super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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a flying visit to singapore

I travelled to Singapore on Monday, have now been here for about 48 hours and I’m already sitting in the hotel lobby making the most out of my free wifi connection before heading out to the airport before starting my 15 hour journey back to New Zealand.

I got to stay at a gorgeous hotel, the Marina Bay Sands, which is where the Infinity Pool (photo above) is located. It’s supposed to be a big attraction for crazy people who, unlike me, don’t think the combo water + height (the pool is on the 57th floor) is too scary to be fun. It’s really pretty, though. From a safe distance.

The area where the hotel is located is super flash and modern, with lots of skyscrapers and interesting buildings for my eyes to feast on.

I took advantage of jetlag and managed to go for two early morning runs (me and early mornings, now that doesn’t happen often!). I also went for a couple of evening walks and felt completely safe doing so. I know NZ isn’t exactly the world’s crime capital but I did feel slightly safer here.

Anyway, time to head out to the airport. More posts on Singapore to come, I’m sure. I’ll have to tell you all about how I caught up with the lovely Lua and we laughed and shopped and got rained on and I had an amazing time.

And to top everything up, I went into the supermarket and found Chocapic! It’s called Koko Krunch here and it’s got a different dude in the package (not Pico) but it’s still tastes like my favourite breakfast cereal ever (I know it tastes the same because I had already found Koko Krunch in Beijing and nearly died of happiness). I’m going to stuff two boxes in my suitcase to remind myself of Portugal back in New Zealand.


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Formerly the Blackball Hilton

For some strange reason, I’m going back to the subject of off-the-beaten-track old style pubs. Don’t worry, I think this is the only other one I know. Also, don’t ask why, just embrace it as the useless piece of trivia that it is. Maybe you can use it as a conversation topic for when things get awkward around strangers? No? Okay, no.

Browsing through my photos of the South Island, I came across a couple of shots of the Blackball Hilton, located in the tiny town of Blackball on the West Coast (just inland from Greymouth), which is home to only about 330 people.

This Victorian style inn was built in 1910 and, in 1992, at age 82, when it was already old enough to be respected and left alone, the lawyers of the Hilton family (yes, that Hilton family) somehow heard of this place in the middle of nowhere, in the quietest little town on the quietest island. They slapped the owners with a lawsuit to get them to stop using the word Hilton and, in response, the name was changed and, since then, the inn has been known as “Formerly the Blackball Hilton”.


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ettamogah pub

Imagine driving along a lonely piece of road for a while, without much to look out the window for. Hardly a car goes past because, lets face it, it’s Australia, you’re out of the city and so there aren’t that many people around anyway. All of a sudden, you spot this colourful shape in the horizon and, as you get closer, you might even be tempted to think you’ve somehow just jumped into a cartoon.

You’re probably on the Hume Highway in Australia and you’ve just come across the Ettamogah Pub, which many consider the most photographed pub in the world (and here are some more photos of it, just to help ensure the statement is accurate). It is a quirky place that adds a little more fun to your Australian roadtrip. It’s definitely worth parking the campervan and going for a wander around and having a drink, or even a meal. We didn’t try the meals so I can’t comment on the food. It was the middle of the afternoon of a really hot day so we settled for an ice cream, knowing we still had a lot of kilometers to cover on the road that day.

  

This particular Ettamogah Pub, in Albury (New South Wales), is the first one to have been built. Since then, a few others have opened in Australia, including in Sydney and the Sunshine Coast, but this one remains the original one. Come to think of it, the “most photographed pub in the world” accolade, if true, is probably valid for the Sunshine Coast or Sydney replicas. This particular location might just be a bit too out of the way to ever have the “most photographed” anything. But I could be wrong (no, really).

Last May, the owner announced a $3 million revamp for the pub. I’m not sure if any work has been done on it since then or not. These photos are from our trip over Easter 2009. We got a spaceship campervan for seven days and I had my first campervan-holidaying experience ever, which I really should blog about in a separate blog post. Spoiler alert: it ends with the campervan parked in a motel carpark on the last night and us requesting “any room that has a functioning hot shower, please!” to the motel receptionist.


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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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postcards from ericeira

Heading to Ericeira for a seafood lunch has always kind of been a favourite activity for my parents and something we tend to do pretty much every year, without even planning or thinking about it. Even when I visited Portugal in Christmas in previous years and the weather outside was cold and uninviting, we always made the yearly pilgrimage and sat at the same waterfront restaurant.

This year, I finally got to return there on a summer day (and what a glorious summer day it was!). With me still uber jet lagged, only a couple of days after getting off the plane (well, planes) from the opposite side of the world, we sat at the usual restaurant and then spent the afternoon wandering around the streets and admiring the surfers out in the water.

There isn’t one particular reason as to why we end up going to this place and not somewhere else but rather a mix of little things that add to Ericeira’s coolness factor. It’s a relatively short drive from Lisbon, it gives us the chance to stop in Sobreiro (Mafra) for some amazing pão com chouriço (which we didn’t this time, since we’d just gotten churros and farturas!) and it is one of those nice little fishing villages that has everything going for it: it’s got that small town character, the amazing sea views and amazing food.

And here’s some bonus trivia, which I’ve just learnt, courtesy of the always trustworthy wikipedia: “In 2011 Ericeira was chosen by the WSR to one of the four World Surfing Reserves together with Malibu and Santa Cruz in California and Manly Beach in Australia”.


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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.

Zorbing

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


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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.

Food:

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.

Money:

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.


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Note to self and to others: a list of things to eat in Portugal (WIP)

I’m going to be home in more or less 50 days. By the time I land it will have been 20 months since my last visit which is just ridiculously stupid. I would describe to you how excited I am about going home but then this would turn into a really long blog post full of crazy-happy yays and squees, capital letters and multiple exclamation marks so I’ll save you from that.

Besides all the obvious things that I’m looking forward to (ie, squeezing all my family and friends real hard until they start wishing I’d just bugger off back to NZ so they can breathe normally again), I’m really excited about the food. Yes, the food. After the people, the food is the best thing about my country, hands down. I mean, it’s beyond awesome and no other country can replicate the level of culinary awesomeness that goes on in that little country, I tell you.

So the other day I started writing down all the things I cannot wait to eat when I’m there. Last time I visited, I thought I wouldn’t need a list and ended up forgetting to eat a bunch of delicious stuff that I can’t get here in Kiwiland so this time I decided a list was in order. Then I thought I should put the list on here so that it can serve two purposes: reminding myself of all those things and, just in case someone happens to be planning a trip to Portugal, they don’t act all crazy like I did last time and leave without trying some of this stuff.

Note that this list is a work in progress and I’m sure there are at least 456,550 other things that I’ll think of before I make my way back to the northern hemisphere. Also, apologies in advance for the lack of accents.

  • pao alentejano (without a doubt, the best bread in the world. Even my kiwi agrees that life without that bread is a tough one)
  • cafe delta (best coffee in the world and lalalalalala I can’t hear you if you disagree lalalalalala)
  • gomas vidal (a particular brand of lollies that are super soft and full of flavour. to die for!)
  • tuli creme (sort of like nutella but about a bazillion and a half times better)
  • chocapic (best. cereal. ever.)
  • grilled sardines (one of the advantages of visiting in summer)
  • snails (again, amen to a summer trip for allowing me to enjoy these, after 3 years of visiting in winter and missing out on them)
  • acorda alentejana (with lots of pao alentejano!)
  • morcela de arroz (again, on pao alentejano)
  • pasteis de nata (the tarts that I keep telling everyone I can’t live without)
  • ovos moles (egg overdose. nothing not to like)
  • bolas de berlim (it’s like what in NZ you’d call a donut but giant sized and with heaps of egg cream inside. to consume on the beach, preferably)
  • farturas (a type of fritters… with sugar and cinnamon – deliciousness!)
  • churros com doce de ovo (churros are pretty well known here… except these ones are super-sized and have an egg mix inside that makes them divine!)
  • sumol de ananas (a pineapple fizzy drink that I haven’t found anywhere else)
  • queijo fresco (on pao alentejano!)
  • rol (is it still available? I read it made a comeback but not sure if it was for a limited time only! One of the ice creams made by Ola – the same brand that in NZ is called Streets)
  • tomatada (a dish made of basically tomatos and egg that you eat with, yeah, you guessed it… pao alentejano!)

(to be continued)


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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.


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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.