Panda Machine by GSF, Monsterthreads logo

While we were wandering around Sydney, my mate and I happened upon a delightful little shop called Monsterthreads, located in The Galeries between George Street and Pitt Street.  Their shop sign, an image of Panda Machine (who I like to call Robot Panda), quickly caught my eye and I just had to go in.  After having bought nothing other than tourist tat in Cairns, I was so happy to find a unique Aussie shop.

Monsterthreads’ main products include t-shirts, bags, jewellery, greeting cards and melamine plates all from various artists.  I came away with several treasured goodies, including a lovely butter yellow coloured Robot Panda tee and a large tote bag. I absolutely adore the Panda design so was happy to find they’ve got an online shop so I could order matching his and hers hooded jumpers for me and the hubs! For UK shoppers, there’s also Monster Threads UK, but I prefer the Aussie site as it carries slightly different merchandise.

Shop details:

SYDNEY: CBD – The Galeries Shop 7 ground floor, 500 George St, Sydney NSW 2000
T: (02) 9029 9201

Mon-Wed, Sat 10am to 6:30pm, Thurs 10am to 9pm, Fri 10am to 7pm & Sun 11am to 5pm

Curious Creatures Down Under

Sydney is home to a number of wildlife sanctuaries and aquariums.  We decided to visit the Taronga Zoo and Sydney Aquarium:  Taronga Zoo is hands down one of the best zoos I’ve ever visited and would love to go again.  As for the aquarium, luckily we decided to get cheap tickets toward closing time, as we left rather unimpressed with what it had to offer.  That said, I did fall in love with a dugong, which made the experience more worthwhile.

Prior to our trip to Oz, I did a Google image search for wombats and was a bit put off by its seemingly half-bear-half-pig-like appearance.  But essentially, the furry little creatures look more like oversized hamsters in real life and are absolutely adorable!

And since Monkey liked them so much we decided to purchase a mini-wombat as a souvenir.

I was tempted to pay the extra AUD$25 to learn more about koalas and take a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity with one but decided against it.  Aside from being quite cuddly creatures the koalas didn’t seem to do much but sit around, which made photographing them quite easy.

The hubby’s favourite, echidnas (also known as the Spiny Anteater) were interesting to observe as they poked about random feeding holes.  I decided to do a Google search on them after we returned home and was horrified by what I found (proceed at your own risk and search echidna+YouTube).

Emu have quite funny faces and if memory serves me right, we saw this silly bird wandering around the Taronga Zoo Walkabout with the kangas and wallabies.

As you may have read in a previous post, I had quite the feast at a restaurant in Cairns and started to feel a bit guilty as I came into such close proximity of the kangaroos and wallabies.

I apologised to the kangas (who were too gamey for my taste anyway)…

And vowed to never eat another wallaby again (though they were quite tender and tasty, like a fine cut of beef).

Parents with young children quickly scurried past this exhibit and we didn’t even see the little Tasmanian devil (boo).  Although I appreciate the educational value of the exhibit, I found it a bit morbid to have at a zoo.


Sydney in Pictures

With only five days in Sydney, we felt incredibly pressed for time.  We were faced with the dilemma of going the tourist route or hanging with the locals.  In the end, we opted to focus our energies on seeking out the gastronomic delights of Sydney and exploring some of the main attractions of the magnificent harbour city.  Here are some of my favourite spots:

(Pitt Street Mall)


(Sydney Opera House by day)


(Sydney Opera House by night)


(Harbour Bridge)


(Sydney Harbour)


(Manly Beach)


(Bondi Beach/ Bondi Icebergs – like a dream to see it in the flesh!)


(View of Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge from Mrs Macquaries Point)

Savouring Sydney

After having such a wonderful culinary experience in Cairns, I was really looking forward to tasting all the flavours that Sydney had to offer.  But perhaps we were a bit unlucky when it came to some of our dining choices.  That’s not to say we weren’t able to savour any of Sydney’s delights — here are some favourites which proved noteworthy!

Din Tai Fung (644 George Street, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia)

Famous for their xiao long bao (essentially a succulent pork dumpling), and having fond memories of the original Din Tai Fung in Taipei, we made our mandatory stop here on our first night in Sydney.  The dumplings were superb, as were most of the side dishes. I would recommend skipping the pi dan dofu (roughly translated as thousand-year-old-egg with tofu), which can be quite nice, but something tasted a bit off with the one we had.



Pie Face

There’s a Pie Face on practically every block in Sydney CBD.  My favourite is the chicken and mushroom pie.  These mini pies make for a great midnite snack or a lovely hot breakfast.



Opera Bar (Lower Concourse Level, Sydney Opera House, Sydney NSW 2000)

A lively beer garden with the best view on the harbour and the perfect place for us to catch up with old mates!  Their sweet potato crisps were really nice, as was their tasting platter.



Searock Grill (5 Macquarie Street, Opera Quays, Sydney NSW 2000)

We loved Searock Grill so much we had dinner there twice.  The first time we had a scrumptious roasted duck salad and seafood platter for two, which turned a lot of heads. The seafood was excellent and the fresh melon was a nice touch.



Our second dinner was less extravagant but shows the versatility of this restaurant. The hubs had a Wagyu beef burger, which was cooked to perfection and I had Black Angus sirloin with yabbi tail.  I was mainly after the yabbi tail, which turned out to be smaller than I had imagined but tasty.



Guylian (10/3 Macquarie Street, Opera Quays, Sydney NSW 2000)

I’m not sure I need to say much about Guylian.  Obviously not a local Aussie shop, but who doesn’t enjoy a bit of lovely Belgian goodness when they’re on holiday?



Eating Our Way Around Cairns

To my delight, Cairns ended up being a food lover’s paradise.  As we would later find out, even Sydney could not compete with the amazing food we had in Cairns.  In no particular order, here are some of my favourites:

Kani’s Restaurant (59 Esplanade, Cairns QLD 4870, Australia)

I had a lovely entrée of oysters; for the main I had the carbonara, which reminded me a lot of the carbonara I used to have in Japan. Yum!  My hubby had calamari fritti and fish and chips, which would be the first of many to come.



Ochre Restaurant (43 Shields Street, Cairns QLD 4870, Australia)

In a word, fabulous!  We shared the following:

Game Platter, which included salt and pepper leaf crocodile, grilled kangaroo, roast wallaby fillet, and sweet potato fritter with dipping sauces.  [I know, I know, how could I even bring myself to sink my teeth into such cute, cuddly creatures? But in case you’re wondering, crocodile tastes a bit like chicken (don’t all reptiles?), kangaroo is a bit gamey, and wallaby is actually quite lovely, a bit like beef and very tender.]

Tempura Bay Bugs on lemongrass, green papaya salad, and sweet chilli lemon myrtle dipping sauce.

Ochre house salad, which contained mixed salad leaves, roast Roma tomato, crisp bacon, olives, Mungalli feta cheese, and spiced macadamia nuts with garlic mayonnaise.



Finz (Macrossan Street, Port Douglas QLD 4877, Australia)

I had the garlic bugs (Morton Bay Bugs – smaller than lobsters, bigger than shrimp, texture in between the two?) simmered in a light garlic butter & white wine cream sauce, finished with dressed spinach and crusty bread.  All very tasty but I was still hungry afterward…

Hubby had salt and pepper calamari and linguini with fresh bugs, prawns, calamari and reef fish, pan seared with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, chilli, butter, and white wine.  Simple and delicious.



Beach Almond (145 Williams Esplanade, Palm Cove QLD 4879, Australia)

We shared the seafood platter, having been assured that it would be enough for two, and at the end left very hungry!  The mudcrab was so tasty, however, as was the banana leaf barramundi, that we didn’t really mind.  I have no idea what was in the sauce for the crab, perhaps lemongrass and chilli and other Asian spices, but it was just lovely!



Barnacle Bill’s (103 Esplanade, Cairns QLD 4870, Australia)

We shared Bill’s Seafood Platter, the Bug Endeavour (Morton Bay Bugs galore!), and Barramundi Kilpatrick.  I wasn’t a fan of the Kilpatrick sauce, but the food in general was tasty.  We had dessert next door at Mövenpick, which was a nice change from all the gelato we’d been having.



Ganbaranba Noodle Colosseum (12-20 Spence St, Cairns, QLD 4870, Australia)

I was so excited to find an authentic Japanese ramen shop in Cairns.  A total hole-in-the-wall establishment, everything about the restaurant oozed Japan and made me so nostalgic.  I loved the bottomless pitchers of iced barley tea (mugi-cha), as well. Their homemade gyoza comes in squares and the tonkotsu broth was just perfect–not too thick and not too oily.  A real find, as well as one of the cheaper places to eat around town.  We enjoyed the ramen and gyoza so much that we ate here THREE times during our stay!



La Pizza Trattoria (93 Esplanade, Cairns QLD 4870, Australia)

Seating is outdoors only and although we were absolutely melting outside, we still managed to enjoy our last meal in Cairns.  We shared a light seafood pasta, margherita pizza, and a nice large glass of carrot and beetroot juice.  Perhaps the juice was a bit random, but totally refreshing as my body was craving vegetables!



Adventures Down Under: Cairns

If I could spend more time in any place we visited on our adventure down under, it would definitely be Cairns.  At 32°C and 89% humidity, you’re lucky if you don’t pass out from heat exhaustion in summer.  But if you can beat the heat and learn to love it, you’ll love Cairns!  In addition to being a major gateway to the Great Barrier Reef (and to my pleasant surprise), Cairns offers an abundance of delectable cuisine, ranging from modern Australian fare and fresh seafood, to authentic Japanese ramen and Thai delights.  Not to mention, my absolute favourite, Rusty’s Markets, which offers a range of fresh local produce including fruit, vegetables, and seafood.



But that’s not all!  Cairns is within a short driving distance to the towns of Palm Cove, Kuranda and Port Douglas, as well as the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. When you’re up in the Daintree, you must make a stop at the Daintree Ice Cream Company!  Their ice cream is made from fresh fruit grown in the Daintree and hence, their flavours vary with each season.  When we went in early December (2011), the flavours available were soursop, banana, wattleseed, and black sapote.  Absolutely divine!



We visited all of these spots in one day, but if you have more time, I would recommend splitting the journey into two parts as each place has so much to see and experience.

Back from the Land Down Under

After being on eight flights in three weeks between home, Australia and New Zealand, we’re back on land and already feeling nostalgic for our recent adventures. We’d been planning our holiday since August and I can’t believe it’s now all in the past!  We’re absolutely knackered from all our travelling so I think we’ll be staying put for the next few months.  But what a fantastic way to end 2011!

I’ll be updating this blog with stories from our recent travels soon, so please check back for new posts!  Blogging this year has been a challenging but fun experience. Thank you all for visiting and I hope you’ll continue to enjoy reading my posts in the year to come!  I wish you all a very happy and safe holiday and a fabulous new year!

Bondi Icebergs

I first heard about the Bondi Icebergs through a friend and became very curious about the story behind the exclusive swimming club.  Founded in 1929 in Sydney, Australia, the ‘the home of winter swimming’ has some very strict membership rules and it’s definitely not easy to make the cut.

As Michelle Wranik of CNN International discovered, if you can’t remain fully committed over a five-year period, you cannot obtain full membership (the initiation includes swimming in the outdoor pool for three Sundays every winter month, and more than 75 times over five years).

Fancy a dip in one of the best saltwater pools in Australia but can’t be bothered with all the membership rules? Well you’re in luck as non members can also swim at the Icebergs! Pool entrance is AUD$5.50 for adults, and towel hire $3.50.

Although it will likely be a pain to battle all the tourists (erm…like myself?) at Bondi Baths, I reckon it’ll be worth the visit at any time of year, even if just for the impressive views.  We do plan on making a trip out to Bondi Beach when we’re in Sydney, so do check back for an update on our experience there!

Here is my favourite section on the Iceberg’s website, which I have included here for your enjoyment.

How to Join the World Famous Bondi Icebergs

Potential Icebergs should note that induction days for the Bondi Icebergs Winter Swimming Club are held over two weekends in April. NB You should confirm these dates and times at the club.  Complaining about getting it wrong and citing this information, will get no hearing.

After being “Lofterized” in the Members room (don’t worry it doesn’t hurt…much), filling out a form, paying membership up front, you swim a 50m time trial.

a.  To establish you won’t drown.  You need to be able to get from one end of a 50m pool, to the other, via the water, self propelled.  (For stroke correction see “Jo the Mermaid”.  Have noticed a few improved swimmers around the pool and even “the Spy” is vowing to learn to freestyle, so get on with it.)

b.  To establish your handicap time.  I’ll repeat that, your handicap time.  So swim faster, if possible, than you’ve ever swum in your entire life.  (If you don’t get it by now, oh well…)

However, be real, the Icebergs is a commitment and the Club makes no apologies for that.  It is what makes the Club the largest, most recognized winter swimming club in the country, if not the world.  You are obliged to swim 3 Sundays a month over the 5 month winter season.  You will be considered a novice  i.e., not a Long Service Iceberg, until your 75 swims over a minimum of 5 years is up. Being an Iceberg is a responsibility and taking responsibility for yourself.  As JFK said when he was an Iceberg,  “Think not what the Icebergs can do for you, rather, think what you can do for the Icebergs.”

Can’t make the Induction Days?

No worries – You can’t be an Iceberg.

Live too far away to make the commitment of every week?

No worries – You can’t be an Iceberg.

Former Olympian “I don’t like swimming in cold water.”

No worries – You can’t be an Iceberg.

You want special rules, that you’ve decided to make up, to apply to you.

No worries – You can’t be an Iceberg.

You think you want to be an “Iceburger”, like it’s something you get at Macca’s.

You’re an idiot – You can’t be an Iceberg

You’re a hand wringing, slim hipped, purse carrying, nancy boy, who’s blaming everyone but yourself for not having your current membership card on Winter Season Opening Day.

Be an Iceberg – Pay the Pool Entry Fee, it’s about taking responsibility, remember?

Being an Iceberg isn’t for everyone and that’s why being an Iceberg is special.  There are plenty of other winter swimming clubs you can join.  They have limp wristed names like Dolphins, Seals, Crabs or Eels.  None of them are the Icebergs.  None of them have “Rule 15B”.  It wasn’t a Penguin that sunk the Titanic was it?  You’re not going to walk into some gin joint anywhere in the world and proclaim proudly “I’m a Splasher” and expect anyone to care…oh please.  None of the other clubs have hundreds of swimmers turning up week after week after week, rain or shine.  It’s what makes the Icebergs great.

Wrong Question:  How cold does it get?

Correct Answer:  It’s never cold enough!

You’re an Iceberg!  Toughen up!

So why do it?  It’s fun, whether you like it or not!  It’s a point of contact with people from all walks of life, you can bag a local Fireman (everyone does) and an aspiring Prime Minister on the same morning.  You can drink beer and eat meat pies.  There’s healthy food at the “Crabbe Hole Cafe” on pool level.  (The best coffee in Bondi, no contest and food is good for you, scary but true.)

At a time when sleazy public figures try to dictate what it is to be an Australian, this stands above all that sludge as a Great Aussie Institution.  If you need exercise, REAL men and women swim the Bay, 800m each way, before, or after their race, or both.  Even Tex has done it and everyone knows what a pussy he is.  (What do you mean SHARKS?  There aren’t that many.  Well, maybe a few…)

Be a man, not a mollusc.  Do it for yourself and do it for AUSTRALIA!  See you there sport.

When I think of Oz…

In three months we’ll be taking off on our adventure Down Under.  In our attempt to become better acquainted with what Australia has to offer, we’ve done quite a bit of research on the country.

However, there’s nothing like learning about a country and its culture than by actually experiencing it.  So I decided to make a list of all the things that come to my mind when I think of Australia and am interested in seeing how this list will compare to the one I’ll make after we’ve returned from our magnificent journey.

When I think of Oz, I think of…

  • wombats
  • koalas
  • wallabies
  • Moreton Bay bugs
  • Vegemite
  • Neighbours
  • The Outback
  • Great Barrier Reef
  • Tavis McEvoy
  • Jarrod Hector
  • didgeridoos
  • Cairns
  • Sydney
  • Perth
  • Melbourne
  • Brisbane
  • Bondi Beach
  • tropical fruit
  • bush tucker
  • crocodiles
  • warm weather
  • rugby
  • footy
  • kangaroos
  • Nicole Kidman
  • Curtis Stone
  • Ayers Rock
  • winter during “summer” months
  • summer during “winter” months
  • The Ashes
  • cricket (but only because Sir Smart won’t let me forget that the game exists)

Gearing up for Oz and New Zealand

We’ve finally booked our (belated) honeymoon to Australia and New Zealand!  Following our adventure through the desert, this will be the biggest holiday we’ll  have been on to date.   Three weeks of freedom and relaxing in the sun, swimming in the Great Barrier Reef, abundant harvests from the sea, a trek through the Daintree Rainforest, who wouldn’t be excited?

Oh wait,  I do know one person in the world that wouldn’t fancy a great adventure Down Under.  That would be Sir Smart, who recently declared (with a bit of lazy paraphrasing of Samuel Johnson) that Oz is like England forty years ago and that the best thing in Australia is the departure lounge back toward home!  But I digress…

We’ll visit Cairns and Sydney first, then spend the final week exploring the South Island of Aotearoa.  We plan to make a counter-clockwise loop around South Island, starting off in Christchurch and hence, a total of EIGHT hotel bookings for the entire holiday.  It was a lot of work but we’re SO excited!

We have a few things on our “to do” list: snorkeling, rain forest tour, Taronga Zoo, Orana Wildlife Park, sea kayaking, and of course we’d like to sample some bush tucker and try as many local delights as possible.  Although there are a few more months before the trip, we’re gearing up for it by learning as much as we can about each area.  So if you have any suggestions of your favourite local restaurants and must-sees (or avoid-like-the-plague) in any of the places we’ll be visiting, please let me know!