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larsbaby

larsbaby
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Member since: 02.10.2007

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      13.09.2012 11:43
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      The UK can hold its head up high - London 2012 inspired a generation!

      HELLO AGAIN, IT'S BEEN A WHILE Having been away for a heck of a long time, it's taken something quite exceptional & unexpected to coax me out of my writers block so here it is ladies & gentlemen - London 2012! THE AUSTERITY GAMES Well for the last 7 years, I have been as sceptical & cynical as most people in the UK (or Great Britain, as, unaccountably, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) still have us down as) regarding our hosting of the 30th Games of the Olympiad. The logo & mascots are awful. We can't afford the huge expense. The Victorian transport system will melt down. Terrorists will have a field day. "We are proud to only accept Visa" plastered everywhere, coupled with the McUbiquitous impression of a dystopian corporate megalith. A shocking ticketing system that robbed me amongst many others of any chance of seeing the world's largest sporting spectacle; we had paid for this and big business would be the ones benefiting from corporate junkets. Working in telecoms, I was involved with the running of the mobile phone network in the Olympic venues, and that added to my pre games anxiety, making sure everything would work. And so come the opening ceremony, if I'm quite honest, I said to myself that I couldn't wait until it was over, working a 6 day week for the duration, along with countless others, doing the little things behind the scenes that brought it all together. In my case making sure that you could all watch iPlayer in the Olympic Park on your iPhones. I vowed to avoid London like the plague for the duration as it was bound be be a disaster. And yet ... BOYLE'S BLINDER The beginning of the opening ceremony was a tad auspicious, with an apparently idealistic & idyllic view of a green British past making me slightly cringe, but this was to give way to a quite spectacular celebration of modern Britain; I was blown away, with the raising of the fiery Olympic rings, a masterpiece, along with lots of little snippets of uniquely British humour. Mr Bean gently mocking Chariots of Fire? The Queen with James Bond? Incredible; you didn't see any of this in Beijing 2008 which was a show of awesome, organized power. The next day I was inspired to walk an hour to see the men's road race going through my part of Surrey, and as the bikes whizzed past giving me but the merest glimpse of Olympic excellence, watching with the huge, excitable crowd gathered all the way along the road, I really felt I was part of something big, something special. Later on in the day, when I watched the rest of the race going through parts of Surrey I recognised, with similarly large groups of cheering people, I marvelled how the familiar was at once juxtapositioned with the usually distant Olympic spectacle. This, I thought, is flipping unreal; I have not looked back since. GAMES OF HOPE & GLORY? And then something even stranger happened. I felt this huge swell of pride to be British. As many home nationals, I would considering myself to be (delete where applicable) English. Suddenly, British was de rigour; Team GB was our name. Unfailingly, flag waving of the rah-rah-rah Jubilee kind would leave me cold, but watching people like Mo Farah wearing a Union Jack as a cape, I went out and bought my Team GB t-shirt to proudly display. And as sporting achievement after sporting achievement unfolded in front of me on the TV, with Team GB hoovering up medals, I was utterly transfixed, astounded & deliriously joyful. And then it got even stranger than that. By the end of the Olympics, after staring at the TV screen for 2 whole weeks, attentively watching sports that I would hardly pay attention to without the Olympic rings glamorizing them, urging on Team GB, I really couldn't face the prospect of them being over. I was addicted to Elbow's grandiose theme for the BBC. The realisation dawned on me that the greatest sports show on earth had been 30 miles from my home & we had put on one of the best ever. Yes, us. The transport system had worked super smoothly. The security had been not only efficient but friendly. The Games Makers (such a cringe worthy name, I had previously considered) had done us proud & shown us the friendliness & civility that lies under our often ambivalent exterior. The tone had been set & maintained, across the venues nationwide, and Britain had shown itself to be a fine host. Even the most hard bitten cynic (points at self) was convinced & cynicism was put on hold. Even the logo & mascots suddenly looked somehow in keeping with the event. All in all, incredible achievements by anyone's standards. Ever since, thinking about all of this, the Great suddenly being put back into Britain, despite absolutely everything, it bring me close to tears, several times a day, every day for the last month. And believe me, I'm really not the type, I'm a dyed in the wool cynic 99.9% of the time. But no, the sheer pride of it all, it never fails to move me. Not a tribal, jingoistic kind of puffing out of the chest, but something altogether more benign & inclusive. It wasn't quite over though ... MY PARALYMPIC EXPERIENCE I was just as addicted to the Public Enemy theme tune for Channel 4, the brilliant Lexi explaining the arcane art of Paralympic Classifications and wall to wall coverage (with the adverts a distraction, it has to be said). Myself and Ms (yes still Ms but in 2013 will be Mrs!) Larsbaby bagged a couple of Paralympic day passes some time ago, when the Parallel Olympics (to give them their full name) were but an afterthought in the public's mind, and a chance for those of us stitched up by Ticketmaster to at least see where the magic had been. Suddenly though, building on the momentum, getting into the Olympic Park for this was the hottest ticket in town. I wondered if I'd made a huge mistake in not bothering with Olympic Stadium tickets to see the athletics. I suspect many others had thought as I had, that a day pass would let you roam around anywhere in a half empty park, 'cos everything will have calmed down by the probably half empty Paralympics. Right? Wrong! A sports mad nation had shown their true colours & were out in force to snap up tickets. Luckily, and with some perseverance & assistance from some auto ticket checking websites, I bagged some Athletics, Swimming & (most improbably & gloriously) Velodrome tickets. We spent 2 whole days in the Olympic Park, soaking up the atmosphere. The crowds were vociferous in Team GB support & polite with all other nations. Any underdog finishing miles behind would get the biggest cheer of all in all stadia. In all I saw Athletics, Swimming, Cycling (tandem cycling is amazing!), Goalball, 7 a side Football & Wheelchair Tennis. I got to see all of the venues in the Olympic Park, bar the Water Polo Arena (which wasn't being used for the Paralympics anyway). Any feeling of settling for 2nd best has long dissipated. The Paralympics were an amazing, inspiring sporting spectacle. Yes, this was where the magic had been weeks ago but more alchemy was being manufactured in front of my eyes. I barely thought about people's impairments, though I did marvel at their inspiring stories. I was mostly transfixed purely by the sport, for it was high class & entertaining. WE CAN BE HEROES, JUST FOR ONE DAY Despite my Paralympic experience feeling as good as anything the five ring circus could muster, I still do (and always will, I think) slightly regret missing out on the Olympics, though I did see the road race, so I didn't miss out completely. With hindsight (which is always 20-20) I could have bagged some tickets with some effort thanks to the online tools I later found for the Paralympics. It's a once in a lifetime event, and for many of us I don't think we will see it's like again in our lifetimes (cue another bout of eye moistening). And that goes for both games; if anything, I am even more proud when I think about how we have embraced the Paralympics & its roll call of new heroes like Hannah Cockroft, David Weir & Johnny Peacock. I was privileged to see Aled Davies win the discus & was very close to where he hugged his parents; a great moment. If this was one of the best Olympics ever, there can be no debate that this was the best Paralympics ever. And throughout, the mobile phone networks worked fine too! THANK YOU LONDON, THANK YOU UK I bet you didn't expect a tale like this, did you? I know I didn't, but there you go, the miracle of the Olympics & Paralympics strikes another victim. 9 billion pounds seems pretty well spent to me, and the memory of this summer will always live with me & warm the heart whenever I feel down in the future. You can't put a price on that. I am sure some of you can relate to my story & writing it has been in some way cathartic; catharsis is usually something you'd associate with distress, but this has been a tale of unadulterated joy that not even Visa or McDonalds could detract from. And so, I shall leave you with an Elbow lyric from the Olympic closing ceremony, which I think sums up this wonderful, unforgettable summer of sport for this nation, and which will always remind me of the moment during the closing ceremony when it was sung, all the athletes from around the world entered the stadium & a nation realised that, actually, we did OK didn't we? I'll try not to cry as I type it: Throw those curtains wide! One day like this a year'd you see me right

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        15.10.2010 16:37
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        Decent pizza restaurant

        INTRODUCTION Oddly enough, this was a trip originally scheduled for April. As we readied ourselves to go to the airport, we thought Ms Larsbaby's mum was winding us up when she said that volcanic ash has grounded all traffic in Europe. Do us a favour! But true it was, and one refund and rebooked trip later, guten tag Nuremburg. As we strolled round the city centre, our hosts asked us what we fancied for lunch. After some debate, pizza was settled on and this restaurant that I had visited a couple of years ago was chosen. THE RESTAURANT I must admit that I didn't go inside though a quick peek inside the window revealed an elegant interior that looked quite turn of the (20th) century. My companions went inside to use the loos though, which I am reliable informed were clean. Outside, to the side of the river pathway, were about 20 plastic topped metal tables set out with metal seats. These were almost full the whole time we were there, as this was a popular spot to dine. It was certainly a decent spot for peoplewatching, as we spied various groups of people wandering by, most notable a segway tour of the city speeding by; it was quite amusing to watch people try to control these odd 2 wheeled vehicles. THE FOOD The menu was quite comprehensive. With a decent selection of Germanic meat & fish dishes, but it was mostly concerned with Italian cuisine, with some desserts tagged on at the end. As such you could take your pick from a far few pasta & pizza dishes. Various salads were available and some interesting seafood options such as grilled squid with potatoes and John Dory. All dishes were helpfully translated into English below, more than likely a result of the large American forces contingency in the locality. Out party settled on a mix of the Italian selection. I had the parpardelle al salmone, which was a large salmon fillet cut into large chunks in just the right amount of creamy sauce, with bits of parsley sprinkled on and some halved cherry tomatoes mixed in. The salmon was nice, tasty and well cooked, and went well with the sauce and well cooked pasta (perhaps a little well done to be al dente). I thought this was a nice change from the usual smoked salmon that I usually experience with this dish, and the tomatoes added a sweetness to it. The Hawaiian pizza was apparently nice, with a thin crispy base topped with pineapple, ham, tomato paste and mozzarella cheese. This wasn't dry which is always a good sign. One complaint with the pizzas though is that the knives provided weren't sharp enough and thus a struggle to separate them ensued. The Quattro Stagioni pizza had s similarly thin base, topped with ham, picked green chill peppers of the kind akin to a kebab, artichoke and mushrooms. I tried a bit of the base of this one which I found pleasantly light and crisp. Again this wasn't dry at all and was apparently tasty. The gnocchi with sage was pretty much that and very sagey. On the English translation it suggested this would come with gorgonzola and cream, but my friend read the German part which didn't say that, so he wasn't too disappointed when the cheese wasn't evident. In fact that was what he preferred no problems there. THE SERVICE Although nothing special, and having forgot to initially take our order, the service was adequate and polite, with a profuse apology (I assume - my German isn't so good) for taking so much time. In mitigation, they were very busy indeed and as the food couldn't be faulted, I didn't mind so much. CONCLUSION I'd been here on my last visit to Nuremburg and this visit was equally satisfying. For a good look at the riverside crowd and a German taste of Italian cuisine, this spot comes highly recommended. At 52 Euros for 4 meals plus drinks I think it represents pretty good value. CONTACT DETAILS Riverside Pizza, Winklerstrasse 1 ex. Al Fiume, 90403 Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany.

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          17.08.2010 22:44
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          Almost useless as a travelguide for tourists

          INTRODUCTION Before my visit to New Zealand last year, my sister bought me this book as she thought it'd be appropriate reading for my trip. As it happens, I prefer to read travelogues after I've visited somewhere, so that I don't go in with any preconceived ideas from writers' opinions. Now that I'm back I thought it was time to read it, though. THE HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO THE PHALLACY The book follows the author as he attempts to hitch hike around New Zealand, travelling basically where he can get a lift, setting off on the South Island near to his home just outside Christchurch and going wherever the lifts take him. We follow the various trials and tribulations as he attempts to get from one place to the other, and gain an insight into both the places he visits and the characters who are prepared to give him a lift. This at times can be quite interesting, as many of the drivers treat this as some sort of confessional, spilling details of their lives to the stranger in the car who they will probably never see again. You also get to see his opinions on various tourist attractions such as Franz Josef Glacier and Queenstown. But most of all he scratches away at some stereotypes and preconceptions about kiwis to see if they're really valid in the remotest of outposts. NOW FOR THE BAD NEWS The thing is, you don't really learn much about New Zealand that might interest you as a casual visitor. The author is from the UK but has lived there for 16 years, and hence has no interest in going anywhere he considers too touristy. Actually even if he'd been a tourist he still wouldn't, as he doesn't attempt to hide his disdain for typical tourist attractions and activities and his efforts to eschew them. Perhaps if I was a kiwi or lived there, I might find many of his observations about the people and the country more pertinent but I found most of them irrelevant. Unfortunately I found the style of this book, quite frankly, tedious almost all of the time. There are writing styles which move some of us and bore others. I found the writers style, although humorous, quite difficult to read, because it just seems to be a list of things he saw and did. Maybe it shows my lack of refinement, but I don't really care about him describing all the flora and fauna around in great detail. I want to hear about something interesting happening. In fact for the most part I found it very boring and very difficult to follow, to the point that I had to re-read each sentence just to make sure I actually understood it. I found no flow to the story; it was just list after list following this basic pattern; saw this, talked to this guy who gave me a lift, got off to stay in some godforsaken backwater town for a night, got drunk with some people he met in the pub. Here is an extract I've totally randomly picked to illustrate my point: "Away to the left the town itself huddles round the northern end of the lake. Mountains climb straight from the water, forested or sparsely grassed on the lower slopes but rising to rock, their jagged tops like the crest on a tuatura's spine" Yawn. In addition, particularly in the South Island, I found several of his lift benefactors very ignorant and unapologetically racist. There is no hint that the author shares these views in any way, but it's an unsavoury read nonetheless. Although this isn't anything I wouldn't guess for myself in such rural areas, and so not really surprising, it's not something I'd pay for to read. I for one take great lengths to avoid rural areas in any country for exactly these reasons and it's really not nice to be reminded. In contrast to the South Island, the North Island shows encounters with friendly, open drivers, many of them Maori. One highlight is bumping into an ex All Black rugby player in the pub and the subsequent trip he takes with his, which is a rare case of being both memorable and heartwarming. Overall, I just didn't find the author, as the main protagonist, to be much of a sympathetic character. You learn a little of his life as a former teacher and present journalist and love of dogs (who I get the impression he prefers to people, which personally I can't relate to at all, although I'm sure many of you can. Now if we were talking about cats ...). In fact I thought he came across as a bit of a sad loner, though as the book is purely on the road it's hard to say whether this is a true reflection of the man. Although I agreed for the most part with his conclusions of the people he met, I didn't like the way he mocked them in print. Idiots they may well have been, but it seems churlish to accept their hospitality and then slag them off for being boring or stupid in print, while at the time going along with them. He just shows what a coward he really is. In mitigation, at one point he does wonder how much longer he would have had to wait for lifts were he not white European and comes to a quite depressing conclusion. He also isn't slow to praise the decent people that he meets, which is to his credit. And he's also a big fan on the aquarium in Queenstown which I also found a highlight. CONCLUSION I guess this book just wasn't for me. Endless descriptions of country scenes punctuated by some moronic drivers, without much really happening doesn't interest me at all. If you want to mug up for a trip to New Zealand, don't bother. If you want to see the authentic underbelly of New Zealand society, and what the forests look like to the tiniest detail, this is the book for you. It's certainly an in depth study of the sociology of rural New Zealand; not a place I would like to visit by the sounds of it.

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            06.07.2010 14:58
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            Another excellent Heritage hotel

            INTRODUCTION On our final leg of our New Zealand holiday, myself and Ms Larsbaby ended up in Christchurch to see some friends. Having booked through Trailfinders, we found ourselves in the centrally located Heritage Christchurch hotel. As we entered the large, light reception in the main building, little did we know what we would be treated to. THE ROOM Thanks yet again to Trailfinders, we had a room upgrade, which entailed a room in the annexe which used to be the part of the Government Buildings. This is a beautifully restored old colonial style building, with ornate corridors. I am told this hotel is where the All Blacks rugby team stay when in town and I wouldn't be surprised if it was in these kind of luxury rooms. This was effectively a split level suite. As you entered from the plushly carpeted corridor there was a living room and kitchen area. A classy wooden comfy chair and mirror above it was near to the door. As you turned into the room itself you could see a small heater; perhaps it's worth noting at this point that central heating is a somewhat alien concept in New Zealand. This is notable as the boiler was in a cupboard behind this, and this was liable to run out of hot water if overused. An entry phone system complete with little video display was also there, which we never had the need to use. To the right was a white floor tiled kitchenette that took up a whole corner of the room. This was a fridge with small freezer on top, microwave, kettle, halogen hob with extractor fan, oven and dishwasher along with a sink and plenty of dark brown laminated work surface. There were plenty of pots, pans, plates, bowls and cutlery, down to even a potato peeler and grater. A selection of teas such as green, camomile and English Breakfast and instant coffee was in the corner, along with a minibar selection of wine, water, cookies, Pringles and filter coffee. The living room was a cream plant patterned carpeted, cream walled area. In the corner were the stairs to the bedroom, and next to these was a small dark wooden dining table with 4 fabric padded luxury dining chairs. In the other corner, next to the fridge, was a sofa with a low wooden coffee table in front of it, which had a room service menu on it and some tourist guide leaflets. To the right of the sofa was a lamp, and on a small wooden side table was a phone and an Ethernet cable. There was plenty of space between this and the LCD TV against the wall, on a large wooden cabinet containing a small DVD player and phone directories. Available channels were TV1,2 & 3, Sky Sports 1 & 2, Sky Movies, CNN, Maori TV, CTV, Japanese TV and the Discovery Channel. Also on the cabinet was a fascinating book detailing the history of the hotel building and how it escaped demolishment to be turned into the beautiful annexe. Next to this was a window, which gave a view of the car park. A fan was on the ceiling above the bedroom area, which was controlled by a switch near to the dining table. Up the stairs and to the bedroom carpeted the same as downstairs. There was a large double bed to the left, with a wooden bedside table with a lamp on each side, with a phone on the right hand table. One nice touch is that every day, a printed weather report for the next day would be left on it, along with 2 minty chocolates; a very nice touch and the chocolates were pretty nice too! A collapsible metal suitcase rack leant on the wall to the right and a mountain scene painting was hung above the bed. In front of the bed were some white cupboards, containing an ironing board, iron, safe, hangers, bath robes, extra pillows and lots of small shelf compartments. THE BATHROOM As you entered the bathroom, similarly floor tiled to the kitchenette, to the left was a washing machine with shelves above it. Next to this was the bath, which had a mixer tap shower unit on the wall and I noted the soap holder was broken. To the right of the door was a heated towel rail. In front of the entrance was a wooden sink unit with a curved sink, with some toiletries in the corner, and a narrow mirror above it. The toiletries were quite fancy and notably did not include shower gel. In the unit drawers was a hairdryer. The loo was to the right of the sink unit. FACILITIES A pre arrival concierge is available such you be so inclined. Details are on the website. As we were in the old Government Buildings annexe, we had the restaurant and spa close to hand (not that we used either). If we did however, we could have had in room spa treatments such as Two by Two - 2 tables and therapist in the room at the same time. A pool, sauna and spa were available for use with personal trainers by appointment (maybe I missed something and this was for a gym). A guest laundry was in the main building with coin operated machines for those not fortunate as us having an in room washing machine. WiFi codes for wireless internet access were available from reception. Messages could be sent to you by emailing the hotel who would then pass the message on. Food could be ordered via room service, and this was things such as burgers for $20 or soup for $12.50. CONCLUSION This is certainly one of the most classy hotel I've ever stayed at. If you can get a decent deal for this handily located, comfortable hotel, I can't recommend it enough. CONTACT DETAILS Heritage Christchurch 28 - 30 Cathedral Square P O Box 177 Christchurch New Zealand Tel: +64 3 377 9722 Fax: +64 3 377 9881 Toll free (within New Zealand): 0800 368 888 Toll free (within Australia): 1800 141 780 Reservations email: res.heritagechc@heritagehotels.co.nz Website : http://www.heritagehotels.co.nz/christchurch/

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              04.05.2010 16:18
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              An excellent rural micro brewery

              INTRODUCTION It was our fortune on our New Zealand holiday that friends lived near to Christchurch, and so staying with them gave us the chance to see areas off the usual tourist trail. With their local expertise at hand, we were taken to one of their favourite drinking spots out of the city. BREW MOON Located on the South Island, in the North Canterbury countryside in Amberley, 25 minutes north of Canterbury, Brew Moon has a pleasant location and you feel like you're far away from the city. As you arrive, you can see a big red and blue sign above the building, with their tree and moon logo right in the middle. The gravel car park is to the front of the building, and you can see some painted blue wooden benches outside, as well as an ancient car chassis, there presumably for decoration. As you enter the main door, right in front of you is the food counter, which has a large display case of savouries and cakes, all looking delicious. To the right is a rack of 8 or 10 magazines. On top of the counters are some menus and a jar of amaretto biscuits. Behind the counter is a large coffee machine. To the left of the entrance is a wooden floored seating area of 4 or 4 tables which is quite spacious. In the right hand corner of this area is the bar, which has several brews on tap as well as bottled beers in a fridge behind. You could also buy beers and beer glasses from here to take away. To the right is the doorway leading to the large beer garden, which is where we sat in the sunshine at our table reserved by phone earlier. Immediately behind the door though is still inside, with a brick floored area with smallish round light wooden tables and chairs, with the occasional signature blue painted chair. Go straight through and finally you will reach the beer garden. This has quite a lot of greenery, with the painted blue wooden tables, chairs and benches mingling with trees and bushes on the gravel floor. The area is quite shaded in parts, though you have to dodge the sun in some areas when it gets quite hot. THE MENU As well as beer, the café offered a decent range of dishes. Breakfast included the Brew Moon Bene, which was eggs Benedict with the options for bacon, salmon or spinach, as well as a big meaty breakfast of sausages, bacon mushrooms potato and roast tomato with toast and free range eggs. Light dishes included chickpea curry, corn fritters open chicken sandwich and steak sandwich. Gourmet Pizzas (with a gluten free base option) included vegetarian, chicken cranberry and brie and summer lamb. I assume this menu is seasonal. Side orders included, chips, wedges, green salad and various sauces such as chilli and BBQ. Gluten free options were also advertised as available, which is very useful to know and impressive that this was clearly indicated on the menu. THE FOOD As this was a brewery café we felt we had to sample the local wares and so myself & Ms Larsbaby went for a Brew Moon Tasting Platter each, which was small glasses of all 4 of their beers served in a wooden paddle. Amberley Pale Ale, described as "clean nutty malt flavour" was quite light and refreshing. Broomfield Brown Ale "malty, nutty brown ale" tasty and full of body. Dark Side of the Moon Stout "a strong, dark and full flavoured beer" heavy and nice and Hophead Organic IPA "rich malt flavour" another light and refreshing drink. An all round winner then for the microbrewery. I ordered the lamb pizza which was marinated lamb with red pepper, onion, cheese and jalapeño chilli. This was served on a round wooden plate with a handle, with a metal slice wedged underneath one of the slices of pizza. The lamb was excellent; really lean and tasty. On the thin crispy base, there was a nice sweetness with the pepper and heat from the jalapeño. I've not seen lamb often on pizzas and it seemed somehow to suit the setting; ironically, I hadn't tried much New Zealand lamb on the trip and this was a good opportunity to do so. Other dishes ordered by our party were the chicken and cranberry pizza, which was apparently a nice combination of sweetness from the cranberry and the savoury chicken and cheese. Moon Meat Treat had pepperoni, chorizo, ham and cheese with BBQ sauce and looked loaded with meat, and was apparently very nice. The Philly Steak Sandwich came with a large portion of chips and was a open sandwich with a large serving of lettuce and some chopped onion and salad on top of the large slab of sirloin steak perched on a think wodge of focaccia bread, spread with cream cheese. This was also apparently good. THE SERVICE This was very good; courteous and friendly, it was notable that, with my friend's toddler in tow, it was a very child friendly place, with high chairs available. It seemed to me they were used to dealing with young families and took everything in their stride, as well as being knowledgeable about the menu. CONCLUSION I really enjoyed coming here on what was one of out last days on our New Zealand holiday. It's certainly a nice place to escape the city, and if you're lucky enough to be in this area I'd highly recommend it for a sunny afternoon of company, beer tasting and food. CONTACT DETAILS Brew Moon Cafe & Brewery, 150 Ashworths Road, Amberley, North Canterbury, New Zealand. Tel: 03 314 8030 Website: http://www.brewmooncafe.co.nz/

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                06.04.2010 12:59
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                Check out the hip locals from this central spot

                INTRODUCTION Looking for somewhere to stop off for a coffee in Christchurch, myself and Ms Larsbaby, not for the first time, used the Lonely Planet guide to help us. This place sounded interesting, and looked popular as we peered in, so we thought we'd give it a whirl. C1 ESPRESSO Located at the trendy end of the high street, close to many trendy clothes shops, C1 Espresso was pretty full on the day we visited and seemed to be a popular spot with the local trendies, taking in the cool music playing in the background. As you enter, you're struck by the innate kookiness of the interior and you can see straight away that this is no ordinary coffee shop; it has unique character in abundance. There were all kinds of kooky little touches all round such as pictures of playing cards on the walls. As you enter, it feels quite gloomy but warm thanks to the bright red walls, and to your immediate right are some chairs that look like, and indeed almost certainly are, old fabric backed cinema chairs, arranged around a wooden table. A fishtank made to look like a TV sits close by. As you move along that wall, you come to the counter which could probably take a review in itself to detail. A large, old American style, metal display cabinet with curved glass windows sits to the left corner, full of cakes and sandwiches, next to a sparkly metal till. A wide, red coffee machine that looks like an antique sites next to this, with a coffee grinder with the C1 logo sitting next to it. Behind this on the wall is the coffee menu, which offers a large range; from the flat white becoming popular in the UK, to cappuccino, espresso, machiatto, piccolo, cupofchino, affogatto, Vienna, chai latte and decaf. And we haven't even got onto the teas yet; below this list is a large number of tea jars with all kinds of teas; I asked for rooibos and the friendly barista looked confused as they had a whole range of them so she had no idea which I was asking for (and neither did I by then). There was black tea, white tea, green tea, flavoured green tea, blooming tea, herbal infusions, chocolatey blends, chai blends ... if you couldn't find anything that suited you, it'd be a shock. They even had a range of local beers on offer as well as soft drinks, stored in a fridge behind the counter. These included smoothies such as banana and mango, juices such as grapefruit and carbonated drinks such as fizzy raspberry and fizzy lime. On the left corner of the counter was a wall corner, and this has a pretty amazing arrangement on both walls of several rows of shelves with a lot of old fashioned coffee grinders; I lost count but it must have been 150 of them or more, all different and all created a quite wonderful display. To the left of the counter were some seats and tables, which is where we perched ourselves to observe the locals. With seating outside onto the street, against the window and in a covered area, you'd think the café was big enough but moving past the counter reveals a large backroom to the seating area. To the right wall here is a large number of framed postcards, filling the wallspace. At the back of this wall, immediately in front as you walk are the toilets. Mounted inside one of the doors in a small, clear display case is a Star Wars miniature figure of Princess Leia; the other has one of Han Solo; genius. Hopefully you know your Star Wars (and anatomy) as there are no other indications as to which toilet is which. A pinball machine sits to the left of the main entrance to the toilets, and this area has a red brick wall. It's quite a large seating area here, and one more feature is a large transparent fridge which contains t-shirts for sale, though I didn't do any further investigation here. THE FOOD On offer to eat were dishes such as burritos, pancakes, eggs and sandwiches. When I finally chose my rooibos tea (which they called chai to confuse me even more), it came on a silver tray in a big pot, with a large brown cup & saucer and was pleasingly tasting of citrus. Ms Larsbaby ordered a chai latte, which came in a glass on a saucer with a zigzag of cinnamon on top. Although tasty this was a bit cold. To eat I ordered corn and coriander fritters. These came with feta cheese, guacamole, salsa and sour cream. This was really tasty, dense comfort food with the thick, heavy but not too heavy fritters with morsels of corn. This went well with the dry crumbly feta and the moistness of the fresh guacamole and salsa. The whole thing combined really well, and the presentation was also impressive, with the square fritters on top of the cheese with the salsa, guacamole and sour cream perched on top. Ms Larsbaby had buttermilk pancakes with berry coulis, banana, cream and maple syrup. On a large plate the pancakes were joined by the syrup in a little metal pourer, and the cream in a small dish, with the banana slices to the side; again, excellent presentation. I tried a bit of this and it wasn't too rich, with a delicious sweetness from the maple syrup; very nice indeed. CONCLUSION This is a place well worth a visit just to see the place, although the drinks are food are notable in themselves (the slightly disappointing chai latte aside). As a spot to rest in central Christchurch, this come highly recommended. It's nice to find coffee shops with character these days amongst all the sanitised, identikit chains, and C1 Espresso certainly has that. CONTACT DETAILS C1 Espresso 146 High St, Christchurch New Zealand Tel: 03 379 1917 Website: http://www.c1espresso.co.nz/

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                  30.03.2010 13:09
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                  Decent Korean & Japanese food at an excellent price

                  INTRODUCTION During our visit to Christchurch we were spoilt for choice for foody places to try during our relatively brief stay. Lonely Planet recommended Mum's for home style food your mum would cook (if you're mum was from Korea, that is). As this sounded like a foreign student frequented, budget kind of place, it sounded exactly up our street and so it was high on our "to do " list. Having hovered around the place several times in anticipation, the time came after a couple of days. MUM'S 24 Located in the middle of downtown Christchurch, Mum's can be see from the street from it's red topped awning and big windows which let in lots of light, one of which has a display of plastic food such that you might get in Asia. Bento boxes, mock rice dishes and soups all compete for attention in this pretty display. Inside on the grey stone floor were about 15 tables for 4, most of these small, square wooden tables with thick legs that would just about seat 4 people, and there were 3 larger tables. A couple of seats were located against the window, joining a Christmas tree as it was November at the time. Although quite close together, the tables never felt cramped and so they were well arranged. To the right of the entrance was a small old style CRT TV hanging from a wall bracket, and below this the specials boards in English. Another TV was against the window about halfway into the room. The counter was at the back of the restaurant on the right, with a display of wines and spirits behind. Near to the counter to the right was a specials board written in Korean. The back the wall was orange, further to the front it was brown wood at the bottom, curving at the top, painted blue-grey above. Quite a bright, colourful place then. The restaurant was fairly full and busy. The clientele comprising of mostly relatively young people, although there were more mature diners and one Japanese family. I got the impression you could expect pretty much anyone and they would all feel equally at home, so another tick there, as easy listening music played in the background. THE FOOD The menu had many Japanese and Korean dishes, such as Korean BBQ (from my experience, a kind of thick, spicy marinade), sushi, udon noodles, stews, katsu (breaded meat) and tempura. I felt somewhat spoilt for choice, and felt temped by some of the more unusual dishes on offer. To drink, I ordered an orange juice and Ms Larsbaby a pineapple juice, but they made a mistake and brought 2 orange juices. I don't think we made a fuss as it wasn't a huge issue. As a starter I ordered a seafood pancake. This came divided into triangular sections but served whole with a sprig of parsley in the middle and a small bowl of soy sauce on the side for dipping. This tasted lovely, the omelette having a quite smooth, batter like texture, soft in the middle with plenty of seafood morsels of prawn, squid and mussel. It was very succulent and not at all greasy. Ms Larsbaby ordered a sushi starter, which was 6 mixed rolls with a couple of salmon, crab and tuna rolls. These were large pieces, nice and firm with a good taste. As a main, I ordered Bee Beam Bap, a Korean dish of sliced beef with 6 seasonal vegetables and a fried egg on top, served in a deep bowl, underlaid with boiled rice. The seasonal vegetables in this case were beansprouts, shredded carrot, onion, mushroom potato and cucumber, all in equal amounts. Served as sides were a bowl of miso soup, kimchi (Korean spicy pickled vegetables), beansprouts, shredded cold potato and a sweet chilli sauce in a squeezy bottle. I really liked this dish, which was fairly spicy and very simple, but very interesting with all the different flavours mingling together, with the tender, possibly marinated beef, though perhaps it was a little dry. I found that the sweet chilli sauce helped with this a lot. The miso soup was also nice. Ms Larsbaby had Chicken Katsu, which was a large portion of breaded chicken cut into strips but arranged as a whole fillet, drizzled with a kind of sweet soy sauce, with some rice on the side topped artistically with 3 peas, with lettuce and shredded carrot on the side, as well as 3 slices of pickled yellow vegetable that tasted somewhat like the ginger you get with sushi. I found the presentation of this really well done. Served on the side was some miso soup. The chicken was very nice, the crisp breadcrumb very tasty and covered with just the right amount of tangy sauce. SERVICE Having already got our drinks order wrong, they also managed to forget to serve Ms Larsbaby's main course, and we had to remind them some time later, when I was already tucking into mine. As we watched other diners who arrived after us get their dishes, we knew something was wrong. To be fair to them though, the service was friendly and helpful throughout, and the manager came over to apologise and explain that they had made a mistake, honesty which you have to commend. I guess anyone can make a mistake and it's how they deal with it that's important. CONCLUSION This food here was quite excellent and represented excellent value for money at about $46 (around £21) for a 2 course meal for 2 plus drinks. The issues with our food and drinks did take the gloss off slightly, but it didn't quite spoilt the experience for us. I would say we were unlucky and recommend this homely establishment, even though I knocked off a star for their mistakes. CONTACT DETAILS Mum's 24 Restaurant 728 Colombo Street, Christchurch, 8011, New Zealand.

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                    28.03.2010 13:16
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                    Excellent down town Christchurch dim sum

                    INTRODUCTION One of the handy facts about having friends where I visit on holiday is that I can get local tips what I might otherwise have missed. My friend works in Christchurch city centre and as a result is pretty familiar with what it has to offer in terms of decent places to have lunch. The High to Hereford Food Hall (which more than likely gets its name from its High Street location, intersecting Hereford Street) offers various choices of cuisines, from fish and chips to pasta, Greek, Japanese, Malaysian, Singaporean and Chinese. One place my friend recommended was the Dim Sum City stall, and so it was that we met him for lunch one day during our city stay in Christchurch. DIM SUM CITY Nestling amongst the hugely cosmopolitan choices in this gleaming new food hall is Dim Sum City, through the High Street entrance and to the right, past the Robert Harris coffee shop. At the front of the stall you could see the dim sum baskets in a glass case, as well as the menu hung over the top. The hall itself is a large building with pristine shiny white tiled floor with lots of small white tables for 4 with metal chairs lining the entrance hallway, which at the end of is where this stall is. Further into the hall are the majority of the outlets, some with tall seats around the counters, and many more tables. It got quite crowded at the noon time that we chose to dine, getting quieter as the lunch hour drew to a close. All the stalls had signs of identical style, which standardised everything. This was good to give a unified look, although personally I preferred the individualistic and older styles of the hotch potch of eateries at Food Alley in Auckland, but this place looked infinitely more modern, and had a lot of light coming in. THE FOOD We ordered several dim sum dishes to share between the 3 of us. The order was brought to us in several stages as we sat close to the stall. Steamed chicken rice - a large plate of rice with soy sauce drizzled over it was accompanied by dark pieces of chicken meat. The rice had some ginger in it with gave it a pleasant taste to go with the saltiness of the soy. It was nicely steamed and very tasty. The chicken was lean and of good quality with a decent taste to it. This was a pretty simple dish very well made. Shrimp and spinach dumpings - although these didn't taste so much of spinach, these small dumplings were nice, with crispy shrimps inside the steamed parcels. Shrimp dumping - a good example of another simple dish, just seasoned shrimps inside dim sum pastry. Pretty standard dim sum fare really. Vegetarian buns - filled with minced vegetables in a thick dough casing, these were pretty nice. BBQ Pork buns - I didn't try these but I am told that they were good. CONCLUSION This was a very good lunch which I enjoyed a lot. I would recommend this food hall in general, and Dim Sum City in particular. At $23 (about £12) for enough dim sum to feed 3, you can't argue with the price or the quality. CONTACT DETAILS Dim Sum City, High to Hereford Food Hall, 266 High Street, Christchurch, New Zealand.

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                      17.03.2010 10:41
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                      The nearest you'll find to the UK down under

                      INTRODUCTION The final leg of our New Zealand trip took us to the one place we always had in mind to visit. Since an old friend emigrated and took up residence just outside the city, this was always going to be a must, with the rest of the trip in many ways a filler for our real purpose here of going to see my friend. We had been told that this would be the place that would remind us most of home so we were quite intrigued as to if this was indeed the case. CHRISTCHURCH Located on South Island, Christchurch is known as the most British of New Zealand cities and we found this to be the case. I certainly saw less people of Maori or Asian heritage here, although the dining seemed just as cosmopolitan as everywhere else. With a population of 344,000 it's a medium sized city by European standards. The Church of England settlement was established in 1850 and was intended to be of the same class structure as in the UK, with rich, thieving inbred morons, erm I mean landed gentry getting their hands on the decent farming land. Luckily though, as time went on, other migrants arrived and the character slowly changed, though the place still has a slightly conservative feel as a result of its past. I have a feeling this is one of the reasons many Brits emigrate to this part of the country; its often been said that this part New Zealand is a bit like the UK in the 1950s; make of that what you will! TOURIST ATTRACTIONS The city centre is relatively compact and can be easily negotiated on foot, which is what we did apart from the few occasions my friend carted us around in his car to see the outskirts. We were staying close to Cathedral Square, the main square with the quite striking 18 foot high Metal Chalice sculpture, created for the new millennium. Christ Church Cathedral was built in 1881 and has some impressive features. Close to this, with access from the i-SITE tourist information centre, the Southern Encounter Aquarium & Kiwi house is an impressive collection of marine life. I was particularly impressed by the various fish tanks with explanations regarding which were native, which were imported and their effect on the environment. The highlight though was the Kiwi enclosure. Before you enter you are briefed on the shy and nocturnal nature of the kiwi, and you have to turn your mobile phones off. Then you are led to the edge of a darkened glass enclosed enclosure which is a recreation of the birds' native environment. At first we couldn't see anything in the dark. After a while something could be seen stirring at the back of the room. We assumed that would pretty much be it, but over a few minutes the kiwi hopped around, eventually coming quite close! We got a really good view of this oddly impressive creature with its wings evolved into just stubs. The shopping area is very pleasant, with High Street in particular having some interesting looking boutiques. It's nice strolling around the main centre, and the Botanical Gardens and their interesting greenhouses offer nice scenery. We had a good look round the various gardens and had a nice coffee & cake in the visitors centre café. Various family groups could be seen canoeing around the waters. Near to the Botanical Gardens is the compact but well thought out Canterbury Museum which had particularly interesting exhibits, with a big collection of categorised stuffed birds, and an Antarctic exploration section. Christchurch is used as the gateway to the Antarctic for surveys and here you can learn about past exploits of Antarctic adventurers. Victoria Park offers some peace & quiet in the middle of the city and will really remind you of home. Trams were active for about 50 years from 1905, and a restored tramway goes in 2 mile loop around areas of interest. We didn't do this but it did look quite nice. I don't recall seeing any gondolas punting in the Avon River flowing through the city centre but this is also possible to do. EATING AND DRINKING There was certainly no lack of choice in Christchurch for coffee and beer. The cool C1 Espresso (150 High Street) gave us an insight into the hip locals hanging out during the day, as well as a huge choice of tea infusions explained by knowledgeable staff. Neighbouring shops mostly consisted of trendy clothes shops. Elsewhere I tried a Banoffee Latte which really was as nice as it sounds. One place we really liked (and made up for my Queenstown birthday nightmare) was the bar area of Poplar Street, with many bars opening onto the street competing for custom. One night we settled on the Twisted Hop and tried its many microbrewery varieties while we watched the world go by in the adjacent bars. It was a really buzzing area and I enjoyed drinking there a lot. I was intrigued by a Russian Vodka bar across the road but sadly didn't venture in. We did try the Macs Brewery Bar branch, next to the Twisted Hop, which compared favourably with the Wellington branch, though not as big. We were more than satisfied with the seafood platter we ate there. As if to remind us of our Auckland drinking experience, there also was another Belgian Beer Café (88 Armagh Street) near to Victoria Park and we couldn't resist having a Duvel there. I can vouch for its authenticity having spent some time in The Netherlands and Belgium, and this place could have been transplanted lock stock and barrel, down to the slogans written behind the bar in Flemish. I bet the moules were great if they used the huge green local mussels. Oxford Terrace is another popular drinking area, although this looked a bit fancy to us and we didn't try any of the bars there. As for dining, a decent, well priced lunch could be had at The High to Hereford Food Hall (266 High Street). We chose dim sum but could easily have had Greek, Japanese, Malaysian or Singaporean. Mum's 24 (728 Colombo St) offered Korean cuisine at a decent cost, evident by the many Korean students dining there, which made it exactly the kind of ethnic authentic experience I enjoy. There was a good choice of other cuisines dotted around, including Mexican, Turkish, Thai, the local fish & chips and a recommended Burmese which sadly we didn't have time to try. Intriguingly, there was another branch of Wagamama here, to go with the ones we'd seen in Auckland and Wellington. Personally I hadn't gone all that way to try what I could a mere 20 minute walk from my home, but I gather it's pretty OK. In their home, my friend and his wife introduced us to local delights such as hokey pokey (basically Crunchie chunks) and pavlova, which the kiwis seem to be inordinately proud of, as if they had invented it (which they clearly seem to think). My tip is to not get carried away with it; my hosts warned me it seems very light until you go for seconds then you realise you're full! It is very nice though. ACCOMODATION We stayed at the magnificent Heritage Christchurch hotel, which is the restored Old Government Building, which was excellent and there is a good choice of places to stay to suit all budgets, from campsites, hostels and guesthouses to high end hotels, many of which are walking distance to Cathedral Square. The city is apparently a bit more expensive than regional New Zealand to stay in, though. FURTHER AFIELD We were actually staying some way out in the Kaiapoi area. We even managed to take part in the street BBQ where my friend lived, which gave us another insight into the friendly locals, many of whom made a special effort to come over to welcome us and tell us of their experiences in the UK, where many people seemed compelled to visit as their country of origin. We visited the close by Rangiora to go food shopping, which is apparently packed with UK expats. Nothing special there really, as it was more or less a couple of rows of shops, though special mention must go to Rangiora Bakery (http://www.rangiorabakery.com) , of which there is also a branch in Christchurch city centre, for it's delicious butter chicken pies. There are plenty of places in Canterbury worth visiting, but alas many of them require a car. Akaroa, the oldest town in Canterbury, is about a 2 hour drive away and is the site of the first French settlements. From this coastal town you can go on cruises to see dolphins, kayaking or just walk around the place. Closer to the city the International Antarctic Centre close to the airport offers information about the conditions and activities performed in the freezing conditions. My friend took us through Lyttleton, the landing place of the Canterbury pilgrims, which looked quite pretty although we didn't stop as we were headed to the Port Hills where we got a great view over the Lyttleton Harbour and the many freight boats chugging in and out. While there was also visited Christchurch Gondola, which had a terminal in the Heathcote Valley and took us to the rim of an extinct volcano at the top of Port Hills. This gave us an all round view of the city and had a nice little coffee shop to enjoy this from in comfort. We were also taken us to a place well known to locals, The Brew Moon Cafe and Brewery (150 Ashworths Road, Amberley, North Canterbury) which offered an excellent selection of microbrewery beers and tasty food. The beer platter was a good choice there to sample the various ales. We also managed to visit a nearby beach area which gave us a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. CONCLUSION There was something fundamentally likeable about Christchurch. Perhaps it was the manageable size of the city, the proliferation of greenery or the wealth of dining and drinking options. It certainly was related to the fact that we had insider knowledge to call upon the whole time. Seeing a locals' experience always make a trip more interesting and we were lucky to have that. Whatever it was, it's somewhere I'd really like to revisit. I would certainly consider it a must in any New Zealand itinerary. CONTACT DETAILS Here are a couple of useful tourism links: http://www.christchurchnz.com/ http://www.christchurch.org.nz/ http://www.tourism.net.nz/region/christchurch/visitor-information/

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                        10.03.2010 10:23
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                        Excellent standard of tourist accomodation in Queenstown

                        INTRODUCTION As a friend had recommended visiting Queenstown and was going to join us (but couldn't in the end), he also recommended a place to stay. A handy tip to know is that prices can drop about a month ahead of booking, although you have to be quick to pick up bargains at this point. Luckily, this is what I managed with HighView Apartments. HIGHVIEW APARTMENTS Just outside the main part of town, about a 5-10 uphill walk from there (which can be quite bracing or testing, depending on what mood you're in and how the weather is), Highview Apartments were well located, on a hillside with many other apartments, offering a superb view of the bay and mountains across the water. The apartment was split into 2 separate sub apartments, as we had rented it out with a view to 3 of us staying, but as our friend unfortunately couldn't make it, we ended up staying in the larger apartment only. I only had a brief look around the smaller one, which seemed to of s similar style but obviously smaller, and with slightly fewer facilities. LIVING AREA The living room and bedroom were actually made up of the same large area, which could be divided by using a large pull across wooden door that was folded flush into several sections along the wall so that it folds out. As you entered the apartment, the bathroom was directly to the right, and past this on the right wall was the kitchen area. Further on and to the left was a large glass topped dining table with 4 metal chairs with fawn fabric seats. Above this was an arty red picture (I'm no expert but I thought it was kind of Rothko style). Straight ahead was a large window leading to a balcony with the mountain view. Against part of this window was a large, fawn coloured sofa with 2 small red cushions perched in the middle, with a identical one facing it across a stylish, low, glass topped metal legged coffee table. A cream colour carpet covered the floor of this area, with cream tiles covering the kitchen area. In the right corner of the room were 4 shelf bookshelves with a DVD player. On the wall to the right of the window and sofas was a large LCD TV, with a gas fire below it. The TV had several channels - TV New Zealand, Queenstown Station (basically one long advert for bars, restaurants and places of interest), Sky Sports 1 & 2, Sky Movies, and Prime. One of the Sky Sports channels had what sounded like police radio interspersed with white noise, which didn't exactly enhance watching football. Wifi was also available in the apartment as $8 a day should we have wanted it. On the balcony was a glass topped metal table with 2 metal chairs. The balcony was cream tiled, and it was almost worth having the apartment for the view only, and this is without even considering the decent facilities within. We watched a pretty amazing sunset one night. BEDROOM Further toward the bedroom area, moving directly away from the window and following this wall, was the living and bedroom partition door. Next to this was a large wardrobe area with shelves, a hanger rail, ironing board and iron. A white, wall mounted desk was wedged between another wardrobe on the right, which had 2 drawers and a phone on top. Above this was another, smaller, LCD TV. The wardrobe on the right had another hanger rail and 2 shelves with extra bedding. A small heater was on the wall to the right. The bed itself was large, possibly king size, with 2 red cushions identical to the sofas on top. A wide dark brown fabric covered headboard was attached to the wall behind. A square metal bedside table with 2 shelves was on each side of the bed, with the one on the left having an alarm clock. Above this was another Rothcko-esque print with some butterflies on it. KITCHEN The kitchen area was a compact corridor, with all facilities fixed against a wall. A big metallic fridge with smaller freezer compartment below was to the left. The fridge contained some UHT milk cartons. To the right of this, a halogen hob and oven below provided cooking facilities, as well as a microwave oven on a shelf on the right. A brown laminate work surface was to the right of the hob, with a modern sink and tap to the right, with the microwave to the right of this along with a sleek metallic kettle and a selection of tea and coffee sachets. Below was a dishwasher. There were also drawers with utensils pots, pans and a bin. To the right was a cupboard and below this was a washing machine. Above were some cupboards containing glasses, a teapot, a cafetiere, plates, bowls and cups, all in a modern, squared style. BATHROOM To the left of the entrance door was the toilet. To the right of this was a very large square white sink, with 2 separate mixer taps. Each tap had some a soap, flannel and shampoo sachet. Under the sink was spare loo roll, tissues and a bin. In front of the door was a towel rack, and to the right was a large bath. To the left of the bath was the shower, enclosed in a glass partitions and door. The shower was powerful although I noted some damage to the small soap shelf, which was wonky so you couldn't perch anything on it. CONCLUSION This was superb value for money at £175 for 2 nights between 3 people, and I couldn't recommend these apartments more. The easy check in and out and great facilities, location and view makes this a must for your shortlist. CONTACT DETAILS HighView Apartments 66-70 Thompson Street Queenstown, New Zealand. Phone: +64 3 450 2142 Fax: +64 3 441 3946 Email : highview.res@breakfreeresorts.co.nz Website : http://www.highviewapartments.co.nz/

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                          02.03.2010 10:16
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                          Great burgers, were we slighted by the service though?

                          INTRODUCTION On my rainy birthday, we sought refuge for lunch in a cafe, and I had seen this place recommended in Lonely Planet. Located at the edge of town, it was a bit of a walk from our lodgings, but hopefully, it was worth it. HALO Although quite functional in looks, with metal legged hard wooden chairs and sparse wooden tables, with a split dark laminate wooden and stone floor, Halo actually feels like quite a cosy place. There is a lot of light thanks to full length windows on 3 sides, overlooking the neighbouring churchyard that must have inspired the name and street, so the only wall was behind the counter. When we went at midday on a Tuesday, it was very full, with room for about 40 people, although this felt cosy rather than cramped. It was very much a family place, with young families and babies welcome. We managed to bag the last empty table at the time. To the left of the entrance is the service counter, with a large whiteboard in front of it with the soup and specials of the days written on with black marker pen. Some magazines to read were on some shelves to the left of this. A big coffee machine sat in the centre, and a large cake display case to the right. A water fountain which wouldn't look out of place in a church added a nice touch in the left hand corner near to the entrance to the toilets, which were down a side corridor. A small crucifix hung about it. As it was November, a Christmas tree sat in one of the window corners. Behind the counter were some shelves holding glasses, spirit bottles and wine bottles. Some wooden slatted tables and chairs were outside, but as it was pouring with rain that day no-one was using them. Inside the tables seated 4-6 people, mostly tables for 4. Easy listening music played in the background added to the relaxed ambience. THE FOOD The menu was split between burgers of various kinds, breakfast treats such as a full breakfast and breakfast burrito. The specials were Thai beef salad with sesame seeds and coriander dressing and salmon with cauliflower mash and garlic and parmesan grilled asparagus, which sounded very promising, and when we saw someone order it, it looked just as promising. I was also tempted by the Moroccan lamb and Jamaican jerk chicken burgers. A bottle of tap water was on the table, as is the norm over there. To drink, I ordered a café latte, which was pretty nice, served in a large cup and saucer with a heart shaped swirl of froth on top. Ms Larsbaby had a chai latte which was about medium spicy compared to the New Zealand norm, and thus was pretty tasty. Served in a tall latter glass on a saucer, it was topped with a thick milky head and a thick sprinkle of cinnamon. Burgers seemed a popular choice all round, and we both ordered a Kiwi Burger to eat. No, that wasn't a bird, but 100% New Zealand beef on a white bun topped with lettuce, cheese, tomato a slightly runny fried egg and slices of beetroot. I gather the latter gives it its name. And what a delicious combo it was. The burger was lean and thick, the whole thing being so thick it had to be sliced in half and eaten with a knife and fork. I really liked the combination of flavours. The melted cheese added softness, the beetroot and lettuce crunch. We both felt very full after eating our burgers. The decent portion of big chunky chips on the side were light and not greasy at all; crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. SERVICE The waitresses all donned t-shirts with angels on them which was quite amusing. They seemed pretty helpful and friendly, although they way we received our bill was odd. We ordered a second latte each as the place started to empty. Then one waitress, unprompted, brought the bill to our table. Having conferred with some friends living in New Zealand, this would appear to be an unusual event, having never happened to them. Was this some sort of insult? We have no way of knowing, but what I do know is if that happens in the UK I find it a bit rude. My friend who lives out there says this has never happened to him and he also found it odd. Seeing as the place wasn't full and that we'd ordered more things, they should really have waited until we asked for the bill. Maybe they thought we wouldn't order anything else, but you'd have thought they'd ask if we wanted dessert. I guess this spoilt it a bit for us, but otherwise the service was excellent. CONCLUSION The popular spot proved an excellent choice for food, notwithstanding the strange circumstances surrounding our bill. Hopefully they will read this review and ensue that it doesn't happen again to the next tourist visitors. It's worth going to find out anyway, but they lose a star purely for that. CONTACT DETAILS Halo, 6a Earl St Queenstown, New Zealand.

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                            26.02.2010 11:04
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                            A decent Queenstown coffee shop with a twist

                            INTRODUCTION Queenstown is packed with cafes and it's nice to find somewhere that stands out. Recommended by Lonely Planet as a good place to sample chocolate, this place certainly made its mark on us. PATAGONIA Patagonia has a good location in Queenstown, just past the main street and facing onto the water and beautiful mountain scenery. There is seating outside onto the open area around it. As you enter the café, there is a dedicated ice cream counter right in front of you, and as this is usually packed you have to ease your way past to the left and around to the main food counter. Against the windows around this are seating areas, each table holding 4 people. Against the window onto the square is a narrow seating area where you sit in a line looking directly out. The place was packed and so we found ourselves settling for an outside seat. The main counter is quite interesting as it's dominated by a glass case display of many flavours and types of chocolate, more than I could mention here, but here's a few to whet your appetite. Dark Chocolate and almond, white chocolate and fig, milk chocolate and citrus peel, dark chocolate and hazelnuts, passion fruit truffle, hazelnut truffle 71% Belgian dark chocolate with caramelised nuts and citrus peel, 71% dark chocolate and ginger, dark chocolate and chilli, dark chocolate with sesame seed ... and that's nowhere near the full collection. Basically you order what you want and they weigh it and you pay for the weight. However, other things can be ordered such as drinks, sandwiches, pies, desserts and waffles. Ms Larsbaby went for passion fruit cheesecake with a chai latte. The cheesecake was delicious. Beautifully presented with a large drizzle of passion fruit sauce, a blob of strawberry jam and with artistic swirls of dark chocolate all around the plate edge, it was light, full of flavour, smooth and creamy. I went for a single chunk of dark chocolate with mixed peel and nuts and a chai latte. The chocolate was very tasty too, with an orangey taste and a crunch from the nuts. Definitely a quality product. The chai lattes came in a large white cup on a saucer, with a small butter biscuit perched on the side, which went very well with the drink with its dense sweetness. The top was decorated with a semi circle of cinnamon powder sprinkled on top, showing a similar artistic flourish to the cheesecake. This was quite a mild and milky chai latte, pleasantly sweet. I liked it a lot; these are usually quite strong in New Zealand and this was a nice change to the norm. As a postscript, there was also a branch in Queenstown airport and I tried hokey pokey ice cream. Hokey pokey is a kiwi speciality, and this type is best described as small balls of honeycomb centre like a Crunchie bar with perhaps a bit more chewiness. The vanilla ice cream with it was decent quality, with the hokey pokey balls adding a pleasant crunch and honey-like taste. CONCLUSION This was a very popular spot for coffee, ice cream and of course, chocolate, and provides an interesting experience. It's definitely worth a visit if you're in Queenstown, whether you fancy lazing around for lunch or just pop in and out for ice cream. The quality and attention to detail on display certainly impresses. CONTACT DETAILS Patagonia Queenstown, 50 Beach street, Queenstown 9197 Tel: (03) 4429066 Website : http://www.patagoniachocolates.co.nz/

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                              23.02.2010 09:56
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                              Finally something good to say about Queenstown

                              INTRODUCTION In our somewhat disastrous trip in Queenstown, myself and Ms Larsbaby did manage to catch a few decent places to eat. Thanks to the Lonely Planet, this place was first on our itinerary. @THAI The restaurant in located just off the main street in Queenstown The Mall, and has to be sought out as it shares the building with an Air New Zealand office, just up the road from several bars. It can be found up a flight of stairs. As you walk in a bar is straight ahead to the right of the room. The restaurant has a lot of tables quite close together, although leaving enough room between each for privacy. Around the edges of the room by the windows are tables for 2. Moving towards the middle are table for 4-6. There seemed to be room for about 50 people at a push. Each wooden table has "@Thai" etched in gold at its corners, which is a nice touch. These tables are accompanied by wooden chairs with white seats, on a greeny-blue carpet, against the cream walls. In the top left corner of the room is a picture of the Thai king, as seems the norm in Thai restaurants everywhere. Thai music played in the background, creating a nice ambience. We arrived at about 7.30pm on a Monday without booking, and the place soon filled up so clearly it's a popular place. We were handed huge menus to peruse. This was huge as in physically, though there was a fair choice of dishes available too. Starters such as prawn rolls, coconut prawns, vegetarian spring rolls, fried tofu and chicken satay were available. Mains included tom yum New Zealand lobster, spicy Thai beef salad, roasted duck curry, red beef curry, peanut sauce chicken, ginger beef, venison with pepper corns, lemon fish and garlic squid. They also sold pies such as curry and chicken. I like the idea of a Thai curry pie, sounds great! THE MEAL To drink, I plumped for the New Zealand Steinlager, which was nice. Ms Larsbaby had a very fresh apple juice. A bottle of tap water was also brought to the table, as seems to be the pleasing norm over there. For starters, we shared some curry puff chicken rolls and homemade Thai fish cakes. The chicken rolls were small dumplings, the same shape as little Cornish pasties, crimped at the edges. They had a potato and mild chicken curry filling which was delicious. The pastry was quite flaky but soft; the whole thing was deliciously moreish. A sweet chilli dip with shredded cabbage was served on the same dish as an accompaniment. The fishcakes had lots of spring onion in them, and were chunky and round. These were also nice. They had a quite mild taste compared to what I'm used to in the UK. These were served with a sweet chilli dip and wanton like strips of fried pastry. As a main I ordered yellow chicken curry with kumera. Kumera is a New Zealand vegetable similar to sweet potato in look and taste. There was lots of this in the dish, and I found it in fact to be nicer than sweet potato owing to its more savoury taste. The curry was a thick, yellow-green concoction, thickened by the coconut milk, quite mild in comparison with the norm. The chicken was also nice. Ms Larsbaby went for Mas-sa-marn Lamb, which is described as "120g Tender lamb cooked in home made Thai curry with potatoes, cherry tomato, tamarind flavour". The lamb was fabulous; a rich taste with melt in the mouth texture, flaking when cut. Large chunks of new potatoes, cherry tomato sans sliced red pepper were mixed into the rich, brown sauce. A smudge of coconut cream remained unmixed on top of the sauce with the meat, which I thought was interesting as you could see how rich it was. Again this was a mild dish. Both dishes were served in deep bowls and were decently large servings. Served with both dishes was jasmine rice, presented in a quite unusual and inspired fashion. Served on a flower shaped plate, the rice was arranged into the shape of a person, and as it was quite sticky it more or less kept the shape. CONCLUSION I usually prefer Thai food a little hotter than was available here, although perhaps yellow curry is supposed to be mild anywhere. However, this was excellent Thai food, with plenty of taste without the heat. At $67 (about £33) for a 2 course meal with drinks, this was pretty decent value for money. CONTACT DETAILS @Thai, Level 3/Air NZ Building, Church Street, Queenstown, New Zealand. Tel : (03) 442 3683 Email : atthai@atthai.co.nz Website : http://www.atthai.co.nz/

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                                19.02.2010 10:05
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                                Maybe the first dissenting view ever of this ridiculously over-rated spot

                                INTRODUCTION In our original itinerary, myself and Ms Larsbaby hadn't planned to visit Queenstown, New Zealand's self proclaimed "Global Adventure Capital", located on the South Island and surrounded by mountains. But an émigré friend of mine insisted that we go there on a 2 day trip on my birthday with him joining us for the best nightlife he's seen in the country. This didn't seem unreasonable, so we let him book the short 40 minute flight from Christchurch. I just hoped it would live up to the hype. DAY 1 : HERE COMES THE SUN Arriving in the small Queenstown airport, the compact town centre can be easily reached with a shuttle bus in 20 minutes or so. As you reach the centre you are treated to the amazing sight of huge mountains in the background, and there is something a bit surreal about this improbably photogenic picture postcard view; almost worth the trip alone. We arrived on a sunny Monday in the November early springtime, and enjoyed some sunshine in a park as well as a nice brunch after we'd settled into our accommodation, the impressive and recommended Highview Apartments which had its own view of the aforementioned mountains. The sunset we saw from there was very beautiful. One thing worth noting is the many different offices that tout themselves as Tourist Information. Many seem little more than fronts for excursion companies; the one you should aim for is the official i-SITE on the corner of Shotover and Camp Streets. Patagonia (50 Beach Road) provided a satisfying sunny view and lattes along with a well presented cheesecake and an array of chocolaty choices. The main shopping throughfare The Mall and surrounding streets provided a lot of opportunities for retail therapy and souvenir shopping and it certainly kept us amused for a while. That evening the bars seemed a bit quiet to reflect this off season of no snow for winter activities, not enough sun for true summer ones. The restaurants however were another matter, which seemed varied and offered cuisine such as Mexican, Thai, European and Japanese. We managed to bag an unbooked seat at the excellent @Thai restaurant (8 Church Street), whose Thai food proved flavoursome if a little mild. DAY 2 : HERE COMES THE RAIN So far so good then. Unfortunately, my friend had been unable to make the trip due to his little one getting ill, so it was just the two of us. And on the next day, my birthday, the wheels fell off spectacularly. Firstly, it hammered down with rain most of the day, and we had planned to get a flight to Milford Sound for apparently spectacular views. One thing to note is that such flights are utterly dependent on the weather, which can often be bad, so be prepared for any such plan to be dashed at short notice and consider the 12 hour bus trip as it is apparently worth it, though it didn't appeal for my birthday. We did manage to get an excellent burger brunch at Halo (Camp Street) but there is only so long you can linger with a latte, and it soon became clear that unless you're prepared to spend all day in a café or bar, there isn't a lot to do in Queenstown when it's too rainy to venture out. Unfortunately my friend had neglected to tell me this in his sales pitch and thus we were left caught unawares; I hope this review helps you in this respect should you ever find yourself there. The free underwater observatory, which is quite easily missed at its on the Queenstown Bay Jetty, down some stairs, and which we visited at least 3 times, offers some respite from the rain. You can watch the eels and fish swim past as well as the native diving ducks come down for food. You can even feed them by putting money into a slot which activates a feeding mechanism, something which several people did and we all had the benefit of. We then moved on to Williams Cottage (Earl Street) which is the oldest home in town, built in 1864. As well as a small café and shop it houses on its walls he fascinating history of the building. Let's be honest though it isn't exactly the Victoria & Albert museum and wastes a maximum of half an hour, so we decided to decamp back to base to laze around until the rain stopped, which it did, briefly, in the evening, enough time to grab a fish and chip supper at Aggys Shack, a small hut near to the park with a couple of tables outside selling lots of fine looking seafood such as steamed green lipped mussels, squid rings, smoked eel and catch of the day. The fish and chips portion I had was huge. Unfortunately, Mr Larsbaby fell ill at this point and hardly even started her chips. So by the time we moved on to have a drink at Dux de Lux (14 Church Street) with its excellent microbrewery ales, it was pretty much over and my birthday was completed by watching Enemy Of The State back at the apartment while Ms Larsbaby slept her illness off. It's fair to say I didn't have this in mind when planning the trip, and the fact that there seemed to be an ad break every 5 minutes or so on TV NZ didn't help my mood; I think the film lasted about 4 hours. Our trip ended the next day. We didn't linger in the town in the rain and got a relatively early bus to the airport, after having an admittedly very nice brunch. I couldn't wait to get on the plane and as far as I could get from the town. CONCLUSION Any dissatisfaction with Queenstown is hugely coloured by my birthday, but here goes. I found it to be the most over-rated holiday place I have ever been to. I've been to worse places but none so ridiculously hyped by guidebook and misguided friend alike. If I was in my mid 20s and liked extreme sports and drinking I would have been in my element but, picture postcard view aside, it was a car crash of a place as the rain hammered down unremittingly. The rain is a bigger factor that any of the information I have read about the place ever acknowledges. Activities such as bungy jumping, jetboating, white water rafting, river surfing, canyoning, flying (including our abortive trip to Milford Sound), gliding, skydiving, mountain biking, horse trekking and winter skiing are readily available. There's even a luge going down from the gondola. Hiking is available in the surrounding mountainous areas. As far as excursions go, these are dependant on time and transport. You can visit Arrowtown, which you can reach by bus, and visit the Chinese settlement that arose due to the gold rush in Arrow River in the 1860s, where they were subjected to quite significant racism. Wanaka, 100km to the north east, is also apparently a nice place to visit, with the New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum charting the history of New Zealand combat pilots, along with planes such as Hurricanes and Soviet fighters. This is best done by car (and we can't drive). But I guess there were other things I could have done. The Gondola up a scarily steep cliff face didn't enthuse at all as I can't stand heights so we avoided it, but apparently there are great view of the town, lake and mountains, as well as a café, restaurant and Maori cultural shows. Myself and Ms Larsbaby aren't at all interested in bungee jumping, white water rafting or the like and so Queenstown was from the start not really our kind of destination. The TSS Earnslaw trip, a tour around the surrounding waters in an old steam ship, seemed too contrived. So that was that then. The highlight for me, by a mile, was the underwater observatory, which pretty much tells you al you need to know. With a decent bit of sun and a good group of people I can imagine you'll have a great time here. When one companion (whose idea it was and who was supposed to provide the local knowledge) is a no show and the other is ill, and even the ducks can't take any more rain, you can have a better time in Milton Keynes in November. The Lonely Planet states that "No one's ever visited Queenstown and said 'I'm bored' ".Well I'm saying it, I was utterly, incontrovertibly bored; I've been less bored waiting for coats of paint to dry whilst painting my kitchen. Don't believe the hype. I am in no hurry to go back. FURTHER INFORMATION If you still want to visit, here are some useful links: http://www.queenstown-nz.co.nz/ http://www.queenstown.nz.com/

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                                  16.02.2010 10:48
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                                  Excellent new hotel

                                  INTRODUCTION Onwards on our tour of New Zealand, myself and Ms Larsbaby spent a few days in the capital, Wellington, travelling from Auckland via the Overlander train. Booking through Trailfinders, we chose the Copthorne Hotel as it seemed to be in a decent location. COPTHORNE The hotel is indeed in a good location on the edge of the Wellington harbour front, near to various bars on Courtenay Place and across the water from the exceptional national museum, Te Papa. A New World supermarket is close by, handy for basic provisions. It's maybe a 15 minute walk to the train station though, which may be a consideration. A cursory look at the building and reception leads you to the conclusion that it's very new due to its shiny, pristine appearance. We got a free room upgrade and also, thanks to our agent Trailfinders, a free breakfast which at first they didn't want to give us until we showed our invoice, as they apparently hadn't been informed of this. I think the receptionist was a bit miffed she'd upgraded us only to find we'd got another trick up our sleeves. THE RECEPTION The reception area was to the right of the main entrance, with the lifts straight ahead as you walked in. Reception was a quite large area, with an unattended desk to the left of the entrance which may have been concierge service. A computer was on a desk in the window to the left, with some high seats. To the right in the main reception area were several sofas next to the windows accompanied by low glass topped wooden coffee tables, on green rugs over the cream tiled floor. A wall mounted LCD TV was to the right of the reception desk, which itself was in front of the sofas. BREAKFAST Breakfast was served on the 7th floor, and as you exited the lift, immediately in front was an area of green, red and brown sofas with an LCD TV on the wall and a small bar to the right with some high chairs. To the right of this bar was the breakfast area. This had a carpet with green and wavy patterns, with several wooden tables seating 2-4 people, all with dark brown wooden chairs with red fabric seats and backs. A nice arrangement of jams and a butter dish was on each table. The breakfast was buffet service, the counter being to the left, facing a large window to the right which had an excellent view of the bay with its elevated location. This was a very relaxing area, with easy listening music being played. There was a great variety of things to choose from. Six metal platters contained the warm dishes; eggs, bacon, mushrooms, potato cakes, sausages and tomatoes. There was a selection of breads, croissants and muffins. Some fruit and nuts were available, as was a selection of cereals such as muesli and corn flakes. You could even choose from light or normal fat milk. Orange juice, grapefruit juice and water were also available. One thing I really liked was yoghurt topped with fruit puree served in large glasses, which was very tasty, the bitter yoghurt and sweet puree complementing eachother well. The muesli was also nice. I also tried some of the cooked items, of which the potato cakes were particularly melt in the mouth tasty, smooth pureed and creamy, filled with bits of onion. I also tried the small tasty croissants and a square apple filled roll which was great. Tea and coffee was served to your table, with friendly waiters and waitresses politely requesting your order. Tea came in a smart little teapot. THE ROOM The room we got was huge, in the Bay Wing overlooking the waterfront, complete with a balcony for us to look over. It was even split into 2 sections. As you walked in, to the right a kind of side room had 2 single beds side by side. A wall mounted bedside table was between them. A full length mirror above ground level was on the wall facing the beds. Further forward was the main bedroom area. The room had cream walls, and on the wall to the left of the TV was a small print of 3 flowers which was quite nice. The plush carpeted floor had a black mosaic pattern. A big, comfortable double bed (maybe even King size) with a shiny green patterned bedspread was against the right wall as you entered the room, with a big fabric covered headboard behind it. On each side was a small dark wooden bedside table, hanging attached from the wall. The right one had a telephone, pen and small notepad, the left one an alarm clock. Some way above these were small conical white bedside lights, also attached to the wall. On the opposite wall, in a dark wooden wall panel was an LCD TV. Below this, also set into the wall, was a glass doored mini bar which could be lit up by a small inside light, which I thought was nice styling. This contained 2 wine glasses, crisps, sweets, wine and spirits. The TV has 10 channels, including TV New Zealand 1-4, a Maori channel, Sky Sports, Sky Movies and CNN International. To the left of the bed was a large dark brown wooden cupboard. One large compartment had a rail with 2 bath robes hanging from it. An ironing board, iron and suitcase rack were also enclosed. The other, smaller compartment to the right had another rail and a safe which you could set the combination of, a hairdryer and a couple of spare pillows. Two drawers were also contained here, with an extra blanket. Between these 2 high compartments was a lower compartment with shelf that contains a kettle, some UMT milk sachets and three cups and spoons. On top was a box of teas, containing green and earl grey teas, along with hot chocolate, coffee, sweetener and sugar. Under the cupboards was a fridge with a selection of soft drinks, beers and wines. To the right of the TV was a dark wooden desk, which had a hotel restaurant menu, hotel guide and Ethernet cable on top. A drawer contained local travel magazines. Under the desk was a wooden bin and a wooden chair with grey wooden seat & back. The window was to the right of the desk was a large window and balcony facing onto the main street. Next to the window was an orange easy chair with built in footrest and a small striped cushion. I found this chair to be very comfortable. Perhaps surprisingly, this was still a quiet room and we were never disturbed by noise from the street. BATHROOM To the left of the bed was the white tiled bathroom. A square white sink on top of a marble grey effect surface was in from of the door to the left. The sink plug was a very impressive spring loaded arrangement. This also had some tissues, 2 glasses and toiletries, including flannels, body lotion, conditioning shampoo and cotton buds. A bin was under the sink. To the right was the bath with a modern looking shower attachment. Modern looking towel rails were over the top of the loo, to the right of the shower. The floor had large rectangular cream tiles, and was very clean. Indeed the whole bathroom had a gleaming, seamless, modern sheen to it, down to the trendy light fittings and fitted ceiling lights. The shower was good, the mixer tap being very efficient. Even the towels were well thought out, ribbed to help aid the drying process, which really impressed me. CONCLUSION I can't recall staying in a hotel where I noticed so many well thought out little touches all around it. Being very new probably helped, and I was highly impressed with the whole experience. I can highly recommend this hotel for any holidaymaker in Wellington. It's excellent location and facilities give a good impression of the city. CONTACT DETAILS Copthorne Hotel Wellington Oriental Bay, Wellington, New Zealand. Tel : +64 4 385 0279 Fax : +64 4 384 5324 Email : copthorne.orientalbay@millenniumhotels.co.nz Website : http://www.millenniumhotels.co.nz/copthorneorientalbay/

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