snacks, and a jersey – it can get pretty windy up there at times. You can do the walk in either direction; either by catching the train out there or by driving to one of the car parks nearby the start of each end of the track. Parts of the track are quite flat and boring, but embrace it; you’ll be wanting that back when you climb the immense number of stairs that are spread along the trail.