Two Canadians, A Campervan and New Zealand’s South Island

It’s been over 6 months of us working in this country, and we have now earned holiday time! Vintage is done, and Air NZ started offering really affordable flights within the country. All of this meant that we could finally get to the South Island, and we were so excited to explore it!

As people heard we were going south, they all gave us their lists of the must-do’s! We appreciated all the cool, local tips, but unfortunately we didn’t have a year to actually cross them all off… New Zealand offers almost never ending exploring! So we picked the things that sounded the most intriguing to us, accounted for our budget and time allowances, and carefully planned (on my end) a jam-packed, 6 day adventure, in a campervan, of course!

We got an amazing flight deal to Christchurch, so we headed there early Wednesday morning, thankfully just missed the fog, and landed on time at 8:05am. We picked up our Campervan from Jucy, and hit the road, as we had an appointment to get to in the Waipara area of the Canturbury Wine Region.

I won’t go into too much detail about the wineries we visited on this trip, but we uprooted our entire lives, and moved to this country specifically to work in wine; clearly it was high on the priority list for this holiday, as it usually is.

Bell Hill

The wine in the South Island is very different than it is where we work in the North. We work in the warmest wine growing region in the country, with very vast and diverse soil types; the wine regions in the South Island have completely different soil from each other, and from the North; they also have their own unique climates, and therefore, produce unique versions of some of the grape varietals we have in the North, and also some completely different varietals altogether. We tried lots of Pinot Noir on this trip, some Chardonnay and bubbly wine, as well as many aromatic whites, like Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir based Roses, and even a Muscat, that was dry and surprisingly enjoyable.

In Canterbury, we visited Bell Hill, and had a private tour around their biodynamic and organic boutique vineyards, on incredible slopes, with the vines showing off the beautiful autumn colours. We tried some Pinot Noirs out of barrel. We visited Pegasus Bay, which had beautiful grounds, some very nice wines, and a friendly and knowledgeable Cellar Door host.

Tasting in the Bell Hill caves
Pegasus Bay Cellar Door
Pegasus Bay

We also visited the winery with two labels that belongs to this year’s New Zealand Winemaker of the Year, Greystone and Muddy Water. The Winemaker at my workplace has won that award 2 times in the last 5 years, and we have amazing wine, so I had very high expectations for this place, which I feel is fair. If you are considered the best Winemaker in the country, your Cellar Door should support that, and the visitors that you will undoubtedly bring, and give an exceptional experience. This one, sadly, did not. The host was unfriendly, made no effort at conversation, and was actually outrightly rude to us with a couple comments. Thankfully, the Marketing Manager overheard some of our questions and came out to speak with us for a while, and he was great. If it weren’t for him, we would have had a terrible experience there.

We made our way back into Christchurch for the remainder of the afternoon, did a bit of shopping for some winter gear and groceries, and drove around to see the sights.

A highlight for me was the 185 Empty White Chairs memorial for the people who died in the 2011 earthquake. It was chilling to see, and served as a reminder that life is short and fragile, and should be valued and lived to the full. We had a quick dinner at what I describe as a funky, more upscale food court, Little High.

We visited one of Christchurch’s older and highly awarded bars, the OGB Bar, and had a great experience. One of their employees did a wine tour with me a couple months back on his holiday, and invited me to visit him there on our trip, and him and his colleagues made sure we were taken great care of!

Then, it was time for a very late dinner and wine, once we found somewhere to camp! We used the Ranker’s Campervan App to help us find everything we needed to on our trip. It showed all of the places we could park, empty our tanks, etc., with reviews, photos and prices. We searched for the free options, and found a place just outside of the city to park. I’ll elaborate on the campervan later.

We woke up early on Thursday to get a good head start on our drive to Lake Tekapo.

The Lake Tekapo famous church

The scenery was beautiful on the way, as we made our way into the mountains. We spent the afternoon in Tekapo; we got some photos with the famous church on the lake, and then took a moment to pause inside and admire the view of the lake through the windows on the back wall. What a great place to go to church! We opted to walk to the top of Mount John, which was a short, fairly easy but steady climb.

Almost to the top of Mount John
The view
Snacks at the Astro Cafe

We enjoyed views of the lake and surrounding mountains, and some coffee and dessert in the sun at the Astro Cafe, before heading back down for lunch. We parked the van alongside the lake for a gorgeous view, had a picnic and some Riesling, and then headed to the Tekapo Hot Springs.

We had a booking for 2:00, but because we picked the date and time ahead, we were able to get a great deal on a site called bookme.co.nz. We enjoyed a couple of hours there, soaking in the warm water, and soaking up that view, before heading on.

Next, we drove to Lake Pukake, and stopped for some views of Mount Cook, and then made our way through the Lindess Pass, which was beautiful at sunset, and then onto Cromwell, where we wanted to start our next day.

Classic NZ highway photo
Lindess Pass at sunset
Admiring Mount Cook and Lake Pukake

We found another free camp spot on the Ranker’s App, right next to the lake, and it was such a gorgeous spot. I can’t believe some of the amazing, free camp grounds New Zealand has! I kept saying to Greg, “why is this free…?” In Canada or the USA, those would have been costly spots.

“Pancake Saturday” was moved to Friday, as we had the time in the morning, and the lakeside spot to enjoy! As we awoke in Cromwell, we were already amongst many more great wineries we were excited to visit! This is when it really started feeling like a holiday to me; finally, we had made it to Central Otago, another world renown wine region on our bucket list!

We definitely started off with the bar high, as we visited the appointment only Cellar Door of Felton Road for a tour and tasting with the owner’s daughter. Bookings are required well in advance to get a spot. She was fantastic, as was their philosophy, place, and wine, and we loved our experience there.

Felton Road tasting set up
Felton Road Cellar Door

We followed that up with another amazing experience at Mt Difficulty. It was a gorgeous, sunny, autumn day, and we took in the expansive views of Central Otago on their patio in the warm sun for a delicious and generous platter, that was a special treat for me from a reward card I received at work. After we ordered, we did a complimentary tasting to help us decide what to have with lunch. By the time we finished our tasting, our food was ready for us. We enjoyed our time there so much!

Views with the platter and wine at Mt Difficulty

Other wineries we visited in the Cromwell area were Carrick, and Akarua; we had positive experiences at both of them as well. We then jumped back in the Jucy van to head for Dunedin! The drive was absolutely beautiful the entire way; we arrived around dinner time, and spent the evening with friends.

Baldwin Street

They took us for dinner at a quaint and delicious Italian place, and then drove us to the top of Signal Hill to view the city, as well as took us for a spin up and down the steepest street in the world! We parked the van outside their house that evening, and funnily enough, we weren’t the only Jucy van on the street.

In the morning, we grabbed coffees and had a visit with our friends before making our way around Dunedin to see St Clare Beach, and the famous Railway Station; as it was Saturday, we visited the Farmer’s Market where we purchased some fresh fish and produce for dinner, before making our way back to Central Otago, where we’d spend the next 3 days.

We arrived in Wanaka mid-afternoon, so we went to Rippon, another famous winery with, yet again, amazing wines and an exceptional view!

We also visited Maude Wines, where we had the perfect spot on their comfy couch with blankets in their sun room, overlooking lake Wanaka.

We each had a seated tasting flight of different wines, and then enjoyed a glass in the sun. Our host at Maude was extremely welcoming and knowledgeable, and made us feel very comfortable during our visit.

After we were done relaxing at Maude, we headed down to That Wanaka Tree, to get some sunset photos. We were amongst a group, but got some beautiful shots. I love when I get to see something in real life that I’ve been seeing on Instagram for a while!

That Wanaka Tree at sunset
That Wanaka Tree at sunrise

We checked out another cute wine bar in Wanaka called The Cork Bar. It was warm, dim, and comfortable. So many of these places remind me of small mountain towns in British Columbia, and the whole Wanaka/Queenstown area made me feel quite at home.

At The Cork Bar, I tried some Black Peak Pinot Noir, who’s Winemaker and owner had been in to work last week. We also tried some Burn Cottage Pinot Noir, that came highly recommended, and loved it.

As Wanaka is such a famous tourist spot all year long, there are no free campsites there. We were fortunate to have a friend who’s father lives in Wanaka, and allowed us to park in his driveway for the evening. We carb loaded for our upcoming hike with some pasta, and enjoyed a bottle of wine before bed. We had purchased some candles by this point, so we had our usual ambience and didn’t have to run the bright LED lights in the van!

The next morning, we were up at 6:00am to eat breakfast, grab some sunrise photos of That Wanaka Tree, and make it to the base of the Roy’s Peak Hike for daylight at shortly after 8:00am.

Roy’s Peak Ridge

We were up to the ridge by 10:00am, took our photos, and decided to go for the summit. It was pretty cold up there, but we were glad we made the extra treck to complete the hike. The views were stunning and we had the place to ourselves.

Roy’s Peak Summit, 1578m

We had lunch back down at the ridge, and started our descent just as the rain began. By the time we got to the bottom it was full on pouring, and we were drenched! Thankfully we started when we did that morning, because had we even been 1 hour later, our view would have been largely lost in the rain clouds and fog.

Very wet after finishing Roy’s Peak

Many reviews strongly suggest a high fitness level is required for this hike, and I completely agree. It’s steep, and it’s all up, sometimes at a 45° angle, with basically no plateaus, for hours. And then you have to come down…potentially in the rain or snow, depending on the season. You must wear proper clothing, shoes, and layers. It is almost 1600 meters in elevation; the conditions are considered Alpine at the ridge and upwards, and with all that uphill climbing, if you’re not wet from the rain, you’re wet from the sweat. I was so thankful to have key parts of my work uniform on; I wore my amazing Icebreaker Merino wool jersey and Merino wind proof vest, all thanks to my awesome company outfitting me for the winter. The hike was absolutely worth all the effort and sore knees; in exchange we got some of the best views we’ve ever seen in our lives, and some pretty amazing photos.

Rainbow and mountain views from Roy’s Peak Summit

We had a makeshift shower with baby wipes when we got back into the Jucy van, and were happy to get out of our completely drenched clothing. We hung it all around the van, but the van unfortunately never got warm enough to dry any of it. I got creative to dry my hair.

We headed for Arrowtown, and walked around a bit there.

We found a candy store and got some fudge, but were stiff and cold, and just wanted to sit down. We found a cool restaurant that was just about to close, The Chop Shop, but they gave us a table. Greg had a thirst quenching beer, and I had a warm coffee with Baileys and it hit the spot perfectly. We ordered a dessert, and ended up getting 3 more free because they were using them up before closing!

Do you want another dessert on the house? Yes, please.

We headed to, guess where… more wineries! Are you surprised? We fit in short visits to Peregrine, Gibbston Valley, and then had a nice long tasting at Mt Rosa.

Peregrine Cellar Door

The owners of Mount Rosa had come to do a tasting with me at my workplace in the Bay at Christmas time, and one of my good friends is heading down to help them out for several weeks this winter while they go on vacation! As the owner knew me, he had us in way past close, and gave us a very personalized tasting. We enjoyed his wine, and the cozy, warm, rustic atmosphere!

We made our way into Queenstown that evening to check it out, and then found a campsite in the area. Queenstown doesn’t have any free sites either, but we found a decent one for only $13/each. Greg cooked up a nice meal, and we relaxed in the van, as it was still pouring outside!

The next morning, after a stop at Starbucks (yes, whenever I get the chance) we traded in the Jucy van for a car, as the van specifically had to be back during certain hours, and our flight home the following day wouldn’t allow for that to work. We took the car around the area, and did our last set of wineries: Chard Farm, which has an amazing, 2km cliff side drive in, Wet Jacket and Whitestone Cheesery, which is in an old wool shed and has a super cosy atmosphere, and then Amisfield, which was closed for repairs, so I was quite disappointed to miss them.

Chard Farm’s driveway along the left
Visiting Wet Jacket with wet jackets
Wet Jacket Cellar Door
Bald Hill

The rain had stopped by then, so we ate up the rest of our groceries outside the boot of the car! We went to Bald Hill instead of Amisfield, and then it was time to check into our hotel.

We stayed right close to downtown Queenstown, which was amazing. We got straight to laundry, as our hiking gear was all still soaking wet, and we weren’t sure how we’d get it home that way! We visited with some friends from home, who also happened to be on holiday in Queenstown!

Then we walked downtown from our hotel and checked out the shops, as well as this very cool bar, The Winery.

Inside The Winery

It has many enomatic machines, that work like a Coravin, allowing small tastes of a bottle of wine to be poured from it without oxygen getting in. We were able to try several new wines, and I got that Amisfield wine after all. It was a lovely evening, and we enjoyed some cheese and crackers on the balcony of our hotel before bed, and also really enjoyed a hot shower, a real toilet, and a King size bed! As much as we loved the hotel for the last night, we really did like the Jucy van.

Our Jucy van was just what we needed for this trip.

Fuel prices

It was small enough to get good fuel mileage (which matters a lot here – fuel on the South Island was around a whopping $2.40/litre, and that’s not a typo); it was still big enough to have a functioning bathroom. We had a small living area with benches, and a table that we could set up for dinner. That same area converted to a bed for the night.

There was also a bed option up above, but with just us, we didn’t need to use that one for anything but storage. It came with a kitchenette, and all of the dishes we needed. It also had towels, and bedding. The weather was quite cold (for NZ) at this time of year, and got down to just above 0° at night, but we had 2 duvets, and were toasty warm under them – borderline hot some of the nights. I was glad we only flew with carry-on luggage though, because compared to our camper in Canada, it felt a bit tight, and I wouldn’t have wanted to have any more stuff!

On another note, this was the lightest I’ve ever packed for a trip, and it was a big stretch for me! I wore the same boots the entire time, other than my runners for hiking. I didn’t bring heels. (Who am I?) I didn’t bring my blow dryer or straightener, either, and just made due with the hair situation. I knew we wouldn’t have power for them anyways. (Thankfully, I was able to shower at my friend’s in Dunedin, half way through the trip, and use her hair appliances to freshen up. Alice, you’re a life-saver!) Over all, I really embraced the campervan lifestyle. It was fine for 5 days, but by day 6, I was quite happy in our hotel room! I am still a bit “precious” as they say here, after all.

I have also realized that we’ve only been here just over half a year, and our trip was greatly enriched by the many connections we already had, because of our jobs in the industry, and friends we have made. We visited friends in Dunedin and Queenstown, and I knew people in Christchurch, and Gibbston Valley through simply meeting them at my job and spending some time getting to know them; they then returned the hospitality to us. We tried wines of people I’ve met at my job. We had a free place to stay in Wanaka, through another friend we’ve made. Most of the places we visited gave us extra special treatment when they found out we were industry people. I’m so thankful for all of these connections, and they make us feel so much more welcome in NZ.

Our trip was amazing.

Queenstown area
Queenstown
Roy’s Peak Summit
Arrowtown in Autumn

I’m so happy to have finally seen the South Island, and it is every bit as beautiful as people say. (Although, I do have to give bigger points to the Canadian Rocky Mountains.) 6 days went by so quickly, and we did a lot, but we still had moments of relaxation, and thoroughly enjoyed our first actual holiday in NZ.

Relaxing with my babe, stunning views and some Pinot at Maude

Hmm… where to next?

Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

We completed our first official day hike here in New Zealand on the 8th of December, and it was sunny and warm! We’re not used to warm December dates yet, but they’re fabulous.

Tongariro Crossing is one of the most famous tracks in New Zealand, and I had seen pictures of some of the scenery on Instagram before we even knew what it was and thought, “I want to go there.” It’s a 19.4 km day hike to the summit of a volcano, past the Emerald lakes and down through somewhat of a rainforest.

I was a bit concerned about the difficulty level, as we had heard some mixed reviews on how difficult the hike is. There is a sign on the trail that warns people who are not fit enough to turn back. It does include some fairly steep climbs, as well as some descents with loose footing. The tour companies suggest it will take 6 to 8 hours. Some people I spoke to said it took them upwards of that, and that they were sore for a week, or that they lost toenails. People seemed to be shocked that we were planning to do it on a weekend in between work, so their reactions to our announcement of the plan was a bit concerning. We got set up with all the right gear by some generous friends who had also done it; we made sure we were well fed and sunscreened, and our friends told us we’d be fine!

We had driven up to the mountain the night before and slept in the car in a campsite. We got up at 6:00am and had pancakes for breakfast, thanks to my husband!

There are a few shuttling options, but we went with Tongariro Expeditions’ one way option. We parked the car at the end of the hike, and then took the 8:30am shuttle to the beginning of the hike. I went with this option due to another blogger suggesting it, and I was glad we did the one way shuttle and didn’t have to wait for another shuttle at the end. What they didn’t tell us though, was that after getting off the trail we still had a ways to walk to our vehicle; the 19.4 km trail ended up being over 23 kms according to my FitBit.

We hit the trail at 8:48am. It took the first kilometre or so to adjust the backpacks and distribute the weight properly, so we were off to a bit of a slow start, but once we figured that part out, we were well on our way.

The hike begins with a nice, gradual incline into the mountain, and passes Mount Doom, from Lord of the Rings.

From there, the first steep climb begins. On the pamphlets and maps they give you, it says it will take an hour to do this climb. We completed it in 35 minutes. The views from the top are amazing!

There is a 15 minute plateau on which we were able to spread out from the rest of the groups on the trail and catch our breath a bit before the next climb, the “Devil’s Staircase.”

It was supposed to take 30 minutes, but we climbed it in about 18.

For a person who doesn’t normally exercise, this would take at least the recommended time, or longer, if one was stopping for rests part way up. We are quite fit, and it was still a very good work out getting up the mountain! It’s not a walk to be taken lightly.

Once at the top, we were able to see the Emerald Lakes in the distance, which were my favourite part of the track. Most people eat lunch at the top, but we decided to continue to the lakes before stopping for lunch, as it was only about 11:00am. Walking along the edge of the crater was really cool!

The climb down to the lakes required an adjustment in walking, as it was about a 45 degree slope with very loose gravel and volcanic sand. We slid with every step. I fell 3 times, but it wasn’t a far fall seeing as how the angle was so extreme that my hands were so close to the ground anyways. Eventually we got used to the sliding and began adjusting for it as we learned how to transfer our weight properly.

We had an enjoyable lunch on the rocks overlooking the lakes, and took the most photos around there. It was really windy! Some days, if the weather is unfavourable, people have to do the crater walk (pictured above) on their hands and knees.

The above photo was our lunch spot!

The lakes were amazing, as you can see.

Once we passed the lakes, we used one of the many toilet stops. No TP was supplied, but thankfully, I had my own! We had to wait in line. I couldn’t believe how many people were on this track!

Then we began the long descent down. The views were great at the top, but the trail down was long. This was the most difficult part for me, as my feet kept hitting the fronts of my shoes, leading to very sore toes. It was also a tedious climb down with similar scenery for a couple of hours, until we got into the rainforest area at the end.

We finished with a walk next to a beautiful, rushing stream, exited the trail at 2:44pm, and then, of course, added on the longer walk to the car.

We were surprised we’d finished so early based on the expected time, but I believe we saved a lot of time during the two inclines; we took lots of time to enjoy lunch and stop for photos, and didn’t rush ourselves, but we still finished in 5 hours and 56 minutes.

We had originally planned to stay another night in the car, but as we finished early, we went to Taupo to some natural hot springs to refresh our sore muscles and relax, and then decided to drive back for a hot shower, and a nice, comfortable sleep in a real bed. Wow, did we ever sleep well that night!

In conclusion, Tongariro Alpine Crossing is amazing, and although I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, I would highly recommend it to anyone who is fit, up for a good physical challenge, or is a regular hiker. It definitely requires a certain level of fitness to be enjoyable and safe, and the proper gear, clothing and food/water is essential. Planning ahead for transportation, and leaving lots of time to do the track is important, as I believe 6 to 8 hours is a reasonable expectation for time. We were also fortunate to have amazing weather, and that is key as well. We finished off the night with a celebratory wine from the winery I work at.

Happy exploring blog family, and cheers!

Our Australian Stop Over Part One: Sydney

On “our way” to New Zealand, we figured we would stop over in Australia, as we had never been there, and had considered living there. We did five days in Sydney, three in the Barossa Valley, and three in McLaren Vale, all at Airbnb’s. We had many exciting and great experiences, a few annoying and frustrating experiences, and overall, a great adventure. Read on for an overview of the highlights (and lowlights) of our trip.

To begin, the flights were long. So long! We left our families in Saskatchewan with tears, knowing we wouldn’t see many of them for a long time. We flew to Calgary, then L.A., and then finally on to Sydney. It was a 15 hour flight from L.A. to Sydney, and we spent well over 24 hours in travel. We left on Oct. 30th, and arrived on Nov. 1st, leaving Halloween as only a mist that we quickly passed through. Amazingly, the flight to Sydney wasn’t full, and we had three seats to just the two of us. We were able to take turns lying down across the seats, and actually got a bit of sleep. I also greatly enjoyed Virgin Australia as an airline.

We picked up our rental, and on the other side of the car and road as we were used to, hesitantly headed to our Airbnb in the Surry Hills area of Sydney. This is a trendy area that came highly recommended, but we didn’t enjoy it at all. I recommend staying in the Bondi Beach area if you plan to go to the beach a lot, or in Circular Quay or The Rocks, if you want to be around the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and other main attractions.

Our Airbnb in Sydney was also the worst we’ve ever stayed in. It was so dirty; there were spots of old food and goop on the tables and walls, dirt and dust all over the carpet and tiles, and black mould on the bathroom walls and in the shower. There was no garbage can, anywhere in the unit. I bought a hair dryer, and we ended up turning the box into our garbage. There were no tea towels or washing towels, there were two knives for cooking, one of which had the tip broken off. There was one wine glass… so we shared it. The worst part of all, is that we were on an extremely busy street, and the window was broken. The frame was hanging out of the side of the building, leaving an inch gap along the sides and top. We slept with ear plugs in the whole time! Long story short, we complained to Airbnb and were given a partial refund. Our friends who recently moved to Sydney have seen much worse places on their house hunt; apparently Sydney needs to up its standards. Our friend made a comment about how Australia is a first world country, but many Sydney residents live like it’s a third world country. I was quite disappointed in that, and I feel it’s something tourists should be aware of.


Bondi Beach

We came to Australia in their spring, from reasonably chilly weather in Canada, so we hit the beach on day one! Bondi Beach is amazing, and huge, and beautiful, with white sand, blue water, big waves, a stunning view, and lots of shops and restaurants along the street.

The parking fee is outrageous! There is a lot there, but it costs $15 for 2 hours. To spend a day at the beach is upwards of $45 in parking alone. If you plan to go to the beach, stay in that area and walk! Thankfully, the parking machines were down for two of three visits on our trip, and we paid only once, saving us a lot! I loved Bondi Beach, and the time we spent there. The water is much cooler than in places like Hawaii, but it is warmer than in Canada. There are surfers to watch, and lots of people. We were pleasantly surprised to see an abundance of public toilets, water fountains, showers, and even free wifi at the beaches in Australia. We enjoyed two of the cafes and restaurants along the beach during our visits too.


Opera House and Harbour Bridge

These are two main sights that Sydney is known for, so we visited them several times and had views of them from many different angles, bars and restaurants. If you stay in the Circular Quay or The Rocks areas, you can easily walk to both of these. They are beautiful and worth a see! If you like tours, you can tour the Opera House for roughly $45/each. We chose not to. There are a few bars and restaurants right alongside the Opera House, that we enjoyed a few times. Parking in the lot there is $16/hour! When my parking costs are higher than my alcohol costs, that’s a problem for me. If you book online ahead of time for any Wilson lot, you can get discounted parking, so if you know where you’re going to be, I suggest doing that!

You can also walk on top of the Harbour Bridge for the Bridge Climb if you have $300/each to spend, or you can go halfway up for half price. We climbed one of the towers on the bridge that its creators added to make it look similar to the Tower Bridge in London. The climb was a few hundred stairs, and only $15/each.


Sydney Tower Eye

We were being very budget conscious on this trip, due to our move, but we decided to do one nice dinner out, and we chose the 360 Bar and Dining in the tower. We thoroughly enjoyed our food, drinks, view and experience there! They were great with my soy allergy, and they actually gave Canadian and American style table service. (Most of Australia and NZ requires you to walk up to a bar or counter to order, pay, and then nobody serves you after that.) We ate a variety of appetizers, meals and desserts, all of which were amazing, and even tried the Kangaroo, which was really tender and flavourful! I would recommend this place to anyone who enjoys fine wine and dining. Note that again, the parking situation is challenging. The nearest Wilson lot is a 10 minute walk away, and requires pre-booking for a discount.


Sydney Harbour Cruise

We chose to do a 2 hour, afternoon boat cruise, and it was fabulous. We saw so much of the harbour. Sydney would be an amazing place to do a full cruise to!


Hillsong Church

If you’re a Christian or God follower of any kind, or even potentially if you’re not, you know of Hillsong. They have churches all around the world now, but they started in Sydney, and going to their original location was a major highlight for us!


Darling Harbour

This is another harbour that is less famous than the main harbour, but is also very beautiful, and full of restaurants and bars that capitalize on the exceptional setting. They do free fireworks all spring and summer on Saturday nights at 9pm!


Local Events

We were fortunate to have friends that had just moved to Sydney, and to get to spend two days with them. They invited us along to some local events, and we met some of their friends as well. This really made us feel like we got some of the local experience, and we enjoyed experiencing Sydney with them very much!

Food and Wine Festival in Lane Cove (above)

Melbourne Cup Day (above)

The Lord Nelson Brewery, Sydney’s oldest pub (above)

Navigating our way around The Rocks at night (above)


There are so many more things to see and do in Sydney! Check out Circular Quay and The Rocks areas. The train is easy to use, and pretty affordable. There are great restaurants, pubs, chocolate shops and coffee shops everywhere. There are lots of great places to walk and jog! It’s probably not the best idea to rent a car there, unless you’re like us and are moving with too much luggage! The weather was fantastic and the people were pretty friendly. Other than having disgusting accommodations, we really enjoyed our time there!

Thanks for reading, and happy traveling!

Three Amazing Must-Do Travel Bike Tours

We love traveling, seeing the sights, and being active, so it’s no wonder we’ve chosen to do bike tours on several of our trips. I also appreciate efficiency, and getting some wheels can greatly increase the amount of ground that can be covered in a short amount of time! We’ve biked in many places of the world, but these three experiences are all somewhat or fully guided, have given us the best bang for our buck, have offered very scenic exercise opportunities, and have provided amazing memories that we will cherish for life.

The Paris Night Bike Tour – 4 hours

http://www.fattiretours.com offers it for $69.95 and I recommend booking well in advance or it will be sold out! It’s got a 5 star rating on their site and I’m not surprised, as it is absolutely fantastic.

This tour was recommended to me by a friend before I had been to Paris for the first time, as it’s a great way to get some bearings on the layout of some popular tourist spots, and some general information. I recommend doing the tour close to the beginning of your trip for that reason. We did it, loved it, and have recommended it ever since. My sister and her friends booked it on my recommendation and highly enjoyed it as well.

We arrived on time, just after supper, at the address given to us upon booking, where we met our tour guide. We were set up with bikes and safety vests that were adjusted to fit us properly, and then we were taught how to use the bike. Paris is a very busy city, and we were going to be driving on the roads, with the traffic, so our tour guide taught us how to drive as safely as possible and how to keep up with the group.

Disclaimer: If you have never ridden a bike before, I wouldn’t recommend a bike tour in any large city as the place to learn. You don’t need to be an avid biker, but you do need to have some pre-established comfort on a bike.

Once we were ready to go, we set off into the evening! We biked at a relatively quick pace, and stopped every so often to view a monument, take some pictures, and learn a bit about what we were seeing. We stopped at places like Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, the Latin Quarter, and we even stopped for an ice cream at Berthillon, a place they claim is most famous in Paris.

Then we made our way to the river, where we locked up our bikes, and jumped on a boat for a Seine River Cruise. The river cruise is one of my absolute favourite things to do in Paris, as you can see so many of the city’s famous places from the water, sail under its intricately ornate bridges, and admire all the locals that gather to relax and socialize along the riverbank. The timing of the boat ride was perfect for us to see the sunset, and the Eiffel Tower sparkle in the dusk from the water.

Oh, and did I mention the bike tour guide gives you free wine on the boat ride? Yes. Free wine. As much as you want. 🍷✔️

Once we got off the boat, we resumed our biking, perhaps a little wobblier than before the free wine, and made one more stop to see the Eiffel Tower again before heading back to the Fat Tire shop.

What a fantastic use of 4 hours in Paris!


Brooklyn Bridge Bike Tour
in New York – 2 hours

http://www.centralparksightseeing.com offers this tour for about $45, depending on what time and day you’re going.

Nobody had recommended this to me, but I wanted to do a bike tour in NYC, for the same reasons as on other trips: we cover ground so quickly, we get to meet other people, and we get some information about what we’re seeing, all while being active!

We were almost late for this one as we got lost on the Subway (so leave earlier than you think you need to), but we got there just before our group left. They quickly fitted us with bikes and we were on our way with our tour guide.

We biked at a reasonable pace, but we also stopped quite frequently on this tour to learn for a couple of minutes about what we were seeing. We rode through several old neighbourhoods that were the beginnings of Manhattan, down by the harbour, through the south end of Broadway, and China Town, while learning about some of NYC’s history. We pedalled across the Brooklyn bridge, breaking for some photos on the top!

Then we explored Brooklyn Heights and learned about the bridge and the area, before heading to the water’s edge near Jane’s Carousel to get a fantastic view of Manhattan, the bridge, and of course, some photos.

We made our way back across the Manhattan Bridge before ending the tour back at the shop.

This was an affordable and very informative tour with a friendly, personable and knowledgeable tour guide (ours happened to also be a college professor who was passionate about his city’s history), that left us feeling like we learned and saw so much that we just couldn’t have on our own.

They offer many different bike tours other than this one, so if you’re interested in other areas of the city, or want to do more than one tour, you could learn and see a lot!


Biking the Vineyard Trails of Burgundy
in France – full day

We booked rental bikes ahead of time through http://www.burgundy-by-bike.com for the very reasonable price of €20/day.

My heart smiles when I remember this day. It was easily not only one of the best biking experiences, but the best travel experiences – I’ll even say best life experiences – I’ve ever had.

We had watched some YouTube videos and read a few articles in our preparation to visit Burgundy (Bourgogne in French) and we’d seen a few recommendations to do the bike trails through the vineyards. As we love wine, we were going for wine, and we enjoy biking, we knew this was an absolute must for us.

There are a few companies that do guided tours, but we chose to rent our bikes in the town of Beaune, follow the maps they gave us of the bike trails and winery stops, and go independently of a guide. We didn’t know how long we’d want to be out, but we didn’t want to be limited by a group for this one, and I’m glad we weren’t, because we took the whole day!

We were fitted to our bikes, and given great directions and a map to get us through Beaune, and onto the bike path. Our map also explained exactly how many kilometres apart each of the towns were, so we could decide if we wanted to go the full distance or not.

We had the most beautiful, magical day. This was my Disneyland! Biking through the vineyards of Burgundy is just breathtaking! For one, the views are stunning, and the history is ancient; these vineyards and wineries have survived wars, and the stories of the families are generations long. Secondly, Burgundy is not flat! Our breath was taken away many times on this hilly ride! We were there in June, and it happened to be a very hot, sunny day. There is little shade on the ride, so make sure you bring lots of water. There are a few towns that you can purchase food and water in along the ride as well.

We started off at the famous entry to the vineyards.

We rode through several towns in the morning, stopping at a small Chateau in Pommard for a wine tasting in their below ground cave.

It was stunning, but the details of this are for another article!

We then rode through the villages of Volnay, Monthelle, and into Mersault, where we bought some beer and water and had a picnic lunch in the town square. It was scenic and quaint, with the church tower chiming away noon, and the small shop keepers closing up to enjoy the lunch hour by the trickling fountain. The town was alive with locals on their daily routes, and other bikers like us, stopping to enjoy the moment and some rest in the shade.

Once we were finished our storybook perfect lunch, we headed on towards Puligny-Montrachet, where we did another wine tasting. We then biked to Chassagne-Montrachet and finally Santenay, before deciding to turn around. We enjoyed little stops along the way to look closer at the vineyards and take photos, as well as to observe the village homes and businesses.

We also made sure to stop and smell the roses!

Biking in Burgundy felt so picturesque, so peaceful and so surreal that I had to keep reminding myself that I was really there, and it was really happening! I soaked up every minute of the experience and it couldn’t have been more perfect.

We put on 40kms on the bikes that day, so we were pretty tired by the evening, and it was so worth it!

So there you have it; these are my top three biking memories. If you are ever in any of those places, I highly encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities, and all they can offer you!

Happy travels!

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week Four

After four weeks of Yoga, I agree that there is a physical, mental, and spiritual component to the practice.  In my first Yoga blog, I focused a lot on the physical, and somewhat on the mental; I’ve concluded that Yoga has great physical benefits for me, and some mental benefits.  As I have continued practicing Yoga, writing about it and participating in discussions that have come from my blog posts, I can’t deny that the spiritual aspect of Yoga is a large part of it, or at least, its roots.  The spiritual aspect is largely what I’ll be addressing in this final post.  I was able to get some spiritual benefits from my practice; however, I don’t believe the spiritual benefits were something that I could only get in Yoga.  I believe they resulted from personal intentions of what I chose to focus on for a dedicated amount of time in a quiet space, something I could do (and have done) in other environments as well.

“Yoga is not synonymous with Hinduism…True Yoga neither competes with nor precludes any other religion.  You may use your Yoga – your disciplined practices of sacred union – to get closer to Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, or Yahweh…The Yogic path is about disentangling the built-in glitches of the human condition, which I’m going to over-simply define here as the heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment” (Gilbert, Elizabeth – Eat Pray Love – p.122).

You may not believe the Bible, but I do, and there are some verses that I love in there that support contentment and discipline. Here’s one:

Romans 12:2a “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Some might use this verse to suggest a Christian shouldn’t go to Yoga.  I’m proposing the opposite; if Yoga helps someone break away from discontentedness and other “built-in glitches of the human condition” because we are so distracted with our lives, then it could be helping us focus on things that actually matter, and it could be used to renew our minds.

I completed my final week in my Yoga experiment with another evening class of Hot Yoga, with my husband in attendance, and a fourth new teacher.  Guess what?  She was different than all the others.  She had her own style, and there were things I liked about her style (lots of movement through a variety of poses, gentle instruction), and things I didn’t (lack of specific tips on postures, and I don’t think Yoga is the place for repeated silly jokes).  I was pretty comfortable during this class, and finally felt that I knew what lots of the poses were, and how to get my body into them.  I had learned my range for several stretches, and knew when I needed a block for assistance.  I noticed I was way better at paying attention to my breath, and actually taking deep belly breaths without having to consciously remind myself as often.  I was prepared with a verse mantra again, and was able to relax my mind and body, and focus on it with intention during the last 10 minutes of the class.

Whether or not you believe in the Bible, you may believe that Jesus existed; regardless of who you think Jesus is or was, historically, he was a rule-breaker for the sake of loving people.  He spent time with everyone that religion said he shouldn’t, did things that religion told him were wrong, and didn’t care what the religious leaders thought of him.  He was representing the Father – love.  I’m not saying that this means everything is okay all of the time.  The point I’m trying to make is that just because there’s a religious rule saying something is evil, doesn’t necessarily mean it is.

I’m not Catholic, but my aunt is, and after reading my previous posts, she dropped off some information for me titled, “A Catholic Perspective on Yoga,” by Terry Donahue (2011).  Although I’m not Catholic, I enjoyed the article, and picked up on some key points Donahue makes.

“The problem with Yoga, and what must be rejected by a Catholic, are the spiritual beliefs… of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism that are incompatible with the Catholic faith…Practicing Yoga in order to reach self-fulfillment or spiritual enlightenment is to be rejected since it is contrary to the Catholic teaching that such fulfillment and enlightenment are found in Jesus Christ.”  He also explains that Catholics should not mistake all feelings of physical relaxation as mystical experiences, but that relaxation techniques can be appropriate in order to be at peace, less distracted, and able to communicate with God.  “Furthermore, there is nothing intrinsically evil about any particular body pose or stretch used for the purposes of flexibility, exercise, or physical therapy.”  He finishes the article with the stance that “Catholics should not participate in the spiritual practices of Yoga,” but that Catholics “could learn Yoga poses and stretches from a teacher who does not teach or promote Yoga’s erroneous spiritual and philosophical beliefs.”  For him, it’s the teachers that matter, and what they’re promoting spiritually, not the physical and mental practices of Yoga itself.

I believe in God, the Father, and I believe He created the world, and everything in it; yes, I’m saying that I believe God created meditation, stretching, focus, and many other parts of Yoga. (I wonder what backlash will come of that statement?)

People may have given it a name, but God gave us the ability to sit in stillness, focus our minds, calm ourselves through deep breathing, relax through stretching our muscles, and to set disciplines of gratitude.  I also believe He can meet us in the quiet darkness of a Yoga room, just as much as He can meet us in a church, or in nature, or…anywhere?  As my Yoga experiment culminates after four short weeks, I feel confident that the practice of Yoga can be used, like most practices and habits in this world, for good or evil, depending on the intentions and goals of the teacher and participant.   

My position on this is humble, and stands to be corrected if further information presents itself on this topic.  Right now, this is my opinion on Yoga, but I’m open to learning something new, and I don’t like to be closed minded or set in my ways.  I realize that I possess an extremely limited knowledge of Yoga, and that I’m addressing a controversial school of thought within my circle of church-goers, and to be completely honest, even within my own family.

I’m not trying to persuade you into doing anything that makes you uncomfortable; I believe that each person needs to follow his or her own conscience.  I’m presenting what I’ve learned, and what my mind has been opened to during my short experiment, and I’m fighting for more love, and less judgment, in Christian circles on whatever religious rules each person decides are the “right ones” to follow. Just because Yoga/alcohol/(insert taboo Christian topic here) makes one person spiritually uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it should be a write-off for everyone.

I’m also presenting this opinion with my own religious affiliation, and I respect that it may not be yours; however, I’ve learned that unity of people, despite their backgrounds and beliefs, is one of the great things about Yoga. There is so much hate, judgement and division in this world, and I know a lot of people that don’t feel unity in churches.  You and I could be side by side in the same Yoga class, and we could each experience our own physical, mental and spiritual benefits.  You could set your own intentions, and I could set mine, yet we could be unified with each other for 75 minutes, present in the moment we’re experiencing together, regardless of what individual unions that moment held for each of us.  It’s one more way to be a part of a community.

Will I attend Yoga every week now?  No, I probably won’t.  Has my perspective on it changed?  I’d say so.  I believe I’ve found one more tool that I can use in my life for various benefits.  I will go back, when I need a bit of help relaxing, stretching or focusing on a particular something.  I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve learned there’s even more that I still have to learn – and that’s a great thing.

Namaste.

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week Three

For my third Yoga class of this experiment, I decided to change a few things.  I tried an evening class, it was Hot Yoga, and my husband came with me.  I also came across some Yoga history in a novel that inspired me to look at it differently, as you’ll read below.

Again, it was a new instructor, but I know this instructor from staff parties, as I instruct my own classes at the same gym.  It added a certain comfort level being under the instruction of someone I already knew.  She was early and prepared, she started the class off with moments of readiness and preparation, and focused our minds on loving ourselves and others.  She reminded us to be grateful for our bodies, our hearts, and life itself.  She was detailed in her instructions, and gracious in the areas we needed growth.  Her class was also the most physically challenging one I’ve attended this month, with many strength and balance poses that the other two didn’t include; fine this time, but I wouldn’t always want that.

I’m learning that it’s important to find out what I want from a Yoga class, and then choose a time of day, level and instructor that delivers what it is that I need in that season.  There’s a time for everything.

Coming into an evening class felt okay for me, because I’m not a morning person.  I was more alert and had spent more time preparing for my experience.  I had picked a Bible verse I’d come across recently that applies well to my current life space, and I was ready to use it as a mantra.  I was also using this class to help wind down at the end of a day, rather than rolling out of bed into it, another plus for this time.

It was over 30 degrees Celsius in my city at the time, and we don’t have air conditioning in our house.  I had concerns about how Hot Yoga would affect my already over-heated body, so I consumed extra water before going (something I wouldn’t have done well before a morning class). As it turns out, when you walk from 30 degrees into 34 degrees, it doesn’t really feel that different; however, I noticed immediately how much further I was able to stretch into my downward dogs and forward folds, simply from the added heat in the room. I was actually cold when I left the room, which was just what I needed to feel!

Having my husband there was great.  He attends my fitness classes often, lifts with me, or we run together.  I’m comfortable exercising with him in many capacities, so I was aware of him, but he didn’t distract from my focus.  He’s a bit more experienced with Yoga than I am, so I looked forward to discussing the class afterwards with him.  His main observation was that he appreciates the time to slow down and actually focus on breathing.  The average person breathes in and out more than 20,000 times per day, and breathing is an essential life function, but we don’t stop and think about it unless we make the effort to focus on our own bodies and be grateful for a few moments.

I recently read Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, because in the first third of the book, she relays her experiences of life in Italy, a place I hope to move to.  The next two thirds of the book cover her experiences in India and Bali, and I wasn’t planning to read them, but I noticed that the introduction to the India section was about meditation and Yoga, and seeing as how I was right in the middle of my summer Yoga experiment, it captured my attention.  Here’s what jumped off the pages at me.

“Why do we practice Yoga?… Is it so we can become a little bendier than our neighbors?  Or is there perhaps some higher purpose?  Yoga, in Sanskrit, can be translated as ‘union.’ It originally comes from the root word yuj, which means ‘to yoke,’ to attach yourself to a task at hand with ox-like discipline.  And the task at hand in Yoga is to find union between mind and body, between the individual and her God, between our thoughts and the source of our thoughts, between teacher and student, and even between ourselves and our sometimes hard-to-bend neighbours… The ancients developed these physical stretches not for personal fitness, but to loosen up their muscles and minds in order to prepare them for meditation” (p.121).

I love that “Yoga” essentially means “union.”  Sure, it can be a simple physical exercise, surface level stretching, if that’s what you are comfortable with.  But, it can be an opportunity to experience union with other people, or with soul, spirit and body, or with my God, if I set that intention, and I love that.  In the business of this life, this North American culture, and this crazy mind of mine that insists on fighting rest at any cost… it’s a gift.

1 Corinthians 1:10 “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

I also love that it encourages one “to yoke” to something, and attach to it with ox-like discipline.

Matthew 11:28 “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you.  Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’”

Sometimes, I feel weary, like I am carrying a heavy burden, and I want rest for my soul from a humble, gentle God.  There are many ways I can seek His rest, and I would argue that Yoga can be one of them, if I’m setting that intention – to take His humble, gentle yoke upon me and let myself be taught.

“Yoga is about self-mastery and the dedicated effort to haul your attention away from your endless brooding over the past and your nonstop worrying about the future so that you can seek, instead, a place of eternal presence from which you may regard yourself and your surroundings with poise” (Gilbert, p.122).

Phillipians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” 

Exactly.

Needless to say, after reading all of this, I entered my third Yoga class with a fresh perspective.

“Take my yoke upon you…you will find rest for your souls.”

Does Yoga have to be spiritual?  No.  It can be purely fitness related.  You can walk into that room and let your mind wander through all your to-do lists, and everything you’re worried about, and you can watch the clock and just stretch.  If that’s what you need, then do that.  If you’re not into the Bible like me, you can choose a different focus, any mantra you like, and make it a positive or relaxing experience, where you practice gratitude, or learn to focus your mind a little more.  Or you can use it to connect with yourself, a friend, or God.  I have done all three now.

Yoga keeps surprising me. There is one week left in my summer Yoga experiment, and I’m curious to see what it will bring.

Namaste.

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week Two

Two out of four; I’m half way to the completion of my summer yoga experiment. I’m embarking on this journey with an open mind, to discover how weekly yoga may impact my mental, physical and spiritual health.

Following Last Week’s Practice

I noticed a bit of stiffness in my neck throughout the same day, but none following that.  I also felt less back pain and joint stiffness at the end of the week.  Last week was what we call “Launch Week” at my gym, when brand new choreography is released in a branch of fitness classes we offer.  I am a fitness instructor, and on Launch Week, I typically teach upwards of twice as many classes as my usual amount, which leaves me very sore by the end of the week.  I can’t say I wasn’t stiff at all, but I can say that I noticed a marked improvement in how I felt, just by slotting that one Yoga class into the middle of the week.  I should not be surprised; I’ve been well educated on the benefits of proper stretching!

This Week’s Practice

If you recall, there were a few things I wasn’t fond of in the class I attended last week, namely the late instructor, and the overly full room of loud, bad-breathed breathers.  I purposefully chose a different class this week, so that I could experience another teacher’s practice, and a fresh environment.  I’m pleased to report that the teacher was early, stayed late to chat with me, and there were no loud, bad-breathed breathers.  The only breathing I heard today was when the instructor asked us all to exhale forcefully, and we did it as a group, which had a nice sense of comradery to it.

I came into the class slightly more comfortably after having just done Yoga last week.  I began my morning in a similar fashion, getting up early and heading to the gym with ample time to warm up and get acquainted with the room.  I also don’t have my own yoga mat (yet?), and there are only a couple of spares, so I wanted to make sure I got there early to get one.

I was tired today.  I had lots of sun this weekend, and a restless sleep last night.  I seriously considered turning the alarm off and just rolling back over, but then I remembered I made a commitment to myself, and the blogging community, to do four classes this summer, and I needed to get my lazy butt out of bed.

My experience today was entirely different than last week.  I’m discovering that this is something that intrigues me about Yoga.  I never know what to expect; no class is ever exactly the same.  There are so many poses a teacher can choose from, based on the experience level of the participants, requests, or simply what he or she is feeling inspired to practice that day.  In some classes, like the ones I teach, predictability and patterns are keys to success and the development of better cardio-vascular fitness, strength and stamina.  In Yoga, predictability doesn’t seem to matter as much. There’s lots of time to sink into each pose, adjust, and re-adjust.  I can see how familiarity with the poses would add value, but Yoga truly is a practice, and there’s always room to keep practicing and growing in the many facets of what it offers.

Some of the poses were familiar today, but some were new, and the order surprised me.  Not knowing what was coming forced me to be mentally engaged in the class, and to pay attention.  In Yoga, I have to listen and heed the instructions; I must be aware of what I’m experiencing in my body.

The Instructor Matters

I specifically appreciated three things about the way the instructor taught this morning (on top of her timely arrival and personable manner).

First, she made an effort to remind us to be aware of our mental state.  She started the class with a relaxation time, in which she brought our attention to all parts of our bodies and our breath; she challenged us to let go of worrisome thoughts or our to-do lists of the day, and be present in the class.  I needed this.  Throughout, she reminded us to focus in on our breathing.  At the end, she encouraged us to be grateful for something, and to set a goal for our state of mind for the rest of the day, whatever we each wanted it to be.  She wasn’t specifically spiritual, but I was able to make it spiritual for me, in the way I wanted to.

Second, she gave detailed instructions, in a calm voice.  She explained all poses with care, and reminded us to tighten up tiny details in our postures that would have altered their effectiveness if we’d forgotten them.  She taught us how to breathe deeply, to the top of our lungs, into our belly breath, and within our body’s natural rhythm; she cued which types of breathing to do in each pose.

Third, she came to me when she noticed I was struggling, and whispered the question, “Would you mind if I offered you some assistance?”  I gladly accepted, and she helped re-align my legs and hips into the proper placement, which in turn enabled me get the most out of that stretch.  I clearly needed this too, and she acted on it.

I felt more satisfied after this class than last week’s.  That could be partially caused by simple familiarity, but I imagine it mainly had to do with the room being less full, and the instructor’s style.  I will certainly try to make it to one of her classes again.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts last week on how Yoga has impacted you.  Any tips on choosing a Yoga mat?

Namaste!