Pullman Cairns International Hotel

We stayed at Pullman Cairns International for my half business half pleasure work play trip in Cairns, the hotel where the conference I attended was held. There were also queen rooms and rooms with harbour view, but work booked the room for me through the conference and I got a 7th floor double room with a mountain/city view. Richard, of course, stayed with me.

The 5-star hotel room was very spacious even with the double double bed inside (not typo). Instant coffee (caffeinated and decaffeinated), Twining teabags (tea and tisane) and milk are free at the minibar and refilled daily. We got complimentary wifi for up to three devices during the conference days, but didn’t bother with it after the conference was over.

Pullman Cairns International Hotel: Double Room
Pullman Cairns International Hotel: Double Room and a Richard checking out the minibar

The bathroom was also really big and beautiful with shampoo, conditioner and shower gel also refilled daily. Loved the massive and thick hotel bath towels.

Pullman Cairns International Hotel: Double Room Bathroom
Pullman Cairns International Hotel: Double Room Bathroom (totally just an excuse for a mirror selfie)

It’s been showering intermittently through our trip, but we stuck around Cairns for a few more days for pleasure and extended our stay in the same room after all work finished. On the last day, the sun did come out and I managed to get this shot with a blue sky!

Pullman Cairns International Hotel: City Mountain Room View
Pullman Cairns International Hotel: 7th floor city mountain room view on a sunny day

The great thing about facing this direction was the view of the pool from the balcony, not for the reason you think — well, I mean, bikini views are pretty awesome — but because it conveniently gave me an opportunity to scout out the reception dinner that happened on the pooldeck before attending it on the first night. Shut up; social events are stressful. tongue

Gorgeous hotel room. The only thing I could complain about the hotel is having to clumsily insert the room keycard to operate the lifts instead of being able to do it through contactless. I also don’t think I ever dissociated the hotel lobby smell with the work conference, but absolutely enjoyed my very comfortable stay at the Pullman Cairns International.

Cenovis Vitamin Gum (Grape Flavour)

Received my free sample of Vitamin Gum by Cenovis, the grape flavour, today.

Cenovis Grape Vitamin Gum
Cenovis Grape Vitamin Gum

It’s sugar-free (i.e. artificially flavoured) and actually tastes pretty good. I may or may not have finished the whole pack in one night. Good thing my digestive system didn’t think 12 pieces were “excessive consumption”!

Cenovis Grape Vitamin Gum: Nutritional Info & Ingredients
Cenovis Grape Vitamin Gum: Nutritional Info & Ingredients

Anyone who already eats a diet rich in whole foods shouldn’t need the gum for its vitamin content (oh do I sound like I’m preaching again?), but if you’re going to chew gum, might as well make it slightly better for you.

Hotel Oak Forest, Hakuba, Nagano, Japan

For my third ski trip in Hakuba (白馬), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), the 9 of us (later 8 as one left earlier) stayed at Hotel Oak Forest (ホテル オークフォレスト).

Hotel Oak Forest: Lobby
Hotel Oak Forest: Lobby

Hotel Oak Forest: Access

Hotel Oak Forest isn’t located conveniently near any slopes, which seems to be a common feature of all hotels and ryokans within the Hakuba ski resort. Getting to and from the ski fields involve a daily morning bus trip out and an afternoon bus back. Connecting trips are required for certain areas such as Tsugaike Kogen (栂池高原). We actually arrived after the last shuttle bus had left and didn’t get any skiing done on the first day.

Hotel Oak Forest: Shuttle Bus Timetable
Hotel Oak Forest: Shuttle Bus Timetable

Oak Forest seems to be the first (and therefore last on the return trip) stop of many buses, which meant the longest trip, but also almost a guaranteed seat each morning; it has its perks, I guess. The hotel had also arranged to pick up and drop us off at our desired bus stop on arrival and departure, and also offered to send us out to town for free when we asked for them to get us a taxi, which was nice of them.

Hotel Oak Forest: Features

Free wifi! A lift! Daily housekeeping! In-room TV, fridge, safe! These were all features I never had from ryokans on my previous trips in Nozawa Onsen (Yamasanso) and Ishiuchi Maruyama (Garden Villa Ishiuchi). Hotel Oak Forest has been the nicest and most modern accommodation I’d stayed at for ski trips so far; well, I suppose the whole Hakuba ski area is very Westernised. We joked that our accommodation gets better and better with each trip.

The facilities that Richard and I didn’t use were the laundry and public onsen, the latter which I really regret. The onsens were open both in the morning and at night, and apparently had both indoor and outdoor sections. I should have at least got in and had a peek! … I just realised how inappropriate that came out.

Hotel Oak Forest: The Rooms

All rooms were en-suite, which is absolutely awesome! We first stayed in a traditional Japanese room with tatami flooring and futons on the third floor for the first day, then moved to a Western room with two single beds on the second floor from the second day on.

The Japanese rooms were very spacious for just the two of us, but I’m pretty sure the room was meant for more because the 4-5 singletons all shared one room on the same floor. My only complaint of the room was that super bright piercing green light on the alarm on the ceiling.

Hotel Oak Forest: Japanese Style Room
Hotel Oak Forest: Japanese style room on the third floor

In comparison, the Western counterparts and their en-suite bathrooms were a lot smaller and felt cramped to me when we first moved there from the Japanese rooms. Richard appreciated the beds more than the futons, though.

Hotel Oak Forest: Western Style Room
Hotel Oak Forest: Twin beds (messy = mine) in a Western style room on the second floor

The rooms weren’t very soundproof, and twice on the one night I woke up from inconsiderate loud English speakers walking by. Otherwise, I wasn’t sure if we were just lucky, this time we didn’t have any issue with cigarette smoke sneaking into our room like my previous trips, and I didn’t for one second take that for granted.

Hotel Oak Forest: The Food

The meals included in our package were daily Western breakfast, and Western plus Japanese style dinner. The three rooms of us shared the same table for every meal except our first breakfast, likely before they figured out we were all friends. I took so many pictures, I have decided to move this section to an entry of its own!

Hotel Oak Forest: Lockers and Rental Shop

Ski gear lockers for every room were available in the dry room, and things dried properly overnight, at least for us. The brother told me theirs didn’t quite because there was simply too much gear for their locker.

Hotel Oak Forest: Rental Shop
Hotel Oak Forest: Awkward couple mirror selfie disguised as a photo of the ground floor changing room / laundromat / rental shop

Gear rental wasn’t included in the package, but we decided to rent our stuff from the shop downstairs anyway. I thought what I ended up renting (skis, boots, poles and ski pants only) was very acceptable, but they didn’t have the half size shoes we needed. They also had to summon the rental guy each time, which was fairly inconvenient; one time he took over 15 minutes to appear and we already had to leave to catch the bus.


Overall, the time spent at the hotel was very comfortable and I especially loved the free wifi available on every floor, as well as the breakfast buffet. I know the area is very Westernised and it wouldn’t be fair to compare a proper hotel to the more traditional ryokans I stayed at in other regions, but I would quite happily stay at Hotel Oak Forest again.

Full gallery sans food:

Hotel Oak Forest address: Japan 〒399-9301 Nagano-ken, Kitaazumi-gun, Hakuba-mura, Hokujō, 3549

Redleaf Resort, Blackheath

We stayed at Redleaf Resort for 2 nights for our

The room was new and clean, and a lot bigger and nicer than my expectations; the air-conditioning was certainly appreciated! The resort was quiet most of the time as well, with the exception of that screeching noise from next door when they used the shower.

The highlight for me was the breakfast buffet (of course!). Well, our package didn’t come with it, but we added it at check-in for $19 per person ($17 if booked ahead through the websites?). It was nice to pig out before heading out for the day.

It is nice to pig out whatever and whenever. It’s good to live in the first world.

Overall, it’s a very comfortable stay. We didn’t use any of the other facilities like the sauna room, swimming pool (possibly closed when we visited), tennis court or game room. Maybe next time?

Tamar Valley No Fat Natural Yoghurt

This is the creamiest and tastiest no-added-sugar, fat-free yoghurt I’ve ever tasted. A shame only Coles seems to stock it; the more convenient Woolworths doesn’t and the Supabarn I have access to only has the 1% fat “lite” version.

Tamar Valley No Fat Natural Yoghurt
Tamar Valley No Fat Natural Yoghurt: Old 500g tub ($2.99 at Coles; left) and new 1kg tub ($6.29 at Coles; right)

The unit price went up, but I liked that they upgraded to the 1kg tubs from their smaller 500g ones, as well as fixed their nutritional information panel. The numbers never quite added up!

You know you’re getting old when you get all excited about yoghurt. tongue

Opal is Quite a Gem

I dropped my Opal card the other night.

I didn’t realise it until the next morning. Panic ensued. Frantic searches were performed in all known accessible previous locations. I had some feeling where else it could be, but it wasn’t long before I accepted defeat (I had a train to catch) and went to the shops to buy a new card for immediate use.

I registered my new card with the same account I used for the first one and did a quick check to see if the lost card has been used by anyone. No, it hasn’t. I already knew about the daily travel cap ($15) so even if someone were to pick up the card and use it, the damage shouldn’t be too high. FAQ also told me I didn’t have to worry too much about it all, because as long as I registered previously (I did) and report the lost card, they would transfer all remaining credits to a new or existing card of my choice. I received that balance transfer notification the next day, and got it to my new card the next time I tapped on.

NSW Opal Cards I’m very used to smart travel cards. Hong Kong has had the Octopus card from the 1990s on, and it’s since been expanded for use in many shops and vending machines. Function creep or not, we sure appreciate the convenience. Comparing my experience with the Octopus, I often thought the Opal card rollout was disorganised — until I lost my card and practically lost nothing but a bit of travel rewards. I’m considerably impressed with their implementation. Opal really is quite a gem.

I found my now deactivated card. It was in my #1 suspect place: Richard’s car.

Teva Kimtah Mid WP Leather

I tried on about 6 pairs of hiking shoes across two stores the other day. Half a size down, they’re too tight at the toes; half a size up, they’re too loose at the heel. I didn’t think I’d be able to find any comfortable walking shoes that would fit me that day, until I tried on the Teva’s Kimtah Mid WP Leather boots ($199.98 member price at Kathmandu in mid-September 2014), in bison. Yesterday, I finally had time to test them.

2-3 hours of bushwalking on rocks, sand, mud, branches, grass and steel walkways later? No swollen feet! No squished toes! No blisters! I didn’t even break them in and went straight for the walk. There wasn’t quite enough grip on steel mesh surfaces, but I guess it’s all about a balance of things.

My credit card bill is going to be pretty crazy with my other big purchase this month, but these are totally worth the money. Now I’m ready for more bushwalks! Let’s see how long these new shoes last. smile