Gotemba Premium Outlets
Japanese retailers are really ahead of the curve, how do you get people to come to your stores? Make it a train station and they come right to your door, genius! The same goes for out of the way outlet malls like Gotemba, previously we spent a bit of time navigating a few different trains and a courtesy bus to get there but this time we tracked down a direct bus from the Yokohama CAT station. For around 1700Y one way (discount for return trip) we didn’t have to worry about dragging our luggage through stations and finding a seat on a train. Plus it was on the way to the 5 lakes area where we were heading, so it’s a win-win 😀

Travel tip: Bus routes, costs and departure locations for Yokohama can be found here and all other locations here
Travel tip: There are storage lockers on site (to the left of the main entrance from the bus stop, near the toilets)
Travel tip: Remember to grab a discount coupon booklet from the information booth
Travel tip: Remember to check the departure times when you arrive so you can plan your day accordingly (they run about ever hour so it could be a wait till the next one if you don’t)

Photo tip: There is plenty of lovely rolling scenery on the way there so keep your camera handy

Photo tip: On a clear day, keep an eye out for Fuji-san, its visible from the bus stop but a better spot is the walk bridge between the two mall sections

Travel tip: really goes without saying but its always worth popping into manufacture’s stores for regional exclusives and limited edition items

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Kawaguchiko
Coincidentally, they also have a bus that goes to where we needed to be next, Kawaguchiko, luck or crafty planning? 😉 Same deal as before, door to door station service, no faffing about.

At Kawaguchiko station there are two bus services (red, green) which run in roughly clockwise and anti clockwise routes around the southern side of the lake. These cover most of the affordable hotels and some of the local attractions. They run every 15-30min for only a couple bucks but having arrived late afternoon amongst a couple busloads of tourist groups, the services were struggling to meet demand, so after about 45min of waiting we grabbed a cab to our hotel (Kawaguchiko hotel). The hotel is only about 1km from the station, easily walkable but not so much after a long day and with luggage in tow.

Travel tip: If you did have to wait at the station, there are hot meals available from the small eatery inside.
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Click for full Kawaguchiko Hotel review here

Its rare that you can get the trifecta when it comes to hotels – good accommodation, good value, good location, usually one of those factors has to be sacrificed and its usually cost. Being out in the country side with a lot less options makes it even harder to score this so if you want the other two you need to pony up on the dinero. If not, manage your expectations, you saving money means corners are cut somewhere and in this case its in the general upkeep of the place.

To me, it felt a lot more like staying at your friends’ beachside place during schoolies or spring break, it was more the fact that you were there that mattered than the place where you dumped your bag and crashed out for the night. Sure, the carpet could use a steam clean (or just have new runners laid) and the window sills and the like could do with a vacuuming but the linen was clean along with the bathroom and for the double room we got, there was a welcomed amount of ample space compared with other places we have stayed at in Japan. In general, it definitely has a mum and pop store feel where they’ve just done the same thing for decades and its worked so they haven’t bothered changing anything.

All staff however were the usual Japanese kind of helpful even with minimal English but if you are after a more detailed response, track down one of the younger staff members. Rooms were quiet with minimal foot traffic, though being at the end of a hall helped. They also have bicycles for hire and there’s paddle boats on the lake (not related to the hotel).

We didn’t get to try the in house catering, the restaurant was booked out (and had to be booked in advance) but not to worry, there are plenty of eating places within walking distance. Exit the hotel and go right^, there are a couple buildings that look like they have or more so, HAD a restaurant but we couldn’t tell for sure as they weren’t open at all over the days and nights we were there (well there was one with a door open but in the same way a haunted house has a door open with no lights on, eep!). Further along there’s a small Asian takeaway but keep walking along the scenic waterfront till you get to a large intersection where the road hooks to the right*, here you’ll see a Lawson’s amongst a string of restaurants and souvenir shops. We went with the Indian place across from Lawson’s with no regret, good portions and reasonable prices.

^ – look over your right shoulder, you might be lucky enough to see Fuji off in the distance

* – following this street with a couple back street zig zags will take you back to Kawaguchiko station which is about a 15min walk. Reasonably easy but some of the streets are narrow with no footpath so navigating this with big luggage could be a little difficult, a cheap taxi ride might be the way to go for some. This route also includes a couple smaller supermarkets if you want more than what a convenient store offers.

Hotel staff actually recommended turning left out of the hotel and to go around the block for restaurants, which on a quiet night was a bit difficult to tell the difference between a hotel and a restaurant (the few along this street all looked like hotels). Eventually you’ll reach a major road, turning left here will lead to a few Japanese style fast food restaurants and a convenience store. It’s a much longer walk, about 15-20min but felt much longer with no scenery. Google maps shows a short cut route through some very small “not sure if lane or someone’s drive way” kind of “streets” but it was impossible to navigate these at night as most were poorly lit, if at all.

Overall, the location, surrounds and price more than made up for the short comings of the hotel, if we end up out that way again, it would definitely be considered.

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Travel tip: if you’re going to air clothing on the window sill, don’t open the opposite window! (duh!) but if you do, make sure you know how to use a tripod like giant chopsticks ;p

Next we try to catch some pink moss (yes pink moss) and a glimpse of Mt Fuji close up at the Fuji Shibazakura Festival and Chureito Pagoda.

Since we’ve covered a few of these destinations previously, I’ll try not to waffle on too much (mmm waffles)…

We arrive into Narita exhausted after a grueling 12hours in transit (hooray cheap flights -__-‘ ), so instead of messing about with multiple trains into Tokyo and back out to Yokohama, we chose the limo bus service which is a direct run to Yokohama CAT (city air terminal). It also runs about every 15min so no sweat if you miss one.

Travel tip: tickets for the bus are available at the airport via the respective counter or vending machine, the kind staff will even draw you a map of how to get to the bus stop.

Travel tip: the airport is also a good place to get your Suica card (if you don’t already have one) and to break some big notes so you can begin hoarding coins for the inevitable vending machine purchases.

The ride takes about 90min which isn’t very scenic at night but you might be lucky enough to spy some boy racers channelling Fast and Furious/Need for Speed on the freeways.

We stayed at the Richmond Hotel in Otamachi which ticked our usual holiday accommodation boxes of price and location. Bashamichi station is a couple stops from Yokohama station and then it’s a short walk to the hotel.

Richmond Hotel full review here

The Richmond is one of the better value hotels in the central Yokohama area, we chose it because of its walkable proximity to the bay area attractions, Chinatown and transport. From Narita we took a limo bus directly to Yokohama Station, from there its only a couple stops to Bashamichi station on the Minato Mirai line. Take the south east exit (there’s a big map of the surrounding area on the upper level of the station), this will pop you out at a large intersection with “life saving” Lawsons diagonally behind you. Head straight down this small scenic street (full of restaurants and even a Gold’s gym), stay on the right side, after about 6 (small) streets you’ll see it on your right, cant miss it. If you see a Family mart across the road, stop! You’ve literally just walked past it 😉
The walk takes about 5-10min with suitcases and a toddler (:
If you walk in the other direction (north east) out of the station you will get to the World Porters shopping mall (hello Teddy’s Bigger Burgers!), Cosmo World fun park, Cup Noodles museum and the harbour itself. Its only about 1km from the bay to the hotel which is nice for an evening stroll.

The area around the hotel was reasonably quiet by our standards, yes there are restaurants and a couple bars that are open later but no hordes of rowdy people milling in the streets or loud music.

The hotel itself is great, ample room by Japanese standards but if you’re one of those people that go on holidays to stay in your room (why, I don’t know), spend (much) more and look elsewhere. Regular double room was big enough for our two suitcases and a pop up sleeper for our toddler with room to get around those things.
Service was equally good, standard Japanese efficiency and friendliness. Even when we opted for no turn down service they still left a bag with bottles of water and extra towels just in case.

The breakfast buffet is at the hotel’s shared restaurant which leans more towards Asian style than Western – which is limited to chipotles, dinner rolls and scramble eggs. If you don’t mind both, like trying new things or have it included in your room cost then its worth a try otherwise you’ll find better value at the many other options nearby eg. Pork buns from Family mart 😉

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Travel tip: If you’re looking for mobile data while in Japan, I couldn’t fault a 14 day vistor’s sim from B-mobile for about 2200Y. Usage limits to 1Gb per 3 days so no p2p or streaming but more than enough data for map reading and social media brags 😉 Though if you’re using AirBnB most will offer a free portable wifi hotspot which you can take out and about with you. Note: these will have usage limits and from our experience were a little patchy with service at times and would also occasionally drop the hotspot connection.
UPDATE: check the bmobile site, their plans have since changed

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Mitsui Outlet
This has been on our to do list for the last couple trips but since it was a little bit further out in the opposite direction of our other activities we’re only just getting to it now.



Getting there:

The website provides everything you need including travel options. For us it was a short walk south from the hotel to Kannai station, change at Shin Sugita and Torihama then a short walk, past the cutest bunch of little baseballers ever, to the mall. It is located on the bay so you get a lovely seaside vibe on a sunny Sunday morning.

The layout of the complex takes advantage of this and is mostly outdoors with covered verandas and boardwalks. The stores cover the usual big name brands including Adidas, Asics, Reebok, Beams, Timberland, Levis and XLarge/Xgirl, most offering a tax free option for tourists.

There is also a water play area and simple side show alley style games for kids in the central “town square” area. A large carousel and roaming churro vendors add to the carnival vibe.

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Chinatown
We stopped into Chinatown on the return journey, it was far bigger than we expected, covering more than just a couple streets and blocks. It is however what you would expect from any such place around the world, food and plenty of it with a side of bargain shopping and haggling. If you haven’t eaten that day, grab a pork bun the size of your head to tie you over till dinner 😉

Being on a tight schedule we only walked the main street but you could easily spend the better part of a day exploring all the side alleys here.

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Cup Noodle Museum
Another illusive attraction we missed previously, but not this time! Being an all ages (targeting mostly children) theme park it was the usual mix of kids everywhere and lines a plenty to queue at, that said, most lines moved quickly and kids are conveniently knee height (j/k :p ). The build your own noodle cup area was especially deafening with hoards of school excursion kids but it added to the whole feel of a busy production line, which roughly follows:

1. Sterilise your hands and take a cup
2. Cup custom area – you can go to town drawing your own designs on the cup
3. Pick and choose bar – staff fill the cup with noodles and your choice of flavourings before sealing and shrink wrapping.
4. Bagging station – you construct an ingeniously design balloon bag to safely transport your noodle cup home. (Aussie travellers – remember to declare this when coming through customs)

Venturing to other (much quieter) floors in the building sees a more traditional museum layout with noodle history, flavours and of course lots of cup noodles.

Travel tip:
Groups are let in at a scheduled time to avoid overcrowding, you can choose your preferred time when purchasing tickets. If you plan on making a day of it, register for a noodle making class as well!
Note: Commentary is in full Japanese and only some staff speak a little English.

We finally finished off the day with Teddy’s Bigger Burgers at World Porter’s then a nice evening stroll back to the hotel.

Travel tip: Best time to visit World Porter’s is in the late afternoon, crowds are very sparse and the food court is quite deserted.

Coming up next, we make our way to the Fuji 5 lakes area via our fave Gotemba outlet mall.

We’re going to start things off a little different this time since this holiday we had a little plus one accompanying us.  In this post we’ll share some tips and our experiences travelling to Japan with a toddler.

If you’re considering doing the same then good on you! The first step is recognising a child is an addition to a family not something the family revolves around (even though sometimes it feels like it does!) in turn restricting fun things you would normally do. Secondly, they usually fly for “free” so it’s a no brainer, right?! 😀

Travel tip: Each airline is different, Jetstar’s definition of “free” is thirty-something dollars, not sure what that covers exactly though…

There are plenty of excellent blogs on flying with a toddler so we wont regurgitate it all but here’s a quick run down of what worked for us.

It really depends where you’re going and what you plan on doing, some people say carrier all the way for hands free-dom while others prefer a leisurely pace and their own shopping trolley with a pram/stroller. Our itinerary covered a lot of ground from shopping mall outlets to flower parks to mountain hikes, cable cars and snow fields so we didn’t take any chances, we took a framed hiking backpack, a cheap umbrella stroller and the ol faithful Ergobaby carrier.

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Little Life Ultralight backpack – framed with built in seat
This backpack was on loan (thanks Glenys!) – its very comfortable for the wearer and the kidlet for long periods of time and a nice high viewing position for those curious kids that want to be part of everything. A small drawback however is with the seating position, the child sits slightly further back and can lean back a little as opposed to the full koala hug position of the Ergobaby, more comfort to them but not so much for the wearer. Having the weight positioned a bit further from the center of gravity takes a bit getting used to, but leaning forward quickly becomes second nature.  The pack is also small enough for carry on luggage so you can use it to and from the boarding gates.

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Dymples Easy Stroller
We looked at several of the cheapies from Kmart, Big W, Target, Toys R Us and online, all were very similar in style, build quality, weight (took the travel scale to confirm 😉 ) and price but Big W’s offering won out as being one of the lightest at just over 4kg, but more so due to it being the only one (at the time of purchasing) that had a small mesh basket area underneath. Yes it was small and almost useless but it was still big enough to stow (re: jam) a couple hoodies, rain ponchos, snacks, extra water and compact tripod. Couple it with a bottle caddy from one of our other prams and it was a perfect workhorse for only $25. We also invested a few bucks and grabbed a carry case off ebay for airline and hotel transits. Not only does it make it easier to carry, it keeps the wheels from getting caught and broken on …well, just about anything and everything during transit (no thanks to the gentle caressing hands of luggage handlers :p ).
The stroller worked well through shopping districts like Harajuku and outlet malls, also spared our backs for times we didn’t want to carry the hiking pack.

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Ergo Baby Carrier
We were beginning to think if buying one of these was really worth it since our kidlet had spent very little time in it but it was perfect for strapping her in to encourage naps during flights, transit and general long days. It was also great for “travel light” days where it could be tucked into a backpack and brought out after she got tired of running around.

Note: you will have to remove baby and the carrier when passing through customs (even if your babe has only just gotten to sleep after struggling for hours! >_< ) The carrier has to go in a tray with your other belongings to be scanned.

Apart from the usual things, we loaded up on nappies and formula (triple zippy bagged – you don’t want that to pop open in your bag during compression on the flight!). We could have bought both over there but it was much easier to stick with what we knew both for comfort and no allergic reaction. Plus, they both diminished as the trip went on so we could replace that space with holiday loot! We also packed her fave packet meals and snacks for emergency/on the fly (literally) eats and took a separate “go bag” to carry on board essentials instead of having to sift through the carry on while everyone is trying to get to their seats or during the flight. You’re welcome fellow passengers! 😉

Depending on your stay/luggage size you will probably eventually run out of one thing or another, now, if you’ve been doing a bit of research you’ve probably come across reports that its impossible to find baby products especially nappies and formula in Japan, well consider that myth busted. Even though we had our supplies we kept an eye open for places that would sell them and were mostly spoiled by choice in all major cities/stations.  There is always a discount pharmacy some where nearby, very similar to Chemist Warehouse where everything is always on sale with bright coloured signs and shelf tickets galore. Most of these places were tax free for tourists as well. So basically only if you go off the beaten track to small towns or stations in residential areas will you have problems finding supplies, but even if you do, just track down a supermarket and itll be just like home.

One thing however, that is hard to find, is regular cow’s milk (and crunchy peanut butter!). Selected big convenience stores might have some but generally only stock some weird stuff that looks like milk but smells and tastes like a combination of soy and Yakult! Using your google text translator wont help you much either as a lot of the time it translates to “milk”. This is where the bags of formula come in handy, unless you’re after some for a tea or coffee then have your hotel or Airbnb host rustle some up for you if you get stuck.

We thought we had it all sorted beforehand, grab a cheap little pop up tent style sleeping bed like this, get the bub used to it at home with day naps with her sleep buddies and away we go! Good in theory but it seems we brought Murphy’s law with us and the first night in a strange place with some chronic jetlag, thanks to 12 hours of transit, equates to one tired and stressed kid that didn’t want a bar of it. It took a couple nights of trial and error to realise all she wanted was a bed to call her own. So it turns out that it was just a matter of sorting a couple extra blankets and pillows as barricades for when she got her roll on and the rest was slumber city.

Another plus, she also worked out that her regular routine was out the window and any time was a good time for a nap for which the carrier and stroller came in very handy. We also encouraged naps on any train ride more than 15min for little refreshes through out the day. All in all, its really no different than travelling anywhere with a child, you have to be flexible, ready to roll with the punches and know when to quit while you’re behind and fight another day.

I think that’s about it, now on with the rest of the trip, first up, Yokohoma!

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Well thanks to the truncated activities on this stretch of the trip due to the weather, so is this blog entry!

The conditions varied between “Melbourne” and “perfect storm” as we made our way north so we pulled the pin on planned stops like Lake Dobson and Nelson Falls and continued directly to Queenstown where it started to let up around the scenic Lake Burbury. A little further along there’s an old copper mine on the outskirts of Queenstown, take the goat trail to the top where you’ll find a outset viewing platform to really take in the views and test your vertigo.

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Coming down the mountain, just before the town there are a couple lookout points for photo ops with views of the road snaking around the mountains.

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The next day we awoke to… oh look… more rain! The drive to Cradle mountain was slow and tedious, made worse with the traffic thickening and the very narrow parts of the road closer to the national park. You know you’re running out of room when you need to fold in your side mirrors so they don’t clip a guide post or on coming cars! Thankfully the rental car survived unscathed even though we were ready to ghostie it off the mountain by then.

Travel tip:
Little towns like Rosebery are peppered through out the mountain ranges and are good places to stop for a bite to eat and for some supplies for the day ahead.

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Travel tip:
If you didn’t buy a parks pass for all the parks or are only visiting Cradle, you will need to stop at the visitor’s center to purchase a ticket. The lines can be quite long if there is a tour group, so factor this into your itinerary.

Pulling into the Cradle mountain car park we could see how grand the place… could be, alas the drizzle was becoming steady rain again and it was pretty much a white out. After having lunch in the car and watching many people walk half way down to the boat house and turn around for an hour, the rain radar showed no sign of letting up so we reluctantly moved on to our next stop, Deloraine.

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Travel tip:
When they say the weather can turn quickly (and severely) they mean it, so come prepared. A small folding umbrella or emergency poncho is probably not going to cut it in anything more than the most mildest of conditions, but its probably better than nothing! A hardshell jacket, rain paints (or at least gaiters) and waterproof boots are a good start. Wearing your fave pair of J’s is not advisable even in the dry, yep there were several people at the visitor center wearing these and other basketball shoes that you wouldn’t even play basketball in let alone try to tackle wet trails with!

One small plus to the never ending rain, many of the small creeks had come alive with flowing streams which I’m sure was also a nice welcome to some of the bushfire strickened areas we drove through.

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Travel tip:
Looking for some good valued eats while staying in Deloraine? Check out Sullivan’s on the river. Classic “fish n chip” shop style snack bar on one side and dine in restaurant on the other. After eyeballing the heaped “I made this myself” homestyle pizzas it was an easy and filling choice 😀

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The next morning we woke up thinking, you know what we haven’t had in a while? RAIN! And lots of it! Yep mother nature was still playing that ol’ broken record so it was another slow and tedious drive to Liffey falls. The unsealed parts of the road, replaced by flowing streams did little for the nerves nor the confidence we had in the rental car, which had gone from white to completely brown.

The plus to all the rain did mean the falls were flowing nicely and fellow sightseers were few and far between which made it was easy to get some photos without having to fight the crowds.

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After all the fast forwarding of planned stops we ended up a little time spare before heading to Launceston for our flight home so we made a quick detour to the Melita Honey farm in Chudleigh, only the little store was open but it was nonetheless packed. They of course have plenty of honey and honey based food and body/health products …and ice cream 😉 There were also plenty honey and bee related souvenirs and trinkets along with a small display and information on bees and the harvesting of honey.

Travel tip: the farm is not really near anything else, not even toilets, but continue down the road for a minute or two for a rest stop if the rain and cold has gotten the better of your bladder.

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The final coup de gras and bit of salt in the wound was a nice sunset as we were leaving, gotta love a place with a sense of humor even if we were the butt of the joke. Hehe butt. Ok, so there was alot of whinging about the weather but not enough to deter us from a return trip, hopefully in the not too distant future.

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Tasmania 2014 part #1 – Arrival, Eaglehawk Neck
Tasmania 2014 part #2 – Port Arthur and Salamanca markets
Tasmania 2014 part #3 – Hobart to Queenstown to Cradle Mountain and Liffey Falls

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Port Arthur
Port Arthur is only about 30min from Eagle Hawk Neck but with the weather souring it took much longer. I’m not sure if it was because we were heading closer to Storm Bay but I wouldn’t discard the notion as part of the reason things went from bad to full blown craptastic.

We’re not afraid of a bit of rain, even less of a bother when we were prepared for the worse with plenty of wet weather gear and even a sealed cover for my camera but as we pulled into the Port Arthur Reserve our hopes started to diminish greatly as the heavens opened and it really started to come down. Rivers of ankle deep run off flowed through the carpark and visibility had dwindled down to under 10m.

Inside the visitor center it was a madhouse of drenched tour groups or those about to be, clambering for the overpriced disposable garbage bag ponchos. For half an hour we watched the tours bravely yet futilely go out into the white out, waiting for the rain to pass but to no avail. So we decided to do a quick drive around the surrounds, stumbling around a little “beach” area before heading into Hobart.

The approximately 90min drive took hours with the abysmal weather and only started to let up as we got closer to the city.

After checking into the cool little Alabama Hotel we took a short drive around town and to Rosebay Esplanade for some photos of the harbour and a distant Mt Wellington. Thankfully by then the rain had stopped so we can actually show you a couple photos!

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Travel tip: the Alabama doesn’t have any off street parking but there a plenty of overnight parking garage options nearby. You can also park on the street out front, just remember to check the post times.


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Salamanca markets
Next morning we got up early to pop into the Salamanca markets before hitting the road. It was a rather easy choice since very little else was open on the long weekend.

Getting there – The market is located pretty much on the water at Sullivan’s cove and is short walk from the town center. We recommend heading straight towards the water then following it south to take in the scenic bay views.

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The market is of a decent size and is filled with all the markety things you’d expect, though the items tend to lean towards a more up market feel with jewellery, carvings, paintings and framed landscape photos. There are also a few clothing stalls but again with a more “grown up” feel. Of course, what would a market be without food and fresh produce? Plenty of fruit and veg in a separate pavilion and the food trucks scattered through out the venue make breakfast and brunch blend together and lunch unnecessary.

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Tasmania 2014 part #1 – Arrival, Eaglehawk Neck
Tasmania 2014 part #2 – Port Arthur and Salamanca markets
Tasmania 2014 part #3 – Hobart to Queenstown to Cradle Mountain and Liffey Falls

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A few things usually dictate when and where we travel – time of year, events and price of flights. Cheap flights pretty much always take a precedent but we prefer travelling in between seasons to avoid crowds and public/school holidays where possible. This time however was pretty much the opposite of that. We were locked into a small window due to work commitments so basically it was the Easter weekend or nothing till the end of the year and who wants to wait THAT long amiright?? With only 5 days at our disposal we had to keep it reasonably accessible with minimal expenditure. We’ve heard rave reviews from our landscape photographer buddies championed by Mel Sinclair who mentioned (and was smart enough to go the following week!) that around this time of year the Fagas trees start changing colour (they even have a festival dedicated to it) so we thought, why the heck not.

Well the first problem was going when we had to not when we wanted to so we were actually about a week early for the colour changing, no problem, just need to look for places in cold areas where winter is coming early. Second problem, travelling during a batch of public holidays, surely not everything will be closed right? Sadly we were wrong on both accounts, throw in constant wet weather ranging from heavy drizzle to outright monsoonal downpours and a feeble rental car with no will to live and that was just the beginning of our Tasmanian adventure! It was trying to say the least but we’ll try to keep the whinging to a minimum and stick to the facts 😉

The biggest Keyzer Soze moment of making people believe the devil didn’t exist was arriving at the airport to clear skies. The drive out to Eaglehawk Neck was reasonably uneventful, apart from a bit of afternoon/pre long weekend traffic it took a bit over 2 hours from the airport including the low speed limits, endless road works and unpaved roads with trucks and 4wds gunning it with no consideration of on coming traffic.

We chose the Best Western Lufra Apartments because they are pretty much directly above the tessellated pavements. The hotel was a little dated but that sort of thing never really bothers us, we go on holidays to do things other than look at the wallpaper! Meals were a little higher priced but when it’s the only option in the surrounding area the choice is pretty easy if you don’t want to go hungry. The staff however were friendly and helpful.

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The next morning we got up for sunrise, a little icy but nothing too unmanageable. The sunrise itself was rather uneventful – enough for a couple nice photos at the tessellated pavement, nature working its magic on carving out a rather intricate grid in the rock, but it did hold high hopes of a beautiful day of sightseeing. Back to the hotel the dining room’s expansive windows displayed a spectacular view and the buffet brekky with most of the basics covered wasn’t too bad either. Being a long weekend we were expecting a bigger crowd but it was rather tame, probably was a different story for the proceeding days though.

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Conveniently, the Pirate’s Bay area is also very close where you can take in the blowhole, Tasman Arch, Fossil rock look out and Devil’s Kitchen all with in the space of an hour or so if you stick to the main lookouts and 86 the scenic walks. The weathering and layering of the rock formations at the Tasman Arch was tragically poetic to see nature creating and at the same time destroying history of the landmark. Like most natural landmarks there is no open and close times so getting an early start, beating the crowds and getting these sites out of the way is definitely the way to go to maximise your day.

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Travel tip: about 2km from Eaglehawk Neck on the way to the blowhole there is a small town nicknamed “Doo Town”, which lovingly coming about because… well they added “Doo” to everything. Its pretty much a “blink and you’ll miss it” blimp on the map but cute and quaint enough to stop for a quick selfie while trying not to snicker at “doo doo” jokes.

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With the weather still clear and our sense of adventure high we headed further south to Port Arthur to take in the convict town and its historic buildings…

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Tasmania 2014 part #1 – Arrival, Eaglehawk Neck
Tasmania 2014 part #2 – Port Arthur and Salamanca markets
Tasmania 2014 part #3 – Hobart to Queenstown to Cradle Mountain and Liffey Falls

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We’re going out with a bang for the last stop on our trip and what could be better than all the fun and craziness of a movie studio theme park!

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Universal studios is just across the bay from the Osaka Aquarium so if you time it right you could easily do both in the one day if you kept the aimless wandering to a minimum. Like most major theme parks its a breeze to get to, just one change of trains from Osaka station (approx. 10-15min) and a short walk along “Hollywood Boulevard” (a bunch of familiar western and westernised eateries) will have you in front of the famous rotating Universal fountain globe in no time. Check their website for transport options.

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Travel tip: Tickets can be purchased online or at the gate for around $60-70AU for a standard adult fare. There doesn’t seem to be any difference between online and gate prices so we chose to grab them at the gate. There are so many manned booths that there were no lines at all, unfortunately this is the only place that didn’t have lines!

Travel tip: Lockers are located on the outside of the park before you go through the gates, so dump your gear first as there are no pass outs once you enter the park.

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Once inside the park, its the usual constant battle for just about everything, having a map handy and some kind of game plan certainly helps. The website tries to assist with two recommendations, one for the littlies to chase down their fave characters and one to experience the featured rides.

Instead, we chose to hit our “must-dos” first, see how we were going for time then fill it with whatever was left. It’s a good theory till we arrived at our first ride at Jurassic Park and the posted approximate time was 45min. Damn. It’s a slow saunter through the obligatory zig zag maze but they try to ease the waiting and build the illusion of being immersed in the movie with authentic reports and warning sounds from monitor screens above the cattle run. As you’d expect the buildup of tension continues with a first person feel of traveling through the movie. I’ll hold back on the spoilers but will mention, about 10min later you more than certainly will be a little drenched!

Travel tip: take a disposable rain poncho if you want to keep dry. They’re available for purchase on site at a premium so a stop at a daiso for a 100Y special could be in order.

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One of our other fave rides would be the Back to the Future ride – a mechanical ride coupled to an imax sized screen to create a virtual environment, it was great but was over far too quickly.

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The entertainment is never short even if you’re not queuing for rides, parades are regularly scheduled as are the high flying shows on the main stage. Food, merch and souvenirs are also readily available in appropriately themed shops scattered throughout the park.
Being Japan it would almost be a crime if there wasn’t Hello Kitty and she doesn’t disappoint with regular stage shows (complete with backup dancing girl band) and her own section of the park drench in pink and nausea inducing cuteness.

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As you would expect features change semi regularly depending on what movie/franchise is big at that the time like Pirates of the Caribbean making way for Harry Potter. Its also not uncommon to see patrons cosplaying like they’re part of the show too. Not sure if creepy or awesome.

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So with tummies full of Hello Kitty pork buns and arms full of things like DeLorean model kits and Spiderman mugs, this closes our final entry for our epic Japan trip. While it only took us two weeks travelling, its taken closer to two years to write about it! So its probably best we didn’t make any promises on how long the next installment (Tassie 2014) is going to take :p Of course, we’re hoping sooner than later!

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If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on our Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

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The Osaka Aquarium is located on Osaka bay and is near Cosmo Square, the Tempozan Ferris wheel and a short ferry ride from Universal Studios so you could easily spend days in this area, or just one well planned one. Ok, maybe not all of them, we left off Cosmo square :p

Being a major attraction, getting there from just about anywhere is quite simple, take the Chuo line and let the signage guide you. We caught the Captain Line ferry (takes about 15min) from Universal Studios which is almost door to door, handy!

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The aquarium costs about $25AU and is open till 8pm (times may vary) making it a good last stop if you have other things to do earlier in the day. In fact, later in the afternoon seemed to be rather quiet, no lining up for anything and only the odd shuffle around a couple slow moving tour groups.

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The theme of the venue is to encompass all of the different regions around the Pacific Rim (no, not with giant mecha) with many enclosures representing each area and some of the animals that inhabit them. The viewing actually begins at the top on the 8th floor where it spirals down through tanks and enclosures feature aquatic life, fish, manta rays, crabs and other weird looking bottom dwellers along with everyone’s favourites, penguins and seals.

Aquariums are always good for a visit, you get to see creatures big and small effortlessly glide through the water around you but a lot of the time the scale of the animals and their surroundings is lost when viewing through a small window, enter the 10m deep tank with a foot thick of Perspex all the way around! This centerpiece represents the Pacific Ocean and houses a city bus sized crowning jewel, the whale shark.

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Other smaller tanks cross between floors which give plenty of few spots from different perspectives and the idea of the different layers in an ocean environment.

Smaller rooms on the lower level house a large assortment of jelly fish for you to get lost in a lava lamp trance. On the way to the gift shop there’s a hands on section where you can get up close and very personal with a selection of fish and manta rays which vary from slippery soap to “cat’s tongue” in texture. Alot of fun and definitely something the kids would go nuts over. No need to worry about germs, there’s wash stations nearby. There’s also a partially closed off penguin enclosure for you to talk posh with your tuxedo wearing buddies 😀

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Travel tip: speaking of kids, there are also a bunch of rubber ink stamps through out the venue which they can collect by stamping their books. Maybe get them a travel notepad so they don’t get any ideas with their passports should they be in possession theirs!

Photo tip: lighting is very dim throughout the venue, not just in the tanks so a fast mid range zoom is in order and don’t be afraid to push the iso to keep your shutter speed up, and as you can see by our bumper gallery there is HEAPS to photograph!

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Tempozan Ferris Wheel

Behind the aquarium is a small shopping mall with a food court and several restaurants, only the larger stores/restaurants stay open later for dinner but in true Japanese courtesy, if you catch one as they’re closing they’ll still be more than happy to fire up the stove for you.

A short walk further is the Tempozan Wheel, it is quite sizeable as one of the largest in Japan giving decent views of the bay area and should be more than romantic enough to get you to first base 😉 (just watch out for the random pedo bear )-:} ). The coloured lights on the outside of the forecast the weather for the following day (orange – clear, green – cloudy, blue – rain) which is handy, although not entirely accurate with an orange reading when the following day was all drizzle!

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If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on our Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

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Two of Osaka’s most popular attractions happen to also be conveniently the two most central. The first being Osaka castle, only a few stops from Osaka station and a little bit of a walk.

Osaka Castle

Its much of a muchness by train, regardless of what station you get off, however since we came from Osaka station we just had to stay on it till Osakajokoen station (check out the scale model of the grounds and castle in the foyer). From there its roughly a 1km walk past a lot of open concrete and numerous sporting facilities before you get to the park which has a lot of open spaces and waterways. The trees in the park are sakura (cherry bloosoms) which makes this a very common spot during the few weeks a year (usually late march/early april) when they bloom.

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The foliage thickens and becomes almost a little rainforesty once you cross the bridge over the moat. This is where you catch the first glimpse of signs of a “fully functional” castle with battlements and large stone walls surrounding the water. There are also plenty of shaded spots where you can stop for a breather if you’re travelling during the unforgiving warmer seasons.

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The castle sits majestically high above everything in the surrounding area upon its base of rock and stone and is trimmed with typical Asian rooftop styling and gold finishings. A large courtyard area sits at its base with a selection of vendors in cute little vans selling food and souvenirs. For the history buffs, entry into the castle is about 600Y and about 200Y for the greenthumbs that want to check out the castles extended gardens. Costumed guards frequently roam the grounds for your hashtagging pleasure.

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One thing you may not expect to see is a time capsule. Placed there in 1970 for the World Expo, it is built with two levels, the first to be opened every century and the second in the year 6970, probably by Cher.

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Umeda Sky building

Love going to “The Eye”’s around the world but hate the whole moving thing and still want a good view of the city, then this is the place for you!

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Only about a 10min stroll from Osaka station (longer if you’re anywhere south of the station since you have to walk either around or through it and if you’ve been in Japan more than a minute you’ll know that’s not always as simple as it sounds!) but about 15-20min coming from our hotel via a few back streets for some random street photos.

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Travel tip:
The English version of the website has nice simple to follow maps and venue information.

Even from several blocks away (or from our hotel’s external elevator) the Sky building looks menacing in a 90s scifi where the bad guy is the only rich person in the world kinda way.

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Photo tip:
If you’re going later in the evening, get your “from the ground” photos first as they turn off the upper lights before closing time, and check out the art installs while you’re at it

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Like any building with an observation deck, there’s a bit of cueing and staring at elevator floor numbers clock over like it’s the pledged amount on a telethon but you’ll get to the deck in no time. The last section is up a see-through enclosed escalator before arriving at the closed-in viewing deck. This section would definitely be handy during the colder months or if you’re unlucky with the weather, it still offers decent views but if you don’t want the headache of taking photos from behind glass at night, head on outside.

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First impression, you will be forgiven if you think you’ve accidentally stepped into a 90s UV rave. UV paint splatters cover the ground while your white clothes and teeth glow in typical freaky fashion but thankfully this doesn’t detract too much from the view and more so the ability to take some nice photos!

The deck offers almost 360 degree views of downtown Osaka and Osaka bay and even when busy, the crowd ebbs and flows enough that if you stand still you’ll eventually get any spot you choose.

Photo tip:
It’s not a cluttered skyline and the building sits high above anything near by so you may even consider a mid range zoom instead of a wide angle. Like most night shots, a tripod helps alot, even better if you can be bothered carrying something with some height to clear the barriers/railings. There will be plenty of others with the same idea as you so you may need to be patient with nabbing a good spot.

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If you get bored or are waiting for a spot to free up, head to the “lumi deck” for a wall with lit up squares making different shapes, of course the very Sleepless in Seattle-esque heart shape is a clear winner for those thinking it could easily be the Empire State building. The fun continues inside with an interactive light room which… you guessed it, changes shapes and colours as you move like Elaine dancing.

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Finally, after (or perhaps before) you’ve returned to ground level, there are several restaurants on the basement level that is themed in an “olden days” fashion not too unlike the Ramen Museum but most close well before the observation deck so get in earlier if you’re after some grub.

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Next stop, the Osaka Aquarium!

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

We stopped at Macca’s for brekky first and just had to try the maple syrup infused “waffle” bun McMuffin. Yep, every bit as sickly delicious as it sounds :p

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On the way back to Tokyo we finally caught a great view of Mt. Fuji through what seemed to be a large window at a station along the way…(couldnt believe my timing to catch a shinkansen in the shot as well! :p )

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Harajuku
Yoyoji Park

Not too happy about our other failed attempts at rummaging through a large flea market in Japan, this was our last chance. Weather was good, no forecast for rain, left Osaka early to try and beat the crowd… unfortunately the forecast said nothing about protesters! Not sure what they were on about but they were everywhere along with police and media. Foiled again. The park however was a nice consolation for a walk around and to take in some of the outrageously dressed people, dancers, artists and even a cardboard box town that looked like it was pieced together and built/painted on over many hours throughout the day.

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The park in itself is huge so even though it gets rather busy there’s always a nice quiet spot away from all the action.

Disappointed once again, there was only one thing left to do…. SHOP!

Takeshita Street and surrounds

We’ve covered Harajuku previously and you’d have to be researching the wrong country to have missed any mention of the place in reading up of Tokyo must-see’s so we’ll leave you with the knowledge that nothing much has changed… in the sense that everything changes all the time. They’ve spruced up the building fasades on Takeshita street and the major street that runs adjacent to it. Cat Street has also gotten a face lift and a few different shops have moved in. The best thing, most of our fave sneaker/streetwear stores have all moved together. Undefeated, Kicks Lab, Chapter, La Brea Avenue (and Supreme if you like extra hype with your purchases) are all within spitting distance of each other along with seizure inducing rainbow colour store 6% Dokidoki and Ninja Warrior champion sponsor – Rescue Squad. Also in the area, Nike Harajuku, the massive Harajuku Daiso and the irresistible Kiddyland.

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Shibuya

With Shibuya so close, its worth the walk to discover some new sights and places that you’d miss on the train, and that we did. We grabbed a bite to eat at Teddy’s Bigger Burger, a burger joint from our last destination, Hawaii with a guy serving that could only be classed as “quite the character”, which simply added to the great dining experience and tasty food :-‘9

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Continuing down Meiji Dori sees eye catching landmarks like the Audi Forum “crumpled glass” building, sneaker boutique, Atmos, familiar brands like DC, Burberry and local quirky tee store, Graphix. We also stumbled across a live graffiti art install outside a skate shop and swingin’ rockabilly greaser store, Temmye – Cream Soda on our way to our streetwear faves, KiksTYO and Santastic, then almost got caught in an interview with a lifestyle TV show at the Shibuya crossing.

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While we struck out completely with the markets this time, we at least added a few new “I’ll be back” spots to the list for future visits.

Next up we hit two of the biggest sights in Osaka, Osaka castle and the Umeda Sky building.

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

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