Wander & Lust’s Australia

Dear readers,

For this post we’ve decided to do something a little different, and while we are both writing on the same subject, we are describing different places. This is because we have decided to write a post about our favourite places in Australia, a country that we have both spent a considerable amount of time travelling around, albeit before we started travelling together. Australia is also the country where we first met, on a tour of the Red Centre, which you can read all about in our post here. So, as we spent our time travelling around different parts of the country, our choices for our favourite places are naturally different also. I’ve always had a list in my head of my top five places in Australia, which are, in no particular order, Sydney Harbour, The Blue Mountains, Katherine Gorge, Uluru and the Red Centre, and The Whitsundays. They are all very different to each other and I’ve never really had a definitive favourite, so I have decided to write this post about The Blue Mountains as it was the first of these places that I visited, and one of those that I have visited the most.

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The Blue Mountains National Park is in New South Wales, approximately 80 kilometres from Sydney. The national park covers over 1,000 square miles, and it is a section of the much larger Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. The area is actually a large plateau that has been intersected by erosion from rivers, and not a mountain range as the name suggests. As such, the prominent features of the area are large flat plateaus divided by deep river valleys, all of which have been covered in thick vegetation. This made it a formidable barrier for the early European settlers in Australia, and it wasn’t until 1813 that the area was first successfully crossed and the lands to the west opened up for settlement. Rich resources of coal and shale were also discovered in the Blue Mountains, and activity soon started to extract these resources from the environment. The desire to settle and farm the land to the west of the Blue Mountains, coupled with the mining activity within the area, resulted in the origins of the roads and infrastructure that allow access to today’s visitors. Easily accessible from Sydney either by road or by train, the Blue Mountains is the perfect destination for a day-trip or weekend away from the city.

Whenever I had a weekend free, or even just a day, the Blue Mountains was always right up there at the top of my list of options. It is such a contrast to the city environments of Sydney or Newcastle, and a fantastic place to get in touch with nature. Despite it being a hugely popular tourist destination, it is still easy to find peacefulness and tranquility, and an escape from busy city life. Even from Newcastle, where I was living, the area is easily and cheaply accessed by the NSW train network, although it isn’t the quickest and takes about four hours each way. So I was quite happy to jump on a train to Katoomba, via Sydney, and spend a day or two hiking and exploring the area, and I’m also happy now to show you the wonderful places I found.

The Three Sisters

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This is the most famous and iconic Blue Mountains landmark, found just on the outskirts of the township of Katoomba. The Three Sisters are a rock formation of three pillars that have been carved from the sandstone by erosion, which now overlook the Jamison Valley. They are particularly striking as they catch the light from those typical Australian sunsets, and unsurprisingly this is when the lookout is busiest. Despite this, the lookout at Echo Point has been built large enough to accommodate this surge in visitors and never seems too crowded. Still, if you are looking for a bit more solitude and tranquillity, then it’s better to go earlier in the day. The lookout also provides a stunning view of the Jamison Valley, and I always found looking out into that vast wilderness very relaxing. It was always nice to just stand there and listen to the calls of the local wildlife, it’s far enough out of town that urban noise isn’t much of an issue here during the quieter times of day.

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If the view alone hasn’t quenched your appetite, it is possible to get up close and personal with Meehni, the first of the three pillars (her sisters are called Wimlah and Gunnedoo). Just behind the information centre is a walking track that takes visitors, via another lookout, to the Giant’s Staircase, a set of over 800 steps that have been carved into the rockface to take visitors down to the valley floor. Just a little way down the steps is a short raised walkway which ends at a small platform perched on the side of Meehni, and this is your chance to touch and feel the rock for yourself. You then have the option to either carry on down to the valley floor to walkways at the base of Scenic World (more on this shortly), or to retrace your steps back to the information centre and Echo Point.

Scenic World

Also just on the outskirts of Katoomba is Scenic World, another popular tourist destination. Here you can choose between three modes of transport (or do all three!) to explore the valley floor and nearby Katoomba Falls. The Scenic Skyway is a cable car that travels across the valley past Katoomba Falls, allowing a unique view of the waterfall that isn’t possible any other way. The Skyway also has a glass floor giving more unique views of the valley floor and the forest it holds. The trip across the valley is fairly short, after which you then have the choice to disembark and walk back or to continue on the Skyway for the return journey.

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Following this, the other two activities have been built to transport visitors to the valley floor and back up again. The Scenic Railway is your best bet for getting to the bottom, the steepest passenger railway in the world with an incline of 52 degrees! It really does feel like you are about to be lifted from your seat as you head down the steepest sections, and it was hard not to end up hanging onto the net covering the carriage as it sped through the trees. The train has been upgraded since I visited, the new train now has a fixed roof and seats which can be inclined through 20 degrees so that visitors can make the experience more or less terrifying to satisfy their thrill-seeking needs! Once at the bottom, and when your heart has stopped racing, there are walkways which take you around the valley floor and explain what it would have been like here during the mining days. The railway is also a relic from the mining activity here, originally constructed to haul the coal and shale up that had been mined out of the valley. These walks are also a great chance to get close to the local wildlife, in particular the elusive Lyrebird which can be spotted rummaging in the undergrowth. To get back up, the last of Scenic World’s options is the Scenic Cableway which is another cable car that takes visitors back to the visitor centre. On the way up it passes a large outcrop of rock quite closely, and allows one last chance for some spectacular views of the Jamison Valley.

Grand Canyon Track

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The Grand Canyon Track is a reasonably challenging walk that winds its way around the valley floor near Blackheath. It begins at Evan’s Lookout, which is worth a visit anyway for the views across the Grose Valley, and meanders for about four miles alongside Greaves Creek. The walk is definitely not for the inexperienced, yet not too challenging to deter most walkers and the rewards are certainly worth the effort. It really feels like you have been transported back to prehistoric times as you make your way past, and sometimes through, the dense vegetation that has flourished in the damp environment.

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Probably due to the amount of time required to complete the walk, allow at least four hours, there aren’t many other walkers about and I think I saw more wallabies than people on my hike! This adds to the feeling of isolation and tranquility, and it’s easy to form a good connection with nature here. Along the way there are a number of waterfalls and overhangs to further ignite your imagination and intrigue, and the creek is never too far from the track. Climbing back up to the lookout at the end of the track is easily the most challenging part of the walk, make sure you’ve saved some energy for this!

Wentworth Falls

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The last place on my list is Wentworth Falls, a spectacular waterfall near to the town of the same name. An easy walking track provides access to the waterfall from the car park, with fantastic views of the waterfall plunging into the valley below from Fletcher’s Lookout, about halfway along the track. The surrounding rock has been eroded in such a way that has created a natural amphitheatre, with the waterfall centre stage as the main attraction. Carry on to the end of the track, and here it is possible to get very close to the falls. A series of cascades that precede the waterfall itself lead into a natural infinity pool, all of which can be accessed and enjoyed to your heart’s content. If you’re lucky, you may even find some yabbies in the river as I did! The views of the river disappearing off of the end of the cliff are simply breathtaking, not to mention the cascades and the views of the valley as well.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed my tour of The Blue Mountains, and that it may have encouraged some of you to visit this wonderful place. I wish I were still able to visit whenever I wanted, as there is so much more to this area that I have yet to explore, but I am sure we will visit again next time we are in Australia and tick a few more items off of the list!

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

***

Dear readers,

As Mr Wander said already, this is a bit of a different post from our usual. Maybe because we are a bit nostalgic of Australia or maybe because we want to share a bit about our time before Wander met Lust, we decided to write a post in which we talk about different places, our favourite place in Australia. I have to be honest, for me it is extremely hard to choose my favourite place in this wonderful country, although I guess my soft spot for Uluru will make my heart slightly favour this place over all the rest. As we have already talked about this magical place in one of our previous posts that you can read here, I thought I would tell you about the city that was my home for three months: Adelaide.

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Adelaide is the capital of South Australia and it was named after King William IV’s wife. The territory chosen for its settlement, near the River Torrens but not close enough to the sea, was criticised but its founder, Colonel Light, had a clear plan, he wanted a rectangular layout with perfectly perpendicular streets and he wanted the city to be completely surrounded by parklands. This plan is perfectly visible even now that the city has grown outside the parkland ring.

After a month in Sydney and one in Melbourne, Adelaide was my last chance to find a job, but I have to admit that I didn’t work too hard to find anything until then. Once we arrived in South Australia, my partner found a job in Gay’s Arcade and introduced me to his employers. I was lucky enough and they hired me as well, so we both ended up working there for a few months. The Arcade is quite interesting with nice places to eat and shopping, and the Caffè L’Incontro where we worked is a nice place to taste some good quality Italian food if you are around.

I was lucky to spend the end of summer and beginning of autumn in Adelaide and I could enjoy its beaches a bit and its parks a lot and I am totally in love with basically everything. The city itself is easy to cross on foot, probably only taking 30 minutes at the most from one corner to the other. The transport is quite nice as well, with a tram crossing the city vertically and arriving to the beach in Glenelg. Other nearby locations can be reached either by train or by bus, with also long distance connections by train, bus, and plane.

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There are so many places I would like to talk about, please forgive me if I end up talking about all of them on a very long post! Let’s see a bit what the city centre and its surroundings have to offer.

Museums

  • South Australian Museum. This museum is extremely interesting, with some very different exhibitions. From time to time they offer tours of specific sections and I was lucky enough to get into one and learn a lot about Aboriginal culture, not just through artifacts but also through language facts, which are always interesting for me. There are some recordings of lost languages as well and it is sad but wonderful to be able to have that kind of proof.
  • Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute. This art museum promotes Aboriginal art and gives space to contemporary artists who mix traditional and modern techniques to express the wonderful culture of the Kaurna, the people of Adelaide. The name of the museum comes from the name the Kaurna used to call the Adelaide plains, the land of the red kangaroo.
  • Adelaide Botanic Gardens. A beautiful mix of flora and architecture, this park is, in the website’s words, “a living museum” and it is jaw-dropping. You can have a self-guided tour with the information available online or you can join a free tour that is on almost every morning at 10:30.
  • Adelaide Gaol. Adelaide is one of the few Australian cities that has no convict history, but the old jail is still worth a visit, on a normal tour or, I guess, for a ghost tour, if we consider that the prisoners executed there were also buried in the grounds of the jail. No longer in use, The Gaol is still a modern structure because, after all, the city was only founded in 1836, less than two centuries ago. It is not far from the city centre, but you may want to add it to your bike ride, as you can hire free bikes in Adelaide, here you can find all the information you need on Adelaide free bikes.
  • Aboriginal walks. The original culture seems still very strong in Adelaide and several activities can guide you to learn more about the Kaurna people and their culture. You can find some information here to take part in one of the walking tours, or you can do a self-guided tour by following these instructions to follow the steps of the Kaurna people.

Parks

  • Belair National Park. My favourite place to go to after a few hours of work, this place is half hour by train from Adelaide and it is nice for walking and exploring with different kind of tracks, but you also have a wide space for family activities, barbecues, horse riding, and celebrations. The access is free and allowed during daylight, although once I took the wrong path on my way back to the station and I found myself at dusk a couple of metres from a red kangaroo. They are cute and all, but wild kangaroos grow a lot taller than those you find in parks, which are also often females and therefore smaller. It was impressive and he was as startled as I was I guess, but he didn’t move at all, and rightly so, I was in his house. Let’s just say that after that evening I remembered exactly when to leave.
  • Hallett Cove Conservation Park. Another incredible park in the suburbs of Adelaide is Hallett Cove, inhabited for centuries by the landowners, the Kaurna people. Many artefacts were found and are now in the museum, but the park is not only famous for its archeological importance. Discovered by chance by a farmer who was looking for his sheep, the park is of great geological importance of different eras. Dating back to 600 million years, some rock folds are all that remains of an old mountain range.                                                                                          Hallett Cove Park (15)More recent but of inestimable value, is the Permian glacial pavement that dates back almost 300 million years, when Australia was united with Antarctica. This pavement shows the presence of the glaciers and their retreat. Last but not least, the Sugarloaf is a mountain that looks exactly like a sugar mount, hence the name. Its layers, now exposed by the erosion of the winds, tell the whole story of the area and the geological changes. This park is easily reached by bus and a short walk from the bus stop.
  • Waterfall Gully to Mount Lofty Summit. Mount Lofty is part of Adelaide Hills and what is left of the mountain range created in the Precambrian era that we have seen in Hallett Cove. Its summit is quite popular for its views of the city and now includes a modern café and visitor centre and some television towers. The walk from Waterfall Gully is also quite popular and a steep 4 km return hike. If you are not too confident of your capacity to complete it, you can do what I did and just reach the summit by bus and walk down. As I said, it is quite steep and you notice that even on the way down because your muscles will have to make a good effort anyway. The waterfall is worth the hike and it is a nice spot to stop and have a snack while you watch the wildlife going about.
  • Morialta Conservation Park. One of the most known parks in the area, Morialta is not only famous for hiking but also for climbing. Only 10 km away from the city centre, it is easily reached by bus. The park is also part of the same mountain range as Mount Lofty and has three falls and Fourth Creek and its name comes from the Kaurna word meaning “ever-flowing”. The views are incredible and the scenery is breathtaking to say the least, especially from the top and seeing the whole drop. I went in May when the rain has not given the falls all their strength and still I loved it!
  • Port Adelaide or Semaphore. Not really a park, they are nice coastal suburbs that can be reached by bus and offer the usual beach activities with a plus for my taste: boat tours of the bay and the chance to see the dolphins. Nearby is the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary and it is a nice experience. It is not guaranteed that you spot these beauties during the trip but it is interesting to see the uses of the harbour and to learn a bit more about the area. Of course, when we spotted some dolphins on our way back we were all a lot happier.
  • Himeji Garden. This small Japanese garden is inside the city area and it is a present from the Japanese city of Himeji when it became Adelaide’s sister city. If you have visited other cities’ Japanese Gardens such as the ones in Sydney (or in Japan, of course!) you won’t be too surprised but this garden is quite beautiful in its simplicity and definitely worth a visit.

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Extras

  • Hahndorf. Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement, this town is one of the top tourist attractions in the area. Built by Prussian emigrants, it guards its original architecture and has several restaurants serving German cuisine. I stopped at the German Cake Shop for strüdel and I highly recommend it, not only the cakes are scrumptious and all the food looks as good, but the place is also extremely nice, crammed in cuckoo clocks and decorative plates and beer steins. You will feel like the place is going to fall over you but it is also cozy at the same time. Walking about in the town you will find some extremely curious shops and attractions such as the fairy garden, try to make the most of your visit!
  • Glenelg. It is another suburb of the capital and a beach town. Close to the city, it is at the end of the tram journey from the city centre and it has quite changed over the years. I have to admit that I mainly went for the beach and nothing else, but the town is quite modern and vibrant and offers much more to see and to do. Just a geeky addition: Maybe you know it has been named after the Scottish name, but have you noticed that the name is palindrome? Yes, you can read it from both sides and it reads the same!
  • Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary. This park is currently closed but I am glad to find out that it will reopen in 2018. It was my favourite place and I used to take the bus to Aldgate, as I had no car and no other way of reaching it, and then walk for 45 minutes. I have to admit it was worth the effort every time and I ended up making friends with a grey kangaroo that was extremely cute, you can see our farewell chat here. The first time we ended up there it was because it is supposed to be one of the few places in Australia where chances to see a live platypus are around 75%. Platypuses are quite shy and not easy to spot, and I have to admit I was not successful at the first try, but the park used to offer a night package with accommodation, dinner, and walk at dusk and then we spotted them. The package was a great experience, sleeping in cabin in the woods, having a nice meal at the restaurant and being able to enjoy the park before opening time the morning after, not to mention waking up and finding a wallaby on your doorstep at dawn. Yes, the kookaburras were quite noisy but it is a fair price to pay. I hope the new owners keep the spirit of the park and I can’t wait to repeat my visit and, maybe, meet my kangaroo friend once again!

Now, dear readers, I am too nostalgic and I have to leave you or I will end up booking a plane ticket to Australia, but stay tuned!

Ms Lust

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The eighth wonder of the world

Dear readers,

This time we are taking you to one of the world’s most famous destinations, to what Kipling apparently called the eighth wonder of the world, and more importantly to Mr Wander’s favourite place in New Zealand: Milford Sound. If you, like me, are not a native speaker, you may wonder the reason behind the name. Sound, in English, is “a narrow stretch of water forming an inlet or connecting two wider areas of water such as two seas or a sea and a lake” (Definition 4 from Oxford Dictionaries online). Milford Sound, therefore, is one of the fjords of the Fiordland region and it is simply breath-taking, no wonder Mr Wander insisted on going there. He had already been a couple of times during a rainy season and I have to admit that his pictures are incredible, but even at the beginning of winter, when the water is not at its maximum capacity, the scenery is stunning. New Zealand is a not a new country but its geological position grants the country high peaks which, combined with a continental climate, creates an enormous amount of glaciers and waterfalls. But, before we arrive in Milford Sound, let’s follow the path that we followed with Mr Wander.

If you consider a straight line, Queenstown and Milford Sound are not too far away, but there is no straight access and the route goes through Te Anau, which means that the drive is 5 hours long. As I may have explained in our previous post, congestion is not a concept that is known in these roads; if you stop, it is to admire the beauties that surround you, not because of queuing. We stopped for a few photos along the road, some immediately after leaving Queenstown, but our first real stop was in Te Anau. This is a fairly big town in the South Island and its lake is the starting point of some interesting tours. To reach Milford Sound, the road is not the only option, there are also cruises that include Doubtful Sound, or there are trekking trails that start and finish in Te Anau and take you around Fiordland for five days. If you are not going to visit the North Island, Te Anau is also your chance to see the glowworms, we did that visit just before leaving the country and we strongly recommend it, not only for the incredible sights that are the caves and the worms, but also because it is extremely instructive.

As I said, we stopped a few times on the way to Te Anau as well, but the most famous stops, and also the most impressive ones, are between Te Anau and Milford Sound. The first very well-known one is at Mirror lakes. As you can see from this slideshow, the water is so calm that the surface is perfectly reflecting and it mirrors the Earl Mountains with their forest in the background. The day was not at its best, just a bit gloomy, therefore the light in the picture is a bit strange, but you can definitely appreciate the incredible perfection of this water.

Driving a bit more towards Milford Sound, another famous spot is The Chasm. Now, when I first talked to Mr Wander about my wish to visit the Fairy Pools in the Isle of Skye, he said that he could help break the wait by taking me somewhere similar in New Zealand. I was a bit sceptical, and the initial sight of the Chasm didn’t help. Between the name and the fact that the car park doesn’t offer any sights of what’s hidden a few hundreds of metres away, I was not really expecting too much from this place, but I was gladly wrong. A small path on the left of the car park takes you to some impressive waterfalls by the Cleddau River. Milford Sound was named after Milford Haven in Wales, and the Cleddau River also takes its name from Welsh. The first encounter with the waterfalls is this stunning pool. Unfortunately, it was too cold to even think of going in, that would have to wait for the Scottish Fairy Pools, but it was beautiful and peaceful.

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The whole walk is extremely relaxing, we were lucky that there were not too many people. The flora is lush and seems to embrace you, with many of the paths being just wide enough to walk on a single line. There are two bridges over the river and from where you can admire the waterfalls before closing the loop and returning to the car.

In Milford Sound we stayed in Milford Sound Lodge, basically the only accommodation you can find there. The place is quite nice, with wooden cabins and shared bathrooms, and a restaurant that served scrumptious food. When we arrived we headed to Milford Sound itself to enjoy the sunset over the fjord and have our car eaten by keas a bit more, the stop on the way before crossing the tunnel didn’t seem enough! The tide was out, so we could walk quite a bit inside before it started becoming dark and we headed back. As I said, dinner was very nice, and a hot soup was definitely welcome. The restaurant has an old piano and some music books but I didn’t manage to convince Mr Wander to give it a go, he hadn’t been practicing for quite a few years and was feeling a bit self-conscious, especially because the restaurant was full.

The next morning we went back to the fjord to enjoy our cruise trip. The scenery is simply breath-taking, you sail along the fjord to see the different rocks and waterfalls. The previous times Mr Wander went, he saw a lot of seals, but this time there were only a few lazing under a bit of sun. On the other side, though, we were lucky enough to be followed by some bottlenose dolphins who also live there and were happy to play in the wake of our boat. You know how much I love these animals, so you can imagine how happy I was. The staff on the boat were extremely friendly and happy to help, and the cakes were just scrumptious, so don’t worry about your stomach while you are there either.

In front of the pier you can take a small path just behind a few old buildings from the first settlement in the area. This track will take you up to a viewpoint for you to enjoy the beautiful sight that is the whole fjord, I am adding this collage for your reference so you can see all the names of the peaks as well.

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The drive back was a bit of a new experience for both of us, which is always a precious thing. I was there to know about the country Mr Wander had been living in for a few years, and to be able to discover something new together was very nice and important for me. The first stop, though, was Marian Falls, one that Mr Wander had visited already and even more that we managed to do, up to Lake Marian. While trying to find some information about the falls, I learnt that these one are actually cascades. Since the word for waterfall in Italian is cascata, I went to look online the difference between a cascade and a waterfall. If you are interested, according to the Oxford Dictionaries:

Cascade, 1) A small waterfall, typically one of several that fall in stages down a steep rocky slope.

Waterfall, A cascade of water falling from a height, formed when a river or stream flows over a precipice or steep incline.

I know, they use the terms reciprocally to explain the other, but it is clear I think. And yes, Marian Falls are a cascade, as you can appreciate on this picture. I have to admit it was not an easy thing for me to reach them. They are beautiful, of course, but to reach them you have to walk on a swing bridge over the Hollyford River. Here is a picture of me divided by awe for the beauty of this place and regret for walking on the bridge! The whole walk to Lake Marian takes approximately 3 hours in total and we couldn’t fit in our schedule, so here is another reason to go back to Piopiotahi!

Piopiotahi is the original name for Milford Sound. The Māori called this place Piopiotahi, which means single piopio, an extinct bird that used to live in New Zealand. The legend says that Māui, a hero in Polynesian culture, tried to win immortality for mankind and died in the attempt. When the birds heard of his death, a single piopio flew to Milford Sound in mourning. It is not just that this story is beautiful, I love how the Māori culture is attached to the land and gets from it not only strength and nourishment, but also the names of the places. Their pragmatism is refreshing and insightful compared to the invaders that had to replace the original names using others borrowed from English places to try and delete the local culture.

Driving a bit further back home, we stopped at Lake Gunn, a spot that Mr Wander missed in his previous visits because it is not as clearly signalled as the others. Lake Gunn is another beautiful body of water surrounded by mountains. We were lucky enough to have a beautiful weather that afternoon and you can see how the colours create an incredible painting that needs no filter even with a picture taken with a smartphone!

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The walk that starts at the lake is an easy one and it is 45 minutes long but you can add a bit of difficulty starting from other car parks near the mountain range or the creek. On the way to Milford Sound we also stopped near Lake Gunn on the other side of the road to discover the beautiful and pristine Lake Fergus. Less known than its neighbouring Lake McKeller, this body of water is connected to Lake Gunn just on the other side of the road. Trust me, it doesn’t matter how many places of this kind you find along your way, every single time you see the mountains and forests reflected in the perfectly calm surface of a lake in this region, you will be astonished!

Our last stop on the way back was also a bit of a detour to see Lake Manapouri. This place is famous for various reasons and beauty is one of them and definitely deserved. The lake is the country’s second deepest, hosting a huge variety of wildlife and fauna, and also includes an incredible amount of islands. With four arms, it is known for the different activities such as kayaking and countless hiking tracks and trips. The lake also hosts a power station, the biggest underground power station of the southern hemisphere, which can also be visited. The presence of this structure raised concerns for the environment a few decades ago and made the lake a symbol for the protection of the nature.

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If you love hiking and are planning a trip to the South Island, take your time to explore Fiordland. We took advantage of a Bank Holiday and it was quite busy, therefore we could only stay one night in the accommodation, having to reduce the amount of our hiking, but there is so much to do that we will have to go back and do what was was left. Stay tuned!

Ms Lust

***

Dear readers,

This post is a special one for me, as it is about my favourite place in New Zealand and, as far as our travels have taken us thus far, the world. That place is Milford Sound, in Fiordland on New Zealand’s South Island. As such, it is a place I have visited on many occasions, so instead of describing a specific trip (such as when I took Ms Lust there) I will outline my recommendations for anyone wishing to visit this wonderful place.

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There are so many quotes and inspirational messages out there telling us not to focus on the destination but to enjoy the journey, and for nowhere is this more true than Milford Sound. The sound itself is utterly beautiful, it wasn’t without reason that Rudyard Kipling described it as the 8th Wonder of the World, but there are so many equally beautiful places to stop and enjoy on the two-hour drive from Te Anau (which everyone must travel through to get to Milford). The only other option is to take a scenic flight from Te Anau or Queenstown, something that I never had the chance to do myself, and I’m sure this is just as impressive as the drive, if not more so. Each time I have made this drive it has taken me a lot longer than the four hours that Google claimed, and there are still places along the route that I am yet to have explored. For those of you without your own transport, a coach tour is the easiest option, and the places that these tours most commonly stop at will be included. So please sit back and relax, as I take you on a trip through beautiful Fiordland, from Te Anau to Milford Sound.

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Te Anau

If it were situated in almost any other part of the world, Te Anau would be a tourist hot-spot in it’s own right. But nestled amongst the multitude of magnificent vistas and jaw-dropping landscapes of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, this lake-side town feels rather ordinary in comparison. The combination of Lake Te Anau and the wonderful backdrop of the mountain range provides a beautiful scene, just not one that can compete with similar towns that are situated in the mountains, rather than close to them, such as Queenstown or Wanaka. Happily though, Te Anau finds itself at the start of State Highway 94 (better known as the Milford Road) and as such has found it’s calling as an obligatory stop for most travellers making the pilgrimage to Milford Sound. After leaving Te Anau, you won’t find any supermarkets or petrol stations until you arrive back again on the return journey. So this is naturally where everybody stops to refuel and refresh before beginning their journey through the mountains, and Te Anau has grown up purely to service these needs. There are some tourist attractions here to tempt a more prolonged stay, and the glow-worm caves on the other side of the lake are definitely worth a visit (Real Journeys operate tours, as well as Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound excursions). The start of the Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, is also just on the other side of the lake, and it is common to see hikers taking advantage of Te Anau’s amenities either before or after completing the 60km trek. Yet for most visitors here, Te Anau is nothing more than a ten-minute stop for last minute supplies and a toilet break before heading off in the direction of Milford Sound.

Te Anau Downs

Mistletoe Lake

 

The first area you will come across is Te Anau Downs, the last cluster of houses before the road leaves Lake Te Anau and heads into the mountains. Signs will point you towards Lake Mistletoe on the right, where you will find a small gravel car park and a walking track. The walk is fairly short and pleasant enough, taking you through a woodland area to the lake. The lake is really nothing to write home about, especially compared to what is still to come. I’d really only recommend doing this walk if you have a lot of time to spare, it’s certainly not worth missing out on one of the stops further along the route for this. Just a few metres down the road there is another small car park on the left-hand side, which offers a good opportunity to enjoy the lake before the road turns away from it. There is a jetty which can be walked along, and the views from the end are better than those in Te Anau. There isn’t enough here to cause you to linger too long though, and soon you’ll find yourself back on the road and heading towards the Eglinton Valley.

Eglinton Valley and Mirror Lakes

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From this point onwards, the road has a lot more twists and turns as you venture through the Southern Alps. After just over 20 km a break in the trees unveils the Eglinton Valley, and your first Fiordland photo opportunity awaits. There’s no set viewpoint, just three or four lay-bys to choose from which all offer essentially the same views, so it’s entirely up to you where to stop. The Eglinton Valley is quite wide and flat, with the fast running Eglinton River flowing between the mountains on either side. I don’t think this area was used in the filming of The Lord of the Rings, but it most certainly could have been.

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At the end of the valley the trees return to obscure the landscape, and, after only a few kilometres and a couple of bends, signs for Mirror Lakes come into view. This is the first of the stops that is on every tour company’s itinerary, and if you’re unlucky to arrive at the same time you will be greeted by a road half-blocked by the convoy of buses parked here and you’ll have to fight your way through the crowds to see the lake. Mirror Lakes is exactly what it sounds like, a small lake just by the side of the road which is usually sheltered enough by the wind to provide stunning reflections of the adjacent mountains. The water is also incredibly clear, allowing all of the hidden treasures (mostly fallen trees!) in its depths to be viewed by all. If it does happen to be too windy at the time then it will be an incredible anti-climax, as the lake itself is not all that impressive. But don’t despair, as there’s always another chance to see its famous reflections on the return journey.

Lake Gunn

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This lake is a little bit further up the road, about another 20 km, and by this point you are more than halfway to Milford Sound. The second half of the journey is definitely the more interesting half however, as the road becomes more and more mountainous, the views get more impressive with every kilometre, and the stopping places are ever more frequent. If you manage to spot the sign in time to make the turning (I missed it twice and only managed to actually stop here on my last trip to this area, when I took Ms Lust to Milford Sound), there is a small car park with a very short walking track through to the lake. I can’t comment on how it would be on a more windy day, but when we visited it was very unclear why this lake hadn’t been given the title of Mirror Lake instead. The water was as flat and clear as glass, and gave perfect reflections of the surrounding landscape. It was difficult to see where water gave way to sky, as even any floating driftwood was perfectly reflected. The lake is a lot bigger than Mirror Lakes, so I imagine it would need to be a very calm day for it to be like this, and that we were just incredibly lucky. Once you have seen the lake, there isn’t too much else to keep you here (although it is a great spot for a picnic if you arrive around lunchtime) and it’s then time to head into the very heart of Fiordland.

The Divide

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From here until you reach your destination, there are stops at less than 10 km intervals if you choose to see them all. I would highly recommend all of them, but it will depend on the amount of time that you have. As such, The Divide is only suggested if you have a lot of time in hand, as it is quite a lengthy stop and not worth missing any of the following places for. The Divide is the start or finish point (depending on which direction it is traversed) of the Routeburn Track, a 32 km walking track from Paradise near Glenorchy to The Divide. In case you hadn’t guessed already, this is a stop for those that like hiking, and the purpose of stopping here is to get a feel for the Routeburn Track by walking the first section of it, the Key Summit Track. This track is a steady climb up to the top of Key Summit, and you will need to allow for three hours to complete the walk out and back again. Once you reach the summit, you are rewarded for your efforts with wonderful views of the Lower Hollyford Valley and the surrounding mountains. Low level clouds hindered the views somewhat when I completed this walk, however the snow capped mountains peeking through made up for it instead. There is a short nature walk that can also be completed at the summit, I recommend it if you have an extra 30 minutes to spare, which passes a variety of natural vegetation including bogs, alpine tarns, and shrubland. There are boardwalks through the wet areas around the bogs, so don’t worry too much about getting dirty! After this, and once you have finished enjoying the views, take the track back down to the car park and head off once again in the direction of Milford Sound. Don’t get too comfortable though, as the next stop is just around the corner!

Pop’s Viewpoint and Falls Creek Waterfall

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About 2 km further up the road from The Divide, you will see a viewpoint signposted on the right-hand side. This is Pop’s Viewpoint and the red metal gantries give another opportunity to see the Lower Hollyford Valley. Down below is the Hollyford River, and the hanging valley to your left is home to Lake Marian (more on that shortly). You may also hear road traffic from down in the depths of the valley, and if you look to the road you will see that it now starts to descend and soon you will also be driving along the valley floor. Once there, a small bridge passing a waterfall signals that you have arrived at Falls Creek Waterfall. Unfortunately every time I have driven past here there has been construction work on the bridge and it has been very difficult to walk along to take photos. The bridge is only one lane and you really have to time it well in between passing vehicles from both directions! An easier place to stop is a gravelled area on the right just beyond the bridge. It still isn’t possible to walk back to the waterfall, but from here you can clamber down to the river rapids below. The water is fast flowing here, and a scattering of medium size boulders in the water provide some great photos and allow you to get right into the river without getting wet (hopefully!). Here is also where you are most likely to first meet Milford Sound’s most notorious residents, the sandflies. Similar to the midges found in Britain, these are small biting flies which will happily use you as a feeding station and leave you with many, very itchy, bites. Insect repellant is the must-have item for anyone travelling to Milford Sound at any time of year, you will thank the heavens if you have it and curse yourself if you don’t. The Māori legend is that sandflies were created by the goddess Hine-nui-te-pō after the creation of Fiordland. People were so stunned by it’s beauty that they stopped working and just stood around gazing at it instead, so she created the sandflies to bite them and to get them moving again. This story makes perfect sense to me, as from here on it will probably be frustration with these little terrors that will encourage you to move on from each place.

Marian Falls and Lake Marian

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In between Pop’s Viewpoint and Falls Creek, you may have noticed a sign for Lake Marian on the right. This is another stop for hiking enthusiasts, however there is a smaller walk that is definitely worth 30 minutes or so out of your journey. After turning off of the main road, you will need to continue down a gravel track for about a kilometre before reaching a car park for the Lake Marian track. The walk to the lake itself requires at least three hours and a lot of effort, however the falls are just a short ten-minute walk from the car park. Some raised boardwalk sections signal that you have arrived to the falls, which are somewhere between waterfalls and rapids. A series of small drops create a cascade in the river and the large boulders that have fallen into the water’s path create some dramatic currents. The surrounding vegetation here is thick and lush, this area of the world sees a lot of rainfall, and it really does start to feel like you are stepping into a prehistoric world. If you decide to continue along the track to Lake Marian, you will not be disappointed. It is a hard, uphill walk through forest, landslips, and open shrubland, which eventually brings you to the lake at the top of the hanging valley. This lake is perfectly nestled within some of the larger peaks in the area, and its remoteness creates a true sense of tranquility. It seems that not too many people make the effort to climb this far, and I only saw a handful of other hikers when I completed the walk. Again, the views were a little spoiled by some low lying clouds, but the rain held off so I was happy! I would have loved to have returned for another go in sunnier weather, but unfortunately the opportunity never arose.

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Monkey Creek and Homer Tunnel

The last stop before the tunnel is Monkey Creek, another favourite of the tour buses. A car park on the left-hand side of the road gives access to a small creek, where tour guides encourage their guests to fill their water bottles and sample the pure water as it makes its way down from the mountain tops. It’s also a great chance to get some photos of the valley and the road winding a path through, but other than that there isn’t any need to linger for too long. If you haven’t had the pleasure already, here is also where you will most likely encounter keas, the world’s only alpine parrot. They are large, green parrots, most easily recognised by the bright red colour of the underside of their wings. These cheeky birds are certainly not shy, and they are commonly found in Fiordland destroying cars (they have a strong affection for rubber and plastic) and harassing tourists for food! As the signs state, please do not feed them as it discourages their natural behaviours and you may also get a nasty bite from their extremely sharp and powerful beaks. There is no need to be scared of them however, and I always enjoy watching their cheeky antics wherever I come across them.

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Following Monkey Creek you will be heading through the Homer Tunnel, a 1.2 kilometre long tunnel through the mountains which was opened in 1953. This completed the Milford Road and provided a route through to Milford Sound. The tunnel is one way only, controlled by traffic lights at either end. You may find that you have to wait for quite some time for the lights to change, there is an information board to tell you how long the wait will be, and in some cases you may even have enough time to get out and explore the immediate vicinity. The tunnel itself is very much as I imagine it was when it first opened, simply a hole cut through the mountains without any of the dressing-up (smooth walls, lighting, etc.) more commonly found in Europe. As you exit the tunnel, you will be presented with a fantastic view of the valley before you, and the road heading down to the valley floor. There is a gravel car park just on the left to allow for a photo opportunity, and it’s well worth stopping even just to play with the keas for a few minutes! After this, I hope your car has good brakes, as you are now heading straight down to the valley floor for the final stretch into Milford. There is still one last stop to come before that, and this one is one of my favourites and definitely not to be missed.

The Chasm

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Just as you reach the bottom of the descent into the valley floor, signs for The Chasm will appear on your left. This is another staple of the tour bus itinerary, however they rarely stop here long enough to allow guests to explore the best part. A short ten-minute or so walk from the car park takes you to two boardwalks. Prior to even reaching these, the thundering sound of crashing water echoing through the forest should tell you that there is a waterfall here. The first boardwalk passes a hole in the rock to give a view of the waterfall itself, and then the second boardwalk takes you over the waterfall and allows views of how the water has carved a unique artwork into the rocks. Swirling eddies have created many bowls and holes in the surrounding rocks and have turned the area into something that resembles a Swiss cheese. The holes vary immensely in size, most probably determined by their age, and create a truly unique environment. The waterfall itself is impressive as well, due to the sheer force and noise of the water.

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If you are here on a bus tour, this is likely to be all that you will have time to see. For those with their own transport, a slight detour should be taken on the way to the waterfall. Just before the donation box there is a path cut into the shrubland on the right. This leads you down to the lagoon formed at the base of the waterfall. Very similar to the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye (full report here!), this is a secluded, calm, beautiful waterhole which feels extremely remote and isolated from the hordes of tourists above. The water is beautifully blue and clear, and incredibly enticing. Due to the sheerness of the surrounding rocks it isn’t possible to walk round to the base of the waterfall, yet it is possible to swim there instead. Having only visited in winter I wasn’t brave enough to do so myself, but I can imagine that it is an absolutely incredible sight to behold. As for returning to the main path, you have two options. Either retracing your steps back through the shrubland, or clambering up the rocks to the top of the waterfall and back to the boardwalks. Someone has attached a rope to the rocks to enable the climb, yet it is still only advised for those who are sure on their feet and able to pull their own body weight up the rock face. This isn’t a very well-documented place and I am very grateful to the person that informed me about it, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone that passes through here with their own transport.

Milford Sound

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So, after a few more kilometres through the valley, this brings you to the end of the Milford Road and your journey, as you arrive at Milford Sound. The Sound is actually a fiord which was carved out by a glacier as it passed through. This created a deep basin with almost vertical sides which over time has filled with water. The result is this stunning landscape of a vast sea inlet surrounded by tall mountains and waterfalls, all almost completely covered in lush, green vegetation. It is said that the landscape changes dramatically depending on the weather at the time of visit or just before, as the number of waterfalls goes from a dozen or so to hundreds after significant rainfall. The only way to really see the fiord is to go on one of the many boat cruises that leave the jetty throughout the day. I have been on three cruises with three different operators, and I can honestly say that there isn’t much difference between them. They usually last for about 90 minutes and they all follow the same route, taking you right through the fiord and out into the Tasman Sea before heading back to port. Along the way you will see evidence of the glacial erosion that formed the fiord, as well as the chance to get up very close and personal to some of the permanent waterfalls (bring a waterproof jacket!). The views are simply stunning and my words could never do them justice, it is a wonderful, tranquil, and immensely beautiful environment. It is also an environment rich in wildlife, and you are likely to see a variety of marine creatures on your cruise. Seals are very common here, and there is one rock in particular that they seem to enjoy lazing about on. Unfortunately there was only a few there when I took Ms Lust, usually there are a good number of them fighting for their own sunbathing spot. Fiordland crested penguins are also residents here, although a lot harder to find, and you may be as lucky as we were to see bottlenose dolphins swimming alongside your boat.

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After, or before, your cruise, there are some short walks in the area that are worth doing. The pier close to the jetty is a good spot for some photos of Mitre Peak and start of the fiord, while the lookout that can be reached via a path behind the cafe is another beautiful vantage point from which to enjoy the scenery. If you came with your own transport, there is a walk that starts behind the main car park which takes you around the shore to enjoy some less crowded views. This is definitely worth taking 30 minutes or so to do, and, if you are staying overnight, this is the perfect spot from which to enjoy the sunset. Although you are facing in completely the wrong direction to see the sun setting, the changing colours of the sky create a wonderful backdrop for the prominent Mitre Peak. If you do stay overnight, and I would highly recommend it as it is the only way to see the sunset here and it permits a more relaxed journey, then you will have to stay at the Milford Sound Lodge, the only accommodation in the area. The lodge caters for all tastes and budgets, and the restaurant on site is very good.

So that about sums up my experiences in this fantastic corner of the world, and I hope it has been inspiring. From here, there is nowhere else to go other than to retrace your steps back along the Milford Road to Te Anau, stopping at any places you may have missed on the way there. Then, it’s time to start planning the next visit, as this place will keep you coming back for more and more. I certainly don’t think I could ever get tired of it!

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

Our side of London

Dear travellers,

One year ago, we were just coming back from New Zealand and for me it was finally the chance to show my London to Mr Wander. There were a few places that I loved and a few from where I used to chat to him while relaxing on a stroll. Little by little, we managed to tick the list and we want to share our favourite spots with you. London is so big and full of offers for things to do to suit everyone, and you can find countless lists. If you are visiting for the first time, you may still want to do the usual things and I am not going to tell you not to, although in all my years here I still haven’t been to some of the not to miss places and I don’t feel like I am missing anything.

Museums

The main museums in London are free and you can spend hours in them. The temporary exhibitions are separate and you have to buy the tickets. The Natural History Museum is my favourite because of all the animals and natural things to learn. The building itself is nice and, when at full capacity, the main entrance is mind-blowing, with the giant skeleton of the diplodocus welcoming visitors before they meet Darwin on the main staircase. Dippy, as it is called, went on tour for a while and the building is undergoing some refurbishment, so at the moment the visit may be slightly disappointing. Also, there were talkings of replacing Dippy with the skeleton of the blue whale that is currently in one of the rooms. The plan is to sensibilise visitors on the species that are in current danger of extinction. Maybe, this will be what will greet you when the refurbishment is over. The section with stuffed animals is interesting although slightly disturbing. Due to the change of laws since taxidermy started, most of the specimens on display are fairly old and faded because of the long years on display under strong lights. One of the most recent is the panda near the cafeteria, a famous guest of the London Zoo, Chi Chi, that was stuffed when she passed away in 1972. 

If you happen to be in London on the last Friday of the month, do not miss their Lates. After regular closing time, part of the museum opens again at 6 p.m. and you can enjoy a drink while walking around the rooms in a dim light and have a slightly quieter experience. Another chance to see the museum under a different light is Behind the scenes tour. This visit will take you through the Darwin Centre and you can see some of the specimens not on display, such as the giant squid and specimens collected by Darwin. You need to book for this visit but it is definitely worth to do it.

The NHM is in South Kensington together with two other major museums, the Science Museum and the V&A. I am not a science geek, therefore I have never enjoyed the Science Museum too much, but I would still dedicate it a bit of time if I were you, most of the people I know love it and totally recommend it. The V&A is a difference story. I have not visited for the first three years, I was not curious at at all, and when I finally did, I regretted my previous decision. The museum is incredible, with splendid artwork from Asia that will totally seduce you. I had the chance to be invited to a talk after closing hours and those ceramics and silverware in dim light are incredibly beautiful, and so is the building itself.

I am not a big fan of the British Museum and I know that it is a debatable opinion, but I can’t think otherwise. The building is beautiful from outside, but once inside it feels completely different, too open, modern, and too similar to a warehouse. The collections are impressive, that is not the problem, but something is not right, those high ceilings give an idea of openness and space that is not actually reflected on ground level, the museum is too crowded, constantly, and feels oppressive. The Rosetta Stone is not to miss but easily missed. The symbol of translators, it is always surrounded by so many arms with phones trying to focus from every angle that it is almost impossible to see the stone. The same is said for the Egyptian section, it is hard to walk through and it feels as we were about to knock some precious artefact on the floor. They are basically all behind glass but the feeling is there nonetheless. If you have seen the Egyptian Museum in Turin you won’t miss too much.

The National Gallery is probably the most accessible because it is in Trafalgar Square. It is absolutely worth the visit. It covers some of the main artistic currents and it is a pleasure to walk in, both for the building and for the art exposed. Some paintings are the most famous and are always surrounded by many people with smart phones again, but most of my favourites are not among the most wanted, so I am lucky. One of my favourite paintings of all time is Leonardo’s Virgin of the rocks and for that there is no chance, cornered as it is in a small room, it is luckily big enough to overlook smartphones and reaching arms. The same can be said for Van Gogh’s section. I have often claimed Raphael as my ancestor, a bit joking but not with a bit of hope that the common surname and region of origin may mean something. Well, uncle’s paintings are often surrounded by enough quiet for me to always enjoy at least Pope Julius II’s portrait. As I love Caravaggio’s work and it is too dark and gloomy, I usually don’t have to fight too much so pop in to enjoy his masterpieces and say hi to Saint Jerome in the same room. You know, he is the patron saint of translators, I feel a visit is the least I can do when I am there. 

On the actual square, there are a few permanent things to see and a few that change, like the sculpture on the fourth plinth. For a long while, I remember a ship in a bottle, then a blue rooster. Currently, it shows a sculpture called Really Good by David Shrigley.

Walks

Embankment is my favourite spot, for a long time I went back there in the evenings to walk along the Thames and relax. It was a sort of therapy to reconcile with the city because, no matter how hard the day had been, the immense beauty of the landscape could soothe me and would remind me of why I loved the city. Start at Westminster station or Charing Cross and walk along the river on the north side, seeing the London Eye on the other shore. Reach the boundary dragons and then walk back a little to then walk up to Strand and pop in to the Twinings shop in 216 Strand, a narrow shop that has been there since the XVIII century and offers a wide selection of teas and coffees, tasting and recipe ideas, and some classes to be booked in advance. You can buy single bags of many varieties and find some exclusive ones that are not available in shops. You won’t regret it!

As I said, I love walking along the river, and the other shore is equally good, just more crowded. If you prefer, instead of starting at Westminster Bridge, walk a bit along Embankment before and cross on the following bridge to avoid the crowds around the aquarium and the London Eye. You should arrive just in front of some of the restaurants and, if you keep walking, you arrive at Waterloo station. There are so many things to see and beautiful spots to capture in your photographs along this side. You can walk up to Tower Bridge and get a few good shots of all the landmarks around there: HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge itself, and the Tower of London. At the moment, you also have some open bars near the bridge and if the weather is good you can enjoy a drink there. You will always also find a soft ice cream van and the little kiosks that sell caramelised peanuts, my favourite treat during the long London walks. 

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I have to admit I walk a lot, so maybe you don’t have to follow all my suggestions if you get tired very easily. If you are an explorer, instead, remember that it is said that you can walk around all London just hopping from one park to the other. Well, I have done a fair bit of that starting in Hyde Park, from Marble Arch or Wellington Arch, and ending up either in Hammersmith on one direction or in Vauxhall on the other. If you want more ideas, check out this article with some great walks. I have done most of the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Walk and I love it.

Walking or not, there are two things I would tell you to visit in Earl’s Court if you are a fan:

Doctor Who’s Tardis is just outside the station, behind a kiosk. It is not open to visit (you would get lost), but you can take a picture before the Doctor leaves again;

– Freddie Mercury’s house in Logan Place. You cannot visit it, you can just see the wall with the love messages and the flowers. I cannot explain why, you just need to have grown up with Queen and will understand. I have been there several times and met nice people and bitter neighbours, but I love going back. As last time with Mr Wander we didn’t take a picture, here is a shot from 2015.

Tower of London and Ceremony of the Keys

The visit to the Tower of London is definitely worth it despite the high price of the ticket, but it takes a long time. If you decide to go, give it priority because it will take up most of the day. I am not a fan of jewels at all, and all those displayed there, all at once, are quite disturbing, but there are so many more sections of the tower that have so much story behind them, that it makes up for it. An alternative visit you can do is the Ceremony of the Keys. You can do both, as they are pretty different from one another, but you really need to plan the second one a lot better and in advance. The first time I went, it was not that known and the waiting list was three months, but last time I checked it was over a year!

It is something that stayed as it has been for hundreds of years, which means that photography is not allowed but that you can enjoy it fully. The Tower used to be a castle, then a prison, and is now a museum with incredibly valuable items to be preserved. Every night, the tower is locked by the guards and a small group of people is allowed to watch from a small distance and escorted by one of the Yeoman Warders. The protocol hasn’t changed apart from the monarch’s name and it is humbling to witness it. Before and after, the guide will explain a bit about the history of the tower and of the main (free or forced) visitors. That part is the same that you also have for the day tour, but the rest is nothing similar to it or any other tours. 

Check availability and save your confirmation because you will lose it if you have to wait one year before you use it! The ticket is free and there is just a small booking fee to pay online.

Food and drink

Don’t worry, this section won’t be an all Italian list, not only I am not a big fan of Italian cuisine over the rest, but I am able to cook fairly decently myself, therefore I prefer to have Italian food at home or in Italy and to enjoy other flavours when in the big city. If you follow my Instagram, you will know that I am a big fan of British pubs and their food, therefore I will give you my top three places in London.

It is no surprise that my favourite pub is along the Thames and near Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the views are among the most beautiful you can have (and London is not short of them), the food has always been good, and they even accept bookings for groups. I never had problems when I tried to celebrate something there. Oh, wait, I haven’t given you the name yet! I am talking of the Founders Arms. On the side of the Tate Modern and a short walk from St Paul’s through the Millennium Bridge, the pub has an interesting menu that has changed a few times since the first time I went, and a good choice of beers; you won’t find my favourite, but their stout is not bad either. If you book, the table will be inside, but if you find available tables outside just go for them, few things beat relaxing with a pint looking at the beautiful skyline. Even I willingly sat outside for dinner in winter, that says it all!

If you are in the centre and fancy a bit of Irish atmosphere, my second favourite pub is your place: Waxy O’Connor’s. Just next to Piccadilly Circus, this pub is a huge wooden maze with several levels, countless steps, and furniture that recalls a gothic cathedral (including a confessional!). I booked there a few times as well, and it takes a while to find your table when you arrive, both because no one has any idea and whomever is sitting there usually takes the signs away hoping to be able to keep the table. The pub usually gets pretty busy and you will struggle to enjoy your drinks if you don’t have a table. The prices are what you can expect in central London and the food is average, I just love the actual ambiance and decor of the place, especially the huge tree climbing several levels along the staircase.

If you are going for a more elegant night, the Madison is the place for you. It is the sort of place where you won’t be allowed in if you are wearing trainers, so plan your outfit accordingly if you are thinking of going there. The prices are not scary as you can imagine for a rooftop bar overlooking St Paul’s. You have the main bar and restaurant with sofas in front of floor-to-ceiling windows on one side, the terrace with the incredible views, and another bar with no seats inside mainly to serve the terrace.

Now a few tips before leaving you:

– Register your Oyster card (or your contactless card if you pay with that instead) on the TfL website or you are likely to be charged extra. I have used my Oyster all the years I have been living in London, but now I only go once every 6-7 weeks and I use my contactless card. Before registering, Mr Wander and I got charged different amounts a few times, but the refunds were immediate when we finally remembered to register.

– Walk or use the bus when you can. At peak times, some stations are so crowded that it takes ages to even reach the train, let alone getting on it. Also, some stations are so huge that you may end up walking for almost ten minutes inside the station itself, so you may as well do it outside.

– It may seem obvious but few people seem to keep these two things in mind: use bags that you can close and remember to fasten them against rain and pickpockets, and stand on the right and walk on the left in escalators.

Looking forward to our next trip to London to discover more places, stay tuned!

Ms Lust

***

Dear readers,

When we were originally planning our return to the UK, it seemed like the obvious choice that we would return where Ms Lust had been living previously, London. As it turned out, this wasn’t to be the case, and we ended up living in Cambridgeshire instead, but we still travel down to London regularly to see friends. I’d never been a fan of London, it has always seemed too crowded for me, but I have to say that I have enjoyed it a lot more having Ms Lust to show me around her favourite spots. So, here are some of our favourite places that we have visited in the past year in London, in no particular order.

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National Gallery

This was the most recent of our visits, and was only decided upon in the spur of the moment, on the tube on the way there to be precise! We were travelling to London for some chores and to meet friends, but we had a few hours spare in between to fill. As we were going to be near Trafalgar Square anyway, the National Gallery seemed like a good choice. I’m not much of an art aficionado and I honestly didn’t think I would enjoy it that much, however I was very mistaken and the two hours we spent there just flew by. I’m glad I had Ms Lust with me to act as my guide as the place is like a maze, I would definitely have been lost in there for days if I had been on my own!

I’m not going to try and describe the works that are there, as I would only end up embarrassing myself and it’s probably better if you look it up or, even better, go and see it for yourselves. Anyhow, I’m sure Ms Lust will provide a brief commentary on the main masterpieces. To begin with, it seemed to be just portrait paintings, mainly of a religious vein, which were not too dissimilar to those that we had seen in the Vatican City and not really my taste in art. I’m more of a landscape art fan and happily these types of paintings began to feature more and more as we worked our way through the museum. The museum is set up so that if you follow the suggested route, you will be working your way through history and the associated periods and styles of artwork. We missed the first section and possibly a chunk in the middle, but we still managed to see at least two-thirds of the museum in the couple of hours that we spent there. I was also quite glad that it wasn’t too busy, despite it being a rainy Saturday during the school summer holidays, and there was only a few crowds of people near the most popular artworks, such as the Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci. Elsewhere there was plenty of visitors, but it was quiet enough that you could still make your way around the museum in comfort. If you’re looking for something to do for a couple of hours, whether on a rainy day or just to fill some time, I’d definitely recommend giving the National Gallery a go. Who knows, you may even surprise yourself like I did!

Natural History Museum lates

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The Natural History Museum has always been on my wish list of places to visit in London, and when I found out about their late night openings I was even more determined to go. Occurring on the last Friday of every month, the museum stays open beyond its usual closing time and the doors aren’t shut until 10pm. I’m still yet to have visited the museum during the daytime so I cannot make any comparisons between the two, all I can say is that it was a lot more relaxed and quieter than I would expect it to be during the day. Drinks and snacks are available for the evening session, which adds to the relaxed atmosphere as people stroll around the exhibits whilst enjoying a glass of red.

Our visit was just a little too late to be able to see Dippy the Diplodocus before he embarked on his nationwide tour, and his temporary replacement, Hope the Blue Whale, had not yet been given her new home. Nevertheless there was still plenty to see and do and we ended up spending a good couple of hours exploring the museum, and we now have a perfect excuse for a follow-up visit! It isn’t quite Night At The Museum, but it’s close, and it’s a fantastic way to meet with friends for a drink or two and hopefully learning a few things along the way.

Ceremony of the Keys

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Until only recently, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you where in the city you would find the Tower of London, so I certainly had never visited before. Almost as soon as we had decided that we would be leaving New Zealand and returning to the UK, Ms Lust jumped on the internet and started looking into booking tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys. This ceremony is an ancient tradition that has taken place here since the 14th century, in which the keys of the Tower of London are brought out for the gates to be locked for the night. Nowadays it is possible for members of the public to witness the ceremony taking place, and a limited number of tickets are made available each day. The tickets are free (with just a small booking charge applicable) however it is necessary to book well in advance, especially if you are planning to include it as part of a holiday to London. We booked in July 2016 and the earliest tickets we could get were for February 2017, the website currently advises that the ceremony is fully booked for almost a year!

The ceremony is not particularly long, the entire event takes just over 30 minutes and includes some storytelling about the tradition, and it takes place entirely outside, so it is necessary to wrap up warm and to be prepared for rain (this is the UK after all!). I won’t go into describing the ceremony itself too much, photography is not permitted in order to preserve its heritage and uniqueness so I think describing it in detail would be just as damaging, all I will say is that it is a wonderful experience and a taste of true ‘Britishness’. Reputedly one of the oldest surviving ceremonies of its kind, having been enacted every night for over 700 years, you won’t find many more chances to witness history like this.

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As we had booked tickets for a weekday and had to come to London after work, we only had time to arrive in time for the ceremony itself. Due to the nature of the ceremony, all the guests are subsequently escorted out of the Tower of London via a side gate at the end so I still need to come back one day to visit properly!

Hyde Park

We’ve been here together a number of times now, for a variety of reasons, but the most important reason for mentioning Hyde Park comes before any of those. It was a photo that Ms Lust took in Hyde Park, while enjoying a day off work, that really ignited our existing friendship and led us to where we are now. I was still living in New Zealand at this point and it was from this photo that we started chatting a lot more and I eventually convinced her to come and join me. The rest of this story has already been told, you can find it here if you need to fill in the gaps!

Ever since my first trip to London with my family when I was young, Hyde Park has always been my favourite of London’s parks. I’m not sure if it’s the size that impressed me, the variety of landscapes, or both, but whatever it was has stayed with me and, if anything, is stronger now than it has ever been. The park is vast and provides an excellent area for walking, running, cycling etc., while the kiosks beside The Serpentine are great places to grab a quick lunch to enjoy by the water. There really is something for everyone here, it’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for an hour or two.

Battersea

Battersea always conjures up two images in my head, the power station that became a national icon after the campaign to save it from demolition, and Battersea Dog’s Home which found fame as one of reality TV’s early stars. Despite this, I had never been to Battersea or even seen the power station from across the river, so when Ms Lust asked me to choose where we should go in London one day, Battersea sprung to mind. After a bit more research we discovered that Battersea Park is also well-renowned, so we added that to the list as well.

After getting off of the tube at Vauxhall, and taking a few clandestine photos of James Bond’s London office, we opted to walk along the river to Battersea. This turned out to be a mistake, as the power station is currently being redeveloped and a lot of the walkway has been closed due to the associated construction work. Forced to walk through back-streets and housing estates instead, I have to say that I was very disappointed with the power station. Swathed in scaffolding and construction site fences, while the famous chimneys battle with cranes for air superiority, it’s certainly no longer the symbol of industry that it once was. Destined to become expensive apartments and a swanky new shopping complex, a small part of me wishes Fred Dibnah had had his way all those years ago. In my mind this wonderful building should have been turned into a museum, preserving its dignity and honouring its past, not degraded into becoming a showpiece for the privileged few.

We continued on to Battersea Park, however after our long walk to get that far we weren’t in the mood for exploring too much more. So we sat for a little while by the lake and had a bite to eat before catching a bus back across the river. The park was pleasant and seemed to be a popular place to visit, but Battersea had already been ruined for me and I won’t be hurrying back there any time soon.

Waxy O’Connors

We’ve been to a number of pubs in London but this is the one that has really stuck in my mind. An Irish bar located in Soho, this place is truly unique. The inside is a maze of bars, rooms, and staircases, all appearing as if they had been carved out inside a tree. I would not have been at all surprised to have seen a few Hobbits or Goblins enjoying a drink, it really did give the impression that it is straight out of a movie. I’m again thankful for having had Ms Lust as my official guide, it is possible I could have been lost here for days as well! We only stopped for a quick afternoon drink, however I would love to come back here for St Patrick’s Day, the atmosphere must be incredible.

Tardis

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For all the Doctor Who fans out there, London is home to a must-see. Amongst all of London’s quirky police paraphernalia, such as Britain’s smallest police station on Trafalgar Square, remains one of the last few surviving police call-boxes. That’s right, if you want to see a real-life Tardis all you have to do is pop over to Earl’s Court, and take a short walk out of the tube station. I was expecting it to be more popular than it seemed, anticipating a small queue of fans waiting for a photoshoot, but we were the only ones there that seemed to be even vaguely interested in it. Definitely worth a quick stop or a detour if you are in the area.

That’s all for now, but with more trips to come there’ll be additions to the list in the near future.

Happy travels,

Mr Wander