Friday, December 13, 2013

New England

Following our week in New York, we caught a train to Boston and then hired a car and drove around the New England region for a week, seeing all the leaves change colour as we went.  The NE region is beautiful and especially at that time of year.

We started in Boston and drove to Portland, Maine as our first stop.  No trees changing colour there, barely saw any trees at all.  Next stop was North Conway, New Hampshire.  The motherload.

The first tree we saw with such amazing colour! Right in the middle of town, actually in someone's front yard.

Saco River, just outside North Conway, in the White Mountains.

Not sure what this stream was called but a fair bit of climbing up and down rocks was required to get to it. Totally worth it in my book.

Willey Pond, in Crawford Notch State Park NH. The boy maintains the hot dogs here were excellent - he ate three.

Lake Chocorua, NH.

Train line the Conway Scenic Railway travels on in NH. We tried to get tickets for the train weeks before but they were sold out. We stumbled on the train line by accident and saw the train go past anyway, so I don't think we missed out on anything in particular :)

Historic Deerfield. We also had a night in Hanover but it poured with rain the whole time so no photos.

One final burst of colour in Deerfield.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The trip details

We flew to New York via LA on Virgin Australia, they were excellent to travel with and with a direct flight you can't complain.  We then flew Delta from LA to New York, I would never do that again.  Hopeless.  But we got there in one piece and our luggage arrived too so I guess we can't complain too much.

In New York we stayed at the Langham Place Fifth Avenue, which I would highly recommend.  On Fifth Avenue, one block away from the Empire State Building, it was in an excellent location and the staff and hotel services were top notch.  There was also a Michelin-starred restaurant in the hotel  - Ai Fiori - which was brilliant and also served breakfast! 

Of course we went shopping on Fifth Avenue, walked up to Central Park, visited the Museum of Natural History, ate dinner at Picholine (I highly recommend this restaurant), had brunch at Friend of a Farmer in Gramercy Park (which is where I want to live if I ever move to NYC), went on a helicopter flight around the city  (AWESOME), went to both decks of the Empire State Building, visited the Intrepid Museum, saw Grand Central Station (how all stations should look, in my opinion), ate cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery, and generally had an awesome time.

We caught a train to Boston, which was a great way to see the countryside without the trauma of driving on the wrong side of the road.  In Boston we stayed at the Fairmont Battery Wharf, which was really nice.  After our drive around the New England region, we came back to Boston for a couple of days.  Visited Little Italy, Harvard, MIT, did a tour around the city, ate at some nice places, the names of which I don't remember now, and generally had a lovely time.

We flew with Virgin America back to LA, they were excellent.  MUCH better than Delta.  The Virgin lounge in LAX leaves a lot to be desired, but hey it's a place to sit while you wait for your flight.  Then we had a very pleasant overnight flight with Virgin Australia back to Melbourne.  I would definitely fly with them again.

Oh, and we did a flight over the Lake District of New Hampshire in this bi-plane, which I would highly recommend if you ever get the chance.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

New York

It's probably time that I told you all about our recent trip to New York.  We visited in late September and spent a week there, seeing the sights, meeting up with Facebook friends, shopping, and generally having a wonderful time.  Here are a few highlights.

The view from our hotel window at sunset... that's the Flatiron Building in the middle.

Financial District and the Freedom Tower, with Statue of Liberty in the foreground. Taken from a helicopter which was an AWESOME way to see the city.

Central Park.

The city from the Empire State Building at dusk. It's touristy but totally worth it. And if you buy the express tickets you never have to wait in line. My kind of deal!

The Chrysler Building. Yes, we saw all the iconic things.

We went to the Intrepid Museum, which was really good. They have lots of planes, Concorde, the space shuttle Enterprise, USS Growler submarine, and the aircraft carrier Intrepid. Very interesting and well worth the visit.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lord Howe Island

At the end of June we decided to take a short break and visit Lord Howe Island, approximately 600km off the east coast of Australia.  It is a beautiful spot in the Pacific Ocean, famous for its natural attractions and endemic wildlife.  There are only 350 permanent residents on LHI, and a maximum of 400 visitors at any one time, so you never feel too crowded.


Accommodation options are plentiful, and we stayed at the Capella Lodge, which I would highly recommend.  Libby and Mark are the managers, and are there to make your stay as relaxing as possible.  They'll pick you up from the airport, take you into town any time you want to go, organise a picnic for you to take to the beach, arrange a fishing trip if you want one; nothing is too much trouble.

We woke up to this view every day, which, as you can imagine, was pretty hard to take.

Lord Howe 01

Meals were a highlight, and breakfast and dinner is included in the room rate. Friday night brings on the degustation menu, which I am not normally a fan of, but it was truly delicious and not too filling at all. The matched wines are always a danger but really not a worry when you don't have to drive home!

The Lord Howe Island Woodhen is a rare bird on the island, almost extinct a few years ago, but careful management has brought it back from the brink. They are not too worried about people getting up close and personal with a camera, either.

Lord Howe 06

We took a boat ride out to see Ball's Pyramid, which is the largest single rock rising from the ocean anywhere in the world. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side, and out trip was aborted due to four metre swells.

Lord Howe 08

Unless you live in Sydney, LHI is not the easiest place to get to but if you ever get the chance, I do suggest you go. It really is wonderful.

Lord Howe 07

Friday, September 20, 2013

Papua New Guinea part 5

We visited the Vitu Islands, and anchored inside the collapsed crater of an old volcano.  The people here had a small boat-building business.


We had planned to snorkel and see some of the underwater life but the locals told us a crocodile had been sighted that morning lurking about so it was decided that snorkelling would be just tempting fate. We rode around in the tenders instead.


The sides of the inlet were so steep!



It was another magnificent day althought overcast and extremely humid.

The next day we took a trip in the helicopter over Mt Uluwan, which as you can see is an active volcano.


We also flew over these waterfalls in the Nakanai Mountains, which are so remote that they don't even have a name.


We also took the tenders up the river and had a really good morning tea tied up under a large tree.

The next day we arrived in Kavieng and spent the morning sitting on the beach before heading to the airport and flying back to Australia. All in all it was a gorgeous trip and definitely a relatively safe way to see Papua New Guinea, which is usually getting in the news for all the wrong reasons. The staff onboard True North were wonderful and nothing was too much trouble. The chefs were tremendous and delivered five star meals every single day. It was a pleasure to travel on the True North, and I would highly recommend it if you ever get the chance.



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Papua New Guinea part 4

Ponam Island.  Just beautiful.  We had a gorgeous day visiting the lovely people of Ponam, who were so very friendly and delighted to see us. We had a look at the school and the hospital, and met the families who live on the island, which has one of the longest coral reefs in Manus Province.


While other people went scuba diving we got the ship's captain to take us for a ride in one of the tenders along the edge of the reef. A storm was coming and the scenery was spectacular.


During the afternoon we visited Rambutyo Island, where we were given a fine welcome with a Sing Sing.



The Chief of the village took his chance to give a long (and largely incomprehensible to us) speech welcoming us to the island. He looked very Chiefly.


I ate the best pineapple I have ever had in my LIFE on Rambutyo Island. And the fresh coconut water was pretty delicious too.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Papua New Guinea part 3

The Hermit and Ninigo Islands.

Lots of lagoons, atolls and reefs.  We snorkelled and lots of people went scuba diving (I don't know how to scuba dive).




In case you're wondering how I got all the overhead shots, the True North carries its own helicopter on board, and passengers can choose from a series of flights, available almost every day of the trip. I HIGHLY recommend this option if you get the chance.


We saw Pilot Whales too. Awesome stuff.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Papua New Guinea part 2

The next couple of days were spent cruising up the Sepik River.  The Sepik is 1,126km long and has a floodplain of up to 70kms across in the wet season.  It is the longest river in PNG.


Wherever we stopped on the river the locals would sail their boats (hollowed out logs, kayaks, bathtubs) out from their villages and come visit. We got a lot of fresh fish and fruit on board this way.


We bought some lovely artwork at this village, and the lady holding up the carving (which we bought) in this photo is the person who actually carved it. It depicts village life with the men fishing, the women working in the village and a crocodile lurking about, looking for dinner.


Our second day on the river, we visted another village and were welcomed with a huge Sing Sing.



We then took a long tride in the tenders to visit the stilt village on Lake Kambaraumba.



Judging from the looks on their faces, I don't think the two younger boys had ever seen white people before.


We then had a visit to a village with a special compound where the young men went to be initiated into the tribe. They spend three months there and have cuts made all down their backs and over the shoulders, made to resemble crocodiles. The cuts are stuffed with ash and mud and beaten with reeds daily to force the skin to raise permanently.



Women are normally not permitted but we also got special permission from the village chief to visit the Spirit House.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Papua New Guinea part 1

I'm finally getting around to writing about our trip to PNG last November.  Sorry for being so slack about it.

We flew to Cairns and stayed overnight before being picked up at our hotel by some of the lovely crew members from True North, the ship we would be sailing aboard for our time in PNG.  Being on a charter flight meant no nasty queues at Cairns airport, which is always a good thing in my book.

We arrived in Madang and were taken by coach to the boat.


Taking just 36 passengers, with 20 crew to look after us, it really is a gorgeous ship.

Our first stop was Bagabag Island, which is very pretty. Our first adventure was a helicopter flight over KarKar Island, mostly made up of an active volcano.


The villagers on Bagabag Island were simply lovely, and escorted us on a walk along the water's edge. The little kids, some of whom had never seen white people, were having the greatest time ever, it felt. Every village we visited was given a present of books and colouring pencils and footballs or other things, which were always a big hit.

This is a toilet in a typical PNG island village:

Yes, it is a hut built over the water.