Central Otago – Wine Tour

I’ve been trying to develop an appreciation for Pinot Noir and figured that Central Otago is probably the best place nearby to give it a go.  I did a bit of research on wine tour companies before our trip and went with  New Zealand Wine Tours Queenstown.

Our day started out relatively early – our guide Liz picked us up and took us for a scenic detour up to the Crown Range lookout nearby.  On the way out Liz asked us what kind of wine we drink / enjoy back at home and got to know us.  I loved her right away – she was friendly and really seemed to love wine and sharing her knowledge.  She set us all at ease immediately and I was certain that we were in for a fantastic day.

We stopped at Peregrine Wines for a tasting first.

Peregrine Wines with our wonderful tour guide, Liz.
Peregrine Wines with our wonderful tour guide, Liz.
Peregrine Wines
Peregrine Wines and The Nose Restaurant
Peregrine Wines and The Nose Restaurant

After Peregrine wines Liz took us to the Nose Restaurant and the Aroma Room.  The Aroma Room was incredibly cool – it allowed us to develop a common vocabulary for the wine we were sampling for the remainder of the day. We followed the Aroma Room experience with a delicious platter lunch.


Our next stop was to Rockburn, further down towards Cromwell. The wines weren’t bad, but we found the service to be pretty cold.

After Rockburn, Liz took us out to Bannockburn for a visit to Akarua – perhaps my favourite winery of the day.  I wanted to buy everything we tried – they had an amazing chardonnay, a lovely vintage brut, ice wine and finally, some INCREDIBLE pinot noir.  I bought a few bottles (and then hoarded some via Dan Murphy’s upon my return to Australia), a couple of which we enjoyed in the spa.


Roaring Meg – a quick stop between Akarua and Brennan

At Brennan we were treated to a lovely tasting – fantastic Gewürztraminer, amazing Pinot Noir.. we were a bit drunk by this stage, but I still enjoyed a vertical tasting of their most recent Pinot vintages.  The woman at the cellar door told us about their recent-ish win at the IWC with the 2011 B2 Pinot.


Brennan Wines

Roys Peak Track

While researching things to do around Queenstown I came across a walking track in nearby Wanaka – Roys Peak Track – and fell a bit in love with the idea of kicking off our vacation with a day of exercise and amazing views.  I bought some hiking boots and a wind proof jacket, breaking in both on the treadmill before we set off.

We’d planned for it to be a bit cold – I’d gone with three layers on my top half.  I learned about 300m into the walk that this was a grave mistake, and Tim let me stuff my thermals and jacket into his pack.

We walked for a few hours, stopping every now and then to eat some muesli bars and INCREDIBLE New Zealand apples.  In order to make it back to the car by sunset we needed to reach the summit by 1500.

It got to about 1440 when I realised I wasn’t going to get to the top with enough time to take photos and enjoy the snow.  Joel scaled the side of the mountain like a goat, while Rach, Tim and I waited patiently (read- goofed around like idiots) in the snow and watched him reach the top.  Bravo, Joel.

The view was stunning.  We’d walked about 4.5km up the mountain (roughly 1000m of elevation gain) and the entire local area and surrounding range was visible.  I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was.

On our way back down to the car, everything started to hurt a little bit.  Tim felt it initially, and about halfway down I started to feel it in my knees and calves.  Luckily, a tourist from Hong Kong engaged our group in conversation (on a range of topics from asian food, aboriginals in australia, studying in HKG and ivan milat) and we were sufficiently entertained for the rest of the walk.

I was pretty shocked at how unfit I was for the duration of this walk.  We’d discovered that there was a sake bar in town and I reminded myself of our wonderful Japanese dinner over and over again for motivation, but it was still really difficult, particularly as we neared the summit.  I want to try the walk again next time – I really hope I can complete it more easily and without Tim having to carry the pack the whole way.

Fuji Shibazakura Festival – Japan 2015

Our planned trip to Japan was going to bring us to Honshu a bit late to do any serious sakura viewing, so we compensated by booking a tour to the Fuji Shibazakura Festival.  Between April 18 and May 31 (varies by year), 800,000 shibazakura (moss phlox) bloom at the base of Mt Fuji in a wonderful explosion of colour.

Shibazakura and Fuji-san
Shibazakura and Fuji-san

We set off from Shinjuku with our group and our tour guide Mika san told us all about Tokyo.  Our driver Sato san took us west from Tokyo and Mika san explained about the different residential areas, entertainment districts, factory areas and the manufacturing industry in Tokyo.

She also shared a couple of troubling statistics about pay equality in the workforce in Japan 🙁

The top number is the average wage for a male worker in Japan. The bottom number is the average wage for a female worker in Japan. Mum and I both found it pretty troubling.

Narusawa Cave
We stopped at Narusawa cave for half an hour on the way to the festival.  It was formed by lava after Mt. Fuji erupted and is now home to a small shinto shrine and ice crystals all year around.  The walk (crawl / climb) through the cave was brief and slippery, and I didn’t take any photos worth posting.

Fuji Shibazakura Festival
Our second stop was the main attraction of the day – the Fuji Shibazakura Festival!   To my delight, there were also some sakura in bloom and I proceeded to take altogether too many photos.  We sampled some local food and managed to view the peak of Fuji-san for all of two minutes before cloud cover swept back in.


Strawberry Farm
Our final stop was at an ichigo farm on the other side of Fuji-san.  We had half an hour to eat as many strawberries as we liked, with a nifty chocolate fountain and all-you-can-eat condensed milk.  I took this as an invitation to eat the equivalent of several punnets of strawberries.  I’d heard that Japanese strawberries were delicious but I wasn’t prepared for how delightful they were, and I think I am going to struggle to readjust to ours in Australia.  Oishiikatta!

Himeji – Japan 2015

The last time I visited Himeji was in 2009.  The castle was still undergoing some serious reconstruction on the main keep, but the grounds were open and they had erected an elevator and viewing platforms from which you could observe the work.  I joined a tour with an english speaking guide who showed the group around the garden, the keep, and the construction and it was really pleasant – quiet:


I was eager to visit with mum to show her around, especially as the construction had finished earlier this year and the castle would be completely visible and accessible.

We set off from Shin-Osaka on the Shinkansen out to Himeji.  It was the first of  bullet train ride during our visit and we were able to observe some suburban areas during the trip.  While we were on the train out to Shin-Osaka we saw the first of many dogs on Himeji day, and this one happened to be having an extraordinarily bad time.

He wanted out of that bag so bad.


As we made our way through the station (stopping for some chiffon cake) and out into the town, I was immediately struck by how present the castle is.

Okay, so the photo doesn't really do it justice.
Okay, so the photo doesn’t really do it justice.

I really enjoy visiting Himeji.  It is quiet, clean and not especially built up (by comparison to other areas we had visited and would visit on our trip) and the locals are friendly.  On our walk from the station to the castle we stopped in at a Japanese supermarket for some fresh fruit, and took in some of the scenery.

The approach to the castle is breathtaking.  Last time I was here the main keep was completely covered – to see it completed was fantastic.


Once we made it into the castle grounds I realised that it wasn’t going to be as laid back as my last visit – the grounds were full of people excited to see the castle and there were enormous queues to go inside.  We went on a weekend, so I’m not sure if the crowds vary on weekdays, but it was still worth the wait.

The view from the climb – the grounds and the city – changed as we moved higher into the main keep.  Due to the number of visitors the climb was slow (and with plenty of queues along the way).  When we reached the top there was a shrine and a fantastic view of the city.


We spent the rest of the afternoon adventuring around town – we found a great udon place and spotted lots of dogs – and got back to Dotonbori to be tourists for the afternoon.  Mum was pretty keen on getting some laundry done, so I went on an adventure for socks and desserts for us to share.


Yoshino – Japan 2015

Mum and I decided on McDonalds for breakfast before heading off on our trip up to Yoshinoyama.  I ordered what I thought was a Sausage and Egg McMuffin, but it turned out to be so much more amazing – egg, cheese and sausage between two maple flavoured.. pancakes? Incredible.  A taste sensation.  I never want to even look at an english muffin again.


Although we arrived in Japan a bit too late to view the cherry blossoms at their peak, we headed out to Yoshinoyama to see if there were still any on the trees.  It’s quite a bit colder up the mountain, and as one of Kansai’s prime viewing spots I figured it was worth a try.  Yoshino is located in the Nara prefecture and is easily accessible via train from Osaka.

The cable car from the station to midway up the mountain is covered in sakura print, and the view from the car is beautiful.  yoshino



Yoshinoyama is gorgeous.  The scenery and temples are beautiful, and the decorations around the town are really cute.





Many of the stores in Yoshino sell sakura flavoured food and treats


We stopped for lunch on our way back down to the cable car.  There were only a few restaurants open for business on the mountain and this place had a few ladies out the front warmly welcoming guests.


Sakura flavoured ice cream!


We made a quick stop for pancakes on the way back to Osaka, where we were headed to Neko No Jikan – my favourite cat cafe.




We ended the day with dinner at Tako Tako King, and a walk around Osaka.


Back in Japan – 2015

Last year – March / April 2014 – I had a lot of time booked off work.  Almost three weeks, thanks to Easter holidays.  We had a CrumpXXXinJapan holiday planned for September and I was beyond excited about the prospect of showing the guys around my tied-for-favourite place.

An assortment from our September trip.


I was trawling AirAsiaGo and I found an incredible deal – about $800 for a week of accommodation and return airfare to Osaka.  I tried to convince my mum to come with me but she wasn’t able, so I set off on my first solo holiday.  I had the good fortune to visit during sakura season and I knew I had to make sure mum and I came back for a visit in the near future.

I spent most of my solo trip taking photos of shika (deer) and sakura (cherry blossoms)


We booked our tickets for this year in December, and I proceeded to spend my spare time arranging an action packed Japan adventure for mum and I to enjoy.