Special Six: A walk around Invercargill

I unexpectedly had to spend around 6 hours in Invercargill during my April trip to New Zealand because the morning ferry service to Stewart island had got cancelled the day I visited the city. I had to wait for the evening ferry at 5pm and my connecting coach from Invercargill to Bluff would only pick me at 4pm, though I had requested them I would prefer to be dropped in Bluff that morning as I thought I would enjoy exploring the tiny seaport, while waiting for the ferry.

Given the unexpected time I was given in Invercargill, decided to take a walk around the city and I enjoyed the below six highlights of my walk. Starting from the I-site bus stop, where I had been dropped off by the coach from Te Anau, I made my way around the city.

(1) Water tower

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The water tower had been built in the early 20th century by the council, even though the local community had not wanted the tower on the green belt of the city. To appease the community, the 300,000 litre steel tank was disguised with an outer brick tower.

(2) Civic Theater

One of the landmarks of the city, the early 19th century building was originally the town hall. It was renovated and converted to a theatre complex in 2005.
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(3) Brunch at Zookeeper’s café

Having read positive reviews about this café, I decided to have some brunch here. The pancakes with grilled bananas was served with some vanilla ice cream and maple syrup. I also tried my first boysenberry juice at this café. From that point, I always ordered boysenberry juice the entire time I was in the south island.
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The staff at the café were friendly and one of them suggested I visit the Demolition village, an hour’s walk away from the café. Given that I do have problems walking long distances, I had to pass the option of visiting the interesting theme village, cited as one of the key places to visit in the city on the map of the city.

(4) St Mary’s Basilica

The beautiful church was designed by architect, Francis Petre, and opened in 1905.

IMG_4061Places of worship evoke different responses from me – the ones I have enjoyed simply exude an air of peace, that I simply feel content to be in the place. Others bedazzle me with their grandeur, but do not evoke spiritual feelings. Yet others put me off with their coldness. There are a few though that evoke unexpected strong emotional responses from me. Sitting inside this church, I was moved and while I don’t wish to dwell on that experience in this post, I wanted to mention that because of it, this church is one of my special six highlights of Invercargill.

(5) Victorian Railway hotel

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The hotel is one of the oldest buildings in Invercargill, that is continuing to be used for its original purpose.

(6) Queen’s Park

Back on Gala street after my circular walk around the city, I decided to rest my tired feet at Queen’s Park and enjoying the beautiful trees around me and a book.

IMG_4066 There was quite a number of families around the park as there was some kind of race taking  place with children and adults finishing their race at a café inside the park. For me, the park is the best part of Invercargill city and while I did not explore all aspects of the huge park, it was enough that I enjoyed the parts I visited very much.

Which of the above six have you visited or would want to visit, on your trip to Invercargill?

“Untold

Special Six: Taste of Cochin

At the start of this year, during my weekend getaway to Cochin, I spent a lot of time around cafes in Fort Kochi mainly to get away from the heat of the Cochin day. Of course, I also tried out some local specialties when doing so. Here are my special six tastes of my first visit to Cochin:

(1) Cold cardamom coffee at Loafer’s corner:

The cosy corner café on Princess street was a place I enjoyed going back to, a couple of times. Their cold cardamom coffee was especially lovely for the hot and humid weather.

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(2) Fish mango curry at Oceanos:

On my first day at Fort Kochi, after arriving there in the morning, checking into Fort Bungalow and then exploring the fort museum, I was very hungry and decided to have a proper Kerala lunch at nearby Oceanos, which had great reviews for its seafood. I tried out their fish mango curry, which was delicious.
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(3) Unnakaya at Farmer’s cafe

After walking around for a couple of hours exploring the cute little shops lining the old streets of Fort Kochi, I stopped at the Farmer’s café on Ridsdale road. I had marked this organic café as a place to visit, but since I had stuffed myself at lunch with the fish mango curry, I settled for a snack called unnakaya, which was fried steamed bananas filled with coconut. I had thought it would taste more like pisang goreng (the Indonesian fried banana snack) but I guess steaming the banana before frying it changed its flavor.

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The café is my favourite in Fort Kochi and I wished I had time to revisit the café again.

(4) Cold coffee at Mocha art cafe

While exploring Mattancherry with two people from my bed and breakfast place, we decided to take a break and have something cooling. Since I had marked this café as a place mentioned for its good coffee, I suggested we stop by Mocha art café, and have some cold coffee.
IMG_3744The café is a lovely place, opposite the Jewish synagogue, with an art gallery and a little area for people to enjoy a drink or some food.

(5) Chai at Passage Malabar

With all the coffee I had been drinking that weekend, I decided to switch to some tea after my early morning walk around Fort Kochi beach area. I had actually wanted to go back to Farmer’s café for some breakfast, but it was not yet open at 7am so I decided to stop by next door Passage Malabar for a tea break before returning to my guesthouse for some breakfast. I enjoyed the masala chai in the leafy courtyard of the restaurant.
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(6) Ela ada at Cochin airport

Having checked out of my hotel early on my last day in Cochin, without breakfast, I decided to get a bite to eat at the airport while waiting to board my flight. A little outlet called the L’il Tiffin attracted me and I saw that it had lots of traditional breakfast food and something that I had wanted to try but not found in Fort Kochi. Ela ada is a steamed rice flour parcel in banana leaf, filled with a sweet coconut mixture. Anything steamed in banana leaves always has a special flavor and this one had it too.
IMG_4612Fort Kochi is dotted with lots of interesting cafes and the above are just some that I visited and enjoyed during my weekend getaway to the city.

What is the Keralan food that you would want to try, during your visit to Kerala?

 

Special Six: Bay of Islands trip

RES_ea137e0a-6237-4f3b-9198-41566bd0534eSELRES_ea137e0a-6237-4f3b-9198-41566bd0534eDuring my April trip to New Zealand, I took a 3 day tour from Auckland to the Bay of Islands, with Stray tour. I am not much of a group tour person but since I needed to travel to the Hokianga, and there was only one public transport service which only ran twice a week from Keri Keri and this was the only tour that I came across that went to the area, I decided to take it.

In addition to the optional skydiving experience with Skydive Bay of Islands on the first afternoon, the special six highlights of my Stray tour with Muesli, our tour guide and driver, and 6 other travelers, were the following:

(1) Visiting McKinney Kauri

Our first stop on the tour was to see the McKinney – a beautiful kauri tree. The guide mentioned that the kauri tree and the spiritual significance it holds for Maoris had inspired James Cameron in Avatar. I also learnt of kauri dieback, the disease that was killing a lot of the kauri trees and other native species.

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(2) A glass of wine at the oldest running bar in New Zealand

If in Paihia, one has to take the ferry across to Russell Island for a visit to the Duke of Marlborough for a glass of wine. The pub, established in 1840, is the oldest running licensed hotel and bar in the country. The website of the hotel has an outline of its interesting history from its infamous start to its current owners and their vision.

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Stray tour includes a ticket to Russell island in their package, though the return ticket needs to be purchased separately directly on the ferry.

(3) Cruise around the bay of islands

The Stray tour package had partnered with another tour operator, to include a 3 hour cruise around the bay, with the captain pointing out islands with an interesting story or marine life. I was out in the bow area, for most of it, scanning the sea for signs of dolphins. Two dolphins did finally take pity on us and showed up to greet us and play alongside the boat a little.

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Can you spot the two seals lounging on the rocky outcrop?

After we passed the bird rock, where the seals were lounging, another lovely landscape greeted us. A pretty lighthouse, though I don’t think I would want to live in that little cottage down that slope from the lighthouse, very much isolated from the rest of the islands. I did see someone fishing by the rocks below, probably someone living in that cottage.
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There was a sense of excitement and anticipation building within the boat once we passed this and it was all for the final highlight of the cruise – the hole in the rock.

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The highlight about the rock was not the rock in itself, but that the captain maneuvered the boat through the rock.

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Emerging from the rock

(4) Picnic lunch at Waitangi

Following the cruise, our little group was quite tired. Our guide asked us to pick up a picnic lunch from town, which we could have at Waitangi. I had wanted to visit the Waitangi treaty ground the previous afternoon but I had missed it as I had chosen to go skydiving. Therefore, I welcomed the opportunity of at least having a quiet lunch overlooking the bay, with the treaty ground behind us.
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It was interesting to hear our guide’s story about the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi and how two language versions of a treaty led to land being taken away from the native population and the start of colonization.

(5) Walking around Opononi

On the way back to Auckland from Hokianga, we first stopped at Opononi for a sandboarding activity included in our package. I was not interested in trying it out and instead was more interested in this tiny village called Opononi, which had been named after a dolphin.

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So, after the rest of the group took off on the little boat with their instructor to the sandboarding area, I went for a little walk around the tiny village.

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Opo had been a little friendly dolphin, who had been coming into the bay area and playing with children. The dolphin became very popular across the country that families brought children from around the country to meet the dolphin. When the friendly dolphin passed away, it was laid to rest here and the village named after Opo, the dolphin.

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(6) Visiting Tane Mahuta

After the rest of the group finished their sandboarding adventure and returned to Opononi, we continued our journey. Our guide then made a brief stop for us to visit Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest. While the exact age of this majestic kauri tree is not known, it is thought to be over 2000 years old.
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The rest of my group had actually gone on an optional cultural activity the night before, where they were treated to a Maori cultural experience in the forest visiting Tane Mahuta and listening to local folklore and rituals. While I had skipped the night visit to the forest in favour of catching up with my friend, I was glad that I had the opportunity for this brief visit into the forest to meet this majestic tree considered the giver of life in the Maori culture.

There were a few more places we stopped at during the three days, but the above six are my special six of the experiences I had with the Stray tour. It was also lovely that this Stray tour group was small and Muesli knew the right balance between giving us the space and narrating anecdotes during the drive. So, it is sometimes nice to mix up independent traveling with mini tours with tour groups, provided the tour operator and group you are with are pleasant.

Have you been to the Bay of Islands area? What was your highlight? If not, are you thinking of traveling there?

“Untold