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Tag: 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!)

Queenstown helicopter ride 4
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.

milford sound helicopter ride
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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.

helicopter line

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.

helicopter line glacier queenstown
ardent traveler

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.
Maori Kaikoura_Ardent Traveler (2)
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.
Maori Kaikoura_Ardent Traveler (1)
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.
Maori Kaikoura_Ardent Traveler (6)Maori Kaikoura_Ardent Traveler (5)
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 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.

Whale Watch Kaikoura_Ardent Traveler (7)Whale Watch Kaikoura_Ardent Traveler (3)Whale Watch Kaikoura_Ardent Traveler (6)

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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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.

Christchurch After QuakeChristchurch Restoring (1)

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.

More: Amazing Places To Stay in Christchurch and Why

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