Remembering Home

While travelling, I find it is always good to remember where you came from. You meet so many people from so many different places that it is inevitable that you change as a person with the influence of the varied languages and cultures you encounter. But at your core, is always going to be the place you come from. For me, that is Northern Ireland. A small country, which is part of the United Kingdom and on the same island as Ireland. It is a country of culture clash, with both British and Irish parts. A lot of the people I have met on my travels have asked about it, as many people either don’t know about my country or only know what they have heard in the news, which to be fair, is never good. So I decided to write an article highlighting some of my favourite places in Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital city.

I have lived in Belfast for 5/6 years before travelling. It is a city I love and will passionately defend, even with it’s flawed politics. There are many great things about the city and the country in general, but I decided to pick just 5. If you would like to know more about Belfast, please read more below:

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A Blurry Week in Auckland

It’s Monday 21st September 2015, and a group of 10 backpackers from the UK have landed in Auckland. We said goodbye to the other half of our group in Hong Kong after 2 and a half days together. It might not seem like very long, but we bonded over the fact that for most of us, this was the furthest we had been from home. With half going to Australia and half to New Zealand, we were now a smaller group.

Once in Auckland, we got picked up at the airport and taken to our hostel. It was evening already and we had our orientation with BUNAC in the morning. Once the orientation was over, it was time to explore for ourselves. Auckland is a busy city with plenty of shops to browse around and places to eat, including Pita Pit, which was highly recommended by a couple of Canadian girls we met; T2, an amazing shop for all tea lovers and Kathmandu, which is a haven for travellers, though dangerous if you want to save money. We walked around most of that day getting used to the city centre and finding our way around.

The next day we went on a little day trip to Piha beach and the Lion Rock. The day trip was organised for us by Stray, a tour bus company operating in New Zealand. The tour company is relatively new, having started roughly 15 years ago. They took us to Piha beach, with the Lion Rock, as seen in the photo below.

Piha Beach

The beach was really nice and sandy. It was our first time seeing the countryside of New Zealand, so the Stray people took us for a walk around the forest area of the beach and talked to us about the local greenery, including the Sliver Fern, which is famously used as the symbol for The All Blacks and many of New Zealand’s sports teams. Piha beach is a short drive from Auckland city centre and definitely worth it if you want a short day trip out of the city. There are some lovely walks around the beach area as well, if you want something a little more active.

Waterfall at Piha Beach

Another good place to explore around Auckland, are the islands, such as Waiheke Island. We ventured there one sunny afternoon during our week in Auckland, as we wanted to go ziplining, with Ecozip Adventures. We took the ferry from Auckland port to the island. The ferry was a short trip, but beautiful. Auckland stretches out behind the ferry and with the sun high in the sky it gave us a perfect view of the city.

Waiheke Island is New Zealand’s most populated island, with around 8,000 permanent residents and roughly 3,000-4,000 with second homes there. It is also home to a number of wineries offering wine tours and restaurants. There are limited buses around the island, so always check the time of the last bus back to the ferry, unless you plan to stay the night.

We got the bus from the ferry to the Ecozip site. There are 3 ziplines, a walking trail and a vineyard all on the one site, so plenty to do with your day. The guides here are extremely friendly and enthusiastic about what they do. They will gladly explain more about the island as you fly above the rainforest. The zipline gives you a great view of the vegetation and the wildlife of the island, as well as the vineyard beneath you.

Waiheke Island

After the zipline, we took  walk around the island. The people here are very friendly and helped us on our way when we got a little lost. There are a few little towns on the island, with convenience shops and restaurants. We stopped at The Boathouse, a seafood restaurant on the waterfront. While it is a little expensive, the food is delicious and the atmosphere is chilled. You can sit out on the deck, facing the sea and taking in the beautiful sunset before taking the last ferry back to Auckland.

The next day we decided to take in Auckland Zoo. This is typically, a great day out for all the family. As visitors to New Zealand we were keen to see some of the native animals, such as the famous Kiwi bird. The Zoo is pretty big and packed with animals, so allow 2-3 hours to get around it all without having to rush. The Zoo houses hundreds of animals, including Elephants, Kiwis, Meerkats, Monkeys and Pandas. There is a section of the Zoo just for Australian animals, which is also great to see, if like me, you haven’t been to Australia either. We had a fun packed afternoon walking around the Zoo. The Zoo shop is also good for little trinkets and things to add to the experience.

Einstein the Maramoset

There are so many things to do in and around Auckland city, unfortunately it wasn’t possible to fit them all into one week. As traveller’s we were keen to move out of the city and start seeing what many people called ‘the real New Zealand’. Auckland, as a city, is fairly international and so in my opinion could have been anywhere in the world. As a person who prefers country to city life, I was quite happy to leave after just a week. It was a rush of excitement to be in a new country, especially after having spent the last year planning and saving for New Zealand. The week flew by, as we each planned what we wanted to do for the year ahead and learnt more about the places we would soon explore.

 

Next- leaving Auckland city. Where will I explore next?