Travel: Exploring Auckland

Today’s guest travel blog is by former Auckland resident Cassie Twemlow. You can read millions of travel blogs, but there’s nothing like getting the inside story from a local. Cassie recently travelled back to Auckland for a family holiday, and I asked her to share her secrets about how she spends her time in New Zealand.

travel auckland

Auckland is one of, if not my favourite, places in the world!

My young family and I lived there for 2.5 wonderful, but not nearly long enough, years back at the start of the decade. We were lucky though – we lived on ‘The Shore’ which, if I had to equate, would be like the Manly of Sydney (but better!). It was flat, we were nestled between the beach and a lake, my daughters could walk to school and kindy, I could walk to work, we could all walk, or cycle, to Countdown or New World (Woolies and Coles), bars, restaurants, cafes and most other places you needed on a weekly basis. It was awesome!

Unfortunately, work prompted our move back ‘home’ (I say ‘home’ lightly because I think I will always consider Auckland my home now). However, in the September holidays I surprised my daughters with a trip back to NZ for a week. I was so excited, and when I eventually told them (the night before leaving) so were they!

As it usually goes, we visited all our oldest and greatest friends and spent many hours at KiwiYo. We admired the harbour and many beaches (their water is BLUE!), froze in the wind and then sunned ourselves in the afternoon sun (Crowded House weren’t joking when they sang about ‘Four Seasons in One Day’) and ate and drank too much.

But apart from catching up with people I wanted to visit old haunts and do things and visit places I missed.

So here is my list of ‘walking’ things to do in Auckland…

1. Climb Rangitoto:

travel auckland

Rangitoto Island is off the coast of Auckland and is visible from most parts of the mainland. Over 600 years old, this once-volcano has a unique volcanic landscape that also boasts beautiful native fauna and flora. Rising to 260m high it is a great morning or afternoon climb to the top for kids and adults alike (although, I wouldn’t rely on kids younger than 4 years to trek all the way up by themselves). You can take a ferry from Devonport, on the north shore, or the city straight across to the island.

Lava caves

Lava Caves on Rangitoto Island

A family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) costs $75. We took the 0925 ferry across and had plenty of times to walk up to the summit, around the crater rim and detour to the lava caves, with time to spare before our 1230 ferry back to Devonport. Make sure you bring water, snacks and sunscreen. A torch is useful too if you’re wanting to visit the lava caves (the one on your phone is usually good enough) because these are pitch black. It’s an amazing 360° view from the summit! – You can see all of Auckland and the harbour out to Waiheke and on clear days, as far as the Coromandel and Great Barrier Island.


2. Visit Ponsonby:

I love Ponsonby (or Pon-Snobby as I like to call it). It is a vibrant part of inner-city Auckland filled of streets dotted with gorgeous villas, trendy cafes, cool stores and award-winning restaurants. If you stick to Ponsonby Rd you really can’t go wrong.

Cruising up and down this lively road is always fun no matter what the weather or what time of year it is. There are some amazing unique boutiques scattered along the road that sell everything from crafts, fashion and food. You can easily spend an entire day just wandering around and every now and then stop for a pulled pork burger and kumara fries or a double hot chocolate.

There are some seriously cool bars along and just off Ponsonby Road for those requiring a few adult beverages and a seat at a popular side-walk café. The Fairy Shop and other knick-knack outlets will keep the kids amused for a few hours if you need to drag them out with you – the promise of a mega donut shake will probably encourage them to keep walking with minimal whinging. There is something for everyone along a 1km stretch. If you are there around Christmas time, make sure you check out the light displays on Franklin Rd, which is always a popular and famed street for going completely OTT.

3. Milford Beach to Takapuna Beach:

travel auckland

It is particularly nice because it is varied. You start at the bottom of one of the streets that runs perpendicular to the beach, which will take you to the boardwalk. Walking along here past beautiful water-front homes and with a great view to Rangitoto you will eventually come to the end of the man-made pathway which then merges with more of a nature track that looks like you’re walking through someone’s yard! But, keep going.

The short track will eventually lead you to another man-made retaining wall which is fine for walking along. This brings you out at Thorne Bay, a beautiful little swimming hole only accessible by residents who live in the houses that overlook it or by people willing to take this walk. It’s very trendy and popular in summer with families – the kids swim or poke around in the lava rocks that line the beach and have a great time.

After Thorne Bay you get back onto a path whilst walking around the point. However, when you come out the other side and you can see clearly to the south, you’ll be walking on and around all the rocks that make up the coastline. It’s very beautiful but only for those who have good footing. Again, I wouldn’t recommend this walk for anyone under the age of 4 years and it’s also unsuitable for prams, scooter and bikes.

From here until you reach Takapuna Beach Holiday Park is all rocks. You can be as tame or adventurous as you like but be mindful of tides before you venture off on this walk as some parts of the rocks can be beneath water level when at high tide. Once you’re past the Holiday Park you’ll see the Takapuna Beach Café. Now is the perfect time to reward yourself with a coffee and a gelato for the kids whilst strolling along the beach itself – voted one of the best in NZ for obvious reasons. You can then walk back the same route or head up to Hurstmere Rd and take the easy walk back along the street and past some great bars and restaurants.

4. Westhaven to Wynyard Quarter and Viaduct:

Now, this is something you can do on foot or wheels. Again, because it’s flat, the kids loved taking their scooters on this 5km round trip from the marina around to Silo Park. We parked at Westhaven and walked along the new boardwalk all the way to the equally new-ish (about 3 years old) revamped Wynyard Quarter.

It’s a leisurely walk and the blue and green clean water of St Mary’s Bay is just beautiful to admire (especially coming from Brisbane!). You get to play ‘imagination lotto’ and pick out your favourite boats from the marina, marvel at the real estate on St Mary’s Bay face and catch up for a good old natter whilst pounding the wooden boards.

Eventually you’ll have to turn left down Wynyard Dr or Beaumont St which will bring you out at Silo Park and the play space. The kids can let off some more steam here on the playground, basketball court or by jumping in and out of the paddling pool. If you keep heading down Jellicoe St you’ll get to the famed Auckland Fish Market on your right and many new restaurants and cafes on your left which overlook the harbour.

Grab lunch and a pint whilst you’re here before heading back the way you came. Or, if you want to explore further, keep heading east towards the city centre along Wynyard Crossing and you will ultimately come out at the Viaduct. New Zealand Maritime Museum, the Hilton and many restaurants and bars all populate this area of energy.

(Click on the map to enlarge).

So many people come to NZ to explore the south island for skiing and its beautiful landscape, but don’t rule out Auckland. It is cultural, scenic, and friendly and I would recommend it as a holiday for everyone who especially didn’t want to travel too far from home. There are loads more things that you could do whilst here and, because the country it so small, it is easy and fun to plan day trips or weekends away if basing yourself in Auckland.

Definitely check it out!

Takapuna Beach

Takapuna Beach, Rangitoto Island



Cassie Twemlow is a graphic designer who designs digital artwork, websites, corporate branding, and invitations as well as photography and custom artwork. You can find her at  She’s also a legend who lets me test out my camera settings on her every now and again.

Thanks Cassie! I look forward to travelling back to N.Z 🙂

A lifetime of collecting, creates a legacy of memories for future generations.

Today is “Pink Ribbon Day” and in honour of the late Wendy Mattern, and with the permission of her family, I would like to share this interview with you. This article was intended to be published earlier this year, however, due to the complexities of the print publishing world, was not published.

Rob, Bronwyn and Wendy enjoy time together in the formal lounge area, just off the entrance of the house.

Rob, Bronwyn and Wendy enjoy time together in the formal lounge area, just off the entrance of the house.

When Interior decorator Wendy and her husband Rob decided to downsize after their daughters left home, they were looking for a house that would incorporate modern open plan living with the ability to house the grandkids for sleepovers.

Their single level elevated house is located in a quiet cul-de-sac in the western suburbs of Brisbane, and allows enough space for entertaining as well as showcasing the collection of memories from their travels, and careers in Interior Decorating and Styling.

Asian head, a gift from Wendy's dear friend Charles in LA now sits in the entrance foyer of the home.

Asian head, a gift from Wendy’s dear friend Charles in LA now sits in the entrance foyer of the home.

Wendy began collecting miniature containers and other silver boxes, when she was given her Paternal Grandmother’s Hobnail Glass perfume bottle. This she says, “sparked a life long love of all things miniature, including hat pins, “Netsuke” and a collection of “Limoges, which was a gift from my mother”.

Hobnail Glass

Wendy’s hobnail glass and hat pin collection.

Upon entering the combined lounge and dining area you are immediately struck by the careful curation of oriental pieces, seamlessly integrated with charcoal sketches, and family heirlooms.

The formal lounge area of the family house is filled with special memories and antiques collected from around the world.

The formal lounge area of the family house is filled with special memories and antiques collected from around the world.

Wendy, a Brisbane girl and Rob from Pennsylvania met and married in Los Angeles when Wendy was on a working holiday in America. During their time in LA they met Charles Phillips, who assisted clients sourcing special features for movie and television sets. Wendy joined him on some of the forays into interesting haunts in LA. Charles became such a good friend that he even sketched the design of Wendy’s wedding dress. The sketch, however, no longer exists as it was left with the dressmaker.


Wendy and Rob were visiting friends in a little town near Sarlat in the Dordogne region in France when they spotted this plate in an antique market

Ten years and two children later, they returned to live in Brisbane. Charles sent them many hand drawn charcoal sketches as Christmas cards during their life long friendship, and some of these are now framed and hang on the walls.

The antique furniture in the lounge area was collected in Los Angeles and brought with them when they moved to Australia. Wendy’s mother’s hope chest, one of an original three, was sent out from Hong Kong. On it sits a delicate collection of Easter themed miniatures. There is a pair of antique Chinese porcelain lamps of “Kwan Yen”, the Goddess of compassion and mercy beside the chaise.

Faberge Eggs adorn the hand carved antique chest

Faberge Eggs adorn the hand carved antique chest

Many locals of the western suburbs of Brisbane will remember when Wendy and a friend ran the highly successful “Shop 91” at Indooroopilly Shopping Town. “There wasn’t a significant birthday or wedding gift that wasn’t purchased from us in the area”, Wendy laughs. Shop 91 allowed Wendy and Rob to keep in touch with trends in collecting and enjoy continuing to collect themselves.

After this, Wendy began her career as a stylist, preparing homes for sale. Many of her clients loved her so much that when they moved to their new home, they hired her to purchase and decorate and design their new interior. Husband Rob, began the management of the trades people involved in the design and decoration projects.


The kitchen has a server window and over looks the covered entertainment area beside the sparkling in-ground pool.

Bronwyn, Wendy and Rob’s youngest daughter has begun to follow in her mother’s footsteps, launching her styling career on Instagram. “It’s been really interesting listening to mum talk about all her collectables today. You take things that appear in your family home for granted- it’s been wonderful to hear the background stories of so many of the objects, that until now, I have not stopped to think about the significance.”


Bronwyn serves tea in the kitchen for her mother, Wendy who says that tea always tastes better in porcelain cups. Bronwyn relishes the time with her mother.

Bronwyn can be found on Instagram at BRONLOVESDESIGN.

Note from author: Sadly, Wendy Mattern died as a result of secondary Breast Cancer June 5, 2015. It was an honour to have met her, and I will be forever grateful that even when terminally ill, she took the time to tell me about her life, and graciously allowed me to photograph her house.


Finke Desert Races

Travel: Finke Desert Races (Northern Territory)

Finke Desert Races

Today’s guest blogger is Susan Papazian, a travel, portrait and lifestyle photographer from Sydney, who I met when she was helping Carla Coulson at the Picture This Photography Workshop in Sydney. Susan and I had been chatting online in one of Carla’s private Facebook groups prior to the course and it was such a relief to see a “familiar” face at the course. We’ve stayed in touch and I regularly ask Susan questions about photography and she’s always open and amazingly helpful. I’m not sure that I would have made it through the course without Susan. She steadied my nerves and constantly answered my questions about which manual settings my camera should be on. Today she guest blogs about her recent travels in the Northern Territory- it’s a part of Australia that I have yet to visit. I hope you are inspired to explore a little more of Australia.


Finke Desert Races

The Northern Territory outback has always been on my bucket list of travel destinations. The lure of traveling abroad to capture different lands, people and cultures has strongly pulled me in that direction over the last few years. Somehow, traveling and photographing in my own back yard would often get pushed to the bottom of my priority list, but certainly not to the back of my mind.

I first experienced a taste of the Aussie outback in 2011. Three girls – my sister, my best friend and myself drove for a week in a beat up old car from Brisbane across the outback to Darwin in an event called the Shitbox Rally, to raise money for the Cancer Council. It was an unbelievable experience, taking me through towns such as Longreach and Catherine. Driving hundreds of kilometres a day through dusty roads, crossing rivers (yes in the car!) and camping under a millions stars each night was magical!

Ironically, my road to becoming a professional photographer started later that same year. I didn’t even have a point and shoot camera so I used my iPhone to snap a few shots here and there. I always regretted not having captured this stunning part of the world through the “eyes of a photographer” and promised myself I would return to the NT, with camera in hand!

Fast-track to 2015. When details of a travel photography workshop with Master photographer Daniel Linnet landed in my inbox – “On Assignment Desert Journey, Northern Territory”, I jumped at the opportunity. This was my chance to head back to the “heartbeat” of our country, the Aussie Outback.

The eight day adventure would start in the town of Alice Springs. The first night was spent in a hotel before the trip would take me to the bush, with no showers or man-made toilets. Surprisingly, I was very excited to be roughing it in the bush, with no internet connection, no checking phones messages or email and no jumping on Facebook. The whole idea of being isolated and “disconnected” from my world created a huge sense of freedom for me.

The next eight days was one of the most liberating experiences of my life!

The first assignment was photographing the Finke Desert races.


You don’t often hear of female photographers getting excited about photographing motorbikes, buggies and quads bikes, let alone in one of the most remote places on the planet. I had never heard of the remote indigenous community called Aputula (Finke), 159km south of Alice Springs, let alone the Finke Desert Races. But this off-road multi-terrain two-day race, run over the Queen’s Birthday long-weekend, between Alice springs and Apuluta,is known as one of the most gruelling and toughest events in the world.


Day one was the preliminary and qualifying events, just outside of Alice Springs. As I arrived trackside, the place was buzzing with spectators, young and old. The smell of petrol filled the dusty air and the sound of engines revving, at most times, would drown out any conversation.


Like any country I visit, it’s the people that draw me in first, well before the architecture and the landscape. As a photographer, the very first connection I feel and make is with the people. Day one at the races had a carnival feel. Spectators clambered on top of cars and scaffolds to get the best vantage point. Tinnies of beer were kept chilled in eskies and the free flowing cans and bottles consumed snuggly found their place in stubby holders. This was real country Australia and it was only to get better.


The second night of the trip took us to Ooraminna Homestead Station 32km south of Alice Springs. It is nestled between the MacDonnell Ranges and the Simpson Desert. Stepping into Ooramina is like stepping onto a film set. And that’s exactly what it was when a few years back a visiting film crew built a little town to film the movie The Drover’s Son.


On the land you will also find Ooraminna’s Police Station and Wooden Slab Hut, built of stone and timber slats, retaining a rustic feel that’s increasingly lost in the outback. The Homestead caters for tourists who can stay in the fully furnished cabins. But for me, a tent and a swag was where I would be sleeping.


The cracking sunsets and sunrises are spectacular. The stars light up the sky in their millions and the distant sounds of dingos and kangaroos wandering through the brush make the experience complete.


The next morning was day two of the Finke races. This is where the true excitement of getting close to the action would begin. A short drive from camp and I was at “trackside”. The winding dirt corrugated track snakes through the dusty red land, with spinifex, mulga and desert oak dotting the landscape on either side. Although the track was realigned and rebuilt in the early 1980’s, the race continues along the original course.


Standing a few feet away as the bikes and quads raced by, the clouds of dust spitting from under the tyres and filling the air was very dense. So how does one protect their camera from the dust? A plastic bag and some masking tape covering my lens and camera body ensured my gear would be protected. A bandana around my mouth and nose helped somewhat, but I could feel the red dirt creeping into my nose and ears and showering my hair. I loved it! The Finke races are tough, dirty and dusty and that’s really the only way it should be. It is after all an Aussie sporting event in the Outback. Having it any other way just wouldn’t be the Finke Desert races!

Susan in action: Image Stephen Allworth

Susan in action: Image Stephen All worth

The racing dust that had crept into my pores stayed there for the next four days of my outback journey.

From here, I travel to a bush camp “Angkerle Arrenge, the outstation of our guide Jungala’s family. Stepping onto this special land, I feel an inexplainable spiritual force sweep over me. Jungala, who is from the Arrente (pronounced Ah-runda) people, suggests I go into the bush and introduce myself to the spirits of the land. As I do, a gentle energy tugs at my being, and as I stand there with tears in my eyes, I genuinely feel a strong and lasting connection to the land.

The journey continues and the remaining days I spend taking in the incredible landscapes at Standley Chasm, Ellery Big Hole and Serpentine Gorge off the Larapinta Trail and meeting some incredible people along the way.

Stay tuned to hear my story and see my photographs on another blog post.

About Susan:

Susan Papazian is a travel, portrait and lifestyle photographer based in Sydney Australia. She takes amazing portraits, and if you live in Sydney, you should absolutely update that crappy LinkedIn photo and call her! (Katische cheekily inserted that line)

You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

Susan Papazian

Susan Papazian : Image courtesy Tony Strasser

Champagne region guide

Travel: Your guide to touring the wineries in the Champagne region of France

Today’s guest blog is written and photographed by Distant Francophile– Scott and Janelle Gould.

I met Scott in January when we were both attending and intensive four day portraiture workshop with the Australian/Parisian photographer Carla Coulson.  Everyone at the course, whilst learning portraiture, was also a travel photographer (not surprising given that Carla’s original speciality was travel photography). Scott and Janelle are in love with France- and it wasn’t until recently that Iearnt exactly how much until I saw on Instagram their trip to Paris.  I was thrilled when they accepted my invitation to blog about one of the wine regions on my bucket list- Champagne.

So enjoy- I do recommend that you pour yourself a glass of bubbles whilst reading this- just to get into the mood 😉

Travel Champagne Region France

I’m quite surprised by the fact that it took us years to visit the Champagne region of France. Especially given how much we enjoy the famous local product – and the fact that we visit France at least once a year.

The problem was one of perception. I’d always thought that we would have to do a tour of the area, but I could never find one that suited our needs. And despite me asking anyone and everyone for a tour recommendation, the responses I received were usually a bit underwhelming.

Eventually, after a bit more questioning and a lot more reading, I worked out that you could essentially craft your own tour of the Champagne region – and its famous Champagne houses.

So it was under our own steam that we finally visited the famed French region.

To help out anyone else who might be keen to explore the area, here are our do-it-yourself suggestions for visiting the Champagne region of France.

Decide Which Champagne Houses To Visit – Before You Work Out How To Get There

A massive number of choices make this step easier said than done. All of the well known (and many of the lesser known) Champagne houses seem to offer a variety of guided visits for you to choose from. And the on-line reviews aren’t a lot of help – apparently every visit of every is house is recommended at least once as the very best!

Like anything, you only seem to be limited by the time you have available and your budget. However, it seems that for many of the guided visits, booking is essential, so you really are best to give it some thought before you go.

Given Scott and I were only planning to be in the region for one day, we really wanted to see and learn as much as possible. We were also keen to see the crayères or chalk mines the region is famous for so we centred our ‘house research’ around the houses in Reims that offer tours of the mines.

After much deliberation, we decided to make a very big day of it and visit two houses – Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart.

Visiting Veuve Clicquot 

Let’s start with Veuve Clicquot. The famous house offers three different guided visits at various times and price points:

  1. The one hour ‘Discoveries’ tour,
  1. The ‘In the footsteps of Madame Clicquot’ tour, which also takes an hour and focuses on the extraordinary woman who gave so much to the brand and;
  1. The ‘Aromatically Yours’ tour, which is provides an in depth overview of the house. It runs for two and a half hours and also includes a cheese tasting.

We chose to take the top of the range ‘Aromatically Yours’ visit which runs on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. We felt that it would provide far more detail of the history of the house. It also offered tastings of four vintage champagnes whereas the other tours offered fewer tastings.

When choosing your guided visit it is important to know that these tastings are not what we expect in Australia, where you taste a fairly small sample.  In France, you get a full glass of every wine on offer – important to note if you are planning to drive.

We booked our Veuve Clicquot tour on-line and paid for it on the day of our visit.

Although the ‘Aromatically Yours’ visit can accommodate eight visitors, there were only four of us on the Wednesday we visited. The ‘Aromatically Yours’ visit has a single time slot – 10:00 am – which seemed a little early to me. But our guide Vincent – an Italian sommelier who’d worked in many countries before marrying a French girl – explained that this start time is specifically chosen because our senses are heightened at this time of day.  I learn something new everyday!

Our visit started with an overview of the vines – specifically the three varieties that are used in Champagne – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Vincent showed us how to differentiate between the vines – apparently you can tell the difference by looking at the leaves.

If there was a test, I don’t think I’d pass it…

Vincent then guided us to a beautiful aroma garden where we spent time crushing flowers and leaves, trying to memorise scents that we might later find in the wine.

Following our aroma garden experience, Vincent gave us a run down of the history of the house and the region while we tasted non-vintage champagne. He also shared Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin’s story, the extraordinary young woman who married into the Clicquot family, was widowed aged 27 and who went on to improve just about everything regarding champagne. It is remarkable to consider just how successful the widow Clicquot was in a time when women were expected to do anything but run a family business, let alone revolutionise an industry.

She also gave her name to the house, given the word ‘veuve’ is French for widow.

After being immersed in the history of the house, we played a blind food smelling game where we again tried to identify scents that we might find in the wine. We then tasted jams – all with the aim of getting us primed to taste the vintage bubbles.

We were now well prepared and Vincent led us into the crayères. Veuve Clicquot has access to 24 kilometres of crayères or chalk mines which they now use as cellars for the champagne. The crayères are amazing cave-like spaces dug out of the chalk. It is quite chilly in the crayères – they remain at 12 degrees celsius year round. This fact really resonated with me when I learnt that that the caves had provided refuge for the citizens of Reims during the second world war.

Veuve crayer stair

Many of the crayères have been named after loyal workers who have been with Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin more than 40 years. Even after they’ve left the company, the former worker can visit ‘their’ crayère and can use it for private functions.

Travel Champagne Region France

Our tasting was also held in one of the bottle lined crayères, which provided spectacular ambience. We were treated to two champagnes from the 2004 vintage – a brut and a rosé as well as a 1990 rosé and an excellent brut from 1989.

Vincent took us through the whole champagne making process and explained the differences between the champagnes as he guided us through the tasting. He took the time to explain the nuances of the wines and I feel like I developed a much better appreciation for champagne in general.

Travel Champagne Region FranceOur champagnes were perfectly matched with cheeses – the older the wine, the more mature the corresponding cheese.

Veuve Cliquot

Our two and a half hour visit flew by and I only have one word for the whole Verve Clicquot tasting experience – and that is amazing!

Visiting Ruinart

Ruinart sign

Ruinart, by contrast, offers one style of guided visit at various times of the day. We chose 4:00pm so we would have time for lunch and to visit the famous Reims cathedral between our Champagne house visits.

Ruinart accepts visitors by appointment only, and payment is required when you book. Unfortunately, the on-line payment method is not particularly secure, which may deter potential guests.

That point aside, the booking method ensured that the Ruinart team knew we were coming – there was a security guard awaiting our arrival at the gate. Once we’d had our names ticked off the guest list we were free to take in the sight of the aristocratic buildings which sat very comfortably on perfectly manicured grounds.

We were soon met by our guide and ushered into the formal waiting room. Ruinart visits are limited to eight visitors, so it didn’t take long for all the guests to arrive.

While we lounged on plush furnishings, our guide explained the history of the house and the region before we climbed down the numerous stairs to the Ruinart crayères.

Ruinart have access to eight kilometres of crayères and the structure of the Ruinart chalk caves are quite unique.

Ruinart crayers

Ruinart crayers

Although the word amphitheatre is inappropriate in the context, it is the word that keeps springing to my mind. Some of the Ruinart crayères are impressively cavernous. One was even used as a ‘cathedral’ during the World War Two, when these crayères also protected the locals from the perils of war.

Travel Champagne Region France

Ruinart crayers

With our tour of the crayères complete, we returned to our plush lounges for a champagne tasting. The Ruinart tasting consisted of two glasses each – and guests get to choose their two tastings from four champagnes, two of which are rosés.

The entire Ruinart visit lasted around an hour and a half and it certainly offered a taste of class that you’d expect from a luxury champagne house.

I have to say that we were really pleased with our decision to visit both Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart in the one day. Not only do I feel like we got an extensive insight into the champagne making process as well as the crayères, our decision also gave us a chance to compare and contrast two spectacular champagne houses.

Getting Yourself To The Champagne Region From Paris – And Back Again.

Once you’ve made your choice of Champagne houses to visit, and understand your tour times, you need to plan your journey. You could choose to hire a car from Paris if you were a) brave enough to drive in Paris and b) didn’t want to taste any bubbly. Unsurprisingly, we decided to take the train.

Our fast, smooth TGV service left Paris at 8:00am from Gare de l’Est and delivered us to Reims in around 45 minutes. You can book and pay for your train tickets in advance on-line – but do make sure that your destination is Reims rather than the Gare de Champagne-Ardenne. Stopping there would leave you in a difficult spot, about five kilometres south of Reims itself.

Although we didn’t choose to do so, it is easy to take a connecting train from Reims to the capital of the Champagne region, Épernay if the champagne houses in that town are better suited to your taste. Apparently Épernay is beautiful and worth a visit in its own right – I’ve definitely put it on the to-do list for a future visit.

Returning to Paris was equally easy, with trains running regularly. Again, the travel time was only 45 minutes. Of course, if you had the luxury of more time, it seemed that there were many forms of accommodation in Reims, and you could easily stay longer if you wanted to explore more of the area, or wanted to space out your visits to the Champagne houses.

Getting around the Champagne Region.

Scott and I tend to do a lot of walking while we are in France – you just get to see so much more. And while we were in Reims, it was no different.

The town of Reims is really quite charming, despite suffering a fair amount of damage due to bombing in World War Two. A number of older buildings remain intact, with squares and green areas providing space for visitors and locals alike.

We were due at Veuve Clicquot at 10:00am, and as it happens, Veuve Clicquot is the house farthest from the railway station, on the outskirts of Reims. The walk itself took a little over 30 minutes so we arrived with plenty of time to spare.

That said, other visitors on both our morning and afternoon tours chose to take taxis which seemed to be in good supply, with the staff at the Champagne houses ordering cabs for visitors at the end of the tours.

All in all our do-it-yourself visit to Champagne worked a treat – we had a fantastic day in a beautiful town – and I would recommend the DIY option to anyone else struggling to select a tour of the region.

Distant Francophile

Scott and Janelle Gould from Distant Francophile: Image: Carla Coulson

About Janelle and Scott

You might already be aware that Melbourne, Australia is a long way away. From anywhere. From everywhere. But especially from France, particularly if you happen to be a devoted francophile.

We are a husband and wife team who love travel and photography. We also had a passing interest in France. But this interest grew into a full blown obsession after spending October 2008 in Paris and Provence with our son. We fell in love with the people, the culture, the architecture, the food, the wine… basically, we fell in love with everything about the place.

Since that first trip, we have chosen to brave the 24 hour flight to France several times – we try to visit at least once each year. We spend every spare minute planning future journeys – researching accommodation and tours, restaurants and shopping opportunities, packing lists and train timetables.

And when we cannot be in France, we are searching for ways to capture the spirit of France, and bring it into our everyday life…

Colleagues, friends and family originally smiled at our ever growing infatuation. Slowly though, they started to seek our advice on all things French. We are forever lugging books and photos here and there, scribbling out addresses and providing advice…and we absolutely adore every minute of it!

Where to stay in Champagne

Monday Motivation

Every morning you are

Hello fear. Did you wake me to tell me you loved me?


1:58 am

Hello fear. Did you wake me to tell me you loved me? Have I not been giving you enough attention lately? I know. I’ve been playing with creativity, and I’ve been on such a high, that I’ve neglected you. You haven’t been invited to the party, and now you’ve had enough. It’s been more than six months since you’ve reared your head in the middle of the night, and brought with you your guest Mr Panic attack. I’d forgotten the sensation of bile in my throat, and the thought that yet again tonight would be a night of no sleep.

But you’re here, and that’s ok, because, creativity may be cowering in the corner, but I’m going to invite both of you to sit beside me, whilst I tell you a story. A story of my love for you both. A story about why I need you both in my life, but why I have to be the one in control.

Five years ago, I decided to blog. I started in secret in the middle of the night, with an account at   I had no idea what blogging was, but I had an urge to write. I was about to be a single mother for the first time, and I thought that if I had somewhere to write my thoughts, I could help steer them in the direction I wanted. I was desperately afraid about depression, and the lure that it might have with my new circumstances. I had seen you fear and you had courted me and I was beginning to become familiar with your fragrance.

I had seen creativity, however, she was shy and patient. She sat waiting for me, day after day and I would glance over at her, wondering why she wanted to be my friend. You fear were becoming bolder with my attention, and began to shower me with affection. But on the day that I found myself at the computer, creativity had snuck over to sit by me.

Creativity whispered to me in a tiny voice, almost inaudible, that I should write about my journey to come. That on the pages of this blog, I could pretend to be brave, and have adventures, and that if I wanted, no one needed to see them. You heard fear, I don’t know how you did; perhaps you have some kind of magical hearing ability, but you spoke loud and clear and told me that there was nothing to write.

But that night, I wrote, and for a moment, there was hope. There was hope that I could create an adventure.

Angered by my attention and boldness, you launched a war with creativity. Each time I wrote a blog, you woke me in the middle of the night, and urged me to go to the computer and press the delete button. And so the pattern began. Write, delete, write, delete, write delete, write.

It felt like a battle between two selves, and in order to gain the upper hand fear, you brought in a new weapon. vomiting. Oh yes charming indeed, but you got my attention. Now you would wake me with terrible thoughts about what people must think about me, and I would run to the bathroom, vomit, and then, with great relief, go and delete the terrible offensive blog about my life I had dared to write. You see, people had begun reading my blog, and following it, and even writing comments. You’re a jealous lover, and didn’t like their attention.

But for some reason, these friends who read my blog, they understood. They cheered me on, and they still came back, despite the broken links and erratic writing schedule. Creativity introduced me to photography, and now, I began to tell you to sit on the porch, whilst I wandered the yard in search of light and beauty and flowers. Creativity held my hand as I created little pictures of inspiration. Some people liked them and looked for them. I told myself that I was creating these pictures for them- but secretly each message was actually for me. I created the messages and blogs that I needed to hear each day, in attempt to help me cope with the overpowering presence of you in my life.

And then suddenly, I look back, and it has been five years. You and I and creativity have had a wonderful journey. We’ve probably created as many  blogs as we’ve deleted, but we’ve written and photographed, and now together we work as a team. We wrote a whole book together, and then fear you went away on a holiday, but I see you’ve come back tonight.

Well my friend, welcome back. It’s ok, I know you’ll always be around, but tonight, you’re just going to have to wait to tell me your tales, because creativity just made a mug of hot chocolate, and wants me to finish this blog. Creativity has told me to work through the feelings of bile and stomach unrest that you’ve brought back with you. Rather than thrash in the bed at 2:30am in the morning, creativity has asked me to write this love story so that my friends may understand. You see creativity and fear, you are conjoined twins, and you both have a place in my life. But neither of you may take the steering wheel, that is for me now.


A note to you dear reader:

Thank you for being here. I wrote this blog tonight to help myself, as it truly is now 2:35am and I am in the middle of a panic attack. But I want you to know that if there is something that you have been meaning to do, that it is time to give yourself permission to go ahead and give it a try. Please let me know in the comments below, what it is that you are going to be brave about today.

Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert, who through her Big Magic Lessons, introduced me to the concept of not letting fear be the driver of your life. It looks like I got a Big Magic Lesson in the middle of the night and have internalised her comments!


Material Girl

It’s Fri-Yay! So I thought I’d share a video with you, and a little personal story. I’ve been examining my beliefs about money lately, and I really started noticing how many songs about money are negative.

Have you noticed?

Have you ever stopped and listened to the words of our most popular songs about money? They reinforce a common stereotype- that money is scarce and that you have to be lucky to get any.

If you’re a male then you definitely want to watch out, because those women out there- well they only like you for your money, not who you really are. And IF you finally “make it” and get material wealth, then watch out because they’re coming for you.

As a single mum, you can be sure that I’m only too aware of the stereotypes surrounding money and women….

So I’ve been doing a little inner work about my money beliefs, and transforming them from being negative to EMPOWERING.

I believe that what you believe about money creates your reality, and I believe that if you are a spiritual person money is not evil, because it is an enabler, which helps you achieve your dreams, and help other people with theirs.

If you’d like to hear about my journey, and the CLEANSE that I did to give it all a bit of a shake up, then I’d love you to join me at the following:

Let me know in the comments below what your favourite money songs are. Are there any out there that you’ve come across that are inspiring?

P.S. That link will send you three videos that I created. Yep I actually learnt this week how to make videos and I’m as nervous as hell about people watching them. If you end up watching them, send me an email and tell me how I went ok? thanks.

What do you believe in?

I think everyone knows how passionate I am about mindfulness. The most important thing that you can do to live more mindfully is to start understanding the association between how you feel, and what you are thinking.

When we peel back the layers we discover that our thoughts are actually based on our beliefs. But who said we have to believe what we believe? Your mum? Your religion? Your culture? Your partner?

We are all given our own minds for a reason, and this is the key to creating the future that we want.

Stop believing what everyone else wants for you, and start thinking about what it is that you actually want in life.

feelings and thoughts and behaviour

Travel: a surprise lunch in the vines


Last Saturday I went for a five km walk around the Enoggera Reservoir. I was finished by 8:20am and home and showered by 9:30am, which got me thinking, what was I going to do for the rest of the day?

travel- enoggerareserveouir

I escaped both the heat of the day and the crowds by completing my walk around the Enoggera Reservoir by 8:20am

I had no plans, and didn’t want to end up spending the day at my desk, catching up on work. I wanted to go somewhere, except for the fact that it was the long weekend, and you know what long weekends mean- TRAFFIC.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to go out somewhere for lunch and make a day of it? I thought. My mind started its auto search and bingo, I remembered a winery out Samford way, that I had been meaning to try.

So I rang the winery to see if they had any tables available and then rang mum. I asked her if she had anything planned, and as she began to tell me about her never-ending list of jobs (when you are a widow, it seems like a never-ending list because it takes a lot to keep a house maintained by yourself). Today’s list was the watering system.

I had anticipated that there would be jobs, and told her- well, I need your help. Unless it’s absolutely urgent that you fix those sprinklers right now, then I need you to help me come and research something for the blog. Ok she said what? Never you mind I said, just shower and I’ll pick you up at 10:45am. Wear something nice.

I knew she’d be in an absolute flap. I’ve always been spontaneous and it takes me a whole of ten minutes to shower and get dressed for the day. Mum on the other hand, has a complicated beauty, hair and makeup routine and it can take her an hour alone to get ready.

10:35 I arrived and I could hear the hairdryer still going.
“Mum, I’m here- we have to leave by 10:45 at the absolute latest as our table booking is for 12:00 and it’s at least an hour’s drive to where we are going.”

Now I had her attention.

“You can do your makeup in the car….” (I’ve never seen her resort to that in her entire life).

“Where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise.”

Eventually I told her that we were heading to Mount Mee, to Ocean View Estates Winery.

I’d never been to the winery, and so it was a gamble, however, I knew that Sirromet: Mount Cotton Estate was not an option as the freeway to the Gold Coast would be chock a block with traffic.

ocean view estate winery

Entrance to Ocean View Estate Winery at Mt Mee, Qld, Australia.

We ended taking a very very scenic route there, however, we made it in time for our booking. The first thing we noticed at the winery was the elevation. We were up high and it was much cooler here. (500 meters above sea level to be precise) I affectionately call mum a lizard as she always needs to warm up in the sun, and so she was glad we were visiting in spring and not winter.

We were shown to our table at the enclosed verandah, which had peaceful views of the vineyard and the heart shaped lake. (Really, I promise it was shaped like a heart).

We ordered two glasses of the Reserve Viognier and a shared Charcuterie Plate which contained serrano, soppressa, fresh marinated anchovies, pepperdew with truffled mascarpone, peppered pecorino, marinated mixed olives, cornichons, and sourdough bread.

For main I ordered the fish of the day, which was Barramundi, served with soubise, sea spray, crushed peas, goats curd, and edamame. I recommended mum order the twice-cooked crispy duck, with candied orange, mushroom dumpling, kale, and port jus. I had seen that the reviews for the restaurant on Trip Advisor were mixed, but that the best reviews were from those who had ordered the duck.

We both thoroughly enjoyed our meals- mum was not so sure about the mushroom in the dumpling and would have appreciated some mashed potato with her dish, however, it did not impact upon her satisfaction.

We were too full for desert, however the people at the next table certainly looked to be enjoying theirs.


Outside dining option

It was too cool for mum to want to wander around the vineyard and she wasn’t interested in tasting more wine, so we decide to leave that for another time.


Some of the wines on offer at Ocean View Estate Winery

As we left we noticed that a large group of people were eating lunch outside and had just finished a horse ride around th winery (horses tied up nearby).


Horse ride around the vines anyone?

The restaurant was also putting their finishing touches together for a wedding that afternoon, down by the heart shaped lake! Now I understood….


Setting up for an afternoon wedding.


The lake of love- told you it was heart shaped.

All in all a lovely afternoon and highly recommended, especially if you are staying for a relaxing weekend at a B&B in the Daybro, Mount Mee or Samford regions. If you want to have the full experience, complete with vineyard and winery tour at 11am, a tasting in the cellar door followed by lunch in the restaurant, then I recommend staying on the property in their accommodation.

The winery also can organize a picnic in the vines, a helicopter wine tour, a “just girls getaway day” as well as a ride on those horse I mentioned earlier.

I think mum enjoyed herself much more than staying at home fixing those darn sprinklers…

Things you need to know:

Opening Hours:

Wednesday 10:00-3:00pm Thursday to Sat 10:00pm til late Sunday 8:30am – 5:00pm

Restaurant bookings 07 3425 3900.

Vineyard and winery tours 11am daily

Owners: Thomas and Kate Honnef