Saturday, May 27, 2017

New Zealand- North Island - April 2017 – Travelogue

With all the hype NZ brings with it. I wasn’t sure what  to expect and over the years, we have started taking it more as a dedicated family time rather than a full-fledged tourism trip. So without much benchmarks in our mind, we started our journey from Bangalore.
Packing for NZ was no different than my other travels so with my worksheets from the past, packing was a cake walk. Food restrictions made it easier for me to just pick the package food and no unpacked ready to eat stuff needed to be collected to give it a variety for the kids.
We flew from Bangalore to Singapore and with a short transit of 2 hours, we could just cover up a quick meal in Singapore airport to avoid being starved to death in an 8 hour Singapore airlines flight. Though we always order Hindu meals, but we have had pathetic experiences with food when the flights don’t connect to India directly.
I have a history of discovering most of the  classic English movies in long flights, and this time I had a clearer objective to watch all the series  of HOBITTON movies. And ofcourse the reason was the association of NZ with HOBBITON. And I am glad, I saw all the three movies again in the flight from Singapore to Auckland.
We made ourselves comfortable in the SkyCity hotel which is where all the action around the Auckland city happens. Auckland is called the CITY OF SAILS and it is believed that every third person in Auckland owns a boat.
Day one, we visited the Sky City tower which  is the tallest building and has an observatory at the top of the tower. The city of sails was surrounded by water from two sides and you could see innumerable boats and ships harboring at its port. There is an island where all the whos who of the city own their properties. There were two striking things about the tower. One there was a mini golf laid in the observatory area which I found very thoughtful for kids. Observatories are definitely very boring places for kids to visit and in 5 minutes both my kids lost interest in exploring the city from the top.
And the next striking thing was a shocking pink elevated road in the middle of the city. Which  later I found out is a cycling track. Talking about cycling, the former prime minister of NZ had passed a bill to build a cycling track with every road in NZ. He wanted to promote health with cycling for the country. Believe me, even on long highways, you will see a well laid cycling track in parallel throughout NZ. And don’t be surprised to see tiny tots (less than 6 years) cycling along with their families on the highway cycling tracks.
Other attractions of SkyCity tower are SkyWalk and SkyJump. Sky walk would walk you through the diameter of skycity tower on a glass pathway and skyjump is a controlled/zipline form of Bungee. I did not find it adventurous enough for me, so skipped it.

We were on self drive, so explored the length and breadth  of the  city in our car. It is like any typical city, charming with  its harbors with thousands of boats anchored. The harbor bridge lits up beautifully in the night. Mission bay area is the most happening area of the  town with lovely lake side restaurants  and cruise centers for many tourist attractions nearby. Cruises go to Wellington, Hobbiton, Rotorua etc.
We had booked for dolphin and whale watching cruise, but owing to high tides in the sea, our cruise was cancelled. And my advice to you would be to never book the cruises/helicopter flights in advance for any of the places in NZ. Because it is too often that the weather turns bad and the curise/flight are cancelled. Tickets are easily available and the options are also aplenty, so go as per the weather of the day and you will not waste your time.
We saw a Summer and Winter garden full of seasonal flowers. Volcanic crater with a great view of the city. And some amazingly pretty houses. The most fascinating was the pink house which was made in a tiara shape. My princesses immediately suggested buying that house. And there was the most expensive house with 16 car parks, multiple swimming pools which makes you realize the world if full of filthy rich people. Kelly Tarlton is a sea life aquarium which is another popular place to take the kids.
SkyCity hotel hosts the Sky City Casino. Definitely worth a visit. With stakes starting from 1 NZD(less than 50 INR), you can spend 1 hour trying your luck with minimum damage. And for great gamblers you have a whole range of options too. 
And Ravis is an Indian restaurant very close to skycity towers which serves amazing Indian food. They start as early as 9 am, so breakfast, lunch  dinner options are quite easily accessible. There is no dearth of Indian restos in NZ, so if you are not carrying anything from home is just fine.
Over all Auckand was good. But if you have a tighter schedule, you would want to skip the hustle bustle of the city and move towards the wonderful beauty of towns of NZ. So 1.5 day is more than enough in Auckland to settle down with your jetlag and may be explore the city quickly. Would not recommend a hop on hop off bus, or an exhaustive tourist itinerary for Auckland.
Next destination for us was Lake Taupo. Earlier, we had planned our stay in Rotorua, which  is the actual tourist place for experiencing thermal geysers in NZ. But on the recommendation of our family doctor, we changed to Lake Taupo which is 1 hour drive from Rotorua. And I am thankful to the doc for his valuable recommendation. Lake Taupo is a must visit when in NZ.
But enroute to Lake Taupo, we visited the amazing Waitomo GlowWorm Caves.
I vividly remember when I was a teenager and going through a phase of Discovery channel fascination. GlowWorm cave was one of the things which captured my imagination and I could not believe there can be something like this on earth. Infact at that time, I did not know it is in NZ. Memory impressions are strange, you never know which  part of your brain u still hold those fantasies. So when I read about them while researching for NZ, it instantly brought back all the wonderful amusement I had that time. And Waitomo became a MUST VISIT in my NZ list.
So talking about GlowWorms, these are small worms which  has a special gel at the bottom to attract the prey. Basically they have very short lives of few weeks. When the prey gets attracted to the light  thinking it’s the way out of the dark cave, they get stuck to a sticky mucus like substance which surrounds the glowworms. Believe me, you wouldn’t want to see them in light. On a lighter note, somethings are better kept in dark because the reality is very ugly. J
Glow worms were definitely the main attraction of the cave. But the sedimentary rock formations and the formations which the drips of rain water creates called stalactites leave you spell bound. There is a cathedral area which has the perfect acoustics for an opera. Every year Italian opera singers come there and hold a concert which is considered highly in the music community. We had a wonderful singer among our group, so we had a good time listening her sing a MAORI song. I am not a connoisseur of music, but  it sounded pretty good. (http://www.waitomo.com/Waitomo-Glowworm-Caves/Pages/default.aspx)
I was also very impressed by the way the caves were kept spike and span. Also, the rocks keep falling in the caves so the caves are regularly monitored by the archeologists. And another interesting piece of information is Fred Mace was the first to explore these caves which was a well kept secret by Maori tribes till 1887. And the caves were leased to a company for making  it as a tourist center. And the descendants of Fred are mostly working in the tourist center even today.
Photography is prohibited inside the caves, so all I have to share is the beautiful landscape around the caves. But it is definitely a must visit if you are visiting NZ.
After the mesmerizing Waitomo, we reached Lake Taupo. The first sight of the huge Lake Taupo itself pumped us with energy. The place looked really charming and the thought of staying on the bank of the lake was very enticing. The Millenium Hotel where we were put up was just what we had expected from such a beautiful place. Our rooms were on the first floor and wherever your eyes could reach, it was surrounded with beauty. Lake was like a mirror, a walking bridge near the bank, jogging track on the lush green pastures of grass adjoining the lake, calm harbor at the horizon and a island where lights twinkled like stars in the night. In addition, there were swans and ducks hurling around the hotel. My girls were super excited with the thought of feeding the ducks on their own every day.
The thermal hot pools in the hotel were very enticing, my kids could have spent all the three days being 24*7 in the hot pool and could have had the best time. But unfortunately for them, we had other plans for this place. But we enjoyed the 38 deg heated water in 8 deg chill outside every evening whatever time we came back from our sight seeing.
The hotel  hosts two very aesthetically done restaurants. And both overlooking the lake. So all three days of our stay, breakfast time was a treat not only for our stomach but also our eyes. That doesn’t mean, the breakfast options are very enticing. Nobody beats India in the variety of things it has to offer.
Good thing about NZ is, though it is divided into North Island and South Island the options in both the islands are ample. So if you do not plan to visit South Island,  you can enjoy all the adventure sports in Lake Taupo also. Ofcourse, the capital of all adventures is Queenstown in South Island. But Lake Taupo offers equal opportunities in North Island for the adventure freaks.

We started our adventures with Rapid Jets. Waikato River in  Lake Taupo region is where the white river water rafting is done. Good news is you can enjoy this with your whole family. They allow kids from 4 years to any age. And it is quite safe. But the not so good news is, these are very small rapids. So all the fun is associated with the speed of the  jet boats and the spins the boat driver demonstrates every few seconds in the small rapids. The 15 min of jet boat ride is both enthralling and fun. The water is crystal clear and you can almost see the rocks at the edges. Khushi was super thrilled that she wasn’t scared in RAPIDS! Will give it to her for her age. But I would want her to try atleast the actual grade 5 rapids when she grows up.

The barrel scene in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, where the dwarves were filmed floating in the giant barrels down the river is filmed at this very place where we did the rapid jets. They took 26 days to film this scene and there were 60 cameras implanted to shoot from all angles.
And watching the movie in flight just 3 days back, I was able to actually recap the scene in my mind and relate the same with the place. Creative brilliance I MUST SAY!!
On our way back, we stopped at the most amazing waterfall, Hukka Falls. The blue color of the water was so brilliant that photograph cannot capture the beauty of it. The force with which the water gushed through the fall was massive. By far one of the most wonderful falls I have seen.  
Next inline was Wairakei Thermal Terraces. I have heard about the hot water springs. There are plenty in India also, but I have never experienced one myself. So for me in that cold climate, watching clouds of steam coming out every few kms was very amusing.
Nature is so wonderful. You can never imagine the feeling of touching super hot water in a freezing climate. You do not expect it at all. And Lake Taupo and Rotorua have many natural geothermal springs which are caused due water heated in geothermal regions. Basically due to  active volcanic activities under the ground.
And now there are SPAs in this region which gives the same experience of bathing in healing hot thermal water rich in minerals from magnificent silica terraces. People come from all over the world to experience this and also this hot thermal water is renowned to heal a lot of ailments. Unfortunately, in 95 % of the SPA pools, kids are not allowed to enter. Some claim the water is too hot for the kids and for safety reasons kids are kept away.
Wai-o-Tapu thermal wonderland exhibits most unique volcanic features and is the most colorful volcanic area. There is a geyser Lady Knox which is displayed at a particular time 10.15 am in the morning, and there is an informative session on the same before the geyser erupts. Though we missed the same by a whisker.
Then we visited Rotorua. The major attraction of Rotorua is the Gondola ride and the Luge. Gondola is the cable car which is very common all around the world nowadays. So wont say I was thrilled to be in the Gondola. But the LUGE ride is one of its kinds experience. Luge is a gearless, handle controlled light toboggan ridden in a sitting position. It moves downhill on a winding track. You take a few minutes to get hang of the engineering of the vehicle, but once you are comfortable. It’s a fun ride. I went back to my childhood where we raced on our bicycles and never had the fear of falling or getting hurt.
Avani piggy backed with me for the Luge, so the first time I had to be driving safely. But the second time, “ Long drive jayenge, FULL speed jayenge, kahi rukenge na hum!!” types tha. I was very glad to see Khushi independently doing the luge. For her first round was scary, but with little motivation she killed the second time.
The ride back on a chairlift was also quite unique. And then the jelly bean shop hosted amazing varieties of jelly beans. Kids enjoyed collecting the jelly beans and bought a full stock for next 15 days. They also hosted Harry Potter, MONALISA and IronMan crafted with Jelly beans.
The next day, we were charged up for more adventure. The most ambitious one from my bucket list, the sky diving was waiting for me. Luckily for me, there was no training etc required. Because then it would mean wasting others time while I get trained and then go for the dive. The things have advanced quite a lot now. You just need the nerves to jump, everything else is taken care by your co-diver.
My co-diver was Ricky. A friendly chap who was very keen on interviewing me at every step and recording my wonderful moments for me. He geared me up for the big jump. Then instructed me briefly about the whole process. The best part was there was no fuss about it. Ashish and kids were playing around the plane, they were with me till I entered the plane.
The cute pink plane took off and we reached the height of 15000 ft. We could see how far and long Lake Taupo extended. The  other side was dense forest. There were 4 pairs of sky divers in the plane and we had a cent percent success rate. Sitting on the edge of the plane, I had no thoughts. When I dived the air pressure was so high that my ears hurt.   Would recommend covering your ears if you ever sky dived. The adrenaline rush was high for those 10-15 secs. But the fun starts when the parachute opens. You are more in control, you can enjoy the beauty around. The air feels amazing. You feel on top of the world. You can feel the lightness of your body.
I love heights, so 15000 ft was 5 times more than what I had done in the para-glyding in Switzerland. So it was blissful there. Coming back on the ground, Avani ran towards the plane and hugged me. Her fear of me falling from the sky was real. She was ready to do the skydive and bungee jump herself, but me doing them was scary for her. This I feel is display of how love contains the element of possessiveness. We are so possessive about our loved ones that we can afford to risk ourselves, but cant afford to risk our beloved.
The experience of watching the movie in theater where I was a starring was also unique. Kids couldn’t help but get star struck. The video can be watched on youtube.
Just when I thought, I am done for the day. Ashish dared the kids to do para-sailing. I was happy they accepted the dare and I had to accompany them on their adventure.
We three went on a tandem para glide. I was very happy to see both of them enjoying the heights and after the initiate fear of being pulled in the air, they both were having fun. We sang rhymes in the air, fluttered our hands like birds do. We closed our eyes and enjoyed the calmness and serenity at that height.
We were good 20-25 min in the air. We dipped our feet in the water twice before coming back on the boat. My little baby tried hard to reach the water, but her little feet couldn’t touch the water.
Daddy Ashish was super thrilled and couldn’t stop bragging about his brave daughters who could paraglide fearlessly at this age while he still cant handle heights well.
So Rapid Jets, para gliding and sky diving were ticked off the list.
The best part about activities in NZ is that it is actual value for money. Para-sailing anywhere in the world lasts maximum 10 mins, but here you are in the air for good 30-35 min till your hearts content. Same with sky-diving, luge and others. You don’t just experience it, you live it.
Then we drove back to Auckland, returned our car back to the vendor and flew from Auckland to Queenstown. North island to South island.
South Island is considered to be the prettier one and most people visit only South Island while visiting NZ. But Lake Taupo is definitely worth a visit and the thermal pools are something you will not find in South Island.

South Island,,, coming soon!!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

NEW ZEALAND TOURIST ITINERARY

With crazy work schedule, I got no time to actually explore what to expect out of New Zealand. I knew only two things about the place. One it’s amazingly beautiful and other its amazingly expensive.
From our experience of last 8 years of visiting different countries, now I can easily tell  with the description of the place, whether that place is worth visiting or not. After couple of rounds of iterations, our itinerary was finally done.
My itinerary looked something like this
Day 1 - Apr 21 Fri - Apr 22 Sat – Fly from Bangalore to Auckland via Singapore
Day 2 – Apr 23 Sun - Auckland – Sky City Tower and local attractions
Day 3 – Apr 24 Mon  - Auckland – Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari
Day 4- Apr 25 Tue -Head towards Lake Taupo – Visit Waitomo Glow worm caves en-route
Day 5- Apr 26 Wed-  Lake Taupo – Waireke Thermal terraces and Local attractions
Day 6  - Apr 27 Thur – Rotorua – Gondola + Luge
Day 7 – Apr 28 Fri – Lake Taupo to Auckland- Fly from Auckland to Queenstown
Day 8 – Apr 29 Sat – Queenstown – Leisure Day
Day 9 – Apr 30 Sun – Queenstown – Milford sound cruise
Day 10 – May 1 Mon – Leisure Day
Day 11 – May 2 Tue – Queenstown to Glacier region – Franz Josef glacier
Day 12 – May 3 Wed – Franz Josef - Helicopter ride to Franz Josef glacier
Day 13 – May 4 Thur – Franz Josef to Christchurch
Day 14 – May 5  Fri – Christchurch – International Antarctic Center
Day 15 – May 6 – Sat – Christchurch – Leisure day
Day 16 – May 7 – Sun – Christchurch to Bangalore via Singapore

Tips to travel to NZ
11. Hire a car, public transport is non-existent. Taxis are also non-existent. (Right hand driving same as India). Full insurance of car is very expensive and mostly unnecessary. So unless you are a very rash driver, you won’t need it. Speed limit is something you need to be cautious about, apart from that everything is manageable.
22.  Activities such as sky diving, bungee jumping, white river rafting, gondola, luge, para sailing, para gliding etc exist in both North and Sound Island. So plan the activities as per your convenience.
33. Travelling from North to South Island can have options like flight, cruise and road. Flight is the fastest and cruise is very scenic. But roadways would be very tiring.
44.  Do not book for attractions in the sea and glacier in advance. Many times, due to bad weather cruise and flights are cancelled. Though they reimburse the whole ticket price, spending half a day to reach the place and then getting disappointed is not worth it.
55. There are strict restrictions on the stuff you carry from home to NZ. Firstly, whatever you carry, you HAVE TO DECLARE. Secondly, do not carry fruit, vegetables, plants, pickles, dirt (in shoes, bags etc). But you can carry packaged food. Ready to eat, sealed bag of rice, broken pulses, biscuits, maggi, haldiram products sealed pack, salt, turmeric, sugar, tea packets etc.
66. DO NOT LITTER. Kiwis are very cautious about cleanliness. You will hear more on this from me soon in the below travelogue.
7.       And last but the most important! When you budge for NZ, make sure you budget 30 % extra in advance. It’s a SUPER EXPENSIVE place. Each activity can cost u anything from 200-500 NZD. And going that far, you don’t want to miss out on anything.
8.       NZ has many good Indian restaurants, so anywhere you go in NZ you will find Indian food. Can’t promise a pure vegetarian restaurant, but veg food for sure.
9.       For New Zealand, it is not mandatory to do pre-bookings  for all the attractions because it is not very crowded as other tourist places. Availability is usually not a problem in any tourist attractions.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Avani's dose of the day!! Change maker of tomorrow

BI was driving Khushi and Avani on a busy road. We stopped at a red light and the car was adjacent to a BMTC bus. 
A gentleman was throwing orange peels out of the window on the road one by one. Avani saw this and gestured him not to do that by shaking her little fingers.
He gestured back that he will not throw it now. And gave a thumbs up to her. She shook her head in refusal and gave him back a THUMBS DOWN!
I witnessed all this as a spectator and after I realised what just happened, I was so proud of my little one. At 4 she understands its not correct to dirty our roads and is not afraid of correcting someone who is not following it. The whole credit goes to her school where they focus of the overall development of a child and not just bookish knowledge. #ChangeMakers #SwaachBharat

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Avani's dose of the day!! Clever and quirky

Avani hates writing and its a mammoth task for me to convince her to write one page of homework every weekend. 35% of my weekend usually is kept aside for the homework of my two girls. While doing this weeks alphabet homework, she had to write the alphabets n,m, t and l in lower case.

Mummy: Avani, please write 't' properly. The line is too slant and there is a lot of gap in between. It's almost like capital A. Write nicely please!
Avani: (with a smirk) Mummy the 't' is exercising! 😁
It took me a minute to decrypt what she was saying and to imagine the way she imagined it. 
How do I react to these quirky statements from a 4 year old?