We arrived at our hotel, in downtown Dubai at 2am local time which was breakfast time in Australia so it was fair to say we were a bit tired.
The airport is large and even at that time very busy but it’s very efficient with hoards of people there to help guide you to the right place (or suitable sized taxi). In fact everywhere you look there are people employed in the service industry cleaning, directing, serving, helping etc. and wherever we’ve been those people have been courteous and friendly.
We were kindly upgraded on checkin “since this your first time in Dubai and we want you to have a good experience” and our hotel room is amazing. 27th floor with views of the world’s tallest building the Burj Khalifa.
After a lovely sleep we walked to the Dubai Mall (via the air conditioned walkway). The Mall is pretty impressive even for two people not that bothered about shops and in the middle they have a multi-level aquarium. Even just passing by you can see sharks and rays to mention a few of the creatures on display. We then opted for the city hop on/off bus as a good way of getting a feel for the city especially since unfortunately it was cloudy.
I’d say the city is less a melting pot of cultures, more a cultural theme park with different brands from all over the world on offer. Although some shops are from this region they are likely to be right next to a Boots or a Banana Republic. The same is true of the tourists – I feel like a saw people from all over the globe here today with no one region dominating.
In the evening we watched the Dubai Fountain which is a fountain display set to music. Following that we enjoyed a delicious meal. Our restaurant didn’t serve alcohol which is what you’d expect, however this meant they’d put some real effort into a great non-alcoholics drinks menu. Neil’s iced tea actually came with a scoop of lemon sorbet built in and my lemongrass and lime fruit soda was one of the most refreshing drinks I’ve had in a while.
So to summarise it’s definitely an interesting place worth spending a day or two if the opportunity arises. It’s clearly somewhere that works hard to give its visitors a good experience but it does feel a bit like a middle eastern theme park designed for tourists who don’t really want things too different! However on a two day stopover that’s probably not such a bad thing!
(just some fish in a shop window)
(Very easy to get around as an English speaker with all signs in English and Arabic)
(A hazy skyline with the Burj Khalifa on the left)
(The Burj Al Arab)
(So tall I couldn’t get it all in frame!)
Saturday was a washout so we opted for a morning of reading, and an afternoon at the cinema in Katoomba (seeing A Cure for Wellness – which was an enjoyable but very strange film). On the way out an Australian guy looked at the pouring rain, turned and said “it could be worse, it could be bush fires” which is a great point I guess. We drove by the lookout spots but this was the view from the car at Katoomba’s most famous attraction the Three Sisters. Needless to say we didn’t get out!
Today we had booked to see the Diamond Cave which is part of the Jenolan Caves. Leaving a rainy Blackheath we were happy to see the clouds lift a little on the way over but it was pouring again by the time we got to the caves.
Thankfully the caves are an all weather activity and these being very old caves were nice and dry with some lovely crystal formations.
Imagine our surprise when 90 mins later we emerged to sunshine and some blue sky! We drove back to Katoomba and finally got our view of the Three Sisters!
By the time we got the 10km up the road to Blckheath its famous lookout Govett’s Leap was yet again in thick fog!
We rounded out our Amazing Australian Adventure with a lovely meal in a small restaurant just over the road from our B&B.
We’ve thoroughly enjoyed Australia and New Zealand and we were saying that it seems so long ago we were being driven to Heathrow. Part of me is looking forward to getting home but part of me could happily travel for much longer.
We’ll leave tomorrow (Monday) afternoon and arrive home Wednesday evening. Since we get to cash-in the hours we lost getting here we’ve got time for 2 nights and 1.5 days in Dubai on the way home which should be an interesting place to see.
Thanks to anyone who read along with us and especially thank you if you commented – it was lovely to feel connected. I found writing the blog was a really nice way for me to mull over and process the day and our experiences so thanks Carine for suggesting it.
We also learned about grey nomads yesterday as the couple running this b&b described themselves as such as said that’s how they found out about the job here. As you can probably guess from the name it describes retirees who travel around in motorhomes / caravans but stop off to work for money and/or board just like the backpackers do.
The couple currently running our b&b on behalf of the owners (who run a backpacker hostel as well) were travelling around and then have stopped here to work for a few months.
They said if they get tired of life in their motorhome they look for opportunities to house-sit for a while.
Not a bad way to spend your early retirement if you like to travel and are happy to work a bit.
Bit of cloudy/drizzly day today and likely for the rest of our trip but we had a short walk out and momentarily saw pulpit rock as the clouds swirled around Grose Valley
I reckon, as with places, it’s much easier for a person to look good in the sunshine. With the dreariness I’ve felt the need to put on make up this evening for the first time in weeks!
In other news the place we’re staying is very cute.
Tomorrow we’re heading into Sydney on the train to do some of our previous “wet weather” options that we didn’t need before. Sunday we’re going to the Jenolan Caves since it doesn’t matter if it rains when your in a cave!
Having just come out from a nice Italian meal into windy cold rain I think the weather is trying to prepare us for our return home!
Today was mostly travelling but on our way from Te Anau back to Queenstown we got to enjoy the beautiful scenery that we missed travelling there due to cloud cover. We stopped at Jacks Point (an exclusive development centred around a golf course / clubhouse) for a spot of lunch with Suki and her son. Was lovely to see them again and Ollie was full of all the things we needed to do with them before we left. Very sweet.
Some amazing views of Lake Wakatipu on the way out then solid cloud from the coast of New Zealand right to Australia and up into Blackheath in the Blue Mountains where we’re now settled for the evening. Our hotel/room here is very cute and (for my family members) is very reminiscent of Gran’s house in North Hamilton Street!
We’re here for 4 nights so we’ll just have to ignore the rain that’s forecast and get out and enjoy the mountains anyway.
Meanwhile here’s some nice aerial views of New Zealand to leave you with.
If you look closely you can see Queenstown on the far side of the lake in the middle of the above photo. Gives you an idea of why it’s such an amazing location.
Glenorchy is at the top of the lake in the above photo and on the right of the lake you can just see the road we drove up to get there.
Finally the clouds rolling in over the west coast.
We started today with a trip to Lake Te Anau’s glowworm caves. Like the Little Penguin trip photography isn’t allowed but in this modern age of feeling that you have to capture everything it’s really nice to have that option removed and simply experience what is around you.
The trip started with a 30 minute boat journey along Lake Te Anau on a beautiful still morning with a little chill in the air. The caves, at 12,000 years old, are geologically very young and they are formed by slightly acidic water dissolving limestone rock. The cave network is over 6km long but only the first few 100 meters are accessible without scuba gear.
Ducking low to enter we walked on a series of dimly-lit suspended walkways with water gushing through the caves all around us. As we got further in our guide (whose name was Ripple) dimmed the lights further so we could see the glowworms. They are in fact a fly larvae who create sticky fishing lines (similar to a spiders web) then use their light to catch flying insects.
They appear in clusters and when you look at them as a whole you can tell by the slight movement that it’s something organic.
We then got into a small punt-type boat (that our guide pulled along using chains on the cave roof) and with the lights fully out we were taken further into the caves where at times it was so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of you. The display from the glow worms was amazing like constellations in the night sky and travelling through such a dark cave with the water all around was thrilling.
Even better, we had braved going in a group with two young kids which others had clearly avoided. As a result our group was really small and the kids behaved so well. Obviously they were not afraid of the dark!
We spent the now warm afternoon enjoying a walk by the lakeshore and visiting the bird sanctuary where we got to see this regions famous bird the Takahe which is a flightless bird about the size of chicken which was thought to be extinct until some were found in this area in 1948. We also saw the tiny morepork owl (our hitch-hiker from yesterday told us about the name which she clearly found very funny).
All in all we’ve really loved Te Anau. It’s pretty quiet here with a relaxed feel and a beautiful backdrop. There is definitely a theme to the places we really like with lakes and mountains (and sunshine) being common themes.
It’s been a great way to finish the short but sweet New Zealand part of our trip. Only the Blue Mountains and a days stopover in Dubai to go and then our trip will be….. No I can’t say it!
Today we drove 120km from Te Anau to Milford Sound through the Fiordland National Park a beautiful area of fiords, lakes, rainforest and mountains.
Milford Sound is the most commonly visited of the fiords with others such as Doubtful Sound being harder (and therefore more costly) to get to. As we got closer the clouds cleared and we had a wonderful 90 minute trip seeing dolphins and seals as well as the spectacular scenery.
On the way back to Te Anau we visited several lovely scenic stop-offs.
After one of these stops we picked up another pair of hitch-hikers this time two really nice young Americans called Patrick and Brenna who had just finished the Routeburn Track which had taken them three days and to a height of 4300ft. Very impressive! It was their first time hitch-hiking and apparently we were the first car that drove by!
This evening after a simple meal of pasta and sauce I got on with the laundry. We may be on the trip of a lifetime but our clothes won’t wash themselves!
On Sunday morning, despite the low cloud, we went on one of the shorter walks in Aoraki / Mount Cook (if you’re wondering that’s the Maori / English names, apparently it’s the only case where the Maori name has been given precedence). We took the Tasman Glacier track and given the weather I went with fairly low expectations and was pleasantly surprised to see the end of the glacier in the distance, a milky white lake and some teeny icebergs. Some cyclists there were vocally less impressed.
We then set off for Wanaka and on the way picked up two twenty-something female German hitch-hikers! We’ve seen way more backpackers in NZ (compared with Australia) and Queenstown itself was predominantly a mix of backpackers, retired travellers and Chinese tourists. We’ve met many more young English people here working in cafes and restaurants (in fact today we met a girl who grew up in Over which is three villages from where we live!). Our travel companions were from near Hanover, the younger here on a six month working holiday and her sister visiting for six weeks. Through them we learned various backpacking tips and tricks including WWOOFing (exchanging labour for food/board).
At Wanaka we enjoyed a walk along the lakeshore and took some photos of “that Wanaka tree”
This morning we set off for Te Anau. We’ve covered a little under half (lengthwise) of New Zealand’s South Island and it’s been so easy to navigate around due to the lack of road choices and the lack of traffic! Although the roads are all single lane they’ve so far been better quality than similar roads in Australia (where “rough surface” signs seems to be a rather permanent fixture). It also helps we’re now in an SUV with good suspension unlike the very hard ride of the campervan.
On the way we took in the historic gold mining village of Arrowtown and enjoyed some pebble skimming on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.
We are now happily settled in for the evening in Te Anau relieved that our accommodation is very nice (so hard to tell when you book). We were mildly apprehensive because we’re here for three nights and because last night’s stay in Wanaka was like an 80s throwback with the floor on the ceiling and the ceiling on the walls!
Tomorrow the weather is due to pick up for our trip to Milford Sound so looking forward to a good trip.
Shortly after heading out of Queenstown today we stopped off in Gibbston Valley at the A J Hackett bungy site to watch some people (braver than us) throw themselves off a bridge!
As we drove on our run of amazing weather ended as we headed to Aoraki / Mount Cook and the village (of the same name) that lies 15km south of the summit of New Zealand’s highest mountain.
We have however had the most amazing weather so far, and with the exception of a few dull days it’s been glorious, so although it’s disappointing that the mountains are obscured by cloud, the landscape is otherwise really stunning.
As we passed Twizel (the nearest town) we started seeing blue-ish clouds but yet a thick cloud cover. I wondered if they might be above a lake but dismissed that since of course the lake would only be blue if it was itself reflecting a blue sky (which it most definitely wasn’t). However we soon discovered the blue clouds were indeed caused by the very blue Lake Pukaki which I’ve discovered is caused by “glacial flour” he extremely finely ground rock particles from the glacier.
Looks like the rain might be in for the weekend but hopefully we can do some exploring tomorrow before heading to Wanaka.