Flight of the Butterflies: Otago Museum’s Tropical Forest

“Hundreds of butterflies flitted in and out of sight like short-lived punctuation marks in a stream of consciousness without beginning or end.”

Haruki Murakami

I’m one of those people that can wile away hours and hours in a museum. Load me with snacks and a map and I’ll quite happily potter amongst the exhibitions without once consulting the time.

The thing with having lived in the same place your entire life is that eventually you grow blind to the beauty and individuality of it. I spend all my time yearning to escape and counting down the days till I board that plane, when I have a stunning city full of possibility and wonder right on my doorstep. Cheesy, but true.

I recently hosted two lovely couch surfers for a couple of days, which was a fantastic opportunity to accompany them sightseeing and experience the New Zealand town of Dunedin through new eyes. On a miserable and cataclysmic winters day, we trudged through the storm towards the heavenly embrace of Otago Museum’s Tropical Forest.

Otago Museum is the natural, cultural and scientific jewel of Dunedin. Conveniently neighbouring the historic University of Otago, the museum has a rich diversity of yearly and seasonal exhibitions on offer. Perhaps the most unique of these is the Tropical Forest.

As it’s name suggests, the Tropical Forest in a humid oasis within the confines of the museum with its own thriving ecosystem of butterflies. Yes, you heard that right: butterflies.

The aim of this “living, tropical habitat” is to educate people about these exotic, friendly insects. It’s no wonder the attraction is such a success; by entering the enclosure, you are fully immersing yourself in the butterflies’ world. Three stories of crawling vines, blooming flowers and a majestic waterfall – yes, a waterfall – make you temporarily forget you are not in fact on an expedition through the Amazonian rainforest.

Curious butterflies dance around you as you explore the striking environment. Watch your step for birds or turtles, and don’t look too close – you might spot a tarantula. But for those who aren’t a fan of creepy crawlies, don’t fret; a thick pane of glass protects you from these eight-legged creatures (*shivers*).

The Tropical Forest is a wonderful way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon, embrace your inner scientist or simply to escape the cold (hello 30° thermostat). The nature of the experience means that it’s appropriate and enjoyable for all ages, and I have never once been there and felt inconvenienced by crowds. Actually, the last time I went, we were the only ones there. How neat is that?!

Did you know?

  • Butterfly wings are actually clear; the patterns and colours are constructed by the reflection of microscopic scales
  • During winter, the Monarch butterfly migrates from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico – a whopping2,000 miles – before returning to the north again in the Spring
  • A group of butterflies is called a ‘flutter’

The ‘Deats

Name: The Discovery World Tropical Forest

Location: Otago Museum (419 Great King Street, Dunedin, New Zealand)

Website: http://otagomuseum.nz/whats-on/do/dwtf/

Hours: 10am-5pm

Price: $0-$10 (depending on age)

Tip: If you’re not a self-diagnosed lepidopterophobia (noun: a person who is afraid of butterflies and moths), I encourage you to surreptitiously dip your finger into one of the pottles of nectar and accept the challenge to try land a butterfly. Trust me, it makes for some stellar photograph material 👌

If you are traveling to Dunedin – or are a local searching for new ways to enjoy the southern city – don’t forget to add the unforgettable landscape of Lovers Leap to your list. For more information on this walking track, check out my blog post: Postcards from Lover’s Leap.

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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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30 Seconds to Convince You to Travel to Rarotonga

Perhaps the most adventurous New Years Eve I ever spent was celebrated in the island of Rarotonga. Rarotonga – or Raro, for short – completely smashes the stakes when it comes to competing for the most beautiful tropical destination. I don’t think I could express it better than the following description from Lonely Planet below.

“The most populous of the Cook Islands is stunning in its natural beauty and physical drama. A halo of flame-orange coral reef encircles the island, and Rarotonga’s sapphire-blue lagoon is trimmed by sparkling white beaches. Beyond the reef, breakers foam and crash like distant thunder. Rarotonga’s settlements are nestled on the coastal flatlands, with the island rising spectacularly through lush fields and rural farmland to the mountainous and thickly forested interior. These silent, brooding peaks dominate the landscape from every angle. Rarotonga has plenty of history, too, with ancient marae (traditional meeting places) and monuments to explore, and some of the best-preserved coral churches in the South Pacific.”

I traveled to Rarotonga at the very beginning of 2016. At the time, I hadn’t yet gotten my shit together and created the Ginger Passports, and any footage I captured on film was eclectic and poorly executed. Because of that, I did not have enough clips to put together a full-length vlog, but the ones I did were just too gorgeous to go to waste. And so the idea dawned on me that I could create a 30 second ‘trailer’ of sorts to try and showcase the lush resplendence of Raro in half a minute (also check out my favourite song as the soundtrack).

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How To Spend A Day in Bangkok

“Behind a bend… the entire town of Bangkok appeared in sight. I do not believe that there is a sight in the world more magnificent or more striking; this Asiatic Venice…”

Ludovic Marquis de Beauvoir

As the capital city of Thailand, Bangkok is one swarming, electrified, confused hub. No matter where you are, there’s always something going on, and it can be difficult to know what to do if you only have 24 hours in this introduction to Southeast Asia that has been described as an “attack on the senses”.

10am

Embrace Heights

Bangkok isn’t a city that has an iconic skyline like Paris or New York, but that’s not to say it’s not worth the climb. If you’re especially motivated (unlike me), then I would recommend setting your alarm for 6am to catch a breathtaking Thai sunrise. Or, alternatively, if you’re like me and jet-lagged out of your mind, sunset does the trick as well 👌

11am

Practice Your Bartering Skills

Make like the tourists and catch a tuk-tuk to weave through the zig-zagging streets of Bangkok. Although the tuk-tuks here aren’t as crazy as they are in Cambodia, it’s nevertheless an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.

There isn’t a set price for a tuk-tuk ride, and you will be expected to barter with the operator to determine a price. As someone who hates being assertive with a passion, I had been dreading this ever since I set foot off the plane. For the most part it went without a hitch, but I’m not going to lie; being a young and unaccompanied white woman in the middle of Bangkok definitely draws attention to yourself, and there were many times tuk-tuk operators tried to take advantage of me. When I rejected the exceedingly high price one requested, he gestured towards my wallet and made a rude comment about me being a rich white tourist. I tried to explain to him that I don’t just carry around wads of cash in my pocket, but it was no use. In times like those, you just have to walk away and trust in the fact that there is always going to be someone else just down the road who will take you where you want to go without trying to scam you of all your money.

3pm

Recline with the Buddha

There’s countless places you can wile away hours of your time in Bangkok, but if you’re looking for somewhere cultural, I would highly recommend paying a visit to Wat Pho. Located by the river in the Old City, Wat Pho – or Temple of the Reclining Buddha – used to be the first public university in Thailand with specialities in religion, science and literature.

As it’s name suggests, Wat Pho features the gold-plated reclining Buddha that measures a whopping 15 metres tall and 46 metres long. 46 metres! I’ll just let that sink in for a moment. Also be sure to wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees; it is a sign of respect in Thailand not to expose skin in these areas whilst in sacred places.

8pm

Explore the Asiatique

Just a nifty ten-minute (and free!) boat ride down the river from Saphan Taksin BTS station lies the Asiatique. This riverfront bazaar is the ultimate night fusion market. There are more restaurants and shops than you can count, with different live performances on offer to entertain you every night. If you’re looking for some retail therapy, then you’ve come to the right place; with over 1,500 boutiques selling everything you can imagine – and for prices that seem too good to be true – you’ll be shopped out before long. Even if you’re not the biggest spender, it’s certainly an experience to simply meander through the warehouse and take in all the sights.

Don’t forget to buy a ticket for the ferris wheel to see some stunning views of Bangkok lit up at night, and if you’re looking for something a little bit quirky, why not book in a session at the fish spa? Wallow in a small tank whilst flesh-eating fish nibble at your toes for an eccentric Thai experience. If your excuse not to do this is that you’re too ticklish, then don’t worry – if I can stick it out for 15 minutes, then so can you!

11pm

Expand Your Palate

If an evening at the Asiatique hasn’t exhausted you, then finish off your day by dropping by some street food stalls on the way home. After all, who doesn’t a love a sneaky midnight snack? Thai street food is dotted all over Bangkok, and vendors operate well into the night. I’ve had some of the most succulent fresh fruit I’ve ever from these stalls, including fruit with names I can’t even pronounce.

If you’re feeling adventurous (or still adrenalised from the fish spa), then this is the best place to expand your palate and try some bugs. Yes, you heard me right: bugs. Grasshoppers, beetles, worms, crickets… you name it. Oh, and don’t worry – they’re seasoned.

If all this talk about eating bugs has whet your appetite, then don’t forget to check out 5 Foods That Will Make You Go WTF (And 5 Foods That Won’t). Also, feel free to give my Thailand Vlog a watch if you need some more convincing on how incredible this city is.

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Why Disneyland Is The Happiest Place On Earth… For Adults

To quote Buzzfeed, “… whenever you tell a person you’ve never been to Disneyland, they go through at least seven different stages of stunning disbelief before telling you that you have to — no, listen: YOU HAVE TO. Get in a car and drive to Disneyland, because every second you waste not being at Disneyland is apparently crushing your soul into tiny bits of magic-less oblivion.”

As someone who has visited the happiest place on earth both as an eight year old and as an eighteen year old, I feel that I am somewhat knowledgeable in terms of experiencing the amusement park from two very different walks of life. As an eight year old, my Disneyland experience consisted of stuffing my face with candy floss, queuing for an hour for Space Mountain, wanting to vomit said candy floss as I was hurtling through the nauseating galaxy of said Space Mountain – and repeat. It was only as an eighteen year old that I realised Disneyland is more than just a fantastical sugar rush for kids.

The Architecture

I’m a bit of a sucker for design, and — much to the delight of my friends — insist on stopping every time we pass a building so that I can take a picture. As cheesy as it sounds, ‘reading’ the Disneyland surroundings is an adventure in itself; you can learn as much from the environment as you can from the experience. One of my favourite aspects of the Disneyland architecture is that of the Main Street; here, you’ll find homage to Second Empire Victorian with a nod to Hollywood art deco.

(If this bores you, you may find yourself rethinking your appreciation for architecture when you’re waiting in line with nothing to entertain yourself except for the buildings around you.)

The Escapism

Escapism is defined as “an inclination to retreat from unpleasant realities through diversion or fantasy”. As human beings, we all experiencing adversity and the pressing weight of society at various points in our lives. In order to secure a satisfactory level of well-being, we all need a chance to release and ‘let down our hair’, so to speak. If Disneyland can’t do that for you, then I don’t know what can.

Stepping through the front gates is the phenomenological equivalent of stepping through a portal and into a magical and exquisite world. Everything is insurmountably better; Disneyland even seems to defy the laws of physics. Even as a temporary relief, the amusement park is an important source of happiness for those who seek it. If you approach the experience as an opportunity to escape reality, then you can be sure you’ll be getting bang for your buck.

The Food

Downtown Disney is the cuisine hub of Disneyland. The best time to visit it is at night when you can enjoy a refreshing beer beneath the beautiful lights of the boulevards. However, that is not to say that Disneyland itself has nothing mouth-watering on offer. In fact, I have compiled a short list that you should make your mission to try the next time you hear your stomach grumbling.

BBQ Tofu from River Belle Terrace (spot the vegetarian)

Hand-Dipped Ice Cream Bars at Clarabelle’s Hand Scooped Ice Cream

Peanut Butter Sandwich from Pooh Corner

Churros from… anywhere, really!

The Rides

Come on, you can’t discuss an amusement park and miss out the rides. Plus, I’m a firm believer that you are never too old for a rollercoaster, and that anyone who claims otherwise needs a good old dose of faith, trust and pixie dust to cheer them up. Although you’ll find more adrenalised rides at California Adventure right next door, one that ranks right up there for me is Space Mountain. Think a fast-paced rollercoaster. In the dark. Surrounded by a nebula of exploding stars. It’s a Trekkie’s wet dream.

If you are more disposed towards taking it slow, I recommend you check out the highly acclaimed Pirates of the Caribbean, an indoor “swashbuckling voyage” where your boat will drift past intricately crafted gun and sword fights. On that note, don’t forget to make a reservation at the Blue Bayou. This restaurant is located within the Pirates of the Caribbean complex and specialises in Cajun and Creole cuisine.

What I’m trying to say is that if you are planning a trip to Los Angeles, don’t completely write off Disneyland as catering solely to children. If you approach it from with right attitude, there is as much joy to be experienced as an adult as when you were a kid. From the architecture to the escapism and from the food to the rides, the happiest place on earth no longer has an expiration date.

Are you an adult who has dared to put on the mouse ears and venture into Walt Disney’s fantasia? What was your experience like?

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Postcards from Ha Long Bay

Perhaps one of the most recognisable sights in Southeast Asia is Ha Long Bay. Located on the northeast coast of Vietnam, the bay is a bumpy 3.5 hour drive from the capital city of Hanoi. The vastness of the UNESCO heritage site quite literally took my breath away. With a name that translates to ‘Bay of the Descending Dragon’, Ha Long Bay spans an impressive area of 334km² and is populated by 1,600 monolithic islands made of limestones and hollowed by beautiful grottos. Some of these islands are even believed to be over 20,000,000 years old. Upon the glassy water, junk boats spread their sails like amber wings and fisherman cast their neats over floating villages.

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If you liked these photos, you might also be interested in checking out my 2016 Vietnam Travel Vlog on my Youtube Channel. 0:43 is where the Ha Long Bay magic happens!

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Vlog: Vietnam Edition

It’s that time of the day again, when I’m scrambling to my laptop to write and publish the day’s blog post before midnight. I always swear I’m going to be prepared and proactive and draft my posts before it gets to crunch time, but something always gets in the way. That ‘something’ is usually ‘excuses’. Sigh.

Anyhow. Time for round two of the vlogs! This time, I have condensed two weeks of my Vietnamese adventures into two and a half minutes of highly-edited, explosive footage. Okay, so maybe it’s not as Spielberg-esque as I’m making it out to be, but the sentiment is there.

Out of all of the countries in Southeast Asia that I visited on my last trip, Vietnam was unquestionably my favourite. I guess there’s just something about crawling on your stomach through war-torn tunnels, and trying to cross a five-way intersection whilst motorbikes hurtle full-speed at your small, defenceless body that leaves a lasting impression on you. Obviously the Vietnam experience extends beyond that, but those were definitely some of the things I think every tourist should prioritise when they book their tickets.

The five places within Vietnam featured in this vlog are (in order of appearance): Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). Note all the H’s. Hanoi was my absolute highlight of the trip; I can’t way to share my experience of staying in the Old Quarter in a future blog post. Hoi An takes out the award for the prettiest town, with streets decked with lanterns and fabrics that create a kaleidoscopic explosion of colour. I doubt I have to convince you of the beauty of Ha Long Bay, and Ho Chi Minh City was quite possibly the best history lesson I have ever had in my life. More on all of these enchanting places later, but if I’ve peaked your interests, then I invite you to view my 2016 Travel Vlog for Vietnam on my YouTube channel.

What was your favourite part of Vietnam? I found myself drawn to the north, but maybe that’s because I thrive in colder weather (cheers, New Zealand). Would love to hear your thoughts!

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