Welcome to Sherry's blog. Here I post mostly my art and my travels.

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Tag List:
The Art Tag | Sherry's Bizarre Adventures | CIV leaders

No additional notes needed on this guy because he should be fairly recognizable. Drawing BGM is two different compositions of Ode to Joy! Peace | War One of my favourite themes in CIV V!This kind of shading makes Gilbird on the head thing looks extremely wacky, but why not.

No additional notes needed on this guy because he should be fairly recognizable. Drawing BGM is two different compositions of Ode to Joy! Peace | War One of my favourite themes in CIV V!
This kind of shading makes Gilbird on the head thing looks extremely wacky, but why not.

Sunday, April 13, 2014
Thailand and Ramkhamhaeng the Great, King of Sukhothai. CIV spells his name in one word, like the University named after him, but his name holds the meaning of Khun (king) Ram (great) Khamhaeng (brave). Usually credited to be the creator of the Thai alphabet. 

Thailand and Ramkhamhaeng the Great, King of Sukhothai. CIV spells his name in one word, like the University named after him, but his name holds the meaning of Khun (king) Ram (great) Khamhaeng (brave). Usually credited to be the creator of the Thai alphabet. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Thank you all for reading!

Thanks for all the feedback on the New Zealand trip reports (and those who plans to read them but haven’t lol)! Every replies & asks & comments make me so happy, even tho I am horrible and didn’t reply to all them!

I’m very sorry to my followers using mobile, I know the read more cuts don’t work, but I couldn’t figure out a better alternative. I won’t be offended if you unfollow or blacklist, promise.

New followers, travel reports will not be a one-time thing on this blog, so do expect there to be more in the future!

Now that New Zealand is completely wrapped up, I am ready to plan my next trip. If anyone has insights to share on Turkey, (Favourite place? Must-try foods? Off the beaten path?) I would love to hear them!

[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 17: AucklandIt was time to say goodbye to New Zealand, as we returned to Auckland, our starting point of this trip. Last minute souvenir shopping and a special Christmas dinner on top of the Sky Tower was a wonderful way to conclude the adventure.Itinerary of the day: Hahei → Miranda Shorebirds Centre → Novotel (Auckland Airport) → Mt.Eden → Sky Tower → Depart next day[[MORE]]As the weather forecast of yesterday predicted, the rain came down pretty hard this morning. I could have done the crazy thing of rolling about Hahei beach all by myself in the rain, but the idea of sleeping in sounded more appealing.The road on the eastern Coromandel Peninsula was fairly easy to drive, so the vapor didn’t bother us too much. The radio played mostly Christmas music, and we did notice that the songs tend to not talk about snow.
We stopped by the Miranda Shorebirds Centre along the way, since we didn’t have anything better to do. The centre was closed for Christmas, but the bird-watching track was open. The main shorebirds observed here is wrybill (ngutuparore), but several other shorebirds like plovers, stilts and gulls could be found as well! Their website has a complete list of the bird species.
The track was 30 minutes each way, and it would become longer and longer every year because of the changing shorelines and invading mangroves. The best time to catch the shorebirds would be two hours on each side of low tide.The dense bush of mangroves in the photo used to be open water where the shorebirds would gather.
Overall, not a very interesting walk. We saw a few welcome swallows on the way, but most of the time it was grass on the right and mangroves on the left.
This was as close as we got to the wrybills and as far as my tele lens could reach. I could see there were some chicks with the adults. 
Our bird viewing was interrupted as rain started to come down and off went all the wrybills, and we had to turn back. This was not the best birding experience, but could be a lot better with better binoculars and lenses.
We hit the roads again and 40 minutes later, we arrived at our lodging for the night, Novotel Auckland Airport. This hotel was newly built, and might very well be the closest hotel to the airport ever, located right across from international departure! Our flight tomorrow was very early in the morning (8:30am), and I simply did not want to deal transport after we returned our rental car. 
I never liked chain hotels because of their teeny tiny rooms, but didn’t mind their modern decor. At 295NZD per night, this was the most expensive room we stayed at, but that’s what we had to pay for convenience.

Most of the time I wasn’t bothered by the sucky wifi in NZ, but not today. Novotel did not have free wifi in the room, so I had to do our online flight check-ins in the lobby with our mobile devices. The free wifi in the lobby was only valid for 30 minutes on each device (which seemed so stingy considering the room rate?!). The inefficient online check-in process for Cathay Pacific took me 45 minutes to do, so I had use both my iPhone and my dad’s iPad to complete all three of our check-ins. There were two iMacs in the lobby which I could use to do check-ins faster, but two STUPID ASS girls were using STUPID ASS FACEBOOK for the entire 45 minutes I was in the lobby! Why didn’t Novotel enforce a time limit on those, huh?! We didn’t have to return our rental car until 10pm, so we visited Mt.Eden in Auckland. It was a bit redundant to visit after we had already done One Tree Hill, but something to keep us busy before dinner.Auckland iss built on a volcanic field with 53 volcanoes, and Mt.Eden is one of them. Hard to imagine with the grassy crater it has now, the last eruption was 28,000 years ago. 
Rangitoto island in the distance.
On Christmas Day, Auckland is a dead city. So dead that driving in it was a piece of cake! In the photo was a bungy device (the yellow and aqua pillars, attached to some kind of a seated compartment). No seriously how much do Kiwis love adrenalin?
Having said that, we could always count on the Asian-operated souvenir shops to be open. Just like in Canada! 
In addition to the possum nipple warmers I saw at Lake Tekapo, I found more creations of this line of products - possum g-string and possum willy warmers! I would really like to meet the genius mind behind this…
We shopped until it was about time for our reservation, then returned to CN Tower Sky Tower. Sky Tower, along with the restaurants, hotel and shops within it, were collectively called SKYCITY. The revolving restaurant I booked was the Orbit. 
With a reservation at the revolving restaurant, we got complimentary access to the observation deck. Glass floors are my guilty pleasure. (excuse my bright coloured socks, they were emergency merino socks I bought after my flats were hurting my feet)

Hmm…let’s just say the Auckland aerial view wasn’t my cup of tea.
Christmas dinner at the orbit was by reservation only, with a special 3-course menu different from their usual. Don’t ask me what the price was, let’s just say it coincided with tower standard! I never dined on a revolving restaurant before though, not even in my own city, so I figured it would be nice to at least do it once.
Each table was provided with one Christmas cracker for each guest. Each cracker had a small piece of papers with some jokes written on them, a festive paper hat, and a small gift inside them! Our gifts were a travel toiletries set, except they were all for cosmetics, which none of us use.
Each of the appetizer, main and dessert had three choices, so my parents and I each simply chose different ones to sample the variety of the menu. 
First of the appetizers, the roast salmon. We had plenty of “Akaroa salmon” at Akaroa itself, but I couldn’t resist anything saffron. The caper and dill salad was excellent.
Goat cheese and sumac pie. I loved the fig jelly!

Our favourite of the appetizers was the Crystal Bay prawns. The star was not the shrimps, as fresh and plump as they were, but the pumpkin gnocchi. Got no idea what the chef did, but the gnocchi was also bursting with shrimp flavours!
I had to try not to look at the ground to keep from getting dizzy from the revolving floors. I wasn’t crazy about Auckland’s aerial view, but this particular angle was not bad at all.
Onto the mains. This duck leg confit was very different flavour from the one we had at VKnow, Queenstown, so couldn’t judge which one was better. This one had a very strong siu mei influence, as opposed to the broiled one at VKnow. 台灣人的話,我說味道像東山鴨頭有沒有人相信?
Market Fish, which for the day was a snapper. Freshest fish we had throughout the whole trip, and the risotto was amazing.
Turkey, made in the form of roll and stuffing. The turkey was a bit dry, but probably the lightest dish of the bunch.
Between the mains and the dessert, Santa came out from nowhere and started greeting all the guests! He talked specifically to the kids, so cute.
By the time the desserts were on, we were about 90% full. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but still sad that I couldn’t finish most of the desserts.Hakanoa ginger beer creme brulee, my favourite one out of the three options (most likely because it was the least sweet). The ice cream was hockey pokey flavoured! 
Valrhona Jivara chocolate delight. Valrhona is a brand of luxury chocolate manufacturer in France. Jivara is chocolate with 40% cocoa with some malt, to create a velvety smooth texture, which I do not ever want on chocolate. Loved the yogurt sorbet and the crunch bar though.
Christmas cake, with Brandy custard and rum raisin ice cream. Good thing we left this for last and didn’t finish it because it was too rich an sweet for our taste.
My parents were devastated when I told them the price of this dinner, but were happy with the food after the fact. This would be an unforgettable Christmas which we’ll refer to as “the very expensive one on the tower but omg the food was so good”.
Return of rental car to Avis was so painless, I might have recovered a bit from all the traumatic experiences I’ve had in Canada. No emails and phone calls three months later to ask for “cleaning fees” or shit like that. 
As seen in the photo, Novotel was within walking distance from all the car rentals.
The next morning, we simply walked across a street to catch our flight. Most stress-free trip to the airport in my life, ever. 
We would return to Taiwan the same way we came, with one transfer in Hong Kong. Believe it or not, this photo was of Auckland airport, not HK airport, with all the Simplified Chinese commercials and signs and whatnot. Reminded me of Vancouver airport…
Goodbye New Zealand, goodbye Aotearoa!
We had an ok experience with Cathay Pacific overall. Great entertainment system and service, slightly better-than-average food (on international flights) and horrendous online check-in. 
I could watch my favourite Taiwanese travel show on a HK airlines, who would’ve thought?
The second inflight meal had tub of ice cream from New Zealand Natural, Hokey pokey flavour, too! I was so sad that this might be the last chance for me to taste NZ’s amazing ice creams.
HK airport is a big airport with plenty of shopping, diorama display of HK culture, and free unlimited wifi.
Switched to the smaller, less luxurious plane to Taipei.
The same disgusting fried rice and tea like the ones we had on the arriving flight, with a slight difference of a Christmas themed biscuit snack in silver packaging.
Back on the other side of the equator, to the long, boring winter. Taiwan was hit with an unusual cold storm at the time, with temperatures dropping to a whopping 14°C. Wow such cold, I am scared!? (It was -30°C when I landed in Canada four days later, and all I got was a spring jacket)
Not just missing the mild weather, upon seeing this vending machine at TPE, I missed the driving days in NZ as well! 
Everything that happened in NZ felt like a dream. My memories didn’t became more vivid until I started writing this trip report.A few months before we departed, my grandfather became very ill. Only one month before, my father’s work schedule cut our first day in Auckland. Luckily rearranging accommodation and tours were easy enough, and everything worked out in the end.To know that we almost didn’t make it to New Zealand made me appreciate everything about the trip and what the country had to offer. Zero pollution. Over-the-top politeness of the locals and plants that grow two times as large. I felt reconnected to nature, and I never felt this amazing physically in a while. This will be a trip my parents and I talk about for years and years to come!
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 17: Auckland

It was time to say goodbye to New Zealand, as we returned to Auckland, our starting point of this trip. Last minute souvenir shopping and a special Christmas dinner on top of the Sky Tower was a wonderful way to conclude the adventure.

Itinerary of the day: Hahei → Miranda Shorebirds Centre → Novotel (Auckland Airport) → Mt.Eden  Sky Tower  Depart next day

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Friday, April 11, 2014
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 16: HaheiCoromandel was all about the coastline, and I hadn’t been to a decent beach in three years. This was my first summer Christmas, and I was really excited about spending Christmas eve on not one, but two very interesting beaches!Itinerary of the day: Coromandel → Whitianga → Hahei → Cathedral Cove → Hot Water Beach[[MORE]]For breakfast, we cooked the kumara we bought from Pak N’Sav (so good), plus some other leftovers.
We started driving from Coromandel to Hahei, a small town on the eastern side of the peninsula. The original plan was to visit “New Chums beach” and a winery on the way, “Hot Water Beach” in the afternoon, and “Cathedral Cove” on Christmas morning, but the raining forecast for the next day forced me to change it. We skipped New Chums beach and the winery, and moved Cathedral Cove up by one day. This would make the itinerary tomorrow a bit empty, but better than visiting Cathedral Cove in the rain.
Whitianga, the largest town on the eastern side, was the last grocery stop of the trip. Most supermarkets were opened on Christmas eve, much to my surprise. According to the locals, more and more stores are open over the Christmas holidays in recent years, to keep with the change in times.
What on earth is a trundler? From context I knew it meant shopping cart (or trolley, as Aussies call it), but still! It was fun to discover the different vocabulary among English-speaking countries.
An hour later, we arrived at our lodging Cathedral Cove Lodge Villas. This was far from my first but the only choice, because many motels in Hahei required a minimum two-night stay. The name “villa” might be a bit misleading. It was more a big complex of campsites and some individual motel units. The motel units “villas” were the most expensive option, but not exactly luxury either.
It was too early to check-in, so we borrowed towels from the front desk and headed out again. This villa is unbeatable in terms of location, as Hahei beach was only a few steps away. Soft sand, beautiful waters, surrounded by dotted islands…this beach is not any less appealing than some Pacific beaches I’ve been to. I read some reviews say this beach gets too crowded, but never found that to be the case. Perhaps the peak season crowd wouldn’t arrive until after Christmas?
Cathedral Cove’s parking lot is 10 minutes drive away from Hahei, but at this time of day (noon), the lot was completely full. An alternative in this case would be to park at Hahei beach’s parking lot, and walk an extra 15 minutes on the same track. The entrance to the Cathedral Cove track was on the very west end of Hahei beach, through a small pathway into the bushes.
The walk was nowhere near as interesting as other walks that we had done already, with the exception of this lookout over the coastline and the coves. There are four bays/coves in total from nearest to furthest: Gemstone Bay, Stingray Bay, Mare’s Leg Cove and Cathedral Cove.
The entire walk takes 30-40 minutes. It was not difficult, but involved lots of incline. We didn’t even want to visit Gemstone Bay and Stingray Bay (both popular snorkeling spots as this area was also a Marine Reserve), because it would involve more stair-climbing, and my parents were so done at this point (just to show what a horrible daughter I am >:-) ).
We saw this sign just before entering Cathedral Cove, and upon reading it…
The Mandarin translation sounded like it came straight out of Google translate. Was it that difficult to find a Mandarin speaking person in NZ? 
The grammar is really weird, and the name “Big Church Small Bay” is not a very flattering translation of the name Cathedral Cove. The real kicker here though, is the “Big Church Small Bay is a known rock autumn danger zone”. Autumn danger zone? So it wouldn’t be dangerous in spring, summer and winter? I didn’t know rock falling could be seasonal!
(For those who didn’t get it, the word “fall”, as in falling of rocks, was translated to “fall”, as in the season)
It was lunch time when we arrived, so we had picnic right on the beach.

There were way more people at Cathedral Cove than Hahei beach, which might partly be due to its fame as one of the filming locations of The Chronicles of Narnia. The beach in this photo is actually Mare’s Leg Cove, which is connected to Cathedral Cove by a cave and passageway.
Cathedral Cove was named so after this cave.

Here’s a video from the scene in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian that was filmed here. Unlike The Hobbit, the scenery here is much more recognizable.

We entered Cathedral Cove, and decided to just relax on the beach for a bit. The water was way too cold to swim in! Instead of going to church, we spent Christmas eve at a Cathedral.

Nobody in my family were really beach people though. Doing nothing on a resort would never be our thing, and tanning? Crazy talk! After some half-assed “relaxing”, we decided to leave after half an hour.
We noticed a water taxi that has been coming in and out of Cathedral Cove, and decided to inquire. The taxi transported customers between Cathedral Cove and Hahei Beach, for the price of 15NZD. I would gladly pay that to avoid going back on that boring track again…besides, going on the water taxi was a fun process in itself!
Being able to see Cathedral Cove from the sea was an added bonus! Originally I wanted to do a kayak trip here, but had to ditch the idea knowing the fitness level of my parents. The water taxi sort of made up for it, somewhat.

In less than five minutes, we landed in Hahei! So much more enjoyable than walking the same track back here for 30 minutes. Now I felt lucky that we parked our car in Hahei instead of Cathedral Cove entrance!
This was as crowded as Hahei Beach ever got. 
This beach was also a much better beach for swimming, as the sand is soft and water calm. The slope underwater is very gentle. The sun had came up so it was warm enough for me to swim for a little bit.
Only in New Zealand would somewhere like Cathedral Cove be considered “average”. I would kill to have a beach like that near me back home, but compared to what we had already seen in NZ, it didn’t wow us.
We checked back in Cathedral Cove Lodge Villas to rest up and prepare for our next beach excursion.The villa felt more like a private cottage than a motel. Everything worked except the wi-fi. The signal was weak, we could not connect to more than one device at a time, and it irked me that crap internet connection like this was not free.
Our plan for the afternoon was Hot Water Beach, a beach that has natural hot spring overflowing from underneath the sand. Visitors can dig a hole in the sand and “build their own spa pool”. To take advantage of the hot springs, we had to visit 1 hour on each side of low tide, as the water source would be covered in seawater otherwise. The tide schedule can be looked up on this website. Low tide today was 6pm, so we went at 4:30pm, hoping to get a decent spot. We borrowed a shovel from our motel free of charge, but there are shovels available for rent on the spot as well.
Like most attractions in NZ, Hot Water Beach has a paid parking lot and a free parking lot further away. When we went the free spots were full, but paid parking was not that expensive, and we get the advantage of being close to the amenities.

Not only there were washrooms and change rooms, there were also faucets for feet washing at the entrance of Hot Water Beach. When in NZ, I never had to worry about petty logistics because they would all been taken care of. It is truly a very tourist-friendly country!
The beach started right from the parking lot. We had no trouble finding where the hot springs are, as the crowds gave it away.
We came earlier than most people but the site was already crowded. Anyone who came later couldn’t get a spot, and they had to wait until someone leaves to take over their pool.
The goal was to dig a hole large enough to fit us, and surround it with a fortress to fend off the incoming waves. We came before the tide was fully receded, so a lot of our early efforts were ruined in one single wave.
We decided to move away from the water a bit and had more success. The next challenge was to control the water temperature, because the hot spring water was as high as 40°C! We dug some channels to drain some cold seawater into our pool, and expel overly hot waters out.
My mom was having so fun digging this spa pool, she was like a child building a sand castle! Never seen her so excited to participate in physical labour lol.

Once the pool was dug, we enjoyed a shallow spa pool, the fruits of our labor, for a brief moment. The fun was in the process!A tip for camera users: when not in use, we put our camera and other valuables in a plastic bag, then put it in a regular beach bag/backpack. The bag rested on the “sand fortress” of our pool. 
Even though it was crowded, Kiwis are polite and respect other’s personal space. No stealing of sand fortresses! We even cooperated with our neighbours so our connected pools could stay at a constant temperature!

The German couple that we met on the Coromandel Coast Walkway tour said they hated Hot Water Beach because of the crowd, but my parents and I enjoyed this place much more so than Cathedral Cove. It was very hands-on, interactive and just downright fun! We were rewarded with glowing supple skin afterward too!
The whole experience took two hours, and by the time we left, the sun was setting and made a beautiful reflection on the beach.
After all that digging, we couldn’t wait to have our lovely Christmas eve dinner back at the villa. We couldn’t count on finding a restaurant on Christmas eve or Christmas day, especially not in a small town like Hahei, so we prepared enough food to last us until tomorrow night. 

A very simple dinner, but probably one that I would remember for the rest of my life. It was a good time to be thankful for having stayed safe throughout our trip and had a wonderful time in this awe-inspiring country.
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 16: Hahei

Coromandel was all about the coastline, and I hadn’t been to a decent beach in three years. This was my first summer Christmas, and I was really excited about spending Christmas eve on not one, but two very interesting beaches!

Itinerary of the day: Coromandel → Whitianga → Hahei → Cathedral Cove  Hot Water Beach

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Thursday, April 10, 2014
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 15: Coromandel Coastal WalkwayThe Coromandel Coastal Walkway is a track less traveled, due to the long, gravel covered, motion-sickness-inducing drive to get there and back. The refreshing landscape was well worth it, and we were blessed with a beautiful day that made photography a bliss.Itinerary of the day: Coromandel (day trip) → Coville → Coromandel Coastal Walkway[[MORE]]
The Coromandel Peninsula is not known to be a dry place, and I was crossing my fingers for a sunny day today. Coromandel Coastal Walkway is remotely located at the very tip of the peninsulas, and it takes the entire day from Coromandel town to do this walk. As per insurance policy of most NZ car rentals, any damage or accidents which occur on gravel road is not covered. For this reason, we booked a tour with Coromandel Discovery to take care of our transportation.
 We had a plentiful breakfast and packed our lunch, as the walk would be 3~4 hours from 11am-3pm.
Our guide/driver Michael picked us up from our motel at the ungodly hour of 8am. According to him, the tourism in the area had been slow in the past few years. There were only a German couple on the tour with us, and they were on their 6-week holiday throughout NZ (Those Germans /shakes fist).

We first stopped at Colville, a small town that spans the area of exactly one block. Here was the last chance to get any food, before heading into uninhabited area.Michael knew everyone in the area, including this farm dog we met at the Colville general store. 
The drive was 1.5 hour, so Michael would point out noteworthy things along the way to keep us interested. The scenery was great, so I didn’t feel the drive was lengthy. 
Pohutukawa is the dominant vegetation on this peninsula, and forms a picturesque shoreline with the beaches and clear water. If you type in “Pohutukawa” in Google images, most likely the first search results would be of Coromandel Peninsula.
Variable oystercatchers, which we saw in captivity in Otorohonga. Always better to see them in the wild.

A pukeko and chick.

I think these were also Pohutukawa, but being coastal trees the lower branches curve downwards? 
A viewpoint we stopped at, looking over the Cape Colville (in the centre) and Port Jackson Bay.

Soon enough we reached the starting point of Coromandel Coastal Walkway. Michael dropped everyone off at Fletcher Bay (starting point), and waited at Stony Bay (point of finish), while we completed the walk at our own pace. 

Aside from this mini-map provided, Michael also had walking sticks to lend without charge. Off we go!
The German couple took off like darts, but we couldn’t help but fall behind to take photos! The landscape was beautiful! The intense blue of the water with the grassy green were unreal.
Part of the track also cuts through some private farms. In NZ, the wealthiest people were not businessmen or tourism operators, but farmers.
Manuka in bloom. 
Sugar Loaf Rock.
Warning signs for weasels and possums traps. Electric wires for cows were set up in many places, so the steps were set up for hikers to go over.
The track went through some bushes, and this would be where birds were more likely to be seen. 

Michael told us that there is a high chance on this route to see a fantail (pīwakawaka), which is an iconic NZ bird that we hadn’t seen yet on this trip. We were lucky to run into one drinking from a small stream in front of us! They’re such tiny, fast birds, I’m still regretting that I was too slow to catch a photo. Here’s a Wikipedia photo of the beautiful little thing.

We had lunch on a bench looking out of a seaside cliff. Here we saw many gannets in flight (same as the ones at Muriwai gannet colony). I felt like this walk was a review summary of NZ nature that we encountered throughout the trip.

We took plenty of photos and arrived at Stony Bay in exactly 3 hours and 30 minutes. There was a short segment with a steeper incline in the beginning, but the track as a whole was not difficult. 
Stony Bay got the name because of its beach made of pebbles, but the colour of the water stole most of the attention.
Michael and the German couple was waiting for us at the picnic tables, with coffee/tea and biscuits prepared. Let me guess, Anzac cookies is an Australia/New Zealand thing, yes? They were sweet, buttery cookies with pieces of oats and some coconut. I liked them!
Then came the dreadful drive back to Coromandel town. I knew I could get motion sickness and took my drugs beforehand, but still got really sick near the end. A price to pay to do this walk, unfortunately.
After some rest, we head to Four Square in Coromandel to pick up some things for dinner. 
"Please don’t be offended"? This sign is almost too polite that it sounds passive-aggressive!
When we get a chance to have steak, we get steak.
We had asparagus for almost every cooked meal in NZ, we must be packed full of vitamins by the end of the trip. The packaged smoke mussels were ok. What surprised us was the delicious stuffed chicken we got at Four Square. For a supermarket prepared chicken it was delicious, and fits the occasion perfectly!
The sunset today was not as great as yesterday’s, but I got more time to frame my photo and fiddle with the settings.

The Coromandel Coastal Walk was beautiful, and if I had known the scenery would be like Otago Peninsula but better,I would have cut that part of the itinerary out. Why go through two difficult drives instead of one?
Tomorrow we would head to the east side of Coromandel Peninsula for the most well known attractions in the area, the Cathedral Cove and the Hot Water Beach.
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 15: Coromandel Coastal Walkway

The Coromandel Coastal Walkway is a track less traveled, due to the long, gravel covered, motion-sickness-inducing drive to get there and back. The refreshing landscape was well worth it, and we were blessed with a beautiful day that made photography a bliss.

Itinerary of the day: Coromandel (day trip) → Coville → Coromandel Coastal Walkway

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 14: Rotorua & CoromandelNot shopped, the Champagne Pool at the Wai-O-Tapu displays an amazing range of colours. This place is no Yellowstone, but hold its own as a geothermal spectacle. In the latter half of the day, we moved on to Coromandel Peninsula, only to discover our most horrifying driving experience yet!Itinerary of the day: Rotorua → Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland → Coromandel Oyster Company → Coromandel[[MORE]]Rotorua is known for its Maori culture and geothermal activities, and there are many options to witness shooting geysers and bubbling hot muds. Located 30 minutes drive from Rotorua city, Wai-O-Tapu is the most popular one because of their large variety of thermal pools.Every morning at 10:15, the majority of tourists flock to the “Lady Knox geyser” 5 minutes drive from the main entrance. The geyser is a “timed” geyser that can be “set off” by soap powder. We had already seen the Pohutu Geyser at Te Puia yesterday, so I utilized this chance to see the thermal park with less people.The park was divided into three routes of different lengths, ranging from 30 mins to 1.5 hours. We got plenty of time to do the whole thing, and it wasn’t physically demanding at all. 
To avoid even more people, we decided to do the opposite direction of their suggested numbered route. Turned out it was a great decision because a South Asian cruise visited on the same day, and we just managed to avoid most of them.
Each small attraction within the park was given a fancy name for reference. This one is called Devil’s Bath. The yellow green colour came from sulphur and ferrous salts.
The green was so intense, you could see the reflective light bouncing on the wall.
Then came the main attraction of the park - The Champagne Pool. This along with “aerial Queenstown”,”Emerald Lakes of Tongariro Crossing”, and “Mitre Peak of Milford Sound” were the most used promotional photos for New Zealand tourism. 
The colours were made up of minerals like gold, silver, mercury sulphur, arsenic, thallium and antimony deposited on the edge of the pool. The “step” shaped edges were formed by earthquakes. Bubbles of carbon dioxide were constantly surfacing, hence the name “Champagne Pool”.
Sometimes the coloured edges would be covered in vapor, so we waited for a few minutes until the wind blew in the right direction. As planned, there were no other tourists around, and I took my sweet time to get the right shot.

Alum Cliff and a acidic lake. This and the Champagne Pool were formed about 700 years ago.
A cliff with yellow patches of sulphur.
Oyster Pool.
Sulfur cave. Most of the park do smell of a very strong sulphur, hence Rotorua is sometimes referred to as the “stinky place” in NZ…

Lake Ngakoro and a few small waterfalls, located at the furthest point from the entrance. 
The bright green colour of the lake looked like a poisonous version of Lake Tekapo.
The track eventually looped back to the other side of The Champagne Pool.
Overflowing water from The Champagne Pool drew other minerals from below the surface, and the minerals started to take on different colours when exposed to atmosphere.
This whole area was called Artist’s Palette, evident of such a name when seen from a viewing platform.
The hordes of tourists from the cruise and Lady Knox geyser were flowing in, so we were glad to be on our way out.We returned to Rotorua and visited the Kuirau Park, where some people called the “poor man’s Wai-O-Tapu”. Tourist expense in Rotorua tend to be high, so for the backpackers on a shoestring, this would be a reasonable alternative. There were a few areas of geothermal activities and entrance was free.
Foot spa pools were available, but they were only lukewarm.
The initial lunch plan was to visit “Goldstar Bakery”, but they were closed on Sunday (If they had a proper website I would have avoided this mistake). I did not have a backup place because Rotorua’s TA restaurant list was not very interesting, so we ended up just circling around the city to find food.
As absurd as this sounds, we flew all the way to NZ but spent a meal at Nando’s! There is a Nando’s right across the street where I live, but I’ve never bothered to try and had no idea what it is. I didn’t even know it is Mozambican Portuguese food…
The peri-peri chicken is their signature dish, and really quite good.
After lunch, it was time to head to our next location, the Coromandel Peninsula. Located 40 minutes east of Auckland, it will be our last stop before heading back to Auckland and complete the North Island loop. 
Coromandel Peninsula is a holiday destination for the locals, scattered with bushes, beaches and small towns. The larger cities were “Thames” on the west side and “Whitianga” on the east side, where we would do most of our grocery shopping. Christmas was soon approaching and most stores would be closed, and no way did we intend to spend the holiday with no food! 
Inspired by the Te Puia buffet yesterday, we bought some kumara :D
When I was doing my research, someone on backpackers.com.tw commented that “roads on Coromandel is not easy”. That was a way, way understatement! I feared for my life driving here much more so than jumping off a bridge with rubber bands tied around my ankles! 
Again, this was a photo taken before the road got scary. When the shoulder completely disappeared, I had no incentive to take anymore photos!
The speed limit here is 100km, but of course nobody drive at such speed. Locals drove at 70-80km, and us? 50km at best, when we could maybe go a few hundred metres without a turn. We stopped plenty of times on the slow vehicle bay to let the locals pass. No road is straight in this peninsula, so always double the estimated driving time calculated by google maps.
The beaches on the west side of Coromandel Peninsula are a bit meh, mostly of rocks and a mucky brown colour. I suggest to omit the west side altogether. The road on the east side was way easier to drive on and that’s where the majority of tourist attractions are located in anyways.
The road was hardly enough room for two cars, and we encountered, one after another, cars with boats, tractors and farm vehicles. So many times we came face-to-face with a huge truck just cutting around the corner of a cliff. THE BOATS WERE THE WORST THOUGH. When they swing their way across, we could only pray that it wouldn’t smash right into our car. 
My dad drove countless mountain passes in Taiwan, and even he was stressed out about driving here. I wouldn’t say the road is impossible, but for someone driving there for the first time, it does require constant concentration.Eventually we reached our dinner spot, The Coromandel Oyster Company. The address on the internet for this place was not correct. It is located on the main road (Highway 25/Manaia Road) at the intersection with Castle Rock Road.
Decorations of oyster farming ropes hanging at the parking lot.
This place is not really a restaurant, but more like a shop that sold frozen, fresh and cooked seafood. 
Coromandel is known to produce oysters and manuka honey, so I simply couldn’t leave here without trying out their oysters!
Standard sized half-shell were 15.50NZD for half a dozen. We brought our own lemon as this place charged a premium for one. They tasted similar to the oysters I bought at St.Pierre’s Sushi in Auckland (but more expensive), which was not surprising considering they were farmed with the same waters of Hauraki Gulf. St.Pierre’s used Clevedon Coast oysters, while this place used oysters from their own farm.
We also ordered a 1.50NZD prawn twister, which was delicious, but the portion size was not much larger than a pokey stick. A bit too pricey for the food we got? I wouldn’t say this place is a must-visit, but give it a try if it’s on the way! 
A short drive later, we arrived at our lodging, Harbour View Motel. My dad and I were both exhausted from the driving, and couldn’t be happier about checking-in. 
The hardware were on the dated side, but all functional. Towels felt old and toiletries given were…homely? Wi-fi was atrocious, got no signal in our unit and had to walk close to their office (I assumed that was where the router was) to connect.
Even though the amenities were not the best, this was not the cheapest place we stayed at, because of the wonderful view from the balcony!
At sunset, the view was just lovely. I spent the rest of the day just photographing on the balcony, and enjoying tea.
Tomorrow would be a hiking day, and weather forecast was looking great! As we approached the end of our trip, our stamina was running low, and an early rest was very much needed.
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 14: Rotorua & Coromandel

Not shopped, the Champagne Pool at the Wai-O-Tapu displays an amazing range of colours. This place is no Yellowstone, but hold its own as a geothermal spectacle. In the latter half of the day, we moved on to Coromandel Peninsula, only to discover our most horrifying driving experience yet!

Itinerary of the day:
Rotorua Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland → Coromandel Oyster Company Coromandel

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 13: Waitomo & RotoruaGlowworm caves, kiwi birds, and Maori culture, the day was jam packed with many of the highlights North Island has to offer. It was a long day, but we didn’t feel tired at all, as we were constantly exposed to new and interesting discoveries! Itinerary of the day: Otorohanga → Waitomo Caves → Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park → Rotorua → Te Puia[[MORE]]This morning’s schedule was a tour with Spellbound Glowworms & Cave Tour. Although glowworms of various different species could be found in other parts of the world, they are the most abundant in NZ. Spellbound has access to the very same cave where BBC’s Planet Earth shot part of their sequence, and the whole tour lasts 3 hours. They also limit the size of the group to a maximum of 12 people, and that was totally worth the extra 30 NZD compared to the mass commercialized, 45-minutes cave tour provided to coach buses at the Waitomo township.Waitomo is 15 minutes drive from Otorohanga. We checked in at the Spellbound office first, next door to the Waitomo i-Site. The company van then transfer all the participants to the glowworm cave. The location is rather remote, and the ride was a painful and shaky 40 minutes. Bring some Gravol and wear motion sickness bands! 
Torch lilies, not a NZ native plant, but cool nonetheless.
Geological stone formations near the cave.
On the West Coast of the South Island, there is this tourist attraction called Punakaiki Pancake Rocks. We didn’t get a chance to go, so I would have to take this miniature version.
At the entrance of the cave, each person was given a helmet with headlights. We needed it, as some part of the cave ceiling were quite low.
Our guide, Pete, is very experienced (he had been caving in Waitomo since he was young) and has great sense of humour. Calling the glowworms maggots, and taking random jabs as Australians, totally my type of guide. Examples of Pete’s jab at Australians:
"Possum, our favourite Australian import."
"If anything bad happens, blame the Australians."
"Oh, Australians. They’re loud. If you see someone yelling in NZ, most likely they’re Australians"
"We always make fun of Australians, but the two countries got to stick together so we actually do like them." <—- well this one is not so much a joke but I giggled (sorry)
Our group was so very German - everyone is from different parts of Germany except us! For the remainder of the trip, we kept meeting Germans at different places in North Island, contrary to the prevalence of Asians in the South Island. 
Not far into the cave, we encountered our first batch of glowworms.
This was my best attempt at photographing glowworms, which gives a pretty good idea of how the worms were like. Glowworms are the larva of a particular fly and they glow in the dark through bioluminescence. They produces silk strands that hangs from the cave ceilings as a hunting technique to trap insects, as spiders do. We were able to observe them from a very close distance, so we were careful about not touching them by accident. 
What the glowworms looked like if they were further away. Much like stars!
Then we were led to a small underground stream, and instructed to get on a raft. Everyone turned off their cameras and any source of light, in order to enjoy the most densely populated strip of glowworms in complete darkness. This photo was provided by the tour company (free of charge to all customers), which conveys what it was like:
The experience was nothing short of magical. 
Here is a clip from BBC’s Life in the Undergrowth and Planet Earth featuring the glowworms, for those interested in what kind of animals glowworms are:

At the end of the tour, Pete brought to the largest cavity of a cave, also known as the cathedral. Here he asked if anyone wanted to sing, and the Germans ended up singing “Silent Night”, to match the occassion :P On the way out, we saw a New Zealand longfin eel, an endemic freshwater eel (sorry about the poor photo). These eels live to about 100 years old, but only breed once in their life around the age of 90. Perhaps this oddly programed life cycle contributed to their decline in number, as any eel killed is most likely an eel that did not have a chance to reproduce.
This tour included two caves, so after the “wet” glowworms cave we were brought to the second “dry” cave nearby. There was a coffee break in between, which was really cute as Pete prepared everyone’s drink with a thermos, powder and plastic cups.
The second cave didn’t have many glowworms, but rather an array of stalactites and stalagmites.
An opening to the cave.

Animals sometimes fall to their death through these clefts, like this goat here.
Or a more unusual find, a moa - giant, flightless birds of New Zealand hunted to extinction half a century ago. I always had a fascination with this animal, and this more than made up missing the moa skeleton in Auckland Museum! The head is at the bottom left corner, and the sclerotic rings scattered on the side. On the right of the photo is its sacrum and femur.
This cave went through many floods, hence the two colours on the cave walls. The brown part was immersed in muddy flood water, and the white part was newly formed stalactites.
Although the cave itself was not something unique to NZ, we saw something that was - a weta! The world’s heaviest insect (able to fly)! I was so happy about this because I didn’t thought I would have a chance to meet a weta! Big thanks to Pete for pointing it out, or else I wouldn’t have noticed it at all.
I highly recommend this cave tour for anyone in Waitomo looking to see the Glowworms. The rafting part was calm and no level of fitness was required, so it’s suitable for older people and also people who wanted the focus to be on glowworms rather than caving. If I was with younger travel companions though, I probably would try Black Water Rafting as well.
The price to pay for escaping the tourist crowd though, was the long, bumpy ride there and back. Motion sickness is not fun!
Lunch was picnic lunch at Waitomo. This “Super Juice” was seriously the best juice I’ve ever had, and I’ve already drank at least three bottles.
Next stop, we returned to Otorohanga and visited the Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Birdlife Park. As mentioned in yesterday’s report, they canceled my kiwi night viewing tour due to unexpected renovations. They were nice enough to give me a free visit to the park during the day! 
We had another booked tour at 5:45pm for Te Po (Maori cultural evening experience) at Te Puia in Rotorua, which would take two hours to get to. We had about an hour to tour this aviary, so we started with our main objective here - the kiwi birds.
Kiwi birds are nocturnal by nature, but here a nocturnal house has been built so visitors could see the kiwi birds be active during the day. They have four kiwi birds in rotation.
Outside the nocturnal house, there were some exhibitions of scientific facts about the birds. Different species, habitat and life cycle, etc. What I found the most fascinating about these birds is their breeding strategy. The world’s largest egg in proportion to the mother’s size, and takes one year by the male to incubate. The trade off for such strenuous process is that once the baby kiwi hatch, it will be fully independent of their parents. 
No photography is allowed inside the kiwi nocturnal house, but viewing was way better than I expected! The kiwi birds were huge, almost the size of turkeys! The pen was a decent size and the kiwi birds just kept running and pecking around!
We’ve done so much birding in NZ, but not quite sick of it yet! This aviary is small and a bit dated, but houses a good variety of bird species. 
North Island weka.
Masked lapwing, a shorebird native to Australia.
Morepork, sleeping. Such a tiny owl!
Paradise ducks, seemingly in heat, as they were making A LOT of noises. The black-feathered male kept following around the white-headed female, so naturally I came down with such conclusion.
We had seen many of these The New Zealand falcon (karearea) while driving around North Island. They tend to dine on road kill on the highway, so we had to slow down to not run them over. In Canada, drivers want to avoid hitting a deer, but in NZ, beware of falcons!
Its face though….I felt like I’ve seen a meme somewhere featuring a bird face like that.
…and speaking of faces, the New Zealand pigeon (kereru) was also giving me a face. Nice chest though, so broad.
Super cute New Zealand parakeet (kakariki). They might look like a pet, but also threatened like many other birds in NZ. 
Variable oystercatchers. “Variable” refers to the different plumage colours within the same species. The colour is not a result of sexual dimorphism, but occurs naturally between different individuals.
Cape Barren goose, also from Australia. They looked so weird and rightfully so because they don’t fit in any of the taxonomy affiliations of their relatives. 
The kaka we missed at Orokonui Ecosanctuary! They are a medium-sized parrot with marvelous red feathered abdomens. 
We also missed our chance to meet a kea at Homer Tunnel because we didn’t drive to Milford Sound. I’ve drawn them so many times, I would regret it forever if I didn’t see a kea before I leave NZ.
We entered another enclosed aviary that contained many smaller birds. A “meet the keeper” activity just wrapped up, so a few kids with their parents were there trying to catch the attention of the many kakariki in the trees.
I gathered some seeds the kids left behind, and voila, A kakariki flew into my hand just like that. So many kids were trying but didn’t succeed! Call me bird whisperer, lol.
The aviary also has a tuatarium, so another option for those who wants to see a tuatara.
I only included a selection of photos. There were also many ducks, included the rare brown teal. Pete from the Spellbound tour said this place didn’t had a lot of things going for them, but I find the visit exceeded my expectations.
We timed our visit perfectly, and had plenty enough time to get to Rotorua. 
More interesting stone formations we saw enroute.

As I mentioned earlier, the main road animals to be careful of in NZ were the NZ falcons. This photo was taken while I was in the passenger seat, and it was most likely circling for road kills.
The road to Rotorua was not straight forward and we accidentally took the longer route, but we arrive at our lodging Arista of Rotorua with half an hour to spare.
This motel ranked no.1 on TA in Rotorua, and was also one of my preferred accommodations we stayed at. Staff was very friendly and efficient, and the suite was modern and clean.
500MB of free wireless internet was given. That might sound like hardly anything compared to other more techsavvy countries, but in NZ, free wireless was not the norm and 500MB was beyond generous. At most motels we were usually given 100MB or 150MB, and sometimes the signal was pathetic. Two places we stayed at had no free internet at all. Putting things in perspective, Arista of Rotorua was the best in terms of internet access.
The only thing that I didn’t like was beds and washrooms were on different floors, and the stairs were not the easiest to navigate in the dark (many sharp edges, ouch). Otherwise no complaints!
Loved the jacuzzi tub, which fitted Rotorua’s theme of geothermal area perfectly.
Rotorua is a city known for Maori culture tourism, and Te Puia was one of the many cultural attractions. Other popular ones were Tamaki, Mitai, and Whakarewarewa. They all offer evening cultural experiences that would include a live performance and a hāngi dinner. I chose Te Puia because they were the closest, I liked the setup and clothing choices of their performance, and an added bonus of watching a geyser at sunset.
This might all sound cheesy as hell to some people, but I always was interested in Polynesia and its connection to the aboriginal people of Taiwan. This experience turned out to be rewarding and fun!
The transfer bus picked up a couple more tourists, and dropped us all off at Te Puia entrance. This experience was by reservations only, and we retrieved our actual tickets at the ticket counter.
Along with the group on our transfer bus, we were also joined by all the tourists that participated in the day tours. It was a massive group, which I estimated around 100-120 people. I dread this kind of large groups, but the guide, Guy, did a very good job of organizing. He had a loud and clear Maori voice and I could always hear his instructions.
We first took a look at the hāngi dinner we would later consume. Although the hāngi today was covered in aluminum foil and metal lids, the main idea was to bury this with hot stones in a pit underground.
The pack of tourists was then led in front of “Rotowhio marae”. These types of meeting houses could be found in many different Polynesian cultures, and it was interesting to compare it in my head with the “Bai” in Palau. Guy (left) randomly chose an Italian guy (right) from the crowd to be the “chief” of the tourist group.
The entire cultural experience was based on the protocols of the Maori welcoming ceremony, pōwhiri, from start to finish. Of course a ceremony for tourists wouldn’t be super prestigious, but all the elements were there.It begins with a loud sound from the conch, then the karanga, the high pitched voices of women from both sides as the first exchange.
The wero part involved three warriors with ceremonial weapons “challenge” the visitors with signs of aggression. A token, such as a branch, is dropped in front of our chief. Our Italian guy picked it up to show friendly intentions. 
A hongi (gentle pressing of noses) between the warrior and our chief was carried out. At this stage the visitors were invited into the marae and the meeting house.
I knew I would have to act fast to get a decent seat, and managed to get the second row. The oratory mihi, was given by our guide, Guy. He was the MC of the night and shared many basic information about Maori culture. 
The main performance part, which lasted about 30-45 minutes, made up the waiata (song) and haka (dance) part of the powhiri. A more modernized term for a collection of Maori performance arts that we were about to see is the “kapa haka”, which not only includes dance and song, but demonstration of weaponry and other choreography inspired by pre-colonial Maori past-times.

One of the perks of sitting up front was the high probability to be invited on stage for the obligatory “dance lessons for the tourist” session. I usually shy away from these sorts of things, but today was a good day so I joined some other females to learn the Poi dance. Poi refers to the fluff ball on a string we were holding in our hands. The dance looks easy, but actually takes a bit of rhythm and hand-eye coordination!
Waiata-a-ringa (action songs) were songs sang in a more narrative sense. The lady singing “Pokarekare ana” had an awesome voice! In Taiwan, the aboriginal people were known to be great singers, which was evident from the number of successful singers in the pop music scene. Not to say that the voices were the same, but the quality (powerful, clear, plenty of vital capacity) were strikingly similar.
When I first saw the performers play the Titi torea (stick game), a strong feeling of deja vu hit me.
A few days later, I saw this performance in Hualien (eastern province of Taiwan) by the Amis tribe. So that was where the deja vu came from…
For those of you who are confused about what I’m talking about, refer to this. It’s so fascinating that two places separated by such distance still shared such similarities.Male participants, including our Italian chief, were recruited to participate in the most well known dance of the Maori, the Haka. ngl I wanted to try the Haka more than the Poi dance…
What I really enjoyed about this performance was the fact that they didn’t hide the fact that it was “a performance”. Sometimes “reenactments” type cultural performances for tourism can get really fake and embarrassing. Maori people today don’t live like their ancestors, so why ask for “authenticity” that simply doesn’t exist? It was good that they cut that crap and gave us a great demonstration of parts of their culture that remained. Guy seemed to be very proud of their heritage, which made me feel more than ok with this whole experience.
The last part of the powhiri was hakari, the feast. In our case, it was a buffet dinner of the hangi we just saw in the hangi pit earlier, plus a couple of other international food items for the picky tourists. Booze was extra.
What caught me by surprise was that Guy gave a public prayer before the meal! Christian prayer in Maori language…and quite a few visitors were Christians too, including my own family. If NZ gave me any culture shock, this would be it. Canada is very much secular now, and public prayers are usually frowned upon. Once we saw a sign on the road in NZ which says “an unborn child is part of the family”, so would it be safe to say NZ has a conservative side?
The buffet meal exceeded my expectations. I never expected tourist buffets to be good, but the food here were very well-made!
Loved the hangi meats (beef, lamb and chicken), but the kumara (sweet potato) was the best part. After this meal my mom couldn’t wait to buy kumara from the supermarkets to try cooking it herself! The delicious soup provided was also a Maori recipe, I think it was made from squash? 
There was also a ridiculous amount of choices for dessert, and they were all very good.
At 8:45pm, visitors had the choice to either stay at the dinner tables, or take a mini transport train to see the Pohutu geyser.
Having been to Yellowstone already, geysers are not something that I must see, but it was kind of nice to see the sun set behind all these geothermal activities. Guy made a closing speech before the end of the tour and sang goodbye for us - he is quite a great singer himself!
We returned to the entrance, and tourists dispersed We took some time to admire the Te Heketanga ā Rangi (heavenly origins) at the entrance, with twelve pillars each representing a divine realm.
Te Puia was not purely a tourist attraction, but also the location of New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, and a Kiwi House. From the meeting house we saw today, to the heavenly origins, the entire area were decorated with carvings made by students at the Carving School.
Full and exhausted, we got transported back to Arista of Rotorua.I do agree with most visitors to NZ, to some extent, that South Island provided more “wow factor” compared to North Island, and for less effort in terms of driving. I would suggest visitors who only had 10-12 days to choose the former. Having said that, the North Island has its appeal, and today’s experience proved that.
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 13: Waitomo & Rotorua

Glowworm caves, kiwi birds, and Maori culture, the day was jam packed with many of the highlights North Island has to offer. It was a long day, but we didn’t feel tired at all, as we were constantly exposed to new and interesting discoveries! 

Itinerary of the day: Otorohanga → Waitomo Caves → Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park → Rotorua → Te Puia

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Monday, April 7, 2014
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 12: HobbitonThe day was scheduled to be a lot of transportation, but was made spectacular by a visit to Hobbiton. Nobody in my family is LOTR fan, but we throughly enjoyed the beautiful set and fun atmosphere.Itinerary of the day: Queenstown → Auckland (Avis Car Rentals) → Hobbiton (Matamata) → Otorohanga[[MORE]]It was time to say goodbye to South Island and catch an early flight back to Auckland.
More and more hints of Christmas appeared as the holiday approached. At NZ airports, there were signs everywhere in different Asian languages of “please don’t spit”. If spitting is enough of a problem to call for signs, that’s pretty sad.
The flying experience was not too different from the Auckland-Christchurch flight we took, since it was only a week ago. This time we got a bird-themed paper cups! Mine was a brown teal (pateke)!
Saw this mountain outside the windows and thought it was Mt.Taranaki. After comparing it to other reference photos, it’s not Fuji-like enough. Thanks to Rikki for identifying these mountains for me - they are Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu, from left to right.
After landing in Auckland, we went to pick up our car at Avis. I didn’t want to hire from an international chain, but caved in for the convenience they provided. Their office was right at the airport, and was open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, including Christmas, which was the day we would be returning our car. The trade-off for this convenience was the stupidly high price - 6 days for about 100NZD more than a 7 days rental from Apex, and 500NZD excess even with insurance.
What made me dislike Avis even more was that the lady at the counter said they were out of Corolla’s, and tried to push us into renting a more expensive car. First a Ford (too big and hard to drive, consumes way more gas), then some kind of Australian car that I’ve never seen before (I think it was a Holden?). In the end we took the very basic Mazda 5. The lady did not give up and kept telling us that the Mazda has bad fuel efficiency…excuse me, I think I know way more about cars than you do if you’re feeding me bullshit like that! Would probably had a much smoother renting process if I went with Apex.
p.s. Their GPS sucked too. Not nearly as quick to respond as Apex’s TomTom, and led us the wrong direction on many occasions. 
We didn’t have a lot of time to drive to Hobbiton, so we had McD’s at a rest stop on the highway. It was fun to try out some of the local menu here, like the meat pie and the “Kiwiburger”. It consisted of griddle egg, beetroot, tomato, lettuce, cheese, onions, mustard, and ketchup on a toasted bun. Apparently this was what the traditional burgers in NZ looked like, until the invasion of McD’s. 
The drive to Matamata was through motorways and fields of farmlands, and we realized that driving in the North Island was way more challenging than the South. Traffic was heavy in some parts, and most roads were winding. Even if the island is smaller, it often took longer to get from point A to point B because the roads were not as straightforward.
I made an online booking for Hobbiton beforehand, but we ended up arriving early, so I switched the tickets for an earlier time. They do not charge extra for switching, as long as the trip has not started yet. It might be a good idea to take advantage of this flexibility during high season.
The brochure of Hobbiton was beautifully made, to my surprise. NZ attractions were usually not big on maps or brochures (not sure if it was an environmental thing).
Once arrived at the ticket office/cafe/parking area (collectively called “Shire’s Rest”), the visitors would be transported to the actual movie set by bus. The actual set is a distance from the entrance, as the whole point of the movie set was to be isolated from any modern structures.
Thorin, our beloved bus.
Hobbiton is built on a private farm, and was destined to be taken down after filming. After some negotiations with the Alexander family, owners of this farm, the set was kept and now developed into a full-blown tourist attraction. Back when it all started, the Hobbit holes were not decorated, and sheep droppings were everywhere. As years go by this tourist attraction became more and more developed, with props made more permanent materials. The property remained a private farm though, so we could still see sheep roaming about, and visitors must join a tour provided.

Our guide was a down-to-earth girl named Sophie. She was very helpful, and not cheesy. We had to follow her throughout the entire tour, and were not allowed to touch any props. Might be a little bit disappointing for those who wanted to skip around Hobbiton freely like real Hobbits!
On the tour, Sophie explained different shooting techniques that were used in the movie.
These were permanent “fake moss” created with a specific method.
Movie screenshot comparison of the moss-covered fence:

Peter Jackson’s attention to detail and the meticulous work that was put into this set by the team was astonishing and borderline OCD.
Sophie told us that we came at the right time of day (4pm tour) to have gotten this people-less shot looking over Hobbiton.

A few hobbit holes were open for tourists, although the interior is mostly crudely furnished. Indoor scenes in the movies were mostly created in Weta Studios in Wellington.
Some hobbit holes were so small that the door came up to only about my waist level. The hobbit holes were of different sizes in order to create optical illusion of the height differences of Gandalf and the hobbits.
This was what Hobbiton used to looked like. Most of the props were taken down in between filming of LOTR and The Hobbit. Some visitors back then complained that the hefty entry price was not worth the half-finished set.
(source: www.jaunted.com)
Hobbiton looked so much prettier now, that even non-fans like me enjoyed it.
Midway through the tour we reached the Bag End of the Baggins. The door was open, but fenced in so we weren’t allowed to take a look inside.

The set is pretty much identical to how it looks in the movie.

(source: thesevensees.com)
The oak tree above Bag End, believe it or not, was artificial! Leaves were imported from Taiwan, and each painstakingly painted and attached to the tree. All that work to achieve just the right colour according to Peter Jackson’s vision!

Then there was the Party Tree, which was a real tree. As I said I’m not a LOTR fan so I was ?????? about a lot of what Sophie said about the set. What I wrote in this trip report were as much as I could remember.

Hobbiton watermill.

Random sheep.

Black swan.

The tour ended at The Green Dragon pub/inn.

Everyone on the tour got one free drink at The Green Dragon, with the choice of beer, cider or ginger beer. The ginger beer was quite good! The pub also had a regular menu to order from.

Few more shot of The Green Dragon interior and outside.

We were transported back to the Shire’s Rest, and spent some time browsing the souvenirs. “Sobering Thought” was the beer used during filming of LOTR in various scenes that involved alcohol consumption. It contained exactly 1% alcohol so the actors wouldn’t be impaired after drinking these.

We end the day in our lodging at Otorohanga, a tiny town 1 hour away.

Otorohanga is known for the location of one of the country’s oldest Kiwi house and still considered to be the best place to observe a kiwi bird. A giant iron kiwi bird statue was placed in the centre of town, and dressed in season.

The reason why we stayed in this tiny town was because I booked a night kiwi watch tour with the kiwi house. The tour was however, canceled about two months prior. Aside from minor adjustments, it didn’t affect our plan too much, so I didn’t bother to rebook.Otorohanga & Waitomo Motels was the best option for Otorohanga, but also our least favourite accommodation of the trip. Couldn’t expect too much from a small town like this I suppose…
The furnitures looked dated and the fabrics didn’t feel as clean.

The bathroom sink was just as old fashioned as the furnitures, which had cold and hot water coming out from separate faucets. Other than these small annoyances, the place wasn’t too bad, just not as nice compared to the others.

Once checked-in, we started to feel the summer heat! The North Island was at least a 10 degrees difference from South Island, and we couldn’t wait to change into shorts and T-shirts. All-weather clothes needed to be prepared when traveling in New Zealand! 
Otorohanga didn’t have many restaurants, so we were back to self-serve dinners.

A lot of distance was covered today, as we started out in Queenstown and ended up in a small town thousand kilometres away. Long haul transportation is the nature of traveling in NZ, so if it wasn’t for Hobbiton I would have nothing to write about! 
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 12: Hobbiton

The day was scheduled to be a lot of transportation, but was made spectacular by a visit to Hobbiton. Nobody in my family is LOTR fan, but we throughly enjoyed the beautiful set and fun atmosphere.

Itinerary of the day: Queenstown → Auckland (Avis Car Rentals) → Hobbiton (Matamata) → Otorohanga

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

JoJo’s new anime season of Part 3 Stardust Crusaders just started! So I thought I’d rekindle my old love. 

Got a little bit emotional drawing Kakyoin he’s my favourite character in all of JJBA. Warning, I might cry when the season is over. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 11: Milford SoundMilford Sound is one of NZ’s iconic landmarks and labeled as “Eighth Wonder of the World”. I decided to experience this place in a less popular way - helicopter! Got nagged all the way for such big spending, but in the end everyone was blown away!Itinerary of the day: NZONE Skydiving (unsuccessful, again) → Southern Glaciers Helicopters → Milford Sound (+Cruise) → VKnow (Queenstown) [[MORE]]
The day started ridiculously early, as I had rescheduled yesterday’s skydive to 8am this morning. I phoned NZONE first to make sure the weather was ok, walked 20 minutes to the NZONE office, signed the same waiver forms as the day before, only to be told at the waiting room that skydiving had been canceled due to high winds, again!MY SKYDIVING DREAM WAS CRUSHED. I am aware that I can skydive in many other places, but I really wanted to do it in New Zealand!We still had the helicopter flight scheduled at 10am, so I couldn’t reschedule. NZONE refunded my money without any hassle.Thankfully the weather was good enough for helicopters to take off, so Milford Sound was a go!Milford Sound is part of NZ’s Fiordland National Park, located at the West Coast of South Island. There are many more fjords in this park, but Milford Sound was the most accessible. By “most accessible”, it still requires a 5-6 hour drive EACH WAY from Queenstown, as the route loops around many mountains. 10 hours is way too much time spent on the road IMO. From my personal experience in Peru, no matter how great the scenery is outside the windows, I most likely will just fall sleep if the commute was more than 3 hours.
Flying, on the other hand, means bypassing all the mountains and the trip would only take 40 minutes each way. Yes, helicopters are very expensive, but after careful evaluation, I decided the spending was worth it. We had been quite stringent with our other things that the total trip budget would stay within a reasonable amount.
We flew with Southern Glaciers Helicopters, which has the cheapest quoted price yet has the highest ratings on TA. They provided transfer to and from our holiday home to their office near the airport.
At the office, one of the staff instructed us of basic safety tips and recorded our weights. We were sharing the ride with a family with two young children. I kind of thought it was a waste for kids to participate because children are not usually interested in sceneries. After seeing that they stayed at Queenstown Hilton Resort though…good for them to help out the economy! :D
A cool poster at the office of New Zealand as Middle Earth! I kind of wanted one myself but I guess this was a collectible…
Chris was our pilot for the day. All the passengers were seated for even weight distribution. I was lucky to have gotten the front corner seat!
Aerial view of Queenstown airport.
My parents were nagging at me for booking a helicopter because they were afraid of safety issues (said by the same people who took the 12-years-old me on a helicopter over the Great Barrier Reef? Man what old age does to people). Chris was a great pilot and his flying skills were reassuring. The ride was surprisingly comfortable and I didn’t get motion sickness like I expected to.
The scenery from air was breathtaking. Too unnecessary to describe in words, so I shall let the photos speak for themselves.

Chris would name each place as we pass by, but I couldn’t catch the names, even with earphones on, over the propeller noises.
I knew we were close to Milford Sound when I saw layers of mountain and Tasman Sea in the distance.
We landed at the tiny Milford airport. Mitre Peak, the most recognizable mountain of Milford Sound, was sitting right in front of us. Milford Sound is notoriously known for a rainforest-type climate, and we caught the 1/3 chance of sunny days within the year! 
After landing, we were transferred onto a bus to the visitors centre.
This was where all the different companies offering Milford cruises sell their tickets. Chris bought our tickets for us, so we didn’t have to queue with a terrifying crowd of tourists.
A model display of sandfly - I was warned about these things, but I guess we were constantly moving in transportation so didn’t get a chance to encounter one!
Southern Discoveries was our cruise company, and the ship was quite vacant. I think most people wanted to go with Real Journeys because they’re more well known. Real Journal provides more variety of cruises (kayaks, wildlife), but for a normal cruise ride, every company goes through more or less the same route to the Tasman Sea and back.
Free tea and coffee were provided on board, but food is extra. One guide provided commentary about Milford Sound, but I wasn’t listening much. We stayed mostly at the upper deck and only go back to the cabin to warm up.

Mitre Peak is named so because it shaped like a bishop’s headwear. I really wanted to see its reflection in the water, but no such luck today because of the wind. A calm day would probably be even rarer than a sunny day!
When I was debating whether to include Milford Sound in my itinerary, I looked up many photos taken by previous travelers and was not impressed. The Sound is way more beautiful seen in person than on film, especially seen from a cruise. The mountains moved like curtains, and you really understood why James Cook bypassed this place, unaware of what was behind all these cliffs.
Milford Sound got a number of waterfalls, and the cruise sailed under some of them for the passengers to take a closer look.

Rocks that resembled two kissing turtles.
Kayakers, which the cruise dropped them off in the middle of the water and wait for them at a distance.
New Zealand fur seals, like the ones we saw at Katiki Point.
They seemed to living the life here in Milford Sound! The seal at the top of the rock looked so satisfied and relaxed…
Stirling Falls and a double rainbow.
The cruise lasted for two hours, which was just the right amount of time to enjoy Milford Sound from sea level. Any more time would have been too long.
We went back the same way we came for our helicopter ride back to Queenstown.
Only when seated on the helicopter at an elevated position did I see the most iconic view of the Mitre Peak.
Some people who’s been too Norway claimed that the Norwegian fjords blow Milford Sound out of the water, which I couldn’t really compare until I get my sorry ass to Norway. I agree that the fjord itself is not the highlight, but the process of getting there, and the best part of today was just about to get started!
There are two options for flying to Milford Sound, and a fixed-wing small airplane is a cheaper choice than helicopter. The advantage of the helicopter though was the possibility of a mountain-top glacier landing! 
We landed on Tutoko Glaciers, located on the mountain with the same name. 
I felt like I just climbed a multi-day track to reach here, surrounded by mountain tops and untrodden snow…except I didn’t! This was definitely one of the coolest travel experiences I’ve ever had!
Dad was having so much fun destroying the snow lol
The aerial views around this area was also the best. Chris flew quite close to the mountains, and I feel like I was in a BBC documentary, or a dramatic helicopter trailer shot!
Another glacier called Donne Glaciers.

A mountain top lake, Lake Wilson.
Aerial view of the Dart River.
The Remarkables, the backdrop of Queenstown. Seeing this meant the flight was coming to an end.
Back at the office, we paid and Southern Glaciers Helicopters transferred us back to our accommodation. A very expensive excursion, but everyone agreed it was worth every cent!For a more comprehensive preview of what the helicopter ride was like, another traveler has taken an excellent sped-up video of the same route we took (complete with LOTR music!):

Watching this video helped me make the decision to fly to Milford Sound!
It was about 4pm when we returned to Queenstown, so we rest up a bit, and researched where we would go for dinner. We had been cooking for several meals (+Ferburger take out with every meal) and felt it was about time to dine out.
Ranked No.1 in Queenstown, VKnow is located at a suburb of Queenstown called Fernhill. It was about 15 minutes drive but not within walking distance. The fact that it is not centrally located, yet gained so much popularity sparked my interest. We had a car, so why not?

The restaurant was full when we went and almost all customers were locals. The owner, Danny, was a flamboyant character who treated all customers like old ones. Danny kept apologizing to us for the full house and offered us to sit at a bar table. 
This reminded me of restaurants in some parts of Italy and Peru - very family-like atmosphere, which is a bit different from the ultra-polite Kiwis that we had encountered in the past few days. 
Had a white to start, Gibbston Valley “Le Fou” Riesling, made at a winery only 20 minutes away. Delicious and local!

The wall of the bar area were lined with corks. Nice touch!

The three of us shared two dishes, as New Zealand portions tend to be quite big. Both were way more worth than they were priced! 
"Crispy Duck Confit on a Puy Lentil Salad with an Asian Dressing" their signature dish, and for a good reason. One of the best ducks I’ve had in a while! Crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The salad underneath was divine. 

"Roasted Lamb Shank(s) with Roasted Vege, Garlic Mash and Gravy" with the option of 1 or 2 shanks. This was the best lamb we had in NZ, but one shank was more than enough to eat! 

Without much debate, my parents and I all agreed Vknow would be our second favourite restaurant we visited in NZ. Huge portions of carefully prepared food with beautiful plating, and the owner was so friendly! Riverstone Kitchen in Oamaru remained marginally better, but I had no doubt this is the best place to eat in Queenstown.
On the drive back we got stopped by the police for a breathalyzer. The body language of the officers were a bit confusing, so we kind of…drove off…when they actually wanted us to stop OTZ. Good thing that we were good citizens and didn’t let my dad drink any of my Riesling :P Even if he couldn’t count properly from one to ten (his English has gotten quite rusty), we passed the test with no problem. When driving in NZ, we did saw many police cars patroling, so don’t attempt to drink or speed!
For dessert, I bought a Kapiti ice cream cup at the petrol station. This is another one of the local must-try foods in NZ. For something that could be bought from convenience stores, the ice cream was surprisingly good. So much better than the Nestle crap I’m stuck with in Canada.

Aside from the cup ice cream, their popsicles were even better. Many interesting flavours like “White chocolate & Raspberry”, “Hokey Pokey”, and “Passion Fruit & Yogurt”. 
This was our last day in the South Island, and with the exception of skydiving, I had done everything I set out to do. I guess skydiving would have to wait till another country! Tomorrow we would begin the second part of our NZ adventure, the North Island!
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 11: Milford Sound

Milford Sound is one of NZ’s iconic landmarks and labeled as “Eighth Wonder of the World”. I decided to experience this place in a less popular way - helicopter! Got nagged all the way for such big spending, but in the end everyone was blown away!

Itinerary of the day: NZONE Skydiving (unsuccessful, again)  Southern Glaciers Helicopters → Milford Sound (+Cruise) → VKnow (Queenstown) 

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Friday, April 4, 2014
Sudden intermission of art! No I have not forgotten about this series, and would like to finish it up soon! I had been wary about colouring this one, because Nobunaga is one of my childhood historical figures and I’m not used to CIV’s version. 

Sudden intermission of art! No I have not forgotten about this series, and would like to finish it up soon! I had been wary about colouring this one, because Nobunaga is one of my childhood historical figures and I’m not used to CIV’s version. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 10: QueenstownQueenstown, adventure capital of the world, Mecca of extreme sports. If you are not here for those daring moments, then Queenstown is actually kind of…boring. As much as I’ve tried, slow travel is not really my thing!Itinerary of the day: Frankton Track → Queenstown Gardens → NZONE Skydive (unsuccessful)  → Patagonia Chocolates → Skyline Gondola[[MORE]]As beautiful as the weather looked in the photos, both of my planned airborne activities were canceled due to strong winds. The first plan was a helicopter ride to Milford Sound (which thankfully, was completed the next day), and the second was skydiving.Thanks to the empty SIM card Apex Car Rentals gave us, we were able to coordinate with the business operators by phone. In the morning, Southern Glaciers Helicopters notified us that our booked helicopter ride was most likely to be postponed. We decided to explore Queenstown in the morning and hope for the best.
The lakeside walk from Frankton, where we stayed, to Queenstown downtown was called “Frankton Track”, or Frankton Arm Walk (because it follows the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakatipu). The walk would have been lovely if the wind wasn’t so strong! Don’t ever assume that it’s summer in NZ, the southern part of South Island can get pretty cold!

The Queenstown Gardens, which marked the end of Frankton Track, was very nice.
Conveniently located right outside the garden, was one of the many public toilets set up in Queenstown. This one was only partly so, but some toilets in NZ were automated from the door, flush, paper dispenser, handsoap, and all the way to the hand-dryer! No manual operation needed so everything is kept immaculately clean!
If there is anything New Zealand is No.1 in the World…I can positively say that would be public toilets. Throughout the trip, regardless of whether it’s campsite grade or fully automated, the public toilets were always
stocked on toilet paper and handwash
readily accessible, no matter how small a town or how rural the area
I had gone to my share of disgusting toilets around the world and New Zealand was just spoiling me left right and centre!
At Queenstown centre, I headed to the NZONE Skydive office to ask if they were jumping today. Their answer was yes! Not willing to miss the chance, I signed up right away for the 1pm jump on the spot.
I didn’t want to eat too much before a skydive, so we grabbed a quick lunch at the food court in the mall across the street. Lamb shawarma and fries were good! Guy at the cashier gave me the wrong change though, not sure if he did it on purpose, or I just run into too many cashiers bad at math in NZ.
Back at NZONE, I had to again, sign the waiver forms and filled in some basic information (weight again being the most important one, they even provided a scale in the room). Then we waited for a van to drive all the participants to the skydive site. My parents were not jumping obviously, but there were spaces in the van so they could tag along as spectators.
The airfield was about a 30 mins drive from Queenstown, so not exactly close. I estimated that it was somewhere close to the main airport.
Along with several other jumpers, we waited for another half an hour, wondering what was going on. To my dismay, a staff came and told us skydiving was canceled due to strong winds. I appreciate their professionalism for stopping the jump because of risky circumstances, but not the lack of communication from operator to clients. 
I couldn’t blame NZONE for cancellations due to weather, but it was such a frustrating experience! We waited around for three hours and could have used the time for something else! I was lucky compared to the group before me though, who were already took off but had to land before anyone jumped.
All the customers were transported the same way back to Queenstown, and I rescheduled my jump first thing tomorrow morning, in hopes to make it back in time for the helicopter ride.
The original back-up plan, in case the airborne activities didn’t work out, was to either go to Wanaka (1 hour drive) or Glenorchy (40 mins drive). Both my dad and I were so sick of driving at this point though, that we both just said “nah” and decided to spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Queenstown.
We stopped at Patagonia Chocolates to try out their critically acclaimed ice creams. Wi-fi in NZ sucked in general, and here was no exception.
The ice cream was solid and creamy, and the waffle cone freshly made. A little bit too sweet for my taste (flavours were coffee and chocolate).
Coffee - satisfactory. Couldn’t really remember much about them. This cafe is a little bit overhyped in my opinion.
Part of the reason might be that it’s located right by the lake, where numerous types of tourist boats docked, waiting for their passengers to board. 
Luanda experience, a private charter party boat.
Earnslaw, the vintage steamship cruise. The cruise would take passengers along Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak High Country Farm to watch a farm show.
We also saw jet boats, which is the less scary alternative for people who want to look for a small dose of adrenalin.
None of these options sparked our interest, so we turned to shopping instead. 
I’ve learned about the Pounamu a long time ago (from Uncharted Waters, surprise), and was determined to buy one in NZ. It is a jade found only in the South Island of New Zealand, and holds cultural significance for the Maori. Fakes are prevalent on the market, and real ones are pricey. A small pendant would set me back more than 50 NZD.
Still comparing prices at the moment…didn’t buy one until I was about the leave the country, at the duty-free in Auckland airport.
Last stop of the day was the Queenstown Skyline Gondola. It’s near the Queenstown Kiwi Birdlife Park, so bundle tickets of the two were usually sold. We planned to see kiwi birds in North Island so skipped this one. 
Gondola by itself was way too tame, so many people gondola up and luge down, or attach a mountain bike to the gondola and bike down. 

Considering that we would be taking the helicopter tomorrow and see the exact same scenery, I kind of felt the gondola was redundant. The view though, was a classic postcard shot of New Zealand repeatedly used in travel agency ads.
It was only 4pm by the time we finished all we wanted to do! We relaxed for the remainder of the day with tea and another order of Ferburger.My parents seemed to really enjoyed this kind of traveling, but I really wished we had done something more. I rather be dead tired by the end of the day than lazing around on a chair. Even though today kind of ended up being a filler, it was worth the wait for tomorrow’s amazing helicopter ride to the renowned Milford Sound!
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 10: Queenstown

Queenstown, adventure capital of the world, Mecca of extreme sports. If you are not here for those daring moments, then Queenstown is actually kind of…boring. As much as I’ve tried, slow travel is not really my thing!

Itinerary of the day: Frankton Track → Queenstown Gardens → NZONE Skydive (unsuccessful)  → Patagonia Chocolates → Skyline Gondola

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 9: Kawarau Bridge BungyContrary to the title, a more accurate description of the day would be the drive from Otago Peninsula to Queenstown with a few stops on the way. The highlight though, was undoubtedly my first ever Bungy experience, at where it all started!Itinerary of the day: Portobello → Royal Albatross Centre → Lawrence → Jones Family Fruit Stall (Cromwell) → Kawarau Bridge Bungy → Queenstown[[MORE]]My friends were all surprised when they hear that I wanted to try bungy jumping and skydiving in NZ, because I looked like a docile person (a closet adrenalin junkie?). Having said that, I am still cautious by nature, and would prefer to do these activities in countries with better safety standards. Bungy jumping accidents that made the news recently were Victoria Falls and Phuket. Both incidents were caused by human error and negligence of equipment maintenance. After some more extensive research, New Zealand seemed like a valid choice, since bungy jumping was invented in NZ after all!To prepare for my jump today, I put on my contact lenses before checking-out in the morning. First stop of the day was the Royal Albatross Centre, located at Taioroa Head at the very tip of Otago Peninsula.
The drive to the Albatross Centre, as expected, was mostly on gravel and road only wide enough for one car. Thanks to these tiny roads though, we would never run into coach buses.
A beautiful bay at Harington Point.
The centre would not be open until 11am, and we had no intention of waiting. According to people who paid to get in the centre, very few albatrosses could be seen at a far away distance through a piece of glass, and sometimes none. Didn’t sound too appealing to me, so I decided to try my luck by observing outside.I already knew it would be a long shot to actually see any albatrosses, as they probably took off much earlier in the morning. Once they flew, to conserve energy, it’s unlikely they would land until the end of day.Instead of royal albatrosses, we saw a lot of tarapunga (red-billed gull), a type of seagull native to NZ.
A bit cuter than the northern hemisphere counterpart…and only by a bit.
As it was breeding season for most birds, the gulls were also busy.
Lighthouse by the cliff of Taioroa Head.
This place is the most accessible location in the world where royal albatrosses could be observed on land. A wildlife observation cruise offered in Dunedin might be a better option for locating them in the sky.
I simply didn’t allocate enough time for Otago Peninsula to enjoy the wildlife and scenery fully. On another thought though, we had already seen many great landscapes in NZ, so it wouldn’t be too much of a loss anyways. If I were to plan this trip again I would give this place a miss.
There was also this “Lanarch Castle” which seemed to attract many tourists. It’s more of a “mansion” than a “castle”, and totally reminded me of Toronto’s Casa Loma. Not spending anymore time on this peninsula, we started making our 4-hour trip towards Queenstown.
First exit Dunedin through Highway 1, then turn northwest on Highway 8.

(Random fact: Invercargill has the world’s most southerly Starbucks. I’m not a fan but maybe someone really would drive all the way there for that)
The first half of the drive wasn’t so inspiring, with a few occurrences of fluffy sheep and hilly farmlands. 
Many many sheep. So many.
We had lunch at a small town along Highway 8 called Lawrence. 
The fish and chips at this takeaway in the middle of nowhere were, to our surprises, very good. After this we ordered another serving of fried chicken.
The latter part of the drive consisted more of mountainous ranges, and some segments of forests and valleys.
The sheep part didn’t change though. I thought I had found Windows XP desktop in Italy, but NZ’s got its own version as well!
Way more sheep than I needed to see in one day.
Some stone formations similar to the Elephants Rocks we visited two days ago.
About 40 minutes away from Queenstown was the town of Cromwell. It used to be a gold mining town, and changed to a fruit growing area once the gold ran out. 
Cromwell is located at the crossroads between most tourists trails, so it serves as the perfect rest stop. Many tour groups would stop here at Jones Family Fruit Stall for a bathroom and shopping break.
This fruit stall is no longer a “stall”, but more like a store? Thanks to the word of mouth of previous travelers and travel agencies, this “family stall” was able to expand into a commercialized establishment. They hired several Mandarin-speaking youngsters, most likely on their working holiday, to cater to specific tour groups. 
For a less touristy experience, there were plenty of other orchards and fruit stalls in Cromwell. To give Jones Fruit Stall its due, their prices for NZ souvenirs were not bad! Mom bought several jars of Convita Manuka honey here for a much cheaper price than some of the retail stores in Auckland. The fruits though, were not much cheaper than supermarket price.
If anything, come for their ice cream made from Tip Top vanilla and fresh berries! We’ve seen the same ice cream machine at the fruit stall near Auckland, but they were not really that common, so don’t miss the chance!
(the girl said it was ok for me to take a picture, but I might have caught her at an intense ice-cream making moment…)
After Cromwell, we took Highway 6, which follows the Kawarau River and lead into Queenstown. The valley here is called Gibbston Valley, and is one of the many wine regions of NZ.
After months of anticipation, we arrived at AJ Hackett’s Kawarau Bridge Bungy. This was the site of world’s first commercial bungy jump! AJ Hackett got the inspiration for the modern day bungy from a ritual practiced in Vanuatu, where young boys jumped off a cliff with a vine rope attached to their ankles as a rite of passage.
The Kawarau Bridge jump is good for a first-timer, as it’s not very high (43m) and over water. In case the rope snaps, the chance of survival is high! Queenstown is the mecca for extreme activities, so for a more daring attempt, try the Ledge bungy (47m, but you pull your own trigger) or Nevis bungy (134m)!
The facility looked new and modern, as they should because they charge a premium! 180 NZD for the jump, and another 100 NZD for video and photos! Ouch!
The washroom doors had fitting signs…
There were many cars in the parking lot, but very few people were actually jumping :p I was expecting to wait at least for a while, but no! I was asked to sign two waiver forms, weighed, paid, and was told I could jump right away!At the cashier, the staff wrote my weight down on my left hand in red, and a photo & video retrieval number in green on my right hand. My weight was advertised for the world to see! On a more positive note, I could flaunt to everyone that I just finished my Bungy!I gave photography instructions to my parents, left my bags with them, then made my way to the bridge.At the bridge, three different staff members double checked my weight, put a waist harness on me, picked a rope according to my weight, and started attaching the ankle harness. A lady staff first tightly wrapped a fuzzy blue towel around my calves and ankles, then applied the ankle harness. From my research, I read about a guy who fractured his ankles from rope backlash. This was back in the 90’s, so the towels were probably introduced after that incident. The ankle harness was then attached to the waist harness as an extra safety measure. Although I felt pretty confident at this point, I couldn’t help but be a little bit scared, looking right over the platform, only inches away from falling off. The staff kept trying to distract me by asking questions about myself, but they didn’t help much. Two guys after me cussing non-stop (out of fear) weren’t helping either!Wave to the camera!I might look calm in the photos, but in reality I was too nervous to enjoy the scenery around me! Kawarau River was a filming location of LOTR as the Argonath scene.…but no of course I wasn’t thinking about that at all! All I was thinking was “imagine I’m jumping off a bridge for real and feel like a new person afterward!”<—-whatOne of the best features about this bungy location was the spectators. It was free to watch from the viewing plateform, and suddenly I became the focus of some random stranger’s photos! If these spectators were expecting me to scream, I was pure disappointment.The two persons in the white cap and the red hat are my parents. My mom kept trying to talk me out of this beforehand, but on the day she became very excited! Dad said he was really nervous for me and was only relieved after seeing the rope functioned properly. I felt like such a bad daughter for making them watch, but again I was always the adventurous child of the family!The fall was over way too quickly, but I remembered two things very clearly. The feeling of free falling (horrifying and completely different from a rollercoaster) and the water closing in on me. Soon enough, I felt the pull on my ankles, which was gradual and gentle. No jolting! Then came the rebound. I couldn’t tell how many bounces I got, as I was whirling in circles constantly.Before the jump I was worried about my knee joints, but it was actually my shoulders that got sore from dangling upside down too long.Two staff members were waiting at the bottom to receive jumpers onto the raft. After missing the pole once, it took me a while to finally got a grip of their hands. The pull on my arms was way more uncomfortable than the bungy cord pulling on my ankles!Here’s the whole process in video! The video probably captures more essence of my penguin waddle onto the platform, my pathetic swan dive and trying to reach the pole like a helpless piñata.After the jump, I didn’t really felt like I was “born again” like some people described. Maybe I wasn’t scared enough? It was satisfying to cross bungy jumping off the list, and earned bragging rights to my friends!Not gonna lie, I couldn’t keep my balance when I tried to get out of that raft. The last thing I wanted to do after a bungy jump was to climb a flight of stairs back to ground level.Back at the bungy centre, I could review my photos and videos at a screen, and decide if I wanted to pay for them. I chose the online option, and at check-out, was given a free T-shirt, a certificate, and a bungy cord keychain with access code to my photos & video. The media would be kept online for a year with unlimited downloads.I framed the T-shirt and keychain after I got home, and they’re my favourite souvenirs from this trip. The keychain charm is a miniature model of a bungy cord!These two gentlemen from Malaysia jumped after me (this was also one of the few bungy locations that provides tandem jumps) while their wives watched them suffer. Being a spectator was also pretty fun!Although Queenstown is a popular tourist destination, the only large supermarket was a New World outside of town centre, near the airport. We made a quick stop before we entered town, and encountered our only traffic jam in NZ.Queenstown is the no.1 tourist destination in New Zealand all year round, so accommodations are pricey. I looked at almost every hotels in this town but they’re either too expensive, didn’t have a kitchen and/or parking space, or too far from the centre. Thanks to the fact that we plan to stay three nights here, I was qualified to book a holiday home Lake Edge House. It was basically the basement of a residential house, about 20 minutes walk away from town centre. Aside from a minimum stay, holiday houses usually have other limitations like deposits, no housekeeping, and paid in cash only. Small trade-offs for the comfort and value. For more Holiday Home options in NZ use http://www.holidayhouses.co.nz/ and http://www.bookabach.co.nz/Another limitation was that we had to arrive at a negotiated time. We ended up half an hour late because of the traffic jam. The hostess, Liz, was so nice to leave a note for me and left the door open for us.The basement floor was basically like someone’s home, and probably three times bigger than what I could get in Queenstown for the same room rate.There was also a washing machine and clothes line in the lawn for hang dry.Liz was quite detailed regarding small rules to keep the place clean, like microwave and oven covers, soap-free shower gels, no suitcases on the bed, etc. She is only one person doing the housekeeping, so we gladly abided to lighten her workload.Words of wisdom from a pair of slippers.So, we listened to the slippers and had a slow, relaxing afternoon tea and sandwich. I swear kiwi egg ham sandwich tasted better than it sounds.Lake Edge House had a wonderful view of the reason why many people loved Queenstown. It sits along side Lake Wakatipu and is surrounded by The Remarkables mountain range. In addition to the usual summer crowd, skiers also gather here during winter, so Queenstown doesn’t really have a “low” season.After sundown, dad and I took a walk to Queenstown town centre to familiarize and mail out postcards. I could have mailed them out a lot sooner, but unaware that NZ has multiple postal companies, I mistakenly bought stamps of a less popular one, DX Mail. As a result I had to wait until we get to Queenstown to finally get to one of their mailboxes.(photo taken in Auckland a few days later) Postboxes from left to right: New Zealand Post, Universal Mail, and DX Mail. If the mails with the wrong company’s stamps were put in, it would take an extra week for the letters to be sent to the right company.Judging by the prevalence of the red New Zealand Post mailboxes in general, I assume they are the most popular choice. The postcards I sent through DX Mail arrived in exactly ~*~1 month~*~, which is by far the slowest postcards I’ve ever sent. I understand the isolated geography of the country, and Christmas holiday delays, but I also heard things about how NZ postal services tend to be slow. For this reason you do not want your mail to spend another week exchanging between postal companies! Buy the right stamps!Right across the street of the postbox was the most popular eatery in town, Ferburger. Queenstown tend to attract young tourists for all its adrenalin-pumping activites, and Ferburger showed that. The place was occupied by both young employees and young customers, and just oozed a young vibe all around. We had to get a number and wait for about 20 minutes for our order, which was fast considering how crowded it was.We got the classic beef “Ferburger”, and the “Little Lamby” lamb burger for take-out.The burgers were A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! I would rate this higher than Auckland’s White Lady Burger, and maybe even the best burgers I had in my life! The burgers were huuuuuge, and they put in lots and lots of fresh veggies. The lamb burger was a WINNER - the mint jelly and aioli sauce went so well together with the meat!Queenstown was far from my favourite place in NZ, but Ferburger made the stay worthwhile! More details in the tomorrow’s trip report as to why Queenstown, picture perfect as it is, was disappointing for me.
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 9: Kawarau Bridge Bungy

Contrary to the title, a more accurate description of the day would be the drive from Otago Peninsula to Queenstown with a few stops on the way. The highlight though, was undoubtedly my first ever Bungy experience, at where it all started!

Itinerary of the day: Portobello → Royal Albatross Centre → Lawrence  Jones Family Fruit Stall (Cromwell) → Kawarau Bridge Bungy  Queenstown

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 8: Dunedin Balls. World’s steepest street. Bird butts. Adrenalin-pumping death drive. We had driven hours to the east coast of South Island, it only made sense to spend one more day to explore other points of interests in the area.Itinerary of the day: Oamaru → Moeraki Boulders → Orokonui Ecosanctuary → Baldwin Street (Dunedin) → Portobello (Otago Peninsula)[[MORE]]Breakfast today was a mixture of food items we collected so far…a somewhat unconventional salad, but tasted unexpectedly ok.

We were more pressed on time yesterday to catch the penguins, so we only took the motorway south of Oamaru. Today we had ample time to take the scenic route along the coast.There were many beautiful, uncrowded beaches along this route. In fact, “uncrowded” is an understatement as the beaches were practically deserted.
Driving in NZ was such a treat, because the scenery outside the car windows never stopped. The grasses were so green they looked almost fake!
After passing by countless rolling hills and grazing sheeps, the coastal scenic drive ended and we returned back on Highway 1. Not long after we arrived at the Moeraki Boulders.
Two parking lots were available, one was right beside a cafe and closer to the boulders, but required a 2 dollar donation. We parked at the parking lot provided by NZ’s Department of Conservation (DOC), which was free and only a short 10 minutes walk to the site.
Moeraki Boulders are basically clusters of huge BALLS. Originally trapped in softer mudstone, through landslides and erosion, the harder encased concretions became exposed. Similar phenomena can be found in Bowling Ball Beach (California), and a couple of other locations in North America. 
Someone stop this person.
Unless you visit right at high tide, most other times the boulders would be comfortably exposed on land. In fact I would have preferred the tide to be a little bit higher, as the balls are the most photogenic when partly immersed in water.
As we continued southwards to Dunedin, rain started pouring down. Water vapors really did not make good driving conditions.
For a while the road looked like this…This was nothing though, compared to the driving challenges I was about to face later today.
Instead of following the highway to Dunedin, we swerved into local roads to visit Orokonui Ecosanctuary. Located on top of a mountain, the partly gravel roads was not easy to drive, and the foggy water vapor did not help one bit. My driving skills probably quadrupled after this trip!
Thank god that we arrived at the ecosanctuary in one piece!
It was about lunch time, so we ate at the ecosanctuary cafe. The cafe was lovely, but the service was atrocious. Waitress couldn’t do basic math even with her cash register. We waited almost an hour for our food because she simply forgot our order!
Coffee was one of the better ones we had in NZ. Tea was our preferred beverage in this country, as the coffee was too watery most of the time. British influence perhaps?
Food was average. Ordered a platter and packed most of the bread and cheese.
Orokonui Ecosanctuary, much like Tirtiri Matangi, was a natural reserve made for birds. Fences were set up to block off mammalian predators. The whole reserve could be done in an hour at a normal pace.

Before the trip, I planned to see a Tuatara somewhere in NZ. When I wrote to the ecosanctuary about whether we might see one, the answer was “uncertain”. Apparently the Tuatara come and goes as it pleases, depending on the temperature.
Luckily, we caught one sunbathing in its enclosure. Only found in New Zealand, these reptiles are the only survivor of a specific order which existed 200 million years ago. They haven’t changed much since the time of dinosaurs. They look similar to lizards but are anatomically different. They possess a photoreceptive “third eye”, located on their forehead under the skin, in which the function is still unknown.
The most commonly seen bird species of this ecosanctuary were bellbirds (korimako).
A female European green finch.
A male European green finch.
Birds were hard to spot along the bush walk as they preferred to hide in the trees. Much easier to wait by a feeder. 
More tuis!
Photographing small birds is always difficult because they move really fast, and often I found myself capturing photos like this
Butts and bellies. Lots of them.
It wasn’t until several shutter counts later that I finally captured one shot at the right moment. Could have been a great one, but confined by the limitation of my current equipments. ISO was too high for my liking.

Unfortunately, we did not see the star bird of this reserve, the kaka, a large parrot endemic to NZ. There weren’t many of them to begin with, and they tend to feed during early morning hours.Although I liked how this eco-reserve is well off the beaten track, I probably could have done without this visit. Most of the bird species were the same as Tiritiri Matangi, with the exception of the kaka. I would recommend a visit to at least one of the two, depending on whichever is more convenient.Next, we arrived at Dunedin, South Island’s second largest city. Dunedin is a University town, home of one of the two Universities in the country with a Faculty of Medicine. I live in a University town myself, so couldn’t see myself lingering here for long. As rain started pouring again, seeing the pretty railway station on the car was sufficient.
We stopped by Baldwin Street, the Guinness’s record holder of world’s steepest street.
On this street anyone can do a Michael Jackson anti-gravity lean effortlessly. With the exception of actually climbing a 45 degrees incline and getting myself soaking wet!
Dunedin was one of the few city driving I had to do. We navigated through the one-way streets, got our groceries, and filled up on gas without much difficulty. The real challenge was getting to our hotel in Otago Peninsula!Otago Peninsula is a peninsula jutting out from Dunedin, and is well known for its wildlife. The main town is called Portobello, about 20 minutes drive from Dunedin.
This is not the best example of what the roads looked like on the Otago Peninsula, as here the shoulder was still sufficiently wide. Soon the roads got a lot narrower (hardly enough space for opposite traffic), the shoulder disappeared, and so did the bicycle lane.
I was way too nervous to take photos, hence the lack of actual proof of the said narrow roads.
The reason why I booked a motel in the town of Portobello was because of the proximity to Penguin Place and Royal Albatross Centre. Given that we had already seen so many yellow-eyed penguins at Katiki Point yesterday, that wasn’t necessary anymore. If Portobello Motel wasn’t such a bliss, I would have regretted the decision even more.

All beds had electric blankets.
Unlike the cottage exterior, the bathroom amenities were very new and modern. Free wifi was included and signal was stable. I mostly booked motels in NZ within the 120-250 NZD range, and this was even on the lower end of the spectrum! Restaurants were scarce in Otago Peninsula (so were supermarkets, that was why we stocked up in Dunedin), so we had another self-serve dinner. We got steak, zucchinis, mushroom soup, and stir-fry scallops. I had been buying all different flavours of meat pies, an iconic food item of Australia and NZ, from Countdown since day 1. Very good value for something that was ready-made from a supermarket.
After the stressful drive here, a nice, relaxing dinner was exactly what we wanted. Tomorrow would be an even longer drive to Queenstown, the end point of our South Island tour.
[New Zealand 2013 Trip Report] Day 8: Dunedin 

Balls. World’s steepest street. Bird butts. Adrenalin-pumping death drive. We had driven hours to the east coast of South Island, it only made sense to spend one more day to explore other points of interests in the area.

Itinerary of the day: Oamaru → Moeraki Boulders → Orokonui Ecosanctuary → Baldwin Street (Dunedin) → Portobello (Otago Peninsula)

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