Saturday, January 21

The Wonderful World of Hong Kong

Regular readers of this blog will know that I've visited Hong Kong many times over the last 15 years. Its been a regular destination for business trips and a convenient stopover for numerous long haul flights between Europe and Australia.  Over the years its become harder and harder to find anything new to enjoy in the city whenever I find myself stuck in a hotel room for days on end.

I recently flew to Hong Kong for three nights to attend the annual Hong Kong Toy Fair. It was literally a flying visit to catch up with several key suppliers and search for new products.  I flew to Hong Kong via Melbourne on Saturday morning.  This rather unusual route let me to take advantage of a discount Premium Economy airfare and save the company several hundred dollars.

I use to fly to Hong Kong via Melbourne regularly for business. For many years this route offered the only night flight into Hong Kong with Qantas. However, it was never a very pleasant trip. The Qantas lounge in Melbourne is the worst of any capital city in Australia. This meant that the late night transfer was never much fun regardless of whether you sat it out in lounge or at the departure gate.

I had originally planned to have dinner on the Sunday evening with one of our suppliers.  However, the meeting was rescheduled shortly after I booked my ticket. As a result, I found myself in Hong Kong with a day to spare.  After a few hours of pounding the laptop in the name of customer service I finally ventured out to explore two local venues I'd never visited.

My itinerary for the day included Lamma Island followed by an evening at Hong Kong Disneyland. These are probably two of Hong Kong's most well known tourist traps so its probably not surprising its taken me so long to finally visit them.  Lamma Island is famous for its seafood restaurants.  The island has two clusters of dining establishments; located on opposite sides of the island.

The smaller of these two locations is Sok Kwu Wan. Boats from Hong Kong island dock here less frequently which means its often a quieter, less crowded place to dine.  I decided to give it a try rather than head for the crowds at Shue Wan. However, upon arrival I must admit I wasn't overly impressed by any of the dining venues. On a whim I decided to walk across the island and try my luck in Shue Wan.  

The cross island walk takes about 1.5 hours and covers a distance of about 8km. Unlike most "bush walks" the track is actually a concrete paved trail for most of its length. Much of the track is shaded which makes it a less arduous trek in Hong Kong's often steamy climate.  It also offers plenty of scenic vantage points which by Hong Kong standards are relatively free of humanity's visual clutter.

As I reached Shue Wan I found myself equally unimpressed by the dining options available.  I'm sure if you're a local you know which restaurants offer the best seafood.  However, for the uninitiated its main street filled with ramshackle venues simply felt like the perfect breeding ground for a nasty dose of botulism.  I decided to skip a late lunch and try my luck with an early dinner at Disneyland.

They say Hong Kong Disneyland is the Disney Corporation's smallest theme park.  However, my visit seemed to be perfectly timed as the crowds were relatively light.  Waiting times for rides were generally less than ten minutes and I never felt jostled by the surrounding crowd.  I had a wonderful evening reliving some of my favourite Disneyland rides. The only disappointment?  It's A Small World was closed for a private function. I simply love this uber kitsch ride with its stereotype cultural figurines and clunky robotic icons. 

I stayed in the park until the night time parade down Main Street, followed by the popular firework's display over Sleeping Beauty's castle. It was an iconic experience that left me with a childish grin from ear to ear. I still remember watching the opening credits for the Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday evenings. Tinkerbell use to fly around the castle setting off fireworks with a wave of her magic wand. Disneyland's display does a pretty decent job of bringing this cartoon overlay to life.

Sunday, January 15

Riviera Living

Last year Garry and I stayed a night at the Ramada Resort Hotel in Ballina while on a short business trip to Mullumbimby. We loved the venue so much it was the obvious choice for a return visit during our Pacific Highway road trip. It was also a convenient place to base ourselves again as we had a follow-up meeting scheduled with the previous owner of our thriving toy company. 18 months into this venture we'd agreed to sell back a small product category that's no longer core to the business.

We spent three nights in Ballina.  This gave us ample time to spend a full day in Mullumbimby meeting the former owner of Artiwood.  The 42km journey had improved significantly since our last visit.  A new dual carriageway section of the Pacific Highway had opened a few weeks before our arrival making the journey easier than ever.  Then, with our paperwork signed and a review of the business completed, we finally headed back to Ballina in the last afternoon.

The last night of 2016 was spent enjoying delicious local fish and chips while looking over the Richmond River. Sadly there were no fireworks scheduled in Ballina so midnight passed without celebration.  However, the following morning during my leisurely breakfast on our riverfront balcony I was entertained by a pod of dolphins chasing a school of fish up the river.  It was magical moment!

We then spent two nights staying with friends on their lifestyle block near Alstonville.  It was a delight to catch up with Adam and Liz. We kicked back with a leisurely stroll around their property and a refreshing walk along the local beach. Adam and Liz really are living the dream. Before we knew it, the time had come to head back south. I also had to be back in Sydney by Friday as I had flights booked for a business trip to Hong Kong the following morning.

We decided to drive as far south as we could then stop for a couple of nights to rest and relax before tackling the traffic heading into Sydney. On a whim we decided to book ourselves into the Ibis Styles at Harrington Waters near Forster. This proved to be a clever decision. It took more than six hours of driving before we finally reached the venue in the early evening. Garry and I were both over it by the time we arrived.

However, the long day meant we'd put behind us all of the Pacific Highway that's yet to be converted to dual carriageway.  We were also excited to watch the car's odometer click over 4000kms.  We drove the vehicle off the lot 15 months ago with less than 5km on the clock. We still think its the best vehicle we've ever owned.

Harrington Waters was truly idyllic. Our hotel room looked out over the Manning River where pelicans and other bird life spent their time fishing directly opposite our first floor balcony. Harrington Rivers was a hidden gem.  Its been quietly transformed into a upmarket retirement community with some superb facilities and features some amazing waterfront homes. Our hotel was next door to a lively Irish Pub where we ate a complimentary breakfast.  A compact nine hole golf course was also within walking distance.

We loved the location so much we actually spent time talking with the local real estate agent about investment properties in the area. We're clearly use to Sydney house prices.  The cost a very decent homes in the area was barely a fifth the cost of our Sydney apartment.  While we're not in the market for a retirement property just yet, the location and its facilities have probably set the benchmark for anything we might consider in the future.

Saturday, January 14

My way or the Pacific Highway?

In 1996 the New South Wales State Government announced plans for converting the heavily used Pacific Highway into a dual carriageway highway between Sydney and Brisbane.  The original plan called for completion of the upgrade by 2016.  Twenty year later less than 70% of the route has been upgraded.  However, construction on the remaining 230kms is finally underway.

The completed works have dramatically transformed the highway.  A once hair raising drive along the nation's Pacific coast has been transformed into a relatively relaxing long distance journey.  I last drove the highway to Brisbane in 1991.  It was an exhausting experience. Sections of the highway were truly terrifying. An endless procession of large articulated trucks crowded the road and swept past in the opposing lane with a proximity that left your heart pounding.

Over New Year period Garry and I decided to take our "new" car on a road trip. We mapped out an itinerary that took us as far north as Ballina and Mullumbimby.  Our trip saw us make two overnight stops while north and one extended stop while heading south again.

We began our journey on Boxing Day.  Garry decided an early departure was critical if we were to avoid being caught up in post-Christmas traffic chaos.  As a result, we found ourselves on the road shortly after 7am.  Garry's strategy proved the right one. Our passage through Sydney's northern suburbs passed faster than expected.  In fact we didn't encounter a single line of crawling traffic until we reached the inevitable bottleneck crossing of the Hunter River near Hexham.

Our first night was booked into the delightful Eco Cottages at Bombah Point in the Mydall Lakes National Park. This place was a real gem. The complex consists of a series of brilliantly designed boutique eco-friendly cottages nestled among gum trees on a sunny hillside. It a luxurious bush escape that made it the perfect place for resetting our watches to vacation time.

Despite the remote location we found plenty to do.  We enjoyed brunch on the water's edge at the Tea Gardens Boatshed before heading further up the coast to spend an afternoon walking to the Seal Rocks Lighthouse. At dusk we ventured out to watch bush wallabies bounding around the cottage complex's small orchard.  However, this wasn't the only wildlife on show.  We also received daytime visits from a very fat, happy goanna and a bush turkey.

 Our second night was spent in Coffs Harbour.  We booked ourselves into the Big Windmill Comfort Inn. This was another highlight.  We enjoyed dinner in beer garden at the motel's German themed restaurant. The food was excellent but the portions were small for the price we paid.  We walked the boat harbour and climbed to the summit of Muttonbird Hill for an wonderful vista along the Pacific Coast.

The following morning we spent a couple of entertaining hours at the local Marineland complex. Where else can you practice playing "catch" with a dolphin?  It then time for a classic photo at the Big Banana before we headed for Ballina, our northernmost destination.

Click here for highlights from our New Years Eve in Ballina.