Day 6 Thursday 21 September Swansea and Bicheno

We had a quiet morning this morning, relaxing and then drove to Kate’s Berry Farm for morning tea. Richard had pancakes, Steve had crepes, Katharine & Sandy had scones, and Patrick & Henry shared a self-saucing chocolate cake with berries. There were also several different jams that we were able to taste, including Mingledberry Jam, which was made up of Strawberry, Raspberry and Blackberry and was quite delicious.
We then took the boys to a playground and went for a walk to along the beach, where Patrick was delighted when Katharine took off his shoes & socks and rolled his jeans up and he was allowed to paddle at the edge of the water, running and squealing with delight when a wave came in. Then it was back to the cottage for lunch and Henry to bed for a sleep while Patrick had a rest.
We left the cottage at 3.30pm and drove up to Bicheno, which is a family seaside holiday town that was established as a whaling centre in 1803. The Governor Island Marine Reserve has some of the best diving spots in Australia, with kelp-covered reefs and sponge gardens. This “water wonderland” can also be experienced by glass-bottomed boat.
Our first stop was to see the Rocking Rock and the Blowhole. The Rocking Rock is a huge 80 tonne piece of granite balanced so that it rocks with the movement of the tide.
Bicheno Blowhole can shoot 20 metres in the air if the ocean swell is big enough – it rains down over the lichen-covered rocks. The rocks along this part of the coast have an interesting redish orange colour as a result of the red lichen. We enjoyed watching the water spurting out of the Blowhole and then drove along the Esplanade beside the Tasman Sea. The boys played in another playground for a while and then we had a wander along the waterfront before heading to a café for dinner.
At 6.20pm we drove the short distance to our Bicheno Penguin Tour meeting point. Bicheno Penguin Tours was established by a privately owned local company, started by Paule Male and Nic Wardlaw in 1992, to protect the penguin population. When they began, the penguin colony had been reduced to 40 penguins because of feral cats and local dogs, but now as many as 600 birds come ashore at the peak of the season.
At 6.30pm we were taken by small bus bout 10 minutes out of town where we met Zac, our guide, who took us to visit the rookery. We followed him down to the beachfront via a path with little lights with Zac leading the way and another guide behind our group, both with torches. When we reached the beach we gathered around while Zac shone his torch onto a group of penguins who had just come out of the ocean and were having a little rest beside some rocks before continuing their walk across the beach. Zac explained to us that the Little Blue Penguins leave the rookery early in the morning, swim out to the Continental Shelf about 20 km away, spend the day fishing for food for the chicks and then swim back, covering about 60km per day. He said that when the chicks are young only one of the parents goes fishing but when the chicks get bigger, both parents go fishing to be able to collect enough food for the chicks. We watched as one of the groups walked up the beach and headed to their chicks in the burrows. We then followed Zac to another two “highways” and watched some more penguins coming ashore and then he took us to a man-made burrow “the honeymoon suite” where there was a Little Blue Penguin, her mate and two little new chicks that had just hatched. Further along the track, there were two Little Blue Penguins with their very insistent little chick, fighting with them to get as much food as possible, while the parent pulled away every so often – it was very interesting.
Patrick and Henry both loved the little penguins and were very excited when we were able to see them so close. The tour finished at 7.30pm and the bus took us back to the meeting point. Henry said goodbye to everyone as we got off the bus, much to everyone’s delight.
Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos during the tour.
We arrived back at our cottage at 8.15pm with two little boys both asleep. We didn’t get to ask Patrick what his favourite part of today was, but we know what his answer would have been!

Day 5 Wednesday 20 September Freycinet National Park

Today was awesome – we went to Freycinet National Park, which is on the east coast of Tasmania and is on a peninsula. Our drive from Swansea Cottages took about 50 minutes. We parked our hire car and headed off on one of the trails, the Wineglass Bay track for a 40-minute walk up to the Lookout. Patrick walked all the way and Henry rode in the backpack on Steve’s back. There was a dirt track and also many stone steps cut into the mountain as we made our way up to the top. We had some lovely views out over the Great Oyster Bay on the way up. When we reached the lookout, we had an awesome panoramic view to Wineglass Bay and across to the granite mountain range known as the Hazards. We could see white stretches of sandy beaches against the stunning blue of the water. This perfectly sums it up: “Wineglass Bay, which is considered one of the top ten beaches in the world, a flawless crescent of dazzling white sand and sapphire-coloured sea, set against pink and grey granite peaks is one of Australia’s most beautiful natural environments.” There are several walking trails, including one that is 30km long and a suggested walking time of two days; as well as lots of secluded sandy beaches, fishing, sailing, luxurious lodges etc that makes Freycinet Peninsula “an adventure of pure indulgence”.
We stayed at the top enjoying the view and taking a well-earned break from the relatively steep climb. We looked down on a helicopter that was delivering construction supplies halfway down the valley to repair the continuation of the Wineglass Bay Track down to the beach. While at the lookout enjoying our morning tea, a rock wallaby appeared and was scavenging for food amongst the people there.
We tore ourselves away from the view and made our way back down the steep track, part of which went back a different way from the way we came up.
Then, we drove to the Cape Tourville Lighthouse, which is an unmanned, automatic lighthouse built in 1971 by private contractors. The road, along with the power lines, was built through a eucalypt forest with minimal disruption to the National Park. From the carpark, we had a short 10-minute walk to the Lighthouse and once again, had magnificent views out to the Tasman Sea and back to the white sand of Wineglass Bay Beach.
Then we drove to the seaside holiday village of Coles Bay, where we enjoyed our lunch with a magnificent view overlooking Great Oyster Bay and up to the pink granite mountains, the Hazards – Mt Amos, Mt Dove, Mt Baudin and Mt Parsons. After lunch, we walked down to the jetty and once again were amazed at the crystal clear aqua-coloured water – we could see why this is a great summer holiday destination for swimming, kayaking and fishing.
On the way back to Swansea we stopped at Devil’s Corner, which is a winery and a restaurant and had a viewing tower with great views over Great Oyster Bay.
We had afternoon tea back at the Cottage and then Patrick, Steve and Henry played tennis while Katharine and Sandy went to get some pies for dinner and then Katharine played tennis with Patrick and Steve for a while too. Then we all went for a walk down to the beach at the end of the property before returning to our Cottage to put the pies in the oven to have with mashed potato and vegies.
Patrick’s favourite thing about today: “The wallaby at the top.”
What an absolutely awesome day we have had!

Day 4 Tuesday 19 September Hobart to Swansea via Richmond

After a lovely 3 days in Hobart and surrounding areas, we left this morning at 9.00am – 10°.
Our first stop was Richmond about half an hour’s drive from Hobart. Richmond tells the story of an early Australian colonial village with about 50 heritage buildings built by convicts in 1823 to 1825 that have been restored and are now operating as cafes, restaurants, galleries and accommodation.
Richmond’s most famous landmark is the Richmond Bridge, which was built by convicts in the 1820s and is the oldest stone span bridge in Australia. We had a wander down under the bridge to the river and Henry enjoyed chasing the ducks. Richmond Bridge was dedicated by the Institution of Engineers Australia in 1991 as a Historic Engineering Marker.
The Richmond Gaol, which was built in 1825, is also the oldest gaol in Australia and is one of the best-preserved convict structures still existing in Tasmania. One of the solitary confinement cells measures just two metres by one metre. One of the gaol’s most infamous inmates was English convict Ikey Solomon, who is said to be the model for Charles Dickens’ character Gain in Oliver Twist.
We had morning tea at The Bakery next to the gaol and had a wander through the town stopping at “Old Hobart Town” a historical model village. The owners built it over a period of three years after obtaining original maps and plans from the Hobart Archives and Lands Department to ensure its historical accuracy. There were over 60 buildings and 400 period figurines – very well done.
We continued on the Tasman Highway and soon came out to the coast, passing Prosser Bay and Spring Bay. We stopped at Orford where the Prosser River meets the coast and had our lunch overlooking the river.
When we were almost at Swansea, we came to Spiky Bridge, which was built by convicts in 1843. The bridge was made from field-stones, which were laid without mortar or cement and the parapet features field stones that were laid vertically giving the bridge a spiky appearance. The spikes were apparently to stop cattle from falling over the side of the bridge. On a hill overlooking the bridge are the remains of the Governor’s Cottage. Opposite the bridge was a beach on Great Oyster Bay, with views to the mountains of Freycinet National Park.
We arrived at the historic seaside town of Swansea (circa 1821) mid afternoon and made our way to Swansea Cottages, which are adjacent to the main beach. Our accommodation is a lovely 3 bedroom 2-storey cottage with 2 Queen Size bedrooms and the third bedroom with 3 single beds. The upstairs bedroom has a Spa and a balcony with views over Great Oyster Bay to Freycinet National Park! Very nice!
Steve took the boys to the park while Katharine, Richard and Sandy picked up a few bits and pieces at IGA and then met them at the park and we all walked out along the jetty. We are very impressed with this beautiful seaside town.
We had dinner at the Bark Mill Tavern, which is 100 metres up the road. All the staff were lovely and even the locals, who were playing pool, all waved to the boys when we walked in. Katharine and Steve decided that the boys needed to have vegetables with their lovely home-made chicken nuggets and Steve was encouraging Henry to eat his vegetables by letting him look at photos on the iPhone and telling him that he would take the phone off him if he didn’t eat his vegetables, so Henry quickly opened his mouth and Steve spooned in more vegetables. After several spoonfuls, Steve tried another one and Henry said “no”, shaking his head and pushed the phone back to Steve – hilarious!
Patrick’s favourite thing today “Getting to our new house.”
Another lovely day in Tassie.

Day 3 Monday 18 September Mt Wellington and Tahune AirWalk

This morning, we left our apartment and headed to kunanyi/Mount Wellington, 1,270m-high. Mount Wellington is known for its dramatic cliff faces and sweeping views, plus hiking and cycling trails. We drove to the summit, the Pinnacle, where it was 5.7° but because it was VERY windy (59kph) it felt like minus 7.6. We had fleeces, jackets, beanies, gloves and scarves on and Steve had to hold the car doors so that we could get out of the car. There was lots of laughter as we fought our way against the wind to the shelter overlooking Hobart. We then braved it to go and stand on the boardwalk with magnificent views of Hobart, the Tasman Sea and the mountain’s alpine scenery for a few quick photos and then made our way briefly checking out the view on the other side. There was a small amount of snow up on the mountain, which Patrick was delighted to be able to jump in before we all gratefully hopped back in the car.

We drove back down the mountain and headed to Margate for morning tea, out in the sun at a café that had toys for the children the play with.

From there we travelled to Geeveston, to the Tahune AirWalk. Tahune is aboriginal and means “Peaceful Place By Running Water”. The AirWalk, which extends 597 metres through the forest canopy, has heights of 20-30 metres above the forest floor with the last section, the cantilever at a height of 50 metres above the river. It has been built to withstand 180km/hr winds and has over 120 tonnes of steelwork and 9000 nuts and bolts. The cantilever section has a maximum weight of 10 tonnes, which is equivalent to 120 people or 12 baby elephants. We thoroughly enjoyed our walk through the forest in the misty rain on the AirWalk, climbing over 100 steps along the way, stopping to enjoy the view and taking lots of photos. The cantilever section at the end had views over the Picton River and Huon River.

We then drove back to Hobart and got organised to go to our local hotel, The Metz, where we all had a delicious meal and came home to put two tired little boys straight to bed.

We asked Patrick what his favourite part of today was and he said ”Nearly getting blown onto the ground when we were going back to the car at Mt Welling-ken” (Wellington)

Day 2 Sunday 17 September Port Arthur and Tasman Peninsula

After a good night’s sleep, we woke to a beautiful clear day, so decided that we would head up to Mount Wellington, but unfortunately the road was closed because of ice, so we will try again tomorrow. We drove out of the city and headed to Port Arthur.
Port Arthur is a small town south-east of Hobart on the Tasman Peninsula. Port Arthur is a former convict settlement that is one of Australia’s most significant heritage areas and is an open-air museum. Port Arthur Historic Site, which is World Heritage listed, consists of 30 buildings, ruins and restored period homes dating from the prison’s establishment in 1830 until its closure in 1877. During this time approximately 12,500 convicts served sentences here.
We had morning tea in the café and then went on a guided tour with our guide Carl, who gave us lots of interesting information about Port Arthur and the Penal Colony. Carl took us through the Penitentiary, which had 136 cells for “prisoners of bad characters” and 480 spaces on the top floor for better behaved convicts to sleep in bunks. When our tour was over, we wandered around looking at some of the buildings with the beautiful Mason Cove as a backdrop. We had lunch in the café and after a wonderful visit at Port Arthur, we headed back to our car.
We drove from the Port Arthur Site to the Tasman National Park where we visited the following:
Tasman Ach, which is a tall natural bridge in the sea cliffs and Devil’s Kitchen is a deep trench without an arch, both of which have been carved out by the Tasman Sea over a period of over 6,000 years. When we got out of the car and walked up to the lookout overlooking the cliffs, we were blown away by the impressive view along the coast with towering dolerite cliffs and pinnacles.
From there we drove to the Blowhole, which was blowing quite high up over the rocks. We walked up to the lookout overlooking Fossil Bay and the coast and could see the waves breaking over some of the big rocks in the ocean. When we walked back to the carpark, Patrick & Henry had an ice-cream, which Mummy & Daddy shared, while Poppa had a coffee.
Our next stop was at the Tessellated Pavement, which has been formed by rocks that were fractured by the movement of the earth that have since been eroded and flattened by the waves and sediment of the Tasman Sea. The tide was in, so there was not much of the Tessellated Pavement to be seen and Patrick wasn’t able to find any crabs or other small sea-life in the cracks.
From there, we drove back to or apartment and Richard and Steve went to Woolworths to buy some pasta for dinner and then it was baths for the boys and off to bed after a busy day.
We asked Patrick what his favourite part of today was and he said “the blowhole”.

Tasmania 2017 Day 1 Brisbane to Hobart


Tasmania is an island state off Australia’s south coast and is known for its vast, rugged wilderness areas, largely protected within parks and reserves. Tasmania has an area of 68,401 square kilometres and a population of 515,000.

Day 1 Saturday 16 September Brisbane to Hobart
Don & Lesley picked Katharine, Steve, Patrick and Henry up and then collected Sandy & Richard and took us all to the airport. We had two very excited little boys!

Our Virgin Airlines flight left Brisbane at 10.00am and arrived in Hobart just before 1.00pm – the outside temperature was 6.9 degrees – freezing!

Hobart, capital of Australia’s island state of Tasmania, sits on the River Derwent. Nearby is Battery Point, a historic district with narrow lanes and colonial-era cottages. The city’s backdrop is 1,270m-high Mount Wellington, with sweeping views, plus hiking and cycling trails.

After picking up our hire car, an 8-seater Hyundai iMax, we made our way from the airport to our accommodation – a 2 bedroom self-contained apartment at Sandy Bay, a suburb a few minutes from the city of Hobart. We are also only a few minutes from the waterfront, Salamanca Place and the historic Battery Point.

After settling in and working out who was going to sleep where (there is a Queen Bed with a cot for Henry in the main room, 2 single beds in Patrick’s room – both upstairs; and a double sofa bed downstairs), we headed off to explore the area. We drove around to the Constitution Dock area and went for a walk to the Brooke Street Pier and then to the Constitution Dock. We saw the Aurora Australis, a ship that has just returned from Antarctica. We saw The Bernacchi Tribute which was a statue of Tasmanian Louis Bernacchi, the first Australian to “Winter” in Antarctica. We walked around to Macquarie Wharf where the cruise ships dock and then past The Merchants of Hunter Street shops. We saw the Jam Factory, which was built in the 1920s in the heyday of the Henry Jones’ Jam factory. From there we walked along Macquarie Street, past the Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery, City Hall, the Hotel Alexandra, which is the oldest hotel establishment in Australia (1807). We made our way back to the car and then drove around past the picturesque Battery Point area before retuning to our apartment.

Katharine & Sandy did some grocery shopping and then bought Chinese take away for dinner and the boys had a bath and went straight to sleep.

We asked Patrick what was favourite part of the day and he said “Landing and Taking Off”!

What a lovely start to our adventure in Tasmania.

Wednesday 14 June Tokyo to Brisbane

We woke to another overcast and drizzly day. After a leisurely last breakfast in our luxurious hotel, we finished our packing, checked out of the hotel and made our way to the Main Lobby. Our transfer to the airport was in a luxury 7-seater Japanese vehicle with a cheerful, knowledgeable Japanese driver, Miyashita, who pointed out various landmarks, slowing down for photo opportunities where he could. We travelled past the Tokyo Tower, over the Rainbow Bridge where we could see the Tokyo Port and Harbour and onto one of many freeways, passing Disneyland to Narita Airport, which took about an hour.
When we entered the Narita Airport and found the Singapore Airlines check-in area, we were greeted by a charming young lady who printed our baggage labels all the way through to Brisbane and we then took our suitcases to the check-in counter where they also printed our boarding passes for the two flights.
We found Narita International Airport to be as large as we thought it would be, but nowhere near as crowded as we had anticipated. We cleared Immigration and Security and had a leisurely 20 minute walk to our gate. Fortunately located in close proximity to our gate was a café where we were able to get some lunch and a drink.
At approximately 1.45pm, we boarded the aircraft, a Boeing 777-300, for our 2.45pm flight. We were lucky enough to have 3 seats for the two of us for the 7hours 15minute flight to Singapore. The flight was comfortable, although Sandy’s in-flight entertainment system wasn’t working, which wasn’t a problem as she was happy to read her book. We arrived in Singapore at approximately 9.00pm (Singapore time) and made our way to the Ambassador’s Transit Lounge that we had been given free entry to and enjoyed a snack, a cuppa and a relaxing armchair for a couple of hours.
Originally our next flight was departing from Gate B3, which is in the centre of the airport complex, but on checking the flight details after the gate hadn’t opened when we thought it should have, we discovered that our gate had been changed to the furthest end of the terminal, which meant a brisk walk to the gate.
Our flight boarded at 12.15am for our departure at 12.45am on an Airbus A330 to Brisbane. By this time of the morning we were quite exhausted, so decided not to have a midnight snack and opted to have a sleep. We managed to sleep on and off for a total of almost 5 hours, which was unusual for us both.
Our flight touched down in Brisbane on Wednesday 15 June at 10.15am, about 15 minutes early and we were surprised to discover that we were the only flight being processed through Immigration and Customs at that time, so the process was very quick. We came out into the Arrivals Hall not expecting to see anyone there to pick us up as everyone was at work but we were delighted to see Steve’s Dad, Don (who is now retired) and our gorgeous little Henry there waiting for us. Henry came running with a smile from ear-to-ear and threw himself into our arms for big cuddles!

Tuesday 13 June – Adventures on the Tokyo Metro

We woke this morning to light rain so decided against our plan to go exploring on the Hop On and Off Bus and instead opted to go adventuring on the Tokyo Metro. Eek!
Armed with our Metro Map, rain jackets and umbrellas, we head off down to the Nagatacho Station, which was across the road and a different line from the one we returned on yesterday afternoon. We found the Purple Z line, bought our tickets from the ticket machine, found the right platform, got on our train, got off at the Oshiage Station, walked through the huge Skytree Town Shopping Centre (which takes up two blocks) and found the entrance to the Skytree Tower. Big tick for us.
The Tokyo Skytree is a broadcasting tower and is 634 metres high, the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest free-standing structure in the world. We bought our tickets and headed to the elevator, which took us at a speed of 600 metres per minute up to the Tembo Deck on Level 350. It was quite misty with rain but we did get some photos. We then headed further up to the next Observation deck area, the Tembo Galleria on Floor 445 and walked up the spiral walkway to Sorakara Point on Floor 450 at a height of 451.2 metres. We took some photos there before heading down to Level 340, which had a section of glass floor. After more photos we headed back down to the ground floor and walked along the street so that we could get a photo of the Skytree Tower from the outside. The misty rain certainly restricted what would have been spectacular views, but the views we did get were much better than the mist that almost totally obscured our view from the Pearl Tower in Shanghai last year.
We found our way back to the Oshiage Metro Station to the A Rose (pink) line, bought out tickets, found the platform, got on the train which was waiting, then we waited in the station for 30 minutes, with the occasional message being relayed in Japanese but as none of the other passengers seemed concerned, we sat there before finally deciding to get off the train and speak to the Metro attendant we saw on the platform. He told us “train stop – accident” and pointed to our Metro Map to show that we needed to get two different trains to get to where we wanted to go.
So, we headed back to the entry gate and got a refund for our tickets, purchased new ones for the first section of our journey on the Z Purple line for 5 stations to Mitsukoshimae, where we changed trains to the G Orange line, which involved buying more tickets from the ticket machine. We found our way to the platform but needed to ask someone using the” pointing to the map” system and them nodding to say that we were on the right platform and were about to get on the correct train. The reason that we were not sure, was because the trains are operated by different companies and are identified by a stripe along the whole train, of the colour corresponding to the line eg the Z Purple line has a purple stipe. However, the train that we were about to get onto did not have an orange stripe, but the whole train was orange!
We then got off the G Orange train at the station we had intended to get off when we originally set out at the Skytree Tower. By now it was raining and the A4 map that we were given by the hotel concierge proved to be useless as it only had two street names on it, neither of which corresponded to the streets that we came out of the station onto. Just to add to the confusion, none of the other streets in the area had names. So, we headed off in the direction it looked like we should go, and eventually stopped at a café and went in to ask if anyone spoke English and asked them what street we were on and how should we get to the shop we were looking for. We were surprised to discover that the three staff members who looked at our map could not work out where they were on the map so that we could get our bearings. At this point we decided to turn on the data on Sandy’s phone and use google maps and headed off, following the instructions, but after walking about a kilometre, and it giving us instructions to make another turn and walk for a further 930 metres, we looked ahead and it was going to be a further 1.5 kilometres to get to the shop. At this point it was raining fairly heavily and we decided to head back to the station and forget about the shop – 0 out of 10 for us! Although we didn’t find our shop that we were looking for in the famous Ginza Shopping area that we were in, we did come across a McDonalds, so on the way back to the station we called in there and had some French fries for a late 2.30pm lunch.
We went back to the station, Shimbashi, found the G Orange line, bought tickets, found the platform, got on the train and travelled for 3 stations and we were back at our Akasaka-mitsuke station and in 5 minutes we were back at the Hotel, pleased with ourselves that we had managed to find our way around the Metro.
When we arrived back into our room, we discovered that Richard did not have his hat with him and remembered putting it on the tiny seat in the corner of a small upstairs dining area at McDonalds and thought it must have fallen on the floor. So, we decided to go back and get it as it is his favourite hat and we would not be able to replace it, so back to the station, tickets, platform, train for 3 stops in the start of the peak hour crush, walked to McDonalds and lo and behold! there was his hat, which had obviously been picked up and put neatly back on the seat he was sitting on. Big smiles! Back to the station, tickets, platform, train for 3 stops in the squeezy peak hour crush, walked back to the hotel and arrived in our room at 4.10pm after some wins and some losses using the Tokyo Metro!!!
We didn’t get very wet and hadn’t needed to use our rain jackets, as our umbrellas were quite sufficient.
We started our packing and then, because it was still raining and we didn’t feel like walking down to Chiyoda in the rain, we went down to the Garden lounge for a lovely last dinner overlooking the hotel’s Japanese Gardens.
We have enjoyed our visit to Tokyo and although it is said to be a frantic, high-tech 24-hour city, we found some tranquil backstreets and old temples to explore away from the crowds.
We enjoyed our three extra days sightseeing after our tour finished – thanks so much to Alison for her suggestions.

Monday 12 June Tokyo – Kamakura area

We met our Local Private Guide, Toru in the Lobby at 9.00am and we walked down to the local Metro Station, which took 5 minutes. Toru purchased our tickets and we boarded a Metro train and got off after 3 stops. It was at the end of the Peak Hour, so when we boarded the train, there was a white-gloved “Pusher” there to push people onto the train – needless to say it was crowded on the train. Toru then purchased our tickets for the JR Train to Kamakura, which took one hour.
Kamakura is a historical city on the coast, southwest of Tokyo. Kamakura became the political centre of Japan when Minamoto Yoritomo chose the city as the seat for his new military government in 1192. The Kamakura government continued to rule Japan for over a century. Today, Kamakura is a small city, which has numerous temples, shrines and other historical monuments, as well as sandy beaches that attract large crowds during the summer months.
From Kamakura Station, we walked along a tree-lined raised walkway in the centre of the road, which goes from the beach all the way to the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, which was founded in 1063. There was a Torii Gate at the end of the walkway and another one as we entered the Shrine complex. There was a long laneway that crossed over our path that Toru told us was where they hold horseback archery competitions in September each year. We walked up several stone steps where the 3rd Shogun was killed and up to the Main Hall. We saw a portable shrine used for local celebrations – it can be carried on the shoulders and the priest and parishioners walk with it. We saw a squirrel on the Bridge and some ducks in the Lotus Pond.
We walked back through a long laneway to a different exit and then using back streets/laneways with lovely little houses and small gardens, we made our way to the Hokoku-ji Temple. The Hokoku-ji Temple is a small temple of Zen Buddhism and has a beautiful bamboo grove behind the main hall. A narrow pathway leads to a tea-house through the bamboo and there was a lovely garden with a mixture of landscape garden and a dry stone Zen garden. There was also a garden with moss and some stone Buddhas and we saw a gardener up a ladder trimming a Sanshuya tree. We saw the Main Hall with a Dragon on the front – the dragon has the power to control the water so that the temple would not burn. Next to the Main Hall was another hall for practicing sitting meditation.
We once again took to the interesting back lanes to meet up with the main road where we could catch a bus back to the Kamakura Station. While we were waiting for the bus, we saw a large group of women wearing kimonos heading up to the Temple. Toru asked them what they were doing and they told him that they were shop owners of Kimono shops and they were attending a function.
We caught an interesting crowded local bus that took 20 minutes, stopping frequently on its journey to the station. After a short walk from the station, Toru took us to The Garden House, an outdoor restaurant where we had Japanese style Pizza and Vegetables, which turned out to be salad. The meal was delicious and we sat at a table under the trees, chatting to Toru.
After lunch we caught a local train for a 25 minute journey to Hase Station and then, because the main street was extremely crowded with people heading to the temples, Toru once again took us via back street/lanes to the Kotokuin Temple to see the Great Buddha. The bronze Great Buddha Statue is sitting cross-legged and is 13 metres high and weighs 121 tons. It was cast in 1292, and was housed in a wooden temple, which was washed away in a great tsunami in 1495. Since then, the Great Buddha Statute has been sitting in the open atmosphere. Even in this crowded area, there was an air of tranquility while we stood and gazed at the Great Buddha.
We walked for about 20 minutes to the Hasadera Temple, which is built on the slope of a wooded hill and the Main Gate had Pine Trees and a Red Lantern. We saw a pretty little garden with some ponds and the Jizo-do Hall with hundreds of small statues of the Jizo. We saw the Gold Buddha in the Amida-do Hall.
The Kannon-do Hall is home to the statute of the 11-headed Kannon, Goddess of Mercy, each representing a different phase in the search for enlightenment. The 9.18 metre tall, gilded wooden statue is regarded as one of the largest wooden sculptures in Japan.
From there we went into the Kannon Museum, which had treasures including the thirty-three Avatars of Kannon and the eleven headed Kannon Buddha. Then we made our way to an Observation Platform where we had great views of Sagami Bay – Toru told us that the Yachting Races would be held here for the Olympics. We sat in the garden for 10 minutes, having a drink of water, because by then it was quite warm, before walking down to the beach. We saw several small fishing boats pulled up onto the beach and lots of people enjoying the fresh area and paddling in the small waves. The sand was quite brown, so we didn’t take off our shoes or go paddling ourselves.
After a wonderful day in Kamakura, we headed to Hase Station and caught a local train along the waterfront for 30 minutes to Fujisawa, where we changed to a Rapid Service train and returned to Tokyo via Yokohama and Kawasaki. We changed trains again onto the Ginza Metro Line for the last leg of our journey to Akasak-mitsuke arriving back at 10 minutes to 6. As this was the station we came back to last night and we new our way out of the station, we said our goodbyes and thank-you to Toru, who has been a wonderful guide with excellent English skills and an interesting person to talk to. We exited the station and walked for 5 minutes and we were back at our hotel.
After a quick shower, we went up to the 40th Floor to the Bella Vista Restaurant for dinner overlooking the fairyland of lights below us. Richard had char-grilled fillet of pork and Sandy had char-grilled lam cutlets and then we had a splurge and had dessert as well – a delicious meal after a wonderful day in the Kamakura area.

Sunday 11 June Tokyo – Nikko National Park

Our tour officially ended after breakfast this morning, but we had said goodbye to most of the group last night and a few at breakfast this morning. We are staying in Tokyo for a further three days to do some sightseeing/adventuring on our own (with some suggestions from Alison).
We had organised a tour to Nikko National Park for today with Viator before we left home. We were collected from our hotel in the Waiting Lounge on the Banquet Floor at 7.50am by their local tour company, Sunrise Tours for a full day excursion to Nikko National Park. The bus took called in at 4 other hotels to pick up passengers and then took us all to the central bus station where we were given our tour identification stickers and told what boarding gate we needed to go to.
Our bus left at 9.10am and we headed north, travelling by air-conditioned coach with our English-speaking guide, Kumiko, who was absolutely delightful. Along the way we passed lots of condominiums and apartments as well as lots of baseball diamonds and soccer fields, which had adults and children playing their Sunday sport, beside the Sumida River. We soon left the City behind and were in the mountainous area with beautiful scenic countryside and the usual Rice Paddies etc. We were making good time, unlike yesterday’s highway holdup and we stopped for a comfort break and then as we entered Nikko township, suddenly the traffic stopped and it took us about 40 minutes of stop-start to finally make it to the Toshugu Shrine’s Parking area. During the hold-up, Kumiko passed out some sheets of Origami paper and taught us how to fold a Samurai Helmet.
We headed straight to the Toshogu Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage site dedicated to Shinto worship, and heard about its interesting history. Toshogu Shrine is a mausoleum of a respected monarch, who ruled Japan in the 17th century. It depicts the Five elements – Earth, Wind, Water, Fire and Sky. We saw some iconic carvings depicting the ‘hear no evil’ proverb. The complex consists of more than a dozen buildings set in a beautiful forest. We were amazed at the lavishly decorated, gold-leaf embellishments and opulent chambers during our visit to the monument and other buildings. This was done in a way not seen elsewhere in Shrines in Japan, where simplicity was the norm in shrine architecture.
Among the many buildings at Toshogu, there was a five-storey pagoda in font of the main entrance gate; a group of storehouses; the renowned Yomeimon Gate, which had recently been renovated; the Honjido Hall which features the “Crying Dragon”, to name but a few.
There were hundreds of people there and we had to line up after taking off our shoes to get a glimpse into the Main Hall. To our surprise a priest invited our group via one of the Shrine maidens, into the Main Hall to view the Shrine with its elaborate and ornate carvings and gold trimmings. This was unusual as we have never been permitted entry into any of the Main Halls, specially not when there was a formal blessing taking place. Needless to say, photos were not permitted.
We were given some free time to wander around taking photos and wondered what it would be like without the Sunday crowds (even our guide said she had not seen this many people there, unless it was a special Shrine day.
We were then taken to a local restaurant for lunch – we both had a bowl of rice topped with several pieces of crumbed deep fried pork and egg and a lovely sauce.
After lunch, we visited Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls. We travelled up the side of the mountain on the Irohazaka Road, which is a winding road that has 48 hairpin bends and is 11.5 km long. There are two roads – one way up and one way down, both of them giving us wonderful views down to the valleys below. Our first stop was at Lake Chuzenji, which was created 20,000 years ago by the eruption of Mount Nantai (2484m) and blocked the river. The lake has a circumference of 25 km. and the water reaches a depth of 163 metres. We were able to see Mount Nantai (which is a very similar shape to Mt Fuji) from our lakeside stop, although its peak was partly hidden by cloud.
From there we drove a short distance to the Kegon Falls. Lake Chuzenji drains through the Kegon Falls, which is 97 metres high and is considered to be the park’s most beautiful waterfalls. We got some great photos from several vantage points including taking a lift down 100 metres so that we could view the falls from the base. The lift shaft had been bored through the cliff. The scenery around Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls was breathtaking.
At 4.10pm we left the Nikko National Park and headed back to Tokyo and we were making good time and were expecting to be back to Shinjuku (a suburb of Tokyo) where the tour was ending, by approximately 6.00pm. However, due to a traffic accident we found ourselves parked on the highway and then moving very slowly, which meant that we had to have a comfort stop at Hanyu after 2 hours, further delaying our arrival at Shinkjuku until 7.30pm.
Our lovely day ended with one last adventure. When we arrived at Shinjuku, we walked to the Metro Station, bought two tickets using their ticket machine, found our way to the platform and boarded our train, which pulled in as we arrived on the platform. It took 9 minutes to get to Akasa-mitsuke, our stop, and we exited the train, found our way to the correct exit of the underground station and walked back to our hotel, feeling very pleased with our first solo travel on the Tokyo Metro, arriving in our hotel room at 8.05pm after a great day in Nikko National Park. (Thanks Alison for suggesting it)