Category: Travel

What are you waiting for? Someday or retirement day? What about today?

Do you have plans for one day, someday or for when you retire?

What have you always wanted to do or see? What are you waiting for?

Because here’s the thing. We don’t know our expiry date.

Most of us are aware when we get to our best before date. The aches and pains of middle and older age remind us of that. It is also something that we can do something about. But none of us know when we will die.

Save to retire or plan to pretire.

This is what we are told, almost as soon as we start work. Save for your pension we are told. Most of us spend years saving for our retirement. Working long hours, buying bigger and better, Proving we are successful, chasing promotions, and working past 60 or 65, all with the eye on the pension pot. Defining who we are by the job we do.

With dreams of what we will do when we retire. What if we lived out those dreams now, at 30 or 40 or 50? Why not pretire? Instead of buying bigger homes, newer cars, the latest phone, accepting perceived and built in obsolescence go shopping for new shoes/handbags/ gadgets, and slob on a diet of take out and Sky, use that money to pretire. Cook instead of dine out, make you existing home bigger by having less stuff, use public transport or a bike instead of a car, Borrow don’t buy, stop shopping for things you don’t need. How much would you save?

My Grandad dreamed of the cottage by the sea

My Grandad used to say when he retired he would buy a cottage by the sea. The nearest he got to this was a caravan at Uphill near Weston Super Mare.

He had worked hard all his life. He left school at 12 or 13 and worked on a farm. During the Second World War, too old to be drafted, he was a volunteer fireman. At some point he worked at ‘The Austin’ as did most people who lived in Birmingham. There were times of unemployment, I know. When I went to live with him and Nan he was a painter and decorator for ‘The Parks’.

The Austin as he called it was later known as British Leyland, one of the biggest employers in Birmingham in the 60s 70s and 80s. Renowned for its strong unions and strikes. And birthplace of the Mini.

The Parks were the Local Authority managed parks. He painted fences and greenhouses. At some point in the past he painted Lightwoods House, and rescued books that had been thrown out to be burned.

When not working he would be tending to his dahlias and veg,  studying the form of the horses whilst chain smoking. He also made wine that could strip paint.

He had smoked since he was 8 years old.

The last 10 years of his life he was dependent on an oxygen machine and spent his days lying on the sofa. Removing his oxygen mask to have a cigarette.

I guess he was in his late 70’s when he died. He never left the UK. Never had a passport and had no desire to do so. In the 1940’s he would borrow a tent, find a friend with a Charabanc and pile his family into it and go camping at Highley. Today you can get to Highley in about 30 minutes or so. Back then it would have been a couple of hours away, at least. It was a big adventure. Later on, his eldest daughter organised extended family holidays, 10 to 15 of us from Granny to toddler, friends of the family and anyone who wanted to tag along would come. We would rent a house in Tenby, or 3 caravans at Brean. Days full of sun, making dens, building sandcastles, putting pennies on the railway line, flying kites Grandad had made, with Monopoly or Rummie at night.

Those were when he was at his happiest I think. He would get up early to pick the mushrooms for his breakfast. Make another kite (we seemed to break them regularly). If they crashed, he would follow the string to find them. When he was at work he was up first, making tea for everyone, leaving by 7 to get the bus in the cold and the dark and be home at around 5 for his ‘tea’. He wore Long Johns and a vest all year round, had a bath on a Sunday then put his best clothes on for Sunday Tea.

A different view from the kitchen sink

My nan, his wife, was a thrifty make do and mend house keeper. The 25 shilling leg of lamb we had every Sunday was stretched to make numerous meals. Nan only ever had a drink and a cigarette at weddings. She outlived him for another 15 years or so. One Christmas my mom surprised her with a Santa Flight. That was the first and only flight she had made. She did love her holidays but looking back, as we always self catered, she merely moved kitchens. A different view from the kitchen sink. I never heard her grumble or raise her voice. Not once. She was at her happiest with her family around her.

Her great sadness was that three of her four children died before she did. About a month before she died she had her health check and the doctor pronounced her fighting fit. We enjoyed a family lunch out to celebrate her birthday and mine, and my Silver Wedding anniversary.

A few weeks later she was gone. Determined not to see her only remaining child (who had just had a diagnosis with a respiratory illness, and like her father and sister to become dependent on an oxygen mask) die before she did. She took about three days to leave us, barely conscious yet I know she was checking off all who visited her in that time. Her daughter, my mom was by her side constantly. Once every grand child and great grandchild and great, great grandchild who possibly could get to see her had arrived, she demanded to get out of bed and sit on the chair with her family by her side.

She wasn’t going to die lying down.

Deathbed regrets

My aunt said to me, the day before she died, that she wished she had spent less time taking care of others and spent more time seeing the world. She was in the ‘sandwich generation’ for most of her life. As the eldest of 4 she cared for her younger siblings when her mother was ill. She married young and had four children, ran the family business, cared for her ageing in laws, looked after all her nieces and nephews and organise the aforementioned family holidays. And looking back she wished that she had put her needs first, occasionally. She spent her last few months on a bed in her kitchen with a portapotty at her side, reliant like Grandad, on an oxygen machine.

What happens if we don’t reach retirement age – what if our expiry date was sooner than any of us anticipated? What then of the dreams of the cottage by the sea we never bought, the cruises we never went on, the climb we never made to Everest base camp or eating Pizza in Italy?

Yes you can

You can’t do that it is selfish. Does anyone ever say this to you?

You can’t go to Australia and deprive your parents of time with their grandchildren.

They can fly out and see them and there is Skype. Seriously there are people who have grandchildren in the same town and only see them at Christmas and birthdays.

You can’t sell all your stuff and live in a campervan.

Why not?

You can’t throw in a good job just because you hate it.

Hating your job is a very good reason to leave it. Always.

You can’t stop watching the news.

Yes you can. You won’t change the world by watching the news. It may change your view of the world though.

You can’t start your own business.

You can, if you really want to.

You can’t take your children out of school.

Yes you can. They will learn anyway, they managed to walk and talk and eat and play, all without school. They will learn more important things out of school that they ever learn in a school.

You can’t go on holiday when your mother is ill.

She will be ill whether you are there or not. You being there won’t change that.

You can’t (insert here what you have been told you can’t do).

Yes you can. If you want to. It is your life. As long as you are not deliberately hurting people out of malice, killing or physically harming people you can do what you like. Yes you can.

What others do is lay on the shame to make you feel guilty. Judging you by their own values. Not yours. Guilt is social control. It is not love. You frighten them when you want to be different.

I was told it was selfish to go away for 5 months when my mom was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I asked her if she wanted me to stay. She would not hear of it. She knew it was what I had wanted for so long. Mom was one of the few people who were genuinely excited about the trip. How can you leave your mom, your son? Easy I said. They will be just fine. And they were.

Note, no one said this to my husband, because apparently the welfare of elderly relatives and grown children is the responsibility of the female of the species.

Build memories today

Before our next big trip, my mother in law was very ill and we all knew it was only a matter of time before she died. No one knew when of course. He worried that it may be when we were in Australia. How would he manage, would he have to fly home? I shared these worries with the Pastor of a local church, who was also a work colleague of mine. ‘He has a brother’ he said. ‘He will be there for her. You can’t change the outcome. You could cancel and she may die or she may not. In 5 months you will be home’.

Another friend who is in her 80’s said to me ‘You can’t put your life on hold for what may be. You only have one life. Live it’. In her last few weeks we made numerous visits to ensure she got the best care. Every spare moment was spent travelling to see her. Even if she didn’t know we were there, we were.

And we knew that when she was well we had spent time with her. She had seen her grandchildren grow. We did our best. We had family holidays together. Days out, Christmas and birthdays and graduations. Family time. We did with both grandmothers. We built memories. My mom took us all backpacking around the Greek Islands in the 1980’s and on travels to Spain in the 1990’s.

Family time

Tell people your dreams

Last year the DH and I went to Sorrento. The view from our hotel room was of Vesuvius. Mr Travelling Coral said then that it was his childhood dream to see Vesuvius. I never knew that. 30 odd years married and I he had never told me that. His mom died (not unexpectedly) while we were there. He had thought of cancelling the trip as she was so ill. the nurses told him not to. It would not change the outcome. If we had he may never had seen and climbed Vesuvius. It would have been one of his ‘if only’s’. Sorrento had been on the ‘someday’ list for too long.


Some day and one day are the same as when I retire wishes.

When I retire/one day/someday I will go on a cruise/sail around the world/drive Route 66/eat pizza in Naples.

But we don’t know when our expiry date is. So do it now.

Tell other people what you have dreamed all your life of doing because that is one way to make it happen. Isolation is the dream killer. Surround yourself with people like you who will support you. And if the people around you are not like that, go find them.

And that is when the magic happens.





Dog Friendly Bridgnorth

Dog sitting in Worcestershire

Mr Travelling Coral aka Sleeve Notes and I are house and dog sitting. We are in Worcestershire looking after two adorable dogs, organised via Trusted Housesitters. Indeed this is the third time we have cared for Percy and Cecil. They are a joy to look after, easy going and ultra affectionate. Just having them around makes me happy.

A day out to Bridgnorth

Today we took them to Bridgnorth. There was a classic car and food festival on there. We like cars, we like food and our friends @illopetals also had a stall there on the craft market.

Cecil and Percy love being in the car with us. Indeed if we ever go out and leave them they act as if they are being deserted forever. And Percy, as much as he likes the car, won’t go anywhere until he is sure I am going too. He sits down, with his lead in his mouth, and refuses to move.


The streets were car free for the festival, and it seems everyone had brought their dogs to Bridgnorth today. A five minute stroll from carpark to town hall took 20 minutes as Percy and Cecil checked out the other canines out with their humans. And of course to sniff every lamp post.

Street food

After a meander around the town, and scoffing paella on the food market (try eating and walking with two dogs attached to you) we decided to go for a ride on the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway. 

dogs on Bridgnorth cliff railway

The funicular railway links the High Town to the Low Town and the River Severn and opened in July 1892. A return journey costs just £1.60. And dogs are welcome to travel.

After a short stroll along the river (the weather was very cold and wet, Autumn is racing in this year) we returned to the High Town via the funicular hoping to find a dog friendly cafe. And we did.

Dog friendly cafes

The dogs found it, as they spotted some canine playmates in the coffee. Their human urged us to come in stating that they were dog friendly.  Giovanni’s not only make great coffee, sell locally made ice cream and serve up delicious looking crepes. If only I hadn’t been so full from the street food paella….

They also gave us homemade dog biscuits. How good is that?

The rain had stopped so we ventured back out to explore some more. Met The Tin Man.

Bridgnorth is a lovely market town, with some fine buildings.

Dogs, cafes and the law

I noticed a a number of shops in Bridgnorth had dog friendly signs in their windows too although a fair few had the dogs not allowed sign – bizarrely a hardware type shop that did not serve food, so it is clearly not about dogs and food hygiene that is the issue.

You may have heard of a marathon runner and charity fundraiser Dave Heeley aka Blind Dave. I have had the privilege to work with him in the past and he has some great stories to tell including one about the time he was a forklift driver… anyway he has been refused entrance to dining establishments because he had his guide dog with him. Taxi drivers have also refused to take him – I was a witness in that court case – and this is a man who is blind and relies on a guide dog. It is illegal for businesses to refuse his dog, yet they still do. Many companies and their staff are unaware of the law about the access rights of a person with an assistance dog. They are also incorrect when they claim that (non assistance) dogs are not allowed in a cafe.

If a guide dog is allowed in a cafe, why not any other dog? Of course the owner needs to have the right to refuse a dog that is disruptive. And maybe limit the number of dogs on the premises. I totally get it that some customers could be uncomfortable with lots of dogs in a cafe, especially if they are wet and smelly. There needs to be some discretion, of course. And a responsible dog owner would not take a wet, smelly or snappy dog into a cafe.

This is an excerpt of the guidance by The Kennel Club. They are actively campaigning for more businesses to be dog friendly.

It is not as many will say, illegal. Even in cafes. It is only food preparation areas that are out of bounds, not areas where food is served and sold. 

Is it time for more businesses to be dog friendly?

As dog sitters, we actively seek out places to take the dogs to increase their socialisation. We like to explore where we are house sitting and don’t want to leave the dogs alone for long periods.

What we have noticed in the UK is that we find more dog friendly places in the countryside than in the city. All three local pubs we have visited allow dogs in the bar, where they also serve food. The local cafe has water bowls outside and dog treats. Tappeto Lounge in Kidderminster welcomes canine friends. Having checked out their website I am not sure that all Lounges share this dog welcome policy so I have tweeted them for clarification.

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My local pub does not allow (non assistance) dogs on the premises, not even in the garden. As it is situated adjacent to a park frequented by dogs and their humans and is called The Dog, I find this odd. Only one cafe on my local high street in Bearwood welcomes dogs. The supermarket doesn’t but my butcher does.

What do you think? Would you like to see more dog friendly cafes and pubs? And if you have a dog, which is the most dog friendly town you have visited? Are there any dog friendly places you can recommend?








AirBnB – The good, the excellent and the downright terrible

My first AirBnB experience was terrible

I booked a ‘chic apartment’ on the outskirts of Birmingham, as my husband and I had to move out of our house during renovations. It was a five minute walk from where we lived, so we knew the area well. Our expectations were not high, it was a new listing and had no reviews. Yet it was booked because all the good ones nearby were not available and it was convenient. The host was blind to the shortcomings of the building, which I mentioned on check in, claiming he was new to this and was learning. I later discovered that he had previously used another booking engine to let it, and they had been guests from hell. Hmm….

It did not go well

And culminated in AirBnB removing both my review of the accommodation and the host’s review of me. I gave a fair and balanced review, praising the good bits (the bed was comfortable, the apartment well equipped) criticised some safety aspects (the fire escape and lack of lighting on the landings). He claimed I was vindictive as he had refused my request of free accommodation in exchange for a good review.

I counteracted to AirBNB that this verged on slander as I had not asked for free accommodation. AirBnB offered me a credit, I asked them to donate this to a homeless charity, they insisted I took it. This accommodation now has a 5* rating. It is a pleasant apartment at the top of a very run down terraced house in Smethwick. It is not, as the host claims, in a chic neighbourhood. I know this because I live in the same neighbourhood.

My second AirBnB experience was very good

The husband and I needed to go to Winchester on family business. We needed somewhere to stay and I had the credit so we decided to try our luck with AirBnB again. This time I booked to stay in a home with a host offering a more traditional B&B experience. The host was lovely, the house was located on a private estate and was huge. The room and bed were comfortable and we had views over the South Downs from our room.

This was AirBnB as it was meant to be when it started out. Affordable rooms in people’s homes. My faith in the community of AirBnB was restored.

The third AirBnB was outstanding

Back in my home town of Birmingham and still unable to move into my own house due to renovations, we needed somewhere to stay. As I have documented previously, good AirBnB’s get snapped up quickly in this city and are not cheap alternatives to hotels. This one was one of two offered by the host in the grounds of her charming Edwardian home. One is The Coach House and the other, where we stayed, is The Garden Room.

Bed linen was from The White Company and Designers Guild. There was wine and chocolate in the fridge. The bathroom was huge, with The White Company toiletries and fluffy towels. The location in leafy Edgbaston and within walking distance of some of the best places to eat in the city made it an ideal location for business guests and those looking for a city break. It was everso slightly more expensive than the first one and about a hundred times better.

What I have learned

Do your research. Research the area, the hosts and the reviewers. Read the reviews. Don’t trust the reviews. Don’t give negative reviews as that way lies dragons. Ask people who know you to write reviews about you. And give AirBnB a second chance if the first experience is dreadful.

Try for yourself

I will be using AirBnB again and I would recommend others to use them. Here is a link that will give you a discount off your first booking.

Note about the credit

When I complained to AirBNB I did not do so to obtain compensation. My complaint was about the misrepresentation of the listing and the health and safety issues. They insisted on giving me a credit and I used this to book again, which was exactly why they gave me the credit, they wanted to keep my custom.  I also donated £50 worth of items to my local foodbank.



Sydney to Brisbane in 7 days

The Aussie road trip

The Australian road trip is the dream of most gap year travellers.  Bondi in a camper with a surfboard attached. Living it large in Byron. As the DH and I are not surfers, there had been shark attacks in Byron Bay, and we are ‘mature’ in years if not in our heads, we were looking for a different sort of road trip. One that involved food, good food. And we were not disappointed. And, again as happens to us frequently, almost all the best places we found were by happenstance rather than by planning.

It was my idea to road trip from NSW to Queensland. How to do it took up many days of research, where to stop and what to see.

I asked my Aussie friends whether camper or car would be best. The Phoebe hippy in me screamed camper. The organised Monica said calmly, car. The Australians all said, fly.

I looked at pre arranged tours. These seemed to fall into two categories, living it large at party locations or upmarket hotels and wine tasting. We have champagne tastes but beer budgets, and did not want to party in Byron.

The Pacific Highway

Also known as The Legendary Pacific Coast is a 1000 km drive (more if like us you wander off the main highway) that many an Aussie will do in a day or two. We had a week. I booked three two night stays at Port Stephens, Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay. This would give us time to see a bit more than just the tick list and well we are British, we measure distance in hours not miles or km. Just ask Bill Bryson.

“If you mention in the pub that you intend to drive from, say, Surrey to Cornwall, a distance that most Americans would happily go to get a taco, your companions will puff their cheeks, look knowingly at each other, and blow out air as if to say, ‘Well, now that’s a bit of a tall order,’

Notes from a Small Island

And lots of Australians do make this road trip. Not so many English 50 somethings, they mostly take a tour it seems. And it being late October we hit the school half term ‘spring break’ with Sydneysiders making the most of the warmer weather, hotel prices were increasing and camp sites were filling up. And the roads were busy.

Choose your car wisely

Choose big and powerful. We didn’t want a SUV so we got a Toyota Camry. If you have driven in Australia you know you don’t want anything they call small or compact. The highway is busy, the speed limit (target) is 100km/ph and it can be a free for all.

Take driving breaks

Our Aussie friends reminded us. Tiredness kills they said. We are English we said. No journey in the UK is longer than 3 hours unless you are on the M25 on a Friday night or the M5 to Cornwall on Bank Holiday weekend. We heeded their advice nonetheless. And those driving breaks paid off with us discovering some hidden gems just off the highway.

Sydney to Port Stephens

Lakeside Cafe Murrays Beach

This is the first of  my ‘just off the highway’ recommendations. We had navigated our way out of the city of Sydney and through the suburbs. Lunch was on our mind. How we stumbled upon this, I don’t recall. I saw a sign to the lake I think. It is based in a popular lakeside and low key resort where Sydneysiders have weekend homes. This is a perfect place to take a driving break – it is not far from the highway, 15 minutes tops,  yet tranquil. After lunch we took a much needed lakeside walk. If you are doing this drive, add this stop to your itinerary. After shaking off Sydney it is ideally placed for a much needed ‘we survived Sydney traffic’ break.

Port Stephens

I chose Port Stephens as destination as it had a reputation for great beaches. And Nelson Bay as it had dolphin watching tours. Tip one. Don’t stay in central Nelson Bay. Tip 2. Don’t stay in Marina Resort. Find out why, here in my review.  Others said about it that you get what you pay for – so we were dreading the other hotels as we had paid about the same for all of them. Learning point here is no you don’t. Because the other two hotels we paid the same for were outstanding. More of them later.

Nelson Bay

Nelson Bay itself is a tired seaside town. Sometime in the 70’s someone thought they would modernise it. And spoil it. It has a marina, tick. For a small town it has a huge supermarket, pubs and drive in bottle shops. This is where families from Newcastle come for a cheap self catering holiday.

Drive a few kilometres either way out of Nelson Bay and everything improves. And you totally get why this is a holiday destination. The scenery, the food, the people. The beaches.  I can only liken it to classic British resorts that have had their heyday and still think a pier and greasy chips with fairground attractions is all you need. It is the Newquay of Cornwall whose neighbours, St Ives, Padstow and Rock, offer so much more for the holiday maker. If I were an Australian I would be a Melburnian. And I expect coffee and craft beer and avo smash. Nelson Bay doesn’t do that.

Or rather it does. Except you need to drive out of town to find these amazing places.

The Nelson Bay Heritage Lighthouse and Reserve is a few minutes drive out of town. Go for the views, go for the museum.

Go for brunch at The Inner Light Tearooms. What a find. The staff were lovely as was the food. The coffee wouldn’t pass muster with a Melburnian but the views make up for it.

Soldiers Point

Drive the other direction out of town toward Soldiers Point and to the marina. Find The Boatshed cafe, on a pontoon, serving amazing food from a tiny kitchen. I can only vouch for the cakes. It was getting choppy so keeping the coffee in the cup was a challenge. But worth it.

Stockton Bay Sand Dunes

Wow. Just Wow. We spotted these from the road as we drove into Nelson Bay and had to visit. No wonder this is a film location – the sand hills are perfect desert locations. I regret now not taking one of the four wheel drive tours on offer. The wind was getting up, surfers were being directed to leave the sea and the tours were on hold for a while. Autumn in NSW. Find out more about the beach and tours here.

Port Stephens to Coffs Harbour

But first brunch.

We left early without breakfast. We negotiated our way back to The Pacific Highway with hopes of finding somewhere along the way – nowhere was open. Back on the highway I spotted a sign to a service station taking us back onto the original Pacific Highway at Karuah. As we pulled in we noticed a cafe opposite and made the best decision ever to have brunch at Four One Six Cafe

Newly opened and owned by a husband and wife team, the eggs served here are free range and from their own chickens. These are foodies, they know food, they love people to love their food and they know where to eat. After brunch, we decided to order something for lunch on the road. Just a sandwich. Ha! it came wrapped in a box with wild flowers to decorate it. And, knowing where we were headed,  plenty of advice of where to eat in Byron Bay.

This is no ordinary roadside cafe. This is the foodies roadside cafe. Go. Visit Port Stephens beaches, avoid the highway and take the old road.

From Port Stephens to Coffs Harbour

The drive was a pleasure. It was like taking the B road that no one knows of in Cornwall. With wooden bridges over rivers reminiscent of Madison County. In my mind at least. To be away from the manic drivers, the trucks and the mayhem made this one of my favourite drives of the trip.

Seal Rocks Lighthouse

The official name for this lighthouse is Sugarloaf Point Light. We made  a big detour to visit this lighthouse. It was worth it. The drive takes you through lush green woodland and then along narrow roads to the car park below the lighthouse. A ten to figteen minute walk through woodland and you reach the lighthouse. As you walk through the trees you can hear the sea, but not see it.

And then, this.

I was particularly delighted to see that the original lamp which is still there was made by Chance Brothers, in Smethwick, where I live. Near Birmingham.

There is also accommodation here – noted for our next visit to Australia. Imagine waking up to this every day.

Reluctantly we had to press on, as we had accommodation booked in Coffs Harbour.

But first lunch.

Port Macquarie

We stopped off at one of the many beaches in this seaside town to eat the packed lunch made by Four One Six.

Port Macquarie reminded me of an English seaside town built in the Victorian era. But with sunshine. We found a spot to eat our lunch, on Flynns Beach  and, if it hadn’t been for the sun, we could have been in St Ives. Surfers, sea, a cafe. And an amazing lunch.

I can’t tell you much more about the town as we only stopped for lunch. I liked it better than Nelson Bay – a lot more. All too soon it was back on the road to get to our accommodation on Day three of the road trip.

Coffs Harbour

It was approaching dusk when we arrived. Fortunately we had good directions for our hotel – as it would have been difficult to find. It was just off the main and very busy highway heading out of the town and after our last hotel, I did not have high hopes. We had paid the same room rate, it was out of town, I was prepared for the worst.

I had to check we were at the right place. Opal Cove Resort, yup right place. Swanky reception area, efficient and helpful staff, such a contrast to the last place. Which absolutely goes against the  ‘you get what you pay for ‘ rule of thumb. It had mixed review on – but after the last dump this was swanky. Yes it was showing its age a bit – we were still low season, so the pool area was not really in use, but the rooms were comfortable and clean. The bed had a proper mattress, without lumps, this was an upgrade I was happy with.

opal cove resort

I am guessing our room was cheap because our view was the car park and not the sea. We sneaked a peak at a sea view room – same lay out but with a view. The chambermaid (who let us take the peak) said that although the views were great, the room gets very warm so people close the curtains. Chatting to her, she told us how much she loved her job and said ‘look at my office’. I was to hear that phrase often on this trip.

Same went for the waitress in the restaurant. Loved her job. Reception staff said the same. The hotel had recently been taken over and I don’t know what the management were doing, but they were getting it right. Happy staff = happy customers.

With the hotel being so far out of town, and no other restaurants or hotels near by you are kind of forced to eat in. The cynical me thought that would mean inflated prices and mediocre food. I was wrong on both counts.

The Big Banana

Australia has big things. Big prawns, Big Apples, Coffs Harbour has The Big Banana. So we had to go visit and have a photo taken there. On site there is also an Opal Museum and a toboggan run, this is one big holiday town.  There is also a tourist information office, and if there is only one reason other than that photo to visit The Big Banana, the tourist office is it. We had one day in Coffs Harbour so we wanted to see as much as possible and this is the place to start.

Big Banana

Turns out there is a lot to do here, which is why it is a popular holiday resort. The town itself was very ordinary, modern shops, lots of traffic, not a charming town – but practical- providing accommodation and services for people visiting the area. From the Big Banana to National Parks to a cartoon gallery in a bunker, Coffs Harbour has it all.

The Forest Sky Pier

The Forest Sky Pier was where the tourist office suggested we go as we only had a short time in Coffs Harbour. A ten minute drive off The Pacific Highway above Coffs Harbour through banana plantations, and it is free. If you have more time, there is a circular drive and a number of hikes. Magnificent views of Coffs Harbour.

Sky Pier

We also went for a walk along the huge concrete breakers, protecting Coffs Harbour and to watch the surfers.

Coffs Harbour offers lots to do for the holidaymaker – definitely a lot to do and see for all ages. The town itself has no ‘heart’ it is purely functional. That doesn’t make it a place not to visit though. It is just not what I imagined it would be like.

Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay

Ulmarra – stepping back in time

Driving northwards, over wooden bridges astrid the Clarence River and the strong sweet smell of sugar production was unmissable. We stopped off at Ulmarra. No reason why we chose to stop here – a sign for a pub, the river? I don’t recall. It seems we have an instinct to find the gems just off the highway.

Ulmarra is steeped in history. A hotel, a river, antique shops and a cafe. According to the Clarence Tourism website:

A visit to Ulmarra is like stepping back in time as the village remains one of the finest examples of a 19th Century riverport in Australia. The entire village is classified by the National Trust.

And it has a book shop.

Ulmarra Bookshop

But no ordinary book shop, this was Ulmarra Books and Collectibles.

For those of you know of Hay on Wye, in the UK, and its book shops, this bookshop is reminiscent of what Booths Books was like before it got a make over. A health and safety nightmare and a book lovers dream. We were only there to browse. We did not have room for books. I was getting rid of books at home.

And then Mr Sleeve Notes found this.

A few days earlier we had had the perfect experience of a late Sunday lunch at Doyles, Sydney. Which is probably the best fish and chip shop in the world.

Reader, I bought the book.

And if anything can make a town even more perfect than a good book shop, it is a good cafe. And Ulmarra has one of those too.

J’s cafe

Homemade, organic, home grown, vegan, vegetarian and bloody good coffee. Just heard it was for sale. If it is still there and you are passing, go visit. Food is good, lots of cool surfing photos and a garden.

Ulmarra is the perfect stop off. It is quiet, has historical significance and has coffee and books. And just off  the Pacific Highway. No detour required. There was no tourists there. A few people waiting for the bus, and us. I guess most Aussies speed by intent on getting to Byron Bay and all its attractions, claim they have no history and remain oblivious to it as they pursue the sun and the surf. And that is a mistake.

Byron Bay

Our last stop over on the road to Brisbane and we chose Byron Bay. A major holiday destination. The town centre is busy and full of tourist shops and people in swimwear. They are here for the sun and the surf. Scratch the surface of Byron and there is so much more than surf and sun. And I am not talking about the sharks.

Ramada Ballina

And another great hotel – rooftop pool, good views, free parking and within walking distance of everything you needed, shops, cafes and restaurants. Comfortable rooms – you know you are in a chain. A laundry room neatly tucked in between every two rooms. This is a conference hotel, and it the sort of hotel that would make people want to attend your conference.

Ballina is a functional town, post office, pharmacy, supermarkets, K Mart selling Christmas trees in September. The Thursday Tea Tree Oil Plantation is just outside the town which the only place Idid some shopping. Loved it there – out of the bustle of Byron, yet 5 minutes away by car – if you don’t stop to take in the view and whale watch.

Harvest NewryBar

Where to start?

Probably the best food I have eaten in my life. Seriously good food.

Foraged and seasonal food. Pretty food. Tasty food. OMG food. Every mouthful was a delight. This is casual fine dining at its best. Go eat there. Just go.

We were lucky to get a table as we had not booked. When the server came over it was obvious he was from the West Midlands (where we live) by his accent – Dudley. He was a teacher on a sabbatical. I don’t think he wanted to go back. Waiter in one of the best places to eat in Byron/Australia or teacher at a secondary school in Dudley? I know what I would choose. Anyway, who would have thought, all the way to Byron and we meet someone from Dudley.

The proprietors of Four One Six told us to eat here. Thankyou. Thankyou. Thankyou.

Harvest have a deli next door, a bakery and fine food.

And when we were there they were hosting a wedding, which was fun to watch.

I did not want to leave. This is a place for a long lunch and a cab home.

Can you tell I loved it?

Yup. Best food ever. The bar was set very high.

The Farm

The Farm was another recommendation from the people at Four One Six.

This is what their website says.

The Farm is principally a working farm, we house a collection of micro-businesses all sharing in a common goal. We invite you to come and visit us and see for yourself how a farm operates, supports the environment and contributes to a healthier lifestyle.

Our motto ‘Grow, Feed, Educate’ inspires all that we do, here and for the community at large. We believe that it is first hand experience of seeing how food is grown and produced that makes the eating of it so much more pleasurable. From this simple pleasure sprouts a curiosity and desire to learn more.

Three Blue Ducks on The Farm offers a different style of food from Harvest, more rustic, hearty. There is also a BBQ, a cafe, bakery, bar, shop and the farm. Due to another wedding (Spring Holiday weekend)  service ended early that day. We were never rushed and enjoyed seeing them set up for the wedding and the arrival of the bride.

Food was outstanding. Another hit. Loved it.

Whale watching

Another stand out highlight was whale watching on the hill above the bay. We were joined on the bench by a guy in his late 70’s. He was originally from Yorkshire, still had the accent, had a great chat with him about how he had come out here and his life – a magic moment – and the whales gave us a great show.

It was tough leaving here. I could have stayed for longer. But we had hotel booked in Brisbane and had to leave.

The next part of the trip was manic – highways, roadworks and lots of traffic. This stretch of the highway is the gateway to The Gold Coast. And everybody was heading there for the holiday weekend. For about 3 seconds we considered heading there to see what was the big attraction. Beaches, sunshine and lots of people. We changed our mind and headed straight to Brisbane, negotiating complicated road systems to get to the airport to drop off the car and catch the shuttle bus to Brisbane.

Our road trip was over. time to kick back for a few days, take some trips and let someone else do the driving.






The view from my office

Welcome to my office

These photos are taken at the workplaces of people I met whilst travelling last year.

Fraser Island

Fraser Island. Technically the truck is Rhett’s office – our guide for three days.

Sunset Fraser Island

This is his evening commute. Sunset, as the tide comes in.

Whales, - Lady Musgrave

The crew get to see this after a day of looking after customers on a day trip to Lady Musgrave Island. You would think that they would be blase about this. No. The crew are every bit as excited as the customers when they spot whales.

New Zealand 90 mile beach

The coach drivers view on 90 mile beach, Cape Reinga, Far North. New Zealand. Every day he sees this. Beats the M25 on a Friday evening. Not a bad commute.

New Zealand The Remarkables

Get a hotel job in Queenstown overlooking The Remarkables. The receptionist at our serviced apartments had previously worked for a hotel on a carpark on the M6 outside Manchester. Which view do you think she preferred?

The Pacific Coast

Or work in the cafe on the Pacific Coast Train for Kiwi Rail.

Trans alpine rail

Or the Tranz Alpine Railway. Just for a change of scenery. The cafe with the best views in the world. And it changes every day. The light, the weather – something new to see.

Northern Territory Uluru

It’s a long commute – but worth it. Uluru. When Rhett isn’t spotting dingos on Fraser Island he spends his winter here.

Which view would you choose? Touch choices I think.



London – eating out and sightseeing on a budget


It doesn’t have to be expensive to explore this great city. As our daughter lives there the DH and I get free accommodation and that helps to bring the cost of a weekend down, but what we have noticed recently is that eating and drinking in London is not so nearly as expensive as it used to be. If you aren’t as lucky as us to have a friend or relative to stay with, you could consider housesitting in London and get free accommodation that way. Alternatively, look for cheap deals at some of the budget chain hotels such as Premier Hub or pubs with rooms such as The Tommyfield (see food review below for the link).

London is the city I was born in

So I know the city well. And I lived and worked there as an adult. I lived in Holland Park, Chelsea and Wembley in the 60’s until family circumstances resulted in me moving to Birmingham in 1966 where I lived until I was 18. In 1980, after graduating from Bristol Poly I moved back to London to live in Balham. In those days a Black Cab wouldn’t go south of the river. A lot has changed since then.

London has the biggest construction site in Europe (probably)

Our daughter lives in Stockwell. And now, Black Cabs most certainly go south of the river. Where she lives, on the Wandsworth Road, is the edge of what is possibly the biggest construction site in Europe. Nine Elms/Vauxhall will have a new London Underground station. The new American Embassy is under construction, Battersea Power Station is being redeveloped and there are multiple other buildings going up.

It has been just over a year since the DH and I last visited.  We were astonished at the number of buildings that have shot up and the numerous cranes that fill the skyline. Oh how we and many others wished we had bought property here ten years ago.


Where the DD lives there is a large Portuguese community. Just opposite her apartment block there are a number of popular restaurants and I have heard that sometimes a famous footballer pops into one of them. This is what she got home to just last week. A vibrant community to live in.

Where to eat in London

Eating out doesn’t have to be expensive. If you know where to go. Having spent two weekends there recently I thought I would share a few places to go to eat and drink and visit that won’t put too much of a dent in the wallet.

Sunday Lunch in Lambeth

The Black Prince. The DD’s partner reckons the Sunday Lunch here is as good as (if not better than) his mom’s Sunday Lunch. And he is not wrong. A generous roast beef with fresh veg and enormous Yorkshire puddings all for  £12.50.


Guest Ale was £4 per pint.

The pudding menu is short and sweet. A Sundae on a Sunday. Why not?

The Black Prince is a good old fashioned South London pub with excellent beer and a great Sunday Lunch.

It is also the pub in the fight scene in the film Kingsman The Secret Service. So if visiting film locations, good beer and a Sunday Roast is your thing, this is the pub for you.

Dinner in Vauxhall

Carrying on with the Secret Service theme, just up the road from the bus and tube station at Vauxhall,  located in one of the railway arches on Vauxhall Embankment is Pico. It is family run and when we were there late afternoon (we eat at odd times sometimes) all the staff were tucking into their meals before the busy Friday evening rush. Located just opposite to the most un secret, secret service building in London (MI6) Friday night can be busy and full of staff from that office. Or so I am told.

The food is fantastic. The service is delightfully old school, friendly efficient and the portions are huge. Lots of meat on the menu (my lamb chops were wonderful) and the veggie daughter had a vegetable paella. There is a bar at the front and a more formal dining area to the rear. You will hear the rumble of trains overhead. Love it.

Breakfast in Lambeth

The Tea House Theatre

Based in an old Victorian public house that opened in 1886 on the site of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens; immortalised as the ‘Vanity Fair’ in Thackeray’s eponymous novel.

Go for brunch. Go for tea. Go for cakes.

Do not ask for coffee.

It is a tea house.

A full English is £10.  Smashed avo and poached eggs £8. Eggs Benedict £7.

Portions are generous. The decor is eclectic. The cakes look amazing. The Tea House Theatre is just behind the railway arches where Pico is based and a few minutes walk from Vauxhall bus station. Afterwards go for a wander around the park and you may see the dragon carved from a log.

Then walk off brunch with a visit the city farm (see below in free things to do in London).

Lunch in Kennington

The Tommyfield Pub and Hotel Kennington

This was a new discovery for the DD and her partner. We planned to go to The Black Prince for lunch but it was Bank Holiday Monday and they only had the basic menu (no roasts) and The Tommyfield had a roast and an extensive menu – so we thought we would try it out.

The Tommyfield has speciality pies, burgers, roasts and the DD was overwhelmed at having a wide choice of imaginative vegetarian food, including a pie.

A pint of Goose Island was £4.10 and a bottle of Pinot Grigio was £21.

Roast beef £15, Lamb Burger £13.50 and the veggie pie £13.50. Lots of delicious puds including a combo of port and pudding and a speciality tea. Good portions and well presented.

They also have rooms with rates between £109 and £149 per night. I reckon this is a good base for a weekend break in London. Good transport links to central London and it is walkable to Westminster. And cabs now go south of the river.

The best chips in London?

Fish and Chips at Poppies

The best fish and chips in London? Probably. Fish fresh from Billingsgate Market. There is eat in and take away.

Poppies is a real find. Recommended by my Australian friend and my daughter this is just around the corner from Brick Lane. So if you don’t fancy a curry, have chips here.

Cod and chips starts at £12.50. There is also free range chicken from £8.90, served with chips and gravy. Poppies is decorated in 50’s style, and has an authentic retro feel to it. Go.

Vaulty Towers

Do try the Lily The Pink cider. The DH and I had to explain who Lily the Pink was to our daughter and took it on ourselves to explain to the barman too.  All the furniture is used in sets at their nearby theatre. And there is a secret room. Vaulty Towers is bonkers. In a good way. The food is not too pricy and the sweet potato chips go well with a pint.

Dinner in South Kensington

Franco Manca

It was late (9.30pm is late for English people to eat) we were tired (3 hours at the Pink Floyd exhibition) we were hungry. And we were in South Ken. What to do? Go back to Stockwell and eat even later or find somewhere affordable in South Ken?

We looked around, a fair few Italian restaurants, some chains, we almost defaulted to a Burger at Byron, when I spotted Franco Manca next door. I had filed away this place to visit if we were ever in the area and here we were.

They only do pizza, no faffing, it is pizza or pizza. You may end up sharing a table. If you end up with two drunk posh boys like we did, move tables. And seriously that was the only thing wrong with this place. The tiddly toffs.

That aside.

The pizza. Franco Manca serve probably the best pizza in London and the best I have had since the memorable one in Naples.

Beer and cider. No logo.

£21. Twenty One Pounds. That is all.

And it was very good. Go. Staff were lovely. Food is excellent. South Ken crowd is eclectic on a Saturday night at 10pm.

And then we caught the bus home. Because bus is my favourite way to travel in London. The underground may be fast and convenient but it is also hot and crowded. And all you see  is walls. With the bus you get to ride over the bridges of the Thames and you get to see the city. Go by bus.

Free things to do in London

There is so much to do in London that is free. If you are strapped for cash and can’t afford the Tower of London, Buck House or The Shard and the thought of the crowds puts you off, here are a few places I visited recently. All free.

Vauxhall City Farm

Animals. Horse riding. A cafe. Vauxhall. Great for families. A great way to spend Sunday morning.

The Victoria and Albert Museum

We were there for the Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains exhibition. We will return to see more of this museum next time. Seriously stunning building. Entrance to the museum is free – additional exhibitions such as this one do have an entrance fee.

Victoria and Albert Museum

Pink Floyd Their Mortal Remains London

The Geffrye Museum of the Home

The history of a English homes from 1600 to the present day. Whenever you were born you will see something from your childhood home here. They also have a great cafe with excellent cakes. Free entry to the museum.

Geffrye Museum London

The Imperial War Museum

Telling the stories of people’s experiences of modern war from WW1 to conflicts today. Moving and informative. The WW2 exhibition is outstanding. A good way to bring history alive. The museum also has a good cafe. Entrance is free but there are some chargeable exhibitions.

Imperial War Museum London

The British Museum

Stunning. Wear comfortable shoes. We were there on a Bank Holiday weekend. This was a mistake and everyone wanted to see the Egyptians and the Rosetta Stone. Escape to a quieter gallery if this happens to you. Stunning building and an amazing collection. Free entry with additional chargeable exhibitions.

British Museum London

British Museum London

Spitalfields and Brick Lane

We wandered around here after lunch at Poppies. Brick Lane is now famous for its curry houses. It is a vibrant place with lots of great street art. The market is huge and sells vintage clothes and collectables – and has a lot of chain eateries too. A great place to browse. There are also some great pubs nearby to try and designer shopping.

Spitalfields London

The Banksy Tunnel – Leake Street Waterloo

We visited this after a drink at Vaulty Towers. Wow. Up there with the laneways of Melbourne.

Leake Street Waterloo Graffiti London

We saw some amazing street art in London. Take your camera, take your Oyster card (or debit card) and go photograph this amazing city.

As Samuel Johnson said:

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.

  • British Museum London

Housesitting – why I house sit and why you could too

Have you considered housesitting?

I am currently housesitting (with my husband) and looking after two delightful dogs. We are staying in an amazing house in the Worcestershire countryside that is straight from the pages of an interior design magazine. With the use of a well equipped kitchen we can cook what we like and not spend on eating out. We have access to a library of DVD’s that we can watch in the cinema room. The bed is comfortable, it makes getting up a tough decision. The bathroom has a rainfall shower and a big tub that if I were so inclined I could bathe in with glass of champagne that the house owners thoughtfully provided, stargazing through the skylight.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

And it is. Not all house sits assignments are so luxurious of course. This was a lucky find in so many ways, right time, right place. And a bonus of some loving dogs to care for in a lovely home.

This is our sixth house and dog sitting assignment and the second house sit booked via Trusted Housesitters. The third via Trusted Housesitters assignment is already confirmed. The houses are all different. What they all have in common is that the dog and house owners want to be able to relax in the knowledge that you will take good care of their home and pets while they are away.

There are lots of resources out there – I particularly like We Love House sitting – lots of information for prospective and active housesitters.

Housesitting as an alternative to renting

The DH and I are housesitting as an alternative to renting accommodation or living on a building site whilst the builders knock part of our house down.

We have emptied the ground floor and sold or given away most of our furniture.

Housesitting on our doorstep

At the moment we are limiting our sits to assignments within 30 minutes commute to Birmingham. We need to be close to where we live as the DH has to work and we need to pop back to keep an eye on the building work.

When we have applied for the sits we have been upfront and honest with the clients as to why we are housesitting. They need to know that the DH won’t be at the house all of the time so that it is mostly me looking after the home and pets.

We will need to go home occasionally and so sometimes that will mean their pets can come with us is they are happy for that to happen, or be left for a couple of hours in the house. This honesty may mean that some people will decline us and that is just fine. It is about finding the right match for you.

What has been good about sitting houses and pets locally is that we have had the opportunity to meet the dogs and the house owners before agreeing to the sit.

We are new to Trusted Housesitters and so far all the people we have sat for are using the service for the first time. It has been reassuring for the people entrusting their home and pets to strangers to meet us – and we have had a chance to check that the assignment is the right fit for us. We have seen where the house is, how to use the appliances and be shown where and when to feed the dogs.

Housesitting far from home

Our first house sits were in Melbourne. These were arranged privately as they were for an old uni friend. We must have done something right as she asked us back to look after the dogs on two further occasions. Then her work colleague booked us too. Read more about that here.

How do you know the sit or sitter is right for you?

Using a service like Trusted Housesitters gives you a lot of assurance. Regular users of the service will have built up a portfolio of references and levels of verification. After an assignment both the house and pet owners and the sitters are encouraged to feedback on the experience.

Read the reviews. Look at the photos of the house and the pets. Make sure you are confident with the requests of the house sit and the needs and types of pets. Will you need a car or will you be able to use theirs?

I was recently approached to look after a house and two horses. I declined as I have no experience with horses. Another sitter told me that they had declined an assignment after meeting the dogs. The dog were very boisterous and she suspected they could be aggressive with her if the owners were not there. To test this she asked the owners to come out of the house with her and give her the house keys. She then went to the front door to open it and the dogs barked very aggressively and threw themselves at the door. The owners were shocked. And lost a sitter.

Some assignments ask for you to clean the house and look after the garden. Do you want to do this? Others will have a gardener and a cleaner as does my current sit. It goes without saying that we keep the house tidy  and water a couple of plants in pots but I don’t have to, nor want to clean a big house and mow a lawn.

One of the motivators  of selling a big house was so I didn’t have to do these jobs. The DH and I concentrate on keeping the dogs happy and I use the time catching up with my writing and reading. I don’t mind watering the plants and cleaning a small house. I do expect the house to be clean when I arrive.

Write an amazing profile

Read other profiles. What stands out to you and makes you want to be a sitter for them or ask them to sit for you?  If you want to be a house and or a pet sitter think what you have to offer that would make people feel happy about you staying in their home and looking after their pets.

If you are looking for sitters, why would someone want to stay in your house, your town, city or village and look after your pets?

Sell yourself. Say what have you done in the past and why you want to house and pet sit. Bring some personality into the profile. Be honest.

Sell the house and the area. What is there to do in the area? For example if I was selling Birmingham I would say it has an emerging food scene with 5 Michelin star restaurants in the city and amazing street food events. I would mention the indie coffee houses, talk about the Museum and Art Gallery and the Staffordshire Hoard, the parks and surrounding countryside,  National Trust Properties, Grand Central, John Lewis and The Balti Triangle. I would also add that it is near to Stratford upon Avon and the Cotswolds, because potential overseas sitters will be familiar with those and rarely realise that Birmingham is so close.

Take photos (with permission)

The DH and I take lots of photos of the dogs we look after and share them on our Facebook Page (not profile).  I suggest that you do check with the owner first that they are happy for you to do so. Never share any photos of the house. If the owners prefer we would also email photos. Owners love to see their happy pets. I sometimes tag Trusted Housesitters in the posts. Again, make sure the pet owners are happy for you to do so. Some of my photos of the dogs we have looked after are at the bottom of this post.

Welcome them home to happy pets and food in the fridge

And leave basics for the sitters, especially if you live some way from shops. Milk, bread, tea at the minimum. On our last sit we cooked dinner and made a crumble for the house and dog owners. They had been to Australia and we knew from experience how exhausted they would be. We also met them from the railway station. This time we are leaving some fruit and salads and some chicken and cheese so they can make up a light meal when they get home. They have a long drive from the airport and we are sure they will stop for a meal on the way home.

Complete and read the housesitting welcome guide

This is where all the important information is. About the house, the animals, the responsibilities and the area. It is the housesitters bible. And it guides the house owners as to what information they need to provide. As a housesitter, read it before the assignment starts. This way if you have any questions you can address them beforehand.

Write a review

Once the sit is over you will be asked to feedback on the sit or the sitters. Please remember to do this. For a sitter like me it helps me get more assignments. For the house and pet owner it helps sell the sit.  And if it was dreadful talk to Trusted Housesitters first before writing the review.

And enjoy looking after lovely dogs like this

  • footballing dogs






New Zealand by Train – The TranzAlpine with KiwiRail Scenic Journeys

KiwiRail – is this the best way to see New Zealand?

When planning the New Zealand trip with New Zealand Self Drive Tours I asked them include two railway journeys. One was the Pacific Coast with KiwiRail, from Christchurch to Picton and the other was the TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth.

The DH and I started our month of roadtripping New Zealand with the Pacific Coast trip. We loved it. And so it was, two weeks to the day since the DH aka Sleeve Notes and I had set out from Christchurch Station to Picton we were back at the station with our son.

I just love railway stations and trains. We had not seen this part of New Zealand before so I was a bit like a child in a sweet shop.  Even better, our son was there to share the journey. It was his first full day in New Zealand and he started his adventure travelling across the mountains of the South Island on the TranzAlpine with KiwiRail.

The son is a massive fan of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. I had planned, with the help of Self Drive Tours, for the two weeks he was with us to be as LOTR related as possible. And what a start. The scenery is just magnificent.

This train was much busier than the last trip – two big tour companies had booked out most of the train. This meant that one of the two open air observation carriages was jammed packed, so we made our way to the second one at the front of the train which was less busy. A good way to blow away the jet lag. And of course when it gets too cold (it does in winter) and when you have to retreat inside for part of the journey , the seating on Kiwirail is comfortable. The windows are extra large so you get an excellent view.

For an introduction to New Zealand this was the best way to start his two week adventure. The contrasting scenery takes your breath away. More spectacular views (yes 24 year olds can be impressed with views – this is New Zealand) were to come during the road trip. As he said, you never know what you will see next.

For most of our four weeks we were road tripping.  And while New Zealand is the ultimate road trip destination drivers need a rest and an opportunity to sit back and enjoy the ride. And this is the best way to do it. You will need to book tickets in advance.

While our first train was not full,  the second train was. All seats are reserved so if you just show up to go it is likely you won’t get a seat. Both are lengthy journeys and you will probably need food. While some people brought picnics with them there are excellent snacks (the hearty brunch wrap was my choice) available on board. Don’t miss out on the Kapiti ice cream. The Menu is here.

If you are planning to visit New Zealand, I urge you to take the train at some point during your travels. On my next visit I may just jump aboard the Northern Explorer from Wellington to Auckland. Here Flying and Travel shares their experience of the trip. Yeah, I need to go soon.





A Warm Welcome at Waipoua Lodge

On the road in New Zealand

The DH aka Sleeve Notes and I stayed in many different accommodations during our four week road trip in New Zealand. We travelled from Christchurch to Auckland, via Picton, Blenheim, Greymouth, Hanmer Springs, Franz Josef, Queenstown, Bay of Islands, Waipoua and Cape Reinga by plane, train and automobile. Mostly on the road in a hire car. All organised (bar the last few days when we went freestyle) via New Zealand Self Drive Tours.

All the hotels and motels we booked through the tour company were good. Many were excellent.

One was outstanding.

Waipoua Lodge

A couple of days before our stay here I received an email from the hosts of Waipoua Lodge  with a menu, requesting that we pre order our evening meal. This was the first clue that this was going to be a memorable place to stay.

The choice of food was simply outstanding – not a long menu – which is in my mind usually a good thing, yet it was clear that the person who put his menu together understood and loved food. I was not wrong. Slow cooked pork belly, rillettes of lamb, salmon with basil and lime were some of the choices for the mains.


Unusually for Instagram fangirl me I did not take any photos of the food we ate that night. We were the only guests at the lodge and, with a personal chef and waiter aka Fran and Ian, this was a dining experience we wanted to immerse ourselves in fully. Food bloggers will tell you that once photos have been taken, notes made, the food is cold. This was not going to be a night like that.

Fran kindly sent and gave me permission to us a photo of the main that the DH had, Slow Cooked pork with chilli and lime. DH said it was outstanding. It was (I tried it too).

Waipoua Lodge slow cooked pork

I had the salmon for my main which was also excellent.

For pudding the choice was easy, the lemon souffle, a signature dish of Waipoua Lodge. A melt in the mouth taste experience. Yet this is Waipoua Lodge – here you get invited into the kitchen to watch Fran make it. She made it look so simple, and in theory it is. How can something with four ingredients, that takes moments to make and minutes to bake, taste so good?

I have yet to make it (sorry Fran still no oven). As guests we left with the recipe and an invite to be a member of her online cookery school. And when I get a kitchen I will be making a few of her recipes.

The accommodation

And while I have focussed on the food – because it is so very good – I need to tell you about the rooms and the location.

The lodge is on the edge of the Waipoua Forest miles from any town or village. We travelled from Auckland on SH1 then travelled via Dargaville on SH12 to the lodge. The last 45 km drive on SH12 was particularly spectacular. A magnificent coast and as you drive over the ridge you see the forest. It can get pretty windy up there, camper vans have been blown over, and as Ian said, if you think that is spectacular, it just gets better. It does. There are some pretty spectacular drives in New Zealand – add SH12 to the list.

A Warm Welcome

From the moment we arrived at the lodge Ian and Fran made us feel so welcome. It was as if were invited to a special house party and we were the only ones on the guest list.

They ushered us into the lounge room and served tea in vintage china cups. We chatted about the journey, our travels, the lodge and just about everything. Conversation was easy as if we had known Fran and Ian for years. A time was agreed for dinner and we were shown our room with some suggestions of a walk in the bush walk if we wanted to stretch our legs after the long journey.

Bush Walk Walipuria Lodge

The rooms are beautifully appointed. Comfortable with good bedlinen and top notch Aotearoa Koha Spa toiletries this is luxury 5 star accommodation. Yet is is not at all stuffy. I felt that we were staying in a friend’s home. A friend with immaculate taste in home furnishings and who cooks like a Michelin starred chef.

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After dinner, we chatted for hours with Fran and Ian. It was an extremely relaxing evening. I hope they enjoyed the conversation as much as we did. I think they did.

The next day, after an excellent breakfast, Ian gave us a detailed and fascinating talk about Waipoua Forest and the Kauri Trees. We had visited the Kauri Museum the day before. I was somewhat underwhelmed and thought it poorly curated. I learned more from Ian about the history of the area, the impact of the deforestation, in his short and informative chat than I had in an hour or so at the museum, with its display of some big trees, a bottle collection and waxwork figures. And that is a shame, because the Kauri and its history shape this part of New Zealand.

Ian suggested some places to stop on the drive to our next destination, The Bay of Islands, and then we reluctantly took our leave, back on the road again.

But not before Fran and Ian, owners and custodians of Waipoua Lodge, took one last photo for their scrapbook. Here we are with their dog. Bonnie.

On the steps of our room at Waipoua Lodge


Note: Phil and I were paying guests at the lodge. Fran and Ian did not ask me to write this (they did ask us to rate them on TripAdvisor and I have).

Addendum August 2017

Fran and Ian have now sold the lodge – and bought a luxury yacht.

Travel is my high and I need another shot of it


When you travel you will possibly be all of these things.

Exhausted, happy, sad, frustrated, angry, in pain, relaxed, tired, excited, snappy, hungry, hangry, worried, stressed, restless and contented. You will never be bored.

I have endured long flights, watched movies I cannot remember, read books, walked dogs on beaches, slept in a swag and scrambled barefoot over rocks to swim in a pool with crocodiles.

I have learned to paddle board, considered divorcing my husband when kayaking in the Katherine Gorge, snorkeled over the Great Barrier Reef, hiked the Kings Canyon Rim, slept for hours on a bus where the landscape never changed, travelled in a 4WD on Fraser Island, seen a kangaroo whose best friend is a pig and visited a city devastated by an earthquake.

In NSW I ate some of the best food I have ever tasted and eaten endless ham sandwiches with tour groups in the NT, breakfasted at Macca’s, brunched on the best poached eggs in Melbourne (nowhere has matched that city for brunch) drank the best coffee made with freshly roasted beans (again in Melbourne) and sulked over lack of beetroot.

But I have never been bored.

How can you get bored when travelling?

When I was planning this four month trip to Australia and New Zealand, someone asked me “don’t you get bored being on holiday for so long?”


I waited a moment and answered with one word. “No.”

What I wanted to say was how could you possibly get bored when you travel? When you are seeing so much, meeting so many new people, doing things that will challenge you and change you?

I didn’t. I just knew that they would not get it. Because what they mean by a holiday and what that is to them is not what it is to me.

This is not a vacation, this is travel

In their map of the world a holiday is seven days escape from work, be it to a caravan in Bognor or a villa in Majorca, eating ice-cream and sitting on the beach. And after seven days of not doing much they think that is it time to go back to the 9 to 5. Because that is what you do. Hate Monday, live for the weekend and if you are lucky get a week away in the sun.

And there is nothing wrong with that. Been there, done that and probably will again. I like holidays. Long ones, short ones, package holiday and round the world travelling ones and weekends in sumptuous B&B’s and camping. I like to go travelling, while I still can.

I don’t get bored when travelling – because every holiday, every weekend away, being down under for four months or a package holiday to Skiathos for a week, a day out to Weston Super Mare, I see as an adventure. That is my map of the world.

I do get bored restless sometimes. When it rained for a week in Melbourne and I had watched every episode of Stranger Things I was ready to climb walls. Cabin fever did set in. Previous to this house-sit I had been on a ten day adventure in the Northern Territory. And while I had a love/hate relationship with that trip, with hindsight it was one of the most amazing journeys I have ever been on.

I was a broken woman

I ached and I wanted a bed and a shower and not to worry in case a dingo stole my shoes. After seven days of continuous rain and when the bites had healed and I had eaten brunch and cakes and Greek food and done all the washing I was restless. Eager to get back on the road again. Travel is my ‘high’ and I needed another shot of it.

Housesitting and travel plans

Yes I loved the comfy beds the hot showers, the food, did I mention the food in Oakleigh? Yet I was eager for more. New people, old friends, trying new food, seeing new places, getting on a plane (despite pre travel jitters that hit me before every flight) I crave the change. I feel that I may be addicted to change. Once healed I needed adventure again.

I could have wallowed. I didn’t. There was a road trip from Sydney to Brisbane to plan and book. New Zealand was a blank page. Flights in, flights out and no plan to get from A to B. So while it poured with rain, in between dog walking, kamikaze magpie dodging and eating souvlaki I stopped procrastinating and got on with transport and itinerary planning.

And yes I had procrastinated. Most of the trip had been planned in March. Flights had been booked, trips to Fraser and Lady Musgrave Island planned to fit in with flights. The NT trip to Kakadu, Alice Springs and Uluru was sandwiched between two house sits in Melbourne. An unexpected three day window filled with a visit to Tasmania.

Yet this bit of the trip was blank. And while I like to think of myself as free spirited Phoebe, Monica is stronger in me. I need a plan. Yes I do like to have room for some spontaneity, I am not that rigid, yet I have learned that I do need to know some basic whens and hows and so does my husband. I don’t want to arrive in a strange city without a bed for a night. That said we arrived in Brisbane with a room pre booked and hated it so much we found another room in 5 minutes thanks to free wifi and

This needing to know where I will be sleeping is possibly a symptom of my anxiety. I didn’t know that till now (see this writing malarkey really is my therapy). Perhaps realising that I can turn on a sixpence will reduce this anxiety and  the need to be in constant control?

New Zealand Plans

When you have a month in New Zealand, a country that has so much to thrill, excite and amaze you, a plan is good. When a third person who has different interests to you is joining you for a couple of weeks and would rather put needles in his eyes than go on a tour of wineries, you need a plan.

In 2011 Phil and I travelled in a campervan from Auckland to Christchurch. When it was good it was awesome when it was bad it was not so awesome. We had no itinerary, booked as we went along and it worked out OK but we missed so much and ran out of time.

This time, after wasting hours getting jaw dropping quotes from Camper Van and Motorhome hire companies, trying to work out how to fit in almost everything we wanted to do I and failing, I used a travel agency, New Zealand Self Drive Tours. I found them via Facebook (sometimes those annoying ads are useful) gave them a list of what me, my husband and my son wanted to do, flights details and they planned and booked it for me.

I worked with them to tweak it and there is some spontaneity as the last 8 days there is no plan. No accommodation, no activities just the car and us and I like that we have no idea where we will be or what we are doing. I also like that for most of the time we just turn up and the hotel is booked and the car is waiting for us and we know how many km’s we will be driving each day.

Road trip New Zealand

I am currently in New Zealand, have been for a week and so far the plan is working. The car is easier to drive than a camper. Not for one moment have we wished we had got one.

The rooms have been warm and clean and the Coastal Pacific Rail journey was breathtakingly brilliant. Phil and I have travelled to Christchurch to Picton on the Pacific Coast Railway, driven from Picton to Christchurch via Blenheim and Hanmer Springs.

In Blenheim we had a lovely day touring the wineries with Highlight Wine Tours and were guided around the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre Air by Bunty, a 96 year old World War 2 Spitfire pilot.

We have bathed in thermal pools in Hanmer Springs, driven past snow capped mountains and followed a steam train through Weka Pass. Yesterday we rode on a vintage tram around Christchurch and walked around the city at sunset. Tomorrow we travel the Tranz Alpine Railway.

Yes I am worried how I am going to cope when I get back to the small house in November. Being in one place and shopping and cooking and the grey skies. I am sure that the Farsickness will kick in and know that I need to come up with a strategy to manage that.

I am confident that I will.

In the meantime – New Zealand awaits.

There will be mountains and geysers and hot beaches and Hobbits and planes and trains and automobiles to transport us.