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:

Australia with children – The best New South Wales and Queensland have to offer family travellers Part 3/3

Australia with children – Our east-coast road trip!

Sydney

To put it simply, we loved Sydney. You’ll find much culture and entertainment, colonial history, a fantastic variety of cuisine and of course some of the best city beaches! What a great time we had with Niko at Bronti, Tamarama and Bondi beach! We were amazed by the beauty of this Coastal Walk. If it wasn’t for the weather we would have visited the famous Manly beach as well.

Sydney is one of our favourite “big” cities on our around the world trip.  
Opera House in Sydney

Of course we coudn’t miss a visit to the iconic Sydney Harbour, home to the equaly famous Harbour Bridge and the architectural masterpiece, the Opera House. If you think of Australia, I bet the image of the Opera House is in the top 3 images you will think of. In fact, The Opera house earned itself status of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. We also took a stroll in the 30 acre Botanical Gardens. It’s a must!

While the climb over the Harbour Bridge is rather expensive ($200pp) you can still enjoy amazing city views while crossing the bridge on foot or car, which we did.

Sydney on foot

We love to discover cities on foot, so we walked everywhere. We spent some time by The Rocks, a destinct central area of narrow cobblestoned laneways full of galleries, restaurants, and boutiques.
We also walked through the grand Centennial Park, and discovered Oxford street in Paddington referred to by locals as “Paddo”. It is one of the most historically rich, culturally vibrant spots in Sydney with many shops, cafés, bars and a popular open-air market held every Saturday.

Austin and Martin in Sydney by Bronti beach

Friends are essential

While in Sydney, we stayed at a homey residential area, Alexandria close to the bohemian King street, home to many students, artists and the gay community. Here you can expect to see much colour and greenery, small yet quirky businesses as well as affordable and eclectic cuisine.
If you’re traveling to Australia with children, finding affordable accommodations is challenging, so do your research well in advance. We were lucky to be staying with Austin and Amie, our friends, who opened up their home and hearts to us with home cooked, gourmet meals, great wine and an invaluable perspective on Australia. They also helped us tremendously in preparing our road trip which made it so much more memorable!
Amie and Austin – Thank you so much! If you’re ever in Canada, we hope you’ll look us up!

Our road trip highlights … of the 2000 kilometer stretch from Sydney to Airlie Beach.

New South Wales

Nelson Bay

Out here, you can expect calm and safe beaches, plenty of water activities such as snorkelling and diving and lots of sun and surf. Niko really enjoyed the Nelson Head Heritage Lighthouse and Reserve.

Port Macquarie coast in NSW

Port Macquarie

Although we stopped at this location only for a few hours, we enjoyed the view of the stunning coastline. Many tourists relax by the river or take a boat tour and shop for arts and crafts in this charming little town. If you have time, do visit the Billabong Koala and Wildlife Park as well as the Sea Acres National Park and Rainforest Centre. Your kids will have an unforgettable time!

Byron Bay and Ballina

This is yet another one of our preferred destinations on our RTW tour of eastern Australia.
Australia - New South Wales - Byron Bay

If you’re a backpacker or a surfer, then you can call this paradise! You’ll find many twenty-somethings heading out here to surf, socialize and simply have a good time. We enjoyed celebrating Australia Day along with the locals and tourists who seemed to love the laid back atmosphere of the seaside. It is here we celebrated Australia Day with the locals and I have the shirt to prove it!

Byron Bay - Australia

Up at the lighthouse, on the most eastern parts of Australia’s mainland, we enjoyed the breathtaking views of the coast. It really is a worthy destination! To relax, you can either hang out by the beach or visit the local watering holes for a drink. Accommodations can be expensive, that is why we stayed at Ballina, a more cost-effective option just 30 minutes away.

Queensland

Brisbane

Although it poured nonstop while we were there, this laid-back and welcoming city has quite a bit to offer. This cosmopolitan city (and the third largest in Australia) has world-class art galleries, a growing live music scene and a great café culture.

Noosa Heads

This charming, low-rise, relaxed and leafy town is another top destination, especially if you’re in Australia with kids. Noosa Heads not only has amazing beaches but it also hosts a population of koalas, which are spotted in and around the National Park. We stopped over for 3 days during our eastern discovery trip and enjoyed every minute of it!

Noosa Heads Australia Queensland

Rockhampton

Rockhampton lies on the Tropic of Capricorn, officially marking the geographic border of 23 degrees

Tropic of Capricorn - Australia

south where the sun always shines approximately the same length of time all year-long. The town is also the capital of cattle and sheep growers, quite similar to Calgary, Canada or Texas in the USA. It is an interesting rest stop.

Airlie Beach and Whitsunday Islands

This is a breathtaking, must-see place if you’re in Australia with children!
This was our last destination on the East coast before moving on to New Zealand.

Airlie Beach Lagoon

just perfect for kids. Airlie Beach doesn’t really have a beach per se and the fear of the stingers is quite great for most of the Summer season. These natural-looking pools offer a perfect spot for sunbathing and amazing area for kids to play in the shallows.

Whitehaven Beach

The Whitsunday Island beaches have powder white sands (98 percent pure silica) and sparkling, turquoise clear waters.

Whitheaven Beach - Australia's Best Beach

Not only has it been voted as one of Australia’s most beautiful beaches but also most eco-friendly. In fact, the sand is so pure that NASA used it to make glass for the optics of the Hubble Telescope. But don’t think of taking some sand away with you unless you’re willing to pay a fine of about 28K:), as shared with us by one of the tour guides. (read: unverified but a good story nonetheless)

You’ll love the experience of swimming among baby sharks in these warm and pristine waters. Get a stinger suit, so you won’t get stung by a box jellyfish or a stingray. Don’t forget your snorkelling gear!

Great Barrier Reef

While in Airlie Beach, you can easily book to sail the Whitsundays to the world’s largest coral reef; Great Barrier Reef (GBR) which is over 2,400km long.
No wonder, the GBR is one of the Natural Wonders of the World.

Diving in Great Barrier Reef Australia

It’s so grand that it visible from the earth’s orbit unlike the popular myth of views of the Great Wall of China. I loved my day-long diving experience at the reef and came away with most amazing memories and new knowledge.

Our time here was relaxing yet exciting and we were pampered by excellent accommodations which offered the most delightful views of the great blue sea. We’re certainly looking forward to coming back to this vibrant country!

Australia with Children – Travel Tips

  • Australia is expensive – it took a toll on our budget. It is as expensive as Switzerland or Japan so be mindful when you prepare your budget. We met a few people who had to shorten their trip due to budget constraints. Use services like http://www.lastminute.com.au/ or last minute booking.com flash deals to save!
  • Activities for kids – Check out the local tourism website to find listing of latest events for kids or locations of kids attractions or just ask a parent at the local playground as there are plenty!
  • Accommodations at hostels are not necessarily the best option – Parents take note. Hostels charge per person, usually 25-40 pp/night, so a stay for a family of 3 or 4 can cost more than a stay at a mediocre hotel. Some people opt for camping, others for camper vans but these are not as cheap as we would have hoped. If you find accommodations for a family for $100 you are doing well..
  • Internet is slow and expensive – most hotels charge extra for internet and it is not very fast nor reliable. Get a sim card with data plan (we found a good plan at the Woolworth’s supermarket) and use it with your unlocked smart phone. A good bet is hooking up to a free wifi connection at Mc Donald’s. Some city centres also have free wi-fi spots.
  • Australia is empty and huge – We flew three times to cover the largest distances in Australia from Perth – Darwin – Sydney and then from Airlie Beach and still managed to drive over 5000 km in 5 weeks. You can expect many stretches without seeing other cars especially in the North. So, be prepared. Get maps, lots of water, food, sunscreen, cell phone and GPS.
  • Sun in Australia – On many summer days the UV index reaches the maximum levels of 12+ (normal is around 6) so, be sun-smart. Cover up and use appropriate sunscreen. You will notice many warning signs in Australia in regards to sun safety!
  • Check out the Tourist Office – Australia has one of the best developed tourist infrastructures in the world. The information centres are very informative with excellent maps, guides, deals and helpful staff to assist you with planning your journey. It’s free too.

Robust cities, beautiful beach life and awesome surf and diving. What else can you ask for? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Here are some of our photos from this trip:

Here are some of our photos from New South Wales and Queensland in Australia:

Part 1 – Malaysia on our Around the World Voyage with Niko.

Christmas –  Far away from home yet enjoyable on our around the world trip.

Our around the world voyage brought us to the kingdom of Malaysia, a country that exemplifies beauty in diversity. You’ll see a riot of differences in dress, cuisine, music and rituals yet there’s an underlying bond that brings different ethnic groups together to truly reflect their motto ‘Unity is Strength’.

Kuala Lumpur - New and Old together - Merdeka Square

Malaysia is a perfect fusion of ethnicities, cultures, religions and landscapes and we thoroughly enjoyed every aspect that makes this country truly Asia! Once under colonial influence of Portugal, Holland and Britain, today, Malaysia stands free and houses close to 30 million people.

The Exciting Capital City of Kuala Lumpur

We were happy to spend our Christmas holidays in Kuala Lumpur on our around the world trip. As one of the Top 10 most visited cities in the world with almost two million people, we came across different ethnic groups such as Malaysian, Chinese and Indian;

Highest twin buildings in the world Petronas Towers

all living in harmony. Once a young tin mining town, Kuala Lumpur has grown to become a huge metropolis, popular for its towering skyscrapers like the Petronas Towers. The largest in Southeast Asia, these towers were inspired by Muslim architecture.

The name of the city comes from its two Gombak Klang Rivers and you’ll see the beautiful Jamek Mosque at its confluence. When you travel with kids, you’re almost always looking for places to eat! We headed to Jalan Alor for a grand Christmas feast, which featured delicious Thai style fried fish. Simply awesome! The street food is affordable and very tasty. If you’re in the city, do take a stroll through the central market and visit Masjid Negara (National Mosque), which can hold up to 15,000 people.

The Architectural Delight of Georgetown and Penang

A world heritage site showcasing colonial architecture and unique cultural diversity, Georgetown is one of Malaysia’s richest regions and is well-developed and very tourist friendly. Penang (Malaysia) Temple You can easily get around town using local transportation, or walk (as we like to do) taking in the historical and architectural sites around town. You’ll find it easy and economical to travel with children as many of the attractions are highly subsidized.

If you’re looking for scrumptious cuisine, head to Little India. We loved the naan!

Amazing Indian cuisine in Kuala Lumpur

The city has other equally good places to dine out and the food at hawker stalls is especially tasty and cheap. Many tourists come here to enjoy the sun and sand but we didn’t think the beaches were that big of an attraction. However, a real sight to behold would be the Kek Lok Si Buddhist temple, which is not only the largest in Southeast Asia but also one of the most interesting and beautiful.

Malaysia offers plenty of things to see and do for kids

Travel with kids is easy if you can keep them occupied! In Kuala Lumpur, Niko loved the Planetarium and especially the walk in a ‘no gravity room’. The Christmas festivities included as always a happy Santa, plenty of presents and balloons that lasted for days! The temples at Penang were equally entertaining and Niko was very impressed!

Kuala Lumpur Planetarium (Malaysia)

A Well-Developed Malaysia with So Much to Offer

If you’re planning to travel with children, take the free tourist bus in Penang which takes you by all the major attractions. However, if you want to take your time at the attractions, you can opt for public transportation or buses which are quite inexpensive.

Malaysia welcomed us with true Asian hospitality. Even when so far away from home we managed to celebrate Christmas and truly enjoy it with a mini Christmas tree and symbolic gifts. The country’s friendly locals and delicious cuisine made this location a home away from home.

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 Malaysia trip:

To see all pictures from our Malaysia voyage, please go to here

Trip Pulse: Bangkok – Spicy complexity on our round the world trip.

Thailand is a colourful, tastefully proud and complex society. And, we love it!

Our adventure round the world brought us to Thailand, a colourful and vibrant monarchy that still embraces democracy while being fiercely patriotic to their King. It is a land that offers the perfect blend of tradition and modernism. The Thai people are closely linked to Buddhist teachings and are non-confrontational and very hospitable in nature.

Bangkok – Thai capital home to over 10 million people and the longest official name according to Guinness Book of World Records

Busy Bangkok welcomed us with open arms. A truly vibrant city, the new Bangkok isn’t very different from downtown Toronto. However, although the new Bangkok has its share of western modernism with shopping malls and concrete skyscrapers, we enjoyed the old Bangkok which has retained its traditional core reflecting the spiritualism of this bustling city.  We just loved the street markets.

Famous Bangkok street food - if you have the guts

You’ll find everything from Thai fast food to ‘genuine’ brand items from around the world, all at an amazingly discounted price. Trust me, 100 Baht can go a long way when you’re shopping on the road.


Birthday celebration fit for a king

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and I share the same birthday on December 5th so our timing was perfect! For a little pampering, I opted for a wonderfully royal one hour Thai massage – amazing!

Amazing meal on Khao San Road in Bangkok

The perfect evening ended with a delicious dinner on Khao San Road in the company of my favourite two people –  Natasza and Niko. Thankfully, we didn’t get a cab back to the hotel so we ended up walking along the street, gazing up at the thousands of balloon lanterns that lit up the night sky.

Some of our most memorable Bangkok adventures

When you travel with kids, every experience seems memorable! However, here are some noteworthy ones that I will look back on with a smile.

Khao San Road

We saw a palm reader on Khao San Road in old Bangkok and were quite happy to find that Natasza had some good fortune coming her way. How exciting!

Boat ride on the River

As the Chao Phraya River runs through Bangkok, the boat ride is just amazing. For a few Baht, you’ll get an awesome view of the city from a completely different angle. Skip those expensive private tours and take a public transport boat like we did. Live like a local!

Tuk Tuk Ride

When in Bangkok, you just have to ride the Tuk Tuk. It’s cheap and so much fun especially when you travel with children. You might even get a free ride as market vendors often offer to pay your fare if you buy something from their store.

Fun and famous Tuk Tuk rides

Temple Hopping

We enjoyed temple hopping and visiting the Grand Palace and Wat Prakeaw Arun by the riverside. Did you know that there are over 400 temples in Bangkok?

One aspect that really stood out was the fact that Thais absolutely love their King and the royal birthday celebrations were truly unforgettable.

Amazing Thai street food

How can we forget Thai food! Both on the street and in up-scale restaurants, the cuisine is delicious but be careful where you decide to eat. Niko loved the chicken satee! Although we skipped the Floating market, we enjoyed a visit to the Royal National Art Museum.

Bangkok with kids can be lots of fun!

When you travel with kids it’s important to keep them occupied and happy! Although a lot of the local attractions were closed due to the floods, Niko still enjoyed the boat trip and the splunge in the hotel pool. Too bad Bangkok lacks kids playgrounds except for a large one in Lumphini Park. If you’re heading to Bangkok, you’ll want to check out the Siam Ocean World and the Butterfly Garden.

Our family travel tips for Bangkok:

A couple of tips to keep in mind especially when you travel with kids would be

  • to avoid tap water
  • be careful while crossing the busy roads
  • carry mosquito repellent
  • remember to dress appropriately when visiting the royal grounds
  • it would be wise not to discuss politics or make any negative statements related to the King unless of course you want to spend some quality time in jail!

Many shrines with the Thai King in Bangkok during his birthday celebrations

 

  • One area of frustration was that Bangkok was not very stroller-friendly, so flex those muscles.

Bangkok was everything we expected and a little more. From a culture steeped in both tradition and modernism, we enjoyed every aspect of this South East Asian city.

What have your experiences been like in Bangkok with your family? Please share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Here are some of our photos from our Bangkok (Thailand) visit: