Tag Archives: travel

5 things you really, truly must do in Tokyo

Sumo stadium - Tokyo 2015

Although we briefly visited Kyoto – and swung through Osaka for lunch – most of our week in Japan was spent in the big smoke of Tokyo. Spoiler: I LOVE it. (I feel this way about most global cities, to be fair.) Here are a few things that stood out.

Stay in a ryokan

A must do in Tokyo: Stay in a ryokan
The whole guesthouse experience is just so unique, from the sliding doors to the tatami mats and the baths. It was an incredible introduction to Japan. Also: Sleeping on the floor is amazingly comfortable.

Order food via a ramen machine

Ramen machine for ordering food in Tokyo

Need I say more?! Didn’t think so.

Go shopping

Uniqlo cardigan haul from Japan

Everything is SO cheap compared to home. I’m madly in love with the merino cardigans I got at Uniqlo for practically nothing.

Also, as an Asian person, shopping in an Asian country makes so much difference, be it bras for the flat-chested or glasses for the flat-faced (you know how the plastic frames that are hot right now have only tiny inbuilt nubs designed to perch on high nose bridges, rather than traditional nose pads?! I found some with extra-big ridges).

Visit a park

Just some sake barrels in the park, enroute to Meiji Shrine
Every city needs green spaces, and Tokyo does them well. Ueno Park brought to mind San Diego’s Balboa Park, crammed with attractions (a highlight were the turtles in a pond!) and at Meiji Shrine, we saw an elaborately dressed bride getting wedding photos taken.

See a sumo match

Sumo wrestlers - Tokyo 2015

As it turns out, we were in town for the very start of the autumn sumo tournament. I wasn’t sold on the idea of shelling out for sumo tickets (and didn’t want to gamble on queuing up on the morning of the match) but it turned out to be the highlight of our trip. The bouts are short so the pace doesn’t flag, the atmosphere surprisingly lively and the rituals fascinating. And we got to see one match that was clearly a bit of an upset! We also saw some of the wrestlers before and after, as people lined the pavement outside like a red carpet to watch them come and go. What  a way to end our last full day.

8 things that surprised me in Japan

8 things that surprised me in Japan

Roughly in order of occurrence:

They eat lotus root!

This is a food I remember fondly from childhood. I guess I always presumed it was a Chinese thing. We’d have it in this rather plain, watery, chicken type soup. (Yeah, not very exciting – the lotus was basically the only part I enjoyed.) In Japan, we were served lotus root at breakfast, and alongside sushi one night.

The quiet is real

And the courtesy signs/warnings on public transport, incessant. No loud, obnoxious, inappropriate phone conversations on trains around here, thank you.

The only place that was remotely rowdy (bearing in mind we’re not drinkers and didn’t do anything remotely night-lifey, ha) was a little ramen restaurant we stumbled into – it was noisy in the way Gina’s Italian Kitchen in Auckland is.

So is the cute factor

Particularly when it comes to roadworks/construction. The billboards I expected, but these little surprises were next level.

Food isn’t just divine, it’s affordable

We ate well in Japan, and yet most meals clocked in about NZ$20 or sometimes less for both of us. That just wouldn’t happen at home.

The toilets are like nothing else

I was prepared for bidets. I was NOT prepared for heated seats and buttons in the wall you can push to lower the lid – so you don’t need to touch the toilet itself. GENIUS.

Everyone’s so well groomed

I was a slobby heffalump in comparison. No surprise.

Umbrella stands everywhere!

So, it was pouring buckets when we arrived in Tokyo. The first things we bought at a 7-11 were two white umbrellas. It wasn’t long before we realised practically every building has an umbrella stand at the entrance. Heck, at our last hotel, there were secure slots for individual brollies, with a lock for each one.

It’s really family friendly

For example: specific diaper disposal and diaper change table in the bathrooms aboard trains. Stroller service at the sumo stadium. High chair attached to the wall in a public toilet, presumably so mum can have a moment to relieve herself.

Just a few random thoughts. More of a debrief to come next week!

Wednesday Wanderlust: Places I’d rather be…

What I REALLY would love right now is to get away and be spoiled, somewhere luxurious like…

Minaret Station

Much as I love the city, I also really need space around me (hence, living in the burbs). I quite like the sound of escaping into the Southern Alps to a chalet accessible only by helicopter.

eagle's nest

Eagle’s Nest

Russell is a sweet little spot in the Bay of Islands and Eagle’s Nest is probably the ultimate place to stay. Infinity pool, Jacuzzi, personal chefs and spa therapists – yes please.

the farm at cape kidnappers

The Farm at Cape Kidnappers

Hawke’s Bay is one region I haven’t really explored (but would like to). As well as all the usual luxuries, I love the sound of the amazing food – straight from the veggie garden, inhouse pastry chef and local meat and seafood.

When was your last holiday?

#BlogGreatness: Counting down to Japan

By: Moyan Brenn

One month (God willing) until we leave for Japan!

I am desperately in need of some R&R. To be honest, it’s probably going to be a pretty full-on trip.

We are there for a week – the plan is to spend most of it in Tokyo, but also get away for an overnight trip to Kyoto and Osaka. (Because fooooood.)

I’ve already built a Google food map, so I’ve got a fair few places to look for – while also leaving room to explore and discover random gems along the way. Nothing worse than the frustration of spending ages hunting for a restaurant, particularly if it winds up being fruitless.

What I DO need advice on is the following!

Phones – sim cards/wifi and data

Should we get a pocket wifi doohickey? Or look into a sim card with data? I am positive we’ll want to be able to get online in Japan to look things up and get directions. Remember we’re in NZ and roaming charges on our own telcos are exorbitant.

Sumo tickets

We’re hoping to catch a sumo match (or at least, T is). Tickets go on sale next week, so fingers crossed! That will determine our final itinerary. I’m leaning towards buying normal chair seats, which I think will be not only cheaper but more comfortable for us. He’s far too large to enjoy the traditional box seats, I suspect. And yes, we could line up for cheap tickets on the morning of the match … but time is the more precious commodity on this trip. Anyone care to comment on box vs chair seating?


One non-food thing on the agenda is staying in a ryokan. Originally I thought we’d do this in Kyoto but I’ve got a recommendation for one in Tokyo that sounds pretty good. Thoughts?

Top free things to do around New Zealand

It’s true: New Zealand can be an expensive place to visit. But there are definitely some free natural attractions to add to your itinerary. Here’s 9 free things to do/sights to see that I can vouch for.

Tane Mahuta, lord of the Waipoua Forest in Northland, NZ - NZ Muse


See Tāne Mahuta, our largest living kauri tree

It’s just a short walk through the Waipoua Forest to Tāne Mahuta, aka, Lord of the Forest. Stick to the walking tracks; the environment is delicate.

It’s free to visit; that said, the Footprints Waipoua tour is quite amazing, with Māori guides sharing songs, stories and insights.
Mt Eden summit crater - Climb a volcano!


Climb a volcanic cone

You can absolutely take your pick, but Mt Eden is a popular one close to the CBD, complete with panoramic views and a neat crater at the summit.

Cathedral Cove - a must-visit in the Coromandel


Cathedral Cove

Magical is the only word to describe this beach. It’s a bit of a hike to get to Cathedral Cove, but more than worth it.

And a little further down the Coromandel coastline lies Hot Water Beach. At low tide you can dig your own hot water spa pool in the sand. But get there early and stake out your patch. Maybe bring a gang.

Huka Falls
By: Rick Rowland


Huka Falls

The Huka Falls are our most-visited natural attraction. The roar and spectacle of the thundering waterfalls are just spectacular.

Te Papa Tongarewa - National Museum of NZ in Wellington
By: Jodie Wilson


Te Papa

Our national museum is an absolute must-see, and entry is free. DO IT.

Milford Road State Highway 94
By: macronix


Milford Rd/Milford Sound

The Milford Rd leading into Milford Sound is just bursting with amazing sights around every corner. Waterfalls, the Homer Tunnel, the Mirror Lakes, the Chasm … the journey itself really is half the pleasure.

That said, you really need to take a cruise to see the best of Milford Sound (or a scenic flight, perhaps?), otherwise you’re just chilling at the end of a really long dead end, picturesque as it is. More on that part of our South Island road trip.

Pancake rocks at Punakaiki - NZ Muse

West Coast


At high tide, the ocean sprays up through blowholes at the ‘Pancake Rocks’. There’s a lovely cafe across the road, too. Then drive north along the Great Coast Road; the stretch between Westport and Greymouth has been voted one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world by Lonely Planet. More on that part of our South Island road trip.

The "Nuggets" at Nugget Point
By: Will Ellis


Nugget Point

Around Nugget Point you can spot yellow eyed penguins if you time it right. Plus, the coastline is magnificent. More on that part of our South Island trip.


Baldwin St Dunedin
By: Stine Homann


Baldwin St

Said to be the world’s steepest street, the sheer angle of Baldwin St is a bit mind-boggling.

Introducing: The Blue Spring/Te Waihou (aka I live in paradise)

I had no idea this place even existed until recently. Know how I found out about it? Instagram! All in the name of work, of course.

Near the Waikato town of Putaruru, the Blue Spring is so ridiculously pure it supplies the majority of New Zealand’s bottled water. Photos don’t do the blue, clear water justice.

This was a quick stop for us on the way to Taupo so we parked at the Leslie Rd carpark to make it a 10 minute walk to the stream. (There’s another track from Whites Rd to the downstream part, which apparently takes 90 minutes to walk.)

Blue Spring Te Waihou near Putaruru

Blue Spring Te Waihou near Putaruru

Blue Spring Te Waihou near Putaruru

Blue Spring Te Waihou near Putaruru



How NOT to do the Tongariro Crossing

1. Have your husband pull his hamstring at rugby the week before. Nothing but pain can come from that.

2. Get lost driving to the shuttle pick up point and just about miss our ride. Bloody Aucklanders.

3. Fail to plan out a good lunch stop beforehand. Result: a teeth-chattering summit stop in freezing temperatures.

4. Forget that you have a terrible head for heights and that the ‘alpine’ part of the crossing does actually involve a mountain ascent. (Seriously, I always do this!)

Despite the mishaps, this was an epic experience from start to finish.

Hiking the Tongariro Crossing, April 2015

Tongariro Alpine crossing - NZ Muse

It all starts with a few kilometres of easy jaunts through fairly flat terrain in the Mangatepopo Valley. The sun is a scorcher, although as we wander in and out of sheltered valleys, the wind amps up to a pretty ferocious bite at times.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Mt Ngauruhoe


Why hello there, Mt Doom! (Mt Ngauruhoe, actually.) Those colours are REAL.


Tongariro Crossing - flat valley looks like Mars


Only a panorama could do this part justice. It was like an alien moonscape, down in a wide, barren flat.


Tongariro Alpine crossing - Mt Ngauruhoe

Clouds rolling in past the mountain peak. (No, we didn’t climb this one. It adds 3 hours to the trek and most definitely was beyond the ability of at least some of our group.)

Scrambling up the slippery earth and scoria slope toward the Red Crater summit did get slightly hairy; this is about the point when I remembered HEY I get dizzy at heights, and wind + fog only exacerbate that by infinity! It’s safe to say I didn’t really enjoy myself along this stretch.

This is also when it started to get seriously, seriously cold. We spotted a few slivers of ice along the ground up here.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Red Crater at summit

The Red Crater reveals itself at the summit. The colours, again, are out of this world.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Red Crater at summit

The sheer scale of it blew my mind. The enormity is humbling.

Then it was time to descend. Surprise #1: the big volcanic rock ridges were warm to the touch! Surprise #2: there was a whiff of that (un)lovely geothermal smell in the air. Surprise #3: those lakes!

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Emerald Lakes

The three Emerald Lakes are all slightly different colours, as you can see here: a deeper green, light green and a blue.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Emerald Lakes


Tongariro Alpine crossing - Emerald Lakes

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Emerald Lakes

You can see the wind rippling across the surface of the lakes.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - last stretches, volcanic landscapes and tussock

Fog was a near constant companion through the second half of the hike.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - last stretches, volcanic landscapes and tussock


T found it boring, but I was in my happy place. I love these muted reds, yellows, purples – volcanic, desert type landscapes are my absolute favourite in the world.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - last stretches, volcanic landscapes and tussock

The very last stretch (not pictured) turns into what looks exactly like West Auckland bush.  Every single one of us felt this part was neverending – it just seemed to go on and on forever! It felt like someone should be at the end to greet us with medals once we emerged into the carpark (or at least hand out Milo and cookies).

We lucked out with great visibility and no rain. I can absolutely see why this hike gained its reputation as the best one-day hike in NZ.

Would you pay for this? (Also: we’re going to Japan!)

We're going to Tokyo!
By: Luke Ma

I subscribe to a handful of travel deal newsletters, and among these is Jetstar’s weekly Friday flight alerts.

Normally I scan the subject line and delete right away. But one day in November last year, the phrase “2 for 1” caught my eye.

Even with all the add-ons that budget airlines slap you with, a 2 for 1 fare puts you well ahead! And thus, we’re going to Tokyo in September.

Assigned seats

Would you pay $5 to guarantee you and your travel partner could sit together on a flight?

Personally, I wasn’t sure at first. After all, on our flight from Reykjavik to New York, we didn’t get to choose our seats (either we checked in too late, or I missed that step somewhere along the line) and T and I wound up sitting several rows apart. And that was totally fine. It must be said, though, that this was toward the latter part of our trip , so we’d already spent a ton of time together.

But $10 (for both of us) per flight in the grand scheme of things is not a lot, so I stumped up.

Extra legroom

I am slightly toward the tall end of average for a woman and even I feel claustrophobic in economy class. So I have lots of sympathy for T.

I think it was on one of our short European flights that we got to change seats with another passenger in the exit row, and enjoy extra legroom for free. Let me tell you, that was a revelation!

Anyway, I balked at the $45 price tag for seats in the rows with extra leg room, but T‘s best sad face convinced me. And since it’s not possible to sit together and have only one person get extra leg room, that came to $90 per flight. (I would sit apart to save money, but apparently that wasn’t acceptable.)

It might even be worth it for me. I gotta say, the older you get, the more you’re willing to pay for comfort.

Hot food

The in flight meal menu looked absolutely dire. And this is where I drew the line. No way am I paying for what looks like a terrible attempt at a meat pie, or chicken and rice. Instead, we will fuel up and stock up at the airport before we leave.

Ridiculously beautiful New Zealand spots I want to hike

I love west Auckland’s bush and coast, but staring at epic landscape imagery all day at work has convinced me I really am missing out on other parts of the country.

Active is not a word you’d use to describe me – but there’s so much natural beauty here, and the best way to experience it is just to get out amongst it. And the best thing is our national parks are free to visit. Here are a few New Zealand hikes I’m pretty sure will be worth the walking.

Tongariro Crossing

Tongariro Crossing - Places I want to hike in NZ
By: Harry Lund

Aka the greatest one-day walk in New Zealand. Just look at the colour of those lakes. Middle-earth in real life. Just a few years ago I would’ve been all ‘Go walking for a full day? Are you nuts?!’ but here I am.

Mt Aspiring

Mt Aspiring - Places I want to hike in NZ
By: oh_jojojo

Glaciers! Valleys! Tussock! Boulders! This region really has it all.

Mt Cook

Lake Pukaki - Places I want to hike in NZ
By: Andrea Schaffer

I just reeeeeally want to see Lake Pukaki with my own two eyes.  Oh yeah, and the tallest mountain in NZ.