Knights Ridge “eco retreat”

The house

We went for a weekend away up to a place in the Hunter Valley billing itself as an “eco retreat” and it was pretty great! We were able to bring Beanie along too, which he loved. Kristina had the great idea to get one of those extendo-leads so he was able to roam up to five metres away and smell all the smells while still remaining technically on his lead.

The whole place is entirely off-grid: electricity comes from solar plus battery storage (though they also included instructions for how to start up the backup generator in case anything happened), the toilet is a composting one, and water is all captured from the rain and stored. They did have a somewhat anaemic ADSL2 connection though, so I don’t know if you count that as still being entirely off-grid. 😛 There was zero mobile phone signal though, the whole time we were there our phones said “No service”.

The place was decorated in quite the rustic style, with all sorts of old bits and bobs around, but it was all totally clean and dust-free.

Sitting
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There was no electric kettle, only an old stovetop one, and you don’t realise  how spoiled you are until you remember just how damn long it takes for a kettle to come to a boil on a gas stovetop!

Putting a cuppa on

The whole place was completely and totally silent in terms of any sort of human noise, the only sounds were from the trees and birds, and it was absolutely delightful. Sunset down the shallow valley that we were in was quite nice too.

Spotlight
Sunset

At dusk we saw a couple of wombats, though Beanie had to bark at them probably because they were low and had four legs and so looked somewhat dog-shaped, but we also saw some kangaroos! Beanie was absolutely fascinated by the kangaroos, we were watching from a goodly distance and he was sitting there absolutely laser-focused on them.

A distant kangaroo!
The kangaroo is the little tiny spec right in the middle where the field starts turning into the side of the valley.
Intently watching the distant kangaroo

My only complaint with the place is the number of bugs that manage to come in at night! Only about half the windows have flyscreens on them, so we had to run around and mostly close the place up once dusk arrived. All in all it was extremely relaxing, though. A++ would relax again.

The full album of photos is on Flickr.

A trip to Queenstown

Last week we finally got around to visiting New Zealand! We’d been meaning to go for a good couple of years now, but never actually did it. We started small and visited just Queenstown and surrounds, and were only there for three full days.

We flew in at night on Saturday night, and the descent in was rather long and bumpy which I guess is to be somewhat expected when it’s surrounded by mountains. We went into Queenstown for dinner first, and had one of the best burgers I’ve ever had at The World Bar.

The place we were staying was about 15 minutes drive from Queenstown, but because it was night time all we could see was brilliant yellow leaves on the trees at the side of the road where the headlights were lighting them up. We woke up the next morning, and holy crap, the view!

The Remarkables, morning light

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We went up the Skyline Gondola which has a hell of a view over Queenstown itself.

The view from Skyline Queenstown

Next we drive up to Glenorchy, which is about an hour away. Lunch was surprisingly delicious beef noodle soup from a Chinese restaurant there (there are a lot of Chinese tourists around).

On the road to Glenorchy

Kristina

Orange

Glenorchy Wharf

We spent the afternoon wandering around Queenstown Gardens and Queenstown itself. This was definitely a fantastic time to visit, the air was cool and crisp and all the leaves were changing and everything was bright yellow.

Sitting

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Secluded

Smokey

Dinner was whole baked flounder with shaved fennel and orange from Public Kitchen and it was absolutely magnificent, cooked to total perfection. The “whole fish” bit was slightly off-putting because it’s literally that, a entire fish, eyeballs and all, sitting on your plate staring up at you but I pretty quickly got over it. 😛

The morning view the next morning was even better than before.

The Remarkables, morning light 2

We paid a brief visit to Arrowtown, though there wasn’t a whole lot there and it was mostly tourist shops.

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We then drove up to Wanaka and took the obligatory photo of the tree there.

That Wanaka Tree

The drive itself had some great scenery along the way too.

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Winding road

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Dinner was at the Pig & Whistle pub, I got the dry-rubbed steak with veggies and red wine jus and Kristina had chicken and mushroom pasta, and they were both absolutely incredible.

The final full day we were there, we drove two and a half hours up to Lake Pukaki. As before, the drive itself was quite scenic too.

Stopping at Tarras

Lindis Pass

The lake itself is amazing, it’s this crazy neon-blue colour. The first two photos don’t really do it justice, but the third one is exactly how it looked even in person.

Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki

We drove a little further north along the western edge of the lake to get a bit closer to Looking towards Aoraki / Mount Cook, which was looking very dramatic with its peaks covered in clouds.

Looking towards Aoraki / Mount Cook

Overall it was a fantastic trip, we definitely want to go back again but we’re thinking we’ll fly into Christchurch next time and drive around further in the north of the South Island.

The full photosets are here:

A holiday in Perth

We went to Perth for a week last week, and it was damned lovely! A friend of mine, Mat, who I’ve known for over fifteen years and originally met through the now-mostly-defunct Everything2, lives over there and was able to offer some advice on places to eat at and suburbs to stay in.

We arrived on Saturday and stayed in a house in Highgate, which is about a 10-15 minute walk from the city itself. Less than a block away is Hyde Park, which is lovely, and so green (Perth has had like a month or two straight of rain, versus the next-to-none that Sydney’s had).

Path

Gazeebo

Departing

There’s a bunch of street art all around the place as well, and lots of interesting buildings to take photos of (full album is here).

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Five

High Grounds Coffee

On Sunday we visited Fremantle, to check out the markets there and hopefully get a view of a sunset over the ocean (something we’ve never seen given both Kristina and I grew up on the east coasts of our respective countries). It was indeed getting very nice, but sadly the clouds moved in right as the sun was getting low to the horizon.

Down the street

Ferris wheel

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Playing

Lighthouse

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Fremantle is the main cargo port for Perth, so there were the giant cargo cranes there and also a massive submarine in dry-dock (have a look to the right of the second photo)!

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Cranes

Monday was spent first at the Western Australian Botanic Garden and then wandering Northbridge and the CBD itself.

The Garden is massive although there’s a lot of just regular bushland as well as flower beds.

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The Swan Brewery Co. Ltd.

Northbridge was neat, there’s a lot of laneways and little alleys, and most of them have art on the walls, often on a very large scale.

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Small steps

Dragon

Sugar glider

Goat

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Those last two would have been probably four stories high!

We wandered through the CBD itself as well, had dinner at Durty Nelly’s Irish pub (highly recommended, the food was incredible), then continued wandering after night had fallen.

Spring

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Gothic windows

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Stairs

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On Tuesday we visited Rottnest Island! We made the mistake of taking a bus tour, which was filled with loud, obnoxious, racist boomers, and we only stopped to actually get off the bus twice. Otherwise we were driving past all this wonderful terrain and the occasional quokka, and everyone was snapping shitty photos out of the bus windows.

Thankfully that only lasted an hour and a half, and we were able to go visit a colony of quokkas that were all of about ten minutes from the main buildings on the island, and OH MY GOD they are adorable! They have no natural predators on the island so they were pretty well unafraid of people and we were able get up super-close to them.

Smiling

Round

Mine!

Gnarled

The water around the island is crystal clear.

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Tuesday night, we had dinner in Northbridge at a Mexican restaurant called La Cholita, and holy crap if you’re in Perth you need to visit it. The food is amazing.

Chopping

Kristina and Mat

Taco and sangria

Afterwards we went for another wander around the area and snapped some photos.

Mat's ridiculous icecream

Waiting

Meat Candy

Wednesday was spent briefly at the Araluen Botanic Park (briefly, because Kristina’s legs were massively hurting from crouching down and getting up constantly on Tuesday while we were visiting the quokkas and the Botanic Park was filled with lots of hills), and then a leisurely wander through East Perth.

The weather starting turning a bit crap on Thursday, so we visited Mat’s sister and her boyfriend on their rural property and just hung out there with their horse Archie and hilariously uncoordinated Maremma sheep dog Iorek, then went back and played some Diablo III.

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Iorek the Maremma sheep dog

I can’t believe how well-timed the trip was, we booked it back in July and the week before the trip was almost non-stop rain and it’s now back to raining again for the next week! There would have been so much we wouldn’t have been able to see if the weather had been awful.

Back to Tasmania

We went back to Tasmania again last week, and it was pretty great!

Where last time we stayed in Hobart for the whole trip, this time we drove up to Bicheno first, which is about a two and a half hour drive north of Hobart. The accomodation itself (the “Diamond Island Retreat”) was not great, the house was built in probably the 1970s and had clearly had next to nothing done with it since. The kitchen was terrible and the two frying pans were both quite burnt and scratched up, and there was zero internet access (at least in terms of wifi, thankfully there was plenty of 4G reception). It was completely clean and tidy, at least.

That being said, the location was amazing. This was the view from the back deck –

Diamond Island

You could walk down the paddock and down to the beach, which had some of the whitest sand I’ve seen. The first sunset was pretty epic as well.

Sunset

Reflections

Walking

More patterns

They do “penguin tours” right near where we were staying, there’s a whole section of land that’s restricted to the public and they get lots of penguins living and breeding there. We went during the decidedly off-season and so only saw a couple of penguins, but one of them waddled its way up the beach and right past us to its burrow! The other penguins we could only see in the distance down on the rocks near the beach. The tours are done after the sun has set and the guides have special torches that emit really yellow light so as not to hurt the penguins’ eyes. During the breeding season you can apparently see upwards of a hundred penguins all coming ashore to feed their chicks.

There’s a few other things to do around Bicheno as well, one is Freycinet National Park which has some epic hiking trails through it (neither Kristina nor I are hikers so we opted to just go by what we could reach by car).

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Cape Tourville Lighthouse

Then right up the road from where we were staying is Douglas-Apsley National Park, which is the same deal as Freycinet with the hiking, and requires a good couple of kilometres of dirt road to get to the carpark.

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(There’s a few more photos from each in the photoset).

The last bit of Bicheno we saw was East Coast Natureworld, a big wildlife sanctuary and conservation area.

Esther the wombat

Emu

Lazing

Ostrich

Don’t ask me why there was an ostrich there, I don’t know. 😛 The baby wombat at the top is named Esther, and she was just sitting there in the keeper’s arms dozing while the keeper was talking. They also do conservation and breeding for Tasmanian devils there, and we got to see one of them being fed which was pretty neat!

Feeding Dennis the Tasmanian Devil

Nom nom nom

After that, we drove back down to Hobart and spent the rest of the trip just wandering around some more.

The side path

190

Up the hill

Mirror selfie

Lit from below

Aurora Australis

Grafitti

Happy doggo grafitti

Under construction

Docked

The huge orange ship is an icebreaker

Aurora Australis is an Australian icebreaker. Built by Carrington Slipways and launched in 1989, the vessel is owned by P&O Maritime Services, but is regularly chartered by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) for research cruises in Antarctic waters and to support Australian bases in Antarctica.

And it’s quite an impressive sight in person!

We also went up to Mount Nelson, which is the next-highest mountain in Hobart, but unfortunately they were doing hazard-reduction burns (basically controlled bushfires) so it was really smokey and you mostly couldn’t see anything. 🙁

Despite that, all in all it was an excellent trip.

Hunter Valley farm stay

Kristina and I went up to the Hunter Valley for a long weekend last weekend. We stayed at a place called Hunter Hideaway Farm, and it was mostly nice but… a bit odd.

We arrived at about 2pm on Saturday, and there’s a long dirt road leading to the house that winds through fairly dense trees and bush. The lady that runs the place with her husband does ceramic sculptures and had put some of them on the trees and along the side of the dirt road as you start to get closer to the house. I understand the effect she was going for but it ended up just coming off as really creepy… a distinct “Someone who is insane and is going to kill you lives here” sort of vibe. It was even worse coming home after dinner when it was pitch black.

After that weirdness, we had just gotten inside when we heard a dog barking. We looked out the front door and there was a fairly sizeable dog barking loudly and in a very unfriendly manner at us. The husband rushed up and grabbed a hold of the dog’s collar, saying that the dog isn’t friendly and they weren’t expecting us yet (despite check-in being at 2, and why on earth would you have an unfriendly dog on a place that constantly has new people in it?!). After that he hauled the dog off into their house, but all of this was a slightly off-putting start to the vacation. The place had a kitchen in it, but it also had a sign saying that you needed to wash and clean and put away everything or there’d be a charge. I can understand not wanting people to leave the place as a complete mess but the sign was worded very passive-aggressively and really rubbed both of us the wrong way.

The view from the second story was pretty nice though.

View from the second floor

The farm itself is an actual working farm, they breed Angus cows and have some horses and a couple of ponies as well. One of the horses was very derpy, which was great, but the ponies were completely uninterested in people and apparently were also prone to biting.

AWW YEAH!

Ponies!

Neither of us drink wine, so we were mostly interested in the food of the area, but the first night’s dinner was underwhelming. It was at the Royal Oak Hotel and was recommended by the farm stay people but mine just wasn’t hugely flavourful and none of the flavours that were in Kristina’s dinner went together. The sheer distance that everything was from everything else was a bit annoying as well, not that that was entirely unexpected.

Saturday night’s weather was totally clear and a new moon as well, so the view of the stars was incredible; standing outside looking up at the Milky Way is always humbling.

The second day was spent doing some more wandering of the property in the morning (during which time that angry dog was out again and came running at us, but we just stood still and the wife came out and apologised and called him back, saying that he’s normally tied up—so maybe keep him tied up then), going out and buying lots of really nice cheese and chocolates, then relaxing and reading books in the afternoon. There was another, much friendlier, dog there that seems to have been a neighbour’s dog, and she was wandering around with us but mostly just running everywhere at full speed. There’s also an extremely picturesque lake that the cows enjoying sitting in and drinking from.

Running

Drinking

Sunset brought some really nice light and some great photos. The switch out of daylight savings was perfectly timed because we could admire the sunset and then go out to dinner, as opposed to all the gloriousness occurring while we were out.

Grasses

Horses running

Sunset

Sunday night’s dinner was amazing. We went to an Italian restaurant called Lillino’s, and it was one of those meals where just everything was perfect and it needed absolutely nothing—no extra salt, no extra parmesan, nothing. If you’re in the Hunter Valley you really need to go eat there.

It was definitely nice to get away from everything and spend some time relaxing and taking photos, but overall we’re not going to bother going back to the Hunter Valley, it’s not really our thing (and the farm stay was weird).

Tasmania, and LiveJournal to WordPress

So I’ve finally ditched LiveJournal and migrated it all over to my own WordPress site. I wanted to keep blogging things, but where people might actually read them. 😛

We decided to scale down our ambitions with the five-year anniversary trip, as Kristina is currently contracting and so would be losing out on quite a lot of money, and so went to Tasmania for five days instead. We’d heard great things but had never actually been before.

We stayed in the Hobart Art House, which was fantastically close to everything. We rented a car from Budget, and specified “Suzuki Swift or similar”. A Swift would have been fine, but instead we got a 1.2-litre Nissan Micra. It’s the most gutless car I’ve ever driven, and to get up the hill to where we were staying I had to put my foot all the way down to the firewall, and even then it still struggled.

At the bar

Day 1 was wandering around the Salamanca Markets, burgers for lunch at Jack Greene (their beef and blue cheese burger is amazing), then some more wandering until dinner at Monty’s on Montpelier. Their website says “fine dining” and my god, if anything that’s underselling it. The food there is absolutely incredible.

Cliffs

Day 2 started with a three-hour boat ride around the south-eastern coast with Pennicott Wilderness Journeys. According to the tour guide it was one of the calmest days they’d seen this year, but unfortunately that didn’t help because about half-way through the trip I got horribly sea-sick, though thankfully (barely) not to the point of throwing up, but it meant I was mostly sitting there feeling absolutely miserable and not even being able to look at any of the scenery. Kristina was suffering as well, so in hindsight the whole boat trip was a terrible idea. It redeemed itself with lunch at Port Arthur Lavender (again, incredible food), then dinner at Rockwall. One of their specials was a coffee-rubbed wagyu, and it was definitely the best steak I’ve ever had. It was pretty much falling apart in my mouth, it was so tender.

The other side of the lookout

Day 3, we went to Bruny Island. The “attractions” there were rather over-hyped, but the scenery is absolutely stunning. It’s like a tropical island in places, the clarity of the water is unbelievable. The afternoon was spent walking around the streets around where we were staying and checking out all the old houses, then dinner was at Mures. Mine was quite tasty, but Kristina’s risotto was crunchy, and even after she sent it back and got a new one, it wasn’t brilliant. She got a cold seafood tasting platter afterwards though, which was REALLY good.

Looking down to Hobart

Day 4, the last full day we had, we wandered around the botanical gardens, had lunch at Blue Eye (in keeping with everything else, the food was excellent), then went for a drive up to Mount Wellington. On the drive up, there was someone in a van who was doing 40km/h in a 70km/h zone and kept drifting over entirely into the other lane. It was terrifying! Thankfully there was a solid section of broken line on the road where I could overtake them, and the little Micra managed it surprisingly well. Mount Wellington itself was absolutely incredible, I’ve never been up a mountain where there’s alpine foliage before, and it felt like an entirely different world. Dinner was at Don Camillo, which was quite tasty but not on the level of some of the other restaurants.

On the last day we walked around Salamanca Place again, and had lunch back at Rockwall before heading to the airport. Our own car is only a 1.8-litre 2000 Corolla, but it was pretty funny feeling like it had a whole lot of grunt driving back from Sydney airport after having spent five days driving the Micra around. 😛

All in all, Tasmania was excellent and we’ll definitely be back!