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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5 Foods That Will Make You Go WTF (and 5 Foods That Wont)

Oh, Thailand.

One of the highlights of traveling to a faraway and exotic country is having the opportunity to try weird and wonderful foods. In France, that may be escargots. In South America, that may be roast guinea pig. In Thailand… well, let’s just say you’ve come to the right place to find out.

1

Insects

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Traveling to Southeast Asia as a vegetarian, the last thing I expected myself to do was eat a bug. But, as it would stand, I am not very good at being vegetarian.

Feeling a little bit like a contestant off Fear Factor, I decided to expand my palate on the very first night of the trip by having a nibble of a grasshopper. In Thailand, insects are fried in a wok, seasoned with chilli, salt and pepper, and enjoyed as snacks. Whilst I cast my doubts on the Thai people’s relationship with the word ‘enjoyed’, I will admit that it wasn’t the absolute worst thing I have ever eaten. Did it taste like bitter, burnt popcorn? Maybe. Did it require me to run to the kitchen and spit out the remnants immediately afterwards? Maybe. But rest assured, it looks more gross than it actually is.

2

Fried Chicken Heads

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When I passed these at the market, I actually had to do a double take. I’d heard of chicken feet being a delicacy, but chicken heads? I felt a little sick just looking at them.

Whilst our tour guide informed us that these are mostly used for the purposes of pet food, that doesn’t stop people (including a few questionably brave tourists) from indulging themselves. Apparently (because, y’know, there was no way I was trying these in a hurry) they consist almost entirely of bones and gristle with a little bit of fat in the neck. If these little guys whet your appetite, don’t forget to crack the head so that you don’t miss out on the “unique buttery flavour” of the brain.

I think I’ll pass.

3

Whole Fish

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Arguably this isn’t as crazy as the other foods listed, but hailing from somewhere like New Zealand, it’s still a shock to see an entire fish for sale – head and all – as opposed to cuts of meat.

What really took me aback was the price. One of these fish were worth 30 baht (the Thai currency) which is roughly equivalent to USD$0.80!

4

Fried Worms

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Poppy enjoying her fried worms.

Mmm.

Fried bamboo worms are a Thai treat that you will most likely find in the North.

My friend Poppy and I brought a small bag of ‘lesser’ worms (because apparently you have high and low quality fried worms… who would’ve known?), and I plucked up the courage to try one.

In all honesty, I preferred the grasshopper. These little rascals tasted like gravel with a vaguely peanut-esque aftertaste. “Just like popcorn!” our guide grinned.

Yeah right.

5

Whole Fish 2.0

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If you thought I was done with the fish, then you were wrong.

I have no idea what kind of fish this was, but I’m sure it was an ugly mother******. This entire fish – teeth and all – was placed on the table in front of us, complete with chopsticks and dipping sauce. Had I not been vegetarian, I don’t think I could have even eaten anything, what with it staring back at you. If you fancy watching Poppy’s ethical dilemma, check out our travel vlog.

1

Ice Cream

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The first thing I decided when I arrived in Thailand was that I would have put on 5kg worth of dessert by the time I returned home. How can you not when you’re constantly walking past places like this?!

Aside from the miscellany of ice cream flavours, the toppings alone are to die for. Toasted marshmallow? Buttered popcorn? Oreo crush? Froot loops? You name it – they’ve got it.

2

Street Food

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You cannot travel to Thailand and not try the street food. Aside from the fact that it’s so insanely cheap, it also tastes infinitely better than anything you would ever buy out of a package. Plus, you’ll find yourself eyeing up foods you never even knew existed.

Durian? I have no idea what that is, but I’ll take three.

3

Watermelon Juice

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You got me; this isn’t a photo of watermelon juice. But it is a photo of fresh watermelon (and some sneaky papayas) at a local Thai market, which I think we can all agree is far more photogenic than juice in a cup.

Watermelon is one of my favourite fruits, and the only thing better than fruit is liquid fruit. The beauty of watermelon juice in Thailand is that – like everything – it is so much cheaper than the same product would cost back home (or even in neighbouring countries, for that matter). An average watermelon juice in Thailand might cost around USD$0.60. To put that into perspective, when I ordered one during my stopover in Singapore on the way home, I was charged USD$5.60. Case in point.

4

Gelato

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I tend to think of Italy when I think of gelato, but that doesn’t mean the Thai don’t know how to do their frozen desserts.

I became obsessed with matcha green tea gelato during my stay. The taste is ultra refreshing and perfect for a snack on the go during a hot, sticky day tour in the sun. One of those crispy waffle cones don’t go amiss, either.

5

Dragonfruit

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I think the name of this fruit alone is enough to warrant a mention.

If you don’t think you’re familiar with these, then you might be able to jog your memory by scrolling through any Instagram tag along the lines of #smoothiebowl or #nalubowl. Dragonfruit are white on the inside with distinctive black seeds dotted throughout them. They taste somewhat like a less tangy kiwifruit, and are popular for their gorgeous colours.

What weird and wonderful foods have you encountered on your overseas travels? Comment below – I’d love to hear about your experience!

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