Trip Pulse: New Zealand on steroids part 1/2 – North Island

New Zealand with children – part 1 of our adventure

If we were to tell you that New Zealand is “nature on steroids”, we wouldn’t be far wrong.

Everything here is in technicolour – the grass is greener, the trees are taller, there are ferns everywhere. And we mean everywhere.

It’s no wonder that ferns are the official symbol of the nation and the All Blacks rugby team. Despite being a young nation (one of the last places on Earth to have been inhabited by people) the population is increasing, with most people living on the smaller and perhaps less scenic North Island, yet still one of the most beautiful places we have seen on our trip.

Maori people migrated to New Zealand at the beginning of the 13th Century and their communities play a prominent part in society, despite the occasional conflict between them and the government. As well as all of this diversity, New Zealand was also the filming place of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy – who wouldn’t want to check out that scenery?!

Auckland – City of Sails

Auckland is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the whole country. As it sits on the water (where sat moored some of the most amazing yachts we’ve ever seen), it feels more relaxed than many of the other cities.

Auckland (New Zealand)

The streets are filled with backpackers, travelers and students (but this isn’t a bad thing, honest!). There are good meal deals to be had during the week although prices jump considerably at the weekends. Despite being a big, bustling city, it’s also surprisingly the home of AJ Hackett, the original bungee jumping daredevil, and the birthplace of bungee – you can even bungee off the Sky Tower, an icon on the city skyline.

Bay of Islands – water sports galore

If water sports are your thing, then the Bay of Islands are definitely for you. Kayaking, sailing, fishing and scuba diving can all be sought after from the great jumping-off point of Pahia. If none of that floats your boat (pardon the pun) you can always swim with dolphins or take a trip to Ninety Mile Beach (which actually is ninety miles long – gasp!) for some impressive views. Although we didn’t make it to Cape Reinga, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, we’ve seen so many great photographs of this northern part of the island, we may have to make another trip.

Coromandel – diverse coastline with a hot tub

Unfortunately for us, our time in Coromandel was very rainy and the ocean water was cold. Despite that, we were still amazed by Cathedral Cove, made famous by film, The Chronicles of Narnia and a trip to this area of the world wouldn’t be complete without creating your own hot tub at Hot Water Beach.

Coromandel Peninsula Scenery

A highlight of our time here was a visit to Steward Pig Farm, a piglet farm which has been open since the 60s. Niko loved the interaction with the black piglets, so it’s a great place for families.

Mt Manganui – Surfer’s Paradise

Located in the Bay of Plenty, Mt Manganui is named after the inactive 230 metre (750 feet) volcano, which, incidentally, we climbed and would definitely recommend. Mount Maunganui - New Zealand with Kids
The area is a surfer’s paradise and is home to many surfing competitions, as well as volleyball tournaments on the white sand beaches. Another great thing about New Zealand – how soft and white the sand is. Amazing!

Rotorua – Maori central

How to describe Rotorua in one word? Stinky. Located on the thermal explorer highway, you are hit with the smell of sulphur as soon as you enter this part of the island (imagine the smell of rotten eggs, and it comes pretty close). But everything comes at a price and the reason for the smell is the amazing geysers and geothermal baths that can be seen around the region. Rotorua is also a centre for Maori culture and you can watch many cultural shows and eat traditional Maori meals here.

Tagariro National Park – stunning views and hikes

Many who come here will be doing so to tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a famous and stunning hike that takes around eight hours. Not us – climbing Mt Manganui was enough exertion! Tagariro National Park New Zealand - New Zealand with KidsInstead we opted for a nice 20 minute hike which is perfect for families that rather explored the nature in this area. It’s also fun to say that you’ve been in one of the film locations of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, hike or no hike.

Wellington – multicultural and artsy

Not only is Wellington the capital city of New Zealand, it’s also the southernmost capital city of the world. Multicultural and artsy, this colourful city also manages to retain a small city feel. As we arrived on the busiest day of the year, just as a music festival rolled into town, we had to settle for an overpriced motel room in a neighbouring area. One of the highlights of the city is definitely the Te Papa Museum, filled with interactive games, multimedia stuffed animals and dinosaur artifacts – informational and yet fun.

Nature on Steroids indeed. What else can you ask for? Perhaps the South Island? Second part coming soon. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What would your perfect family adventure in New Zealand look like?

Here are some of our photos from this trip:

Here are some of our photos from North Island of New Zealand:

Trip Pulse: Australia Part 1/3 – Western Australia with Kids

Australia with Kids – One can travel indefinitely here

Our RTW trip brought us to a five week adventure in Australia, a truly interesting and welcoming country with breathtaking beauty. Known for crocs, poisonous toads, sharks, flying boomerangs and Aboriginal culture – we, like most people were very intrigued by this distant land.

We loved the 35,876 km coastline which offered sun, sea and surf in abundance! Apart from the lively beach culture, Aussies love their cricket, footy (Australian football) and Vegemite, extremely salty and savoury taste made from yeast extract.

Austin and Amie – a big thank you from us three! Your warmth and hospitality was reflective of Australia’s open and welcoming nature to travellers. Speaking of ‘nature’, we experienced some really heavy downpour on the East Coast.

Western Australia – Awe-inspiring beauty and extraordinary experiences

If you’re visiting Australia with children, you’ll love it! From Singapore, we headed to Perth, an isolated city, home to circa 1.7 million people but quite far from the hustle and bustle of the country’s bigger cities. Blessed by the Fremantle Doctor (west southerly wind), this location resembles Southern California for its beautiful beachside drives, excellent infrastructure and affluent society.

Western Australia Piers

We met some very friendly folk like Maryellen and Oli at Mullaloo Beach and Finn and Jon (fellow couchsurfers) who shared with us some invaluable tips about Australia and their own travel experiences. Thank you for inviting us!


Keep in mind that Perth is quite far from other locations worth visiting (a day’s drive at times). This is important to note, especially if you’re planning to be in Australia with kids.

Western Australia Dinner with Couchsurfing friends

We drove past the amazing sand dunes of Lancelin, have seen the Pinnacles (unreal  limestone formations) in the Nambung National Park, experienced the Margaret River one of Australia’s most important wine regions and walked on a 2 km long Busselton Jetty – which happens to be the longest wooden pier in the Southern Hemisphere.

There are tons of other attractions and experiences like wine tasting in which you can indulge if you have more time. 

Our journey brought us to Cape Leeuwin (most south-westerly mainland point of the Australian Continent, 18,500 km away from Toronto. This was the furthest point from home on our journey.

Western Australia Cape Leeuwin

It was worth to go this far as we enjoyed every moment, Western Australia is as big and interesting as one’s imagination.

Australia with Children – Never a dull moment!


We headed out to Lancelin which is a small fishing village popular for jeep tours on sand dunes. People often surf these dunes on modified surf boards. Niko enjoyed running around on the dunes, slipping and sliding along the way.

Western Australia Lancelin Sand dunes

He also enjoyed bike riding in Perth and the many playgrounds in the region. Apart from the white sand beaches, Niko loved the Whiteman Park in the Swan Valley and the Caversham Wildlife Park.

Things to Keep in Mind – Travel tips for Western Australia

If you’re in Australia on your round the world trip it’s best to rent a car as organized tours are rather expensive. You can get a detailed map and suggested travel itineraries at any tourist information centres that dot the country. However, if you’re planning a road trip, book your accommodations well in advance, so you can take a break in-between those long drives.

Western Australia delivered all that it had promised and more!

If you have similar adventures from Western Australia, please share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Here are some of our photos from our Western Australia:

Trip Pulse: Bali mesmerized us! An amazing place on our around the world voyage

Bali – Sweet Smells and Soothing Sounds

Our around the world trip brought us to Bali, a paradise filled with exotic and mystical beauty. We were immersed in its unique culture and mesmerized by the ribbon of beaches that surrounds this holiday getaway.

Although Bali’s past was influenced by the Dutch and Japanese rule, it managed to differentiate itself and stay true to its heritage. For instance, a Balinese woman in traditional Balinese sarong, still places an offering or ‘ngejot’ at various places around her house as an offering to God, a way to give thanks, to help expel negative energy and to protect the home from evil.

The Bali God offering

While at a hairdresser, I picked up an English book written by English-speaking expats. It described the Balinese New Year and how, instead of the usual revelry and celebrations, the locals observed a Day of Silence so they could usher in the next year with fasting, meditation and quiet contemplation. This act in itself reflects the nature and mindset of the Balinese people.

The Beachy and Touristy South

Folks from around the world, head to Kuta for its swells. For other tourist oriented spots you can explore Surin or visit Nusa Dua don’t expect the true essence of Bali. There are several kitschy stores where you can buy counterfeit t-shirts and Raybans (I’m already on my second pair!). Street vendors don’t really take ‘No’ for an answer so be prepared to purposefully walk past.

Natasza and Niko playing in Bali waves near Uluwatu

Gili Islands by Lombok may still be a backpackers’ beach paradise destination but Bali still has a few gems of its own. Far from the madding crowd, there are picturesque beaches such as Uluwatu, Blue Point, Dreamland and Jalan Pantai beach, but Ubud really took our breath away. It’s been the most spiritual and exotic spot we have seen so far on our around the world trip.

Spectacular Ubud

In the late 15th century, following the collapse of Majapahit and the rise of Muslim principalities on the northern coast of Java, many Hindu nobilities, artisans and courtiers migrated to Bali. In the 1930’s a number of European artists such as Walter Spies and Rudolf Bonnet ‘found’ Bali. To say the least, art is the focus of Ubud with hundreds of galleries, art shops, craft stores and handmade fashions. The architecture is inspired by Indian and Javanese designs. Don’t be surprised to find local people labouring away on their paintings and wood carved sculptures, as art is the life and soul of this quaint town. Apart from art, the Balinese reserve a special place in their hearts for dance. We loved the Barong dance which was usually performed only during special rituals. Truly brilliant!

Barong Dancer in Ubud Bali

When you travel with kids, food becomes an intrinsic part of any holiday! Go ahead and try the Bebek Betutu or roast duck which is deliciously prepared with an assortment of spices. Natasza really liked their vegetarian fare as well.

The Majestic North

Our day trip to Kintamaji and Lake Batur was truly memorable. From here you can see the spectacular Mount Agung which stands over 3000 meters high. As you travel here, the temperature and the terrain changes and you can enjoy a view of the Batur Crater and beautiful rice field valleys. Keep a ‘bribe/gift’ ready for the local police as they like to make an extra buck. We would have really enjoyed the amazingly large Balinese temple on Pura Besakih if it wasn’t for the ‘tour guide wanna-bees’ making it really difficul to enjoy. When you travel, especially with children, opt for an organized tour to avoid the hustlers.

Largest Bali temple - Besakih Mother Temple

Fun and frolic when you travel with kids

Apart from the many nice beaches that offer hours of unadulterated fun in the relaxing warm waters, Niko also enjoyed running around in the Monkey Forest watching their antics and play. He also like the Barong dance and seemed completely engrossed watching the mystical characters perform.

Keep in mind…

  • Be careful on the roads, the drivers are quite aggressive and safety may not always be their first priority. Carry your international driver’s license at all times.
  • Check for last minute deals before you walk into any hotel so you can get good prices and bargains.
  • Arak – Bali moonshine coconut made from palm sap can be poisonous if received from questionable sources. I received a few offers from locals but was a bit freaked out by the warnings and parental guilt of being ‘irresponsible’:)
  • Many car rental companies will not have insurance so either pay a big premium to go with the brand names or drive extra carefully – Balinese marketing methods – while leaving an Avis office we were called by a guy hiding in the bushes, yes, the bushes…He was quite convincing and finally talked us into renting a car with him. Talk about competitive tactics
  • To us, Bali seems blessed with the best of art, culture, dance, scenic beauty and architecture and we walked away with an armload of happy memories from Ubud, a destination like no other!Do you have any questions or comments? Do you have any interesting Bali experiences to share with other parents? Please let us know in the comments section below.
    If you have similar or relevant around the world with children adventures, please share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

    Here are some of our photos from our Bali visit:

New and Old Warsaw

We had a great time visiting our good friends in Warsaw, Poland.

Considering that over 85% of Poland’s capital was leveled by departing German troops during WWII, it is quite amazing that majority of its historical buildings have since been rebuilt. The determination of the Warsaw people is clear. Warsaw is now home to over 2 and half million people, and since entry of Poland into the EU in 2004, it’s becoming a force to be reckoned with. It astonished us with its variety and multitude of its historical, cultural and artistic themes that ought to attract the world. Based on the variety of languages spoken on its streets it is clear; it’s succeeding.

It will also ‘hopefully‘ be home to the opening match of UEFA Euro 2012.

Here are a few pictures from our trip.
Just click on any of the thumbs to see full images.

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To see all other pictures from Warsaw please go here