Japan: Otaru, Hokkaido

We did a day-trip to Otaru yesterday. A port-city that is a quick train ride away from Sapporo. It is famous for its port, canal, glassworks, fresh seafood and (like any other Hokkaido cities) dairy products.

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We allocated almost a whole day, which was very generous. We walked around the place at a leisurely phase, looking at almost every shop, which started to look same-same after awhile 🙂 We think that Otaru is trying to sell itself as a Japanese version of Venice 😉 Also, not surprising given its location, there were a few Russians walking around the area.

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This glassworks shop has a lot of miniature animals and things that are super duper cute! Most especially the tiny tiny baby turtle on the bottom photo, look how small it is! I wanted to spend all my life savings in that shop (like any other shop in Japan so far). Like always though, when given too many choices, I ended up with nothing. Sadface.

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Instead of having a sit down lunch, we grazed all afternoon. I had a giant Hokkaido oyster and scallops, freshly grilled while I waited, as well as a slice of rock melon at around $5.50! The Japanese sure knows how to grow sweet and juicy melons. To balance it all off, I had the best creme brulee in my life!!! It was so so creamy, and milky, and delicious. Hokkaido cows have not disappoint me so far 😉

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One of the weirdest flavours ice cream I have yet in my life: Japanese sea urchin (uni) and fermented soy beans (natto). They were surprisingly alright, though I wouldn’t go back for them again 🙂 When ordering this cone, I am reminded why Mr E and I are good together, our views of things in life are compatible ♡

By the time we set off for Sapporo, I was full up to my eyeballs. The Japanese souvenir shops provide generous samples, and I am a sucker for free samples! It is very hard not to try everything in the shop, though I have learnt which looked like something I wouldn’t like (red beans, matcha green tea, etc). I enjoyed our trip to Otaru, if you’re ever in Sapporo, I recommend you going there 🙂

Japan: Takayama, Gifu Prefecture

Takayama would have to be one of my top favourite destinations in Japan. We did go to Gujo and Shirakawa-go prior to going to Takayama, but all the photos are on my camera. So here are the highlights of our trip to Takayama:

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Hida people village: a collection of original houses from the 16/17th century. We climbed through overgrown paths, across running streams, in thick humid rainy weather, to see some castle ruins. In the hour and a bit we were there, no one else came. It was definitely a memorable and hilarious experience, with the brothers fighting “stick monsters”, pointing out frogs and insects. The castle ruin itself? Not that great 😉

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Showa Era museum: a reconstructed scene of what 1950s Japan was like. It was so weird being there as there were things that I had when I was growing up. The water pump on the top right photo? My late auntie had it in her house! It kind of gives you an indication of how much Japan influenced Indo during their occupation.

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We spent a great deal of time at the many vending machines scattered around the place. Each time, each person would pick a different drink. Outdoing each other in weirdness. This drink is currently at the top of the list: Yakult with black vinegar. Worst drink ever.

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The guesthouse we stayed in celebrated its 3rd anniversary on our last night there: we had impressive sparkles (way better than what is legally available in Australia) and watermelon. It was then when I compared notes with one of our hosts who has a 2yo son, he reminded me so much of my little one 🙂

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Our delicious bento lunch boxes, these were around AUD5 each from a convenient shop. The quality is 100% better than some proper Japanese restaurants in Australia!

Takayama also has “old town” areas with shops and private houses. We spent almost all day snooping around the area. On our last night, we treated ourselves to BBQ Hida beef, it was expensive but delicious and memorable. Imagine slices of severely marbled beef, around 100g, for AUD40! We basically ate about 70g of fat that night. Indulgent, indeed 🙂

Until my next post!

Japan!

We’re only on our second full day in Japan today and we have done soooo much! Summer night dancing festival, dressed up in a Yukata (a summer kimono), had a 10-course dinner banquet, did loads of sightseeing, and ate copious amounts of food. We’ve also spent heaps on the vending machines, making the difficult decision of only choosing one drink at a time 🙂

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I am missing Little E a lot! It is difficult when I see little children around his age cuddling up to their parents. Or running around having fun. I feel like we should have brought him with us. Everything I look for at the shops are for him, and it was hard not to as everything here are just too adorable! However, my in laws are wonderful at keeping me up to date with photos and messages about him. By the sounds of it, he is behaving himself, going back to having full nights of sleeps!

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I also appreciate this opportunity of being me again, enjoying the company of my husband and my family members. It is nice to have undisturbed sleep and not to follow a routine 🙂

I am having a great time here, Japan is almost like my (third) home. I hope to continue to post photos of this holiday and take you all with me 🙂

Flip Out!!!

Flip Out
Sawmill Circuit
Hume
http://flipout.net.au/hume.php

I am soooo happy that Canberra finally got its own trampoline world! After seeing lots of fun photos online, I have always wanted to go.

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We went to Flip Out on the weekend and the place was busy! There were children of all ages and sizes, their parents milling around, some drinking coffee, some watching intently on the side. I am glad that Flip Out has a “7 years and under” area, complete with its own foam pit. After signing an indemnity form (they take this seriously), we plonked Little E on the trampoline.

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He wasn’t sure at first. He had been on a trampoline before, a friend has a big one in her backyard. For some reason, he didn’t like hers though, so we were relief to see that he liked the trampoline at Flip Out. There were a few older boys bouncing around, very close to Little E, sometimes getting too close that he’d fall. After watching them very intently for a few minutes, he loosened up a bit and did some sort of jumping motion (he is still working on jumping).

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He followed a couple of them around the area, falling at almost every step but then got up again. Grinning the whole time 🙂 I didn’t want to miss out, so I did small mini jumps here and there, understanding the fact that I am way over the weight limit.  It was fun!

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The queue at the big people foam pit

I tried putting him into the foam pit, but he didn’t like it. Instead preferring using one of the foam cubes as a ball and throwing it around. He also liked gathering all the escaped foams and returning them into the pit. I have to mention the person manning the foam pit, he was so gentle and patient with all the kids there. He made sure they all queued up and wait for their turns, then interact with the kid once in the pit. It’s probably not the “coolest” job for a teenager, but he was great at it 🙂

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Little E’s love affair with hills still continues, so this ramp is perhaps his most favourite out of the whole place. He ran up and down this ramp, clutching one of the foams, quite a few times. I think Mr E needs to build a ramp for Christmas 🙂

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The big people area

After about 40 minutes, we packed ourselves up and go home. Little E didn’t even make half way the drive when he fell asleep. As Mr E’s boss once said, Flip Out is way cheaper than paying a baby sitter 😉 Another great activity idea on a cold, rainy Canberra day for the kids!

P.s. I had been warned about the need for pelvic floor muscle strength by a friend who went when the place was first opened. She isn’t a mum and she said she realised that she needed to work on hers. I am now passing this warning on 😉

Holiday: Rotorua in Detail

We made an ultra early start towards Rotorua as we wanted to catch the Lady Knox geyser being manually erupted. The drive is around 3.5hrs from Auckland to the Thermal Wonderland (it’s about 30mins south of Rotorua CBD) and we made it just in the knick of time. We all liked seeing the geyser erupting, it was pretty fun to see while it lasted (it didn’t erupt for very long). Little E was mesmerised by all the commotion and the clapping 🙂 After seeing the geyser, we went to the wonderland itself and it was amazing! I have not seen anything like it, the colours and the bubbling sound.. oh and of course, the smell? It’s spectacular! Little E didn’t really like it all that much, I guess it was pretty boring for him, being stuck in his pram the whole time. He did enjoy walking around the shops afterwards though 🙂

Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland

Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland

We made our way to the Rotorua CBD for lunch and went straight to Hennessy’s Irish Bar. It was highly recommended by my brother and sister inlaw from when they went. I was told that the mussels were really good so that was what I had. Little E had a great time making himself comfortable at the pub, charming the pub lady while he was at it. She liked him so much that she gave him four marshmallows! There goes my rule of “no sweets until he’s 15” 😉

They forgot to take a photo of it for me when they went, so he drew me a picture instead lol What do you think of my brother inlaw's sketch of the dish? :)

They forgot to take a photo of it for me when they went, so he drew me a picture instead lol What do you think of my brother inlaw’s sketch of the dish (insert)? 🙂

After lunch and a quick look around at the shops, we went to the supermarket to get some supplies. We had booked a room with a full kitchen, in an attempt to not eat out too much and maintain some sort of healthy eating for Little E. I absolutely loved our accommodation, especially the huge outdoor spa (more on this below). After checking in, we made our way to Rotorua museum, a beautiful building full of equally beautiful exhibit. It is full of Maori cultural information/stories and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though he would enjoy museums later when he’s a little older, Little E had great fun running around the place, making friends with some of the other patrons there.

The Rotorua Museum

The beautiful building – Rotorua Museum

That night, we made great use of the playground, the spa and the free videos on offer.

The next day, we got up bright and early for the Hobbiton tour. This was the first thing that we booked and paid for after we bought our tickets to NZ 🙂 I enjoyed the tour immensely, even when Little E had his worst ever tantrum in his life so far! We did make him pose a lot, as he is at the perfect height for a hobbit 🙂 I’m also sure that there are a lot of people who has photos of him dressed up as a hobbit at the Green Dragon Inn. We got there as a big tour group of oldies were enjoying their complementary beer, and they were so delighted watching Little E toddling around in his outfit, pretty much all of them whipped out their cameras and started clicking lol

The Hobbiton

I won’t say too much of the tour as it is something that you gotta experience yourself, but I can now appreciate the sheer amount of work that goes into filming such big-budget movie. Oh, and that Peter Jackson sounded like a really pedantic dude who has a high attention to detail. I really think that it is worth going to the Hobbiton, and given the opportunity, I would go there again and again 🙂 One of my favourite stories told to us that day was of a 2.2m tall German guy who came dressing up as a hobbit. When asked why he didn’t dress up as Gandalf, he answered “I wish to be a hobbit”. Fair enough! This same guy apparently refused to leave the Hobbiton, telling the staff there that he was home and they can’t possibly kick him out. When the staff finally coaxed him out, he told them that he was going to help Frodo look for “the ring” lol I love crazy people!

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We were dropped off at our motel after the tour, and after a quick and easy lunch at the motel, we went to the big playground by the water. It was another awesome NZ playground, full of squealing kids 🙂 Little E particularly loved all the seagulls around, and had great fun chasing them around. We contemplated going to see another attraction in town, but we enjoyed seeing Little E played there that we decided to stay. After he had enough fun terrorising the poor seagulls, we had another look around at the shops before dinner at Brew (more details below).

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Dinner was soon followed by ice cream for dessert then another run around at the park before another bath in the outdoor spa back in the motel.

Activities Summary:

  • Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland – Lady Knox Geyser is manually erupted at 10.15am everyday.
  • The Hobbiton Tour – goes for 4.5 hours with free bus pick-ups/drop-offs
  • The Playground near the Novotel Hotel
  • Shopping for souvenirs in Rotorua CBD
  • Rotorua Museum

Tips and hints:

  • If you got to the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland right at 10.15am, don’t worry about going to the main entrance to get a ticket. Go straight to the geyser first then get a ticket later. That’s what we did and we made it.
  • If you’re looking for souvenirs, do look around first, as Rotorua is chockablock with souvenir shops all selling almost the same thing but at different prices.

Restaurant Suggestion:

All three of us enjoyed our meals at Brew, a craft brewery place in “Eat Street”. The restaurant is child-friendly, the waiter was super patient and friendly with Little E, the food was good and if you or your travelling buddy loves beer, I heard the beers weren’t bad either 🙂 Right across from it is Lady Jane’s ice creamery where you can have your choice of ice cream from the 25 or so flavours there.

We also liked the Hennessy’s Irish Bar for simple hearty pub meals and fresh cold ones. As mentioned above, the pub lady was very friendly and super duper nice to Little E. So despite it being a pub catering for adults, it was still child-friendly. Little E was able to share our meals (the serving size was huge) and we got to enjoy our lunch!

Accommodation:

Arista of Rotorua

It was difficult to choose an accommodation in Rotorua as there were a lot! We went to Tripadvisor for help but was innundated with too many people’s differing opinions. In the end, Mr E found Arista of Rotorua through a random forum and we booked it. I loved the room we had, it was in a loft-style room, with the beds upstairs. It came with an outdoor spa, which came really handy for Little E. The motel also had a big playground, though it was a little dilapidated and needed cleaning. The room itself was clean and recently refurbished. The housekeeping ladies were very friendly and accommodating with our requests. It is a little far from the Rotorua CBD, though it wasn’t a problem for us, because we had a car. Depending on where you’re going next and when, I would suggest you don’t do any laundry at the motel as it was expensive! NZD4 for the washing machine and another NZD4 for the dryer.

What we found in one of the souvenir shops - wut wut?

What we found in one of the souvenir shops – wut wut?

I have to say that Rotorua was one of my favourite spots we went to in NZ. I expected the smell to be a lot more pungent than it was, in fact, after only a couple of hours, my nose got used to it that I couldn’t smell it anymore. I would call Rotorua as a must-visit city, only because you need to go to the Hobbiton and also experience the sulphuric experiences 🙂 For my other posts on our New Zealand trip, please click here.

Holiday: Auckland in Detail

Activities/Things we did

Auckland CDB

On our first full day in Auckland, we started the day very early for Canberra time as Little E adjusted to the time difference almost immediately. We had a leisurely breakfast then made our way to the French market around the corner. We didn’t buy anything though there were many things that looked delicious, especially the cronut!

Cronutttttssss!

Cronutttttssss!

We walked towards the ferry terminal to do a day trip to Davenport. A sea side town across the harbour, lined with shops, cafés and restaurants. Little E absolutely loved the ferry trip, he laughed the entire trip, pointing at the seagulls, clapping. Despite the fact that it was windy and cold, he didn’t stop smiling.

Ferry Ride

Once we got there, we made our way to the lookout point of North Head. It was such a hike! Pushing a sleeping baby up a steep hill is definitely a great work out. We got a nice view of Davenport, the water and Auckland. After a quick look around and loads of photos, we descended down the hill towards the playground.

Things to do in Devonport

Things to do in Devonport

As it was a Sunday, there were plenty of families with young children. I believe the local council organised a treasure hunt for the older kids. Such fun! While Little E played, we enjoyed some much deserved coffee and hot chocolate. Once Little E had enough of playing (and getting slightly pushed over by some unruly older children) we had a quick look at a craft market that happened to be on. We didn’t get much from there, just a couple of jars of feijoa jam – a fruit that tastes almost like guava.

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We caught the ferry back to Auckland, which Little E equally enjoyed. We had lunch at what-was-advertised-as the “Largest Asian Food Alley” in the Southern Hemisphere. There were 13 food joints, but we just couldn’t go past the Indonesian food joint 🙂 Little E had an extraordinary amount of food for lunch! My little Indo boy 😉

Little E's favourite Indo dish

Little E’s favourite Indo dish

We then spent the rest of the day poking around all the shops in Auckland CBD as Little E needed to nap – a great time to shop indeed! On that note, if you ever need (free) hot drinks or cold water and a clean place to change the baby, Galleria Duty Free is the place to be 😉 😉 😉

What we found in Galleria - wut wut?

What we found in Galleria – wut wut?

We went back to our accommodation in time for Little E’s dinner. We didn’t want to overtire him on his first day of holiday, in fear of him being cranky for the rest of the trip!

Activities summary:

La Cigale French Market
A ferry ride to Davenport – a walk to North Head for beautiful view of Auckland, an amazing playground, little seaside shops and a craft market
Lunch at the “Largest Asian Food Alley”
A walk through Auckland CBD

I reckon we could’ve spent an extra day in Auckland, as there were two places we wanted to go to for Little E. The aquarium and the water park at the Rose Gardens. Maybe the next time 🙂

Accommodation
We had a hard time finding accommodations that ticked all our boxes for this trip. It is our first overseas trip with a baby and we really couldn’t afford to mess up with sleeping arrangements – if he doesn’t sleep, we don’t either. Not good when you have full days of activities 🙂

The days that we were in Auckland also coincided with the Pacific Princess cruise ship. Most reasonable-priced rooms (that could fit a portacot comfortably) were booked out and we really don’t want to stay too far away from the CBD. We then found this guy from AirBnB. It was perfect for us, the place was easy to find, the room was massive (we could fit the portacot in and still have plenty of room to be comfortable), and the hosts friendly. Since the place isn’t specifically decorated for kids, we did have to be extra watchful of Little E though. There were knickknacks within arm’s reach, and cactuses all around the garden. However, of course, it is someone’s house, so we had to be respectful anyway 🙂 All in all, being our first experience with AirBnB, it was a good one and I reckon we’re going to do it again for our future travels.

We enjoyed our short time in Auckland, it felt like we were still in Australia, with some shops getting a name change (Countdown instead of Woolworths, etc). If I can compare it with another city, I would say it is like Sydney. Though I could not say that it’s a must-visit city, given the chance, I would go there again 🙂

I hope you enjoy this first series of my NZ travel posts, and hopefully it gives you the inspiration to go 🙂 In case you missed it, read here for reasons why I think NZ is a great child-friendly country to visit.

For more of my other NZ posts, please click here 🙂