Top 5 things to experience in New Zealand

Christchurch holds a lot of memories for me. I went to high school there when I was 15 and in a sense in was my first great escape. A stranger in a strange land with no parental supervision.

fuckyeah

I did my first tattoo there, my first piercing there (on my septum), and experienced a lot new and wonderful things. I daresay it’s the one of the best times of my adolescent life. I’ve been back a couple of times and have never completely done all the things and seen all the sights the country has to offer.

However, if pressed, I would say that these are the top five things to do in NZ:

1. Do Dunedin

penguins

It’s home to Otago University and the place is actually pronounced dun-nee-dern. It is also close to the southernmost tip of the South Island of New Zealand so you can see yellow eyed penguins and seal colonies.

steepest road

Dunedin is also home to the steepest residential road in the world.

baldwin street

I swear you have to put a brick under your car when you park on Baldwin Street.

2. Go glacier hiking

glacial hike

New Zealand is one of the few places in the world where you can do this. It’s a wonderful experience walking on a large body of ice that has been slowly building for centuries. I personally recommend Franz Josef Glacier over Fox Glacier. I’ve been to both and the ice falls at the former are more sublime. Bring your cold weather gear or you can rent it at the counter.

3. Relax in Rotorua

nz rotorua

You just gotta love the smell of sulfur in the morning. It starts as soon as you reach the fridges of Rotorua – that rotten egg smell that assaults your olfactory senses. However, you get used to it after a while and you’ll be raring to hit the various natural hot pools around this volcanically active area.

rotorua

Note that some of the pools have insane temperatures like 52 degrees Celsius. The first time I was there, I was only 13 (first landing for a NZ permanent resident visa) so I wasn’t allowed into those pools. There are signs posted all over and it took me a while to figure out why – the scalding temperatures might harm your still developing family jewels. Heh.

However, if you’re not a minor, there shouldn’t be a problem.

4. Try Bungy jumping

bungee jumpin

Hello nurse! I’m kidding, this is an extremely safe sport and where better than to do it at the home of commercial Bungy jumping – New Zealand! Yup, AJ Hackett popularized the sport back in the ’80s while jumping in Auckland. The term “bungy” is apparently Kiwi slang for “elastic strap”.

bungee jumping

Check out the world’s first permanent commercial bungy site at Kawarau Bridge Bungy in Queenstown.

5. Go Punakaiki

pancake rocks

No, I wasn’t swearing at you. Punakaiki skirts the Paparoa National Park and it’s main claim to fame are the Pancake Rocks. The Pancake Rocks at Dolomite Point is a marvel of nature. I was quite impressed the first time I was there.

blowhole

There are also blowholes during high tide where you can see the sea surge explode vertically from the underground caves.

Feel like having an awesome vacation there? AirAsia X is running a contest where you can win a trip of a lifetime to New Zealand!

You can choose the type of traveler you are:

aax

and create a team of 4 like-minded people or just go solo.

It’s all done through Facebook so you can pick 3 buddies to have a go at the game – more people, more brains, more fun. Or just go at it solo if you’re the independent type and prefers relying on your own (vastly superior, or so you think) skills.

The online games and trivia will start on 8th December so sign up now at The Great NZ X-Cape. There are NZ trips to be won for both teams and individuals so let’s see how good everyone is. Come join the contest and win the trip of your dreams! ;)

Does this look like you’ve died and gone to heaven?

nz milford sound

I went to New Zealand last year and traveled around the place. New Zealand is beautiful during summer. I reckon summer is the best time to visit NZ – having lived there, I know how unforgiving the cold winters can be and the reduced amount of daylight is a bit of a turnoff.

mitre peak

Summer on the other hand has plenty of sunlight and warmth to go and do the things you love. The pointed Mitre Peak shown above is probably one of the most famous sights at Milford Sound.

milford sound

Milford Sound is a fjord that is probably NZ’s most popular tourist destination. The vista is truly breathtaking and the tips of the mountains are topped with permafrost…even in summer. Rudyard Kipling is said to have called it “the Eighth Wonder of the World”.

nz rotorua

Rotorua is one of my favorite places in New Zealand. I fell in love with it the first time I was there – about 17 years ago. The smell of sulfur that assaults your nostrils as soon as you get there is off-putting to some…but to me it smells like VACATION! :D

rotorua

(which it was)

fox glacier

Glaciers in summer?

glacial hike

Yes! It is in fact the only time you can do a glacier hike. Summer is the best time to hit Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier and walk about the place.

Franz Josef Glacier

It’s about 1-2 hours and an amazing experience for those who’s doing it for the first time. Imagine cooling off the summer heat with a nice visit to the glaciers. You can experience extreme hot and cold weathers – hell, almost four seasons, in just one trip. :)

milford

New Zealand is one of the those places that has something for everyone:

auckland quay

I can go out and hit the exclusive clubs at Auckland Quay with my friends and end the night by eating a sausage roll to soak up the excess beer…and wake up the next day to go bungee jumping.

quaint cafe

My sister can sit and have a long lunch at one of the quaint cafes.

lake tekapo

My mom can take a leisurely stroll along Lake Tekapo.

church good shepard

My dad can soak up history by visiting the Church of the Good Shepard.

yj house

New Zealand is such an awesome place that you won’t be able to glean even the surface of what it has to offer in a single trip. I’ve did my high school in Christchurch and I’m lucky enough to have a sister who lives in Auckland so I can crash at her house, eat her food and drive her car for free visit her to enhance family ties.

permafrost

However, it’s really not that expensive to visit New Zealand. The flights are very affordable with AirAsiaX. I also recommend staying at backpacker places and renting a car to drive around. Your license is valid in New Zealand. Begin your journey by surfing over to Pure Joy Summer 2011 where you can discover all the wonderful places you want to go.

nz rotorua pool

Fancy a dip in the Champagne Pool? smirk

First landing

christchurch

I remember my first trip to New Zealand – my entire family went with another family for our first landing (one of the prerequisites to get a Permanent Residency). We arrived at Christchurch and rented a caravan large enough for our family of 4 and their family of 4 and did nothing except go to prospective high schools to prepare for our education there two years later.

The first few days were a drag – we went to several schools before deciding on either Burnside or Riccarton high school. Next was the search for a home stay since we were minors and my dad finally settled for one right behind Riccarton High School (which was the one we ended up going to).

auckland nz

The rest of the time however was marvelous – we spent a couple of days in Christchurch, swung down to Dunedin (primarily to prepare me and my sister for medical school – she made it, I didn’t), met with the steepest road in the entire world before heading to the North Island.

rotorua

We pretty much toured the entire NZ in 3 weeks just by driving. My favorite place would be Rotorua – the air smells like sulfur and everything is more expensive than other towns but I loved the mud baths and our motel even had its own private spa!

luge

I was also an adventure fiend back then and went for this precarious ride called the luge (and got teased mercilessly by the other family’s twin sisters for pronouncing it loo-gee) where I nearly shit my pants by intentionally steering down “Advanced” instead of “Beginner” and careening down the side of a hill with sheer cliffs and nothing but centrifugal force to avoid you from tipping over.

I got out all wobbly legged and was properly chastised for heading down the Advanced route when I’m not supposed to.

bungee

I also went bungee jumping – AJ Hackett originated from New Zealand, but to be honest, the luge experience scared me more than the bungee jump coz I was supposed to steer but I didn’t know how to.

riccarton high school

Fast forward two years and I found myself studying in Christchurch. My parents decided on RHS primarily coz it had a low ratio of Asian students compared to Burnside. They are firm believers of fitting in and immersing yourself into another culture, which I guess rubbed off on me during my travels.

I joined the drama club (best thing that happened to me) and had a leading role in the end-of-year school play Peer Gynt. I also got kicked out of school for disciplinary issues but we shall not be discussing that today. ;)

fishandchips

The year that I spent in Christchurch was a lot of fun. The temperature drops down to the negatives in winter and despite being only 15 years old, I was very active in the rave scene. I can be seen at Ministry most weekends, which is where most of the good raves are found. I love eating fish and chips loaded with ketchup during the colder days of the year and explored every nook and cranny of the city (as much as a 15 year old who hung out with uni students who could drive did).

Christchurch is a beautiful city and although I’ve been to Auckland late last year to see my mom, sister and niece, I still prefer Christchurch to Auckland. It’s like how I love Melbourne but can’t get into the groove of Sydney.

christchurch-tram-nz

It’s a perfect place with quiet spots like Church Corner with its quaint dairies (a grocery store of sorts where you can get hot food and drinks) and yet with a vibrant night life, if you know where to look. You can even hang out in the city square where there is a huge ass chessboard with equally gigantic pieces.

Christchurch is also great as a base to REALLY travel around New Zealand. Just rent a car and explore the South Island before hooking back up north.

dairy

It’s been ages since I’ve been back to Christchurch and I’ll really love to see how much it has changed (and perhaps see my old principal, whom I had a lot of run-ins with and show him I didn’t turn out to be a total delinquent after all ;)) so it was great news when I heard that AirAsia X is now flying to Christchurch from an amazing RM 499 one way!

Man, you gotta give AirAsia X kudos, they’re adding more and more destinations exponentially – it really makes travel much easier at a great value!

You can also get the chance to win an awesome 7D/6N holiday in New Zealand courtesy of AirAsiaX by participating in the Faces Go Places contest on their Facebook page. Just upload a photo of your face to their Facebook application, which has a variety of activities you can match an expression to. Add a caption and share it with your friends to get votes. It’s that easy!

manic

This is my maniacally excited face. Heh! The Faces Go Places contest is where it’s at. Come on then, give us your best shot mate! ;)

Serious about pies

pies

No, not poontang pie. The regular, good ol’ down under pies. I’ve been to PAKn’SAVE (which seems to have upstaged Countdown as the premier grocery shopping place in New Zealand) and sampled their wide variety of pies.

paknsave

Bacon and cheese with egg. Shepard’s pie. Pork and apple pie (my favorite – a contrast of sweet and sour, like life). It’s one of those things I’ve missed since I’ve came back from Aussie. A simple pie doused with ketchup on top.

jesters

One of the best places I’ve had pies during my previous week in Auckland is Jesters (who are really serious about pies). They have a wide range (including the pork and apple pie I was talking about – trust me, it tastes better than it sounds).

No, this has nothing to do with my fantasies of migrating to New Zealand with Jestina. *cough*

Empress Garden Restaurant, Herne Bay, Auckland

Empress Garden Restaurant

We went for a family dinner before my mom’s operation slated the next day. I wanted to bring her to a nice restaurant but my mom has very Chinese tastes and wanted to go to a Chinese restaurant.

peking duck

My sister recommended Empress Garden – it’s supposed to be the best Peking Duck place in Auckland (which isn’t saying much, trust me) and the sheer volume of patrons requires a reservation in advance. The place was packed!

duck feet

We had an entree of cold boneless duck feet. Tasty, and no pesky bones to get in the way of your enjoyment of animal foot fetish. ;)

peking duck dish

Anyway, about the Peking Duck, which is the headliner for this place, it’s prepared in the usual three-part procedure – the duck skin, the second phase (lots of options here) and the third dish (usually soup).

peking duck prep

I didn’t find the Peking Duck to be particularly authentic – it doesn’t only come with the skin but also some meat (!!!). How liddat?

peking duck eat

We had the sesame pockets for the second course – you put the minced duck meat cooked with chai bo and stuff it into warm pastries.

sesame pockets

Pretty good.

sesame seed filled

The third course is duck soup with vegetables and tofu.

peking duck soup

All three duck dishes comes from the Peking duck – utilized to the fullest, the bone is used to cook the soup.

duck soup

Obligatory dish of veggies – being not a fan of green things (except those you smoke instead of cook). I don’t know what it is, my mom ordered it.

veggies

Also, one last dish of Kung Pow pork. I have serious doubts about this. It looks more like sweet and sour pork instead of Kung Pow pork (no dried chillis) but they cook it with chilli oil instead.

kung pow chicken

The Peking Duck costs NZD 80 alone. The entire bill came up to about NZD 170 which is RM 387 – pretty cheap considering we couldn’t even finish it. >.<

Posted 1:56 PM NZ time

Black Kingdom: Chapter 2 – A Brave New World

a brave new world

I didn’t know what lead to it, but the four of us started to walk
together and talk like old friends, joking around and everything. The
events during the school sports day started to bore us, so Ah Boon
suggested that we head off to smoke. Smoking! It was unheard of in my
limited social circle, which consisted mostly of “good” people, when I
was back home. I was apprehensive but attracted as well so I went along
even though I haven’t started smoking then. I was interested to try
though, but parental conditioning made me turn down the offer of
cigarettes by Ah Boon.

I was only 15 at that time as my birthday had not passed yet. I
still remember what I asked when Ah Boon, Tom, Aaron and Chen lighted
up. I said, aren’t you worried about lung cancer? Boon had a strange
answer – he didn’t mind dying early as long as it’s an enjoyable life
and smoking is one of life’s greater pleasures. I even remember what
everyone smokes – Ah Boon favors Dunhills but would go with Mild
Sevens. Tom would only smoke Dunhills or this Japanese brand of
cigarette that has one word – “kaze” for wind in the front. Aaron on
the other hand doesn’t care for anything except Davidoffs.

We walked around Church Corner, where my house and the high school
is located. There is dairy shop right there that has this dodgy looking
but nice guy who sells cigarettes and adult magazines to anyone, even
if you’re in school uniform. :) It’s not your run of the mill Playboy
and Penthouse magazines, he carries the hardcore mags too, and always
wraps it in a black bag when selling to minors. Heh. The legal age to
purchase cigarettes was 16 at that time in New Zealand, but 1996 also
saw a legislation change that made the age limit 18 instead of 16.

I remember a funny incident that happened during the day of the
legislation change. I had started smoking later, and there was a very
strict but nearer dairy opposite my shop. I was unable to purchase
cigarettes till the day I turned 16, and I proudly displayed my Student
ID as prove of age and bought a pack of cigarettes…and the law
changed a scant week later, to which the strict but near dairy owner
went “Hah! I know you can’t be 18 coz you just turned 16 a week ago! No
cigarettes to minors.”.

That forced me to walk to the further but lenient dairy at church
corner. The four of us hung out once in a while, mostly in school, but
I was still going out more frequently with Sam and the others then.
Besides the drama production practice, we sometimes go to this youth
group, which is an interesting mix of half innocent kids and half not
so innocent teenagers. Cannabis was a common drug then, one tinny
(foil) goes for NZ$ 20 and it has about 1 gram or so of weed.

However, I have still not smoked nor taken any drugs at that point.
A lot of my friends are users (on Sam’s side), but I had read that
drugs are bad mmmkay, so I just passed the joint along whenever someone
has weed, which is quite frequent. The availability of cannabis and LSD
was to high school students was surprising. I was interested in
chemical and plant substances due to reading a lot about it and wanting
personal experience, but I was still not comfortable about even smoking
weed then.

My first cigarette was at this all nighter youth group function
where several vans full of people went Go Kart racing, then adjourned
to an indoor water park, before going to a laser tag game and then a
ball at some far away horticulture place before ending the night with
two back to back movies. I remember one of the movies I watched was
Mars Attacks! It was an all day till the next morning event, and it was
during the ball that I first started smoking.

There was this girl chain smoking the whole night, even making the
driver make stops to buy more cigarettes. Everyone calls her Kitty.
She’s from my school as well, but one year younger than me and I
remember Abba’s Dancing Queen playing during the ball and I was
standing beside her and she asked me if I wanted a smoke. I thought
about it and reckoned that since I was interested to try, now is a good
time as any.

We shared a cigarette and she laughed at my inability to inhale. :)
She taught me how to properly smoke a cigarette, not just holding the
smoke in the mouth and exhaling, but chasing the smoke down with
another intake of breath so it gets into your lungs. I wouldn’t say
that I liked the taste of tobacco, but it was a memorable experience
and the song that played during that time still reminds me of that day.

End of Black Kingdom: Chapter 2 – A Brave New World

[ List of Characters ]

Next: Black Kingdom: Chapter 3 – Bonding [sixthseal.com].

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