Tag Archives: travel

Four crazy things to do in NZ


I’ve learned a LOT about New Zealand over the past few months in the course of work. Here’s a few zany experiences you can have here:

A luxury tent lodge in the mountains

Accessible only by helicopter. In a glacial valley. Insulated safari tents with ensuites and heated floors. THE MIND BOGGLES. Can I move there for next winter?


In all honesty, this sounds like one of those things I would only do under duress (like skydiving). Swim like a dolphin, fly like a superhero?

Hydro Attack

On a similar note, apparently you can go skimming across Lake Wakatipu in what is basically a gigantic shark. Who comes up with this stuff?


Slight cheat on this one, as I actually have known about zorbing for years… but it deserves a mention, especially since I failed to include zorbing on this list of quintessentially NZ activities! Again, not really my thing, but I’ll happily come along to laugh at you as you bounce/roll down a hill in a giant ball.

The number one reason not to travel…

The one downside of travel is...

… You may become a gastronomic snob and forever struggle to fulfil your cravings at home.

We have a lot of great Asian cuisine in Auckland, but pickin’s are a bit slim on some of the other fronts.

I’ve ranted on here enough times about it; I won’t blather on about the nonexistent Mexican scene anymore. I do think we can do better on the North American front overall, though. Americana seems to be the latest fad, but having so recently been through the US I just can’t get excited about most of the new options here (to say nothing of the portion sizes).

But the biggest letdown I’ve had came a few weeks ago, when we bought ostensibly fresh burrata from the Parnell farmer’s market. Now, it was made locally, by genuine Italians, but it was so far off the mark compared to what we ate in Italy. Consider the difference between good and bad squid – lightly cooked vs rubbery and tough. This burrata was stringy and dryish – edible, but a pale imitation.

I don’t wish to move to Italy to live or anything, but by god do I miss the fresh foods and simple yet sublime farm meals we had there.

Things I WON’T do to save money on travel


I don’t consider myself high maintenance, but I do have a minimum comfort level and camping does not meet it. I’m fine with hostels and seedy motels (“How do you always find the most ghetto places?!” T complained to me when we went wandering around east Berlin in search of our hostel) but I’m just not a tenting person. On a scale of 1 to Major Pain In The Ass, setting up and packing down tents rates just above scrubbing the toilet for me.


First, the realities. I mainly travel with T, and nobody is going to stop to pick up someone who looks like him. I wouldn’t! Even our host in Munich, who’d been urging us to think about hitchhiking around Germany, demurred once we actually turned up and he met us in the flesh.

Even so, I don’t like uncertainty, and relying on passing cars to pick you up is about as uncertain as it gets in travel. (I remember waiting for ages one day for our Couchsurfing guests to arrive and wondering if they were going to turn up at all. Turned out they were at the mercy of hitching, and didn’t have a way to contact us to inform us.) Also not super keen on standing outside for potentially hours on end in any weather conditions to save some money.

Taking flights at crazy times

Super late flights may be a little cheaper, but that’s not the end of the story. There’s nothing worse than arriving  in a new city trying to find your way around in the dark! Public transport may not be running by the time you arrive, so you might have to take an expensive taxi, potentially negating any flight savings. In small establishments the front desk might close at 8pm. And it just screws up your schedule and body clock in general.


Where do you draw your lines?

Where can you fly for $500? $1000? Or more?

Where can you fly for $500? $1000? Or more?

Occasionally, when I have nothing better to do, I like to torture myself dream a little.

Usually that involves looking at house listings; occasionally it starts with me looking at rental listings, but that gets depressing real quick so it never lasts long.

Occasionally I indulge in a bit of travel lust. A lot of that comes to me without me even lifting a finger. I get so many travel emails – Grabaseat alerts, Travelcafe deals, and lots of travel agency offers.

But if I’m so inclined, I head over to Kayak Explore. 

From this screen, I can see what it costs to fly basically anywhere in the world from my city.

So, where does my money get me from Auckland?

For $522, I can fly to Apia, Samoa. (Beaches! Turtles! Rainforests! Markets!)

For $1193, I can fly to Bangkok, Thailand. (Cheap drinks! Fantastic food! Temples!)

For $2,072, I can fly to Vienna, Austria. (The city where Before Sunrise is set!)

For $3,254, I can fly to Vladivostok, Russia. (I’m not sure why I would want to go there … but St Petersburg is still on my wishlist!)

And that is why people go on ‘the big OE’ – it’s just too darn expensive to travel regularly from little old New Zealand when it’s minimum $2k return to the likes of Europe or North American.

Where can you fly to for these dollar amounts?

(Not a sponsored post, but I’d be more than happy to accept compensation … just sayin’!)

Off the beaten track: 4 places that stole my heart

You all know I love me a little bit of justified tourist town action. But we also got to wander a little off the beaten track a few times in Europe…

Bracciano castle - NZ Muse

Lazio region, Italy

We worked on a farm north of Rome for a month, and during that time took a couple of short trips over to nearby town Bracciano, to the lake, and a day trip to Viterbo. It really was a chance to live like a local (and oh, the food. Stuff of dreams. Cheese straight from the local shop. Tomatoes off the vine. Gelato too, of course). Did I mention the castles?!

On my first trip to the beach with our host (just the two of us) I didn’t bother to bring a bikini top, since she said it was a topless beach. Awkward as I felt about it, when in Rome… but that was nothing compared to the awkwardness when we actually got there and almost everyone else was in normal swimwear, tops included.

Kranzberg, near Munich, Germany

Kranzberg, Bavaria region

We had an invitation to come stay from a host who lived in a village north of Munich (which is teeth-grittingly expensive). There, we gulped down litres of homemade apple juice, swam in waterholes, stumbled across our first nudists, and cycled about 20km to another nearby village. I hadn’t been on a bike in over 10 years; biking through the forest, flying over bumps and potholes in the trail, was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying (I can’t believe I’m doing this!!! / I’m going to fall off and die!!!).

Grindelwald, Switzerland

Grindelwald, Switzerland

High up in the mountains above Interlaken, Grindelwald came recommended by a friend. We arrived when a massive mountain race was on, and wound up in a dorm with a dude who organises marathons and ultras for a living. That dorm was particularly weird; there were double bunk beds, meaning you could wind up sleeping next to a stranger if you were a solo traveller. We chilled out (literally, it was a big change from the heat of Germany), stared at the mountains and the skydivers, bought beer and fired up the communal barbecue. I

By: Peter Köves

Maastricht, Netherlands

Maastrict was a charming little town that we stopped into briefly on the way to Amsterdam. There was so much good looking food here! It’d be a great place to spend a half-day or a day, just wandering around. Unfortunately since we were lugging around our packs the whole time, I didn’t much feel like taking photos. (I think we may have snapped a couple iPhone pics of a particularly weird bus we spotted there, but can’t find them now.) And our first mishap with getting on the wrong train occurred straight after this. Good times.

What are some of your favourite lesser-known destinations?

Why full-time travel is not for me

Why I don't want to quit my job and travel fulltime

“She’s living the dream!”

The person I replaced at my new job – let’s call her B – is doing a similar thing to what we did in 2013. Extended travel, that is (though she outright quit, and their trip is somewhat open ended, so no firm end date). So far it sounds like she’s doing a bang-up job balancing freelance work with travel and working a lot more than I was on the road, so after each update from her, everyone simultaneously sighs wistfully and utters the same phrase.

(“I was living the dream in 2013 too!” I want to squawk.)

But like Amanda of A Dangerous Business, I have done extended travel and confirmed long term travel just doesn’t interest me.

Yeah, I know location independence is trendy. Everyone wants to be a digital nomad – cast off the shackles of a house and steady paycheque and work from some island beach. These are the same people who’ll rail against being a slave to their desk and miserable in the corporate world.

But that has never been me.

We live in climactic paradise (just about)

Location independence usually means spending a fair bit of time in cheaper countries, for obvious reasons. These are often hotter countries.

I am not a fan of heat, and T cannot handle the heat at all. (He struggles during Auckland summers, so that should tell you all you need to know. 20 degrees is HARD for him, and I’m only happy up to the mid/late 20s.) Having grown up in a super mild climate, we are both ill-prepared for real heat. Or real cold, for that matter; he can cope okay when the temperature drops, but I most certainly cannot. UV rays in summer and uninsulated rentals in winter aside, this is about as good as it gets for us.

Six weeks in Asia did us in physically and I can’t imagine spending months on end, in, say, Thailand (Chiang Mai was the expat hotspot for a while, is it still?). As B and her partner make their way around South America, they’re dealing with all sorts of temperature extremes, so while I oooh and ahhh at her blog posts and pictures, I’m inwardly shuddering imagining the conditions and thanking my stars I’m not there.

Yeah … We really can’t handle the jandal on the climate front.

The stress

Not having a home base long term would not sit well with me. It is really freaking draining having to periodically figure out where you go next, where you will stay, figuring out visas, all those logistics. By the end of our trip I was really worn down by that aspect. And I had planned outlines beforehand, so it’s not like I didn’t already have a good guide to work from! Filling in those gaps as we went grew exhausting. I don’t want to have to coordinate such basic life elements regularly.

I don’t want to work for myself

I know others who do, and mostly they struggle (I’m talking about my specific field) particularly in NZ. Realistically, I probably would not be one of the exceptions.

I really like my job – even the meetings! – and the fact I am working on something much bigger than myself. When I think about my career, what I want to do next and how I can best learn and grow, it’s in relation to organisations, not self-employment.The stress and uncertainty of freelancing is not something I would voluntarily choose for myself. And T’s work does not lend itself to nomadism.

I want the traditional stuff

Now that I’ve scratched the itch and ticked off most of the destinations burning a hole in my bucket list, I’m dreaming of a kitchen with a full stove, maybe even a dishwasher, building a pizza oven in the backyard. Dog and kids.

In an ideal world I’d have 2-3 months a year to travel, on top of having all the other things I want (this job, a house in Auckland, etc), but as the saying goes, you can have anything you want – you just can’t have everything you want.

The other day I decided to answer this question on Quora: Which one would you prefer: half a year travel or 6 separate one month-long travels? And while I started out thinking I would prefer another long trip, by the time I finished writing my response I’d realised that with one long trip under my belt, now I would actually rather take the shorter trips – if money was no object.

Routine can be tedious – doing the dishes, supermarket runs, taking the bins out every Thursday.

It can also be incredibly sublime – coming in to the familiar comfort of coworkers’ faces in the morning, cuddling up to your partner at night, chowing down on your favourite treats at the farmer’s market, familiar beaches with free parking that are never too crowded.

For me, a ‘normal’ life is where it’s at. I love to travel, but home is where the heart is.

RTW and back: An interview with Amanda of A Dangerous Business

amanda dangerous biz rtw nzmuse

Like moi, A Dangerous Business blogger Amanda Williams doesn’t aspire to a life of perpetual travel. In fact, she actually cut short her RTW trip when she realised she was no longer enjoying herself and finished the second leg separately after returning home to recharge for a bit.

(I don’t think I ever mentioned it here, but T hit a real low point about halfway through ours – on one particularly hellish Italian train ride, I was just about convinced I would have to dispatch him home and finish our trip by myself, which would have made the whole American road trip thing tricky…)

Here’s how she describes herself: I’m just a small-town Ohio girl trying to balance a “normal” life with a desire to discover the world beyond my Midwest bubble. My adventurous nature and inability to say “no” have led me to some pretty amazing adventures around the world, from swimming with sharks in Belize to hiking on glaciers in New Zealand to playing a concert on the Great Wall of China. I’m here to prove to people that traveling (and especially traveling as a woman) doesn’t have to be scary, lonely, or out of anybody’s reach.

What made you decide to embark on your extended trip? What’s the story there?

I’ve always loved traveling, and for the past few years I envied those “permanent nomads” who flit from place to place and get so see so much of the world. I was nearing the end of graduate school, and so taking off on a long trip right afterwards seemed like perfect timing!

How did you fund the trip?

The way most people do – I saved up money! That, and by the time I left I was making a decent amount of money from my blog and freelance writing, so I knew I would be able to work and earn a little money on the road, too.

What do you wish you knew before leaving? Any advice for would-be RTW travellers?

I wish I would have realized how burnt out I would get by traveling so quickly. By the end of 3 months in Europe, I was exhausted. I should have scheduled in more down-time for myself.

What is the most surprising thing you learned on the road?

I learned that the long-term travel thing really isn’t for me. I LOVE traveling and I love experiencing other cultures and picking out the little things that are the same and different from my own. But I was really missing home after about 2 months. Traveling non-stop for months on end just isn’t for me!

amanda dangerous biz rtw nzmuse 2

What was your favourite destination (or since I know this can be impossible to choose, what’s one place you would return to in a heartbeat?)

Sooooo difficult to choose! London is probably my favorite city in the world, but I also fell in love with Berlin on my RTW trip. Also, Vietnam! I went there during Part 2 of this trip (I ended up going home after 3 months in Europe, and did the Southeast Asia part of the trip separately), and really loved it.

You cut your RTW trip short after realising long term travel isn’t your thing. What was it like returning home?

It actually was a relief to book that ticket home after 3 months in Europe. I didn’t view it as giving up or anything – I just knew it was what I needed. It was DEFINITELY the right decision. And of course my family and boyfriend were really happy to have me home early! Plus, it gave me time to recharge and plan the Asia part of the trip.

Where are you at the moment? Do you plan to stay put – is this your ‘forever’ city?

I’m back in Ohio right now, building up my freelancing business and trying to carve out a career for myself that will allow me to work from anywhere in the world. This definitely isn’t my “forever” home, but it’s home for now. It makes a great base to take shorter trips from!

What’s still on your travel wishlist? Any confirmed trips coming up?

As for my travel wish list… it’s still huge! At the top are South Africa, Colombia, Norway, and Mexico. And as for upcoming trips, I’m doing some US/Canada exploring this summer, with trips to Niagara Falls and Alaska coming up in the next month. Beyond that, I’m currently considering a trip to New Zealand in November (it’s my favorite country ever!), or perhaps going back to Europe for some conferences. As always, who knows where I’ll end up!

Also see: RTW and back with Two for the Road and RTW and back with See You Soon

In defence of touristy places

tourist spots i love - in defence of touristy spots

While I suspect I may lose some cred for admitting to adoring all these destinations, I don’t care. I love them anyway.

Hoi An

nzmuse hoi an

Basically the definition of a tourist town. Were it not for tourism, I’m not sure it would exist. It’s colourful, with fantastic food, a little bit of a time warp in the middle of the country.  As I wrote last year: “It’s all a show, really, but it doesn’t make it any less magical.”

Halong Bay

nzmuse halong bay tourist spot

Yup, another Vietnamese spot!  I had heard negative things about the rubbish and pollution in the waters here, but it was surprisingly clean overall (note that we went during low season). This is a World Heritage site that will leave you feeling humbled and awed.


nzmuse santorini tourist spot

The light here is like nothing else. Eat, drink, swim – try to hit the black, red AND white beaches – and be merry. Quite possibly the most romantic spot we visited. Fairly affordable, too.


nzmuse venice touristy spots

I was prepared for the worst – smelly, grotty, humid canals. But there was absolutely zero stench and while it was rather sweltering in August, I looooved the tiny alleyways, the gelato, and our overpriced gondola ride. ALL OF IT.


nzmuse queenstown touristy spot

Picture-perfect, even if it does get bloody cold down there. (The razor-like winds will cut you almost as deep as Iceland’s gusts.)


Haggling in Asia: Tales from the street vault

nzmuse bangkok haggling

It’s hard to believe that a year ago we were waving goodbye to Bangkok, hopping the Airtrain and winging our way to London. Suvarnabhumi was one heck of an airport, I’ll say. I’ll always remember it for the crazy fast travelators, our last fix of Mr Donut and oh, yeah, the fact I managed to lose my boarding pass somewhere between checkin and boarding.

One thing I wasn’t looking forward to about travelling in Asia was bargaining. I’m not used to negotiating, and even if it was expected of me, I just didn’t know how I’d cope.

As it turns out, we didn’t have much to worry about. We weren’t there for the shopping; we were there to eat and sightsee. We did buy a couple of things, though.

Our first haggle came courtesy of T, who took it upon himself to acquire a flip-knife he spotted amongst the treasures at a street stall. (Result: 50 baht off for a total of 300 baht. If I recall correctly. I don’t think that was hugely successful.)

There was also his tattoo, a totally out-of-the-blue purchase. While he’d been bugging me about getting inked in Thailand, I simply kept giving him The Look. Then, one night, we headed out to Khao San Rd for a drink run at about 10.30pm. (I think the hardest part about Cambodia and Vietnam, for him, was the absence of 7-11s and his beloved Big Gulp drinks.) We stopped so he could flip through yet another tattoo parlour’s lookbook. The owner ushered us inside and started doing his sales spiel. To say it was a tough sell would be an understatement – I totally stonewalled him. He threw out an initial quote of maybe 6000 and eventually came down to 5000 in an attempt to convince me… and since T was able to pull up his second family crest online to show the artist, and the price was way less than we’d pay here, I conceded.

And that’s how we ended up going out for a Coke and coming back many hours later with a tattoo.

The other occasion where we found ourselves forced to haggle was with drivers. You might find drivers unwilling to use the meter, for whatever dodgy reason, who quote you absolutely outrageous fares for a 5-minute ride when you KNOW it should cost, at the most, half of that number.

And yet … the sums involved are usually fairly small in the grand scheme of things. There’s the principle; you know what’s a fair price to pay, and you don’t want to get ripped off. At the same time, we may have been budget travellers , but a dollar or two would have meant a lot more to locals than it did to us.

Got any haggling stories to share?

HelpStay: Launching a thousand journeys

helpstay nzmuse The concept of volunteering overseas changed my life. Literally. Had I not discovered the likes of WWOOF and HelpX, odds are we would never have taken our RTW trip. Volunteering (which we did in Italy and Germany) enabled us to extend our travels and gave us some of the richest memories and experiences of that entire journey.

So when Shay Gleeson, founder of HelpStay, got in touch with me, I was intrigued. His twist on the concept is introducing a fundamental layer of quality assurance – vetting, if you like. He’s an Irish bloke who (like us) recently took a six-month sabbatical and spent time travelling in Thailand, Vietnam and Australia, including some WWOOFing in the latter. Not surprisingly, he met plenty of other backpackers supplementing their travels by swapping their skills for lodging and food – there’s plenty of that here in New Zealand too.

The plan is to start small and expand from there. HelpStay has launched with a number of Irish hosts (most of whom he says are also members of other major volunteering sites) and Canada will be next off the ranks.

helpstay logo We had a chat about the birth of HelpStay, what he hopes to achieve, and where he’s off to next…

How he got the idea for HelpStay

I worked on organic farms for 3 weeks in Australia when I was on my travels. The idea started fermenting in my head. I was thinking ‘this is great’ …

Unfortunately I don’t have an inheritance or a nest egg or a trust fund … so you know the trip is going to come to an end sometime and you gotta go back to your home country, work for a few months, get some cash together then you can go off again.

I was thinking there must be an easier way to do this, to travel perpetually. That’s where the whole idea came from … that you can sustain your travel longer and go further.

A good UK friend of mine who is a surfing fanatic spent the whole summer in Australia helping in a surf lodge and surfing in his spare time. He did it all on a very tight budget.

To me travel is all about sharing, learning and growing and I think HelpStay facilitates the traveller to share their skills, learn new ones and grow as an individual. In addition, the traveller is living among locals, creating meaningful social connections and travelling with a purpose.

I guess we are the next evolution of Couchsurfing – you can crash on the couch but you will need to pull your weight about the place.

What sets HelpStay apart

There are other places doing it but where I’m different is that I wanted to actually look at building some trust and security into the system. At the moment, the other places, they don’t actually do any of that, they don’t actually go to the hosts and verify them, interview them and so forth.

If you’re a traveller and want to go to a host you’re taking a bit of a gamble. You don’t really know much about them. It’s a big ask to ask someone to go halfway across the world and stay with somebody they don’t know.

Hosts are only accepted on the platform once I have visited and interviewed them. I am also in the process of photographing all the hosts’ properties. This way the helper will know what to expect. It’s a big ask for someone to travel half way across the world, they need to know what to expect. I want to ensure that each host property and stay is as expected. Trust and security play a massive part and it’s something that is at the forefront of this venture. After all, trust is the currency of the new economy.

The end game

With HelpStay, I want to start 1000+ journeys. I want to entice people to start travelling and exploring the world. I want to empower the current generations to leave the safety of the couch and start a new journey. In the future, I would love to have hosts in a diverse range of countries and regions. How cool would it be to spend a month living and learning fabric weaving in Ireland or on a ranch learning horsemanship skills in Mongolia?

The end game of the whole project is to have hosts in as many countries as possible, in really interesting countries … like Mongolia, Iran or Iraq. If it works the way it’s supposed to work you will be able to travel around the world free, you can go from one host to another and that way travel perpetually (Ed: And a handy excuse to travel there to vet them!).

Once I have Ireland up and running, I am going to start travelling again. I have booked my flights to leave for Australia in early December.

helpstay nzmuse

My thoughts, in closing:

Shay mentions that volunteering can easily turn into exploitation if there’s a lack of communication and expectations aren’t laid out (hence the required approval process here, even though it takes a lot of work on his part). As he says, it really is the little things that can ruin an experience. We got a bit of a feel for our host via Skype beforehand, but were totally thrown by their eating habits (quantity/timing) when we got there. That’s a really hard thing to nail down – what do you call a reasonable amount of food, and does it line up with my perception?! – but I know if we ever volunteer again I’ll be asking about their dining routine early on.