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Milford Sound

New Zealand Itinerary

I hadn’t realized planning a trip to New Zealand would be as complicated as it ended up becoming. When you first start googling places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand (NZ), you are inundated with the variety of different things to do. From planning an adventure holiday; or viewing wildlife and natural scenery; or visiting wine regions – the options for a NZ getaway are endless. The one thing I realised was that if we wanted to see and do all the things that we had placed on our NZ bucket list then we were going to need to hire a car. Driving around the country was the only way we were going to be able to tick off all the items on our NZ bucket list.  I did come across some tour companies and buses that can drive you from one location to another. This wasn’t ideal for us as we wanted to have the freedom to travel at our own pace.

There are a bunch of tour companies that can take you around NZ. You can choose to join a group tour on a coach or organise a smaller group tour. There is also the possibility of hiring a private tour guide to take you around the country. The options are endless, just google NZ tours and a range of options will be displayed.

After speaking to some friends who had recently returned from their NZ south island adventure we realized staying in the one place – Queenstown and then doing day trips everywhere just wasn’t going to work for us. B and I are both just too lazy to get up at the crack of dawn everyday whilst on holiday.  Some other friends had done the campervan tour of New Zealand and had recommended Wanaka as a good place to base ourselves whilst exploring the south island. However, looking at the cool opportunity to visit the Tekapo dark sky reserve we knew that we definitely wanted to go there, which was still 3 hours away from Wanaka. Hence we decided that the best option was a slow meander through the south island. We knew the campervan thing just wasn’t us and yeah ok, lets face it I was terrified of driving a big van on narrow, winding on lane mountain roads!

In the end we came up with a list of things we absolutely wanted to see and do on the South Island:

  1. Visit the dark sky reserve in Lake Tekapo
  2. Visit Mount Cook
  3. Visit Fox or Franz glacier – sadly this had to be culled from our itinerary due to limited time
  4. Visit Wanaka and the Central Otago wine region
  5. Visit Glenorchy to explore Lord of the Rings film locations – another one that had to be culled from the trip
  6. Visit Milford Sound

If we had more time, heading to Kaikoura also sounded really cool to do some whale watching. Picton was also a town that was mentioned by a couple of friends for its beautifully scenery.  Unfortunately we were unable to visit the Marlborough or Hawkes Bay region in the north of the South Island for wineries as we didn’t have enough time.

The trip that we have ended up planning consists of the following itinerary:

Arrive in Christchurch and travel to Lake Tekapo on that day – this is going to be a killer 3 hour drive after a red eye flight…but hopefully once we arrive in this beautiful part of the world it will all make up for it! We plan on staying in Lake Tekapo for 3 nights and will drive to Mount Cook National Park for a day trip to complete the Hooker Valley trail. We have also booked a stargazing tour with Earth and Sky to visit the Mount John Observatory and view the Southern Hemisphere night sky from the dark sky reserve around Tekapo.

From Lake Tekapo, we plan to drive to Wanaka and spend 3 nights lazing about near the lake and visiting vineyards! We have also organised to do a hike to the Rob Roy Glacier. After reading quite a few reviews it appears that this hike is totally doable on our own and we won’t need to book a tour to take us. However we have organised for a tour company to drop us off and pick us up at the start of the hike as the drive to the start of the hike can be a little hairy at times. It crosses 7 fords and passes through private farming property, as a result we have decided not to risk the insurance on our hire car.

After this we are going to have the longest drive of our trip from Wanaka to Milford Sound. This is an almost 6 hour trip by car! Initially the plan was to stay in Te Anua for three nights however some close friends who have done the Milford Track put a stop to that fairly quickly! They recommended that we stay at Milford Sound especially considering we have the time to stay there (3 nights). They said although Te anau is pretty, Milford Sound is much better and we can really immerse ourselves in nature by staying here. Now the problem to staying at Milford Sounds is that there is only one place that provides accommodation in Milford Sound – The Milford Sound Lodge. The Lodge has private chalets, dorm beds and power campsites. As we were cutting it fine with our trip planning, we were only able to get accommodation in the dorm rooms.

From Milford Sound we will drive back to Queenstown and spend one night there as our flight to Auckland departs the following day. I’ll keep you posted with details of the actual trip once we finish it! 🙂

An alpine tarn on key summit, Fiordland

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Quay's famous snow egg dessert

The view from our table at Quay.

We had a sneaky long weekend planned in Sydney and decided to book a table at the famous restaurant. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get a dinner booking for our dates so opted for a long lunch instead. This ended up being a blessing in disguise as we were able to snag one of the best tables in the house. We were seated smack bang in front of the Sydney Opera House with the Harbour Bridge to our left. This is definitely the restaurant to goto if you’re looking to impress someone! Our visit to Quay was prior to the restaurants refurbishment and introduction of their new menu.

The view of the Harbour bridge from our table.

Quay is quintessentially Sydney, with its view of Sydney icons and prime location at the Overseas Passenger terminal in Circular Quay. You can spend a lazy afternoon sipping wine and watching the boats float by. This is premium dining that delivers so much more than food. When you first sit down within the restaurant a sense of calm emanates as you stare out into the ocean and that iconic harbour view.  The restaurant with its vibrant seaside decor, doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is. high class elegant dining at its finest.

The Quay tower at the Overseas Passenger Terminal, Circular Quay.

On arrival we were informed we had a choice of a three or four course lunch menu. We decided to splurge and chose the four course menu. We were pleasantly surprised by the depth of flavour combinations within the dishes and the different textural profiles of each dish.

Amuse Bouche: Cream with finger lime.

The amuse Bouche was a blend of different textures and flavours that burst in the mouth. Creamy, sweet, tangy, crunchy.

Organic sourdough bread with house churned butter and sea salt mixed with seaweed.

Sourdough bread is one of my favourites and this loaf was beautifully crusty. The accompaniments of the salt and butter added a perfect blend of fat and seasoning.

Truffle with cream, walnuts, egg yolk.

This dish was creamy, salty and earthy and packed full of umami. The walnuts helped to give some crunch to the otherwise creamy dish.

Tea smoked wagyu with raw mushrooms.

Lots of texture with a light and clean flavour that was well balanced.

Uni with rice, crunchy fish maw, king prawns

This dish had a strong soy based umami and was probably my least favourite of the meal. The dish had a rich and strong flavour profile with a mix of crunchy and soft textures, king prawns were hidden under the rice. The dish was reminiscent of a deconstructed prawn cracker.

Broken rice congee with abalone.

Lots of ginger and spices within the dish that were well balanced with the heartiness of the abalone.

Arkady lamb with seaweed

A perfectly cooked cut of lamb that melted in your mouth in a light soy-based sauce. This dish brought to mind Japanese cuisine with its seaweed element. The crunchy greens helped to give the dish a textural depth.

Duck in xo sauce.

A rich and perfectly cooked duck breast in a hearty xo sauce with pickled turnip and crunchy stone pot rice.

Seven layer chocolate cake.

This dish was decadence on a plate. Smooth, rich and chocolatey!

The famous snow egg with pear granita and crystallised meringue.

This was completely different to the chocolate desert, it was sweet, refreshing and airy. The type of dessert you wished you could have more of!

Another view from our table

All in all, this lunch at Quay was unforgettable not only for the beautiful food but also for the stunning location in circular quay. This restaurant is  definitely worth a visit for its food and those stunning views!

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Park Guell

Barcelona, the capital city of Catalonia is a large cosmopolitan city set against the Collserola Mountain range. With its location on the Mediterranean Sea, the climate is warm throughout the year, ideal for spending days on its colourful beach. Barcelona is the sixth most populous city in the European Union and is the biggest city on the Mediterranean Sea. The city has a bohemian vibe and is renowned for its art, architecture and food. There are 10 main districts of the city and each have their own unique charm. The Ciutat Vella (Old Town), was originally founded by the Romans in the 1st century BC,  is one of the more interesting areas of the city with quirky eateries and boutique shops. The city was founded by the Romans in the 1st century BC.

Things to do:

Barcelona is a very spread out city and getting around requires the use of some form of transport. We found ourselves walking for generally 30 minutes to get to most places though. We stayed in the Las Arenas area, nearby to the famous bullring that has now been transformed into a shopping centre. Public transport from here was a little difficult, however it had close proximity to the gothic quarter where we spent the majority of our time in Barcelona. The area around Las Arenas is also famous for its old school vermouth bars and were recommended as a place to visit by our AirBNB host.  Near Las Arenas and Montjuïc fountains

Las Arenas

The sport of bullfighting was banned in the region of Catalonia in 2010. The famous Las Arenas bullring has since then been turned into a commercial shopping centre. You can head upto the rooftop level where there is a photographic display of the bullring back when it was in full use. The rooftop level has also been cleverly converted into an open air restaurant and bar space. It’s nice way to relax over a drink with some friends.

Las Arenas shopping centre (old bull fighting ring)

Fountain of Montjuïc

Right near the Las Arenas is the Placa D’Espanya. A free musical fountains show is held here every night in the summertime. It’s a crowded place with lots of families but is worth a visit if you haven’t seen a musical fountain show before. If you want to stay away from the crowds it’s possible to see the show from the rooftop of the Las Arenas building as well.

Gothic Quarter

The Gothic Quarter was the site of an old Roman village and was one of my favourite districts to explore in Barcelona. The area has an interesting mix of old and modern architecture. Many of the cities top restaurants and bars are housed within these buildings. The centre of the Gothic Quarter opens up into a large square where the grand Barcelona Cathedral stands lined by  cafes, shops and restaurants. The Barcelona Cathedral is a beautiful example of a gothic style building and is very different in architecture appearance to the other famous church in Barcelona – Sagrada Familia. During our walk through the square, we were lucky enough to observe some amazing break dancers performing on the street.

Barcelona cathedral

The Gothic Quarter, also has plenty of open squares (Plaça) and shopping areas on the Calle Portal de L’angel and Calle Avinyo. You can also walk to Las Ramblas from this district. Las Ramblas is the dividing boulevard that cuts through the heart of the city. On one side is the Gothic Quarter and the other side leads to the El Ravel neighbourhood.

Taking a stroll down Las Ramblas

El Raval

The El Ravel neighbourhood is known as the shadier side of the city. However there are now lots of bars and restaurants, art galleries all situated in this area. The Boqueria market and many of Gaudi’s architecture can also be found in this area.

The Boqueria market is a fantastic place to visit whilst in Barcelona. The vibrant colours and arrays of preserved meat are dizzying! There are lots of little stall holders that sell food items that you can sample during your amble through the market. It’s a nice place to go during lunch time as you’ll get a chance to see the market and have a snack to eat at many of the restaurant vendors selling fresh seafood and cured meats.

Sagrada Familia

The famous Gaudi church is definitely worth a visit. Beware though that the crowds especially during the summer time can be overwhelming both in and around the famous church. If you are interested in getting to one of the towers of the church. I would recommend that you book before you get there. They have specific times available for guests to climb upto the towers. There can also be long queues to purchase tickets so it’s easier to book them from your accomodation. The inside of the church is beautiful and quirky however a sense of peace permeates the interior. It was a fun experience getting upto the tower, we were able to climb through narrow books and get to experience some of Gaudi’s architecture first hand. The view from above was pretty spectacular as well!

The Sagrada Familia

Park Guell

This is another must do adventure when in Barcelona. The park is situated near some national parks and provides a serene setting for Gaudi’s work. Walking around the park is like walking around a quirky version of a cartoon-like world. There are lots of bright buildings with unique sculptural and architectural features. It’s the type of place that many may feel a little bit confused and overwhelmed by. However it really does showcase a unique interpretation of the modernist architectural tradition.

Picasso museum

This was one of my favourite expeditions during our trip to Barcelona – possibly because it was so surprising. Prior to a visit to Picasso’s museum, I was quite apathetic about the cubist movement. The museum in Barcelona, does a fantastic job chronicling his life and the evolution of his artistic style. The works from his blue period were some of my favourites!

One of Picasso’s earlier works showcases his incredible talent at painting lifelike images!

Camp Nou

B is a die hard soccer fan so a trip to Football Club Barcelona’s home ground the Camp Nou was the next best thing to actually seeing a soccer match. We were travelling through Europe in the Summer time so unfortunately there were no scheduled games to watch. The tour of the stadium was an in-depth look into the history of the football club and its many victories! We were able to peek into the players rooms,  their gym, medical facilities as well as the media rooms!

Eurail

We arrived in Barcelona via small flight from San Sebastian which was a huge headache as our flight was early in the morning and we had to arrive at the airport at least an hour early. Small airline carriers in Europe frequently have delays to their flight plans. We experienced this very issue and had to cool our heels at the airport for another hour before we were allowed to board.

Travelling via train across the Spanish countryside was a whole other kettle of fish! Once we passed through security at Barcelona Sants train station in Barcelona, it was all smooth sailing ahead. We were able to stretch out in our seats which we had reserved ahead of time – you actually don’t need to do this unless the route you want to travel on is a busy route. By not reserving your seats you can save some money! We travelled on the RENFE-SNCF to Lyon in France.

Top Tips for Barcelona Travel 
  1. Barcelona is a very spread out city, it is best to figure out the places you want to see and which area of the city you want to spend the most of your time in before you book your accomodation. This will save you travel time
  2. Public transport in Barcelona was difficult to get our heads around – we ended up catching an Uber to most places
  3. Book your tickets for popular tourist attractions like Sagrada Familia and Park Guell ahead of time. This will save you waiting in queue when you get to your destination and disappointment in missing out if they can’t accomodate you on that day
  4. The people for Barcelona are able to speak English so getting around and ordering food is easy
  5. We ended up catching the Eurail for the remainder of our journey in Europe, this was soo much easier than flying. Be sure to leave at least 30 minutes leeway in order to pass security and catch your train – we luckily got to the train station in the nick of time…!
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