Tuesday 29 July 2014

Surviving New Zealand: The North Island version

The route:
Flew in and out of Auckland (4 days)
- Bus ride to Paihia + Cape Reinga day trip (3 days)
- Bus ride to Whitianga (3 days)
- Bus ride to Rotorua (3 days)
- Bus ride to Turangi/Tongariro Crossing (3 days)
- Bus ride to Taupo (3 days)
- Bus ride to Napier (3 days)
- Bus ride to Wellington (2 days)
- Bus ride to Whanganui (3 days)
- Bus ride to New Plymouth (4 days)

Total number of days: 31 days

P.S. Figures are rounded off to nearest whole number.

Day tours are expensive, any tours will cost at least NZD100. Sky diving (Tandem) in NZ is the cheapest in Taupo according to my research and costs around NZD239 for 10,000ft, NZD249 for 12,000ft and NZD339 for 15,000ft.

Hostels cost around NZD25 per night for a dormitory bed.

I cooked quite a bit in NZ so the amount I spent on food were mostly for buying groceries and Subway after I fractured my arm and couldn't cook anymore.

Getting around New Zealand:
I know that driving is the best way to discover New Zealand but what if you can't drive? Have no fear, you can still enjoy NZ like I did! There are two cheap bus companies (NakedBus and Intercity) that offer bus services to most towns in NZ. And if you book early enough (like 3 months in advance when the bus timings are just out), one trip can be as cheap as NZD 1!

I didn't feel that there was any difference between the two bus companies though some people say Nakedbus uses the old buses from Intercity. I just booked whichever is cheaper and most of the time it was Nakedbus. After you booked your seat, write down the booking number and tell the driver.

Getting around the towns in NZ is another story, there are usually no buses except in big cities like Auckland and Wellington. You have to either walk or cycle. I recommend walking. The small towns are usually small enough to discover on foot and walking around is a fun way to discover a place! :)

PAK'nSAVE is the cheapest supermarket around because the interior is like a warehouse, so no pretty shelves to browse around but who cares when you get cheaper groceries! I always get very excited when I spot the huge yellow sign of PAK'nSAVE, you can't miss it!

Countdown which is green can be cheap sometimes when they have offers.

New World which is red is the most expensive out of the three big supermarkets I've visited.

Four Square is a smaller supermarket, a little like 7-11 but bigger. Some of the smaller towns only have Four Square. Price wise, well it is definitely more expensive than PAK'nSAVE but still alright if you have no other options.

Most hostels do not provide free Wifi. So you can get a SIM card with data if you really need WiFi, one of my hostels in Auckland gave out free SIM cards so all I had to do was to top it up with value. But I didn't because... you can get free WiFi at all public libraries (within opening hours) and most Burger Kings!


Sharing a video I made on my trip to New Zealand!

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Barcelona, Spain I: Birthday in Park Güell

It's the best birthday present I can give to myself - a flight to somewhere new, somewhere unexplored, somewhere beautiful. Just like last year in Paris, this year I flew to Barcelona a day before my birthday. It made my birthday extra long too with the time difference and everything. I hope I can do this every year but I think it would be quite hard from next year onwards since my holidays don't start so early anymore sharks. So despite the long and dreary 8 hours transit in Doha - it was worth it. My transit was at the new Doha Airport and I think not every airline had moved over yet so it was really empty. I should have done a video like this. His video got so huge that HE MET CELION DION OMG!

I reached Barcelona in the afternoon and took the subway to the station near my hostel. My hostel is really near Park Güell, just 10 minutes walk away up a seriously steep hill. I thought I've seen enough steep roads in New Zealand but I was wrong. And when I thought this was the steepest, Lisboa surprised me yet again. I'm just constantly surprised! haha. Anyway, there are escalators that take you up the steps so have no fear.

I went up to the lookout place near Park Guell and it was flooded with people. I had to squeeze on top just to take a few snapshots of the city. You can see Sagrada Familia standing out from the buildings.

Then I walked to Park Guell. There's an entrance fee of 8 EUR, 7 if you book in advance online. And there's an entrance timing for the tickets for crowd control purposes. You can only enter during the time stated on your ticket but once you're inside, you can stay inside for as long as you want. I was debating whether or not to go in because I read somewhere that entrance is free after closing hours and before opening hours.. but I wasn't too sure if it's true. In the end I decided to just go in and join the crowd. Park Guell is a lot smaller than I thought it would be.. I watched Grandpas over Flowers (꽃보다 할배) right before heading to Spain and they happened to visit the exact same places on my itinerary. Since it was a program, the shooting and the editing made the place looked super amazing.. and big.. It was still impressive but I guess I had too much expectations. I think the downfall of this trip was too much expectations, not that I didn't enjoy myself, I just wasn't too impressed. Like for my last trip to Europe, I didn't do any research and didn't expect anything, I just went and I was blown away. So note to self and everyone else, hold back your expectations, just let the place surprise you!

I really like the curvy seats with the mosaic tiles. The two buildings at the front of Park Guell reminds me of Hansel and Gretel, it looks like the house made of sweets and candies they stumbled upon. I wanted to catch the sunset at the lookout point but it wasn't a good angle or was it because the sky was too cloudy? Anyway headed back to the hostel and finally had some sleep in a proper bed after 20+ hours.

Since I still had jetlag, I was awake at 4+am when I was in Barcelona. So one of these mornings, I decided to go catch the sunrise at Park Guell. The beach was supposedly a good place to watch the sunrise but it was a bit far from my hostel. I was the only crazy one up on that lookout point (the one with the cross) at 5am and it was so peaceful. The sky started to change its colour, welcoming a new day.. I thought I wouldn't be able to catch the sunrise because it was behind the hill and justttt as I was giving up. The sun popped out from behind the hill! :D

After the sunset, I walked to Park Guell to try my luck. What do you know, you really CAN enter the park for free before opening hours! And there was practically nobody around. I had the entire place to myself. So now you know, why pay 7/8EUR to fight with the crowd when you can get this whole place to yourself for FREE.

It was nearly impossible to take a photo with this lizard dragon without anyone photobombing you the first time I was there.. Everybody wanted a photo with it, I honestly don't know why. So when I was there the second time, I took about a thousand photos of it HAH. Nah, just kidding but I did take a few selfies with it. I mean, might as well right? :p

Tuesday 15 July 2014

New Plymouth, New Zealand: Stunning Mount Taranaki

This is the reason why I included New Plymouth in my NZ trip. I became Mount Taranaki's photographer during my stay in New Plymouth, trying to capture its glory from various angles. The above photos taken at a particular lake are my favourite. I was extremely lucky that there were no clouds surrounding the mountain so I managed see Mount Taranaki so clearly.

I couchsurfed with a retired couple who lives in a cosy little house near the city center. B drove me to the lake together with her grandchildren who were so cute! Especially the younger boy! He warmed up to me afterwards and played pirate ship with me aww. We sat down at the benches near the lake where the children ate their lunch and fed the ducks. I think I can sit there forever and just look at Mount Taranaki haha.

Then we went to a beach where the sand is black! I was quite fascinated. I think the black sand is due to the volcanic ash? I left them and continued walking down the beach to the white bridge. It was a wonderful stroll and everyone seemed so relaxed and happy.

As you can see, I am in love with this snow capped mountain haha.

Other things I did in New Plymouth include going for walks in the small forests around their house with B where I saw glow worms! I wanted to go see the glow worm caves but it wasn't along the way plus it was quite expensive so I skipped out on it. So I'm glad I saw them here, they resemble fireflies but their lights don't blink. I also went to the free zoo, it was a small zoo made for children. There were otters and they were lazying around the artificial pond, adorable. No kiwis though. I went to another park where there was a light festival going on, so the park was decorated prettily with Christmas lights and other colourful lighting. I also went to the museum and learned about volcanoes around New Zealand and their eruption history. They animated the volcanoes to be like giant monsters so it was quite interesting to watch. Mount Taranaki is the tallest volcano in NZ, some think that Mt Ruapehu is the tallest but it's on a 200m base so Taranaki is technically the tallest.

New Plymouth is the last stop on my trip around North Island in NZ. So I took a bus to Auckland airport at night and slept over at the airport for my flight at 6am. I couldn't really sleep and it was freezing, so I gulped down many cups of hot chocolate from McCafe.

Goodbye New Zealand, I will be back! :D

Saturday 12 July 2014

Whanganui, New Zealand: Where I met a herd of curious cows

I didn't do much in Whanganui since my arm was in sling. I wanted to go to the Whanganui National Park but I didn't want to fracture the other arm so I settled for a nearby park instead. I spent the evening there with my sandwich, capturing birds and enjoying the sunset glow over the park. Doesn't the pavilion look like the one in Singapore Botanical Gardens? I really liked how calm the park was and this old couple walked past and told me to watch my arm haha.

On the way back to the hostel, I caught sight of the moon. IT WAS SO ROUND AND HUGE. I was so mesmerized that I stood there for a good five minutes admiring it.

The next day I walked around the town center which reminded me of Napier. Adorable shophouses line the streets, I think it looks right out of a cowboy film set.

Then I went for a little hike up the hills surrounding Whanganui. There was a herd of cows up the hill and as I climbed over the fence to continue my hike, they all started moving towards me. It may sound cute but it was really scary!! There were at least 20 of them and 1 of me. I was so frightened that they might run over me or knock into me and send me flying. Ok maybe I was exercising my imagination a little too much but I mean it's better to be safe than sorry when you've only got one good arm! So I walked away quickly, even though they didn't follow me, their eyes did. When I was heading back, I had to pass by this place again and this time they were really near the fence where I was supposed to climb over to get home.. I wanted to run but I thought that a sudden movement was not a good idea so I inched towards the fence, praying hard. They were approaching me, coming closer and closer, but thankfully I finally managed to climb over the fence before they got even nearer. I never knew I could be that scared of cows.. I know they are supposed to be gentle creatures, but trust me, if you were me, you would be pretty scared too. 

Sunday 6 July 2014

Wellington, New Zealand: One day in Welly

I only had one day in Wellington since I fractured my arm and missed my bus but that's another story. Thank goodness my bag was just 7kg though since I could only carry it with one shoulder, pros of travelling light!! I managed to exchange my top bunk with the guy on the bottom bunk, he even changed the mattress for me, so nice. I'm forever thankful for the kind people I met.

I went to Te Papa museum and spent almost the whole morning there. It reminded me of the Natural History Museum in London. There was a section about Maori culture which was pretty interesting.

Is that a statue of a boy peeing into the sea??

I walked to the foot of Mount Victoria but you can take a bus there then climbed up the mountain. I think the painkillers that the doctor gave me in Napier must be really strong because I wasn't in pain at all and managed to climb up without much trouble. It was really inconvenient though, having a sling and my neck ached from the weight of my arm.

The view up on Mount Victoria wasn't the best I've seen.. since Wellington is after all a big city. But then again, it's a matter of perspective ;) I had a nice time resting there and looking at planes passing overhead.

Next on my list was to go to take the Wellington Cable Car up to the Botanic Gardens. The cable car has been around for 112 years! I took it because I thought the cable car looked really cute but alas it was a very short journey, not the most exciting, plus you don't see anything out of the windows except concrete walls.. sounds as if I'm dissuading anyone from going but it is the fastest way to get to the Botanic Gardens from the central. I explored the Botanic Gardens for a bit before it started raining. It wasn't too big but there were some nice flowers and plants to admire. Nice walk I would say.

Then I walked back to the hostel and called it a day. I thought one day was enough for me in Wellington because I didn't go to New Zealand for the city, I went there for the nature!