Waiheke Styles

Waiheke has always been on our list. Our, we must buy here one day list. Our, we must camp on our friends lawn at Christmas list, and then there is always New Year’s Eve on the island to do list.

This year, after 10 years of dreaming we ticked off all three.

What is not to like about the place – really?

It’s a glorious 30 minutes from Auckland city on a fast ferry, (skip the bad coffee and go straight for the beer). It always seem to be sunnier than the mainland, and the beaches and vineyards are just as plentiful.

And whilst the Auckland rich list do cruise around in convertibles between gated properties, it is still very much egalitarian. Just like a good English pub. Kids, dogs, the young and old are all welcome and mingle freely with messy, salt-fringed hair, broad open smiles and a twinkle in their eyes. This island makes you feel good.

Sorting the first item on the list involved a prolonged purchase of a small cottage in Palm Beach. Which, after a bit of financial analysis, was promptly rented out for a year.

Hence we quickly sought out a friends front lawn, complete with seaview for picture perfect camping.

For five days we got the chance to find a few more favourites on an island full of great finds.

1. Cable Bay Vineyard: if you haven’t made it here yet, run for the door and get on the next ferry. This place is shut-the-gate fantastic. Once you have managed to pick your jaw up from the view over the green lawns to the ocean with the sky tower in the distance, you can sit back in their outdoor lounge and feel like you’re on a James Bond set. I almost didn’t notice the food or wine, but we seemed to keep needing the waiter to reorder. This place is totally doable with kids on a day trip. Take a taxi from the ferry at Matiatia, or walk up the path at the end of the bay to Church road for the those with over fives. A good option if you brought your own boat from Auckland as well.

2. Oyster Inn. I’ve always known about this place and its reputation, but never ventured in. I’m so glad I have now. The perfect venue for an early evening chardonnay and oysters with Oneroa beach views over the rooftops. Kids were in the house and the staff were charming and efficient.

3. Car park. This feels like a silly one to add, but oh so necessary. Waiheke swells from roughly 8,000 residents to 30,000 in summer. If you are heading into the Oneroa shops you’ll need a park. After nearly 20 years of driving around the island, I never knew about the car park behind the shops. It’s on the right as you drive through the main village from the ferry. I feel silly I never knew.

4. Motuihe: when the crowds swell and the beaches full, the locals head to the outer islands. Motuihe is one of the closest. Find a friend with a boat and head over,  laden with enough supplies for the day. There is nothing like leaving an island to go to another island for the day. It is the stuff honeymoons are made of. The clear blue waters here and the views on all sides do not disappoint.

5. The butcher in Oneora. Skip Countdown and head straight for the best meat on the island. We grabbed T-Bone steak, ribs and chicken skewers for our party of 10.

6. Anna Schwarz’s gelato. The NZ masterchef finalist has turned her talents to the best food in the world. You can’t miss her stylishly colourful container store in Oneroa. It’s the one with the all-day queue out front. We had our Ninja Ginga at 10am and happily engaged in conversations with locals while they drove past in their cars.

Oh and you might be wondering about the photo?- make sure when you’re on the island you demonstrate you are water conscious ( mainlanders get a bag rap for this) and give your kids the chance to wash in a bucket. They will love it. In fact, we are taking this idea back to the mainland with us.

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Just what the kids asked for: sand, snow and mud.

So begins my first travel post since returning home to kiwiland.

It has been awhile and its a little bit different from Asia, but there are now kiwi adventures to be had in this great land of ours. Lots to explore. Less chickens and motorbikes, more trees and scones.

For this school holidays we decided on the optimal mix of experiences to keep all the peeps happy- beachfront sand at Waihi, snow skiing in National Park and mud, lots of smelly mud in Rotorua. All on a part-time salary budget. Packing was a one hour delight, thank god for the seven seater.

First off the beach. It must have been 15-20 years since we had been to Waihi. As we nervously pushed out dinner to our 7pm arrival, we looked out for the RSA thanks to google, and stumbled upon quite possibly the biggest RSA in the country, perched upon Waihi’s hilltop entrance. We were in luck, the food was delivered almost instantly, the roast was superb and the company of #silvertops thought our children were delightful. Result, and we managed to skip bed, bath and beyond. Love holidays.

The house we hired was right on the beach, a secret little bargain that could sleep three families. Highly recommended for your next Waihi visit, but don’t tell too many.

http://www.holidayhouses.co.nz/properties/56143.asp

A great little guide to Waihi left at the house led us to The Deli for Allpress coffee, the best cinnamon brioches and fresh bread rolls. The local boomers are regulars here.

The kids spent their days running from the house to the sea, discovering the giant manmade sand pillows to leap between while they protected the eroding sand dunes. We will be back.

Waihi beach

Waihi beach

Now for some spring skiing! We headed for Te Honu House in National Park, one you can hire for your whanau, that shows a lot of love from its owners and those that that use it.

Usual Mt Ruapheu antics, meant we had to wait a day to head up, but once the skies opened up it was as good as it gets.

After a great coffee from the Railway Cafe, we headed for Happy Valley with kids and gear in tow. I had to relearn how to get on a chair lift with skis, a snowboard, poles, and a four year old in tow. Luckily we hade four hands between us and surprising some really competent and friendly lifties. They obviously save their best for the learners.

Now this is where I got a little teary eyed and humbled by seeing so many parents and grandparents going to huge efforts to give their children the chance to experience snow. I saw dads skiing with a baby in their arms (don’t be alarmed Happy Valley is virtually flat) and toddlers on skis in front. Falling, getting up, falling, but lots of laughter. I think its probably why we all love ice cream, snow magically makes you happy. I saw families with packed lunches in old Tip Top blue boxes, grandparents running down the slopes with iPads in hand and as many smiles as there were wails.

As for our two, Zami was a natural after previous snow planet lessons, Cocolily couldn’t stand after two days. Might have been something to do with the fact that we couldn’t really put her between our legs and ski down, whilst we were on our snowboards. We finally handed over our precious to a 19 year old ski instructor called Daniel who had her skiing in less than 10 minutes. Glad the experts were on hand!

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Sunset over Mt Ruapheu

Sunset over Mt Ruapheu

I also slipped in a spectacular mountain bike ride on the Fisher Track with the lovely Stacey Faire. Leaving from the railway station at National Park, you’ll need a pick up at the end of this nearly two hour cycle across rolling hill farms, with spring lambs and wild goats bouncing along beside you. Seriously unbelievable.

National Park Fisher Track with Stacey Faire

National Park Fisher Track with Stacey Faire

Nothing like falling in cow dung while mountain biking

Nothing like falling in cow dung while mountain biking

Now off to see some boiling mud. Naturally, Rotorua was on my list of places to take the kids. Loads of big and small kid fun.
We did the big stuff like luging, log flume ride, fed the trout, saw the bird show but found a few really cool less known experiences along the way. Here’s three of our favs.

A must visit when you are up the Skyline Gondala is Volcanic Wines. A retail based business, they buy the grapes from the best, make them at the bottom of the gondola and sell them at the top, in a stunning warehouse that feels like a loft nearly in the clouds. If you are lucky, you will be served by Johnnie Rainbow, likely in his 60s, a sale pro with a facial scar that makes him interesting but not scary. We tried their 5 wines and left with two bottles, accompanied by a great platter. Mr Rainbow managed to rustle up dominos and colouring for our angels. A must visit.

Abracadabra Cafe and Bar was our second find. Run by a couple of under thirty year olds, this place manages to avoid the usual Rotorua fare of giant scones and bad coffee ( sorry Rotorua!) and serves a mix of Mexican and vegan (how can they go wrong?) But what you will really love here is the kids menu. As big as the grown ups menu, it includes Buckwheat Pancakes with fresh berries and even a Toddlers healthy ‘Bits and Bobs’ served in a cup cake tray. It’s open all day and you can book private rooms decked out Arabian style or sit out the back for draft beers amongst the Hula Huts and picnic tables. A perfect venue for kids dinner or when you are starving after luge riding. Other recommended dinning options include the brilliant Night Food Markets on a Thursday and Star Indian. The latter reminded me of the how London does curry. Everyone was in waistcoats and bow ties with service that made you feel like royalty. Run in for takeaway and you’ll find the service is just as good.

Rotorua night markets

Rotorua night markets

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Thirdly you can’t miss Wai-O-Tapu Natural Wonderland, 27k south of Rotorua. This place has the Lady Knox Geyser which rockets into the sky everyday at 10:15am, mud pools and a fantastic walk through neon green lakes and steaming champagne pink plateaus.

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Lady knox

Lady knox

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Wai-O-Tapu

Wai-O-Tapu

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So now for the car journey home to Auckland..well that’s another story!

My top 10 ways how to find the good life in Ubud

#utopia= where being good is easier than being bad in the garden of earthly delights

I think most people struggle to remain committed to what is considered ‘good’ these days. It’s much easier, cheaper and often more fun to make what might be considered bad decisions. Big or small. It is also a common response of rolling ones eyes at those that ‘go on’ about their good choices. Their healthy eating habits, their exercise regimes, their caprese salad eating/yogi children, their eco- homes, their jobs that are saving the world while the rest of us are destroying it or (gasp) maybe worse, doing nothing much either way.

Of course we are not even allowed to use the words good or bad anymore as far as children are concerned, when surprisingly these are probably the easiest ones they understand. In my family, we are equally divided. Two of us like being good. We strive for positive affirmation. The other two, take great pleasure in knowing they are doing something naughty or not ‘allowed’. I’ll let you guess who is who.

When we booked our month in Ubud, we were drawn to it as a place where we could allow ourselves to relax, think, write and enjoy bali away from the beach crowds at least. Our experience of the place was limited to my one visit with my adventurous single mum in a beatup convertible jeep only stopping to buy mangos on the side of the road some 25 years ago.

What we experienced there in a month, I hope will positively influence our lives for years to come. All of us, in varying ways, got to live a life where making good decisions was naturally easy and beneficial to us all. It also wasn’t boring, in fact it was pretty darn thrilling.

This utopia that we found, is largely due to the people that call Ubud their home. They have been drawn to this place for years and now are the majority here. Their work, their lives and their social circles are all focused on good living. Believing what we put in, we get out. The earth, our bodies, our relationships and our children. So we better get it right. It is also fair to say that the local Balinese in this area already had a very strong commitment to this way of living, which feels incredibly incongruous to what is going on in the rest of bali, but I hope the tide is turning on that front. Not if you read the news today about a 17 year old being evacuated due to methanol poisoning. Enough said.

Most people that holiday in bali don’t make it up to Ubud, or often just for a Monkey Forest day trip. Wow do they miss out. In my small way, I’d love to share with you some things we did that contributed to our enjoyment of Bali, so that you too might take a little bit of Ubud away with you, back into your lives to reflect and consider our decisions everyday.

For those interested but don’t know the area, here’s my top 10 tips for Ubud should you venture beyond Kudeta. Book a week or even three. Get a driver for the bigger day trips as it will cost you all of $50 for the entire day and worth far more. You won’t find any of these day trips listed on boards in Kuta but the drivers in Ubud will know where to go when you ask.

For travel around central Ubud, get a motorbike or walk around town. Heaps more info if you google the names below. Oh yes, we took the kids to all of this and it was some of their utmost favourite things of our entire holiday. Book a villa to stay at on airbnb or stay at Samhita garden villas in the centre of Ubud.

1. Cleanse your soul at Tirta Empul in Tapaksiring.

It was totally amazing to dress in sarongs, make offerings and bathe our heads under the temple fountains with our kids. We prayed with the locals and washed our sins away for years to come. Pay a guide to show you how and visit Gunung Kawai on the way. Cocolily was nicknamed supercoco after flying up the 700 or so steps, gaping in awe at the massive shrine carvings in the 7m rock cliff faces and dipping her toes in the cool river beneath the drooping Bayan trees. Pack a picnic in the car or buy fruit at the local markets for this half day trip.

2. Saturday morning yoga at Radiant Alive in Ubud central.

What can be better than Yoga first thing sat morning, you in one room, your kids in another doing downward dog with world class yoga teachers. Of note they do yoga to the coolest beats, no sterile silence here.

3. The best day trip north of Ubud

Temple on Lake Bedugul, Botanic Gardens, Treetops Adventures and Unesco recognised Jatuliwih rice paddies- what more could you want in a day?
Actually this is what we did for my birthday and it was awesome. Starting in ubud and lasting 5-6 hours we toured north, first to the botanical gardens. No tourists here just locals picnicking amongst idyllic towering trees and giant colourful statues. Treetop Adventures is also based here where you strap on carribena’s, climb, balance and fly through the air. Buy the family a set of gloves and off you go. This was hands down one of the kid favourite things to do in bali and i have never seen it advertised. The kids loved climbing, clipping on and flying through the air. The staff are insanely helpful when you are stuck up a tree and you kids need help. I have a video of Scotty as Tarzan ‘swinging’ that I have threatened will make its way onto youtube one day. Seriously the funniest thing you have ever seen. Ask him for a viewing when you see him next.

4. Eat out with a clear conscious

Clear cafe in central ubud on hanoman st for cashew nut milk smoothies, coffee and incredible meals anytime of the day. Scotty tried his hardest to choose a naughty meal here and still came out on top much to my glee. No dairy, wheat or sugar here. Not that you would notice. Opens at 730am which is when you’ll be having breakfast thanks to the local roosters.

5. Heal your body with detoxes and massages at Ubud Sari.

All the spa treatments you talk about and renowned for the ones we don’t. Some fly in and fly out of this place every year for the 7 day detoxes. We shall see if I become one of them when I return home. The rest of us can be drop-in visitors for the hour or day.

6. Lunchtime salads with the illuminati of Ubud at Alchemy.

Hammocks, swings and toys for the kids out the back. Pop in for the best lunch in Ubud, and take a break from shopping or art gallery viewing nearby. They do takeaway juices for those detoxing at home. Hands down the best local people watching.

7. Yoga barn for evening drum and chanting sessions.

This place is a must visit for yogis and yes they chant.


8. Buy yourself a glorious chair to take home.

Multiarena rattan store on the road up to Tegalalang for glorious cane furniture to send home a bit of bali via Bisama shipping

9. Seek adventure on the Ayung River.

Take the more expensive Bali Adventures rafting option to get the safest steps down to the river. Outside of the rainy season, when the rivers rise, take the kids 4 and over. They will love it. Take cash so you can buy drinks from the locals that hike up and down to greet you from their make shift bars at the waters edge.

10.Experience the Live Food Lab at Green School.

A visit to green school combined with a raw food cooking class with Avara. People travel the world to send their kids to green school, where playing in mud is part of the curriculum. See the wonder for yourself. Avara is anuber school mum who has been coming to bali first as a Jewellery designer and is now co-founder of living food lab based at the green school. She often does raw food cooking classes out of the school grounds combined with a tour. Seriously hard to find venue, take a driver if you can.

If you get through that list or want to know more, I am happy to share more.

Namaste.

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The heart of Ubud

The journey north to Ubud from Seminyak was nothing short of spectacular.

The streets lined themselves in groups of various crafts and skills: giant budda statues, stone carvings, cane chairs, wooden doors. I got whiplash trying to keep up with them all.

Scotty was on a mission to ubud and there was no stopping him. We were leaving the coast behind in search of tranquility and fresh air.

Coconut trees towered overhead and giant Bayans hung heavy with the latest ceremonial ornaments. This is what we came for. A bit of culture luv.

Of course we had the usual craziness of bali going on. Traffic on the narrowest of streets. Roosters being slaughtered. Random fires. People on motorbikes. Shops on motorbikes. Children on motorbikes. A group cremation involving 1000 attending villagers blocking the streets for days. You get the picture.

We arrived at our villa, thanks to the GPS, to greet the American owners who were going to stay at one of their other properties while we stayed at theirs. He is a Hollywood set designer who now designs, builds and exports furniture around the world and his second wife has become a Zumba teacher/hairdresser/life coach since moving to bali.

The villa was great but very much their home. An empty nesters paradise but you know what we can kinda play that game so we explored every cliff drop, over sized stairwell and pool with a sense of adventure. Of course the kids were excited. Within moments cocolily had found a black spider the size of an outstretched hand including fingers! Not poisonous apparently.

We have now been here a week and we are finding our groove. There a some lovely spots on the property and as long as we can keep cocolily in sight we can relax! (Sic) A large bale sits perched amongst the trees as the sun sets- where I am writing this from now actually. Our bedroom is surrounding by tree tops though 20 foot high glass windows so we are literally waking amongst the trees at daybreak. If the rosters don’t wake us first.

We signed up to cooking school and blessed a crowd with our presence. Balinese children use sharp knives from a very young age so I was constantly removing knives from my kids hands as the chefs were encouraging them to chop, chop, chop! Zammie actually got the swing of it, dicing up garlic for the sauce and pounding the chicken in a giant pestle and mortar.

The writers festival starts this week and thankfully we managed to get tickets, which Scotty and I are going to dovetail at. Some amazing speakers and we are really looking forward to hanging out with adults!

Tonight we are off to some fabulous dance show at the palace so a late one for the kiddies. Cross your fingers for us.

We are hooked up on Skype, under Scott Butler, Sydney, so if you’re keen find us, we’d love to chat. You can get a sneak peak of our little life in ubud on your screen.

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More pics than words

The last few days we made it across a long, narrow string bridge to stay on Ceningan Island, from lembongan. Scotty had discovered this place from a solo motorbike ride he did a few days earlier. A lesson we have learned is to send one of us to scout out the next venue, then coordinate transport to move the family and bags. Took us 3 weeks to work this out, rather than have all of us scuffing the pavement looking for a place to sleep.

Loved it out here. Very remote. Very local. But of course like most of bali, a few Aussie have developed some land and we managed to find a great night sleep at a very KuDeTa like hotel. Real sheets, real towels. Just wonderful. All for $40 a night including breakfast.
Snuck the kids to sleep early and ate Mexican on the deck 10 feet away. Wonderful. Still missing my wine though. It is $50 for a $8 at home bottle of Jacobs creek. Reckon ill have to start a smuggling ring to get some in, getting over cocktails.

Getting picked up shortly for one last night on lembongan to catch some waves, yoga and snorkelling at playgrounds resort before heading back to the mainland.

Scott has finally come back from the dead of what we think was dengue fever. Had spins, fevers, shakes etc. just great but seems the norm over here. Relieved not to be running solo anymore.

See you on the mainland.

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Welcome to island life

 

I have officially slipped into bali life. We have left the mainland, rented a beach hut, had the children on scooters without helmets, and are drinking red wine from an empty plastic water bottle.

Can’t complain.

We are day one on Nusa Lembongan, about an hour by fast boat off the south/ east coast.

Thanks to all for the recommendations.

The stairs of our hut, start in the sand and end on our balcony with waves crashing in front. Bloody marvellous.

Its late, but not really. As full time careers, the kids have ruined us by 8pm. So it’s actually only 9pm, Scotty has crashed with cocolily and Zambezi in our one room hut and I am out on the deck doing well, you know.

We did more touristy stuff today, but really we are tourists, so why not revel in it. Besides, tourists get clean toilets and cups of tea.

Our boat transfer today to the island included a live band, deep-blue circular vegas style seating and the most hilarious safety demonstration ever seen. Whoever thought to actually show what it would look like if you fell over board, with your life jacket on, trying to swim, waving your hands, shouting loudly for someone to hear, all on board of course for us to take notes, should it happen to us. You should have seen the faces. Of the tourists that is. The Balinese thought it was hilarious.

Post show, our boat took us to a massive pontoon offshore before we checked into our beach hut for a few hours of play. I am sure these pontoons must exist outside of bali but I’ve never seen one before. As we all scrambled on board, there was a mass rush for the lockers in the centre, a dash into the changing rooms, then the choices were: get wet and see fish, with snorkelling at one end, get wet with a thrill with a giant hydro slide into the ocean 6 feet up, stay dry and see fish inside the submarine that did a round the clock 20min tour, or for the easy option, stay dry and walk down the stairs to see the glass bottom of the pontoon and sit amongst the fish. Unbelievable but true. Oh and there was Bintang if that’s all you wanted.

Of course none of that mad dashing around was particularly easy for us with an over tired 3 year old demanding to go on the water slide by herself. Bless.
So, we avoided the wet options for the kids, Scotty went snorkelling and I did the submarine tour with them. It was awesome. Snorkelling to come later on the island.

We planed to stay here for 4 nights before Ubud on October 5th, but I am not sure if we are moving for awhile. I’ve always liked the feeling of sand between my toes.