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the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


A small photo tour of Sintra’s many sintras

One of the many amazing things about Sintra is the number of “sintras” that there are in that one town, at any given time. Visit it on a sunny warm day and you have a happy town. Visit it when the weather’s not so nice and you have this sort of eerieness that is, at the same time, spooky and attractive. You have the old neighbourhoods with the stone houses and the majestic and ostentatious monuments, palaces and castles. The gorgeous wide gardens and the skinny cobblestone streets. The untouched Unesco patrimony (Sintra is a Unesco World Heritage Site and you can read why here) and the graffitied ruins.

It’s little wonder it has been the setting of so many novels. If you’re in Lisbon, Sintra is one of the best day-trips you can choose to do. Visit the castle, the palace, Quinta da Regaleira, eat Queijadas de Sintra… but don’t forget to also go off the beaten track and check out the stuff that exists beyond the monuments.



a photo tour of new plymouth, new zealand

New Plymouth is definitely my favourite town in the North Island. Mt Taranaki dominates the landscape no matter where you are in town and it is always a beautiful sight. Because of its similarity to Mt Fuji, Mt Taranaki (also called Mt Egmont) is where the film Last Samurai was shot.

It feels like a sleepy little town, far away from the noise of the big cities, but there is actually quite a lot of action going on in New Plymouth, pretty much all year round.

It is well worth a day stop on a tour of the North Island. Or maybe even a couple of days if you really want to make the most out of all the sights – I could spend a good few hours just inside Pukekura Park, for example.

While you’re in the Taranaki region, a visit to the Three Sisters is mandatory.

and if you stop there at the end of the afternoon, you might very well be rewarded with this:

If you are planning a New Zealand road trip, or even just a road trip around the North Island, this town should definitely be one of the pit stops.

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A mini-guide to Rotorua

The champagne pool

Rotorua is mostly known for its boiling mud and sulphur smell (to which, by the way, you get used to quite quickly). A short 2 1/2 hour drive away from Auckland, it is the number one day trip to do if you are a tourist in New Zealand and don’t have much time to see anything else on the North Island (either because you’re headed straight to the South Island, like many do, or because you don’t have that much time in the country at all). Also known as the geothermal capital of New Zealand, Rotorua has the advantage of being jam-packed with things to see and do. There are buses running from Auckland to Rotorua or you can also choose to fly there from Auckland.

Lady Knox Geyser

A visit to Wai-o-Tapu is well worth the time and money. You’ll get geothermal activity in all its glory, with boiling mud, amazing coloured lakes and a series of hot pools like the world-famous Champagne pool (top photo). It is also where you’ll be able to watch the Lady Knox Geyser erupt daily. Staff at Wai-o-Tapu creates the eruption by dropping some sort of soap into the geyser but that is just to assure that it erupts when they want. Otherwise, it erupts on its own anyway, it’s just harder to create a touristic show around it.

One of the lakes at Wai-o-Tapu

Te Puia is one of the several places in Rotorua where you can go for a “Maori cultural experience”. You’ll be taken into a traditional Maori Marae (meeting house) and will attend a traditional Maori ceremony. Te Puia has, however, many more attractions. It’s got its own geysers as well, which was an added bonus since we visited just a couple of hours after getting all “geysered out” at Wai-o-Tapu.

Maori performance at Te Puia

It’s also got a reconstitution of a traditional Maori village and a carving school full of amazing traditional carvings made by the apprentices. But the coolest thing about Te Puia was, without a doubt, the kiwi house. It was such a surprise because we didn’t realise it was part of it all so it was extra exciting to finally see a kiwi (even if it wasn’t in the wild, where they are oh so very rare to spot!).

Maori village at Te Puia

Once you’re done with boiling mud and geysers, you should try Zorbing. I know, I know… why would you want to roll down a big hill inside a giant inflatable ball? Well, why wouldn’t you? It’s awesome! I suggest you pack your swimwear and choose the zorb ball with water for extra fun (if you choose the one without water, you will be tied inside the zorb rather than just roll around inside it). It’s a short activity – probably won’t last you more than 45 minutes from signing the document saying it’s your fault if you die inside the zorb to rolling down the hill and putting your clothes back on and heading out. It’s worth it, though! There are now apparently a few other places in the world where you can zorb but this is the original one and Rotorua is where it was invented.


And if the zorbing is a little too much adventure for your taste or you feel like you need a rest, the Polynesian Spa is the place to go next. It’s not terribly expensive and you can even enjoy some really pretty views while you’re soaking in the hot pools. It’s apparently ranked in the top 10 spas in the world, accoridng to Conde Nast Traveler.

A view from the hot pools at the Polynesian Spa

Once you’re done with all these activities, do go for a wander around town because there is a lot of pretty stuff to see without having to be charged an entrance fee – and yes, that includes free boiling mud as well, of course.

Rotorua Museum

For more information on the four attractions mentioned, visit the following links:

Park in Rotorua


I know what I did last summer* – Great Barrier Island edition

A mini-guide to Great Barrier Island

A much-needed backup of my laptop led to me spending a good hour browsing through photos, including the folder of photos taken on Great Barrier Island in October last year. It is such an amazing place to visit and you would be surprised at how few NZers actually go there (especially considering it’s only about 100km out of Auckland – a mere 30min flight away). But maybe the fact it doesn’t get many visitors is actually part of the reason the island is so beautiful.

Travelling to Great Barrier really does feel like travelling back in time to what New Zealand must have used to be. I know it sounds cheesy but it is true that time seems to slow down on the Barrier and things are done in a much simpler way. There are no paved roads and no electricity on the island. Each house as its own power generator and don’t expect to find any street lights or traffic lights anywhere (take a torch with you!).

There are amazing pristine white sand beaches like I have not seen anywhere else in New Zealand and a network of great bush walks for keen hikers. Snorkeling and diving are supposed to be amazing here but I didn’t do any of those so can’t talk about them. It is also supposed to be a popular place for birdwatchers, for the many beautiful species that choose to call the island home. If you’re into mountain biking, there are a few good tracks. If golf is your passion (I won’t question it but I do find it a lil’ bit dull), there’s a nine hole golf course as well.

Population numbers are very low on Great Barrier (something like a little over 800 people covering 285 square kilometres). It’s not unusual to drive for ages without seeing anyone else and it is also not unusual to realise that pretty much everyone you’ve established any sort of contact with while on the island knows each other.

But there’s more to Great Barrier than just the stunning landscapes. Artists have found in the island their perfect refuge and many run small galleries where they exhibit and sell their creations. We bought a couple of unique handmade charms off an artist on the island, just as we were on our way to the airfield to return back to Auckland. That’s when we realised the galleries deserve a closer look (a reason to go back).

We only had three days on the island and I was a bit worried we’d be rushing around to see all the sites we had planned on seeing. However, as we arrived there, the relaxed, no-frills lifestyle kind of rubbed onto us and we found ourselves taking our time and not really stressing about getting through our list of places to see. We sat around for ages admiring landscapes and enjoyed the privilege of walking along deserted beaches.

Three days were enough to give us a taste of Great Barrier Island but they were also enough to make us realise we definitely need to return. And you should go there too.

How to get there:

You can either fly or take a ferry from Auckland to Great Barrier Island. If you’re flying, you can choose to fly with Fly My Sky (the company we used) or Great Barrier Airlines. The trip takes about half an hour.

If you’re choosing to take the ferry (which can either take 2 1/2 or 4 1/2 hours, depending on whether it is a car ferry or a passenger ferry), both SeaLink and Fullers operate from Auckland.

Where to stay:

There are many accommodation options on Great Barrier and most of them look very nice. Truth is, you’re never too far from an amazing beach on the island so, wherever you choose to stay, it’ll probably be amazing. We stayed in Tryphena, at the south end of the island, not very far from the airfield.

Getting around the island:

The roads on Great Barrier are not paved so my advice is that you do not take your own car to the island (which you can do with the car ferry). Hiring a car on the island is not very expensive and you’ll be thankful you are driving a rental car when you hit the really rough parts of the roads.


There are some good restaurants on Great Barrier, if memory serves me right. We had a delicious dinner at an Irish pub in Tryphena. I can’t remember the name but I’m pretty sure there aren’t two Irish pubs there so that should be enough information to get you there.

However, snacks can be expensive! Great Barrier Island’s groceries arrive weekly from supermarkets in Auckland and, therefore, stock is limited and prices are higher than you will find in other areas of New Zealand. If you’re going for just 3 or 4 days, like we did, I suggest you pack some snack bars or biscuits, in case you get hungry and don’t feel like paying 3 or 4 times as much for them.


There are no banks or ATMs on Great Barrier so take cash with you!

Not to miss:

The SS Wairarapa shipwreck site, on the north of the island, is well worth a visit.

Don’t forget to visit the Kaitoke hot springs, which are a short bush walk away from the road.

Windy Canyon is well worth the walk to (especially for the stunning panoramic views you get of the whole island). But they’re not joking about the name – don’t leave that jacket in the car!

* Winter has really settled in here in the land of the long white cloud (and we’ve been having some seriously cold weather). The next best thing after warm coats, hot cups of coffee and comfortable knitwear is 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!
This is the fourth post in the series.The first one was about Rarotonga, the second was about White Island and the third one was about New Zealand’s South Island.


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

In the beginning of summer, my parents visited New Zealand for the first time and we took them on a little whirlwind tour of the country. It was a jam-packed month during which we tried to made sure they got to see the most amazing sites (including a couple of places I’d never been to either, like Milford Sound). We couldn’t believe how lucky we were with the weather (even if mum and dad found it a wee bit chilly most of the time). The sky was clear for 99.9% of their time here and the southern lakes were a real beauty.

We started off our southern roadtrip in Christchurch (which my parents were fortunate enough to visit pre-earthquake) and headed west across Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth. From there, we drove south to the glaciers and then to Wanaka and Queenstown, before heading to Te Anau and Milford South, and all the way down to Invercargill before starting the journey back up north through Dunedin, Oamaru, and a bunch of other cute little towns, back to Christchurch again.

The poor rental car clocked up a lot of kilometres but we still had plenty of time to stop and enjoy the amazing landscapes. I honestly can’t remember how many photos we took of this lake (Lake Pukaki) but we just couldn’t believe how beautiful it looked. We had driven past it earlier in the day and it hadn’t been quite like that but I guess the real still air with zero wind caused this image in the afternoon. I was so pleased they got to see it like that too.

This was my third trip to the South Island and every time I go I’m reminded of why New Zealand is considered one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It’s not that the North Island isn’t pretty – it is! – but the South Island is truly spectacular.


P.s.: Dear tourists travelling to New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup in September: if you come all the way to the bottom of the world and don’t take the extra drive/flight to the South Island, you’ll be missing out on the most amazing landscapes ever. Consider yourself warned.

* 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! This is the third post of the series.The first one was about Rarotonga and the second was about White Island.