Archive for April 2012

I Do Solemnly Swear...

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

That I'm still alive and kicking.

Why is it that when you have a million inspirations and unfinished stories to tell, you don't seem to have the time and energy to write them?!

That is why, I'm absolutely looking forward to my Labor Day weekend. 

I'm flying to Tacloban with my favorite boy_friend to see this:

Among other things, of course :)

So far, our plan to NOT have a plan looks, er, extremely promising. =D

We agreed to only have a shortlist of the places we want to visit but for once, skip the usual OC preparations.  That means, no wielding of itineraries in an Excel worksheet, no pre-arranged travel guide and *gasp* I just might leave my beloved travel iron (yes, 95% of the time, I bring one, just because...) behind!

We'll just have our bags, books (nerds!) and our shaking bonbons for the weekend! Woohooo!

I seriously do not know how this trip will turn out, but I cannot wait to find out. :)

What are your plans for the weekend?


New Zealand: Queenstown and Dunedin

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The next day, after checking out from our hostel, we explored more of what Queenstown has to offer.  Queenstown may be smaller compared to Christchurch or Auckland but that doesn't mean that sites are within walking distance. 

We signed up for a city 'sampler' tour to get around, and were expecting a jampacked bus of tourists just like the day before.  Instead, we found ourselves cozied up in a semi-exclusive van that we shared with an Indian couple on their honeymoon.  How lucky! :)

After picking up the Delhi-based couple. we drove up to a lookout to see what it's like to see Lake Wakatipu from higher ground.  The Lake was just a stone's throw away from our hostel and we already spent majority of our free time there, but we still couldn't get enough!

We learned from our guide that Queenstown has been experiencing an economic boom in recent years.  Real state is particularly reflective of this, with various properties being bought by professionals.  As expected, the most expensive ones are those which offer a fantastic view of Lake Wakatipu.  Big names like singer Shania Twain and director Peter Jackson are said to own properties in and around Queenstown.

Lake Wakatipu did not disappoint. 
Imagine waking up to this view!
We took in the fresh morning air and I had a small chat with the Indian couple, exchanging stories of how I spent my birthday in Delhi and other places in India last year.  After snapping a few photos, we drove to another Lake which was just as pretty.

Lake Hayes perfectly mirrored the hills and vegetation in the area.  It's not surprising to find out that for years, it has been the site for lovers tying the knot.

Soundtrack for the moment:
Dan Fogelberg's "Longer"
But for solo visitors like us, the Lake was a gorgeous venue for a mandatory....

Day off pose! :)

After Lake Hayes, we trooped to a site that arguably, New Zealand is arguably most famous for.  Extreme sports addicts, behold--the world home of bungy! Yes, the first ever AJ Hackett bungy site!

I badly wanted to bungy jump but didn't want the other guests to wait up :( Sure, jumping just took seconds, but strapping on the gear took forever.  Looking back, I wish I 'bullied' J-Anne into doing a tandem jump, haha.

Left: Custom bungy ropes are used depending on the jumper's weight;
Right: View from the bridge where one will jump from. Not bad, eh?

There are two platforms where you can view bungy jumpers from. :)

Successful jumpers get a free shirt, certificate, documentation, and a BIG discount on their next jump.  Not surprisingly, many people are crazy brave enough to jump off the bridge again!  Even our driver, a sextuagenarian, recently accomplished the feat, after one of his guests chickened out on the last minute.  AJ Hackett strictly enforces a no jump, no refund policy so you better be sure, or watch your NZD jump off your pocket!

To drown my sorrows (haha) from not being able to jump, we decided to go wine-tasting...


And cheese-sampling instead.

Silly me forgot that 1) I haven't really eaten heavy breakfast and 2) my tolerance for wine is just pathetic, so naturally...

I looked positively loopy (dark circles and all!),
and J-Anne caught it on her camera.
Gee, thanks! Haha.

After having our fill of some really good wine (loved their Pinot Noir) and cheese (over chocolates, anytime!), we then drove to a super secret place where this was shot: Fellowship of the Ring

It's off the main road and according to our guide, only some of the locals know where it is. It's not advertised because the lookout couldn't handle a huge group. But here's a hint: it's where they lower small boats for those who would like to go kayaking/canoeing/river-rafting. 

It's just too preciousssssss! :)

For lunch, we went to Arrowtown.  It once enjoyed popularity as a gold mining town.  Although these precious metals have long gone out, the place remains a choice quick travel destination even for locals because of the well-preserved Victorian-style buildings. Walking its streets and entering the quaint shops is like traveling back in time!


Regrets, I have a few... This is the only place where I found
Arwen's necklace, the Evenstar.  I really wanted to buy it (300++ NZD),
but decided against it on the last minute.  Until now, I can't get it out of my head :(

Here, I fulfilled a travel tradition of sending postcards to special people.

If you'd like to receive a postcard,
send me your address and be my lucky pick
in my next travel destination! :)
Even random visitors are most welcome!

We ended our stay by walking around Arrowtown nature trails before heading back to our van.

Locals say that one should never leave Queenstown without getting on their Skyline Gondola and trying their mountain luge to see this....

So we took their recommendation.   For those who might be interested...

Step 1.  Ride a gondola and ascend some X meters from the ground. Warning: not for those with fear of heights.

Step 2. Put on your gear and leave your stuff inside one of their lockers. (2 NZD to rent)

Purple? No, definitely not one of my favorite colors, haha.

Step 3. Ride this breezy open transport system to get to the luge station. (Praying for dear life, optional but recommended)

Step 3.  Approach the instructor and learn how to operate the luge in 3 minutes! 

Quotable quote from J-Anne, stuck on the racetrack: 
"Help, I'm not moooooviiinnnngggg. Don't leave me!!!"
Hahaha. Panalo.

And that's about it!  Enjoy the jaw-dropping aerial view of Queenstown from this racetrack!

After our high-energy noontime activity, we passed by their cemetery and looked at some quirky artworks, before rushing back to our hostel to grab our stuff just in time to catch our afternoon bus. Whew!


We bade Queenstown goodbye and spent the rest of the afternoon traveling to Dunedin, a university town. Exhausted, we decided to treat ourselves to a more decent dinner that night (i.e. 10 NZD up).

I quickly scanned the options and prices in the local Chinese resto we chose (just because we were craving for noodles and rice)---definitely student rate, much much cheaper than Queenstow, yay! :)

Finally, decent dinner and a nice, cold serving of my favorite fake alcoholic drink, ginger beer to end Day 3.

Ahhhh, how I've missed youuuu! :)


New Zealand: Te Anau and Milford Sound

Monday, 16 April 2012

As if we haven’t had enough of our long haul flight and loooong drive the day before, we got up early again to join a group tour to Milford Sound (Piopiopitahi in Maori), a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In 2008, it was voted as "Travelers' Choice Destination by TripAdvisor," and is dubbed as "New Zealand's most famous tourist destination."

I realized how naïve I was because when I was shortlisting various places of interest in the South Island, I honestly thought that the "sound" in Milford Sound” referred to vibrations caused by air or water. I should have taken more geo classes in college, I know.

For clueless people like me, a sound is actually "a long, relatively wide body of water, larger than a strait or a channel, connecting larger bodies of water." Milford is named as such, but in reality, it’s actually a fiord.

Confused yet?  Apparently, early New Zealanders realized that it would be far too complicated (and expensive!) to correct this misnomer, so even they decided to stick with the name.

Enough geeky talk, haha. :) 

The choice to join a group tour was practical.  Given a choice, I really wanted to drive to Milford Sound myself, but the prospect of traversing 300km of road from Queenstown, our jump-off point, translates to around four hours of driving...on the left side of the road!

Besides, we were told that even tour drivers to Milford Sound need to undergo a special training/license before they could transport visitors in Fiordland's roads, especially during winter when avalanche/landslides are common and the roads, unforgiving.  I deemed it better to be on the safe side.

Before heading to our bus stop, we decided to pass by a local convenience store to grab lunch and a hot drink.  Otherwise, we’d have to pay an atrocious amount for lunch on board our cruise, something wallets on a diet weren’t prepared for.

As soon as I entered the store, I saw two guys looking at me, whispering in Filipino.

“Ano pare sa tingin mo? (What do you think?)” the shorter guy asked.

“Hindi ko sigurado e (I'm not sure),” the other one replied.

I knew they were trying to assess if I'm Filipino or not (same case with the family we met the day before at Lake Wakatipu).  I smiled at them and they asked me what they could get for me that morning.  I cheekily replied “Ano bang masarap at mura dito? (What tastes good but is inexpensive?)

That was enough to send them into fits of laughter.  Confeeeermd.  I’m a kababayan. :)

They started inquiring about what we were there for, and if we were from Australia because most of the visiting Pinoys are.  They were surprised to find out that we flew in from Manila, to KL, to Christchurch, before taking the shuttle to Queenstown.

I soon learned that the bigger guy’s name is Patrick.  He worked as a chef in Manila but had moved five years ago with his sister to try his luck in NZ. The other guy’s name was Merck, a shy but 'smiley' guy who looked a lot like my grade school crush who had been living in Queenstown for two years now. They were part of some 200 Pinoys who currently reside in the area.

When they learned that we were off to see the Sound, Patrick looked at me from head to foot, probably scandalized by my bright orange tights, gloves, happy snow boots and denim vest—my only arsenals against the biting cold.  He was quick to recommend that I grab myself a coat.

I replied with a distressed laugh.  At the back of my mind, I was freaking out at the thought of becoming a "human popsicle” at the end of the day, but knew that I really didn’t have much choice. I’ve already given many of my winter apparel away (not that my 15kg baggage allowance had remaining space anyway). I thanked him for his concern and just made a mental note to grab myself a nice, comfy fleece jacket if I ever find the need for it.

Incidentally, Patrick was just finishing his graveyard shift, and was kind enough to drop J-Anne and I off at our stop.  I saw the other passengers--a Chinese guy about our age traveling solo, a young American couple, and an older (presumably) Australian lady.

And so we waited. And waited. And waited.

But NakedBus, our tour operator, did not come, and it’s been more than 30 minutes past our pick-up time.  We were all starting to get restless, afraid that our trip got canceled. Fortunately, a bus arrived minutes after.  We’ve been bumped off to another supplier without prior notice. Ugh.

Seriously, as clients, we should have been informed!

The morning ride was long and relatively uneventful.  I drifted in and out of sleep, still knackered from all the running around from days before.

For lunch and toilet break, we stopped briefly at Te Anau.  Unlike Queenstown, Te Anau was a far smaller town.  We passed by a nice, simple all-glass lakeside chapel, just in front of the lake. We were told that it’s a popular venue for weddings; too bad we didn’t get married take a photo of it.

Behind me is a bigger than life (duh) sculpture of a Takahe, a flightless bird
native to New Zealand. It was thought to have gone extinct in 1898,
but was rediscovered in 1948 by Geoffrey Orbell near Lake Te Anau.

We entered some of the shops to look at the merchandise.  Fleece jackets were all around, further fueling my fears that I’ll soon turn into a human frozen delight (but seriously, there's nothing delightful about freezing one's behind off!).  However, at P3,000 (even more expensive than my flight from Manila-KL), I decided it wasn’t worth it.  I just switched on my “bahala na si Batman, tiis-ganda na lang” mode, haha.

We looked around some more and found some ingeniously-packaged sweets.

Take your pick. Also available,
sheep droppings and squashed possums :)

We again boarded our bus to continue our trip, delayed slightly by a group of passengers who later in the day, we found out to be constantly late. Sigh.

But nothing and no one could bring our spirits down. 

When we finally entered Fiordland after a few more hours of driving, we made our first scenic stop with the sun smiling brightly on the mountains and this huge carpet of grass, perfect for...

Jumping (I tried!) and mambo-ing! (haha) =D

I was obviously ecstatic.  I mean why wouldn't I be?

Our preview of the park was just amazing!  It's a place where you can just sit back, relax...

And have a view of crazy, beautiful, glacier-topped mountains...

The glaciers on top of these mountains are actually
remnants from the last ice age...

Pristine waterfalls and springs so pure, you can drink directly from them...

You can bring your own water bottle and fill it up here,
like J-Anne did. They even say it's pretty good
in curing a nasty hangover. :)

We also passed by Mirror Lakes...

Had a leisurely stroll at The Chasm...

And in their mini-museum, learned about stoats, which were responsible for the decline in population of some of New Zealand's native birds.

But this one's definitely my favorite spot:

This one goes out to our dear friend Chin,
who was unable to join us because she's currently
volunteering in Africa. Woot woot! :)

Finally, the highlight of the trip--a cruise around the fiord!


Famished, we got on the Milford Monarch and had our late lunch.  We cruised for more than hour, taking in as much of the awe-inspiring views as we can.


Of course, we didn't pass up the opportunity to do a bit of camwhoring, hihi :)

Aside from birds, we saw a few seals lounging under the the sun.

Can you spot the two seals?
These young males are actually outcasts of a colony.

On our way back, we also came frighteningly close to Lady Bowen Falls, one of the many "wowza" waterfalls that can be found in the park.

Just how close you ask? Close enough to have a shower!

If you have cash to burn, you have other options for a more memorable experience.  You can ditch the long drive home by opting to ride a small plane or a helicopter (more expensive) all the way back, or you can have a bird's eye view of the park for twenty minutes on a helicopter, land on a glacier, and rejoin the bus half-way.

Two lucky (and loaded) passengers tried the last option, paying some 200++ NZD each (I think) for the experience.

Excuse me while I once again, drool with envy, haha.

We made our way home safely and reached Queenstown, craving for our beds.

The best part about this trip?

The weather was just PERFECT (even the locals were raving about it!).  That means... I didn't have to buy a fleece jacket, yey!

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