I flew to the Gold Coast, Qld for a long weekend last Friday. I was going to stay with Carol and her children Bec and Brad. We met on the coach tour in New Zealand in January and have kept in touch since. I was also going up there to watch the Swans play the Gold Coast Suns, a team I’ve never watched before.
The flight was nice and smooth and arrived on time. Carol met me and we drove to her house. Apparently I had just missed the Swans’ players arriving at the airport. What a shame! I would have loved to see them and had the chance to have my photo taken with the players or just take photos of them. For dinner we went to Sizzler at Mermaid Beach. Sizzler was a chain of restaurants that used to be in Melbourne around 20 years ago. They were one of the first to offer a buffet of salads, pasta and desserts. Their food was just as I remembered it, including the cheesy toast. You can also order off the menu but we all chose the salad bar. Brad made his own soft drink. It had a mixture of all the soft drinks from the self-serve drink machines. Funnily enough it looked like coke even though there wasn’t much coke in there. I was very happy to have eaten there again.
On Saturday morning we drove to The Spit which has awesome views looking back to Surfers Paradise and its tall buildings. There were a few people fishing off the rocks. Carol pointed out a group of swimmers and explained they swim across to South Stradbroke Island to surf. They then have to swim back. It looks risky because there are a lot of boats driving up and down the waterway. The surf looked pretty good though so I’d say it’s worth it.
From there we drove to Surfers Paradise. We walked to Cavill Avenue. They are in the process of redeveloping the streetscape of the mall so it will look even better when it opens. I was a little disappointed by the mall. There were so many junk food chains there. We found a shop called Gelatissimo which sold gelati ice cream. There were so many flavours to choose from. I chose two scoops – Tangy lemon and a chocolate one. They were both really nice but I couldn’t eat that much ice cream.
This was the first real day of our tour. It began with our first wake up call and buffet breakfast. It was a novelty to have bacon, eggs and fruit, cereal and any number of juices to choose from.
After breakfast I went back to my room, collected my case and met the others at the bus. We were being dropped off at the Christchurch station for our tranzalpine train trip to Greymouth on the west coast with Tranzscenic. This was the first of our optional extra tours. We had the choice of going all the way to Greymouth or getting off the train at Arthurs Pass and completing the rest of the journey by coach. I was going the whole way. It was one of the things I’d really been looking forward to.
After leaving Christchurch station we travelled through quite flat, brown land before rising slowly into the mountains. The mountains became a lot greener too. We had a quick 10 minute stop at Springfield where we could buy souvenirs but that was really crowded so I didn’t buy anything. Apparently the stop is well known for it’s muffins but I wasn’t interested in them. Back on the train, the scenery changed once again. It was my first taste of how tall the mountains are in NZ. Many of them rise hundreds of metres straight up from the ground. Our group had most of a carriage to ourselves. Many stayed inside and tried to take photos through the window but the reflection was ruining them so I decided to go to the open carriage. I had to walk through three carriages to get there which was quite an obstacle course. However once I got there I realised I had done the right thing. It was very windy so we had to hang on tight and take our photos. It was great to feel the wind rushing through our hair and watch the mountains whizzing past. Our next stop was at Arthur’s Pass.
Arthur’s Pass is a small village in Arthur’s Pass National Park and is a very popular base for exploring the park. It is 740m above sea level and surrounded by beech forest. There is a ranger’s station, visitor centre and some accommodation but not much else in the village. It’s also the place where people who aren’t travelling the whole distance to Greymouth disembark and continue by coach, which is what a lot of people on my coach tour did. That meant the rest of us had a lot more room to spread out. After they left I bought some morning tea from the food carriage and settled back in my seat to take some photos and update my travel diary. As we left Arthurs Pass we entered the Otira tunnel, an 8.5km tunnel that took us through the mountain. It was spooky going through such a long tunnel but we were through to the other side in a matter of minutes.
The scenery changed dramtatically once we reached the other side of the tunnel. Whereas it had been cloudy but sunny on the eastern side, on the western side it was dark, misty and very gloomy. It was like being in a different country. I’ve never seen such a dramatic change before. I didn’t go back to the open carriage. I got some very interesting pictures which really showed what it was like.
After the four hour journey we reached Greymouth. The coach was waiting to collect us to drive us to Hokitika where we were going to have lunch. I was disappointed we didn’t spend any time in Greymouth. Mum and Dad had been there years before and went to a few places I would have loved to have visisted. Hokitika is only 40kms away so we were there in around 30 mins.
Today was a free day for me as I had arrived a full day before the tour was to start. After being continually woke by earth tremors during the night I decided not to bother trying to sleep when the 5.5 quake happened. That’s when I found out that it made the London news. I put the Sky news on and they were talking about it. You know it’s big when it makes the news on the other side of the world.
After breakfast I asked for directions to Hagley Park. My Mum had told me it was a must see. It was further away than I thought which explained why the receptionist looked at me strangely. It wasn’t that far though. I love to get out and walk so it was perfect. It was probably 1-1.5km away. I didn’t really know what there was to do or see so I stuck to the streets beside the park. Despite being the middle of summer it was beautiful and green unlike some of the surrounding countryside. I turned down a street and was greeted by the sight of fencing that told me I’d reached the red zone. That’s when I realised how close I was to the Christchurch CBD. I took quite a few photos along the way before realising I was getting a little lost. I wished the receptionist and given me a map of the area. I would have been more confident and kept walking. I also realised I didn’t have my purse or any id and credit cards. I got worried and hoped there were no earthquakes because if anything happned I would only have my hotel key as id. It’s weird some of the things we think of isn’t it?
I made my way back to the hotel and spent the afternoon watching tv apart from walking down to Merivale Mall but most of the shops were closed. I didn’t know they have a national holiday on January 2nd. I got some lunch from McCafe and headed back to the hotel. Spent a boring but relaxing afternoon watching tv.
At 6pm I went to the bar to meet my fellow travellers on the coach tour. We enjoyed a welcome drink, meeting each other and dinner. Another tremor hit while we were having dinner which really shook the restaurant. You soon get used to them though and we just continued chatting while eating.
On January 1st 2012 I travelled to Christchurch to begin a 3 week holiday. The first 9 days were spent touring most of the South Island on an AAT Kings coach tour. It was the first time I’d been on one of these tours by myself so was very nervous. I was also nervous going to Christchurch where the earthquakes had recently started up again. It had been fairly quiet between July and early December 2011.
After the tour my parents were joining me and we were going to hire a car and tour around the top of the South Island and bottom of the North Island.
I hate the whole act of packing. I’m always so nervous that I’ve forgotten something even though I can normally buy what I do forget. My flight was around 9am which meant I had to leave home at 6.15am to drop my car off at the parking place and go to the airport. Once I was at the airport I could finally relax.
The flight with Air New Zealand was relaxing and uneventful. Just the way I like it. Once I arrived I went straight to the Vodafone booth to buy a prepaid mobile phone to use while in NZ. It was there that I met Carol and her teenage children Bec and Brad. We realised we were doing the same tour, staying in the same hotel and have remained friends since. The coach company arranged for us to be taken to our hotel, the Heartland Cotswold Hotel. It turned out to be a really nice tudor-style hotel. I had a ‘room’ with a loungeroom, bedroom and the largest bathroom I’ve seen. Whereas Carol, Bec and Brad had 3 single beds in one room. It was strange how the hotel allocated the rooms. I loved it though.
After unpacking I went for a walk down the road but was unnerved by the amount of earthquake-damaged houses. I didn’t realise that we were only about 1 km away from the CBD and only one block away was where the red zone originally started (the red zone is the earthquake-damaged CBD. Gradually the zone has been reduced so it now covers quite a small area of Christchurch). I decided to turn back and have a rest in the hotel. At dinner time I walked to the Tudors restaurant which was onsite. I ate what was probably the most beautiful meal of the whole trip.
After dinner I watched tv. At around 10.10pm I felt my first earth tremor in NZ. At first I thought it was a bit of fun and rang Mum back in Melbourne to tell her. Unfortunately it was only the first of five I would feel that night culiminating in a biggish one that made the news in London.
For my birthday in February, my friend Mel and I went to The Stokehouse in St Kilda for lunch. It’s a restaurant I’ve wanted to go to for a long time. It’s right on St Kilda beach giving magnificent views of Port Phillip Bay. It was a beautiful warm summers day which made the view perfect.
We arrived a little early and the somewhat snooty maitre ‘d told us we would have to wait outside so we went for a bit of a walk around. We passed a man who was just waking up who had fallen asleep under a tree beside the restaurant. We weren’t sure if he was homeless or just decided to have a sleep there.
When we re-entered the restaurant we were led upstairs to the restaurant and shown to a window table. I was hoping to sit near a window so I could enjoy the view. The waitress came over and explained what the specials were. I decided to order my entree and main meal from their main menu. I ate Seared Atlantic scallops, ruby grapefruit salad and a fennel puree. It was delicious. The scallops were cooked to perfection. Mel ordered Tuna carpaccio, tamarillos, yoghurt, caperberries, salmon roe.
For our main meals, I ate Crispy battered King George whiting fillets, hand cut chips, lemon and tartare sauce . Mel ate ocean trout with prawns and a tomato salad. Neither of us ate dessert. I could only just finish my fish. I left a lot of the hand cut chips because I told eat many chips and the waitress was worried I didn’t like them. They were very nice.
When it came to the wine list there were three choices in the Sparking Wine section of the list. The $25 glass of wine caught my eye but I thought I’d better not spend that much even though it was a nice wine (I can’t remember what it was). A few minutes later I thought “what the hell” and decided to order it. It was my birthday after all.
Just around the corner from Mama Baba is my absolute favourite dessert shop, Burch & Purchese Sweet Shop in South Yarra. Darren Purchese is one of Australia’s best sweet chefs and like Heston Blumenthal blends food with science to produce the most delectable desserts. Not only do they taste beautiful, they look so good. Their website is www.burchandpurchese.com.au but they are building a new website.
Mama Baba is George Calombaris’ newest restaurant and is tucked away in a small side street in South Yarra. I heard about the restaurant at the beginning of the year and planned with Mel for us to go there when it opened. The name comes from George’s parents. One is Greek and the other Italian hence the name Mama Baba and the food celebrates their heritage.
It’s my first visit to one of George’s restaurants. The menu contains a mix of Greek and Italian pastas as well as other influences. The decor is really trendy and one wall is used to store old albums.