Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Coromandel: A Road Tripper's Delight

New Zealand's Coromandel Peninsula is a mecca for holidaymakers, thanks to its lengthy coastline, varied beaches and friendly small towns. Here is a leisurely trip from Auckland which will take in the wonders of this special place.


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Day 1: Auckland to Thames

This is an easy 2-3 hour drive which will ease you into your road trip. Head south out of Auckland on State Highway 1, and turn off onto State Highway 2 then 25 which will bring you to the Kopu Bridge. Although recently rebuilt as two lanes, this bridge is a tradition amongst holidaymakers. It was previously a one-lane affair which meant long queues in rush hour friday nights and sunday afternoons, but is nonetheless beloved as the gateway to the Peninsula!

Once over the bridge, it is about 10 minutes to Thames. This little community is an ex-gold rush town which peaked in the late 1860s. Now it is a lovely town with plenty of shops and eating places, as well as a lot of history! You can take a guided tour of a mine at the Thames Goldmine Experience, and also visit the museum there which tells the history of gold mining in the area. The Rapaura Water Gardens is a beautiful spot to visit, and every Saturday there is a market in the town. There are great walking tracks in the Kauaeranga Valley behind the township which are great for experiencing a bit of the natural beauty of the Coromandel.

Thames
by Eli Duke Flickr Creative Commons


There are several places to stay in Thames- for example, the Dickson Holiday Park.

Day 2: Thames to Otama Beach

From Thames, head up the coast on SH25, along the tidal coast that borders the Firth of Thames, separating the peninsula from Auckland. This pohutakawa-filled coast makes for a very scenic drive! A great way to do it would be to do some shopping in Thames before leaving and make a picnic lunch so you can stop and enjoy the views- try Te Mata Bay, or somewhere overlooking the Manaia or Te Kouma Harbours. Take the morning to explore!

Thames Coast
by Sally Flickr Creative Commons

 Coromandel is the next major town you will come across. It is quite charming and home to many artisans, so have a look in the many arts and crafts stores. You can also take a look at the unspoilt and remote northern part of the Peninsula with Coromandel as a starting point.

From Coromandel, turn right and continue on SH25. This will take you over the hills to the eastern coast of the Peninsula and the towns of Matarangi and Kuaotunu. Matarangi has a picture-perfect white sand beach and is somewhat of a high-end holiday resort complete with golf course, and Kuaotunu is a beautiful coastal village with a white beach, several shops and amenities and great opportunities for swimming, snorkelling and diving.

Kuaotunu Beach
by Rosino Flickr Creative Commons


For Otama Beach, turn onto Black Jack Road in Kuaotunu. This road is not for the fainthearted as it is not sealed all the way, so probably shouldn't be attempted with a large motorhome! Otama is a stunning long beach backed by grassy dunes, with camping sites and cabins protected from breezes behind the dunes. The camp is quite remote and therefore has limited facilities, but there is water, toilets, a rubbish drop and a freezer for freezer pads only.

Otama Beach
by travelwayoflife Flickr Creative Commons


Day 3: Otama Beach to Hahei

As with the previous days, this one does not require a lot of driving, but there are lots of things to see and do along the way! From the Otama Beach campground, backtrack to Kuaotunu and head south on SH25. You will soon coma across Whitianga, one of the Peninsula's bigger towns, so take the opportunity to visit the supermarket or department store if need be! There is a lot happening here- boat cruises in Mercury Bay, diving, fishing, restaurants and more.

After skirting the Whitianga harbour, a side-trip is recommended to check out Cook's Beach. Turn off left onto Hot Water Beach Road then Purangi road to find this lovely little beachside town with a great fish and chip shop and a lovely estuary where the Purangi River meets the beach.

Cooks Beach

Instead of getting back on the highway, you can go from Purangi road straight onto Hahei Road and get to the beautiful Hahei. Before you get there you will come across Hot Water Beach, a major drawcard for visitors and holidaymakers. It is a surf beach with natural hot springs bubbling up through the sand, These are only reachable at low tide, so come back when the tide is down and bring a spade to dig your own spa pool!

Hot Water Beach
by The Energy Flickr Creative Commons

Hahei has a wonderful beach itself, but is also where you will find the beginning of the path to Cathedral Cove, a hidden paradise which was used as a set in one of the Chronicles of Narnia movies. A few minutes drive from the town is a carpark where the 25-40 minute walk to the cove starts. It is well worth the short hike!

Hahei


Hahei Holiday Resort is a great place to stay right on the beach, with sites for motorhomes!

Day 4: Hahei- Auckland

See a few more places on the Peninsula before heading back to the Big Smoke! Heading south on SH25, you will come across the township of Tairua and it's sister community Pauanui which is just across the harbour- or a 20 minute drive around. Tairua has shops and restaurants, and a surf beach to the north of the harbour heads. In summer at high tide you are likely to see kids jumping off the bridge into the river!

Pauanui as seen from Paku Hill in Tairua
by Joshua Eckert Flickr Creative Commons


To head back to Auckland, get on SH25A shortly after Tairua and head back across the Peninsula to Thames and the Kopu Bridge. A great pit-stop on the return trip is Pokeno, which requires a small dogleg south when you hit State Highway 1. It is famous for huge icecreams!

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Northwest: Seattle to San Fran

See the northwest coast with this leisurely road trip through three states and wine country! Starting in Seattle and heading down the coast to San Francisco, the highlights of this trip are the wonderful cities of Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, and the wine country that is the Napa Valley area.




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Day 1: Seattle to Portland

Seattle is a beautiful city based around the Puget Sound, and you will pass through several other urban centres on the way out, such as Tacoma and Olympia. If you have an extra day, you could use it to drive the Olympic Loop, a trip full of forest and coastline scenery. This also passes through the famous (or infamous) Forks, the town in which Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series is set. This loop could also be fit in to the same day as driving Seattle- Portland, if the trip is a little less leisurely!

Seattle
by Jessica Spengler Flickr Creative Commons

 Olympic National Park
by Joseph Novak Flickr Creative Commons

Further south, you will pass through Longview, nicknamed the 'City of Trees.' This pretty town by the river is home to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, an area around Mount St. Helens which is set aside for research, recreation and education. This beautiful part of the country has a Visitor's Centre and great walking trails.

Mount St. Helens
by Ewen Roberts Flickr Creative Commons


Portland is a unique city, straddling the Willamette River, with Mount Hood to the east. It laid-back and feels like a smaller city than it is, and has an alternative vibe- often touted as being very 'hipster!' There are a lot of microbreweries to visit, and lots of parks and gardens around the city. The hub of activity is Pioneer Square in downtown Portland.

There is ample opportunity to park up your motorhome in Portland: try Fairview RV Park or the Roamer's Rest RV Park which is not far out of Portland.

Day 2: Portland to Medford

See some more of Oregon on this day with only 5 hours driving. One of the first places you will pass through is Salem, a farming community which grew during the gold rush. Though small, it is the capital of Oregon, and home to the Oregon State Fair in September and August. There is a lot of history on display in the town, such as the Downtown Salem Historic District, the Mission Mill Museum, the Discovery Village, the State Capitol Building and several other museums and estates.

Salem State Capitol Building
by Doug Kerr Flickr Creative Commons

If you want to see the Oregon coast, Newport would be a great side trip to make- come off the I-5 onto US-20 and head westwards. You could add in a day here, or make it a quick detour just to get your toes wet! Newport is a charming seaside town with some lovely beaches close by, and the route there will take you through Corvallis, home to the Oregon State University which is known for marine research.

As you continue towards Medford, you will come across Eugene. As with much of the Pacific Northwest, this is a city of people who love their microbrews, coffee and ecologically-friendly lifestyles. Sport is big here, and there are also a lot of hiking and mountain biking trails.

Eugene
by Scott Batchelar Flickr Creative Commons


Medford is just above the Oregon-California state border, and is a diverse city with many historical and cultural attractions. Rafting and Salmon fishing in nearby rivers are also popular pastimes! Find an RV Park in the area to spend the night- Medford Oaks, or the Holiday RV Park are some options.

Day 3: Medford to Redding

This is not a lot of driving, so that you can enjoy the beauty of northern California! The I-5 will take you through the towns of Ashland, Yreka, Weed and Mount Shasta. However, the biggest attraction along here is nature! You will pass the Klamath National Forest, encompassing nearly 1.7 million acres.  Turn off around Yreka to explore this amazing forest.  There are 5 different wilderness areas, and plenty of trails to walk.

Klamath
by Michael McCullough Flickr Creative Commons

Near the town of Mount Shasta is Mount Shasta itself, a stunning mountain surrounded by the  Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Some attempt to climb the peak, but it is a real climb to be undertaken by real climbers! The Hirz Mountain Lookout is a great way to get views of the area, and there are campgrounds should you decide to stop for a few days.

Just before you get to Redding you will come across Shasta Lake, created by damming the Sacramento River. it is the houseboating and wakeboarding capital of the world- how's that for an interesting combo?

Shasta Lake
by Renee V Flickr Creative Commons

Redding is a great place to shop, with many specialty shops.  There are plenty of places to park up and rest before heading in to the coast the next day!

Day 4: Redding to Fortuna

The best way to get the most out of this part of California is to head out to the coast from Redding, so instead of continuing on the I-5, take the CA-299 out to Arcata and Eureka on the coast.

You will pass again though the Trinity National Forest, and the small town of Weaverville, a small town where the history of California's gold Rush era lives on. This charming town is a very charming spot, relatively undiscovered as a tourist destination.

Weaverville
by Eric Fredericks Flickr Creative Commons

There are some wild and scenic beaches out this way, and Eureka's Old Town is worth a look! One of the prettiest parts of the coastline is just north of Eureka at Trinidad State Beach. Arcata is the home of Humboldt State University and, seperated from the rest of California by the redwood forests, has somewhat of a counterculture going on, with many hippies in residence!

Trinidad State Beach
by Erik Fitzpatrick Flickr Creative Commons

Fortuna is a little further south and inland, on the shore of the Eel River. A lot of festivals take place here, such as the Daffodil Festival, Art and Wine in the Park, the Fortuna Rodeo and many more, so check out what's on while you're visiting! Try the Riverwalk RV Park for the night.

Day 5: Fortuna-San Francisco

This day covers wine country and is over 5 hours of driving, so split it in two if you have the time! Head south on US101 and soon you will come across the famous Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It is the last remaining area of old-growth redwoods, and as such is a crucial part of the natural history of the area. Running parallel to the main highway for 30 miles is the Avenue of the Giants, where the road is flanked by giant redwoods. A must-see! There are also several Drive-Thru trees off this road, but be warned that many motorhomes will not fit!

Avenue of Giants
by Doug Kerr Flickr Creative Commons

The road passes through Garberville and Willits, and passes the beautiful Lake Mendocino just before arriving in Ukiah. Now you're starting to get into a bit of wine country! Clear Lake is another large lake which requires a bit of a detour off the main route, and is the largest natural freshwater lake in the state.

Santa Rosa, Sonoma and Napa are all centres for exploring the picturesque vineyards, hills and countryside of this part of California. You will find all sorts of wine tours leaving from these places, and it is a good idea to do these rather than drive around wine-tasting in a motorhome! Often you can go on a tour right from an RV park- try the San Fran RV resort, Wine Country RV Park or Vineyard RV Park.

Wine Country
by Derek Key Flickr Creative Commons

San Francisco is a liberal, hilly and fascinating city! It has great Victorian architecture and huge ethnic and cultural diversity- as well as a true American landmark in the Golden Gate Bridge. Spend a few days getting to know the city if you can.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What Makes a Drive a Road Trip?



 by Tiberiu Ana Flickr Creative Commons

Be it by car, motorbike or motorhome, a true road trip is an experience, not just getting from A to B. Here are some guidelines for an amazing road trip:

- Take someone with you. Someone you love, someone you like, someone you just met but find interesting- reminiscing afterwards will be half the fun of the trip.

- Take new routes. The highway is the fastest way, but not the most interesting. A road trip is about the journey, not the destination, so can't be rushed. In New Zealand it's called a tiki tour- go down a side road just to see what you might find.

- A road trip is great when it has a purpose, or when it doesn't. You may have taken a few extra days to get to your intended city instead of flying, or you may have packed up the car or RV when a free week presented itself and took to the road with no rhyme nor reason. Whichever it is, embrace it!

- Stop somewhere you've never been before. Be it for icecream, lunch, dinner or breakfast. The smaller the town, the better- and make friends with the locals if the opportunity arises.

- Be spontaneous. This could mean getting out of the car to dip your feet in the water, walking up a hill to see the view, attending anything that might be on in a town without preplanning it. Don't be afraid to take any opportunity that is put in front of you- even if it will mess with your plans.

 by Pete Flickr Creative Commons

And for the more advanced road trip experience, try for one or more of these:

- Break down and fix it in the pouring rain. Flag someone down to help and become lifelong friends.

- Park your RV somewhere unknown in the pitch dark, and wake up in the morning to the most incredible view you have ever seen. This can also be done in a car for extra badass points.

- Find a relative of yours in a forgotten graveyard, and uncover a huge family secret.

 by Kevin Dooley Flickr Creative Commons

- Have a beer in the most rural pub you can find, and have an in-depth conversation with a farmer with no teeth. Learn valuable life lessons.

by Jan Smith Flickr Creative Commons


- Stay in a haunted hotel or bed and breakfast with a creepy owner. Leave the next morning feeling as though you survived an ordeal.

- Buy cheap and fresh meat, cheese and veges from an amazing Farmer's Market in the small town you are staying at. Prepare the most amazing meal of your life on your gas cooker or RV stove.

- Meet a fellow traveler, learn their life story, and be left with only memories and one slightly blurry photo of them as you go your separate ways.

- Build a campfire (where permitted, of course) and spend the night in a toasted marshmallow and wine- fuelled heart to heart. Be surprised to see the sun coming up.

- Get horribly lost. Wrestle with maps, bust out a compass, scan the horizon. Eventually find that you are 5 mins away from where you left 5 hours ago, give up and and revisit the local pub. Tell the toothless farmer what happened, and hear his words of wisdom on getting lost, which are profound despite the fact he has never been more than 10km from his own farm.

 by The Eyes of New York Flickr Creative Commons

Admittedly, those last few are entirely dependent on fate- but the fundamental quality of a road trip is that it can't be planned! Whatever happens will happen, and the key is to go with the flow.

Have a look here for car rentals and here for motorhome rentals and road trip ideas all over the world!



Monday, April 9, 2012

Boston Top Sights

Boston is a city of history, of sports and of academia. The site of the original Tea Party, when the occupants threw tea in the harbour rather than pay taxes on it, it is now a wealthy and thriving city and a hub of culture. Here are some of the top spots to see according to Pittsburgh Live:

Freedom Trail

This trail links the historic sites of downtown Boston, making it simple to see them all by foot. Highlights of the route include the Boston Common, America's oldest public park, the King's Chapel, the site of the Boston Massacre between Redcoats and Bostonians, and much, much more.

 Boston Freedom Trail
by Tim Sackton Flickr Creative Commons

Museum of Fine Arts

Boston's Museum of Fine Arts is one of the United States' largest museums, with over 100 million visitors a year. A new wing opened in 2010 to house the Art of the Americas collection, a series of 5000 works that date from as far back as the founding of the colonies. There are also many contemporary artworks, and a large collection of Claude Monet's Impressionist paintings.


Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Although a lesser-known museum, this one is well worth the visit, with many priceless works including a Rembrandt self-portrait.

Samuel Adams Brewery

Take an hour-long tour of this brewery founded by Jim Koch, a fifth-generation beer brewer. Beer is a real craft here, and you will taste several different types and learn a bit about the art of brewing.

 Brewery Tour
by mbaylor Flickr Creative Commons

Symphony Hall

This is considered one of the top three concert halls in the world, and the other two are in Europe, making Boston's the best in America. The Hall is home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra as well as several other musical groups, and there are many artists who come from all over to perform there, so check out the programme before arriving in Boston to see if there's anything you'll like!

John F. Kennedy Library and Museum

This houses a lot of contemporary history, with digital archives, books, oral records of the Kennedys. Permanent Exhibits include showcases on the Space Program, the Oval Office, Jackie Kennedy and JFK's campaign trail. An interesting look at one of the US's most treasured and tragic presidents.


Campaign Trail Exhibit
by Randy Robertson Flickr Creative Commons



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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Big Sur Road Trip

If you are picking up your motorhome in Los Angeles, a Big Sur Roadtrip is an excellent and highly scenic choice. A region of the Californian coast north of Los Angeles, the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean there, making for amazing vistas. Here is a suggested easy itinerary that will allow you to take it easy and travel a few hours a day, whilst taking in all that the coast has to offer.



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Day 1: Los Angeles to Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara is less than 2 hours from Los Angeles, but after the fuss of picking up an RV from the depot and figuring out how to get out of the city, it can be nice to have a short trip on day 1! Take CA-1/US101 out of the city, and this will take you directly to Santa Barbara. Once through the peripheral suburbs, the road goes along the coast for Pacific views. The route takes you through Carpinteria, which is set around a beautiful and safe swimming beach, a great spot to take a dip. Santa Barbara is only a short drive from here. The city is loved for its fair weather and spanish architecture.There are many annual events in the city- the 'Fiesta' in August, the French Festival on Bastille Day weekend in July, and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in February being the best ones. If you wish to stay in town, the Sunrise RV Park is right off the highway on S Salinas Street.

 Santa Barbara
by Konrad Summers Flickr Creative Commons

Day 2: Santa Barbara to Monterey

Spread the 4-5 hours of driving out, and take the chance to see some of the amazing views that the Big Sur is known for. Head out along the coast on CA-1. As you turn away from the coast and get on US-101 towards Buelton, you will drive through the Gaviota State Park, popular for swimming, fishing and picnicking. Inland, the highway passes through several towns of the Santa Ynez Valley community- Buelton, Los Olivos, Los Alamos, before arriving in Santa Maria.This city is known for its wine industry, and is also a popular location for filming- Pirates of the Caribbean and other films have scenes set there- so look out for cameras! After San Luis Obispo, which advertises itself on the town website as the happiest town in America, head back towards the coast and make your away along CA-1.

The 'Big Sur' can't be easily defined- it is not a single State Park, although it contains several, and it is more than just the Big Sur River Valley- the definition can be extended to include the entire coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco. However, this section of the CA-1 between San Luis Obispo will take you some of the rocky coastal stretches that are typical of most people's visions of the Big Sur. Along here, the mountains meet the ocean and the road is carved into the cliff in many places. The landscape has attracted many writers and artists, as well as international travelers, so be sure to stop in a few of the small towns and interact with the fascinating locals. Interesting stops along here include Hearst Castle at San Simeon, the Elephant Seal Rookery, Jade Cove at Plaskett where pieces of jade can be found, and the several State Parks that are scattered along the coast. Lime Kilns State Park near Lucia has beautiful redwoods in its rugged terrain, and still houses historic lime kilns in which limestone was reduced to lime. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park features a stunning 80-foot waterfall which drops into the ocean, and further north is the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

 by cjuneau Flickr Creative Commons

by Meg Lessard Flickr Creative Commons

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
by Mike Baird Flickr Creative Commons

Monterey is a coastal city with a lot of history and a lot of diverse marine life! The Monterey Bay Aquarium is among the largest in North America and attracts and educates millions of tourists a year. Just outside, Cannery Row is a main street lined with hotels, restaurants and amusement, named for the novel by John Steinbeck about life in Monterey during the height of the canning industry. The charming city has many other spots to explore, and a handy spot for the night is the RV Park at the County Fair.


 Monterey Bay Aquarium
by Jim G Flickr Creative Commons

Day 3: Monterey to San Francisco

From Monterey to San Francisco is only 2 hours, so take  your time and get to the Aquarium if you didn't have time the day before.Head out of the city on CA-1 and head along the coast to Watsonville. Back from the coast, this city is known for its agriculture. The next city is Santa Cruz, which has an original Spanish settlement dating back to 1791. Watersports are popular here, especially surfing, so stop in at one of the beaches to get in the water or just watch!

Santa Cruz
by Adam Freidin Flickr Creative Commons

After Santa Cruz, go right onto CA-17 and head in to San Francisco. San Fran is known for diversity, hills and eclectic architecture. What to do in the city if you are staying is a whole other topic, but there are plenty of RV Resorts around, like the San Francisco RV Resort which overlooks the coast just out of town.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Colorado Great Dunes Road Trip

South Central Colorado is a beautiful region. Lakes, mountains and valleys are plentiful in the area, and a road trip is the best way to see it. This suggested 2-day itinerary will allow you to see the best of the area, with time to take it all in.


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Start your trip at Colorado Springs, a city of natural beauty and cowboy beginnings. Visit the Pioneer Museum downtown to hear of Colorado's first European settlers. Go to the garden of the Gods, where amazing natural sandstone formations tower imposingly, surrounded by a city park.

Garden of the Gods
by John Fowler Flickr Creative Commons

Make your way through the charming town of Green Mountain Falls to the reservoir of 11 Mile State Park, a spot for fishing, hiking, sailing and swimming. Continue on through some more amazing scenery- the route shown on the map goes off the beaten track onto Co Road 185. Just off this is the amazing San Isabel National Forest, with 19 peaks over 14,000 feet and several crystal lakes. There are several campgrounds which you can find out more about here, so stay the night here and enjoy a good night's sleep surrounded by the beauty of Colorado!

San Isabel National Forest
by paulshaffner Flickr Creative Commons

Next along the route is the town of Salida, where you can get a drink and sit overlooking the Arkansas River. After Salida and several other small midwest towns, always fun to stop in, there is the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Truly a sight to see, this park has the tallest sand dunes in North America. Some rise 230 metres from the floor of the San Luis Valley. The Park is home to not only the dunes but a diverse range of landscapes- tundra, lakes and stream and pine forests. Pinyon Flats Campground near the Visitors Centre has RV sites available.


Great Sand Dunes National Park
by Larry Lamsa Flickr Creative Commons

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Queentown To Te Anau - 2 hours of Roadtrip Heaven

For those who are looking to holiday to New Zealand, the drive from Queenstown to Te Anau is an absolute must. Its just over 2 hours, but I would suggest driving slow and enjoying it as much as possible! Here is an excellent video of the reverse drive (Te Anau to Queenstown):




For a virtual Queenstown to Te Anau Roadtrip, click here. Below are driving directions from Queenstown:
  1. Head northwest toward Ballarat St 52 m
  2. Exit the roundabout onto Stanley St 0.4 km
  3. Continue straight onto Frankton Rd 5.8 km
  4. At the roundabout, take the 3rd exit onto Kawarau Rd
  5. Go through 1 roundabout 1.6 km
  6. Continue onto Kingston Rd 38.4 km
  7. Continue onto Kingston-Garston Hwy 17.6 km
  8. Continue onto Garston-Athol Hwy 11.6 km
  9. Continue straight onto Athol-Five Rivers Hwy 17.3 km
  10. Turn right onto Mossburn Five Rivers Rd/State Highway 97 (signs for Te Anau/Milford Sound)19.7 km
  11. Turn right onto Mossburn-Lumsden Hwy 0.4 km
  12. Continue onto Te Anau-Mossburn Hwy 57.2 km
  13. Continue onto Luxmore Drive 0.7 km
  14. Turn right onto Bowen St 0.1 km
  15. Take the 1st left onto Pop Andrew Drive 0.4 km
  16. Take the 2nd left onto Te Anau-Milford Hwy 0.2 km
  17. Turn right onto Milford Cres5 m

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