Sometimes it’s easy to look back on a year and think it wasn’t a very good year, maybe it’s because the bad things that happened stick out more than all the good things. So I decided to look back through all the photos on my phone as a reminder of all the cool/awesome things I did in 2019. So these are the main highlights:
~ Sculptureum with Barb & Tony in Matakana. ~ Built the Disney Castle out of Lego.
~ Trip to Palmerston North with Una. ~ Massive birthday bridge walk to the Huia Dam with the gang. ~ Birthday lunch up the Sky Tower with Dad & Paula. ~ Heroic Garden festival with Barb.
~ Built the Taj Mahal out of Lego. ~ Te Papa, Wellington day trip with Heidi and the gang to see the Terracotta Warriors.
~ Went to “The Mousetrap” at the ASB Waterfront Theatre with Michelle B. ~ Day off work to enjoy High Tea at Sugar, Chelsea Sugar Refinery with Heidi.
~ Reconnected with all my old friends I used to work with in London back in 1988, through a Facebook group that found me. ~ Tried on-line grocery shopping for the 1st time & decided it’s not really my thing. ~ Built the Flintstones House out of Lego.
~ Christchurch for work & my nephew cooked me a special dinner in his flat. ~ Finally gave in and joined Netflix, there was a Lego documentary I really wanted to see, exclusive to Netflix. ~ Hit my broadband limit first time ever – thanks to Netflix.
~ Grand opening of the Xmas Heirloom Co in Milford with Heidi.
~ Home & Garden show with Barb which led to the buying of an awesome Italian Coffee Machine. ~ Auckland Marathon with Barb (watching out for Tony of course). ~ Sky City Convention Centre fire – not a highlight but a major event. ~ Auckland Brick Show with Arian. 7th year, 1st one was in June 2013.
~ Auckland Lego Store finally opens in the brand new Westfield Mall, Newmarket. ~ Celine releases Courage.
~ Special Xmas lunch with Dad, Paula & Karyn (Xmas Eve). ~ Christmas with Heid in the Cordis. ~ Waiheke Island with Heidi & friends.
On my last trip to Sydney I paid for a few of the fun pics they take and then superimpose you on different backgrounds. I bought them from the Opera House tour, Sea Life and the Tower. So here they are…
My last day in Sydney, and one of the many kind things the guy at reception did for me when he upgraded my room was ask me what time I was headed for the airport and extended my check out time till 12:00 for me. So that meant I had half a day to enjoy the amazing room and do some last minute shopping.
I figured I had enough time to race to the Westfield Mall to check out Myers Lego department and then go up the Sydney Tower, the sun was shining so it was a great day for going up the tower. The salesperson in Myers said the same thing about the Sydney Skyline set – it has been retired.
My trip up the tower was probably the fastest “been there done that” sightseeing I’ve ever done. I even asked the girl selling tickets how long it would take. Crazy question I know but I needed to know if there was a long wait to get up there – there wasn’t.
I made it back to the hotel in time for one last look at the spectacular view, grab my bag and check out.
Because it was so hot I contemplated getting a taxi to the airport, but then I had noticed a lot of taxis driving around with their windows open, so I didn’t like my chances of getting a taxi with air conditioning. Plus if there was traffic I’d be quite stressed, so I caught the train which was fast and easy and nowhere near as hot as the one I caught from the airport.
I made it to the airport with plenty of time for several beers and shopping, but I think that should have been the other way round, because it was hot and I was thirsty so I drunk many beers quite quickly and then went shopping. This of course made the purchase of the really expensive new Apple earpods with noise cancellation very very easy. But I love them, and thank you to everyone who gave me birthday money – this is what you bought me.
Oh and as I passed through bag search, guess what I found… the Lego Sydney Skyline Architecture set, for about $20 cheaper (duty free) than what it would’ve been if they’d had it in any of the stores I went in to.
The flight home was fun and I managed to finish off the movie I started watching on the way over – Judy, starring Renée Zellweger. The flight even had wifi so I needed to take a picture of something so I could post it on Facebook (seemed like a good idea at the time), so this is the pic I posted.
Getting my bag and going through customs etc was easy and a very kind friend was waiting outside to pick me up and take me home.
My Birthday and my whole reason for going to Sydney. I woke up earlier than normal because all these wonderful birthday wishes started happening at about 6:00 am because that’s 8:00 in New Zealand. So I was wide awake and enjoying the rainy overcast view (cooling everything down for me) when my magnificent room service breakfast arrived.
Eventually at about 9:00 I set out for the Apple Store to buy myself a birthday present. The weather gods even decided to stop the rain as an added bonus for my birthday, so I set out in glorious sunshine. However the glory didn’t last long – the Apple Store was CLOSED FOR RENOVATION!!! Seems I’m doomed to never get inside that particular Apple Store, it wasn’t open back in 2015 when I was last in Sydney either, click here to read about that day.
That completely threw me and I completely forgot it was my birthday and didn’t really know what to do after that, so I stayed on the flash new air conditioned tram till I got to a stop near Paddy’s Markets. When I was 16 my parents took the whole family to Sydney for the August school holidays and one of the places we went to was Paddy’s Market – it was cool. There was so much amazing stuff you couldn’t get back in New Zealand and the coolest thing I bought was a Nintendo Octopus game.
Sadly the Paddy’s Market of 2020 was nothing like the 1981 version. Or maybe it is still cool I just didn’t like any of the stuff they were selling now that I’m not 16, it seemed like a never ending $2.00 shop with row after row of identical stalls, so crammed with cheap stuff that you couldn’t move around each stall to have a proper look. But I did find some Stubby Holders which was on my list, so it was worth it just for that.
After the markets I headed for the Chinese Garden of Friendship which I really enjoyed and it only cost $8 to get in. The garden is set amongst some really tall buildings so at times when I looked up it felt like I had been magically transported to Hong Kong. There were the biggest frangipani trees I’ve ever seen in full bloom and these gigantic lizard things that just lay around everywhere (I nearly stood on one, not sure which one of us got the biggest fright).
After that beautiful relaxing experience I headed for the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium with a quick stop at McDonalds along the way. The aquarium cost $45 to get in and definitely was not worth it. The best part (and probably the reason I went) was the lovely cold air conditioning keeping all the fish & penguins cold. I got to see a Dugong but the whole place seemed run down and creepy. The penguin expedition was over in about 30 seconds! So glad I didn’t need to queue up for it. Check out this sad penguin in dry kinda ugly conditions.
Last time I was in Sydney I caught a ferry back to Circular Quay from Darling Harbour and it took about 10 minutes, so I thought I’d do the same thing this time. I asked the ticket man which peer for the ferry to Circular Quay and he pointed me in the direction of a ferry that looked more like a hydrofoil than a ferry, so I thought things have really got flash in the last 5 years. 45 minutes and about 20 stops later, me and several other tourists realised we were miles away from the Quay and certainly not headed in the direction we should be in. One lady asked a crew member if this ferry was going to Circular Quay and he said no – so they hurriedly got off, but it took me too long to work out what they had asked the dude and what just happened. So I got off at the next stop and luckily the ferry returning to Sydney was just pulling in. It took another 45 minutes to get to where I was supposed to be going, so all up a 10 minute ferry ride took me an hour and half. At least it was a pleasant trip around the very expensive North Sydney harbour suburbs. I guess a 90 minute harbour cruise for $6 is a bargain.
Here we are heading in the wrong direction getting further and further away from the city.
According to my iPhone this is Drummoyne.
90 minutes later this was a very welcome sight.
So… after all that I wasn’t really sure what to do for my birthday dinner. I really didn’t feel like getting all dressed up to sit somewhere flash all by myself, so I bought a box of beers, a lot of junk food and thoroughly enjoyed my wonderful hotel room with the stunning view.
Very exciting morning, I went on a tour of the Sydney Opera House. The tour was fun, educational and well worth taking the time to do – I loved it.
At the start of the tour you have to put on these headsets and receiving devices which was not a good look or a good feel and I said to the guide “do I really have to“. He explained the device was so I could hear him talking no matter which way he was facing or how far away from him I got, which is perfect for someone like me who always straggles behind the pack, taking photos and looking at things just that little bit longer than everyone else. After only a couple of minutes I was loving the headphones.
We got to see inside several of the different theatres and learnt how all the different stages work and watched a video on the history of the Opera House.
From there I went back to the hotel to enjoy my incredible room and view and then headed out to Bondi Junction on a bus. The bus departed from a stop right across the road from the hotel so it was easy, with no wait time and I got to see a lot more of the real Sydney than if I’d caught the subway.
My reason for going out to Bondi was not for surfing (ha ha) but to find the Lego Shop and some hard to find Australian TV show DVDs in JB-Hifi.
Interestingly the Sydney Lego Shop wasn’t any better than the one we have in Auckland and I was disappointed they no longer sold the Sydney Skyline architecture set, apparently it’s a retired set and I’d missed out. I never really wanted it before now, because the Opera House in the set looks weird and there is a building I didn’t recognise.
While there I found a great place for a very late lunch called Lobster Tail Seafood with a great view of the Sydney skyline from an outdoor deck.
I did manage to find a couple of the DVDs on my list in JB-Hifi but I didn’t manage to find my way out of the 5 floor Westfield mall. I had to consult a directory map touch screen several times. Exit is not a search option, but Bus or Train is!
I made it!!! There have been several times recently that I was afraid I might not make it to Sydney because of bushfires, smoky skies, corona virus and debris on the runway closing Auckland Airport twice. Ok that wasn’t all in one day but for the past few months there have been events that made me think I might not get to go.
At last all the stars aligned and an awesome friend who also lives on the North Shore got up extra early and gave me a lift to the airport. Because of the corona virus I needed to be at the airport an hour earlier than normal, so I was there three hours ahead of departure and I had the place to myself, there was no queues anywhere and no holdups, so I managed to get through check in/bag drop, passport control and security really fast. This meant I had loads of time to wander around Auckland airport checking out all the fab new areas and flash shops that weren’t there two years ago when I was last there. If you take a walk beyond the food court towards the really far away departure gates and look up you will see this amazing art installation.
At last it was time to board and take my seat, luckily I was the first in my row so I could wipe down the window, touch screen and everything else I’d be touching with wet wipes. As the name implies they were “wet” wipes and I ended up soaking the window, so I had to hurriedly dry it with something before the people seated next to me wondered what happened. The airplane was one of the new Boeing 787s, was very comfortable, had really big windows and a clever window tinting instead of a blind.
For many days before departing I had my eye on the weather forecast and sadly it was all doom and gloom with nothing but thunderstorms forecast for the whole week I was going to be there, however 1/2 an hour before landing the Captain announced the great news that all the horrible weather they’d been having had cleared up!
A friend recommended I catch the train from the airport to Circular Quay as it is cheap and easy, so I did and it was. But it wasn’t air conditioned and the heat was unlike anything I’d experienced in a very long time, maybe not since living in Japan. Once I stepped off the train I was hit with a wave of heat and sunshine that was both a happy surprise and unbearable. I was dressed for rain, cold and thunderstorms, I didn’t even have a cap. So here’s my first pics of sunny Sydney.
Luckily the Hotel Intercontinental was only 5 minutes walk away from the train station and it was stunning. As this trip was for my 55th birthday I splashed out and treated myself to three nights of luxury in a 5 star hotel in a great location very close to the Opera House.
While checking in at the very flash & luxurious reception desk the friendly and welcoming guy at the counter went through my booking and noticed the reason I gave for this trip was for my birthday. He asked how old I was then refused to believe it, so then he went to the office to see if there was anything they could do and came back with an amazing free upgrade to a room with a view on one of the top floors. But the room wouldn’t be ready for a while, so he gave me some free drink vouchers to enjoy a nice cool beer (or 2 or 3) in the lobby bar while I wait. I was quite early, it was only 11:30am, but 1:30 New Zealand time, so I headed to the bar and had lunch plus several free beers.
After several beers and lunch I decided to go for a walk to fill in time before my room would be ready at 3:00, at the rate I was going I’d be too drunk to make it in to my room. But it was very very hot and humid outside so I didn’t last very long, but I did manage to cross the road and have a quick look at the Royal Botanic Gardens.
The hotel from across the road.
The Royal Botanic Gardens (Sydney Conservatorium of Music in the background)
After what felt like an eternity I headed back to the hotel and waited in the beautiful air conditioned lobby for my room to be ready. Just after 3:00 my fantastic room was ready, everything was awesome; spectacular view, a bath, fully stocked minibar, a Nespresso machine, a flash desk with executive swivel chair, an electric blind that was controlled from the bed, a sofa and a very handy window bench seat to lie back on and enjoy the view and a few more beers.
And just when I thought I couldn’t get any luckier there was a knock on the door from Room Service – they gave me a special birthday treat of a cake with an Opera House type decoration. Wow!!!
Eventually I felt brave enough to go backoutside in the heat and take a stroll around the Opera House. Actually it was early evening so I figured it should be cool enough. While I was wandering around the Opera House a very rusty looking cruise ship (the Ruby Princess) departed which was a very impressive sight from where I was standing.
Once it got dark I headed back to the hotel for dinner and drinks in the lobby bar.
Xmas 2019 will forever be remembered by me as the Xmas of Heidi. It all started on Xmas Eve meeting up with Heidi at the Cordis Hotel. In case you’re wondering this used to be the Langham and before that it was the Sheraton.
Last Xmas Heidi and I decided to go to Fiji for Xmas 2019 for something different to do and get away from it all. Turns out that December is the worst month to go to Fiji because it’s the rainiest month of the year and very humid.
So Fiji turned into Bali after several months of indecisiveness and then sadly I didn’t think I’d have enough money to have an awesome trip coz there really wasn’t enough paydays till Xmas for me. So as a compromise and a way to still do something fab… we decided to stay in a flash 5 star hotel in the city where we could sit by a pool on Xmas day and drink cocktails.
I started my Xmas holidays this year on Monday the 23rd so all I had to do on the 24th was wait for Heidi to finish work and check in to the hotel. I caught a taxi from my place to the hotel and the driver gave me a $10 Xmas discount making it only $20, what a fab start to my luxurious Xmas experience.
While waiting in the very flash lobby there was a Santa wishing everyone a very merry Xmas and a very lovely lady handing out beautiful gingerbread cookies.
Our room was very very nice and the beds were like giant marshmallows- they were so comfortable, and we had a great view of the Sky Tower lit up for Xmas.
Once it got dark enough we went for a big walk along K Road to the pink cycle path because I thought we should do something involving lights on Xmas eve.
Got woken suddenly this morning by a faint knock on the door announcing our room service breakfast had arrived. Or maybe the poor guy had been out there a while knocking – we will never know.
Checked out of the hotel at 11:00 and went for a walk over Grafton Bridge to fill in time till High Tea at 11:30. It sure was very special and what a fab thing to do on Xmas day – no stress no drama no dishes and we were treated like royalty.
Today I joined Heidi and a bunch of her friends for their annual Xmas tradition. We caught the ferry to Waiheke Island and had an awesome lunch and much wine in a vineyard restaurant called: Thomas’s Batch.
Awesome views, fun company and a fab day.
Today we went to Point Chev for a catch up brunch with a mutual friend Dave L. The cafe we planned to meet in was closed!!! So we went to another one nearby called Ambler Cafe. Great food and great service, would happily go back there again.
So… it’s been a very busy few days with lots of fun adventures with Heidi, hence the title of this blog post.
I read this article and thought, wow it’s so true and thought I would share it with you. So if you’ve ever wondered what the attraction was or if there was any benefit to making something out of Lego, read this…
Day one – Thursday 20 December – train to Wellington
What an awesome start to our trip – the taxi driver didn’t charge us for the ride from home to the train station as a thank you for previous business and xmas gift. We arrived nice and early and checking in to the Northern Explorer train was fast and easy. The train was very comfortable with loads of room, huge windows, plugs for charging devices, comfortable dining car with great food and my favourite beer.
The train ride took just under 11 hours and apart from the first bit from Auckland to Hamilton the weather was great. The best scenery of the trip was definitely Mt Ruapehu.
We stayed in the Ibis hotel and after dinner we had a few beers in Dad’s hotel room.
Day two – Friday 21 December – Wellington to Picton
We did breakfast in the hotel and then said goodbye, Dad and Paula flew to Nelson and I stayed on to catch the ferry. I went on the cable car and loved the lights they’ve added to the tunnels. Weather ok and great views at the top. Click the last pic to view the video.
I ran in to a couple of people I know from work so we did a quick coffee and catch up in David Jones. Then I collected my bag from the hotel and headed for the ferry terminal.
I chose to go on the Bluebridge Ferry rather than the InterIslander coz it was about $10 cheaper and they had Airpoints. BIG MISTAKE! As soon as I got on the ferry I would’ve paid anything to get off it and on to the other ferry (the Interislander). The whole thing smelt like a public toilet everywhere. I went outside for some fresh air and hopefully find a good seat, but it worse. On the right side of the boat were vents that made the air smell like old stale warm fat. On the left side were the vents that I guess went straight to the toilets coz that side smelt like poohs. Neither side was a good option. So I got myself a private cabin where I could escape the screaming children and horrible smells. The cabin had its own toilet and shower and a bed – very cool and it was the best $30 I’ve spent in ages. Before I headed indoors tho I did see a pod of dolphins – very cool, but very hard to photograph.
The scenery through the sounds was beautiful but I just couldn’t stomach the smells.
Getting off the boat was quite an ordeal too. The directions for the walking people (people without cars) was not very clear and I got lost trying to find my way out. Then once I was reunited with the other walkers we were herded like sheep on to a bus and shuttled to the terminal to wait for our bags. Then I was on my own with no signs to show me the way to get to the town and there are NO TAXIS in Picton. So I walked along the main road which was not the right way to go I found out the next day!
Day three – Saturday 22 December – Picton to Nelson
Awesome weather in Picton, actually managed to get too much sun just wandering around in the morning and sitting in the shade by the stunning waterfront, while waiting for the bus to Nelson.
While waiting for the bus to kill some time and get out of the sun I paid $25 to see the Picton Aquarium. Wow what a waste of money, it was awful and actually gave me the creeps.
After filling in enough time I went to the bus stop to wit for the bus, unfortunately I was waiting at the wrong stop and 10 minutes before the bus was due to depart I wondered why it hadn’t even turned up and why am I the only one waiting for a bus. So I went in to the info centre next to the bus stop and asked if I was in the right place – I wasn’t!!! A quick two minute dash to the correct stop and luckily the bus hadn’t left. But the bus was overbooked and they needed two buses so there was some confusion and a 20 minute hold up. The bus trip was great and I’d definitely do that again. Beautiful scenery, loads of famous vineyards.
Then at long last I’d made it to Nelson and Dad and Paula were there to meet me at the bus station. Short ride to my Aunt’s home and a beer!
Day four – Sunday 23 December – Nelson
This morning my cousins Janine and Stephanie turned up for a coffee and a quick reunion catch up. Then my Aunty and Ken took me on a little pilgrimage around Nelson to revisit the three houses I’d stayed in when we came to visit at Xmas time back in the 70s 80 & 81. It was hard to photograph the houses from the car so here’s an old pic I took back in 1980 of the house we stayed in that Xmas.
After lunch at the McDonald’s cousin Stephanie worked at for her first job, we went to the Nelson Cathedral to see the Xmas Tree display.
After dinner the old photo albums came out so Paula could see what I looked like as a Page Boy at my Aunt’s wedding back in the 60s.
Me as a page boy.
It was a great evening filled with stories and so many memories.
Day five – Monday 24 December – Te Waikoropupu Springs
I remembered as a kid the whole family went for a really long drive to see the Pupu Springs and it was the most beautiful crystal clear water I had ever seen – but that was all I remember of that trip, so Dad and Paula took me on the long drive out to Takaka where the springs are. The drive up the mountains was spectacular and the long journey was well worth it, when we walked round a corner in the bush track and saw the stunning water bubbling up from the ground. Click the last pic to watch the video.
On the way out to the springs we stopped in Motueka for lunch and I was amused by the name of the shop across the road.
Day six – Tuesday 25 December – Christmas Day
Lovely Xmas day. Presents and breakfast then getting ready for the cousins who turned up for the big xmas dinner at lunch time. We had a secret Santa before food and it was one of the few times I’ve seen a Secret Santa activity go well (something usually goes wrong) – everyone seemed happy with their gifts and everyone got one!
The following two pics are not from Xmas Day , but most days there were fantastic sunsets seen from my Aunt’s balcony.
Day seven – Wednesday 26 December – Mapua and Kaiteretere Beach
Today Dad, Paula and I drove out to Mapua a little wharf town with a maritime museum full of investing facts about the area. The best thing I learnt was how Cable Bay got its name and that it only took 12 days to lay the cable between Australia and New Zealand back in the 1800s.
From there we drove on to Kaiteretere a very popular beach with golden sand.
Day eight – Thursday 27 December – Last Day in Nelson
This morning we had a visit from my Uncle Ray who I hadn’t seen since I was 21, great catch up and many more memories. After that Dad, Paula and Tarnie went in to town to check out the shops and have lunch. After lunch we had a drive out to the Maitai Valley River spot where we spent many days swimming back in 1980. I didn’t take any photos coz there was nowhere practical to stop, and the river bed was all brown and not as stunning as I remembered it. But at least we found it. So here’s an old pic of my Uncle Ray and Dad standing by our favourite Maitai river spot in 1980.
Our very last stop before heading home was at the very beautiful Queen’s Gardens (to use the loo).
Last weekend I got to stay with friends in their very lovely home in Cambridge. While I was there I was on a mission to take photos of spring for a photo competition I’m running at work. So our first little venture out was to a park where there would be plenty of cherry blossoms and hopefully some cute little fluffy ducks.
On the drive back from the park we stopped by the side of the road for some shots of some glorious trees in full blossom.
We had a really lovely walk around the park and I even learnt some history.
For dinner we went to an amazing restaurant called Alpha St. The food was amazing and I had the most fabulous desert ever. You pour this hot berry sauce over a stunning ball of white chocolate to reveal the dark chocolate mouse inside. Not only was it fun but it was very delicious.
The next day we drove to the Hamilton Zoo where we got to see some very pretty birds.
Meerkats, pigs and giraffes.
Tigers, ducks and a turtle.
A family of monkeys with a really cute baby.
But my favourite was the rhinos because it was their feeding time and we got to see them up real close.
After the zoo we headed back to Cambridge for lunch and then I drove home amongst all the school holiday traffic also heading home.