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Category: Responsible Tourism

A Closer Look: Yea Or Nay To Elephant Rides

It was a thrilling experience as I sat bumping along from side-to-side on a tailor made basket fitted on the arch of the elephants back. The gentle giant paced along…

Elephant Mondulkiri_8

It was a thrilling experience as I sat bumping along from side-to-side on a tailor made basket fitted on the arch of the elephants back. The gentle giant paced along sure footed as ever over the wide open plateau, passing through endless forest covered hills and down incredibly steep slopes. The hilly landscape of Mondulkiri, Cambodia’s eastern province is beautiful yet unforgiving.

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I dodged the occasional menacing branch that came head on as the elephant continued along the path where sounds of the rushing river roared. It was about 45 minutes into the ride and my bottom was starting to get sore from the bumpy ride. My knuckles were a certain white from the mighty grip I kept along the exhilarating journey. The adventure was just beginning, for the elephant, that is. Poun, my elephant was taken into the rushing river for a bath. It looked fun as he splashed around and enjoyed the free scrub by his mahout. All of this sounded rather picture perfect for a wildlife experience. But as curiosity warrants, I gathered some answers to some probing questions that make the Case of The Elephant Ride.

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You see having been involved in the business of sustainability, I have been trained to ask questions. Questions that most tourists would not ask. These questions helped me make informed decisions on whether tourism has leave a positive or negative impact for communities and the environment.

The Elephant and His People

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Poun belongs to Mr. Hong, a native Bunong (Pnong) man. The Bunong tribe are the indigenous peoples of Mondulkiri. They are animistic in their beliefs and therefore have incredible respect for animals, trees and all living creation. Mr. Hong bought Poun from a shaman when the elephant was 10 years old. There was no money exchanged, instead it was a barter trade – 30 bulls for 1 male elephant. Mr. Hong had to bring together livestock from a few families to ‘purchase’ Poun.

Mr Hong tells me that the shaman is the only person capable of luring the elephant from the deep forest. Poun was a baby elephant when he was taken out. He was intentionally separated from his mother and left to wonder. The shaman conducted some spiritual rituals and was successful in leading the baby elephant out of the forest into the village. Poun then spent many years with the shaman where more spiritual rituals were conducted and the elephant was finally tame enough for a human master. It was then that Mr. Hong ‘bought’ Poun.

Elephants are a big part of the Bunong culture and lifestyle. Mr. Hong considers him more than just an animal, in many ways, Poun is part of the village community.

The Elephant and His Work

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Since the age of 10, Poun has been used as a ‘transporter’ for Mr. Hong and his family. Poun would take them on his back into the deep jungles to forage for food, cross rivers and carry bamboo and logs. Poun did a marvellous job, according to Mr. Hong. The elephant brought them to places where otherwise would take days to get to. Undoubtedly, it was also hard work for the elephant – steep terrains and heavy loads.

Today, Poun is used as a ‘transporter’ for tourists. He works up to 3-4 hours a day with meal breaks in between. The labour is probably not as intense as before but he still gets growled at by the mahout. During my elephant ride, I was quite disturbed at how the elephant was coerced to walk and move. My mahout, a young lad held a hard whip made of bamboo with a hard rubber ball hanging at the end. He was constantly threatening to whip the elephant if the animal did not respond immediately to his loud grunts and growls. There were moments where I thought it absolutely unnecessary for the mahout to be as demanding as he was. I watched carefully to see if the whip did end up on the elephant. Thankfully, I witnessed no whipping, but the rude commands were unsettling. I am no veterinarian to comment on the state of the elephant, but I personally did not see any wounds or bruises.

Poun’s working environment has been such for the last 20 odd years. He is 33 years old now.

The Elephant, Money and Well-being

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Poun helps provide for the family. With every tourist that come and participate in an elephant ride, the family gets about $25. There are now 4 elephants shared among a few families and the money is divided amongst them. Mr. Hong said, “Since I started this ecotourism activity, my children can now go to school and I have motorbike to go around Mondulkiri and we can now buy more meat from the market instead of eating vegetables and rice only.”

It seems like a win-win situation for all. The elephant works and is allowed a fair amount of free time to wander, his master gets fed, his master’s family is happy and tourists are happy. But as I pondered on the situation, I can’t help but realize that all of this is misfitting for the magnificent mammal.

Elephants are made for the wild with the freedom to road, chew on any bamboo branch until his heart’s content. Elephants that are taken from the wild have little chance of reproducing, stunting the elephant population. Elephants are great not just for its size and mighty ears, but its tusks. Tamed elephants have their tusks broken or sawed off to avoid fatal accidents.

In this case, it’s a win-lose situation and the loser is quite apparent.


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After the rugged trip into the jungle sitting on the mighty beast, I have come to an unresolved conclusion. A definite yes or no is unfair and difficult as there are so many factors to consider. It is easy for me as an ‘outsider’ to judge, critique and assess the way Mr. Hong lives and how the mahouts treat the elephants, yet it is more complex to fully understand the heritage, tradition and culture of the Bunong people (or any tribe for that matter). In this case, the elephant is an important part of their livelihood and who are we to criticise when in other cultures horses are trained to show jump, bulls are put to fight and dolphins are trained to jump through hoops.

I was not completely comfortable with the grunts and growls offered by my mahout to Poun, but I also witnessed how these mahouts genuinely cared for the elephants. I cannot fault that the elephants are really part of the village community and I choose to respect the Bunong people’s culture and acknowledge that this (in fact) their way of earning moolah. Would I ride on the elephant again? Perhaps not. But I did enjoy the experience and chance to be so close to such a magnificent mammal.

** Whether you are planning to ride on an elephant in Thailand, Cambodia or India, I would strongly advise tourists to look up the tour operator or organization you are engaging with and read up before making an informed decision to ride or not.  Each elephant case is specific, individual and closely linked to a certain destination and its community.

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Journey to Kratie Where Dolphins Play

Traveling in Cambodia is not as simple as hiring a car and heading out. Roads are often ridden with potholes. Cows, chickens and dogs dodge on roads without notice. Children…

Traveling in Cambodia is not as simple as hiring a car and heading out. Roads are often ridden with potholes. Cows, chickens and dogs dodge on roads without notice. Children cycle and play on roadsides making it a gruelling experience to even drive more than 80km/hr. Tractors and crazy busses whizz by without a wink. Despite living in this country for more than three months, I would not take the risk of driving on my own.

I was extremely relieved to learn that my driver and guide, Ra is an experienced and careful driver. It was going to be a long day on the road, 7 hours to be precise. We left Cambodia’s popular Siem Reap province down south pass Kampong Thom and busy Kampong Cham and onward to Kratie, the sleepy waterfront province.

Most of the journey’s landscape were of resplendent paddy fields and stilt houses. Most of Cambodia is flat and its fields as far as the eye can see. We stopped at Kampong Thom for a stretch at a beautiful restaurant facing the lake covered with lotus pods. Little huts erected along the banks with swinging hammocks inviting the lazy traveller for a snooze.

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We travelled on to Kampong Cham and soon the landscape dramatically changed. We caught a glimpse of the Mekong River, its tea-colored waters distinctive. There on, the road heading to Kratie was quite unpleasant. Dotted with hundreds of potholes, the road was anything but smooth. The view however was a good change from paddy fields. Large rivers were peppered with floating huts set on large rafts said to be the houses of Vietnamese villagers. In place of paddy fields, dense shrub and bush followed the roads. Finally, passing the first of five one-way bridges, we arrived at Kratie.

Kratie

The sleepy town made popular by the endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins, Kratie has become a popular stopover for wildlife lovers and independent backpackers. The town is fairly small and a nice size to explore. There is a large market right in the center and most guesthouses face the waterfront.

Kratiw market

You can rent a bike under $1 and cycle the whole town. If you are ambitious, you can also cycle 15km north of Kratie to Kampi where the dolphins can be seen. At Kampi, we rented a fishing boat to take us out to the deep pools where the dolphins hang out.

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After about 30 minutes on the boat, our boatman turned off the engines and paddled around. In the deep pools, the waters were still, unlike the rough waters on the way there. Tall trees submerged in water with only its tops swaying on the surface of the water create a good spotting mark to help with keep our orientation. We waited for a mere five minutes and then we heard our boatman say, “There!” About 60meters away, we saw silky bodies gliding above the water. And then another, and another! Their stature much smaller than bottlenose dolphins and a lot shier too. The big bulging head of the Irrawaddy dolphins are unmistakable.

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We spotted at least 4 dolphins, always in pairs. Ra, our guide told us that there are less than 100 dolphins left in the massive Mekong river, spanning over 4000kilometres and bridging 6 countries. The numbers intensely dwindled both from hunting and pollution as a result of over development. It is said that during the Pol Pot regime, these dolphins were even seen in the Tonle Sap River but were tragically wiped out because people hunted them for oil and meat.

Irrawaddy dolphins_Ardent Traveler

With energy to spare, we rented a bicycle on the mainland of Kratie for $1 and boarded a large fishing boat over to the small remote island of Koh Trong, a quaint island village. This is a must for those who want to immerge in the real Cambodian lifestyle. Koh Trong has only one paved road going around the island. There is no tuk-tuk on the island, only bicycles and motorbikes. Renting a bicycle on the mainland ensured that we had speedy transport the minute we arrived on the island.

Koh Trong Island

People on the island were extremely friendly exchanging hellos and even giving us free pomelos! There are several mid-range lodges on the island and a few community-based homestays. There is no constant electricity on the island and villagers charge their car batteries at a small makeshift generator station. Private lodges have their own generators but electricity only comes on after sun down. As I explored the island, the more it grew on me. The laidback lifestyle, the friendly people and the numerous farm animals; chickens, horses, cows and dogs – a slice of real local Cambodian community.

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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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Are Backpackers Destroying The World Or Changing It For The Better?

Backpackers are predominantly known as budget travelers. They want to spend the least and get the most. They will stretch the dollar to the max and squeeze every cent just…

Backpackers in AsiaBackpackers are predominantly known as budget travelers. They want to spend the least and get the most. They will stretch the dollar to the max and squeeze every cent just to get an extra drink or a super discount. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that! After all, money is hard earned and bargains are great. However, backpackers have increased over the years with the rise of budget airlines such as Jetstar, Air Asia and Cebu Pacific. This means that more backpackers are hitting the road annually and the impact on the destinations are both good and bad. Obscure destinations are getting free publicity via travel blogs and shared photos, money is spent and job opportunities are created. However on the flipside, tough issues such as over development, siphoning of money out of the local economy and the erosion of cultures are becoming an apparent problem.

More than footprints_logoMartin Stevenson is the founder of “More Than Footprints”, a website written by backpackers, for backpackers. It hopes to debunk the glossy travel writing that sounds more like advertorials and to provide a platform for travelers to find real information and discuss real issues while on the move. Martin was and still is a backpacker – a nature of travel that he enjoys. He spent three years in Southeast Asia researching and writing ‘More than footprints? – How backpacking lost its way’, a fantastic read uncovering lessons learnt while he was on foot in Asia.

In this short interview, Martin shared with me some insights into the world of backpackers and the impact they leave on destinations they have trodden on. It left a huge reminder that all of us, independent travelers can do something – somewhere, somehow when we go on our next holiday.

Ardent Traveler (AT): What inspired you to write “More Than Footprints”?
Martin: When we think about un-sustainable tourism, we usually think about ‘mass’ tourism; big resorts and hotels on beaches. But over 20 years of backpacking, as I returned to places, I started to look at the development that was happening in ‘backpacker’ centres – places where mass tourists generally never set foot – and I started to wonder if backpacking might have a few problems of its own. I started to write about it and the articles and blogs became the book.

Martin StevensonAT: What was the most surprising thing you learned over the course of writing & putting together this book?
Martin: How much backpacking has changed. It’s not just the places that have changed; it’s the backpackers themselves. Twenty years ago you could pretty much guarantee that a backpacker would be young, taking time out from uni, and from nothern Europe or Australasia. Today they cover every age group, background and nationality. The couple flicking through their Lonely Planet are as likely to be in the fifties as in their twenties. With this change in the demographic, the way in which we need to promote sustainable, responsible tourism has also changed.

AT: Is there a reason why you chose to focus on backpackers instead of tour groups or luxury travelers and the types of damage backpackers are doing when they travel?
Martin: Lots is published about ‘mass’ tourism and its environmental, economic, political and social impact on destinations, but as I started to research backpacking, and tried to find some literature about it, I found there was very little being written. A handful of academics cover the subject, but most NGOs and sustainable travel websites focus on the package and all-inclusive industries. The work they do is important of course, but with backpacking’s ever growing numbers, we need an outlet for them to be discussing the issues too.

One of the most striking things about the research was that whenever I discussed the issues with backpackers, they recognised every issue I mentioned, but I was the first person who had ever talked about it with them.

AT: When backpackers say they are contributing back to the community by volunteering, do you think they actually leave a positive impact or it is more of a “feel good” gesture?
Martin: The voluntourism sector is a very worrying area. If a volunteer feels good about what they’ve done, that’s not necessarily a negative side-effect – if the project was beneficial for the people they were working with. The problem really lies with the organisations that these volunteers are paying to join. A volunteer with no experience cannot be expected to know a great deal about development practices, so they have to place their trust in the organisations and projects they join. There is nothing wrong with the desire to ‘help’, but there are some highly unethical projects and organisations out there who are happy to exploit this desire – usually at the expense of those communities they are supposed to ‘help’. Of course, there are also excellent organisations who genuinely benefit local communities. The problem is that most volunteers don’t have access to the information they need so that they can’t ask the right questions.

AT: There are huge numbers of backpackers exploring South East Asia annually because it is relatively cheap and your dollar goes a long way more. What does this mean to the destination and its people in the long run?
Martin: The popular image of a backpacker is a student who is watching every penny, and this is true, but there are hundreds of thousands of backpackers out there and together they spend a vast amount of money.

Over half a million backpackers will visit Australia this year, and they will spend over $3 billion between them. The question of whether this money benefits local people is perhaps the most important one facing backpackers at the moment.

Traditionally, backpackers have stayed in locally-owned hostels, eaten in locally-owned restaurants, and their money has tended to stay in local pockets, but as the wider tourism industry has noticed how much money backpackers are spending, they have started to move into the ‘independent’ travel sector. X Base, a chain of backpacker hostels in Australia and New Zealand, is owned by the same company that owns the Sofitel, Ibis and Mercure hotel brands. So in order for backpackers to be of economic benefit to Southeast Asia, they have to ensure that the money they spend is staying in the local economy, and not being syphoned off to a foreign bank account.

AT: What choices do you see that travelers can make to positively impact destinations they travel to?
Martin: It really all comes down to how we see ourselves when we’re travelling. If we think of ourselves as Marco Polo, we are going to have a hugely negative impact on the places we visit. But if we stop thinking of ourselves as adventurers (let’s be honest, what have we discovered lately?), and start to acknowledge that we are part of a new form of ‘mass’ tourism – mass backpacking – then we can start to look at our ‘combined’ impact. It’s a less romantic view of travel than we might like, but if we place ourselves at the front of a very long queue of people who are all doing the same thing (because we are all going to the same places, and using the same guide book to get there), then we can start to see our purchases and activities in term of multiplying them by the number of other people who are just like us and doing exactly the same things.

If I pick the smallest amount of coral out of the seabed as a souvenir, I can imagine that there are a lot of other people just like me doing the same thing, which means the end of the coral. A beneficial flip-side of that coin is that if we can travel responsibly, then we can have an equally positive impact.

AT: What are you doing as an ‘enlightened’ traveler to help make tourism more sustainable?
Martin: Ha! Makes it sound like I wrote the book sitting under a Banyan tree! Now that the book is out it’s a question of getting the information out too. Most of the readers I’ve spoken too were shocked by what I’d found out. The book was very well received when it went on sale but I realised that far more people would have access to the information if they didn’t have to pay for it, so the decision was made to give it away for free through a new website. We launched the site this week, and anyone who posts an article on the site gets the book. The writing isn’t just about sustainable travel – though there is a section dedicated to it – we also have guides, travelogues, and section for travel fiction (only the location has to be real!). So I’m looking forward to seeing the debate grow, and the information backpackers need coming out of our writers’ articles.

More than footprints_martin stevensonAT: In this day and age, travel blogs and social media have somewhat taken over traditional travel guidebooks. What role do you see bloggers playing in helping to create better destinations?
Martin: If there’s one thing backpackers do more than any other type of tourist, it is look to their fellow travellers for information. The discussions that backpackers have in bars on Changkat, on boats out to Full Moon Parties, and while taking photos of the sunrise at Angkor Wat, are the perfect medium to disseminate this information. A major problem though is that there is a new generation of backpackers every year who have never been to the Perhentians before and so assume that’s what it has always looked like. They don’t go back year after year and so don’t see the impact they are having, so they assume they aren’t having an impact. Because backpackers do over half their research online, blogs have a key role in making them aware that backpackers impact those places we visit just as much as mass tourists. Some backpackers do go back of course, and it always amazes me when I hear some guy on a beach somewhere say: “It was much better when I was here ten years ago, less developed.” Well, where does he think that development has come from? It was the money he spent ten years ago that paid for it!

Let’s Chat With is a new series of light hearted, down-to-earth, personal interviews with people I’ve met or connected with along my journey as a traveler. These are people who have piqued my interest and have an amazing tale to tell. I hope that my conversations with them will inspire you, challenge your perspective on life and feed that wanderlust within you.
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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.

Classic Villa (2)

Classic Villa (7)

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

YMCA Christchurch (2)
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.

YMCA Christchurch (1)

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Two Adults, A Baby, Four Bags & An Address To Golden Grove B&B

It was late. Not midnight late, but late enough. The sun was no more and the neighbourhood silent. We arrived in MacDonaldtown station from the airport, after an 8-hour flight….

It was late. Not midnight late, but late enough. The sun was no more and the neighbourhood silent. We arrived in MacDonaldtown station from the airport, after an 8-hour flight. The place is dead quiet. With us are four bags, a baby in the pouch and an address to ‘No.30, Golden Grove Street, corner of Abercrombie Street.’

The train roared on leaving a thunderous echo on the tracks. We exited the station and decided to let our instincts lead us. Thankfully, our instincts weren’t put to the test (I fear, we would’ve been walked for ages!). We stopped a cyclist that was zooming by and he accessed his google maps to give us directions. Bless him!

Sydney_Macdonaldtown

We arrive at No.30, a prominent stair canopy rising up from the street and a glass door at its entrance with a Kookaburra image etched on it. We led ourselves in and Lloyd Suttor, who had been waiting up all night for us greeted us with a warm smile. He briefly showed us around and excused himself so that we can retire for the night.

The apartment is beautiful, tastefully decorated. It was warm and cosy and instrumental music piped in the background. It felt like home. Famished and a little disoriented, going out for dinner was not an option. Thankfully, Lloyd had stocked the kitchen with bacon, eggs, bread, yoghurt, juice, cereal, fruits and cans of soup.

Dinner satisfied our hunger and it warmed our soul to know that Lloyd planned ahead and anticipated our need. It’s one of those moments that you will remember a place for – like how you remember home. There’s always food, anytime.

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The spacious self-contained studio apartment is a split level unit with the bedroom and lounge rising up from the kitchen. The stylish modern décor is splashed with green, grey and white hues and refreshing floral elements. On the walls are intriguing art pieces by Tony Twigg, an Australian who draws inspiration from Asian cultures in Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia. The art pieces on display in the apartment are made up from recycled elements collected from these countries.

Golden Grove Tony Twigg

Golden Grove B&B was nothing close to stylish when Lloyd bought over the property in 2010. Previously, a dilapidated student accommodation providing shelter to nearby university students, the building was quite worn out. Lloyd took on this retirement project with gusto.

Hospitality was never on his portfolio, until now. Lloyd was more of a creative person, one with lots of ideas and ways to make magic happen. He was one of the brains and actors behind the well-known Flying Fruitfly Circus, the only Australian full-time circus academy for young people. His retirement project had one condition – it had to involve people. He enjoyed meeting new faces and sharing stories.

We sat around the breakfast table over morning tea as Lloyd told me more about how Golden Grove came to be. Right next to us beyond the glass shutters is a pretty roof top garden and a turbine spinning away. “Sustainability wasn’t quite on my list when I first started tearing this place down. It was Duncan Bond, my architect who introduced earth-friendly elements into the reconstruction,” said Lloyd.

Golden Grove

“I’m sure glad he did! Now the apartment is self-warming and cooling as a result of perfect ventilation. Hot water is powered by solar panels, the garden roof top provides cool to the apartment below and there is plenty of sunlight flowing in from the glass window.” Guests may even overlook these elements, but Lloyd made sure he made a mention in the apartment compendium as a way to educate guests.

Rooftop garden

Golden Grove has two studio units for short-term and long-term rental. “The units are often filled up with people working in Sydney for short stints, parents of students from the university and academics.” It is no surprise the B&B receives repeat guests, as it really feels somewhat, like home.

Located in lively Newtown, one of Sydney’s flourishing precincts, there is always something happening round the corner. Known for its shopping strip, vibrant coffee culture and creative spaces for contemplation and ideas, Newtown attracts both young and old, free-spirited artisans and young families. We had time to stop by Carriage Works, one of the many community galleries in Newtown. This former railway workshop was the hub for Australian-made carriages. Its external red bricked walls and clouded glass windows makes a for a perfect photo backdrop and its high ceiling interior is suitable for any kind of art installation.

We saw the installation by Christian Boltanski called “Chance”. A giant film reel filled with photos of babies whirling from one end to the other on a massive steel structure. Each photo represented a life. At the end of the steel structure was a giant LED board with numbers ticking by – in green are the number of births and red the number of deaths, at the current time. A reminder of the rhythms of life as it unfolds.

Carriage Works

A meaningful installation and a timely reminder to life live to its fullest. This was the chapter that kick started my one and a half months travel to Sydney and New Zealand. Thanks Lloyd for such a warm, welcoming stay.

More stories to follow…

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