Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wynyard Quarter

Wynyard Quarter has become a go-to holiday spot for our family.  We probably travel to Auckland about twice a year, and naturally we try to cram as much in as we can.  WQ has appeal both in terms of what it gives, and how little it takes.  There are so many pretty spots to rest in, and plenty of space to play (the playground is quite beautiful), and of course there is so much to take in, visually.  It's pretty spectacular.  

It's also free, and the parking (next to Silo Park) is accessible and cheap (and depending on the length of your stay - free).  So really, win-win.  The perfect place to stretch legs and catch a breath of salty air.

During this visit there were free outdoor activities (see above) and a pop-up book swap library.  So, so cool.

The Lazy Friend - Ronan Badel (AKA best, best, best book!)

'The Lazy Friend' by Ronan Badel.  Oh, my, my.  Have you had the pleasure of reading this book? I don't even know if there are words enough to describe how much we love it.

As Eleanor told her papa, "there's no words in this book, you just see what's happening in the pictures." Already we have had so many retellings, and only the first few were given by Zan or myself. The story is sooooo delicious! An adventure, yes!  Filled with twists and turns and unexpected outcomes. But so, so much more. A story of friendship, so darn touching, I actually teared up a little bit the first time we read it.

The illustrations in 'The Lazy Friend' are perfection, with foreshadowing, gorgeous expressions, and little details that make these kinds of books so fun. I for one, fell head over heals for this adorable little group of friends. The snake, oh the brave snake *sniff sniff*, what an emblem for loyal friendship. Such tender moments, especially that pivotal point where the parrot and frog watch their friends disappear into the jungle.  Waaaaaah!  Tears.  And this picture below?  Makes me want to dive into this book world and join their gang.  FOR REALS!

Sometimes you find a children's book that fits every criteria for instant-classic-never-to-be-parted-with-I-will-read-this-to-my-grandbabies, and for me, this is it.  There are only a handful of kid's books that I love this much, that thank you, Mr Badel, your inspiration equals our delight.

And from another Gecko favourite, we have discovered an artist model:

Thank you Gecko Press for providing us with a review copies of these delicious books!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Spencer on Byron

The Spencer on Byron is a hotel located near Takapuna Beach, Auckland.  The hotel is a grand high-rise, one of three that can be seen from the highway, and has an old-school glamour that immediately gives off a "I'm-staying-in-a-hotel-y'all" vibe, which for country-bunnies like us, is a little bit of a thrill. They bravely agreed to a Golden Adventures review, so my hooligans and I headed up the elevator to suss out just how family-friendly these guys are.  And just fyi, the best photos in this post were taken by clever Miss Rosa-May.

1. Breakfast of champs.  2. Investigation (heads up - it's a wall).  3. Toiletries.  4. Bubble-bathz.

The Rooms:  Both in size and layout, the rooms at The Spencer exceeded expectations.  We had a two-room suite which was more like a small apartment.  This amount of space was a real bonus for us, especially as we had my sister staying too, and more space meant less crazy.  The master bedroom featured the hugest bed I have ever slept on.  SO comfy.  We also had surround views and heaps of wardrobe space. 

Between the rooms was a spacious lounge which easily fit a rollaway bed, and a fully equipped kitchen and laundry.  It's probably not the done thing to get super excited about a laundry when you're staying in a hotel, but after storms and power-cuts and fair bit of traveling, boy oh boy.  It felt like luxury.  It also proved immeasurably helpful to have our own kitchen, kitted out with every kitchen utensil and appliance we needed.  

Probably the most appealing aspect of these rooms were the views.  I actually opted for a lower level apartment, despite being offered one on the 16th floor.  I have an aversion to heights, but these rooms were situated at just the perfect level of non-panic-inducing elevation, while still retaining that amazing view of Auckland.  I have to admit that we decided against the curtains in the evening, because I do love a nighttime cityscape.

Decor-wise these rooms featured dark carpet, light walls and heavy wooden furniture.  The decor neither added nor detracted and I think it would suitably serve both families as well as corporate guests. All items were in very tidy condition, but nothing felt overly precious.  If you're the parent of little people, I think you're hearing me on that last count.  I will also add that in my opinion, white tiled bathrooms scream luxury.  We *may* have made ourselves a huuuuuuge bubble bath.  Heaven.

1. That view.  2. Hotel lobby.  3. Climbable furniture.  4. Breakfast buffet.  5. Shiny white bathroom, post bubble bath.  6. Dusk.  7. Frosty morning.

The Facilities: This hotel stay turned into a bit of a working holiday for Rosa-May and I (but seriously, what nicer workspace can a girl have?), so we didn't get a chance to try out all The Spencer Hotel facilities.  We did go and take a look around though, and aside from anything, I would love to return to The Spencer purely to use that tennis court, because WOW!  Especially on our final morning, when it was shrouded in mist.  So amazing.

The gym, which I'd hoped to visit, was very well equipped and they even have personal trainers available for guests.  But of course if there's one facility we won't miss out on it's the pool, and this one was a beauty.  I actually don't know that I've ever swum in a rooftop pool (it was around about parallel to our level 3 suite).  They had a cooler pool for lengths, but we stuck to the warm one and stayed in long enough for the skies to clear and a rainbow to appear.

1. Baby girl, dreaming.  2. Restaurant chandeliers.  3. The library.  4. Thyme Restaurant.  5. Breakfast buffet.  6. Furnishings.  7. Argh!!!  Gigantic tea-cup!!  Be still my beating heart... 8. Hotel wall of fame.  9. Contemplative.

The Food: We dined at the Thyme Restaurant for breakfast both mornings of our stay.  The restaurant definitely didn't have that buffet/cafeteria feel, despite it being a buffet meal.  The decor was elegant and classic, though it was relaxed and friendly enough to suit small children.  There was a good selection of breakfast foods, with an emphasis on quality over quantity.  Our kids graduated from weet-bix to Nutra-Grain, while we opted for Bircher muesli and Zan's usual choice of big breakfast.  The food tasted good, and the environment was really lovely.

1. Holiday reading!  2. Thyme Restaurant.  3. Little and Friday cafe.  4. The library.  5. Girl an breakfast.  6. Tennis court.  7. Little and Friday cafe.

The Service: The staff at The Spencer on Byron were super polite, friendly and helpful.  Mostly they just let us do our thing in peace and quiet, making our stay feel very private and undisturbed. Really, the only time we had much interaction with staff was when our room was made up.  I instinctively veer away from the idea of my rooms being serviced, but under duress/peer pressure I gave it a go, and um wow.  That was amazing.  All evidence of crumbs and crumpled sheets, vanished, and without me lifting a finger #fistpump #letsdothatagain.

1. The view.  2. Sister time (this one's for Mama).  3. This girl melts me.  4. The view.  5. Tennis court.  6. Pool.  7. Coffee at Little and Friday.  8. Second bedroom.  9. The view.  10. Pool.  11. Buffet breakfast AKA Nutra Grain.

For Families:  While The Spencer on Byron is perfectly geared towards corporate guests, it really catered well to our little family.  The sense of privacy meant that we could totally relax and make the apartment our home, without worrying that we were disturbing anybody.  There was so much space, we could have stayed there much longer without getting sick of each other!  And the facilities in the suite: fully equipped kitchen(s), two bathrooms and a washing machine and drier, made such a difference to a travel-weary family.  Our kids were made to feel very welcome in the dining area, and of course having a heated swimming pool handy provided that extra special element to our winter stay.

1. Little and Friday.  2. Pool.  3. The view.  4. Fluffies at Little and Friday.  5. The view.  6. Juice bar.  7. Counting her pocket money.  8. Little and Friday.  9. Moody morning.  10. Elevator selfie, just for Mama.

Overall we had a really comfortable stay at The Spencer On Byron Hotel.  Our highlights included the beautiful, constantly changing view, our rooftop swim, and dining in the lovely Thyme Restaurant (and shhh, just quietly, using the drier).  We were also situated super close to the now-famous Little and Friday cafe.  I'm pretty sure I'm the last person in New Zealand to visit there, but it was worth the wait! Also handy is the beautiful Takapuna Beach, and the Sunday Flea Markets which are amazingly still running!  Takapuna is a really nice shopping area too, and just around the corner is Devonport, with a whole host of lovely things to discover.  Boom!  Everything!

The Spencer on Byron Hotel offered us complimentary rooms and meals in return for this review.  All opinions expressed are totally my own :-)