The Blog (archived)

Category: Travel

Lost: The Battle Of The Bra Fence

Monday, April 13, 2009

It may be a few years after the event, but I’ve finally learned that the Cardrona Bra Fence has been removed. Rules and political correctness have once again snuffed out something that dared to be different.

The Cardrona Bra Fence just prior to its removal
The fence back in the good old days … before the
fence-mounted brassiere was banned for our protection

The Cardrona Bra Fence was a section of farm fencing in rural New Zealand on which hundreds of womens’ bras had been hung. It began when four women each hung their bra on the fence as a new year celebration for the new millenium. In the succeding six years the bra population multiplied and it grew to be a unique tourist attraction, gaining worldwide attention (and frequent donations of underwear). I visited the quirky collection in August 2006 and blogged about it here, blissfully unaware that just two weeks after my visit the whole lot would be pulled down.

As you may imagine, the sight of hundreds of women’s undergarments hanging artistically from a roadside fence tended to polarise people. While an overwhelming majority viewed it positively, a few saw it as an eyesore, an embarrassment or a traffic hazard, and tried to have it removed. Some claimed it might offend Japanese students in Wanaka, 24km away.

After many unsuccessful legal challenges, and the burning of many bras (on the fence), it was found that the fence rested on public land. The Queenstown Lakes District council then stepped in and ordered the removal of the bras from the fence, declaring them to be an eyesore and traffic hazard. On September 9, 2006, the fence was stripped of over 1500 bras.

I toured the bra fence at its peak, and thought it was rather decorative. At the worst, it was no more unsightly than some of the other man-made structures in the region. Perhaps it could potentially have been a traffic hazard - maybe - but no more so than plenty of other roadside distractions which nobody seemed to be as concerned with. Oh well, at least the vocal minority no longer have to suffer the sight of a fence that didn’t look the same as every other fence.

The battle of the bra fence may have been lost, but I can take comfort in one thing. I was among the last privileged travellers to behold the spectacle of 1500 mammary support garments fluttering majestically in the breeze on a humble farmer’s fence.


Augusta Bakery Takes The Cake

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Augusta Bakery and Cafe, Western AustraliaOne of my all-time favourite bakeries is in Augusta, a pleasant small town on the southwest corner of Western Australia. Having not visited that part of the world for about four years, I recently returned to see if the bakery is still as good as it was, or even if it was still there.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, as small businesses seem to close or change ownership with alarming regularity, and even when they don’t, high standards can sometimes fall. The bakery at Augusta has been around since 1948, and I couldn’t imagine it going downhill, but in today’s economic climate longevity doesn’t always mean a lot.

Inside the Augusta BakerySo it was with relief as well as joy that I found the Augusta Bakery to not only still be there, but still up to the very high standard it maintained when I first started eating there. In the interests of thorough research I sampled from across their range, and enjoyed their superb wholegrain rolls (without any fillings) just as much as the mini quiche and the perfect caramel tart. My original request for “One of everything, please” wasn’t taken seriously by the staff, which was for the best - the variety is large, as my belly would have been if I’d sampled everything!

The bakery has a small cafe attached which serves its own creations (which I didn’t try) as well as the bakery goods. As if the food isn’t enough, delectible edibles can be enjoyed with a coffee while gazing out the panoramic windows at the view over Flinders Bay. It’s a winning combination which deserves to succeed and endure.

Paper bag from Augusta BakeryThe only change I noticed is that the Augusta Bakery now uses paper bags with their name printed on them, rather than plain unmarked bags. As a collector of printed bakery bags, it was pleasing to at last have a decent bag from my favourite bakery to add to my collection. You could say it was the icing on the cake … or the chocolate on the eclair.


Lightweight One-Bag Winter Travel Challenge

Monday, August 11, 2008

Travelling light is growing in popularity, especially using a single bag which qualifies as airline carry-on luggage. But is travelling this light really practical for a winter trip needing bulky warm clothing and hiking gear? To find out, I took up the challenge on a recent trip to Tasmania.

There are some good websites with great tips on one-bag travel (see links below). However they seem to be geared mainly to people travelling in mild climates (or in summer), staying in hotels, and doing typical sightseeing. They address challenges like keeping a smart shirt uncreased, but little is said about budget travel in winter, or how to travel light with bulky blizzard-proof hiking clothes. You could be excused for thinking that such travel is not considered lightweight.

My goal was to meet airline carry-on limits AND have sufficient gear to survive winter hiking in Tasmania. As well as personal effects for three weeks, I needed clothing to keep me warm in temperatures down to -10°C, plus protective jacket and pants to keep me dry in driving rain or snow and gale force winds. It all needed to fit Virgin Blue’s carry-on luggage restrictions of a single 105cm bag (19 x 13 x 9 inches) weighing up to 7kg (15.4 lb) plus one personal item.

Getting all the needed gear to fit this size was tricky … but it worked! In the end I took a total of 8kg. By carrying my wool jacket as a personal item, and wearing my camera and PDA in various pockets, the bag was kept to 7kg. I enjoyed temperatures down to -10°C, went walking in snowstorms, and had enough gear in my little bag to keep me warm and dry.

Warm clothing - looseSo how did it all fit? The key was squashing the bulky clothing in a compression sack - a small sack normally used to store a sleeping bag, with straps on the outside which enable it to be tightly compressed. I folded all the warm clothing (gloves, hat, thermals, jumper, fleece vest and pants, goretex pants and jacket), stacked it in a brick-shaped pile inside the compression sack, then pulled the straps very tightly to squash it into a small, dense package. Chucked in loose, this clothing would have filled most of my carry-on bag, but when compressed it neatly fit one end - the photos show the difference.

Warm clothing - compressedI confess that I didn’t need to take a sleeping bag, which helped (one was provided with the campervan). A sleeping bag could have fitted - but at the expense of a slightly larger carry-on bag (the maximum allowed), and the leaving behind of the goretex jacket and pants. Lightweight one-bag cold weather travel would still have been possible with a sleeping bag as long as hiking in wind and rain, or blizzards, wasn’t on the agenda.

Those interested/obsessed in the details can view my packing list (which shows item weights in grams). See it not as a packing guide, but rather just as an example of what worked for me. Your needs will differ from mine. For example, I am a short haired male with no need for hair care items or cosmetics. I grew a beard and left my shaver at home. My mobile phone also stayed at home (it is possible to survive without one!), and I didn’t go anywhere requiring dressy clothing.

Having found that cold weather budget travel can be done with one lightweight carry-on bag, I don’t think I could go back to carrying heavy loads … unless I needed special gear like camping equipment or snowshoes. Besides the practical benefits, it felt liberating to travel with such a small load and yet still have with me everything I really needed.

Some good websites about lightweight one-bag travel:
One Bag - the art and science of travelling light
One Bag, One World - tips & techniques for light travellers
The Travelite FAQ - travel packing tips


How to Travel Differently - Part 5

Monday, March 26, 2007

Part Five in a series of tips for flexible non-conformist independent travellers:

Use minor back roads instead of highways

A back road near Pemberton, Western AustraliaThe idea of taking the road less travelled is nothing new, but the majority of people, when travelling from A to B, still tend to follow main roads. This is often the logical and sensible choice, and sometimes the only choice. If, however, there are alternatives to the main routes and you have the freedom to choose, taking a less used back road can lead to unexpected delights, and the joy of “discovering” places that seem unspoiled compared to places on the well trodden paths.

Other benefits are less traffic, fewer people, and the tendency of minor roads to be more scenic than the busy highways. Downsides may include fewer facilities and a lower standard of road, so planning is more important. Also the journey will probably take longer, but if you’re on holiday and enjoying the drive that shouldn’t matter.

My most memorable example of this occurred when driving from Melbourne to Mansfield in southeast Australia. The obvious route would have been the Maroondah Highway, but on the map I noticed a minor road (between Warburton and Jamieson) which looked more interesting. I chose this less travelled route and enjoyed a lovely winding gravel road through remote mountains and forests, historic abandoned mining sites, and a couple of tiny settlements that appeared to have changed little since the gold rush days. I felt like I had travelled back in time, and dug up treasure! Another delightful find was the back road between southern Canberra and Adaminaby - a bit rough in places and prone to snow, but a much more scenic alternative to the well used highway through Cooma.

All you need is your own transport, a decent map, and the curiosity to go beyond where everybody else goes. Not knowing what you’ll find can make the journey more interesting, and even if the back road turns out to be ordinary, it will still get you to where you were going anyway!


How to Travel Differently - Part 4

Friday, March 9, 2007

Part Four in a series of tips for flexible non-conformist independent travellers:

Plan to have occasional camera-free days where possible

Cameras are fantastic for capturing memories and documenting a holiday. On a short trip, visiting different places every day, it makes sense to always have a camera handy. On a longer trip, however, it’s likely that not every day will be spent seeing new sights that need to be recorded. Leaving the camera behind on these odd occasions can actually enhance the enjoyment of a holiday.

This is because we see things differently when continually alert for photo opportunities. Even when using cameras in moderation the time spent taking photos - or contemplating the taking of photos - can get in the way of fully experiencing the place or activity being photographed. Just how much cameras can intrude on our enjoyment of the moment is only apparent by going camera-free and feeling the difference.

I first noticed this on a ski holiday over 10 years ago. Carrying both video and still cameras got in the way of skiing, and the time and energy spent using the cameras detracted from the very activity I was there to enjoy, so I made a point of only taking the gear once to each area I visited. Having the images to look back on is great, but so are the memories of the camera-free days, which were the most enjoyable. Since then I’ve made a regular habit of leaving the camera behind occasionally … and it’s strangely liberating. It leaves you free to study the scenery more intensely with the naked eye, soak up the sights, sounds, smells and feelings of a place without being distracted by the process of documenting it, or even the subconscious thoughts of documenting it.

Even if you only get to visit a photogenic spot once, try getting the photography done then put the camera away. Capture the scene through a lens, but also make the time to fully soak it up through your eyes and other senses too … vivid memories are the best souvenirs!


How to Travel Differently - Part 3

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Part Three in a series of tips for flexible non-conformist independent travellers:

Avoid must-do tourist activities (unless you really do want to do them)

In other words, be selective about what tours you go on, which sites you visit, and which activities you pay to enjoy (or endure). Don’t just do something because “everybody else is doing it” or because the guidebooks and brochures urge you to do it.

Remember that tourism is an industry, in which entrepreneurs are trying to sell products (activities and experiences) to customers (you, the traveller). Like other industries, some sellers are motivated by a genuine desire to please their customers, while others are in it just to make money … and will provide whatever activities they think they can persuade people to pay for. Ask yourself - is this activity something I particularly want to do, and will enjoy, or will my time and money be better spent doing something else?

The South Island of New Zealand is a great example of a vast smorgasbord of expensive activities for tourists. Some of them are excellent and deserve to be on everybody’s itinerary, but others have cheaper alternatives. In the eight weeks I spent there last year I only took part in four paid-for tourist activities and had a great holiday without feeling that I’d missed anything. Two of them were the boat trip on Milford Sound and whale watching at Kaikoura - “must-do” activities which I’d happily do again. Also a jet boat ride up any river is a great kiwi experience, but instead of doing it at Queenstown where it seems almost everyone else does it, I chose a better-value and more wilderness-like alternative in the Matukituki Valley.

zs060730-24.jpgHowever, in Christchurch I gave the heavily promoted gondola ride up the port hills a miss, instead visiting the same location - and many others - by hire car. All the brochures urged tourists to visit the Antarctic Centre (for a fee); instead I visited the Antarctic exhibits at the Canterbury Museum (free), and from what I heard it was probably more interesting for adults. I didn’t pay to visit any wildlife parks either - I found a free sanctuary for endangered birds near Te Anau, and saw some native wildlife out in the wild (such as this Weka on Stewart Island, pictured).

Many things that people pay to see on a tour can be explored just as well by anyone with a map and a hire car - with a little homework and maybe some exercise you can save a lot of money, and have time to linger.


How to Travel Differently - Part 1

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Travel is a wonderful privilege and a great adventure, but it’s all too easy to conform to the scripted role of tourist and stick to the popular routes, itineraries and activities. There’s nothing wrong with that: popular sights are usually popular because they’re worth seeing! But travel can be enriched by straying from the well trodden paths. Here in this blog I plan to share some tips that have enhanced my own holidays; the first one here, more to come as I think of them.

Part One in my series of tips for flexible non-conformist independent travellers:

Avoid Centrally Located Accomodation

This may not be suitable when transport is a problem, and will not suit party animals who need to be within staggering distance of pubs and clubs. But for others, staying out of town can have advantages.

In most towns or cities that I’ve been to, accommodation is concentrated near the city centre. Most people want the “convenience” of a central location, most organised tours use central accommodation, and guidebooks focus their efforts on listing these places. The result - centrally located accommodation can be crowded, noisy and is usually more expensive.

By staying somewhere out of town - and it doesn’t have to be far - you can normally avoid the crowds and enjoy a more peaceful location. It may be safer at night too, and costs may be lower. Visiting a city centre may require commuting, but by doing this you’re mingling with the natives (or the traffic!) and seeing more of the place, and more from the perspective of a resident than a visitor.

View from Moana Lodge, Plimmerton, New ZealandAs an example, when I visited Wellington in New Zealand last year I avoided the city centre accommodation and stayed in a backpacker hostel (Moana Lodge) in the coastal suburb of Plimmerton. It was cheaper, right by the sea, and in a pleasant area with good views along the coast (pictured; nicer than the views of neighbouring buildings from city accommodation) and not a tourist in sight.

Similarly, when in Christchurch I stayed in an uncrowded hostel 20 minutes walk from the city centre, in a quiet area near a park. In crowded and booked-out Queenstown I found cheaper and more pleasant accommodation in a holiday park near Arthurs point; a world away but only a five minute commute by hire car. I’ve found better accommodation out of town at many other places in Australia, NZ, and America. In fact these days, unless its a very small town, I only stay in central locations if I can’t find anywhere suitable further out!


Accomodation Highlights of New Zealand

Friday, November 24, 2006

For me, accomodation on a long trip has to be cheap (otherwise I can’t afford a long trip). However, these days I desire greater comfort levels than I used to endure as a young backpacker. These opposing objectives were satisfied very well on my recent New Zealand trip by some great places to stay, which I feel are worth mentioning.

One was the BBH backpacker hostels chain, which boasts over 350 of the best hostels in the country. Many of these (not all) offer single rooms and real beds (not bunks), so you can enjoy the space, privacy and security of having your own room, while still enjoying the budget price, good facilities and sociableness that backpacker hostels are famous for. My favourites were Dorset House in Christchurch, Neptunes in Greymouth, and Moana Lodge in Plimmerton (Wellington).

zo060822-01.jpgMy other discovery was holiday parks (known also as motor camps, caravan parks, RV parks, campgrounds, etc). New Zealand abounds in them, but the Top 10 Holiday Parks chain generally have the cleanest and best facilities. They cater for caravans and motor homes, but also offer motel units, cabins and tent sites, with communal kitchens and ablution buildings … as their website says, “a bed for every budget”. In my travels I stayed in many cabins, which were similar to having a single room at a hostel. One main difference is the clientele. Whereas backpacker hostels are mostly used by foreign visitors, holiday parks are used more by locals exploring their own country … a good way to mingle with the natives! Two of my favourites were at Pohara (on the beach in Golden Bay), and Arthur’s Point (pictured, peace and quiet just 5 mins drive outside bustling Queenstown).

Thanks to these hostels and cabins I stayed in some awesome locations, mingled with interesting people, and kept my costs within budget - without once having to sleep on a bunk bed or share a room with snoring strangers.


Business Neighbours

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Passing through Darfield in New Zealand, I noticed a ski and snowboard shop and a chiropractor occupying the same building, as neighbours (pictured). I wondered about the juxtaposition of these two businesses … coincidence, or a symbiotic business strategy?

It amused me because skiing and snowboarding are not good for the back - my past ski trips were usually followed by chiropractor visits to rectify the damage done by skiing. Maybe the chiropractor set up shop next to the ski shop to take advantage of skiers returning rental gear with sore backs. Perhaps not, but it wouldn’t be any different from pharmacies (drug stores to you Americans) being located in medical centres near a supply of patients who have been prescribed drugs.

It made me wonder what other complementary businesses might become neighbours … McDonalds and Weight Watchers?


The Cardrona Bra Fence

Sunday, August 27, 2006

People do some odd things, don’t they? Recently I came upon a stretch of fence which has been decorated with hundreds of women’s bras -just hanging from the barbed wire, for no obvious reason. It has become widely known as the Cardrona Bra Fence, and is located on the Cardrona Valley road south of Wanaka in New Zealand, near the snow farm turn-off.

It apparently started when four women each removed their bra and hung it on the fence after leaving the nearby Cardrona Hotel one evening prior to new year’s eve 2000. It was their way of bringing in the new century with a bit of humour, but the sight of bras on a fence inspired many others to follow suit, and the underwear collection underwent a great enlargement. More details are on the snow farm’s website.

Hundreds of bras hanging from a fence. Its not logical or practical and serves no useful function … but is delightfully quirky and hints at the diversity of ways in which humans can be creative and humorous.


Furthest South

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Ernest Shackleton’s furthest south was latitude 88° 23′. Amundsen and Scott made it all the way to the pole. I can’t compete with that, but I can claim to have drunk coffee in the world’s southernmost Starbucks cafe, and to have visited the most southerly McDonalds in the world.

Both are located in the city of Invercargill, on the south coast of New Zealand’s south island. Apart from Antarctica, only the southern end of South America and some lightly populated islands lie further south than this.

I visited one such island - Stewart Island. Only a 20 minute flight south of Invercargill but a world away, and visited by relatively few overseas tourists (that was part of its attraction to me). It was pristine primeval forest, prolific birdlife, beaches without footprints, and unpopulated hiking tracks. And unless I fulfill my dream of visiting Antarctica, it was also the furthest south I am ever likely to go.


Lost in Wonder

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A while back I heard someone speak about the importance of maintaining a child-like sense of wonder at the world around us, as opposed to becoming blase and taking everything for granted, as adults are inclined to do. This can be difficult when immersed in the routines of life, doing and seeing the same things every day.

To contemplate and appreciate the amazing things about our world may require a conscious effort … or a holiday. In my case its the latter - I’m travelling in New Zealand’s south island, where there is much to be impressed by. The awesome scenery is captivating. The pink glow of snowy peaks after sunset gets me thinking “wow!”, as did the power of a sudden hailstorm the other day. While in Lake Tekapo I visited the Mt John observatory at night, and was impressed by some amazing celestial sights. The night sky was the clearest and starriest I think I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen lots of clear skies in inland Australia) - I could have stared at it for hours.

Wonders aren’t confined to the natural world. At the observatory the next day I learned about the MOA project, in which a sophisticated telescope (pictured) uses gravitational microlensing (which I won’t attempt to explain) to detect planets around distant stars. Its cutting edge stuff, and filled me with a sense of wonder at the technology, the geniuses that can do these things, not to mention the scale of the universe.

We are all surrounded with things, both human and of nature, which are impressive and amazing. Lets be like little children and allow our curiosity to get us lost in wonder at them. Its liberating, adds colour to life, and only needs a change of mindset. A holiday just makes it a bit easier.