05 August 2011

Coromandel Town to Auckland Ferry

This finally concludes my posts about this first trip I took when I first came to Auckland. FINALLY. I took this trip in the tail end of January and I'm only finishing it now. Phew.

Instead of taking a bus back to Auckland, I decided to take a ferry which would be faster and afford me different views. We sailed through the Hauraki Gulf, which is pretty sheltered and so had a smooth journey. The photos say it all:

One of my favourite photos from this trip

Beverages for your refreshment

Ample space to move and stretch

The engine is so loud, you wouldn't hear it playing anyway

Bikes travel free

Outgoing cruise ship, with the Auckland Harbour Bridge in the background

City skyline

Hmm how much do these apartments cost?
Thanks to PC and his flatmate who picked me up from the wharf and saved me another bus trip back.

03 August 2011

Driving Creek Railway, Coromandel Town

Driving Creek Railway is definitely the tourism gem of the Coromandel. It's a single man's labour of love over 30 years as he built the railway by himself (mostly) section by section. Rather than repeating the same words, read the excellent history from their website.

The 1 hour ride was enjoyable even if I felt cramped in the small seats. I was sitting across from a New Caledonian couple with their toddler so I amused myself looking at them teach the daughter how to apply sunscreen. The breathtaking parts were when we emerged from bush into a clearing and we could see across the Hauraki Gulf to all the islands nearby.

Pottery on display, presumably made on site

Previous tour group coming in

Brick kiln

Tour guide explaining do's and don'ts

At certain points during the trip, the driver has to come down and switch tracks as it's going to go up the other way

There are 2 trains on every tour

The original final stop

Final stop

The Eyefull Tower

Observation deck offering wide views - notice the pollution free sky bursting with unparalleled levels of UV rays

One of the tunnels we drove through
It's just amazing how one person has the vision and the dedication to take this through to the end.

01 August 2011

Coromandel Town, Coromandel

On the last day of my trip I journeyed to Coromandel Town via Tairua Bus Company. The plan is to catch the afternoon ferry back to Auckland instead of returning by bus. I had quite a few hours to kill so I took a short stroll around. It's a quaint town with lots of old buildings that make you feel like you're back in the past century...

i-Site Information Center
 I kept my main luggage at the i-Site while I went exploring on foot with my day bag.

The main street

Even the flag is frayed. WTH?

I like seeing how architects try to make their church stand out from others while maintaining the basic motifs
I was done with the town itself in about an hour, so I took a long walk to Driving Creek Railway set outside the town. There are no buses, and I'm not keen to call a taxi (not that I saw one), so it was either hitchhike or walk.

Next post: Driving Creek Railway

13 July 2011

Tea Party

As I don't drink coffee, I have resorted to trying out different kinds of tea to battle the boredom of plain water. It's also a great way to warm up when it gets a bit chilly. At the moment I've got 8 teas in my office drawer:
  1. Green tea with lemongrass and lemon
  2. Whole leaf Chinese white tip green tea
  3. White tea
  4. Chai tea (black tea with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and black pepper)
  5. Lemongrass tea
  6. Pomegranate & grape fruit infusion
  7. Tamarillo & honey fruit infusion
  8. Guarana herbal tea (containing as much caffeine as a standard cup of coffee)
This is in addition to the complimentary tea stocked in the office - English tea, jasmine green tea, and South African rooibos (red bush) tea. On any given day I'd take about 3 or 4 different types of tea - of which I'll limit to a single cup of tea with creamer and sugar. Everything else is taken sans sugar.

I've also got chamomile tea at home for relaxation and sleep aid, but that's not something I need often in a place like New Zealand.

07 July 2011

Review: Squids Bar and Restaurant

On the penultimate day of my travel I decided to treat myself to a proper good meal. For 6 days I've existed on Subway sandwiches and hastily cooked pasta meals in hostel kitchens, so enough is enough!

My phone's Ovi Maps GPS application has a Trip Advisor utility that combines tourism reviews with the address, so it can suggest and show me nearby places. Under restaurants it recommended Salt as the #1 place to eat, based on user ratings. So I eagerly made my way there:

I stood near the entrance and inspected the menu posted. No one came to ask me if I wanted a table, so I just walked in and plopped down at a table in the al fresco area overseeing the marina. It could have been a pretty peaceful sight if not for the 5 or 6 kids playing roughly while their parents socialize, uninterrupted by the ruckus.

But the thing that broke the camel's back was being ignored. Passing waiters did not bother to hand me a menu or serve. After 5 minutes I got up and just walked out. I instead dined at the eatery across Salt - Squids Bar and Restaurant. What a great choice!

Continue reading my review of Squids after the jump.

04 July 2011

Review: Cat's Pyjamas, Whitianga

This hostel was one of the better ones I stayed at in this trip. Though quite crowded we're sufficiently spread out, with plenty of common areas to relax. It's a short 5-10 minute walk to the marina and beach, so a strategic location.

The manager is very friendly, though the resident cat may not always be! Tairua Bus Company (Nakedbus) transports can stop and pick up from this hostel - just let the driver/hostel manager know in advance.

Cat's Pyjamas reception

Well equipped kitchen with working stuff!

Dining area inside

Lots of places to chill outside

Catch some sun or sea breeze here

Living room with books and DVDs

Common bathroom

11 June 2011

Cathedral Cove @ Hahei, Coromandel

Nearby Whitianga is the town of Hahei, which has 2 main attractions - Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach. Due to my trip planning I did not manage to visit Hot Water Beach. I later found out that summer isn't a good time to be digging your own thermal pool in the sand anyway. Now would be different though!

Cathedral Cove was featured in the second Narnia film - Prince Caspian. In case you don't remember (it was such a forgettable movie after all), watch the trailer and see where they are at 0:45:

It seems only in Narnia can kids run through the cove as in reality the place is cordoned off and declared unstable.

My experience continues after the jump.

31 May 2011

Auckland Town Hall

The Auckland Town Hall is not the current town hall. Rather, it has been converted into an events centre. I came here to watch a comedy show during the recently-concluded NZ Comedy Festival 2011.

I'll be sharing more of these photosynths in the future - they were taken using my >iPod Touch 4 with the excellent free Microsoft Photosynth app. I'm still blown away by how well it makes use of the iPod's hardware to stitch together such awesome panoramas.

(You'll need to install Microsoft Silverlight, a small free plugin)

14 May 2011

Whitianga, Coromandel

Whitianga was my next stop after sleepy Thames, and it was the most enjoyable leg of that trip. Fronted by the beautiful Mercury Bay, Whitianga and its neighbour Hahei is a popular base to explore the highlights of the Coromandel - Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach.

Whitianga itself has plenty of holiday homes ('bachs' in Kiwi slang - short for bachelor home) and a marina for boaties to park their sails:

It doesn't have much in the way of natural attractions besides Mercury Bay itself. However, all it takes is a 5 minute ferry ride across the mouth of the harbour to get easy walking access to some stunning scenery of the region.

Map of area across Whitianga

Ferry services: $2 adult each way

Photos of the ferry and some of the places mentioned in the map is after the jump.

06 May 2011

Driving License

Note: This is in the series of blog posts I wrote about my preparation to move to New Zealand. Although I've been in Auckland for 4 months, I wish to complete the series in the next post. The original date stamps will give you an idea of how time-consuming migration takes. The 'New Zealand' tag will bring up all related posts.

[Originally written 23/12/2010]
You don't actually need an International Driving Permit to drive in New Zealand. Your current driving license is valid for up to 1 year as long as it has not expired. The other condition is that it must be in English, failing which, you need to provide an acceptable English translation.

For Malaysians, the easiest and cheapest way to do so is to get an official translation from JPJ. Firstly, prepare a photocopy of your IC and driving license, both front and back. Then, at any JPJ branch, ask for the translation application form from the enquiry counter (it's where you get a queue number).

Inform the officer at the enquiry counter once you've filled in the single page form and he/she will direct you to a staff member who will check your forms and take your payment of RM10. That's it! It will be ready for you in half a working day.

[End of original post]

Since I came here and started driving, I've mulled the idea of getting a NZ driving license. The benefits: lower car insurance excess ($400 less!) and it's a valid proof of age ID (as opposed to using your passport).

Unfortunately, I'm not from one of the "lucky" countries who can convert their driving license to a full NZ license. Oh no, Malaysians have to retake the full exam - both road code and practical driving test. This will cost about $200 in fees alone, and I'm not willing to spend that time and effort!

In my original post I mentioned that foreign driving licenses are valid for 12 months in New Zealand. I found a loophole, as explained by the NZ Transport Agency agent - the 12 months validity resets itself every time I enter NZ. So as long as I leave NZ and reenter it every 12 months, my license is good to go again!

05 May 2011

Review: Gateway Backpackers, Thames

I stayed 2 nights at Gateway Backpackers when I was in Thames, and I found this to be a cozy homely place with one pitfall.


  • Situated right next to the Information Centre and the bus stop for InterCity and NakedBus coaches.
  • Free use of washing machine
  • Nice sun deck for those lazy summer days
  • Very reasonable rates

  • No locks on dorm rooms. As the reception is located in a separate building, thieves could easily slip in unnoticed, not that you'd expect many offenders in a place like Thames. Still.

More photos after the break:

04 May 2011

Costs of Moving to NZ

This is in the final post in the series I wrote about my preparation to move to New Zealand. The 'New Zealand' tag will bring up all related posts.

Since Day 1 I've kept a running total of how much it cost me to fulfill my dream of moving here. Of course I've spent much more the moment I touched Auckland soil, but this was the bare minimum to get me here in the first place. This post is really only useful for Malaysians.

Note: I omitted airfare, but in case you're interested I paid RM3035 for a one-way MAS ticket (it was the peak post-Christmas period). You'll fare better with budget airlines and off-peak journeys.

Certificate of Good Conduct
Commissioner of Oath to verify application form (RM4/page) x 4 = RM16
Postal Order to "Akauntan Negara Malaysia" = RM20.50
Pos Express A4 envelope as return envelope = RM4.50
Pos Daftar mail to the Foreign Ministry = RM2.50

NZQA Qualifications Assessment*
Apply course structure from INTI = RM24
NZQA International Qualification Assessment (NZ$770) = RM1750.00
UPS Express Saver delivery = RM89

Silver Fern Job Search Visa
Online application fee (NZ$200) = RM460.00
UPS Express Saver passport delivery to receiving office = RM50
Return courier fee = SGD20 = RM50

Medical Checkup = RM260.00

Passport photos = RM17
Passport renewal = RM300
English translation of driver's license = RM10
Parcel shipment by sea (15kg) = RM81.10

* Depending on the visa you are applying and where your tertiary qualifications are obtained from, you may not need to incur this cost.

03 May 2011

80% Winter Mode

While the northern hemisphere celebrates spring and all things life-giving, we on the other side of the world are bucking up for winter.

Here are 3 ways my habits have changed:
  1. I'm using a Thermos flask to keep hot drinking water. I avoid keeping water in plastic drinking bottles as it gets cold too fast. And I've been drinking more tea than usual - my preference is green tea or rooibos tea.
  2. I bought a hot water bottle (a.k.a. hot water bags)! They're now selling it for about $6 and I'm actually impressed it keeps the heat well through the night. Starts off being too hot to touch, but by 4am (early chill) it's perfect to place on the chest. My electric blanket has also been switched to Level 2 (out of 3 possible heat levels).
  3. I'm skipping morning showers. Instead I fill a small plastic tub with warm water and use a face towel to wipe up. Only thing missing is a white "Good Morning" towel to give me a nostalgic tingle! (My fingers and toes are still tingling, but from the cold and not nostalgia)
  4. Credit: Little Thoughts

28 April 2011

Random: Self-cleaning toilets

These toilets are pretty cool. When unoccupied, it can clean itself. To get the toilet seat you have to press a button. A hatch opens up and the toilet seat is placed for you, all clean and disinfected.

There's also a time lime to using the toilet. When your 10 minutes is up, the door opens automatically...

25 April 2011

Thames, Coromandel

After spending 2 nights at Hamilton, I continued my journey via a 2 hour van ride (Tairua Bus Company, purchased via NakedBus) to Thames, the gateway to the Coromandel Peninsula. Most people pass through Thames without much thought, but I spent a couple of nights here due to the arrangement of my bus tickets.

Which was just as well as the rain that hounded Hamilton followed me here, so I had a terrible time moving about. That is still saying much, as Thames is a really small town with 2 parallel main streets. Where it really shines is the number of heritage buildings - I felt transported back to the gold rush days when I walk amongst the old buildings. Check them out!

More photos after the jump.