Thursday, May 3, 2012

Greenstone, Whitebait and Gorge (Hokitika, New Zealand)

Driving only a couple of blocks through along Hokitika’s main street leaves no-one in any doubt as to the main attraction of the area – greenstone. The local Maori population has always treasured the valued greenstone (or jade) found in nearby rivers and along the beach. The Hokitika Museum has many beautiful pieces of greenstone, from boulders straight from the river to wonderfully worked pieces.

Numerous shops and studios are town engage in carving, polishing and selling greenstone. Their showrooms are full of wonderful pieces of greenstone whether it be large unworked boulders or ornately detailed jewellery, figurines and artworks, some with a classic Maori flavour. Next to the showroom, visitors can witness the painstaking work carefully shaping the hardened rock into delicate works of art.

And shops not working greenstone are typically involved in another art or craft, whether it is glass blowing, painting or jewellery. Stunning ruby rock, a precious gemstone is unique to Hokitika and is a glistening combination of ruby, sapphire and tourmaline crystals.

The town has few reminders of its gold-mining past though the historic buildings have a striking grandeur about them, especially the perky clock tower which combines as a memorial to the Boer War and for King Edward VII’s coronation.

However the highlight of Hotitika is a superb half day loop drive around Lake Kaniere to Hokitika Gorge (get a map from the extremely helpful i-Site, Kiwi for information centre). A short meandering walk on the lake tracks through ancient virgin Kahikatea forest. These gun- barrel straight trees rear up to 60 metres from the forest floor. Though the oldest in this forest is 500 years, their species have been around since the dinosaurs. Loving the wet fertile swampy grounds characteristics of the rainy West Coast, the trunks of these trees support a staggering amount of lichens, mosses and plant life.

A little further on, elegant Dorothy Falls plunges 60 metres out of the forest on the roadside running into peaceful Lake Kaniere. Driving further around the lake through verdant dairy farmyards, the road diverts off to the glacier-inspired milky turquoise waters of Hokitika Gorge.

A return walk of around half an hour through pleasant forest over an obligatory swing bridge (keep walking the extra five minutes past the bridge for excellent views down the gorge) offers superb vantage points of the gorge before being able to perch on the boulders on the gorge edge dangling your feet (briefly) in the icy waters.

The final goal of the day is to obtain some treasured whitebait. These tiny translucent fish (inch or two long) swarm in rivers in spring and are captured using handheld nets. The delicacy is sold by volume (rather than weight) and is mixed with egg, milk and flour and fried to form scrumptious whitebait fritters. The bad news is that they are seasonal and we are six months from the correct time and so whitebait fritters are not on the menu. The good news is we opted for pizza. Fat Pippi Pizza is a local institution designed in driftwood and wooden slabs with a lively buzz, offering superb pizzas (with a flair) and run by a larger-than-life west coast character. They even offer whitebait pizza in season!!

Hokitika makes for a wonderful day along New Zealand’s West Coast with superb surrounding scenery and a town heavy on arts and crafts.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Games Around the World: Two Up (Australia)

As the Australian memorial day of Anzac Day recently passed (April 25), it seems an ideal time to introduce the popular Australian gambling game of Two Up. The game only requires two pennies and a flat throwing stick called a kip and can be played nearly anywhere.

The thrower or spinner simply tosses the two pennies from the kip into the air with people betting between each other (or against the house) on whether the result are two heads or two tails. A head and a tail (odds) results in a re-throw. The spinner continues throwing until throwing tails when a new spinner is introduced with the shout of Come In Spinner.

In pubs and clubs around Australia, the raucous yells and spirited screams for the spinner to throw the chosen combination (fueled by a steady flow of alcohol) have become synonymous with Anzac Day.

With its origins in early convict days, the game popularised during the gold rushes of the 1850s and in the World War I trenches in Europe. Maybe as a salute to history, Two Up continues to be played with pennies though Australia moved to decimal currency in 1966. Interestingly, Two Up was illegal for many years and remains illegal on any day (outside of casinos) except Anzac Day with the introduction of laws over the past fifteen years to permit this traditional game in memory of our service men and women.

On Anzac Day after the solemnity and quiet reflection of the dawn service, military marches and haunting lone bugler playing The Last Post, people file to the pubs for lunch and a game of Two Up. It is a wonderful Australian tradition and I strongly encourage visitors in Australia in late April to participate, win or lose a few dollars and ensure they have their turn as spinner.
At the start of each month this year, Travel Wonders features a popular or characteristic game played during my travels. Previous articles feature the popular African game mancala, my own personal favourite that always travels with me, Pass the Pigs and the Latin American game of dominoes.

Photo Credit: spinner

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sights of Sydney Infographic

Here is a fun and exclusive infographic on a few of the major sights to see when visiting Sydney along with some useful tips and eye-catching statistics about the sights. The infographic is courtesy of

Friday, April 27, 2012

Discover Norfolk - A Hidden Gem (England)

guest post by Vicky Anscombe

Don’t be fooled by urbanites that write disparaging, snooty articles on Nelson’s County - if you’re looking to explore a part of the UK that’s worth its weight in gold, Norfolk’s your best bet. Tucked neatly away in the east corner of England, Norfolk is a destination that has remained unspoiled because it’s not a place you travel through - it’s a place you travel to. From sophisticated and fun-filled capital city Norwich, to the beauty of Cromer and Thetford Forest, there’s something for everyone - you just have to know where to look. The only thing you’ll need in order to get to grips with Norfolk properly is your own transport, so if you don’t own a vehicle, make sure you hire a car as Norfolk’s trains and buses aren’t known for their frequency.

If you decide to explore Norwich, don’t worry about time - it’s a small city that can easily be explored in a couple of days. Sights worth seeing include Norwich Castle, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (this is located near to the University of East Anglia) and Magdalen Street, which is packed full of chintzy cafes, charity shops and flea markets, and is a must for anyone who enjoys spending an afternoon looking for oddities and curiosities. If you’re thinking about evening entertainment, you can’t go wrong with a film in Cinema City, then a few drinks in Frank’s Bar - the staff there are incredibly kind.

If you’re after a bite whilst you’re in the city, there are plenty of cafes that will ensure you’re probably fed and watered without having to resort to a chain establishment. The Window Coffee in Wensum Street, Mustard Coffee Bar on Bridewell Alley and Olive’s (just off Elm Hill) are independent venues that’ll impress without breaking the bank. If you fancy going (and potentially staying) somewhere a bit more upmarket, Caistor Hall, which is located in the pretty nearby town of Caistor St Edmund, serves excellent food and has some wonderful rooms if you’re after a second honeymoon.

However, there’s more to Norfolk than just the bright lights of Norwich. The seaside towns dotted along the Norfolk coast range from the never-sleeping Great Yarmouth through to the picturesque towns Cromer (photo) and Holme. If you’re after somewhere with plenty of life, Sheringham is always worth a visit, as there are plenty of cafes and shops to peruse as you debate when to have your next ice cream. If you’re thinking about staying in Sheringham, try The Grove Guest house. It’s a beautifully secluded Georgian holiday home set within 3 acres of well-maintained gardens, with a heated indoor swimming pool if you’re after a place to practice your backstroke.

Finally, make sure that you don’t miss the opportunity to get some fresh air into your lungs and take advantage of all the wonderful walks that Norfolk has to offer. The Great Eastern Pingo Trail, which starts just outside of the village of Thomson, clocks in at just under 6 miles. It’s a great way to work off a roast dinner (talking of which, nearby pub The Chequers Inn sells fantastic homemade fare) and you’ll probably see plenty of wildlife. This trail is great for nature enthusiasts as there are plenty of places to sit quietly and wait to see animals make an appearance, and there are many shelters dotted around the circuit for avid birdwatchers.

Economy Car Hire is the UK's leading independent car hire broker. Their rental prices offer Full Collision Damage and Theft Protection, a FREE additional driver, and unlimited mileage.

Vicky Anscombe is a freelance writer, based in Norfolk.

Photo Credits: cathedral, forest, castle, Cromer beach huts, pingo trail

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lest We Forget!

Today is Anzac Day, the national remembrance day of Australia and New Zealand when people pay their respects and honour the bravery, courage, resilience and sacrifice of the service men and women of our country. Dawn services are conducted all throughout the country, at Anzac Cove in Turkey, throughout battefields in South East Asia and throughout Western Front villages in France and Belgium.

This wonderful and moving painting (click on it for a larger image) appears in the outstanding Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It is my favourite single piece in the entire collection.

The haunting Menin Gate at Midnight appears by itself in a darkened room with background music of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Reportedly painted in one sitting by a deeply mournful Will Longfellow, the painting captures the famed gates in Ypres, Belgium that tens of thousands of soldiers passed heading to the Western Front. Today, the walls of the gate list 54,000 Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave, a small portion of the quarter of a million lives lost in this area of battle during World War One. The painting eerily and movingly portrays Longfellow's vision of thousands of spirits of the dead rising and marching towards the battlefields.

At all Anzac Day services, the Ode of Remembrance is always read.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Lest We Forget!

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