Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bali with Jer

While we were finishing up our trip in New Zealand, a package in the form of Jeremy arrived at our door in Singapore. Jer had about two full days before we came back, and since then we have been much better hosts, and it's been super fun. We have checked off nearly all of his "food goals" including laksa, chili crab, dim sum, idli...and we have a few more in the schedule. Jer has been an incredible uncle, playing with Sam all day long. She is LOVING him, wanting him to join whatever she does, holding his hand, letting him carry her (she doesn't usually allow those outside of the parent/grandparent category this honour).

In addition to having fun in Singapore, we got to take our fun to Bali, where we met Kurt and Amy, Matt's friends from Peace Corps, who are now living in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was a super fun long weekend. We stayed in Ubud, but were able to hike on the outskirts a bit, eat good food (Indonesian and Western), Jer and Kurt went biking, and we took a car around for a day.

I still believe there is something about Bali that takes my brain out of Singapore and makes me relax. Staying with a view of rice fields, seeing ox walk past your window, smelling the smells and seeing the beautiful colours of that place is just good for the soul.

Some highlights of our trip included:

  • Eating breakfast on Jeremy's porch every morning with a gorgeous view. The first morning it included an ox, and a perfect mango hanging right over his porch.
  • Sam loves shoes (LOVES shoes). We got her these fancy beaded flip flops (for $4), and she was so excited, she had to wear them out of the shop. The sidewalks of Ubud may not be the most consistent...and within about five minutes, Sam had tripped on a huge slab of cement and lost one of her new slippers into the sewer. We went back to get a second pair (one of which was dropped in the road in Singapore today - with cars running on both sides...but it survived. Maybe we should take a hint?)
  • The last morning Sam woke up at 6 and was watching Dora in our bed. Our bed had a lovely mosquito net to keep all the bugs out. After about five minutes, I opened my eyes, looked up and I saw a HUGE cockroach on the top of our bed, inside the mosquito net. How long had that been there? EEEEWWWW!!!
breakfast on jer's porch

all of the waitresses at the restaurant (Murni's Warung) hung out with Sam. They showed her the prayer ceremony. She showed them the snail on the wall.

the building at the back of the rice field (not the one on the right, but the shorter one on the left) is where we stayed. this photo caught sam mid-fall/trip.

you see these all over bali, but i think this is the most beautiful one i have ever seen. just at a store on monkey forest road.

sam lived off of grilled cheese and banana juice/smoothie.

photo of everyone but me, though it's a temple just outside of ubud

jer trying tamarillo, passionfruit and rambutan all at once.

All in all, it was fantastic to spend time with Kurt and Amy. The last time we saw them was 2007 in Hong Kong. It was also great to be in Bali. I just love that place.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

New Zealand

We just returned from the best holiday of our lives - perhaps including the future as well. We spent 2.5 weeks on the South Island of New Zealand (almost exclusively), and it was absolutely gorgeous (click here for photos). We flew to Auckland (10 hours), where Sam saw a golf cart type vehicle and called it a tuk tuk. Then we flew to Nelson on the South Island where the stone statues were Buddhas. The place we stayed first, Harris Hill Cottages (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!) was definitely the highlight of Nelson. The cabin we stayed, City Lights was a one bedroom cabin, with a bed for me and Matt in the main room, a full kitchen, laundry, picnic table and crazy view over the city of Nelson (see photo). We also had a few hundred sheep, cows, ponies, goats, horses, lamas, daisy the pig and dogs at our doorstep.

The first day we drove to Nelson Lakes National Park and hiked up the main mountain as well as around the lake at the bottom. Gorgeous green rolling mountains with sharp snow-covered peaks in the background. We stopped at the Founders Brewery cafe on the way home to try some local brews. Luckily nearly all breweries we have been to in Australia and NZ have playgrounds, so all were happy.

We spent a day exploring Nelson, including finding the jewelry shop which made "THE RING" from the Lord of the Rings (Matt was beyond excited. I couldn't care less). They had a lovely market in town, with fantastic bratwurst, fresh fruit and veggies, etc. We were able to cook simple dinners for a few nights from our purchases at the market. We found the McCashin's Brewery in Stoke, and got a taster. Sam tasted the ginger beer (not really beer) and couldn't get enough.

While staying in Nelson we also visited Abel Tasman National Park. Most of the park is accessible only by water taxi so we saw only the first few hours by foot by the entrance to the park. We visited the Mouteka weekend market first, got amazing empanadas for the hike, with fantastic cherries and strawberries. They also had someone selling used children's clothes, which was fantastic, since we did NOT have enough for Sam. We were able to get corduroys, a sweatshirt and a few long sleeved shirts for a few bucks. Win.

 The park was incredible. The trail mostly hugs the shore, with amazingly blue water, gorgeous cliffs (seemed like limestone - like Thailand, but not as dramatic). While Sam slept in the carrier most of the way out, she hiked a great deal of the way back. At the turn around point we went down to the beach and ate our lunch. Sam was a bit nervous to go in the water at first, and definitely didn't like the waves, but after a while, she loved it. She completely soaked her clothes, so we took them off (see photo), and she had a great time walking up and down the shore, just in the edge of the water.

Leaving Nelson, we took the scenic route, the Queen Charlotte Rd, from Havelock to Picton. It had amazing colours and was well worth the extra kms. On the way down the coast, towards our next destination of Kaikoura, we stopped at Ohau waterfall to see the seals who climb UP the waterfall...We arrived in Kaikoura, checked into our cabin (Kaikoura Cottages - recommended - not anything crazy special but definitely did the job and also had an extra bedroom), went to the grocery store and had a nice evening. It was a bit of a cloudy evening, and we didn't realise until the next morning that we had an AMAZING view of gorgeous snow covered mountains.

We hiked around the Kaikoura Peninsula, which may have been our most beautiful hike we did (see photo). It had gorgeous, blue water on one side, snow covered mountains behind us, and lots of different terrain. Steep climbs, long treks in fields, a bit of pine forest, some even through a few towns and neighborhoods. We saw many seals, and we even saw dolphins jumping in the distance. It can't get much prettier than that anywhere in the world.

After Kaikoura, we drove to Twizel near Mt Cook. We drove nearly a whole day, passing through Christchurch and the brewery which made the beer for the Lord of the Rings (it turns out it's completely disgusting, as it had to be very low alcohol content in order to shoot and re-shoot scenes, but the bottle is cool). It was about 8 hours of driving in total, and Samara was a champ. She slept or zoned out for most of it, only creating havoc for about five minutes total. She rocked. The drive was INCREDIBLY beautiful. We wove down the east coast towards Christchurch - in yellow hills with sea on our left and cute towns every few...hours...? After Christchurch we cut inland and headed towards Mt Cook. It was gorgeous, and then it got even more gorgeous when we hit Lake Tekapo. It's a BLUE glacial lake like nothing I have seen before (see photo). After that was Lake Pukaki (seriously - cool name, right?), which was similar. Apparently there is some silt in the water which makes it blue, and it's amazing.

We stayed in the TINY town of Twizel (would be cool if it was soft "i" but it's like "eye") at the Aspen Court Hotel. Again, nothing to write home about, but it did the trick. The town had so few people but so many restaurants. Sam loved the playground, ate pizza and enjoyed her first hot chocolate. It was FREEZING!

While in Twizel, we spent a day at Mt. Cook. We were driving up to it and Matt insisted on taking a few photos. I was annoyed to stop the car for MORE photos (he loves photos), but it turns out this was a good decision. Once we got there, the weather was super cloudy and we didn't see it the rest of the day. We still have no sense of where the actual mountain was in relation to where we hiked. They told us it would pour after lunch so we better get going. We did the Hooker Valley Track (see photo), which took us up a river, across a few "shaky bridges" (as Sam calls them) and towards one of the glaciers. It was absolutely gorgeous, but raining nearly the whole time. Sam got down a did a bit of hiking on her own, and she loved it. We also did a walk to a glacial lake, which was ok but not as cool as the first hike.

After Mt Cook we headed to Queenstown. The drive there was absolutely unbelievable (though we almost ran out of gas - you can go HOURS without seeing a pump, it turns out!). It was another long drive, and we ended up at our B&B about 15 minutes outside of Queenstown, Crownview B&B. This place is DEFINITELY recommended if you're up for a B&B. They were the nicest people, even the baby played with Sam (in addition to the sheep, dogs, chickens, etc.). The view from their home was the Remarkables in one direction, other, less sharp, but still snow covered mountains a bit to the left, then their gorgeous grass and huge valleys all around their house. Just when I thought it couldn't get any more beautiful, out popped the rainbow (see photo). No joke!

We really enjoyed the Queenstown area. Our first night we got a Fergburger to have at the beach (See photo. Sam had grilled cheese and enjoyed the fries, though she had to defend from the ducks who also love fries). We also visited the Remarkables market - just at the base of the mountains. They had cool locally made crafts and food and even a sandbox for kids. At the Queenstown market we found a lovely piece of art which we both agreed on (this never happens), and we enjoyed live music and generally amazing weather and positive vibe. We did a walk out to Sunshine Bay, along the lake from Queenstown, and that was gorgeous too. As a treat we had lunch at a lovely winery, Amisfield, and Sam kept herself busy on the petanque field.

We took an evening trip to Arrowtown, which is a few minutes away from Queenstown and was crazy historical and gorgeous. The pub where we ate even had a tree-house for the kids to play in. While the boys were all throwing sand and rocks in and out of it, Sam wanted to bring in a pink chair and sit nicely. Boys and girls are so different. We also took a drive up to Glenorchy to hike up Diamond Creek/River (see photo of Sam hiking), and that was gorgeous too (see a trend?).

While Queenstown is generally the place for sky diving, bungee jumping or doing other crazy things, we hiked and took a calm boat ride on the lake. Next time. After Queenstown we drove out to Te Anau to stay on a deer farm at Rose N'Reel. We had our own cottage, literally surrounded by a deer farm, including sheep, a super friendly horse and dog and loads of other animals. We didn't realise they had a cat until we were reading bedtime stories with Sam and the cat jumped in the window and onto the bed...that was alarming, but very welcoming, I suppose. While Te Anau is incredibly gorgeous itself (we did a bit of hiking around the lake and in a neighboring town), it's also the jumping off point for the Milford Sound. We drove out there to take a few hour boat ride, and it was AMAZING (see photo). It was like the cliffs of Thailand or the Philippines but WAY bigger and more dramatic...and with snow and glaciers, waterfalls and other impressive bits.

From Te Anau we drove all along the south (the SUPER scenic route...perhaps not worth it...through the Catlins) all the way to Dunedin. While the town itself was really pleasant, and it's a cultural hub, we were so used to being outdoors that we didn't really know what to do with ourselves. We spent most of our time in the botanic gardens (and they were GORGEOUS!). We stayed at Leithview, another working farm but this time about two minutes from the city. While we found our B&Bs to be fantastic, it's much easier to stay in a self-contained cabin where we can cook, have separate spaces to sit after we put Sam to bed, and more flexibility for noise.

We spent a day on the Otago Peninsula, hiking around, and we ended up seeing two rare sea lions (see photo) at Sandfly Bay. One was sleeping on the beach, and the other walked ashore and got himself comfy while we were there. That was super cool.

We flew from Dunedin to Auckland and spent a day there. Similar to Dunedin, we weren't quite sure what to do with ourselves in a city - so we enjoyed the good food, checked out the main street, the harbour and walked around a lot, but we spent a lot of time in a big park.

All in all, it was absolutely incredible, and without a doubt the most beautiful place I have ever seen in my life. Two and a half weeks was a good amount of time, as any less I would have felt like I didn't see anything and any more, I would be sure that my child would not survive off grilled cheese and pizza alone. The people were super welcoming, the food was super tasty, beer and wine were good, and the prices were WAAAYYY cheaper than Australia, where we went the past two years. If it weren't so damn far away, this New Zealand place would be the most visited place on earth. For sure.