Kaiate Falls

Kaiate Falls

Hello, everyone – I’m back! Firstly, thank you to all the readers who messaged me over the Christmas break. It means a lot – not only that some people enjoy my writing, but that they actually find it helpful! Yay!

I suppose I should have expected the sudden rush of views, what with people googling where to visit over Christmas. I certainly found myself googling new places to visit, which is how I found the beautiful Kaiate Falls.

My partner and I were staying with my parents in Tauranga, in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty. Tauranga is a fantastic place for a holiday. My 10 Free Things to Do around Tauranga happens to be one of the articles contributing to the sudden rush of views, and now I think I should make Kaiate Falls number eleven. Just look at the pictures I got!

Kaiate Falls

Kaiate Falls

Kaiate Falls

The walk around Kaiate Falls isn’t terribly long, but it does get quite steep. Despite the heat of the day, I was glad not to be visiting the falls in winter. I had the feeling that the paths would become uncomfortably muddy and slippery in wet weather. There were many people swimming in the falls, despite the sign at the top advising against it. I suppose as long as you don’t have any open wounds, and don’t swallow any of the water… It really is a pity about New Zealand’s waterways.

Kaiate Falls

But they’re lovely to look at. Check out The North Island’s 10 Best Waterfalls – although I’d probably replace Hunua Falls with Kaiate Falls now!

Kaiate Falls

After going to the falls, we went to the nearby Papamoa Beach. There’s nothing particularly special about Papamoa Beach, but the Bluebiyou Restaurant, which overlooks it, has wonderful food. Every mouthful of my mushroom risotto tasted divine, but I wanted to order everything on the menu! I’m looking forward to going back next time I’m in Tauranga.

Although I don’t think Papamoa Beach is particularly special, it’s still a very popular beach. And, I suppose, if it was the first New Zealand beach you’d ever seen, you’d be impressed. It’s not as crowded as Mount Maunganui’s main beach, being further along the coast from the Mount, and you can still bodyboard there.

Kaiate Falls

So… Kaiate Falls: if your visit to the Bay of Plenty is fleeting, don’t bother with the falls, as there are lots of other things you should see first, BUT if you’re going to be there a while, the falls are a great place to go. And here’s a bonus: if you have a self-contained campervan rental, you can stay at Kaiate Falls for up to three nights for FREE, and you don’t even have to book. For more New Zealand campervan hire holiday advice, check out my tips for travelling New Zealand in a motorhome.

Hope you’re all still having a wonderful summer. (Or winter!) See you next week.

My First Christmas in New Zealand

Christmas in New Zealand on a Beach

When you’re an immigrant, that first Christmas hits you hard. The rest of the year, you’re distracted by work and house hunting and getting on with life. Then Christmas arrives and everything stops. You realise what’s missing: family.

My first Christmas in New Zealand, the house felt empty. There was tinsel everywhere, draped over everything except my mum, dad and little sister, but it couldn’t fill the hole. There were presents – I remember getting a Harry Potter wand, but opening them felt weird. There was a turkey, but I could barely eat any of it.

The absence of Grandma, Nana, Grandpa and Uncle Damon had drained all the Christmas spirit from the air. It didn’t help that the air itself was warm and humid. Our windows were thrown open to catch the non-existent summer breeze. They should have been closed, with the curtains drawn, keeping out the winter gloom. Maybe curtains were responsible for keeping the Christmas spirit in.

christmas-1904536_960_720Years later, my mum admitted that she cried, that first Christmas in New Zealand. I didn’t cry – I’d already cried enough that year. I simply felt numb.

Someone suggested that we go to the beach. That was what New Zealanders did at Christmas, right? But we couldn’t bring ourselves to. We sat around our dining table, forcing ourselves to eat a heavy mid-winter meal in the sweltering heat. Stubborn Brits if ever there were some.

Just as I’d resigned myself to a Christmas of misery – well, not even misery, just… nothing – the day was saved. By Super Soakers.

Santa had brought them. (My little sister still believed in Santa.) We filled them up and went out into the garden, into the scorching sunlight. We were wearing T-shirts and shorts and no shoes, and soon we were wet through. On Christmas Day.

I began to have fun. Perhaps Christmas in New Zealand wouldn’t be so bad after all. Perhaps we were lucky. I mean my friends back in England certainly wouldn’t be able to have a water fight on Christmas Day! They wouldn’t be able to sunbath on the trampoline, or drink a cool Buck’s Fizz on the deck.

christmas-village-1088143_960_720As the years went by, I got used to Christmas with just my mum, dad and sister. Our other relatives rang, of course. It still doesn’t feel right, though. Things improved when my nana emigrated from England to live with us. Now, every Christmas, she turns her lounge – and our garden – into a perfect winter wonderland. Even though it’s summer.

I wrote about my nana’s winter wonderland – and the mind-boggling paradox that is the New Zealand Christmas – in my Christmas in New Zealand article. I quite like the Christmas we have now; the traditions we’ve created over last fifteen years. One day, though, I’d love to spend Christmas in Europe again.

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A Trip to the Coromandel

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A ferry operator with a sense of humour, a tiny community library, and a view to renew the soul…

Last weekend, Tim and I embarked upon a road trip familiar to many Kiwis. Countless tourists – New Zealanders and foreign holidaymakers alike – have endured the narrow, winding coastal roads of the Coromandel. They’ve endured the heat and the travel sickness. They’ve endured the frustration of being stuck behind someone towing a boat. They’ve endured the children in the backseat crying out for a toilet – and they keep going back again and again.

There must be something pretty special about the Coromandel Peninsula, right? Well, for starters, it’s got what I believe to be the best beach in New Zealand – not that we went there this time. This time, we were headed for a little place called Ferry Landing. We joined the steady procession of rental campervans, pulling over every now and then to admire the view. Usually, driving up the Coromandel makes me feel sick, but I was okay this time.

Ferry Landing, Whitianga, Coromandel, New Zealand

The sea sparkled in the sunlight. The weather forecast for the weekend had been miserable, but you can’t rely on weather forecasts, especially in New Zealand. The place we were staying was right by the sea. There was only a thin strip of grass between us and the sand. When we got there, I looked out over the beach and, for a while, simply breathed. It was like inhaling pure peacefulness, listening to the waves rolling in.

One of the best things about the trip was being lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves. I almost missed that when we got back to Hamilton. Other highlights came when we went to Whitianga, a short ferry crossing from Ferry Landing. On the way, we passed a tiny box-of-a-building that turned out to be the local library! The entire building was one small room full of books. I wish it had been open, but then I’d never have made it to Whitianga.

Ferry Landing Library, Whitianga, Coromandel, New Zealand

The ferry from Ferry Landing to Whitianga leaves every ten minutes. When we got on the ferry, we were confronted with a lovely example of Kiwi humour:

Whitianga Ferry Landing Ferry Prices

(In case you can’t see the above picture, it’s a sign listing the ticket prices for various passengers. According to this, adults pay $4, children pay $2, sheep pay $1, and Trump supporters pay $5000!)

I noticed a few of the other passengers chuckling.

We didn’t actually do much in Whitianga. The weekend was more about spending time with family and friends than doing things. We walked along the shore and through the town, and sat for a while in a pub. It started chucking it down with rain, but it didn’t matter. There were a few interesting shops and a museum, which we didn’t go in. Some of the others went to a hot pool complex called The Lost Spring and, by all accounts, loved it.

Ferry Landing, Whitianga, Coromandel, New Zealand

I’d definitely like to visit Whitianga again and explore more of it, and the surrounding area. There are plenty of free overnight parking spots for self-contained campervans around – and in truly beautiful locations too. If you hire a campervan in New Zealand, the Coromandel is a great place to take it. Just watch out on the narrow, winding roads!

I Finally Visited a Cat Café!

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista Cats

Can you believe cat cafes have only been a thing in New Zealand since last year? Rather predictably, they’ve become really popular, popping up in more and more places. Not Hamilton, unfortunately, which is why I, self-confessed crazy cat lady, only got around to visiting one this last weekend.

Yes, I took pictures.

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsThe café I visited is called Barista Cats – awesome name, by the way. It was a little difficult to find, being tucked into a lane off Auckland Central’s Queen Street, behind a solid-looking door and up a flight of stairs. There was a sign on Queen Street, but it may as well have said…

“This is the first test: are you worthy enough to discover the portal and gaze upon the treasures within?”

It felt like going up to see a dentist, especially as there was a waiting room. Then there was the airlock-like entry, double doors to prevent cats escaping. Hands sanitized, my companions and I finally stood within the inner sanctum.

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsIt was $15 for an hour with the cats, and that included a drink. I had some very nice coconut cream tea. The drinks came with lids, which we thought was a very sensible idea. Then we discovered that one of the cats – a greedy, short-haired calico called Hamburglar – had worked out how to get the lids off!

Meeting all the cats with their different personalities was fun.

There was a tiny tabby with crossed eyes and a loud meow. Apparently, it and its siblings had been thrown into a river in a plastic bag, but the cross-eyed kitten’s meow had been so loud that it had alerted a passer-by and saved them.

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsThere were two blind cats, one of which was a Manx, and one deaf cat, and one cat with only three legs. A few of the cats had been rescued from the streets, but they were all adorable. They seemed to enjoy staring out of the window, watching the people going about their business in the lane below.

I played with the cats and stroked them and, quite frankly, never wanted to leave. There were other things to keep you occupied in the room – cat-themed reading material and board games – and, of course, there was food. The food was below average for Auckland café food, but the focus is on the cats, so who cares?

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsAs we ate, Hamburglar sat at our feet, periodically reaching up to tap our thighs. You’re not allowed to feed any of the cats, but, evidently, Hamburglar is no quitter.

We were kind of worried about staying too long and having to pay another $15, but it was a quiet afternoon, so they let us off. Maybe it’s for the best that I no longer live in Auckland. I’d keep sneaking off to the cat café like it was some sort of brothel!

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsIf you’re on a long New Zealand tour and you find yourself missing your feline pets, an hour in one of New Zealand’s growing number of cat cafes might be the answer.

Oh, it turned into an absolutely fabulous cat-filled weekend for me. My partner and I stayed the night at his brother’s flat, and his brother’s flatmates had just brought home a kitten. It was so lovely, climbing up me to play with my hair and, later, falling asleep over my arm with an almighty (for such a tiny guy) sigh. My own beloved Crookshanks died earlier this year, so this weekend felt like an early Christmas present. Thank you, Tim, for taking me.

🙂

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista Cats

New Zealand: A Land Fit for Fantasy

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POMS AWAY!

You know when you were a kid, when you were lonely or sad or scared and you just… imagined you were somewhere else? Where did you imagine? What fantastic landscapes did you get lost in?

Emerald valleys beribboned with sapphire rivers? Mysterious lakes mirroring snow-capped mountains? Ancient forests with hidden waterfalls? Waves crashing upon black rocks beneath stormy skies? How about bubbling, blue-grey pools surrounded by steam vents, lava flows and powdery, yellow rocks?

Fantasy Image from Pixabay.com

You know.

Growing up in England, I thought New Zealand was some sort of fantasyland. But that didn’t mean I wanted to leave my home and my friends and everything behind to go there. When my parents told me we were moving to New Zealand, I’d never been more lonely or sad or scared!

I did feel slightly better, however, when my dad informed me they were filming The Lord of the Rings there. If I…

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That’s It – I’m Moving to New Zealand!

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Three weeks ago, one of my articles started getting a lot more views: The Best Place to Live in New Zealand. Can anyone think what could have happened three weeks ago to warrant a surge of interest in living in New Zealand?

A similar thing happened after the Brexit vote. New Zealand Citizenship vs. Permanent Residency became one of my most-viewed posts.

I wonder how many people will actually end up emigrating as a direct result of either Trump of Brexit. Emigrating takes a lot of courage, even if you have a job waiting for you, like my dad did. I must say, though, I’m glad I already live in New Zealand.

I wasn’t always, but this annus horribilis has made me grateful for what I have.

On a personal level, 2016 has been a pretty good year. It’s the year I snatched my life back from depression’s thieving fingers, finally finishing my novel and finding the courage to get up on stage again. Not to mention the courage to socialise.

space-travel-154020_960_720On a global level, however, not so much. From the Syrian refugee crisis to –

Actually, you know what, I’m not going to list everything. It’s too disheartening and you’ve heard it all before. New Zealand is a very good place to be right now. Even with the earthquakes.

Yes, even with the earthquakes. And I know that’s easy for me to say, living in Hamilton. We felt that one long, scary tremor, but our lives haven’t been disrupted. What I mean is… well, I’m better off paraphrasing the sentiments of a few of my friends on Facebook: At least New Zealanders aren’t battling each other – just Mother Nature.

New Zealand was recently ranked as the 7th safest country in the world by the World Economic Forum. (The UK was 63rd; the US 73rd.) It was ranked as the 4th safest country in the world on the 2016 Global Peace Index. (The UK was 47th; the US 103rd.) And it always appears on lists of the best places you could hope to be in the event of World War III!

Our biggest threats are earthquakes and volcanoes. Sometimes, being tucked far away from everything is good thing.

New Zealand is also arguably one of the best democracies in the world. Having MMP, or Mixed Member Proportional, as a voting system means that everyone’s vote actually counts. Everyone’s vote has equal power, and a vote for a party like the Greens isn’t wasted.

new-zealand-890250_960_720With MMP, it’s rare for a single party to be able to rule without having to form a coalition with a minor party. (Although, of course, that’s exactly what we have now.) It’s a good defence against extremism. Only three other countries have MMP: Romania, Lesotho and Germany. (Germany seems to have learned its lesson regarding extremism, even if the rest of the world hasn’t.)

New Zealand had a referendum over whether to keep MMP in 2011, and voted to keep it by a significant margin. I, myself, have little to no memory of the referendum, which I’ve just realised is strange, seeing as I turned eighteen in 2009, and should therefore have voted in it.

Ah.

I’ve just realised that 2011 was the deepest, blackest year of my depression. I spent a significant portion of that year scared to leave my room, wrapped in a blanket, trying desperately to blot out not only the world, but my own wretched thoughts. That probably explains it.

Where was I?

Oh, yes.

New Zealand good. Kiwi spirit and all that.

No, but seriously. I’m glad to be living here.

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Well That Was Scary

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I’d never felt an earthquake before. We were just about to go to sleep when the bed started juddering. At first I thought Tim was wriggling about, but it didn’t stop. Then the door started swinging back and forth, back and forth, shrieking like a poltergeist. We looked at each other.

It dawned on us.

By now the bed was swaying, but I was almost too freaked out to leave it. We stumbled into the lounge. The floor was dancing about; I was scared the walls would fall in. Tim said he felt like he was nauseous and I agreed. That or very drunk.

We wondered what to do. It wasn’t stopping. Should we get under the table, or into the cupboard, or just leave the flat entirely? By the time we’d decided it would probably be best to get outside and make for the big, open park across the road, the shaking stopped.

Had it stopped? We had trouble telling.

Yes, it had stopped.

new_zealand_topographic_mapWe immediately turned on Tim’s laptop and went to geonet.org: there had been a severe earthquake near Christchurch.

So severe we’d felt it all the way up in Hamilton.

Memories of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake churned in our stomachs. One hundred and eighty-five people had died in that one.

Our next port of call was Facebook. Everyone had felt it. People up in Auckland had felt it. Our friends in Christchurch were okay. Our friends in Wellington were okay, but there was damage. I found myself breathing a little easier, but we knew there’d be aftershocks.

We decided to get dressed and sleep in our clothes, just in case. I made sure my mobile phone and precious notebook were right next to me. We told each other, “I love you,” with even more fervency than usual. In the end, we felt no aftershocks. Still, getting to sleep was hard.

In the morning, the first thing we did was check the news. Two people had died. Quakes had continued up and down the country. High school exams disrupted; houses destroyed; roads blocked. People have been told to stay clear of the Wellington CBD.

Wow. Small-scale earthquakes happen all the time in New Zealand. My mum’s felt a few. Until last night, I was jealous I’d never felt any. Fifteen years living in New Zealand and I’d never felt the slightest tremor. I’d been in a few earthquake simulators at museums – enjoyed going in them in fact… but now…

I hope it’s not a sign of worse to come.

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Christchurch is still recovering from the last one.