September 30, 2018

Whitsunday Islands : The Great Barrier Reef

For so long I had studied about the Great Barrier reef in my school years, about it being the biggest natural wonder in the world. So that was my must-visit-place when in Australia. I actually had no idea about how big this was, until I did some internet research. This majestic nature wonder flanks majority of the Queensland coast starting from the Faser Island till the northern tip of Australia, beyond Cairns and Port Douglas. There are many convenient places to explore it such as Whitsunday Islands(Airlie Beach), Cairns, Port Douglas, Townsville, Mackay and we had shortlisted Whitsunday's just because of a great airline deal. Well there was one more reason, the Whitehaven beach, which is considered to be THE BEST Beach in Australia. How could one miss that.

Ours was a short 3 day trip. 1 day to explore the Great Barrier Reef and the other to explore the Whitehaven beach and the remainder to just relax. A short and simple trip :).

The trip to the Great Barrier is the most interesting part. Its a full day trip in a medium sized cruise ship leaving early in the morning and returning by nightfall. The Great Barrier reef is close to 3 hours of boat ride and we reach a temporary pontoon in the middle of nowhere. The Great Barrier Reef is something which can be appreciated by going under the water and not that much above it. But as soon as we reached, we could see the spectacular reefs with those crystal clear turquoise waters. There are many activities which are part of the package such as scuba diving, snorkeling, under water gallery, helicopter joy-ride etc which caters to various demographics and tastes. It is no wonder the reefs are famous world over for their marine life. But we can see the effects of global warming, more prominent here than anywhere else. The reefs have started to bleach and slowly the entire reef ecosystem might turn white and marine life would just die over the next few years. That's the sad part. But we still enjoyed a lot snorkeling and observing various marine life at close proximity. Food is also provided in the pontoon. Got a go pro camera just to capture underwater images, which was worth it :).

The next day we took a half day package of the Whithaven beach. This is on an island close to 1 hour from the mainland. We were dropped at the beach to enjoy the pristine beach to our hearts content.

September 6, 2018

Ski Trip To Snowy Mountains

Snowy mountains is one of the nearest places to Sydney to experience snowfall. In fact snowy mountains and its surroundings are the only places in mainland Australia to experience consistent snowfall, consistent enough to engage in winter sports like Skiing, snowboarding etc. Snowy mountains covers the states of NSW and Victoria, and there are various Ski resorts to engage in such activities. On the NSW side there are 3 major Ski resorts. Perisher, Thredbo and Selwyn. The initial 2 cater to more professional demographic, whereas the later caters to a more family oriented , learner/amateur population.

We had been to Snowy mountains on 2 consecutive winters. The first one was to just experience snow, since my better half had never experienced it before. The second year we had timed it to experience snowfall and engage in some winter sports. As mentioned previously Perisher and Thredbo can get very crowded with people who are serious about skiing. So much that Perisher had run out of parking spots and the cops had setup a roadblock at the bottom of the mountain and asking people to take a U turn and go back and take the train. This was last year and we were not very specifically intending to visit Perisher, hence we went to the nearby Thredbo. This year based on that experience we decided to just visit Selwyn resort.

We had booked a cottage in the outskirts of Adaminaby. Though it rarely snows right up to this town, the night we stayed it snowed very heavily even in these regions. It was a scene straight out of a fairy tale, a wooden cottage in middle of nowhere and heavy snowfall outside. By morning everything was whitewashed, and we were still 35 kms away from the Selwyn Mountain Snow resort which is right up on a elevation. Hence we were expecting some good snow for skiing.

Reached the Snow resort driving through the snow filled roads and some scary 2 wheel drive moments. We had rented the ski equipment and also some lessons. The lessons were not at all helpful and the ski equipment weighed a ton, with very restricted movement possible. Not sure how people have them on and move for an entire day. And if you fall, its takes a great effort to get back to your feet, which believe me was more frequent than comfort for a newbie like me. At the end of the day, I didn't quite enjoy the concept of skiing, but I always wanted to try it atleast once. Will I ski again ??? Probably Not !!!!

June 4, 2018

Sydney : The Heart Of Australia

Eventhough Sydney just a small drop in a big ocean named Australia, if just one city has to represent it, it would definitely be this city with its world famous tourist attractions and melting pot of cultures from around the world. Compared to the other Australian cities it might seem crowded,  with its job opportunities and it being the financial capital of the ANZ region, but with so many things to visit and experience it is truly a world class city.

1. The Harbors

Touted as the best harbour in the entire world for its views, which includes the famous "hanger" bridge and the Opera house, which are the iconic symbols of Australia in their own right. A site to the spectacular vivid light festival during the long winter hours. Darling harbour is another harbour further inland. Not as dramatic as its cousin, the main harbour, but still spectacular.

2. The Beaches

There innumerable stunning beaches dotting this harbour city, which gives Sydney an upper hand when compared to the other Aussie cities. Sydney has Bondi, Manly and Coogee which are the famous ones, but there are innumerable small and secluded beaches one can find along the entire coastline. The coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee is not to be missed.

3. The National Parks

Sydney is literally surrounded by National parks in all directions. This is one of the main reason why the city is facing constraints in expanding and is doing so only towards west where there is some breathing space.  There are infact close to 50 national parks and conservation areas inside the city and in its vicinity. Towards the north of the city there are likes of Kuringai and Lane Cove national parks. Towards the south one of the oldest, Royal National Park. On the east coast is the Sydney Harbour national park and towards the west the likes of Blue Mountain national park.

4. The Mountains

Just about 50 kms from the city central,  acting like a huge boundary wall for this majestic city are the Blue Mountains. There is so much to do and see in the blue mountains. For the hardcore nature lovers there are innumerable walking tracks which range from anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days. The best walking track in my my experience is the National Pass trek which takes close to 2-3 hrs one and the double if returning on the same or other tracks. For the touristy kind there are places like the 3 sisters, Katoomba, Scenic world and so on.

5. The Buildings

The core part of any modern man made jungle are the concrete buildings, and Sydney has quite a few of very iconic buildings. The first obvious ones are the Harbor bridge and the Opera house. Other notable building include the very gothic and huge St Mary's cathedral and the iconic Sydney tower which gives 360 degrees brids eye view of the city.

6. The Museums

Some notable museums in Sydney include the Art Museum of NSW which has a free entry. This has an endless collections of art from the ages right from Indiginous art through to the Victorian era right upto the modern era. But frankly speaking museums in Sydney are a bit of a let down when compared to Melbourne, with the endless and colossal NGV museums. Probably Melbourne had to compensate in some way to their gloomy weather and keep their citizens happy :).

7. The Parks

With one of the most expensive real estate market in the world, it is no doubt that the green breathing areas within the city under tremendous pressure to hold their ground. Some of the famous green spaces within the city are the Hyde park, which includes the War memorial. Not as grand as its Melbourne counterpart though. The botanical gardens which is sandwiched between the Opera house and the sea. This area comes alive during the annual Vivid light festival conducted during the winter months.

May 15, 2018

Orange : In Search Of Fall Colours

Australia is not really a land wherein one finds autumn colours in the wilderness. But thanks to the locals with majorly European heritage and fairly favourable climate, some of inner NSW towns have planted their own European gardens with a lot of trees which gets transformed into stunning colors of yellow, red and pink during the fall season. But even then these areas are limited. Some of the towns near to Sydney with some great autumn colors are Blackheath, Orange and so on.

Apart from the fall color, Orange is also famous for its vineyards and wine tasting. Nearby we have Abercrombie caves which was good. Also the Bathurst racing track, which is actually open to the public. Hence we had a go at this race track which snakes and climbs to Mount Panoroma and back to the base. It was pretty good experience driving a car on a race track for the first time in my life.

April 20, 2018

New Zealand : The Land of the Middle Earth

Movies does inspire a lot of things we do aspire in our life. One such aspiration was to visit New Zealand, started on a small scale with the Bollywood movie Kaho Na Pyar Hai and went to giant proportions with the Lord of the Rings movie which showcased the land of the middle earth on a giant canvas. South island is the one which has all the spectacular lakes, mountains and nature's beauty. North island on the other hand has all the volcanic springs, glowworm caves and Maori culture. Hence making both the islands having their own distinct personality and not repetitive for a traveler. One piece of advice I would give to anyone visiting this nation would be to ditch the cities and head out to the wilderness.

We had a total of 11 days to explore this country. Close to 7 days on the South island and 3 on the North. We landed up in Christchurch, from where we headed south. There was nothing which caught our attention in Christchurch apart from the botanical gardens. We had expected some stunning fall colours, but we were early by atleast 2 weeks. The leaves had just started to change, but it was beautiful place to be. We stayed on the outskirts of the city,  known literally as Lyttleton. This place is nearby to the Christchurch gondola, which is a good thing to do , to get stunning birds eye view of the entire city and surrounding bays. Infact it seemed like all the major cities of New Zealand had their own gondola. We rode the gondola in Christchurch and Queenstown.

Once we had finished the gondola and enjoyed the views it was time to head south towards the southern Alps. The first major stop was lake Tekapo. A stunning glacial lake with aqua-turquoise blue water. There is also a small church by the lake which provides a great backdrop for photography enthusiasts. After Lake Tekapo comes Lake Pukaki on our way to Mt Cook village. This lake is equally stunning as Tekapo if not better. It is very tempting to stop at each of the lookouts to enjoy and absorb the view. The route to Mt Cook village runs the entire length of Lake Pukaki, with the backdrop of snow-caped Mt Cook completing the picture perfection. Mt Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand, standing at 3724m. Spending the night at the foot hills of Mt Cook was just a page out of fairy tale book. This region is also one of the most remote areas in NZ, hence making it a perfect place to watch some star studded night sky. Infact the region around Lake Tekapo and Mt Cook village are part of the International Dark Sky reserve because of very little light pollution. Unfortunately the moon played spoilsport with it being an almost full moon.

We initially planned to go on a chopper ride, to take in birds eye view of the mountainous area, but unfortunately due to heavy winds all the rides for the day were cancelled. Hence we decided to go for very highly recommended Hooker Valley Hike, which starts around a km from the village and traverses much further into the wilderness providing some great vistas of the snowcapped mountains and glaciers. The final point of the trek is the Hooker lake and the glacier. The total distance walked was around 12km and took us close to 4.5 hrs at our pace. The next stop for the day was Lake Hawea nearby Wanaka. New Zealand can easily be called as the land of the lakes with numerous lakes dotting the landscape, but having their own distinct character making it not monotonous.

The next day it was raining very heavily. Hence in order to get out of the rain we ended up in a place known as Puzzle World, where we spent couple of hours. It was an average place, with nothing too spectacular. With the rain clearing, lake Wanaka was stunning to say the least. The next stop of the day was Te Anau, via Arrowtown and Lake Hayes. Arrowtown is famous for its fall colors, but we were early again by atleast 3 weeks. Te Anau is a very peaceful town and a good stopover for people visiting the stunning Milford Sounds. Since we were on a self driving trip, the fuel prices started to climb as a moved away from Christchurch. One of the cheapest places for fuel is NPD fuel stations in the South Island which are totally self serve and payment fuel stations. It is advertised everywhere, that Te Anau is the last fuel stop for anyone moving to Milford Sound, a good 120km single direction. But we found a couple of smaller fuel stations enroute , with one in Milford Sound itself.

From Te Anau we left early in the morning for the day trip to Milford Sound. The enroute was just spectacular. Stunning steep mountains in all the directions due to ancient glacial movement. It was scene straight out of Pandora from Avatar movie. It had rained the previous day, hence we were to witness a gazillion small and not so small water falls from the mountains. The Milford Sound was made accessable to the outside world with a road built in year 1952, with a single lane 1.3km tunnel bored into the  mountain. This tunnel still retains its 1950s rustic look with its uneven walls from handcrafted tools of that era. A cruise in Milford sound is a must do activity. Our cruise took us on a 2.5hr ride across the area, giving some fantabulous views of region, taking us through waterfalls, under it, beside it and what not.  Milford sound is without doubt one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. Apart from the cruise we visited other places such as The Chasm, which has top view of a rapid falls falling from great heights, the mirror lake and Lake Gunn nature walking trail.

After Milford sound the only place in South Island remaining in our itinerary was the adventure capital of the world, "Queenstown". Queenstown is a very picturesome town on the banks of Lake Wakatipu and flanked by the mightly remarkables. We went for gondola ride which provides some great birds eye views of the town, lugging with a view, kayaking in the lake, jet boating, ice bar and so on. Also we went on a drive to Glenorchy, the landscape of which is used in a lot of scenes of the LOTR movies. Apart from adventure we also had some lip smacking food in Queenstown. The first in the list was the Fergburger place, which is famous as the best burger in all of NZ if not the world. We even had a vegetarian option in the form of "Bun Laden", which was just out of the world, after waiting for it in a queue for a while. Another mention would be the Taj Indian Kitchen, which dishes out boutique Indian cuisine.

With Queenstown we had come to an end of the South Island trip and we took a flight to Auckland. As soon as we landed in Auckland we moved towards Rotorua, which is famous for its thermal springs and Maori culture. We booked an afternoon session at Whakarewarawa Maori village. This is an actual maori village wherein they conduct cultural programs and take tourists on a guided tour across the village illustrating their lifestyle and how they have adapted living in an environment filled with hot thermal springs. The most interesting part would be how they cook their food in the thermal springs. It was a very different experience with steam emerging from land across the village like some alien land.

The next day we visited Wai O Tapu thermal land which is famous for its natural colour studded pools. In Rotorua it is very common to get a whiff of sulphur in the air, which smells like sewage water or rotten eggs.  But this place was pretty interesting to explore. From here we visited lake Taopo and Huka falls which is a massive falls in terms of water flow. And one cannot visit Rotorua and not visit one of the thermal spas. We visited one of the most visited and highly rated, the Polynesian Spa on the banks of Lake Rotorua. But be prepared for the cultural shock of people moving around completely naked in the changing rooms, unlike in the subcontinent or even in Australia. We took the option of a private room and the thermal waters was very relaxing to say the least.

The next day on our way back to Auckland we visited the famous Waitamo Glowworm caves. It had a 45 mins guided tour into the caves and frankly even though the glow worms inside the cave were well preserved and stunning, the actual time viewing these glowworms was hardly 10 mins. But still it was worth it. After the caves we visited the Hamilton Gardens which is considered one of the best in the world and it lived to its expectations. This garden is divided into various themes such as Mughal Indian Garden, Japanese, Chinese, Tudor, Italian, Maori and list goes go on. Each of them were very good.

Having experienced all these places, Auckland seemed a tad bit dull. We visited the harbor, which was nothing compared to the Sydney Harbor and finally the One tree hill, which is a volcanic cone dotting around the city providing some great views of the city. One can either walk or drive right up to the top. This was the last place we visited before our trip back home. In total we spent close to 11 days exploring this country and we were so impressed with it , that we decided that we would be back to explore more. No wonder NZ is the favorite holiday destination for an Aussie traveler.

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