Monday 14 November 2016

Captivating Day Trip to Cape Palliser

Whenever we travel personally, Uma and I always look to blend the must-do attractions with what the locals do. When one's specialty is planning and organizing exclusive New Zealand holidays, one needs to discover and experience interesting locales, wouldn't you agree? Occupational hazard I suppose...or Not! :p

So.... On a long weekend in October, we decided to explore Cape Palliser and Lake Ferry areas. We went on a day trip with our two boys. Oh boy! What an amazing trip it was!

We started our drive from Palmerston North, wended our way through the gorgeous Manawatu Gorge and proceeded towards Masterton. En route, we stopped over at Pukaha Mt. Bruce for a cuppa. This fantastic wildlife reserve is the home of Manukura, the little white Kiwi bird, amongst other NZ native flora and fauna.

We then passed through Masterton and then Greytown, which is known for its cute colonial cottages lining up on both sides of the main road. It is another great stop for coffee and its superb chocolates! In fact, it would be a good idea for you to stock up your grocery (if you are planning for an overnight stay at Cape Palliser) or a picnic lunch. Don't forget a bottle of wine from the local Wairarapa vineyards!

On State Highway 2, we took the left turn into Kahutara Road and proceeded towards the Cape. I have driven through many scenic NZ roads, but this must rank amongst the top 5! It was breath-taking. We could clearly see the snow capped mountains as far as Kaikoura in South Island, as though they were floating in the azure waters!

We crossed the small fishing village of Ngawi and proceeded in the unsealed coastal road towards the old lighthouse. The boys didn't have any problems climbing up 250-plus steps. We too followed them pretty quickly. The scenery waiting there for us is simply impossible to describe in words! I will leave it to you to experience yourself!

We had our picnic lunch by seaside in one of the many isolated scenic spots, taking in the serenity surrounding us, with only fur seals lounging on rocks for company. We drove in the same road back for about 30 kilometres (about 19 miles), took a left turn and headed into Lake Ferry, a small beach town. Fishing is a popular activity here. We lounged in the open yard overlooking the lake and sea at Lake Ferry Hotel, with a cup of coffee and a bowl of fries to the boot.

We decided to take a detour through Martinborough, another small town in the region. It is known for its excellent Pinot Noir. This is another option for an overnight stay. We headed to Carterton from there, took a right turn and stopped at Stonehenge Aotearoa. It is a very interesting place to visit, where science meets civilizations. The guided tour blends astronomy with history & legends of the world.

The day went quickly. It was already time for us to drive back home to Palmerston North after a wonderful family day out! The trip took us through different landscapes within the region. We would strongly recommend 2 or 3 days of touring. Guess what? We have already planned to return in December. This time, we will take a back (holiday home) by the side of the sea in Cape Palliser!

For your New Zealand holiday ideas, contact us through our website

Monday 11 July 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 10

Fri 15 Jan

The day started early to take advantage of watching the Pongal celebrations.  A highlight was stopping at a small temple that was buzzing with activity.  People were praying, touching deities and placing powder on their heads.  There were some immense statues of deities on horses.  Everyone was friendly and welcoming. 

Not long after leaving this temple we stumbled upon some roadside celebration so we stopped and watched young people dancing frantically accompanied by loud drums and crashing cymbal-like instruments.  Lots of locals were mingling around, as were tourists like us who happened to pass by, some of whom joined in with the dancing.  Nats informed me that the dance was Tamil Folk Art called “Thappaattam”.  All told, we obtained a satisfying glimpse of the Pongal Festival, even though some celebrations were cancelled as a result of the Government banning the Taming of the Bull (Jallikattu) ceremonies. 

We then headed south along a motorway through dry barren country with low-growing arid shrubs and little sign of human habitation, apart from occasional fields of sunflower and corn. 

After passing through Kovilpatti and glimpsing at the National Engineering College where Nats attended, we continued on and the vegetation progressively changed to one with many coconut and banana plantations.  To our right appeared the Western Ghats and we drove for several kilometres through a veritable forest of wind turbines. 

Eventually we reached Kanyakumari and had a delightful lunch at the Seaview Hotel.  I had a Malabar fish curry which gave me wonderful taste sensations.  In retrospect it was the best curry I tasted on the trip. 

After lunch we checked into the Sparsa Hotel where our rooms had wonderful expansive views over the Indian Ocean.  Here we were at the very southern tip if the Indian mainland. 

Late in the afternoon we stopped outside our hotel immediately into a very crowded market, along which we strolled to view the big statue of Thiruvalluvar, whose memorial we saw in Chennai on our first day.  Next to him was a monument to a wandering monk, Swami Vivekananda.  We looked at a Ghandi memorial and wound our way up a circular tower to observe the surrounding sea and town. 

At sunset we stepped outside the hotel onto the “boulevard” to watch the sun go down over the sea.  I didn’t get up the following morning to watch the sunrise over the sea – one of the few places on earth where you can be on land and witness both the sunset and sunrise over the sea – but we did get a great view of it emerging above the palms outside our room. 

Free-camping was allowed all along the street outside our hotel, so hundreds of campervans, mostly local visitors, had their vehicles lined up along the road.  With a concentration of humanity in a small area and no facilities provided, the sights and smells were rather unsavoury to say the least.  This town has much potential but presently lets itself down.  Not recommended.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 9

Thu 14 Jan

We set off for Madurai, driving through many paddi fields.  In due course we reached the magical city of Madurai, which is dominated by its magnificent temple complex.  Babu dropped as off somewhere in the city centre and we followed Nats through many side streets until we reached our lunch spot, The Sree Mohan Bhojanalay Restaurant, which is a simple upstairs workingmens eatery.  Humble as it was, we had a very tasty Marvari – South Indian fusion lunch with generous portions.

We then walked back to rendezvous with Babu, taking in all the colourful sights.  We checked in to the Heritage Hotel which is set in extensive picturesque grounds and possesses a unique swimming pool shaped like a step-well, reminiscent of the pool we were about to see in the temple complex.

Late in the afternoon we were accompanied by our guide, a Mr Johnson, to see first of all the Nayakkar Mahal (Palace).  This building houses many fine treasures, especially some exquisite old sculptures of various deities.  Sadly, the building and its grounds are neglected with paint peeling off and lots of pigeon damage and rank grass.  Many labels had come off the statues.

But the real gem of Madurai is its famous Meenakshi Temple, the best Hindu temple that I’ve seen in India.  We passed through tight security into the complex and were amazed at the beauty of the art work inside.  There was a maze of arcades lined with well-preserved statues of deities and gargoyles.  It is truly impressive.  There was a lovely Nandi with people whispering their secrets into his ear.  Local people were prostrating themselves in front of shrines and we could view some beautiful images of Shiva.  This complex is huge and one could get lost inside, although not entirely.  There is a formal layout.

Outside but still in the temple grounds, we gasped at the enormity and beauty of the gopurams and other structures – high and ornately carved buildings with little images telling a story.  Very colourful.  We sat by a central pool and admired the setting, both the temple complex and its devoted followers.

Leaving the complex we wound our way through a fascinating warren of narrow alleyways, with hosts of tailors on Singer sewing machines and a myriad of little dhukhas selling beautiful cloth and jewellery.  It reminded me of Change Alley in Singapore fifty years ago.

Nats then took us for an Italian meal at Phil’s Bistro – quite different.

Friday 3 June 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 8

Wed 13 Jan

Started early for our drive to Kadiapatti, a village halfway between Thanjavur and Madurai.

En route we stopped to see a variety of things: a roadside family who roasted cashew nuts.  Took some interesting photos.  The raw nuts are first heated at high temperature in a pot over a fire.  The pot had holes which allowed the cashew oil to drip through to sustain the fire.

After a period of time the roasted nuts are taken out and whilst still very hot, an older woman would take a nut in her hand and hammer the nut casing until the actual edible cashew nut was revealed.  Nats bought some nuts off them and we took photos of the family with young children.

Further along we stopped to feed a troop of monkeys by throwing biscuits out the window.

We also stopped at a wayside village to purchase some pens at a small shop (“duka” in East Africa; “dhukhan” in Hindi; “kadai” in Tamil) to give as gifts for children.

At another point we stopped and walked down a dirt road lined on either side by terracotta horses, which were offerings to the gods, but we didn’t continue on to the temple.

Eventually we arrived in Kadiapatti and booked in to the Chidambara Villas.  This is a magnificently restored Chittinad House and after a superb authentic South India lunch, served on banana leaves, we were taken on a tour of the house by the delightful manager called Kavitha.  She spoke excellent English and was very informative.  The house is amazing in its architecture with rooms in the past allocated for various purposes, such as discussions between parents for the offering of a dowry, or arranging for loans, another one for formal hosting and other rooms for storing valuables.

For the next couple of hours we rested to let our sumptuous lunch go down. 

Around 4pm we gathered to watch Kavitha construct a Kolam on the road outside our entrance.  We joined in to chalk our own images, then we went for a stroll around the village.  The Chidambara Villas are an oasis of splendour amidst a neglected village (patti) where several grand old houses have passed their glory and fallen into neglect as the younger generation leave for richer pastures.

When we got back, Alison and I had a swim in the inviting pool.

Just prior to dinner, Nats had arranged for us to visit the kitchen and watch food preparation.  Dinner was a buffet of superb local dishes.

Friday 27 May 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 7

Tue 12 Jan

Early start for drive to Thanjavur.  Passed through a lovely rice field and stopped en route to see rope making with coconut fibre.  We all had a go at teasing out the fibre.

We also stopped to see a mud house and family by the side of the road. We crossed a dam and saw many crocodiles in the water, bathing on the banks or in the shallows not far from where fishermen were sitting on little rafts with their feet dangling in the water.

Very pleasant South India lunch at the Paradise Resort mid-way on the journey. Arrived at Thanjavur approx. 3pm and dropped our luggage off at the Tanjore Hi Hotel. 

Guided by Mr Raja to the Palace to see the wonderful 7C – 11C bronze statues.  These are truly great pieces of art, mainly of Shiva and Parvati.  Late in the afternoon we visited the famous local temple with its impressive Nandi and great towers.  It was atmospheric to enter the interior of one of the “shrines” and observe Shiva in the form of a lingam.

After this, we went to a genuine small bronze-making business and observed the procedures for making bronze items.  We bought a little statue of Lakshmi and a little sleeping Buddha.  B and P bought a larger impressive Nandi.

Our evening meal was delightful sitting out on a balcony looking up at the starlit sky and a beautiful moon.  Nats helpfully suggested which dishes we should sample.  His advice in this area is a real bonus on this tour. 

Slept well in a beautifully decorated room.

Friday 20 May 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 6

Mon 11 Jan

Woken just after 4am by the very loud sound of the fishing boats heading out to sea.  This was followed by loud local religious chanting/singing, which we subsequently found was common in South India at this hour. When the sun rose, it streamed straight through into our door from over the sea.

After a lovely breakfast in the open dining room, we headed back to Pondicherry.  Along the way, we collected our guide for the day, Kamachi, who also happened to be a lawyer.  She spoke very good English.

In the early morning light we took a delightful cycle rickshaw ride through the French quarter, noting the influence of the French in the architecture of the buildings  with arched and wrought iron gateways.  Afterwards, we drove around in our van visiting two wonderful Catholic churches and poked our nose into the Sri Aurobindo ashram and saw the ashrams’ paper-making centre.  We then strolled through the absolutely delightful Pondicherry flower, fruit, veggie and fish market.

Lunch was taken at a French bakery, “Baker Street” with authentic French baking – we had a pizza and ham quiche – not exactly French but very tasty.  Also tasted some delightful sweet morsels.

In the afternoon we visited Auroville and were impressed with the imposing matrimandir – a huge golden globe that is used as a meditation dwelling only by devout followers.  Outsiders aren’t allowed in.

Returning to our village we relaxed with a cooling swim and dined at night in the restaurant. 

Friday 13 May 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 5

Sun 10 Jan

Early start to wander around the incredible sculptured rocks of Mahabalipuram, dating back to the 7th Century. 

We were accompanied by a very knowledgeable guide, Cholan, who explained all of the details of the carvings in the rock.  Visiting these sculptures was a rich experience which I’m sure will prove to be a highlight of our tour.  I captured lots of photos and videos of this enchanting place.

We got back to our Resort at midday in time to check out and went to a nearby vegetarian restaurant for lunch with Nats.  Had aloo gobi and a vegetable kofta curry.

We drove during the afternoon to Pondicherry where we checked into our accommodation right by the beach – Dune Eco Village and Spa.  Alison and I had a raised bure with a bamboo slatted floor.  It had an A-framed thatched roof and a lovely outdoor covered balcony.

Late in the afternoon we went to the French quarter of Pondy for a drink at the Seaview Hotel overlooking the beach and pier.  Nats ordered us snacks of various kinds, the best being chicken tikka and a Egg Bhurji (spiced scrambled egg).  After the sun had set we wandered along the promenade enjoying the atmosphere with other strollers.  We admired the huge sculpture of Gandhi.

Slept well under our mosquito net although the bed was a bit hard.

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 4

Sat 9 Jan

Late start at 10am.  Lovely drive down to Mamallapuram (also called Mahabalipuram), reaching coconut palms along the coast.  We stopped halfway to look at a fascinating crocodile sanctuary which housed crocodiles from all over the world.

Lunch was had at the Moonraker’s Restaurant.  It’s a small place but possesses a delightful ambience.  Started with a cold Kingfisher beer then squid pieces cooked in a batter followed a huge king prawns and a grilled snapper and rice.  All very tasty.  This was the street where Ric Stein wrote that he sampled the best curry in all of Indian – a fish curry at the Seashore Restaurant. 

After lunch we strolled down the colourful lane to the beach, stopping at Apollo Books to but some books on the Mahabalipuram sculptures that we were going to visit in the morning. Back at the Radisson Blu Temple Bay Resort we lazed away the rest of the afternoon, swimming in the delightful long pool.

In the evening we went to a wonderful dance performance as part of the Indian Dance Festival held at this time of the year for a month.  We watched the Bharatanatyam Dance group.

Returning back to the Resort we had a wonderful meal of Aloo Gobi, crepe stuffed with tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms, a wonderful okra dish and dumplings in a spinach sauce. 

Sunday 8 May 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 3

Fri 8 Jan

Busy day today.  Nats and Anitha collected us at 7.45am and we drove through early morning traffic to collect our older guide for the day, a delightful 77-year-old woman who proved to be very knowledgeable about Indian religion and art – Mrs Anandhi (Mrs “Happiness”).

We went first to the Kalakshetra Foundation which is an indigenous arts foundation set in a beautiful compound with lots of trees and scattered open-windowed rooms and a big auditorium.  No-one else was around and we arrived to an open area under a massive banyan tree where about 100 mainly young female students were seated on the ground in the lotus position, singing a long very appealing chant.  It was captivating.

Around 9.30am they finished and dispersed to their various classes.  It was an absolute delight to wander around the compound watching or listening to the students performing dance and music.  Some were also learning to play various musical instruments such as the violin and the veena which is like a large-sized sitar, although the veena is more ancient than the sitar and there is no connection between the two.  Some of the dancing was thrilling to watch through the open windows or sitting on chairs inside.

After this wonderful experience we went to the DhakshinaChitra Centre, which is a huge compound where houses from various South India regions have been reconstructed in their original form – from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh – some from reassembled original materials collected from their home state.  Very interesting.  We watched an open-air dance performance, glass-blowing (Nats bought and gave us each a little peacock or elephant cocktail stirrer) and pottery-making.  There was an open gathering of artists from various villages who were selling their wares. We had an enjoyable South Indian lunch at this Centre.

In the afternoon we drove along the Marina Beach which is about 1km wide.  Locals were mingling on the beach but none were swimming.  We drove past an Ice House and Madras University and passed by old British heritage buildings. We then arrived at Santhome Church where St Thomas is buried.  We went in and observed his tomb.

We then visited a Shiva Temple at Mylapore, which you enter through an impressive gopuram adorned with colourful ceramic figures of Shiva.  A loud festival was in progress with crowds of people.  The chiming of a huge bell and the noise from the blowing of various instruments that sounded like South African vuvuzelas – a very penetrating a sound – was too much for Paul and me, so we retreated.  I was approached by an odd local who tried to convince me to take off my temple socks and experience the sensation of walking around the temple barefoot.  As part of a ritual, Nats prostrated himself in front of a shrine.  Anitha sat on the ground in the lotus position and swayed.  There was much ritual activity being performed all around us. 

Tired at the end of a long day, we went back to our hotel, showered and relaxed in a quiet bar for a Kingfisher beer and then settled for a meal in the hotel restaurant – Barbara had a nasi goreng, Alison a plate of samosas and Paul and I shared a very hot green chicken curry.

Saturday 7 May 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 2

Thu 7 Jan

Nats collected us at 9am and we went straight to the Valluvar Kottam, which is a memorial to a great poet Thiruvalluvar, who wrote a great tome called the Kural.  This is a long poem of 1330 couplets covering ethereal issues.  Sadly, the compound has been neglected and the massive chariot, which would look spectacular if in pristine condition, looks dilapidated.

An accompanying building houses granite-inscribed slabs with the couplets, and these are also in a neglected state.  The Kural dates back to over 2,000 years.  The gardens, which apparently were very pleasant, are now overgrown and occupied by the homeless.  

We then strolled through the Koyambedu flower market which consisted of a riot of colour with mountains of different flowers.

At lunchtime we had a magnificent feast in the home of Dr Sudarsanan which his wife prepared for us.  We were treated like royalty in their home.  We gave them a wooden entwined table mat and B and P gave them a lovely plate.

Late in the afternoon we visited St Andrew’s round church and then took a stroll down Mint Street, mingling with the throngs. 

Nats had a team member with us all day called Anitha, who is very pretty and a delight to talk with.  She is 40 but looks 20 and she talked freely about her arranged marriage and the difficulties of forging her own life.

Late afternoon Barbara and Alison shopped for Indian toys whilst Paul and I went to Raymond’s tailors where I was measure for some trousers which I collect tomorrow. 

In the evening we relaxed in the hotel with a Kingfisher beer and nibbles during the happy hour.

Friday 6 May 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 1

In January 2016, Nats accompanied two lovely couples from New Zealand - Al & Alison Rowland & Paul & Barbara Brookfield for 21 days through South India. Al had been keeping a diary of the entire trip. He has gracefully given us permission to publish it. We would be presenting the day by day musing of Al for the next 21 days. Here is the first day!
SOUTH INDIA TRIP 6 January – 27 January 2016
With Nats Subramanian from Take Me2India (now  known as TakeMe2The World)
Accompanied by our friends Barbara and Paul Brookfield.

We arrived in Chennai late on the 6th after two tiring flights – AKLD-SING-CHENNAI.

We already had our electronic visas so immigration clearance wasn’t too bad, although Barb and Alison were both finger-printed and for some reason the machine wouldn’t record Alison’s fingerprints which caused a little consternation.

Our bags came through on the carousel, thankfully, as we had only an hour in transit in Singapore.

Nats was outside the airport to meet us – a welcome sight.  He took us to our air-conditioned van and we met our driver for the trip – Babu.

Through late-night traffic we drove to our hotel – the Raintree on Anna Salai, and after a nice shower we collapsed into bed.