Matiu/Somes Island, Wellington, New Zealand

Matiu/Somes Island is perfectly situation in Wellington Harbour. From its humble beginning as native Maori land, to a quarantine sight, gun emplacement and research centre, this island has served as a unique piece of New Zealand’s history over the past several centuries.

Getting there

Check metlink.org.nz for the ferry departure schedule, then purchase tickets and board the ferry at Queen’s Wharf in Wellington. The trip was about 15 minutes and although I sat at the top to admire the harbour views, I held on tightly as the catamaran rocked viciously through the choppy waters.

Upon arrival at Matiu-Somes, I received a warm greeting from a Department of Conservation (DoC) Ranger – a welcome contrast to the offending journey.

Arriving at Matiu/Somes Island
The main trail makes for an easy walk, even in your fancy shoes.

Exploring

Once I caught my bearings, I set off on the trails. It was a typically overcast and windy day, which made for an ironically peaceful walk with few other visitors on the island. I’d say that this is a hiking trail for City Slickers: you can wear your fancy new sneakers – and maybe even a pair of dress flats – and you will come out un-scathed.

From multiple viewpoints along the trail, you’ll be rewarded with one-of-a-kind views of Wellington City and the surrounding suburbs, along with the vastly untouched coastal line of Matiu/Somes (my favourite spot is about about 50m from the lighthouse).

The perfect spot to stop for lunch.

If you’re quiet, you’ll be delighted by the island’s friendly birds and may even come across some of the other animal species if you get your timing right. The island has accommodation for large groups and even boasts several campsites if you’re feeling adventurous. The trails are an easy grade, only steep near the summit, and boasts several picnic tables for families to enjoy a relaxing day.

But there’s more to this island than the bright chirping birds, impeccably manicured trails and incredible views. This island has a past – several of them, in fact, which you learn about through the interpretation sites scattered along the island trail.

A dark past

In brief, the land originally belonged to several Maori iwi (tribes) and was then (captured) by European settlers, who used this island to house gun emplacements during WWII. Shots were never fired, and the land was eventually transformed to a high-security quarantine for both animals and humans as they entered New Zealand. And throughout it all, the harbour’s lighthouse, perched on the coast’s edge, continued guided ships into Wellington’s harbour, as it does to this day.

There are still traces of history left on Matiu/Somes, such as a monument dedicated to those who died on the island – generally those who were quarantined with diseases. The gun emplacements also hold a permanent position at the summit, one of many sites throughout Wellington that reminds us of the world’s dark past.

Several things, however, have drastically changed. Volunteers and the Department of Conservation (DoC) have worked over the past several decades to rebuild the land by planting thousands of native seedlings and reintroducing species that were once found on the island. It’s now a research centre and protected land for a variety of animals and reptiles, including the famous weta, tuatara and skink. Red-crowned parakeets and small penguins have also been happy to call this rodent-free island home, and grounds even boast a herd of sheep to keep the grass short.

The section surrounding the lighthouse is now unrecognisable from the past, having been restored from volunteers over several decades. And the recently erected Maori waharoa (monument) has a prominent home at the Wharf.

Wahroa monument at Matiu/Somes Island

To me, the island is about more than just the nature conservation – it’s both a nod to the past and a hopeful outlook to the future. The amount of effort that has been put back into Somes Island is genuinely impressive, and the care taken to preserve this piece of New Zealand’s history does not go unnoticed.

When I first arrived on Matiu/Somes Island, I was looking forward to a bit of exploring and hoped to see a nice bird or two – but when I left, I had learned so much about this island, the history, and the measures in place today, and this island means so much more to me now that I have been here and heard their stories.

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My grandchildren play
Hide and seek

-Nola Borell, 2015

*Credit to DoC interpretation sites on Matiu/Somes Island for the history lesson. And check out http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/wellington-kapiti/places/matiu-somes-island/ for more detailed info.

Freedom camping in New Zealand

Freedom camping is the ultimate budget-friendly option when travelling in New Zealand. Whether you’re on a cross-country road trip or simply looking to get out of town for the night, a little planning goes a long way.

To ring in the New Year, my partner and I headed out to one of his favourite  spearfishing spots: Cape Palliser, which I wrote more about in a previous post. I love this location because of the diverse landscape and seclusion from the bustling city of Wellington. Although the weather doesn’t always cooperate, the stars aligned for us to spend a night on the beach.

We arrived around 6pm, set up camp and made dinner with a cook set that we picked up during a Boxing Day sale. A compact set like this is perfect for both camping and backpacking excursions.

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If you read my previous post about Cape Palliser, you’ll recall that there’s a seal colony in the area, which I’d personally forgotten about until I’d accidentally snuck up behind one basking in the sun and scared the poor thing – oops!

Once we claimed our area on the beach, we turned on some music, popped open a bottle of champagne and settled in the for evening.

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For some people, New Years Eve is about big parties, all-night raves or a night out on the town. I’ve enjoyed my fair share of those evenings, but these days I love to reconnect with nature, experience a peaceful evening and disconnect from my phone and social media.

The feeling I experienced while watching the sun set and listening to the waves crash against the rocks is something that people don’t often have with today’s busy lifestyles. I soaked it all in as the stars came out and the only light was that shining from the lighthouse above.

The next morning we drove up the coast to find a prime spot for free diving. While Brett searched for crayfish, I stayed on the beach, drank a freshly brewed coffee and planned some goals for 2019. We easily had time to walk The Pinnacles before heading back to Wellington, but decided to save that for our next mini-vacation.

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A grey, but warm morning at 20 degrees Celsius.

This trip reminded me how easy it to plan a quick getaway and take advantage of the Summer weather. Even if you “only have one day off”, you can easily leave town after work, set up camp, spend the next day along the coast and still make it home to catch up on Netflix before bed. There’s no excuse not to get out on a mini adventure!

It’s easy:

  • Pick a spot close by (up to 2 hours away)
  • Get your gear ready the day before, including groceries
  • Load up the car after work, and
  • Away you go!

One perk of freedom camping is that there’s no “check out time”, so sleep in, fix yourself a nice coffee in the morning, and take in the scenery before starting your day.

Commit to doing more of the things you love in 2019, disconnect from your phone and laptop when possible, and take every opportunity to explore more of this beautiful world.

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If you’re new to freedom camping in New Zealand, it’s a good idea to check out the website freedomcamping.org first. There are rules and regulations that differ by region, and in this case, we camped at a free designated camping area, which had limited toilet facilities and no specified ‘camp sites’ per-se.

12 Things to love about Wellington, New Zealand

Lonely Planet gave Wellington the title of “Coolest Little Capital in the World”. And while it initially didn’t seem like a vast departure from anywhere I’d lived before, I soon became privy to the quirky and quintessential features of my new home.  Here’s what I love about this capital city.

1. The green space is incredible

Native bush and hectares of forest within minutes of the central downtown area makes Wellington the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether it’s the Skyline Trail, Town Belt, Te Ahumairangi Hill or any of the reserves along the waterfront, this city has an endless number of trails for when you need to become one with nature. I love taking a lunchtime stroll through the Botanic Gardens to feel a world away in just a matter of minutes.

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Botanic Garden entrance

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Johnston Hill section of the Skyline Trail

2. Wellingtonians are low-key obsessed with coffee

It’s no secret: Kiwis love their coffee. Wander into a random cafe, gas station or even a parking lot and you will almost certainly find a full espresso set up (no filter coffee that’s been burning in the pot for hours!). And since Wellington boats more cafes per capita than even New York City*, you’ll be sure to find the perfect brew.

*http://media.newzealand.com/en/story-ideas/cwc-2015-wellington-fact-file/

3. No one minds the rain

I moved to Wellington from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada – one of the most miserable cities (weather-wise) in the country. I arrived in Wellington fully equipped with rainboots, an umbrella and several raincoats, but soon noticed that when it rained, no one cared. Designer rain boots (i.e., Hunter) are non-existent, umbrellas are at an all-time low, and maybe on the odd occasion you’ll see someone put their jacket hood up. Wellingtonians just don’t seem to care about wet shirts, soggy shoes or frizzy hair. And you know what? I’ve become one of them!

4. Honk your horn in Mount Victoria Tunnel

Pass through Mount Victoria Tunnel and you’ll hear other drivers honking their horns. But – don’t be alarmed – they’re not honking at you. During construction in the 1930s, a woman was murdered by her lover and buried at the construction site. The honking can accomplish one of two things: saying hello to the ghost or an attempt to keep her at bay. Whichever reason you choose, make sure to give your horn a toot the next time you pass through.

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5. The impractical suburb shopping districts

I don’t know who did the city planning – sometimes it seems like it was just a “yolo” moment in Kiwi history when they built some of these narrow streets, but each suburb has its own little shopping area with cute antique and gift shops, bakeries and cafes, and convenience stores. They are completely impractical and often you need to drive a good distance to reach a full-sized grocery store or any amenities and services such as a dentist or gym. But I’ll be damned if you don’t think these shops are the most adorable thing about Wellington.

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Tinakori Village is home to perfectly impractical antique shops and cafes, set amongst stunning heritage homes from the late 1800s

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6. Craft beer and cider changed my life

The ciders and craft beers that come from Wellington are just so good. There’s no shortage of new breweries to try or Beer Fests to attend when you’re in Wellington. If you find yourself in the ‘impractical suburb shops’ of Aro Valley, check out my personal favourite: Garage Project.

7. It’s often walk-up access only

With most of the city built in the hills, Wellingtonians had to get creative. I quickly learned that many homes don’t have direct street access and can only be reached after a series of hidden pathways and crooked stairs. It’s truly incredible to see the ingenuity used to build these unique homes and I love finding new places where homes are crammed in. And the plus side of all the stairs? Buns of Steel!

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The only access to some homes on Dixon Street

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Do you want to take the stairs or the elevator?

8. Stilettos and heels have no place here

This is perhaps my favourite thing about this city. Stilettos are seldom worn and ladies instead opt for perfectly functional dress flats. This is likely due to the impracticality of wearing anything higher than three inches in this hilly city. And when Wellingtonian women do wear heels, it’s usually a chunky (comfy) heel or wedge. My feet have never been happier!

9. The bus drivers have mad skills

I vividly remember the first time I took the bus from Mairangi Road to Wellington CBD. I sat in my seat, white-knuckled as we rounded one blind corner after another. It took me nearly a year to feel comfortable driving a car in Wellington, due to the narrow, winding streets – many of which have cars parked blocking one lane. The fact that a bus can make it down all of these streets without a scratch is nothing short of a miracle.

10. The Gatekeeper: The Rimutuka Hill

Perhaps even more terrifying than Wellington’s narrow streets is the Rimutuka Highway – the gateway to the Wairarapa region of the North Island, home to beautiful vineyards, pristine farmland and the picturesque Taurarua Range. Unless you take the train and go through the hill, there is no other way. Bring a sick bag.

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11. The ode to great women

Wellington City has installed special crosswalk symbols throughout the CBD to pay homage to great people in New Zealand’s history, including Carmen Rupe, who guides pedestrians down Cuba Street, and Kate Sheppard, who will get you safely across several intersections near Parliament.

And last, but certainly not least…

12. There are beaches galore, and you can have your choice

There is no shortage of beach-side getaways – whether you want to bathe in the sun or dive into the crisp ocean water, there are nearly a dozen places in and around Wellington where you can get your water fix. On a hot summer day, Oriental Bay is scattered with locals and tourists soaking up the sun, but if you move beyond the city centre, there’s often more space to throw down a towel and pop open the chilly bin. Each beach is unique in its own way and just as beautiful as the last.

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Oriental Bay during a scorching summer day

What are some special features about the city you live in? I’d love to read about them in the comments below!

48 hours in Waikato: Rotorua & Waitomo, NZ

You know you’re a powerlifter when you get off work at 1:00pm to avoid weekend traffic, but insist on training before leaving town. Then end up in rush hour at 4:30pm anyway.

Or at least that’s how things go when Brett and I plan a road trip.

After driving 7 hours North of Wellington (including traffic halts), Brett and I checked into our AirBNB (a lovely place called Tui Rest at a fantastic price of $65NZD/night). Regardless of our bedtime, we only had a weekend away and woke up early on Saturday to check out the tourist town of Rotorua in the Waikato region of New Zealand.

Fun fact: Wellington City only has one Starbucks, so I’m not ashamed to say that we made a beeline for Rotorua’s Starbucks on Saturday morning.

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Kuirau Park, Rotorua

Near the shops is Kuirau Park, which looks like a Jurassic Park movie set with its steaming vents and bubbling ponds. I think this is the best thing about Rotorua – only slightly ruined when you get the occasional whiff of sulfur gas.

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Skyline Rotorua

Brett and his family vacationed in Rotorua when he was a kid. And although the pungent smell of rotten eggs didn’t rustle up any childhood memories for me – our visit to Skyline Rotorua did the trick.

Skyline Rotorua is essentially an outdoor “Fun Park” (I made that word up). After a gondola ride to the top, there’s a luge track, swing, zip line and petting zoo (in case you still haven’t seen enough sheep – because I know I sure haven’t!). Oh, and there’s also a massive mountain bike park, if you’re into that crazy stuff.

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We tackled the luge and the swing – both of which were terrifying for a risk-averse person like myself.

Despite my reservations, I went flying (or as Brett would say, “rode the brakes” – I’ll leave you to believe who’s more accurate) down the luge track anyway. I do these things for Brett.

And for the record: If you push the handlebars all the way forward, they essentially act as an Emergency Break. Trust me on this one.

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I’m still laughing at the people who messaged Brett on Instagram asking how long he was in Las Vegas for.

The “swing” was something else. Perhaps it’s best that I didn’t know what was going to happen before I got strapped in, hauled to the top of a giant slingshot, and pulled the cord. I’ve never screamed so much in my life – but I’d do it again!

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This baby goes 150km/hr and swings out over the cliff, overlooking Rotorua below.

After the risky adventures, we made our way back into town, ate some of the worst sushi I’ve ever had, and made a pit stop at the liquor store before heading back to the AirBNB for a mid-afternoon beer and lounging session.

Sulfur Springs: Kerosene Creek

Around 6:00pm we made the decision not to go to Hell’s Gate (mud and sulfur pools), which I had dreamed about since we decided to move to New Zealand in March 2016. But, as usual, Brett made a good observation: We were about to pay $100 to sit in a mud pool with dozens of other people, then going into a giant sulfur bathtub with a dozen more.

So instead, we experienced the “giant bathtub” scenario free-of-charge by making our way to Kerosene Creek, located about 25 minutes from Rotorua (easily searchable on Google Maps).

I didn’t take any photos, but I did enjoy the hot springs and even more so relished in the fact that I experienced bathing with the masses for free.

Waitomo: Ruakuri Cave

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I will no longer go out of my way to do “Bucket List” items that I’m not actually keen on. And when I saw a photo on TripAdvisor of dozens of tourists crammed into wooden boats like sardines in a dark cave – that was the end of my desire for the Waitomo Glowworm Cave tour.

HOWEVER. Upon further (highly technical) online research, I determined that Ruakuri Cave would best fulfill our desires. So on Sunday morning, we hopped in the car and drove 2.5 hours to Waitomo – a very ‘scenic’ route for heading back to Wellington.

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Caffeine pit stop at the Rotorua Farmers’ Market before leaving town.

Unlike the traditional glowworm tour, the Ruakuri Cave is a 90-minute walking tour. And although there are only a few glowworms to be seen, I was seriously impressed by the cave formations, the history of the cave, and the level of care taken to create such an incredible experience. Also a bonus: This tour has a max capacity of 18 people, and allows cameras (just don’t be annoying and blind your fellow tourists with the flash).

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Glowworm threads! Cool but gross.

Arriving at the destination is slightly underwhelming, but I can guarantee that when you leave the parking lot, you won’t stop thinking about the hidden caves you’re passing by on the drive home.

Our tour guide also pointed out the Ruakuri Cave Trail, which is *free*, located directly next to the tour parking lot, and allows you to see more of the caves in the area. I’ll definitely plan for a more thorough exploration the next time we’re in the area.

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In summary, if you only have 48 hours to spare, there’s no reason not to take a quick road trip across the North Island, fly through the air at 150km/hr, chill out in a natural hot spring, and peruse through an ominous cave in the middle of nowhere.

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And we always make time for photos with a giant kiwi bird.

Favourite Places: Castlepoint, New Zealand

Castlepoint is more than just a beach-side destination. It’s a quiet getaway and vast departure from the daily activities of a busy lifestyle.

Even during the cold and rainy winter, spending an evening at Castlepoint is one of my favourite places to unwind. Brett and I have been coming to his family’s bach* since we first moved to New Zealand, and regardless of the weather, it’s an ideal weekend getaway for those in the Wairapara/Wellington region.

*bach = cabin/cottage/beach house, pronounced “batch”

Getting there
The two-hour drive from Wellington is complete with a heart-palpitating cruise along the Rimutaka Highway, a snapshot of the Tararua Mountain range, and endless rolling hills of farmland. The finale of the drive is a stunning view of the South Pacific Ocean. My favourite part is just before you enter the community of Castlepoint: green hills dotted with grazing sheep. I’m pretty sure Kiwis think I’m crazy for loving sheep as much as I do!

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Places to stay
There’s a campground at Castlepoint, complete with a nicely developed space for tents and camper vans. If you prefer to stay indoors, however, many of the baches along the waterfront can be rented for your holiday, along with the Castlepoint Hotel (located just before the entrance to the town).

Things to do
Castle Rock
The obvious activity is to walk up to the lighthouse for a stunning 360-degree view. This trail is well-maintained, accessible from the beach, and can be accomplished in nearly any weather condition (it’s also a great spot for checking out the water clarity).

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The Cave

Below the lighthouse is a beach-side trail – accessible at low tide – to a deep cave. Through the cave you can see light at the other end, which lets out on the opposite side of Castle Rock. Although tempting, the water on the opposite side is extremely rough and not fit for swimming! This area is also a popular hangout for the New Zealand fur seal. These cute blobs can be very territorial – especially if they have pups around – so keep a safe distance but enjoy the thrill. 😊

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Brett about to enter the cave…

Water sports
Throughout the year, it’s common to see people out boating, surfing, paddle-boarding, scuba diving, spear-fishing, snorkeling and on jet skis. In the summer months – pending that the winds take a day off – “The Gap” (aka Deliverance Cove) is an ideal place to lay in the sun amongst the calm waters.

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The Gap – view from Deliverance Cove trail

Hiking
I’ll admit that we don’t often check the forecast before driving up to Castlepoint, so most of my memories here involve high winds and pelting rain. However, we’ve stumbled across a few sunny days that make every rain drop so incredibly worth it.

On one such occasion, we hiked the Deliverance Cove trail, located behind the town of Castlepoint. This hike was very steep and is quite a test for those with a fear of heights. As you walk along the hillside, be cautious of the blowing wind.

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Can you see the tiny lighthouse in the distance?

The view from the top is incredible – with Castlepoint Lighthouse, the beach and The Gap on one side, and a view of sprawling fields and Christmas Bay on the other. We took a long rest at the top to really soak in the sun, watch the water for activity, and gaze at the glistening waters along Christmas Bay. Since that day, I’ve been waiting for ideal weather conditions to get back to the top.

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Christmas Bay

In the area
Amenities
The town itself doesn’t have a lot of amenities (stock up in Masterton if you need any groceries), however, there is a café, complete with classic Kiwi fish n’ chips, hot dogs and home baking. Across the street in the parking lot, you can often find a small camper van-style coffee truck, ready to serve you up a freshly extracted espresso.

Mataikona

Mataikona is a small community of homes further up the beach from Castlepoint. This area evokes a sense of seclusion and separation from the rest of the holiday homes nearby. And although the sandy beaches do not reach this settlement, the blanket of rocks along the coast make for ideal diving conditions, and is a popular spot for spearfishing. I highly suggest taking a short drive out this way to experience the uniqueness and contrast to Castlepoint.

. . . . .

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Castle Rock, Lighthouse, The Gap, Deliverance Cove trail (far hill), and town of Castlepoint

Perhaps the reason I enjoy Castlepoint so much is that it’s one of the first places Brett and I visited when we moved to New Zealand. With the stress and uncertainty of relocating to another country, Castlepoint was a close destination that we could always go to for a mini retreat.

I still remember our first evening at the bach. We sat on the front porch, bundled in blankets, and drank ciders as we watched the sun set behind Castle Rock. Castlepoint always reminds me of that perfect, care-free feeling we had that day, and is why I always look forward to going back – despite the weather forecast. 😊

 

Travelling with a Powerlifter: Sydney, Australia

I spent five days in Sydney while Brett competed at the Fitness Expo in Powerlifting (where he reclaimed his world record total in the 83kg class). I won’t bore you with the details, but expo’s have a cheese factor of 99/100 – and powerlifting is the only thing keeping it from maxing out (pun intended). I’ve also been to the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio, USA – which was actually quite impressive. I think everyone should go to at least one – you know, to get it out of your system.

Aside from the competition, I managed to see a fair bit of the city. And instead of the same “Top 10 Things to Do in Sydney” list that every other blogger posts, here are some of my favourite things in Sydney – as un-glamourous as they may be.

City Architecture

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Sydney is a feast for the eyes in a couple of respects. The Cockle Cove/Darling Harbour area is well-developed with countless restaurants and cafes, along with the International Convention Centre being a hub of activity.

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My favourite part, however, is what’s inside some of the older buildings – a unique fusion of old-meets-new and bringing the outdoors in.

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Bondi Beach

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If the weather had co-operated, I would’ve loved to spend a bit more time here. Many years ago I dreamt of moving to Bondi Beach and living in a hostel while becoming a beach bum. These days, I’m not much of an ocean seeker and prefer to peruse the scenic coastline on foot. We did the Bondi Coastal Walk to Tamarama Beach, and I spent most of the time marvelling at the rock formations and multi-million-dollar homes lining the coast.

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** Travel tip: Purchase an Opal transit card and take the bus from the CBD to Bondi Beach. Although the train will get you there a bit faster, I think the bus reigns supreme simply for the fact that you get to see more of the city while in transit.

Hidden Gem

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On the 12th floor of the Hyatt Regency is a stunning cocktail lounge, called Zephyr. The drinks are a bit pricy but I bet you’d be willing to pay even more once you see the incredible harbour view from the open-air balcony. The lounge seating is comfortable and they offer warm blankets in case you’re feeling a bit chilled. Dress code is smart (i.e., put on your fancy top). I highly recommend it if you want to have a few romantic cocktails in a chilled atmosphere (sorry for the lack of photos – but trust me on this one).

Best Big Coffee + Cheap Eats

Aurora Café

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On Monday morning Brett was catching up on work and asked me to go find “Big Coffees” (coffees in NZ/Aus are tiny). So I wandered around the Sydney CBD checking out people’s cup sizes (being in a new city gives you the ability to act like a weirdo), and I stumbled upon Aurora Café on Kent Street. They have BIG COFFEES and offer an extra espresso shot and soy or almond for no extra charge. And the girl working at the counter was so friendly and great to have a morning chat with on more than one occasion. 🙂

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Good Life Cafe

In general, I found food service to be quite slow in Sydney – but Good Life Cafe was anything but. Before I could sit down at the table after placing my order, I had a hot egg and spinach breakfast burrito ($6) sitting in front of me. We went back a couple of days in a row here for a quick breakfast, and I highly suggest paying the small amount of $2 to add bacon.

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Legit AF Burger & Wings

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We started off looking for a good sushi restaurant, and by the time we found this place (aptly named “Ribs & Burgers”) we were hangry. Forget the sushi – nothing is better than cold pints of cider, crispy wings with ranch dipping sauce, and a monster chicken burger. Oh, unless you also order a side of sweet potato fries.

Training Space

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When you travel with an athlete – especially one who is nearly always prepping for a competition – you end up visiting a lot of different gyms around the world. In Sydney we trained at City Strength HQ, owned by two of Brett’s (and now my) friends. This gym was just set up in late 2016 and has some impressive (and drool-worthy) Eleiko equipment. There’s nothing like a new Eleiko bar to rip some skin off your hands during deadlifts.

Finalement

Sydney is a massive city with a lot to do, but I’d be lying if I said I was eager to get back there. I certainly missed Wellington and its eclectic vibe while I was away. If and when I travel back to Australia, I’d aim to spend most of my time out of the city, exploring the beaches, hiking terrain and the infamous Outback. It would also be handy to not plan a vacation around powerlifting – but that’s just how life unfolds sometimes.

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Powerlifting has become a huge part of my life since being with Brett, and given me a reason to travel to a few different places I wouldn’t have been to otherwise. And although I won’t be joining him at his competition in Minsk, Belarus this year, I’ll be at home with the Strong Girls cheering him on at 2:00am. There will likely be pizza and chicken wings involved, as there is in all powerlifting competitions. 😊

Oh, and also:

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Favourite Places: Exploring Makara Walkway with Welly Walks

Makara Beach is easily one of my favourite spots around Wellington. Just a short 30-minute drive from the city center, you’ll feel like you’re the only person on the island.

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I’ve been here several times, as Brett is an avid spear-fisherman and the rocky shorelines makes for ideal conditions. The first time we drove to Makara, the beach was dark and gloomy – but I haven’t had a bad day since. Even when Wellington is windy and cold, Makara seems to be in its own world with low winds at beach level, calm waves and clear waters.

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Mana Island is just visible from the main entrance of Makara Beach

Although we are approaching Autumn, this past weekend felt like a summer day – with warm temperatures and not a cloud in the sky. This is how I’ve come to know Makara Beach, and have experienced my best Wellington days out here, sitting on the (rocky – not sandy) beach and searching for shells and sea glass.

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A few weeks ago, I found an iPhone App that lists different walks around Wellington, with Makara Walkway being one of them. So when Brett told me he was going diving with a friend (meaning that I didn’t need to sit on the beach and keep watch) I took the opportunity to explore the hills around the beach.

The Welly Walks app guides you through the hike (which is easy enough to navigate on your own), but also tells the history of the area. The gun emplacements and bunkers near the summit were originally built following the Japanese attacks at Pearl Harbour. Although they were commissioned by the start of WWII, these grounds never saw any action and were de-commissioned in 1944 (credit to the Welly Walks App for the history lesson).

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Mana Island & Kapiti Island in the distance

As with any ocean look-out built during WWI/WWII, the views are incredible, as it was necessary to scout out invaders. The irony is that these grounds have now become a place of peace and reflection for hikers or picnickers – a complete turnaround from the original strategy of their placement.

me with view

To get to this viewpoint you can either hike from the beach or (the most popular route by the looks of it) park near the B2 turbine and take a short walk.

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Part of the hike crosses over farmland, so you’re bound to make some new friends along the way 🙂

The B2 turbine is also a site to see, as it’s the only wind turbine in the area that pedestrians can access up close. I personally find the wind turbines to be very calming and peaceful to watch, and although they seem to always be turning in full force around Makara Beach, there was hardly any wind at ground level.

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B2 Turbine (FYI for you lazy people: parking access is just around this hill)

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Shepherds Gully Fault

Although the app suggests to take the Opau Bay route and walk back to Makara along the beach, I went back down the way I came, for a couple of reasons. The beach is very rocky and somewhat annoying to navigate (which I know from experience), and the views near the beginning of the trail were secluded and incredible, and I wanted to re-visit these places on my way back down to the beach.

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Gun emplacements, with Opau Beach to the left; South Island in the distance

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View from the hike up/down that I wanted to re-vist 🙂

The hike took about two hours to complete, including numerous “photo op” stops. The climb to the top is relatively steep, but worth every aching muscle once you see the incredible views for yourself.

I don’t often repeat hikes (as I like to see as many new things as possible), but I would definitely do this one again and perhaps spend a bit more time relaxing at the top and enjoying the views.

And as much as I loved Makara Beach before, this hike has solidified it as one of my favourite places in the Wellington area.

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