A Mountain Baptism at 7000ft

I’m not one for spontaneity – and that’s not exactly a good thing. But when my lovely friend Becky (who you might remember from this stellar interview) suggested we go climb a mountain, who was I to say no?

Let me set the scene for you. During the university break, I escaped the mundanity of urban routine to the wine-soaked town of Cromwell. It just so happened that Becky had traveled to the town over. Naturally, we decided to meet up and go on some good old fashioned adventuring. And so it was that one balmy Saturday morning, Becky and I jumped into my car and set off towards the shadow of the Remarkables, a flask of mulled wine in one hand and a drink bottle in the other (because, y’know, we’re responsible drinkers).

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the New Zealand landscape, the 7000ft Remarkables are an aptly-named mountain range located on the southeastern shore of Lake Wakatipu and a ten minute drive from the adrenaline capital of Queenstown. During the winter months, the Remarkables are blanketed in a powdery layer of snow and transform into a gem of a ski-field. But at this time of the year, travellers are treated to a rustic canvas of alpine undergrowth and jaw-dropping views.

One of the features that lured us to the Remarkables was Lake Alta, a small glacial lake nestled amongst the peaks. Symbolic of new beginnings in the coming months (stay tuned!), Becky had joked that we might baptise ourselves in the water when we reached it. I liked the idea but nevertheless snorted in response. Me, swimming in a glacial lake? Please.

Famous last words.

Under a crisp blue sky, we parked at the base of the deserted ski resort and began our ascent. After the initial revelation that I am embarrassingly unfit, we settled into a comfortable yet spritely pace. I have never really been heavily involved (or even lightly involved, to tell the truth) in any sort of hiking, but could certainly understand the appeal to it. A highlight for me included navigating our way up an almost vertical rockscape and questioning every step of the way why I had made the conscious decision to impose this upon myself.

I don’t think I am likely to forget the sensation of busting my gut to reach the summit – practically crawling on hands and knees – for the stupendous Central Otago landscape to fall into view. Having actually earned the view was unbelievably rewarding, and I had to take a moment at the top just to breathe and take in the sight.

With clothing clinging to our clammy skin (how’s that for an alliteration?) we climbed down from the peak and descended upon Lake Atlas. I don’t think I’d ever laid eyes on water so clear. Sheltered from the wind by the surrounding crags, the surface of the lake was undisturbed and inviting, the water a tremendous tinge of turquoise (blimey, I’m on a roll).

Without further ado – or warning – Becky began stripping off. When she were naked and her clothes crumpled at her feet, she began wading shamelessly into the lake. Apparently this whole re-awakening/baptism business was more than an entertained thought.

“Take the damn photo!” she demanded while I gawked, my camera buried in my pocket. Her voice betrayed the cold. Laughing, I got my act together and began snapping away madly. Unencumbered by expectations, Becky extended her arms and embraced the invigorating mountain air.

I was next. Once Becky had clambered back out of the lake and dressed herself, there was really no excuse I could avail. Surprising even myself, I climbed out of my deliciously cosy clothes and waded tentatively into the depths. The biting, mind-numbing water sucked hungrily at my legs, and the possibility crossed my mind that I might not actually be able to convince my limbs to walk out again. It wasn’t just cold, it was painful. But still, I made myself stay put, and the endorphins that skyrocket afterwards were second to none.

Becky and I rewarded our efforts by opening the flask of mulled wine we had brought. Basking in the sun on a slab of stone lakeside, we sipped away, soaked in the landscape and discussed new beginnings. If hiking up a 7000ft mountain and taking a glacial plunge was what it took to experience such satisfaction… well, maybe I could get used to this.

If these photos have tickled your fancy, then be sure to check out my Central Otago Vlog featuring more footage of the hike – and subscribe to the Ginger Passports YouTube Channel!

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How to Fall in Love with Cromwell (In 5 Easy Steps)

Step One: Take a Step Back in Time…

Cromwell – located deep in the heart of Central Otago – pays tribute to its rich heritage with a precinct called Old Cromwell Town. Here, you’ll find art galleries, cafés and boutique shops all operating out of authentic historic buildings. The heritage precinct – also known as “Central Otago’s best kept secret” – overlooks the stunning Lake Dunstan and hosts the Cromwell Farmer’s Market (catch it every Sunday from 9am-1pm over the warmer months).

Step Two: Save Water, Drink Wine

“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters… but with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk.” – Charles Baudelaire

I like to think of Cromwell as the Barossa Valley of New Zealand. It may not be as vast nor as renowned, but does that really matter as far as excellent wine is concerned?

Cromwell is celebrated for it’s orchards and it’s not hard to see why; a patchwork of vineyards cloak the bountiful landscape, and the view is almost as sweet as the taste. My winery loyalties are divided between Mt Difficulty and Scott Base. You’ll find the former perched above Bannockburn whilst the latter is a short walk from ‘the fruit’ (as seen in Step 5).

Step Three: Fall for Cromwell

Hehe – geddit? Fall? Well, you Americans may have caught my embarrassing pun, but us Kiwis might need a ‘lil helping hand.

The best time to visit Cromwell is in autumn. Between the months of March – May, you may miss cooking like a baked potato in the summer heat, but you will be treated to a rustic palette of nutmeg leaves and amber dusks. My favourite time of the day is late afternoon when the sky blushes, the sun sinks low upon the horizon and you would be forgiven for mistaking the mountains to have caught fire.

Step Four: 5 a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

(Okay, so there’s only 4 here, but you catch the gist.)

There is perhaps nothing more iconic about Cromwell than the enormous painted fruit sculpture on the main road. The gigantic pear, apple, orange and – I think nectarine? – welcome you into the town that is famed for it’s abundance of orchards. You haven’t had the full Central Otago experience until you’ve gone cherry picking at Cheeki Cherries, or demolished a blueberry real-fruit ice cream from Freeway Orchard.

Step Five: Say Cheese!

Cheese is one of the best goddamn things on earth and you cannot convince me otherwise.

Nothing goes better with a good old glass of pinot noir than a slab of gorgonzola, and what better place to enjoy a succulent cheese platter than Cromwell? The beauty featured below is from Scott Base Vineyards, which I enjoyed one balmy evening preceding my reluctant journey home.

If you’re keen to see some more of what Cromwell has to offer in action, then check out my Central Otago Travel Vlog – and don’t forget to show the love and subscribe to the Ginger Passport’s YouTube Channel!

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Vlog: Central Otago Edition

If I had to name the one place in New Zealand that I think every traveler (and Kiwi!) should visit, I wouldn’t have to think twice. To me, that place is Central Otago.

I spent the last week and a half exploring this stunning, sun-drenched region for what may very well be the last time for a very long while in light of my upcoming relocation to England (😥). Some of the highlights – as featured in this vlog – include enjoying the prismatic palette of Cromwell, taking in the awe-inspiring views of Lake Dunstan, hiking up the 7000ft Remarkables to swim in a secluded mountain lake and enjoying the delicious offerings of Scott Base Vineyard.

I’ll keep the details to a minimum – I’m saving that for my upcoming blog posts on the experience. But if you’re getting restless in the mean time, check out the interview I held with Becky Finley i.e. the star of this vlog.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Ginger Passport’s YouTube Channel to keep updated with the latest travel videos!

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Postcards from Lover’s Leap

Nineteen years later and I’m still discovering places in my home town that I never knew existed.

Lover’s Leap is one of the forgotten gems of the Otago Peninsula, located a mere 25 minute cruise from the hub of Dunedin, New Zealand.

Those who embark on the trek will be treated to the stunningly resplendent views of Sandymount carpark before a short stroll through rolling farmland to reach the Chasm (keep an eye out for the sheep!). After soaking in the monumental (and arguably formidable) abyss, negotiate the sloping and rugged coastline towards the 225m crag of Lovers Leap.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for my Dunedin vlog! As I prepare to farewell my home of nineteen years, I have been collecting footage over the past handful of months to celebrate the delightful city Dunedin is. There will be some clips of Lovers Leap thrown into the mix, so if you find yourself drawn to the jaw-dropping landscape of the Otago Peninsula, be sure to treat yourself to this upcoming montage.

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There and Back Again: Hobbiton in Greyscale

When I first pitched the idea of showcasing my experience of the Hobbiton set tour in black and white, I was met with sarcastic laughter.

What would you want to do that, for? my boyfriend ridiculed. The whole point of Hobbiton is that people want to see all the colours!

At first I admitted that he had a point. But then I thought; fuck it. This is my blog, and if I want to do a greyscale piece, then I will bloody well do a greyscale piece. Besides, there’s something poetically beautiful about black and white pictures. Furthermore, it seems every photograph of Hobbiton is in colour. What’s wrong with incorporating a point of difference?

For those of you who have been living under a rock, Hobbiton is the location that Peter Jackson and his crew shot ‘the Shire’ scenes in the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies. Tolkien fans from every corner of the globe make the pilgrimage here to experience the unforgettable authenticity of Middle Earth. Hobbiton is not just a tourist attraction; it’s its own world.

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The ‘Deats

Company: Hobbiton Movie Set Tours

Website: www.hobbitontours.com

LocationMatamata, New Zealand (2 hours south of Auckland)

Cost: $79 for adults (departing from the Shire’s Rest)

Tip: Remember to book in advance! Upon arriving, you will have to battle an army of elves and wizards (see what I did there?) to get to the front of the queue to buy your tickets. Even then, you will probably find that the tours are fully booked for the next couple of days; unless you feel like waiting on the off chance that someone doesn’t show up for their tour, it’s a long drive back. Also, don’t forget to bring your I.D. Each ticket comes with a complementary beer, and you won’t want to miss out on the Green Dragon Inn’s original brews.

If you’re hungry for some more Middle Earth visuals, check out my North Island Travel Vlog on the Ginger Passports’ YouTube Channel, and give a cheeky subscribe!

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Vlog + Photo Diary: North Island of New Zealand

I decided to take a different approach to my latest vlog. Instead of doing the typical comprehensive travel guide to a destination, I edited together a collection of my favourite one-off moments from my latest adventure: a road trip around the North Island of New Zealand.

From waking up to the skyline of Auckland’s CBD to trying Dunkin Donuts for the first time, and from pretending to be a Hobbit in the Shire to playing the piano on the Wellington waterfront, cramming 10 days of unforgettable thrills (and 10 days of highly forgettable car sickness) into 2 minutes and 15 seconds was no easy feat.

Enjoy.

And some extra goodies…

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Flying into Auckland on Air New Zealand
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You can’t travel to Auckland and not try bagels from the Best Ugly Bagel Co.
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Savouring those precious moments whilst I was still a Dunkin Donut virgin
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If you visit one eatery in Auckland, make sure it is the Garden Shed at Mt. Eden
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There and back again… literally, this is my second time nerding out at Hobbiton
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Falling in love with Rotorua’s natural beauty
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Exploring the capital
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You know a city is pretty awesome when you find a painted piano sitting on the waterfront

So… who’s up for a South Island road trip?

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The Beach Review #1: Saint Kilda

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Something you may not know about me is that I have a bizarre obsession with rating things. Books, films, you name it. So when I was trying to devise an innovative way to blog about beaches I visit, the logical answer was to start a segment where I would review different ones around the world and see how they stack up against one another.

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After much deliberation, I formulated a system for rating them. Each beach has the potential for 10 stars (★) and is assessed on many different aspects.

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#1

Beach: Saint Kilda

Location: Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand

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Water

Whilst the water is not crystal clear, the sandy bottom does compensate. There’s nothing worse than when you’re in the water and scared to put your feet down for fear of cutting yourself on jagged rocks or coral.

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Due to the Otago coastline’s dangerous rips, there are often lifeguards on patrol who indicate the safest areas. So as long as you use your head, this isn’t something you need to worry about.

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Sand

The sand is a gorgeous palette of white and gold. It’s velvety and fine with a delicate sprinkling of shells down the northern end. You won’t find any complaints from me here.

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Temperature

I’m not going to sugarcoat it; the water is freezing. This is the biggest drawback to the beach. While (arguably crazy) people do break out the bikinis, you won’t see me in anything less than a double-layered winter wetsuit.

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Regarding the weather, Dunedin isn’t exactly a go-to summer destination. The average temperature in the warmer months is 20°C, and even that’s generous. You’re more likely to encounter 15°C with wretched winds. Nevertheless, slap that sunscreen on; a Kiwi sunburn is no laughing matter.

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Wildlife

One of the attractions of Otago is its vast array of wildlife. Our coastline hosts little blue penguins, fur seals, and just up the peninsula, you’ll find one of the world’s largest albatross colonies on Taiaroa Head.

Saint Kilda is but a playground for these incredible animals. Whilst it’s not as popular as the surrounding shores, it’s not unheard of to spot dolphins and whales frolicking in the waves. It also has history with a certain sea lion.

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Facilities

This is a tricky one to comment on. Saint Kilda is the northern end of the beach, whilst the southern morphs into Saint Clair. Whilst Saint Clair has a lavish scope of restaurants, shops and salt water pool, Saint Kilda is somewhat more remote. In saying that, it’s a mere fifteen minute drive from the hub of Dunedin.

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Recreation

As an avid surfer myself, I would recommend Saint Kilda without a beat. New Zealand beaches are famous for it’s surf breaks, and Saint Kilda is no exception. The waves are great for beginners and experts alike, with a fluctuating tide and long stretches to avoid swimmers.

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Saint Kilda is also popular for swimmers. The choppy breakers make for superb body surfing, although make sure you keep within the flags. As I mentioned above, the rips are not a matter to be taken lightly.

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Congestion

As Saint Kilda spans approximately three kilometres, it’s quite easy to find an isolated stretch of beach without any company.

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What with Dunedin’s measly population, this isn’t the sort of place where you have to weave through throngs of people to find a square meter of sand. If that’s not a plus, then I don’t know what is.

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The Verdict

6.5/10

★★★★★★

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Starfish Café: Your Sunday Morning Fix

Could this possibly be the best café in Dunedin?

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Having lived in this city in southern New Zealand my whole life, I think it is fair to say that I have done the café rounds. Coming from a family with a passion for food (and being a high-functioning teaholic), it is hard pressed for me to find a café here that I have not dined at.

And so we arrive at the Starfish, the eclectic seaside café on the St. Clair esplanade.

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It’s hard to define Starfish, but maybe that’s the beauty of it. From the electric swing playing over the speakers to the David Bowie posters pouting down at you from the wall, from the vintage swan wallpaper to the Pacific Ocean right outside the front door… and I haven’t even gotten to the food yet. Think coconut turmeric lattes as you sit outside and enjoy the sun on a lazy Sunday morning. Think a glass of wine as you wind down to an acoustic set on a Friday evening. Think fresh seafood sourced straight from the Otago harbour. Mouth watering yet?

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I think the best thing about Starfish is that every time I go there (and believe me, it’s an embarrassing amount), it’s a whole new experience. I never tire of the ever-changing menu, and there is such a huge array of options to choose from and I don’t think I could ever sample everything. For all you social media enthusiasts (*raises a guilty hand*), do not fret; everything at Starfish is Insta-worthy. And for all you difficult dietary chums (*raises another guilty hand*), they’ve got you covered. Dairy free? Gluten free? Vegetarian? Look no further.

If there is one place you should go to experience the essence of Dunedin’s café culture on your travels, Starfish is the one. Perhaps one of the only stale points is that it is not within walking distance of the town centre, limiting it to those with access. However, if an outing to St. Clair is not already on your to do list, then I honestly don’t know what you’re doing here. Nestled in a plethora of boutique shops and restaurants – not to mention the most photogenic beach in New Zealand (am I biased? …probably), just one visit will be enough to convince you to ditch your return ticket home. Just make sure you’ve packet a scarf and gloves in your suitcase. Brr.

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My Starfish Breakfast Order

  • Pics Poles Smoothie
  • Blueberry, Coconut & Lemon Hotcakes
  • Citrus Slice

(note to self: don’t complain when you no longer fit your jeans)

Also, a handy tip; if you’re eyeing up one of their famous smoothies (I recommend the Pics Poles; possibly the best peanut butter creation to ever grace the earth), make sure you get in there before 3pm or else the blender gets put away for the day. Believe me, I’ve made this mistake many times; tears were shed.

The ‘Deats

Starfish Café, Restaurant & Bar

240 Forbury Road, St. Clair, Dunedin, New Zealand

Sunday-Tuesday 7am-5pm

Wednesday-Saturday 7am til late

03 455 5940

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