Staying 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!
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
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.
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:
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 )
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.
All 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.
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.
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)
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!
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.
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!
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.
After posting on Facebook how thrilled I was to be staying at Larnach Castlea 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!
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.
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!’
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.
‘Never smile at a crocodile‘ the old song went. This is estuarine crocodile certainly has a wide-mouthed smile!
Photo taken when I was on a river safari as part of my stay at the fabulous Proboscis Lodge on the Kinabatangan River – Sabah’s biggest river.
They’re easy to spot at night as their eyes shine red in the torchlight. We saw many of these reptiles sunning themselves on the riverbanks. I have blogs about this fabulous area scheduled for 1st and 8th April
Unfortunately, because of time pressure, I only had 2 nights at the Sepilok Jungle Resort – a handy base for exploring the Sandakan area of east Sabah. I start talking to a woman at dinner and find she was one of the original owners! She and her husband started the lodge some 18 years ago and as well as increasing the number of rooms, they planted all the magnificent plants and trees. ( it’s still a family business)
Their rooms range from dormitory to air-conditioned deluxe with balcony rooms and over the years the trees have grown and the Resort is set in this magnificent landscape – it’s also the first place I saw the bird om my bucket list – the fascinating hornbills.
I also saw many birds, fruit bats and butterflies feeding on fruits and flowers as well as fish feeding in their lakes: it’s the perfect place to relax in tropical jungle surroundings.
This is a great base to visit other places including just a five minutes’ walk to the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary which is on everyone’s to-do list.
Apparently named ‘Eliza’s’ after Eliza Doolittle, played by Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, this boutique B&B Hotel is a very grand lady – and like Audrey – elegant
Like many buildings in the new settlement of 1800s Christchurch, it just grew. The land was bought in 1856 and the building started in 1861, predating the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral by some twenty years. This ‘growing’ means it can’t be easily classified as Victorian or any other architectural style: Eliza’s personal style includes gables, bay windows, projecting dormers and door and window hoods.
On the morning of the September (2010) quake, while photographically documenting the quake damage, I had walked past this beautiful building, just a couple of streets away from my apartment. I was relieved to see it too had apparently survived the 7.1 shake. Of course inside it was a different story.
Pleased they had no guests to evacuate at 4:30am, they quickly got to work demolishing the damaged chimneys and multiple fireplaces – involving some 60 tonnes of bricks – then repairing the destruction they had produced. On the day of the quake they had Russian guests arrive and a week later they were hosting a wedding. Just like the movie, the show must go on!
Nearly six months later it was a different story and during the February 6.3 quake, with all the rooms occupied, nature ripped walls apart, cracked skirting boards, buckled window frames and toppled wardrobes. Luckily the chimneys had gone; there were no injuries to staff or guests; and the foundations and structure were sound. Add another eight months, 1.5 million dollars, heaps of hard work and Eliza’s doors were open once again.
When I arrived Harold and Ann were hosting their staff Christmas party and everyone was busy making jewellery under the guidance of Beadz Unlimited. (Christchurch’s first bead shop and now in historic New Regent Street after being quake-shaken out of the wonderful Gothic Art’s Centre)
When the front door opens, I’m immediately impressed with the ornate staircase that’s in front of me –it was built in Scotland with New Zealand’s native kauri. Over the years many distinct groups of people have climbed these stairs. As well as guests from around the world Eliza’s previous inhabitants have included mothers and nurses during its maternity home persona; it’s also been a private home, accommodation for ‘genteel ladies’ and a boarding house for St. Margaret’s Girls High.
Ann and Harold bought the building in 2004, and all the rooms have local heritage names – I’m in The Masters which has wonderful leadlight and stained glass windows. (With a hotel of this standing of course the bed, bathroom, fittings, and linen, were all wonderful and spotless – so take that as read!)
Along with the history of the building in each room, they also have a guest-book: I like this as it gives us guests’ time to write a considered response to our stay. From Spain to Switzerland, UK to the USA, France to Australia (and of course us Kiwi), it seems the world has not only stayed here but loved to too! I read many comments on the great hospitality, the friendly hosts, the homemade ANZAC biscuits, and the fabulous breakfasts. Seems Ann is a great believer in the old adage of eating breakfast like a king: it certainly provides enough tasty fuel for the day.
I notice, alongside other framed accolades, a certificate showing they won a 2013 community garden award; the garden is very colourful with wisteria and white daphne providing fragrance alongside the 130 plus roses.
The World Travel Guide says this of Eliza’s – ‘With beautiful period features, Eliza’s history spans three centuries. This grade II historic, wooden house was built during 1861 by one of the city’s founding fathers, was restored in 1981 and has been turned into wonderful accommodation ever since. It’s within easy walking distance of the gardens, museum, and New Regent Street while just around the corner is Victoria Street which has many tasty restaurants and bars. The hotel’s delicious cooked breakfast sets you up for your day of exploring the city.’
I can well recommend Eliza’s Boutique Hotel for a wonderful few nights in Christchurch; New Zealand’s 2nd largest city. With so few buildings of this age, Eliza’s is a real asset in the city – tell them I sent you 🙂
A frisson of fear runs through me as I step into the canoe on the man-made lake as I leave for a night with the Borneo Headhunters – the Iban tribe in their Nanga Mengka longhouse.
Ironically, it’s a man-made lake, Batang Ai, created for power generation, that I’m travelling on to stay with a displaced tribe whose region was drowned and who now have generator power for about 3 hours each evening. Dry season means the lake is low with dead trees poking above the water and the banks showing the usual level. Our boat has very little freeway and it feels as if it could easily tip over and I have fears for my camera!
The boat is full with supplies and we too have bought many vegetables and meat for our hosts. I also have bought my gifts for the 37 families. Using a recommendation from my guide I have 37 kilo bags of salt, one of the essential commodities they need to buy, and 80 lollipops, along with some colourful kiwi-pens, from New Zealand, for the children of the 37 homes within this longhouse.
Our boatman nearly slips as he climbs the steep bank to get up to the homes on stilts. We pass a carved wooden figure that guards the complex and I’m soon introduced to the family I’m staying with. They have turns as being the host family and I’m staying with the 73-year old chief – a role he’s held for 30 years. Although it’s a hereditary role, if his son does not want it, an election will be held among the men.
The human heads that this tribe had acquired over many generations of head-hunting were buried within their old longhouse when their valley was flooded: there are none in this new home. Interestingly they still build canoes for the lake in the same way as they used on the river and I watched as they were adzing a new one that had been ordered, one of their ways of earning cash. It usually takes about 4 weeks working full-time but this time many men and women are occupied with it to get cash for the longhouse.
With our language differences, it’s not easy to communicate with this extended family and I had dreaded the welcome and the accompanying drink. They make a wine and then distil it to make a 20% proof ‘whisky’. As I am allergic to all alcohol I had learnt the word pantang which means forbidden, a term they will respect without me seeming rude in refusing it. I had also told my guide and think he had forewarned them and it was not a problem.
The only problem was me trying to emulate the dance they welcomed me with. I felt, and no doubt looked like, a clumsy elephant among the graceful hornbills they were dancing as. Only about half of the families joined in the welcome which finished when the whisky’ bottle was empty.
My bed, in the long communal corridor room that the ‘doors’ lead off, is a blow-up mattress and I cut my liquids in the hopes I don’t have to go to the toilet in the night – it didn’t work and I hear the roosters at 3, 4, 5, and 6am. I know the time as they have three chiming clocks: one is stuck at 6.29 but the pendulum is still rotating left them right. The other two are about 30 seconds out of sync with each other so 2am produces 4 chimes and 6am, 12!
Another noise I heard from 9pm until 5am is a very regular noise, rather like a cicada. It chirped every 60 seconds or so, and in the morning I ask Wayne, my guide, who is also Iban so can translate for me. The longhouse is in a fuss about it. Seems the same noise had been heard a few nights earlier and some of the men had gone outside to find and find it. Nothing was found and they were left wondering, was it a ‘bird, a frog, cicada’ or the top choice, ‘a spirit-bird’?
Morning saw me successfully having a lesson with the blow pipe and manage to hit the target each time and then we went for a BBQ picnic lunch of traditional foods at one of their local farms.
picnic lunch cooking
home from working the fields
Chicken going int he bamboo cooking utensil
TV is available for 3 hrs daily
view from the longhouse
what a spread for three of us
old longhouses used to be much higher for protection
Children cry as siblings and grandmothers leave
About a third the people here follow Christianity
I do hope they get enough money hosting people as it seems some of the families don’t really want to engage with visitors and being the only one made it hard for me too. On the noticeboard I see this is their peak month for visitors, I’m the only overnight guest, with 38 day-trippers during this July.
Leaving the longhouse, on a Sunday, I’m asked if we can take three children back for their schooling where they stay Sunday to Friday. Of course I willingly agree to that – it means the transport for them and a few mothers is free, the fuel being paid for by my trip and I suspect this may be of most value to them all. Earlier in the morning others had left, leaving behind crying younger siblings and a couple crying themselves.
As I’m dropped off at the Hilton as they go on to main jetty, my guide tells me ‘Heather your trip has helped a lot of people today.’ Maybe, but it feels obscene to be going from poverty to luxury. From the locals tiny global footprint to the guests here, like me, with a huge print on the earth.
This experience reminded me of the hard work behind survival in remote places and how it depends on a strong sense of community and self-sufficiency but it’s now a community quite dependent on tourism – and children who send money back from their city jobs. As with all traditions worldwide many of these will die out too despite the help to try to keep them alive. We also cannot expect people to stay living in poor conditions while all around them, and the tourists, have hot water, power and a far easier life