Wining about Cape Town

The flight into Cape Town provides excellent views of the mountainous terrain of the Western Cape province. On the day we flew in there was low-lying fog and only a few seconds after entering the clouds in the picture below, we touched down.

Western Cape on a foggy morning.

Cape Town is quite tourist friendly, and it feels safe to wander the CBD and waterfront areas. We dropped by the colourful neighbourood of Bo-Kaap, walked through the waterfront, and visited the District Six museum.

Solid view from the roof of our hotel.
Table Mountain would be visible from the waterfront were the sky clear.
The water struggle is real. There was no urgent shortage during our visit, but low-flow faucets are the default and hand sanitizer is encouraged.
The Bo-Kaap neighbourhood was originally inhabited by Cape Malay people, primarily slaves from Malaysia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. They painted their houses bright colours to celebrate their freedom when it was eventually granted.
Under Apartheid, the District Six neighbourhood next to the CBD was re-zoned as a white neighbourhood and residents were forced to move 15 miles out to the poorly constructed and isolated Cape Flats.

With the exception of cloudy days, the iconic Table Mountain is a constant backdrop to the city. On one of the sunny and calm days we had, we set out to climb to the top via Platteklip Gorge. Reportedly the fastest and most popular route to the plateau, it’s still about 2 hours of non-stop stair climbing.

Cape Town and the sea from the climb up Table Mountain. Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for most of his sentence, can be seen behind the city.

Our hotel was located on the same block as the Eastern Food Bazaar, a cafeteria-style Indian and Middle Eastern restaurant with insane portions. We found ourselves returning regularly and sharing single meals of shawarma roti, biryani, and “bunny chow”, which is South African for curry in a bread bowl. We’ve also enjoyed other South African staples such as biltong (jerky) and springbok bobotie (sort of like shepherd’s pie with egg topping instead of mashed potatoes).

Being in the Western Cape also gave us the opportunity to taste plenty of delicious South African wine.  We went on a tour of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek with a knowledgeable Afrikaans driver who told us some of the history of the region.  We did not realize how old the wine region is here; some of the wineries date back to the late 1600s.  In Cape Town we spent a couple evenings at Publik Wine Bar, familiarising ourselves the South African natural wine scene. And naturally Dan insisted on seeking out a few South African craft beers – we accidentally crashed board game day at the Stone Circle brewery and also enjoyed the offerings from Riot, Cape Brewing Company, and Darling Brew.

Nelson Mandela served the end of his sentence at a minimum security prison in Franschhoek.

Tomorrow we will be leaving on an overland tour of Namibia and Botswana, ending in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.  We probably won’t have much access to internet so check back in about three weeks 🙂

Sunshine Coast and Brisbane Two

On ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) Day we caught a Greyhound up to the Sunshine Coast and settled into the town of Maroochydore. It turns out Australia takes ANZAC Day fairly seriously and pretty much all the shops in town were closed, so we walked along the beach for a while and grabbed dinner from the cheapest open restaurant by our motel.

Jean LeCastor visits the Sunshine Coast.
A rainbow lorikeet spotted in Maroochydore.

The next day on the Sunshine Coast featured no sunshine, so we took care of a few travel chores in preparation for our time in Africa. Thankfully the sun came out on Saturday and we spent a few hours on the beach. That night we caught a stoner rock show, headlined by local group Hobo Magic who were saying farewell before moving to Europe. The show was well-attended by the local surfer dudes (so much long blonde hair) and we had an awesome time.

Hobo Magic

We caught the Greyhound back to Brisbane to spend a few days with Wendy’s friend Gerry. She generously treated us to an evening kayaking on the Brisbane River and took us up to Mt. Coot-Tha to see the Brisbane skyline at night.


On Monday we caught the ferry to the gorgeous North Stradbroke Island, or “Straddie” for short. The island’s coast alternates between rocky cliffs and sandy beaches and features some of the bluest seawater we’ve seen. While wandering around we spotted a sea turtle, a kangaroo, a koala, a beached puffer fish, and hundreds of boisterous bats.

Rocky cliffs and blue waters. Also a sea turtle that is not easy to spot… good luck!

On our last day in Australia Gerry took us to King Island, accessible by foot at low-tide. Apparently the island was used for military target practice during WWII, though today all that can be found is a large inter-tidal zone with tons of crabs and seashells.


We are happy to confirm that we have escaped Australia without being eaten/bitten/stung/strangled by any of its infamous creatures.

Coastal Gold

Dan’s friend Liz hosted us for four days south of Brisbane in the Gold Coast and was an excellent tour guide. On our first afternoon she showed us around to the various beaches and towns lining the Gold Coast. We had heard from other travellers that Gold Coast would be trashy, but it turns out that this is limited to the city of Surfer’s Paradise, home to the sort of clubs, hostels, and people that can make beach towns unbearable. The smaller towns of Currumbin, Coolangatta, Palm Beach, and Burleigh were chill and charming.


Burleigh Heads beach. Thanks for the tour Liz!

On Easter Monday we drove down to the famous hippie town of Byron Bay. Due to the holiday the area was packed – we couldn’t even stop to get out of the car to see the lighthouse. On the drive back we took a back road detour through the hinterland to see Minyon Falls.

Minyon Falls
Wild kangaroos near Currumbin! Note the mother and joey in the shadows on the left.

The weather was not terribly cooperative while we were in Gold Coast, but on the least rainy day we made it out to the beach at Currumbin. It rained on us literally the minute we arrived at the beach, but we braved the short downpour and were treated to a few hours of sunshine.

Currumbin beach with Surfer’s Paradise in the background.

On our last day we drove out to Springbrook National Park to do some hiking. Our former perception of Australia was mostly sandy beaches and dusty outback, so it was a pleasant surprise to find dense rainforest, rolling hills, and a silly number of waterfalls not far from the coast.

Antarctic Beech trees! Apparently fossilized remnants of these trees have been found in Antarctica, indicating this species existed when Australia, Antarctica, and South America were all part of Gondwana. The nearby “Best of All” lookout was pure clouds.
Dan thought he found a mysterious freshwater blue lobster. Turns out it’s a “common yabby”. The little guy can be seen in the centre-right foreground.


Brisbane reminded us of Florida – the city is relatively close to many beaches, it’s clean and quiet, there are a lot of waterfront condo buildings, and the public transportation is horrible.

The free “City Hopper” ferry is the only part of the public transit system that isn’t horrible.

We spent our first day wandering the northern part of the city. The on-river walking path provided pleasant views of the downtown core. We checked out a couple breweries in the Fortitude Valley neighbourhood. Our lunch stop at Soapbox Beer helped us discover that Australia has amazing fish n’ chips – especially when done with barramundi.


IMG_0097_blog The next day we walked through the Roma Street Parklands, which included a “fern gully” and at least one Australia-sized spider. We briefly stopped at the Queensland Museum and were impressed by the strangely large collection of taxidermy. We didn’t last long at the museum partly due to the overwhelming number of children on school holidays.

That night we witnessed our very first Aussie Rules football game. The sport is similar to rugby but involves a lot more kicking. Thankfully we watched a video before the match to help us understand the rules. The Collingwood Magpies absolutely obliterated the Brisbane Lions to a sold-out crowd of 34,000. Following the match we joined many other fans on the field to kick a football around with Wendy’s friend Gerry and her family.

The weekend was quite rainy so we aimed to stay indoors most of the time. Unfortunately on Good Friday that meant staying inside the hostel because everything was closed for the holiday. On Saturday we visited the Gallery of Modern Art which was hosting the Asia Pacific Triennial. There were some very impressive works by artists from Australia, New Zealand, and a handful of Asian countries, and we were pleasantly surprised that free access is given to such a large collection.

Elaborate house of miniatures by an Indonesian artist, reflecting on urban density and housing shortages.

Finally we met up with Dan’s friend Liz and her partner Clint for a couple beers in the West End neighbourhood, strolling between watering holes in between sporadic downpours.


Melbourne and the Marsupials

Prior to arriving in Australia, we had heard people compare Sydney to Toronto and Melbourne to Montreal. While we did not make it to Sydney, we can confirm that Melbourne feels plenty like Montreal: it’s a very international city with tons of good restaurants and bars, an active live music scene, neat-looking old homes, and plenty of art galleries.

On our first full day, we caught the train out to the suburb of Ballarat to visit Belinda, Wendy’s friend from camp. Ballarat was an old gold rush town and features some period-related tourist attractions, but we were far more concerned with seeing marsupials so we headed straight to the Ballarat Wildlife Park.

Kangaroos look weird when they nurse.

Back in the city, we took in some culture at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Koorie Heritage Trust, the Centre for Contemporary Photography, and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. At the Centre for Contemporary Art, an exhibit from Tom Nicholson presented the controversial history of Melbourne’s land being “traded” to John Batman – it seems he forged aboriginal chiefs’ signatures on a treaty to give himself full rights to the land. It was cool to learn about local history while appreciating local art.

One night we went out to the Horse Bazaar bar for an electro/funk/drum & bass show. We caught B-Syde, Mr. Manifold and the Resolution, and The Substance, all of whom put on great sets. B-Syde mentioned the decline of Sydney’s live music and nightlife so he was happy to be performing in Melbourne. We since read that lock-out laws have lead to a 40% drop in live music revenue and venues are being forced to shut down – even the Tiger Air in-flight magazine commented on Sydney’s “nosediving nightlife”.

We had read in a list of free things to do in Melbourne that penguins can be spotted from the pier at St. Kilda. After missing out in New Zealand, Dan insisted that we catch the tram out to this suburb on Sunday evening.

St. Kilda

We sat among the crowd waiting for the penguins to return to the rocks at dusk, and were able to spot a few swimming by.

While in the city we made sure to sample a few of Australia’s culinary specialities. We grabbed a delicious lamb and rosemary meat pie from the Queen Victoria Market. We also sampled Australia’s favourite late-night post-bar delicacy: the Halal Snack Pack. The HSP is a plate of chips (fries) covered in donair or kebab meat, and then slathered in your choice of sauces, with garlic/chili/BBQ being a popular combo.

We also made an effort to check out a few of Melbourne’s breweries. We were impressed by the IPAs from Fixation and had fun hanging out and sampling brews at The Mill.

One more similarity to Montreal was the availability of natural wine, something we had not come across much this year. On our last night in Melbourne we enjoyed some excellent fried chicken and funky wines from Belle’s.




Passport Patience in Petone

While waiting for Dan’s new passport to arrive, we settled into a cheap Air BnB in Petone (pronounced Pay-toe-nay), a suburb of Wellington. We used this down time (and the lousy weather) to catch up on internet chores, read books, watch movies, and cook in a kitchen with fewer than five other guests bumping into you.

Once the rain cleared, we had a nice view of Wellington Harbour and explored one of the nature trails nearby.

Wellington Harbour seen from our Air BnB.
Korokoro Dam, built to increase water pressure to fight fires in Petone back in the day.
We even found our first real-world Hobbit Hole!

In the end, Dan’s passport arrived in less than two weeks. We missed the time we had planned in Sydney, but were able to catch a flight to Melbourne.

“Fly, you fools!”

Back in the Van – Part 2

While Dan met with the Canadian High Commission in Wellington to plead for a new passport as soon as humanly possible, Wendy took a day trip to Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula outside Christchurch. She walked through the Hinewai Reserve, admiring the beautiful views of the bay and ocean coast.

Wendy was given custody of Jean LeCastor for the day so she could take him on the Hinewai hike.

With the passport application submitted, Dan flew back to Christchurch on Saturday March 30 and we drove up the East Coast to Marlborough. We arbitrarily chose a convenient campsite in Rarangi, and were informed by the host upon arrival that there were a couple caves nearby with glowworms – a New Zealand phenomenon that we thought we were going to miss.

Our phone cameras are not suited to taking the long-exposure shots necessary to appreciate the glowworms. However if we shine a light on them, we can see the sticky silk threads they deploy to capture prey.

Taking advantage of the sunny Sunday skies, we drove up into Marlborough Sounds and hiked up to a lookout by Mistletoe Bay. The highway is very narrow and winding, reminding us of the Highway 1 drive down the California coast.

Monday morning was rather gloomy, so we absconded to the vineyards to sample a few Marlborough wines. We visited Lawson’s Dry Hills, Clos Henri, Huia, and No. 1 Family Estate, all of whom had some delicious wines on offer. The Sauvignon Blanc from Huia was a unique example for the region and the bubbles from No. 1 lived up to the name.

The skies cleared as we wrapped up our vineyard tour.

We had to return the van by Wednesday so on Tuesday we continued the drive back down the East Coast.  We stopped for a lunch break in Kaikoura, where we went for a short walk up to a lookout and then out on the shore before the rain threatened to return.

Point Kean Viewpoint. There are probably some seals hiding in this shot.

We made it back to Christchurch ready for a hot shower and a real bed indoors. We have since flown back to Wellington and are currently awaiting the arrival of Dan’s new passport.

Screenshot 2019-04-08 at 10.02.22 AM
Our failed attempt at circumnavigating the South Island