No shark-fin soup in this five star hotel!

Source: No shark-fin soup in this five star hotel! #5star #accom #KL #Malaysia #Berjaya

Breakfree, WORD, and a Piano!

20160130_104623Staying in this ever-changing, emerging city is, for me, best done by having accommodation in the city centre, so thought I’d tell you about the hotel I was hosted in earlier this year. Breakfree on Cashel (Street) impressed me as soon as I arrived as, the electric jug was easily able to be inserted under a tap for filling: why is this simple thing so rare around the world!20160130_100324

See more I wrote about this hotel which I can recommend … and not because they hosted me for two or three days!

More and more is opening in post-quake-five-years-on Christchurch and I’m excited to be going down again in a couple of weeks – this time for the WORD Writers and Readers Festival in the newly opened The Piano Centre for Music and the Arts( official opening in Sept) at the end of New Regent St and directly behind The Isaac Theatre Royal

Isaac Theatre Royal
Isaac Theatre Royal
The Piano as it was in February 2016
The Piano as it was in February 2016

Funky inner city hotel in Christchurch

Good coffee/tea station in my room
Good coffee/tea station in my room

Funky, with attitude, BreakFree on Cashel (street) is one of the biggest and newest of Christchurch hotels, it has a modern urban feel and all rooms include a
smart TV and free fibre-optic Wi-Fi.

It certainly epitomises a city reimagined and is handy to many tourist attractions and great cafes restaurants and bars.

Bought ‘as is’ after the quakes (10/11) the company has done lots of work refurbishing, updating, and most importantly, seismic strengthening.

For me, it was a great base to explore the city and after a hearty breakfast, I set out on walking tours, tram rides, New Regent St, Re-Start Mall, the Quake City Museum, punting, and of course, the wonderful Botanic Gardens in the Christchurch Art Gallery.

The local city council has created a great app which you can find on your App Store or Google play (findchch.com) which will help you find your way around.

I'm shown around the hotel
I’m shown around the hotel

The test of any hotel for me is would I stay there again? Absolutely. Although I was their guest on the sixth floor this time I would willingly pay – and you it has a range of rooms for you to choose from. I suggest you check out their website and decide which is best for you. I was shown around the different configurations of rooms – from the smallest to the largest I’d be happy in any of them.

Thanks for hosting me Breakfree. Here are some photos I took of those rooms:

NOTE: This is one of a series of posts about Christchurch. See this recent post about the 2010/11 quakes – an elephant in the room and one about Christchurch as it is.

From the plains to mountains: Arthur’s Pass National Park. New Zealand

Arthur’s Pass has always been special for me. As a child our family would have day trips to the area for tobogganing. We also would do an annual steam train trip, and then at high school, (Linwood High, Christchurch)  had a holiday house where we would have week-long trips for skiing. (unsuccessful lessons in my case )

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And now I travel there again. It takes less than three hours to travel from plains to mountains; ocean to snow-fed rivers; city to village; from the current time to the ancient forests of Gondwanaland. (The Jurassic period super-continent from which New Zealand separated some 85 million years ago.)

Unlike the pre-European Māori who walked, or the settlers in Cobb and Co. coaches, I travelled by the TranzAlpine train to Arthur’s Pass.  (Leaves Christchurch daily for Greymouth on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island.)

Sharing the carriage were tourists from many parts of the world.  It seems some were ready to test their stamina and muscles in the Arthur’s Pass National Park, while a family group was day-tripping, with five hours to explore the village, and me? I was just looking for some rest and recreation including revisiting the popular walks near the village – The Devil’s Punchbowl and the Bridal Veil Falls.

The Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall with its impressive 131-metre drop is an easy one-hour return journey through stands of majestic white-limbed mountain beech trees. As you approach the waterfall, clouds of spray rise like mist, just as one might imagine the devil’s steaming cauldron does.

The other easy, yet even more beautiful walk, takes you to the Bridal Veil Falls. Although the falls are viewed from a distance, the walk itself is wonderful. Colours abound; crisp greys to soft emerald, or lime greens nestle alongside bright reds and orange. Numerous native ferns, lichens, trees, and shrubs seem to invite one to stop, admire, and record their beauty, while the piwakawaka (fantail) that go with me are an absolute joy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll through the village, population 55, and surrounding areas, are the sounds of birds. Bellbirds with their dulcet tones are so different to the cheeky, intelligent kea with its loud calls as it glides loftily above all, displaying its orange under-wing plumage to us. The occasional gull calls from overhead too, reminding me what a narrow land New Zealand is.

Walking beside beech trees it is easy to believe that the forests of Gondwanaland looked just like these South Island beech forests. Fossils of beech found in Antarctica and descendants that survive in Chile, Australia and Papua New Guinea support this theory.

 

I love our beech trees!

Brothers Arthur and Edward Dobson rediscovered the pass in 1864. Māori had used it as an east-west route to collect or trade Pounamu, the greenstone from which the south island is named, Te Wai Pounamu. The brothers named it Bealey Flat and finding the route made it easier to travel from coast to coast.

Some sixty years later travel became even easier with the railway and Otira tunnel, signalling the end of the coach era. Tunnellers huts, from early 1900’s, remain in the village linking past to the present. Originally unlined, austere dwellings, they were sold on the tunnel’s completion in 1923.

Some of the pioneering characters of Arthur’s Pass who bought these cottages includes the family of Guy and Grace Butler. One of New Zealand’s foremost landscape artists, Grace has works hanging in many places including the Robert McDougall Art Gallery in Christchurch. Along with Guy who, according to his granddaughter Jennifer Barrer “gave up his legal practice to carry his wife’s easel,” Grace ran what was the first hostel in the village. Now called the Outdoor Education Centre, its front lawn was the site of the first skiing in the area!

Arthur’s Pass National Park, created 1901, has 114,357 hectares within its boundaries and both tourists and locals appreciate its variety of tramps and some 28 public huts. If you plan to stay in some of the remote huts, tickets, or an annual hut pass, must be purchased from the Department of Conservation before your trip.

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NOTE: on any walk in New Zealand mountains or bush: fill out an Intentions Card. Leave it at the local DOC office; don’t travel alone, take extra food and everything you need to make sure you’re safe . . . our NZ weather  has dramatic changes extremely quickly. This is because we are a little country in the middle of a huge ocean and most travellers are not used to such conditions and this results in deaths . . . don’t let the next one be you!  

Other activities in Arthur’s Pass include skiing at Temple Basin, while the village itself is a good base for exploring Cave Stream Scenic Reserve with its 362-metre cave and interesting limestone outcrops.

Accommodation ranges from backpacker hostels to motels, holiday homes, or bed and breakfast. Food covers the same budget to moderate price range. (See your local visitors’ information centre for details)

the endangered red mistletoes bloom whenever the possums have been culled
the endangered red mistletoe blooms when the possums have been culled

 

If you want ski-fields and terrific tramps (the kiwi word for hiking!) or just a place to chill with your holiday reading, Arthur’s Pass needs to be added to your holiday destination list – make sure you post a letter form here!

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No shark-fin soup in this five star hotel!

After 11 hours and some 9 thousand kilometres I arrive in Kuala Lumpur, (KL) Malaysia. An express rail link runs from the KLIA airport(s) to KL SENTRAL and for the first time I take it: arriving in the city more ecologically, and faster, than a taxi.  From Sentral I caught the monorail for the last 6 mins to the hotel. The punctual rail system runs to and from the airport every 20 minutes.

My destination was Times Square, well the hotel Berjaya Times Square to be exact: the hotel was hosting me for a night while I took a bike trip in Malaysia’s capital and checked out a couple of other ‘things to do’.

View of the 15th floor pool from my room
View of the 15th floor pool from my west tower room

In the heart of the city, the twin tower building is ideally placed in the entertainment and shopping district of this city. Playing on the ‘times square’ location it embraces the New York theme with Central Park being located on the 15th floor (pool, children’s playground, fitness centre, squash courts, sauna and steam room).

Central Park links the two towers and has great views of the city including the impressive Petronas Twin Towers and is a great place to relax … not that I had much time to enjoy relaxing by the gazebo! However, I did relax with a wonderful relaxing massage on the same level and can recommend the ‘wellness centre’ – Bunga Raya Spa – to rejuvenate your mind and body. I had their signature massage, which the masseuse said combines old traditions with modern elements. It used kneading strokes focusing on muscles and pressure points.

Some facts about this 5-star hotel: 650 rooms and suites with all the usual comforts to be expected at such a hotel.  It’s worth noting they are also well set up for conventions of many sizes too with the Manhattan Ballroom holding 2000. (See their website, above, for more information about convention or conference facilities). As a travel writer I particularly valued the free Wi-Fi to update Facebook and Instagram as I don’t blog while travelling – too busy experiencing.  After many hours in the air, relaxing in the full-size bath was wonderful too. (I recommend either KL, or Malaysian Borneo, as great stopovers on long-haul flights.)

Food-wise they cater to all tastes (American, Western, and Asian) and when I met with staff in the Broadway Lounge for a briefing then tour through the hotel, I tried their signature drink: Berjaya Kool. This was a refreshing drink of rose syrup, lemon grass, sugar syrup and sour red plum. The glass was rimmed with a granulated powder that I recognised but couldn’t place … it was the sour red plum and I just loved it. Try it!

Berjaya Kool
Berjaya Kool

I ate in three of the hotel’s restaurants: fine dining in Samplings on the Fourteenth, local and western food for lunch and breakfast in The Big Apple, and breakfast in a smaller restaurant which I believe was just for people on the club floor where my room was.  All were impeccable.

As well as their excellent amenities, another bonus is that the hotel’s attached to 900-retail shops in the Berjaya Times Square Shopping (BTS) Mall –which is also home to movie theatres, bowling alley, and for adrenaline junkies, 14 rides at the BTS Theme Park. As I’m a wimp of the first order, and rides with names like Space Attack, Dizzy Izzy, and the Haunted Chamber,  I did not ride any of them! If you have, or do, please leave comments below so others know what they’re like.

One of the many things I liked about the Berjaya were  cards I saw that said (in part) that they will not serve shark-fin soup in their restaurants, a company wide policy made some years ago. It also says “Because sharks are at the top of the marine food web they serve a vital purpose to maintain the precious balance of species in the sea.”

By-the-way: I enjoyed my hosted stay at Berjaya so much I paid for, and stayed, another night – sort of says it all doesn’t it!

Check out some of the food options – and their award-wining Thai Chef, one of  their many specialist chefs.

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New Zealands only historical castle – Larnach, Dunedin

After posting on Facebook how thrilled I was to be staying at Larnach Castle  a friend warns me. ‘Let’s see how chipper we are when the moon is up and dancing amongst them scudding peninsula clouds. Cue spooky noises. Spooky place.’ It sounded like a voice of experience!

Atmospheric mist ideal for talk of ‘spooky sounds’

I check into one of the six guest rooms in the Stables, which were built before the 1871 castle:  they are a charming 140 year old Category 1 listed historic building in the grounds of the castle.

The lower part of the Stables includes the breakfast area, guest lounge, laundry, internet site, and a display highlighting the original Stable horse stalls. I’m amazed at the beautifully cobblestoned brick floor which has remained firmly in place since they were laid: the workers were obviously skilled in their job.

Despite being an historic place this property is privately owned and receives no government or city funding and relies on its visitors and overnight guests to support it. Accommodation ranges from luxury to the more basic, shared-bathrooms, in the Stables. My bedroom was spacious and the bed very comfortable.

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Beside the old coach-house is more accommodation called The Lodge  which has twelve themed rooms (including Scottish, Enchanted Forest, New Zealand, Kauri, Pink, Goldrush and Victorian) and guests staying there join us in the Stables for breakfast – I meet a group of Boston women bikers over our amazingly large breakfasts. They’re in New Zealand for a two-week trip around the South Island with Paradise Motorbike Tours. They’re thrilled with both the tour and the Stables.

Just some praise includes ‘This place is phenomenal’; ‘Not many places a motorbike group can stay as well as families’; ‘Well-run and friendly’ and, they’re proud to be the oldest women’s bike group in the USA.  They (16 women on 12 bikes) tell me about their trip so far:

‘Every hill I go over it’s like a new country, a new world. I saw a turquoise lake I’ve never seen before – I want to paint my bathroom that colour.’

‘New Zealand gets in your eyes.’

‘I haven’t   stopped smiling.’

‘Traffic moves over for us – in Boston they try to run us over!’

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Like me, they love the original floor, the iron mangers, and horse-box still in the stables-come-breakfast room and the baronial-style castle that William Larnach built for his family. Rich from the gold rush era (as a banker) he was born in Australia to Scottish parents, and during a trip to London was appointed as the manager of the Bank of Otago. Three years later he had bought the land with its great views of the Otago Harbour and soon after started work on ‘the camp’ which locals soon started calling ‘the castle’. The road is still called Camp Road.

???????????????????????????????The castle must have been the region’s biggest employer as it had some 200 workers and material was bought from around the world. As well as using local and Oamaru stone, kauri from the North Island, slate from Wales, mosaics from Belgium, bricks from Marseille, he also bought about 20 tons of French glass. All these were dragged, by oxen, up the steep 1000-foot hill (305 metres). He also imported stonemasons from Scotland, wood-carvers from England, and plasterers from Italy to build his dream home that’s well worth visiting!

New Zealand Gardens of International Significance  says of this private garden  ‘The scenery is spectacular and though the garden is subjected to wind and low rainfall it contains a unique collection of plants seldom seen elsewhere The plantings reflect the owner’s interest in New Zealand plants and in their southern hemisphere relations.’ Read more here.

No trip to the Dunedin region is complete unless you visit this New Zealand ‘castle’ which of course is not a replica of the European castles but a mansion built as a new-world, down under version of the old-world Gothic revival style.

PS: Spooky noises or ghosts – I never heard or saw them but if you do or have please add to the comments below.

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