8 days in Raiatea

We had decided to spend 8 days in Raiatea because we got a good weekly rate deal on a decent bungalow with a kitchen (important to stay under budget), and that number was just the way it worked out with the flights to Maupiti. It gave us some time to chill out and catch up on some tasks that we needed internet for – so a couple of those days we effectively spent working.

Our bungalow:


We stayed at Pension Manava which was about 6km outside of the main town of Utoroa. Not having a beach or any decent access to the water for swimming or snorkelling, I was initially worried about being a big cut off from anything to do. In fact we didn’t find any great water accessible from the shore in Raiatea – the best turned out to be the town “Beach” in Utoroa – which was good for swimming but not great for snorkeling. But in the end it was fine – one day we rented bikes to go to town, we rented a car for 2 days to explore the island, we did a day’s diving excursion and a day tour of Tahaa island – so filled our time well enough.

Lovely flower ladies posing for a photo- there was a flower competition on the beach the day we went:


Taputaputea Marae- located right at the only “beach” so we enjoyed walking around both times we visited. This is the main altar:


The highlight was probably the diving – we weren’t expecting much but we got a great pass dive with more sharks than I’ve ever seen in the water at once, big schools of eagle rays, barracuda and jackfish.

Family of 13 eagle rays which was admired from about 25m:


One of about 7 sharks in the passe, most black tip but also grey reef:


Huge schools of jackfish and barracudas were everywhere! These are jackfish:


This was followed by lunch on the nearby motu – we were left there for about 3.5 hrs with a cooler full of great food, very few other people around and some nice snorkeling nearby. We then found some dolphins on our way to the second dive – they enjoyed playing in the bow wave and wake of our boat and we messed around with them for 20-30 mins.

The motu where we were dropped for lunch:


Pod of dolphins that played with us between dives:


The second dive was also pretty good – the wreck of the Nordby which sank in 1903 – a three-masted ship which is much older than any other wrecks we’ve dived on before.

On the 5th day, we did a boat tour to Ta’haa which is a neighboring island. The weather was not ideal but we enjoyed a late morning snorkel in the coral garden, a tour of a vanilla farm (smelled delicious!) and lunch on a motu. The water in the coral garden was so clear and although challenging due to the shallow depths, it was really fun to interact with the fish.

John making fish friends with the help of some old baguette:


Above water of the coral garden which was between Raiatea and Tahaa:



After 8 days of relaxing, we were ready to head to Maupiti!! We enjoyed a Leffe beer at the airport as it was the same price as the local brew! And there was great live music so barely noticed the flight delay which we now assume is the norm:)

Adopting the Polynesian lifestyle in Huahine

For the first 3 or 4 days the weather was a bit changeable, but we enjoyed the time relaxing inside when we had to and on the beach when we could. The weather was been warm but cloudy with persistant (though intermittant) rain. And the gusty winds are something I’ve not experienced before – they come through every few minutes and make me think the house is going to fall over!

Beautiful tropical waters and typical weather- sun versus cloud/rain at the “Eagle ray spot” at the edge of the Fare beach:


It’s gorgeous here and there are far fewer people than the other islands we’ve seen so far. We are staying at a well-known pension on the main road of the biggest town – Fare. But it’s a pretty small town, just big enough to have a supermarket, bank, pharmacy, post office, a couple of pensions/restaurants and a small market area. And for the first time, we’re in a dorm (as it was FAR cheaper) but aside from the lack of privacy and constant mosquito attacks, it’s actually kind of fun. There are some great people here – a German family, an Australian couple and a French couple. We hang out together in the living room/kitchen during the day- playing Scrabble and making meals. We even did a cocktail hour last night- we made Pina Coladas in a big pot and all 9 of us sat around the table chatting.


Every day we walk 5 minutes to the beach and snorkel. There isn’t much to see in terms of coral or even fish but there is a resident family of eagle rays whom we have seen everyday. There is a Muma ray with her 4 babies and they let us snorkel with them for 10-15 minutes

The Muma ray that we snorkel with at the beach across from our pension:


John snorkeling at about 4m with the Muma eagle ray:


In the afternoons, between snorkeling, we eat baguette sandwiches and play games with people – I learned chess but Scrabble is a fav. I can’t remember the last time we had so much time to just relax, read and play games. It’s been really great but we were keen to rent a car for the day with 2 of our dormmates, Jess & Dave and spend time around other parts of the island. We visited the marae (ancient stone temple platforms), snorkelled, lunched on the beach, grabbed a banana split and coffee for a treat and snorkelled again. The weather is getting better but the afternoon was still cloudy!

Visiting the marae on the coast, 5km from Fare. Built about 1000 years ago.


Climbing a coconut tree to retrieve two of the coconuts – opening them later was a challenge:


Also we discovered driving around the island that they have some sort of Baguette postal service and instead of mailboxes they have baguette posting boxes outside their homes to receive fresh baguette every day – this one looks kind of like a baguette rocket launcher!:


On the 4th or 5th day the weather really improved, the wind dropped and it has been mostly sunny. We explored some other snorkelling spots within hiking distance of town – and guess what, more eagle rays! They seem to be everywhere here in big family groups (quite unusual to see this) and it is really great to dive with them – I think the highlight of our stay here. Out of around 15 times we went in the water, we saw eagle rays every time except twice. The best snorkelling spot we found was around 40 minutes walk to the south-west of Fare – around the next bay to the point where there’s a very small beach to get in the water. The coral here was much much better (near Fare it’s mostly dead or in a poor state – the yacht anchorage close to town doesn’t help the situation) and there was a nice reef dropoff to dive down.

Hiking with our snorkel gear


We found bigger and bigger groups of eagle rays:


The largest group I saw in the water at one time was 12 eagle rays! I think I captured 10 of them in this picture. This is really impressive given that in other places in the world we have seen them, generally it has been a surprise to see even 2 or 3 together:


We were lucky to be visiting at the time of the Heiva – a traditional Polynesian festival (but this particular one seemed to be in honour of Bastille Day – or at least coinciding with it) – and there were dance events on at a stadium near town. We went on the finals night and it was really a great show. The dances looked very exhausting, we lots of very quick movements to rapid drum beats. We didn’t understand anything of what was said or sung (it was all in Tahitian, with hardly anything said even in French) – but it was great to see a show that was put on for the local people, not for the tourists.

At the Heiva dance finals show:


On the last day the weather was glorious and everything looked proper tropical! We met a lady on the beach called Rosie who was a princess from the Marquesas, visiting Huahine for a few days. She was hunting in the water for a type of sea urchin which had edible meat – she harvested a few and gave us the meat to try – raw marinated momentarily in sea water of course. It tasted a bit more like a vegetable than fish.. not too bad, but a rather unpleasant slimy texture. She also found some nice shells and gave them to Stef as a present. We finished the day by grabbing a bottle of the excellent tahitian Hinano beer and sat on the rocks at the end of the beach to watch the sunset.

Fare beach with the yacht anchorage in the background – definitely a great place to stop if you’re sailing through the area:


Rosie, our polynesian princess sea urchin fisherwoman friend, brandishing some sea urchin meat:


Sunset on our last evening in Huahine:


Enjoying a beer watching the sun go down:


We did great on budget in Huahine – our accommodation in the dorm for 6 nights cost 21000 XPF (~210 USD) for both of us including airport transfers and we spent on average around 3000 XPF (~30 USD) per day in the supermarket on food – we didn’t eat out at all and the only cafe purchase was a coffee on the day we drove around the island – for which the car rental was only 3300 XPF (33 USD) as we shared the cost with Jess and Dave – so all up around 225 USD per person spent here vs our $75/day budget for French Polynesia which would have provided 450 USD per person for our time here. So we’ve earned a couple of dives on Raiatea, and it’s important we achieved this anyway in order to pay for some islands where the cheapest place to stay is in excess of $100 per night. Hopefully we can continue to be a little under budget in Raiatea as that’s the last of the “cheaper” islands we visit.

French Polynesia- Tahiti & Mo’orea

We have been looking forward to this part of the trip for awhile! We flew from Auckland to Tahiti which took 4h30. We crossed the international date line on this flight so between that and the 2 hour time difference: we left NZ on the morning of the 9th and landed in Tahiti on the afternoon of the 8th. So my journal has 2 entries for both July 8 and 9:)

Tahiti has quite a reputation but as it’s also the most touristy, our expectations were low for the town itself. However, we enjoyed ourselves on our 2 day “layover”. We stayed at a great family pension on the west coast which provided a comfortable and quiet place to call home to 2 days. Relais Fenua is run by Annabelle who is really friendly- her daughter, Nau (sp?), is about 4 years old and the first morning we were there, she saw with us at breakfast and we played together for about 3 hours. She only spoke french so it was a good opportunity to practice!



Our time in Tahiti was spent walking the beach across from the pension (the first night we stared at the gorgeous stars for half hour), eating at the roulotte down the road the first night and the pizza the second. Roulottes are pretty common and provide great food for a reasonable price- it’s full of locals, not a tourist in sight!


The next day we snagged the local bus to the airport ($2.50 vs the $35 hotel transfer) which got us there a bit early. We queued in a non-moving line for about 20 minutes before learning the staff was on strike so the flight may or may not take off… the flight between Tahiti and Mo’orea is 7 minutes. We chatted with other travellers – nearly all of whom were on their honeymoon and eventually, boarded our flight. The strike will actually take place tomorrow so we count ourselves lucky?

Landing in Mo’orea, you know straight away this is not a place for the “backpacker” type. Everyone is wearing fancy dress, heels, and carrying nice luggage and is on their honeymoon. Fair enough but what it also means is that hotel and transport operators aren’t expecting people outside the inclusive packages travelling on “vouchers”. We didnt have transportation from the airport pre-arranged and there wasn’t a taxi in sight so we were lucky to find an operator who let us tag along and he dropped us at our motel (“Motel Albert”) in Cook’s Bay.

Our place here is a spacious flat with a kitchen, across from the Bay and walking distance from a small market. It was impressive at first but after spending some time here- I can confidently tell you it’s no treat. There are about 1000 bugs – ants mostly and cockroaches in a kitchen which hasn’t been cleaned since 1982. Everything is old and has been housing spiders for a long time. The bed is lumpy and thin and the pillow have such a strong stench of must, we had to cover them with a towel and our silk liners. And don’t get me started on the *&^%ing roosters that start crowing (or whatever they do) and bloody 3am! This for $65 per night was one of the cheapest places we could find to stay on the island – and whilst it’s not quite roughing it like some places we have done (Thailand, Nepal etc) it isn’t exactly great value for money when compared with anywhere else we’ve visited in the world (paying this much in Australia or New Zealand – at least we got something clean and bug free).


The weather is warm but cloudy the first day so we explore the bay, walking 3 miles in either direction of our place to see what is around. John snorkels and I swim. Eating in every night is fun – and cheap.

Our flat after light rain – Motel Albert


Today the weather was much better, clear in the morning so we decided to rent a car – $70 for the day. The island is 60km around. We stopped at Belvedere Lookout – which has the best view on the island. We wanted to get there before it clouded over – you can see both bays from up there and there are some archeological points of interest as well- mostly evidence from tribes that lived there 600 years ago before everyone moved closer to the coast when the Europeans came.


Us from Belvedere Viewpoint – with Opunohu Bay on the left and Cook’s Bay on right:


Driving around the island provided many spectacular views such as this:


One of two public beached on Mo’orea. We stopped here in the morning to snorkel for an hour, then again on the way back:)


So the second full day was spent exploring the island by car – with many stops and swims in between. It was good to get out because seeing other parts really influenced our opinion – as did the weather I’m sure. The snorkeling was OK – the coral wasn’t great but what made it good was seeing 2 spotted eagle rays at the reef dropoff just off one of the main public beaches. All in all, Mo’orea is a beautiful island full of lovely people. But it’s very developed and touristy and if you’re not staying at the Hilton or Sofitel, it’s hard to access the best. These developments – and many people’s private homes – have blocked the entire coastline and fenced it so people even 20m away cannot see it! There are a few places along the road where the coastline is too thin to support a house – this is where we often stopped for a rest and photo opp – however, the rest is really off limits.

Tahiti in the distance – notice the outer reef which causes the waves to break – this occurs around the whole island and results in a protected, shallow lagoon hugging the coastline. PS – this is the Sofitel property:


So we are off to Huahine tomorrow in hope of even fewer tourists:)

Seven, no Six Days in Japan

I say seven because we were meant to have a week in Japan which isnt even enough time but John got bad food poisoning which forced us to move our flight back 1 day. We ended up flying through Bangkok and since we only have 15 hours, we chose to spend a little more than usual and take a last minute deal at Suvarnabhumi Suite Hotel, a 4 star hotel near the airport. Bad Idea. After 4 weeks of beautiful Thai street food (and drinking street food jug water), THIS is the place that gives us food poisoning. Rather ironic!

But our RTW air ticket was flexible enough for us to change the departure date 3 hours before our scheduled departure time (even after we checked in!). amazing! The idiots at the hotel actually charged a higher rate to stay a second night- and on top of it, they conveniently “forgot” how to speak English when we asked to speak to a manager. Let’s just say they got a wordful on TripAdvisor review.

Kyoto night skyline including out hotel- The Tower Hotel


Anyway, we did manage to get to Tokyo the following day and even had a pleasant flight on JAL. We snagged a late train from Tokyo to Kyoto and arrived there just before 7pm. Outside of Tokyo most people don’t speak English in Japan but they are so friendly that we were able to get by with miming which is good because we didn’t have a hotel sorted when we got there. It was dark and raining AND Japan isn’t good at wifi so after asking (I mean, miming) we found a Starbucks and got 10 minutes free wifi which was just enough to make an online reservation (just around the corner, a great deal at the Tower hotel)!

Walking through temple area on the way to Nijo Castle, Kyoto


Kyoto is beautiful and full of UNESCO world heritage sites, 17 to be exact. We spent the day exploring as many as we could, starting with the Golden Pavilion. But on the way we walked through the beautiful temple area – but full of Japanese tourists (above).

The Golden Pavilion


The Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) was built in 1397 as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. His son converted it into a temple. In 1950 an obsessed monk burned it to the ground (it seems this happened alot to various temples we saw on our trip) and in 1955 it was reconstructed to its original design, but the gold-foil now covers the middle floor as well. We enjoyed walking around the gardens – the most peaceful and idealistic we visited in the whole of Japan.

The gardens of the Golden Pavilion


Next stop for the day was Nijo Castle which was built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu.



For dinner we wanted something authentic, delicious and cheap so we sought out a ramen place- bought our ticket from a machine and were delivered 2 huge bowls!


The next day we headed south to Kagoshima to meet with John’s cousin Jeremy and his wife, Rie. We stayed with them for 4 nights which was awesome. We learned a lot about the culture, ate some amazing food, enjoyed a couple hot spring baths and did some great hiking. They really took care of us and one evening took us to a 6 course traditional Japanese meal!

At White Bird Peak with Jeremy, the start of our 6 hour hike around the 3 lakes area which ended in at a hot spring bath.


Jeremy showing us around the town on our first day- through the bamboo forest


Rie, Jeremy, John and Me finishing our last of 6 courses.


During one of the days when Jeremy and Rie were working, we leveraged our Japanese Rail Pass to visit Kumamoto Castle, Built between 1601 and 1607, the original building was besieged and burnt during the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion, one of the final stands made by the Samurai against the new order. We spent a couple of hours here and (of course) enjoyed a starbucks before heading back to Kagoshima to meet Jeremy and Rie for dinner.

Kumamoto Castle


After 4 great days in Kagoshima, we headed back north to Tokyo. The fast train delivered us over 1500km in about 7 comfortable hours to Tokyo where we met up with our friend Karima, whom we met on the dive trip in Raja Ampat. She took us to a great dinner and ordered us a variety of dishes included some great ramen!


Finally, it was back to our TINY hotel in Tokyo where luckily, we only had to spend a few hours before flying to Kathmandu.


Driving North Island of New Zealand

We had 4 relaxing days in Auckland which gave us time to visit a museum, cook in our full kitchen, do laundry and get together for dinner with our friends, Michael & Sam, whom we met in Philippines. John made moussaka for dinner and we enjoyed catching up with them on their travels, sharing stories and plans for the next few months. Next stop for them is Fiji! Actually, Auckland is a great place for meeting people as it’s the travel hub for anywhere around the South Pacific.

Me, Sam, John and Michael making fun of ourselves as we all ended up wearing the very fashionable zip-off travel trousers!:


The next day John and I picked up our rental van and we headed north to Paihia to see the Bay of Islands. The weather was sunny but pretty chilly requiring all our normal layers plus our new jackets. We stayed two nights and did a nice morning hike to a view point overlooking the bay and a boat dolphin tour. But what I will remember Paihia most for being the place where we learned that new immigration rules will prevent my spousal visa from being approved so we won’t be able to live in the UK! John spent hours that evening reading up on the changes and drafting letters to Theresa May (MP), the Home Office, the newspapers and anyone else we could think of.

And meanwhile, these dolphins probably have a better chance of getting a work visa in the UK:







Fourth of July! We head from Paihia south to Cambridge stopping in Auckland briefly for a camera filter and Starbucks:) Not much to do here except enjoy fish’n chips and spend the night before we go to Matamata. The light rain and sun made a beautiful double rainbow on the drive.


Next day we visited Hobbiton- the set of the Shire in Lord of the Rings. It is really cool and we learned a lot from our guide who worked on the farm during the filming. There are 44 hobbit holes – all newly created for the new Hobbit movies as the hobbit holes from the first movies were made of foam and destroyed. The farm and land is owned by the Alexander family who required Peter Jackson to return the land to its original state after they filmed the first movies. This time they decided to leave it for public tours. There is a large crew responible for maintaining the look of the “set” and match exactly the matching set located elsewhere in New Zealand – and Peter Jackson is a perfectionist for detail so everything from the size and age of trees, the details of the mailboxes (all 44 are different) and the number of logs in a basket are managed. They even cut the middle of the trees out in order so they don’t grow too tall. The objective is to have the shire look exactly the same for our grandchildren as it does now.



And the heavy fog, whilst annoying in the shire was absolutely beautiful once we drove above it. It was a sea of clouds:


July 6 we drove to Wellington and met up with some of John’s friends and ex-colleagues from his SQS days. We had a great time chatting over a few beers before heading back to our hostel.


Saji, Jess, Julie, Me, Andrew & John at Molly Malone’s Pub in Wellington

We spent a leisurely morning in the city the following morning, Starbucks for breakfast then caught the premier of TED which we really enjoyed! Then we headed back north toward Auckland with French Polynesia on our minds!!

Stef’s Packing List and Kit Assessment

We are 7 months into the trip so I feel I can now give a reasonable assessment of the items I originally packed for the trip. I’ll start with attire.

Clothing: For shirts, I bought 3 long sleeve, 2 short sleeve and 2 tank tops. By far the best purchase was the SmartWool short sleeve T-shirt (pink). I wear it almost everyday, it’s comfortable, doesn’t wrinkle and never smells. It is fragile when wet so it can tear easily when washing and wringing out but otherwise, it’s the easiest shirt I’ve ever owned.

In hindsight, only 1 long sleeve button down and 1 thermal-style (HH purple) was needed. I find myself wearing the HH one even in warm climates in the evening although it’s designed for cold climates. Another one that I wear 10 days in a row before washing:)

Not surprisingly, the synthetic shirts did not stand up. I bought a Hally Hanson polo (black) which is really light and packs well but it smells after 2 minutes and doesn’t breathe so its hot (despite being supposedly a “cool” fabric).


For trousers, I brought 4 in total. 1 North Face capri pant (top) which are comfortable and have a drawstring. I found the drawstring at the waist an absolute lifesaver as my weight has fluctuated a bit and I didn’t have a belt. The craghoppers at the bottom are my only shorts but I can only wear them when I have nothing in my pockets as they don’t have a drawstring like the other 2 do.

Women’s travel trousers unfortunetely lack good pockets, the exception are the craghoppers (bottom) which are great- I can cram passports, cameras and loads of other stuff in the brilliant side pocket. These also convert into shorts and although they aren’t cute, they are really functional.

REI travel trousers (middle) are also great but pockets are a problem and they have just started to tear in the pocket where I sometimes put my iphone.

The last pair I threw in last minute- an old pair of cotton gouchos intended for sleeping but actually, I wear them all the time. They are breezy and super comfy.

Socks- 3 pair CoolMax socks for warm climates, 1 pair medium wool for cool climates and trekking and 1 thick wool pair for Nepal (and cold nights). The coolmax socks double for liners when trekking. We got good socks and in combination with high quality boots, this saved our feet.


Underwear– I started with 4 pair of underwear, 3 bras and 1 swimsuit. 2 pair of underwear were Ex-officio and they are the best!! I was so sad to lose a pair- and despite my best efforts to replace it, I couldn’t find anyone in Asia selling the brand! I also found 1 swimsuit was not enough since I found myself wearing it everyday in Thailand, Philippines and now in French Poly. I managed to find a good deal in Australia (surprising I know) and bought another one there for $5 at Target- yeah clearance!


Footwear. Only 2 things- hiking boots and good sandals. We researched, tested and invested in footwear and it saved our feet more than once. I definitely recommend taking the time to find the BEST and spend a little more on footwear. The boots are Salomon womens hiking boots with Goretex and a locking hook which allow me to wear them as a shoe (you don’t have to tie them all the way up and the lock hook holds the lace in place). These are the best boots I have owned, we hiked for 3 weeks in the mountains of Nepal in them and they protected my feet and ankles from some extreme situations! I have worn them in both warm and cool climates and they do a good job of letting my feet breathe. Despite the harsh conditions- mountains, being strapped to the outside of my pack when not in use etc., they are still in excellent condition. We will wear them in New Zealand for warmth and South America for more trekking.

I paid about 135GBP for these- tried them on in a store but bought them online as it saved me about 20%. They are half a size larger than my normal footwear to accomodate thick socks. Definitely one of my best purchases.


These KEEN closed toed sandals are the best. I cannot recommend them enough. I wear them everyday in hot climates and strap them to the outside of my pack when not in use. They are easy to kick on and off, comfortable to hike in, great in the water (dry quickly and don’t smell) and have saved my toes about a million times. They should be about $70 but I managed to snag mine on offer in the UK for 35 GBP. Worth every penny.


Dive Kit (dive computer, mask, snorkel, wetsuit, fins, underwater housing for camera)- We brought a lot of our own kit to save us money on rentals and allow us to snorkel at length whenever we wanted:) The wetsuit was the cheapest we could find (70 GBP) and is meant for surfing but it’s been great. It’s a stretchy 3/2 (3mm on body and 2mm on arms and legs) and is compact enough to fit in a small dry bag. It’s been abused on the trip but is still in very good condition. The fins, John picked out the AquaLung HotShot fins which are much shorter than normal dive fins but still work great and live on the outside of our pack so they’re easy to travel with. They are also comfortable with or without socks, and full boots are not needed – unlike with most dive fins. These are starting to show signs of wear but should last to the end of the trip. Bought online for 65 GBP.


My original mask case cracked on it’s first flight so I bought a tuperware container and put more stuff in it which actually worked out much better. I put my mask, computer, tank banger, anti-fog and dive cap (to keep the hair out of my face) in here and its worked great. The snorkel is great for travel too as it bends in 2 places so I can easily cram it in my rucksack.

The underwater camera housing is for our Olympus TOUGH 810 and is the smallest, cheapest camera/housing combo and it works great. There are obviously limitations on picture quality but for the size and price, it can’t be beat. We have been able to capture everything we wanted to so far!

Waterproof Documents Folder– is an non-negotiable item for every traveller. We keep all important things in here and actually ended up getting another one in the Philippines because the first was getting too full. In one I put all important docs, and in the other, all the souvenir-type things I want to keep like currency notes from some countries, travel journal, maps and itineraries, full dive log books, etc. I sent this home in Hong Kong but it’s nice to have 2 safe places to keep things.


The “Yellow Bag” is our miscellaneous bag where we put things we needed and didn’t know where else to pack them. This is our most utilized bag so I keep it handy! The original contents included: universal drain plug, hand sanitizer, anti-itch cream, massage oil, duct tape, anti-fog, sewing kit, 100% DEET*, spare Body wash, laundry wash, head torch, soap, playing cards, Swiss army knife, tissues, 2 sporks, laundry clothes line (X2), & extra closures for rucksack bag. I have underlined most used items.

The contents of the bag after 7 months is roughly the same: electrolyte pack, tissues, 1 spork (the other broke), clothes line, string, sewing kit, duct tape, antiseptic wipes, massage oil, tiger balm, powder laundry detergent, 2 chopstick knife spoon sets, lip balm, swiss army knife, hat.

So all in all, we are using most things which is testament to the usefulness of other peoples blogs and travel recommendations!

* 100% DEET eats plastic (we learned this the hard way) so we have it for back-up and keep it in 2 zip lock bags. We buy insect spray with DEET as we go.


Other necessities: We each brought a travel towel (XL) and a silk sleeping liner (RAB). Both of these things we use a lot so I’m glad we got good quality. The sleep liner has a pillow insert which makes it a bit more expensive but is integral to the usefulness of it as it protects your head from random pillows and anchors the whole thing so I don’t get too twisted during the night.

The medical kit we purchased then modified. We removed bulky or unnecessary items and packed it full of extra aspirin and other basic meds from home. We also brought 70 malarone (anti-malarial drug) and antibiotics which we kept in our toiletry kits. The malarone we got online which was cheap and fast. They were able to give us a prescription on the website and we got it in 2 working days. In Nepal, we replaced and augmented our medical kit with 3 types of anti-biotics and cold medicine. So far we haven’t needed much of it (knock on wood)- just cold & flu tablets and pain meds for the usual headaches etc.

The mosquito net we sent back home after 6 months- only used twice in Thailand. It was a bit bulky so we threw it in a box of gifts we sent home from Hong Kong at the last minutes 🙁 Although we REALLY regret that now. We’re in French Polynesia at the moment and losing loads of sleep thanks to the annoying and plentiful mosquitos – and because there is no malaria here there is less paranoia about it and few places have mosquito nets provided.


Pacsafe 55L. This is another gold star purchase. We use this pacsafe all the time but we usually just use it to lock up our day bags instead of re-packing our rucksack everyday. When we go out for the day, we put our laptop, cameras and documents folder in one of our day bags and lock it up with the pacsafe. It is pretty compact, easy to use and gives us peace of mind when away. We even took it to the beach with us when we are both snorkeling to lock up wallets etc. We lock it to a palm tree:)


South Australia Wine Tour write up – Barossa, Clare Valley and McLaren Vale

Probably our biggest blog post yet – here is a full write-up of the wineries we visited in Australia. Hopefully you’ll see some of these at our wedding!

I’ve always liked Australian wine more than the wine of any other country – particularly Shiraz from Barossa and McLaren Vale. In terms of value for money, it still beats anything else in the world in my opinion. So it was a no-brainer for us to come and spend some time touring these wine regions – in the end we spent a full week here – 3 nights in Barossa, 2 in Clare Valley and 2 in McLaren Vale.

We tasted anything from 3 to 18 wines at each winery, depending on their range and whether one of us had to drive or not! The prices we mention for the wines are cellar door prices – but it’s worth noting that many of the wines are available at US or UK merchants for 30-60% less than the cellar door price – particularly those that were exported 2 or 3 years ago. This is due to both high taxes on alcohol sold in Australia and the shift in exchange rates that’s taken place over the last few years. Here’s a summary of the wineries we visited and our key take-away thoughts and top wine choices:

Barossa Valley

Wolf Blass – yes it’s a big commercial label, but I’ve regularly bought their yellow label Shiraz in the past and been quite satisfied with it, so we had to stop by to find out what their higher end wines are like, which I never had the opportunity to try before. They have a nice visitor center as you would expect for such a big brand.

  • Barossa Gold Label Shiraz 2010 – packed a nice punch – a great example of a Barossa Shiraz and a good warm-up for things to come
  • Adelaide Hills Gold Label Shiraz Viognier 2010 – tempered by 5% Viogner, this was Stef’s favourite

Both these wines were priced at $27.99 at the cellar door, representing great value for money.


Penfold’s – One of the most famous Australian wine brands, they manage to cover a huge range of the market price-wise – all the way from low-end bottles for under $10 all the way up to $2000+ top end vintages in their Grange label. Whilst only their lower end wines (up to around $70 per bottle) were available for tasting, it was excellent, and the highlight had to be:

  • Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2008 – easily beat Wolf Blass’ Gold Label offering, with more complexity and balance – the extra couple of years would help for sure. But it’s available for just a little more at $37 per bottle at the cellar door



Torbreck retains a small winery feel with a modest tasting room but very enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff. The tasting is a Shiraz lover’s dream with 10 Shiraz wines across their range.

  • Woodcutters Shiraz 2011 – Torbreck’s entry level Shiraz – very bold as expected but surprisingly easy drinking for such a young wine. Outstanding value at $21.50 cellar door price
  • The Factor Shiraz 2008 – an old vine shiraz with far more complexity – chocolate and jammy notes with a lingering finish. Fantastic – but of course for 6 times the price of the Woodcutters as this is their sub-top level wine – priced at $125.
  • Descendent 2008 – Stef’s favourite – a co-fermented 8% Viognier blend which tempers the Shiraz punch nicely and maintains a long fruity finish. Also priced at $125.


Two Hands

Our favourite winery visit in the Barossa – a fantastic small old stone building with sofas by the fireplace. They provided a small plate of bread/olive oil/cured meat with the tasting and really looked after us. The wines were stunning to match the environment – 7 pure Shiraz wines and a GSM. With grapes sourced from quite a range of locations, the different Shiraz wines had some great variety and distinctiveness.

  • Sophie’s Garden Shiraz 2006 – from their mid-range series, this Padthaway series packs a distinctive nose of mint, reflected also in the layers of flavour which are well-balanced. We immediately thought this wine would be perfect with Lamb. An outstanding and unique wine (I’ve never tasted a minty Shiraz before) that is good value in that respect for $60.
  • Ares Shiraz 2009 – Fantastic bold Shiraz with great balance – retaining a very long fruity finish without too much tannin or acid – impressive for a wine like this still relatively young. It could be even better in a few years. Priced at $165 it would be a great celebration wine.


Peter Lehmann

Another winemaker for whom I’ve been a customer for a number of years – again this was a good opportunity to sample some of their higher end wines than the usual standard Barossa Shiraz which can be purchased in most UK supermarkets. After having visited Two Hands, that tasted really rather bland and cheap unfortunately! But we found some satisfaction in the following:

  • Futures Shiraz 2008 – was a nice step up from the standard Shiraz for just a little more money – great value at $26, but probably wouldn’t fight off the Wolf Blass Gold Label at the same price point
  • VSV 1885 Shiraz 2009 – great upper range Shiraz packing quite a punch – only available at cellar door though, for a hefty $60 – and at that price point I’d probably rather go for something in Two Hands Garden series which were much more distinctive
  • Stonewell Shiraz 2008 superb and powerful Shiraz – looks expensive at $100, but some excellent vintages such as the 06 are available in the UK for as little as 25-30 GBP per bottle – so actually superb value for money




This winery stands on one of the oldest sites in the Barossa, with some of the oldest vineyards. The first acre of vines here was planted in 1843 – and those vines are still producing fruit today – used in The Freedom 1843 Shiraz. The vineyard is believed to be one of the oldest surviving Shiraz vineyards in the world – so it was great to visit an important part of Barossa history. Whilst the Freedom wasn’t available for tasting, the following were our highlights from the rest of the bunch:

  • Valley Floor Shiraz 2009 – a classic Barossa valley shiraz with a nice long and minerally finish. Great value at $29.50 per bottle.
  • Resurrection Mataro 2010 – I’d not had a straight up Mataro before and this was really surprisingly good! Huge blackcurrent hits up front followed by plenty of pepper and spice. $40.
  • Orphan Bank Shiraz 2009 – Ten rows of original vigneron Christian Auricht’s pre-1860 Shiraz vines were saved from the bulldozer, and replanted alongside Auricht’s original vineyards next to Langmeil’s cellars. Also notable with a great long finish. $50.



Jacob’s Creek

We stopped by Jacob’s Creek as it’s an iconic brand in Britain, and I’m interested in their business and how they managed to build such a strong brand that they dominate the supermarket-wine part of the market. I’ve always enjoyed their Shiraz – it was practically the only red wine I bought through university – and I still associate the TV series Friends with Jacobs Creek wine as they sponsored the show for so many years.

Of course they have an impressive and very commercialised visitor center, and it was interesting to find out about how Gramp’s became Orlando’s which eventually became known just as Jacob’s Creek.

The quality of the wine certainly made it obvious what a different league many of the other wineries are in. We did enjoy the Sparkling Shiraz and a dessert wine:

  • Gramp’s Botrytis Semillon 2008 – rich caramel, apricot and marmelade. Not branded Jacob’s Creek at all, this is much better stuff!

And yes, I found the actual Jacob’s Creek!:



St Hallett

Very nice people, they even gave us a half bottle of the blackwell shiraz as a present. They had a great range of 5 or 6 different Shiraz and I enjoyed all of them, the best being:

  • Blackwell Shiraz 2010 – classic Barossa Shiraz done very well, and great value at $38.
  • Old Block Shiraz 2009 – 100 year old vines create a really special wine. Berries, chocolate and a long, long finish with spicy oak from 24 months in the barrel. $100.




We headed north to the Clare Valley and our first stop was Sevenhill, the oldest winery in the region – founded by the Jesuits in 1851. There is a nice church there and in the winery they have a great old cellar, but to be honest we weren’t very impressed with their wines. In fact during our whole time in the Clare Valley, we never really learned to enjoy the Riesling for which it is reknowned. The only thing Sevenhill seemed to do well were the desserts/fortifieds:

  • Liquer Tokay NV – Malt and lingering flavour of fruit cake. This is much darker and stronger than the Hungarian Tokaj style wine which it attempts to replicate – using Muscadelle grapes instead of Furmint. Despite being fortified it retains some subtlety of flavour and is really enjoyable. $25.




Here we found some pretty good Shiraz (which we didn’t expect coming to Clare from Barossa), but the best of the lot surprisingly was a cane-cut sweet Riesling:

  • Mort’s Cut Cane Cut Riesling 2009 – Intense citrus flavours balanced by appropriate acid – not too sweet. A really clean desert wine – fantastic! $26.




A random stop for us as we were hiking down the Riesling Trail the next day. The whites didn’t do much for us, surprisingly our favourite here was a cab:

  • Clare Valley Regional Range Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – ripe strawberries and earthy notes – oak in good balance. Interestingly we preferred this to the more expensive Single Vineyard cab. Bargain at $15.



Tim Adams

Our second random winery on the Riesling Trail, and as neither of us were driving today we were having a tasting each instead of our usual strategy of sharing one, and we weren’t holding back on trying the full range either! The best of the bunch here were:

  • Aberfeldy Shiraz 2009 – Cherry, plum, chocolate – not as powerful a hit as a Barossa Shiraz but it makes up for it in subtle complexity. Persistant plummy oaky finish. Really well balanced. I noted in a scribble “love it, must buy it”. $44.
  • Botrytis Riesling 2010 – very sweet with delicious botrytis character on top of citrus and floral. $25.




A winery and a brewery in one! Excellent stuff!

  • Single Vineyard Sparkling Shiraz 1998 – the best sparkling Shiraz we’ve tried so far – really powerful. $45.
  • Fortified Shiraz 2010 – really smooth and fruity. $22.

The reserve Lager was also very nice so we had to get a few bottles.



Shaw and Smith

On our way from Clare Valley down to McLaren Vale we stopped at Shaw & Smith in Adelaide Hills. I’d bought their Shiraz before and really liked it, so we went there especially. Overally I was quite disappointed – none of their other wines lived up to the same standard (I was hoping to find more wines as amazing as that – or better) – and it was kind of strange the way they did the tasting. They do a sit-down tasting for which they charge $15 per person and it’s served with a plate of cheese tasters alongside. I felt like the presence of the cheese was just to justify the fee, when all the other wineries we visited don’t charge anything for tastings. To make matters worse, in my opinion the cheeses were really badly matched to the wines and actually distracted and degraded the appreciated of the wine. In particular the first cheese matched to the Sauvignon Blanc was an ash-rolled goats cheese which had such a strong and persistent flavour that it remained with me for the whole of the rest of the tasting – and some time afterwards. And then a rather mild and plain cheddar was served with the reds – including that super-powerful Shiraz. Bizarre.

But I think the worst thing was that as it was a sit-down tasting it was very impersonal – there is less opportunity to chat with the staff and learn about the wines and the winemaking – so no real relationship to the place or the people is formed. Yes, the presentation is very nice and very controlled and consistent, but I really feel like it was wasted – you don’t go to a cellar door to have a sit-down restaurant experience.

  • Shiraz 2009 – remains the king, wins hands down over the other wines offered. $40.




D’Arenberg was top of my list in the whole of Australia – their Laughing Magpie Shiraz-Viognier has long been one of my favourite wines. So we took our time and tasted nearly 20 wines in here! Big contrast to Shaw & Smith visit – both wineries of which I had big expectations – this time D’Arenberg met and exceed them!

  • Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier 2009 – up against some of the other reds in the range, this wine reminded me why I like it so much – the punch of the Shiraz is tempered by the Viognier and the fruit boosted longer into the finish by it. Such good value at $29 per bottle – and I normally buy this for under 10 GBP in the UK.
  • Dead Arm Shiraz 2008 – surprisingly well balanced, the punch of this wine doesn’t hit too hard too quickly. Huge long finish. $60.
  • Eight Iron Single Vineyard Shiraz 2009 – we tasted 3 of the “Scarce Earth Project” Shiraz wines and it was really interesting to contrast the flavours offered by the different locations. The Eight Iron is another extremely well balanced Shiraz with fruit and spice lingering all the way to the end of an epic long finish, underlayed by a mineral base which is very pleasant. $99.
  • The Noble Botryiotinia Fuckeliana Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – sweet, light, crisp and fruity desert wine. $20.
  • The Vintage Fortified Shiraz 2006 – Straightforward plum/fruit shiraz flavours in a fortified.. not sweet – an excellent alternative to port and in my opinion would go much better with cheese than a port. $30.



Wirra Wirra

This was a random stop, nothing very special here, we made an exit after just tasting a couple of wines. But they had a giant wine bottle made out of corks, and a trebuchet. Fun.




After a tip-off from Ted, we made an appointment to visit Mollydooker. They don’t have an open cellar door, but they looked after us very well with an extensive tour of the winery, some tastings out of the barrel (yes, anyone buying the next release of Velvet Glove – we got a sneak preview) – and then out of a bottle of the Carnival of Love – and they let us have the rest of the bottle too. The wine was outstanding, and learning about their unique vineyard management and winemaking processes and techniques was far more than we got anywhere else.

  • Carnival of Love 2010 – overwhelming amounts of fruit – blueberry, black cherry, plum and spice packed into each mouthful with a long rolling finish and hints of vanilla. Some lingering acid qualities due to its youth – I’d love to try some after a few years cellaring. The 2005 vintage was rated 99 points by Wine Advocate. It’s a real privilege to see where and how this wine is made and taste it within its own birthplace.