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Soooo, we’re well and truly into 2015!

To say it’s been eventful so far would be an understatement. Unfortunately, that looks set to continue for the next little while. The only thing keeping me sane is getting out into nature. Luckily this week I got to go out on a boat cruise on the harbour, and hiked about half of the stunning Te Henga Walkway (good practice for the Tongariro Crossing at some point).

This week’s links

An unhealthy obsession with job hunting

Fessing up to financial secrets

It costs nothing to be a better person

Growing a business – but at what cost?

Life lessons by way of cultural/generational difference

The secret to surviving any travel adventure

And finally, here I am offering my top recommendation for travel destinations in 2015, along with some other kiwi bloggers

A day trip to Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove - a day trip from Auckland The last (and only) time I visited Cathedral Cove years ago, I barely even knew it existed. I’m so glad that my friends knew about it!

Whilt it was an easy outing from our base in the Coromandel then, this time around we made it a day trip from Auckland. It’s just over 2 hours one way, which, I think, is about the acceptable maximum for a day trip. I generally think you should be able to easily spend as much time at your destination as you do travelling (round trip), otherwise it’s a bit of a waste. Then again, I live in a tiny country so my standards when it comes to distance are skewed.

Everything was different from the moment we got there. Parking was impossible. Odds it’s not even worth driving up to the car park; just turn into the paddock on the right hand side off the road that’s full of cars, and take the bus up. The Cathedral Cove ‘park and ride’ shuttle bus costs just $3, and allows you to ride both there and back again.

The beach was absolutely packed – it brought to mind some European beaches – and there were so many commercial tours out on the water, from glass bottom boats to kayaks. But I think this made me appreciate Cathedral Cove even more, somehow. Losing myself in the turquoise waters, surrounded by limestone cliffs, I felt at peace for the first time in so long. The Coromandel region sells itself as “good for your soul” – and it was.

Cathedral Cove - a day trip from Auckland

The one thing that was just as I remembered it? The hike. The walk from the carpark down to Cathedral Cove is signposted as 45 minutes, but you can nail it in half the time – we always do. It’s crazy beautiful, though, winding through forest and over clifftops with amazing views out to sea and the islands, so maybe allow some time to stop for photos. The track has some climbs and dips but nothing too taxing; you can definitely navigate in jandals, though I wouldn’t recommend bare feet.

Cathedral Cove - a day trip from Auckland

I suppose it was inevitable that such a fabulous spot would only become busier, despite its secluded location (which, I think, is a real blessing). I can’t really resent others for wanting to enjoy it, too.

Rethinking how I see myself

‘Traveller, writer, dreamer.’

That’s the sum of my Instagram account bio.

But I’m starting to wonder if I can rightfully claim that last word.

I was definitely a kid who had her head in the clouds. A bookworm, a day dreamer, with one foot in fantasy land.

One year I came home with my report card, and one of my teachers’ comments was that I was ‘very practical’. We laughed about it, because how far off base was that?!

While we often laugh at dreamers for being off in their own world, on the flipside, I think we also frequently put them on a pedestal. Especially among creative types, we think practical = staid and boring.

But the older I get the more ruthlessly practical I become. I struck out on my own early and I’ve been fending for myself since.

The most surprising thing I learned about myself while travelling was how adaptable I can be. When I don’t have strict plans, I’m more than happy to go with the flow and not freak out no matter what happens.

That said, in my day to day life I am nowhere near as flexible. Normal life dictates planning, and when my plans are derailed I cannot pivot – I find it extremely hard to cope.

Where is this introspection going? I’m not too sure. I guess all I’m trying to say is I’m adjusting to a new perception of who I am (years late?) and how that makes me feel. My inner dreamer still lives, but she’s firmly encased in a thick armoured shell of pragmatism.

Waka time: Up the river with a dozen paddles

Taiamai Tours waka river journey - Bay of Islands
A photo from our trip, courtesy Taiamai Tours (Facebook)

Three unexpected things happened while I was in the Bay of Islands recently.

I was part of a team that successfully paddled a waka

There were probably around a dozen of us: a group from my organisation, plus four actual international tourists, a couple from the US and a couple from the Netherlands. We rowed a little way up and down the Waitangi River, singing and chanting as we went, as tradition dictates. Let me tell you, it is hard going; my arms were burning after just a few minutes.

We were invited onto a marae

We were lucky enough to have Taiamai Tours owner and tribal chief Hone Mihaka as our guide. Along the way, after he’d shared a few stories about the land and its history, he invited us to visit their marae, and we paddled over to the banks.

I’ve been on large, more ceremonial marae before, but never to one like this: intimate, raw, rustic. We stooped to ease past the low roof, making our way over the dirt floor to the simple wooden benches lining either side. What a sight we must have been, still swathed in our garish lifejackets, but honoured and humbled to be there.

The young boy who’d performed the welcoming ritual to invite us onto the grounds spoke for a little while, haltingly. Then it was our turn. Impressively, both the tourist couples also stepped up to say a thank you. We wrapped up with a waiata (song) – luckily, we’d been practising at work for occasions such as these.

I learned something about my neighbourhood

The last thing I expected was to learn something new about my suburb back in Auckland. I’d never given any thought to its name, but apparently it has a bit of a dark history. In anticipation of tribal uprising and potential war, a blockhouse was built down at the bay. On the plus side, it was never really needed.

My intermediate school was big on arts, culture, and music, led by a fantastic Maori teacher, and all this made me nostalgic for those days.

For me, this trip was a reminder that Northland isn’t just about dolphins, beaches, Cape Reinga and the Waipoua Forest; it’s also got a rich cultural heritage, including the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

You know you’re getting old when…

You know you're getting old when...Your partner points out that you’re now closer to 30 than 20

You’re no longer the ‘baby’ at work – that title goes to someone who is all of 23 years old

You want to run out and throw rocks at loud cars passing by (and at people letting off fireworks nearby)

You seek out greenery to relax in, away from city life

You crave vegetables because your body will revolt if you don’t eat healthily enough

My tag line is ‘on the quest for health, wealth and happiness’. To be fair, it does qualify that with ‘not necessarily in that order’. But health has never been first on my list, in reality. And I think maybe that needs to change a little bit. I consider myself pretty in tune with my body. It’s thankfully always been pretty low maintenance, but is definitely demanding to be heard more and more lately. Some of that is no doubt stress related, but I suspect some is simply an age thing.

Street food in Auckland: District Five

District Five Shortland St Auckland - Vietnamese street food
Auckland is a summer city, there’s no doubt about it.

We really come alive on sunny days. That’s when we’re at our best. The rest of the time, we grump and groan.

And one of the best things about summer is outdoor dining. It warms my heart to see street food starting to infiltrate the CBD. It’s like our city is finally growing up.

My new favourite street eats can be found on Shortland St at District Five. You can’t miss it – it’s basically adjacent to that big, slightly skeevy carpark that sits between Fort St and Shortland St.

I’ve been on a mission to find a good banh mi sandwich in Auckland, and had had a string of miserable failures. Sorry, guys. There’s too many Pakehas trying, and not delivering. I won’t name names, though.

While there is a white dude manning the till at District Five, all the other staff are Asian (and, presumably/hopefully, Vietnamese).  And I’m pleased to say they do a pretty awesome banh mi. Every element hits all the right notes. It put a smile – nay, a BEAM – on my jaded face.

I wouldn’t rate the pho as highly, but I would order it again. I remember those first few delicious soups in Ho Chi Minh so well – having fallen sick as soon as we crossed into Vietnam, I couldn’t finish the bowl in front of me. But good god, was it sublime, full of subtle and delicate flavours and bursting with freshness.

 

On accepting ambiguity: Black, white and all the yawning grey space in between

Crying in the bathroom then walking out like nothing happenedI made it through more than half a year of shouldering the entire burden of supporting our household, alone, without breaking down at work.

During wedding planning, it was flowers that tipped me over the edge. This time, it was waiting on some much needed money because T sent it to the wrong account number – not once but TWICE. The first money he’s earned in months, and it’s stuck in banking no man’s land. *insert every curse word that exists*

If I’m being totally honest with myself, I feel like I lost most of last year to depression and stress. I feel stuck.

There are always choices, even if they’re unpalatable. I have thought about how to get unstuck – separating at least temporarily, or even running away overseas. I’ve considered the options and decided continuing the status quo is the best one.

But I just want to be able to plan. I want to be able to make progress. I cannot set goals or progress towards them the way things currently stand.

I dislike ambiguity at work, too, but in many ways it’s baked into the nature of the job. I can handle it, I’ve learned to cope – but I hate dealing with ambiguity in my personal life.

So, no goals for me this year. Just stay sane and, to quote Dory, keep on swimming.

The best of: 2010-2014

The best of NZ Muse

One thing the past year has really hammered home for me is that I’ll never be happy with my writing. It is so hard to cover all bases, every possible detail, nuance, interpretation. I may think I killed it with a piece that exploded from my fingers, fast and furious, but find myself clarifying and expanding on points in response to various comments -and that feels like a communication fail.

One of the things I love most is writing stuff that resonates with other people. It’s not the kind of thing you can do every day (at least, I can’t). With the year about to end, I thought it’d be a nice time to look back on some of my favourite posts.

2010

On choices, mortality, and nearly losing it all

Dreams. It’s funny how they change

2011

My first love was a practice run

The ‘job that you wake up excited for’ propaganda

Making your way in the white collar world

2012

Learning to take criticism

Knowing your limits vs stretching your limits

2013

Post wedding reflections

Seven lessons I’ve learned from travelling

2014

Travel snobbery I’m so over

What it’s like to settle down after travelling the world

When the darkness threatens to swallow you whole

Why take a RTW trip?

Why you should take a RTW trip
Next year, a coworker is heading off on a RTW trip – an extended honeymoon – sound familiar?

Particularly if you’re in/from New Zealand, this kind of travel makes sense.

It’s economical

A RTW ticket with multiple stops can cost the same as a single return ticket to, well, almost anywhere in the world. STA’s cheapest RTW tickets start at just under $2000 – that’s the same as a typical return flight to London.

Our currency is strong right now

So you get more bang for your buck. Our money basically gets halved in the UK and Europe, but it’s been a lot worse in the past…

It’s efficient

You can squeeze more out of your time away – experiencing more, staying longer.

And tying back to my first point, on a per day basis it’s cheaper. Your costs are lower when you travel slower, staying put in places rather than moving around like a speed demon cramming everything into a few weeks or a few days.

Plus, play your cards right and you can seriously cut down on jetlag. Another colleague reckons she loses a couple of days at either end of the trip every time she goes back home to the UK. On our RTW trip, though, we had zero jetlag. We worked our way around the world and it worked out perfectly in regard to time zones and flights.

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nzmuse link love roundup

How was your Christmas, on a scale of 1 to 10?

I would probably rank mine solidly average. I’m glad the actual day is over.

My mandate these holidays is twofold: RELAX, and STOCKTAKE.

I’m not checking work emails, and I wrapped up all my freelance projects as early in the month as I could.

We need to gather up documentation and see what we can do to recover the outstanding reimbursements owed by Terrible Ex Boss.

Speaking of terrible bosses, I’m gutted that a job T interviewed for last week – one just perfectly matched to his work experience/skillset – seemed to be run by a nightmare of an owner. Is it so hard to find a decent company and a non-psycho boss?

I also did a bit of an audit  on all our financial accounts. No surprise, we are still a long way off a down payment – but at least I know the numbers now.

In browsing TradeMe - the site where almost literally everything gets listed for sale in NZ, from the crap in the spare closets you want to offload, through to vehicles and houses – I’ve come to the conclusion that everything is either overpriced, or suspiciously low priced. If it’s too cheap you wonder what’s wrong with it – is it too good to be true? Is the car in rough shape, or was the house a meth lab/part of the leaky building wave?

Just one link this week: a love letter to the internet.

Creating my own elaborate websites about myself was outrageously, hilariously narcissistic in hindsight. But building my own sites gave me the ability to tell people who I was in a way that I could control. It also allowed me to look at myself in a positive way, something that was missing when I looked in the mirror. I liked the me I was on the web. I still do.

I’ve always wondered about the assumption that our online personas are more fake than our physical ones. I often feel awkward and nervous in real-life situations; I almost always feel like I’m saying the wrong thing and am unable to articulate what I really think and feel. Online, I have plenty of time and unlimited space to consider what to say and how to express myself. It’s an advantage that makes me feel more like myself, not less so.

Straight from my own head.