Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Almond Backpackers

Almond House is situated in a central location, features great facilities and a friendly atmosphere at a very reasonable price. The warm and friendly atmosphere made Almond House feel like my house away from home. Paul, Fiona and their three children have been running Almond House for the past 3 years and have created a very nice home for backpackers.

We stayed in one of their private rooms. The room was quite spacious with a beside table, reading lamp, and a wardrobe and the bed was very comfortable. Scattered around the backyard are several hammocks, that were great to laze on and there was also a swimming pool.

The kitchen was nice and clean with modern appliances and the lounge room was very comfortable. Most of the people staying there were working for their accommodation so it was interesting to hear the different travel stories.

Prices start from $27 for a 3 bedroom dorm or $58 for a private room. Visit their website for more information: www.almondbackpackers.co.nz

World of WearableArt (WOW) and Classic Cars Museum

Talk about offering something for everyone. It is not very often that you come across a museum that excites both the ladies and the men. A man's fantasy, the Classic Cars Gallery offers a world class display of some of the most sought after models in classic motoring. For the ladies, you will have the opportunity to view some of the incredible garments that feature in the WearableArt Gallery.

Our host for the day, Julie, guided us through the museum watching our eyes shine with inspiration as we gazed at the magnificent garments. These extraordinary garments are created by artists from New Zealand and around the globe. Truly breathtaking, one of my favourite pieces, Queen Adelaide took the artist 300 hours just to fold the copper to form the circles and then there was the extra time to assemble the piece. It is very impressive.

Next on the agenda was the Classic Cars Gallery. This is a car enthusiast's dream world and a car gallery like no other. Beautifully displayed under theatrical lighting we marveled in awe at the most sought after models from three centuries of motoring.

To end the day Julie took us for a cruise in the Excalibur, which was seriously cool. For once our car was turning heads for all the right reasons- not like our Wicked Van.

The Museum shop features a creative selection jewellery, ceramics, books, gifts and much more. I was very impressed with the jewellery, some of the pieces were very beautiful. At the end of the tour the name of the museum seemed very fitting. I think I said WOW approximately 20 times throughout the tour.

Adult admission- $20
Child admission- $8

Grand Mercure, Monaco Apartments

We escaped from the hustle of the city and made our way to the peaceful sanctuary of the Grand Mercure Monaco. Surrounded by pituresque cottage gardens, this hotel has been handcrafted to capture the quaint character and allure of village life.

As we drove into the entrance, we were both awe struck by the old-world charm of this resort style village. It really do capture the village life of a fairytale. With a spa, hairdresser, pool, gym, jewellery gallery, bike hire and restaurant all on-site the Grand Mercure Monaco provides all the comforts and conveniences you could wish for.

The self-contained two bedroom cottage, with its courtyard and rose-filled gardens only contributed to our enchanting experience. The open-plan kitchen, dining and lounge downstairs were great areas to relax and enjoy the warmth of the fire. Upstairs there are two queen bedrooms both featuring ensuites.

Nicole the Front Office Manager took us for a tour of the complex after which we enjoyed a drink in The Orangerie restaurant. This French inspired, award winning restaurant will awe you at every turn. We were given the opportunity to view some of their other accommodation options including the Summerhouse Cottages (one bedroom), the Hotel Rooms and the One Bedroom Studio Units all offering something unique.

Amanda and I treated ourselves and made a visit to the About Beauty Spa. Their internationally qualified and experienced staff focused on identifying my individual needs, delivering a personalized and revitalizing leg and foot massage. I slept like a baby.

Prices start from $139 for the Hotel Rooms and $239 for the Two Bedroom Cottages. For more information visit their website at: www.monacoresort.co.nz

Monday, March 29, 2010


Steeples Cottage, Studio and B&B

This quality accommodation is located 11 km south of Westport and enjoys magnificent sea views, tranquil sunsets and beautifully kept gardens. They're Jack Russell named Dee came out to meet us when we arrived and became our best friend after we spoiled her with hugs and pats.

Bruce and Pauline were great hosts and made us feel extremely welcome- I felt at home from the get go as I relaxed in their lounge room. I fell in love with they're kitten Chooka as she pranced around my feet, on my lap and across the keyboard as I was typing up my Blog. She was just way too cute.

My queen bedroom in their peaceful rural home featured a large ensuite and spectacular views over the beautiful garden and the Tasman Sea. Aside from my sleep talking and walking I had a very good nights sleep. Sleep walking is becoming a regular occurrence with me- very embarrassing! Amanda stayed in the ensuite studio room separate from the house and also enjoyed a view of the steeples rocks in the Tasman Sea.

In the morning Paulina provided a very delicious continental breakfast before I went for a run to the Seal Colony. The path to the Seal Colony is along the rugged coastline beaches and offers breathtaking views. From a viewing point on the headland we were able to observe the intriguing seals as they lazed on the rocks and soaked up the sun.

Prices start from $60 a night, which includes breakfast.

Star Tavern

It was Amanda's birthday today! After enjoying a glass of wine in Steeples Cottage beautiful gardens and watching the sun set we walked down to the local tavern. This is owned by Pauline's sister Kay and serves scrumptious steaks and burgers.

The best thing about Star Tavern is that the second you enter the building you become one with the locals. Ordering a drink Kay's partner, Derick introduced himself after introducing the other locals sitting at the bar.

A few drinks later we found ourselves playing pool and singing along with 'My Brown Eyed Girl' on the juke box.

On the roof of the tavern is hundreds of notes held up by tacs. He told us we would have to sacrifice a note to find out how he gets them up there keeping both feet on the ground and not using any sticks. Amanda lost a $5 note but found his secret party trick- you will have to visit Star Tavern and sacrifice a note to find out :)

We won of course (V for Victory)

Saturday, March 27, 2010


On our arrival we visited the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes only 300 metres north of the Punakaiki Resort. The Rocks and Blowholes are an incredible geological formation where stratified limestone that was formed under the sea 30 million years ago has been weathered into extraordinary shapes by wind and waves. Unfortunately it was low tide when we visited the Blowholes, which was a shame as they are at their most powerful at high tide.

What it looks like at high tide

Punakaiki Resort

A modern accommodation complex, Punakaiki Resort has been designed to maximize the surrounding environment with beautiful ocean and rainforest views of the Paporoa National Park.

The resort offers a wide range of accommodation to suit couples, families, groups and corporate guests. There are two styles of accommodation on offer: Standard Resort Rooms and Luxury Eco-Suites. All rooms are architecturally designed to maintain a sense of privacy and maximise the incredible views while ensuring harmony with the local environment.

We were very lucky to stay in one of the Eco-Suites, which is very spacious and stylish. All of the suites were made using only organically grown timbers and commercial materials with little or no toxins. They feature large solar panels, Ecofleece insulation, environmentally friendly amenities and energy saving devices. I'm not a huge green activist but I have to say it does make you feel a little better knowing that the suites have been built to have minimal impact on the environment.

The fully-equipped suite features its own private balcony, which showcases some magnificent views over Punakaiki Beach. All your basic amenities that become luxuries when travelling are provided by the resort including bathrobes, hairdryer, iron and ironing board, Evolu Toiletries and SKY TV.

In the morning we enjoyed a very scrumptious full buffet breakfast in the award winning Waterline Restaurant before heading off to Charleston for underwater rafting. The Restaurant provides the perfect setting to relax and enjoy the spectacular scenery. Floor-to-ceiling windows wrap around the restaurant for true beach-front dining.

Underworld Adventures- Norwest Adventures Limited

Half way between Punakaiki and Westport we stumbled across the Nile River Caves. This was by far one of the funnest and most entertaining tour I have been on so far. It offers a bit of everything; a train ride, a bush walk, a cave walk and river rafting like no way i've ever experienced- on tubes.

Norwest Adventures was established in 1987 by Geoff Schurr and Ray Moroney, two cavers who developed the company after many years as leading educationalists and cave explorers.

After we were greeted by Geoff the owner/creater of Underworld Adventures we took a short bus ride to what looked like a train station, but it was so little. The next thing a small theme park styled train with open carriages appeared out of the shed. 'All aboard' Geoff exclaimed as he swapped roles from the bus driver to the train driver. We took the Train through the primeval rainforests of the magnificent Nile River Canyon. The short interpretive train ride passed through film sites of the BBC “The Lost world” film production. It really didn't take much of your imagination to picture dinasours roaming in this pristine forest untouched by man.

We departed the train at another small station (which I later found out was built by Geoff and his partner Ray) and geared up for our Underworld Rafting adventure. After a short but steep walkaccross the Suspension Bridge we reached the Tricolps entrance of the Nile River Caves.

To walk through the cave and experience it in its natural unspoilt state, just the way a cave explorer would do it was just awe-inspiring. No rails, no pathways, nothing man made- the only thing leading you through to the otherside is two pieces of rope that act as a pathway. Along the way we came across amazing cave formations and surreal GlowWorm displays. It was like being in another world of unsurpassed beauty.

Then the real fun began as we floated through the incredible Glow Worm lit grottos and down the bouncy Nile River on our tubes. Lying on our back on the tubes, you are surrounded by complete and utter darkness lit up by tiny lights from the Glow Worms.

It took a while for our eyes to adjust once we left the cave but once they did what an amazing sight. There is no words to describe this wonderland- majestic does not even come close.

The 15 minute ride back to the Suspension Bridge on the rough rapids of the Nile was so much fun. Our happy chatter in the calm sections turned into loud laughter and screams in the rapids as we cheered each other on. Steve was the rapid legend of the day, which we all had a laugh about coming back on the train and bus.

All up the tour took around 4 ours and costs $135 per person. For information on other tours visit their website at: www.caverafting.com