Saturday, August 29, 2009

Two Weeks!

Just a little over two weeks till we hit the (insert appropriate geographic adjective of your choice) shores of New Zealand!

Naturally the Junior Grendels are reaching fever pitch of excitement - I am nearing a heightened state of panic as I try to cram a final post-grad assignment and three weeks work into two weeks of office time.

On the upside, Google have recently upgraded the Google Earth Imagery for parts of New Zealand - including Christchurch and there are now some spectacular resolution shots of the CBD that really show why it is such a gorgeous place to visit - of course Googling it is never quite the same as being there, so I am doubly glad we don't have too long to wait.

Google Earth is fantastic for trip planning however and it has been a great tool for finding points of interest to add to the GPS.

This latest imagery is from 9 March and is as crisp as you could ask for:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Great Tradition

Over the year that ended on 31 July there were over 1 million Australian visitors to New Zealand representing over 35% of the holiday trade and over 60% of the total overseas business trade with New Zealand.

This is a good thing - New Zealand is and should be a close friend to Australia and one should always visit ones friends.

There has been at times an unhealthy level of rivalry that has crept in - usually around sporting events of the origin of racehorses or movie stars but we continue to have largely good feelings about our neighbours across the Tasman - as indicated by the 20% increase in visitor numbers last month.

These visitors are part of a grand tradition of cross-Tasman tourism whereby we visit them and they visit us.

Even better is the fact that an economic slowdown sees aussies visiting New Zealand in ever greater numbers as their welcome extends not only to the smiles but also to the exchange rates.

New Zealand's economy includes tourism as a major contributor and thus they have excellent tourism statistics that can be followed via their main tourism website - well worth a look if statistics are your 'thing'.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Aiming for the peak

The Guys at Coffee Supreme in New Zealand already come highly recommended from so many aussies and kiwi expats that they are firmly on my list of Must Visits.

Today I took a look at their website for the first time and was blown away by the detail they offer the casual web visitor. If their coffee is roasted as well as their web presence I am in for a treat.

Best of all they have a whole section dedicated to the listing of the cafes that host their beans which means I can do a little more pre-planning at add some Points of Interest to my GPS - in fact the only thing missing from their website is a downloadable .csv document with GPS coordinates for their cafes. If I have the time I might create this myself - it would be well worth the exercise.

Well done guys - a most stylish web site and great tools for the coffee lover to find your bean.

Will they bring us drinks?

Both the Junior Grendels are young travellers - 7 and 5. They have flown once before at ages 3 and 18 months so our only memory of travelling on an aircraft is a nightmare of screaming baby and sobbing toddler. I am sure it could possibly have been traumatic for the other passengers on the plane but no one was more traumatised than us.

Junior Grendel Number One has autism and at that point was had very limited language skills almost to the point of being non-verbal and when stressed he had a small range of ways to comunicate - his usual reaction was to scream - we called it a 'meltdown' and almost nothing could break through to him during one.

These episodes were utterly heartbreaking and you would imagine that he was totally closed off to the rest of the world and yet he seems to have an amazing memory of the trip.

One part I remember is that when we boarded the plane he looked around at business class and said - "Daddy, this is nice" eliciting laughs from all those already comfortably ensconced in their 42 inch pitch recliners while we ushered him to the rear of the aircraft.

He also remembers the cabin crew and a few weeks back when we were discussing the trip he uttered another gem - "Dad, while the servants bring us drinks this trip like they did last time?"

Once we stopped laughing I explained the role of the cabin crew and begged him NOT to refer to them as servants (I can't imagine any term more likely to guarantee a frosty reception).

Sill, I'm glad he at least has some fond memories of travel and one of the reason that I am looking forward to this trip is to banish some of the memories of the last one - his behaviour is usually very much that of any boy of 7 so I don't think we'll have too much screaming on this flight - apart from Mrs Grendel during turbulance.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Say Cheese

A camera is pretty much an essential for us on holidays. Mrs Grendel is a scrapbooker and once she sets to scrapping a LOT of photos are required to feed her hobby.

Digital cameras are the ultimate device to support such a habit and we have access to an SLR as well as a borrowed compact camera for this trip. There is also the video camera to consider and I've gotten to the point where I think that three cameras is just ridiculous. Naturally each uses a different power supply and different storage medium (can't these guys just standardise already?).

At the moment the camera that uses SD cards is winning since we have more of those in a greater array of capacities - between 2 and 12gb.

I love the SLR but seriouly have to reconsider lugging it along on what is likely going to be an already overloaded trip.

My other consideration is that I want to blog both the holiday and New Zealand Coffee as we travel around which means I need to get the images off the camera and onto the internet.

I think I'll be taking the little green machine for that purpose - the XO laptop I bought under the One Laptop Per Child - Give One Get One program. It is light rugged and unique and I've been dying for an excuse to take it on tour.

It is Linux based so I am still learning the ins and outs of shifting images onto and off the laptop but should have it all up and running by the time we leave.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Doing the 'Right Thing'

One of the things I remember from my last trip to New Zealand was the utter panic that took hold when my passenger suddenly informed me that in order to make the right hand turn I wanted to make I should be over on the left-hand side of the road.

What the!?!!!

Yup, it confused me to say the least - turning right from the left hand lane did not seem like the sane option to a teenager taught to drive on Brisbane's roads.

Now I understand the rationale - you go right but give way to EVERYONE else to do so - even the traffic behind you, and this is quite logical when you have cities with narrow roads and few right-turn lanes as you need to keep the traffic flowing.

From what I can see this is now the basic rule - it it will block the road to turn right then you wait on the left till traffic clears, but in most other circumstances you can turn right FROM the right lane.

Still trying to figure out why people turning left have to give way to people turning right though. . .

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Do Kiwis drink their coffee All Black?

Cross-posted from my coffee blog. . .

With New Zealand about to be invaded by the Grendel clan I have been pondering the question of coffee.

I am sure that the two Junior Grendels will do their best to leave a lasting impression on our cousins across the Tasman – and I am just as sure the kiwis will also leave a lasting impression on them.

I am hoping for impressions of a different kind and have been doing some background on the best coffee places in New Zealand.

There are a number of roasters whose coffee has been recommended too me and obviously I will try to find the cafes that are renowned for producing their coffee in the way that best reflects the efforts of the roaster. Many of the cafes are in the major cities but there are also quite a few in smaller towns and even one at the top of a mountain that come highly recommended.

With only a few weeks to go I am busy with the final arrangements to ensure that the Junior Grendels are comfortable for the trip and that the plans are still in place (no more airline schedule changes please Mr Branson!)

So far I have the following list of roasters-of-interest:

Unfortunately only a little additional research revealed the following list:

My problem is that all, many, some or none of these could be amazing-roasters-that-I-must-not-miss. And I have no idea which ones those might be - any suggestions?

And is it just me or does New Zealand really seem to punch above its weight in the number of local roasters per head of population? Has this always Been the case - it would certainly be a logical occurence given the isolation from the main coffee trade. It has also not gone unnoticed in Australia that New Zealand produces some top notch baristas - always a welcome addition to a vibrant coffee scene.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

You left it where?

With a fraction over a month to go I figured that it was probably a good time to start making up our checklists. This is one exercise where it is very possible to go overboard. First there is the checklist of everything we need, then everything we want to take, then a list of places to see, a day-pack list. . .

In reality we just need to remember the essentials to take with us (and keep with us). These are the tickets, passports etc, and the Junior Grendel’s personal comfort items such as Spotty Dog (JG No. 1), Zebbie (JG No. 2) and their fuzzy blankets from which they still cannot be parted.

There are innumerable small items that we will need to account for each day and I am going to make that part of their daily chores to ensure that we don’t have an extra few hundred kilometres to retrieve a lonely Zebra from under a hotel bed.

For that matter – I have just had an idea, a small card to leave in each room thanking the hosts for their care and leaving contact details in case any such event occurs. . .

Hmmm another thing to remember to do!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I found the cloud

In 1988 I visited New Zealand and found the Long White Cloud. I've just found a map of the place where I found the cloud on the NZ Travel web site so I thought I'd share it.

This is the Lake Waikeremoana track on the North East coast of the North Island. It is a region that is wild and beautiful and the track travels along a high ridgeline around the lake with a series of backcountry huts that trampers (hikers) can use to overnight.

We were there in summer and attempted the track in a clockwise direction, starting at Onepoto - I understand that most people travel anti-clockwise and I can understand why (now).

The first leg from this direction involves a steep climb of around 500m (1600 feet) to a final altitude of 1100 metres (3600 feet). In the right weather conditions this can help things chill down nicely and the day we set of it was overcast and drizzling lightly - not much to worry about.

Halfway up the ridge we were battling driving torrential rain, temperatures below 10 degrees (and this in the middle of summer) and visibility of less than 30 metres - we were pretty much right in the middle of the Long White Cloud at this point.

The water was turning the track into a chute and I slipped and rode it down a number of times. I was soaked and all my wet weather precautions for my back had been good for naught and everything in there was wet - and heavy.

I probably should have gone down the ridge at this point but I was keen not to been seen as the 'shirker' (yes, there were girls present) and so we pressed on. The last 100 metres climb was pure hell, I had long ago stopped shivering and was just wanting to crawl under one of the logs along the track and go to sleep.

Fortunately the others in my party recognised that I was probably hypothermic and so they kept me going until we got to the Panekiri hut. There were only two other trampers so there was plenty of room, but some idiot had stuffed things up the stove chimney (to keep the wind out) and it was all jammed tight.

I was bundled into a sleeping bag and I am SURE that I heard discussion among the girls about one of them climbing in with me to warm me up but I don't actually remember that happening - and believe me at 18 a little hypothermia is worth it for that prize!

The weather closed in for the next three days and we stayed put and ate our way through our track foods. Conversations with the other trampers who came through indicated that for most this was the last stop - apparently it is much easier to negotiate the steep ridge in a DOWNHILL direction without the 4-days supply of food that we were carrying UPHILL.

If I ever take the Junior Grendels on this trek I know just which way we'll be travelling!

Outfitting the Expedition

Junior Grendel Number One is very keen on the whole adventure concept and when I suggested a trip the the camping and climbing store to look at some boots and jackets for New Zealand, he was raring to go.

He spent the first 10 minutes checking out the tents while I tried on boots - then he found the climbing wall and insisted that he was going to climb it. I started with the usualy 'well maybe one day when you are bigger" line but he was not to be dissuaded and showed me on the sign where you had to be over 6-years-old.

Damn that school and its fancy ideas on literacy - this was so much easier when he couldn't
read. . .

I am learning not to assume that just because he has autism that he sees any limits for himself and I have no doubt he'll want to try some of the more daring options available for his
age in New Zealand (NO BUNGY!) but he will try climbing again I am sure.

We handed over a goodly sum to Anaconda but got some
great gear for our trip and it raised the notch on the excitement levels once again.

It was just great to see him clamber fearlessly up that climbing wall - until he glanced down at me and saw how high he was - he didn't panic and leapt from the wall riding the cable down to the bottom - he had no desire for a second attempt right then but I have no doubt he'll be back.

I am hoping we can find somewhere similar for him in New Zealand so that he can add to his vertical experiences as in the past he has had a great reluctance to go anywhere high.

The crew at Anaconda were very good in encouraging him to climb, but not pushing him beyond where he wanted to go -
which is often a challenge. Some aspects of the trip - such as the flight, are unlikely to be a
problem as he is eager for the experiences, but others we shall have to
wait and see - tobogganing in Queenstown is one possible sticking point but the snow alone will be a novelty for all of us.
We are mostly through the planning phase now - purchasing some of the things we'll need was the first real launch into
preparing to leave.

On the airline front - we have not heard back from Virgin at all but it seems likely that we'll be taking that late night flight and I have already rearranged our hire car at the other end. I sure hope we can induce the two Junior Grendel's to sleep on that flight!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Travellin' with tunes

The iPod is Apple's greatest gift to the world of travel - I am sure that iPhone users would claim otherwise but since I live in Australia and can't afford the usurious rates that our local telcos charge for data access I stick by my claim that for music on the move iPod has to wrapped up.
Keep in mind that I am very much a function over form guy but when the two happen to come together I can't go past it. For the last few years I have owned only the Shuffle, and that has been just fine - all I wanted was the music in my ears to block out the world when I was on the train.

I have to say though that the siren call of the green Nano has been calling to me for some time. My personal rule has also been to buy refurbished - I like the discount price for what is essentially a new iPod.

As of this week I have the 16GB nano - oh boy.

I love this one - I will be able to load almost every CD I own and have room left for some photos, audiobooks and even one or two games.

The audiobooks are important - I signed up to Audible a few months back and have been using my one credit a month to buy books to listen to on the drive into work. However they also have some material for free such as podcasts and even some classic children's stories.

You can guess where this is going - our trip to New Zealand will involve some long stretches of driving and some short audiobooks will be just right to break up the trip a little for them. iPod, FM transmitter, car radio = instant child entertainment and all in less than 200g.

I've loaded the iPod with a good selection of music, plenty of 'dad' stories (lots of space battles) and some for the Junior Grendels.

As a concession to Mrs Grendel I've even included a whole playlist of her music - and I suspect it will be the most often used as she really does not like mine at all whereas I can mostly tolerate hers.

Now if only Apple could design an iPos that plays two different playlists simultaneously into opposite sides of a car. . .

Google It

My colleagues are probably sick of that phrase but in my recent experience google has managed to put together a suite of tools that make holiday planning so much easier.

Google Earth is among the best of these – being able to actually look at the places you will stay or attractions you might want to visit is pretty cool, but also gives you some idea of the important things – like how far from the car park to the base of the glacier. This is an important fact because you’ll then know exactly how long you 5-year old might potentially complain for until that big lump of ice takes his breath away.

Also, which days is Mrs Grendel most likely to want to take a motion sickness pill prior to heading out onto the open road. By ‘open’ I mean the goat track crawling up the mountain with switchbacks that practically hang out over a seemingly endless plummet to the rocks below.

I’ve even managed to figure out where the nearest supermarkets and shopping centres are located – no small thing in itself.

I’m still looking for that map of toilets though!

Mount Cook as seen on Google Earth - yup, that's a mountain alright

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Ok, it is more of a slight 'bump' in the plans. My instructors once told me that 'no plan survives contact with the enemy' well, the enemy in the case is the reality of air travel - sometimes flight schedules get shifted, and unfortunately this has happened one one leg of our trip. I've tried to book daytime flights to reduce fatigue on Junior Grendel Number One as he is unlikely to sleep on a night flight. Naturally the only change so far is that our daytime flight to NZ is cancelled and replaced with a nighttime one.

Best laid plans and all that.

I don't really blame the airline - but I have emailed them and asked for a bit more explanation as to why they want to complicate my life - but 'stuff', as they say, does happen, and this is definitely 'stuff'.

Now to get on with the task of shuffling hire cars and hotels to suit the new flight (pre-paid too, bugger. . .)

The Route

The family holiday to New Zealand will not be successful of the basis of the direction in which we travel, but I did want to make sure that we had time in some key places and had enough time to see some of the best bits - this meant missing some of the other best bits that are just too far off our chosen path to fit in the time available.

I hope though that this will whet the appetites of the Junior Grendels for further adventures. Particularly Junior Grendel Number One who has autism - we are not sure how he will go away from home for such an extended period but his natural curiosity and excitement for trip bode well.

Below is the general outline of our intended journey - I feel terribly guilty about the North Island - it almost looks like we are afraid of the sea and I know some amazing locations on both the East and West coasts of the North Island from my own time in New Zealand.

Still - we can't eat the whole buffet!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Travelling from Australia to any of our near neighbours generally means we get a little bonus in the exchange rates. This is also true in New Zealand and one of our Kangas will net you about 1.2 Kiwis.

This looks pretty good and only improves when you start looking at the prices of items such as iPods - it'll cost you less to buy an iPod retail in Auckland than duty-free in Australia. That's not a bad indicator of how good we Aussies have it on a New Zealand holiday - accommodation is also a real bargain but bizarrely there seems to be not too much difference in the price of a room in a 4-star hotel and a cabin in a holiday park. I haven't quite figured that one out but low priced accommodation is possible if you are willing to sacrifice some comforts - like an en-suite.

Mrs Grendel has veto authority on accommodation so we are only staying in places that do not require exposure to the bracing early morning outdoor air in order to pee.

However I did canvass a number of options under NZ $60 a night for a family of four, all of which looked quite comfortable. On my last New Zealand trip I spent some nights sleeping in pretty rough conditions and managed to survive quite well, however when you are 18 your tolerance for such accommodations is substantially higher than at - well more than 30 anyway.

Still, while booking each accommodation I consoled myself with the exchange rate between our fair lands and thanked the central banking gods that we have never seen fit to link our countries more closely.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Plan it or go with the flow?

I'm a Go-with-the-flow kind of traveller, I like to be able to wander of the beaten track when something catches my attention, however the last time I did this was pre-kids and having children along actually requires some attention to the little things. For example, they are unlikely to enjoy sleeping overnight in the car between destinations. For that matter I suspect that I would no longer be very happy about this either.

I found a whole range of online planning tools (such as Jasons) for this trip and have tried most of them. I even found a service that can custom design a self-drive tour, book you accommodation and car and generally take on the burden of planning your trip. I got both a quote and itinerary from one and it was a fine piece of work. In the end though I decided that for all my flaws I'd rather do the planning ourselves (and have only ourselves to blame if it goes awry at some point - note how I've deftly slipped from the singular to the plural at this point. . .)

I've compromised settling on pre-booked accommodation but leaving each leg as short as I can so that we have flexibility for activities along the way.

I want to be able to stop and enjoy the view - after all it is not as if we have anything here in Perth that even resembles a foothill let alone a mountain.

SO basically we have somewhere to sleep each night, a good car to drive in, a map to show us where we are going (if he hold it up the right way) and new horizons to explore - beyond that what other plans do you need?

Does anyone have a map of toilets?

Monday, August 3, 2009


This ex-pat Aussie is doing us all a service - I noticed that someone covered tramping in the comments but I am not sure if anyone remembered the 'bush shirts' that we tend to call a 'flanno' over here.

Travel Essentials

New Zealand is a friendly country so many of the precautions that you need to consider when travelling overseas are just not necessary there. Of course if it is during the Rugby season and the All Blacks are going poorly you can expect to encounter a certain level of grumpiness, but such is only to be expected, particularly if they are losing to the mighty Wallabies.

When travelling with small children there are some portions of the trip you'd rather they just slept through, but when that is not possible some form of distraction is imperative.

When I was a child airlines staff arrived at your seat with peanuts, colouring pads, puzzle books with magic revealing markers, cards and an almost endless supply of small things to amuse the small minds.

These days you'd be lucky to borrow a pencil.

For the travelling parent there are few better friends than Mr Nintendo and Mr Sony (and for the parents Mr iPod and Mrs Noise-cancelling headphones are one couple that will never be divorced!).

To be sure I don't want them to spend the entire trip immersed in their toys, there will be plenty of times when I'll be stopping the car and having them pile out to admire something admirable or remark on something remarkable.

New Zealand is a holiday destination of grand vistas and a grand vista cannot be seen when you are too busy fighting off level 7 monsters on your DS.

However I have no doubt that there will be moments when we will be very grateful we actually agreed to let them bring their technology with them.

I will be taking some of my own - an XO laptop on which to blog, and rate, our way around New Zealand.

I'm going to be covering the lot - from the coffee to the comfy chairs and have already compiled a list of bloggable venues that I intend to visit. I'm even going to blog about the various things that I am trying out as travel aids such as a recently purchased GPS system (complete with NZ maps).

I figure there have to be other families out there in similar situations and if I an share both the successes and the failures, this might be useful to someone. I'm also going to rate the places we stay in - particularly in relation to their family friendliness.

I've reviewed a lot of the websites online that rate hotels, cafes and tourist attractions and I want to provide my own subjective and objective considerations of these.

I'll follow my usual rule - it is not my business to ruin someone else's business so in most cases when something is below par I'll share that with the owner and not say much online. Where something is at an extreme of good or bad they'll get a rave or a rant - I'd rather warn people about the truly dreadful and direct them to the best.

I'm not doing comparisons and have deliberately chosen a wide range of accommodation types from cabins in caravan parks to 4-star hotels.

I'll even review the car hire company we are renting with because if it works out as well as I hope then they offer a very good deal indeed.

There's no kickbacks along the way, I've already paid for everything and no-one knows we're coming to blog. My experience of New Zealanders is that this won't matter a bit - they are great at welcoming visitors and have an incredible tolerance for Aussies - unless your surname is Chappell.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Come fly with me. . .

There is nothing like a global financial meltdown to shake up tourism. When you add pandemic on top of this you get the perfect storm that tourism boards and hotels dread, and budget conscious travelers love.

There is a web site (to which I shall not link) that promises the guaranteed lowest prices on the internet if you book your air ticket through them.

I've gotta say they can't be keeping up. I ended up looking at a variety of airlines and routes (including a ride on a 777 with Emirates from Sydney to Christchurch). In the end we decided to have a little of each from the Smörgåsbord of air travel that is available to New Zealand. I watched prices carefully over a month, then pounced as each airline dropped prices. We fly Qantas to Brisbane, Pacific Blue to Christchurch and Air New Zealand back home (it is the only airline with a non-stop flight home).

Very few airlines seem to run a 747 over the Tasman any more - a fact that distresses Mrs Grendel who prefers a 'real' aircraft. Junior Grendel Number One is old enough to remember his first flight and asked if the 'servants would bring him drinks again'. I'm working hard on that one - if he calls them 'servants' on the flight he might get a serve alright.

All up we are doing the trip with 4 people for just over $3000 in airfares which I consider reasonable given the stop-over in Brisbane for a few days to visit Grandma.

Fly with Junior Grendel Number One can get interesting as he is easily overwhelmed by constant noise and vibration. I have bought him a set of noise cancelling headphones which I hope will ameliorate the worst of the in-flight roar. I trialled them on a flight to Sydney last week and they worked a treat for me.

We went through a phase in our lives where we didn't think that we would find it possible to travel with a child with autism, but as it turns out he's a real trooper when it comes to new places as he has an almost insatiable curiosity. Unfortunately his curiosity is satiated at breakneck pace and he can do the largest of museums in less than half an hour.

The scary part is that afterwards he can give you a rundown of the whole series of exhibits that to me were merely a blur as I dogged his heels at high speed down the corridors.

They're already planning some in-flight entertainment for the first leg. I hope our fellow passengers area amused. . .