The perfect picnic location in Christchurch, New Zealand: the Port Hills overlooking Lyttelton Harbour. When we're packing for picnics, we like to use zero waste food storage, reusable straws and cups, and a sustainable lunch bag.

Zero waste food storage: Packing for picnics

When we’re travelling for extended periods, I tend to pack a picnic lunch for us most days (eating out every day gets expensive but we don’t want to have to come back to wherever we’re staying to prepare lunch, so taking food to have while out makes sense).

Likewise when we’re hiking or likely to be far from amenities for a good portion of the day, I always come prepared with plenty of food and drink (it’s one of my top tips for hiking with children; check out this post for my other suggestions).

So what do I store everything in to make sure it stays fresh, the right temperature, and doesn’t leak everywhere?

These are my zero waste food storage essentials. I would recommend them to anyone, not just families, looking to move towards a less wasteful, less plastic-filled lifestyle.

 


1

Snack bags

We use these every single day, not just when packing for picnics. Theo’s snack bags get filled with everything from rice/corn cakes, to nuts and seeds, fresh fruit and vegetables, and homemade sweet and savoury treats. These are a great zero waste food storage solution for any age (I use them for my snacks too!) that remove any need to use cling film or plastic sandwich bags.

We love Planet Wise; made to last (ours are still going strong with no wear and tear after more than 2 years of daily use), no leaks, the perfect size, and they come in a lovely range of patterns. I wash them at the end of the day in the kitchen sink, but they can also be put in the washing machine if you prefer.

 


2

Sandwich wraps

My go-to picnic lunch for us all are sandwiches; energy-boosting, tummy-filling, easy to prepare in travel accommodation, and can be packed full of goodness. Sandwich wraps are therefore a staple when it comes to packing for picnics.

A piece of cloth with an easy wipe-clean lining, they fold around your sandwich and seal with Velcro, keeping it fresh and secure. When unwrapped, they act as perfect plate.

We use two brands: Keep Leaf and Planet Wise. Keep Leaf are circular and more flexible, which equates to more forgiving when trying to pack thick sandwiches (or two on top of each other), whereas Planet Wise are square and less prone to staining; pick your priorities!

Both are great for zero waste food storage either at home for work lunches, or while travelling and out and about, it’s really a matter of personal preference.

 

The Planet Wise tint range has the added bonus of forgoing the cloth lining, meaning both sides can be wiped dry after cleaning. While not as pretty as the cloth patterns, this has proved very useful when camping or when we have limited time or ability to hang items to dry.

 


3

Insulated stainless steel bottle

If you don’t currently carry a reusable bottle, where have you been??? Stop buying disposable plastic bottles and invest in a good quality reusable one. My preference for material is stainless steel, and I particularly love Klean Kanteen’s vacuum insulated versions.

 

For me, it’s all about keeping my water cold, but they’re just as effective at keeping hot drinks hot if that’s what you’re after. Many coffee shops and smoothie bars even do discounts if you provide your own bottle or cup so it’s worth asking! When I’m packing for picnics, particularly if the excursion involves some strenuous exercise and the weather is warm, cold water is essential and I can rely on our insulated Klean Kanteen bottles to keep us refreshed and rehydrated all day.

 

 


4

Stainless steel canisters

Maybe sandwiches aren’t your thing and you’d rather have salad, soup or yesterday’s leftovers. As plastic Tupperware is prone to leaking and breakages (even the expensive stuff!), it’s far from ideal when packing for picnics and doesn’t make the cut for zero waste food storage! Stainless steel canisters are a great alternative and if you opt for the vacuum insulated ones, you can even enjoy a hot meal followed by still-frozen ice cream!

 

Like their bottles, Klean Kanteen’s range is reliably leak-proof, made to last, and consistent with marketing promises regarding the length of time food will remain hot or cold.

I am not suggesting you throw out all your plastic Tupperware to replace it with these (or glass alternatives to keep in the freezer). Keep using what you have until it’s not longer fit for purpose, but instead of buying more plastic ones when you do need to replace them, you might like to consider these instead.

 


5

Lunch bag

So, where do you put all your sandwiches, snacks and hot food once they’ve been prepared and stored?

You could of course just stuff it all in your day bag (and when we’re only taking out snack bags, this is exactly what i do) but when I’m packing for picnics, I prefer to store all the food together so I know where it is, nothing gets squashed at the bottom of my rucksack and I have somewhere to put all the empty wraps (and leftover crumbs that would otherwise be destined to spend eternity squished into the seams of my bag) once we’ve eaten.

Although the idea of them is romantic and incredibly quaint, let’s face it, picnic hampers aren’t all that practical! Unless you fancy lugging your woven wicker basket up mountains or even just to the office every day, you may want to invest in a lunch bag.

The size you opt for will depend on your meal preferences; for us, we have a small, box-shaped one with a zip lid that’s made from recycled plastic bottles. It’s big enough for about 5 sandwiches plus fruit and a snack for each of us. This works for us (for now…we’ll likely need something bigger as the boys get older!), but there are lots of ethical brands out there making lunch bags in all shapes and sizes and in a range of sustainable materials. Fresk and Fluf are two brands with great ethics that are worth checking out to see if any in their ranges would suit you.

 


6

Stainless steel straws

I always have some reusable straws in my bag, not just when I’m packing for picnics, so I’m always prepared to decline any plastic ones. We like stainless steel ones as they’re incredibly durable and easy to clean.

We have tried two brands: U-Konserve and Klean Kanteen. My slight preference is for the U-Konserve ones simply because they’re straight and only made from steel, but Theo likes the Klean Kanteen ones as they have a colourful silicone bendy tip which detaches from the metal straw.

 

If you don’t like metal in your mouth or you want to allocate a different colour to each member of the family, Klean Kanteen are the ones for you. I also imagine that the soft, curved tip would be better for some people with disabilities. Personally, I don’t like the silicone tips; they’re unnecessary dust magnets whether they live in my bag or in the kitchen draw.

Klean Kanteen straws come in a pack of four with a little brush for cleaning but I find it gets stuck very easily and is more hassle than it’s worth. The U-Konserve straws can be purchased in a two-pack or as a single with a brush (we don’t have a U-Konserve brush so I can’t comment on this).

 

 


7

Beeswax wraps

The final zero waste food storage essential on my list for packing for picnics are beeswax wraps. Eliminate the need for cling film by getting (or making) some of these wraps in a range of sizes.

There are a growing number of brands on the market and I’m sure they are tough to differentiate. We have tried Abeego and Honeywrap and love them both.

 

Our Abeego wraps have been heavily used for about 2 years and are still going strong. The Honeywraps, which we’ve only had for about a year, seem a bit more durable so I expect to last for even longer.

We use the extra large ones to keep bread fresh, the large for covering plates or wrapping sandwiches, and the medium and small are ideal sizes for chopped fruit and veg (perfect for corn on the cob, which is one of Theo’s favourites!) and covering bowls.

They’re a great addition to your kitchen cupboard and your travelling kitchen kit, but consider what you’ll use them for. They’re certainly not as long lasting as the sandwich wraps so if this is all you envisage using them for, your money is probably better spent on an extra couple of those.

If, however, you end up with a lot of chopped avocado halves, half eaten apples and pears (I believe this is symptomatic of a household with young children!) and you’re looking for a zero waste food storage solution for purchasing bakery items, beeswax wraps will be ideal for you!

An additional use for travellers is that they can be used to store soap or shampoo bars. The wax sticks to itself, keeping in even wet, sudsy soap!

Remember to wash with cool water only (otherwise the wax will melt) and with a mild soap or dish soap.

 


So, next time you’re packing for picnics, whether they be for a family hike or a mid-week office/school packed lunch, be sure to try out some of these zero waste food storage items to reduce your family’s footprint and make eating on the go a fun, mess- and waste-free affair.

Polar bear lies sleeping on a rock. Churchill travel information includes the best time to see polar bears.

Churchill Travel Information

 

Churchill travel information: Everything you need to know to plan your trip to Churchill, Canada!

 

Churchill travel information: How to get there

Currently, the only way to get to get to Churchill is to fly, as the railway is closed as a result of storms last year. Calm Air operate flights to Churchill from Winnipeg and Thompson.

 

Murals around the town, like this one on ‘Miss. Piggy’, tell the story of climate change and its impact on both humans and wildlife.

Churchill travel information: Where to stay

Lazy Bear Lodge is popular and it’s easy to see why.

Staffed by seasonal workers, they were all professional, knowledgeable and hardworking, but, more importantly, they exuded passion and a love for what they were doing, particularly the excursion guides.

The lodge is cosy, warm and comfortable, with a nice dining area.

The only thing I hated was the use of dead animals as decor; I want to see polar bears and grizzlies out in the wild, not with their skins pinned across the walls. I hate to think that I was inadvertently supporting trophy hunting.

 

 

Churchill travel information: What to eat

There aren’t many options for dining in the town but we found it to be plenty for the length of our stay.

We enjoyed the food served at Lazy Bear Lodge. They have an extensive menu with plenty of veggie options, and dinner specials, which change every evening, included Canadian elk, buffalo and Arctic char. Service will of course vary as most staff are seasonal, but those who were there during our stay were friendly, polite and a great help in entertaining Theo while we finished our food!

Gypsies is a great place to pick up a picnic lunch or a no-frills meal, and is famous for their donuts. Managed by the charismatic Fred, highflying corporate Montrealian turned small town friend to everyone, his sense of humour and generosity make every visit here memorable. He rented us his beaten up, barely-working pickup to get out of town in search of polar bears. We found bears, but had to ditch the ride; sorry, Fred! Read the story here.

Churchill travel information: Currency

Canadian dollar

Churchill travel information: Language

English

Churchill travel information: How to get around

A vehicle isn’t essential here, but I recommend having one, at least for part of your trip (or make friends with someone who does!).

We went off by ourselves in search of bears twice and I’m so pleased we did! We didn’t disturb them at all because we weren’t in a huge tundra buggy, there was no fighting for the best view with dozens of other tourists, and we were able to take our time and observe these magnificent creatures just doing their thing on our watch rather than having to stick to a schedule.

 

 

If you’re lucky to have the right conditions to witness the spectacular Aurora Borealis, you’re going to want to get off the main strip in town. We hitched a ride with some new friends to the beach, away from the light of the town, and my goodness it was worth it!

 

Churchill travel information: Climate and best time to travel

The best time to travel will really depend on what you want to see and do during your visit. October is prime polar bear season because they travel through Churchill on their way back out onto the ice. During the Summer months, Belugas come into the shallow waters to breed. It is possible (but by no means guaranteed) to see bears, belugas and the Aurora Borealis in one trip; this is why we travelled in August.

 

Churchill travel information: Other useful info

All excursions can be booked through an operator (I recommend Lazy Bear Expeditions). This includes cultural tours of the town and Cape Merry, guided tours to the Prince of Wales Fort, dog sledding, wildlife watching (polar bears, elk, arctic foxes, arctic hares, sea birds, seals and more), beluga whale watching from a zodiac, kayaking with belugas and snorkeling with belugas.

Please note all excursions are season and weather dependent.

Lazy Bear Lodge also operates an Aurora alert system, allowing guests to opt in to receive a call to their room if the Aurora is visible overnight.

 

Churchill-Travel-Information Churchill-Travel-Information

 

A father hiking with children through the forest

7 Tips for hiking with children

Hiking with children is one of those things that people often assume is too hard, not worth the effort, or simply isn’t possible. Alex and I did a lot of hiking before Theo was born, but this hasn’t changed just because we now have a little person, soon to be two little people, in tow.

Thankfully Theo is also an outdoors person and he enjoys being in fresh air and surrounded by nature as much as we do. Sure, some kids just don’t enjoy this kind of activity so a rethink may be required. If your kid(s) fall into this category but you’d love them to share in your passion and enjoyment, I suggest trying these 7 tips for hiking with children before giving up all together. Ensuring that it’s an enjoyable experience for everyone can require a bit of forethought, patience and creativity, so here are our top tips.

 

1

Know everyone’s limits

If you intend to go hiking with children, the route you plan for will depend on your children’s ages and development. It pays to have an accurate idea of what everyone can manage without getting tired and grumpy.

Theo was introduced to hiking at 4 days old. Of course at this age, he was in a sling for the entirety of our outing and as long as he could still feed on demand, he was happy.

As we got past the newborn stage, we’d get him out of the sling for stints so he could crawl around, explore and eventually toddle about. By 16 months he had scaled England’s highest peak as well as many of the Lake District’s other fells. By the age of about 18 months, he was a very confident walker and was happy to go on hikes of approximately 10 miles (16 km). Of course this still included stints in the sling either to rest his legs or to have a nap.

Over the following year, he managed longer and longer stretches of walking by himself and was happily doing over 6 mile (10 km) hikes up mountains by the age of 2 and a bit without the need for breaks in the sling. The steeper and more technical the terrain, the more fun he had !

 

We’ve found that the age of 2.5 to 3 has been most challenging so far in terms of planning long hikes, and have needed to drastically cut back our expectations. I suspect it’s partly that he’s out of practise (it’s been winter here so we’ve been hiking less over these past 6 months), partly that his current learning is based on role play rather than exploration of the physical world, and partly that he’s at a stage where he wants to exert his independence and make his opinions heard. That’s fine, we encourage this, and we see it as our responsibility to tailor activities so that they cater for his current learning, preferences and needs rather than drag him on things he has no interest in just because it’s what we want to do. So, our recent hikes have been shorter and slower. I go into a bit more detail below in point 6 about how we’ve adapted our outings to suit his current learning.

 

2

Bring loads of snacks (and water!)

Most parents don’t leave the house without ample snacks so I’m sure you’d probably think to do this anyway. The difference though is that when on a hike, if you run out of food, you risk having a hungry child on your hands for potentially miles of walking and then perhaps also a drive back home or to the nearest shop. A ‘hangry’ child is a very good way to instantly ruin your peaceful hike through a beautiful setting, so try to avoid this at all costs! 

Bringing water on a hike is hopefully obvious. Stay hydrated by stopping for short water breaks regularly, particularly in hot weather. A bottle of water is also handy to wet cloth wipes on the go, for post-snack sticky hands and faces, nappy changes/unfortunate accidents/stops behind a tree, and to mop up muddy and scraped knees and hands.

 

3

Bring a sling

This is obviously most relevant for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, but may also apply to some older children, particularly those with disabilities or medical conditions.

Likelihood is you won’t forget a sling for your baby because they’ll need to be carried the whole time, but once they are walking confidently it’s an easy item to overlook. Little legs get tired though and having a sling or carrier of some kind will save your back and arms! If your child still has a daytime nap, a sling is the perfect place for this and having this option will mean you can also plan for longer hikes as you’ll cover a lot of ground while they sleep.

 

The type of sling or carrier you choose will depend on the age of your child, the length and difficulty of your hike, and what you and your child both find most comfortable to use. A stretchy or woven wrap may be ok for younger babies and for shorter hikes, but a buckle carrier may feel more secure on longer or more technical hikes and for heavier children. I recommend the Ergo 360 Cool Air Mesh, and the Connecta Solar, both of which are lightweight and breathable, and can be worn to front or back carry. If you prefer a heavy duty backpack style carrier, or you’re embarking on a very lengthy hike and envisage carrying your child for longer periods, I recommend the Osprey Poco AG Premium. It’s very breathable, has useful storage space, and has a maximum weight of 22 kg (48.5 lbs), meaning it may also be suitable for older children with disabilities.

 

4

Plan for double the time you think the hike should take

When you look at the trail map and it gives an estimated time for a particular route, ignore this and double it!

 

Older children and teenagers will of course be better able to keep up with this predicted pace (perhaps even storm ahead of you!) but younger children have shorter legs, they may be liable to run off back the way you’ve just come, and regular stops to explore their surroundings are to be expected.

The exact deviation from the predicted time will of course depend on your kids’ ages, their personalities, everyone’s fitness and hiking experience, and how often you stop for rests/food/photographs/learning etc, but the point remains: everything with children takes a bit longer (even leaving the house!) and hiking with children is no exception.

If your kids need to be back by a specific time for food or sleep, I recommend planning accordingly and leaving more time than you think you could possibly need!

 

5

Be flexible – sometimes you have to back out

I’m sure you’re used to this as parents but flexibility is key. Sometimes plans have to change last minute and it can be annoying, but personally, I’d rather back out or take a shorter route than endure the frustration of hiking with children who just don’t want to be there. It’s ok if your child’s just not feeling it today, adult’s have days like that too; hopefully you’ll have another opportunity to try again another day.

 

6

An opportunity for learning and play

Hiking is not just about getting from A to B. It presents a wonderful opportunity for children to learn a wide range of skills and knowledge while being outside and enjoying the natural world (as well as getting some exercise, fresh air and vitamin D). So, like in everything else we do, we play and we learn while we do it.

For the littlest of hikers, a simple blade of grass can be a fascinating. For infants, opportunities to use their senses are in abundance. Explore the texture of grass, bark, different leaves, mud and water (if you come to any); take the time to smell flowers and point out the sounds of birds and branches waving in the wind; name objects and their colours as you come across them.

 

Between their first and second birthdays, your toddler is likely to enjoy working on their gross motor skills so you may find that games revolve around walking, running and climbing. At this age, Theo loved finding objects (sticks, pine cones etc) for us to throw further up the path and then he’d run off to find it (yes, just like playing ‘fetch’!). We also liked this game because he kept him heading in the right direction rather than going back on himself all the time! Hide and seek also has this positive effect providing that whomever is hiding does so further up the path!

 

Climb fallen trees, practise jumping off rocks, kick and jump in fallen Autumn leaves; burn all that toddler energy!

Theo was also curious about flowers and insects at this age, so it was the ideal time to practise being gentle with fragile living organisms, and learn to observe and appreciate them without causing harm. He enjoyed taking photographs of the things that interested him along the way. Although not all of these images were in focus or even included his intended subject, they’re a wonderful documentation of a particular hike through the eyes of a one-year-old. I printed them and together we stuck them in a scrapbook and talked about where they were taken. I write captions about where we were, what we were doing and what he was finding interesting, but as he gets older, I’ll instead encourage him to write about his memories.

 

After their second birthday, you will likely find that your toddler’s speech really erupts and, although they may have been talking for a while, they may suddenly be able to engage with more complex conversations. As certain topics cropped up on our walks (often as a result of a ‘why?’ question!), we started introducing concepts such as the life cycle of plants and animals, the water cycle, and we talked in more detail about the insects we saw while hiking.

Theo still loves exploring the outside world and working on his gross motor skills, but as we approach his third birthday, he is really engaged in role playing. While he still collects sticks, looks at flowers and marvels at bugs, our more recent hikes have also included time pretending to be a lion hunting in the grass, collecting stones to use as money in exchange for ‘goods’ (also collected along the route) in whatever shop he has created, and rescuing vehicles or people that have got stuck in the mud/water/steep or rocky terrain. He loves ‘fixing things’ at the moment so a stick becomes a screw driver and he finds trees with holes to fix.

 

As his play and learning interests continue to change and develop, so will our hikes.

 

7

Pack light but don’t forget the essentials

You don’t want to have to lug around everything except the kitchen sink, particularly if you’re likely to also be carrying a child at some point during your hike, but forgetting sun cream, hats, bug spray or spare supplies for children in nappies or those who are not yet reliably toilet-trained, is a recipe for a potentially unpleasant hiking experience. Children (and adults!) with sunburn, bites or soiled clothes are going to be pretty miserable!

I made the mistake of forgetting a spare set of clothes for Theo once when he was about 2 months old. Halfway up a mountain in the British Lake District, I changed his nappy and had to improvise some trousers using my fleece, one leg in each arm! I was cold, but at least he was warm. Suffice to say, I didn’t forget spare clothes for him again!

 

Hiking with children really is a pleasure; it’s a joy to see the world through their eyes. It will almost certainly be slower than an all-adult excursion, but don’t let that put you off! With these tips, I hope your family can enjoying hiking together as much as we do.

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Landscape taken during a visit to Kakadu National Park with children

Visiting Kakadu National Park with children


Guest Post

Many thanks to Brian Gadsby from Gadsventure for writing such an informative post on visiting Kakadu National Park with children. All text and photographs supplied by Brian.


Nature Awaits

Kakadu is arguably Australia’s most famous National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Remember ‘Crocodile Dundee’ from the 1980s? Paul Hogan helped to open up Australia’s once flagging tourism industry by exposing the beauty and wilderness of Kakadu to the rest of the world. We were keen to experience it for ourselves, but is visiting Kakadu National Park with children possible?

We have lived our entire lives in Australia and only made it to Kakadu in our mid 30s, thanks mostly to its wonderful remoteness. It was during our 12-month trip around Australia with our three kids in our pop top camper that the highway loop took us towards the famous landmark with great anticipation and high hopes.

Kakadu is nature in its most untouched and incredible state. It is raw and majestic. It possesses an incredible sense of wonder and spirituality thanks to the indigenous history, intermingled with a feeling of awe for the beauty and the array of wildlife.

Camping here is getting back to nature and eco-tourism at its best!

 

Trip Planning

Kakadu National Park is accessed via Highway 1 and is about 170km (106 miles) or around 3 hours drive out of Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory. The easiest way to get to there is by car from Darwin or Katherine and, unless you prefer to join a tour, you will need a vehicle to get around the park.

The absolute best, and I mean best way to see Kakadu is in your own 4-wheel drive car and camping at the various campgrounds around the park. This really allows you to immerse yourself in the magic of Kakadu.

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You need about one week to experience everything and the road is a perfect loop route, which makes it easy to navigate.

Camping in National Parks is my favourite kind of holiday. You feel at one with nature as you get back to basics with campfire cooking and sleeping under the stars. Visiting Kakadu National Park with children is not only very manageable, but it is a fantastic place for the whole family to enjoy the scenery and the serenity. We took three young children aged 1, 3 and 5 and it was a perfect fun-filled family adventure.

 

When to go?

Although the entry fees are cheaper over the summer months between November to April, flooding does cause a number of attractions to be closed. The vivid green landscapes are yours to enjoy with fewer visitors though, and you have the chance to experience electrifying monsoonal afternoon storms.

Peak holiday season in Kakadu is May to October and the park is heaving with visitors. We visited in July and it was busy, but we were still able to find a spot to camp without booking ahead. If you planned to stay at hotel or resort accommodation, you would need to book well in advance for this period.

August to November is the best time to see large numbers of whopping great saltwater crocodiles; check with your ranger for details on what time of day the crocodiles will be the most accessible and when you are least likely to disturb them.

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Of course, if possible, you may wish to consider what time of year your tourism will have the greatest negative impact on the environment. The world is becoming more aware of the effects of over-tourism and avoiding these periods should undoubtedly start to play a larger role in trip planning.

 

Where to Start

Your unique adventure begins in the town of Jabiru with a visit to the small supermarket to stock up on food, the National Park Headquarters and Bowali Visitor Centre.

Purchase your National Park Pass at the Visitor Centre to secure entry into everything the park has to offer. This entry fee of $40AUD per adult or $100 for a family of 4 includes guided ranger walks, talks and cultural activities. Pre-purchase your passes online here. There is no charge for Northern Territory residents, and the prices are reduced during Summer when some sections may be inaccessible due to monsoon rain events.

The Bowali visitor centre is a great place ask questions, plan your walks and activities, enjoy interactive exhibits, get your maps and information to equip you for the ultimate Kakadu experience. There is also a beautiful cafe and gallery on site. Your park entrance fees help with the maintenance and administration of the park and go towards assisting the traditional owners preserve its culture and heritage. There is another visitor centre and Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Yellow Water.

 

Where to Stay

The accommodation options range from remote bush camps, to peaceful managed campgrounds, all the way to 5-star luxury resort style lodging. For the family, we simply couldn’t beat the beautiful campgrounds. You can park your camper van or pitch your tent only footsteps away from stunning bush walks taking you to breathtaking waterfalls pitching into seemingly endless deep cool waterholes. Short and long walks abound and there are always opportunities to plunge into a refreshing stream along the way. On a 1 week trip to Kakadu we stayed in 3 different campgrounds, and enjoyed them all.

 

Dangers and Annoyances

As it is a wetlands area year round, visiting Kakadu National Park with children does require some forethought on staying safe.

There are more than a few mosquitoes, and they can be downright thick depending on the time of year. Please bring repellent, and cover up with clothing to avoid mosquito bites.

Be very wary of saltwater crocodiles and treat them with the utmost respect. They are fiercely territorial and as such, don’t go near the water’s edge or you are putting yourself at risk. Don’t let children touch or splash in water and obey all the warning signs regarding crocs; they are there for a reason! There are plenty of safe elevated platforms for secure crocodile watching.

Ensure to keep hydrated during any walks as it can get very humid, especially in Summer.

 

Things to See

Rock Art
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Famous for the historically significant rock art throughout the park, visiting Kakadu National Park with children is a great opportunity for learning about historical art forms and Aboriginal culture. Easily accessible via wheelchair- and stroller/pram-friendly paths there are many opportunities to check out these impressive and well preserved examples of Aboriginal art that were painted on cave walls up to 20,000 years ago! These pictures show the symbiotic relationship that the Aboriginal people of the Bininj/Mungguy had with their country and the land. They are absolutely amazing and were enough to awe even the youngest kids!

Wildlife
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Kakadu has been voted Australia’s number one birdwatching destination by Australian Geographic. It is home to a phenomenal one third of all Australia’s bird species. It is an absolute paradise for bird lovers and nature lovers alike.

Regardless of whether you’re visiting Kakadu National Park with children or not, I recommend downloading the Kakadu Birds app for iPhone here or on Android here. The app is a great educational tool to find out about 50 of the most popular bird species, hear their calls and discover the best places to find them. This app was so fun to use! We all enjoyed spotting the birds and then trying to identify them!

There are about 10,000 saltwater crocodiles in Kakadu! Some even over 5 meters long! Watch from the safety of a platform as they slide over the causeway at Cahill’s Crossing while fisherman dip their lines for barramundi just upstream.

Weave through hundreds of wallabies if you venture out after dark and spot the now elusive water buffalo if you are lucky.

The wildlife viewing opportunities here are exciting for all ages!

Forking out for a Yellow Water cruise is definitely worth it for an excellent up close wildlife viewing experience. Seeing those huge crocs gliding alongside your little boat as you chug along through the wetlands is absolutely fascinating. Colourful flowers floating on the clear reflective waters gives you a feeling of absolute tranquility. We were even lucky enough to come face to face with a water buffalo!

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Crocodile Dundee was great for tourism here, but not so good for crocodile conservation. He was the guy that hunted and killed the huge creatures and then made himself hats and belts out of their hide. But what he, and the movie, did was create awareness of Kakadu worldwide which drove hundreds of thousands of international tourists to the region, which created the money and conservation that this World Heritage listed National Park needed to survive and prosper.

 

Highlights

Ubir

Home to incredibly fascinating rock art that you can get close to, Ubir is the place to climb to the top of the rock for the best sunset in Kakadu.

Nourlangie

Another site for epic Aboriginal rock art. Stroll around the well trodden paths at the base of the imposing Nourlangie Rock escarpment and take in the atmosphere of this breathtakingly spiritual place.

Gunlom

Camp at the base of the hill and hike up for a refreshing swim in nature’s infinity pool!

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Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls

4-wheel drive enthusiasts will love the drive in to this impressive waterhole. You will need a snorkel on your vehicle to get all the way into Twin Falls but these are worth the long drive into Kakadu’s heartland.

Maguk

A beautiful walk to a wide pool with a gorgeous cascade at the top.

Cahill’s Crossing

This causeway crosses over to Arnhem Land, which is an untouched Indigenous homeland open only to the traditional owners. As the tide ebbs and flows, the giant crocodiles slide over the causeway delighting onlookers.

 

Get going!

Kakadu is on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its outstanding natural and cultural values. It is easy to see why. A trip to Kakadu is a step into another time and places you deep into the roots of ancient art and ways of life. The natural scenery is stunning and absolutely awe-inspiring. There is beauty every which way you turn, and short walks will lead you to the most rewarding vistas imaginable.

Visiting Kakadu National park with children is a wonderful way to get them into nature, and opportunities for play and learning are in abundance. Kids will love exploring the winding pathways and diving into the crystal cascades and waterholes. Leave the iPads behind and instead gaze at the ancient Aboriginal rock paintings as you try to decipher their meanings. Take them to educational ranger talks and go wildlife spotting. Camp under the stars with a campfire and get back to basics with minimal impact on your environment, remembering to leave only footprints.

It is the best experience!


Author Bio

The fun-loving family of six behind Gadsventure are out to travel the world and seek adventure in the four corners of the globe.  Fresh from a big year of travelling around Australia, they are ready to take on South East Asia and Europe next.  Kris, Brian, Jasper, Dash, Daisy and Mabel invite you to follow them on their international family gap year for 2019. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pintrest
Gadsventure Family Gadsventure Family
Make shift housing in a shanty town along South Africa''s Garden Route

Racism in South Africa

Age 8, I was set an assignment at school to write to someone who inspired me. I wrote to Nelson Mandela (and received a reply!).

Unfortunately, I don’t remember the exact words I wrote, but I remember feeling that this man saw beyond the exterior and was working towards a world where everyone is valued and treated equally (it’s really no wonder I became a clinical psychologist!).

 

14 years later, I visited his home nation for the first time.

Honestly, South Africa made me uncomfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s utterly stunning, the National Parks and their inhabitants are spectacular, and every South African I’ve met has been great fun, incredibly welcoming and has an endless appetite for braii, but it still has a hell of a long way to come since the days of Apartheid.

Make no mistake, Apartheid is still present.

The divisions and inequalities between black people and white people hit me square in the face; it’s hard to miss. The racist undertones often left me speechless and confused at how such hurtful, ignorant sentiments could be uttered by otherwise such kind and educated people.

I get that the racism amongst my generation of white South Africans, who were too young (or not yet born) to remember the final years of apartheid, has mostly been borne out of the government’s attempts to ‘undo’ a grisly history; for example, the white candidate now loses out on a job not because there was a better candidate but because there was a black candidate; and that older generations around the globe can often (but not always!) be a product of their time, but this doesn’t explain the stark and shocking inequality that persists in the context of a world that is surely (hopefully!) moving forward in its racial equality (and equal rights for all more generally).

 

Even the continued widespread use of the words ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’, a left over product of Apartheid-era language, rubs me the wrong way. I find these labels incredibly dehumanising. In my mind, it’s as distasteful, outdated and unacceptable as using words like ‘fags’ to describe people of the LGBT community, ‘birds’ to describe women and a whole host of horrible words that I can’t even bring myself to write to describe people with disabilities. We are all human and we are all individuals with our own set of values, beliefs and experiences that are unique, even within the context of our collective identities. (Sorry, rant over…sort of!)

The difference between how the majority of black and white people live is nothing short of gut-wrenching.

All across the country, black people live in shanty towns, while a mile up the road, white people live in fancy gated mansions with security cameras and guard dogs, often with black employees as gardeners and ‘maids’ (I hate this word; it’s archaic and hierarchical), who cook, clean, do laundry and look after the children. I have no problem with people taking these roles, clearly it gives them employment and an opportunity to earn a living, nor with those who choose to employ people to help around the house, but I do have a problem with the clear black-white divide. Yes, shanty towns with white residents also exist, but these are few and far between compared to the sprawling settlements of make-shift housing permanently resided in by black South Africans.

 

Now, I think it’s important to be transparent about my own circumstances and the foundations on which my views are based. I’m white British and I come from a middle class background, and with that I certainly had a privileged upbringing. The U.K. is not perfect, and non-white people in Britain are more likely to be of a lower socio-economic status than white people, but there are two key differences as I see it: the welfare system and access to social housing doesn’t discriminate between race, religion and other markers of diversity, and fear and hate talk directed towards people of races different from your own is not accepted as normal, as it appears to be in South Africa (yes, even in the context of Brexit and the European immigration crisis, these feelings are only expressed by a tiny, and rightly shunned, minority). I have only once experienced shocking racism in the U.K. and it transpired that this person’s hideous view was based on having never met a black person (this is in rural north England, where sadly the population isn’t particularly diverse); white South Africans do not have this excuse.

Throw out any pre-conceptions of a now harmonious bi-cultural post-Apartheid society.

Sadly racism directed towards marginalised native populations is a common theme within countries previously invaded and colonised by Europeans; I have witnessed this first hand in the United States (can we please be clear that Native Americans are not ‘Indians’ and that if you need to collectively refer to people, using a tribe name is most respectful…but I digress!), Canada, Australia and I am starting to pick up on in New Zealand as well, but that’s another story, and in these countries it certainly doesn’t swing in like a wrecking ball to smash all your pre-conceptions of a wonderful postcolonial country rebuilding itself after white invasion quite like it does in South Africa!

I’ve witnessed a lot of poverty and discrimination, through both work and travel, and it is always sad to experience, but certainly South Africa got under my skin. I left declaring that it’s a fabulous place to visit but I couldn’t live amongst the racism.

Mother and son kayak together on Grand Lake, Colorado. The boy is wearing a Frugi sun hat.

Eco-Friendly Sun Protection

With the school summer holidays fast approaching in the Northern Hemisphere and sunny days with high UV exposure continuing year-round in the Southern Hemisphere, I thought it a good opportunity to write a short post on staying safe in the sun and choosing eco-friendly sun cream, hats and swimwear for the whole family.

 


Eco-Friendly Sun Cream…               Sunscreen…Suntan Lotion…Sunblock…

Since Theo was 3 months and experienced his first strong sun (he was born in the winter in the U.K. so he had to wait a few months!), we have been big fans of Green People’s Organic Children Sun Lotion SPF30.

Made from natural ingredients and containing ‘no nasties’, this eco-friendly sun cream has been gentle on his allergy-induced eczema-prone skin, and is safe for corals and marine life. He has never suffered with redness or burn so it seems to offer good protection (it’s advertised as offering high protection against UVA and UVB rays, with 97% UVB protection). Despite being thick, it isn’t greasy and it’s easier to apply and rub in than many of the other baby sun cream brands.

I recently came across this article, written in 2014, and contacted Green People for a response; I haven’t heard back! I believe they have changed any misleading advertising since this was printed. We’ve certainly not had any problems with it!

We really like the Organic Children Aloe Vera Lotion and After Sun as well.

 

Eco-Friendly Sun Hats

I have two requirements when choosing a sun hat for Theo: it must shade his face adequately and it must secure under his chin (because keeping a hat on a baby/toddler without a chin strap is a battle I can do without!). I have found two ethical brands that meet these specifications and have become firm favourites.

Frugi is a British children’s clothing company founded on the highest environmental and social standards. They use GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified organic cotton, as well as recycled plastic bottles and natural rubber for their rainwear. No chemicals, no hazardous pollutants, a fair wage and safe working environment for all their factory workers, and they work with factories to ensure water and energy consumption are kept to a minimum. They also donate 1% of their annual turnover to charity, including one children’s charity, one community charity and one environmental charity.

We have a lots of Frugi clothing and I love their Little Dexter hat with velcro tie, available in sizes newborn-4 years. We used last year’s Little Dexter hat every day during the summer so I immediately bought the next size up when they released this year’s collection (remembering that our seasons are opposite so I size up ready for later in the year)! The velcro’s really soft so didn’t bother or scratch Theo at all but I also found it to be very secure, even in Canterbury’s high winds!

We also use Frugi’s Little Swim Legionnaires hat at the beach. It has a large, soft brim and a great neck cover, and has a UPF 50+ rating, making it a great eco-friendly sun hat. While it doesn’t have a chin tie, it is elasticated for a good fit so it stays put!

If you’re looking for something with an even wider brim, Sunday Afternoons, an American family-run company, make a range of great eco-friendly sun hats with a focus on the highest sun protection. We really like the Clear Creek Boonie, which has an adjustable under-chin strap, UPF 50+ rating and a soft structured brim. What I really like about this company is that they donate to environmental and social causes that protect the landscape and support a love of the outdoors among the next generation.

 

Eco-friendly Sun and Swimwear

Theo’s last two swimming costumes have been Frugi. Even when subjected to regular sun, salt water and chlorine, I’ve been really impressed with how long they last. They offer good coverage and, like the hats, have a UPF 50+ rating. They zip at the back, come in lovely fun designs, and don’t have poppers on the inside legs. This obviously means harder nappy access but can be better once babies are mobile; I found that once Theo started crawling poppers always came undone anyway and were more hassle than they were worth. When he’s toilet trained, we may have to rethink as he wouldn’t be able to use the toilet without our help undressing.

When Theo was a newborn (he started swimming a minimum of weekly from 5 weeks) until about 6 months, he got cold in the water very quickly so I chose swimwear that offered a bit more warmth. Close Pop-In do a range with fleece lining: the baby cosy suit, and the toddler snug suit. Both have poppers at the crotch for easy nappy changes or toileting, the cosy suit opens fully at the front with Velcro and has a built in swimming nappy, and the snug suit has a zip at the back. Word of warning, these are sized quite small so size up if you’re unsure!

We have used both Pop-Ins and Tots Bots swimming nappies. In my opinion, Pop-Ins are better for babies, Tots Bots are better for toddlers. Pop-Ins are a tighter fit around the thighs so are harder to get on a wriggly toddler but offer a bit more of a barrier against those pre-weaning explosions!

For adult swimwear, there are lots of eco brands on the market but personally I find a lot of them quite drab looking. I like Jets, an Australian company whose products are all certified by Ethical Clothing Australia, ensuring that workers’ rights are protected throughout the supply chain. Sustainable manufacturing and the use of recycled materials in their fabric is central to the brand.

 


Enjoy the sunshine but remember to stay safe and look after our oceans! For some other suggestions on how to have an eco-friendly family holiday, check out this post on 20 ways to travel sustainably.

 

Eco-sun-protection Eco-sun-protection
Nairobi-National-Park-mum-and-baby-white-rhino

6 things to do during a stopover in Nairobi

Do you have a stopover in Nairobi coming up? Don’t waste it sitting in the airport (trust me, there’s not much there!). Instead, go and enjoy the city with my top 6 things to do on a Transit VISA in Kenya’s capital! All these suggestions are family-friendly and fun for all ages.

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is East Africa’s busiest airport, serving more than 7 million passengers annually. There are currently 5 commercial terminals, with direct connections to countries across Africa, Europe and Asia, and plans for an additional terminal to facilitate direct flights to North America.

You may very well find that your intercontinental flight has a stopover in Nairobi and you need to transfer, perhaps to another airline, to reach your final destination in Kenya or other African nations.

So, what do you do while you wait for your next flight? Instead of trying to keep the kids entertained in the airport, try one of these:

 

 

1

Nairobi National Park

 

Located a short drive from the airport, Nairobi National Park is one of the smallest in Africa but is known for having one of the highest concentrations of black rhinos, as well as other abundant wildlife (see zebras, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, leopards, buffalo, hyenas, hippos, ostrich, baboons, vultures, crocodiles and various species of antelope).

 

 

This is my favourite thing to do whenever I have stopover in Nairobi! We have had some of our most memorable animal sightings here and observing them on wide open grass plains against the backdrop of city skyscrapers makes for a truly unique setting.

Explore the park in an open jeep with a park guide, who will always know the best spots to find wildlife and will take you off the beaten track in search of the encounters you are most hoping for.

 

The ivory burning site, one of the most important landmarks in conservation, is also located inside the park. Here, presidents Daniel arap Moi and Uhuru Kenyatta oversaw the burning of large stocks of seized ivory in 1989 and 2016 respectively. In 1989, 11 tonnes of ivory were burned, sending a powerful message to poachers. This act was widely credited with sparking a reduction in poaching in Kenya at a time when the elephant population across East Africa was being decimated. In 2016, 100 tonnes were burned, the equivalent of tusks from 6000 elephants!

 

2

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

 

Located within Nairobi National Park, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is home to orphaned black rhinos and elephants, who socialise with wild herds in the park every day, but are raised here until it is safe to release them.

You can watch the animals being fed and observe as the elephants enjoy a mud bath, splashing and sliding about like a scene from ‘Dumbo’; keep your wits about you though incase one decides to aim a trunkful of mud your way!

While the elephants play, you’ll learn each of their individual stories and what brought them here. Most of these rescued young animals have either been abandoned by their herds, typically as a result of drought, or orphaned as a result of poaching. You’ll also hear from the keepers about the pioneering conservation work of the late David and Daphne Sheldrick, the wider work of the Trust and opportunities to foster one of the animals.

 

 

3

The Animal Orphanage

 

The Animal Orphanage houses a wide range of species including a number of big cats, hyenas, monkeys and a variety of birds. These animals have also been rescued with the aim of rehabilitating them and reintroducing them to the wild. The guides and keepers are incredibly knowledgeable and their positive relationships with the animals they care for is clear. You can learn about each animal while observing them at close range.

 

Of course, we would much rather see all these animals living in the wild, but their time both at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Animal Orphanage is typically only temporary and is with the best interests of the animal in mind.

 

 

4

The Giraffe Centre

 

Established to protect the endangered Rothschild’s Giraffe, this is a conservation success story. Habitat loss in western Kenya saw this subspecies of giraffe pushed to the brink of extinction. Today, numbers are up (although there is still a long way to go!) and the centre has successfully released breeding populations into a number of Kenya’s national parks.

At the centre, you can observe, hand-feed and interact with these curious and gentle giants; a wonderful experience for all ages!

 

5

A city tour

 

Nairobi is a bustling, cosmopolitan city that is in stark contrast to the natural beauty found in Kenya’s national parks, but it has much to offer beyond the sound of blaring car horns, the street sellers that tap at your car window to get your attention, the political propaganda that fills every available nook and cranny, and the churned up red dust that envelops the city.

It’s a city that’s so full of life, both during daylight hours and at night, and I find the contrast between the buzz of the city and the laid back nature of Nairobians utterly captivating. Unlike other economic hubs across the world (think London, Paris, New York, Beijing), people here aren’t always in a rush.

Depending on how long you have, the city can be explored by car or by foot, and you may wish to make stops at the following locations:

Kenyatta International Conference Centre: Take in a 360 degree view of Nairobi and its surrounding countryside from the 28th floor. On a clear day you can even spot Mount Kenya!

Kenyatta market: Probably not where you want to come to buy souvenirs and artwork, but a fun way to pass your stopover in Nairobi! A mélange of hair braiders, who try to entice you into their salon; tailors, who sit at sewing machines surrounded by vibrant patterned fabrics; cobblers, with displays of brightly coloured shoes that rival those sold in Marrakech’s souks; and food stalls that fill the air with the smokey scent of ‘nyama choma’ (barbecued meat). Meander your way through the market, passing by the second-hand sellers and soaking up joyful hubbub, and be sure to haggle respectfully.

Uhuru Park: Escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Nairobi in this oasis of calm right next to the city centre. Take a pedalo out on the lake, walk around the various monuments, picnic in the shade, and watch skateboarders compete in competitions.

Karura Forest: An urban indigenous forest with plenty of family-friendly walking, running and biking trails, perfect for some light exercise and a breath of fresh air in between flights. Spend your stopover in Nairobi visiting waterfalls, bird watching, butterfly spotting or exploring caves.

Nairobi National Museum, Botanical Gardens and Snake Park: All in one location, this is a great way to spend a few hours. The museum brings to life Kenya’s rich heritage, and permanent collections showcase both cultural and natural history.

The botanical gardens will ensure some welcome fresh air before you board your flight; follow the nature trail through the gardens, showcasing the diversity of Kenya’s fauna, and past a number of art installations.

The Snake Park is particularly fun for younger travellers, who will be given the opportunity to hold one if they wish. Snakes and other reptiles are housed both in open air enclosures and behind glass. The Park is primarily a research facility but gives visitors an opportunity to view Kenya’s reptiles that are more elusive in the wild.

Nairobi Gallery: Built in 1913, this is a national monument located right in the city centre. Nicknamed the ‘Hatches, Matches and Dispatches’ building due to its historical use as a registry office, it now houses temporary art exhibitions.

Karen Blixen’s House and Museum: Visit the farmhouse and gardens where author, Karen Blixen, lived from 1914-1931, and made famous with the release of ‘Out of Africa, an Oscar-winning film based on Blixen’s autobiography of the same title.

Nairobi is energetic, colourful, unpretentious and will give you a wonderful glimpse at African urban life; it would be a shame to spend your stopover in Nairobi confined to the airport and miss out on all that the city has to offer!

 

6

Carnivore restaurant

 

Carnivore is a meat-eaters paradise (but there are loads of scrummy vegetarian options as well). Try Kenya’s most famous selection of ‘nyama choma’ in a fun, family-friendly, open-air restaurant.
Skewered on traditional Masai swords, food is grilled on a visually mesmerising charcoal pit, which dominates the entrance.

Start with the soup of the day and then enjoy the all you can eat main course until you surrender your flag! Waiters carve and serve everything from beef, chicken, lamb and pork, to ostrich, crocodile and camel, at your table. This is accompanied by a selection of salads, vegetable dishes and sauces (your waiter will tell you which sauce is intended for which meat, or you can opt for a lucky dip!).

The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. Children aged 5-12 eat for half price and there is also a playground in the adjoining Simba Saloon.

You won’t find much to eat at the airport so if you have a stopover in Nairobi, I suggest you eat here!


How do I organise my trip?

I highly recommend booking with Robert from Sojourn Safaris (you can find him on facebook @sojourn.safaris).

We have met Robert on four different occasions and every time has been a pleasure. He will discuss your options with you via email or WhatsApp and work out your ideal bespoke itinerary for your budget and the time that you have. He has always planned a hugely memorable stopover in Nairobi for us, both when we’ve only had a few hours to spare and when we’ve had a full day. He’s punctual, knowledgeable, and we’ve always felt like no request is too great.

His tours come with:
Pick up and drop off at the airport
Comfortable transport
Bottled water
Park guide and open safari car for trips into the National Park
Guides for all other attractions

Please note that the fees do not include tips. Tips should be given for good service, as you feel appropriate, but as a guideline, 1000-2000 Shillings (equivalent of roughly $10-20 USD) is considered typical and is what we have previously given to all guides, safari drivers, and Robert himself.


What else do I need to know?

Check your VISA requirements. If you need a VISA, you can get a transit VISA on arrival for $20 USD, which is valid for 72 hours. You can also get it online, but it is easy to do at the airport so it isn’t necessary to do it in advance.

Please be aware that Kenya is at risk of Yellow Fever so a vaccination is recommended if you plan to exit the airport (please speak with your doctor to confirm your requirements). Border control will let you into Kenya without having had the vaccination but, when you land in your next destination, they will require all passengers who have exited the airport in Kenya to show their Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate. If you don’t have it, you risk being refused entry or quarantined and vaccinated in the airport.

Ditch the plastic! In 2017, Kenya banned the use, sale and production of plastic bags, and ignoring these rules will leave you liable for hefty fines and even a prison sentence, so don’t keep any in your hand luggage! Well done Kenya on implementing the ‘world’s toughest plastic bag ban‘!

 

Have a wonderful stopover in Nairobi! It’s an inspiring city and I have no doubt that your brief time there will convince you to return!

Bamboo rafts sail on the Yulong River in Yangsuo, Guilin, China

11 Cultural Quirks Witnessed in China

I love that we’re all different and we all have cultural oddities that, while considered totally normal in one country, may cause visitors to raise their eyebrows. China was full of these little surprises! Some were amusing, some were heart-warming, and some were a little unsanitary to my out-of-town eyes, but all contributed to my enjoyment of my trip and make me look back on it with great fondness.

 

I will certainly be returning to China with Alex and Theo; it’s a fascinating and beautiful country and I was lucky to meet some wonderful people who were able to teach me about their history and culture. So, in celebration of our idiosyncrasies, here is a list of 11 cultural quirks I witnessed in China.

 

1

Spitting isn’t considered rude. Much like sneezing and coughing, it’s just another normal bodily function in which fluids are expelled, and one’s throat and nose are cleared.

The sound of people hacking up phlegm much like a cat brings up a furball takes some getting used to, especially when in the close confines of public transport and restaurants, or when the noise is coming from the stranger walking right on your heels down a busy street. Taxi drivers are particularly renowned for this delight, but who can blame them when the spend all day breathing in heavy car fumes?!

 

2

Similarly, spitting food out isn’t something that’s done discreetly with darting eyes to check no one’s watching and behind a hand or napkin to preserve your dignity in case you are spotted!

My most memorable experience of this was during an incredible meal shared with new Chinese friends. Ghost Street (Guijie) in Beijing stretches for over a mile and is home to over 200 casual, family-run restaurants serving up mouth-watering dishes at tiny prices at any time of day or night (transport tip: alight at Dongzhimen subway station).

Red lanterns hanging above the street flicker on shortly before sundown and contribute to the festival atmosphere. The celebration is food; traditional recipes from each of China’s regions along with international fare.

We entered a Sichuan restaurant and after a brief exchange in Mandarin between the waiter and Hoover, a born and bred 30-something year-old teacher from Beijing, we were shown to our table and promptly served complimentary appetisers while we waited for the bull frogs, lobster, prawns and hot pot that Hoover had ordered. Provided you don’t have special dietary requirements, always allow a local to choose your meal! The zing of ginger, the aroma of garlic, and the fire of chilli filled my mouth – the food was amazing (although, personally, I found both duck and frog intestine to be a little chewy for my taste)!

I learnt something new during this meal: humans can remove the shell, legs and head of a prawn using nothing but their tongue (not this human, but others evidentially can!). As my dining companions dissected their food inside their mouths and then proceeded to indiscreetly discard the inedible and unwanted bits by spitting them on the table and floor, I looked around and saw everyone else doing the same thing.

I am all for cultural immersion and doing as the locals do, but the stereotypical overmannered Brit in me could only manage removing my frog bones and prawn shell behind a covering hand, placing them neatly on the table and ashamedly concealing them under the lip of my plate.

 

3

It is common for babies not to wear nappies before they are toilet trained. Onesies have gaping holes at the crotch and if they need to go while out and about, parents simply hold their infants either over a tree or over a public rubbish bin.

I still haven’t worked out how parents predict this and prevent themselves from being accidentally covered; speaking from experience, babies don’t give much warning for their toileting needs and once they start, there’s no stopping them while you get them to the nearest tree! Are parents in China carrying around multiple changes of clothes for themselves instead of for their baby, as I did?!

I support anyone not wanting to use disposable nappies, but I think I’ll stick to our lovely cloth nappies rather than dangling defecating children in public places!

 

4

On one occasion, a baby wearing one of these gaping onesies was thrust at me, which brings me to my next point. Be prepared for a lot of attention and endless photograph requests! The mother of this child wanted me to hold her baby so she could take a photograph of me holding him. I posed for photographs taken by strangers like this every day of the 7 week trip, and although I always obliged with a smile, it got very exhausting and I longed to once again blend into the crowd.

 

5

Weirdly though, I sometimes felt invisible. I wasn’t; a white, blonde female by herself with a backpack – I stuck out like a sore thumb!

Brits are known for loving an orderly queue so I had to bite my tongue through the seemingly mandatory pushing and shoving that is more common in China. Queue jumpers lurk next to every ticket booth, information desk, and till, and the use of elbows is recommended for surviving the metro crush.

In London, if someone tries to get on a tube without first stepping to the side to let people off, they receive a tirade of dirty looks, huffs and maybe the odd sarcastic comment. I did the same in Beijing but was promptly bulldozed directly into the people trying to alight by a wall of angry, shouting commuters behind me (as an aside, in Beijing, every hour is rush hour – don’t say I didn’t warn you!).

 

6

Speaking of shouting, unless you speak Mandarin, everyone sounds like they’re shouting and angry. Of course, they’re not; Mandarin is a tonal language and requires a wider vocal range than English, and I think the Chinese are also possibly more expressive in their speech than Brits.

 

7

Although my culture tells me that the tendency to push and shove in China is rude, I found people to be exactly the opposite. Complete strangers really wanted to go out of their way to be helpful.

After stopping people to ask for directions, I was shown around Chongqing by an 18 year old who wanted to practice her English and was then taken to lunch by her and her mother, and a guy in Hangzhou took me on a tour of several temples, translating every information point we came to and also giving me additional history and politics lessons, that were fascinating and included details I would never have otherwise known.

I have numerous stories like this of kind people jumping at the chance to help me out, but my favourite occurred on a night train.

My zig-zag travel across China was all done by train and I booked my onward journey when I had got to each place and figured out how long I wanted to be there. This meant that several of the sleeper trains I booked didn’t have beds available, nor seats, so I slept in the aisle on my backpack for journeys as long as 19 hours.

Anyone who has travelled on China’s trains in the budget carriages will know that they are no Virgin Trains (or even Southern Rail – a timely joke referring to Britain’s currently most hated rail network), which feel like luxury in comparison. They’re filthy, smelly, incredibly cramped, and the toilets are enough to give you nightmares, but they got me from A to B relatively reliably and I met some interesting characters that made the long distances feel shorter.

On this particular over-crowded journey, there was a rush to buy tickets for the beds that had just become available as passengers disembarked at each stop, and huge crowds formed around the conductor selling them. I jumped up and focused my attention on at least grabbing a newly empty seat.

At the next stop, the conductor approached me through the swarm of people trying to wrestle for the much coveted tickets and passed me a note. I opened it. Scrawled in handwriting that suggested the author rarely formed these foreign shapes, I read the words ‘Follow me’. My brain did a quick ‘this could go one of two ways’ calculation. Screw it, I’m following him!

He led me through the heaving carriages, stepping over other unlucky passengers in the aisles, and into a sleeper carriage. Now, I’m not in the habit of following strange men into bedrooms but as he showed me to an empty bunk, I was very grateful for his kindness in reaching out to me (and also now pleased that I didn’t blend into the crowd – it’s swings and roundabouts!).

 

8

There’s no such thing as personal space. I found people in China to be very touchy-feely. It’s really very endearing, but a bit of a surprise when your culture is just the opposite!

Londoners complain about having to get up close and personal with other commuters on the tube; a trip to Beijing or Shanghai would certainly put it in perspective!

It’s not just the forced closeness though. I was constantly touched by strangers, all intended in a friendly way but nonetheless, a little unsettling at first. Unexpected hugs, taking my hand, patting me on the arm, even a few cheek pinches, which I don’t think anyone has done to me since I was a toddler!

 

9

I was in China during the height of summer. It was sweltering! When I stopped in restaurants and cafes, I really wanted cold water, but was always brought freshly boiled water (obviously knowing your water has been boiled is very reassuring but filtering it or treating it are also alternatives to buying bottled water). I don’t drink tea or coffee, and don’t understand how hot drinks can possibly be considered refreshing when it’s a million degrees and humid, but I was always looked at like I’d just walked off Mars whenever I explained that I was after cold water.

 

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I’m no stranger to squat toilets and was expecting to only find seated toilets in accommodation, but thought I’d mention it here for anyone who isn’t yet clued up about this. All public toilets in China are squat toilets, you won’t find toilet paper in any of them, nor will there be any soap. My advice is to always carry loo roll and hand sanitiser, use the toilet before heading out for the day and again whenever you stop in restaurants. Having soap with you is a nice option but there’s no guarantee that toilets will even have running water with which to wash your hands (or flush the loo!). A word of warning: public toilets can be disgusting everywhere in the world, but China’s are the worst I have ever seen. Let’s just say, they’re not well maintained and some people clearly haven’t mastered the squat and catastrophically miss the hole when they do their business. Eek!

 

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Don’t miss out on visiting the public parks; they’re lovely hubs of everyday life and I learnt so much about Chinese culture by sitting and people-watching. Unlike in the U.K., where the most interesting things you’ll see on your average day in your average park are dog walkers, runners, cyclists and kids with scooters, parks in China are central to the community and used by everyone for a whole range of wonderful activities. With speakers blaring, large groups of people gather to partake in group dancing (mostly ballroom and line dancing), tai chi (with and without swords!), kung fu, and a sport that blends tai chi and tennis. People of all ages line the paths, engrossed in games of Chinese Chess and Mahjong, and intricate calligraphy is painted on the walkways. Paper and bamboo kites float on the breeze, and large spinning tops are flung into rotation by the crack of a whip. These are pastimes for adults as much as children and can even be taken to competition. Feel free to join in as well!

What quirky cultural differences have you noticed when travelling? Perhaps you spotted something in China that I haven’t included here. Share it in the comments!

A child's hand plays with a red wood toy Bajo aeroplane airplane

The Complete Guide to Flying with Kids

The thought of flying with kids is enough to keep many parents awake at night! Instead of feeling excited about your upcoming journey, are you worrying about how you’re going to keep your children happy, entertained, well slept, well fed, and clean for the duration of the flight, plus achieve all of this without annoying every other passenger on the plane?!

Don’t panic, it really will be ok. I can honestly say that every one of the 25 mostly long-haul flights Theo has been on to date has been a breeze, but we have learnt a few things along the way.

I recently had the pleasure of writing a guest post for my favourite ethical retailer, Babipur, detailing my 12 top tips to ensure your journey is as stress-free as possible.

 

View the post here for suggestions on:

  • Trip planning, booking the right flight and choosing the best seats.
  • Making the most of your checked luggage allowance and free baby items. If you are planning to take a car seat and buggy/stroller with you in the hold, I suggest protecting them. We use this padded car seat bag along with these Gate Check Pro bags (one for the car seat, which goes over the padded bag, and one for a buggy/stroller) and have found that they have all survived remarkably well for the price tag; well worth the investment!
  • Must-haves for your hand luggage.
  • Time management.
  • Getting through the chaos of airport and security. Hint: a sling helps massively!
  • Dealing with nappy changes in the airport and on flight. In this post, I go into more detail about using cloth nappies while travelling so you may also want to check that out.
  • Snacks and drinks, plus of course our favourite reusable bottles, bags and containers to carry them in. We wouldn’t be without our Klean Kanteens (a Kid Kanteen for Theo, an insulated one for water, which gets filled after we’ve gone through security, and a wide neck insulated one for coffee, which can be filled before departing and then refilled during your flight), Klean Kanteen canisters ( ideal if you need to take a meal on board; not too bulky, leak-proof and I recommend the insulated ones for any hot food), and our Planet Wise sandwich bags and wraps (check out the whole Planet Wise range as they have heaps of options in different sizes and prints to suit your style).
  • Helping little ones to equalise their ears.
  • Providing entertainment that lasts the whole flight. Click here for a few of our favourite (and very much tried and tested!) eco-friendly toys for travelling.

Flying with kids doesn’t have to be stressful! Have a safe flight and a wonderful trip making memories to cherish!

The link again to the whole post is here.

 

Flying-with-kids Flying-with-kids

 


This post contains affiliate links and will either take you the brand’s website or to the relevant amazon listing. I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you buy something using these links (but not if you leave the page and then go back to it later). This enables me to keep writing this blog and producing useful information, so please consider making any purchases through these links.

 

Lewis river between yellow and green grasses in the foreground and mountains in the background

Is New Zealand as eco-friendly as it seems?

What do you think of when you imagine New Zealand?

If you’ve never been, what’s the impression that photographs, films, and stories have left you with?

Lush countryside filled with grazing sheep? Dramatic landscapes of mountains and sparkling waters under a blue, cloudless sky? Extreme sports and outdoor adventure? Vineyards? The All Blacks performing the Haka?

I’ll bet that you might imagine that New Zealanders consider the environment a priority.

But is that the reality?


We’ve been in New Zealand for five months now and we’re loving it. We’re definitely feeling settled and although Christchurch might not be our home forever, we are very happy here for now and I suspect New Zealand will be our base from which we continue to explore for the foreseeable future.

The countryside is beautiful, the people are welcoming, and the lifestyle for families is fantastic. There are a few things that have surprised us though, particularly the lack of environmental awareness and practice.

The media does a wonderful job of marketing New Zealand as this super eco-friendly country that is leading the way in environmental policy. We had thought everyone would be very conscientious of the environment and protecting, not just New Zealand’s wildlife and landscapes, but the well-being of the whole planet.

Unfortunately, we have found that eco living isn’t high on people’s priority list. Of course there are individuals for whom this is important, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be part of the ingrained culture as we were expecting.

Here are 5 ways that we have been surprised by the lack of environmental awareness in New Zealand. Do these things surprise you too?


 

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I was expecting to be able to buy fresh local produce at markets, butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers in every suburb of the big cities and in smaller towns. Don’t get me wrong, Christchurch has all of these, but only a handful and they are dispersed right across the city (for great quality fresh produce head to Riccarton House and Bush for the farmers’ market on Saturdays, Tram Road Fruit Farm for delicious ‘pick your own’ fruits, Vegeland on Marshland Road, Cashmere Cuisine butcher on Colombo Street, and Theo’s Fisheries on Riccarton Road. You can read more about visiting Christchurch here).

Most people shop at the supermarket since fresh produce is not easily accessible for all, particularly without a car. Sadly there isn’t anything near us so we have to either rent a car or get the bus into town, lugging heavy bags and a toddler (we don’t have a car – see point 4!). In smaller towns buying fresh produce is near impossible without a considerable drive.

 

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At supermarkets, checkout staff usually pack bags (unless, like me you bring your own bags, but I am yet to witness anyone else do this). They have obviously been trained to under-pack the bags to avoid any potential complaints, and to double-bag each meat item separately. A shop that really should fit in one bag all of a sudden requires five! Reducing plastic bag use was just one of my suggestions for new year’s resolutions; check out other tips here.

 

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Irrigation is a huge problem in the drier regions of New Zealand. We see this a lot in Canterbury, where the average annual rainfall is 600-700mm compared to the West Coast’s 2000-3000mm on the other side of the Southern Alps.

During the hot, dry summer, everyone’s gardens remain sparkling green and cows graze on the lush dairy farms that fill the Canterbury Plains. There’s more land here so despite cattle being more suited to the temperate rainforest climate of the West Coast, farmers continue to irrigate the Plains.

We have been informed that sadly, due to this irrigation and the increase in dairy farming, swimming holes and rivers are becoming unsafe for humans, let alone other wildlife, and the Avon river that winds through Christchurch, though it may look clear and inviting, is actually incredibly polluted.

 

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Cars are horrible, smelly, polluting old things! The car market is nuts! They’re stupidly expensive as everything has to be shipped here, so old cars hold their value really well, unlike in the U.K. They also last longer since roads aren’t gritted during the Winter, so people end up driving cars that you won’t have seen on the road for at least a decade in the U.K.

 

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Supermarket meat is fairly shocking. Chicken breasts are twice the size they should be, it is surprisingly difficult to get uncooked ham (even in the run up to Christmas, despite ham being the meat dish of choice), deli meat is horribly watery and no longer tastes like meat, and there is no variety. Your options are chicken, pork, lamb, beef and a limited range of fish. Essentially, although there are regulations around the use of hormones, meat is pumped full of water, and getting your hands on unprocessed meat is tough.

We’d reduced our meat consumption in order to lessen our footprint prior to arriving in New Zealand, but as meat-eaters this was still a disappointing shock to us. Currently, about 80% of our meals are vegan but if ever there was a time to go totally vegan, it’s now!

 


Despite these surprises, there are of course a number of things that New Zealand gets absolutely spot on!

The Resource Management Act ensures that Iwi are consulted about natural resource matters. This consultation with Maori tribes provides an extra layer of environmental protection, as well as ensuring that areas of cultural significance are preserved. More people working to protect land can surely only be a good thing.

We love that people eat seasonally and there is significantly less reliance on imports compared to in the U.K.. Before we moved, we were a little concerned that we’d miss having year-round access to seasonal fruit and vegetables, as well as produce not locally grown at all. In fact, we are enjoying knowing that all the produce we buy in store has been sourced locally, and I now also grow most of our vegetables myself (along with raspberries and blackberries, as these are expensive to buy).

The healthy populations of birds, bees and butterflies are noticeable, even in the big cities. When we’ve been camping, it has been a pleasure to wake to the loudest dawn chorus I have ever witnessed – so loud that in Hanmer Forest, it took me a while to work out whether the white-noise hum that had roused me was the sound of a storm echoing in the branches above, or the simultaneous song of hundreds of birds!

Environmental awareness may not be part of the ingrained culture, but an outdoor lifestyle is certainly typical for New Zealanders. Even in the cities, there are fantastic opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and people certainly make the most of it. We live a few minutes from forest mountain biking, 10 minutes walk from the beach and great surfing spots, 30 minutes drive to beautiful hiking and I can’t wait for winter as we’re only an hour from the ski fields!


So what do you think? Are you surprised? Is this different to the picture you had of New Zealand?