The elephant in the room

ZAC|CAZ (30 Something Experience files)
Destination snapshots from our Sydney shoe box we love to call home



MONA complete with audio (ZAC)

September 2013. 2 hour plane trip from Sydney. the apple isle is small, with Hobart having only a population of 220k, but is perfect for a weekend, ultimately long weekend away. they are defining themselves, utilising mother nature with distilleries, wineries and farm to table produce starting to attract world wide attention (that’s before MONA!).

TIP: If heading there from Sydney, there are only early morning direct flights it seems across all carriers, otherwise its a painful stopover in Melbourne, which effectively doubles the destination time. if time permits, travel on the Friday. on return, there is a Sunday 4pm service direct, but books up quick. 


Hiring a car is a must, even for the simple fact it would be a $40 trip from the airport to the city centre. all the major hire car companies are in the airport and open in line with flight times.

STAY: Henry Jones Art Hotel. boutique hotel. can be pricey, but if flexible, you can get a weekend room from $265 a night. former jam factory and early harbour side colonial building, renovated to its old glory and now housing 300+ artworks. perfect spot to walk to the ferries and into the city centre. the building is beautiful, rooms are spacious although the bathroom has been thrown in with little attention to detail or craftsmanship.


Henry Jones Art Hotel. (ZAC)

COFFEE: Pigeon Hole Cafethe CBD is deserted on the weekend. great hole in the wall, about a 15 minute walk from the hotel (sort of) on the way to the markets…


  • Salamanca Markets. a must. saturday mornings from 9am. a 10 minute harbourside walk from the hotel.  a plethora of stalls ranging from fresh produce to bespoke craft, most with a focus on a Tasmanian source. great for breakfast including the standout organic, wood fired brekky pizzas. perfect start to the day, before jumping on the ferry to MONA. 



Salamanca Markets. the pizza patience is worth it (ZAC)

  • MONA. Museum of Old and New Art. it has been described as “subversive adult disneyland” which is about right and tops many an international travel magazine. even if you are not into art, this place is truly amazing. 4 storeys built underground showcasing David Walsh’s private collection, who has single handedly put Hobart on the to visit map. you can get there by car, but catch the MONA ferry right next to the markets (20-30mins). if you are arted out (2pm for us), then you can head to the adjoining Moorilla vineyard (Riesling and Pinot stand outs) there is a cellar door and wine bar or you can just partake while lying on the grass overlooking the harbour. they also produce Moo Brew beer, also available on the ferry if you are too busy getting through the 8 odd wines. amazing building, content and worthwhile visiting Hobart alone for this.






MONA. camouflage ferry to 4 storeys of underground fun (ZAC)

TIP (MONA): Pre-booking is an absolute must. for $80 you get 2 return ferry tickets and entry to the museum. we left on the 11am and returned on the 3.30pm, which seemed to be the perfect time allocated. the MONA cafe actually has some great fresh salads, homemade pies and the like (not the usual tourist trash). plan to have lunch early though as it gets really busy post 12.30pm.

  • Lark Distillery. whiskey and rum. one of the key producers of the area putting the Apple isle on the distillery map. great bar where you can try a number of malts with the standout being the dark rum. conveniently across from the MONA ferry. they are even doing joint ventures with local cider counterparts barrel ageing a limited edition brew.

Lark. follow the sign post MONA. (ZAC)

EAT: We were warned that Hobart shuts down at 8.30pm and judging by walking through the main streets, 7pm might be a little more accurate.

  • Ethos Eat and Drink. farm to table. degustation. bring an empty stomach as there is no shortage of food. fancy food in a rustic style barn. very adaptable to dietary requirements and the menu changes daily depending on what produce is available. wine list focus on the locals.

NEXT TIME: Garagistes, is highlighted in just about every decent travel guide. no booking policy though. you can await a table at their nearby winebar Sidecar


Even with a 4pm flight departure, you can make a roundtrip day of wineries, small towns and Tassie countryside with ease. we started our Sunday at the Farm Gate markets, which opens at 9am. a simple and local affair, but perfect for a bacon and egg roll post a rich dinner. we headed west to New Norfolk, then back through Richmond and winery rich, Coal Valley before rounding out to Hobart airport. a mere total of about 70kms. here is a road stop tour…

Drillhall. New Norfolk. antiques and great “favourite places” list on their site (ZAC)

  • Stefano Lubiana. vineyard. Derwent Valley. about 20 minutes out of Hobart. some of my favourite wines of the region. new cellar door makes full use of the Tassie landscape.
  • Drill Hall Emporium. New Norfolk. antiques. a treasure trove of antiques sourced local and overseas, great to look at with a coffee in hand. 
  • Flywheel. stationery.New Norfolk. vintage office and letterpress. you can purchase the old letter heads.

Flywheel. New Norfolk. vintage letterpress for sale (ZAC)

Pick up a sandwich/platter (bakery was decent too) in the picturesque town of Richmond and head to nearby Puddleduck Vineyard, family run vineyard where they actually promote BYOL (Lunch). a quirky little place with cellar door and beautiful grounds. you can purchase their wines by the glass to accompany your food along with cheese platters starring local produce like the Wicked Cheese Company nearby. 

Puddleduck Vineyard. lunch view. (ZAC)

TIP: The Coal Valley promotes the “Tasmanian Dozen” where you can have a mixed case from multiple wineries in the area and then your last stop you can leave it there and get it sent back to anywhere in Australia. you just pay the postage and they even cover the insurance. an awesome wine community initiative. just check with cellar doors which vineyards participate especially when you are getting close to making your quota.

WINERIES: Coal Valley. there is a cluster of vineyards specialising predominantly in Riesling and Pinot, within a 10km radius. the standouts were Pooley Wines just outside Richmond, Coal Valley Vineyard, and Pembroke who are a tiny operation that make 1 pinot a year, although you can try multiple vintages. Craigow gets a massive wrap, but is only open by appointment. Frogmore Creek is a bigger operation with an upmarket bistro adjoining, but also worth a stop. you can easily create your Tassie dozen amongst this lot alone. 



RECIPE: Sunday Shredded Pork Soft Tacos. enough said


Shredded pork. guacamole and red cabbage taco (ZAC)

This recipe is morphed from a number of sources including Dos Caminos in New York (best Guac. anywhere), food trucks in San Fran and the pork from Neil Perry of all people. now my signature dish…well apparently. according to my wife. it is reasonably simple, but does take time. at least when there is a horrendous downpour outside you can justify a West Wing marathon while checking up on and prepping the below tasty goodness. 

Preparation 45 minutes

Cooking 3 hours

Serves 5-6

Drink with Bird in Hand Tempranillo 


  • 1kg boneless pork shoulder (ask your butcher to do it)
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium brown onion, roughly chopped 
  • sea salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

 For the roasted tomato chipotle sauce

  • 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 9 roma tomatoes or 400g Can of Italian chopped tomatoes if you want to cheat
  • 3 chipotle chillies in adobo sauce (Get these from Salts Meats Cheese in Sydney or Fireworks Foods  online)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt

Pork method 

  1. Place porkin a medium saucepan with garlic and onion. Add a good pinch of salt, cover with water and bring to a simmer. Cook covered for 1.5-2 hours on low-medium heat until the pork is tender. Allow to cool before shredding the meat with your hands.
  2. In a heavy based pan heat 2 tbsp of olive oil. add shredded pork and cook until crispy. fold roasted chipotle sauce (below) through it and simmer for 5-6 minutes until thickened.

Roasted chipotle tomato sauce method

  1. If you are using the Roma tomatoes, place under a pre-heated grill and cook until the skins are dark and blistered. put into a plastic bag and let cool until easy to take the skins off
  2. Heat a heavy based pan over high heat and add unpeeled garlic. roast for 15 minutes, turning halfway through until outside is blackened. remove from heat and squeeze out the smoky flesh
  3. Add another glug of oil to the garlic along with the chillies in adobo and simmer on low for a minute 
  4. From here add either the Romas or canned chopped tomatoes then simmer for a further 30 minutes.
  5. Blend until smooth 


  • Dos Caminos guacamole (recipe below)
  • red cabbage with a light dressing of half white vinegar and half Mae Ploy chilli sauce plus crushed garlic
  • corn a press and corn masa flour from Fireworks and make your own
  • sour cream


Tortilla press your own (ZAC)


Guac straight from Dos Caminos New York


  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped Cilantro leaves
  • 2 teaspoon finely chopped white onion
  • 2 teaspoons minced Jalapeno or Serrano (or a mix)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 large avocados, peeled and seeded
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped plum tomato (cored and seeded)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice.

Guac method

  1. Add 1 tablespoon of cilantro, 1 teaspoon each of onion and the minced chili, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to a medium bowl or a mortar. mash together with spoon or pestle until a paste is formed.
  2. Dice avocado and gently fold into the paste, leaving some chunks.
  3. Add the remaining cilantro, onions, and chilies, and continue to mix.
  4. Squeeze fresh lime juice over the top. gently fold in tomato.

Mex salsa


  • 5 roma tomatoes, seeds removed, finely diced
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 bunch coriander, finely chopped
  • small handful fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 30ml fresh lemon juice
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and season to taste.

Do you really need to know how to compile your ultimate taco?.. i think not. enjoy

Sydney. beneath York St. Baxter Inn. hidden basement whiskey swillhouse. Sydney finally with a heartbeat below (ZAC)

Sydney. beneath York St. Baxter Inn. hidden basement whiskey swillhouse. Sydney finally with a heartbeat below (ZAC)


Destination: Road Trip. Orange. Canowindra and Millthorpe, Central NSW

Everview Cottage goodness (ZAC)

June 2013. road trip to Central Tablelands wine country. Orange is a a 3.5 hour drive west via the Blue Mountains from Sydney. winter is a great time to visit but be warned, evenings drop to below 2C on a regular basis.


A great place to stop 1.5 hours in near the peak of the blue mountains. this village is thriving with a cute main street of eateries and bespoke stores. for breakfast, Zest Cafe serves a number of tasty options while if you are around for lunch try Leura Garage Cafe but it gets busy, very busy with no reservation policy. the Red Door is apparently also good.

A little further on is the town of Blackheath and a very cool cafe Anonymous especially for coffee if Leura has attracted too many day trippin hordes.



Orange markets “spud” (ZAC)

SEE: Orange Farmers Markets. 2nd Saturday of every month on the Orange show grounds. visit, and stock up to graze in your accommodation for the weekend. the produce at Second Mouse Cheese Co is amazing especially the haloumi(!) we also picked up pretty much a bucket of freshly marinated olives for $6. oh and the slow cooked lamb pies ready to go for dinner are a genius buy.

Orange markets jam packed agricultural hall (ZAC)

DRINK: There are 30+ vineyards in and around the area. 2011 was one of the worst years on record, with 2012 also tough. the better wineries have managed to put together low production run of decent varietals especially chardonnay and Bordeaux style red blends. here are some of the best…

  • Bloodwood. a standout. you MUST make an appointment here or winemaker Stephen will happily show you the door. sit at the dinner table and taste their 8+ wines. Stephen is a entertaining character, just be prepared for the language that comes with it. they are pretty much the only grower in the area with Malbec which is a key ingredient of the standout blend. 
  • Ross Hill Wines. greeted by two of the friendliest staff I have ever encountered at a cellar door. they were more than happy to talk about the area and their great wines including a Cab Franc standout.
  • Brangayne. across the road from Ross Hill. cellar door is a cosy shed. their “standard”range is good. really good.


Brangayne cellar door (ZAC)

  • Canobolas Smithabout 12km out from Orange and on the way to Canowindra. hardworking owner operator family. they have some of the oldest wines for tasting including 3 chardonnays including a 2004. meeting the lovely family is an experience in itself.

Canobolas winemaker and yours truly, hopefully clear which is which (ZAC)

Good things we heard but well, you can’t get to them all

  • Philip Shaw. One of the more high profile vineyards. they also had a stand at the Orange growers markets.
  • Mayfield. one to visit on the way in (or out). looks like they have a couple of great cottages for accommodation but seem to book up quick.
  • Belgravia. tasting can be done within the Union Bank Wine Bar. double goodness


This sleepy town is 60km south west from Orange. T.J Finn’s in the middle of the town, is your one stop shop for breakfast, then a little later Swinging Bridge’s tasting room opens. platter lunch + glass of your own hand picked wine.


Swinging Bridge tasty wines and space (ZAC)

STAY: if you want a spot in the middle of nowhere, then Everview Cottages ticks all the boxes. your last part of the journey is on gravel farm roads and the view all from your own deck overlooks a valley of paddocks and orchards. as you will tell from their website, the building is rustic while it gets a little 80s inside (complete with spa!) but get past this as the location over-rules.


Everview Cottages on a working farm complete with Alpacas (ZAC)

WALK: 30km north west is the Nangar National Park with a number of different level and length walks. it pays to check if the park is open as learnt first hand (closed for track works) especially during wet weather. we ended up at Conimbla National Park on the 1.5 hour Wallaby track, which is quiet and untouched although Nangar is the pick by locals.


This great little town would be the pick of the three for me for the next trip. there is the Old Mill Cafe complete with baking its own bread and the more upmarket Tonic for a special occasion. i have it on good authority that the Old Chemist is the pick of the places to stay.

TIP: Coming back through the blue mountains can be hell traffic wise thanks to seeming endless roadworks. just past Leura is Oaklands road on the main stretch. turn right then immediate left and you will be on Railway Pde which takes you parallel for 4-5km smile run, dodging the banked up traffic.

One Final Stop on the way home

Katoomba Co-op buy up (ZAC)

Katoomba in the blue mountains is the biggest and well known of the chain of villages. it can be a little hit and miss, but do not go past the Blue Mountains Co-op . open 7 days and run by members, it is a lesson on how successful a venture like this can be. stock up on every grain, dried fruit and spice you think you need and don’t you need. 



Sydney Kepos Street Kitchen. Redfern. new breakfast favourite. (ZAC)



MAY 2013. Round 2 back to the beloved bay area. part 1 San Fran here.


Hayes Valley (ZAC)


TIP: 3 or 7 day city passes are available ($69 for 7 days) which enable unlimited travel on train, bus and trolley. got ours through hotel reception.


Yet another standout neighbourhood. perfect place to lose an afternoon. Sunday is the best day as you can walk through the Urban Air Market curbside.

SHOP: So many one off stores, from bespoke furniture to clothing, here is just a small favourited selection…


Aether awesomeness (ZAC)

  • Aether. Hardcore hiking clothing with street cred. its worth going just for the container design. standout. 
  • Triple Aught Design. military inspired clothing for hiking and play. 
  • Marine Layer. young guys done good. casual gear. reasonably priced.

And far too many places to eat to list although Two Sisters Bar and Books was the perfect french inspired corridor to get some work done with hearty food and good coffee (or pinot!).

Fillmore st with the likes of James Perse is also worth a wander.


Two Sisters Bar and Books (ZAC)


The Mission District is just amazing for food with its Mex roots. there is now a true mix of hole in the wall taquerias right next door to the new money, high $$$ fit out bistros.. Eater SF  gives the very regular updates on the area.

SHOP. EAT. DRINK: Cerveceria de Matevezanearby 18th Street. beers brewed on site. Argentinean empanadas. cafe brilliance. across the road is Unionmade. pretty much my all time favourite clothing store with the SF proudly made Tellason jeans and multiple other salivating sustainable brands. if by a long shot you can’t find your threads there, Self Edge on Valencia is also denim obsessed. Oh and right next door, quench your thirst and have a cheeky glass of local Californian chardy at Mission Cheese.


Cerveceria Cafe. superb (ZAC)


San Fran Giants v Phillies @ AT&T stadium (ZAC)

SEE: SF Giants. baseball is SF first sports love. AT&T stadium is one of the best, sitting on the water. this brings with it some of the coldest winds I have ever encountered so dress WARM. with around 162 games played starting in April, chances are your paths will cross. Stub Hub is a great place to buy last minute discounted tickets.


Yours truly “Hog Island Oysters”& food truck central @ Presidio Picnic  (ZAC)

EAT: Off the Grid Sunday PicnicPresidio grounds. 11-4. think food trucks. think restaurant stalls (step up Namu Gaji) from some of San Fran’s best. add in a DJ, local producers and vineyard tastings and you have one of the best all in one experiences of San Fran. oh it all overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge so take a picnic blanket. 


"Brunch" @ Presidio Picnic (ZAC)

COFFEE: Bluebottle Coffee. 66 Mint Plaza (or Ferry Building). probably the best coffee in the US. but boy, the staff are all about the coffee and not efficiency in service. small price to pay.


Bluebottle goodness just off Mission and 6th (ZAC)


40 minutes from the airport lies the heart of Silicon Valley torn between being the hub for big business and Stanford University frat house activities.


Tasty tacos at Tacolicious (ZAC)


  • Tacolicious. Mexican. standout. best way to describe is a Mexican gastro pub. happy hour 4-6. trust the staff choices.
  • Fraiche. Blue Bottle Coffee. organic frozen yoghurt. the late Steve Jobs would frequent there and with his fussy eating habits, well, enough said.

RUN: Stanford University. weave and dodge through the grounds. ensure you go past the athletic track and read the world record holder and Stanford Olympians wall. if you are in the mood for a longer trek head towards the lake for its most famous run… up the hill to the ‘dish.

SEE: San Jose Sharks. jump on the Caltrain and get dropped off at the stadium doorstep. great atmosphere although tickets start at around $60.



Visual splendour in the Mission (ZAC)

Best Made. New York. travel find. enamel cups. new arrival for home.

Best Made. New York. travel find. enamel cups. new arrival for home.


Destination: Singapore, Singapore


Haji Lane (ZAC)

MARCH 2013. always been somewhat under the [wrong] impression to reserve Singapore as a stopover destination only. it does serve this purpose extremely well due to being the gateway to just so many nearby destinations, but I will vouch it holds it own to being a primary stop. so much foreign investment is being injected into this economy. thankfully it seems that Singapores planners are taking note of the cautionary tales of its nearby middle east and asia counterparts where city explosions have turned into infrastructure nightmares.


Kinki Rooftop bar view (ZAC)

TIP: Public transport here is amazing. only half-joked it being “city of the future”. off-set by the ridiculous taxes on personal cars, taxis tick to $7SG ($1 AUD =~$1.30SG) for a 10-15 minute trip and the MRT underground is fast, clean and around $1.40SG trip heading in all directions of the city.

SLEEP:There are numerous mega-room number hotels around Marina Bay. if this is your thing paying for foyers, day spas and multiple in house restaurants, the Mandarin Oriental would be an appropriate pick. If you are going to splurge (and I mean splurge) there are plenty of options. the Fullerton Bay [starting price of around ~$500 SG]right on Marina Bay or of course the grand dame the Raffles . my pick [boutique size, who would have guessed?] would be the Quincy Hotel [$270SGish] with a great location, minimalist modern feel and 450 rooms less than those above.

EAT: so many great options. food choices are polar opposites with cheap and cheerful hawker huts straight to western price plus dining. Club Street is an ex-pat favourite with multiple options of western fare while Chinatown will just leave you confused which noodle bar to try. Clarke Quay has a mix of local and Western options complete with canal views although is a tourist trap. below are just a few suggestions. be warned, wherever you eat, it is the heavily taxed alcohol prices that will sting the most.



Glutton Bay Hawkers Marina Bay (ZAC)

  • Glutton Bay Hawker Huts Marina Bay. Asian street food. $8-$30 ea with a Tiger. everything from satay to seafood with everything in between. hand picked, hawker huts that are clean and full of tasty options. my usual routine was to pick up 2-3 smaller dishes across vendors which would amount to ~$10SG. you can top off your meal with a tasty Tiger or fresh coconut water.  seating is simple plastic chairs and tables perfect for the lone traveller, with friends or families. a favourite.
  • Kinki. Marina Bay. Japanese. $100SG a head with Asahi. concrete floors. bangin tunes and ultra fresh food. could not fault anything from the “Kinki’s Customs” section of the menu. post meal go up a floor onto the open air deck for a cocktail. of all the rooftop bars, one of the best as you look over the marina and straight at the Marina Bay Sands Casino floating boat and all.
  • Jumbo. Clarke Quay. Singapore chili crab is a specialty. a bit of a tourist mecca but one of the best mee gorang’s I have ever had. situated on the canal.
  • Togi. Chinatown. Korean. one of the more authentic according to my Korean counterparts. it’s loud, it’s tasty.
  • Chye Seng Huat Hardware. brunch. roast their own beans. fantastic menu in a cool space hidden behind the most unassuming of facades. a must.



Blink and you will miss Hardware (ZAC)

Tiong Bahru neighborhood 

Thanks to a few key openings this area has been transformed I am told only in the last couple of years. Get here by the underground MRT.


  • 40 Hands. breakfast. one of the few places that is open at 8am. run by an Australian with the best coffee in Singapore. there I said it. simple menu but a great way to start the day and read the morning paper. the lunch menu consists of a selection of gourmet hot dogs.



40 Hands (ZAC)

  • Open Door Policy (ODP). contemporary. industrial design. looks like it should be in a lane way Melbourne or New York. if this is what you are hankering for then this is your place although be prepared to pay for it. seems more of dinner venue than the brunch they push.
  • Orange Thimble. cafe. urban art for sale on the wall. sweet stuff focus. sea salt caramel ice cream people line up for.  
  • Sin Hoi Sai Seafood. Chinese seafood. been around since the ages. chilli crab specialist. all about the food but do now have the luxury of air conditioning! 



Paradise Dynasty (ZAC)

  • Paradise Dynasty. dumplings. Ion shopping centre. close your eyes and ignore the location. start with the famous 8 xiao long bao then move onto dumpling soup. share a dish and add sides. served by very chefs making your soup complete with face mask and a kitchen surrounded by glass for all to see.

Grab a takeaway coffee from 40 hands and head across the road to Books Actually. new and vintage books plus retro bric a brac transform this place into wandering wonderland. next door is Strangelets with upmarket homewares and gifts. look across the road for the oh so cool Nana & Bird flag and head down the lane way to enter into a small hole in the wall filled with one off threads for her by a select number of up and comers.


  •  1-Altitude. highest of the high rooftop bar. overlooks the city and you can actually see Indonesia’s lights. the $30SG entry fee stings  [includes a second rate drink] and cheesy house music are a little off putting.


1-Altitude view (ZAC)

  • Ku De Ta. the ship on top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel. this building is something else. oh and shorts no matter how dressy or thongs are not permitted. 
  • Tanjong Beach Club. Sentosa. drink and swim. literally on the sand. the day starts with brunch and families then follows with doof doof and beautiful people and drinks while the sun goes down.


The Raffles Long Bar complete with Singapore Sling (ZAC)

  • Raffles. Long Bar.self proclaimed home of the Singapore Sling and you will pay for the privilege with a price tag of $26SG a pop. kind of one of those tourist traps that you need to tick off the list. it is a beautiful bar complete with permission of throwing your peanut shells on the ornate floors. unfortunately the one bar in the Raffles where the staff have obviously grown tired of the same Sling questions and well it seems patrons in general. 


  • Haji Lane. laneway. head there late in the afternoon. one off design stores incorporating vintage clothing, homewares, leather goods . a couple of bars and simple eateries. all encased by graffiti covered walls and colourfull colonial era buildings.




Haji Lane (ZAC)

  • Gardens by the Bay. walk. at the back of the Marina Bay Sands Casino. this land could have been covered in skyscrapers, instead the government turned it into one of the most unique attractions. its sounds trashy, but the lights through the trees in the evening are something special. you can pay to go up on the sky walk or inside to the domes, but there is plenty to walk around free of charge.




Gardens by the Bay (ZAC)




Walk the canals around Clarke Quay (ZAC)


Melbourne. Sister Bella. CBD. the lane way bar you want to find by accident story. (ZAC)


listening to. wow.

Melbourne. CBD. Von Haus. my new favourite watering hole. (ZAC)

Melbourne. CBD. Von Haus. my new favourite watering hole. (ZAC)


Destination: Manila, Siargao Island and Bucas Grande Philippines


Siargao local. General Luna. (ZAC)

DECEMBER 2012. the Philippines were chosen in June literally through..”ok flyer points, where can we escape to at Christmas?”… the traditional holiday maker destination Boracay was avoided and replaced with the island Siargao (pronounced Shar - gao). i imagine this is what Koh Samui, Thailand, once was with a mix of tourist savy resorts (count on one hand) and local islanders still, justifiably, just not quite sure whether its a good thing allowing us to indulge in their surroundings. as we left the shores of NSW the first stop of course is Manila around 8 hours from Sydney…


EAT: ok. what the hell. hours of trawling..and very, very little direction. we did find a couple of gems though during our very brief stopover. the general rule, unfortunately; the standouts are hotel based or in the Greenbelt complex. we were told about a rare speakeasy called the Blind Pig but unfortunately time was not on our side.

  • People’s Palace. Thai fusion. Green Belt 4. Makati. 1st roadblock. its in a shopping centre, kind of. actually it overlooks the parkland of Greenbelt. get past this and just enjoy. $10-$12 delicious dishes. great wine list in lieu of what is usually charged for wine in Asia. staff are switched on and the seafood dishes are an absolute standout. 
  • M Cafe. Green Belt, just down from the People’s Palace. restaurant and bar with Filipino fusion share food as well as a cocktail menu with a nice focus on local ingredients. apparently can get lively later into the evening.
  • Wingman after years of occupation from the US during the 2nd world war, a few things had to wear off. great location to off-load your jet lagged state. simple tasty wings + San Miguel local. situated in the front of the Collective. it’s an “anti-mall” of sorts and I love what they are attempting to do with one off retail stores, but the empty shop fronts behind Wingman display that is a challenge in a city that is struggling to find its identity.


Intramuros entrance Manila (ZAC)

SEE: A country that has been the unfortunate stepping stone by numerous countries including Spain and the US (General MacArthur lived, breathed and bunkered down here) results in a unique fusion of architecture.

  • Intramuros. 64 hectare stone citadel founded by the Spanish in 1571 then bombed, rebuilt, bombed again, rebuilt, bombed and rebuilt (you get the idea). get here nice and early to avoid some of the heat. from Makati it will cost you about 300 pesos ($7) by taxi. swallow your pride, find an English speaking bicycle guide (they will find you) to take you around. it will cost you around $5 for an hour and well worth it to ensure you see all that is worth seeing. great history lesson and architecture including the second world war, General MacArthur and US occupation. Although we did not make it there, try the Spanish inspired Ilustrado for breakfast.

SHOP: Greenbelt. Makati. split into 5 sections incorporating parklands and elevated walkways so grab a map. this has all your major brands etc, is clean, shiny and well another nice shopping centre. there seems to be a number of BIG malls in Manila depending what your poison is. one stand out is TWG Tea in Greenbelt 5. it is worth visiting for the shop fit out alone plus you can pass the time with a very English high tea.

STAY: Picasso Suites. Makati. self-contained apartment style. clean. up to date minimalist style. absolutely perfect for the overnight stay before airport departure. very reasonable at ~$120AUD a night via Agoda. many, many of the Manila hotels are very tired. if you are looking to splurge, one of the few new hotels did look inviting being the Fraser Suites in Makati. you pay for the privilege though with rooms at  $300 a night when we clicked upon it.

TIP: The taxis in Manila are clean, air conditioned and our experience was pretty good. from Makati, they will try to push for a 500 peso (~$13) set price to the airport. tell them to put the meter on and it will be between 200-300 pesos (~$8) depending on traffic.

SIARGAO (the home of Cloud Nine break)


Cloud 9 viewing platform (ZAC)

The general rule it seems, is the longer you are prepared to lose on travel time, the better the island. do not underestimate how long domestic airports particularly Manila can take. Cebu Pacific Air seems to be the main carrier internally. the planes are clean and reliable, but be warned, getting through Manila airport security and bag check can take up to two hours. most of the islands in the south go via Cebu, so there is at least two flights until you touch down in Siargao. oh and although warned by the cross-wind, there are a few white knuckle moments on touch down! 

STAY: The key area is near General Luna and is a good 45 minutes from the airport. suck it up and pay for a hotel transfer as there was nothing waiting public transport wise at the little Siargao airport. we were in the off-season (dictated by surfing conditions) and prices reflect as such.

  • Kalinaw Resort. General Luna. there are only 6 (or 5?) bungalows. minimalistic with clear designer pedigree infused. set around a lagoon. this is a place to treat yourself with rooms around $200 a night. a cooked breakfast is included (go the crepes) and the restaurant is seen as one of the best on the island, although at almost western hotel prices. wood-fired pizzas are their specialty (?!) although the green fish curry special was a standout. they have a fantastic pool which is handy due to the frustration you cannot swim directly in front thanks to the rocks and mangroves. a great place to lie down and soothe the soul.



Kalinaw rooms and restaurant (ZAC)

  • Sagana Resort. Cloud 9. literally on the front door of Cloud 9 surf break. simple, Balinese style bungalows with ALL food included in the accommodation price of about $160 a night. the best thing about this place (other than Oscar the dog) are the owners like Naoki who just do everything to please. if you need transport he is the man with the best contacts for drivers, bike hire etc. get friendly with the kitchen and ask for the seafood laska. the food ranges from outstanding offset with a few average dishes and all washed down by the honour “help yourself” system San Miguel ($1 each) fridge.


Sagana accommodation (ZAC)



Township of Cloud 9 and morning view from Sagana Resort (ZAC)

SEE: Other than the obvious surfing and related (there are board hire places everywhere in Cloud 9) there are a few key day trips all of which include getting wet.

  • Magpupungko Rock Pools.  get there by habal-habal (motorbike) at low tide. either fend the roads on your own or hire a driver with the benefit of local knowledge. much of the journey is on washed out gravel roads down into steep valleys (about 400 pesos or $10-12 for the day). its takes around 2 hours with a number of white knuckle stints but a great way to see the island and its people. the reef creates natural swimming holes  great for swimming and snorkelling. Sagana provide you with a packed lunch so make the most of the travel time and spend at least a few hours there. locals are often cutting down young drinking coconuts so take a bit of cash as an offering for their climbing work (40 pesos seemed to go down well). 


Habal-habal view heading to the pools (ZAC)


The tide coming in at the pools (ZAC)

  • Island Hop Naked, Dako and Guyman. full day. hire a banka boat via one of the resorts. all seem to charge a similar fee of about 1500 pesos per person ($35) so it will be one of your most expensive days. the order of the day is simple. boat. swim. snorkel. photos. relax. boat. Naked is just that. an oversized sandbar which takes about 25 min to get to. it sits almost eerily smack bang in the middle of the open water. from there, the next stop is Dako. a fishing village and the biggest island where you will have a cooked seafood lunch. you decide how long you want to stay on each island. I would give the most time to Guyman. a picture postcard of a few palm trees and surrounded by crystal clear blue.  the water was literally like a hot bath due to the flat rocks warming it in the shallows. we unfortunately went without the weather on our side, but still a standout day.



Pre-storm near Daku with a couple of locals saying hello below (ZAC)

  • Island Drive. round up a few fellows travellers. hire a van via Naoki at Sagana and head north towards Burgos. you can stop at any time at your own surfing beach or quiet little cove. the driver will know many a “secret spot” so be nice and make the most of their suggestions. the van will cost about 4000 pesos ($100) so the more the far more merrier cost wise. 



Just south of Burgos (ZAC)

EAT: When not staying at Sagana, there are a few although limited choices. we found the best for a simple tasty thai inspired lunch was at Buddha’s Surf Resort  halfway along the road from General Luna to Cloud 9. 

DRINK: we stayed pretty close in and around Sagana Resort thanks to the food factor (and $1 beers!). Nine Bar is apparently the pick although was going through a major renovation when we were there. coffee lovers be warned. it is tough to get a decent caffeine fix on this island with Driftwood Surf Shop and Cafe the better of the bunch.


About an 1.5 hours south west from Siargao, the island of Bucas Grande is home to the stunning Sohoton Caves, thick island forest and amazing pockets of coral. be warned. it is TOUGH getting there and even more limited is the accommodation but the Caves were by far one of our best days.


Dapa ferry terminal (ZAC)

GETTING THERE: You know those reports you see on the news about overcrowded island ferries sinking to the bottom of the ocean? this was one of those moments that was tough not to let the mind wander and compare to. we went by local ferry (an oversized banka) from Dapa, about 30 minutes from General Luna. a 1.5 hour ordeal in choppy seas and stifling heat from heavy tarps encasing the 70 or so passengers (it seated 50). oh I was kept busy helping out pumping out the excess water that was swilling over our feet. hey at least it was cheap at 150 pesos each (~$4) and a trip we can now laugh about, but also in the knowledge that we did not have to head back that way!


A far better view of the ferry post crossing (ZAC)

DO NOT STAY: Club Tara “Resort”. ok we were warned. warned by many a travel site. even with the lowest of expectations the staff managed to go below these with flying colours. i am not going to say much about this place. the setting IS beautiful and access to the Sohoton Caves is literally a 20 minute scenic banka ride. just trust me the place is relic from the early nineties with no subsequent love or attention. thanks to limited accommodation choice, the rack rate is not cheap. clearly the manager’s family have moved in and decided to call the entire foyer area home. after years in working in hospitality, the sad thing is the manager clearly has no pride and no clue. he did cop the “wrath of Zac” with things improving oh so slightly post my outburst. the “included” food is deep fried, limited and horrendous although the chef does try her best. the website list of amenities is simply just one big lie. if you do stay here, make it for a maximum of 2 nights in lieu of the Caves and bring with you plenty of food and beer to lessen the blow.




Beautiful surroundings. horrendous accommodation (ZAC)

SEE: Sohoton Caves. a jam packed morning of riding by banka through the labyrinth of lagoon waters with a number of planned stops to often swim deep under rock faces in good faith there is a cave complete with oxygen on the other side.  this is one of the few places the government has stepped in to protect the area and is now regulated with official guides and boats. get past the clunkiness of the locals pushing it like a theme park complete with a map of activities. the conservation pledge should be promoted more as a big chunk of your tour fee goes directly towards the well being of the area (you are not told this when seeming to pay an extortionate amount for your short banka ride at 3000 pesos for 2). there are caves to climb through complete with bats, thousands of non-stinging jellyfish to admire and basically take in what you made all the effort to come to the Philippines for. 



Before and after into the caves (ZAC)


"Now you jump" post climb through the caves (ZAC)


Very little (having to resort often to Trip Advisor as there is not much information on the Philippines


Paddling the lagoons of the caves (ZAC)


Leaving Bucas Grande (ZAC)

Sydney. Chez Dee. Kings Cross. breakfast. scrambled eggs with herring roe. quality coffee. thoughtful food and token providore. passionate owners. tick. spent a bit of time here in the early hours of what was once the home of Tonic bar. (ZAC)

Sydney. Chez Dee. Kings Cross. breakfast. scrambled eggs with herring roe. quality coffee. thoughtful food and token providore. passionate owners. tick. spent a bit of time here in the early hours of what was once the home of Tonic bar. (ZAC)

Pittsburgh. Conflict Kitchen. serving traditional dishes from countries that the US is currently in conflict with including Cuba, Afghanistan and Iran. the temporary facade changes with the country of choice and is backed up by talks and info. knowledge through food. genius.

Pittsburgh. Conflict Kitchen. serving traditional dishes from countries that the US is currently in conflict with including Cuba, Afghanistan and Iran. the temporary facade changes with the country of choice and is backed up by talks and info. knowledge through food. genius.


Restaurant: Bondi Picnic Bondi NSW

Perhaps the handwritten coffee cups drove the staff to it… (ZAC)

Bondi Picnic. the Little Marionette was part of my morning ritual when living in Balmain. it is honestly great to see the owner Ed, building a Sydney caffeine empire after visiting daily the humble hole in the wall beginnings where I think he just had mates serving to cover set up costs. for me, it’s a cautionary tale too of expanding with a great concept, own roast, but the staff, the staff let you down when not on your watch…

  • Drink this: the coffee. their own Little Marionette roasted beans are an absolute standout. the cold drip with a coconut water chaser looked pretty darn good and a clear point of difference too.
  • Eat this: the smashed egg and salami roll is simple and tasty. with a little foresight, take it to go and wander to the ocean edge.

Atmosphere: industrial. cool and casual. lots of white and rustic wood to match the salt in the air. the hot sauce on every table is a welcome touch. Bob Marley was droning in the background, a little cliche but ok…what was NOT ok was the foghorn barista announcing to his co-workers "what is their name… you are going to have to ask next time, oh I just cant remember" followed by other renditions including in detail, how thin his t-shirt was ready for the hot day ahead (w$nker). nothing else could be heard in the place..

Hot sauce on every table…big plus to the surroundings! (ZAC)

  • Food: caters for the simple..coco pops please to the more hearty including green eggs and big breakfast. the food was tasty but just looked a bit drab on the plate especially the quinoa bircher with water melon and mint, which could and should be a show stopper.
  • Service: the absolute letdown of the experience. 3 staff. 1 of which seeming to do the majority of the work. barista mate carried on about his threads while the other brooded on the stoves staring at me blankly while I waited to place my order at the counter. the quinoa was meant to come with mint, which when asked was oh so much trouble, then arrived looking like 1 leaf had been shredded into saffron thread size pieces.
  • $:$15 to $20 a head (including 2 x mandatory coffees in the sitting)
  • Go: with a blanket. grab your brekky roll and a large Marionette roasted coffee to go.
  • Next time: large flat white. to go only.
  • Rate (4): 1.5 handwritten coffee takeaway cups.

Early Saturday morning start at Bondi Picnic (ZAC)