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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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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Postcards from Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is perhaps one of the most important tourist attractions in Cambodia. Consistently topping the lists for Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet’s must-see tourist destination in the world, the resplendence of this temple has stayed with me a long time after visiting it.

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King Suryavarman II built Angkor Wat in the 12th century to honour the Hindu god Vishnu; a century later – when Cambodia converted from Hindu faith to Buddhism – the temple was converted to Buddhist use.

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The temple showcases beautiful classical Khmer architecture.
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The temple was to built to face west. This direction symbolises death, a fact which contributes to theories that Angkor Wat first existed as a tomb and for the purpose of funeral rites.
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Below; standing on the ‘centre of the universe’.
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It may have taken 37 years, 300,000 labourers, 6000 elephants and 5 million tons of sandstone, but the temple was built without machines.
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Just look at those colours! Stretching over 400 square kilometres, Angkor Wat is considered to be the largest religious monument in the world.
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Angkor Wat is surrounded by a moat that was designed to deter people from swimming into the complex from the outside.

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If you’re hungry for more Cambodia titbits, be sure to check out my Siem Reap quad-biking experience – and stay tuned for my Cambodia travel vlog!

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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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6 Things to Look for in a Tour Guide

Should I hire a tour guide?

It’s not a straightforward yes or no answer. There are countless reasons people decide to fork out for this service, whether that be to gain historical or cultural insight, to translate information from a foreign language, to ask for recommendations or purely out of safety. I personally have been motivated by the latter, as there are certain places in the world where being an accompanied young woman is not in the interests of my wellbeing.

Having a tour guide can be fantastic, but it can also make or break a trip.

I’ve had tour guides who have followed me into an ATM room and have physically taken cash out of my wallet in an effort to ‘help’. I’ve had tour guides who have refused to take me places I specifically asked to go because they received commission at other businesses. And I’ve had tour guides who have outright shouted at me for not understanding their instructions.

The problem for me is that I am not naturally upfront; I’m the first person to admit that I am something of a pushover. In these situations — although the idea of standing up for myself crossed my mind — I was not confident enough to put my foot down. So if you want to avoid getting stuck with a tour guide like this, then the following six things are what you need to be mindful of…

1. Flexibility

Your tour guide needs the plasticity to be able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and roll with the punches. Their priority should be to cater to your interests and to be sensitive to your needs. If you want to skip an activity, then they should accept that. If you want to stop and grab a bite to eat, then they should recommend a nearby café. If you are tired and need to slow down, then they should match your pace. An itinerary that is meticulously planned with no room to improvise is doomed to end in failure.

2. Knowledge

This is kind of a given. Perhaps one of the main reasons people enlist the help of a tour guide is so that they can gain a further dimension of understanding for the location. If your tour guide is not up to date with historical, political and cultural information, then you’re not getting bang for your buck.

3. Language Barriers

You may be surprised by the number of languages tour companies cater to if you make the effort to seek them out. You need not settle for a tour in a second language that you have to continuously translate in your head just to make sense of what they are saying. Your tour guide should also be able to speak the national language so that you have the opportunity to interact with locals and read written texts. A further thing to keep in mind is that — even if your guide speaks your language — their accent needs to be understandable. From experience, constantly asking them to repeat themselves can be very embarrassing.

4. Sense of Humour

While tour guides don’t need to be stand up comedians, it’s important that they have the ability to deal with their client’s… well, stupidity. In short, they need to be able to laugh when you make mistakes and not take anything personally. A red flag is when they are offended by questions you may ask. As a naive kid from New Zealand, I remember unintentionally insulting a Vietnamese tour guide once by asking them a question related to communism. Tour guides need to be equipped to deal with enquiries like this. Tourists want to learn, and they can’t do that if they don’t feel comfortable asking for clarification.

5. Professionality

And yes, I did just invent that word. Nevertheless, many aspects fall under this. You should expect your tour guide to be punctual, well-dressed and ethical whilst still being friendly and welcoming. You want to feel comfortable enjoying their company whilst at the same time knowing that you can approach them regarding serious matters.

6. Passion

This may sound clichéd, but it’s true. The more passionate your tour guide is, the more you will get out of the experience. Enthusiasm is contagious; I have found myself getting really excited about activities I was tempted to skip purely after seeing the smile on my tour guide’s faces.

If your tour guide is making you feel uncomfortable, then it is important that you communicate this. At the end of the day, you are the one paying them, and it is your holiday that is being sacrificed if you keep your thoughts to yourself. A lot of tour guides will also appreciate your feedback, as it is in their best interests to provide a satisfactory and memorable service. Think of yourself and your tour guide as a team; both sides have to participate for the experience to be a success.

All photographs taken during a walking tour in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam.

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The No-Bullsh*t Guide to Surviving a 12-Hour Flight

Ugh. Flying. The bane of travel.

At least, that’s what I think. As someone quite tall I hate the cramped seats, I’m super sensitive to the pressure on your ears, and I’ve never had a satisfying inflight meal. True, I ask for the vegetarian option, but I’ve never encountered an airline that seems to understand that vegetarians can eat food other than vegetables.

On the other hand, some people love it. They anticipate the thrill of taking off and landing, the adrenalised buzz of airports, the extensive range of inflight entertainment and the friendliness of the staff.

But if you’re anything like me, then a long-haul flight can be a major drawback to a trip. But fear not! I’ve gathered together a collection of tried-and-tested tips to help you survive a 12-hour flight. So kick back, relax, and try not to scream at the obnoxious kid behind you kicking your chair the whole flight.

Set Goals

There’s nothing like half a day of sitting on your ass to be productive. If you’re one of those people who never seems to have enough time to tick off everything on your to-do list, then what better time than when you’ve 30,000 feet in the air?

Draft those emails you’ve been meaning to write. Finish that podcast you’ve been putting off. Update your resume.

I personally try to seize the opportunity to prepare blog posts in advance so that I’m never stressed about not making my schedule. I set myself a goal; for example, “I am going to write 5,000 words before this plane touches down on the runway”. Not only does this make the minutes fly by (excuse the pun), but it also gives the trip purpose.

Power Up

This may seem like common sense, but the one time I was caught out on a flight with a half-drained battery was one time too many.

Ensure your laptop, cellphone and all other electronic devices have a full battery by the time you leave the ground. If this means sitting next to a charging port whilst you wait for your boarding call, then so be it. I’ve only ever been on one flight where there were in-seat power outlets, so it is not something you should rely on. There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through your flight when your laptop decides to die

Catch Your Forty Winks

As far as I’m concerned, the best way to experience twelve hours in the air is unconscious. Whilst I have been known to resort to sleeping pills, this is not something most people advocate. Not only can sleeping pills render you useless in an emergency, but you will more often than not wake up feeling groggy and unable to adjust to the new time zones.

A much better way to approach this is to encourage natural sleep through comfort and ease. Preparation is key! Ensure you have packed some sort of travel pillow and an eye-mask if you are light sensitive. Airlines do provide pillows, but let’s be honest here; they’re about as useful as using a tea towel for a blanket. You can purchase cheap alternatives at the gate before you board, and whilst you may be embarrassed climbing aboard the aircraft with your neck support pillow, it’s a damn sight lot better than being kept painfully awake because you cannot physically relax.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!

I cannot emphasise this point enough. The frustrating thing about drinking water on airplanes is that you never want to. I don’t know the science behind this, but there has never been in the air where I’ve thought to myself, “What I really want right now is a bottle of H20”. Nevertheless, discipline yourself to keep sipping throughout the flight.

Because the cabin environment has low humidity due to high altitudes, travellers are especially prone to dehydration. Consistently drinking water helps combat undesirable effects such as exaggerated jet lag, dry and chapped skin, fatigue and constipation.

In saying that, go easy on the alcohol. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t treat yourself – I’m no spoilsport – but that glass of champagne you ordered will only dehydrate you further.

Go Easy on the Carry-Ons

If I had a dollar for every second I’ve had to wait for fellow passengers to get their shit together and pack up their belongings after the plane has landed, I could probably upgrade to first class. You will not be popular if you are the reason people are waiting to disembark because you didn’t have the good sense to make sure you were ready ten minutes ago.

The way to avoid this is to pack light. Unless you are in a situation where you for some reason have to pack items in your hand luggage as opposed to your suitcase (don’t worry, I’ve been there before),  there is no reason to be packing half of your life into your carry-on. Pack the bare essentials and then draw the line. Not only will this save you the embarrassment of trying to organise everything when the plane lands, but it is so much less stressful when you’re not trying to keep tabs on all your stuff.

♫ Let Me Entertain You ♫

Despite most long-haul flights offering you more movies than twelve hours permits, sometimes you just have to channel your inner Robbie Williams and make your own entertainment.

My two go-to platforms here are audiobooks and kindle. Aside from the fact that they are not prone to running out of battery as quickly as other electronic devices, they are catered towards long-lasting enjoyment. Furthermore, you can store numerous titles on your account as opposed to lugging round heavy and cumbersome paperbacks. Just make sure you’ve downloaded everything you need before you leave wifi!

If you’re looking for a book suggestion, I highly recommend you download Sapiens by Noah Yuval Harari. I think it is the number one book travellers should read to understand human culture and civilisation if they are passionate about the world around them and how it came to be.

Chew Gum

As a child, I used to have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the airport. Why, I hear you ask? Because I suffered from intense ear pain whenever the cabin depressurised.

This is not something that resolved itself with time, but thankfully, this has an easy fix. For a couple of bucks, you can buy a packet of chewing gum from a shop at the airport which you will be allowed to take through security aboard the plane. I find that consistently chewing gum throughout a flight prevents your ears from getting clogged. Or, if you prefer a more scientific explanation; chewing gum prevents the phenomenon of mucous membranes swelling in your ears and nose which makes it harder to equalise the pressure in your middle ear.

Flavours featuring menthol and eucalyptus work a treat, although I personally prefer strawberry as the more muted taste doesn’t effect food to the same degree.

All photos sourced from Unsplash

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