Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand’

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A Love Note to Christchurch

February 23, 2011

Christchurch's Cathedral Square, as I photographed it in April 2009

I spent last weekend in Atlanta with a friend of mine who recently moved back home after living in Christchurch for a few years.

We shopped, ate lots of cupcakes, compared gossip about our mutual friends, and talked about the life she left in New Zealand and the earthquake they had last September. She still couldn’t believe how much of downtown was a mess, months later.

Last night I flew back home, and after I got off the plane I got out my phone to see what I missed during our four hours in the air. Turns out, a lot.

The photos I saw of Christchurch were heartbreaking. I was there just two years ago, although it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long because my memories are still very fresh.

I had hot chocolate with pink marshmallows in the Arts Centre cafe and took photos all around the Cathedral because there the Flower Festival was going on, so the whole square was covered in colour.Then I went into the Southern Encounter Aquarium and Kiwi House to see some of the local furry and feathered residents.

I met up with friends and we had Mexican pizza and listened to live music at the Dux de Lux. I walked through the brilliant, bright gardens and stayed in the YHA that’s now a good amount of rubble (although the early reports of deaths in that building are now said to be untrue). And I just can’t believe it’s the same place I’m seeing on the news.

Travelling in a place, even for a short while, makes it a part of you. It might sound a little silly to talk about being a World Citizen, but looking at the people in Christchurch, the streets where I wandered and took pictures, the parks where I ate lunch, the shops where locals tried to figure out my accent, it makes me feel as sad as if it had happened in my home town. I guess that’s the blessing, and the curse, of getting to visit a new place and connecting with the people there.

If you’d like to help, visit the New Zealand Red Cross.

Lisa

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Travel New Zealand Your Way

January 25, 2011

Thinking about a summer trip to New Zealand? Of course you are. New Zealand is a student traveler’s dream destination, and you’re someone who likes to dream big.

New Zealand is affordable, full of adventure, and very easy to navigate no matter your time or bidget. Part of that flexibility comes from the number of transportation options you have. What you should choose depends on your style, your situation and the experience you want to have.

nzmap
I Want Total Freedom
If you don’t want to be on anyone’s schedule but your own, you’re best off traveling by standard get-me-from-point-A-to-point-B bus. Book as you go, picking the times that are best for you, and answer to no one!

You might also consider renting a car, especially if you’re traveling with friends and can split the cost.

I Want Some Freedom, But Don’t Want to Plan Every Detail
The hop-on hop-off bus is for you. These services stop at different sights between pick-up and drop-off points, can help you organize activities like skydiving, rafting or pub crawls, have drivers who can tell you about what you’re seeing, but also let you jump off whenever you like. Passes are typically good for 12 months, so you can get back on the bus days, weeks or even months later. You aren’t stuck with the group like you are with a full-on tour, so you have more flexibility in your itinerary.

I’m doing most of my travel by Magic Bus, with some day trips of my own thrown in between stops. This way I don’t have to worry about booking lots of separate bus trips, but I can also take time to do things I want to do that aren’t included in the usual schedule. I’ve also used the Oz and Kiwi Experience buses in the past and had a great time.

I Want Someone Else to Plan It All For Me
You need a tour company, like Contiki. All of your transportation and lodging will be planned for you and some meals will be included. You won’t have to do anything except show up on time and enjoy yourself, but you also won’t be able to abandon your group and hang at the beach for a few extra days if the mood strikes you. If you’re on a tight budget and only have a fixed number of days for traveling though, this can be a good way to maximize the amount of ground you cover.

Once you decide how you’re happiest when you travel, you’ll be able to narrow down the options and find what’s right for you.

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Backpack New Zealand on a Student Budget

October 2, 2010

nzmapYou know where I’d rather be right now? New Zealand. It’s beautiful, it offers a ton of activities and adventure sports and sights, the locals are awesome, and as far as getting around, New Zealand is a student traveler’s dream destination.

No matter what your budget is, there’s a transportation option for you. What you choose depends on your style, your interests and the experience you want to have.

I Want Total Freedom
If you don’t want to be on anyone’s schedule but your own, you’re best off traveling by standard get-me-from-point-A-to-point-B bus. Book as you go, picking the times that are best for you, and answer to no one!

You might also consider renting a car, especially if you’re traveling with friends and can split the cost.

I Want Some Freedom, But Don’t Want to Plan Every Detail
The hop-on hop-off bus is for you. These services stop at different sights between pick-up and drop-off points, can help you organize activities like skydiving, rafting or pub crawls, have drivers who can tell you about what you’re seeing, but also let you jump off whenever you like. Passes are typically good for 12 months, so you can get back on the bus days, weeks or even months later. You aren’t stuck with the group like you are with a full-on tour, so you have more flexibility in your itinerary.

I’m doing most of my travel by Magic Bus, with some day trips of my own thrown in between stops. This way I don’t have to worry about booking lots of separate bus trips, but I can also take time to do things I want to do that aren’t included in the usual schedule. I’ve also used the Oz and Kiwi Experience buses in the past and had a great time.

I Want Someone Else to Plan It All For Me
You need a tour company, like Contiki. All of your transportation and lodging will be planned for you and some meals will be included. You won’t have to do anything except show up on time and enjoy yourself, but you also won’t be able to abandon your group and hang at the beach for a few extra days if the mood strikes you. If you’re on a tight budget and only have a fixed number of days for traveling though, this can be a good way to maximize the amount of ground you cover.

Once you decide how you’re happiest when you travel, you’ll be able to narrow down the options and find what’s right for you.

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New Zealand Travel Guide: Last Night in Auckland

May 14, 2009
The Auckland Skyline

The Auckland Skyline

Finally, the Magic Bus dropped me off for the last time, in Auckland. This time I chose to stay at Base Backpackers. It’s in a really good central location, close to the main street for shopping, and only a block or so from the bus that goes to the airport.

Stewart, one of the guys who I met on the bus the day before, was staying there so I had someone to hang with, and we planned to meet up with another guy from our bus later that evening for drinks at Base’s Globe Bar.

A few notes about Base hostels: They deliver what I consider to be one of the true student backpacker experiences. They’re big, so you’re bound to meet people from all over the world. They have all the necessities and a few nice-to-haves: laundry, TV or movie room, Internet access and wi-fi, clean bathrooms, an in-house bar, and sometimes a pool or spa.

The downside is that the dorm rooms are more like zoos. The rooms are pretty small spaces packed with bunk beds, so there’s no such thing as personal space, or even a hook to hang your towel on. I opted for one of the all-girl Sanctuary rooms, and that was an improvement, but if you’ve reached a point in your travels where you really need a little room to breathe, this might not be the place for you. It made me really miss the Wellington YHA. 

I only had one last night though, so I didn’t need luxury, just a place to sleep. And I do like being able to drink just two floors down from my room so that I don’t have to worry about how to get home.

I made my way to the bar to meet Stewart before dinner and it was pretty empty. I picked out a table and sipped whatever pink drink in a bottle the bartender had given me while I waited for my evening to get going. Almost right away, a guy sitting at the table next to me turned around and smiled. I smiled back, because it’s only polite, and he was gorgeous.

Then then asked if I wanted some company. There’s only one answer I give to a stunning stranger who wants to sit with me: “Yes, please.”

So this guy, who I’ll just call Hot Kiwi Guy, sits down and I instantly think, “Why couldn’t I have met this guy a few days ago?” He was perfect. Sweet, funny, clever, great accent, brilliant smile, exactly the kind of guy I always hope to meet when I’m traveling. He had just flown in from Adelaide, where he was living and working, and was on his way home, to the Bay of Islands, to go to a friend’s wedding.

I asked what he was doing in a hostel bar if he was headed home and he said he used to work at the hostel and decided to come in and have a drink while waiting for friends to pick him up. They were on their way. Would arrive any minute now. Just in time to interrupt our fun.

Awesome.

I told him where I had been, we talked about Australia for a while, he told me about his hitchhiking experiences in New Zealand, and I was just about ready to ask if maybe he wanted to keep his bags packed and fly to San Francisco with me the next day when his friends showed up. Figures they would be punctual. Where’s a good traffic jam when you need one? 

They were very nice, but parked illegally, and in a hurry to leave. So Hot Kiwi Guy and I gave each other a wow-this-sucks-I-wish-we-had-more-time look, and said goodbye, but not before I gave him one of my nifty traveling cards with my name and email address on it.

It was a bittersweet ending to my trip, finding someone who I really wanted to have more time with just when I didn’t have any more time left. But it also gives me another reason to keep traveling. If there’s one perfect Hot Kiwi Guy out there, then there are probably more.

The rest of the night was still good, hanging out with my Magic Bus friends, taking advantage of the cheap drinks and dancing to the loud music that started out all 80s, then went Top 40, then techno and hip hop as the night went on.

It always amazes me that I can arrive in a city in the morning not knowing anyone, and feel like I’ve made good friends by the end of the night. It’s a good thing to remember on those days when I feel a little lonely. It only takes one meal, one bus ride, or one chat about the worst hostel you’ve stayed in to make a friend. And every friend I make equals another place I have to stay, another local tour guide I’ll have when I go traveling again.

Next up: I haven’t decided yet. Ideas on where my next trip should be? Leave a comment.

 

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New Zealand Travel Guide: Paihia to Auckland

May 7, 2009
Back on the Magic Bus

Back on the Magic Bus

The drive out of Paihia was really lovely and our Magic Bus driver stopped to let us take some photos from a lookout over the bay. We also took a quick look in the Hokianga Historical Society to watch a video about Opo the Dolphin.

Opo swam into the bay in 1955 and created a tourism boom as news spread that there was a dolphin there who did tricks, played with children and would let people swim with or ride him.

The video shows Opo making everyone happy (except for the little girl whose ball he takes to bounce on his nose), and leaves you feeling like you really missed out by not living in this simpler time when everyone was kind and happy and could be entertained for hours by a dolphin with a ball. I gave a $2 donation because the elderly woman who started the VCR for us seemed very hopeful that we would get out our wallets, and because the video of the playful Opo put me in a pretty good mood.

Welcome to Opononi, home of the murdered dolphin.

Welcome to Opononi, home of the murdered dolphin.

Then our driver told us that what the video left out. Opo was found dead after just a few months, possibly killed by a local who was sick of all the traffic and crowds the dolphin caused.

Yeah. Kind of a downer.

There was one more stop on the way to Auckland, to see Tane Mahuta, the tallest kauri tree in New Zeland. I had really hoped to have an extra night at the end of my trip to do the Footprints of Waipoua trip, where you go into the forest after dark to see the trees. It’s one of Lonely Planet’s “Code Green – Experiences of a Lifetims” and I read nothing but good things about it.

Tane Mahuta would have been the greatest Ent ever.

Tane Mahuta would have been the greatest Ent ever.

Luckily the Magic Bus includes the forest as a stop, and while I don’t think it’s quite as moving as seeing it at night, at 51 meters tall and more than 1200 years old, Tane Mahuta is still damn impressive during the day. Our Magic driver told us that before the forest became a sanctuary in 1952, many of these trees were cut down. Because of their size they were difficult to move, and some ended up at the bottom of rivers and lakes, too big to float downstream to the logging plants.

First the death of Opo, then the pointless slaughter of these majestic trees. This really wasn’t the happiest day of the Magic tour. Maybe going back to the big city wasn’t such a bad idea.

Next: I meet a Hot Kiwi Guy, then leave the country.

 

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New Zealand Travel Guide: Paihia, Bay of Islands

May 6, 2009
We're not in Auckland anymore.

We're not in Auckland anymore.

Flying back to New Zealand from Sydney, I thought about all the things I wanted to do in my last few days before going home. I had to go back to Cuba Street and shop, spend a little more time in the Botanic Gardens and maybe have another look around Te Papa.

Then I realized that all of those things were in Wellington. I was flying back to Auckland.

Hmmm.

Leaving Paihia behind to look for dolphins and big holes.

Leaving Paihia behind to look for dolphins and big holes.

For the rest of the flight I kept telling myself that I was going to Auckland, but pictures of Wellington kept popping into my head. Unfortunately, it was too late, mid-flight, to change my destination.

Luckily, I only had one night in Auckland before getting back on the Magic Bus (woo hoo!) and heading north to the Bay of Islands. And thank goodness for that. I stayed at the International YHA and it was one of the most miserable nights of my trip. Noisy, dirty and uncomfortable, I was up even earlier than I needed to be just so I could pack up and get out of there.

I only had two and a half days left in New Zealand, so although I would have loved to go all the way to the north tip of the North Island and gone sandboarding at Cape Reinga, I only had time to make a trip to Paihia and back. Not that there’s anything disappointing about Paihia.

In fact, there were five English guys in my dorm room at base backpackers, and they’d been in Paihia for four days, swimming, playing volleyball, and just hanging out with other travelers. They said they’d meant to only stay a day and then go further north, but they were having such a good time catching up on sleep during the day and hanging out at the Pipi Patch bar late into the night, they just never got around to leaving.

There are the dolphins.

There are the dolphins.

When they all came into the room after dinner, I assumed they were on their way back out again and would stumble in drunk around 3:00 a.m., obnoxiously waking everyone up. So it was a big surprise when, after chatting with everyone in the room for a couple of hours, one of them said, “It’s 11:00, should we get to bed?” Then they all brushed their teeth, got into their bunks, said goodnight, and turned out the lights.

I suppose even the most hardcore English pub boys need a good night’s sleep every now and then.

After Sydney and Auckland, it was a nice change to be in a small town. Paihia has two main roads, a handful of shops, a row of hostels, pubs and restaurants, and tons of activity providers.

And there's the big hole.

And there's the big hole.

If you want to relax, try a cruise out to the Hole in the Rock. I did the Fullers tour and was shocked at how many dolphins we saw on the trip. They weren’t just swimming around, these little attention-seeking dolphins jumped and flipped and seemed to love having an audience.

You can also swim with the dolphins, go for a sail in a tall ship, or do a kayaking tour into the bay. To learn more about the region’s wild past, hop the ferry over to the town of Russell, New Zealand’s first capital.

Next: Time’s up! Back to Auckland.

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New Zealand News: Islands Have No Names

April 22, 2009
Abel Tasman: A place with an official name.

Abel Tasman: A place with an official name.

Saw this in the news today:

“Experts searching for alternative Maori names for New Zealand’s two main islands were startled to find that their commonly used English names — North Island and South Island — were never made legal, officials said Tuesday.”

How awesome is that? New Zealand is a completely modern country. They have indoor plumbing, McDonald’s, wi-fi and Oprah. And yet, they just now realized that no one ever quite got around to naming their islands in any official way.

This is the same country that, according to my tour guide at the Beehive (the capitol building in Wellington), used a sawed off pool cue for one of the government’s traditional ceremonies all through the 1920s, just because it was handy, and they hadn’t gotten around to getting an official rod made.

Adorable.

If you’re looking for a low-key, relaxing, no-pressure sort of place to travel over your student holidays, New Zealand is for you. Talk to the equally low-key travel experts at Travel CUTS to get hooked up.