02 March 2014

25 Ultimate Experiences - New Zealand

I have quite a few of the Rough Guides series '25 Ultimate Experiences'. The tagline being "make the most of your time on Earth". They were written to celebrate Rough Guides 25 years of being in print in 2007 and are collection of ideas, enthusiasms and inspirations; a selection of the very best things to see or do.

I'm always intrigued about what tour companies, and travel book writers think of New Zealand. So I thought I'd start with their New Zealand book and see what they think are the best things to do in my own country.


1. Witnessing the power of the All Black's haka 
DONE!
What New Zealander hasn't seen the All Black's perform the haka?!

2. Taking in the views of the Tongariro Crossing
Dad talked about doing this for a while and I'd still be keen to do it. Only it's a full day hike and let's be honest I'm just not that fit yet. 

3. Watching whales in Kaikoura
DONE!
I went to Kaikoura for a long weekend with my Mum and Great Aunt years ago. It was terrible weather and I ended up being very unwell. But at 6am, full of anti-nausea pills, we finally got out on the water to see the whales and it was breathtaking. 

4. Waitangi - the birth of a modern nation
They reckon you should visit Waitangi and learn all about the treaty signed in 1840. We learnt about it at school. I'm good. 

5. Taking a trip to hell on earth
DONE!
Rotorua is the smelliest place I know. But I do love the geysers, the mud pools and thermal pools. 

6. Cruising Doubtful Sound
I'd like to do this one day, I hear it's beautiful. 

7. Discovering your own Middle Earth
DONE! 
Yes, I've been to Hobbiton in Matamata. No, I'm not proud of myself. 

8. Spying on penguins and albatrosses along the Otago Peninsula
Penguins yes, Albatrosses no. 

9. Rafting the rapids of the wild West Coast rivers
Ah, heck no. 

10. Supping wine in sun-drenched Marlborough
DONE! 
The vineyards there are beautiful, the wine delicious and I definitely need to do this again soon. 

11. Exploring Waitomo's eerie underground world
DONE!
It was on my bucket list and I got to cross it off this summer. 

12. Taking the plunge with AJ Hackett
I've wanted to do this for ages, but I just don't have the guts. I think I'd actually hate it, but I still wanna do it. I don't understand me either sometimes. 

13. Scuba diving the wrecks at the Poor Knights Islands
Yeah, nah. 

14. Tucking into a hangi
DONE!
Yummy, smokey, earthy food you've been waiting for all day. Yum! 

15. Heli-hiking on Franz Josef glacier
Nope. But my friends did this earlier this year and loved it. So maybe I'd refer my opinion if the opportunity ever came up. 

16. Spotting kiwi on Stewart Island
I've seen Kiwi's but not on Stewart Island. Although I'd like to go Stewart Island too. 

17. Relaxing at the seaside in Art Deco Napier
DONE! 
I recommend the walking tour of the Art Deco in the city, it might seem nana-ish but it's actually really interesting. 

18. Tramping the Milford Track
Nope. Although if it's as beautiful as everyone says I'd be willing to think about it. 

19. Setting sail among the blissful Bay of Islands
I don't do boats. Enough said. 

20. Getting hands on at Wellington's Te Papa
DONE! 
Te Papa is a very interesting place, with lots to do. But, it's in my city and therefore I of course don't go very often. In fact I generally only go when there's a wedding reception, conference or a special exhibition. 

21. Idling along the shores of Abel Tasman National Park by sea kayak
Refer to number 19.

22. Filling up in Auckland
DONE!
I dislike Auckland. I visit only to see family. You can find beautiful and sumptuous food anywhere and to be honest, Wellington has much better coffee, food, culture and vibe. Just saying. 

23. Queenstown's winter wonderland
I'd like to visit Queenstown, but I'm not a winter wonderland type of person, so anytime would be fine with me. 

24. Lazing about at Hot Water Beach
I wanna go. Now. Who wants to come too?!

25. Coast to Coast with the TranzAlpine
I'd totally do this if the chance came up. I hear it's stunning



01 March 2014

The World - living on a cruise ship

In my next, next life (not my next life, but the one after that, because it's going to take me that long to save) I'm going to live on 'The World'

http://aboardtheworld.com 

This cruise ship is a residential ship with over 165 residences (that's a maximum of 275 passengers at any one time) that is owned and operated by those residents. The ship cruises around the world all year round, to destinations pre-planned by it's residents.

Every few days it's a new destination, all year round. While your room is your home, just outside your front door is all the amenities and luxurious facilities you'd expect to find on a cruise ship. And of course your friends are there too - how could you not become friends with your neighbours when you're travelling the world together?!

The website boasts the travel plans for 2013 through to 2015 and yes it had me literally drooling. What I wouldn't give to spend my life travelling from these exotic destinations to the next ones without a care in the world.

I bet someone really rich woke up one day and said 'I wanna go on a cruise, see the world and never come home. I'm doing it.' I love that there are enough rich, crazy people in the world to make it happen. And good lord do I wish I was one of them!

Apartments go for up to $10million for a super fancy 3 bedroom room. Annual maintenance fees can be up around $250K, but food and drinks not included. Don't worry though you can have a private chef come to your room to prepare your meals if you don't want to go to the restaurants on board. I feel like I'm bleeding money just reading about this.

I wonder though, what if you had a bad neighbour, or everyone was snotty (because you must be to have this kind of money to live here!), or you missed 'home' and friends, how easy would it be to leave?

But let's be honest, I would move there tomorrow in a heartbeat! Can anyone lend me some money?!




28 February 2014

New Title

I need a new title, new domain name, new witty tagline.

I want it to be a place to write about all the amazing travel photos, interesting websites and places I visit, basically my love of travel.

Any thoughts?


06 October 2013

Home

Home. Most would consider home as a solid entity, a place you base yourself and feel safe enough from which to go out and explore the world. But I'm not most people. 

Home. A more fluid concept. I've been saying it for the last few months, but it occurs to me that home has been a fluid concept to me since I was a teenager. 

I grew up in a family rich suburb, in a 'typical' family home - three bedrooms, big back yard and pets. 
I stayed at home while I studied for a three year degree, it was the cheapest and easiest option.

My first stray was when I got my first job and I moved a couple of times, never staying longer than 18 months in one place. Home was still Mum & Dad's house, the place I grew up. We had family dinner every Sunday night. 

In my mid-twenties I moved home. My job was driving me to depression and I was desperately saving money to go overseas. I knew I had home to fall back on and luckily my parents. 

After a year I'd found a great new job and saving was less and less of an importance. It was at this point that my parents seperated and I was living at home - awkward! Mum moved out and I stayed another few years at home with Dad. Although, now home, was no longer the family home, but a home I shared with my new flatmate - my Dad. 

Dad made a leap of great faith and moved to Auckland for greener pastures. Of course, this left me flatmates less and I got my best friend to move in. Now I was living in the home I had grown up in, but it wasn't the family home, but my home with my friend. We always knew that it wouldn't be forever, one (or hopefully both) of us was going to find someone and we'd move on. We would have lots of fun and enjoy our home while we had it. 

Two and a half years later we moved out of the house. Dad made the tough decision to sell the home and we did so in just four weeks. We sold for a good price, but we had to be out in three weeks. Have you ever packed up 30 years of a families history and attic storage space? It's a nightmare, an absolute nightmare. I grieved for the loss of the house, the family home. The house was full of nearly 30 years of my life, my memories and my family, who were now scattered around the country and the world. 

John and I moved into a quirky flat in a suburb much closer to the city. This time we knew it was for just a year. We had to sign a lease that long and while not quite ready then, John was going to move in with his girlfriend sooner rather than later. I unpacked my things, knowing that I'd be packing them up again in a years time. I'm not sure that I ever really settled there. I knew I'd be moving again before too long. 

I made plans to travel for a few months and took advantage of the lease expiry, wonderful landlords and John's great friendship, to stay an extra few months in the flat. I packed up my belongings and stored them in my friends garage. For the first time ever, I was homeless. I had no home of my own, no family home to fall back on, just the wonderful friends that opened up theirs to me before and after I went overseas. 

As the weeks until my return 'home' twindled I began to think of home as a fluid concept. I was returning 'home' to Wellington, the city I had always lived, where my friends were, some of my family, my job and where I knew I wanted to live. But I had no home. More than once I was asked 'Are you looking forward to going home?' and I always answered with an 'eh, um, ah. . . ' How do you answer that when you have no home?

I arrived 'home' to the generosity of three friends that opened up their homes and more specically their spare rooms to me, to stay as long as I needed. This generoristy and support allowed me to settle back into work and back into life at 'home'. I don't do post-holidays too well. I can get a little grumpy. I was able to take my time searching for a new home. It took me four weeks and 10 flat viewings to find the perfect little flat to move into. 

I counted the days - 115. 115 days of living out of my suitcase, of constantly thinking about how much stuff I had, was it enough, was it too much, would it get through customs, would I be able to heave it up stairs, would I have all the clothes I needed, where was the deodarant, did I really just have one shoe of the pair, could I wear this again without washing it, could I be packed and ready in 10 minutes, perhaps I don't really need as much 'stuff' as I think I do. And, if I don't have a physical 'home', where is my home?

I've been here for two weeks now and I've emptied every box and every bag. I've bought new couches, a new bed and so many new kitchen utensils that Briscoes can afford to have another sale. Tonight as I was unwrapping the bubble wrap off my photo frames I wondered when I might move next. For the first time in a very, very long time I have a home that I don't have to move out of any time soon. I don't imagine I'll be here forever, but at the moment, it's my home.

Living on my own for only two weeks has so far been eye opening (that's for another blog post), but it's shown me that I can totally take care of myself and that I enjoy it. 

But, while I am enjoying unpacking, unwrapping and rediscovering all my things and treasures, I realise that they don't make up the total of my home. My home is my 'things', my treasures, my belongings yes. My home is whereever my wonderful family are, no matter if thats when we're together in one place, or spread out across continets. My home is my amazing friends that offer to help, that insist on putting me up and that genuinely love me. 

I am my own home. Home is wherever I am. 

23 August 2013

What was your favourite place?

This has been the most common question I've been asked about my holiday, followed by "are you glad to be home?" To which the answer is "No! Are you stupid?!". However, the first question is alot more difficult to answer. But, I do have an answer, which is this (a little long winded but honest):

I have so many favourite places for so many different reasons. I loved both San Francisco and Los Angeles because I explored them on my own, in my own time, at my own pace. Both places had a lot to see and do that I was never bored and I felt safe exploring on my own. I did hop on-hop off sightseeing tours in both cities which were a great way to explore. 

I loved Chicago and would move there tomorrow if I could. I felt a real connection to Chicago that I couldn't really explain. Maybe one day I will live there, or perhaps I lived there in past life? Chicago reminded me a lot of home - windy, on the waterfront, full of art and friendly people. 

New York was amazing. It's New York, of course it is! Its such a compact city of awesomeness. So much to see, do and experience. It's not somewhere you'd go to relax, because every street has something new. But we did take an opportunity to relax a little with a picnic in Central Park. I was there during a heatwave, making New York a hot and sweaty experience. I have to go back to New York, to explore more of the city that never sleeps. 

In Boston I went to Fenway Park to see the Boston Red Sox play the New York Yankees. It was a real quintessential American sporting experience and I loved it! Boston was already a pretty interesting, old, classical city and this made it even better. 

Dallas was a city that caught me off guard. I wasn't expecting such a fascinating, welcoming, historical city. Everything is bigger in Texas and damn hot! Such a diverse city that just begs to be explored. It's huge and yet it's not pretenious. It just is a big, hot city with lots to do, or not do, whatever. 

I loved New Orleans. I had been dreaming of going to New Orleans for a long time. I enjoyed the culture - the party atmosphere, the jazz and the food! Oh my god, the food was fantastic - Gumbo, Jumbalaya, Pralines, Crawfish! sooo yummy. 

Savannah was another city I looked forward too but was much better than I thought. It was a typical southern city, full of city parks and quaint cobblestone paths. It had great inner city bars and cheap beer, you can't go wrong with that! 

I also loved Washington D.C. I was blown away with the amount of monuments to dead presidents and war heroes. I developed a respect for America's respect and honour of their history makers and those that had died for their country. I spent two full days exploring the cities hundreds of museums. I heard a stat that if you spent one minute in front of each exhibit in each museum, including all the exhibits in storage, it would take you 89 years to see everything in Washington museums. And because of that fact alone, visiting Washington D.C. will always mean you'd never be bored! 

Oh and I went to Canada too! Toronto was a great city to visit, it was like New York - huge, compact and so much to see and do. Quebec City meanwhile was perhaps one of the most 'different' places I went too. It's the french-ist city I've every been too (given I've never been to France), the architecture was French, the people were French, the culture was french. It was a wonderful city to walk around and feel inspired by. 

So there you have it. My favourite places. Honestly, I loved the whole trip and so many of the places I went were my favourites for so many reasons. Just wait till I find my next place to live and I have to make a decison on what pictures to frame, now that's going to be a long disucssion!!

06 August 2013

Los Angeles

The end of my amazing adventure was three days in Los Angeles. I had decided to do LA at the end of the holiday seeing as I had to go back there to fly home anyway. After leaving Ottawa I was fairly tired and this is what I expected. Most people I spoke to about LA had said that it wasn't the most interesting of places and a day would do it. So, I figured three days would allow me to sleep in, potter around, do some sight seeing and head home. 

But, turns out, LA is actually pretty cool. I stayed at a hotel in West Hollywood and had the biggest room, with the biggest bed ( I tested it out - I could sleep lengthwise or widthwise without any limbs hanging off any end). It was a great, central location to stay. About 6 blocks away was a stop on the hop on - hop off sightseeing tour that I booked. The tour was great, stopping at many of the places I wanted to go.

After a sleep in on the first day I ended up packing in a lot of sightseeing and holiday activities before heading home. Heres what I squeezed in:

- A tour around downtown LA, seeing the financial, fashion, jewellery districts. 
- A tour around Hollywood, seeing the hollywood sign, paramount studios, rodeo drive and the sunset strip.
- Lunch at the Farmers Market. Sampling the Gumbo at a Southern stall and the Laksa at the Singaporean stall a second day. 
- A visit to the La Brea Tar Pits. 
- A visit to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). 
- A tour around Santa Monica. 
- Walking along Santa Monica pier. 
- Shopped at Tiffany & Co. on Rodeo Drive. 
- A tour through the Hollywood Hills and Beverly Hills to stalk the homes of movie stars. Seeing the homes of Bruce Willis, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Christina Aguilera, Sasha Baron Cohen, Jason Statham, Al Pacino and Jackie Collins just to name a few. 
- Had a pamper evening with a manicure and pedicure. 
- Walked the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 
- A movie at a theatre on Hollywood Blvd. 
- Souvenir shopping. 

Thats a long list. 

I was pleased to have the time in LA that I did and would definelty enjoy going back to see more. I didn't get to Disneyland in the end, so thats on the list of things to do next time too. If you're not much of a movie person, or into celebrities, then I can see that LA wouldn't have a heck of a lot to appeal to you. The tours are really focused on it's famous history and celebrities, but it's LA, so you'd kinda expect it. It was a great place to explore on my own and I enjoyed having the wind down (or wind up perhaps) to the holiday. 

I left LA on Thursday night on a 12 hour flight to Auckland. I left knowing that I had done everything, seen everything, and taken full advantage of everything my time in North America had offered me. Not to mention, spent enough money to make a small man cry. My credit card adores me right now. 

Ottawa, Canada

When I was planning my holiday I knew that I had to make some time to visit Ottawa, the capital of Canada. 

My good friend Ele moved to Ottawa a year and a half ago with her partner Dave and their son Luke. Dave is an Ottawa native and they wanted to make sure their son grew up knowing both sides of the family and both of his heritages. While I hope that one day they will return to New Zealand (either briefly or more long term) I knew that visiting them in Canada would be a great time. 

I flew directly to Ottawa from Chicago and was so pleased to see Ele and Luke greet me at the airport. The comforting thing about seeing a best friend after a year and a half is it doesn't feel like it's been that long. It could really have been a day and a half, it's all the same. 

Ele lives in a family friendly suburb about half an hour out of Ottawa. It's a nice area with lots of parks for two year olds to play in and bars for Mum's and their friends to enjoy on nights off. 

I throughly enjoyed being off tour, having no timeframes to stick too and being able to sleep in (much to Ele's annoyance - no more 9.30am crack-of-dawn calls when you have a two year old I guess - haha.) We spent lots of time catching up on life, talking with the freedom that being in the same place and the same time allows, and that alchohol allows. Yep, we drank Ele's house dry on the first night and turned to her neighbour Erica for drinking assistance. 

During the day we entertained Luke, a sweet and energetic two year old. He's not much of a talker, but boy can he move. He's fast, he climbs like a monkey and he's a pretty good boy to boot. His Grandmother took him one day so that Ele and I could go to the local water park. She talked me into trying a rather tall and fast ride, which I actually enjoyed. I especially enjoyed the long rides through the 'Kongo'. Ele and Dave showed me around downtown Ottawa and the parliament buildings, in the pouring rain. And we decided that a trip to the local Zoo would be not only touristy, but a great way to entertain Luke. Only, it took several stops at petrol stations to find it at 70 kms out of the city. Once there, it wasn't quite what we had expected. Rather than a commercial zoo like Wellington (and what we were expecting) it was more of a family run farm park (kinda like Lindale farm). Not that that was bad, just different. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Dave's best friend Adam, his wife Darlene and their six month old daughter Brynn at a BBQ on my last night in Ottawa. We stayed the night at Dave's parents place (they were away in Toronto for the weekend) which really is in the middle of nowhere. 

To be honest, there isn't as much to Ottawa as any of the other Canadian cities I've visited and I can see why it's bypassed on the commerical tours. But Ottawa wasn't about Ottawa for me, it was about visiting my great friend and having some down time with her and her gorgeous family. 

I was sad to say goodbye after four wonderful days and head off for a full day of flying to LA via Toronto. That update yet to come. . . .