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Exploring the Outdoors of Lower Hutt

Lower Hutt, east of Wellington, is surrounded on all sides by beautiful natural heritage, providing plenty of options for those who love exploring the outdoors.

Less than 20 minutes away from the centre of Lower Hutt is Belmont Regional Park. This stunning, diverse park is criss-crossed by 10 walking tracks and also has great mountain biking and horse riding trails. For the history buffs, Belmont Regional Park is also home to a stunning multi-step waterfall at Korokoro Dam, plus ammunition stores from World War II and the original main coach road out of Wellington. It’s a big park, and with so much to choose from, it’s a good idea to plan your trip.

Image by David Tressler  @photopraphic_stills

For another great day trip, families should head out to Rimutaka Forest Park (a beautiful hour and half drive from Lower Hutt) and take the Orongorongo Track, the park’s most popular walking trail. This easy 5.2km track winds through the damp podocarp and broadleaf forests along the Catchpool Stream, before opening out into stands of beech as the track breaches the saddle between the valley and the river. Apart from a wide variety of native trees and plants along the way, visitors can also take a dip at the Turere Stream swimming holes at the end of the track. The walk starts and ends at the Catchpool carpark and is about two hours one way. For something a little less taxing, take the 30 minute Catchpool Loop Walk, which starts just below the carpark. Matiu/Somes Island, the largest island in Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington Harbour, is an easy day trip from Lower Hutt. East West Ferries depart regularly from Days Bay (about 20 minutes south of Lower Hutt) for Matui/Somes Island, where you can easily spend a day exploring, enjoying the views and learning about the island’s rich history: from continued use and importance to Māori tribes, to both human then animal quarantine station, to strategic military internment camps during both World Wars. Matiu/Somes Island is now being successfully restored to its original native state and is free from predators (rodents were cleared from the island in the 1990s). An easy walking track circumnavigates the island so you’ll be sure to see it all. Just make sure to pack enough food and water – there are no shops on the island.

Image by David Tressler @photopraphic_stills

If you’re looking for Lower Hutt accommodation central to all these activities and more, the Quality Inn Angus is an attractive option. With 75 rooms and suites, a welcoming reception, two excellent bars and a beautiful outdoor pool, all set amongst manicured formal gardens, this Lower Hutt accommodation option offers a wonderful setting to relax and unwind after all your walking and exploring. All rooms have internet access, Sky TV, tea and coffee making facilities, and those on upper levels have a private balcony, while those below open onto the gardens. Parking is free, and it’s also right near Westfield Queensgate, for shopping and eating alternatives, making Quality Inn Angus a fantastic Lower Hutt accommodation option.

Five ways to entertain the kids in and around Emerald

Emerald, inland from Rockhampton, is a great place to stop and explore the Central Highlands of Queensland. There’s plenty to do to keep the kids occupied, both in town and in the surrounding areas. These five activities are family friendly and will help you find the right balance for young and old.

Explore the Sapphire Gemfields
Jump in the car and drive west of Emerald for 45 minutes, and you’ll reach the Central Queensland Sapphire Gemfields. Covering 900 square kilometres and taking in towns such as Sapphire and Rubyvale, the gem fields are full of fun ways to fill a day. Get the kids to try their hands at gem fossicking: buy a bucket of wash and watch them sift their way through, looking for their very own gem. Staff can help with technique and identification to make sure no-one misses their treasure. Local galleries and shops have ample displays of locally-sourced gems for sale if you don’t happen to find your own. Underground mine tours (which can provide welcome respite from the heat) reveal what life was like for the pioneer miners searching for their fortune. If you happen to be in Sapphire after dark, check out the observatory and marvel at the number of stars visible in the outback night sky.

A day at the Lake
Fairbairn Dam, on Lake Maraboon (meaning ‘where the black ducks fly’) is a beautiful place to take a dip and have a picnic. If you’re a family of anglers, make sure you bring your rods and tackle, as the lake is stocked with eight species of fish including barramundi and yellow perch, as well as redclaw crayfish. It’s also a great spot to see water birds and kangaroos – visit around dawn and dusk for the most beautiful displays.

Make a splash at Emerald Aquatic Centre
When the heat gets too much, and you’re all tired of taking in the sights, head straight to the Emerald Aquatic Centre and cool off. With indoor and outdoor pools, slides, inflatables (during the holidays) and a shallow water park perfect for the toddlers, Emerald Aquatic Centre is the perfect place to chill out. Kiosk and BBQ facilities are available.

Stroll through Emerald Botanic Gardens Grab a coffee and while away a morning or afternoon at the beautiful Emerald Botanic Gardens. Meander through the 12 themed gardens and exhibits and learn more about the region’s natural heritage. Pack a picnic and enjoy relaxing on the lawns or let the little kids burn off some energy at the playground. Check out the Emerald Historic Railway Station This heritage listed timber building with beautiful wrought iron trimmings was built in 1900, one year after the recently-completed first Emerald Railway Station burnt to the ground. Take some great happy snaps along the pretty platform and admire the elaborate decorations.

Emerald Accommodation
If you’re staying in Emerald, accommodation is easy to find. But the Comfort Inn Midlander Emerald is hard to go past. With ten types of rooms to choose from, including serviced apartments with kitchenettes, you’re sure to find the Emerald accommodation you need. Enjoy complimentary Wi-Fi access, flatscreen TVs with Foxtel and air conditioning (a must in this region) – enquire about the rooms with covered outdoor areas with tables and chairs. Located in the heart of Emerald, the Comfort Inn Midlander Emerald is close to restaurants, cafes and pubs, but if you just want a night in, you can enjoy room service. The kids will love the outdoor saltwater pool – take a dip yourself and sit back and relax while they swim. For any family staying in the Central Highlands, Emerald accommodation doesn’t come much better than this.

Outdoor Enthusiasts in Gippsland

The Latrobe Valley attracts visitors with its rich gold rush heritage, stunning gardens and parklands and abundant opportunities to explore and enjoy the natural delights of Victoria’s Gippsland Plains.

Traralgon is the Latrobe Valley’s largest town, replete with stunning boulevards, lovingly tended formal gardens and parklands, and buzzing with eateries, bars, pubs and clubs. With plenty of great choices for accommodation Traralgon offers the natural pleasures of the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland region at large, all within easy day-tripping distance.

Tarra Bulga National Park – Australia, Victoria, Gippsland.

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Orchid lovers should head out to Morwell National Park, just a short drive away. Take the 2.3km Fosters Gully Nature Walk and look out for the more than 40 native orchid species found in the park. The walk starts and finishes at the Kerry Road picnic area, and should take about an hour. If you’re happy to travel further afield, Visit Victoria showcases some of the region’s best walks on its website.

Gippsland’s disused rail lines have been repurposed as cycling routes, allowing visitors to explore the region by bicycles. The Gippsland Plains Rail Trail follows the historic former rail line between Traralgon and Stratford (a total of 67km for the ultra-keen), passing through a number of towns along the way. The first section to Glengarry (10km) passes over four restored bridges, while the complete route to Stratford takes in floodplains, remnant red gum forest, farmland, wetlands and farmlands.

Experienced cyclists will enjoy the Traralgon to Tarra Bulga National Park road cycling trail. This sealed road ride will take you through 15km of open farmland before putting your thighs to work as you climb the mountain towards Tarra Bulga National Park. Take a few pit stops to enjoy the views over the Strzlecki Ranges and Loy Yang Power Station and open cut mine. As you near the park, you’ll become surrounded by temperate rainforest, towering Mountain Ash trees and the cool dampness of fern gullies. While getting here is challenging, the ride back to Traralgon is an easy downhill cruise. For other rides in the Gippsland region, check out Destination Gippsland’s excellent cycling brochure.

Accommodation Traralgon
Accommodation Traralgon is easy to come by. The four star Comfort Inn & Suites Latrobe offers visitors a choice of standard, superior or deluxe rooms, with all the luxuries you’d expect from a four-star hotel: free wifi, individual air con, cable TV and room service. If you spring for a deluxe king spa room or suite, you can relax in a private spa bath and ease those aching muscles. Guests also enjoy free parking, an onsite restaurant and lounge bar, and an outdoor heated pool. If golfing is your thing, then you’ll be pleased to discover the 18-hole course adjoining the hotel – complimentary for guests. With so much to offer, the Comfort Inn & Suites Latrobe is a great choice for visitors to the Gippsland Plains.

Waikato Mid-Winter Retro Fair

dreamstime_xs_57100401The Waikato Mid-Winter Retro Fair is Hamilton’s biggest retro fair where lovers of all things from 1950 to 1970 gather to appreciate, buy and sell classic pieces. The annual event now in its sixth year is open to people of all ages and will be held from 9am to 3pm on Saturday 30 July 2016 at Chartwell Cooperating Church (St Albans), 30 Comries Rd, Chartwell, Hamilton.

Retro Collectables
All things retro are considered things from the past that no longer seem modern, even if they are brand new yet have characteristics from the past. People love to add retro pieces to their homes as a talking point, to remind them of their childhood or just because they love it!

Waikato Mid-Winter Retro Fair Stall Holders
The Waikato Mid-Winter Retro Fair is an eclectic mix of fabulous stalls selling all sorts of retro items like vintage jewellery, clothing, furniture, homewares, kitchenalia, art, collectables, décor and pottery plus loads more. Just make sure you bring cash on the day, as many of the stall holders do not have eftpos.

Kulture Shock, a retro lifestyle shop in Rotorua that sells and buys, all things old and cool will have a stall at the fair. Their goods definitely fall into the retro, rockabilly, pin up and nostalgia category with men’s and ladies vintage clothing, furniture, tin toys and collectables. There is even a vintage hair salon at the shop!

Retro Addiction, coming all the way from Mt Albert, are all about furniture and collectables. With such an array of paintings, sculptures, art prints, coffee tables, sideboards and stools you’re sure to find a retro piece that suits your home. They’ve also got a great collection of nick knacks like books and records and classic kitchen pieces including cutlery and glassware. Plus there’s rare collectables like sewing machines, clocks, mirrors, suitcases and clothes.

Local shop Viva Vintage who specialise in recycled clothing and accessories will also be at the fair with velvet dresses, lavender bags crafted from rescued doilies, Italian mosaic brooches and a big collection of clip-on earrings plus hats, shoes and handbags.

Accommodation in Hamilton
Located in the heart of Hamilton, just 10 minutes from the Waikato Mid-Winter Retro Fair is the Quality Hotel Ambassador, a perfect place to stay while you’re exploring all that Hamilton has to offer. The Hamilton accommodation offers modern rooms, an outdoor swimming pool, bar, coffee shop and free wireless high speed internet access.

If you’d prefer to stay in eco-friendly accommodation, the Clarion Suites Ambassador is located close by. The first-class accommodation in Hamilton has been designed and built to ensure minimal impact on the environment. Each of the self-contained studio suites are linked to a state of the art self-sufficient water system that collects rainwater and purifies it for use. The Hamilton accommodation also offers an outdoor pool, hot tub, BBQ area, lounge and bar and free wireless high speed internet access.

Southland Festival of the Arts

dreamstime_xs_26315416Southland Festival of the Arts – Invercargill’s annual arts celebration
Each May, New Zealand’s southernmost city, Invercargill, comes alive with a month-long celebration of the arts.

Since 2009, the Southland Festival of the Arts has delivered a diverse program of events that has included everything from yarn bombing in a local street, to a comedy show on Steward Island, a solo circus performance and a six-hour pop-up, multi-art exhibition in the heart of Invercargill’s CBD.

These innovative, unusual events are complemented by more traditional performances – theatre, cabaret, dance and music – as well as visual art exhibitions, all taking place in various venues around town. Daily performances and shows mean there’s always something to see.

The festival attracts local and international acts. A highlight of the 2016 program was a one-night-only performance by the Modern Māori Quartet, who delighted audiences with modern renditions of classic Māori show band tunes. The Ensõ String Quartet, a Grammy-nominated string outfit from New York, performed an evening of chamber music and the festival also hosted the world premiere of Fool to Cry, a play exploring the aftermath of the Rolling Stones’ 1965 concert in Invercargill.

Considered curation of the festival program ensures a variety of events are on offer, including for children and families, such as the 2016 performances of Death, Duck and the Tulip. This award-winning adaptation of the popular children’s book combines live theatre and puppetry to tell a gentle tale of an unlikely friendship, which can be enjoyed by all ages.

With more than 20 events in the month-long program, there are plenty of reasons to come back for more. A mix of ticketed and free events also means that even without cash to splash, you can still enjoy what the festival has to offer.

Funded by the Arts Council of New Zealand and supported by range of Southland businesses, the festival is well-attended by locals and visitors alike, with audience numbers increasing each year.

In 2015, the program was performed both in the CBD and out in the region, taking the festival further afield amongst the Southland communities, such as Te Anau, Riverton and Scottish Hall.

Invercargill accommodation close to the action
For visitors wanting to catch the festival in town, choosing Invercargill accommodation on Tay St is a great idea. The SIT Centrestage Theatre and the Southland Museum host a large number of the festival events, and both are within around five minutes’ walk of the Comfort Inn Tayesta. The ferry to Stewart Island is only 20 minutes away.

Choose from a studio, one or two bedroom unit. Each of the simple yet comfortably appointed rooms comes with a full kitchen or kitchenette and a cozy lounge/dining area. The Comfort Inn also offers all guests free Wi-Fi, Sky Guest Select cable with over 50 channels and free parking.

What’s more, Comfort Inn Tayesta is close to Invercargill’s best restaurants, many of which offer delicious local seafood, caught just off the Southland coast. For a lazy breakfast, you can enjoy a tasty cooked or continental breakfast delivered right to your room.

School Holidays in Wellington

dreamstime_xs_2551104With school holidays just around the corner, Wellington offers some fun creative learning activities great for the whole family.

Ride the Historic Wellington Cable Car
Dating back over 100 years, the Wellington Cable Car is a great way to see the city with kids of all ages. Grab an activity passport when you arrive and the kids can receive stamps throughout the day. On the way to the top, the historic ride has incorporated three stops and tunnels filled with interactive lighting displays. You’ll be blown away as the lights change for seasons, holidays and special events. Once at the top, set your eyes on the panoramic views of the city and harbour from a magnificent indoor and outdoor viewpoint.

Across from the lookout is the free entry Cable Car Museum with two of the original cable cars and the original winding mechanism that powered the grip cars for a good portion of a decade. The kids will love learning about the creation and history of the iconic transport system. Afterwards, the kids can run around in the Botanical Gardens where there is a great playground.

Zealandia Sanctuary in Karori
The fully-fenced, 225 hectare Eco sanctuary is the world’s first of its kind. Zealandia offers outstanding educational opportunities for kids of all ages. Their handson environment is great for young minds to grow alongside rare and endangered wildlife within the park. Take a guided tour along the canopy covered trails where birds, lizards and plants are discovered from their camouflaged surroundings. Take a moment to listen to the birds singing. Some of the birds were thought to have been absent from the mainland for a century. Night tours are available to catch a glimpse of nocturnal creatures roaming about. Zealandia even has a free five minute shuttle from the top of the Cable Car to easily accommodate your family filled day of activities.

Space Place at Carter Observatory
Located only a two minute walk from the top of the Cable Car, Space Place is one of New Zealand’s most prestigious astronomical artefacts. The kids will be astonished by the vast galaxy of stars presented on the full-dome planetarium showing a variety of informational shows to entice their intuitive minds. Point out star correlations like the Southern Cross or keep your eyes peeled for shooting stars. You could even adopt a star and for years on when you look up in the night sky you’ll remember the amazing time you spent in Wellington.

Wellington Accommodation
When ducking off for school holidays, you want a place that accommodates kids, while being relaxing from the chaotic hustle and bustle known as parenthood. When choosing Wellington accommodation it’s ideal to book something near restaurants and the main attractions on your itinerary. Maybe even consider a hotel with a kitchenette to make breakfast and snacks easily before heading out on your adventures. Furthermore, a hotel with a restaurant or bar might allow you to duck away for some much needed adult time.

For your next family getaway, look no further than Wellington to get your family out in the sun, embracing nature and learning about the stars.

Geelong Ghosts

Geelong is known for their complex historic background and buildings. Recently they started to reinvent these old, industrial spaces by transforming them into creative hubs, urban precincts and fabulous restaurants. From old mills, waterfront docks and even spooky gaols have been revamped into a fun, interesting and unique place to stay and play.

Geelong not only embraces their buildings, but their ghosts. Whether you are enticed by the history of the gaol or a scary thrill seeker intrigued by the unknown, Twisted History offers exciting tours that are a must for your next visit to Geelong.

Geelong Gaol
Standing three stories high built of stone and surrounded by a brick wall, the notoriously haunted Geelong Gaol was once the Industrial School for Girls in the 1850’s. The prison was occupied by murderers and lunatics in a high security block of over 100 cells before being decommissioned in 1991. It’s one of Australia’s most intact 19th century convict prisons that now hosts haunted tours seven days a week to the doubtful, curious and paranormal seeking fanatics.

Ghostly Tours
There are haunted houses and then there are haunted prisons. Are you willing to walk into an old, dark and historically frightening prison where convicts not only died, but were executed? Explore Old Geelong Gaol after dark and be haunted and entertained by the history behind the walls. The tour takes people back in time when men, women and even children once called the building home. Learn who some of the inmates were, what they committed in order to become a resident of the gaol and what they endured while they paid their time.

Ghost Investigations
The ghost investigation tours held within Geelong’s paranormal hotspots are thrilling for people who love watching horror movies or running into the darkness when there is a bang in the night. Imagine being equipped with night vision cameras, infrared goggles, laser grids, motion sensors and EMF detectors as you team up with specialists directing you to their locational findings.

The Geelong Gaol is known to Victorians as “The Prison of the Ill” due to the convicts having extreme illnesses. The tiny cells, lack of toilets and freezing cold conditions made this dungeon a spiritual breeding ground perfect for paranormal investigations. Whether you are just curious or a daredevil for the extremely twisted, there are different investigations to either give you a taste of the dark and spooky or a whole 9 hour night emerged in it.

Accommodation in Geelong
No matter the time of year, Geelong has many thrilling tours and investigations for those supernatural enthusiasts out there. The Comfort Inn Eastern Sands offers comfortable accommodation to relax and is centrally located in the heart of Geelong. The accommodation in Geelong is also walking distance from the beach, near the major shopping centre and next door to the newly renovated Lord Nelson Hotel. Even if a spook is what you’re after, enjoy a night’s rest is peace and comfort.

Dubbo in Spring

dreamstime_xs_25657934When it comes to springtime, Dubbo knows how to entertain with a jam packed event line-up to entertain all. Known as one of the friendliest destinations in New South Wales, Dubbo has a charm that leaves a lasting impression.

Markets
No one knows markets like Dubbo. They embrace and promote local businesses and produce to the fullest with a variety of markets happening almost weekly, if not more.

Dubbo Farmer’s market sets up in Macquarie Lion’s Park every 1st and 3rd Saturday month showcasing local produce, meat, bakeries, honey and jams from 8am to noon. A great way to start the day while getting something to eat and meeting the locals in their element.

Every 4th Sunday of the month from 8am to midday, Dubbo Rotunda Markets offer unique vintage art, décor, jewellery, baking and buskers amongst Dubbo’s shop fronts and coffee houses. The live music and smells of coffee and baked goods surround you with rich ambience, while the artistic treasures ignite your creative side.

On the 2nd Sunday morning of the month, the Riverside Markets line the Macquarie River with fresh produce, art and craft, collectables, plants, clothing, tools and both new and pre-loved toys.

This vibrant market atmosphere won’t disappoint and offers something for everyone to enjoy and even buy.

Dream Festival
Dream Festival is an annual event packed week of celebrating Dubbo’s creative community. The week is full of art exhibitions, workshops and community events entertaining for the whole family. The Dream Festival kicks off with Pianos on the Pavement, where local pianists share their love for music while sharing their keys with anyone who wants to join in.

On the Saturday, the Dream Twilight Markets and Lantern Parade are one of the highlights of the festival. The Twilight Markets starts in the afternoon with food stalls, fashion stalls and live music. Bring a blanket to picnic with your family or friends and for the adults there is a beer garden from local producers. Unique towering lanterns light the night at the Lantern Parade. The lanterns are created by locals leading up to the event and all the proceeds go to the Leukaemia Foundation. A week of fun for a great cause!

Horses for Courses
From racing to equestrian competitions to ranch herding and sorting, Dubbo is a town full of horse enthusiasts that show the diversity of skill and beauty in horses and their riders.

And they’re racing! One of the biggest parties of the year is Dubbo Derby Day from fashions on the field to a full day of racing fun. Turf Club’s Derby Day Classic Marquee is a great way to get out of the sun by sitting down to a buffet luncheon with all the amenities provided.

Dubbo Accommodation
Located west of Sydney in the heart of NSW, Dubbo is easily accessible by 3 major highways, daily train return services or direct flights into Dubbo Airport. With the majority of the town activities happening in the heart of Dubbo there are several ideal options for Dubbo accommodation. Whether you plan to incorporate spring events into your itinerary or have a day at the zoo, Dubbo accommodation offers a great base camp to rest up between the array of fun activities and local culture.

Bushwalking in Riccarton

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Exploring Christchurch’s Natural Beauty – On Foot
Christchurch is renowned as the city of gardens and many people make their way there for the simple pleasure of strolling through the many beautiful gardens and parks. So where is the best place to stay if you want to discover the city’s natural delights on foot? The Christchurch suburb of Riccarton is a great option. Sitting just to the west of central Christchurch, there are a number of stunning nature walks within easy strolling distance of Riccarton accommodation.

Christchurch Botanic Gardens
With numerous ornamental gardens and plenty of open space, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens is a stunning place for a wander. The helpful map allows you to design your own route to ensure you take in the seasonal highlights, such as the Central Rose Garden in summer and the magnolias and blossoms in spring. Don’t miss the fragrant garden, particularly for the vision impaired. In summer, a paddling pool is open for the kids to enjoy a splash. Spend as long as you like exploring; the paved, accessible paths make it easy for everyone to enjoy.

North and South Hagley Parks
Surrounding the Botanic Gardens are North and South Hagley Parks. Together, they form a 165 hectare expanse of green space in the heart of Christchurch. Criss-crossed with a network of walking tracks, the Hagley Parks are home to more than 3000 mature trees, the oldest of which were planted by early settlers.
Enjoy a picnic by one of the two lakes in summer, admire the gorgeous golden colours along Deans Avenue in autumn, or the bluebell meadows and Harper Avenue blossoms in spring. The 7km walk exploring both North and South Hagley Parks takes around two hours, but you could easily spend a whole day.

Riccarton Bush
The shady, accessible Riccarton Bush trail winds through the last remaining stand of Kahikatea trees in Christchurch. These massive, 600-year-old trees tower over the path, which is surrounded by an abundance of native New Zealand flora to spot. Leaving from and returning to Riccarton Bush House, this 2km walk takes about 40 minutes.

Riccarton Accommodation
For visitors wanting to explore Christchurch on foot, Comfort Inn Riccarton is the place to stay. Conveniently located on Riccarton Road, a mere 20 minute walk from Riccarton Bush and a further 20 minutes from Christchurch Botanic Gardens, this Riccarton accommodation option is perfect for those who want to be within walking distance of everything.

The modern, self-contained apartments are stylishly appointed and have all the modern comforts, including free Wi-Fi and Sky TV. Choose from studio, one to three bedroom apartments, or splurge on a spa suite.

The fully appointed kitchenettes have a microwave, bar fridge and even a Nescafe machine, and shopping centres are within strolling distance. If you don’t feel like self-catering, there are plenty of restaurants nearby for eat-in or take-away, and for breakfast you can have a continental or full breakfast delivered right to your room.