super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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I know what I did last last summer* – White Island edition

(warning: picture-heavy blog post. just because.)

I had wanted to visit White Island since I’d first heard about it, roughly three years ago. The thought of being able to step on an active volcano sounded only a few hours of driving plus a boat trip away was too good to pass on. Plus, we had to wear gas masks. I mean, coolness to the power of… I don’t know, quite a high number. Over the Easter break, a group of us headed down to Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty and got on what turned out to be the most horrible boat ride of my life to visit Whakaari/ White Island. And by horrible I mean really rough. Fortunately I’m far too classy to share with you how many barf bags I went through on the way to the island… oh what the heck! THREE! Three barf bags! As the boat bounced, I kept thinking to myself “this better be a FRIGGIN’ AMAZING volcano!” – It was.

The volcano is about 48km (30 miles) off the coast of Bay of Plenty in New Zealand and is constantly bubbling and steaming. It’s apparently full of sulphur and they did attempt to mine it but had to abandon it in 1914 after all 10 workers were killed, proving how unstable and active the volcano was/is.

These days, the volcano is actually private property – apparently bought by someone who just thought it would be cool to own a volcano (dear volcano owner, if you’re reading this, we’d be great friends) and, other than the touristic tours like the one we did, it’s only used for scientific research.

This is New Zealand’s only active marine volcano and the fact that it is so accessible makes it a great place for scientists.

The entire trip takes about 6 hours, from Whakatane to White Island and then back to Whakatane. Once you land on the volcano, you walk around for a couple of hours. There are no marked tracks so you just have to trust that your tour guide knows what’s safe to step on and what isn’t. The smell can be a little bit overwhelming at times and we soon discovered that the gas masks weren’t just a prop (we had them on for quite some time while on the island and were still coughing our lungs out).

If you’re going:

  • Pee Jay Tours operates daily tours of White Island, from Whakatane (weather permitting). Bookings are required but can only be confirmed the day before.
  • The tour costs NZ$185 and includes lunch on the boat.
  • You should wear a good waterproof jacket, sturdy walking boots, sunscreen and a drink.

* Technically, this happened in autumn in New Zealand but I was still wearing short sleeves on some of the days of that month so my global-warming-affected-mentality chooses to think of that as summer. Because it wasn’t winter, you see. Nevermind. Anyway, winter is well and truly here now and so I’m re-living summer (autumn, whatever) through these posts. This is the second of the series. The first one was about Rarotonga and you can read it here.


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where are you wearing today?

About three years ago, I read Kelsey Timmerman‘s Where Am I Wearing. Once I got over the jealousy of his amazing travel adventure, I spent quite some time going through my closet and drawers, checking the labels of all my clothes.

My suspicions were confirmed: my love for cheap bargains put me in the same basked as the least sustainable consumers on earth. I may eat free-range chicken and free-range eggs and free-range whatever else, but I’m still doing it in my Made in Bangladesh tshirt and Made in China jeans. So, I thought to myself, I’m failing at this citizen of the world thing.

And then I thought some more about what Kelsey Timmerman wrote in his book, especially his dialogue with the sweatshop worker who said it would be a disgrace for her and her colleagues if the western world stopped buying the garments she gets paid $0.00000001 (or something equally low) to make.

And then I got really confused (which happens really easily, anyway).

If filling my closet with $15 tops keeps these people employed, shouldn’t I just head to the mall right now instead of finishing this post?

Well, not quite.

No matter what the self-righteous western world thinks about it, the sweatshop worker is right: if we stop buying, they will lose their jobs. So that can’t be the best solution. But am I just holding onto this particular point because I want to somehow justify my love for clothing bargains? Quite possibly.

So the fact is that I’m still not sure what should be done. In an ideal world, companies would pay their workers better and that wouldn’t affect prices and consumers could happily buy the stuff they like without being supposed to feel guilty. In the real world, I’m not entirely sure what would work to improve the situation.

Recommending this book to you makes me feel ever so slightly less guilty about the top I’m wearing today. The label says made in China and it cost me about NZ$15, if I’m not mistaken. I bought it because I thought it was pretty and didn’t really think about where it had come from. I’m helping someone in China keep their job but it’s a shit job and they should have something better. My  purchase isn’t helping them get anything better.

Reading that book, as well as Joe Bennett’s Where underpants come from, which I read shortly after, was eye-opening. I haven’t made as many changes to my consumer habits as I wish I had, since then, but it got me thinking about it often. The problem I have is the problem that so many people have: I can’t always afford to have the social conscience I wish I had.

A month or two ago, thanks the lovely Fatima, I found the IOU Project. I thought “well, if this isn’t the solution, then it’s at least a giant step in the right direction”. I can’t afford an entire wardrobe at those prices but, without going all patronising and high-horse-y on you, I think its our duty to invest in projects such as this one.

Or, at the very least, I should try to be a bit more frugal when it comes to cheap stuff I don’t actually need (this coming from the girl with 80+ pairs of shoes). And reading labels. I should do that more often too.

Today, for example, I’m wearing flats made in China, jeans made in China, a top made in China, a scarf made in India and a jacket made in China. Points for knowing a bargain when I see one: 10. Points for social responsibility in my clothing options: -5000.

(image credit: IOU Project)


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I know what I did last summer* – Rarotonga edition

I was going to write a blog post about the cool stuff I’m hoping to do this year and then it occurred to me I probably shouldn’t ignore the cool stuff I’ve already done so far – some of that, as far as I’m concerned, is very much worth writing about.

Like, for example, when I went to Rarotonga for Valentine’s Day and miscalculated everything and ended up letting the International Dateline eliminate the 14th of February 2011 out of our lives (we left Rarotonga at the end of the 13th of February and, four hours later, landed in New Zealand, where it was already the 15th of February. And yes, C. totally used that as an excuse not to get me a present. But then again, so did I).

That has been, so far, my most amazing experience this year. Why? Well, for one thing, it was a total last minute kind of trip, which I love. Much like the trip to Beijing in 2009 (which shall be blogged about too, just for the record), this was a last-minute spur of the moment kind of thing… one of those situations where you’re munching on your lunch at work, browsing websites, and come across an awesome promotion that you think you’d be silly to pass on. A few days after booking the tickets, we were boarding the flight to the biggest of the Cook Islands.

The first night was spent at the cheapest possible backpackers, which we nicknamed “cockroach palace”. We didn’t turn the light off to sleep, we didn’t even take our shoes off or open our bags, to avoid letting any creepy crawlies in – yep, that bad.

Luckily, the following nights were spent at what I believe to be the most amazing room at the most amazing resort on the island (I mean, it has to be because anything better would just blow up the scale of awesomeness). I ticked off the bucket list two things I’d never done before: snorkeling and kayaking.

The best part of the trip was, without a doubt, the cross-island trek with our local guide, Pa. I know it sounds lame but it was kind of life-changing. So amazing I should probably write a separate blog post about it but, in the mean time, I’ll just say that if you’re going to Rarotonga, you better book a hike with Pa otherwise you’ll be missing out on an amazing experience.

The island, albeit small (you can drive around the whole island in about 45 minutes), has a lot to see. The jungle is filled with little treasures and the beaches are much more beautiful than I could describe to you.

I know Rarotonga is out of reach for many people in the world – and that’s okay, you’ve got other little slices of paradise close to you. But the Cook Islands are too accessible to New Zealand and Australia to justify any Kiwi or Aussie missing out on them. Go. Go now. I tell you that, even if you miss out on Valentine’s Day, it’ll still be the best non-existent Valentine’s Day ever.

* As winter reaches New Zealand, I thought the next best thing about warm coats, hot cups of coffee and comfortable knitwear would be to remind myself of how much I enjoyed the past summer. It is also a good reminder of the good times to look forward to when the next summer comes around. Oh yes it is!

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