City Spotlight – Perth

I’ve always been told that Perth was an underrated city. However, after visiting I would say it is justly rated. Don’t get me wrong it is a beautiful city, but for the distance to travel to Perth and how much you can do especially compared to Melbourne, Sydney, and the east coast I’m not sure how I feel about it. It’s too far just to come for a weekend trip, but I think a week here would be too long. That being said we really enjoyed the time we had here, but it felt like a stopover place rather than a destination. 

Here are my top things to do and see in and around Perth:  

  1. Rottnest Island – this was the highlight of my entire trip with my mom so it has to get the #1 spot. Rottnest is located 19km off of the mainland and it is stunning. Many people visit the island as a day trip, but we spent 3 days on the island, which I would highly recommend. 
  2. Fremantle – When we visited Fremantle on a Sunday it was the first time we actually saw a lot of people. This little port town was the place to be. There was a market going on, lots of cafes and restaurants, and overall had a buzzing energy. 
  3. Cottesloe beach – Western Australia is known for their beaches and Cottesloe is known to be the best beach in the area. It was really beautiful and not very crowded when we went. Besides lying out or taking a swim you can walk along the beach or to Cottesloe Town. There are some cute boutique shops and some cafes. 
  4. Festivals – Perth seemed to always have some kind of festival going on. We were there during the Fringe and the Lights festivals. They are perfect opportunities to do something different for the day or on a night out. The arts and music are meant to be very big here. 
  5. Food – We had some yummy food for only being in Perth a couple of days. 
    • Flora and Fauna – vegan brunch spot with really great options from a daily menu. The food is fresh and creative. 
    • Petition Kitchen – this seems like a hotspot you need a reservation for. They have a sharable menu that is extremely impressive.
    • Van’s Café – located near Cottesloe beach; this is where I had the best avocado toast ever. They had a full on menu, lovely cakes; and great coffee. 
  6. Cohunu Koala Park – I think this place is very interesting. It wouldn’t be on my list of top things to do if it wasn’t for the koala encounter. My mom had so much time holding the koala compared to the other encounters where they just pass the koala from one person to another in under 30 seconds. It was special. 

That pretty much wraps up my Perth experience. There are also wineries and wine cruises down the Swan River, which are meant to be really nice, but since we did our wine-ing in Hunter Valley we skipped out on it in Perth. 

Hotel Review – Hunter Valley

In true Sylwia fashion I waited to the last minute to book our Hunter Valley trip. In my defense I was waiting for the weather and thought that since we were going on a weekday there wouldn’t be any issues. I was in contact with one hotel, but never actually made the reservation. When we finally decided to book, our first choice actually ended up being sold out so we had to go for a plan b. That took form as the Crown Plaza Hunter Valley. Not really sure what to expect we were blown away when driving up to the property. It was huge! Even including a golf course, two onsite restaurants, a fitness center, two pools, and more. The property itself was gorgeous. 

We were booked into a standard room, but were upgraded to a villa. However, this was a bit too much space for two people for one night (and it was also away from the main building and its amenities) so we opted for a normal room instead. The room was spacious and clean. The bed was super comfortable and they also provided a deep sleep pillow spray – what a cute little touch! 

Both on-site restaurants were yummy and our dinner at Redsalt was fantastic! Lovedale is a slightly more casual and has a sports bar feel, this is where we had lunch the next day and again it was delicious. They even had the option of making a pizza with vegan cheese and/or a cauliflower base. Two thumbs up for the food. 

I utilized the gym, but with the weather I wasn’t able to make the most of the onsite pools. There was also a spa and on weekends they have a brewery tour. If we stayed longer we would have made use of everything available. 

The amenities were nice, food was great, room was above average – what else could you ask for? Well the staff and all the workers were so professional and we were impressed by how friendly and efficient the reception staff was. They really were the icing on the cake for the entire experience. 

I would highly recommend the Crown Plaza in Hunter Valley if you were to stay in the area overnight. 

Hunter Valley

Besides being known for its beautiful beaches and wildlife, Australia is also known for its wine. The hot, dry climate is similar to other more well-known wine regions. Australia’s history is filled with European expats, and much like the coffee culture, it makes sense that the European wine culture also made its way to Oz. Growing and producing wonderful wine was never an issue, but the far distance of exportation and travel time, mostly by boat in the earlier days, made it difficult for the wine to become well known around the world. 

The five main wine regions spread across Australia are the Barossa Valley and Coonawarra in South Australia, Yarra Valley in Victoria, Margaret River in Western Australia, and Hunter Valley in New South Wales. 

Hunter Valley is a day trip away from Sydney. Hunter Valley produces many kinds of wines, but they are most well known for Semillons, Verdelhos, and Shirazes. My first trip to Hunter Valley was actually back in October on a day trip and really loved it. Hunter Valley is just under a two-hour drive from Sydney’s city center and there are about 150 different wineries/cellar doors to visit. You pretty much have to drive here or take a coach. Public transportation doesn’t really get you into this area and you would still need a way around once here. Given that there’s a lot of drinking involved my first trip to Hunter I opted for a bus day-tour

With my mom visiting, I wanted to go back so she could also experience Hunter Valley. I had such a great trip back in October I decided to book the same exact tour, but we would stay a night and be picked up the next afternoon instead of squeezing everything into one day. Booking was a bit of a pain and if it was my only experience with the company it wouldn’t have been positive, but in the end it all it worked out. 

The tour was exactly the same as the one I did in October, but it was equally as enjoyable. We started the day with the De Iuliis winery. We tried three whites, three reds (including one rose), and a sweet wine. The next stop was at Hermitage at Hunter Valley Resort and we had four wine and cheese pairings and at the same location we had our lunch. After lunch we stopped by Leogate Estate’s cellar door, which is a gorgeous property and events venue, for five or six more tastings. Finally, we were done with wine and went to the Hunter Valley Distillery for some vodka and spirits tastings. The trip rounded off with a stop for something sweet at the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company. 

Normally, the tour would go straight back to Sydney, but we were dropped off at a hotel for the night. Not only were we spared the normal bus ride back after a day of drinking, the next day we also learned that the bus we would have been on broke down an hour and a half out of Sydney and everyone had to get Ubers back into the city whist it started raining. My mom and I had an awesome evening safe and sound/oblivious to what everyone else was facing in our hotel and spent the following afternoon relaxing around the hotel until our ride came.

Hunter Valley was a success! I really enjoyed the tour again, but probably wouldn’t do it a third time, however, if I lived in Sydney I would make it a weekend getaway every once in a while or for special occasions. If you’re in the Sydney area I definitely think this is a must do to get out of the city for a day. 

When in Wanaka

I think I’m becoming a lake person or at the very least I can fully appreciate the beauty of lakes after this trip. Lake Wanaka is one of the largest of the Southern Lakes (third largest to be exact). It is 45km (~28 miles) long and home of the highly photographed “lonely tree.” Lake Wanaka has major summer holiday vibes and was filled with tourists and Kiwis alike, but it is also a hot spot during winter for ski season. There were some activities we could pay to do, but nothing that was really grabbing my attention. So I made the decision to just enjoy the town and chill out a bit. We were meant to do a night cruise on the evening we arrived, but there was some miscommunication and it was cancelled.

As a result however, my new Canadian friend and I discovered we were kindred spirits and that we both enjoyed the finer things in life. We treated ourselves to a delicious dinner at Kai Whakapai and as we were walking back to our respective accommodations we stumbled upon a wine tasting. SO of course we made a pitstop. Then we called it a night and made plans to meet for brunch in the AM at Alchemy. Surprisingly for this day and age, it was difficult to find a boozy brunch, but we found a restaurant that serves alcohol in the morning. So we made our own mimosas. Even with our early start somehow the morning flew by and we almost missed the bus! It wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world because we weren’t ready to leave Wanaka yet.

Wanaka is officially on the running list of places to come back to in New Zealand. 

Accommodation – YHA Purple Cow           

Stray guarantees rooms in certain hostels in the overnight stops. I’m guessing they have contracts with these places and honestly they have overall been good choices thus far. However, were the Stray allocated accommodation choices the best option in the cities we went to? Not always and they never included YHA’s.

The recommendation for Wanaka was definitely not the best. Not only was the rating super low on HostelWorld, but I was specifically told not to stay here. Thankfully, the town isn’t big so a different hostel was still in a reasonable walking distance from the pickup/drop off area. I was told to stay at the YHA by a fellow Stray passenger I had met on the drive from Welly to Auckland. As always I was impressed by the YHA’s top standard. The staff was extremely friendly, there was a large lounge and kitchen area, and the room was clean and spacious. They even had a veggie garden! I was in a four-person dorm with an ensuite bathroom. Based on what I also heard from the other passengers who stayed at different hostels I stand by what was recommended to me and agree that staying at the YHA is the move in Wanaka. 

Kia Ora South Island

The South Island of New Zealand is probably what you imagine when you think of NZ. If you have a short amount of time (under two weeks) to travel this is probably where you will go. It has some beaches, although not as breathtaking as the North’s; mountains, major cities, and everything in between. The rolling green hills and volcanic views of the North Island are exchanged for mountains and alpine landscapes on the South Island. 

We took the ferry over from Wellington to Picton. It was about a three-hour scenic ride across the Cook Strait. The ferry reminded me of the one from Ireland to England – even featuring a movie theater. I was reunited with some of my travel buddies at the ferry and met the new group. 

After a couple of pitstops, our final destination for the night was Marahau. On the way there we stopped in Picton and Nelson. Nelson is a beautiful costal town known for its sunshine and chill vibes. If I did the route again I would have stopped by for a night in Nelson. This area is part of the Marlborough vineyard region so naturally we stopped for a wine tasting. For $5 we tried 4-5 wines and then if we bought any there was a $5 discount – so as our driver stated, “it was like making money.” My favorite wine at the tasting was surprisingly for me a Sauvignon Blanc. 

After the wine tasting we continued on to Marahau. This is a remote little town on the edge of Abel Tasman National Park. Marahau was so remote that there was no cell phone reception and really poor Wi-Fi. For the first night’s dinner we cooked as a group and with the lack of cell service everyone was hanging out, playing card games, sitting by the fire, etc. It was a lovely evening and a great way to kick off the South Island adventure. 

The next morning we split off into our activities. There was the option to kayak, canyoning, skydiving, or sailing. I was so close to going canyoning and after hearing everyone’s experience it’s on my list for when I get back to New Zealand. I spent my day sailing through the park on a catamaran and then hiking back. We were told we lucked out on the weather and that the day before was unbearably windy. The crystal clear water and views throughout the cruise were stunning. We even saw some wild seals in their natural habitat. The majority of the passengers on the catamaran were fellow Stray travelers so again it was a fun time getting to know each other. After the cruise our group had lunch on the beach and just hung out for a bit before embarking on the hike back. It was honestly the perfect day. Marahau and/or the surrounding town of would definitely be somewhere I could have spent more time in as well (I’m sensing a pattern here). If we are keeping a running list of where I would stay longer on the South Island so far it includes Nelson and Marahau.

Accommodation – The Barn

We were in a remote area, but the accommodation was really nice. There were a block of cabins with six single beds (no bunks yay), a great kitchen/dining area, outdoor space, and even a movie room. Obviously, the best part was that the property really was steps away from the Abel Tasman and this was as close as you could stay. I highly recommend this stop and would gladly stay here again. 

I randomly bumped into two people I had separated with right before Christmas, which was a pleasant surprise. They had hopped off here because they fell in love with the area and I totally see why.

New Years in Gisborne

I ended 2019 and rang in the New Year at a festival. Afterwards, I took a couple of nights for some R&R in Gisborne. Gizzy (not kidding that is the actual abbreviation/nickname) is an east coast town known for being the first point of New Zealand (and first “major country” the contradiction is that there are some smaller islands further east) to see the sunrise and they also produce award-winning wine. It was the perfect place to spend the first couple of days of the new decade if you ask me. 

This little break was just what I needed. Being that RnV just ended and that it was around New Years, Gisborne seemed a little sleepy. Truthfully the small town/community was most likely recovering from the mass of people coming if from the festival. I’m not sure what a “normal” weekend looks like here. I spent my mornings hanging out, reading, doing laundry, etc. and I didn’t feel like I needed to load up on activities. Then I would walk into town and stop by the beach. The weather was sunny and warm throughout my stay. Thankfully, when I was finally walking about the town the shops were closed so I couldn’t be temped into shopping. Window-shopping sufficed. 

Food

Some restaurants tempted me, but I was trying to make healthier and economical choices (New Year’s resolutions and all). I finally caved to try Burger Wisconsin, which is claimed to be the “best burgers in New Zealand,” however it seems like every burger joint in NZ makes that claim. I ordered the veggie burger and they had the option of making it petite. I thought having the option of a smaller portion was so cool. I seriously wish that was the norm whilst eating out. All in all it was a good meal. Was it the best burger? Not sure I can judge that because I had a veggie burger, but there was constantly a line and a steady flow of people so it was definitely popular spot and apparently it is a chain. 

During these couple of days I started feeling as if I may have been coming down with something so I reconciled that I needed lots of veggies and nutrients. I saw a Tank in town and kept craving it since getting an awesome smoothie and wrap in Rotorua a few weeks back. It is a healthy food chain similar to a Sweetgreen in the States, but with salad, wrap, and smoothie options. 

Accommodation

After camping for 5 nights I stayed at an Airbnb in Gizzy. It was a lovely back room in a house facing the yard with plenty of fresh air and sunlight. Also, being that I don’t think this area is very touristy, the prices were reasonable/affordable after the RnV crowded left. This was the perfect little oasis to spend a couple of days before traveling on.

I wouldn’t say Gisborne is a must if you are traveling the North Island, but it’s nice and not as touristy as other areas of the country. If you were looking to fill your schedule and have your own car you should carve out some time to check it out!