Saturday, February 11, 2017

Catching Up!

After a long vacation, contrary to what some may feel, I always enjoy returning home. I feel refreshed and many new ideas pop in my head. They allow me to be excited about the things I would be doing after returning. So, I never really miss a place that I have traveled to and I do not yearn to return there. If I were to travel again, I would rather pick a place or a country that I have not visited before.   

So, after my return, I caught up with some friends. I met my friends from French class at church street, Bangalore and had a great evening. I also watched a good play called "Mandra" at Rangashankara. The play is based on a novel written by my favourite author S L Bhyrappa. 

Of course, writing blogging about my NZ travel kept me occupied but what also kept me engaged was my Spanish classes. I finished my B1 level exams. 

During my free time, I tried to cook some new dishes. I attempted Barella Baingan recipe suggested by my sister. Staying in hostel, observing other travellers, I had learnt to cook pasta with canned tomato sauce and fresh vegetables. I tried that at home as well, as a preparation for my future travels.

Discovered this fruit called Paneer hannu which has a rose water taste to it.

Post my NZ travel, I have been obsessed with workouts. I mean, not really the gym types but more of  jogging, to build my stamina. I truly enjoy my 4.3km jog in Lalbagh. I started jogging in Cubbon park too that accounts upto 4.6 Kms. 

To extend that obsession further, I went on a 30 kilometre cycle ride to Turahalli forest and Omakara hills. It was the day of Pongal so, I got some tasty sweet pongal as prasada in the temple.

Apart from that, our kittens have been keeping us entertained. We had four kittens out of which three are now adopted. The mother (Whylee) and one male cat whom we have named as "puppy", live with us. We got Whylee spayed. Jeeva clinic in J P Nagar did a neat job on that. 

How did it start rotating? (The Fan)

Puppy in a box.

Last weekend, I visited my parents in Surathkal. Two days were well spent speaking with parents, eating tasty native delicacies prepared by my mother, walking on the beach, reading books, watching movies and walking around our small farm.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Backpacking In New Zealand - Tips!

Planning - 

Like for any other trip, booking flights at least two months in advance is always a good idea. Some countries do have visa on arrival in NZ. You could also plan for a work visa if you intend to stay there for an year. For Indians, the tourist visa process is simple. Specially, if you are traveling alone. I have recorded the process Here . My Visa and flight tickets were the only planning I did before traveling to NZ. Oh yes, also the backpack and the trekking gears. You shall find all those details in the link above.

I bought a Lonely Planet guide for this travel, but I hardly referred to it. I only browsed through it before to identify places of interest.  I did occasionally refer to the attractions when I arrived in a new town but you really don’t need it. Your hostel reception can give you a lot of inputs and if you need specific info you could walk into an i-Site or DOC (Department of Conservation) offices that exist in almost every town. I saw some travellers use Rough Guide to NZ  and somehow, I think its a better guide than Lonely planet because it covers the treks in detail while, Lonely planet has a separate book for tramping and trekking. 

First thing to do When you land - 

I draw local currency from the ATM directly. I seldom carry it from India. For safety, I always keep some US dollars with me, in case my card does not work. The very next thing I do - Buy a SIM card. You could either buy it at the airport or in some countries it is better to buy it in the city for cheaper deals. In NZ there are limited options and you can really buy any one. I bought $29 plan of Spark NZ that had some free international call time.

Accommodation - 

There are plenty of hostels almost everywhere in NZ. They are the most economic option you have. Hostel dorms can cost you anywhere from $25 to $40. During summer (Dec-Feb) it is advisable to book hostel dorms at least one or two days in advance, specially in smaller towns that have limited options. I used the app called "Hostelworld" to book hostels and its great. If you do not have data or wifi to do so, walk into an i-site office int he town, they shall do it for you. 

One thing to be aware of is that some hostels have agreement with backpacker buses like Kiwi experience and Stray. They hold the beds for the passengers of the bus. So, in places with limited option (Like Mt cook village, Stewart Island) it is better to book hostels much in advance. 

One more thing to note is that the receptions at many hostels are not open 24 hours. So, if you are going to check-in late for whatever reason, make sure to call them to discuss options. Otherwise, you might be locked out.

I only stayed once in a motel because the dorms were not available. That was at Mt Cook Village and it cost me $140 for a night. Really expensive! Anyways, that is your next best option if you do not find dorms.

If you have camper vans you can find several camp sites which are free or are for a nominal fee. Many motels and lodges rent out their parking lot for camper vans. 

Transport - 

You can rent a car, travel by local buses or take backpacker buses. Car rental or camper van rentals are very common in NZ. you will see a lot of travellers do that. You may want to browse for cheaper overnight parking places for your car. Specially in bigger cities. 

If you are using buses then there are two options for you - A regular long distance bus service like Intercity or Naked Bus or Mana etc or you could ride in a backpacker bus like Kiwi Experience or Stray. Intercity is a A to B bus. They only take you from one stop to another. On the other hand, Backpacker buses take a designated route and you can hop on or hop off where ever you want for however long you desire. In both cases, you can buy bus passes. If you buy a full package, then remember you are stuck with the transport. A mix of Intercity and Stray or kiwi can be a good option. I traveled mostly on Intercity bus. At times they seemed very expensive. I took three day pass on Stray backpacker bus and I enjoyed that too but it would have been boring to stick with same bus and travellers for longer duration. Backpacker buses can be noisy too. Either ways, it is better to buy the passes. Like intercity has passes by hours of travel that works really cheap as compared to booking rides as you go. 

If you have less time and want to make most of it and do not want to worry about booking hostels in advance, then Backpacker buses are probably a good option for you. You can stay longer at one place and then catch the next bus any day you want to continue your journey on. I personally liked the mix. I think a small tour in backpacker bus and mostly by intercity would be good to get a feel of all kinds of experience.  What I liked about intercity is that I was alone and I had full control of what I was doing. Backpacker bus makes you dependent on the companies plan. 

In some places ferry and cruises are must. Like ferry to Stewart island and cruise from Picton to Wellington to cross from South island to the North.

To save time, I flew directly from Auckland to Christchurch. Flying one way could be the best way to save some time if you are on a tight schedule. You can find flights for $150 or cheaper if you book earlier. 

Hitchhiking they say is common in NZ but I only tried doing it once. While going to Roy's peak trail from Wanaka. I had not luck while going but during my return I befriend a trekker who dropped me back. But many people I met told me that they had hitch-hiked and yes, it is not as simple as it may sound. 

Food - 

NZ has no dearth of great restaurants serving cuisines from around the globe. You can find all dishes form Italian to Mexican, burgers to burritos. Almost every cafe or restaurant have a vegetarian options and in case they do not, you can ask them to make one for you. They are also flexible enough to change the ingredients of a dish to suit your request. Every town I visited, no matter how small it was, had an Indian restaurant. So, if you love Indian food or you are an Indian who wants to only try Indian food, then you will have at least one favourite restaurant in most of the towns. 

The best thing to do though is to carry your grocery as you travel and cook your meal in the hostels you are staying in. All hostel kitchens are fully equipped and you can store your food as soon as you check in. Many people carry a picnic bag full of grocery. Four square is one of the most commonly found grocery stores in the country. There is also Night and Day that is open 24 hours.

Tipping is not a common practice in NZ. But it is perfectly okay to leave a tip if you really like the service. 

Communication - 

Free Wifi is available in most of the hostels. The best being at YHA. Some hostels provide limited data and other expect payment. Some of the routes on Intercity buses have free wifi. So do backpacker buses. Spark NZ sim that I had turned out to be very expensive when it comes to Data. For a $20 re-charge, it would give me 10MB download limit per day which was useless. So, better research some good plan on-road data.

Tramping in NZ - 

If you are a trekker, then NZ is a paradise for you. During summer, the great walks are all crowded. Some long walks mandates you to stay in huts overnight. You need to book them in advance. Some are booked at least two months in advance by travellers from around the world. A certain amount of planing would be required if you want to do multi day treks. You need to book huts on DOC website. You could also visit them to do so. 

When I booked my Routeburn trek, a day before the trek itself, I did not get two of four huts as they were booked two months in advance. As a result, I had to walk 22kms on the second day. There are plenty of transports that can drop and pick you from trail ends. You can check about them at your hostel or in a local i-site office. Trekking equipments can also be rented. Some huts have a kitchen so you can carry utensils and grocery. So you may want to check accordingly and plan your food. DOC website has all details about every trek in NZ and the facility available. I would highly recommend a multi day trek as staying in the middle of the mountains and forests, in a small hut full of travellers from around the world is an experience you would not want to miss. 

Lonely planet has a book just on tramping and trekking. Out of the treks I did, I would highly recommend - Routeburn, Tongariro Alpine crossing, Roy’s peak at Wanaka and trekking around Mt Cook.

Culture - 

NZ has mostly western culture. People are very kind and tourist friendly as tourism is one of the three most important sources of income for the country. Māori traditions only remain for cultural shows. People are very laid back and relaxed. It is always fun to  have a chat with the locals during a Sunday market in the towns that you are in.

Places to See  - 

You could follow the link below to all the posts related to NZ. My personal favourites are - Mt cook village, Lake Tekapo, Stewart Island, Wanaka, Routeburn track and Tongariro Alpine crossing. Also, Lybrnyth Black water rafting at Waitomo caves.

Places To See In NZ 

What to buy - 

Kiwi fruits and Mountain jade jewellery for sure. Make sure to buy Gold Kiwi. There are two types of kiwi fruits - Green and Gold. The latter has a much smoother texture and according to me tastes much better than the former. 

For Mountain jade, I would recommend you to buy in any town where you find a good collection. Do not wait until you head back from Auckland. Auckland mostly has shops selling expensive international brands. I think Rotorua or South Island would be best place to buy these jewellery. I also normally buy a nice magnet and a T-shirt for myself from any country I visit. I would recommend Sunday markets for souvenirs. Locals artists would have custom made artefacts on display that will stand out from the crowd of similar souvenirs found in a shop.  Here is all that I brought back.

My Route - 

Christchurch-> Lake Tekapo-> Queenstown-> Routeburn Track-> Wanaka-> Queenstown -> Milford Sound -> Gunn’s Camp -> Bluff -> Stewart Island-> Queenstown -> Mount Cook Village-> Christchurch-> Nelson -> Picton -> Wellington -> Taupo -> Tongariro Alpine Crossing -> Rotorua -> Waitomo Caves -> Rotorua -> Auckland -> Bay Of Island -> Auckland

My Expenses -  

I spent Rs 70,000 on a return flight via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific/Dragon Air and Rs 10,000 on Flight to Christchurch. You may find cheaper options. However, I deliberately chose to fly via Hong Kong. Another area where I could have saved some money was in food; by cooking every single meal in the hostel. But, occasionally I pamper myself with local delicacies, in a good restaurants. If you are sticking to Intercity or backpacker buses, it is much cheaper to buy passes. I could have saved some money there as well, had I known earlier that I would be traveling mostly with Intercity.  Other than that I think pretty much everything is standard expense. I spent about Rs 1.9 Lakhs for 23 days. That excludes the flight charges. 

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Hong Kong Again

I Continue From Here 

Backpacking NZ : Day 23 (25-Dec-2016) 

Traveled to NZ, Returning From Aotearoa

I was ready to leave at 6:30 AM. An friendly Indian was at the front desk. We spoke for a while and then I bought my Skybus ticket from him for $18. I walked to the bus stop and boarded the skybus to the airport. Got off at the International airport. It was Christmas day and the roads had been empty. 

At the airport, I had enough time to buy some souvenirs and a T shirt for myself. My flight was on time. I switched seats because a Chinese couple wanted to sit together. I was okay with that except that my Vegetarian food option had to be clarified with hostess. That worked smooth and when the food arrived, they directed it to me. I watched a couple of good movies to kill some time - The family Fang and Xuanzang.

At Hong Kong, thankfully I had no issues with the immigration. A new law was to pass from Jan 2017 ending visa free entry for Indians. I met Stefan and his Mexican friend. We decided to take a bus to town, as I had enough time. Along the way, we spoke a lot about my travel, India, Mexico and many other topics. Stefan and I never run out of topics to discuss. 

We walked to a small South Korean restaurant. Stefan suggested that I try Bimbab. I ordered one without meat. It was delicious. Basically, lots of grilled vegetable, white rice and a tangy-spicy sauce. The sauce is what made the difference. I loved the food. 

After that, we walked to their apartment. I got a glimpse of a HK apartment. Stefan had been explaining me how expensive HK was and how cramped the houses could be. But I got to see it how costly it was for a tiny apartment that he and Yulia shared with two other people. But I am sure, you get accustomed to a life style once you start living in a city. After all, living in Hong Kong is a great experience by itself. 

We walked back to the bus stop and I caught a bus to the airport. I loved being back in Hong Kong and it was great meeting Stefan again. 

In my next flight, when I arrived at my seat, I saw that an Indian family had already occupied it. The man requested that I sit in his seat instead. Well, since they had already occupied my seat and were well settled there with their baby and all, I guess I was expected to, by default, oblige to their request even though I had booked in advance, this seat with extra leg room. So I did just that. However, I mentioned to him that I had ordered vegetarian food. He said he too had ordered one vegetarian and one non vegetarian food. But when the food arrived, there seemed to be a lot of confusion and the air hostesses, who did not speak good English had a lot of trouble managing this simple switch. The guy was so busy eating his meal that he cared less about my problem. After some confused moments, the air hostess got me a vegetarian meal but it had a salad with shrimps in it. Except the salad, I accepted the rest of it. I guess, I am never going to switch seats anymore. What is the use of choosing seats in advance then?

Next to me sat a Tamil Indian, who was facing similar trouble with Vegetarian food. He told me that this was common and he always faces such a problem with food. He was returning from Japan. He had traveled on work and had stayed there for a month or so. So, now that the ice was broken, he began bombarding me with a series of personal questions. He wanted to know where I worked, where I had studied, whether I was married etc etc. He seemed very happy to inform me that he was recently married. He seemed a bit shocked when I told him that I was on a personal vacation for three weeks and not on a company sponsored, work related travel like many other Indians. An immediate silence followed when I told him that I was traveling alone, without my wife. He was confused by my answer to his question whether the cities in NZ were big and great. I told him that I preferred spending more time hiking in the mountains and backpacking to smaller towns rather than visiting cities. I think, I seemed so out of place to be an Indian, that he preferred to ignore me completely and went to sleep. That suited me perfectly too.

Those two incidents brought me back to the reality - I was returning back to India. Vacation had ended!

Bay Of Islands

I Continue From Here 

Backpacking NZ : Day 22 (24-Dec-2016) 


I had booked another day tour from Auckland to Bay of islands. I only had one day and I did not waste it in the city. The tour was going to be hectic but I was okay with it. The bus left Auckland at around 7:45 AM.  A very grumpy old English lady sat on the seat across the aisle from where I sat. She kept cribbing about the noise some Chinese kids were making. She had a bad fight with another Chinese girl. The girl though gave a fitting reply back. 

On our way to Paihia, we stopped at a small café for breakfast. We also stopped at park to sea a 800 year old Māori sacred tree - Kauri.

At Paihia, we were allotted passes according to our itinerary. Not all were having the same one. I was going to spend an hour in Waitangi treaty grounds and then take a ferry ride to see the dolphins and hole in the rock. The grumpy old British lady had chosen a ferry ride to Russell. She had not chosen Waitangi grounds. She told me that when the representative asked her about it she did not really understand what was being asked. " I thought she was asking me "why?, why?"", she told me. "I don’t know what I am doing here. I think, I am the only one going to Russel, I must try and change it." She added. I agreed and walked away avoiding any further conversation with her.

Route - Auckland to Paihia

At a small store in Paihia, I bought some mountain jade jewellery for my wife. Some of us then headed to the Waitangi treaty grounds. This is an important place  for the nation. on 6th of February 1840, a treaty was signed between all the Māori chiefs and the British. It resulted in sovereignty over New Zealand. Our māori guide, who is a descendent of a chief, told us that they had no choice but to shake hands with the English as otherwise the French would be ready to attack them. 

We also briefly talked about the French traveler who was beheaded by the Māoris. He and the sailors fished in the sacred area where fishing was prohibited. Several other versions of this story are also found on the net. 

We also heard the story of how New Zealand was first discovered by a dutch explorer called Abel Tasman. He thought that the place resembled a place in Netherland called Zealandia and named it thus. But he was attacked by the tribes and so, he retraced from the land and headed back. Years later, James Cook traveled to Zealandia with some other tribes from Oceania and mapped the entire country. Eventually the place was christened as New Zealand. 

But before all this happened, the first men to discover NZ were not the Dutch or the British. they were the Mārois. An explorer by the name Kupe and his family sailed in search of land and one fine morning, his wife saw long white clouds over a piece of land. She repeated her thoughts in her language - Aotearoa….meaning "The Land Of The Long White Clouds". Aotearoa was thus discovered. 

When the Britishers arrived, there was nothing but forest everywhere. They cut forests and converted them into farm lands, constructed roads, railways, got farm animals etc. Thus Aotearoa transitioned into becoming New Zealand.

Another interesting story goes with James cook and the cabbage tree. James missed tea so much that he started to make tea of every leaf he found. He eventually tried this leaf that smelled like cabbage to him. Thus it was called the cabbage tree. The Māoris though used it extensively to construct their huts etc.

The island is filled with ferns. There are two types of ferns - Silver fern and black fern. Both are pretty.

We walked around the area to see some artefacts and then headed back to the wharf at Paihia. 

The dolphin ferry ride was fun. We got to see a lot of dolphins. 

The ride up to hole in the rock was also very scenic. We rode through the hole and the views were spectacular. 

After that interesting ferry ride, we were dropped off at another island. Here, we had to be transferred to another ferry so that we could reach Paihia on time. We boarded the bus and headed back to Auckland, On our way, we stopped again at the same cafe and I had some much needed food - Veg wrap and a baked cheese cake. Both were delicious. 

At Auckland, I did some shopping. Bought kiwi fruits and newspaper. At the kitchen, i met Bianca. She had done some adventure activity at the sky tower. She shared cute chocolates to celebrate Christmas eve. I thanked her for a wonderful company and bid her farewell.

Thankfully I had packed my bag the previous day itself. I had thoroughly enjoyed my three weeks in NZ. But, I am never sad while leaving a country. As I cherish my experiences, I also look forward to future adventures in new places. I was excited about being back in Hong Kong the next day.

Continued Here 


I Continue From Here 

Backpacking NZ : Day 21 (23-Dec-2016) 

Another City!

This definitely can be considered as one of the dullest days of this trip. I feel helpless and directionless in cities. Mountains, rivers and lakes had accompanied me wherever I went and suddenly, I was in middle of this concrete jungle. I am sure, if I stayed here longer, I might find a few good things to do but somehow I just want to remember NZ for the wonderful glimpses of nature it has to offer. 

The first half of the day, went by in travel form Rotorua to Auckland. The journey was ordinary. There were more farms and more pine trees. The driver again informed of how Dairy, Timber and tourism are the major sources of income in NZ and thus tourists are well respected here. 

Route - Rotorua to Auckland

I just had two days more to go before I would head back. II chose to spend the second half of the day shopping. To prevent carrying stuff all along, I had ignored shopping for so long so that I could buy them in Auckland. But I realised that this was a mistake. Auckland is filled with stores that sell international brands like Prada and Gucci. I was more looking for mountain jade and Local specialities. I was disappointed. Always make it a point to buy as you travel. After a walk around the city, I returned back to the hostel and cooked some dinner before going to bed.

Continued Here