Sydney

Sydney

Sydney and Melbourne are the two biggest cities in Australia, and are of quite similar size, and have a great deal of friendly competition between them. 

No-one can visit both without comparing them or choosing a favourite.

Firstly, there are a lot of similarities. Both have a modern, dynamic, feel.  Both have modern CBDs 

And have multiple quirky suburbs.  Where Melbourne has St Kilda and Fitzroy, Sydney has the Surry Hills and Newtown.

So where is Sydney different?

It has more iconic sights, like the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

It has a more interesting geography, sitting across multiple peninsulars and around countless bays.

It feels a little more gritty and, perhaps, sleazy, with more visible gambling halls and adult shops.  There seems to be more homelessness and begging.

The very nature of its location is both a blessing and a curse.  Getting around is difficult with so much water around.  This is why people use the ferries instead of the busses whenever possible.

The very rich have very nice waterside houses.  

The rest need to live in house shares or distant suburbs.

Sydney has more history, as the site of the first convict colony, now the area known as The Rocks.

It has beaches and, even better, dozens of tidal salt-water swimming pools, often carved into rocks and battered by the surf.

I found the people of Sydney less friendly than in Melbourne.  I also felt a little more at ease in Melbourne with a nicer roof-top bar and laneway culture.  

They are both great cities but I would prefer to live in Melbourne.

Melbourne

Melbourne

At the southern tip of Australia sits Melbourne, the country’s second city.  Because it sits between the cold Antarctic and the baking heat of the interior, a few degrees change in wind direction can flip the weather quickly between any one of the four seasons.

Bisected by the Yarra River, the city is a mix of modern glass and steel, and Victorian houses and municipal buildings.

And it has a wonderful network of trams.

The Central Business District is a grid like an American city and comprises a number of streets exactly 99 feet wide paired with a second street exactly 33 feet wide.  The second, narrower street is named after the wider road but prefixed by the word “little”.  So you have Collins Street followed by Little Collins Street, Lonsdale Street followed by Little Lonsdale Street and so on.

The CDB also has narrow “laneways” that until about 20 years ago were simply dark alleyways for deliveries.  Now they are the home of a vibrant bar culture.

 and are decorated by colourful graffiti and street art.

This young new vibe didn’t evolve naturally but was cleverly promoted by the city authorities who even audition the buskers before they are allowed to perform.

We stayed in a suburb called St Kilda.  It is a seaside resort but feels much more like Brighton than Eastbourne… Lots of cool young people with tatoos scateboarding down the street.

The Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road

When travel books set out their opinions on “best ofs” the Great Ocean Road regularly appears in the “most scenic drive” list.  The coastal road stretches away to the west of Melbourne and we decided to take our time investigating the area by booking Airbnbs at the beginning, middle, and end of the road.

Our trip, then, was relaxed, and had many spontaneous detours to visit beaches, lookouts, and forest walks.  The fists stint, to the halfway point at Apollo Bay included watching experienced surfers ride the huge waves rolling in from the deep, and a rainforest walk that was reminiscent of New Zealand but with different bird noises and the added danger of possible encounters with venomous spiders and snakes.  We also encountered sleepy, distant, Koalas, and over-friendly parrots.

Apollo Bay itself was very nice.  It had good, safe, swimming beaches, and a lively centre with plenty of bars and restaurants.

After our stop-off we continued to the most famous sight, the 12 Apostles – limestone stacks rising dramatically from the surf.  

The immediate area had a number of separate walks to see various different geological views, caves, arches etc.  On one of those walks we encountered a large lizard that, for a very scary instant, looked very like a snake.

Just beyond the end of the road, near the town of Warrnambool, we visited a nature reserve called Tower Hill.  This felt a little like jurassic park as it was an island in a crater lake.

The wildlife (Koalas, Kangaroos and Emus) could walk across the causeway from the island but, in reality they were contained in a safe environment.

New Zealand – Wrap up

New Zealand – Wrap up

We spent about 5 weeks in New Zealand so we had a pretty good look.  So what did I think of NZ?  Here is a summary:-

Auckland is a big city with a corporate feel and traffic jams.  But it also has historic areas and cool suburbs.

The Bay of Islands is almost as far north as you can go in NZ so it has a warmer climate and has a relaxed feel to it – think chilling out in the South of France.  There is also a lot of Maori and colonial history here, and spectacular forests of Kauri trees.  One of my top recommendations.

If you are into Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit movies then visiting the location used for filming is interesting.  This central area of North Island is pretty, but unspectacular.  The Bay of Plenty is nice too and we had one of my favourite experiences there…a dusk kayak trip to see glow worms in a ravine.

Rotorua is where the geology of NZ comes to the surface, literally.  The hot springs and associated landscapes are stunning and there are some great walks.  To say it is a mini-Yellowstone is true in some ways, but, when combined with the NZ scenery and tree ferns, it becomes a must-see.

Hawke’s Bay is a fertile plain with many orchards.  It also has many vineyards with Napier, an Art-Deco town, at their centre.  Hawke’s Bay wine is commonly found for sale in the UK.

Wellington is the capital and has an international and quirky vibe – lots of coffee shops.  It is nestled in a bay surrounded by mountains, making it pretty but strangely windy!  If I were to ever have the opportunity to work in NZ I would pick Wellington.

Ferries join North and South Island.  They take car and foot passengers between Wellington and Picton.  The trip to Picton must be the most beautiful ferry trip in the world as the ships dance between the many islands and inlets of the Marlborough Sound.

Abel Tasman is a beautiful National Park at the top of South Island.  Lots of lovely coastal forests to walk through.

The Northwest coast was a last minute change of itinerary for us, resulting from earthquake damage to the eastern coastal highway.  It is rugged and spectacular but has changeable weather and lots of sand-flies!  I am sure some people love this area, but it wasn’t my favourite.

Making your way south, over Arthurs Pass and visiting Lake Tekapo, you get used to stunning scenery and stopping the car to take photos is a frequent event.

Queenstown is a party town and full of backpackers.  It is also extremely beautiful.  The shallow “braided rivers” are perfect for spectacular white-knuckle jet boat rides.

Milford Sound is spectacular but I don’t think it is any more spectacular than many other places that we visited on our journey.

Wanaka is worth a visit.  A beautiful lake, stunning vineyard, and just a very “nice” town.

Visiting the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers is, like Milford Sound, a big commitment in terms of miles.  If you like seeing the power of nature, and the worry effects of global warming, it is well worth the effort.

NZ is full of people who like to make things.  The craft scene is huge and Hokitika is a prime example and is the home to a surreal driftwood beach sculpture competition.

Christchurch is a city still bearing the visible scars of recent earthquakes but has an optimistic feel of regeneration.

That was our trip.  It was longer than most are able to make but I still feel we missed out a lot.  It is one of my favourite countries, with very welcoming people.  I am sure we will be back!!

 

 

Christchurch

Christchurch

This was to be our final stop in our tour of New Zealand and a little different because we were staying with relatives rather than in an Airbnb.  This meant that, not only did we have all the comforts of home, we had very generous and knowledgeable tour guides.

I am not sure if it was the layout of the city (very spread out compared to Auckland or Wellington that are defined by mountains and water) or the fact that we were driven around rather than map reading ourselves, but it is a city that is very hard to grasp geographically.  Except in the CBD, similar looking streets make it easy to get lost until you happen to come across the river, normally where you don’t expect it.

Christchurch still bears the visible scars from the deadly earthquake of February 2011.  The rebuilding work continues with stylish new buildings going up all over the centre.  There are still some sad looking building sites and abandoned buildings scattered around.

Progress has arguably been slower than expected, but there is a real sense of optimism in the city.

Highlights included the botanic gardens, the very English willow-lined river, and the funky vibe with many buskers and craft stalls.

Hokitika

Hokitika

This was just meant to be a journey-breaker because the drive from the glaciers to Christchurch would be too far.  But, surprisingly, it became one of our favourites.  The town looks a bit strange.  It has very wide residential streets.  Unnecessarily wide streets lined by bungalows.  It is like Worthing or Littlehampton but without planning restrictions.  Mixed with this “old person” vibe is an arty-crafty hippy atmosphere reminiscent of  Brighton.

You can see craftsmen working with local jade, glass-blowers making glass kiwis, and even socks makers making socks.  But the weirdest thing is the drift-wood sculptures on the beach.  There is an annual drift-wood competition that draws artists in from all over the world but it also brings the local amateur closet artists out from their bungalows.  They just go mad and lash bits of wood together and balance flat stones in gravity-defying piles … 

until the harsh weather of the Westlands eventually destroys it all.  You can’t fight the second law of thermodynamics – entropy always increases.