Category Archives: Travel

New Zealand with teens

By Julie Fisonphoto

A summer holiday on New Zealand’s Southern Scenic Route means stunning mountain scenery, rugged coastlines, great food, wildlife encounters and plenty of chances to get the adrenaline going. Pack a jumper (and a beanie and gloves) just in case summer turns out to be on the wintry side and enjoy!

We spent just over a week between Queenstown and Dunedin. Here are the highlights. 

Queenstown – 3 nights

Queenstown is the gateway to New Zealand’s ski fields. It’s also the adrenaline capital and that means teenage heaven.

We kick things off with an afternoon of luging at the top of the Queenstown gondola. It’s a lot of fun, but even if you don’t see the point of hurtling down a concrete path on a sled, the view over Lake Wakatipu and across to the Remarkables is worth the visit.

Mountain biking is another big hit with my sons. Bikes and gear can be rented in town. The trails also run from the top of the gondola and are steep – very steep. Not for novices.

IMG_2058Probably the highlight of our visit is whitewater rafting on the Shotover. The thrills start with the van ride to the river – a hair-raising descent along a mountain-goat track into Skipper’s Canyon. Once at the bottom of the canyon we are assigned rafts and guides and equipped with paddles. For the next hour or so I have my heart in my mouth as we are propelled down the rapids, dodging rocks. I try hard to follow the paddling instructions from our but all I want to do is curl up in the bottom of the boat and stay out of the way. I swear my heart stops for a second on the final rapid when I turn around to find my son had fallen out of the raft. He bobs to the surface moments later and is fine, but I take a bit longer to recover. This is not for the faint hearted!

There are plenty of options for dining in Queenstown. The lakefront is prime position on a warm evening and the food here all seems pretty good. We also love Bella Cucina for great pizzas and Italian fare. Fergburger is massively popular with backpackers and teens, but the queues are a bit of a killer. The bakery next door – is a better option for a quick bite – great pies and baguettes.

Our accommodation is at Peppers. The apartments are well set up with great views over the lake and are walking distance from the town centre.

Te Anau – 3 nights 

It’s a spectacular drive along Lake Wakatipu and through lush farmland to the town of Te Anau. This is the entry point to the Fiordland – Milford Sound and Dusky Sound. But we’re here for the trout fishing.

I’m not a fishing person at all, but I can recommend a day on the Waiau with a guide and a jet boat. (We used Fishjet). Our helpful guide is always on hand to change lures, untangle lines and unsnag hooks. He also offers expert commentary on the area and is a dab hand at the BBQ. He prepares a gorgeous lunch of crayfish and venison on the a sandbank in the middle of the river. The trout as it turns out are a lot smarter than they look. We can see them, we even catch a few but landing them proves very tricky. There’s extreme excitement when I finally land a mini monster. There are a quick few pics before he goes back into the river and we drag ourselves home

IMG_2082We stay just out of town at the Blue Mountains Cottages. It’s a stunning setting and we’re a very impressed by our supply of home-made shortbread and fresh eggs. Our hosts make us feel very welcome as do the dogs! We take a late afternoon walk along a nearby section of the Keppler Track. Part of Lord of the Rings was filmed here. If hobbits were real, they would live here!

We also hire golf clubs and play a very average game of golf on a stunning course. The views are much better the standard of play.

Portobello (Otago Peninsula) – 2 nights 

It’s a two hour trip through farmland from Te Anau to Invercargill. Then we take a very, very long drive along the Southern Scenic Route to Dunedin. The route roughly follows the coastline, but to see the sites, diversions are necessary. We stop off at Waipapa Point – the site of New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster. Here we almost trip over a sea lion lounging in the sand dunes and get chased by another one. Beware! We make several other stops where we are almost blown off the cliffs by the howling southerly.

It’s early evening by the time we arrive on the Otago Peninsula. This is the home of seal colonies, more sea lions, an albatross colony and several types of penguins. The harbor side of the Peninsular faces Dunedin (not the world’s loveliest cities) but the seaside of the Peninsula is wild and spectacular.

The albatross centre at the end of the peninsular is worth a visit – even just to take in the view and the wheeling gulls. We only spot two albatross when we are there. Sadly bird numbers are being hit by long line fishing.

Queenstown lugeEating options on the Peninsula are limited, but the Portobello Hotel serves good meals. Our accommodation is not far away in a very comfortable house, that overlooks the harbour. That was rented that through Porterfields Lodge.

For my sons, the highlight of the holiday is Queenstown. They love the adventure activities. My hubbie is also a big fan of the place. But for me, it’s the wild side of the Otago Peninsula – trekking down to Sandfly Beach, where we find a seal colony, a lazy sea lion, a lonely yellow-eyed penguin and two brave surfers. If you love wildlife – you’ll love it too.

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Just walk away – Maria Island

By Julie Fison

Forget the spa treatment. A long walk with a bunch of great friends has to be the ultimate way to rejuvinate the mind and body. And it doesn’t get much more perfect than a guided walk on Maria Island. The island is a jewel of pristine white beaches and rugged dolerite columns off Tasmania’s east coast. It’s just 20 km long but the tiny island has been home to Aboriginal people, whalers, convicts, entrepreneurs and farmers. Each population has left its mark and taking a guided walk on Maria is like ambling along a timeline of Australia’s history, with gourmet meals and homemade biscuits for sustenance along the way. READ FULL STORY.


I didn’t see that coming

By Julie Fison

I love holidays. But I find the planning stage extremely time-consuming and stressful. Will the accommodation be as good as it looks on the web?  Have I got the best deal available? Will there be enough to do for the kids when we get there?

The permutations for a perfect holiday are so complicated, the possibility of a disaster so great. And even when I think I have struck on a winning formula my children get older, their tastes change and it’s back to the drawing board (otherwise known as the internet). Holidays are so precious that I want to make them as close to perfect as possible.

But sometimes the elusive X factor can be found in the most unexpected places.

IMGP1207Last September, after months of planning, I set off with my husband and two sons, aged 11 and 14, along with three other families for a North Queensland driving adventure. The trip had lost its ideal status even before we left.

My older son had been chosen to compete in the Queensland rugby championships in Toowoomba, which meant he and my husband would only be spending three nights in North Queensland. Not great, but not a catastrophe. I could still explore the Far North with my friends and younger son.

However, the holiday didn’t quite work out that way.

While I was swimming with a friend at Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas, a garfish, not much bigger than my index finger, shot out of the water and speared me in the ear.  The small intruder left a 2.5 cm spike in my eardrum as a souvenir of its visit, before wriggling free and disappearing into sea

North Queensland is famous for its lethal marine life. Crocodiles, sharks, Irukandji jellyfish are the ones you normally have to watch out for in this part of the world. But garfish?

As it turns out, they are a lot more dangerous than they look. In the Torres Strait bigger garfish periodically spear fishermen, causing all sorts of injuries and in at least one case – death. As far as I can tell, I’m the first to be speared in ear – a very dubious accolade.

Because of my freakishly unlikely and extremely painful encounter, I spent three hours in surgery at Cairns Base Hospital having the spike removed, and the next five days convalescing in Cairns and Palm Cove, instead of exploring the Daintree and Cooktown.

Meanwhile, my son, who had gone further north, fell out of a tree at Cape Tribulation and broke his wrist. My wonderful friends took him to Cooktown Hospital to have his arm manipulated and set in a temporary cast. An eventful holiday to say the least.

To cap things off, I was forced to cancel my flights and take the train home because I had a perforated eardrum. Max and I boarded the Sunlander for the 30-hour journey from Cairns to Brisbane with a couple of magazines, a novel each, and two packets of jubes. I hadn’t even packed any electronic devices

Max had his arm in a sling and I was sporting a facial palsy and was almost completely deaf in one ear. (Yes, quite a pair.) A fitting end to the holiday from hell – right?

Well, not really.

I will certainly concede that Max would have had more fun without a broken wrist and I would have had a better holiday if I hadn’t been speared by a garfish. But at least I had good care in Cairns and had great friends to look after me.

I was sorry I missed out on the Daintree, yet I did have a few lovely memories to take home. We’d all had a great day snorkelling on the reef before the garfish incident and I also managed to enjoy some good meals in Palm Cove and Port Douglas with my friends. And as for the train trip home, I found it quite rewarding.

Normally, I would say that a 30-hour train ride with any number of children (even in a sleeper) is tantamount to torture, but because Max was injured, he was content to read and sleep.

I found just gazing out of the window as the cane farms drifted by and flicking through magazines quite therapeutic (for the first 10 hours anyway). I also had my medication to keep me busy – antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and anti-viral pills to take at various times of the day, along with ear drops and eye drops.

When we needed a break from sleeper-life, we stumbled up to the dining car for a serving of lasagna and over-cooked vegetables, then staggered back for another nap. It wasn’t quite the Orient Express, but it was scenic, relaxing and the kind of experience that doesn’t come along too often.

I wonder how many times I’ll get the chance to hang out with one of my sons for a day and a half without any other distractions – to talk, read and play cards. Probably not too often, is my guess. And if nothing else, that made the holiday very special.

So ten weeks later, my hearing still isn’t great, but my face is almost back to normal. Max has his cast off and it’s holiday time again.

Will it be perfect? Who knows.

Something unexpected always crops up. I know it won’t be a rogue garfish, but there’s bound to be a hitch at some stage. I won’t mind if it’s not perfect, though. I know that just spending time together as a family will make it special and a little bit of adversity can provide unforeseen rewards – that’s what memories are made of.

Julie Fison website

Driving to Carnarvon Gorge

By Julie Fison

It seems almost wrong to have a holiday in Queensland without a beach nearby. But  head out to the towering sandstone cliffs of Carnarvon Gorge, 720 km north west of Brisbane, and you’ll see another side of the state – a little piece of Jurassic Park, an oasis of remnant rainforest and crystal clear creeks, platypuses and echidnas and some of the country’s most impressive Aboriginal rock art.

Teen alert: This is a 2000 km round trip, so pack plenty of in-car entertainment. We went with two other families with a good mix of under 12s and teens. This worked really well as teen angst/complaints didn’t dominate the holiday (in fact it rarely even came up). It also meant that on the long walks the children had company.

Day 1 Brisbane to Roma

Day 2 Roma to Carnarvon Gorge

Day 3-4 Carnarvon Gorge

Day 5-7 Carnarvon Gorge – Biloela – Agnes Water – Brisbane

READ full story here. 

Phuket with teens

By Julie Fison

With cheap international airfares and a strong Aussie dollar, Australian families are flocking to Asia for holidays. Here’s a look at how to enjoy Phuket with your teens.

Teen alert: There are plenty of activities to keep teens busy on Phuket – from kick boxing to white water rafting and snorkeling. Don’t (as I did) show your teens The Beach to set the scene – two guys get mauled by a shark, and Hangover 2 is also a dubious choice!

Our recent holiday to this popular Thai island got off to a bad start when my teenage son’s backpack was stolen. With it went his iPod, phone, etc. It served as a lesson on personal security. On the upside, it also meant we didn’t have to endure gaming at meal times. Instead, we rediscovered the art of conversation and enjoyed a wonderful family holiday.

Stay: We stayed at the JW Marriott Resort and Spa on Mai Khao beach, which is rated the top family hotel on Phuket. It deserves the reputation for its beautiful location, tropical landscaping, amazing facilities, wonderful service and great restaurants. We particularly enjoyed Ginja for Thai meals and Blue Bar for sunset cocktails (half price from 5-6 pm). The resort offers an extensive program of activities. I loved the yoga sessions and our sons (reluctantly) tried salsa dancing and kick boxing. You can get a beach massage for $10 an hour and a cute baby elephant visits the resort daily with his mahout.

The resort is on the northern tip of the island, which makes it quite remote from the main tourist precincts. That’s good if you want a quiet holiday but inconvenient if you’re hoping to do lots of shopping and partying.

See: You’re never far from a beach on Phuket, but for the best snorkelling, take a boat to the surrounding islands. The Phi Phi group was made famous by The Beach, starring Leoardo DiCaprio. Maya Bay, where the movie was filmed, is stunning, but expect to share this piece of paradise with lots of other tourists. About 200 tour companies ply the waterways here. We were looked after by a great crew on the Sea Angel Speedboat.

A trip to the mainland is also a good option for teens. We visited Phang Nga for a short
 elephant trek, ATV ride and some white-water rafting. Rafting through the jungle was definitely the highlight.

Tours are a fraction of the listed price if you book them at one of the many tour offices in Patong.

Eat:  Phuket is famous for seafood, but I love the green papaya salad (a specialty of the Thailand’s north). Keep a glass of water handy because salads only come one way – fiery!

 We flew with Air Australia (formerly Strategic), a budget airline with direct services
out of Brisbane and Melbourne (Fares from $429 each way). Beware: you’ll be paying for everything once you get on board – meals, snacks, drinks, blankets. It will also cost extra to reserve your seat in advance. Our flight had no inflight entertainment, so make sure you pack your own. There was nothing Australian about our flight (apart from the passengers). The plane and crew were chartered from Atlas Air.

UPDATE: 17/2/2012 AIR AUSTRALIA has gone into voluntary administration. See details here.

For a complete list of flight and hotel options check out Webjet.

Also check out Trip Advisor for independent hotel reviews.


Julie Fison website