Articles

  • Victoria’s Cheesiest Destinations

    Whether it’s from a goat, sheep or cow, blue, soft, covered in ash or school aged – Victoria says yes please to cheese with a slew of specialty cheese makers dotted throughout the state. Either the destination of the day or a stop along the way, these local cheese producers offer high quality produce, tastings, meals, tours and workshops.

    Yarra Valley Diary | Photo Credit: Tourism Victoria/Roberto Seba

    Yarra Valley Diary | Photo Credit: Tourism Victoria/Roberto Seba

    High Country

    Milawa Cheese Company
    A must-visit in the High Country, Milawa Cheese Company operates on the site of the historic butter factory. Its internationally award winning range of hand-made cow and goat milk cheeses are produced on-site and are available for tastings. For a heartier meal, the adjacent Factory Bakery serves an array of dishes that highlight the region’s produce. Also on-site is Wood Park Wines Cellar Door, The Muse Gallery of Milawa, The Walnut Tree Collection and Eucalypt Wood Works making this a great destination for all. 17 Factory Road, Milawa, +61 3 5727 3589

    Yarra Valley

    Yarra Valley Dairy
    Located in the heart of the Yarra Valley under an hour’s drive from Melbourne, Yarra Valley Dairy offers a delicious range of cheeses, handmade from goats milk or from the cows milk provided by the surrounding dairy farms. A viewing window enables a glimpse into the cheese making process, while the selection is also available to taste. Yarra Valley Dairy doubles as a fine foods store where a range of wines from small single vineyards and local produce is also available. 70-80 McMeikans Road, Yering, Victoria

    Yarra Valley Diary | Photo Credit: Tourism Victoria/Roberto Seba

    Yarra Valley Diary | Photo Credit: Tourism Victoria/Roberto Seba

    Mornington Peninsula

    Main Ridge Dairy
    The only large scale commercial dairy in Mornington Peninsula, Main Ridge Dairy produces a range of farmhouse cheeses produced from high quality goat milk. Dairy tours run most Saturdays where visitors can catch a behind the scenes glimpse into the milking process. Dairy fiends can delve even further into the process with Main Ridge Dairy cheese making workshops to learn how the cheese is crafted. Those shorter on time can enjoy a cheese platter in beautiful surrounds or simply a tasting at the counter. 295 Main Creek Rd, Main Ridge, +61 3 5989 6622

    Red Hill Cheese
    This intimate “Cheese Cellar in the Forest” promises a high-end flavor experience. The handmade cheeses are designed to complement Mornington Peninsula wines and are best sampled with the tasting plate which features the cheese-maker’s selection of award-winning cheeses handmade with sheep, cow or goat milk. This small fromagerie is located on a farm at Red Hill, and visitors can relax on the deck overlooking the stringybark forest. 81 William Road, Red Hill, +61 3 5989 2035.

    Blue Bay Cheese
    Run by Ukrainian twins, Blue Bay Cheese produce a variety cheeses from cow and goat milk, including blue, brie, feta and hard cheeses. Combining traditional recipes passed down from their Grandmother with modern techniques, the cheese makers use the freshest ingredients to create high quality produce. 6 Latham St, Mornington, +61 3 5976 4999

    Echuca Farmhouse Cheese | Photo Credit: Tourism Victoria/Emily Godfrey

    Echuca Farmhouse Cheese | Photo Credit: Tourism Victoria/Emily Godfrey

    Geelong and the Bellarine

    Drysdale Cheeses
    Run by pharmacists Corinne & Peter Blacket, Drysdale Cheeses produces small quantities of handcrafted cheese and yogurt from their own herd of Saanen milking goats. The pampered goats eat natural, weedy pasture along with tree cuttings, hay and grains, contributing to the smooth taste of the milk, cheese and yogurt. Drysdale Cheeses farm gate shop is open on the first Sunday of each month. They also run regular cheese making classes at Springdale Community Centre in Drysdale. 2140 Portarlington Road, Bellarine, +61 3 5251 1449

    Great Ocean Road

    Timboon Cheesery
    The Timboon Cheesery is a must do on the 12 Apostles Gourmet Trail. Handmade cheeses and local produce is available to sample and a garden surround by the scenic farmland is the ideal place to unwind. The fromagerie features LÁrtisan Cheeses and Shultz Organic Dairy produce alongside its own Timboon Dairy range of German style cheeses. Cheese tasting and cheese platter are on offer along with boutique roasted coffee and tea, scones and cream, local beer or wine. 23 Ford & Fells Road, Timboon

    Apostle Whey Cheese
    Located on the inland loop from the 12 Apostles, Apostle Whey Cheese is the home of award winning, delectable hand-made cheeses. Running a paddock to plate operation, all of its cheeses are made on-site from pure milk that has been produced by its specially bred herd of Aussie Red/Jerseys. Cheese tastings are free and little ones might be lucky enough to meet the resident donkeys. 9 Gallum Road, Cooriemungle, +61 437 894 337

    Cheese World Warrnambool
    Located across the road from the Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory, Cheese World tells the story of the local dairy industry through film, artifacts, photos and personal items belonging to early local dairy farming families. Complimentary tasting presentations are held hourly, providing the chance to sample the award winning Warrnambool Heritage brand cheeses. 5330 Great Ocean Rd, Allansford, +61 3 5565 3130

    Shaw River Buffalo Cheese
    Pioneers of water buffalo milking in Australia since 1996, Shaw River Buffalo Cheese crafts a range of cheeses and yogurts from the milk of its herd of buffalos. Two tours are available at their property in Yambuk, enabling visitors to learn about the beginnings of the buffalo milking industry of Australia and the cheese making business as it is now. A second tour looks at the Haldane family’s herd of purebred Icelandic horses, the biggest in Australia. Watch spectacular footage of the 5 gated horses and their most famous gait the tolt – no riding just hugging. Princes HIghway, Yambuk, +61 3 5568 4321

    Cheeses from Boosey Creek Cheese | Photo Credit: Tourism Victoria/Robert Blackburn

    Cheeses from Boosey Creek Cheese | Photo Credit: Tourism Victoria/Robert Blackburn

    Gippsland

    Prom Country Cheese
    Prom Country Cheesery produces handmade specialty cheeses on the family farm in the Moyarra Valley, South Gippsland. The focus is producing sheep milk and showcasing its transformation into distinctive regional cheese. The final result is available to sample cheese in the tasting room, or as part of a larger meal on the veranda. To highlight the process, viewing windows into the cheese making area are accompanied by interpretative information. Midweek tours are available for groups by appointment. 275 Andersons Inlet Rd, Moyarra, +61 3 5657 3338

    Gippsland Cheese
    Located in the rolling green hills of Gippsland, only an hour from Melbourne, Gippsland Cheese represents a selection of premium artisan cheese-makers from Gippsland and beyond. The specialist cheese processor and distributor offers a wide range of cheeses, including their own range, Gippsland Gourmet, and others: Tarago River, Jindi, Old Telegraph Road, Maffra Cheese Co, Berry’s Creek, Milawa, Prom Country Cheese, Red Hill Cheese, Grandvewe Cheese, Pantalica and Mamma Lucia. 17 Ryan Ct, Warragul, +61 3 5622 3887

    Cheese from Victoria's High Country | Photo Credit: Tourism Victoria/Katie Quinn Davies

    Cheese from Victoria’s High Country | Photo Credit: Tourism Victoria/Katie Quinn Davies

    Article courtesy of Visit Melbourne– Official site for Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

    November 29, 2016 • Articles, Australia, Destinations, Uncategorized • Views: 2383

  • Six Must-Do Food Experiences in Australia’s Gourmet Capital

    Lake House dining room and wine cellar

    Dining room and wine cellar | Photo credit: Lake House

    Melbourne is brimming with culinary experiences and has plenty on offer to satiate an appetite of any size. Whether dining like a local down the city’s laneways and hidden alleys, seeking out the latest spot for brunch or the best cup of coffee in town, or indulging in a many-course fine-dining degustation, the city is home to more must-visit restaurants and cafes than one could ever see in just one visit – even locals struggle to fit them all in! Victoria’s love of food extends beyond the state’s capital and sampling the local produce in the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula or further afield is a popular pastime for locals and visitors alike. And it is no surprise with so many regional restaurants serving instagrammable meals overlooking equally photogenic views. To make the most of a visit to Melbourne food aficionados should aim to tick off the following six must-do food experiences:

    Fine dining Melbourne style
    Australasia’s number one restaurant and ranked 33 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Attica is a must-visit for anyone serious about fine-dining. Here, chef Ben Shewry creates beautifully balanced, modern cuisine integrating native Australian ingredients wherever possible. The focus is on sustainably developed produce, and dishes include rarely-used plants and herbs foraged from the adjacent garden as well as from broader Victoria. From the Lilly Pilly and Illawarra plum pine used in signature dessert The Native Fruits of Australia, to saltbush leaves, marron, native peppers and nuts, the flavours of Attica sing Australia. Shannon Bennett’s Vue de monde on the 55th floor of the Rialto Tower takes diners on a journey with its innovative cuisine and spectacular setting. The menu has French influences but is steeped in Melbourne’s history and uses primarily Victorian produce and indigenous ingredients. Kangaroo, marron, wallaby and native herbs are all regular fixtures on the menu which also offers diners a high-end take on the classic Australian Lamington. The restaurant’s dramatic decor sees traditional white table cloths replaced with kangaroo leather, curtains made of 100% Victorian wool and chairs crafted from old telegraph poles, making for a uniquely Australian setting. The experience is topped off with spectacular views over the Melbourne city skyline and Port Phillip Bay.

    Lake House dining 2

    Fine dining experience | Photo credit: Lake House

    Laneway eating
    Some of Melbourne’s best eating and drinking can be found in and around the city’s labyrinth of interconnecting laneways. Unmarked doors, sets of stairs, or what looks like a no through road, are all likely to lead to a favorite local dining haunt. The city’s original laneway tapas bar MoVida, perennially popular Chin Chin, Tonka, Cumulus Inc. Brooks of Melbourne, Coda, Izakaya Den and Supernormal are just some of the names to look out for. The laneways are also central to Melbourne’s cafe and bar culture with rooftops and basements offering more hidden secrets and surprises – from Japanese tea houses to Chinese dim sum diners, coffee grinders and speakeasy style cocktail bars and everything in between. Those unsure of where to start can take a tour with the likes of Hidden Secrets Tours, Melbourne Food Experiences or Melbourne Walks to discover the city’s cafe culture, specialist coffee, cocktail and bar scene and plenty more besides.

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    Laneway eating |Photo credit: Melbourne Tourism

    Coffee and breakfast like a local
    Melbourne has long been regarded as the coffee capital of Australia and is one of the leading cities for coffee in the world. Since the first espresso machines landed on Victorian soil in the 1950s, the city’s reverence for the bean has continued to prosper. The emergence of specialist roasters has contributed to an obsession with new ways of brewing and the origin of coffee beans. Whether it is a hole in the wall coffee joint in the laneways, or a quick coffee on the go – Melbourne has a cup to suit every taste with some favorites including Traveller, Cup of Truth, Seven Seeds, Dukes, The Sensory Lab, Auction Rooms and Dead Man Espresso. Tours and interactive experiences offer the opportunity to understand the history and culture that has fueled this city-wide obsession – try coffee cupping sessions with Seven Seeds, or a full-day coffee roasting session at Market Lane Coffee. Hand-in-hand with Melbourne’s coffee obsession, eating out for breakfast or brunch is a huge part of Melbourne life, on par with dinner as a social occasion and opportunity to sample artisan produce from around Victoria. Favourite breakfast haunts include St Ali, Industry Beans, Pope Joan, Proud Mary, Top Paddock, and Cumulus Inc. At these locations and more, Melbourne’s multi-cultural heritage, innovation and produce are presented on every plate – from fancy pressed lamb belly to Baba ghanoush, fresh fig and caper currants; from potato cheddar waffle to smoked brisket, zuni pickles and sour cream.

    Coffee cups at a South Terrace cafe,Fremantle

    Coffee for two | Photo credit: South Terrace Cafe

    Ultimate Yarra Valley indulgence
    A hot air balloon flight at sunrise is the best possible introduction to Victoria’s premier wine growing region. Global Ballooning enables early-risers to float serenely over the Yarra Valley’s stunning scenery of rolling vineyards, lush green pastures and story-book forests and land in one of the Valley’s flagship wineries, such as Domain Chandon or Rochford Estate to enjoy a champagne breakfast with local sparkling and artisan produce. The birthplace of Victorian viticulture, the Yarra Valley is Victoria’s premier wine region home to more than 80 world class wineries producing award-winning cool climate wines and 60 boutique cellar doors, making it the perfect destination for an intimate wine tasting or behind-the-scenes experiences. Big producers such as De Bortoli and Yering Station sit alongside specialist boutique wine makers who are quietly making a name for some of the most interesting and brave blends and varietals in the country. In addition to wine, the region now produces a growing selection of craft beers and cider showcased through the Yarra Valley Cider and Ale Trail.The region is dotted with farm gates and artisan producers including dairies, chocolataries and organic produce. This sophisticated, romantic and decadent food and wine region is within an hour’s drive of Melbourne can be enjoyed on a private tour or a self-drive itinerary.

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    Hot air balloon over the Yarra Valley | Photo credit: Victoria Tourism

    Mornington Peninsula – an adventure for the senses
    The Mornington Peninsula has it all: abundant produce, boutique wineries, food trails, farm gates, golf courses, galleries, picturesque villages, diverse landscapes, beautiful beaches and coastal views all in one compact area, just one hour from Melbourne. It is one of few wine regions in the world that overlooks stunning coastline, with cool ocean breezes influencing the boutique cool-climate Chardonnays and Pinots for which the area is renowned. The Mornington Peninsula has more award-winning restaurants than any other part of Victoria with Port Philip Estate, The Long Table, Montalto, Terminus and Ten Minutes by Tractor all offering menus that feature local produce for a completely immersive dining experience. Visitors can get even more hands-on with fruit picking, mushroom foraging or classes in handmade sausages, wood fired pizzas or chocolate making. The ‘Wine, Food and Farmgate’ trail and map makes it easy to discover dozens of wine, food and farm-gates throughout the region and Horseback Winery Tours offers a unique way to explore the vineyards.

    Continental Hotel - Sorrento

    Enjoying the view and a glass of wine | Photo credit: Mornington Peninsula Tourism Board

    Dine and stay at Brae
    Australia’s only regional restaurant to be included in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, recently announced at number 65, Brae in the Otways serves up contemporary cuisine with a commitment to seasonal produce. Award winning chef Dan Hunter creates a daily menu that reflects the best of the hillside property’s extensive organic gardens. Each day, the highest quality ingredients are carefully selected from Brae’s on-site organic fruit and vegetable garden, local farms and ethical, sustainable producers from Victoria and beyond. Native ingredients on the menu include coastal bone fruit, ruby salt bush, muntries, quandongs, fingerlime and pepperberry, plus local and sustainably caught black lip abalone, southern rock lobster and sea urchin. The Birregurra property, one and a half hours from Melbourne, has recently added six new luxury accommodation suites so visitors now need not worry about transport to and from their indulgent degustation. The spacious suites have been constructed with sustainability in mind, using recycled materials, solar energy, harvested rainwater and a worm farm waste water system. Each suite accommodates two adults and features a star-gazing skylight, sitting area with turntable and record collection, and private outdoor seating with views to the rolling hills of the Otway Ranges. Guests can take a morning stroll in the garden, catching chefs and gardeners at work, and enjoy an in-room, house-made breakfast of organic, wood-fired sourdough bread, pastries, preserves and seasonal produce harvested from the property and nearby. It is easy to extend a visit to Brae, with many nearby activities such as platypus spotting by canoe in Lake Elizabeth, the Otways Fly Treetop Walk, and exploring the Great Ocean Road and Bellarine Peninsula.

    Article courtesy of Visit Melbourne– Official site for Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

    November 9, 2016 • Articles, Australia, Destinations, Travels • Views: 2201

  • Your Guide to Melbourne, the Coffee Capital

    The Tilba Teapot Cafe at Tilba, Eurobodalla, South Coast, NSW

    The Tilba Teapot Cafe | Photo Credit: Melbourne Sydney Drives

    Melbourne is a city obsessed with coffee. Cold drips, aero-press and cupping are common words in the local vernacular thanks to a widespread passion for the bean, complemented by a number of leading provedores who call Melbourne home. This long and eventful love affair began when Melbourne’s first espresso machines landed in the city in the 1950s. Today, the passion for the bean is at an all-time high thanks to a ‘third wave’ of specialty roasters and multi-roaster cafes.

    Coffee hotspots in Melbourne and surrounds
    Specialty coffee roasters Market Lane recently opened its fourth outpost in the historic Deli Hall at Queen Victoria Market. The spot where Market Lane stands housed a pharmacy for 80 years and maintains some of the original art-deco style fittings. The sleek design is the perfect platform for a long filter coffee bar, a classic espresso machine and a selection of some of Melbourne’s best beans on sale to take home.

    Located in the burgeoning foodie precinct of Collingwood, Everyday Coffee is the result of a collaboration between three young coffee enthusiasts who have worked at some of the city’s top cafes. Carefully selected beans from Melbourne’s top roasters are matched to specific brews. A small selection of pastries and cakes from surrounding bakeries and a clean, minimalist interior compliment the star of the show – coffee.

    Not far away in Fitzroy, Industry Beans is a roaster which also offers extensive house teas and juices as part of the industry offering. The industrial style fit out of the space matches an inventive menu that uses coffee in the cooking process.

    PATRICIA - coffee pour

    Freshly brewed coffee | Photo credit: Hidden Secrets Walking Tour

    Code Black Coffee in the Brunswick precinct around 10kms north of the city center offers visitors an insight into the theater and craftsmanship behind specialists roasts. A roaster that can roast a whopping 20kg of beans at a time captivates in the sleek interior. A generous food offering creates an extra reason to stick around.

    Stand up espresso bars
    These days a number of hole-in-the-wall operators and standing-room only espresso bars are popping up throughout the city, where the floor space and menu is scaled back and the quality of the brew and clever design really matter.

    Located in the Flinders Street underpass Cup of Truth  is the original hole-in-the-wall coffee spot, a one-by-three meter space that opens its doors before 7am to brew some of the city’s best coffee and artisan pastries.

    Dukes Coffee Roasters in Windsor opened Dukes Espresso Bar on Flinders Lane with a dedicated filter bar, La Marzocco espresso machines, recycled tiles, timber and minimal seating. It’s a coffee and pastry affair, located in Ross House – a self-managed, community-owned and non-profit commercial building.

    Patricia Coffee Brewers is a sharp and slick, pocket-sized standing-room only venue with a coffee menu from Seven Seeds, Market Lane and Proud Mary. Order it straight-up, black, white or filter.

    Located in eclectic city laneway, Crossley Street, Traveller is the small-format initiative by local coffee heroes Seven Seeds. The tiny stand up espresso bar mimics its Milano counterparts with shiny mirrors and a teak-touched fit out in contrast to its highly modern coffee offering. Other hole-in-the-wall coffee spots to visit are Tom Thumb, Sbriga and A Little Bird Told Me.

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    Morning cup of coffee | Photo credit: The Lyall Hotel

    Coffee Tours
    Walk Melbourne Coffee Tours are hosted by ex-barista and coffee aficionado Monique Bayer. The tour takes visitors to locations with a focus on origin, roasting and brewing, showcasing the diverse offering of the city’s coffee specialists. Alongside expert commentary and four hot handpicked venues, the tour offers sampling of four different styles of coffee and is conducted in a relaxed, small group.

    Barista judge and coffee connoisseur Maria Paoli runs Melbourne’s popular Evolving Success Historical Coffee Trek. Paoli’s tour hones in on the history of coffee in Melbourne and the techniques used by pre-war immigrants in the “espresso revolution” of the mid 1950s, bringing the tour up-to-date by showcasing the city’s thriving cafe culture and the success that local baristas enjoy in international barista competitions.

    Tour participants sample a wide variety of coffee blends and learn about what makes a perfect cup of coffee. Coffee connoisseurs will appreciate the finer details of brewing methods, coffee roasting and the history of coffee beans and domestic coffee making machines.

    Where it all began – a brief history of coffee in Melbourne
    Caffeine has been pumping through the arteries of Melbourne’s city center for many years. Starting with the original Pelllegrini Espresso Bar which opened in the 1950s, a thriving Italian influence helped the spread of coffee culture in Melbourne over the decades to follow, until the new wave of specialist roasters and baristas emerged in the early 2000’s. Today it is almost impossible to walk around a corner in Melbourne without the familiar scent of a perfectly brewed espresso wafting down a laneway.

    Mr Tulk cafe

    Mr. Tulk Cafe in Melbourne | Photo credit: Hidden Secrets Walking Tour

    Melburnians have become discerning coffee drinkers and while many still favour espresso coffee styles – caffe latte with rich crema – some cafes offer a tantalizing array of alternatives, including syphons, filters and French pressed coffee.

    Coffee fast facts
    Melbourne’s love of coffee just keeps growing – the volume of coffee beans imported from around the globe through the Port of Melbourne has increased by around 780 per cent over the last decade!

    Every day, on average, the Port of Melbourne handles 30 tonnes of coffee beans. This makes the equivalent of 3 million cups of coffee each day – that’s enough to give every metropolitan Melburnian a daily coffee fix.

    Some quintessentially Melbourne cafés

    • Market Lane Coffee
    • Seven Seeds
    • St Ali
    • East Brunswick Project & The League of Honest Coffee
    • Auction Rooms
    • Proud Mary 
    • Manchester Press – 8 Rankins Lane, Melbourne
    • Pellegrini Espresso Bar – 66 Bourke Street, Melbourne
    • Cup of Truth

    Article courtesy of Visit Melbourne– Official site for Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

    October 25, 2016 • Articles, Australia, Destinations • Views: 2802

  • Boutique Distilleries in Victoria

    Widely renowned as home to some of Australia’s top micro-breweries, Victoria’s thirst for local, hand-crafted drinks is nowhere near ending. Over the past couple of years a number of distilleries offering everything from gin using native botanicals to small-batch whiskey have emerged and have been readily embraced by the bartending community and the public. Even more unique to the story is the fact that many of these are located within an hours’ drive of Melbourne’s city center. Turning the notion that great spirits need be created at the far ends of the Earth or near a snow capped peak on its head.

    HST - Hihou bar - Melb City

    Hihou Bar | Photo credit: Hidden Secrets Walking Tour

    Four Pillars Gin
    This small, distillery located in the Yarra Valley which launched late last year but has already received global accolades, Four Pillars Gin produce their well-received gin in small batches of just 420 bottles. Stocked in some of Melbourne’s top bars, the gin is renowned for using native Australian botanicals alongside international counterparts. Each bottle is individually numbered and hand labelled. The distillery will hold regular open days starting from mid-June. Learn more about Four Pillars Gin here.

    Melbourne Gin Company
    This locally produced gin launched mid-last year using botanicals that come from the garden at Gembrook Hill Vineyard also located in the Yarra Valley. The Gin is made using Gembrook rainwater creating a very unique and localized flavor and is available for purchase online.

    New World Whiskey Distillery
    Located in an old airport hangar in Essendon in Melbourne’s Western suburbs, this distillery’s Starward Whiskey is developed using Australian barley and barrels but integrating maturation techniques from around the world, that along with the Victorian climate creates a distinctly Melbourne flavor. The New World Whiskey Distillery also conducts a range of Whiskey MasterClasses, dinners and open days at their workshop each month.

    Bass & Flinders Distillery
    Founded in 2009, this distillery is located on the Mornington Peninsula, just over an hours’ drive from Melbourne’s city centre. They produce a number of spirits ranging from Limóncello to grappa but are widely known for their gin. The gin is produced using alcohol from grapes instead of grains and the distillery conducts regular Gin Experience events where visitors can make their own gins using a wide range of botanicals.

    Other boutique distilleries in regional Victoria include Timboon, Bakery Hill and Triptych Distillery.

     

    Article courtesy of Visit Melbourne– Official site for Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

    July 13, 2016 • Articles, Australia, Destinations, Travels • Views: 2746

  • New Zealand, Every Day A Different Journey

    New Zealand can feel like an epic, once-in-a-lifetime dream trip. But in fact, it’s the type of place worth returning to repeatedly—and one where even during a single visit, each day is intriguingly different from the last.

    How, you wonder? Well, your week in New Zealand may go something like this…

    Monday: Giving it your best shot at Over the Top Golf—what a view! Gotta be the world’s most remarkable par-three hole.

    Wednesday: Navigating the Dart River in a Funyak inflatable canoe. Around the next bend? A film location used for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbiton movies.

    Friday: Waking up to a scenic helicopter ride that whisks you away to a secluded alpine setting for a gourmet picnic paired with fantastic views.

    Saturday: Experiencing Maori culture, starting with the traditional greeting known as hangi. Done with a pressing of the noses, hangi means we are considered family.

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    The film location used for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbiton movies. | Photo Credit: Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tour

    Such thrilling activities are just one aspect of the New Zealand journey; the range of accommodations also comes into play. Take your pick among award-winning luxury lodges, intimate B&B’s, and architecturally stunning private homes. What they have in common are welcoming hosts who really know how to deliver outstanding service and experiences. On the North Island, Wharekauhau Lodge, which is also a working sheep station, provides insight into a livelihood that still exists today.

    Wharekahau Photo Grant Sheehan (7)

    Wharekauhau Lodge | Photo Credit: Wharekauhau Lodge

    New Zealand’s lodges are also a fantastic jumping-off point for embracing the outdoors, with hiking trials and wildlife encounters just beyond the doorsteps. A great example is Blanket Bay, located in Glenorchy on the South Island. From here, you can indulge in activities including fly-fishing, heli-skiing, and horse riding. If you prefer to meet the local wildlife, head to the North Island’s The Farm at Cape Kidnappers for a Kiwi Discover Walk, which brings you up close to the farm’s native bird population.

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    Cape Kidnappers coastline | Photo credit: The Farm at Cape Kidnappers

    Your Kiwi experience starts, however, even before you check into your room. It starts when you board your flight with Air New Zealand. You are encouraged to ask the flight attendants about their favorite breakfast spots or an out-of-the-way hiking trail. Moreover, you can expect a warm, informed response from proud locals happy to share their insider knowledge. It comes straight from the heart, from an airline that is constantly renewing and reinventing itself. Air New Zealand now serves five North American getaways (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Honolulu, and Vancouver), connecting to a network of 50-plus cities in 15 countries.

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    Over The Top helicopter tour of Milford Sound | Photo credit: Over The Top

    The final ingredient is enlisting the service of experts who can put together your ideal New Zealand experience. Swain Destinations creates tailored, independent vacation packages, and our dedicated staff shares a unified passion and commitment to providing exceptional service to every traveler.

    Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply looking to go on a one-of-a-kind vacation, Swain Destinations will personalize your journey from start to finish —in New Zealand and beyond.

    June 25, 2016 • Articles, Destinations, New Zealand, Travels • Views: 2192

  • New Zealand, Every Day a Different Journey

    Let us take you, let us show you around. This place, where wonder grows. Let shores of gold greet you and islands that lead to lakes. Where spirits of the land tell you tales. Let us take you by the hand and lead you to secrets hidden beneath green hills. Where fruits of the land thrive and your next ride, is always close by. We will hoist you up high, carry you like a feather in the sky, to somewhere like nowhere you’ve ever seen. Our land will whisper your name, and tell you stories from ancestors long ago. So let it take you, let it wake you from inside, and show that your dreams are here, waiting.

    Experience a journey through New Zealand and let us guide you to something new around every corner. 100% Pure New Zealand.

    June 9, 2016 • Videos • Views: 2240

  • All in Auckland

    The North Island of New Zealand’s epitome of diversity; Auckland shines with a laid-back atmosphere, incredible natural wonders and a healthy dose of history. Aptly nicknamed “The City of Sails” for its vibrant maritime culture, the delightful city of Auckland is home to one-third of New Zealand’s population and is the country’s main gateway. With a unique undertone of Maori influence, this waterfront city is a cultural and architectural gem, filled with bustling markets, world-class restaurants, and locals who are well known for their welcoming and relaxed lifestyle.

    June 9, 2016 • Videos • Views: 1854

  • Explore Hampi

    A few weeks ago, I was in Hampi in Karnataka, South India, which is a World Heritage Site. I arrived at Toranagallu by overnight train from Bangalore. After a wash and change at the Hyatt Place, my guide and I headed towards Hampi. The first impression is of the magnificent large landscape with huge boulder rocks.

    Boulder Landscape

    Boulder Landscape | Photo Credit: Bela Banker/Swain Destinations

    There were intricately carved temples all over the place. We then took a wonderful coracle ride on the Tungabhadra River.

    Coracle Ride

    Coracle Ride | Photo Credit: Bela Banker/Swain Destinations

    The ruins of the 14th century Hampi, and seat to the Vijayanagara kings, covers an area of 10 miles. Hampi sprawls across a spectacular barren and boulder strewn landscape. The remains of palaces and baths and audience hall tells a tale of a kingdom that was grand and of fabulous wealth. There is an awe inspiring image of Hindu God Lord Vishnu which is carved from a single boulder and is the incarnation of half man and half lion. Watching the sun go down between the boulders, captures a moment in your heart that will stay with you.

    Ruins of the 14th century Hampi

    Ruins of the 14th century Hampi | Photo Credit: Bela Banker/Swain Destinations

    The Boulder Resort, where I stayed offers a stunning view of the rocky terrain. The luxurious cottages at the resort fit perfectly with hiking trails , organic gardens and delicious food.

    March 29, 2016 • Bela Banker, Bloggers, India • Views: 2236

  • Three Days in Bangkok

    This was my second time in Bangkok. I was 16 during my first visit. I was young with different priorities. Remembering the tiny and beautiful details of the sights, services, smells, tastes and experiences were unfortunately not high on my list. I was in the mind-set now of a first-time visitor.

    Hourly wake-ups defined my first morning. I ultimately rose from bed towards the floor-to-ceiling windows. I knew the sun would eventually rise – I would be there to great it. I have read watching the sunrise corrects your internal clock while abroad. I am no scientist, but I did read it on the internet – so it is more than likely true.

    Our suite had a wall panel that displayed the outdoor temperature and humidity. That morning it was showing a temperature of 94 degrees and a humidity reading of 100%. I did not know this was possible. I learned that day that I was ill prepared for that level of public, personal sweat containment.  Lesson learned.

    Our first day was flat out. The Grand Palace, River and Canals and a heap of temples filled out the day, with Thai boxing closing out the evening. Mindy met us in the lobby that morning. Energetic, fluent in English and our insider for the next three days. She went through the do’s and don’ts, cultural etiquette and some other key points to keep me out of trouble.

     

    Day 2: The Grand Palace and Temples

    Waves of tourists flooded these ancient palaces. I was told this is always the case. At 6’ 1,” I had a height advantage. I peered over a vast sea of trendy travel visors, plotting my perfect course through the herd. Though crowded, these sacred places are worth the visit. You’ll feel amazement while walking into the golden draped temples with ancient relics of Buddhist culture. The spirituality almost overwhelms with each step. We knelt before a monk who wrapped string around our wrists. He blessed us with sacred water and a Buddhist chant. All I could think about was how to make a joke about being literally “hashtag blessed.” What has social media done to me.

    The palaces are spectacular. The detail to the outer walls is nothing short of incredible. I would describe it as gorgeous, tedious and precise. I barely have enough patience to complete a paint by numbers, let alone to hand-plaster gold leaf on inch thick scales on a building with “Grand” in the name.

    I did feel the use of gold is a touch excessive. Like, OK, we get it.

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    Cruising the Canals

    We set off onboard our water chariot, clad with Pepsi promotional banners and adorned with sacred flower offerings to Budha – for a safe voyage. A wonderfully unusual blend of the times. Our captain coolly sat on a stool towards the stern, effortlessly steering the large converted pick-up truck motor across the busy Bangkok canal. Everything about him was calm and casual. Barefoot, with aviator shades and a salmon t-shirt. No fear, no distraction, just life. We were in good hands.

    Along the way, we were told tales of the canals and the early developing Bangkok. Years ago, these canals were the heart of the city. Home to floating markets, temples of worship and travel routes. As the Kings changed, so did the city. The river was expanded and canals were built connecting different regions. The city began to grow outward with residential districts growing rapidly. The markets moved further outside the city.  Now, Bangkok is a bustling metropolis.

     

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    Thai Boxing

    The full-day adventure did us in. We returned to our hotel to freshen up. A quick 10-minute rest turned into a 3-hour afternoon nap. Jet lag was a bitter mistress and returned swiftly with a punch in the face. Regardless, it was time for Thai boxing. A few slaps in the face, a splash of cold-water and then downstairs to join Mindy for a bit of organized violence.

    I’m happy I was able to attend a Thai boxing match. Our event was no premier match-up. The ring was mostly empty. The Thai boxers battled in front of fellow foreigners sitting ringside with us while local gamblers shouted their coaching from the stands – hoping they made the right bet. With a nice cold Singah Beer, we sat back and watched one of the more aggressive shows of my life. After each match, bloodied and bruised, each fighter smiled and congratulated the other as if they were best friends. Love and violence, an embodiment of our current world, eh.

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    Day 3: Floating Markets

    Our 2nd The Floating Markets, my favorite.  We set off at 8AM on an hour’s drive outside of Bangkok. We briefly stopped at a Thai Salt Plantation and a Coconut Farm. Both stops were engaging and educational. I ate so many coconut candies and drank the freshest coconut juice. I have an unnatural coconut obsession, and on a coconut farm – I was in paradise.

    We journeyed onwards before arriving at one of the many entrances to the canal system. Kristen and I boarded a little jet canoe – much smaller than the one from the previous day. It was just us. Mindy and the captain.

    Leaning back and the wind in our hair, we glided across the canals. The canal was lined with local homes, small shops and at-home shrines for worship. Large temples could be seen in the distance. Many homes were donned with beautiful flowers and shrubbery. Other homes had not recovered from the large flood a few years past.

    We cruised for a half-hour before literally arriving into the floating markets. It was a bit overwhelming at first. These markets are still used heavily by locals, and now a popular location for travelers. I was most excited to eat strange foods. A mix of tourist shops and local markets line the interior. On the canal front, boats with grills served up rice bowls with meats and fish. Fruits were available everywhere.

    While wandering, I was approached by an older women in a plaid shirt and wide-brimmed straw hat. She had oils or lotions. Before I could react, she began applying these unknown lotions to my face, arms and neck. She pointed to parts of my body and spoke in Thai. I could only gather that each lotion was used to treat different ailments or promote good health. For five minutes, I was being massaged in the middle markets by a stranger with foreign lotions. Kristen sat idly by, laughing behind the camera snapping a few pictures (below) of this intimate encounter. When my immersive experience was over, she placed jars in my hands and started naming prices. This would not be her day for a sale, but I did thank her for the free massage.

    We found a man selling Coconut ice cream. He would take a machete, half the coconut and scrape the interior. Coconut ice cream was placed inside along with sticky rice and some jellies. It was as close to godliness in a food item that I had come across. We sat canal-side sharing our coconut ice cream and watching the vendors float by.

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    Patpong Night Market

    That evening we met with a colleague of ours for dinner at a restaurant called Hemingway’s. Owned by an Englishman and housing an Aussie Chef, this is the place you go to find ex-pats if you’re feeling a little homesick. Drinks and stories took over the evening before immersing our self back into Bangkok.

    Patpong Night Market, we had arrived. The whispered notorious phrase, “ping pong” echoed along the night market. Neon signs illuminated the scene as sporadic sound bursts of house music clashed together. Within moments, I knew the legends were true. The streets were lined with tourist nick-knacks and men holding up strip club menus. Couples, backpackers, families and confused or concerned traveled walked up and down the wide avenue. The diversity of the scene was unmatched to any life experience I’ve had yet.

    We were linking up with a colleague of mine of travels to Bangkok regularly. We quickly met up at a moderate bar as he was entertaining a great bunch from the travel industry. Not one to turn down a free drink in a strange foreign place, we joined the bunch.

    At 12AM, we found ourselves in the company of an old man sitting in a dark corner receiving a foot message from  Thai strippers – sex undetermined. It’s these moments that you question the choices you’ve made that led you to this moment.

    Do check out Patpong Night Market. Probably don’t get a lap dance. Unless, you know, that is your thing – then do get a lap dance.

     

    Wrap it Up

    Bangkok was a blast. The locals were friendly and welcoming – cultural brims throughout the entire city. Mix touring and solo-adventure. A guide will ensure you see the must-see things the right way, and help you weave your way through entrances and crowds. Do make sure you spend time adventuring on your own. Talk to the locals and engage some uncomfortable scenarios. You can do it in three nights. I would recommend at least four nights. Start the touring or adventuring during the afternoon of your first real day there.

    Where I Stayed: The Peninsula Bangkok exudes classical old world charm. It seems quite grand as you walk in. The hospitality and service made everything so comfortable and easy. Lock in a river view to enjoy watching boats and barges cruise around each morning. We stayed in one of the Deluxe Suites, very spacious with multiple views overlooking the river.

    My Favorite Meal: Coconut Ice Cream with Sticky Rice at the Damneon Floating Markets. Your life will change.

    My Favorite Moment: Wandering through the Damneon Floating Markets and engaging with the locals selling their fruits and meals. This half-day is definitely a must for any traveler to Bangkok.

    How I got there: Qatar Airways PHL – DOH – BKK

    • Philadelphia to Doha on Qatar Airways – 12 hours
    • Airport Time – 2 hours
    • Doha to Bangkok on Qatar Airways – 7 hours

    Cheers,

    Ian 2

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    May 29, 2015 • Articles, Asia, Destinations, Ian Swain II, Travels • Views: 6949

  • Experiencing Hapuku Lodge and Tree Houses

    As I flew into Blenheim from Auckland over the small islands that start the South Island of New Zealand, the lush green countryside began to unfold amongst the crystal clear water, separating the finger-like peninsulas jutting out. Budget had my car ready and off I drove for the 70 mile journey to Kaikoura. It is amazing how this coastline is almost as untouched as it was when the Maoris first came here; a real treat. As I approached, the Treehouses and Lodge at Hapuku Lodge came into sight. Continue Reading

    April 9, 2015 • Bloggers, Destinations, Ian Swain Sr, New Zealand • Views: 4088

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