Visiting: Ueno Zoo Tokyo

Ueno Zoo is one of the three zoos housing Giant Pandas and also the oldest zoological park in Japan.  Located a short distance from the electronics/tourist centre of Akihabara alongside Ueno Park it’s easy to get to and thanks to a very low Y600 (under AUD10) admission price very affordable for even a short visit.

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Visiting: Wakayama Adventure World

I really like Giant Pandas so it made perfect sense to incorporate a trip to Adventure World into our Japanese holiday.  See Adventure World is home to the largest “family” of Giant Panda outside of China.  At the time of writing (and our visit) 7 were living there.

It’s not all about the Pandas though with the park being a hybrid of theme park and zoo.  During our visit the persistent rain kept visitor numbers down and we didn’t explore the whole park.

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Review: Okumizuma Onsen

When we started planning our 2016 trip to Japan we both felt it would be essential to try and stay in some more traditionally Japanese accomodation and couldn’t go past the location and setting we found at Okumizuma Onsen.

Our very first night in Japan turned out to be one where we were able to immerse ourselves into Japan and soak away over 24 hours of planes, trains and automobiles in the natural hot spring baths of Okumizuma Onsen.

Okumizuma Onsen
Driveway and entry to Okumizuma Onsen.

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Review: Hideaway Island (Vanuatu) Snorkelling

Hideaway Island was definitely a high point of our Vanuatu Holiday.  The snorkelling was exceptional despite the day being quite overcast, really it only played havoc with the GoPro footage a little bit and probably kept the crowds at bay.

Hideaway Island is also home of the The Underwater Post Office which has a great novelty factor, but I did find it a bit of a reach (in depth) while snorkelling.

Where is it?

Hideaway Island is a small island within the shelter of Efate Island in Vanuatu.  Surrounded by reefs the island is only accessible by boat from Efate Harbour or a “ferry” service from the nearest point on the main island.  There’s a small fee to access Hideaway Island that you pay once landed.

The bar/cafe on the beach sells a variety of food and drink at slightly higher prices than elsewhere in Vanuatu.

Getting in the water


While there’s a few ways to get to Hideaway Island with organised tours we got a ride direct with a local boat from Efate harbour area, it was a longer trip but a different way of getting around.

One of the more “odd” things to see is the Underwater Post Office which is manned by a SCUBA equipped Postman at various times of the day.  Simply buy a postcard on the beach, fill it out and take in the water for postage!

During our visit the weather was mostly overcast which probably kept some of the numbers down so it never felt ‘crowded’ however we also visited in the shoulder season.  TripAdvisor comments indicate that at various times of the year it can feel overcrowded.

Reef shoes or proper closed flippers are essential as the coral starts from the moment you step into the water and is very unforgiving.  I’d almost suggest some gloves would be ideal additions if you are thinking of being more tactile with things.

So despite a reasonable number of people in the water are there still fish to be seen?  Obviously the videos show there are, but I guess like most things the schools look larger in the brochure.  It’s still possible to be bobbing along and suddenly find yourself being surrounded by a school who will scatter at your slightest change in movement.

All-in-all Hideaway Island gave us a great experience in the water at a very reasonable cost.  It’s a great addition to any Vanuatu trip if you’re on the island of Efate.

Review: The Bower at Broulee

The Bower at Broulee is an exclusive couples getaway accommodation on the NSW South Coast.  Our two night stay in one of the self-contained “bowers” lived up to the high expectations and ranks as one of the best short stay holidays we have enjoyed.

Location, Location, Location

The Bower is nestled on a large property with a modest entry marked by a rather significant boulder (The Boulder at Broulee?) with a rustic sign.  Despite all the website notes about it being hard to miss the reality is that once you are looking it’s not difficult to find.  There’s also a map (below) which is pretty self-explanatory.

How to find The Bower

We stayed for two nights (mid-week AUD498) as part of our road-trip along the NSW South Coast and enjoyed the peace and tranquility on offer.  We enjoyed a long walk through the grounds, before emerging on George Bass Drive and making our way along to the town of Mossy Point, before turning south and walking along the waterfront

The Wildlife

One of the consistent features of other reviews of the The Bower is the amazing animal life and our stay was no different.  While the abundant birdlife provided entertainment with the antics of Mr Fluffypants and a myriad of native parrots the arrival one night of a Possum family which was friendly enough to take fruit slices offered to them was a highlight.

Baby Kookaburra - Mr Fluffypants

The Accommodations

The Bowers are scattered over the property in such a way that we only really saw them from a distance while driving on the access road, and some glow at night from the lighting in the trees.  The Bower itself (Premium Spa Bower) is a well designed mini-home with a spacious feel and very high quality finish.

The well appointed kitchen will let you cook just about anything you can imagine and the provided hamper of breakfast supplies kicked off our days perfectly.  The inclusion of local produce (such as the distinctly brilliant Tilba Milk) is a great touch.

Final Thoughts on The Bower

Our stay, although short and somewhat dampened by overcast skies in the region was excellent.  The Bower experience is unique and exclusive, and as such there’s only some many weekend nights available and the rates reflect this.

If you’re serious about taking a break from the “rat race” do a longer mid-week stay and enjoy both the tranquility at The Bower, but also take the time to enjoy the hospitality of the region.

You won’t regret it.

3+ Months of HelloFresh!

It wasn’t so long ago I was writing about our initial experiences with HelloFresh, the meal kit delivery people.

So perhaps it’s time for an update.

This week marks week 14, we skipped a week by accident, which isn’t hard thanks to the slightly confusing App view where you can pause deliveries.

The meals themselves have worked out well in the most part, if you imagine getting 30+ fixed meals there’s always going to be the one that doesn’t quite match your desires.

However some consistent themes have emerged.


This is tough to judge, they remain easy to follow but, if I’m honest, I’m getting a little tired of the end-result photos being impossible to achieve via the recipe.  All the pictures on this page are of meals I made, and thanks to the magic of the camera look great, but somehow the pictures the HelloFresh team put up just don’t reflect the instructions.  Small thing but it does lower your self esteem a bit when you can’t get a result close to the #FoodPorn they promote.

Generally though they’ve been good, there’s been a few “too hot to handle” and a few “so bland it’s a shoe” but I could probably do some more work to mitigate this myself!


The meat quality is generally good, the chicken while often short dated has never failed to be excellent.  The pork has also been great, with well cut portions and not much fat.

The beef on the other hand tends to always resemble those cuts that the butcher offers as part of the cut price BBQ pack, and tends to be grisly and tough.  Sometimes I’d thought it had had a romantic moment with Edward Scissorhands – if you get Rump steak in your first box it’s likely to not impress much.



I’ve not had to substitute or swap out any bad produce although as I’ve said before aesthetically I’ve been a bit challenged from time to time.  There was that week that seemed to short us around 200g of potatoes but in the execution there wasn’t an issue – besides who needs those empty carbs 😉


We have both been happy with the quality and variety of meals, that said possibly the past few weeks have had a greater degree of “it’s ok” items but here in Australia we are also in the difficult transition from Winter to Summer which really skews the appetite and cooking desires.  

I think the fact that we continue to depend on the service and haven’t run off to Marley Spoon or other competitors says it all.  Although I’m tempted just to try!

HelloFresh – Going Vegetarian!

The HelloFresh Veggie Box Option

I’m a omnivore, no debate, no argument, as far as I’m concerned meats are on the menu!  So then why am I writing about the HelloFresh Veggie Box?  After all didn’t you just see me write about a box containing all the good meaty things?

Well sometimes the magic that is HelloFresh doesn’t offer a mix of recipes to taste and as a customer you may either “Pause” that weeks delivery OR you can switch the order.  For our second week with HelloFresh we switched the order to the Veggie Box.

What’s in the Box?

On first glance the box is almost bursting with vegetables.  The packaging is good enough to have prevented any major damage.  On the freshness and quality front I’d say the produce was good.

The Menu:

Keen Bean Enchiladas

Roasted Stuffed Eggplant

Toasted Waldorf Jumble with Quinoa

HelloFresh – Italian Spaghetti & Meatballs

In a previous post I talked about my initial impressions of the HelloFresh delivery that arrived this week.  It’s our first time using such a service so the quality of the produce and the quality of the menu/recipes are equally important in determining if we’ll continue.

The HelloFresh Italian Spaghetti & Meatballs

Included in “the box” are recipe cards for the ingredients, they’re also available online at their website in PDF format.  This is our third meal from “the box” after the North African Lamb Tagine and Pepper Crusted Steak with Warm Potato Salad posted previously.

The recipe was straight forward as previous experience has led us to expect.  The pre-prepared mince joined an array of ingredients that did need some preparation.

Putting it together

When it comes down to it preparing this dish is quite simple, there’s a few steps but with only two saucepans at play it’s hardly a challenge.

The instructions are very clear and provide incremental timings which deliver a good result.  I probably could have halved the size of the meatballs (I divided the mince as directed) and added a bit more Golden, Brown, Delicious to them but for the initial few boxes from HelloFresh we’ve trying o be sticklers for the recipes!

Hitting the Plates & How it Tastes

I found it a little hard plating, pasta just doesn’t seem to want to cooperate or be photogenic so there’s only the single photo.

HelloFresh - Italian Spaghetti & Meatballs - Served

In summary it was an interesting diversion from a regular bolognese and reasonable value at the $11.50 cost.  It wouldn’t be hard to reproduce this recipe for about half that price, but you’d be having to make about 6 portions to do it!

HelloFresh – Pepper Crusted Steak with Warm Potato Salad

In a previous post I talked about my initial impressions of the HelloFresh delivery that arrived this week.  It’s our first time using such a service so the quality of the produce and the quality of the menu/recipes are equally important in determining if we’ll continue.

The HelloFresh Pepper Crusted Steak with Warm Potato Salad

Included in “the box” are recipe cards for the ingredients, they’re also available online at their website in PDF format.  This is our second meal from “the box” after the North African Lamb Tagine posted previously.

The recipe is simple enough and in some ways hardly imaginative but was also the first meal where we needed to supply some of our own “pantry items”.

Putting it together

Pepper Crusted Steak with Warm Potato Salad brings a few more parallel cooking functioning into play.  While the oven roasts the quartered chat potatoes a pot simmers away ready to blanch the sugar snap peas just before serving.  Meanwhile the steaks (a rather thin piece of rump) gets a single side coating of crushed peppercorns before hitting the pan.

The instructions are very clear and provide incremental timings which deliver a good result.  To my taste the steak could have been a bit less “done” although this is more a function of thinner cuts then perhaps first anticipated by the HelloFresh crew.

It’s not rocket science and once the ingredients are brought together it starts looking like the sample picture on the menu!

Hitting the Plates & How it Tastes

HelloFresh - Pepper Crusted Steak & Warm Potato Salad Up Close
Up close with the HelloFresh Pepper Crusted Steak & warm potato salad

Laying out on the plate the meal looks good with the vibrant colours of the salad contrasting the peppery char of the steak.

HelloFresh - Pepper Crusted Steak & Warm Potato Salad Served

The warm potato salad is really the highlight of this meal, the steak itself was fine, but we all know what a piece of peppered steak is like don’t we?  The salad had crunch from the sugar snap peas, a little bite from the shallots and the aromatic dill carrying though the buttery smoothness of the roasted potato.

Some other reviews claimed there’s too much pepper on the steak but that’s something under the control of the chef so I don’t know why they ended up with more than they liked when they put it on in the first place!

In summary it was a good, filling meal that met with the expectation raised from the AUD11.50 per plate cost.  A minor downside was that the cuts of rump steak were not the best I’ve seen.