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?

The Fragrant Harbour of Hong Kong

On September 17th 2015, twenty people from the United Kingdom set off from London Heathrow airport on a flight to Hong Kong. I was one of them.

We were all part of a BUNAC group flight to New Zealand or Australia, with a 2 day stopover in Hong Kong. I had flown into London the evening before, so the first leg of my travels was already over. This, however, was to be my first long haul flight and a big step to a whole new adventure.

So it was a really excited, if slightly nervous me, that turned up that morning to Heathrow, to stand and wait by the check-in desk. The plan was that we would all meet, get given our BUNAC packs (free t-shirt, yes please) and our tickets, then we would be sent on our way.

When I got to the gate, there was one other person already there. After a while of awkwardly standing there not wanting to be the first to speak, other people began to show up. Eventually we had a sizable group and even us British and Irish people had to break the ice as we all knew we were there for the same reason. So the BUNAC people turned up and after having handed out the goodies and located a stray passenger, sent us on our way.

The flight to Hong Kong was pretty stress-free and really didn’t feel as long as it was. This was our first step to our working holidays so we were all pretty excited and curious to get to know each other. When we weren’t chatting to our fellow travellers, we could watch a film (or 3) or play games, or even just watch the world go by on the in-flight map.

When we finally landed in Hong Kong, it was 6am their time. We were rather tired and as we had been dressed for a British Autumn and not a Hong Kong Spring, rather warm and sticky.

We left our bags at the hotel and were told by our trusty guide, Leoni, to go visit the ‘Big Buddha’. So we hoped on a train, then a rickety old bus to get up the hill to the Big Buddha. The bus was warm and smelly and didn’t feel like it would actually make it up the hill, When it finally did, we were all very glad to get off, though being outside was no cooler.

Below is a picture of the Big Buddha. Unfortunately it is a little bit blurry, as even my camera was affected by the heat and jet-lag.

The Big Buddha
The Big Buddha

The ‘Big Buddha’ is, as the name suggests a big statue of Buddha sitting on a hill. It is located on the Lantau Island beside the Po Lin Monastery.  In order to get to him, you have to climb an awful lot of steps, which on a normal day would have been challenging, but to a group of jet-lagged, warm British tourists, were more than a little taxing. But, as they always say, the climb was definitely worth it. We wandered around the monastery and surrounding buildings while Hong Kong was waking to a misty day.

This took up quite a few hours of our day, until it was time to head back to our hotel to finally get checked in, have lunch and basically relax and explore the city ourselves. So, like any group of 20-somethings traveling, we went in search of  pub.

Day 2 of Hong Kong and we woke earlier than we might have liked, due to jet lag and having found a pub to watch the rugby the evening before. Our tour guide, Leoni, had a full day set out for us, as this would be our only full day in Hong Kong. First we went to Victoria Peak, to see how the rich of the city lived and the wonderful views from the hilltop.

Next on our list was Stanley Market, which was jam-packed with people and stalls selling just about every kind of jewel and tourist object imaginable. But, as we had so many places to fit into our day, we didn’t have long to stop and shop; so we were piled back onto the bus again to be driven to the next location, which was Repulse Bay, for some photo opportunities before the Aberdeen Fishing Village. All long our bus trip around the city we would be told about the places we were passing and it was very clear Leoni loved her city.

The fishing village was a highlight of the tour for me, along with the Big Buddha, of course. We were put into two boats and rode around the harbour. It was here that we learnt that Hong Kong means Fragrant Harbour, when translated. Someone clearly had a sense of humour, or maybe was highly sarcastic when they thought of this. Either way ‘fragrant’ does not fully cover the smell of the harbour. As you could imagine with any fishing village the smell of fish was strong, so much so that I can almost recall it now, over a year later. The harbour was, as harbours go, an interesting site, with many house-boats and working boats. As someone who grew up by the sea, I loved seeing it all. We were taken pass the restaurant on the harbour, which is basically a huge, very ornate-looking barge.

View on the harbour
View on the harbour

Day 3 – Another early start this morning, after a late night at the ‘Lights Show’ on the river front, which while probably quite technical, was a little boring, seeing the same buildings being lit up in the same way on repeat for about an hour. So, in keeping with British travelling stereotypes, we decided to go looking for another pub, and this time stumbled across an Irish pub (anyone who has ever been in an Irish pub, while travelling, or at home, knows there is no explanation needed for how the rest of the night went).

Today, was a new day and with that went a new list of places for Leoni to take us to. First stop was the Wong Tao Sin Temple, or the Temple of the Medicine god and the zodiacs. The temple was very ornate and highly decorated. There was a lot of incense being burnt as well, giving the place  pleasing smell. There was a huge crowd there, but we all still managed to get a good look around and some photos.

The gateway to the Wong Tai Sin Temple
The gateway to the Wong Tai Sin Temple

The next stop on the tour was The Jade Market, which had lovely, expensive jade jewellery in a variety of jade colours. The market was busy and full of people. It was nice to walk around and see all the varieties of jade. This was a quick stop before lunch and then onwards to the Nan Lian Garden and the Palm Tree Garden. These gardens were the perfect spot to relax and wander around for such a warm, humid day. The gardens were extremely peaceful, especially after the bustle of the Jade Market. The gardens were full of plant life and fountains, which really showed the inner beauty of Hong Kong.

We were allocated a couple of hours to spend in the gardens, as our last stop on our break-neck tour of Hong Kong, before climbing on board the bus one last time to go to the airport.

Hong Kong at first sight was a warm, humid city but after only a couple of days there I could see that it is rich in beauty. There is the contrast between the buildings some are decrepit and in need of repair and others are beautifully decorated and show Hong Kong’s rich history and architecture.

The Nan Lian Garden
The Nan Lian Garden

So overall, Hong Kong was a very fast-paced 2/3 days. I will always remember the overall feeling of being warm, but I will also remember Leoni and her amazing knowledge and love for her city. It was the first time most of us had been to the city and we certainly saw some of its main attractions. I would definitely visit here again and maybe take a more leisurely look around, to see some more of it’s buildings, gardens and people.

Next Stop: Auckland and on to our new adventure in New Zealand.