Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Journey of life

Being open minded helps us live a more enriched life. Being open to new experiences shapes our personality, and traveling spurs just that: We open-up. We approach new people, we listen to them and we embrace their thoughts. We move away from the well-known paths. We activate our curiosity. As open minded people, we cherish variety and diversity in our day-to-day life; the more we travel the more we crave novelty. If we have experienced openness once, we start wanting more. 

This is definitely something beautiful that I read today and would love to contribute my thoughts to this. The above statements stand true and I feel it is a great initiative taken by Lufthansa#SayYesToTheWorld to kindle this feeling in all those travellers for whom travel has always given a new perspective and has helped in looking at the world in a better way. 




Before I talk about what impact travel has has on me I would like to quote the following lines which happen to be my favourite :


“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” 

The very concept of travel was introduced only post 7 years in my life. Hailing from a small town like Jamshedpur, where we had a huge close knit family within a 5 kilometre vicinity, we never had the need to travel to any place beyond the city's limits. Life was quite fulfilling and content. The joy of going to my maternal grandparents' place during summer and winter vacations was what the travel was limited too. So, when I had the opportunity to take my first train journey, to a city called 'Madras'(Chennai) which was 1702 kilometres, my happiness knew no bounds. I was excited and as happy as any child could get. This journey was going to be more interesting because for the first time I would have a real story to tell - I would have a real essay to write post my vacations. All this while, I had written essays describing about my summer vacation based on what I read in Tinkle, Champak and any other regular story books which were a craze in the 90s. The time to travel in most iconic Tata-Alleppey express came sooner that I had expected. As any inquisitive, naive, innocent and playful child I was also deeply engrossed in absorbing the routine life that revolved around travelling by a train. It was as simple as waiting for long hours at the station because we always wanted to be an hour before the train would arrive. We spent time buying magazines, looking at the porters, interacting with the vendors, tasting the traditional snacks as the train made its course through different states, reading books, listening to stories, observing others, lying on the top berth and doing even the most boring tasks like counting the spokes on the ceiling fan, staring at the ceiling lights till our eyes got tired and we fell asleep, counting the number of stations that we had crossed, constantly nudging our parents and asking about the time left, forcing mom to open the tiffin( packed food) box for a two and half day long journey, getting to make new friends, answering queries from the elders, fighting for simple things like who would get to sit at the window seat, waving at locals randomly as the train chugged through various villages and cities and then repeating the same routine again and again till the destination arrived. These moments will be etched in every child's memories forever, just as mine. It was my first hand experience about the real life. It was just the stepping stone to looking at the world outside the map printed in our text books. Recently such precious memories of the nostalgic train journey experiences were shared by Paper Boat (Drinks and memories)with wonderful illustrations that pulled a string in everyone's heart.


As I grew up and started understanding about life a little more, developed my intellect a bit more, travel started becoming more interesting. Such was a visit to the Science City, Calcutta (Kolkata) with my cousins which made me attached more to the subject-'Science'. During this journey I realised that there was something in the old world charm of the city which made me feel so attached to it. The steamer boat ride on the Hoogly river, going around the city in a tram, taking the first metro built in the country, having tender coconut water at Babu Ghat, shopping in Behala, contemplating about the history of the Victoria Memorial or having chilli guava outside the Eden Gardens ; everything gave me a sense of pride that I was able to witness something which I had only read or heard about so far. At that age, I never knew how to judge people or to understand about the world but exploration in itself gave me a sense of connection with the real world. Seeing the lesser privileged I felt lucky being born in a family where we were able to afford good food, water, clothing and shelter.
I started becoming mature. Life moved on and so did I. When it came to travelling to Darjeeling and Gangtok for a school excursion I understood what it was like to travel without family. We were randomly put in different rooms with friends whom I hardly spoken to in school. It gave me a sense of handling small amount of money which parents had given with care, only for me to enjoy and experience life in a way which they hadn't seen when they were my age.  There were teachers with us to guide but the sense of responsibility came in automatically. That journey taught me how to bear extremely cold weather conditions, when it was freezing cold and snowing at Lake Tsomgo( Changu Lake). I realised then that, not always - do we get very friendly people around and our favourite delicious dishes served (exclusively made by mom), so we need to adjust to what life throws at us. It was the first lesson I learn after travelling. It was an age where I started understanding the meaning behind travel. It was not just about travelling by train, eating, sleeping and looking around but learning every bit from the exploration that I set my foot on. I started loving every part of the journey from then on. I started observing people around me, 'life' in itself, which was so full of opportunities and options.

That's when I took my step from home bidding adieu to my parents for a journey where I was all alone. It was my first journey alone when I went to college and got the first taste of hostel life. Innumerable journeys home sometimes alone and sometimes with friends gave me confidence to travel without fear. I learnt things the hard way too just like I mastered the skill of haggling with the porters and auto rickshaw drivers, learnt to be kind, patient and considerate, developed a sense of compassion, learnt to be responsible for my own well being, acquired the art of handling money with care, read a lot and gained knowledge not just about academics but also expanded my knowledge about the world.


Travel made me a better writer. It gave my imagination wings. I could sit for hours at the railway station or the bus stand and observe people around. It made me think in a better way. I started building stories on the life of the common. I could feel connected to many around me. I started studying people and their nature. It opened a new leash of life for me. Suddenly I had so many topics to write about and discuss. I found that writing about my thoughts could help me nurture my creativity.

During this phase I explored parts of Chennai, Vellore, Pondicherry, Manipal, Udupi, Mangalore, Gokarna, Mumbai, Kochi etc.

While I was moving away from college and was ready to face the world as a salaried employee, the transition in my life was very evident. I had to move to a new city, Bengaluru (Bangalore), try and settle here, look for shelter, food and try to establish my niche in my workplace. It was a challenge in itself. Travel was a part of my recruitment too because the hospital which had given me a position requested me to come down to Bengaluru for an interview and had also arranged for my travel from Jamshedpur. A girl from the Steel city had come all the way to the Garden city and that was the beginning of my journey in Namma Bengaluru which found me my life partner, helped me find a career that I had aimed for and also helped me in slowly adapting to this city and coming to stage of calling it mine. It was the beginning of my 'Bengaluru days'. The travel to this city made me fluent in Kannada, the local language here. Travel, again had made me learn a new language. I made new friends, I explored places on my own, I understood the fast paced life of the city and it made me a stronger and a better person day by day.

My travel during the initial two years after joining work was only limited to frequent visits home and Chennai for a wedding function. Additionally I got a chance to set foot in Nagpur, where my engagement ceremony was held. The function was fixed so quickly that we didn't have much time to plan and couldn't get air conditioned tickets for our family of 15 who were supposed to go for the engagement function. We ended up getting seats in sleeper compartments in the scorching hot summer season. There were many unreserved bookings done in our compartment for some reason and the situation was horrible. There wasn't even enough space to walk till the washroom. We had to walk in the opposite direction crossing the coach in order to find a clean washroom. The next day was my engagement function and here we were split in different coaches, having sleepless nights because of the crowd and the terrible heat. I realised something that day; Life is not always a bed of roses and times when we need a bed of roses the most, we will be denied the maximum. It is upon us to take such small situations as a learning for our future. This pretty much sums up the first phase of my travel.

What I will be talking about next is one such travel journey which I took up for a lifetime with my life partner. He showed me the world in a different light. He made travel a learning experience for me. I had never imagined going to places which I later went to. 'I' got replaced by 'WE' , post this phase. My husband is a well travelled man so his perspective of the world was much mature than mine, mainly because he had travelled to various parts of the country. We took our first step together as a couple to travel in and around the world. Our first international trip was to Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi) and Singapore. We both were very naive back then. My husband had planned most of it as I was a little skeptical about planning an international travel. He got most of things in places, right from ticket booking, VISA application and the hotel booking. I went there trusting him completely without any preconceived notions or any expectations about the place.

We learnt from our mistakes on our very first international travel. We forgot to split our luggage equally so that the permitted weight of the luggage was within limits for each traveller. We lost a lot of money in the first stage. Not having much preparation about the kind of expenses being encountered, we both were dejected even before we began our journey. But, we consoled ourselves and decided to learn from our mistake. Being eggetarians, we assumed that we would be able to manage food in a foreign country where the major population was dependent only on a non-vegetarian diet , but only when we reached there did we realise that even coconut rice with small fish is considered vegetarian in Malaysia. We had already spent a bomb in paying the chauffeur to take us from the airport to our hotel. Had we been smart travellers we could have taken the metro which could take us closer to our hotel. We learnt about it later after spending a lot of money on day1. We couldn't even choose to buy packed chips as they were also made of fish. We starved for an entire day until we found a vegetarian hotel in Batu caves, KL. It was the longest I had ever starved. We both were on a water fast for more than a day. It taught us to do our research better and enquire about places in a better way before coming to a new place. But despite all this, there was a sense of togetherness which we felt. Travel taught us to face difficult situations calmly. We enjoyed every bit of our travel and quick learners that we are we took a metro back to the hotel from Batu caves. We learnt some terms in Malay and tried to talk to the locals to understand about the place in a better way. It was another skill added to our cap. From then on, we started travelling better, we could manage to even rent a self drive car in Langkawi which helped us in navigating the island in a better way. We were able to find an Indian restaurant as well after interacting with a local. We explored the local places of sightseeing on foot just to understand the people, the culture and their life. Our first adventure experience was at Langkawi, where we tried our hand at Snorkelling. It was a funny experience, yet something which we cherish till date. The kind of life we had observed in KL and Langkawi was totally contrasting to the mechanical, monotonous and busy life in Simgapore. We even learnt something like escalator etiquette in the Changi International Airport. We were extremely careful about our luggage as even the hand baggage was weighed before we boarded the flight. We took the MTS rail to go around places as we didn't find anything interesting to do. We were not the kind of travellers who wanted to go to the exotic places in the city. We took the MTS rail and went to all the places where the metro could take, tasted cuisines, found good places to hang out, observed the people around and spent our time fruitfully. Take home message for us was that if we travel smartly, we can enjoy well.

Snapshots of Langkawi





Post this travel, life opened numerous travel opportunities for us as a couple as we were into professional candid wedding photography. We were invited to places like Chennai, Hyderabad, Palakkad, Mumbai, Dhanbad, Delhi, Allahabad, Bhubaneshwar, Varanasi and Lucknow. This made us go through a phase as a team where we could be a part of other couple's joy and celebration. We were able to contribute a lot to various couples with our candid photography team work. During this phase of travel I learnt about various wedding rituals after seeing different cultures, made new friends across the country, started developing a lot of interest in photography, learnt few tips and tricks from my husband and took this as a great learning phase of my life.

We took short trips around the city too where we drove around with family. I trained myself to drive in highways and learnt the rules of driving in the city. While driving to places around Bengaluru such as Coorg, Sakleshpur, Wayanad, Cochin, Alleppy, Trivandrum, Varkala, Goa and Palakkad, I got a sense of freedom. It was amazing to drive along the countryside, stop by the roadside enjoy the local cuisines, talk to folks around and also travel smartly. We chose home-stays over hotels in some places where we could interact with our hosts who were the native of the place and we could get to stay in their property. One such visits to a home-stay in Wayand gave us a chance to eat food prepared by the locals who could get some income with such initiatives. We were also a part of a bamboo making workshop in Wayanad where were taught to make something as simple as a bamboo pen. Such experiences were something which we both longed for.

We  got our first hand experience of Airbnb when we stayed in Granny's Inn,Varanasi. It was the cleanest places in Varanasi. It was a beautiful homestay, old yet well maintained and run by two grannies who were full of life and extremely enterprising. There were an inspiration for me, who made me understand that there is so much we can do in this one lifetime that we have been bestowed with. We just need to believe in ourselves and work hard and be smart. We chose a lot of Airbnb's for our future stays which made us come closer to the place and understand about the place better. We were slowly becoming environment friendly travellers. We advised other travellers on the way if they were seen throwing garbage on the road.

In Nepal

En-route Coorg

Paragliding in Nepal

Life's biggest lesson was learnt during our travel to Ladakh with a group of close friends. Apart from exploring the magical place we could also feel the difficulties that the locals had to face each day due to the drastic climatic conditions. A land where places can be completely inaccessible. We had doubled our respect for the army after seeing their dedication and work to maintain peace in such areas. Hats off to BRO for maintaining the roads so well and building the world's second largest motorable road. We were rescued and sheltered by nomads in Ladakh on a dark rainy night when there was a snowstorm. We were with god sent angels that day. The people are so humble and honest that our hearts melted seeing their innocence. The way they treated us when we got stuck amidst a snowstorm without expecting any favour in return or even money, is something we all have to learn. There are also such helpful souls existing in this world. The more we went around Ladakh, the more we understood that people here are tough in physique as they can bear even extreme weather conditions, they are physically very active and their hearts are as soft as they could be.

In Ladakh- On the way to Lamayuru

In Varanasi- Boat ride along the ghats


Pangong Tso

Near Tso Moriri after a snow storm

Post Ladakh, we wanted to explore another part of the world so we chose New Zealand - The land of the Kiwis. This time our international travel was a smarter move as we chose to drive around North and South Island. I fell in love with the place the moment I started driving. The people, the roads, the infrastructure, the landscapes were something we were just so impressed about. The beautiful landscapes were a treat to the eyes and the cleanliness around made it look like paradise. It was not just about travelling in a first world country but also understanding how conscious the Kiwis were about their culture and their environment. While we were about to start for our NZ trip we heard that many places in NZ had been affected by a high magnitude earthquake. We felt shuddered when we heard about this. The places where were going to had not been affected but it was still a scary feeling that we had. After going to NZ we were surprised to know that the locals there are always aware that earthquakes can happen anytime as NZ is a very earthquake prone country. We learnt from the people there that life has to move on despite natural calamities. We learnt how locals took the initiative to pick up garbage thrown around by anyone and make it a point to put it in the dustbin.We chose many Airbnb's here too. One such Airbnb was hosted by a couple who were the friendliest of all. It was only after we left from NZ did we find out that the most humble family, whose house we had stayed in, belonged to ex- Olympic 1976 Hockey Gold medalist winners. They were our new found friends who visited us when we came back to India. We played host to this wonderful couple who taught us what simplicity was. This very day I decided to build a dream home and become an Airbnb host where I could invite people from all over the world to visit our city and place. I do not know when the travel bug had bitten me. 

Rangitoto Volcano, NZ

Cathedral Cove, NZ


Drive along the Coromandel, North Island, NZ

Wai-o-Tapu - Active volcano in Rotorua, NZ
En-route Queenstown, NZ


The scenic South Island, NZ

Franz Josef Glacier, South Island, NZ
With Barry Maister, Jan Maister in Christchurch, NZ 
With Jan Maister and Selwyn Maister at our home in Bengaluru

The next travel experience was in North East where we visited Guwahati,Kaziranga, Dhekiajuli(Assam),Dirang, Bomdila (Arunachal Pradesh), Shillong, Cherapunji, Mawlynnong and Langkawet ( Meghalaya). We stayed mainly in home-stays spoke at length with our hosts who were native of each place, got to know about their culture and understood the hardships that they had to go through. They had been neglected as a community for a very long time as the north eastern states were not concentrated upon for any kind of development for many years. Only over the past 5 years the development was phenomenal. The people were honest, hardworking and living in difficult circumstances in few places, yet they had always adorned a smile on their face. The presence of the army was felt throughout our journey to Bomdila from the time we entered Arunachal Pradesh. The terrains were extremely tough where we had a terrible time driving. The locals were breaking boulders and rocks with hand tools so that roads could be made. Technology hadn't reached many of the villages. The villages were so clean in Meghalaya that we all have to take inspiration from. Their hospitality is beyond expectations. They are extremely friendly and innocent. We could see the tension in Arunachal Pradesh when we observed numerous army camps on the way but they were needed for protecting our country. Salute to the brave soldiers who protect us always. 

The circle of life- Monastery in Dirang, Arunachal Pradesh
Finally getting to capture the Milky Way in Kaziranga, Assam
Cherapunji, Meghalaya
Floating boat in Dawki, Meghalaya
Shillong- The Scotland of the East

Sualkuchi, Assam ( Manchester of the East)

Another such striking situation was observed on our trip to Srinagar and Gulmarg, Jammu and Kashmir. There is so much army presence in and around there that one cannot imagine the fear that people live in. But, life goes on smoothly despite these problems. People are extremely friendly and highly known for their hospitality. One cannot imagine how many innocent lives are lost to futile war each day. It is indeed a paradise on earth, but under the protection and scanner of the army and other opposing forces. A very sensitive topic to discuss upon but what we realised after going there is that truth is not what we read in newspapers or watch on television. Truth is way beyond what we see. Probably, all they want is peace but a kind of peace even they don't know how to attain for their city. We were having a casual conversation with a Shikara boatman who was blaming religious differences as a major cause of the regular fights. We saw messages written on every street wall by unknown groups but beyond all this there is a regular life that normal people are living and trying to build which goes futile as they are trying harder and harder to restore peace.


In Gulmarg, Jammu & Kashmir

A walk on the snow on the Apharwat Peak, Gulmarg

Shikara on Nigeen Lake, Srinagar, J&K

Travelling had opened my mind to variety of experiences which each time I am absorbing. Travelling has changed the way I think. Political turmoils leads to fear in travellers because of which they think twice before going to places. Tourism industry is a boost to any country's revenue in itself. Let us all be conscious, smart, environment friendly travellers who pledge to preserve the beauty of the surroundings they visit and also create awareness among other travellers to travel responsibly so that we can make this place an even better place to live in. Let us all join hands in making this world a green and clean place to live in. Let us all fight global warming. If it affects our ecosystem there will be no snow fall to witness, no water to drink and no clean air to breathe. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Kia Ora & Welcome to Aotearoa- North Island

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” 

This quote answers the question- Why travel to New Zealand when there such are beautiful unexplored places in India too? 

Yd and I asked ourselves this question too while we were planning our second international travel. We have spent more than a year in just thinking about an overseas trip but hadn't taken time to plan it seriously until one day we realized that it is high time . There was a major last minute change in plan regarding our travel destination.That's when the whole idea of travelling to New Zealand came up, exactly how this island nation rose from the Pacific Ocean years ago. 

This trip wouldn't have been possible without Pick Your Trail. I liked the whole idea of someone helping us to curate a personalized travel plan which could suit every traveller's taste. They made our travel plan happen with a very short notice and made a skeleton framework of our trip itinerary which could fit in our budget and also the few days we could give for a holiday. 

'Kia Ora' , which means be well/healthy in Maori language. That is how a Kiwi will greet you. The Maoris are the early Polynesian settlers of New Zealand who are responsible for the development of the unique culture and language in New Zealand. It is the initial Maori settlers who led to the discovery of a lot of scenic spots and places in the country. They started naming every place simultaneously as and when they discovered; which is why we have such sweet sounding Maori names of places in New Zealand despite the European influence.

Aotearoa( The Maori name for New Zealand) - A small beautiful country in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean which is divided into North Island( Te Ika-a-Māui)and South Island (Te Waipounamu) by the Cook Strait. This is a land of volcanoes, glaciers, numerous clean lakes, mountain ranges, thick lush- green national parks, beautiful long stretch of scenic routes through the countryside, fresh air, sparse population and of course the lovely Kiwis. 100%Pure New Zealand gives all the details that travellers would like to know. 

For a change, we decided to ditch the traditional research  that we carry out about the place and just went ahead with the basic plan we were provided with by PYT. It was a travel plan with minimal expectations which helped us a lot. Although we had kept in mind the cities we were going to stay in and had our accommodation sorted out , we did not get into the finer details about the places to visit there. We could have done a little more research if only we had so much time in hand before planning this trip.






The 15 hour long journey from Bangalore to Auckland and back ate into the travel hours we had for our New Zealand trip. It was a nostalgic feeling to see the board saying -Selmat Datang, at the Kuala Lumpur Airport, Malaysia. 




     





So, we spent a nice time clicking cheesy airport selfies and I was posing with a cute teddy. How I wish I could have carried it back with me to India! We were welcomed at the Auckland airport by this huge statue which can give one a feel of being in the 'Home of Middleearth'.

We landed at the Auckland Airport, got our local sim cards, topped them with internet connection, picked up the travel guide pamphlets and went to Budget travels for renting our pre-booked car to travel in the North Island. If one has a valid Indian driving license and one can drive well, then New Zealand is the place to enjoy the driving experience. At least, I felt that way. Never had I fathomed when I had been to a driving school that I would get a chance to drive along such scenic routes. The experience was surreal.  We had asked for a manual driven car but ended up getting an automatic car. Just a simple lesson given by a Morgan Freeman look-alike man from Budget rentals helped us in getting over the fear of driving an automatic car. I enjoyed driving it a lot, although I felt I had better control over the vehicle while driving in the South Island where we had rented out a manual car. You can see me posing with the beautiful Toyota Yaris. I so loved the feel of the bright blue car against the colourful scenic surroundings of the North Island. 


Wish I could drive with such ease in Namma Bengaluru :-(
The route we took to go around place in the North Island


                 Auckland- Hahei-Coromandel- Thames- Cambridge-Waitomo-Rotorua

We covered this route in 4 days which obviously could never do justice to the place around but we had to make the best of what we had at hand. We were like backpackers, moving everyday in our car from one place to the other. The maximum time that we spent was in the car driving and taking a quick pit-stop to visit locations of interest on the way. 

























Our first stop was in Auckland for half a day, just enough to relax and get over the jet lag. We stayed at an architecturally beautiful and very homely Airbnb stay 'FANTAIL ROOM - MILFORD MANOR' in Shakespeare Road, Auckland.  The place was around an hour drive from Auckland airport but with google maps in hand we did not have any problem in locating the place.  It was the best welcome one could expect in a new country. 


That evening of Day 1 we spent by walking down the streets and lanes appreciating the calmness around and also wondering as to why all the restaurants were closed when it was just 7:00 PM and the streets were deserted even though when there was ample light in the sky. Thankfully, a Kashmiri restaurant was open where we could get a  warm and delicious meal. To be able to find an Indian restaurant which served vegetarian meal was a very promising start to our trip. We walked around a bit exploring lanes and by-lanes appreciating the exquisite architecture of the houses around. When it was finally dark at around 10:00 PM we decided to head back and have a comfortable sleep. 







Milford Manor- In conversation with our host Heather















So we mastered the art of taking good selfies after this trip
Heather- Our wonderful host
                                                 
Heather's house was just perfect for us to get over our tiredness and be ready for the next day's long drive. I loved the way she called ' Archaana'. It was so sweet, in fact everyone in NZ called me that way, so much that I started introducing myself that way to the others.

Day 2 - The bright sun was up sooner than we had expected. Waking up to the beautiful view from the garden and sitting by the window enjoying the mirth and the calmness in a beautiful New Zealand morning was something that I miss even now. After having a quick vegetarian breakfast( Uhhh... such a relief to find vegetarian food everywhere without much difficulty) and interacting with our host Heather, we headed to Lake Pupuke, which is a heart shaped fresh water lake that occupies a volcanic crater and  provides  drinking water for the residents there. 

Breakfast served to us was just the way it was told. Museli, fresh lime juice made from the huge lemons we picked from the garden, milk, multi-grain toasted bread, lots of fresh fruits like kiwi, huge succulent grapes, fresh oranges, and strawberry and of course coffee. It was nice to prepare breakfast although it killed a bit of our time. But I feel that only because of getting the freedom to prepare breakfast with our mini kitchen ware and the ingredients provided, we felt at home. 

Takapuna Beach  was clean, beautiful so serene in that bright morning. We could get a beautiful view of the volcanic islandRangitoto from here.  If we had an extra day to spend in Auckland we would have surely made a visit to Rangitoto Island and also another day trip to Waiheke Islandmainly known for its beautiful beaches and the vineyards.  There are timed  ferry tours which take travellers to these places from DevonportIn order to take a quick look of the city we took a short ferry ride from Devonport.  To explore the city one needs time as there are many things to do in Auckland. One could go to the Art Gallery, attend the Maori cultural performance at the Auckland War Memorial, Sky Jump and Sky walk from the SkyTower etc... There wasn't anything we could do being in the city for just half an hour, so we decided to head back, pack our bags and leave for Hahei, Coromandel. Our next Airbnb stay was waiting for us. 



Takapuna Beach, Auckland



Lake Pupuke,Takapuna, Auckland



Yd- pointing at the Rangitoto Island as seen from Takapuna Beach



View from the ferry











This is how the roads were all along to Hahei. 

Absolutely flawless roads, clear road signs, hardly anyone seen breaking traffic rules even on highways, rarely get to hear the constant honking which is seen in India and if you are slow everyone behind waits for you to give way at the slow bay area. There are designated places with roads signs that inform travellers about scenic locations of interest that they should look out for. All cars go speeding and only reduce speed when the sign boards tells them to do so. We were in awe of the roads and the scanty population that helped the government in implementing such fine work and road rules. Every traveller is handed over the ' Driving in NZ' rule book when they approach the car rentals. In NZ they also follow left side driving on the road we did not face much problem in adhering to simple rules and believing that the others would also follow suit. Apparently, everyone does follow road traffic rules here while driving no matter how empty a road might be. 

There were huge pine trees for a pretty long stretch during our journey. Travelling to the Coromandel route is a must do activity during NZ winters. 


Spotted while we were approaching closer to Hahei



The Alderman Islands seen behind


Clicked while beginning our walk towards Cathedral Cove

























Since the route was so beautiful we stopped whenever and wherever possible to click pictures and relish our moments. We started in the morning and reached only late afternoon.  We stayed at the Hahei Gateway 2, where  our host Adair and Rick were quite accommodating when we informed them about our delay. In fact, the moment we reached the home stay in Hahei, Adair was kind enough to fix a Hahei beach explorer activity and also suggested us to head out for a short walk to the Cathedral Cove before it got too late. They suggested us a specific time at night when there would be low tide so that we could visit the hot water beach. There were too many things to do and we had very less time. We were also starving because the breakfast and the mid-way snacks which we had was not enough to subside our hunger pangs much. Since everyone closes down early here in the evening, our plan was to complete dinner by 6:00 PM. We had timed our plans for the next few hours. Hahei, had already begun to surprise us. Our hosts were one of the most chilled out Kiwis from Hahei. It was amazing to be able to get such hosts who could make our one day holiday extremely worthwhile. The typical accent in which they spoke brought out the mirth from within. This was the only home-stay among the ones we had selected, had pets in their property. I was initially skeptical about choosing this place considering that I am not comfortable with pets around. Thankfully nothing of this bothered us during the stay. The location of this Airbnb was perfect. We could take a short drive to the parking lot to start the Cathedral Cove walk and Hahei explorer and also the way to the Hot water beach at night. It was neatly kept and perfectly placed for us. Google map again brought us to exact address without any problem. Their house had a huge camper van parked which made it evident that they were the cool travellers. We liked the concept of hiring camper vans and going around to places. We saw many using camper vans and parking them at designated places which were meant only for camper van parking. These parking areas had bio-toilets around which made the process of camping more clean. The strict laws which they had a great hand in maintaining the cleanliness around. Apparently it was the Green Party which had a great hand in bringing in such awareness and forming strict rules.

Their house felt warm and welcoming because of the open and simple architecture. It was simple yet beautiful. The doors were made of transparent glass everywhere. I can describe this as a very beach like stay with sophistication. The room was small but adequate and well equipped. They did not provide breakfast but we could cook something using the microwave. Their pet dog Bao was cute compared to the other huge ferocious one. I was relieved because none of these pets bothered me. I remember this dialogue of Adair when she saw me freaking out at the sight of two dogs running towards me and ready to smell and lick me. She said in her very typical accent,' He won't hurt a fly......' 


This was from in front of our room- The common sit out

Our cute room



Our car parked

Our room was the one of the left

That's Yd who couldn't get enough of this place even after half an hour

This is the camper van parked outside their house













We parked our vehicle and headed over to the Cathedral Cove walking track. It took us around 1 hour thirty minutes to reach the Cathedral Cove which was the last stop on this route. There were multiple bays which we one could visit while walking to the main cove. The view was scenic and the walk was perfect with  bright shining sun clear sky and breathtaking views. The walk to the Cathedral Cove took almost an hour or two. To reach the Cathedral Cove we had to cross  Gemstone Bay, Stingray Bay, Champagne bay and the Mares Leg Cove. The Gemstone bay has a Snorkel trail which attracts a lot of marine adventure enthusiast. The Maori name for Cathedral Cove is Motauhi which means "a place to debate in". Above the Cathedral Archway was once a Pa site which is where local Maori gathered to discuss matters of Te Whanganui-a-Hei (the great bay of Hei). Cathedral Cove is also called as Te Whanganui-A-Hei. The marine reserve was started in 1992 where there are rich and varied habitats within its boundaries and the reserve is helping to restore, increase and maintain the diversity in this marine environment. The entire area is maintained by the Department of Conservation. 




The first view as we came to the Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove



The evening view in Cathedral Cove




The best part of the day was yet to unfold. We went to the Pour House for dinner which was at around 6:30 PM and we were few of the last customers in the restaurant. The evening breeze had a slight chill which was perfect to enjoy a warm meal after a tiring day. We walked back to our room, got ready and drove to Hot water beach Hahei at around 9:00 PM carrying the spade which Rick had given us. It was a funny situation for us ; we had worn shorts with slippers, had a thick rain-jacket on,  warm skull caps and we were walking to a beach at 9:00 PM in pitch darkness with a spade in hand to enjoy in a hot water beach. We used our mobile lights to spot the location where all we could see was people in small groups huddled together in one place lazing around, lying down and enjoying the hot water springs. We were a little sad thinking that we had missed that crucial time of the low tide. But little did we know that the magic of that night was yet to unfold. We found a place for us where we made a huge moist sand mound and sat on it barefoot dipping our feet in a pit  full of cold sea water. We dug a bit with the spade when warm water started coming in slowly. In few minutes the temperature of the water increased and our legs were dipped in adequately warm water. Then the sea water suddenly started retreating and hot water started replacing it. Our feet were soaked in warm mud and suddenly hot water seeped in. It was so hot that we were doing a hop-skip and jump unable to stand there even more that a second. Finally, we found the perfect spot to sit at around 10:30 PM  where the hot water and the sea water started mixing. The temperature was just perfect and the place was perfect for us to sit in the open wearing raincoat and cap because the breeze was too cold to bear. It was a natural pedicure with warm sand around and water just enough to soak our feet till the ankle. Yd had set his tripod and camera by then and was getting his timed shots searching for something that could make his day worthwhile. Slowly, people started moving away and we were on our own. The sky had cleared up and it was pitch dark with a million stars scattered around. Nothing could beat the 360 degree view that we were getting. I had never seen so many stars in the sky. The last time I saw many stars in the sky was only in Kakkabe, Coorg. This was seeming just out of the world. 

It was that breezy and chilly night as I sat on a mound of mud with Yd holding his camera bag and gear under the starry sky enjoying the natural pedicure sitting in the hot water beach when Yd noticed a bright light where the stars seemed more concentrated and the light seemed bright at only one place. He felt that it could be the milky way which was ready to pop up any time. We waited and waited for almost an hour and more, downloaded the App for finding out about the position of the stars and constellations sitting there, tried finding out the apt spot and it was then that Yd noticed the milky way which was radiating its aura but was stuck to the horizon and had decided not to show its face to the thirsty eyes of the camera and the anxious photographer. This picture was one among those 50 odd pictures that Yd clicked in his attempt to capture the milky way. 


That moment was magical. It was just us, the stars and the lone tree. 


Day3 - The decision to walk to the Cathedral Cove the previous day and take the Hahei Explorer boat tour  the next day morning was a good one we had taken. The walk to Cathedral Cove is a must where we get to spend more time in the cove and also get an experience of the scenic route.  It certainly is a photographer's dream. Hahei Explorer is a timed 1 hour speed boat ride which takes us in the Pacific ocean which travels along 14km and is made of magnificent coastlines. It is a perfect place for Scuba, Snorkeling , fishing( specific to only one small area with prior permit), swimming, exploring the various stalactite and stalagmite formations. People go here for bird watching, enjoying a swim in the ocean, talking a walk along and also for spotting the Orca whales which are a very rare sight. 






This is the mighty Wai Ora Ana blowhole where one can feel the power of  Papatuanuku Mother Earth, Tane God of the forest, and Ranginui Sky Father. 

The Maoris believed that if they came to this place and absorbed the rays of the sun and spent time here it had a healing power in itself. One can feel the power of Papatuanuku Mother Earth, Tane God of the forest, and Ranginui Sky Father in the mighty Wai Ora Ana blowhole. It is a truly magical place. This sea cave is under a gigantic rock cylinder which is 80ft high.

Hahei Explorer boat tour




While we stopped on the way from Hahei to Coromandel 



We spent a couple of hours enjoying in the freezing cold Pacific Ocean after the Hahei explore tour. Adair and Rick were so cool about us walking into our rooms with sand all over. In fact, they suggested that we shouldn't go without having a swim in the Pacific ocean.  The experience was just out of the world, with no one to bother us and no valuables to take care off. We were so relaxed in the beach that we did not want to leave Hahei soon. 
I was enjoying driving this blue beauty

The route all along the Coromandel was so scenic that I was too excited to drive. Yd and I were competing for the steering wheel, just to get the feel of driving on one of the most picturesque routes all along our trip. We were romancing our company, the bright sunny sky with strong chilling breeze and stopping by wherever we wanted. There were hardly people around, which is what made us even more excited. It was a respite to our eyes and our soul to find places with very less people around. Yd picked up some beautiful shells from here, one of them being the Paua shell, which was available for more than 20 NZ dollars. I was lucky to have got a gift from nature directly.  We stopped by at places like these, to have our meal for the day, which was bread slices with cheese and chips. Simple and filling meal with water and fresh fruits. We had to cover a long distance  so we tried hurrying up by around 2:00 PM. We had to reach Cambridge , where our next Airbnb stay was booked.


The beautiful place from where Yd picked up many shells


















We had our Waitomo Glowworm cave expedition booked by PYT beforehand. The advantage of staying in Cambridge was that , it was very near to Waitomo and Rotorua, which was our next destination. It was a quaint little town. After fuelling up our tank we reached our home stay. The Coromandel - Thames route was so captivating that we were delayed by almost 4-5 hours. We reached only by 7:00 PM when all restaurants and shops start closing down in NZ. Our hosts( Will and Narelle) were kind enough to give us the access to the room, despite us getting late. We stayed in their small sleep-out cottage which was cosy and comfortable, just perfect for an overnight stay. Only one Indian restaurant was open at 10:00 PM, NZ timing, Cardamom restaurant which turned out to be a desi restaurant with desi staff . We quickly packed rice, dal and chapatis which were smelling delicious even as they were being packed. The quantity was enough for dinner and the next day's mid-day meal. 

Day 4 - We were quick to get ready in the morning and have nice breakfast cooked and served with love by our host. 

Our beautiful home stay in Cambridge




We enjoyed playing with their son Kepler, did a quick baby shoot and left for Waitomo, which was a forty minutes ride from there. The ride was smooth and since we reached on time, we had enough parking space. The Glowworm Cave experience started and lasted for an hour. What we saw was nothing less that getting into the world of the movie' Avatar'. The experience was phenomenal, with a lady guiding us initially through the age old caves from where the water entered. The name Waitomo, means water Entering A hole in the ground.' It is home to an awesome underground world that has captivated millions of visitors for more than a century. The ancient labyrinth is made of limestone caves and formations. A silent boat tour takes us along the dark caves only to unfold this magic. 

             

So, how does this whole phenomena work?

Arachnocampa Luminosa ( spider-like, light -producing larva) or the Glowworm species, which is unique to New Zealand. It is the larval stage of the two winged insect which gives off the light to attract food in the form of other flying insects. To survive, the glowworm needs a special habitat like humidity- to prevent it from drying out, a sheltered surface to hang from and suspend its sticky, spider-like feeding lines, a calm atmosphere to prevent the lines from tangling, darkness to allow its light to attract food and a plentiful supply of insects to eat. The Waitomo Glowworm caves provides an excellent environment with an abundance of  insects brought inside the cave by the river. These caves have been formed over the last 24 million years , where the landscapes have been formed due to faulting, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Again, this place was discovered by the ancient Maori who was persuaded to explore it once again by an English surveyor, after which slowly it was known to all. 

There is also an Aranui Cave just around this cave, which is also open for exploration. 

                                                


Our tour operator just after the Glowworm cave experience
                          
After having a light snack at the Waitomo cave canteen and picking up our Glowworm cave souvenirs, we kept looking for more options to go around as we had a lot of time in hand. Cambridge was just an hour away and Hobbiton , being so close was not one of those mandates in our travel itinerary. We went to  the Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park, which was one of the better things to do.  After taking a power nap in the car we left for this place, which was just a short drive from the Glowworm cave. The main reason that we came here was to have a closer look at the Kiwi, which is the National bird as well as the most endangered species there. Their population has been depleting so much because of the trouble-making possum's.  The best part of the experience was that I could hold the Kakariki or the parakeet on my palm and allow it to have its feed. One delicate and beautiful experience it was for the day!!! The money we paid was only to watch the Kiwi in its artificially created nocturnal environment and also having the parakeet close to me.  



Once, we were back from Cambridge, we left for Rotorua, which was just an hour and half drive from Cambridge town, Waikato. We wanted to reach there before afternoon so that we go spend time in exploring the place there.  Our accommodation was booked at the Bella Vista Motel, Rotorua ( By PYT), which was really comfortable and good for staying, make light snack like bread-butter- toast, coffee/milk. The room was well equipped with a mini-fridge, a toaster and all the cutlery that we needed. Because of our booking done at the hotel, we also got a 50% discount to visit Wai -O -Tapu, The Thermal Wonderland in Rotorua. It is a part of a scenic reserve administered by the Department of Conservation and has the largest area of surface thermal activity of any hydrothermal system, in the Taupo Volcanic Zone. 

The zone is located right on the edge of the largest volcanic caldera( depression) within the active Taupo volcanic Zone , covering around 18 sq.km. The volcanic activity dates back about 160,000 years. The Wai-O - Tapu stream forms an integral part of the drainage system which later flows into the Waikato river and to the Tasman Sea. Boiling springs and volcanic gases introduce numerous minerals into the water which account for no fish life in the stream. The water is boiling at around 300 degree Celsius. It seemed like a large scale Chemistry Lab with the pungent odour, rotten egg smell of hyrdogen sulfide and a wide range of colours from orange, yellow, green, purple, red-brown to black.

It took us 2-3 hours to go around 25 spots in this place. We were in the last slot for the day, as they close by 6:00 PM in the evening. After rushing through the entire place, we felt satisfied that we were able to cover this place in Rotorua. A must see place to make your five senses come alive :-) 

Before heading back to our hotel, we spent time exploring the Geothermal boiling mud pools of Wai-O-Tapu. With the extremely high thermal activity underneath the liquefied mud was bursting out in spurts, rising and falling in patterns only to amaze the eyes of the spectators. This mud is used as face-pack and had high cosmetic value; t is sold as the Rotorua mud. 

Te-Puia is also a must visit for its hot geysers, but we did not have enough time to go there. Overall, Rotorua was a very interesting place to visit.








Iron oxide deposits on the barks


Artist's palette



                      






Boiling mud pools
                         

























Once , we were done with our visit to Wai-O Tapu, we came back to our hotel, relaxed a bit and went out in search for dinner. The hotel staff had left by 7:00 PM and we were finding it difficult to get something good to eat. We had returned our rental car back to the Budget help desk at the Rotorua airport so we walked around a bit. There was a petrol bunk  with a super market, again run by Indians, which was open 24/7. It was a relief to be able to get coffee, cup cakes, bread, jam and spreads at any time during the night. We found a contact for an Indian restaurant from them and ordered food to our hotel room. The Maharaja Take Away hotel served Indian food in the perfect way. The dal, rice, roti and sabzi provided were delicious enough to satisfy our desi taste buds. 

While we were walking back to our hotel, we suddenly noticed thick smoke outside many of the houses. The smoke was escaping from the drains which were just outside their houses. Initially , we thought it was some insect repellent but when we went close and realized how the odour was , we found that it was nothing but a thermal hot water pool in everyone's house. Many of them had used it to make a natural hot-water pool around and were enjoying the warmth in the cold weather. When in Rotorua, the Polynesian Spa is a must where we can enjoy a relaxed bath in the hot water mineral bath and spa therapy. We were so exhausted by the walk in Wai-O-Tapu, that all we wanted to do was to eat and sleep.We had to take the early morning flight to Christchurch the next day. Air New Zealand's small flight was ready for us the next day to take us to the beautiful South Island of NZ.