Tag Archives: Boat

Travel Guide: Wellington

After a weekend in Auckland and a few days on the road, my friend Sharon and I spent a couple nights in Wellington to conclude the North Island part of our trip to New Zealand. As in Auckland, the waterfront is a huge part of life in New Zealand’s capital.

We’d also read that we were supposed to check out Cuba Street, which is full of restaurants, shops, and bars.

It didn’t disappoint, but my favorite spot on the street by far was a used bookshop. I spent far too long in there one evening and, as always happens when I enter a used or independent bookstore, I bought a book. I justified it because it was a book of poems by a Kiwi poet. Not only do I not typically read poetry, but I’ve also never purposely read something by a Kiwi author. And now I have done both of those things!

We only had one full day in Wellington and we spent it, unsurprisingly, hiking and by the water. We climbed Mount Victoria, which was really just a hill. It provided beautiful views of the city . . .

. . . and the walk itself was lovely, as usual.

We passed charming gardens on our way back to the harbor . . .

. . . and then we saw the most wonderful idea! The library sponsors a book bike to ride around and let people take (to keep!) books for free. These are books that are out of date, like old travel guides, too worn to remain on shelves, or yet another donated copy of books the library already has. How wonderful!

Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum, is located in Wellington and of course we went for a visit. It was fascinating to learn about the country’s history, particularly since we were somewhat familiar with Maori culture by this point. The history of native people and colonial settlers is much the same the world over and it’s painful everywhere. We also got really lucky at Te Papa because there was an exhibit on the Terracotta Army on view. I’d love to see the real site but Te Papa’s exhibit was amazing.

Another main attraction in Wellington is the cable car, which took us up the hills overlooking the harbor to the Botanic Gardens. The walk down through the gardens was calm and peaceful and the gardens ended in a cemetery as we returned to the city.

The following day, we took the Bluebridge Ferry from Wellington to Picton, the tiny town with the ferry terminal at the tip of the South Island. The ride was about three and a half hours and it was wonderful to stand outside and feel the wind and smell the water.

We sat next to a lovely older couple who told us about the geography of the Cook Strait and gave us suggestions of what to do with our South Island itinerary. Everyone we met, honestly everyone, was so friendly and helpful.

And then just like that, it was time to spend two weeks on the South Island!

Travel Guide: Auckland and Waiheke Island

Everything they say about New Zealand is true. It is magical and beautiful and has more sheep than people. It has trees and flowers I’ve never seen, as well as mountains, lakes, and deserts. It is, after all, Middle Earth. And it’s also the land of the dinosaurs, but more about that in a later post. For now, let’s visit New Zealand’s largest city and a neighboring island. (I didn’t know it before I visited, but there are lots of neighboring islands!)

For three weeks I explored New Zealand with Sharon, who was one of my travel partners in Greece earlier this year. We landed in Auckland in the afternoon and headed to Queen Street, a popular shopping area. We got our bearings and took ourselves through Viaduct Harbor. It’s a great place to walk, eat, drink, people watch, and admire boats. I was particularly excited about the last part, but my first beer from New Zealand in New Zealand was great, too.

We spent the evening at the Viaduct and were glad for the sunshine that woke us the next morning after the clouds of the first day. We went out in the opposite direction towards Mount Eden, from which we’d been promised the best views of the city. (We soon learned that New Zealand’s best views only get better.) We explored Symonds Street Cemetery on the way.

The hike up Mount Eden, the first of many hikes that largely characterized our three weeks, was beautiful and a lovely welcome to New Zealand. The sun was shining and we could see so much of Auckland and its environs.

We took a taxi back towards the Viaduct from the Mount Eden neighborhood, intending to take a ferry to one of the beaches. It wasn’t warm enough to swim but it was certainly warm enough to take a walk on the sand. Instead, though, the driver suggested we visit Waiheke Island and go wine tasting. We didn’t need much convincing and I loved everything about it from the start.

The ferry ride was beautiful . . .

. . . and so were the flowers, vineyards, and walking trails.

We visited Wild Estate, Te Motu, Stonyridge, and Cable Bay and I have only good things to say about all of them. We watched the sunset from Cable Bay, too.

We had a bit of an adventure getting back, for which we can only blame ourselves. The lady at the ticket counter said they ferry departed every half-hour and we neglected to verify that even though we were carrying the timetable. Turns out that as the day grows later, the ferry leaves every 45 minutes . . . and then every 90 minutes . . . and so we were stuck at the Waiheke Island ferry terminal from 9:40pm-11pm. Oops.

The next morning it was time to say goodbye to Auckland pick up our car, a white Toyota Yaris that I named Sylvia, and begin our North Island road trip! Stay tuned!

Travel Guide: Santorini

One of the perks of being an international educator is the time and opportunity to travel. This October break, we scooted off to Greece! (Literally – Scoot is the name of the budget airline that provided an eleven-and-a-half-hour direct flight with food, water, blankets, or entertainment not provided but available to purchase. But it got us to and from Greece for under SGD550, so I’m not complaining.) Upon landing in Athens, my girlfriends and I switched terminals and then boarded our 45-minute flight to Santorini. (Olympic Air is a budget airline so we got those little cleansing towelettes and two snacks – Greek hospitality is just so lovely.) We were staying in Oia,  the town you probably picture of when you hear “Greece”. It is simply stunning.

Oia is pretty at night, too . . .

. . . and it has a fantastic bookstore, Atlantis Books, which we visited and purchased from twice. The exterior should give you a hint at the wonder of the interior. Books in all languages stacked floor to ceiling, hidden behind the staircase, and available to borrow and trade on the upstairs patio. Small signs and notes with suggestions from the bookstore employees. Just the best.

Watching the sunset is a popular activity in Oia, and considering how crowded the western part of town grew in October, I can’t even imagine how it would be during peak tourist season. It was cloudy every night, though only once during the day, so many of our fellow viewers were disappointed but I thought the clouds made for some really beautiful pictures. And just being there with good friends was easily the best part.

We took a few adventures from our first base in Oia. On our first full day, we spent five hours on a very fancy catamaran with a delightful crew, unlimited beverages, and delicious lunch. The weather was bright and sunny but slightly chilly so they even made us coffee!

We stopped at the hot springs, where I actually got into the very chilly water . . .

. . . the Red Beach . . .

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. . . and the White Beach. Snorkeling was an option but it was cold! And I was perfectly happy to bask in the sunshine and chat with the crew. I miss being on boats.

The next day, we walked down the steps of Oia, from the top of the volcano to the water, to check out the seafood restaurants at Ammoudi Bay and go on our next adventure. I’m a vegetarian but one of my friends was really excited about the sun-drying octopus and booked us a seat for dinner at a restaurant that turned out to be delicious.

We waited at Ammoudi Bay for a ferry to take us across to Thirasia, another of Santorini’s islands. My brother recommended that we go and it was really cool to be able to share travel experiences and advice with him. He told us to walk up all the stairs . . .

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. . . and eat at the restaurant at the top where an elderly man greeted us, singing and grilling fresh fish. So we did!

And then we wandered around town, which was eerily empty. It felt like a combination of an abandoned film set and a ghost town. In addition to the people running the restaurant, we saw three construction workers, one elderly woman, and another woman running the town’s only other restaurant (it was actually called Different Restaurant because it’s obviously not the one, but the different one). My pictures are a little weird and grainy, which accurately reflects the strangeness of the town but is actually because I mistakenly used the wrong setting.

The part of the town near the water was more like a boardwalk of restaurants and again, this was low tourist season. Empty.

Our last full day in Oia was probably my favorite day of the whole trip and that’s because it was the greatest adventure. It’s pretty common for travelers to hike the path between Fira, Santorini’s largest city on the eat side of the island, to Oia on the west. We’d read that the path is mostly downhill, not terribly strenuous, and difficult to lose. Great!

But not so when you go the other way! Of course, we learned this hiking the other way, from Oia to Fira, and it was challenging in parts, a little scary when we found ourselves on the side of a cliff in gusts of wind, and a little more scary when someone we couldn’t see started hunting birds. But we made it!

We left Oia at 7am, which is before the sun rises and before anything is open. It was so cool seeing the streets dark and empty, lit by streetlights.

There were some signs along the 10.5km route . . .

. . . but also a critical point that was difficult to navigate coming from Oia. Turns out we did have to go behind the desalination plant on the edge of the cliff. Found that out after realizing we were on a road curving the wrong way and had to hike up a hill behind a hotel to reorient ourselves. And then, under a menacing sky and loud gusts of wind, we traversed the beautiful, sometimes desolate wilderness that is the edge of the caldera.

No matter how tiny or empty the landscape, though, Greece has many churches . ..

. . . and their frequency increased as the hike became more urban. . . .

At times, the hike took us through resorts and villas, which was a little strange, but it was also comforting to see people. After a stop for breakfast and about four hours, we were delighted when we finally reached Fira!

Once in Fira, we found a taxi to take us a little further to Santorini Brewing Company, the only brewery in Santorini. They brew five beers and offer free tastings of three, which we enjoyed very much. And because I wanted to be able to say I’d had all of them, we bought bottles of the remaining two and sat outside the brewery (because it doesn’t have a liquor license) to drink them.

Afterwards, hungry from our hike and having made the acquaintance of the adorable kid on staff at the brewery, we asked for recommendations for lunch. He suggested Artemis Karamolegos Winery, a 5-minute walk down the road. The winery is beautiful, staff delightful, and food absolutely excellent. Best meal I’ve had in recent memory and the most full I’ve been in recent memory. And then they turned up with desserts and a digestif, which happened throughout our time in Greece. Truly an amazing country with wonderful people.

Finally, we decided it was time to return to Oia. Hiking the four hours back would have lost me two friends so we took the local bus first into Fira and then onto Oia. Forty minutes and keeping my friendships instead of four hours and losing them seemed worth it.

All in all, we loved our time in Santorini (and in Athens and Delphi). The people were wonderful, the food superb, and the wine plentiful. And it’s just gorgeous.