Filed under: LIFE & STYLE
Without a doubt NZ offers the good life but more importantly New Zealand as a county reflects my personal values I deeply regard – the freshness permeated in people’s thinking, an open and honest approach to life, and the organisation, efficiency and tidiness ingrained in Kiwi culture. Soon I’d welcome the opportunity to become a naturalised Kiwi. The Philippines, however, will always be home.
Supermarket shopping is getting more and more perplexing these days. For bananas alone, I’m quite amused to see such a selection, to name a few, as ethical bananas from the Philippines, the organic ones from Samoa or simply the plain bonita bananas from Ecuador.
As I moved to the next aisle, I’m offered with more alternative choices such as shade grown coffee beans, fair-trade chocolates, traceable whole milk, free-range pork, cruel-free chooks, cage-free eggs, local beef, green watermelon (no, they’re not necessarily green but they’re the ones which spent the least time on the road which equates to lesser carbon footprint), or organic asparagus. The list goes on, and these of course come at a price.
While I taking a university paper in technology and society a few years back, I was completely convinced that organic food is not necessarily healthy and risk-free. My views however were largely influenced by my Cornell-graduate professor who is a strong advocate of inorganic farming and genetic engineering. When I moved to New Zealand a year later, I’m seduced by the idea of green revolution and like those idealist wannabes, I embraced organics with full enthusiasm.
My scepticism, however, is resurrected as our supermarkets are flooded with these so-called organic and ethical products. Are these organic products really better, or simply a neuromarketing ploy of supermarket giants for consumers to spend a fortune without real benefits? When I buy ethical bananas from the Philippines, will it really financially reward the poor farmers back home, or simply make the multimillion companies behind these ethical brands even richer?
Without a doubt we are navigating through the complex psychological landscape of the supermarket these days. With the bananas, I chose the feijoas instead and continued my grocery shopping with utter bewilderment and fascination.
Much to my amusement, my star sign reveals I should take the finer side of travel this year. I’m not naturally superstitious but I’m quite intrigued when my horoscope tells me I should go to Qualia on Hamilton Island at the Great Barrier Reef – just exactly where I’m contemplating to spend my Easter this year. How can my horoscope make such a good guess? I’m totally dumbfounded. Here’s more what my zodiac sign says:
My travel style There’s no such thing as a Libran backpacker. They like their creature comforts and love to be surrounded by beautiful things. Anything less than four-star accommodation gives them a rash.
Dream destination Vietnam All those markets filled with beautiful homewares – place mats! lacquerware! paintings! – and all so cheap.
Hotel heaven The Sofitel Bora Bora Marara Beach. Waking up every morning to the world’s most beautiful lagoon? Now that’s the Libran idea of a good start to the day.
Ultimate experience Deep down, every Libran likes to imagine they’re a princess (or a prince). Spoil them at an ultra-luxurious retreat such as Qualia on Hamilton Island and you’ll have them eating out of your hand.
Travel hell Anywhere in the Middle East. Librans just want people to get on. They’ll think they can solve the Arab-Israeli conflict in a day and be deeply wounded if people won’t listen to their sensible advice.
(Travel horoscope is taken from http://www.stuff.co.nz, one of my favourite local news and lifestyle websites.)
I’m taken by surprise how this year has gone so fast. Around this time last year, I was partying hard at the Cathedral Square in Christchurch to welcome the New Year then headed to sunny Nelson to kayak in the Abel Tasman National Park and bask at the Golden Bay. Now it’s time again to head to Christchurch for the New Year shindig though I’m taking a different post-party route this year: I’m flying straight to Brisbane after the night-long celebration at the Square.
This year is a mix of ebullience and madness in terms of geopolitics, finance, travel and interpersonal relations. We’ve felt the brunt of global financial crisis and witnessed the havoc of the Canterbury quake, to name a few, but at the same time we are also on a rediscovery of sheer pleasure of circulating throughout the globe with sophistication and the resurgence of new age travel. On a personal note, I’ve seen myself on bold attempts to find intellectual fulfillment, balance and sense of self.
I’d love to curb my hedonist cravings for the coming year. But with the Air New Zealand Business Class Lounge as my first stop on the first day of 2011 (where there’s free-flowing drinks and food), I prefer not to lay down any resolution for myself. I’ll eat and drink to my heart’s content as long as I’ll be conscious of the ethical considerations when eating foie gras, indulging in chocolates or drinking coffee.
Next year, the emerging trend is experimental travel which simply means visiting an unfamiliar destination. While I have my personal favourites which I constantly visit (like Sydney), I’ll try to be as imaginative as I dare to be in my future travels. At this stage I’ve shortlisted Zagreb, Montpellier and Langkawi – places I wish to visit while bearing in mind three lessons learned from previous travels: never fly with British Airways, never estimate your baggage weight, and never drink too much wine inflight.
Five years in New Zealand and counting, I’m happy to finally call this country my home. To those who will be traveling like me, have a safe journey and to those who will be staying home, have a great time with your loved ones. Happy New Year to all!
Queenstown – a quaint, charming town that never fails to captivate me. This time I drove north to fly south and lose myself in Queenstown, undoubtedly one of my favourite places on earth.
9.00 am My flight descended to what most pilots consider as the most difficult yet spectacular approaches in the world. My noise-canceling headphone was on full blast as we flew over magnificent vistas of mountain, lake and forest. The plane was hanging low over the Crown Ranges and even lower over the Remarkables before performing a 360° turn to do what they call a white-knuckle landing, with the plane banking on two sides of the Southern Alps over the gleaming Lake Wakatipu to land.
9.30 am Spied some private jets in Queenstown Airport. High profile personalities like Bill Gates often holiday in Queenstown, so I always look forward to spotting jets on the tarmac. I saw a Gulfstream Aerospace whose owner I couldn’t confirm but my further research showed the plane was registered in Connecticut, USA.
10.00 am Arrived at Hotel Novotel Queenstown Lakeside, a stylish hotel in a central yet quiet waterfront spot. I’m way too early to check-in but the gracious reception staff offered my room – a comfortable, modern space that opens up to a garden. I quickly checked my emails at the hotel’s Mac station before proceeding to my bedroom for a power nap.
11.00 am Grabbed a grande Dark Cherry Mocha at Starbucks for a much-needed caffeine fix. I took a leisurely stroll down the swanky shopping streets in town and found myself drooling over the noir Damier Dégradé tie at Louis Vuitton. I briskly headed to Country Road to abandon any reckless spending but the temptation got even worse.
12.00 nn Headed back to The Gallery Café & Bar at my hotel for drinks and a quick bite before an action-packed afternoon. I’ve signed up to do some serious whitewater rafting on the untamed waters of Shotover River.
1.00 pm Adrenaline surged as soon as I joined the coach that will take us to the rafting base. It was a group of adventure junkies who rafted through wild rivers around the world – from the violent rapids of Zambezi in Africa to the freezing waters of Scandinavia and the more scenic Snake River in Wyoming. I’m a total newbie, though a couple from Britain declared they only rafted on artificial rapids with an emergency stop. The confession boosted a little confidence.
2.00 pm Adrenaline level reached upper limits before we even started rafting as we drove on sheer cliff edges and narrow corners of the Skippers Canyon. At one point there was nothing between our bus and the precarious ridge except air and sky. It seemed to be a road to perceived certain death. We were travelling on one of two roads in New Zealand where vehicles cannot be insured.
3.00 pm Rafting commenced from Deep Creek in a convoy of six rafts and a kayaker. I was in a group of eight from New Zealand, Australia and former Yugoslavia. Rafters grade rivers on a scale of one to six, where six is “unraftable”. Shotover is grade five so I knew I’m in hot water. We lost one Aussie after our first bump. He was however rescued with ease.
4.00 pm Paddled harder as we went through the “Rock Garden”. There was good teamwork except for the Australians who often got confused between paddling left or right, front or back. Bloody Aussies. Then we came across the “Shark Fin” rapid which needed more grueling effort. Adrenaline kept pumping.
4.15 pm Drama unfolded as our raft flipped while making our way through the “Toilet”. All submerged, we managed to swim out from under our capsized raft, and all I can see was waters churning like a washing machine and rocks fast approaching. I swam against the power of the ongoing flow and finally saved myself. Then I burped. I must have swallowed half the river.
5.30 pm Gone through more rapids – Pinball, Jaws, Mother, and the Aftershock, a rapid created after the recent big Canterbury earthquake. Finally we headed to the 170-metre Oxenbridge Tunnel before shooting through the Cascade Rapid, our final challenge.
6.00 pm Headed back to Queenstown Rafting Cavells base with my body in one piece, thankfully. I headed to the bar for a cold beer as I checked myself for bruises.
8.00 pm Pigged out at My Thai restaurant opposite the Earnslaw Park overlooking Lake Wakatipu. Exotic menu and warm hospitality.
9.00 pm Treated myself for guilty pleasure at Chocolates Patagonia which offers classic Patagonian handmade chocolates and 30 flavours of gelato. I joined the long queue of customers and came out grinning like a kid after receiving generous scoops of ice cream.
10.00 pm Watched the sunset over the calm waters of Lake Wakatipu – just what I needed to regain my sanity after my rafting experience and going through a watery grave.
9.00 am All set for another day after oversleeping on my luxurious Novotel bed. I wasn’t tempted for a full breakfast from the hotel’s Elements restaurant. Instead I went to Vudu Café and Larder for a substantial wedge of carrot cake and a bowl (yes, a bowl) of latte. Then I headed once more to Chocolates Patagonia for a few servings of gelato. And then even a few more ice cream scoops as I reminded myself life is too short to be deprived from (crazy and) sweet treats.
Holiday season and when flying these days, all I want is to just whisk myself straight to the lounge to relax away from the crowd, then board the flight at my leisure. Thanks to my my Air New Zealand ePass, I can just do that.
The ePass is an intelligent, passive chip technology that holds my travel details and serves as my permanent boarding pass for my domestic travels. Not totally new as this leading-edge innovation was introduced by Air New Zealand way back in 2008, it is only now that I fully appreciate the benefits of the ePass as I take short holidays more frequently. Using this microchip is even quicker and more convenient than my iPone-based electronic boarding pass I’ve been using in the past.
Goodbye to nightmarish queues and pedantic scrutiny of check-in agents. My ePass takes me to the express path.
If Givenchy is to Singapore Airlines, then Crabtree & Evelyn is to Hilton Auckland. For this alone Hilton Auckland deserves a praise even if the hotel doesn’t offer turndown service which is quite unacceptable for five-star hotel these days.
My guest room boasts a contemporary design but nothing in the interior makes it distinctly Hilton except for the several H logo annoyingly etched on the room’s floor-to-ceiling window. There’s the usual walk-out balcony, big screen TV, crisp linens, extensive pillow menu, ultra comfy oversized bed and luxurious bathrobe. But what truly impressed me is the extra large marble bathroom with walk-in showers and surround sound speakers. Sophistication.
It was easy for me to get transfixed on incredible views over Waitemata Harbour at the hotel’s Bellini Cocktail Bar. I was awestruck by the screensaver view of passing sail boats, ferries and ships while taking pleasure in a glass of Cottage Block 2009 Chardonnay and sizeable serving of tapas. Definitely a highlight of my stay.
The hotel has the most extraordinary lap pool I’ve ever seen. Located on the 4th floor of the hotel, it is sort of an infinity pool with a see-through glass end overhanging the wharf below. I’m very overwhelmed by the idea while doing some laps and putting my new speedo swimming togs and googles to the test. I’d say though it is certainly not suitable for those with acrophobia.
The hotel has also offers top notch gym facilities with all equipment by Precor. With iPod on and energy drink handy, I found myself fired with enthusiasm working out and burning some calories gained during this purely lazy, guilty pleasure trip to Auckland.
All in all, the hotel is an excellent escape for a city break on a long weekend. But when you are luxuriating in a place like Hilton, long weekends are never too long.
(Photos taken from http://www.hilton.com)