Thursday, 28 April 2016

My Mountain Hike Mission Unaccomplished

ANZAC* long weekend was less than two weeks away and it was not like me having no getaway plan trip yet! I quickly jumped online to check out some hiking spots around North Island and as I did that I had flashback of how memorable hike I did back in 2011, it was Tongariro Alpine Crossing. A 20km day hike over alpine terrain and active volcanoes. It was by far one of the most amazing hikes I’ve ever seen in my life however it was also the hardest day walks considering I’m not a gym person or very fit runner. I love walking and hiking. I don’t go to the gym for workout even though at my work we have a built-in gym that we got to use for free. I’m not being fussy, some people like gym, some don't. You'll find me more going for a bush walk for hours as I love being in the nature.

Anyway, I was browsing hike options around Tongariro National Park and finally chose the one I wanted to do. The track called Tongariro Northern Circuit, a 3 or 4 days loop hike around the National Park. This track is an extended version of the Alpine Crossing that I did few years ago. As I tried to book my bed in all three huts, I soon found out that they are all fully booked due to it was still in the Great Walk season. Every year in New Zealand, this season commences from October to end of April. There are 9 Great Walks scattered on both islands, with 3 located in the North Island, 5 in South Island and 1 in Stewart Island(third largest island in New Zealand). So I thought to myself, camping it is! I was aware that the weather and temperature could be potentially horrendous due to mountainous area, alpine that can be very exposed terrain as well as altitude level, but I always wanted to try multi day hikes on my own. The idea of being in the wilderness and just walking for certain hours every day admiring the jaw-dropping landscape in front of me really fascinating and with winter approaching soon, I felt that this upcoming long weekend was the time for me to do it.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing - 2011. Much better day eh?

Tongariro Alpine Crossing - 2011


A week later I started to do some packing that consist of tent, sleeping bag, mattress, cooking utensils, food supplies and couple of thermals and a down jacket. In the end, I think I looked like I was carrying another person on my back, my backpack looked bigger than me! I planned to do this hike for 4 days instead of 3 as I didn't want to rush myself, also when there's a chance to be in the wilderness, I wanted to take my time and enjoyed it while I can. When I felt like stopping for photos or breaks, I'd do it without worrying too much about time constraints. And because I was doing it on my own pace, I didn't hold everybody up and ultimately can soak up the whole experience! On Thursday afternoon, I drove down to Lake Taupo after work to break the journey and spent a night at one of the backpackers there and made my way to the National Park the next morning. Leaving Taupo that morning, the weather was looking pretty overcast all the way until Whakapapa Village, starting point of the hike. I went to Visitor CEntre to find out some terrain information and wheather forecast also to register my car as it will be left parked nearby for a few days.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing - 2011

Made my way to the starting point, there were other keen hikers at the car parks, though they did different tracks as I saw them walking away. As I started hiking, I felt that the weight of my backpack was pretty tough on my shoulder as this was the first time I had to carry that many stuff in one go. I kept walking regardless, diverting my thoughts more to scenery and watching this tiny bird flew between branches so close to me as it made a whistle sound. The track was passing through bush area, beech forest and alpine terrain with sounds of native birds kept me company. I was alone but I didn't feel lonely. There was so much things happening around me and I was grateful to be there and enjoying it all. The day turned out to be sunnny and in a distace I could admire an unobstructed view of Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe aka Mt Doom in LOTR movie, they were looking all tall and handsome! Few hours later I arrived at the first hut, Mangatepopo. This hut has 20 bunk beds in total however a group had booked the whole hut so I set up my tent for the night. We had Hut Talk at 7pm where the Hut Ranger explained about temperature we'd be expecting that night, what's the weather going to be like the next day and brief story about the hut itself, oh also what we needed to do in the event of volcano eruption! As night fell, we can feel that outside temperature was definitely starting to drop. With 0 degrees Celcius creeping in, I wore all of my thermals and wrapped myself inside my sleeping bag, may the force be with me, I told to myself before wishing silently for a good night sleep. It was freezing and holding on to my backpack tightly to get warmer was the only effort I could do. I couldn't sleep well the whole night, maybe only and hour or two and got woken up with my alarm. It was 6 o'clock and wished I could sleep in but no time for daydreaming and wishful thinking. With rain overnight soaking my tent, I wasnt to keen when folding it and its base was covered with dirt!

Northern Circuit - 2016

Northern Circuit - 2016


I started walking at 7am as looking at the weather forecast and from what the ranger told us last night, wind will gradually get stronger up to 65km/hr in the early afternoon around Red Crater area. So he was suggesting for everyone to leave as early as possible as it took around 6 hours to get to the next hut. So right after sunrise I was ready to leave. Oturere, the second hut is situated on the higher altitude than the first one. Also to get there, the track must pass through a place called Devil's Staircase as well as Red Crater. Three hours on the strenuous track, wind was blowing stronger and rain didn't stop either since leaving the first hut. My backpack felt heavier than yesterday due to my wet tent adding more weight on my shoulder. I managed to adjust it so that the weight can be distributed on the waist too. Weather was getting nastier as I kept walking and climbing towards the crater. At this point, I couldn't feel my hands anymore, it was freezing cold, wet and fog just got thicker and lower resulting very poor visibility. Just before we got to the ridge, wind was blowing much stronger and it got to a point where lots of people had to turn back. Safety is paramount and we were all there in the first place for the experience. I didn't need to proof anything. I gave my shot and I am still proud with what I've achieved. Mother nature was just too powerful in the end. I love going on adventures however when it gets to the point where things get worst, I chose to trust my gut and retreat.

Northern Circuit - 2016


Northern Circuit - 2016

Hiking back to the base, I found myself repeating some words of encouragement 'hot showers, hot soup, hot tea' as if it was a mantra. Feeling cold, wet and shivering, I was back at the base and with tens of other people, we hurdled up, some blowing their fingers to warm them up, some where doing some exercise also to keep warm, though I saw few people were quite angry for not bearing the cold anymore. Most of everyone who were there had no idea how to get back to their accommodation since they had to retreat early. Some trying to contact the shuttles, hotels transports etc and that could take a while for them to get despatched. I started chatting with this girl who was on her own also and asked what's her plan from here, apparently she was waiting for her other two friends who were walking behind her on the track. She was actually running and as it was just too cold for her to walk. I ended up hitching a ride with them, they were kind enough to do a detour from where they were supposed to go just to drop me off back at the village. With heater blasting in the car and a chocolate bar to wake us up, I soon learned that they are all Doctors who work in the same hospital. As we arrived at the village, I told them they're life savers! God knows how long I could've still stood there in the cold had they didn't give me that ride!

Soaking up in hot pool an hour later, I could not believe how fast things had turned. From getting caught in the horrendous weather to kindness from strangers I received along the way. From people at the huts and hikers along the tracks who were checking on me if I was ok, to Doctors who gave me a lift. It was these kinds of moment that made me appreciate everthing that happened in my life. All the situation taught me something. Yes, it was unfortunate that the hike had to be cut short, however the experience still as powerful and profound as if it was done in four days.

Oh well, there's always next summer!

*ANZAC day is the commemoration to honor Australian & New Zealand soldiers who fought at Gallipoli, Turkey during World War 1

Saturday, 16 April 2016

From Samoa with Love - Part Two - The End

After an eventful first day of my visit, the next nine days of my stay in Samoa were filled with more adventures, love stories and chasing waterfalls to put it in summary. From Vailua beach fales, we hitchhiked to Taufua beach fales which is located on the east coast of Upolu. We soon found out as we hopped into the car we hitchhiked, that  the guy who picked us up from a side of the road was a policeman. He was in his private car with his girlfriend & he wasn't in his uniform. After 1 1/2 hours driving along the villages and coastal road, we arrived in beautiful Lalomanu beach. Taufua beach fales in Lalomanu is another Samoan typical simple thatched hut on the beachfront, it was our home for the next three days. The beach was just breathtaking! Can't believe this area was hit by tsunami back in 2009, looking out from where I stood, the beauty after all that sad time still speaks louder. Though when I snorkeled just stone throw from the beach, I could see how the corals didn't survive but there still lots of colorful fishes staying put in this part of the island. When it comes to water activity, M has warned before that he can go for hours looking for Octopus that usually hiding under the rocks. I couldn't keep up with him so I went back to the shore and lie down with occasionally watching him from a distance coming in and out of the water. 

I love the concept of communal dining in Taufua Beach Fales. At 7pm sharp we were all seated around the long table, with our cocktails from Happy Hour, M & I were looking forward to  the meal that soon to be in our tummy! I was quite surprised with how delicious and scrumptious the food was. There were pasta, chicken with mushroom sauce, lamb chops, veggies, salads, plates after plates came out from sizzling kitchen nearby. We devoured them as we got to know other travelers sitting next to us. From French duo mother & daughter who were on a short stint break to a Dutch guy who been living in this fales for 4 weeks, a melting pot kind of companions. After dinner, we went for stroll on the long stretched beach of Lalomanu, with the moon brighten up the sky, it was my favorite walk!

The following day I parted with M for a day and I got to know my fales neighbour, Jule, a solo traveler from Germany currently works in New Zealand. Together we hitchhiked to To Sua Ocean trench, which is the number one spot to visit in Samoa. This is the signature advertisement picture you see every time they're promoting their country. It's translated literally as 'big hole'. It's undoubtedly one of the most beautiful swimming spots I ever been. Jule & I wasted no time to go down on the slippery steep wooden ladder. I think going down was more intense than going up! 

Next day was check out day from Taufua. After bidding goodbye to Jule and the lovely staff, I walked bit further from the fales and waited for a lift. However after an hour waiting with very few traffic of only a taxi and a truck, I retreat back to the fales and as I was about to enquire the reception of the once a day public bus, I saw a local postman collecting mails from the mail box. I soon approached him and asked if he was going to go anywhere near the wharf after I told him my plan to cross to Savai'i. He happily said yes and told me I could catch a ride with him. Though he said the ride will be longer as he needed to stop by and pick up mails from some shops along the way. Of course I was ok with that. We chatted many different things on the way to the wharf and the journey itself was fun! We stopped at one of the shops to pick up  our Samoan style lunch that  consist of Chicken with soy sauce, Taro with coconut milk and Sapa sui(Samoan Chop Suey). It was how I thanked him for giving me a lift all the way to the wharf. 

M came bit long after I was waiting for a while, I spotted his blonde hair as he tried to make his way out of the public bus. The crossing took about 1 1/2 hours to reach Savai'i. From there we walked to our accommodation, Lusia Lagoon Chalet, it was an enclosed rustic fales that was built above the lagoon. There was balcony so we can watch colorful fishes, turtle and a good size of GT(Giant Trevally) that occasionally swam below our feet. I loved this kind of accommodation, it's so down to earth and simple yet still serve its purpose. The staff were courteous and friendly, they also helped us to rent a scooter. 


The next morning we took our rented scooter around the island. It took us around nine hours until we were back in our chalet that night. Pretty ambitious but sometimes that's what travel is all about. Its spontaneity that hooked us. From just go with a flow kind of ride to see how far we can get. So here we were, riding from  sunny weather to heavy rains that felt like hundred needles pinching our skins to night ride filled with insects hitting our faces. The ride was exciting as we passed by many villages, national parks and often wave back to locals as we crossed path with them.

Savai'i has been such a beautiful spot to zoom around, it's simplicity and deep turquoise colour shades of water never failed to tease. Rock pools that were scattered alongside of the road kept calling us to stop to cool off for a while. We also stopped to grab our favorite "instant" drink, coconut juice. M had his knife handy so off he grabbed some coconuts from the tree and we took a sip of the mouthwatering goodness! 

We went hiking on muddy track, overgrowing Taro plantation, herd of cows looking  at us in confusion as we walked pass them, crossing stream in search for waterfalls. It was quite tricky at times as we tried to retrace our way back to where it started due to the track that was not really exist! Well, sometimes it's not just about the destination but it's more about the journey itself. It didn't matter if there was waterfalls in the end of this mind boggling track or not, it's the hike to get there that engraved within me more. Some blisters and cuts on my feet were just scars to remind me of those wonderful memories. Being in the outdoors with M chasing blowholes, waterfalls, off beaten tracks, secluded beach, giant clams etc is what it's all about. 

Back in New Zealand, I could only reminisce those times as if it was a fantasy. Fantasy that was good to be true. Only this time, it was real. Something that I could go back to whenever I would like to vanish with my thoughts for a while. Something that I longed to relive one day. Whenever that moment may come. Que sera sera....

"Whatever will be, will be"

Friday, 1 April 2016

From Samoa with Love - Part One

Boarding the plane bound to South Pacific islands always gives me butterflies. Born and raised in similar tropical country of Indonesia, somehow this feeling reminds me of going home. I chose Samoa this time as my Easter travel destination as I have been intrigued by its landscapes for a while, it was my fifth country in the pacific too! That part alone excited me! The islands in Samoa are close enough with each other therefore plenty of time to do exploration rather than doing the logistics like dealing with transportation to get to one island to another. Samoa consists of 2 main islands, Upolu and Savai'i, with Apia, its capital located in Upolu. There's also a tiny island of Manono that is sandwiched between two main islands. 

Just under 4 hours flight from Auckland I arrived at Faleolo International Airport. Warm breeze and hot sun greeted me as I was leaving the aircraft. I approached one of the ground staff who was standing outside the terminal to ask him where can I wait for public bus to Apia town. He then tried to persuade me to take taxi instead with his hand holding on to my backpack. I walked away not long after and decided to go across the road. The reason of my travel is not only for doing it on budget but also to try public transport of the countries I visited. It looks too normal and easy if you just land and go straight to your taxi. I guess I'm looking for more excitement and connection with the country and the people. And somehow I get this if I take public bus and do what the local do. Anyway, back to where we left of, a couple of friendly local boys were kind enough to show me where I should wait for my bus. The bus in Samoa is so retro, like it was back in the days. It reminded me of buses in Fiji and South America actually. The interior of the bus all made of woods, from chairs to floor up to the ceiling. There was also Lava lava(Samoan sarong) that were prettily hung above the driver. The bus doesn't have sliding window though, instead, you pull the window up when it rains. When the bus is full, it's a common thing there for someone to offer their lap for you to sit on. It looks awkward in the beginning but I guess when you're in Rome....
The ride was slow yet pretty. Passing by many villages, beautiful architecture of churches on every corner and stunning beaches. I also saw many rock pools alongside of the road where locals cool themselves off in scorching 30C heat. Street vendors like BBQ stands,  Taro, Banana and other fresh produce stalls are seen along the road, outside their houses.

An hour later, the bus finally reached bus terminal in Apia town and I was hoping to get another bus that could take me to my accommodation. I asked around and unfortunately not many people speak English, it was just after half 4 and weather looked as it will get worst, so I bargained a rate with a taxi driver in the end as my accommodation is still quite far from town. There's no taxi meter in Samoa, so try to bargain before agreeing.  

My first accommodation is Vaiula Beach Fales. It's located in Tafatafa, south side of Upolu. It has very long driveway from the main road. I guess that's why it's so quiet there. Most of the fales(Samoan simple thatched hut) are located on beachfront so it was nice to hear the sound of waves when you're about to sleep and wake up. As it was shoulder season, there weren't many guests there. The beach was white sand, there's no big waves as reef fencing out the island it's safe for swimming and snorkeling. One of the staff gave me a plate of fruits of coconut, star fruit and paw paw. As I ate my fruit in my fales, I made conversation with M, a Welsh guy who been living in the country for few years. He lived in Hawaii for ten years prior Samoa. I can understand why he always chases the sun :) He's an artist, spear fisherman, guide, and landscaper around the accommodation. I think I got it all haha! A multitasking and functional man to say the least! He took me to waterfalls that afternoon, this waterfall is not on the map and we hitchhiked to get there and back. I was enjoying this warm welcome and straight into adventure set of mood. We walked through streams from just above our ankles to right up to our waist. At some stage, I had to hold my backpack above my head to keep it dry. As we walked, he picked up some wild Ylang ylang flowers and gave them to me. They smelt divine! Finally we reached the waterfall, we drank our beer that we brought with us. We got to know better about each other's lives and I asked him also about living in Samoa etc. It was interesting talk and I felt so relaxed. We then dipped ourselves under the waterfalls. He asked me if I wanted to go behind the waterfall as there's a small chamber where we can stay dry. So he held my hand and we swam to the side of waterfalls and as we climbed onto the rock, it was too slippery for me to go up. I kept on falling backward back to the water as I tried to make my way up. So we flagged it and swam back in the end. He then went up to the highest point of the falls, about 12 m in heights. He took a deep breath and next second later, I saw him flying down. It was too quick before it all over. I applauded his courage and he gave me a cheeky smile as he swam his way back. 

We made our way back to Vaiula, a bit late for dinner as it was just over 7pm. I was so happy for my first day in Samoa. M is warm and adventurous, his knowledge about nature is impressive. It was such an effortless encounter. After dinner, he took me to this stunning beach lagoon. With full moon shinning brightly, thousands of stars above us and powder soft white sand beach soaked our feet, I felt like we were in our own fairy tale. We immersed ourselves in the warm of South Pacific ocean and for a moment I wanted to live in this Carpe Diem moment. I wanted the time to stand still. Did I just get sweep off by his charm? I didn't come to Samoa expecting for romance to happen, but who can deny faith and why should we deny what's meant to happen...

Good night from Vaiula Beach.........xoxo

"There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be" - John Lennon

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Kaikoura May Just Be My Idyllic Place

No matter how many time I revisited this place, I’m still amazed of how it captivated me, how it casted its spell on me. I never felt connected so much to a place than I have with Kaikoura. Every year I try to go back at least once or twice and choose to go on different seasons so I got to experience more of what this little gem has to offer.

My last trip there was just a week ago and stayed the entire weekend. I wanted to swim with wild Dusky Dolphins in the South Pacific Ocean that's just in Kaikoura’s backyard. This activity is quite popular and since it was summer season, it means booking early was crucial. I met a girl in my dorm and she told me that she was on waiting list for the day I went. Just shows how high demand this excursion can be.

As usual I flew first to Christchurch then picked up my rental car on Friday evening then drove around 2.5 hours to the east coast. It was daylight savings so cruising on the highway  during golden hour was picturesque as there were changes in colour on the mountain ranges and meadows as the sun staying put for the last hour before disappearing behind the mountains.

I chose to stay at Fish Tank Lodge this time, a backpacker that is smack bang in the middle of town centre. The town itself is pretty small, you can walk from one end to another in 15 minutes top. I stayed in Female Dorm and in my room, I found a piece of paper with my name on it placed on the lower bunk. I loved it when I can reserve a bed in the dorm. I normally do this if I stay longer than 1 night. Some backpackers have first come first serve policy but there are places that allow to reserve a preferred bed in advance. Just convenient when you don't have to go up and down to your bed all the time. I appreciate these little things! Fish Tank Lodge has one of the most comfortable beds I ever slept and it also has a very unique design in their social room and kitchen. They painted the walls with vibrant colours of marine wildlife from Orcas, Fur Seals, Turtles to Dolphins. Somehow it made me feel like I was another marine species living amongst them :)

I had only few hours sleep that night and woke up to the sound of my alarm at crazy hours in the morning as I needed to check in at Dolphin Encounter tour operator at 5.15am. After changing our clothes to wetsuits, we hopped on a bus that took us to South Bay where we then boarded our boat. There were 2 boats operating that morning with only 12 swimmers on each boat. If you don’t feel like swimming, you can choose Dolphin Watching only. There were few people who opted this and stayed behind on the boat. For me personally, I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to swim with this wonderful creatures. I was dreaming for this day to come. As we started cruising on a crisp morning, we were presented with this incredible sunrise. As the fiery sky got brighter, we spotted pods of Duskies jumping in and out of the water, showing off their acrobatics skill with amazing sunrise as the backdrop. What a perfect painting it was. Kaikoura also one of the few places in the world to see the first light. So that was just really something special. I love cherishing these kinds of moments, the ones that made your heart jumps and your eyes sparkle. Moments that you can look back and relive it every time you feel like it.



We started sliding into the ocean from the back of the boat one by one gently enough without making too much noises and once we were in, dolphins were passing left, right and under me as if they were flying. Some of them were so fast that if I blink, I could have missed it. From a distance I saw tens of them approaching my way and I just stayed there floating as I saw pods of calves and mothers swimming passed me racing side by side making squeaky yet adorable noises. It could get emotional having this kind of experience, as they were hundreds of them at times. I couldn't help shedding few tears for what I heard and witnessed in front of me. Especially when they came so close only inches away being playful and inquisitive and started circling me. I tried to mimic their move to make them stay put. Wow, that was so surreal! <3 <3 <3


We had 3 swimming sessions on different locations. There’s no detector or frills of gadget to find them. With their somersaults acrobatic jumps, they can be spotted from afar. Commentator on board told us that there are around 2000 Dusky Dolphins in this vast ocean of Kaikoura. They live freely, roaming wildly and eating rich nutrition from the deep canyon that are not far from the coast. They live in harmony sharing this ocean amongst biggest mammals on earth, Whales. From Sperm, to Humpback and Orcas or Killer Whales. Fur Seals are also scattered here mostly on the coast, you find them sitting, swimming and sunbathing on the rocky beach. There’s another interesting excursion that I’m yet to do which is swimming with these big brown eyes creatures. I am already daydreaming about jumping and teasing Fur Seals as they swam so close. That day will come, I can almost feel it! :)


The rest of the day I went hiking to Seaward Valley, it started at Halfmoon Bay about 20 minute drive from town centre towards north alongside the beach and rugged cliffs. The hike started right on the coast and ascending up to the bush and alpine mountain ranges. The whole time I hiked there, I only met 2 other people. It was so serene. The following day I went for a drive to Seal colony at Point Kean on the south side of Kaikoura then walked the Coastal Walkway with never ending view of turquoise blue-ish ocean and many sunbathing & playful Seals along the way. It was a great walk to get a close encounter with the wildlife.


Kaikoura is also known for its abundant seafood, it’s the Mecca for it. The name itself says it all. Kai in Maori means “food” and Koura means “Crayfish”. Combined together you get 'Meal of Crayfish' So there you go. From big ass Lobsters(or Crayfish as the Kiwis call it), Paua(an edible abalone), mussels, variety of fish like Cod & Grouper to name a few. In season, you can also find Oyster, Scallops and Whitebait. Though I must say the price for Crayfish here is not really a wallet friendly despite how many they are in this region. Lots of locals normally go free diving and just catch it on their own. Isn’t that an idyllic place to live? I’m thinking next time I’m heading there, it’s actually cheaper if you go on fishing trips for few hours and just catch your own. Most of the fishing boats also clean and fillet your catch ready to be cooked in your kitchen. How good is that? Plus you got to experience catching dinner yourself! Fancy Paua fritters or Garlic Butter Crayfish for tea tonight?

I am filled with butterflies every time I found myself in Kaikoura and left feeling rich on the inside because I know it's a place I can always return to, to relive the moments and to create exciting new  memories.

“Discovering this idyllic place, we find ourselves filled with a yearning to linger here, where time stands still and beauty overwhelms.” - Anonymous