I’ve been told time and again that the South Island is the best place to be in New Zealand; it has the best views, the prettiest scenery… the greenest grass. Well, I haven’t made it down there yet (it’s on my list), but I can now happily say I’ve seen a pretty good portion (at least geographically speaking) of the North Island, and it’s still amazing.
If like me, you happen to find yourself on North Island and want to explore but are a little strapped for time, hopefully my adventure will provide you with some helpful inspo for a quick, but action-packed trip across the north.
Starting in Wellington, NZ, I needed to arrive in Auckland by Sunday night and wanted to see as much as possible. Originally, it was my plan to do the Alpine Crossing hike in Tongariro National Park, just outside of Taupo. After a bit more research, I learned that not only does the hike (as it should of course) take a comfy minimum of 8 hours, one should (must) also be properly geared up, prepared, etc. Equipped only with lifestyle Nikes (lol) and a frattagonia, I figured I’d at least need to rent some gear. While this was most likely possible, I came to the conclusion that in order to enjoy the weekend to the fullest without being rushed nonstop, it would be smarter to save the hike for another visit to NZ, when I have plenty of time to immerse in the nature, hike around as much as I want and actually spend a few days around Tongariro. (It looks amazing though, if you have a little more time in this area- I’ve heard great things!)
After realizing the extent of my time crunch, I looked for activities and stop-offs that would be fun to explore but wouldn’t necessarily take the entirety of a day, and ended up with a fabulous itinerary; here’s what I did over the weekend.
The drive from Wellington up to Taupo is lovely in and of itself, winding in between cute little towns, one-street villages and rolling green hills. Be sure to stay focused on the road, because the beautiful views can get distracting. I chose to rent a car in Wellington, which could be dropped off in Auckland – a car allowed me to go wherever I wanted, whenever… it was absolutely worth it to me for this kind of trip, and unless there is a major barrier to renting a car, it’s the way to go. It took a little over two hours to reach Taupo, where I had booked a one night stay at the Hilton Lake Taupo. I first saw Lake Taupo from the road, which is the major lake for which Taupo is famous. A monstrous blue gem, the lake is gorgeous and home to all manner of fun activities.
Since I hadn’t pushed to leave super early Saturday morning, I arrived late afternoon into Taupo and began looking for things to do still that evening. I had heard about the Maori rock carvings on Lake Taupo, and found an evening sunset cruise still available to visit them. Having a few hours before the cruise, I asked about any hot springs nearby, since the area around Taupo is renowned for its geothermal activity and plethora of hot springs. It turned out that Taupo DeBretts Spa Resort is right next door (a 5 minute walk) from the Hilton, so I walked just down the road to the public hot springs. There is a small entry fee for unlimited day access to the pools, which are well-maintained in a lovely landscaped area, including trees, plants, waterfalls and even waterslides, for kiddies and adventurers. I spent at least an hour soaking in the warmth of the vividly turquoise-green pools, amazed at the natural temperatures (allegedly cooled down by necessity to make it possible for people to swim!)
Later, on to Lake Taupo for some evening exploring: It is easy to drive down to the harbor (Redoubt street), and park along the water where all of the boats are docked. There are many ways to see the carvings throughout the day, including by several types of boat or even kayak. I went on the sunset cruise with a company called Ernest Kemp; a relatively small group of people is taken out on the lake in an adorable little green tug boat, and the sunset cruise included pizza and (seemingly unlimited) beer or wine, tea or coffee… pretty fancy stuff, folks. The cruise takes about two hours total, reaching the carvings just in time to catch the last of the daylight and circling back with a gorgeous backdrop of the setting sun, painting streaks across the evening sky.
*I was not able to fully explore the Taupo area, but it is most famous (apart from the lake itself), for its geothermal attractions, including hot springs, pools and waterfalls. According to my own quick research, top picks for the area include Haka Falls, Wairakei Terraces and Thermal Health Spa, and Otumuheke Stream Spa Park. Unfortunately my trip was too quick to explore all of these, but they are on my list for next time; I would love to do a relaxing hot springs crawl of sorts around Taupo; if you are looking for more tips, the Great Lake Taupo website is quite helpful.
After a relaxing arrival to Taupo and a lovely evening, I got a good night’s rest and woke up for a delicious fresh breakkie at the hotel, overlooking a misty Lake Taupo in the distance. I got around early to make the most of the day, heading out from Taupo and up north towards Rotorua. A little over two more hours north of Taupo along the “Thermal Explorers’ Highway” lies Rotorua, another area famed for its volcanic and geothermal activity. There are plenty of fun things to see and do around Rotorua, but if you only have a few hours, you must go to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. Waiotapu is a Maori word meaning “sacred waters,” and is an active geothermal area at the southern area of the Okataina Volcanic Center in New Zealand’s Taupo Volcanic Zone. I spent close to three hours total at Waiotapu, taking the long path (of three options based on which thermal attractions you would like to see and how long you wish to take) to see all of the thermal craters and lakes, and then afterwards stopping by the boiling mud pool. For more detail on Waiotapu, see my blog post about it here.
After exploring Waiotapu, I was back on the road towards Rotorua proper. On my way through, I stopped at Polynesian Spa, a developed and fully landscaped geothermal spa that sits directly on the banks of Lake Rotorua, with amazing views across the water. The pools in the spa come from various natural sources in the area, some of which are exclusively sourced by Polynesian Spa and are only accessible there. For example, the “Priest’s Bath,” which for centuries served as the bathing site for local Maori, who long acclaimed the therapeutic benefits of bathing in the acidic water. Information about the baths claims that people have long traveled to Rotorua and to these baths specifically to reap such health benefits as relief from arthritis and rheumatism, or even to seek “eternal beauty,” which is said to grace those who bathe in the nearly magical water.
Refreshed from my R&R stop at Polynesian Spa, I headed on down (up) the road for what is basically the middle of nowhere in the north island to nowhere other than The Shire, of course. I debated as to the real importance of visiting the famed Lord of the Rings filming spot, but in the end decided that if I was going to be so close, I simply couldn’t and shouldn’t miss saying hello. So, a few hours and many luscious green rolling hills later, a tiny country one lane road brought me to the parking lot of Hobbiton. I did question Google Maps every once in a while, especially when the road became narrower and the hills became more dense. I had a feeling I was on the right track, however, when pulling around a corner I happened upon a (honest to God) wizard (?) with a small horse (?) seemingly taking photos alongside the road (WHAT). Hobbiton is – well – quaint, and as expected, a bit on the touristy side. For the die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, the tour guides invite you to reenact any scene you like from The Hobbit, and a video playing inside the tour bus on your short jaunt out to the hobbit houses explains a bit with footage about the making of the film and how the land was originally found by the director, in the middle of a beautiful New Zealand farm. It was interesting to learn about the film and its history, and about just how much of a production it became for the countryside farm; instead of monetary backing from the government, the director was instead offered help and manpower from the military, which assisted in building roads on set and through the hills of the farm. This eventually drew (unwanted) attention to the ongoings on an otherwise unassuming property, and eventually the surface tales would no longer satisfy curious neighbors; once people found out what was really going on, the project had to even establish a no fly zone above the farm to avoid the occasional helicopter trying to get a peek from showing up on camera! After the tour of Hobbiton and plenty of selfies with Bilbo’s house (although don’t expect to see a fully-furnished Hobbit hole… the insides of the houses were all constructed and filmed in Wellington), we were taken to the Green Dragon pub, set in a shockingly idyllic valley, where the golden sun dances across the verdant hills and plays magic on the small lakes. How can you not feel like you really are a hobbit, or living for real in this fantastical world? After enjoying a leisurely beer at the Green Dragon, we were escorted back to the entrance and of course exited through the gift shop, where available for sale you will even find the Ring, inscription and all, and an “elvin cloak,” as made famous by Gandalf in the movie. While I consider myself somewhere in between a die-hard fan and ambivalent aficionado of the movie series, it was still very enjoyable to visit Hobbiton, and definitely something that I would recommend once. You can decide for yourself if you cant live without a second trip back.
The rest of the drive up to Auckland was done as the sun went down, painting the sky with streaks of vivid purple, orange and red – theres just nothing like a New Zealand sunset. Unless it’s an Aussie sunset, but still. From there, I cant say too much about the scenery but it was a good drive up, pretty soon made it to the city and checked in for a much needed snooze. Overall, choosing to drive across the North Island was a fantastic decision and I saw some amazing things. My only wish is to spend much more time in each place, and perhaps explore much more along the way! Several weeks spent just exploring NZ is definitely on my bucket list.
My roadtrip at a glance:
Wellington, NZ to Auckland, NZ (2 days)
Wellington to Taupo
Maori Carvings, Lake Taupo
Taupo DeBretts Spa Resort
Taupo to Auckland
Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland & Mud Pools
Polynesian Spa at Lake Rotorua
Hobbiton Movie Set, Matama
Have YOU ever fallen down the rabbit hole? How about one that ends in boiling pools of neon yellow goop? If this sounds up your alley, head on out to Rotorua, New Zealand. Let’s talk about Waiotapu – what does it mean? Waiotapu is a maori word meaning “sacred waters,” and is an active geothermal area at the southern area of the Okataina Volcanic Center in New Zealand’s Taupo Volcanic Zone. Thermal – indeed, quite self-explanatory. Wonderland – aptly titled, because between the unsettling and unnatural (but 1000% natural!) colors, the 100 degree+ temperatures (Celsius) and the crazy landscapes, this beauty will have you feeling like Alice for sure… perhaps after the “eat me, drink me” encounter.
There is no shortage of beautiful wonders to see at Waiotapu, so I would allow at least 2 hours for your visit, if not a bit more. If you’re up for an early start, the Lady Knox Geyser (allegedly) awakens every morning at 10:15AM (unfortunately I visited in the afternoon, so cannot confirm this lovely experience but am hoping to see it next time!) The park is well-landscaped with clearly defined paths for visitors, and plenty of signs indicating where really not to step or leave the indicated path given the high temperatures of the ground and steam coming out of the thermal caves. Visitors are able to choose which path (of three main options) they wish to follow, namely a shorter track (walk 1) that takes you to the main attractions of the Central Pools and Champagne Pool, a middle ground (walk 1 & 2) offering some additional sights, and then the full extended trek (walk 1, 2, & 3), which, while not at all more difficult or arduous, provides so many surprises along the way and an unforgettable end view. Estimated lengths and times of walk 1 is 1.5km, 30 min; walk 2 is 2km and should take 40 min, while walk 3 is 3km and should take about 75 min. I was unsure which path to take at first because the guides in the welcome center sound rather ambivalent but say of course it’s all very interesting, may as well go all the way for some additional nice photos… but if you take away anything from this writing, do the full circuit walk!!! It. Is. Amazing. And so SO worth it. My last minute decision to do the entire path because (why not, I was already there) turned out to be an excellent choice, and once you complete the first half with main attractions, a significant chunk of tourists with their impending selfie sticks have already circled back for the entrance, leaving you alone to wander amongst the nature alone with your thoughts, camera (ok, perhaps a selfie stick of your own), and some really breathtaking views.
What you’ll see
Along any walk you choose, you will pass a huge variety of wonders, including thermal caves spewing steam, bubbling ominously from their depths, and a lovely sulfuric smell… yum. All of these caves and pools you will see throughout the course of the day are results of time, and location in one of the most active volcanic areas in the world. Here are some of the park’s highlights, and my favorites:
Artist’s Palette: After earthquakes caused the Champagne Pool to tilt, mineral laden water flowed over the flat, causing this multicolored display of chemical beauty. Orange, bright yellows and surreal greens and blues paint across the water as mineral deposits are spread around by the wind.
Champagne Pool: arguably the most famous attribute of Waiotapu, the Champagne Pool occupies a crater that was formed during an eruption 700 years ago! Purportedly the most violent eruption that the world has seen in the past 5,000 years, ash was seen as far away as the skies of Europe and China. What’s going on to make it these crazy colors, you may ask… let alone the “champagne”-esque bubbles? Well, let’s just say there’s some knarly chemistry going on, to say the least.
For my science buffs: the water enters the pool at a temp of 230 degrees Celsius and cools within the pool to around 74 degrees, with a pH of 5.4, making it slightly acidic. The gas bubbles rising to the surface are C02, the orange colored edge containing arsenic and antimony sulfur compounds rich in minerals including gold and silver.
Lake Ngakoro: This is the enormous, stunning lake that greets deserving visitors at the end of their trek (on the long walk). Crisply turquoise, the lake lures one into its beautiful depths. Take your time just looking, soaking in the beauty, and enjoy life for a moment.
Devil’s Bathtub: The most intriguing (perhaps most disturbing) feature of Waiotapu may in fact be its most tranquil (in terms of chemistry and volcanic activity, anyway). Also sitting in a crater caused by eruption likely centuries ago, the stagnant liquid of Devil’s Bathtub is an astonishingly (anyone have a better word?!) neon yellow/green, resulting from sulfur deposits that rise to its surface. LOVELOVELOVE. Stay wild, Waiotapu- seriously.
Ok, you’ve seen all the craziness that nature has to offer. You’ve seen 100 degree steam rising from a bright green pool, a small lake properly comparable only to Gatorade, and wonder upon wonder of geothermal amazement. Stop right there. You simply cannot drive away from Waiotapu without first driving just beyond their main parking area… back towards the signs pointing out “Mud Pools.” A visit to Waiotapu simply would not be complete without seeing Rotorua’s famous boiling mud. It’s just as magical as it sounds, I promise. Go ahead, I dare you to jump in (just kidding, please don’t. As one of the kind fellows that welcomed us implored, “if you want to keep your legs, please refrain.”) The mud occupies the site of a once-volcano which eroded in the 1920s, leaving a rather mysterious and captivating pit of bubbling and boiling goo (which, by the way, is the source of many luxurious cosmetic products including a killer face mask!). Laugh, point, take some pics… try to predict when the next big bubble will come- that’s all, folks.
Whether you’re traveling NZ solo or bringing the whole fam damily, this place is MAGICAL, and you need to go. Now. Go see these whimsical wonders and feel your jaw drop- dayum, Mother Nature.
*Getting there: Waiotapu is more or less smack in the middle of New Zealand’s north island, and nearly equidistant from Taupo and Rotorua. I visited Waiotapu en route from Wellington to Auckland via a night over in Taupo- a quick drive down “Thermal Explorers’ highway” is accessible and easy the next morning. From my experience, having a car to see around NZ is simply preferable, because you avoid uncertainty, get to see all of these tucked-away places, and of course, can see what you want, when and how and you travel on your own terms. J
A quick 15 minute drive from downtown Wellington, Zealandia Ecosanctuary is an oasis amongst the craziness of Wellington city, and a welcome reprieve from the weekly grind. The history and story behind Zealandia is intriguing; as the world’s first fully-fenced urban ecosanctuary, it has reintroduced 18 species of native wildlife back into the area, 6 of which were previously absent from mainland New Zealand for over 100 years. This all in line with their extraordinary mission to restore Wellington’s valley forest and freshwater ecosystems as closely as possible to their pre-human state.
The fence of Zealandia allows a remarkably rare blend of birds, reptiles, insects and more to thrive and flourish, living wild within a ruggedly gorgeous jungle valley stretching across one square mile. Keep your eyes peeled, and your camera at the ready, as you never know when you will confront a red-beaked Takahē sidling along down the path (I never did, sadly). Don’t get me started on the insects… let’s just say you most likely hope you do not have any run-ins with these knarly dudes (how do insects that big even exist?!)
After being plopped into one urban jungle after another (and loving it of course), I always jump at the chance to immerse myself in some real nature, even if just for a little while. Walking through this wonderland of green, sweet silence punctuated only by breezes and a wild symphony of bird calls and insect humming, watching the sunlight stream through feathery ferns – I could stay here for hours.. and hours. You may want to! Whether you are a seasoned bird watcher or a Wellington drop-by visitor, Zealandia has something for you – there are many different pathways and combinations thereof, so you can make your trek as long, short, challenging or relaxing as you like, and just revel in the pure loveliness of this very true sanctuary.
Find more info about the park at http://visitzealandia.com
STAY WILD xxx
If orange is the new black and almond flat white is the new skinny latte, Burleigh is long overdue to be christened “the new Surfers” – don’t worry, Paradise lovers, I’m not bashing your favorite hangout or suggesting you relinquish evening crawls down the Esplanade; I’m just saying from personal experience alongside tons of local tips, Burleigh is not to be missed!
Burleigh Heads (or just Burleigh to locals) is nestled along the expansive Gold Coast in eastern Australia, punctuating the terrain between Surfers Paradise to the North and Coolangatta (host to Gold Coast airport) to the South. At first described to me as the “more laidback and nature-oriented option if you are looking to escape or avoid the bustle of Surfers,” I quickly came to realize after a weekend at the Gold Coast that it’s not up and coming; it’s here to stay, and it may just be the place to be this summer.
Hipsters on Surfboards
As the name aptly illustrates, the renowned Surfers Paradise at the North of Gold Coast, eastern Australia, is indeed nothing other than a surfer’s heaven on earth, rolling in long, powerful waves of clear blue water, and miles upon miles of powdery white sand. The place is no short of fantastic in my opinion, and I loved every minute that I spent in and around Surfers. This story, though, is of the little gem to the south – Burleigh. Burleigh locals gaze across the waves at a grey skyline, punctuating the otherwise pristinely natural and tropical landscape and sigh; “we call it Gotham City.” If you visit the Gold Coast and you’ve had your look around Surfers and already stocked up on stag-party-accessories galore from the enormous “CONDOM” factory on main street and you happen to be looking for a little tranquility, Burleigh is your place, because while Surfers is indeed awesome, let’s be real-it has no chill. Burleigh has all the chill. From its hipster hole in the wall cafés started by surfing locals to its array of trendy restaurants and boutiques, Burleigh has swiftly replaced the ritzier bars and restaurants of Surfers as the hangout favorite of GC locals.
Be sure to check out:
Justin Lane – glamazon meets hipster in this quircky pizzeria, which is fondly referred to by locals (or maybe just my brand of locals) as “Tinder Lane”- this one’s self-explanatory. Whether or not you are a bit surprised by the level to which people get fancied up to go for some eclectic Italian bites and some craft beer, Justin Lane is certainly a favorite trendy hangout place, with a cozy upstairs bar for hours of fashionable fun.
Do all the things
Burleigh isn’t only cute cafes and shops; the sheer natural beauty is what attracted me to Burleigh and I’m sure what keeps so many people returning. Towering Norfolk pine trees line the Burleigh foreshore, home to hundreds of screeching birds that roost in the trees every night- this is a funny phenomenon that locals have long become accustomed to and that still startles visitors. Below the trees, people turn out in droves on a Sunday afternoon to set up their picnic blankets, pull out their beers and just relax on the grass, enjoying a stunning sunset. Swimming, paddle boarding, surfing- it’s all possible around the Headland, where the water is always less choppy than it may be along the rest of the coast, and the inlet next to Burleigh Heads National Park is a perfect spot for swimming, beaching and relaxing without the bigger winds and waves found up further along the coast. Burleigh happens to have some of the most renowned surf-related natural terrain in Australia and the world, with parts of the coast recognized as a world heritage site of surfing. This place really is something to everyone, and if you still haven’t found something you love, take a hike – literally – up to the Burleigh Heads National Park! Paved nature trails wind throughout the entire park and bring you to the top of the national park from which you will have an amazing view of the coast in both directions. Take it all in, and if you’re feeling extra adventurous, take a detour over the wire fence (where it says “warning, stay on the path” of course) and climb out to “Cock Rock” (and see if you can see why it has been nicknamed as such). You’ll probably encounter a friendly group of local kids that have claimed this spot as their Sunday hangout, but they certainly won’t begrudge you your obligatory selfie.
I’ll be back, Burleigh – stay wild. xXx
Brisbane’s renowned Gallery of Modern Art is turning 10!! Happy Birthdayyyyy to GOMA! Several striking exhibits are claiming a home at GOMA for the celebration, and they are not only incredible, intellectual and meaningful, but pure fun – I visited GOMA twice within one week in Brisbane and would keep going back and back to see (and hear!) more of this unique museum.
Sugar Spin – You, Me, Art, and Everything
Headlining the celebrations of GOMA’s 10th birthday is the exhibit ‘Sugar Spin,’ featuring over 250 contemporary artworks exploring light, space, architecture and the senses. Large scale and immersive works invite visitors to interact with and appreciate these incredible works of art that fully plunge one into an exploration of our complex connection with the natural world. An effort to reach deeper understanding of the art leads one into meaningful discovery, while the installations themselves are necessarily fantastic and fun even superficially. Here are some of my favorite experiences of Sugar Spin:
Stroke the furry wall:
Entering GOMA, I was immediately confronted by an expansive FURRY WALL-literally. This thing crawls up the wall to a height of about 15 meters, and it looks a bit like Monsters, Inc. exploded everywhere inside the museum. Aka, IT IS F*@#ING AMAZINGGG. Go stroke the furry wall, just get involved. Snuggle it, cuddle it, pet it… whatever you feel like, but just enjoy it! This oasis of happiness is made of multicolored synthetic hair (a lot of it), by Icelandic artist Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir (Shoplifter) and is titled Nervescape V. Bright, strange, immersive and even grotesque, this fuzzy phenomenon will draw you in and keep you for a while, if nothing else for some of the best insta pics you’ll ever take.
Be a bird watcher for the day:
A room on the second floor of GOMA has been reserved solely for one of the most peculiar and lovely exhibits of GOMA’s 10th birthday- the finch room. This live work is the magic of artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, who initially trained as a musician and composer before turning his hand to the visual art, perhaps the clear impetus for this very sonically-oriented work. The cheerful chirping of colorful finches, flitting back and forth between wire hangars and little wooden boxes, permeates a mellow soundscape, creating a meditative and pleasant sound and surrounding. I could have spent hours in here, mesmerized by the beauty of the birds and the sound itself; this artist knew what he was creating indeed.
Sleep with giants:
WOAH- wait, what?! This was more or less my initial reaction when walking into the exhibit room hosting In Bed, by Ron Mueck. A life sized (psh-NO-bigger, much bigger than life-sized!!!) woman lies in a bed on the floor and I swear she just watches you as you approach her. Is she content, tired, troubled… even pained? Not quite sure, and neither is anyone else. The plaque explaining the work actually examines these very questions, and comments on how the realistic nature of the work allows the viewer to perhaps interpret the work as they will, but leaves the true nature of the woman’s mood a mystery. Let’s just say it’s incredible, but I wouldn’t want to be alone with this one after hours… let’s not relive Night at the Museum.
Wheeeeee! Meet you at the bottom!
Slide down one of two tube slides that connect the third floor to the lobby – c’mon, you know you want to. Just don’t be carrying your cameras or pet poodles- they won’t let you on with too many loose objects. Artist Carsten Höller is behind this installation, with a purpose to reexamine expectations about art, i.e. what place does a giant slide have in a serious art museum?? Well, who cares. It’s awesome.
Stare into the depths of Anish Kapoor’s works – either the giant red circular piece, occupying its own room on the gallery floor – or his more minimal blue piece in the same room as a giant dragonlike snake skeleton, alongside several other striking works.
Dance with magical horses:
Immerse yourself in Herd, the fantastical group of horses brought to life in a backdrop video and through human performance. This vibrant room is brought to life by sculptor and performance artist Nick Cave, and is one to spend some moments in. Walk down the rows and look closely; each horse is so unique and beautiful, and just from a short glance, I experienced so many different observations of the art, from interpretation to feeling and even noticing how the different fabrics of the horses’ headdresses are reminiscent of several specific cultures.
Revisit your childhood love of LEGOs!
On the top floor of the gallery, thousands of white Lego pieces have been joined by visitors to form and reform an imaginary and spectacular cityscape; you can place the Legos however you wish and can build any shape or structure that you want, thus creating and re-creating the idea of cities in Olafur Eliasson’s interactive The cubic structural evolution project.
Go on, check out GOMA and wish it a Happy Birthday while you’re at it! Summer is a fantastic time to visit, but Sugar Spin is amazingly worth the visit. (Ok, ok, I am indeed overly obsessed with the giant technicolor fuzzy wall, but WHO ISN’T?!) This place is on Trip Advisor’s top ten list for a reason, but that doesn’t make it a tourist trap. If you are remotely interested in art or just want to have some fun with a few hours in Brisvegas, I would highly recommend a visit.
I would love to hear in your comments below about your own experiences at GOMA or how you feel it compares to other modern art houses, and what your favorite aspect of art and museum viewing in a foreign place is; what is the meaning of traveling to see art for you? Is it meaning, experience, visual, or something else?
It’s a hot hot summer here in Brizzy and I’ve been roaming in search of even hotter eats. Tourist, yes-absolutely, but I’m not just settling for any fish n’ chips, people. I’ve done the research and tried the tucker around Brisvegas, and am bringing to you some of my faves. Whether you’re in search of a quick coffee, nice dinner or just to satisfy your sweet tooth, this list is a good place to start.
If you are looking for a (slightly crazy) yum and fun restaurant where you can eat “little bundles of happy” (the famous gyoza), Harajuku is your spot. Modeled after a traditional Izakaya (old skool Japanese bar with food), Harajuku incorporates all things yum, fun, and happiness. The wait staff greets you with an enthusiastically happy greeting (war-cry?), and you will hear it if someone is having a birthday… so will the neighbors. Big appetite? No worries, as they say at Harajuku, if you are like the Japanese salaryman with “appetite big like Godzilla,” you are invited to order again and again, and share with a friend. J
Insider’s tip: all the gyoza are actually delicious- the lemongrass chicken is particularly flavorful, and you MUST, I repeat must, try the NUTELLA gyoza with vanilla ice cream. Whoever invented hot Nutella wrapped in dough is my hero.
Sure, Brizzy isn’t quite as coffee-obsessed as Melbourne, but it does take its joe seriously. Aptly named Espresso Garage is a rustic hole in the wall serving up a variety of delicious coffees; a great place for your morning caffeine fix, and while there’s no room for seating inside, they have plenty of tables outside to relax and enjoy a snack. A plus: the food options, ranging from buttered raisin toast to “The Big Breakfast,” are oh so slightly-more reasonably-priced than what seems to be the typical for Aussie cities, so you’re not leaving with a hole in the wallet. EG is right in the heart of South Bank, nestled in between the vibrant and quaint Stanley Market and Little Stanley streets, and a 5 min walk from the South Bank boardwalk along the river.
Insider’s tip: (applicable to all Aussie coffee stop-offs)- if you order an “ice(d) coffee,” don’t go thinking pike place on ice; there is a 90% chance you’ll wind up with a dollop of ice cream in your joe. If you want to avoid this, just add “without ice cream, please” to your order – to be sure because hey, ya just never do know.
EDEN GARDEN INDIAN CUISINE
If you happen to be craving Indian and you are nearby South Bank, look no further than Eden Garden. I found this place by a rather circumstantial google search, and though there are many Indian restaurants throughout the CBD and even several in close proximity to Eden Garden, it was rated with the most stars, and the food was true to the ratings. Boasting delicious traditional “home cooked” style food, this place claims the “best naan in town” (they surely must have the most flavor options), and to top off the experience, is themed in a fun cricket décor, with cricket balls wedged into one entire wall of the restaurant.
Insider’s tip: try the veggie ‘chaat’ samosas, and the garlic naan!
This chic and fun Italian restaurant with a view of the Brisbane river lives up to its name; “Popolo” means people, and this place is all about friends, good food, and good vibes. A mix of indoor and outdoor seating creates a warm and friendly vibe, and creatively delicious Italian fare tops off a pleasant evening. Though an excellent place for people to come together, it is cozy to visit as a solo traveler and diner, and you will feel completely at ease. The menu strikes a balance between innovation and “the good stuff” that you know and love, and expect to find on a vaguely Italian menu.
Insider’s tip: for a simple dose of goodness, try the pumpkin ravioli!
Whether to stuff something sweet in the mouth of a whining toddler, impress a tinder date, post to your snap story or simply revel in the magical sugary overload that is Doughnut Time, this place is sweeping Oz – and it may not be a coincidence that they are serving up some of the easily most instagrammable bundles of sugar (and joy) in the nation (world?) Where do I even begin- there’s too much goodness here and in an effort to not get carried away, let’s stick to the basics. Amazing doughnuts, covered in deliciousness, with even more craziness materializing in the form of oreos, crumbles, sprinkles, M&Ms and other goodies atop these little monsters. You could probably close your eyes and play doughnut roulette and still walk away with a grin on your face. Don’t forget, D.T. does milkshakes as well! Sadly, I was informed that they stopped topping their shakes with mini doughnuts (sniff), but they still load them up with an excessive amount of sugary fun to get you through whatever it is prompted you to intentionally seek out that much sugar in the first place.
Insider’s tip: Don’t go too soon after dinner, so you can maybe order 2? … idk, you know the drill, people.
JIMMY’S ON THE MALL
If you get caught wandering Brisvegas well past sunset, or maybe even going for a late swim at Street Beach pools and you suddenly get hungry, what are you gonna do? Head on over to Jimmy’s on the Mall for your late night (or even early morning!) fix. I am actually not too well versed in the late night eats scene of Brisbane, but I was personally struggling to find a place to eat dinner one evening after I was told by restaurant after restaurant that they had long closed their kitchens or were only open until 10:00PM. A few places keep their doors propped until midnight, sure, but Jimmy’s? OPEN 24 HOURS!! This is no haphazard solution to your Thursday night drunchies, though; Jimmy’s is a lovely two story stand-alone restaurant in the middle of the Queen St. Mall, close to the heart of Brisbane’s CBD. Think comfort food, with a short but sweet menu offering a happy range of plain ol’ good tucker that will keep you happy and of course, save you from going to bed hungry!
So go on… start munching!!!
In my book, sand between my toes, sunshine on my face and saltwater is more or less all that it takes to make me happy. A Saturday at the beach is a Saturday wonderfully spent, and what could possibly make it a more perfect weekend than to enjoy not just one, but several of Sydney’s gorgeous coastal beaches. Albeit coming from a tourist’s fresh perspective on the city, the coastal walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach is a total must-do, and something that may just bring you back time and again (I’ve already been twice for a relatively short time in Oz!)
You can of course start the walk from either end, or anywhere along the way.. I chose to start from Bondi Beach, at the quintessentially fabulous Bondi Icebergs club. If you are coming from Sydney CBD, a quick metro ride to Bondi Junction Station and a short bus from there to the beachfront lets you soak in some of Bondi’s beauty (and heat!) before heading off. I always love visiting the graffiti wall (always new and amazing art up), watching slack-jawed as 6 year olds tear up the skate park and inevitably lead me to question how I ever thought I had a shred of athletic talent, and then maybe even catch some rays or wave jump at the beach before heading on up to icebergs.
Once you’re at icebergs, whether or not you hang for a while (only $5 AUD) for full day access to pools and facilities, head along to the back on the middle level (where you see all the selfies taking place along the handrail overlooking the ocean pools) and your coastal beach walk path begins right there! Now you’re off for a gorgeous trip- as an insufferable tourist and photography addict, I do the beach walk at least equipped with iPhone and GoPro – I haven’t yet lugged my bigger camera around, mostly because I’m just there for the experience. Also, it’s likely (and I highly recommend it) that you’ll stop off at each beach, bay, or lookout to enjoy the views, take a dip, sunbathe… or who knows, catch a stray game of beach cricket or volleyball! In this case, especially if doing the walk alone, you may not want to be bogged down with extra (and valuable) baggage.
Should I run a marathon to prepare?
I mean, sure, go for it – probably not needed. I would place the beach walk firmly in the scenic category, not even really lapsing into challenging and certainly not dangerous, though I definitely think that you are secretly getting some great exercise regardless! While the entire walk is conveniently paved, there are lookouts, rock pools and other fun scenic spots that require a little scrambling, and the walk involves inclines and a good amount of stairs near Gordon Bay… I’ve seen ALL sorts of people, with all sorts of companions (animals, children, baby strollers, etc.) do this walk, but definitely would be a good idea to wear comfy walking gear/shoes. I’ve done the walk twice in bikini and flip flops, but I’m also a beach bum… your call.
What to Bring: The Essentials:
Well, back to my photography/beach bum spiel- this is really a personal choice, but remember you’re not hiking Mt. Everest, and not hiking at all, for that matter. Bikini and flippy floppies? FINE. Cutest of cute sundress, sunnies, heels (ehhhh?-seen it done, but not sure where they were going with that) and a derby-ready hat? SURE- you do you, just please if there’s one thing you take away from this, remember the damn sunscreen. I could devote an entire post just to the SUN here in OZ (which I may just do, btw), but it’s really. Not. Fooling. Around. Those people who “don’t need sunscreen” because they “never burn” or when they “just go on a walk…” NOPE. Please wear it, stay safe kids. And who wants to be a lobster smothered in aloe unable to shower for 2 days anyway.
My bringalong list: iPhone (battery pack optional), GoPro, sunscreen, sarong/coverup, flipflops/runners, toggles(aussie for bikini/swimsuit ;), sunglasses and/or hat. Beyond this, go crazy, bring a great book and find a nice nook in the cliff pools overlooking an insanely gorgeous view! Bring your inflatable flamingo or unicorn!! (but just… don’t).
What to DO along the way:
Depending on how much of your day you want to dedicate to the walk, there are endless options awaiting you. For me, the scenery, sunshine, slight exercise and a dip every now and then at a different beach is the perfect formula, but for the extra-actives, why not start with a surf and skateboard, do some swimming along the way, and end with stand-up-paddle boarding at Gordon’s Bay or Coogee Beach! The walk essentially consists of six “sections”:
Bondi to Tamarama: Scenic views
Tamarama to Bronte: watch the surfers, more scenic views. There are picnic areas and parks along both of these, as well as training parks for the runners/fitness lovers! While Tamarama is quite small, Bronte is larger and quite popular among families. The Bronte pools offer another ocean pool experience with a small jumping rock, which, even though most frequented by ten year olds, is still tempting to all of us.
Bronte to Clovelly: You’ll hit some uphills here, and most noticeably walk right smack through the famous Waverly Cemetery. I make sure to hit this part of the walk well before sunset… perhaps you will share my sentiment once you see this bit of the walk for yourself. Once you get into Clovelly, you’ll start seeing the Clovelly beach clubs etc. and a lawn bowling court which was home to the first-ever game of lawn bowling that I’ve ever witnessed played by people under the age of 70- go team.
Clovelly to Coogee: Stairs and hills are involved, and the view will be amazing from atop Gordon’s Bay, also popular amongst divers and paddle boarders. You will notice a small sign before going up a long flight of stairs to continue your walk for the “Underwater Nature Trail,” essentially a trail marked by cement and chain that can be completed in around 30 min underwater. This is definitely on my list as soon as I break into the diving game! As you arrive to Coogee, you will see “Ocean Baths”- I wasn’t positive what these were at first, but they are actually fantastic natural pools formed by some rock outcroppings and ocean, creating a lovely bathing area! Family and adventure-junkie friendly, this place is a gem.
Coogee Beach: As you near Coogee (the end of your journey, unless you plan to continue your beach walk on to Maroubra), you will be able to hear it from the insane level of noise emitting from Coogee Pav; the pav is a bit of a hybrid between private beach club and South Beach bar, featuring the widest possible range of patrons, from just-off-the-beach bikini clad hooligans to bejeweled and grey haired couples. Regardless of the style, one thing is certain: the sangria is flowing, merry is being made, and you will sure as hell hear it.
If the idea of trying to blend in at the Pav seems somewhat overwhelming to you at the moment, head on down along the beach until you come to some stairs-directly across the street from these are several restaurants, starting with Little Jack Horner, a pick of mine. This street has a pretty solid range of choices, from trendy seafood dishes to Thai and Brazilian BBQ to the “Brookie”- a brownie-cookie filled with intense gelato… obviously a must. My move after the walk is usually to find my way to some food, grab dinner and as the sun is setting, take my Brookie, ice cream or dessert of choice to the beachfront and watch the waves roll in as the sunset turns the sky to cotton candy.
If you are heading back to Sydney from Coogee, it’s just another relatively easy bus to Bondi Junction Station and train back into town. By this time, nobody cares how many clothes you (aren’t) wearing, how crispy your legs are or how much sand you track in behind you, so you shouldn’t either. Just soak in the happiness from a lovely day of those gorgeous views, amazing beaches and good, good vibes.
My mom and aunt were brought up mostly in the outback of Australia, having moved here at a young age of about 6 with my grandparents to pursue a decade or so of Cotton farming and cattle raising- they had pet kangaroos, cuddled koalas, fed lambs from a baby bottle, “stomped” the cotton in the back of a giant truck – the whole shebang that one would expect from a 1970’s Australian farm experience. In another bit of family, I have a quintessentially awesome aussie-surfer dude as my cousin (S/O MATT!), who spent some time (not jealous at all) back and forth between San Diego and Australia, in the Maldives.. or now Cabo and San Fran .. mostly to do with kickass surfing business. SO, WHY HAD I NEVER EVEN BEEN TO AUSTRALIA?! I’ve asked myself before, don’t worry. It was always a plan, always right around the corner, always discussed… just never quite happened, I suppose. Now’s the time, and I could not possibly be happier. Because I’ve always heard so much about “Oz” growing up, all the way to eating cooked chooky meat and putting the shrimp on the Barbie, I’ve always felt quite an affinity towards Australia; it felt a bit like home. My grandparents’ vocabulary has always been fondly (probably involuntarily) peppered with the familiar phrases like “good on ya, mate!” “ya right, mate?” “g’day, mate…” ok I’ll stop with the mate. Anyway, I’ve always thought it was fun, and now I’m actually surrounded by it! While the Sydney in which I landed – a teeming, vibrant metropolis – is worlds away from the Australia my family left in the 70s, I feel instantly at home. I cannot wait to get acquainted with this place, and of course leave just a little piece of my heart here too.
So, I must say getting to Australia was in itself a bit of a wild ride – beginning with a simple delay of a few hours leaving SFO, I missed my connection flight in LAX (as one does) headed for New Zealand. So, several weary hours and frustrating phone calls later, I ended up (YAY) in a lovely hotel near the airport, and had the entire next day to explore LA – why not. J I spent that time in Hollywood, serendipitously having arrived at the same time as a dear friend, which was a lovely coincidence. That evening and a full 24 hours my missed flight time, I was all snuggled into a 15 hour nonstop from LAX-SYD. Well, you all know the drill – a bunch of hours of (maybe) sleep, combined with books and thoughts and even moonlight(!) out the window… and finally, I was looking down at the beautiful blues and greens of Sydney!
An overly-excited tourist at heart, the opera house ended up on the first-to-do list, even before grocery shopping. A beautiful and luscious pathway running from the McElhone Stairs (starting in Kings X) all the way along the coast took me to Mrs. Macquarie’s Seat, which allegedly provides one of the “most spectacular” views of the harbor bridge and opera house. After taking in these magnificent views, and a stroll through the botanical gardens and city, I was in love.
I must say, my first week here has flew by in a bit of a blur, but I don’t think it helped that I had caught a cold on the flight over, my luggage was lost somewhere in between LA and Sydney (for several days), and I switched rooms in my apartment building. Now, I can happily say that I am snuggled into a lovely room, in possession of my luggage and feeling great and ready for all of the adventures to come! I spent my first Saturday in Sydney at Bondi Beach (photos and dedicated posts to come!) – which I honestly would have been more than happy to never leave. I have enjoyed getting to know my neighborhood (Kings Cross) a little bit, finding cute coffee places for my mornings, sushi for evenings, and palm trees, important as always. Needless to say, I love love love Australia so far, and I am so excited for the upcoming months of exploring this fabulous place. <3
STAY WILD xxx
To all my fellow globetrotters, I am sure that many of you have already been using Bloglovin’ for a while… I’m a little late to the scene but happy to get started and join an amazing community of travel influencers and inspirers! I love how integrated and accessible Bloglovin.com is for following and organizing your favorite blogs, across all themes and industries! Of course being a huge fan of travel, most of my top favorites on Bloglovin’ are from the travel realm… and I plan to join the ranks as one of the most unique and creative blogs, offering worldwide travel inspiration with an insider’s look at the path less traveled in amazing locations around the globe.
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See you at Bloglovin’! STAY WILD
While many people (I must say me included) are happy to bid adieu to 2016, I must count my lucky stars, for it has been an amazing year to me in many ways. I have so much to be thankful for, not the least of which is travel.
At the time of this writing (Dec 2016) I have visited a total of 21 countries – (not many, compared to some of my travelbug peers, I know!) – and hope to make this number grow significantly in the coming months and years!! 11 of those countries have been newly added to my list, just within the year 2016! I am hoping to (at least) match that number, (or double, or more!) in 2017. My most favorite new spots of the year were Indonesia and London <3
My travels this year have taken me mostly around Asia, Europe, and the U.S., and I continue to encounter amazing new experiences, places, cultures and people everywhere I go. I am so excited to finally start my travel blog so that I can share some of these experiences with an amazing community of passionate and inspiring people who love travel and adventure just as much as I do.
Travel has been a powerful force in my life and recently, shaped who I am and shown me who I want to be. It has taught me a love so deep and pure- for our earth, for all of its beautiful nomads, and for life. Reflecting back on the past year, I would not trade my experiences for the world. I am full of hope for the new year, and for all of the amazing opportunities it will bring. I wish each and every one of you all that Is happy and wonderful in 2017 – may you be strong, kind, wise, happy, productive, and may all your dreams come true (I think they will!) In the meantime, enjoy what is to come on the new blog, and keep traveling! I would love to hear about some of your own adventures in 2016 – keep in touch or comment about your own favorite experiences 🙂
Happy Happy New Year!!!! And, as always…