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Category: New Zealand

Flying High In Queenstown

New Zealand’s landscapes are nothing less than dramatic, from towering mountains to dense lush forests to majestic seas with abundant sea life. Imagine flying over these landscapes and appreciating the…

New Zealand’s landscapes are nothing less than dramatic, from towering mountains to dense lush forests to majestic seas with abundant sea life. Imagine flying over these landscapes and appreciating the beauty from a  bird’s eye view. It is a bit of a splurge but the experience in itself is a lifetime memory. Here’s are some shots that captivated my soul and fueled my grand appreciation of the Creator.

We started our journey from Queenstown flying over the vast Lake Wakatipu with mountains rising from its surface and over secluded alpine lakes bypassing rugged peaks.queenstown helicopter line  7lake wakitipu helicopter Queenstown helicopter ride deborah chan

At some point our entire view were just spikes and jagged peaks as we passed through waves of barren mountains. We saw the grand Bowen Waterfall cascading from a crack on a mountain peak, flew past fluffy (almost edible) clouds and landed in Milford Sound. The entire journey from Queenstown to Milford sound took about 30 minutes, but it felt like eternity (the awesome kind of eternity!)

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queenstown helicopter line

We landed in Milford Sound for a meander around. Known as Piopiotahi in Māori, Milford Sound is a fjord in the south west of New Zealand’s South Island, within Fiordland National Park and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site. Its spectacular sheer cliffs, mountains and thundering waterfalls left us in awe – but we didn’t do the cruise this time, as we have visited Milford Sound a few years back.

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milford sound helicopter ride
After a short walk, it was time to go. We put on our mufflers and headed back into helicopter. The blades spinned as the engine cranked up and we were soon flying again.

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We spotted some white patches on rock mountain surfaces, we flew over some snow capped mountains and then we flew face on with a glacier patch that our pilot named “Puddle”. The closer we got to the “Puddle” the larger it got and soon without a flaw, our helicopter made a gentle landing on the glacier. The doors swung open and a gush of chilly wind blew in. It was hard to believe that we were stepping on glistening snow.

helicopter line glacier

We watched as other helicopters made their landing, just a gracefully as ours did. The dramatic view was breathtaking to say the least. It was very humbling to be surrounded by mountains and to realize how (really, really) small we are.

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Our little son slept through most of the 90 minutes experience. I reckon the sound of the helicopters engines lulled him into deep slumber.

Want more? Watch this video and catch a glimpse of our unforgettable experience in the air. Helicopter Line fly from Queenstown, Milford Sound, Mount Cook, Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier.

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Maori Culture: Surviving Another Generation

New Zealand is not only blessed with breath taking landscapes, the country’s rich history is deeply embedded in the lives of indigenous communities, who till date still practice traditional rituals…

New Zealand is not only blessed with breath taking landscapes, the country’s rich history is deeply embedded in the lives of indigenous communities, who till date still practice traditional rituals passed on from generations. Shrouded with mystery and often times represented as ghastly warriors made famous by the Hakka, the Maori culture is one of honour, love and respect for Mother Nature. It’s no wonder New Zealand is ranked one of the best eco destinations as it is largely untouched and tourism operates within the boundaries of environmental respect.

I had a chance to spend a morning with a Maori family and was deeply touched by their hospitality and fierce love for their people and the country. Maurice Manawatu, is from the hapu and iwi tribe, a people group living and thriving in Kaikoura, New Zealand. Maurice together with little Miharo journeyed with me through Kaikoura showing me sights and telling me stories of bygone years – stories of civil wars, traditions of the Maori people, gods and warriors at sea, and stories entrenched in the deep island forest.Maori Kaikoura_Ardent Traveler (3)Dating back 450 years, the Maori people had largely inhabited the South Island and it was not until then that they first made the move to the North Island. The great migration sparked tribal wars as people fought to claim land in the North Island.

I was ushered to a wide open plan overlooking the great sea and Maurice told me stories of how the warriors build trenches and fortresses to protect their people. Miharo chanted us in, a spiritual act to clear the pathway before we entered the sacred plain. We then introduced ourselves verbally as an acknowledgement to the spirits and nature that surrounded us. I was given a Maori name, Wha (pronounced as “fah”) which means four.
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A huge part of the Maori culture involves establishing relationships. The warmth of the people is demonstrated in an act called the ‘hongi’. Liken to handshakes or kisses, the hongi is performed as an act of sharing life and a symbol of peace. Standing face-to-face, eyes closed, they touch nose-to-nose, forehead to forehead, the two embrace in a traditional greeting. Having perform the hongi, although initially a bit intimidating, I was deeply touched at how a simple act of peculiar embrace immediately established a connection and I understood how the hongi represents a symbol of peace and community.
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We continued to explore Kaikoura where Maurice brought me to the Puhi Puhi Forest Reserve, a dense forest with a fairy-tale vibe. I was told to be careful of my steps and to avoid stepping on the roots of trees as a sign of respect to the guardians of the forest. Maurice pointed out the New Zealand flax plant that was traditionally harvested to make clothes, ropes and bags. Almost every plant in the forest had an intrinsic value, either used as medicine, deodorant, food or shelter. We stood beneath the towering 900 year old Rimu tree, its bark peeling away and sang Maori songs as praise to nature. The act was deeply spiritual and refreshing to the soul. Maurice explained that many of the stories and knowledge about his tribe would not have survived if his grandmother had not written them in manuscript. In those days, stories were passed down verbally and the written word was uncommon.
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At the end of our journey, Maurice brought me back to his family home where we shared food and drink together and sang more songs in his cosy living room. I’m deeply touched and enchanted at the survival of the Maori culture. We, as a modern society have a lot to learn from these tribe of people. Their values I would gladly pass on to my children; to honour people and relationships, to care and respect the environment and to take pride of tradition and culture lest it ebbs away with modern day distractions.

Watch this heartwarming video of Maurice & his family singing.

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Whale Watching Tips

Your first whale watching experience will be an exhilarating one and you want to be prepared for the moment when you see that magnificent creature at sea. The tours usually…

Your first whale watching experience will be an exhilarating one and you want to be prepared for the moment when you see that magnificent creature at sea. The tours usually span from one and a half hours to three hours. But whale sightings only lasts between five to ten minutes once the whale is spotted. Having been on four whale watching trips in New Zealand and Australia, I’ve gathered some tips on how to feel my best while at sea and some additional tips on capturing the best moments on camera so that I can relive that moment again and again.

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  • Anticipate sea sickness. Pop a sea sick pill at least 30 minutes before you head out. This will prevent a lot of mess. Be sure to check if the pill is drowsy or non-drowsy as you don’t want to be nodding off when the whale shows up.
  • Don’t skip breakfast. Very often people will go on their first whale watch trip fearing they might throw up and avoid eating breakfast prior to the trip. Skipping breakfast only results in acid and gas build up which could potentially make you even queasier. I usually take a very light breakfast like a toasts or cereal and avoid any fatty or fried food. Bring along some healthy snacks like nuts or pretzels for munching to stop your stomach acids from building up.
  • Stay hydrated. Bring along a bottle of water with you, especially if you decide to hang out on the open deck to spot dolphins and enjoy the morning sun.
  • Keep warm. It is usually cooler out at sea and even chillier with the ocean breeze. Bring a light jacket with you.
  • Sunblocks and sunnies. Yes, the sun is harsh so don’t skimp on lathering yourself with sun-protection.

While at sea, you want to remember these tips to avoid from feeling queasy:

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  • Stay outside in the open because fresh air helps a lot.
  • Go to the lowest deck and stay towards the rear of the vessel. The closer you are to the water, the less motion is felt.
  • Suck on a sweet or mint – somehow it helps.
  • Keep your eyes on the horizon. Looking at something that is not moving helps the equilibrium.
  • Lookout for dolphins, seals seabirds, flying fishes, albatrosses, whatever you can spot. Keep your mind occupied and off your queasy stomach.

Getting the perfect whale shot!

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  • Rule #1 is, always have your camera ready. Make sure your batteries are charged and your equipment ready.
  • Next, you will need to understand basic whale behaviour. I don’t claim to be a specialist in this, but from my experiences and tips from different skippers, here are some pointers.
  • Keep a lookout and be on a scanning mode. Never fix your eyes on one place. When scanning the water’s surface, lookout for spouts of water coming off the surface.
  • Once you have that initial sighting, keep looking in that direction. You should be able to see a mass above the water’s surface. Depending on how long the whale has surfaced, the sperm whale may do a few things; spout (blow water), breach (belly up) or dive (tail up and back into the deep).
  • Enjoy the moment while the whale is calm and snap away, but don’t take your eyes off the whale as the whale has to dive back into the sea. If you are fortunate, the whale may do a breach, but this is quite rare.
  • Get your camera ready for the dive. Be focused, centered and ready to snap your shot. The tail of the whale is what you want to capture. When the tail is completely out of the water and its underside visible, you will notice patterns on the tail called the fluke print. This is unique to each whale, as fingerprints are to humans.
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Whale Watching Done Right

Kaikoura is recognised as one of the best destinations in the world to whale watch. In fact, there is 95% chance of sighting whales because of the resident sperm whales…

Kaikoura is recognised as one of the best destinations in the world to whale watch. In fact, there is 95% chance of sighting whales because of the resident sperm whales who linger around the ocean canyons all year round. Kaikoura was a small quiet fishing village back in the 1980’s. The only strip of shops on the main road facing the ocean was the only commercial shoplots in town. It was a town where everyone knew everyone.

Then in 1987, Bill Solomon, a fellow Maori who lived off the ocean decided that the seas would bring new and greater wealth to the small town. Fueled with faith from a story of an ancient Maori legend named Paikea who rode on a back of the whale to a better life, Bill Solomon and his friends mortgaged their homes to start up a new business. They brought travellers out on inflatable boats and showcased the magnanimous ocean creatures that owned the seas.

Today, Whale Watch Kaikoura is one of the world’s leading and award winning whale watching tour companies in the world. The company’s philosophy is deeply entrenched in the Maori culture of respect for the environment and wildlife lending to the success of the company and the way they introduce nature to travellers. This was my second time whale watching in Kaikoura and I knew what to expect – a spectacular two hour ocean ride!

We set of in a large vessel bright and early in the morning. The waters were calm with gentle ripples of waves lapping in the horizon. The engines started, we buckled in and soon the vessel was galloping into the deep blue seas. I had taken a very light breakfast before the trip and had taken a sea-sick pill 30-minutes before we set off, still I wanted to be extra prepared in case my stomach churned and the uncalled for throw up landed on neighbour’s lap. Just to be on the safe side, I held onto the white barf bag throughout the trip.

In order to prevent hoards of people from rushing out to the open deck upon a whale sighting, the skipper reiterated the rules again. Anticipation mounted in the cabin as the vessel came to a gentle halt. We had only travelled 20-minutes into sea and behold, the resident whale Tutu greeted us that morning. Her massive body under the water’s surface with only about 10% of her body mass visible, still the sight was truly amazing. Tutu spouted several times and lingered around for 10 minutes before diving back in. The most opportune time for photo taking is when Tutu dove in and flipped her tail before disappearing into the deep blue. Cameras clicked away and for that split second, all onboard were hushed in awe of the grand sight.

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Then all that’s left is the blanket of sea. Everyone cheered and dispersed to other parts of the vessel to enjoy the warm morning sun. We were told that the Kaikoura ocean canyons go as deep as 1000-1500 metres deep, a world unknown to many, where the illusive giant colossal squid reside. The great white albatross glided by, its wing span unlike any other sea bird. Schools of playful dusky dolphins danced and swam next to the vessel teasing us as we captured those moments on camera.

A good hour and a half had passed and we headed back to shore. There was no doubt I’d go back to sea the next time I’m in Kaikoura. The experience, once again left a lasting impression of the vastness and grandeur of the great ocean. It is responsible tour companies like Whale Watch Kaikoura that make it possible for thousands of travellers to experience these beautiful creatures & share the same respect for wildlife in her habitat.

Enjoy a snippet of my experience meeting and greeting Tutu… and if you’re planning a whale watching trip anytime in the future, you will definitely want to check out some useful tips on getting the most of your experience.

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Homestay In Kaikoura Run By A 75-Year Old

It’s a daunting thought for most of us to wake up every morning at 5:30am to cook breakfast for guests, but for Margaret Woodhill, it’s a joy and something she…

It’s a daunting thought for most of us to wake up every morning at 5:30am to cook breakfast for guests, but for Margaret Woodhill, it’s a joy and something she looks forward to.

Her modest home is perched atop a hill with sweeping views of Kaikoura’s rolling mountains that meets the grand sea. Kaikoura is a small town north of Christchurch made famous by its whale watching activity. Annually, the town welcomes enthusiastic wildlife lovers from all over the world. Before the big whale watching boom about 28 years back, Margaret together with her late husband, Bob first opened their home to travelers. At that time, their four children had all grown up and moved out leaving an empty nest. So, the most logical decision was to find a way to fill up empty rooms and that was how Bayview Homestay came about.

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Margaret recounts the first official advert that was published about Bayview Homestay. It was printed in the New Zealand Bed & Breakfast book together with 25 other operators. They welcomed their first six guests and since then, there have been thousands from around the world. Margaret has a poster of the world map stuck on the pantry wall and guests are encouraged to stick a pin on the country of their origin. The map is polka-dotted with many pins, too many to count.

Staying at Bayview felt like putting up a night at grandma’s, especially since I was traveled with my husband and baby son. Margaret treats everyone like family and her warm and infectious smile is the very thing that made me feel at home. The guests’ rooms are situated in a separate section of the family home with a small pantry, living space and a separate entry and exit. But despite the wall that separates us, Margaret never made us feel that we had to stay in the guest area. She welcomed us to roam freely and to join in conversations over a cup of tea at the breakfast table.

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Breakfast was a grand feast at Bayview. Margaret took painstaking effort to provide us with homemade food. Breakfast at Margaret’s is as good as having brunch and she takes pride in what she serves her guests. For two consecutive mornings, we had bacon, perfectly poached eggs fresh from Margaret’s chicken coup and homemade toasts. Atop that, we had a selection of other goodies to choose from; cereal, fresh rhubard and peach jams and yoghurt.

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There is a great sense of respect for the environment at Bayview. Margaret shared with me her passion of tending to her garden, the hours invested in caring for the land and some tips on creating good compost. In her one-acre garden she grows tomatoes, lettuce and other greens. She has a neat chicken coup only for eggs and a beautiful garden of blooming flowers. Despite the garden looking immaculate, Margaret remarks, “I wish I had more time to spend in the garden. If I have a spare minute in the day, you will see me in the garden.”

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Her green thumbs were cultivated over time and she credits her father for sharing tips on keeping the plants healthy. “You need good compost,” she said. “The trick to good compost is seaweed. Layers of grass, animal manure, grass, seaweed…” I listened intently as Margaret freely shared her garden secrets.

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Although Bayview Homestay is opened to guests, the home remains a family sanctuary. Margaret hosts her children and grandchildren when they come to visit from afar. The home is also a meeting place for special occasions such as Christmas. Having spent three days at Bayview, there is undoubtedly a family atmosphere in the place. I asked Margaret what is the best thing about living in Kaikoura. She beamed and told me two reasons, “This home. I’ve lived here so long there are so many memories here. The scenery – looking out the window at the breakfast table, I am reminded how fortunate I am to be living here. Especially when the guests’ go “Wow!” at the view.

Margaret had recently published a book about her life called “Life of Mar”. It is a beautiful recount of her life from childhood up until the birth of her first great grandchild. Precious personal memories and descriptions about Kaikoura were documented. Margaret wrote it as a personal memoir for her family to remember.

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She had lived in her Kaikoura since 1934 and back in the day, there were only 5 houses on the hill – now there are 66 houses. It gave me a sense that development has crept into this small little town, now made famous by the big ocean mammals. But even with the boom, Kaikoura has not lost its charm. The people are still as friendly and communities tightly knitted. Possibly, it is this community-type hospitality that keep tourists coming.

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Amazing Places To Stay In Christchurch And Why

There are numerous options to choose from when it comes to staying the night in Christchurch. If you’re looking for a hub that is central and within walking distance to…

There are numerous options to choose from when it comes to staying the night in Christchurch. If you’re looking for a hub that is central and within walking distance to the city’s main attractions, I think I’ve got a selection that just about fits any traveler. Whether you’re visiting Christchurch for business or traveling with a tight budget or looking for a quirky, unforgettable stay, the following selection should meet your requirements. At least it did for me and I enjoyed my snooze in each of them.

The Corporate-Green Hotel: The George 

Sleek and luxurious, The George, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World is a definite go to for a flawless, cozy stay. The subtle, smart and modern interiors of the hotel are dabbed with mesmerizing green, mustard and grey tones. The hotel has everything that a small luxury hotel should have; deep bathtubs, lavish beds, plush sofas and a highly applauded restaurant.

Yet, in offering these luxuries, The George holds great respect for the environment and does its share in keeping it alive. They call it the “Caring Luxury Statement”, a list seen in every room about measures the hotel takes to preserve Christchurch’s pristine environment. For example, the oil & fats from the kitchen and leftover soap from guests’ rooms are collected and converted into biofuel, laundry bags are made from biodegradable material and separate recycling bins are found in all guests’ rooms.

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Still the most distinct feature of the hotel is found in her people. The hotel arranged a bicycle for us free of charge so that my husband could cycle to the airport to collect our rented car, they were ever ready to supply us with umbrellas when the sky suddenly turned gloomy grey, we were welcomed with coffee and macaroons sent to the room and they gave Seth (my then, 8 month old baby) a take-home gift which he now snuggles in bed with, George the Bear.

The George

The Unforgettable Prison-Hotel: The Jailhouse 

Ever wondered what it is like to enter a prison cell, or better still, sleep in one? Now’s your chance! The Jailhouse is not creepy, gloomy or scary in anyway. I had the same apprehension, but the owners did a wonderful job in refurbishing the building. Built in 1874, the heritage prison was a women’s prison and military camp. In 2006 when the building was abandoned, a local couple, Kirsty and Grant bought it over and renovated it.

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Painted mostly in white and lit with bright fluorescent and warm lighting, the building adopts an open concept with an exposed hallway right through the building. The open space really helped to eliminate or minimize claustrophobia. The rooms are a tad tiny, but you also pay a smaller sum for a stay here. A popular choice for backpackers and even flashpackers, the Jailhouse is suitable for budget travelers.

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The original jail cells kept for display

The original jail cells kept for display

My “cell” had two single beds pushed against the wall, a tiny table and just enough room for two people to walk in and out. The original heavy steel doors have only a tiny square viewing hole that’s covered with paper for a bit of privacy. Thankfully all rooms have windows.

The Jailhouse also has common sharing facilities such as a kitchen, dining area, movie room, library and lots of space to just hang out. Located in Addington, the suburb is teeming with local eateries and a big supermarket nearby.

The Luxury-Boutique Stay: The Classic Villa

The iconic pink mansion on Worchester Boulevard is a beautifully refurbished and renovated Italian style historic home, called The Classic Villa. Location wise, it can’t get any better as it is mere minutes away from the Botanic Gardens, Canterbury Museum and surrounding attractions.

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Peter Morrison, the owner of the villa is a really friendly host. He takes time to chat with you and makes sure that all your travel needs are met – yes, including offering vitamins at the breakfast buffet table. The villa has 12 rooms with the front part of the building holding much of its heritage form seen in the heavy wooden flooring, stained glass doors, beautiful chandeliers and photos of the building’s history.

The lavender lined walkway leading up to the entrance makes for a gorgeous scented welcome and the tv and lounge area is a comfy recluse after a long day of exploring. Peter takes great pride in showcasing the best of Christchurch and this is displayed in his meticulous selection of what goes on the breakfast table. I had a wonderful breakfast array of grilled salmon, pastries and fresh bread, local cheese and preserves, a small but lovely selection of greens, yoghurt, fresh fruits and juices.

Classic Villa

When I tucked into bed at The Classic Villa, I couldn’t help but think – this feels exactly like home, with a touch of luxury. The rooms are tastefully decorated with lavish double beds clad in thick linen, exquisite furnishings, soft lighting and big skylight windows for natural light.

The Value For Money: YMCA

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Painted with a colourful mural of the late Nelson Mandela, the YMCA is known for its extensive range of low cost accommodation suited for independent travelers, couples, families and big groups. The rooms are basic and the facilities are shared. There are no frills and you get what you pay for. I like it that the YMCA doesn’t attract a rowdy crowd and security is tight in the building. So even though you pay a minimal amount, you are guaranteed a good peaceful night sleep. Plus, YMCA is located at the corner of Hereford Street and Rolleston Avenue directly opposite the Botanical Gardens and the Arts Centre. I also love that the Robert Harris café is adjoining to the hostel and makes a perfect go to for breakfast or a good cuppa.

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Christchurch Coming Out From The Rubble

In 2011, Christchurch was hit by a massive earthquake which followed with seemingly endless aftershocks. According to news reports, about 80 percent of the city’s CBD was destroyed including old…

In 2011, Christchurch was hit by a massive earthquake which followed with seemingly endless aftershocks. According to news reports, about 80 percent of the city’s CBD was destroyed including old heritage buildings such as the 19th century neo-Gothic Anglican Christ Church, the city’s landmark in Cathedral Square. The flattened church is a reminder of Christchurch’s rich history as it is New Zealand’s oldest city. The quake was one of the biggest disasters to hit this relatively quiet and peaceful city.

Since the quake, Christchurch have bolstered up strength and started the rebuilding process. When I visited the city in January 2014, I witnessed the slow, gruelling restoration process. Cranes, barricades, scaffoldings, trucks, sound of drills and steel pounding and the dust that lingered in the air was a sure sign that work was in progress. After talking to some locals, I learned that the rebuilding process is further slowed down by the sluggish processing of insurance claims and indecision on whether to restore or build completely new structures in place of the ruined ones including the Anglican Church.

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But even with many storefronts shuttered and abandoned homes lying desolate amid overgrown gardens, Christchurch, once one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations, has retained much of its charm – and it has a great deal to do with her people.

Right next the flattened Cathedral Square is a cordoned-off area dubbed the Red Zone. Instead of making it a no-entry zone, the Red Zone is now a commercial area fashioned out of shipping containers, called Re:Start Mall. The artists’ painted containers are stacked two-storeys high and houses chic cafes, boutiques, souvenir shops, clothing stores and food joints. A popular hangout within the city, the area brims with tourists and locals and street buskers keep shoppers entertained throughout the day.

Restart Mall 1ReStart-Mall

The city has much to offer despite the shaking in 2011. Much of her character is retained by the friendliness, resilience and hospitality of her people.

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