Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai City is 186 kilometres north of Chiang Mai and just a quick 3 hour bus ride. Compared to Chiang Mai, it has a more down-to-earth, working town feeling but is not short on historical and cultural attractions of its own. Founded in 1262 as the capital of the Mengrai Dynasty,  the city retains a strong Lanna identity through its impressive collection of temples, art, language, cuisine and music. The city is gradually developing its tourist sector,  with its own Night Bazaar, Saturday Walking Street and Clock tower light show.

We allowed ourselves only 3 days here  but could have spent longer to see more in the mountains and border territories – Myanmar, Laos, Hill Tribes and trekking.

However, we did enjoy the city, its’ food, music and general ease of which to walk. We started with the free open bus tour which gave us a good idea of the city and the whereabouts of the points of interest. Being Thailand, the information said the tour left at 9.00am and again at 9.30am but when we turned up for the 9.00am, it wasn’t running – perhaps they had no driver just like the Chiang Mai Night Safari? TIT – That is Thailand.

The city itself has a large number of temples but the two that are a must visit are The White Temple and the Blue Temple.

The white Temple is the work of a local artist, has been under construction since 1997 and is anticipated to take a further 60 – 90 years to complete. (Another Gaudi Sagrada Familia in the making). While the temple is spectacular the art gallery with the original paintings of the artist shows how prolific an artist he is with all his original works on display.

The Blue temple has also been built recently. An artist who worked on the White Temple heard his village wanted to build a new temple so left his job at the White Temple and designed the Blue Temple. There is some art inside the Blue Temple that is an exact copy of the The White Temple and the original artist is fine with the copying. I think this is one of the most spectacular Buddhas we saw in a temple. This is also not finished but not so far away as the White Temple.

On our third day we decided to take a tour to the Golden Triangle area. Along the way we stopped at the Black House, a Tea Plantation and The Monkey Cave.

The Black House is another Artists collection of 40 Buildings with his art, sculptures, animal collection of skins and in general a very dark place to visit.

The Tea plantation was exactly as I imagined it from studying in my school days with Thai women picking the fresh top 3 leaves for processing. We learned about the Oolong tea and tasted the various types.

The Monkey Cave was amusing with the monkeys coming down to see the van load of tourists who turned up to feed them peanuts. However, you needed to have your wits about you to ensure you didn’t stand on them, annoy the grumpy males, were gentle enough to ensure the pregnant females received their fair share of peanuts, and make sure they didn’t jump on you. They were all over the buildings, swinging in the trees, running around the ground and generally everywhere. Quite an experience.

After that we headed to Mae Sai, the border town to Myanmar. This city is divided by the river Ruak which in some areas is shallow enough to walk across but is illegal. People cross the border from Myanmar to work but the border crossing closes at 6.00pm so I guess working late isn’t an option otherwise they won’t get home for the night. The interesting thing is that when you cross the border the language changes and the cars drive on the right hand side. Mae Sai also has a huge border market supplied mostly from China being only a few hundred kilometres up the MeeKong River which is still an important trading river. The Scorpion Temple gave us a good view over the border into Myanmar.

The next stop was the area called The Golden Triangle which was the intersection of the River Ruak and the Meekong River and where you could see Myanmar and Laos . The Meekong is 4350 kms long, starts in Tibet and runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam and is the 12th longest river in the world. The Golden Triangle used to be infamous as one of the largest producers of opium. Various Thai organizations led by the Royal Project and Doi Tung Development Project, have spent decades battling this trade. The story goes that the late King of Thailand walked around the hill tribes growing opium, and gave them coffee plants to grow to encourage them out of the opium industry. Today opium is grown in Northern Myanmar and Laos and The Golden Triangle is no longer the opium trading centre but the major tourist attraction in Northern Thailand. The Opium Museum includes all the various implements used in the planting, harvest, use and trade of the resin, including pipes, weights, scales, plus photos and maps all labelled in English.

A long but interesting day spent travelling with 4 Germans and 2 Portugese. The problem with these tours is that you are at the mercy of the driver/guide. He was excellent but he didn’t keep everybody on time so the Germans were always late and therefore our tour was very late home. You can imagine how annoying that was for 2 Virgos who were always at the van on time! We left Chiang Rai feeling tired but satisfied that we had seen as much as possible in our 3 days.

 

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Chiang Mai Activities

There is so much to see and do in Chiang Mai. However, our reason for coming here was to live with the locals and enjoy the lifestyle so we didn’t do too many of the tourist activities but here’s what we did do. It seems a lot but given we were here for 5 weeks we had a very relaxed time.

Temples – This is something you do just by walking the streets as there are so many. There is a lot to learn about the Buddhist temples and the monks that reside in them.

Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep –  often referred to as Doi Sithep although this is actually the name of the mountain where it’s located. This temple is 15 kilometres from the city where impressive views of Chiang Mai can be seen. This is one of the temples where they run a monk chat and you can talk to the monks in English about their life and beliefs. Pity it was closed when we were there. The best way to get there is by songtheaw. 600 Baht to go, wait an hour and return to the city. If you can fill up the songtheaw with 10 people then you pay 60 Baht each. The 300 step climb to the top is well worth the effort.

Wat Phra Singh – Chiang Mai’s most revered temple,and is dominated by an enormous, mosaic-inlaid sanctuary or resting place. Its prosperity is plain to see from the lavish monastic buildings and immaculately trimmed grounds, dotted with coffee stands and massage pavilions. It’s in the Old City and is the starting point for the 1 hour open bus tour of the city.

Wat Lok Moli – Just outside the old walled city center, and we passed it whenever we walked to the old city, is one of the city’s older temples. It has one of the most impressive chedis in Chiang Mai believed to contain the ashes of several Kings of the Mengrai dynasty, who ruled the Lanna Kingdom from the end of the 13th century until 1558 when the Burmese invaded the Kingdom.

Bazaar and Markets

Night Bazaar – the locals say don’t bother as it is mostly for tourists with trinkets, cheap souvenirs and brand copies. But we still had to go and they were right. However the sheer size of it and the number of stalls selling every imaginable thing is worth the wander.

Sunday Night Walking Street Market –  is a large market located right in the centre of the old walled city . The road is closed to traffic, allowing  you to browse, bargain for a better price and wander freely without watching over your shoulder for a motor bike zipping past. This market is a showcase of the art and craftsmanship of the Northern Thai people. Many of the stall vendors make and sell their own products made from a wide variety of materials such as silk, paper, fabric, wood, metal, glass, ceramic etc. It comes alive after dark when street entertainers, musicians, puppeteers, Thai dancers, and bands start and  the coloured lights are turned on but it can get extremely busy. We went early but perhaps the idea is to go later.

Wararot Market – Best place to go to see local Thai shopping at bargain prices. Sitting beside the Ping River this is a busy hive of daytime activity.  It is one of the places where  Thai locals do their own shopping so you can buy almost anything – fresh/dried fruit – vegetables – flowers, butchery and bakery items, herbs, condiments, clothing, shoes, cosmetics, jewellry, lacquerware, silks, hemps, handicrafts, ceramics, wood carvings, beauty supplies, household appliances, electronic gadgets, sunglasses, watches, souvenirs, fireworks and much more and all extremely cheap. Cheaper and often better quality than the other markets. I picked up 2 nice lace bras for NZD$4.70 each.

Lee Peng  Lantern Festival – celebrated on the full moon of the twelfth lunar month every year in November. during which time people release floating lanterns into the sky, locals’ homes and public places are decked out in colourful hanging lanterns and flag decorations. The act of releasing the lantern symbolizes letting go of all ills and misfortunes in the previous year, and Buddhists also believe that if you make a wish when you set off the lantern, it will come true but only if you do good deeds the following year. As the International Airport is only 5 kms from the city there were 78 flights cancelled this year due to the burning lanterns in the sky. How there are no fires I do not know.

Loy Krathong Festival – celebrated at the same time as the Lee Peng Festival as it’s the end of the rainy season.  People gather around the Ping river and the moat around the old city to pay respects to the goddess of water by releasing beautiful lotus shaped rafts, decorated with candles, incense and flowers onto the water. There is growing concern about the amount of rubbish floating in the rivers after this event and this year they tried to enforce the Krathongs only be made of biodegradeable products – not very successfully I might add.

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Floating Krathong on the city moat

Chiang Mai Night Safari – recommended by a local. It’s 10 kms from Chiang Mai city and covers 300 acres. We travelled through the different zones in an open sided tram for an hour, covering 5 kms  where the following can be seen:  White Rhinos, Hyenas, Lions, Cheetahs, Wildebeests, Giraffes, Ostriches, Zebras, Water Buffalos, Kangaroos, Dingos, Emus, Tigers, Lions, Vultures, Wolves, White Tigers, Canadian Wolf, Asiatic Black Bears and Crocodiles. The giraffes were the absolute stars reaching into the train to get food. Then there was the Tiger show and the Predator show. I’m not convinced this zoo is entirely doing the right thing by the animals but they certainly all looked well cared for although I’m definitely not keen on the animal training. They advertise free pickup and dropoff. We waited with some Aussies at the designated place and no pickup. After a phone call we were told no driver today so no pickup. Frustrating but as the Thais say TIT – That is Thailand. We caught a songtheaw and argued with the information centre at the venue to no avail. TIT!

Thai Ahka Cooking School – Peter decided that one cooking class in Morocco allowed him to tick it off his bucket list so I did this one on my own with 6 Canadians and 3 Americans. We each made 11 dishes and nobody said ‘Don’t eat anything all day because there’s a lot of food” I should have taken Peter to help eat it all. The chef was from the Ahka tribe in Northern Thailand and was an excellent teacher. I made papaya Salad, Spring Rolls, Chicken Stir Fry with Cashew Nut, Red Curry paste to use in my Red Curry Chicken, Chicken Coconut Milk Soup, Sapi Thong (Hot tomato Dipping sauce), Ahka Salad, Ahka Soup and finally 2 desserts Mango Sticky Rice and Coconut Milk stewed Pumpkin – and yes I ate it all!

 

Mae Rim Elephant Sanctuary – As recommended, seeing the elephants is a must. However, elephants trained for tourist riding, painting and playing football wasn’t my idea of seeing the elephants. Thank goodness there are now a growing number of rescue sancturies where tourist money is used to buy circus elephants, rescue working elephants and buy land where they can retire. These elephants can’t look after themselves in the wild so still need to be looked after. We spent the day feeding them bananas and bamboo, walking through the forest and down the riverbed with them, covering them in mud then rinsing off in the waterhole. Mae Rim had just rescued a mother and 1 year old male baby. He was like a naughty teenager, always trying to escape, he chased a football and was continually running around so we had to be careful as he didn’t realise his own strength. We had to jump out of his way if he was running toward us. The adults ranged in age from 23 to 51 and even though two of them had only been rescued in the last 3 months they were totally at ease with us walking around with them. Quite an experience!

5 weeks in Chiang Mai has flown by and we have had the best time. The kindness and generosity of the Thai people will be an everlasting memory. The service in the cafes, laundries, restaurants, street food vendors etc was outstanding and even if there was no English, communication was done with a smile. This is a city where the mix of Western ex-pats, tourists, locals and longer term visitors like us manage to hang out and enjoy the relaxed lifestyle. Thankyou Chiang Mai for your hospitality.

Off to Chiang Rai on the VIP Green Bus.

 

Chiang Mai, Thailand

We arrived at the Chiang Mai airport mid morning and despite all the cabs wanting to take us to the city we followed our research and went to the south end of the terminal and caught a cheap airconditioned van (40 baht – $1.80NZD – each) which delivered us almost to our accommodation at the Yindee Stylish Guesthouse in the old city and no we didn’t choose it because of it’s name. It was good, well priced and well situated accommodation but the receptionist who seemed to be there 24 hours a day was a grumpy old bag. Perhaps it was because we didn’t book any tourist tours with her? Not sure, but customer service was not her forte. It was situated in a lovely part of the old city full of narrow green lanes lined with restaurants, cafes, massage houses and local laundries.

We used our week here to find a furnished apartment and what would be the best area, figure out how to get services connected, learn our way around the city, what and how to use the public transport and to get my broken tooth fixed.

The tooth was a priority as I broke it on our first day in Thailand but couldn’t get it fixed in Ao Nang. Luckily we had friends who had used a dentist in Chiang Mai so a quick reference from them and off I went to Elite Smile. All the staff spoke perfect English, gave a written quote and were able to start treatment the next day. Within days my mouth was as good as new with no pain and, better still, half the price of New Zealand treatment. I now understand why people come here for dental work. You can appreciate how the one with long pockets and short arms was impressed!

Chiang Mai does deserve it’s reputation for good coffee and we were lucky enough to have several good cafes within 100 metres of Yindee, along with a local fresh food, spice and fruit & vege market, not that we used it because food, especially street food is cheap and delicious. We ate out for coffee, lunch & dinner every day along with the odd snack for 300-400 Baht ( $12 – $16 NZD) for two.

 

Finding an apartment was an adventure in itself. We knew we would be outside the old city but we soon found out that the two main apartment areas were on opposite sides of the city. Luckily the red taxi trucks, known as songthaews were cheap and plentiful. although we did walk from one side to the other ( 4 – 5kms) on more than one occasion.

Eventually we settled on a furnished apartment near the Ninman area – near the university with a vibrant cafe and food community and between the 2 main malls in Chiang Mai. The power was already connected and we got an account at the end of the month which we paid at the local 7/11, we paid water at the apartment reception and there was Wifi in the building which we also bought access to from reception. After one week in Chiang Mai we had signed a contract and were moving into our home for the next month. We quickly realised that the Wifi was only good at reception so we were off to the local supplier to get our own connection. It took 3 days, 3 guys to do the installation and our WiFi was perfect.

Monthly costs in NZD : Rent $521, Power $30, Water $13, Internet $56, all food and treats including eating out twice a day and buying drinking water $500. So it’s easy to understand why there are so many Americans, Australians, Brits and Kiwis moving here to take advantage of the cheap living costs and good weather. There are about 200 apartments in our building and our estimate is that 70% of the tenants/owners are westerners. Some are working digitally but the majority are retirees. We met an Aucklander today who said she would never return to NZ due to the cost and the better weather in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is an easy city to walk although the footpaths can disappear without notice. There are no city buses to mention because when the mayor tried to introduce buses to decrease the traffic the Songthaew drivers objected so the main transport is songthaews that constantly drive around the streets. You wave them down and negotiate the fare before you get in. Trips within the city are 30 Baht (NZD$1.34) per person and will stop and pick up more people along the way. Tuktuks here are for tourists and are expensive. The same city trip in a tuktuk as a 30 Baht songthaew could be in excess of 100 Baht. That leaves the motor scooters which tourists hire by the hundreds but the locals are the experts travelling with 3 & 4 to a scooter, small children squeezed in between adults and no helmets. The girls riding sidesaddle looking at their phone screens, not holding on to anything, demonstrate a skilful display of perfect balance!

 

Our observations so far on Thailand and the Thai people:

  1. You can live here very cheaply – imagine living in New Zealand for $1200 per month including accommodation.
  2. Polite, caring courteous people – always willing to help if you ask
  3. The overuse of plastic packaging is incredible – I wonder where it all ends up?
  4. An easy place to set yourself up for living
  5. Has the best real fruit smoothies
  6. The Land of coffee – every kind of hot and iced
  7. Western food is expensive compared to Thai food but not compared to NZ costs
  8. Great wifi – every cafe has good access and the password is advertised on the wall, menu or tables
  9. Land of the motor scooter – no helmets!!!
  10. Crossing the road – step out and hope the traffic stops.
  11. The place to come for dental work – half price and excellent quality
  12. 23 Carat gold – too bright for me!
  13. Street food – excellent and super cheap
  14. Laundry’s – cheap and same day service
  15. Dedication to the Monarchy – 12 months of mourning for a beloved king
  16. Great street art
  17. Land of temples – over 300 in Chiang Mai

There’s so much more to this country and thank goodness we’ve still got more time.

 

Ao Nang, Thailand

After 3 wonderful weeks in Brisbane, spent with Lila, Morgan & Sam it was time to give them a break from the parents and fly to Thailand.

 

We flew Brisbane, Singapore, Phuket and arrived mid morning. We decided to catch a cab to the Phuket Bus Station, the public bus to Krabi, then a van to The Morning Minihouse – our accommodation. We definitely could have done it cheaper but it would have taken a whole lot longer.

 

The Morning Minihouse was 1.6 kms from the beach but the free tuk tuk ride and the polite, obliging and helpful hosts made it all worthwhile. He even took us a different way to the beach one day so we could see another beach area. And of course Doughnut the dog accompanied us on our rides.

Ao Nang is a resort town in southern Thailand and is known for a long Andaman coast beachfront and access to dive sites off the nearby islands in its bay. It’s also a center for long-tail boats  and big jetboats going to the beaches of limestone islands such as Ko Hong, Ko Poda, Ko Gai, Phi Phi Islands, James Bond Island  and Railay Beach, a well-known destination for rock climbers. Ao Nang is best described as touristy but if you want to relax in the warmth, visit other islands and beaches, have some massages, then it’s not a bad place to spend a week unwinding.

There was  rain most days and when it rains it really pours but is usually gone in half an hour and the sun shines again – and just as well so we could dry out. We did get a couple of good soakings.

We caught a long boat from Noppharat Thara Beach to Railay Beach –  it is accessible only by boat due to high limestone cliffs cutting off the mainland access. They drive the boats up to the beach and you just jump over the side into the warm clear water up to your knees. The day we went was beautiful and calm going, but the wind struck up in the afternoon and therefore the sea was rough coming back. Those boat drivers are certainly talented but I’m pretty sure it met no health and safety requirements. I did note there were a few lifejackets on board but not enough for a full boat. We had a local on board with us and she seemed reasonably confident we were going to make it, so we just ignored our inner feelings of panic and all went smoothly.

We walked through the trees to East Railay Beach then down the beach past Phra nang cave to Phra nang cave beach. We were expecting this to be crowded as the reviews said but we must have struck the right day as it only got busy when one of the big speedboats came in for a quick visit with a boatload of tourists on a 4 island tour. The water was warm and clear and the limestone islands rising out of the sea made for spectacular scenery. We could have done without the noise of the motors from the visiting boats but then you can’t have everything perfect can you? During our walk down the beach we saw wild monkeys in the trees though they were relatively shy and of course there was a strict “no feeding” policy.

We sampled the food at many cafes and found our favourites. The local advice was to eat where the locals go as it will be better and cheaper – good advice.

We decided to catch the van over to the Krabi markets, also known as the Chao Fah Night Markets and it features outdoor food stands and stalls along the roadside. It’s a chance to enjoy a great range of local dishes such as barbecued meats, curries, and more – in a lively Thai market atmosphere.
It just happened to turn into an evening of torrential rain on our arrival which did dampen our enthusiasm but we still sampled the local food while we hid under the verandahs to eat.

As our planning of this Thailand trip could only be described as skimpy – we were too busy playing with a certain special 5 month old – we had to spend considerable time researching and deciding what to do next, where to go for the next 6 weeks and then make some bookings.

So a week later we boarded an Air Asia flight to Chiang Mai. Why Chiang mai? Because we had heard it was the Coffee Capital of the north, home of expat digital nomads and recommended by some good friends, so why not?

Living, Working and Housesitting in Auckland.

There were two reasons for spending time in Auckland – working, and to figure out if it’s the area we want to buy a house and eventually live in.

The problem with Auckland is it’s an expensive city to live in with high rent and overly inflated real estate. The short term answer to the rent issue for us was to housesit which proved to be much easier than we thought. Aucklanders like to take an autumn or winter holiday, so there was no shortage of available pets needing love, attention and company. I ended up extending my work contract to 6 months and we housesat in Green Bay, Ellerslie, Sunnynook, Remuera, Waimauku, Millwater, Takapuna and Puhoi – 9 dogs, 7 cats, 14 sheep and 6 cattle. While I worked Peter took up the roles of chief cook and bottlewasher, house cleaner, dog walker, animal carer and feeder, leaf clearer, poolboy and real estate investigator – just enough to keep him busy!

We had a great time meeting friends and family who we hadn’t seen for 15 months and longer. Our friends Bronwyn & John always had a spare room available if we were between housesits and and were always keen for a walk and a coffee in Orewa. We also had two sort stints in Sandy’s apartment on Orewa Beach.

It was winter though, so it rained, and rained, and rained!

While it seemed all I did was either work or travel to and from work –  that’s Auckland traffic – we did manage to do some sightseeing as well as visit some favourite places and favourite people:

  • Orewa Beach – our absolute favourite for walking and swimming
  • Takapuna Beach – lovely beach with a great cafe
  • Wenderholme Park – between Puhoi River and Waiwera River
  • Attended the All Blacks vs Lions test with Ainslie & Jason- the last of the tour and a draw
  • Muriwai Beach – a black sand beach on the West coast of Auckland
  • Gannet Colony at Muriwai Beach
  • Visited the Auckland Zoo
  • Visited the Auckland Domain Wintergardens
  • Attended the Anzac Day Dawn Ceremony at Auckland War Memorial Museum
  • Visited Warkworth and Matakana – good coffee, good wine & good food
  • Enjoyed the CBD and waterfront- much better than expected
  • Attended the Alexandra Park trots – reasonably well organised
  • Attended a race meeting at Ellerslie Racecourse – disappointing!
  • Visited Waipu Cove to see school friends – Ann & Chris Neill
  • Dined at the well known Puhoi Pub
  • Had a birthday lunch at The Black Barn in Coatesville with Bronwyn & John
  • Found 2 great cafes – The Parsley Pot in Snells Beach and Walnut Cottage in Orewa

We had two short visits to Australia to find out that we were going to be grandparents to a wee girl and then again for her birth. On 30 April a beautiful and adored Lila Florence Dennis arrived into our family bringing with her much love and joy.

Our time in Auckland did confirm that it is where we want to live but we weren’t prepared to invest as much money as required to buy  property. We did see the market flattening though so maybe in the future. After leaving baby Lila in Australia we were also sure that we wanted to spend more time across the ditch nearer to her and perhaps it was time to start wandering the world again.

On 15 September I farewelled Candida for a second time. It was a difficult day saying goodbye to these people I had worked with for a total of 16 years in a job I loved, but we were off to Queenstown to celebrate or 60th birthdays with our children. It was such a pleasure to have them all together in the same country and we had rented a house for the weekend so we were all under the same roof as well. We had a celebration day where we breakfasted at the Post Masters Residence in Arrowtown, lunched and wine tasted at the Gibbeston Valley Vineyard and dined at Gantleys Restaurant in the evening. Thankyou to Sam for being our taxi driver. What a wonderful way to celebrate milestone birthdays!

On 19 September we again departed the shores of New Zealand with no return ticket and headed to Brisbane to spend time with our beautiful Lila Florence, Morgan & Sam.

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Lila Florence Dennis

 

Wellington, New Zealand

Back in the Land of the Long White Cloud and the city we’ve called home for close to 40 years. We landed at midnight and as per the script for Wellington the temperature was 12 degrees, even though it was still summer. That’s why the saying is “you can’t beat Wellington on a Good day”. It’s a great city but the weather is less than perfect.

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Back on Home Soil.

After 419 days, 24 flights, 13 countries, 40 Blog posts, 11 housesits looking after 16 dogs, 11 cats, 2 ponies, 6 quail and 12 sheep we were back on NZ soil.

We were very lucky as our good friends, Columba & Elizabeth, offered us a bed. They were heading south the next day for 2 weeks and offered us their central city apartment while they were away. We commandeered our sons car – well of course we needed it more than he did – so we had transport. It was great to be in the company of good friends and family again!

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That’s us with Elizabeth & Columba

We spent the next 2 weeks enjoying our old city haunts, catching up with our beautiful son, meeting wonderful friends we had missed, having dental and medical checks and getting a basic plan underway for 2017, since we really had no idea what we were going to do. The only definite was the arrival of our grandchild in April and our desire to be back in Australia for that.

Discussions continued with Candida Stationery and a 2 month contract was negotiated to start 8 March in Auckland. There was some potential for it to be extended depending on workload.

We still had the storage unit in Mangaroa Valley with what few precious possessions we have, safely stored. So had to check everything in there and rescue some work clothes so I could at least turn up to work looking respectable, rather than looking like a wandering hippie.

On 5 March we picked up a return rental vehicle which cost $1.00 plus petrol and headed out to Auckland on the next adventure.

Goodbye Again, Wellington! Our time was short but spectacular.

Sydney

10 days in Sydney staying with Morgan & Sam and walking our favourite area of Pyrmont  was a good way to end this 3 month stay in Australia. During some of this time Morgan & Sam went on holiday to Cairns leaving us their centrally situated apartment and the use of their car. Driving Sydney CBD was somewhat daunting but we did manage to navigate our way out when we wanted to visit outlying areas. It was however more convenient to ride the ferries and enjoy the views of this wonderful city which had been the first stop on this trip 15 months earlier.

We made the most of our time here visiting Rose Bay, an affluent & prestigious harbourside, eastern suburb of Sydney, and the stunningly beautiful Balmoral beach which is always best visited in the early morning as the sun rises. We enjoyed breakfast at the Boathouse cafe and lazed at the waters edge. How lucky are Sydneysiders  to have such easy access to incredibly beautiful beaches.

We had a day at the Royal Randwick Races and watched WINX, The latest Australian Group 1 unbeaten superstar horse win yet another race – her 14th in a row! Note: she is trained by a kiwi and was bred from a kiwi bred mare. She truly is a champion!

 

While in Sydney I opened discussions with Candida Stationery to explore the possibility of working for a few months while in NZ to top up the travel coffers and give Peter a well deserved break from the chatter that he had so patiently put up with for the last 15 months.

It was lovely to see our first grandbaby growing in Morgan’s tummy and the level of excitement was building at 30 weeks. We would be returning for the Gender Reveal and Baby Barbeque at the end of March.

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30 weeks and gorgeous!

The 10 days had passed quickly and we were sad to leave Morgan & Sam. But it was time to head back to Wellington to check in with family and friends we hadn’t seen since the beginning of December 2015.

 

 

Canberra

On 1 Feb 2017 we jumped the Greyhound bus and headed out of Melbourne to Canberra to spend 4 days with two very good friends, Nina & John. On boxing Day 2016 Nina had a serious accident coming off her bike and requiring surgery so she was a crutches and wheelchair patient and John was doing a fabulous job looking after her. Due to her injury they had had to move to a ground floor apartment which was absolutely lovely and they were wonderful hosts. Nina & John live in the lovely area of Barton, not too far from the Australian Parliament and amongst all the Government buildings so of course there were plenty of good cafes within walking and wheelchair pushing distance which needed to be tested. Happy to say the quality of the coffee and food was excellent.

During the weekend they drove us all over Canberra so we could take in all the sights and enjoy the warm weather. Canberra experiences extremes of temperatures at both ends of the scale but luckily for us it was still summertime. We also spent two half days walking around the Burley Griffin lake and learning some of the history of the development of Australia’s capital city.

The site of Canberra was selected for the location of the Capital city as a compromise between rivals Sydney and Melbourne and is an entirely planned city following a blueprint by American architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin who won an international competition to design the city. Construction commenced in 1913 and followed the plan that was centred on axes aligned with significant landmarks in the Australian Capital Territory. It is an easy city to navigate with an excellent bus service.

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Bell Tower on Lake Burley Griffin

After enjoying great company for 4 lovely days in Canberra we farewelled Nina & John and boarded the Greyhound bus to continue to Sydney.

Melbourne – What a great city!

After 6 months off to recover from knee surgery our expectations of Rogers’ success in the Australian Open weren’t that high. We just wanted to see him play again. What a decision that turned out to be! We didn’t see all his games live in the Rod Laver Arena or we would’ve been looking for jobs to finance our flights home but we did see some and we were in the grounds to watch the remainder with the crowds. We watched the final on the bigscreen on the hill outside the Rod Laver arena with Mary & Chris from Noosa who we had housesat for. We were very lucky to meet and watch both the womens and mens final with them. The final with Roger playing Rafa had an electric atmosphere  and being able to enter the Margaret Court arena to see Roger with the trophy was an added bonus. A major bucket list tick and one of the highlights of our travels. Now if he lasts to March 2018, a trip to Indian Wells could well be added to the list of places to go. We were also lucky enough to watch several of the big names practising – Novak Djokovich, Serena Williams, Stan Wawrinka, Martina Hingis & Grigor Dimitro – plus plenty of other games.

Big Bash Cricket was also on, so since we had visited the MCG but never been to a game we decided this opportunity couldn’t be missed. The Brisbane Heat – captained by Brendan McCallum and coached by Daniel Vettori – were playing The Melbourne Stars – coached by Stephen Fleming. Unfortunately, Brendan was on a one match ban for this game but it was still exciting and the Heat won so another late night but we went home happy.

Victoria Market is always a must visit when in Melbourne but I’m not sure it’s as good as it’s always been. However the indoor food vendors were as good as ever and cheese, spices and wine were on the list of purchases.

South Melbourne Market was also a day visit. We decided to walk from Docklands which was slightly challenging but it did help to keep the kilometres up. Peter enjoyed the raw oysters and I had an aggressive Chinese back and shoulder massage. As usual he hit the most troublesome spot in my shoulders and I have been pain free since but the pain of the massage at the time had me wondering if I would even get up off the bed!

The cloudy weather in Melbourne had been disappointing so when we had the opportunity and the sun was shining we decided to head to Rosebud beach on the Mornington Peninsula. Peter had camped there for 6 weeks at the ripe old age of 19 so this was a return visit for him – some 40 years later. It was an hour train ride to Frankston followed by an hour bus ride. Rosebud is a shallow beach on Port Phillip Bay where we could walk out 300 metres and the water was still only waist deep. The beach was dominated by young families enjoying the last days of the school holidays.

It was a sad day when an out of control young Australian drove his car down Bourke Street and killed and injured several people. There was an outpouring of anger followed by love and support by Melbournians. The same issues as we have in New Zealand came to the fore – why didn’t the police stop him before this happened, why do they have a “do not chase” policy, why was he out on bail? All valid questions but with equally valid answers. We were lunching in Preston with Gail and Reece from Lower Hutt and Chrystal, Jim and Hannah from Palmerston North before heading into the city to the Myers’ sale. Luckily we were so busy getting our 10,000 words in each, lunch took longer than planned or we all could have been in Bourke St.

26 January – Australia Day and our 32nd wedding anniversary. We love the way Australia celebrates their National day, though they are now also experiencing questions about whether Australia Day is an appropriate celebration. It’s impossible not to notice the way families celebrate together and the parks and gardens were full of people enjoying each others company after watching the street parade. We celebrated our wedding anniversary by going to the tennis and having a few extra treats.

Chinese New Year – Year of the Rooster – and the year that both Peter and I were born. Melbournes’ large Chinese population along with the many visitors in the city for all the events just adds to the celebrations with street parades, street performers, fireworks and markets on the South Bank. Yes, it was crowded, but the atmosphere was worth mixing it with the crowds.

We stayed 2 nights with Hilary, Carl and Evie, originally from Wellington. What a pleasure that was! Meeting 9 month old Evie for the first time was wonderful (even though she had a cold and wasn’t her normal self) and catching up with everything they have been up to since arriving in Melbourne just under two years ago was amazing. They live in the inner city suburb of Richmond, close to everything, including the tennis. How kind it was of them to let us stay between housesits.

Two years ago we met Sharon & Rob from Silverstream on the steps of St Pauls Cathedral in London. This time we met them again on the steps of St Pauls Cathedral in Melbourne and enjoyed a lovely brunch in Degraves street together.

Kelly, one of Morgans’ friends from St Orans College has made a good life for herself in Melbourne and we enjoyed her company in a well known café, Barry, in Northcote. I’m sure the French waiter fancied Kelly so we got very friendly service. It was great to catch up with Kelly after several years and hear her thoughts on life in Melbourne.

 

 

 

Meeting good friends from NZ and making new ones by housesitting made this visit to Melbourne even more special.

Housesitting in Victoria, Australia

 

The only reason to go to Melbourne in January is the Australian Open tennis. There are plenty of reasons to go any other time but in January you have to mix it with tennis fans, loads of tourists and the changeable weather so there has to be a good reason and that would be watching Roger Federer  play. We were very lucky to find two wonderful housesits in Melbourne which allowed us to stay in this lovely city from 8 January to 1 February. When we first started looking to go to Melbourne, we couldn’t find any housesits that were the appropriate dates and the few that we did apply for we didn’t get. So we were very happy to hear from Chelsea & Ryan, who lived in Kingsbury, were off on holiday to Bali and needed someone to look after their 10 month old puppy – Benji – and older cat – Wilbur. Benji was an extremely intelligent Staffy x Ridgeback who just wanted to be around people and be friends while Wilbur gave Benji a wide berth due to his over enthusiastic puppy nature. The twice daily dog walks kept us walking 5 to 10 kilometres a day along the local pathways and through the parks where there were plenty of birdlife and kangaroos to keep an eye on.

Kingsbury is a suburb in the northeast of Melbourne, and the home of the La Trobe University.  There were 2 shopping centres within easy walking distance for groceries so life wasn’t too difficult. Public transport to the city was easily accessible using the local Myki card which Chelsea & Ryan lent us and we were a 5 minute walk from the tram or the same to the bus and train option – both ways had us in central Melbourne in 45 – 50 minutes for a return journey cost of $8.20. This is the maximum daily cost, so no matter how much we used the metropolitan transport system we never paid more than $8.20 per person per day. The north eastern suburbs of Preston, Thornbury and Northcote were all close by on the tram and had good coffee and shopping.

Our next housesit was in a 9th floor apartment in Docklands looking after 2 Ragdoll cats – Adele and Oliver for Anna & Samantha, a mother and daughter from Invercargill. These two cats were absolute characters – Oliver had a handbag fetish and at every opportunity he had his front half in my handbag digging out the contents. Adele was a little lady who was slightly bullied by Oliver but follows his every move then gets fed up with him so retires to sleep in the handbasin.

Docklands is in the free tram area so we had to make an effort everyday to keep up our walking and only catch the tram if we were in a hurry e.g to get to the tennis to watch Roger play! It is also a major financial area with main offices of ANZ, CBA, KPMG and several more plus is home to the Etihad stadium.

We had magnificent views across the water to Harbourtown outlet shopping centre and Melbournes’ giant observation wheel – The Melbourne Star – whose lights dominated our night views.

Whatever the mood, Docklands offers attractions, shopping, entertainment and dining and of course we made the most of all of it. The one thing with shopping is that anything bought to go in the 20kg bag means something must also go. This thought has influenced shopping decisions for the last 14 months which has probably saved the budget on many occasions.

So thanks to these lovely people we were able to enjoy all the trappings of Melbourne.