Over half of all Kiwis (New Zealanders) travel during their summer holidays, especially over Christmas and New Year’s. Decent travel accommodations in many of the more popular destinations can be difficult to come by so we decided to make the most of it by opting for the road less traveled. We made a loop from Milford Sound through an area called Southland. Southland spans 13,000 sq. miles and has a population of only 96,000 inhabitants. What it lacks in population, it more than makes up for in scenery and wildlife.
We began our south southern adventure in Te Anau. The house we rented was a bit dated — and unusual — but clean. It served us well as we visited the incredible Milford Sound (see separate post) and Fiordland National Park. Nick and Maddie were able to tour some glowworm caves and we celebrated New Year’s Eve along the lakefront watching fireworks, eating awful corndogs and drinking beer.
We left Te Anau, traveling along the “Southern Scenic Route,” visiting the Scottish city of Dunedin and settling for the night at Kaka Point. From Kaka Point, we began our journey along the Catlin Coast, exploring New Zealand’s southeast “forgotten corner.” “Forgotten corner” could refer to many things: a place that forgot to hook up to the modern world (unreliable internet, poor cell service); a place that forgot to pave the roads (Frank was sure our rented station wagon wouldn’t survive!); or even a place that forgets tourists might be confused (Nick and I were on the beach when a siren started blaring. Could it be a tsunami? We ran off the beach. Turns out it was a call for the volunteer firefighters to head to the station for a fire!). But in reality, these “inconveniences” only added to the magic of this untouched, truly UN-forgettable area of rugged cliffs, sandy bays and encounters with penguins and sea lions!!!
As we get close to winding down our last days in Melbourne, I thought I’d share a little about our life in St. Kilda. As I mentioned in a previous post, we rented this apartment through airbnb. To say I was nervous about clicking the “make booking” button and choosing a place for two whole months was an understatement. But this place did not disappoint! (You’ll find more pics of the apartment in an earlier post.)
St. Kilda is a southeast suburb of Melbourne and it reminds Frank a little of Brady Street with it’s many bars, restaurants and all different kinds of people. The area has a colorful history — was pretty rough for a while — and has recently experienced rapid gentrification due to its closeness to the CBD (Central Business District) and the waterfront. This end of Fitzroy Street is comparatively quiet. Our wall of glass doors offers sweeping views of the city skyline (gorgeous at night!) and the ocean. Outside our balcony and across the street, we can hear the laughter of the kids as they run around the school, watch the old and young at the outdoor bowling club and catch the various activities at beautiful Albert Park.
The transportation system in Melbourne is second to none. Frank is in awe! You don’t need a car here. Buses, trams and trains are all connected and get you everywhere you need to go. That said, most mornings Frank grabs his little green “miki” card, catches the #96 tram and off he goes to swim. Although the aquatic center is in Albert Park, it’s still a couple tram stops away. I go for walks or bike rides around the park’s lake (about 3 miles) and often meet him after his workout to get a start on the day’s adventure.
We go to South Melbourne Market a few times a week. We have our favorite stalls/vendors for veggies, meat, fresh OJ and also for crepes and dim sum! (Not together, of course!) Frank has finally found one place with coffee he likes – filtered, while I am loving the flat white (similar to a latte). There are many of these markets around Melbourne and in other Australian cities. In addition to food, you can purchase anything and everything — housewares, cheap souvenirs, artwork and even designer clothing and shoes! (Yes, I bought another pair of shoes….) What we don’t buy at the market, we get at our local Woolworth’s(!) food store – the locals call it Woolies — or the small local bakeries. Soon after we got here, Frank discovered this little gem below us that serves these awesome donuts called “Bombolinos.” They are super fresh, sugared jelly donuts filled with custard. Let me tell you, they ARE the bomb! Once or twice a week, it’s our little treat not only because of the calories but also because they are $3.80 a piece!
Everything is expensive here. People warned us about that before we left. Frank has done some cooking to offset food costs — sauce and pasta, eggplant, veal. When we do go out, we plan, utilizing our “Good Food Guide” and local restaurant reviews. If we are going to “restaurant spend,” it’s going to be good! I will write more about food in another post.
People ask us if we have made any friends. We’ve found Australians to be friendly, but only after you initiate contact/conversation. Then they don’t stop talking! We have had some great conversations at restaurants and events we’ve attended but have not met new people to “hang out” with. Besides, who could we like better than our friends back home?! We have, however, gotten together with some relatives of friends back home. They are great and took us on an all day drive around the Mornington Coast. Next week, we are going to their home and to a park to see some koalas!
Speaking of Australian animals, we have some little penguins at St. Kilda Beach! We went down there last night and saw a couple before we got too cold and it was too dark to take pictures.
The weather here is changeable — very much like San Francisco. Beautiful spring days can quickly turn cloudy and chilly. Plus, I have never seen wind like they have here! Somedays our doors and windows rattle so much we can’t hear ourselves think or watch TV. The latter isn’t a bad thing because the TV shows, at least with our basic cable, aren’t really worth watching (other than Seinfeld reruns). There is a lot of reality TV (The Bachelor and Dancing with the Stars is HUGE!), fishing shows and news. We try to keep up a little with what’s going on and have found that not all the crazies are in the United States. One Aussie politician wanted to block all Africans because she said, “terrorists might infect themselves with Ebola, come to Australia and touch people(!!).” I miss my New York Times. We get the Sunday Herald Sun, which is kind of an odd paper. Major breaking news stories will be next to full size pictorials on Princess Kate (they LOVE their celebrities here!) next to political scandals next to funny little puff pieces. It actually makes me smile and I do get a kick out of reading it on lazy Sunday afternoons.
That is the nice thing about staying in a place for an extended time — you can have those “down days.” Today is one of those. Although we are on vacation, there is still wash to be done, bathrooms to be touched up and a dishwasher to unload. That’s OK though, because tomorrow Frank will get on that 96 tram, go for a swim and we will be off exploring another fun area of Melbourne . . . Cheers!