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Category: Travel Tips

Guilin To Beijing On The High Speed Train

Arriving in Guilin by air, we spent a few days exploring Guilin city and headed to the sleepy town of Yangshuo to have a better view of the beautiful karst…

Arriving in Guilin by air, we spent a few days exploring Guilin city and headed to the sleepy town of Yangshuo to have a better view of the beautiful karst mountains. Then took the high-speed train to Beijing with an estimated time of 10 hours and 30 minutes but eventually stretched to 12 hours due to some technical issues. We bought second class seats (RMB806 / $130 per person) which meant that our train seats can only be reclined a little and there were no pre-booked meals. The seats were more spacious than airline economic seats and the wide windows offered panoramic views of the changing landscape.

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Getting on the train was a feat in itself. We had to take a taxi from our Air BnB apartment and it was raining heavily. A very kind taxi lady stopped for us in the middle of the road and even came down and helped us with our bags. With our very broken and limited Mandarin, we managed to tell her where we wanted to go. At the train station, everything was in Mandarin. We had our tickets at hand and the only thing we could understand were the numbers on the ticket. “1035 (departure time), G422 (train number), 10 (Guessing it’s the carriage number) and 9 (Guessing it’s my seat number). There was a large crowd already at the waiting hall. Minutes later we heard an announcement on the PA system and everyone barged to the entrance. We followed suit, albeit with less haste and no pushing!

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We walked to the platform and saw number markings on the floor and made another guess that the markings meant the carriage number. We got into the train without a glitch and settled down into our designated seats.

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The doors closed and we were on our way. About ten seats in front of us, a ‘private party’ was going on. Chinese men were clanging beer bottles, laughing, chatting and eating pork and noodles with chopsticks over folded tissue paper. I looked around and people were already getting cosy in their seats, curled up with a pillow, others were snacking on cookies and many others were tuned-out and tuned-in to their electronic devices. I even spotted someone doing some yoga stretches.

yogaIMG_0609Throughout the journey, we made 18 stops alighting passengers and picking up new ones. The landscape was predominantly farming land with rolling hills as a backdrop. Block houses dotted in the fields and farmers with hats were bent over busy in the field. The sky was downcast and the clouds were low. A constant drizzle followed us through. Nearing Beijing, we stopped at ‘ghost towns’ with tall building blocks that seemed vacant. It was interesting to people watch when the train stopped, although there wasn’t enough time to leave the train.

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We had lunch and dinner on the train. For RMB40 ($6.50), we had pre-packed trays of rice meals – rice, beef, chicken, potatoes, veggies and Chinese condiments. It wasn’t horrible but it was definitely overpriced. We were so glad we had our own snacks to munch on.

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We filled the hours with reading, reading stories to Seth, walking to and fro different carriages, playing games and eating. We were constantly snacking! Peanuts, dried fruit, biscuits, preserved plums… you name it!

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Overall it was a great experience. We survived 12 hours, travelled 2,135 kilometers on a train with a toddler. A good sign and precursor for the many more train rides to come…!

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Featured on Zafigo: What New Moms Need To Know About Traveling With Baby

Back by popular demand, I decided to expand on my baby travel checklist and share some lessons learnt from my first ever trip with Seth when he was just three months…

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Back by popular demand, I decided to expand on my baby travel checklist and share some lessons learnt from my first ever trip with Seth when he was just three months old. I have been talking to some friends who have recently become new moms and they too had a string of questions, similar to when I was about to embark on my first trip.

In the article in Zafigo also has a step-by-step guide on how to set out on your first trip with you bubs. Truth to be told, a lot of it is common sense, but sometimes we just need a bit of reassurance. Now that Seth is two years old and have travelled more than five countries, I can honestly say that it gets easier by the trip and a few things are as rewarding as seeing the world with you child.

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From Zafigo: 

Endless screaming in a confined airplane seat, uncontrollable crying while waiting in line for some cheap burgers because you simply did not have the time to eat, terrible tantrums in the middle of a shopping mall and food stained clothes, the mark of a true parent. All these horror stories are enough to cripple your grand idea of walking out the door with a suitcase packed for a holiday.

I was determined to prove my fears wrong. Read full article…

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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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Two Year Honeymoon Around The World… Really?!

Planning the ideal round the world trip (RTW) is no easy feat. Those who have done it will tell you that it takes longer than imagined, more than they budgeted…

Planning the ideal round the world trip (RTW) is no easy feat. Those who have done it will tell you that it takes longer than imagined, more than they budgeted for and it’s harder than just booking flight tickets. Those who have done it will have a list of travel hacks and lessons to share on how to reduce expenses, stretch the dollar and get the most of a destination.

Lovebirds, Anne and Mike Howard have traveled 6 continents, over 32 countries and 302 places, and they chose their honeymoon for their RTW. While most honeymooners don’t think twice about booking a holiday on an idyllic beach and spa-worthy destination, Anne and Mike decided that it was too “normal” and instead they went for the unconventional. They planned a 2-year long honeymoon around the world to celebrate life together. I checked in for a quick chat with them and got some travel tips from the globetrotters.

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Ardent Traveler (AT): You guys are probably the only people I know who spent 2-year honeymooning around the world with no break in between. Who’s idea was it?
Mike & Anne (M&A): A German friend-of-a-friend told us he and his girlfriend just returned from a one-year journey around the world. The concept seemed unfathomable yet it affixed itself to our brains. In thinking about where we wanted to spend our honeymoon we didn’t have enough paper to list all the places we wanted to visit and this couple’s RTW kept crossing our mind. Then about six months before our wedding we started seriously talking it out. “We’ve got some money saved, we don’t have kids, there’s a lot of world to see, and we’re only young once…maybe we turn our honeymoon into the greatest excuse to quit our jobs and travel…” Then we set the dream in motion.

AT: You also made a really bold step by quitting your jobs to travel the world. Was it hard for you? Is it workable?
M&A: It was a little scary leaving stable jobs, but the risk of not following our dream seemed far more frightening. Travel is the greatest learning experience imaginable and it can also be a resume builder. Immersing yourself in other cultures and throwing yourself into new environments sharpens your skills from communication to negotiation, problem-solving to global thinking…a good employer will definitely value those skills. Imagine the stories you will have for your interviews when you return home!

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AT: Where did you start when it comes to planning a 2-year trip? Which countries to go to:
M&A: Our travel philosophy has always been to go places too far to visit while we have jobs and too rugged to tackle when we’re old. That meant skipping Central America and most of Europe and focusing on all the places we’d dreamed of visiting in South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. Here is the country by country breakdown:

  • South America: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia and Peru
  • Africa: South Africa, Lesotho, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya
  • Asia: Nepal, China, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines and Indonesia
  • Oceania: Australia and New Zealand
  • Europe: Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales, England, Norway and Turkey

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AT: How much time to spend in each country?
M&A: We aim for 3-4 weeks in each country and 2-3 nights in each location. This is a fairly fast pace in each town but the fact that we get to experience so many regions within each country keeps us energized and excited to keep exploring every single day. With 675 days to travel it actually would have been easy to visit more countries, but we like to stay close to a month in each country so that we can get a stronger sense of the people, customs, and character of a place.

AT: Budgeting?
M&A: We did our 675-day trip around the world for just under $40 per person per day, including flights, ground transportation, food, lodging, activities, gear…the works. This is an average of the pricier countries like Japan, Australia, and Norway (~$75+ pppd) with the less expensive places like Bolivia and Southeast Asia (under $20 pppd). We learned all sorts of ways to save money with mileage hacking, homestays, and tons of other travel tricks to to keep our budget low and fun levels high. You’d think we were millionaires (far from it!) but traveling around the world turned out to be less expensive than just the mortgage on our apartment.

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AT: I’m sure you stored a million memories from the epic trip. Was a particular event or destination that you would call “life changing”?
M&A: I think the overwhelming kindness of strangers impacted us profoundly. Like the time our motorbike broke down in rural Thailand and a family picked us up and took us into their home for two days, making us a bed in their living room and cooking us three meals a day. Or when we asked a local guy directions in Hangzhou, China and when he couldn’t explain it in English, he took the bus 20 minutes in the wrong direction to make sure we got to our destination safely. Incredible instances of kindness happened to us in ALL 33 countries and these experiences always remind us to be open-hearted and pay it forward.

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AT: Tell me a funny story from your travels… One that you will tell your friends over dinner and have a good laugh:)
M&A: We were driving in the mountains above Colca Canyon, Peru when we see a big group of locals all in traditional garb throwing a party in the middle of the road. We creep forward thinking they’d move to let us pass but instead this lady knocks on our window and says in Spanish, “Come dance! You can’t pass until you dance!” The next thing you know Anne is being pulled out of the car into a circle of elderly ladies doing a Peruvian jig. Mike is being poured mystery shots from a communal jug and sent to play in the band. We rocked out with our new best friends well into the evening…it was the best traffic jam we’ve ever been in.2-peruvian-dance

AT: After your 2-year honeymoon, did you settle back into a regular job? What happened after the big trip?
1-htlogosmall21M&A: Well…we may not be done with our honeymoon just yet. We are currently planning a road-trip honeymoon to all 50 states…as an interactive travel show. We are actually in Hollywood right now pitching the show, and continuing to focus on HoneyTrek. Basically it’s a one-on-one service (via skype) where we share our best tips and takeaways from our 675 days on the road. From how to save thousands of dollars on flights to backing up a terrabyte of photos from a Vietnamese internet cafe. We want to give more people the confidence and skills to mobilize their own epic journey. Even if you are even remotely thinking about long-term travel, please reach out to us at TripCoach@HoneyTrek.com.

AT: As a frequent traveler, share with me some tips or travel hacks that will help reduce travel costs.
M&A: School yourself in the art of mileage hacking. We read books, blogs, and even signed up for a course to learn how to maximize our miles and we were able to earn 430,000 frequent flier miles in the eight months leading up to the trip. It was no small task but considering it saved us more than $9,000 in flights, it was well worth it! One thing that can help keep your miles organized is AwardWallet.com (paired with a detailed excel spreadsheet)…and we have tons of tips on the topic and actually offer a Trip Coach mileage hacking course specifically for if you want to know more!

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AT: Can travel be sustainable? What are your thoughts after visiting 6 continents, 33 countries and 302 places?
M&A: We know people who’ve been traveling for as long as 18 years! There all sorts of ways to travel affordably or make a living on the road; plus, the cost of living in the vast majority of the world is cheaper than the States– so if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere! With an open-mind and an adventurous spirit, long-term travel is entirely possible and a pretty amazing way to live.

Special Discount
Planning a RTW soon? Thinking about it? Get the best advice for that ideal trip. Honey Trek is giving a special discount to all Ardent Traveler followers. Get a 10% discount off on any of the Trip Coach courses. Simply write this code: “ArdentTraveler10%” when registering for the course and you enjoy the discount.
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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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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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.

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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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Eat Local In New Zealand

There is an abundance of fine food being grown, harvested, made, prepared and served in New Zealand. Although the country doesn’t quite shout a distinctive local dish, the secret to…

There is an abundance of fine food being grown, harvested, made, prepared and served in New Zealand. Although the country doesn’t quite shout a distinctive local dish, the secret to good food in New Zealand is in the quality of its produce. The country is awash with the freshest ingredients; grass fed beef, succulent lamb, fresh-off-the-sea oysters and paua, organic veggies from local farmers markets and rich dairy products like cheese.

With ingredients like this, how could the restaurants not be good? The best places to eat in New Zealand are casual and unpretentious. They are often nestled within small towns. Service is friendly rather than formal. Most importantly, they know where the ingredients come from and they treat them well – and that makes a winning combination.

Here are my selections of great eats and I’m sure there are joints that I haven’t pounced on yet. Maybe on my next visit there. Unfortunately I don’t have photos to go with all of them. Admittedly, I was too hungry and wolfed down my meal before my Iphone camera had a go at it.

In Auckland – Occidental Belgian Bar
Not the perfect location to dine with a baby, but I couldn’t resist the rave on the steamed green-lipped mussels at this place! We (hubs and I) were served a massive bowl of fleshy, succulent mussels steamed in a white wine sauce. It felt like a never ending attempt to reach the bottom of the bowl, but we eventually did and nearly passed out on a mussel-coma!
If you like history and dated architecture, you’d love the interior décor at Occidental. It was once the finest hotel in Auckland. Its vintage interior decor of wooden floors, wooden walls, leather-clad booths with warm lighting is a reminder of its rich history. Located on the character-rich pedestrian Vulcan Lane, between Queen Street and High Street, the bar is easy to get to and makes for a great stroll around after a meal.

Auckland_Occidental

In Christchurch – Dimitris Greek Food
What’s good here? The souvlaki. Packed with just chicken or lamb or both, the thick pita bread wraps like a cone and is stuffed with juicy, well-spiced meat along with tomatoes, lettuce, tomato and chilli sauce and awesome Greek yoghurt. Eating the souvlaki is a messy affair if you choose to wallop it whole. That’s why they give you a fork to pick out the filling.

Christchurch_Souvlaki

In Queenstown – Johnny Barr’s Sandwich Place
Healthy, filling and very tasty! Johnny Barr serves gourmet sandwiches, wraps, salads and soups and a great selection of smoothies. In busy and thriving Queenstown, finding affordable and healthy food is quite a challenge. We ordered the Thai Beef Salad, a hearty salad packed with greens and a good portion of thinly sliced beef drizzled with spicy sweet Thai dressing and the Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich came loaded with grilled beef, onions, mushroom and capsicum and sealed with a layer of cheese at the top. The casual setting at the restaurant is great for catch ups and I also saw customers ordering take away – obviously not a bad idea to sit by the waterfront just round the corner while enjoying delicious sandwiches. We ended up sitting in since there was free wifi!

JOhnny Barr

In Dunedin – Rob Roy Ice Cream
A happy place not just for children! We first spotted people walking pass us with scoops of ice cream heaped on tiny cone. It was a cold and blustery summer evening, but we just had to have it. The old-fashioned dairy shares a shoplot with convenience store and it’s a local favourite serving rich, creamy and delicious ice cream, milk shakes and frozen yoghurt. Its walls are plastered with ‘flower power’ wallpaper from the 60s and the floors are covered with black and white checkered vinyl. The dairy also seemed to have kept its prices as is. We paid $2.80 for a single serve and it came heaping with two massive scoops of ice cream in two flavours.

Dunedin_RobRoy Icecreamry

In Dunedin – Cadbury Factory
Every chocolate lover’s dream-come-true! The smell of sweet cocoa wharfs over you the minute you walk pass its sliding doors and linger in the fabric of your clothes. For $22, you get to immerse yourself in everything chocolate and see the labour of love that goes into making the world’s most consumed dessert. Plus, you get freebies along the way. The best part is watching 1-tonne of liquid chocolate gushing down five stories into a metal cauldron. The experience is jaw-dropping and better still, we were served a cup of rich glossy, thick liquid chocolate at the end of the tour. If only Cadbury sold the liquid gold on the shelves…

Dunedine_Cabdury Factory

All around New Zealand – Lone Star
American Red Indian inspired, Lone Star (LS) is a chain of restaurants across NZ. They are famed for their Redneck campfire stacked ribs and the dish is not for the faint hearted. The menu writes “Porky pigs’ ribs blanched in honey & spices, blasted in the Lone Star fire, piled high then smothered in our famous hoisin, orange & sesame seed sauce, served with buffalo chips & coleslaw”. Seriously… who can resist that? The waiters at LS are super attentive and friendly and the experience of dining at LS is like eating at a local diner, even though it’s a chain.
Freebie tip: Go to their website and Grab a Meal. Free stuff, mostly starters at selected outlets.

Lonestar_Ribs

In Oamaru – Whitestone Cheese
Oh my, I love cheese! Whitestone produces award winning artisan cheeses made with 100% natural ingredients. The factory at the back has a viewing platform where you can watch barrels of cheese doing its work – maturing. The café is known for its tasting platter that’s priced at $5 and $10 and they have a selection of deli favourites. We ordered the cheese scone served with Whitestone’s creamy butter and a tasting platter for lunch and was satisfied to the brim.
Whitestone derived its name from the natural ancient limestone in Oamaru and the same limestone is seen in the Victorian buildings around the town.

Oamaru_Whitestone Cheese SconeOamaru_Whitestone Cheese

In Hampden, onward to Moeraki Boulders from Oamaru– Lockies Fish and Chips
Apparently the best fish and chips in New Zealand, so said some locals… Lockies Fish and Chips is located just outside of Oamaru, towards the famous Moeraki Boulders. The purple fencing around the building is hard to miss. The fish is fresh and the batter is light and be sure to order the blue cod as it makes all the difference. The location makes for a perfect stopover for a picnic lunch takeaway and enjoy it on the beach.

lockies fish and chips

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