Saturday 31 May 2014

How to pack light: Inside my little backpack

When people think backpacking trips.. they think THIS:

(via google)

I almost bought one when I was preparing for my Europe trip but thank goodness I didn't. I figured that if I give myself so much space, I would most probably fill it up with unnecessary things. Thus by making the size of my bag a limiting factor, I could sieve out the things I really need. And if you're just going away for a month or so for a backpacking/graduation trip, you hardly need so much stuff. NOTE: I  only did summer trips so far, I don't know if I can live in a backpack this size for winter trips.

Most people I met were surprised when they saw my backpack because it's so small. It's the size of a (slightly big) school bag. They often go, "What do you have inside??" So I decided to write a post about it.. let's see what exactly is inside..

As much as I'd love to bring all my pretty clothes/accessories/shoes/bags and take profile picture worthy photos against gorgeous scenery.. I've got no personal photographer and I love to walk so sport shoes and comfortable clothes are a lot more practical for me. And I always feel that it's safer to tone down when you're overseas for safety reasons especially for girls - to stay away from unwanted attention. I think bringing 1 week's worth of clothes is more than enough. You can just wash them overseas, every hostel (so far) has laundry service.

I roll my clothes up and tie them up with rubber bands so that they take up less space. I learned this trick from a friend and found it pretty useful.Then I put everything into a big plastic bag (to prevent rain from getting to them) and they sit at the bottom of my backpack.

Undergarments are packed into another plastic bag. By sorting everything into different plastic bags, I can find things more easily and I won't miss out on anything. I had one pair of sport shoes on and brought a pair of slippers along.

Wallet, camera, passport, sunscreen and umbrella/hat go into a small day bag. Shopping bag is for carrying groceries, I realised that in Europe and New Zealand, most supermarkets don't give you plastic bags or charge you for them so it's a good idea to bring one. Plus I use this bag to carry my snacks for bus rides, vegetables/fruits for cooking..

Toiletries include toothbrush, toothpaste, small bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower foam, facial foam, toner and moisturizer.

Chargers and travel adaptor go into another bag. I bring a multi-socket plug too because some hostels only have one or two sockets for a room of 6 (or even more) people so you can imagine everyone fighting to charge their appliances. Especially if you have phone, camera, tablet, laptop, etc etc.. it's very useful to bring a multi-socket plug with you. 

You might also want to bring a lock because some hostels provide lockers but not locks (you can rent them for a fee).

And there you have it! My backpack gets lighter each time I travel, from around 9kg for my Taiwan trip to 7+kg for Europe trip to 6+kg for my last trip to New Zealand. I'm so not making use of my 30kg luggage allowance.

My Packing List:
1) Clothes (7/8 tops, 2 pants, jacket, scarf)
2) Undergarment
3) Socks
4) Cap, shades, sunblock
5) Toiletries
6) Contacts
7) Towel
8) Medicine pack (plaster, panadol)
9) Wallet (passport, money)
10) Chargers, adaptor, multi-socket plug
11) Notebook and pen
12) Lock
13) Umbrella

Sunday 25 May 2014

Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand: Twice crossed

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing in Tongariro National Park is one of New Zealand's most spectacular tramping tracks, and is considered the most popular one-day tramp in New Zealand. The crossing passes over the volcanic terrain of the multi-cratered active volcano Mt Tongariro, passing the eastern base of Mt Ngauruhoe which can optionally be climbed as a side trip. The full distance of the track is usually 19.4 kilometre with optional side trails (via Wiki).

I booked a hostel at Turangi which was supposed to be the nearest town to the national park. The hostel owner, Ian was extremely helpful and he introduced me to the other two girls (one French and a German) in my room so that we could become hiking buddies. I spent the first day in Turangi walking around the town, along the rivers with my French roomie. Then we consulted Ian about the weather, he said that judging from the forecast, the rain would come around noon so it would be good if we could start the hike early. So the three of us and a group of five German girls who reached the hostel at 2/3am set off in Ian's car at 4am. We reached the carpark close to 5am under a blanket of stars. It was pitch dark and Ian very kindly provided us with torch lights plus a down jacket and scarf for me. And thus the journey began...

It was extremely calming for the soul to do a hike so early in the morning. But the clouds gathered at rapid speed and soon the mountains were shrouded by clouds.

After climbing up the Devil's Staircase which seemed to go on forever, we reached what looked like a sand-less desert. Visibility was awful and my fingers were numb with cold. When we were climbing up to the Red Crater, the wind was so horrifyingly strong that I felt I was going to get blown off the cliff. The three of us huddled together and braved through the wind. I couldn't really see what's in front of me nor behind me and the slope was extremely slippery with nowhere to hold on to. And since we were in the clouds,  our pants and sock-gloves (we used my extra socks as gloves) got wet due to condensation. We were desperate to get out of this dangerous ascent so when we finally reached the top of the mountain, we were so so relieved.

Since what goes up, must come down, we had to descent soon after, and by descent I mean sliding down the slope. We managed to catch a glimpse of the Emerald Lakes and our hearts swelled with happiness and hope, just for a while.

This marked the start of a super long descent down to the forest/car park. The track is one way so there are two car parks (carpark 1 where you start and carpark 2 where you end), so if you go there with your own transport, you need to find a way back to car park 1.

We kept pushing ourselves forward without stopping and all I could think of was "Please let us get out of here safely" because there was nobody else around to help us if anything happened. Thankfully, really really fortunately, we finished the hike without any injuries and we managed to beat the heavy downpour! It started raining cats and dogs right after we reached the shelter of carpark2. We took 6+ hours to finish the hike but we spent another 2 hours shivering in the car park waiting for Ian to pick us up. I spent the rest of the day washing my shoes and clothes and watching movies with my roomie.

However, I was really upset that my trip to one of the most beautiful hikes in NZ turned out so bad so when I reached Taupo and met my French friends, I decided to go again with them. When we reached the car park, it was drizzling slightly.. Imagine my disappointment. But thankfully it wasn't as cold as the previous time because I brought another jacket along. It was quite funny because there was a guy from Alaska with us and he was only in two thick shirts while I was wrapped up from head to toe.. -_- When we were nearing the Red Crater, the clouds suddenly started to clear!!

See the difference when the clouds were blown away?? It was like a whole new world~~~ a dazzling place I never knew!!! Seriously! I didn't know why the Red Crater was called the Red Crater on the first hike because I couldn't see anything, but this time I knew. It was breathtaking to see the scenery unfold before your eyes and I finally understood why people call it one of the most beautiful hike in NZ.

Emerald lakes in their full glory. The previous photo did no justice. The colours were so vibrant! Really spectacular.

This photo somehow reminds me of Lord of The Rings haha. It got pretty hot once the clouds cleared and being on a mountain means being closer to skin cancer the sun, so all of us started packing up our down jackets.

This time we took 7.5hours because we stopped for lunch and lots of photo-taking. It's definitely one of the most memorable day in my NZ trip.

How to get there?
You can take the shuttle bus from Turangi (I can't remember how much the pickup from Turangi was but definitely cheaper than from Taupo) or Taupo (NZD65). There are a few timings to choose from. The bus will drop you at car park 1 then it will pick you up from car park 2. The driver will tell you what time the bus leaves so you have to watch the time.

1. Weather is unpredictable so be prepared for both summer and winter climate (down jacket, gloves, sunblock, shades)
2. Bring enough water and food!
3. Ian advised us not to wear jeans so I will pass the advice along. Wear comfortable long pants or trekking pants.
4. You don't really need trekking shoes. Sport shoes will do fine.
5. Always check the weather forecast before deciding to go because once you start, you have to finish it! (no transport to pick you up from car park 1!)

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Rotorua, New Zealand: Not that smelly after all

Way before arriving in Rotorua, I've already heard many people complaining about how the place smells.. some say like rotten eggs, some say it's the smelliest place on Earth, some even call the place rotten-rua. Yes indeed there's a different scent in the air but I didn't think it was that bad. It is just sulphur due to the geothermal activity which is what people visit Rotorua for. The smell came in whiffs and after a while you kind of forget about it.

We visited Waimangu Volcanic Valley which is the world's newest geothermal system created by the Mt Tarawera volcanic eruption on 10 June 1886. The whole place was steaming and bubbling.

The rain came and didn't stop for the next two days, so we visited the museum where we learned about Maori culture, the geography of Rotorua and the history behind the museum (it used to be a bathhouse to cure ailments). It helped that the entrance ticket came with a tour, I always find that guides can make museum trips a lot more interesting, especially when I always don't know which exhibit to start with.

We visited a Maori church too. There is a beautiful carving of Jesus on a glass panel inside the church but I wasn't allowed to take photographs. Through the glass panel, you can see the sea so when the sunlight shines from behind the glass, it looks as if Jesus is descending onto Earth over the sea. I can imagine how spectacular it would look but we were not fortunate to see it on a clear day.

Sunday 18 May 2014

Whitianga, New Zealand: Cathedral Cove

So I made friends with my French roomies back in Paihia and lo and behold, they were going to Whitianga on the same bus AND staying in the same hostel as me. We managed to get a ride from another traveller and headed to Cathedral Cove. It wasn't as amazing as I expected though, a really small beach with quite a few people kayaking. Maybe we should have gone during sunset? Or when the sky wasn't so overcast? Go Google image for this place and you'll see why I had high expectations.

Then we headed to Hot Water Beach. It looks exactly like a normal beach but when you dig into the sand, hot water comes out! As you can see, lots of family were out having fun in the hot pools. We dipped out feet into some holes and boy, the water was really hot! The hot water comes from underground, natural hot springs which filter up through the sand. Fascinating isn't it? Note that you need to go there during low tide.

Having friends meant that I could buy more ingredients and cook to share! :D We had a lot of fun cooking and sharing meals together. Photos taken off my Instagram account (@allyoffduty).

There wasn't much we wanted to do and we were rather tired so we spent the last day in Whitianga watching movies together. The hostel was quite empty so we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves and it was great, like a temporary home. :)