Tag Archives: travel

Stewart Island

Stewart Island is a truly magical area of New Zealand situated only an hours ferry ride from the south coast of South Island. As we approached the island by boat, the dazzling colours of the surrounding forest paired with the harmonious sounds of a plethora of wildlife ushered us into a hidden paradise – immediately we felt we had ventured to an, almost, sacred place.

Renown for its bird life, the island attracts many bird watching enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Oban township itself is the only residential area on the island, which is
otherwise dotted with DOC huts and tramping routes through the magnificent wilderness. The local boozer in Oban is an old fashioned hotel which boasts a stunning view across the shore. The pub is constantly alive with the warm hum of chatter and gleaming eyes of the locals who are on their 5th pint of the day. Donned with black and white photographs of Stewart Island from decades past, the pub emits a welcoming atmosphere, creating a harmonious space for locals and visitors alike. To top it off, they serve the best Blue Cod and chips we have tasted in New Zealand thus far..so it’s worth a visit, if only for that reason!

The 3 day Great Walk around a small portion of Stewart Island ranges from beautiful, golden beaches to day long tramping through the thick forest which is populated with a wide range of native bird species. At every rustle within the forest, we found ourselves pausing, searching for the unmistakable shape of a Kiwi. We weren’t so lucky on our 3 day tramping expedition but, on our last day, we took a boat over to Ulva Island – a protected
wildlife sanctuary. There is no accommodation on Ulva Island and no humans reside there – the island is purely for the array of bird life and other wildlife who inhabit the forests and beaches. Void of any pests, the islands wildlife live a luxurious life and prosper there. It was within these forests we heard a loud rustle in the trees beside our path, and turned around to see a large brown kiwi pecking into the ground in search of his next meal – the Kiwi wasn’t bothered by human presence and carried on for the next 5 minutes in close proximity to us.

Stewart Island is one of those very rare places left on Earth which is yet to be ruined by humans. The magical atmosphere, which encompasses you while you’re visiting, stems from a knowledge that wildlife and nature continue to rule the roost of this beautiful island. It is, as of yet, much too isolated to be a target of commercial building, despite its attraction for tourists. I would urge anyone visiting New Zealand to witness the phenomenon of Stewart Island, and maybe as you do so, you might notice how magnificent the natural world is, void of any of our own fine tunings.

 

Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Be weird. Be wonderful. 🙂

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Wanaka – A Pocket of Paradise

Wanaka is a little slice of paradise in the South Island of New Zealand. The idyllic town is situated on the lakefront and away from the hyper buzz of Queenstown. If Queenstown is your Friday night, Wanaka is your Sunday morning – slow paced, calm, and bubbling with an infectiously homely vibe. The scenery truly is second to none and the community is a tight knit group of families who welcome newcomers during the winter season. It’s peaceful here, and it’s the kind of place where you can always hear the birds chirping over the sound of car engines.

It’s not surprising Wanaka is so popular. In the winter months, the quaint town is crawling with seasonnaires spending their days up at either Treble Cone or Cardrona Mountain, and their nights either serving or enjoying drinks in local bars. Comparatively, throughout the hotter months, Wanaka is a fleeting  breath of fresh air for travellers experiencing New Zealand through the means of Kiwi Experience, or something similar. Fleeting it may be but, for many, its impression will be ever lasting.

Nestled among a valley of mountains, Wanaka boasts scenery which makes it difficult not to stop and stare. For a town with no traffic lights and where traffic is a rarity, venturing anywhere usually takes longer than expected – for no other reason than it is breathtakingly beautiful. It feels rude not to take a minute out of your day to stop and appreciate the beauty of nature. There are dozens of spots surrounding Wanaka itself where you can escape to, and chances are – as there are so many tranquil and hidden spots – they won’t be crammed with people, in fact more likely than not you’ll end up basking in your own solitude.

An unrivalled paradise for the outdoors fanatic, there truly is something for everyone – on a casual Saturday afternoon  you might witness para gliders landing in the centre of town, jet skiers and kayaks on the lake and people paddling out to Ruby Island. It is a constant hub of activity  with bars lining the lakefront where people huddle after their days to grab a cold beer, while soaking up the last hour of the days sunlight. In a nutshell, Wanaka allows you to spend the day skiing up at the glorious nearby mountains, to then return to the lake side and enjoy a BBQ with some beers in the evening sunshine. It is a bubble of activity coupled with a chilled vibe.

Naturally, the individuals who decide to build a life here all have a passion for nature and the outdoors. With such immense beauty and the opportunity to try numerous, exciting new sports, why would you want to stay indoors?! The people who have built a life here create and reflect the towns chilled out bubble. Rather than the common sight of people in suits heading to work, it’s much more likely to witness people wandering around barefoot and in shorts – even in winter. There is a distinct lack of competition in terms of consumerist items, and in its place a passion for second hand goods, for sharing and passing on, for lending a hand when you can – a beautiful community outlook which is getting rarer and rarer to find.

Living in Wanaka is a lifestyle choice – for most, it’s not the place to chase your dream job, but it is the spot to secure the dream lifestyle. Wanaka means having the ability to take powder days off work when the mountains get a big dump of snow. It’s the place where, for your kids, school skiing is pretty much compulsory for one day a week throughout winter. Wanaka is a much needed breath of fresh air – one away from obsessive academic pressure often put on kids, and in its place a redirected emphasis on the importance of lifestyle, and balance. The mountains, the lake, the beautiful hikes…they are all calling you, and it would be rude to say no.

So yes, living in Wanaka may mean sacrificing a fast paced career but, I have found, that living in this pocket of the world inspires individuals to go beyond the rat race, to take their own ideas and creations and release them into the world. In my eyes, Wanaka reminds each person to step back from that consumerist lifestyle we are all too easily caught up in, connect with nature, and take a minute for yourself. Go on an adventure, or simply sit outside and enjoy the beautifully peaceful place the lucky people who live here get to call home. On a hot, sunny day at 5pm, there are few places I’d rather be than sat at the lakefront with an ice cold cider!

An endless playground for the adventurous souls. A nonjudgmental haven for the dreamers of this life.  A roaring fire for those harboring that creative spark, just waiting for it to ignite.

 

Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Be weird. Be wonderful. 🙂

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Indonesia: A country of innate, traditional and harnessed beauty

Indonesia is a deep inhale of fresh air – the kind of air you breath deep into your lungs on a crisp winter morning. Indonesia is an intertwining of cultures and traditions, a country where the language differs depending on the island; a country of innate, traditional and harnessed beauty.
It is a country of contrasts; from tropical forests inland to white sanded beaches lining the shores and coaxing you into an ocean clustered with beautiful, healthy corals providing a habitat for an array of sea life and startling creatures.
Back on land, whether it is Bali, Flores, Timor or Lombok, people dress themselves with pride, with elegance. Men and women alike walk down the roads donning hand crafted, ikat woven material wrapped around their bodies, creating clusters of delight for your eyes with patterns curling intimately around one another in vibrant colours. Young girls and women wear bright, hand picked flowers in their neatly kept hair. I am startled as I watch them – in Bali, in Flores, in Lombok, in Timor – at their exotic and undeniable beauty.
The blinding sun licks their skin as if it were an old lover, used to their presence – a lifetime spent outdoors, entangled with nature, has blessed their skin.
And they smile. A bright white smile – they smile as they carry a large woven basket on their heads full of goods, they smile as they cradle a tiny baby on their hip whilst chattering away to you at full speed, and they smile through their weary eyes after another long day.
I developed a strong love for Indonesian people during my time there; their kindness, their traditions, their family values, and of course…their smiles.

The first stop on our Indonesian adventures was Ubud. Hidden amongst the hanging vines of central Bali’s forests, Ubud emits a spark of mysterious magic from its core. Famous from the 2006 novel ‘Eat. Pray. Love’, this hippy haven has seen an influx of tourists over the past few years. However, don’t be put off by this. Ubud is clustered with markets intertwining with one another, leading you up and down rickety concrete steps and squeezing through intricate lanes gazing at the many patterned, aztec, colourful garments overflowing on the street stalls. With a plethora of yoga studios offering classes which stray from the norm and eateries geared towards veganism and superfoods, Ubud is indeed a hippy heaven.
A sucker for aimlessly wandering, I spent afternoons strolling through the enchanting streets of Ubud, gazing into windows of shops selling intricate jewellery, or round market stalls laden with hippy pants which I had to tear myself away from otherwise I wouldn’t be able to close my rucksack for overflowing amounts of patterned clothing!

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Otherwise, our time was spent revelling in the many amazing eateries – after 2 months of eating rice and noodles as our staples, I resembled a child on Christmas morning as my eyes jumped excitedly about the menu of Earth Cafe. Salads, humous, pitta bread, veggie burgers/wraps and a plethora of health juices and smoothies.

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I would highly recommend this Eco warrior cafe for anyone looking for a wide selection of vegan and veggie munchies!
My excitement and our health cafe adventures didn’t stop there. One afternoon we found ourselves in Soma cafe. Finding ourselves a seat on some floor cushions, we settled in for a good few hours of relaxed vibes as a jam session of local musicians playing traditional tunes unfolded before us.

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Awesome vibes, yummy food and delicious raw desserts!
Ubud’s chilled, hippy vibe is infectious – many people spend their days doing yoga followed by sipping on health juices and getting lost in its entangled lanes selling yoga pants, incense and hippy crafts. It’s charm is not connected to a particular age or sex and here’s hoping it is also a charm immune to ever increasing tourism.

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Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Be weird. Be wonderful.:)

 

Life on the Road: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh by Motorbike

The Logistics 

Starting in Hanoi we spent a couple of days monitoring Craigslist – similar to gumtree and the main hub which travellers use to buy and sell motorbikes in Vietnam – and traipsing around dealers in search of the noble steed which would carry both of us (we ain’t small) and 25kg of luggage 2,500km to Ho Chi Minh. If you fancy making this journey – which you definitely should because it’s awesome!! – I would recommend doing a good chunk of research before you go in search of your bike. Although I know little to nothing about bikes, luckily I had Johnny who knows a damn sight more than me! Ideally, you are looking for a Honda Win 100 which you won’t have a problem finding..however preferably you want to look for a Sufat. Sufat’s are generally much more reliable than the Hondas made in China and although it may be a bigger investment at the time, it really is worth it. Our bike travelled all the way to Ho Chi Minh with no major issues, the only repairs we had done were simple maintenance. I would recommend buying the bike off of a fellow backpacker if you can – there will be less bullshit involved in the buying process as the Vietnamese can be pretty sneaky. If you take care of your bike on the way you will be able to make your money back or even make a profit!

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Thanks to a few travellers’ advice, we headed inland and travelled down close to the Laos border until we got to Khe San where we crossed over to the coastal road at Hue. Highway 1 is definitely the quickest route from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh but I would advise staying off of it as much as possible – it is a mass free for all with lorries overtaking buses overtaking cars with you pushed into the side. It is super dangerous and also not the most exciting road to drive so avoid when you can.

Week 1 – Chasing The Sunshine

From Hanoi we travelled south west to Mai Chau and from there we travelled south inland over the most beautiful roads. Keen to make steady progress south and chase that sunshine – which had evaded us since our arrival in Vietnam – our first week saw us riding 200-300km each day (8-10 hours on a bike). Throughout this first week of riding, every night we collapsed at the first guesthouse we could find, shivering despite wearing 7 items of clothing, falling onto the beds which, at best, were marginally softer than you would imagine sleeping on a pool table to be. Every night we got better at communicating through hand gestures and repeating the word for rice in Vietnamese to gain some semblance of a meal. Every night we surrendered to the under side of our eyelids, giving way to a deep sleep in an attempt to rest our bodies from the days riding whilst simultaneously preparing our aching bums for the next days ahead.

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Life on the Road

Life on the road passed in a flurry – one of laughter as we drove through magnificent mountainous villages whilst children sprinted alongside the bike, waving their arms frantically, screaming ‘HELLO’ whilst delight sparkled in their eyes. This delight was reflected in my own eyes as I smiled back at them, my heart swelling with warmth at their welcoming nature.
This laughter continued into moments of exhaustion as our bike chugged through the mountainous roads, 300km already behind us, and 100km since we had seen another soul, with darkness quickly consuming us as the sunlight faded over our shoulders. Laughter came to us then, as we danced with the shadows on the road, attempting to stretch the numbness and the cold out of our limbs.

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Laughter came with our lunch stops – ‘cafes’ constructed out of someone’s house, consisting of a few plastic tables and chairs (all child sized of course). Bemused looks creeping onto the Vietnameses’ faces as we attempted to act out rice and vegetables, repeating our, probably, awfully pronounced Vietnamese – hopelessly attempting to communicate in the narrow overlap of our minimal Vietnamese and their little English. The lines on our faces slightly creased in disappointment as we were served beef noodle soup, but quickly sharing a knowing look, our smiles returned as we picked our way through the steaming noodles.

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The bike gave us the opportunity to experience the stark contrast of Vietnam as a country. From the bustling streets and manic roads of the cities – where ‘rules of the road’, as we have in Britain, simply don’t exist – to the serene mountainous paths, where we travelled hundreds of kilometres deep amongst the forest, with the promises of creatures behind the rustling trees as our only companion.

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The cities are cluttered with rickety stalls selling banh mi and noodles with Vietnamese ladies, whose wrinkles are intensified by the scorching sun, wearing brightly patterned clothing – the material of pyjamas. They lounge behind their stalls, taking comfort in the shadows whilst shouts and corse, harsh laughter forces it’s way from their mouths aimed at their companions across the street. Dark, thick clouds of smoke pollute the, already too thick, air – pumped out of vehicles ever performing a deathly dance with one another.

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As darkness approaches; Vietnamese women are found forcing flyers into your hand, persistently throwing the word ‘massage’ at any foreigner who passes, men who earlier in the day sought you out – like a mammal to its prey – insisting you need a motorbike for wherever you may be headed, now sleep soundly with their limbs piled on top of each other on their bikes, miraculously never falling off! Others, plagued by their disabilities, drag their dysfunctional limbs across the filthy streets, coating their clothes in food waste, urine and litter from the day, desperate madness painted across their face, holding lottery tickets for sale in the air. The wafts of sewer stench drift along the streets and are inhaled into your nostrils, making you gasp for fresh air and momentarily pause with your words – in time we grew accustomed to these stinks, but still they never quite passed without our knowledge. The cities of Vietnam are a wild combination of travellers sipping beers and laughing at their companion’s comments, to dirty narrow lanes where women sit on childlike plastic stools gossiping to their neighbours whilst intermittently shouting to travellers what the downstairs of their house may have on offer – be it an assortment of snacks and drinks, a hairdressers, or a guesthouse. In these dark lanes we witnessed a small child locked behind bars at ground level, madness creeping into his innocent eyes, whilst ravenously chewing on a plastic bag – the cause of this, we determined, was the horrific lasting effects of Agent Orange, a result of chemical warfare, used in the Vietnamese war.

Rather than limiting ourselves to a few well known and already discovered places, we were free to stop and start as we pleased, exploring villages and towns where it was clear by the intrigue coupled with confusion on the locals’ faces that travellers were not a regular addition to their quiet village life.
Steep inclines give way to sharp bends where you are faced with cliff edges boasting startling views of the sea for miles. The quaint countryside villages are connected, often 50km from one another, by dirt paths laden with boulders scattered across the road and stray goats, cows or dogs wandering obliviously into your path.

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Villages only exist of a few houses – predominantly made of bamboo or wood – each overflowing with family members and kids. Some are surrounded on either side by deep forests, some by fields spanning as far as the eye can see, and some by rivers which widen and narrow as the murky water meanders through the valley. By daylight, women bend over in rice fields – their faces hidden from the sun behind tepee shaped hats – tending to their crops, whilst others lay in hammocks swinging the day away by sipping on ice tea in the shade. Children, momentarily excited by irregular visitors, go back to aiming stones at a tree trunk – whoever’s stone lands closest is the winner. Although unfaltering stares analyse every inch of you, their fascination with you as a foreigner rarely stretches to a fascination with your money. In the rural areas of Vietnam, you must search the deserted streets for an evening meal, constantly hoping the next light you can see in the distance is an eatery of some form. The simple life which they lead – detached from the manic city life – holds so much charm to me. Many of their tensed faces, at first cautious of our arrival, ease as we smile in their direction. Suddenly they grin back at us, ushering us into their homes, gibbering away in fast pace Vietnamese. As my mum says… ‘Smile and the world smiles back.’ – turns out that one is universal!

Our journey down Vietnam – 2,500km in 3 weeks – has been one of beauty, amazement, sheer adventure and sore bums! So…buy a bike, ride the length of Vietnam, live the dream – it’s worth every second of having a sore bum!

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Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Be weird. Be wonderful.:)