Another drive, another ferry, another Island. We left Islay for the mainland and then on to the ferry for Mull, stopping by the tiny village of Crinan to eat seafood served by Basil Fawlty on the way. The wharf at Oban was as far as we could venture at this stage of the trip. We would have a chance to look properly when we came back.
Way back in 2011 my Mum & Rod showed me a documentary on Jura Distillery in Scotland. Days later I had ordered a bottle of Jura Origin and shared it between 8 of us. I fell in love with the whisky and knew that one day I would have to go to the source.
For me this is when the idea to go to Scotland and see distilleries first started. Wanting to visit Jura was certainly one of the major deciding factors in doing a self drive tour instead of an official guide lead tour as none of those deemed Jura an Island worth visiting.
Though I was still pretty sick when we visited Jura I had a little of my taste back. We booked a tour and drove the island until it was time, taking in the fairly barren landscape and completely failing to spot any of the 6000 deer that outnumber the people 30 to 1. In typically Kiwi fashion the woman who served us lunch had a sister living in Queenstown. Perhaps one day I will go back and have a chance to hike the area.
We had decided not to buy whisky that could be found in New Zealand but I couldn’t resist buying some after the tasting session. A bottle of the Diurach’s Own which is still unopened 7 months later. I’m sure this winter will be the right time.
I arrived in Glasgow feeling like I might die. I got a little sick before leaving for Melbourne, I got proper sick while in Melbourne, and then I had the worst flu I’ve ever experienced. All while travelling approximately 36 hours on planes and through the horror that is Dubai airport.
But, Glasgow! I was in the UK for the first time! And although our travel companions had their flight cancelled and we were unsure if they would make it in time for our connections to stay in tact it all worked out.
We left Glasgow after resting the night and drove to Bowmore on the Isle of Islay. On the way we walked the park at Balloch Castle near Loch Lomond, drank beer at the Fyne Ales Brewery (because you can take the girl out of Wellington but you can’t take the Wellington out of the girl), explored the 19th century Inverary Jail, destroyed any energy reserves I may have had by walking a hill to take in Tarbert Castle ruins, and finally caught the ferry over to Islay where a bath and a night trying to sleep upright while sitting in a chair in order to keep my airways open awaited. Good times.
What better reason to go to Scotland than a profound shared love of whisky? Brendan, his parents, and I went for that reason in August 2015. We visited 24 distilleries in two weeks while driving around the country, particularly the smoky Islay region and islands.
Scotland is notoriously grey and rainy and though we visited in high season we weren’t spared those grey rainy days. There was however a lot of sun interspersed meaning that the fields were incredibly green and the flower baskets that hung absolutely everywhere were always bright and shiny.
Reykjavik reminds me of Wellington in a few ways. There is great street art and the people can be very sarcastic and ironic, it was nice to share inside jokes in a foreign country. We’re both laughing at this ignorant tourist, haha.
Art transcends language but it really helps when everyone has learnt your native tongue at school.
Words by Brendan Schenk
Before leaving there were high hopes for Vancouver. There’s just something about Canada that is quite alluring. If you forget that the government is yet another one packed full of right-wing morons bent on short term gain, the country has a charm much like New Zealand
Vancouver is a cool place. The people are really friendly. Even the bus drivers greeted us warmly every time. In Wellington that is unheard of.
The food scene is great, hell I even found a good coffee there. We stayed in the West End, which is gay-friendly central. Decorating the street were rainbow flags, and one crossing in particular used the flag instead of zebra stripes on the road. There was a parade a while back that blocked of a section of the street, which was turned into a pedestrian area with benches and tables. They decided to keep it that way. The city is massive, but our location was great. It was a short walk (a few blocks) to any of the shopping areas we wanted to hit. Just around the corner there was a community garden filling up an empty lot. Around the other corner the city changed completely as everything became residential; Amazing houses on tree-lined streets, it was hard to believe that the bustling city was all around you.
The public transport was easy and efficient; though my sister, who lived there at the time, didn’t happen to think so. Compared to what we have in Wellington, it was a breeze. Getting anywhere we wanted to go was a piece of cake. So we explored.
The Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park was fantastic. It is home to two beluga whales, and two rescued pacific white sided dolphins. Their rescue program is awesome. There’s a wall of cute pictures of the various animals they’ve helped over time, matched with equally awesome names such as Wellington the seal, or Dumbledore the other seal. I mention the cetaceans as they are the main attraction, given that there are two shows each a day showing off their various skills in the water. You can also see seals, porpoises, sea lions, sea otters, heaps of frogs, reptiles, tropical fish, and jellyfish. Tonnes of jellyfish. When we visited they were doing a special focus on the gelatinous creatures.
After our tour of the aquarium we walked through Stanley park all the way back to our apartment. Despite its size the city is walkable, if you don’t have too many other places to go.
Granville island was also really cool. There’s a huge market there open every day, filled with butchers, fruit stands, spice stalls, anything you can think of. Living near there would mean no supermarket shopping ever. Outside they have amplified buskers performing everyday. As such, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but the atmosphere is pretty great. The Granville Island Brewery is easy to find, and you can sample a range of their products. The beer was good, unfortunately the bartender was a bit of a dick.
We took a ferry to north Vancouver at night to see the skyline from across the bay. We also visited Gastown, another area of the city that stands out from the rest, where a lot of colonial buildings still stand. The downside is there’s a tacky souvenir shop every second door, but it’s still nice to walk around. Near to there is Chinatown where there are some fantastic gardens. Unfortunately there was some big movie being shot in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen garden, but there’s a free one around the other side that you can stroll around.
As far as shopping goes the city has everything if you know where to look. There is some great op-shopping to be had down commercial drive. You can find brand stores on Howe Street. I’m sure there are other spots out there.
We also visited Kitsilano, where my sister was staying, but only got a feel for the residential area, which is nice. There’s a beach nearby that would be awesome in the summer. A unique feature is the rows of large logs lined up on the sand. In the little park area nearby there’s a tall totem pole worth looking at.
We only had four nights in Vancouver, but could have used more. The city is expensive, but who cares when you’re traveling.
I never thought the Tongariro Crossing was something I’d be capable of doing even if I wanted to. I guess 11 years in Wellington have trained my legs well.
When Kate decided she’d like to hike the crossing I signed up without much hesitation and I’m so glad I did! We spent the weekend at Discovery Lodge in National Park with views of Tongariro and Ruapehu and had the most glorious Saturday for the climb. I was prepared for crazy alpine weather if it hit us, but was quite pleased to not be blown around, rained on, or burnt to a crisp.
I owe a lot of my success and enjoyment of the 19.4km hike to walking poles. They were worth every single ounce of dignity I may have lost by looking so uncool, cause who was still able to lunge the next day? Me! (And then a couple of days later my knees gave out and I couldn’t walk well for two weeks, so I suppose the poles were worth even more than that because they kept my knees from giving out while I was actually on the trail.)