New Zealand’s version of English (both spoken and written) is a weird and sometimes confusing mix of British English, American English and home-grown ‘Kiwi English’ with a good dose of Te Reo Māori words thrown in as well. Deciphering the slang and the two-language melting pot can be puzzling (though much of Kiwi slang is shared with British and Irish slang), so I have written two posts to tell you everything you need to know about conversing with Kiwis!
You can find a beginners guide to Te Reo Māori pronunciation and commonly used Te Reo Māori words here, but first, a guide to Kiwi slang…
No, there is no noun missing to complete this simile. I spent the first few months of our time here waiting on the rest of the sentence and finding it unbearably irritating that no one finished their comparison. Honey? Sugar? Sweet as what?!?!
She’ll be right.
It will be ok.
Don’t ask me who ‘she’ is. I can only assume the cat’s mother. This phrase pretty much sums up the Kiwi approach to life, work and, well, everything. Laid back to the core, nothing here happens in a hurry or with stress. Business deadlines are frequently ignored, even in the cities there’s no rush on the streets, and when things go wrong, instead of frantic problem solving and hurried attempts to fix mishaps, you’ll instead hear the collective mumble of “she’ll be right”.
This isn’t an indecisive split second change of mine. The ‘yeah’ is totally redundant and unnecessary. Kiwis just like to add an extra syllable in sometimes. Speaking of which…
Used at the end of a sentence, sometimes to turn it into a question (but usually a rhetorical one that requires no answer), sometimes to add emphasis, sometimes to give or request confirmation for a statement. My theory is that it comes from the Te Reo Māori word for ‘yes’ (‘ae’). More often than not, it’s used for no reason at all. Like I said, just an extra syllable to fill a bit of silence.
Both women’s costumes/bikinis and men’s trunks.
Not that everyone uses them, mind; you’ll see many a Kiwi, adults as much as kids, walking around barefoot, and not just at the beach!
Wellington boots (wellies).
Corner shop/convenience store/newsagents.
How you goin’?
How are you?
This is used more as a greeting and doesn’t require a response about how you are (I made that mistake a few times when we first arrived, politely responding with “I’m well, thank you. How are you?” only to be met with confused expressions).
Pronounced like ‘veggies’ and ‘veg’, but spelled differently.
Across the ditch.
Can be used to refer to a person, animal or inanimate objects (car, phone etc).
Drunk, or broken beyond repair.
A holiday home.
Payment by card.
Short for Electronic Payment System. You’ll then get options for paying from a chequing account, savings account or by credit. Which brings me to my next point…
Refers to all sweets, not just the ones on a stick! A Lolly Shop is a sweet shop.
It refers to all schools for under 5s, not a particular chain. (Playcentre is different – it’s not considered a Kindy, as the philosophy, financing and level of parental involvement is wildly different to other early years education providers.)
In the middle of nowhere.
This one will likely be known to Brits, particularly northerners, and the Irish, but it may be new to those not so familiar with Scottish slang.
Again, familiar to the British and Irish, but perhaps not to others.
As in American English, ‘pants’ refers to ‘trousers’ and underwear is ‘undies’ not ‘pants’. ‘Trousers’ is only used to refer to old-man-style trousers. With two British parents, Theo has learnt that his underwear are pants and his trousers are trousers, but this has admittedly caused some confusion when others have commented on his ‘nice pants’!
Crisps or fries.
Just to confuse you, Kiwis call both crisps and fries ‘chips’. The former are often ‘potato chips’ to help distinguish the two (as if that really helps…they’re all potatoes!) but they do also use ‘crisps’, and the latter can be ‘hot chips’.
Weirdly, as you can see above, Kiwi’s have picked the American word for some things and the British word for others, but they typically (but not always!) spell like Brits (there’s a ‘u’ in colour and neighbour, for example).
Be aware that Kiwis use the British words ‘nappy’ not ‘diaper’, ‘flat’ not ‘apartment’, ‘rubbish’ not ‘trash’, ‘dustbin lorry’ not ‘garbage truck’, ‘petrol’ not ‘gas’, ‘fire engine’ not ‘fire truck’, ‘motorway’ not ‘highway’, ‘post code’ not ‘zip code’.
Your head hurting yet?
If the Kiwi slang wasn’t enough to get your head round, Te Reo Māori is very present in everyday language. You’ll notice it instantly in place names and the names of native birds and plants, but certain words and phrases are also used interchangeably with English by all New Zealanders.
Te Reo Māori is New Zealand’s second language and, although few non-Māori New Zealanders speak it fluently, it’s a bi-cultural society and Te Reo words are often used interchangeably with English in everyday language by everyone. This beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori pronunciation and commonly used words will arm you with all the basics.
Te Reo Māori has 15 distinct sounds, including 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u), 8 consonants (h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w) and 2 digraphs (two letters that combine to form one sound; ng, wh).
The vowels can be a short sound or a long sound and they can also be combined (into diphthongs). A long sound is denoted with a macron (a line above the letter). You have to be careful to get this right as the length of the vowel can change the meaning of the word.
The consonants not listed below are pronounced the same as in English.
a – a (as in aloud)
ā – ar (as in are)
ae – ai (as in eye, said with a rising intonation)
ai – ai (said with a falling intonation)
ao – aow (as in crowd)
au – oh (os in ‘oh dear’)
e – eh (as in entry)
ē – ehr (as in there)
ea – eh-ah
ei – ey
eo – eh-oh (said with a rising intonation on the ‘oh’)
eu – eh-oh (said with a falling intonation on the ‘oh’)
i – ee (as in eat)
ī – ee (as in three)
ia – ee-ah
ie – ee-eh
io – ee-or
iu – ee-oo
ng – pronounced like the ng in ‘singer’
o – or (as in ordinary)
ō – or (as in pork)
oa – or-ah
oe – or-eh
oi – oi (as in oil)
ou – ohr
r – pronounced as a rolled r, which can sound a bit like a d. For example Kauri sounds very like Cody and is a popular boys name, as well as the name of a large indigenous tree.
t – At the beginning of a word, it sounds like a normal English ‘t’ sound but after vowels it’s much softer. After ‘a’, ‘e’ or ‘o’ it has no sibilant emphasis, almost like a ‘d’, and after ‘i’ and ‘u’ it only has a slight sibilant sound (tip: just bring your tongue further back on the roof of your mouth further from your teeth).
u – oo (as in two)
ū – oo (as in loot)
ua – oo-ah
ue – oo-eh
ui – oo-ee
uo – oo-or
wh – f (as in forest)
A beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori words and phrases
Tip: When reading Te Reo, break the word into each syllable ending after every vowel (or diphthong).
New Zealand. Literally ‘Land of the long white cloud’.
Family (note that the Māori definition of family may be more extended than you are accustomed to; it may include anyone of importance including non-blood relatives, close friends and neighbours). Pronounced ‘faar-no’.
Traditional style of Māori cooking in an earth oven.
Large native conifer tree. Pronounced ‘ko-rrree’ with a rolled ‘r’.
I hope this guide to Te Reo Māori pronunciation and commonly used words is of use during your time in New Zealand. This may not be the only hurdle you encounter while conversing with Kiwis though! Some of the slang is just as puzzling if you’re unfamiliar with it! You can find a guide to Kiwi slang here.
Staffed by seasonal workers, they were all professional, knowledgeable and hardworking, but, more importantly, they exuded passion and a love for what they were doing, particularly the excursion guides.
The lodge is cosy, warm and comfortable, with a nice dining area.
The only thing I hated was the use of dead animals as decor; I want to see polar bears and grizzlies out in the wild, not with their skins pinned across the walls. I hate to think that I was inadvertently supporting trophy hunting.
Churchill travel information: What to eat
There aren’t many options for dining in the town but we found it to be plenty for the length of our stay.
We enjoyed the food served at Lazy Bear Lodge. They have an extensive menu with plenty of veggie options, and dinner specials, which change every evening, included Canadian elk, buffalo and Arctic char. Service will of course vary as most staff are seasonal, but those who were there during our stay were friendly, polite and a great help in entertaining Theo while we finished our food!
Gypsies is a great place to pick up a picnic lunch or a no-frills meal, and is famous for their donuts. Managed by the charismatic Fred, highflying corporate Montrealian turned small town friend to everyone, his sense of humour and generosity make every visit here memorable. He rented us his beaten up, barely-working pickup to get out of town in search of polar bears. We found bears, but had to ditch the ride; sorry, Fred! Read the story here.
Churchill travel information: Currency
Churchill travel information: Language
Churchill travel information: How to get around
A vehicle isn’t essential here, but I recommend having one, at least for part of your trip (or make friends with someone who does!).
We went off by ourselves in search of bears twice and I’m so pleased we did! We didn’t disturb them at all because we weren’t in a huge tundra buggy, there was no fighting for the best view with dozens of other tourists, and we were able to take our time and observe these magnificent creatures just doing their thing on our watch rather than having to stick to a schedule.
If you’re lucky to have the right conditions to witness the spectacular Aurora Borealis, you’re going to want to get off the main strip in town. We hitched a ride with some new friends to the beach, away from the light of the town, and my goodness it was worth it!
Churchill travel information: Climate and best time to travel
The best time to travel will really depend on what you want to see and do during your visit. October is prime polar bear season because they travel through Churchill on their way back out onto the ice. During the Summer months, Belugas come into the shallow waters to breed. It is possible (but by no means guaranteed) to see bears, belugas and the Aurora Borealis in one trip; this is why we travelled in August.
Churchill travel information: Other useful info
All excursions can be booked through an operator (I recommend Lazy Bear Expeditions). This includes cultural tours of the town and Cape Merry, guided tours to the Prince of Wales Fort, dog sledding, wildlife watching (polar bears, elk, arctic foxes, arctic hares, sea birds, seals and more), beluga whale watching from a zodiac, kayaking with belugas and snorkeling with belugas.
Please note all excursions are season and weather dependent.
Lazy Bear Lodge also operates an Aurora alert system, allowing guests to opt in to receive a call to their room if the Aurora is visible overnight.
Many thanks to Brian Gadsby from Gadsventure for writing such an informative post on visiting Kakadu National Park with children. All text and photographs supplied by Brian.
Kakadu is arguably Australia’s most famous National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Remember ‘Crocodile Dundee’ from the 1980s? Paul Hogan helped to open up Australia’s once flagging tourism industry by exposing the beauty and wilderness of Kakadu to the rest of the world. We were keen to experience it for ourselves, but is visiting Kakadu National Park with children possible?
We have lived our entire lives in Australia and only made it to Kakadu in our mid 30s, thanks mostly to its wonderful remoteness. It was during our 12-month trip around Australia with our three kids in our pop top camper that the highway loop took us towards the famous landmark with great anticipation and high hopes.
Kakadu is nature in its most untouched and incredible state. It is raw and majestic. It possesses an incredible sense of wonder and spirituality thanks to the indigenous history, intermingled with a feeling of awe for the beauty and the array of wildlife.
Camping here is getting back to nature and eco-tourism at its best!
Kakadu National Park is accessed via Highway 1 and is about 170km (106 miles) or around 3 hours drive out of Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory. The easiest way to get to there is by car from Darwin or Katherine and, unless you prefer to join a tour, you will need a vehicle to get around the park.
The absolute best, and I mean best way to see Kakadu is in your own 4-wheel drive car and camping at the various campgrounds around the park. This really allows you to immerse yourself in the magic of Kakadu.
You need about one week to experience everything and the road is a perfect loop route, which makes it easy to navigate.
Camping in National Parks is my favourite kind of holiday. You feel at one with nature as you get back to basics with campfire cooking and sleeping under the stars. Visiting Kakadu National Park with children is not only very manageable, but it is a fantastic place for the whole family to enjoy the scenery and the serenity. We took three young children aged 1, 3 and 5 and it was a perfect fun-filled family adventure.
When to go?
Although the entry fees are cheaper over the summer months between November to April, flooding does cause a number of attractions to be closed. The vivid green landscapes are yours to enjoy with fewer visitors though, and you have the chance to experience electrifying monsoonal afternoon storms.
Peak holiday season in Kakadu is May to October and the park is heaving with visitors. We visited in July and it was busy, but we were still able to find a spot to camp without booking ahead. If you planned to stay at hotel or resort accommodation, you would need to book well in advance for this period.
August to November is the best time to see large numbers of whopping great saltwater crocodiles; check with your ranger for details on what time of day the crocodiles will be the most accessible and when you are least likely to disturb them.
Of course, if possible, you may wish to consider what time of year your tourism will have the greatest negative impact on the environment. The world is becoming more aware of the effects of over-tourism and avoiding these periods should undoubtedly start to play a larger role in trip planning.
Where to Start
Your unique adventure begins in the town of Jabiru with a visit to the small supermarket to stock up on food, the National Park Headquarters and Bowali Visitor Centre.
Purchase your National Park Pass at the Visitor Centre to secure entry into everything the park has to offer. This entry fee of $40AUD per adult or $100 for a family of 4 includes guided ranger walks, talks and cultural activities. Pre-purchase your passes online here. There is no charge for Northern Territory residents, and the prices are reduced during Summer when some sections may be inaccessible due to monsoon rain events.
The Bowali visitor centre is a great place ask questions, plan your walks and activities, enjoy interactive exhibits, get your maps and information to equip you for the ultimate Kakadu experience. There is also a beautiful cafe and gallery on site. Your park entrance fees help with the maintenance and administration of the park and go towards assisting the traditional owners preserve its culture and heritage. There is another visitor centre and Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Yellow Water.
Where to Stay
The accommodation options range from remote bush camps, to peaceful managed campgrounds, all the way to 5-star luxury resort style lodging. For the family, we simply couldn’t beat the beautiful campgrounds. You can park your camper van or pitch your tent only footsteps away from stunning bush walks taking you to breathtaking waterfalls pitching into seemingly endless deep cool waterholes. Short and long walks abound and there are always opportunities to plunge into a refreshing stream along the way. On a 1 week trip to Kakadu we stayed in 3 different campgrounds, and enjoyed them all.
Dangers and Annoyances
As it is a wetlands area year round, visiting Kakadu National Park with children does require some forethought on staying safe.
There are more than a few mosquitoes, and they can be downright thick depending on the time of year. Please bring repellent, and cover up with clothing to avoid mosquito bites.
Be very wary of saltwater crocodiles and treat them with the utmost respect. They are fiercely territorial and as such, don’t go near the water’s edge or you are putting yourself at risk. Don’t let children touch or splash in water and obey all the warning signs regarding crocs; they are there for a reason! There are plenty of safe elevated platforms for secure crocodile watching.
Ensure to keep hydrated during any walks as it can get very humid, especially in Summer.
Things to See
Famous for the historically significant rock art throughout the park, visiting Kakadu National Park with children is a great opportunity for learning about historical art forms and Aboriginal culture. Easily accessible via wheelchair- and stroller/pram-friendly paths there are many opportunities to check out these impressive and well preserved examples of Aboriginal art that were painted on cave walls up to 20,000 years ago! These pictures show the symbiotic relationship that the Aboriginal people of the Bininj/Mungguy had with their country and the land. They are absolutely amazing and were enough to awe even the youngest kids!
Kakadu has been voted Australia’s number one birdwatching destination by Australian Geographic. It is home to a phenomenal one third of all Australia’s bird species. It is an absolute paradise for bird lovers and nature lovers alike.
Regardless of whether you’re visiting Kakadu National Park with children or not, I recommend downloading the Kakadu Birds app for iPhone here or on Android here. The app is a great educational tool to find out about 50 of the most popular bird species, hear their calls and discover the best places to find them. This app was so fun to use! We all enjoyed spotting the birds and then trying to identify them!
There are about 10,000 saltwater crocodiles in Kakadu! Some even over 5 meters long! Watch from the safety of a platform as they slide over the causeway at Cahill’s Crossing while fisherman dip their lines for barramundi just upstream.
Weave through hundreds of wallabies if you venture out after dark and spot the now elusive water buffalo if you are lucky.
The wildlife viewing opportunities here are exciting for all ages!
Forking out for a Yellow Water cruise is definitely worth it for an excellent up close wildlife viewing experience. Seeing those huge crocs gliding alongside your little boat as you chug along through the wetlands is absolutely fascinating. Colourful flowers floating on the clear reflective waters gives you a feeling of absolute tranquility. We were even lucky enough to come face to face with a water buffalo!
Crocodile Dundee was great for tourism here, but not so good for crocodile conservation. He was the guy that hunted and killed the huge creatures and then made himself hats and belts out of their hide. But what he, and the movie, did was create awareness of Kakadu worldwide which drove hundreds of thousands of international tourists to the region, which created the money and conservation that this World Heritage listed National Park needed to survive and prosper.
Home to incredibly fascinating rock art that you can get close to, Ubir is the place to climb to the top of the rock for the best sunset in Kakadu.
Another site for epic Aboriginal rock art. Stroll around the well trodden paths at the base of the imposing Nourlangie Rock escarpment and take in the atmosphere of this breathtakingly spiritual place.
Camp at the base of the hill and hike up for a refreshing swim in nature’s infinity pool!
Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls
4-wheel drive enthusiasts will love the drive in to this impressive waterhole. You will need a snorkel on your vehicle to get all the way into Twin Falls but these are worth the long drive into Kakadu’s heartland.
A beautiful walk to a wide pool with a gorgeous cascade at the top.
This causeway crosses over to Arnhem Land, which is an untouched Indigenous homeland open only to the traditional owners. As the tide ebbs and flows, the giant crocodiles slide over the causeway delighting onlookers.
Kakadu is on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its outstanding natural and cultural values. It is easy to see why. A trip to Kakadu is a step into another time and places you deep into the roots of ancient art and ways of life. The natural scenery is stunning and absolutely awe-inspiring. There is beauty every which way you turn, and short walks will lead you to the most rewarding vistas imaginable.
Visiting Kakadu National park with children is a wonderful way to get them into nature, and opportunities for play and learning are in abundance. Kids will love exploring the winding pathways and diving into the crystal cascades and waterholes. Leave the iPads behind and instead gaze at the ancient Aboriginal rock paintings as you try to decipher their meanings. Take them to educational ranger talks and go wildlife spotting. Camp under the stars with a campfire and get back to basics with minimal impact on your environment, remembering to leave only footprints.
It is the best experience!
The fun-loving family of six behind Gadsventure are out to travel the world and seek adventure in the four corners of the globe. Fresh from a big year of travelling around Australia, they are ready to take on South East Asia and Europe next. Kris, Brian, Jasper, Dash, Daisy and Mabel invite you to follow them on their international family gap year for 2019. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pintrest
Age 8, I was set an assignment at school to write to someone who inspired me. I wrote to Nelson Mandela (and received a reply!).
Unfortunately, I don’t remember the exact words I wrote, but I remember feeling that this man saw beyond the exterior and was working towards a world where everyone is valued and treated equally (it’s really no wonder I became a clinical psychologist!).
14 years later, I visited his home nation for the first time.
Honestly, South Africa made me uncomfortable.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s utterly stunning, the National Parks and their inhabitants are spectacular, and every South African I’ve met has been great fun, incredibly welcoming and has an endless appetite for braii, but it still has a hell of a long way to come since the days of Apartheid.
Make no mistake, Apartheid is still present.
The divisions and inequalities between black people and white people hit me square in the face; it’s hard to miss. The racist undertones often left me speechless and confused at how such hurtful, ignorant sentiments could be uttered by otherwise such kind and educated people.
I get that the racism amongst my generation of white South Africans, who were too young (or not yet born) to remember the final years of apartheid, has mostly been borne out of the government’s attempts to ‘undo’ a grisly history; for example, the white candidate now loses out on a job not because there was a better candidate but because there was a black candidate; and that older generations around the globe can often (but not always!) be a product of their time, but this doesn’t explain the stark and shocking inequality that persists in the context of a world that is surely (hopefully!) moving forward in its racial equality (and equal rights for all more generally).
Even the continued widespread use of the words ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’, a left over product of Apartheid-era language, rubs me the wrong way. I find these labels incredibly dehumanising. In my mind, it’s as distasteful, outdated and unacceptable as using words like ‘fags’ to describe people of the LGBT community, ‘birds’ to describe women and a whole host of horrible words that I can’t even bring myself to write to describe people with disabilities. We are all human and we are all individuals with our own set of values, beliefs and experiences that are unique, even within the context of our collective identities. (Sorry, rant over…sort of!)
The difference between how the majority of black and white people live is nothing short of gut-wrenching.
All across the country, black people live in shanty towns, while a mile up the road, white people live in fancy gated mansions with security cameras and guard dogs, often with black employees as gardeners and ‘maids’ (I hate this word; it’s archaic and hierarchical), who cook, clean, do laundry and look after the children. I have no problem with people taking these roles, clearly it gives them employment and an opportunity to earn a living, nor with those who choose to employ people to help around the house, but I do have a problem with the clear black-white divide. Yes, shanty towns with white residents also exist, but these are few and far between compared to the sprawling settlements of make-shift housing permanently resided in by black South Africans.
Now, I think it’s important to be transparent about my own circumstances and the foundations on which my views are based. I’m white British and I come from a middle class background, and with that I certainly had a privileged upbringing. The U.K. is not perfect, and non-white people in Britain are more likely to be of a lower socio-economic status than white people, but there are two key differences as I see it: the welfare system and access to social housing doesn’t discriminate between race, religion and other markers of diversity, and fear and hate talk directed towards people of races different from your own is not accepted as normal, as it appears to be in South Africa (yes, even in the context of Brexit and the European immigration crisis, these feelings are only expressed by a tiny, and rightly shunned, minority). I have only once experienced shocking racism in the U.K. and it transpired that this person’s hideous view was based on having never met a black person (this is in rural north England, where sadly the population isn’t particularly diverse); white South Africans do not have this excuse.
Throw out any pre-conceptions of a now harmonious bi-cultural post-Apartheid society.
Sadly racism directed towards marginalised native populations is a common theme within countries previously invaded and colonised by Europeans; I have witnessed this first hand in the United States (can we please be clear that Native Americans are not ‘Indians’ and that if you need to collectively refer to people, using a tribe name is most respectful…but I digress!), Canada, Australia and I am starting to pick up on in New Zealand as well, but that’s another story, and in these countries it certainly doesn’t swing in like a wrecking ball to smash all your pre-conceptions of a wonderful postcolonial country rebuilding itself after white invasion quite like it does in South Africa!
I’ve witnessed a lot of poverty and discrimination, through both work and travel, and it is always sad to experience, but certainly South Africa got under my skin. I left declaring that it’s a fabulous place to visit but I couldn’t live amongst the racism.
Do you have a stopover in Nairobi coming up? Don’t waste it sitting in the airport (trust me, there’s not much there!). Instead, go and enjoy the city with my top 6 things to do on a Transit VISA in Kenya’s capital! All these suggestions are family-friendly and fun for all ages.
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is East Africa’s busiest airport, serving more than 7 million passengers annually. There are currently 5 commercial terminals, with direct connections to countries across Africa, Europe and Asia, and plans for an additional terminal to facilitate direct flights to North America.
You may very well find that your intercontinental flight has a stopover in Nairobi and you need to transfer, perhaps to another airline, to reach your final destination in Kenya or other African nations.
So, what do you do while you wait for your next flight? Instead of trying to keep the kids entertained in the airport, try one of these:
Nairobi National Park
Located a short drive from the airport, Nairobi National Park is one of the smallest in Africa but is known for having one of the highest concentrations of black rhinos, as well as other abundant wildlife (see zebras, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, leopards, buffalo, hyenas, hippos, ostrich, baboons, vultures, crocodiles and various species of antelope).
This is my favourite thing to do whenever I have stopover in Nairobi! We have had some of our most memorable animal sightings here and observing them on wide open grass plains against the backdrop of city skyscrapers makes for a truly unique setting.
Explore the park in an open jeep with a park guide, who will always know the best spots to find wildlife and will take you off the beaten track in search of the encounters you are most hoping for.
The ivory burning site, one of the most important landmarks in conservation, is also located inside the park. Here, presidents Daniel arap Moi and Uhuru Kenyatta oversaw the burning of large stocks of seized ivory in 1989 and 2016 respectively. In 1989, 11 tonnes of ivory were burned, sending a powerful message to poachers. This act was widely credited with sparking a reduction in poaching in Kenya at a time when the elephant population across East Africa was being decimated. In 2016, 100 tonnes were burned, the equivalent of tusks from 6000 elephants!
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
Located within Nairobi National Park, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is home to orphaned black rhinos and elephants, who socialise with wild herds in the park every day, but are raised here until it is safe to release them.
You can watch the animals being fed and observe as the elephants enjoy a mud bath, splashing and sliding about like a scene from ‘Dumbo’; keep your wits about you though incase one decides to aim a trunkful of mud your way!
While the elephants play, you’ll learn each of their individual stories and what brought them here. Most of these rescued young animals have either been abandoned by their herds, typically as a result of drought, or orphaned as a result of poaching. You’ll also hear from the keepers about the pioneering conservation work of the late David and Daphne Sheldrick, the wider work of the Trust and opportunities to foster one of the animals.
The Animal Orphanage
The Animal Orphanage houses a wide range of species including a number of big cats, hyenas, monkeys and a variety of birds. These animals have also been rescued with the aim of rehabilitating them and reintroducing them to the wild. The guides and keepers are incredibly knowledgeable and their positive relationships with the animals they care for is clear. You can learn about each animal while observing them at close range.
Of course, we would much rather see all these animals living in the wild, but their time both at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Animal Orphanage is typically only temporary and is with the best interests of the animal in mind.
The Giraffe Centre
Established to protect the endangered Rothschild’s Giraffe, this is a conservation success story. Habitat loss in western Kenya saw this subspecies of giraffe pushed to the brink of extinction. Today, numbers are up (although there is still a long way to go!) and the centre has successfully released breeding populations into a number of Kenya’s national parks.
At the centre, you can observe, hand-feed and interact with these curious and gentle giants; a wonderful experience for all ages!
A city tour
Nairobi is a bustling, cosmopolitan city that is in stark contrast to the natural beauty found in Kenya’s national parks, but it has much to offer beyond the sound of blaring car horns, the street sellers that tap at your car window to get your attention, the political propaganda that fills every available nook and cranny, and the churned up red dust that envelops the city.
It’s a city that’s so full of life, both during daylight hours and at night, and I find the contrast between the buzz of the city and the laid back nature of Nairobians utterly captivating. Unlike other economic hubs across the world (think London, Paris, New York, Beijing), people here aren’t always in a rush.
Depending on how long you have, the city can be explored by car or by foot, and you may wish to make stops at the following locations:
Kenyatta International Conference Centre: Take in a 360 degree view of Nairobi and its surrounding countryside from the 28th floor. On a clear day you can even spot Mount Kenya!
Kenyatta market: Probably not where you want to come to buy souvenirs and artwork, but a fun way to pass your stopover in Nairobi! A mélange of hair braiders, who try to entice you into their salon; tailors, who sit at sewing machines surrounded by vibrant patterned fabrics; cobblers, with displays of brightly coloured shoes that rival those sold in Marrakech’s souks; and food stalls that fill the air with the smokey scent of ‘nyama choma’ (barbecued meat). Meander your way through the market, passing by the second-hand sellers and soaking up joyful hubbub, and be sure to haggle respectfully.
Uhuru Park: Escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Nairobi in this oasis of calm right next to the city centre. Take a pedalo out on the lake, walk around the various monuments, picnic in the shade, and watch skateboarders compete in competitions.
Karura Forest: An urban indigenous forest with plenty of family-friendly walking, running and biking trails, perfect for some light exercise and a breath of fresh air in between flights. Spend your stopover in Nairobi visiting waterfalls, bird watching, butterfly spotting or exploring caves.
Nairobi National Museum, Botanical Gardens and Snake Park: All in one location, this is a great way to spend a few hours. The museum brings to life Kenya’s rich heritage, and permanent collections showcase both cultural and natural history.
The botanical gardens will ensure some welcome fresh air before you board your flight; follow the nature trail through the gardens, showcasing the diversity of Kenya’s fauna, and past a number of art installations.
The Snake Park is particularly fun for younger travellers, who will be given the opportunity to hold one if they wish. Snakes and other reptiles are housed both in open air enclosures and behind glass. The Park is primarily a research facility but gives visitors an opportunity to view Kenya’s reptiles that are more elusive in the wild.
Nairobi Gallery: Built in 1913, this is a national monument located right in the city centre. Nicknamed the ‘Hatches, Matches and Dispatches’ building due to its historical use as a registry office, it now houses temporary art exhibitions.
Karen Blixen’s House and Museum: Visit the farmhouse and gardens where author, Karen Blixen, lived from 1914-1931, and made famous with the release of ‘Out of Africa, an Oscar-winning film based on Blixen’s autobiography of the same title.
Nairobi is energetic, colourful, unpretentious and will give you a wonderful glimpse at African urban life; it would be a shame to spend your stopover in Nairobi confined to the airport and miss out on all that the city has to offer!
Carnivore is a meat-eaters paradise (but there are loads of scrummy vegetarian options as well). Try Kenya’s most famous selection of ‘nyama choma’ in a fun, family-friendly, open-air restaurant.
Skewered on traditional Masai swords, food is grilled on a visually mesmerising charcoal pit, which dominates the entrance.
Start with the soup of the day and then enjoy the all you can eat main course until you surrender your flag! Waiters carve and serve everything from beef, chicken, lamb and pork, to ostrich, crocodile and camel, at your table. This is accompanied by a selection of salads, vegetable dishes and sauces (your waiter will tell you which sauce is intended for which meat, or you can opt for a lucky dip!).
The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. Children aged 5-12 eat for half price and there is also a playground in the adjoining Simba Saloon.
You won’t find much to eat at the airport so if you have a stopover in Nairobi, I suggest you eat here!
How do I organise my trip?
I highly recommend booking with Robert from Sojourn Safaris (you can find him on facebook @sojourn.safaris).
We have met Robert on four different occasions and every time has been a pleasure. He will discuss your options with you via email or WhatsApp and work out your ideal bespoke itinerary for your budget and the time that you have. He has always planned a hugely memorable stopover in Nairobi for us, both when we’ve only had a few hours to spare and when we’ve had a full day. He’s punctual, knowledgeable, and we’ve always felt like no request is too great.
His tours come with:
Pick up and drop off at the airport
Park guide and open safari car for trips into the National Park
Guides for all other attractions
Please note that the fees do not include tips. Tips should be given for good service, as you feel appropriate, but as a guideline, 1000-2000 Shillings (equivalent of roughly $10-20 USD) is considered typical and is what we have previously given to all guides, safari drivers, and Robert himself.
What else do I need to know?
Check your VISA requirements. If you need a VISA, you can get a transit VISA on arrival for $20 USD, which is valid for 72 hours. You can also get it online, but it is easy to do at the airport so it isn’t necessary to do it in advance.
Please be aware that Kenya is at risk of Yellow Fever so a vaccination is recommended if you plan to exit the airport (please speak with your doctor to confirm your requirements). Border control will let you into Kenya without having had the vaccination but, when you land in your next destination, they will require all passengers who have exited the airport in Kenya to show their Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate. If you don’t have it, you risk being refused entry or quarantined and vaccinated in the airport.
Ditch the plastic! In 2017, Kenya banned the use, sale and production of plastic bags, and ignoring these rules will leave you liable for hefty fines and even a prison sentence, so don’t keep any in your hand luggage! Well done Kenya on implementing the ‘world’s toughest plastic bag ban‘!
Have a wonderful stopover in Nairobi! It’s an inspiring city and I have no doubt that your brief time there will convince you to return!
I love that we’re all different and we all have cultural oddities that, while considered totally normal in one country, may cause visitors to raise their eyebrows. China was full of these little surprises! Some were amusing, some were heart-warming, and some were a little unsanitary to my out-of-town eyes, but all contributed to my enjoyment of my trip and make me look back on it with great fondness.
I will certainly be returning to China with Alex and Theo; it’s a fascinating and beautiful country and I was lucky to meet some wonderful people who were able to teach me about their history and culture. So, in celebration of our idiosyncrasies, here is a list of 11 cultural quirks I witnessed in China.
Spitting isn’t considered rude. Much like sneezing and coughing, it’s just another normal bodily function in which fluids are expelled, and one’s throat and nose are cleared.
The sound of people hacking up phlegm much like a cat brings up a furball takes some getting used to, especially when in the close confines of public transport and restaurants, or when the noise is coming from the stranger walking right on your heels down a busy street. Taxi drivers are particularly renowned for this delight, but who can blame them when the spend all day breathing in heavy car fumes?!
Similarly, spitting food out isn’t something that’s done discreetly with darting eyes to check no one’s watching and behind a hand or napkin to preserve your dignity in case you are spotted!
My most memorable experience of this was during an incredible meal shared with new Chinese friends. Ghost Street (Guijie) in Beijing stretches for over a mile and is home to over 200 casual, family-run restaurants serving up mouth-watering dishes at tiny prices at any time of day or night (transport tip: alight at Dongzhimen subway station).
Red lanterns hanging above the street flicker on shortly before sundown and contribute to the festival atmosphere. The celebration is food; traditional recipes from each of China’s regions along with international fare.
We entered a Sichuan restaurant and after a brief exchange in Mandarin between the waiter and Hoover, a born and bred 30-something year-old teacher from Beijing, we were shown to our table and promptly served complimentary appetisers while we waited for the bull frogs, lobster, prawns and hot pot that Hoover had ordered. Provided you don’t have special dietary requirements, always allow a local to choose your meal! The zing of ginger, the aroma of garlic, and the fire of chilli filled my mouth – the food was amazing (although, personally, I found both duck and frog intestine to be a little chewy for my taste)!
I learnt something new during this meal: humans can remove the shell, legs and head of a prawn using nothing but their tongue (not this human, but others evidentially can!). As my dining companions dissected their food inside their mouths and then proceeded to indiscreetly discard the inedible and unwanted bits by spitting them on the table and floor, I looked around and saw everyone else doing the same thing.
I am all for cultural immersion and doing as the locals do, but the stereotypical overmannered Brit in me could only manage removing my frog bones and prawn shell behind a covering hand, placing them neatly on the table and ashamedly concealing them under the lip of my plate.
It is common for babies not to wear nappies before they are toilet trained. Onesies have gaping holes at the crotch and if they need to go while out and about, parents simply hold their infants either over a tree or over a public rubbish bin.
I still haven’t worked out how parents predict this and prevent themselves from being accidentally covered; speaking from experience, babies don’t give much warning for their toileting needs and once they start, there’s no stopping them while you get them to the nearest tree! Are parents in China carrying around multiple changes of clothes for themselves instead of for their baby, as I did?!
I support anyone not wanting to use disposable nappies, but I think I’ll stick to our lovely cloth nappies rather than dangling defecating children in public places!
On one occasion, a baby wearing one of these gaping onesies was thrust at me, which brings me to my next point. Be prepared for a lot of attention and endless photograph requests! The mother of this child wanted me to hold her baby so she could take a photograph of me holding him. I posed for photographs taken by strangers like this every day of the 7 week trip, and although I always obliged with a smile, it got very exhausting and I longed to once again blend into the crowd.
Weirdly though, I sometimes felt invisible. I wasn’t; a white, blonde female by herself with a backpack – I stuck out like a sore thumb!
Brits are known for loving an orderly queue so I had to bite my tongue through the seemingly mandatory pushing and shoving that is more common in China. Queue jumpers lurk next to every ticket booth, information desk, and till, and the use of elbows is recommended for surviving the metro crush.
In London, if someone tries to get on a tube without first stepping to the side to let people off, they receive a tirade of dirty looks, huffs and maybe the odd sarcastic comment. I did the same in Beijing but was promptly bulldozed directly into the people trying to alight by a wall of angry, shouting commuters behind me (as an aside, in Beijing, every hour is rush hour – don’t say I didn’t warn you!).
Speaking of shouting, unless you speak Mandarin, everyone sounds like they’re shouting and angry. Of course, they’re not; Mandarin is a tonal language and requires a wider vocal range than English, and I think the Chinese are also possibly more expressive in their speech than Brits.
Although my culture tells me that the tendency to push and shove in China is rude, I found people to be exactly the opposite. Complete strangers really wanted to go out of their way to be helpful.
After stopping people to ask for directions, I was shown around Chongqing by an 18 year old who wanted to practice her English and was then taken to lunch by her and her mother, and a guy in Hangzhou took me on a tour of several temples, translating every information point we came to and also giving me additional history and politics lessons, that were fascinating and included details I would never have otherwise known.
I have numerous stories like this of kind people jumping at the chance to help me out, but my favourite occurred on a night train.
My zig-zag travel across China was all done by train and I booked my onward journey when I had got to each place and figured out how long I wanted to be there. This meant that several of the sleeper trains I booked didn’t have beds available, nor seats, so I slept in the aisle on my backpack for journeys as long as 19 hours.
Anyone who has travelled on China’s trains in the budget carriages will know that they are no Virgin Trains (or even Southern Rail – a timely joke referring to Britain’s currently most hated rail network), which feel like luxury in comparison. They’re filthy, smelly, incredibly cramped, and the toilets are enough to give you nightmares, but they got me from A to B relatively reliably and I met some interesting characters that made the long distances feel shorter.
On this particular over-crowded journey, there was a rush to buy tickets for the beds that had just become available as passengers disembarked at each stop, and huge crowds formed around the conductor selling them. I jumped up and focused my attention on at least grabbing a newly empty seat.
At the next stop, the conductor approached me through the swarm of people trying to wrestle for the much coveted tickets and passed me a note. I opened it. Scrawled in handwriting that suggested the author rarely formed these foreign shapes, I read the words ‘Follow me’. My brain did a quick ‘this could go one of two ways’ calculation. Screw it, I’m following him!
He led me through the heaving carriages, stepping over other unlucky passengers in the aisles, and into a sleeper carriage. Now, I’m not in the habit of following strange men into bedrooms but as he showed me to an empty bunk, I was very grateful for his kindness in reaching out to me (and also now pleased that I didn’t blend into the crowd – it’s swings and roundabouts!).
There’s no such thing as personal space. I found people in China to be very touchy-feely. It’s really very endearing, but a bit of a surprise when your culture is just the opposite!
Londoners complain about having to get up close and personal with other commuters on the tube; a trip to Beijing or Shanghai would certainly put it in perspective!
It’s not just the forced closeness though. I was constantly touched by strangers, all intended in a friendly way but nonetheless, a little unsettling at first. Unexpected hugs, taking my hand, patting me on the arm, even a few cheek pinches, which I don’t think anyone has done to me since I was a toddler!
I was in China during the height of summer. It was sweltering! When I stopped in restaurants and cafes, I really wanted cold water, but was always brought freshly boiled water (obviously knowing your water has been boiled is very reassuring but filtering it or treating it are also alternatives to buying bottled water). I don’t drink tea or coffee, and don’t understand how hot drinks can possibly be considered refreshing when it’s a million degrees and humid, but I was always looked at like I’d just walked off Mars whenever I explained that I was after cold water.
I’m no stranger to squat toilets and was expecting to only find seated toilets in accommodation, but thought I’d mention it here for anyone who isn’t yet clued up about this. All public toilets in China are squat toilets, you won’t find toilet paper in any of them, nor will there be any soap. My advice is to always carry loo roll and hand sanitiser, use the toilet before heading out for the day and again whenever you stop in restaurants. Having soap with you is a nice option but there’s no guarantee that toilets will even have running water with which to wash your hands (or flush the loo!). A word of warning: public toilets can be disgusting everywhere in the world, but China’s are the worst I have ever seen. Let’s just say, they’re not well maintained and some people clearly haven’t mastered the squat and catastrophically miss the hole when they do their business. Eek!
Don’t miss out on visiting the public parks; they’re lovely hubs of everyday life and I learnt so much about Chinese culture by sitting and people-watching. Unlike in the U.K., where the most interesting things you’ll see on your average day in your average park are dog walkers, runners, cyclists and kids with scooters, parks in China are central to the community and used by everyone for a whole range of wonderful activities. With speakers blaring, large groups of people gather to partake in group dancing (mostly ballroom and line dancing), tai chi (with and without swords!), kung fu, and a sport that blends tai chi and tennis. People of all ages line the paths, engrossed in games of Chinese Chess and Mahjong, and intricate calligraphy is painted on the walkways. Paper and bamboo kites float on the breeze, and large spinning tops are flung into rotation by the crack of a whip. These are pastimes for adults as much as children and can even be taken to competition. Feel free to join in as well!
What quirky cultural differences have you noticed when travelling? Perhaps you spotted something in China that I haven’t included here. Share it in the comments!
What do you think of when you imagine New Zealand?
If you’ve never been, what’s the impression that photographs, films, and stories have left you with?
Lush countryside filled with grazing sheep? Dramatic landscapes of mountains and sparkling waters under a blue, cloudless sky? Extreme sports and outdoor adventure? Vineyards? The All Blacks performing the Haka?
I’ll bet that you might imagine that New Zealanders consider the environment a priority.
But is that the reality?
We’ve been in New Zealand for five months now and we’re loving it. We’re definitely feeling settled and although Christchurch might not be our home forever, we are very happy here for now and I suspect New Zealand will be our base from which we continue to explore for the foreseeable future.
The countryside is beautiful, the people are welcoming, and the lifestyle for families is fantastic. There are a few things that have surprised us though, particularly the lack of environmental awareness and practice.
The media does a wonderful job of marketing New Zealand as this super eco-friendly country that is leading the way in environmental policy. We had thought everyone would be very conscientious of the environment and protecting, not just New Zealand’s wildlife and landscapes, but the well-being of the whole planet.
Unfortunately, we have found that eco living isn’t high on people’s priority list. Of course there are individuals for whom this is important, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be part of the ingrained culture as we were expecting.
Here are 5 ways that we have been surprised by the lack of environmental awareness in New Zealand. Do these things surprise you too?
I was expecting to be able to buy fresh local produce at markets, butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers in every suburb of the big cities and in smaller towns. Don’t get me wrong, Christchurch has all of these, but only a handful and they are dispersed right across the city (for great quality fresh produce head to Riccarton House and Bush for the farmers’ market on Saturdays, Tram Road Fruit Farm for delicious ‘pick your own’ fruits, Vegeland on Marshland Road, Cashmere Cuisine butcher on Colombo Street, and Theo’s Fisheries on Riccarton Road. You can read more about visiting Christchurch here).
Most people shop at the supermarket since fresh produce is not easily accessible for all, particularly without a car. Sadly there isn’t anything near us so we have to either rent a car or get the bus into town, lugging heavy bags and a toddler (we don’t have a car – see point 4!). In smaller towns buying fresh produce is near impossible without a considerable drive.
At supermarkets, checkout staff usually pack bags (unless, like me you bring your own bags, but I am yet to witness anyone else do this). They have obviously been trained to under-pack the bags to avoid any potential complaints, and to double-bag each meat item separately. A shop that really should fit in one bag all of a sudden requires five! Reducing plastic bag use was just one of my suggestions for new year’s resolutions; check out other tips here.
Irrigation is a huge problem in the drier regions of New Zealand. We see this a lot in Canterbury, where the average annual rainfall is 600-700mm compared to the West Coast’s 2000-3000mm on the other side of the Southern Alps.
During the hot, dry summer, everyone’s gardens remain sparkling green and cows graze on the lush dairy farms that fill the Canterbury Plains. There’s more land here so despite cattle being more suited to the temperate rainforest climate of the West Coast, farmers continue to irrigate the Plains.
We have been informed that sadly, due to this irrigation and the increase in dairy farming, swimming holes and rivers are becoming unsafe for humans, let alone other wildlife, and the Avon river that winds through Christchurch, though it may look clear and inviting, is actually incredibly polluted.
Cars are horrible, smelly, polluting old things! The car market is nuts! They’re stupidly expensive as everything has to be shipped here, so old cars hold their value really well, unlike in the U.K. They also last longer since roads aren’t gritted during the Winter, so people end up driving cars that you won’t have seen on the road for at least a decade in the U.K.
Supermarket meat is fairly shocking. Chicken breasts are twice the size they should be, it is surprisingly difficult to get uncooked ham (even in the run up to Christmas, despite ham being the meat dish of choice), deli meat is horribly watery and no longer tastes like meat, and there is no variety. Your options are chicken, pork, lamb, beef and a limited range of fish. Essentially, although there are regulations around the use of hormones, meat is pumped full of water, and getting your hands on unprocessed meat is tough.
We’d reduced our meat consumption in order to lessen our footprint prior to arriving in New Zealand, but as meat-eaters this was still a disappointing shock to us. Currently, about 80% of our meals are vegan but if ever there was a time to go totally vegan, it’s now!
Despite these surprises, there are of course a number of things that New Zealand gets absolutely spot on!
The Resource Management Act ensures that Iwi are consulted about natural resource matters. This consultation with Maori tribes provides an extra layer of environmental protection, as well as ensuring that areas of cultural significance are preserved. More people working to protect land can surely only be a good thing.
We love that people eat seasonally and there is significantly less reliance on imports compared to in the U.K.. Before we moved, we were a little concerned that we’d miss having year-round access to seasonal fruit and vegetables, as well as produce not locally grown at all. In fact, we are enjoying knowing that all the produce we buy in store has been sourced locally, and I now also grow most of our vegetables myself (along with raspberries and blackberries, as these are expensive to buy).
The healthy populations of birds, bees and butterflies are noticeable, even in the big cities. When we’ve been camping, it has been a pleasure to wake to the loudest dawn chorus I have ever witnessed – so loud that in Hanmer Forest, it took me a while to work out whether the white-noise hum that had roused me was the sound of a storm echoing in the branches above, or the simultaneous song of hundreds of birds!
Environmental awareness may not be part of the ingrained culture, but an outdoor lifestyle is certainly typical for New Zealanders. Even in the cities, there are fantastic opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and people certainly make the most of it. We live a few minutes from forest mountain biking, 10 minutes walk from the beach and great surfing spots, 30 minutes drive to beautiful hiking and I can’t wait for winter as we’re only an hour from the ski fields!
So what do you think? Are you surprised? Is this different to the picture you had of New Zealand?
“I get butterflies just thinking about it” a friend shares with me. Her eyes blink back the tears that threaten to escape, her face loses colour and she takes a deep breath to compose herself.
On the 4th September 2010, an earthquake with magnitude 7.1 struck New Zealand and was felt throughout the South Island and in the lower third of the North Island.
The epicentre was in Darfield, just 47km (29mi) from Christchurch, and caused widespread damage across the city. A state of emergency was declared and this, for the next few months at least, was referred to by locals as ‘the big one’.
Powerful aftershocks occurred repeatedly over the following years (the city continues to experience aftershocks now and has had 20,000 to date!), the most devastating of which hit on 22nd February 2011.
With its epicentre near Lyttelton, a suburb just 10km (6.2mi) to the southeast of the city centre, the 6.3 magnitude earthquake violently shook the ground beneath Christchurch. 185 people died, thousands more were injured, and a cloud of dust rose above the collapsed buildings of the Central Business District (CBD).
With the city centre reduced to a pile of rubble, Christchurch sadly found itself bumped from bucket lists – even locals admit they wanted to stay away – but 2018 is the time to visit!
The rebuild process is lengthy and is still very much underway. At first glance, Christchurch is still full of roadworks, shipping containers continue to be a prominent feature, and buildings in various states of demolition, repair or rebuild are numerous, but take a closer look and you will find somewhere very worthy of bucket list status.
The garden city
Nicknamed ‘the garden city’, Christchurch boasts over 740 parks and gardens, and is centred around Hagley Park. The park is a haven for runners, bikers and dog walkers, and is also home to Hagley Golf Club and used by sports clubs at the weekend.
On the east side of the park, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens is the perfect venue for a quiet stroll, a picnic and even a run around in the sprinklers if the kids need to let off steam (there’s also a playground and paddling pool). It’s free to enter and is popular at lunch hour during the week among those escaping the office for some fresh air.
The outdoors lifestyle in Christchurch isn’t limited to Hagley Park. Riccarton Bush is an opportunity to block out the city’s buzz and feel totally immersed in native bush including kahikatea trees of up to 600 years old. The smell of the forest and the sound of birdsong instantly transports you out of the city.
The Port Hills are worth exploring by foot or bike and offer impressive views over Pegasus Bay to the north and Lyttelton Harbour to the south. Mount Pleasant is the highest peak in the Port Hills at 499m (1,637ft).
On the other side of Lyttelton Harbour is Banks Peninsula, the most striking and prominent volcanic feature of the South Island. Mount Herbert is its highest point at 919m (3,015ft), but you don’t have to get to this altitude to experience the breathtaking landscape and views over Pegasus Bay and the Canterbury Bight.
The coast consists of coves, harbours and beaches, and the water is calm and waveless on the north side of the peninsular, making this a popular spot for kayaking, paddle boarding, kite surfing, sailing and jet skiing.
Hiking in this area reminds us of the Lake District in the U.K.; trodden paths meander through native bush, over pastures and along streams, with views over mountains, valleys and glistening blue water. The elevation is also similar; the highest point in the Lakes is Scarfell Pike at 978m (3,209ft).
Orton Bradley Park in Diamond Harbour is a great starting point for a number of beautiful hikes and bike trails. It’s a privately owned working farm so there is a small entrance fee and dogs aren’t allowed on the tracks (but they provide kennels). A small museum showcasing farm machinery through the ages, a playground and a lovely cafe make this a perfect family day out (I was really impressed that the cafe uses stainless steel straws so I didn’t need to request no straw!).
We recently did the hike up to Gully Falls, where we cooled off in the second of the two picturesque waterfalls. We went up on the Valley Track and joined the Waterfall Gully Track, and then looped round to descend on the Faulkner Memorial Track and the Magnificent Gully Track. This was a good half-day walk, which Theo managed easily.
Although not quite as impressive as the Southern Alps, the Port Hills and Banks Peninsula are excellent options if you have limited time to escape the city but still want to do some hiking or biking with photo-worthy views.
We are lucky to live beside Bottle Lake Forest Park, with its winding biking trails and walking paths that lead you through the pine trees, and Waimairi Beach, with its decent surf and views out towards New Brighton Pier and the Port Hills.
If you fancy surfing, Taylor’s Mistake has the best surf in Christchurch, along with Magnet Bay and Te Oka Bay on the south side of Banks Peninsula. New Brighton and Sumner beaches are also popular for both swimming and surfing (there’s a highly regarded surf school at Sumner, perfect for beginners of all ages), and there are countless coves and small beaches all along the coast.
The old city
The iconic Heritage Tram is one of Christchurch’s most famous attractions and a symbol of the city. The Tramway first opened in 1880 but was closed in 1954 following the expansion of the bus network (which, by the way, is extensive and reliable!). The city circuit was reopened to offer tourists guided tours in 1995 and has since grown to also offer restaurant trams. Following the earthquake, the tram was closed for repair but has long since been reopened and expanded into a longer network.
Riccarton House and Bush is a 12 hectare heritage site containing two historic buildings, parkland, attractive gardens and native bush. Deans Cottage, built in 1843 for pioneering Scottish brothers, William and John Deans, is the oldest building on the Canterbury Plains. Jane Deans, wife of then deceased John Deans, and her son moved into Riccarton House in 1856 following the first stage of completion. Additions were made in 1874 and 1900. The beautiful Victorian/Edwardian building has been fully restored and furnished in appropriate period decor. The gardens, Cottage and Bush are free to explore at your leisure but Riccarton House can only be viewed either by enjoying a meal in the restaurant or on a guided tour of the whole property.
The Canterbury Museum, situated next to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, is the best preserved example of Christchurch’s pre-earthquake architecture, and is certainly worth visiting. Thankfully, the neo-gothic 1880s building sustained only minor damage in the earthquake and an estimated 95% of its collections were unharmed.
With 16 rooms dedicated to permanent exhibitions featuring everything from early settlers and their hunting of the now extinct giant Moa birds to dinosaurs, birds, decorative arts and costume, the Antarctic, and Victorian era furniture, there really is something for everyone.
Temporary exhibitions are located in three rooms. I recently went to see the ‘50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic’ exhibition, which is on display until 25th February 2018. An inspirational collection of work (particularly for an aspiring NatGeo photographer like myself!) and a fascinating opportunity to learn about each photograph from the words of the photojournalist who captured it. Included are both iconic and never-seen-before works by celebrated photographers such as Steve McCurry, Nick Nichols, Paul Nicklen and Gerd Ludwig.
Also on display until 1st April 2018 is the Bristlecone Project exhibition: a collection of black and white portraits and stories of 24 male survivors of sexual abuse. As a Clinical Psychologist, particularly since I work predominantly with trauma, this was of obvious interest to me.
The stories may ignite feelings of shock, sadness, and rage in visitors, but they are so important. The personal anecdotes are bravely shared honestly and openly so that others suffering similar trauma may know that they are not alone, that their voice can be heard and that they deserve to escape the hold of their suffering. They offer a message of hope and celebrate the resilience of these men and many others who have suffered similarly.
There is also a large children’s room suitable for all ages. Learn through play, discovery and sensory exploration in this fun-filled educational room.
All exhibits are free to enter, with a suggested total donation of $5. There is a $2 charge for the children’s discovery room.
The Christchurch Cathedral, built between 1864 and 1904, survived the 2010 earthquake but was not so fortunate in 2011. Prior to the earthquake, the impressive building was the heart of the CBD and the focal point of Cathedral Square. After much deliberation over whether to rebuild, demolish entirely or preserve the remains as they are, it has recently been decided that the cathedral will be rebuilt.
The fate of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, also known as the Christchurch Basilica, is as yet undecided. The two bell towers collapsed during the 2011 earthquake, also bringing down much of the front façade, and the dome was badly dislodged and cracked. Sadly, the entire rear of the building had to be demolished. Great efforts were made during the clean-up to recover all significant artefacts and put them into storage. Both the dome and bells were safely removed and stored prior to demolition.
Along with the Canterbury Museum, the Christchurch Arts Centre is a beautiful example of neo-gothic architecture. The listed buildings were badly damaged in the earthquake but you wouldn’t guess it to look at them now. Repaired and reopened in 2016, the Arts Centre is once again home to a weekend market, shops, businesses and many of the city’s festivals and special occasions.
The modern city
The Arts Centre should not be confused with the Christchurch Art Gallery. This modern building, opened in 2003, has a large sculpture in the forecourt and houses both a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions, showcasing a wide range of both international and Kiwi artists. The sculpture, ‘Reason for Voyaging’, is the result of a collaboration between sculptor, Graham Bennett, and architect, David Cole. It’s an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon and the bookshop is also worth exploring, particularly for their children’s section.
Quake City is Christchurch’s newest museum. Dedicated to the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, the exhibits bring them to life for anyone who wasn’t here at the time.
I must admit, the CCTV footage filmed in the CBD as the 2011 earthquake struck, along with video interviews with some local residents each telling their story of that day made me quite teary. I gave Theo several big hugs as we walked around!
The exhibition is an informative and interactive experience showcasing recovered artefacts, including the cathedral’s spire and the basilica’s bell, and information is displayed in photographs, videos, and touch-screen learning points as well as witten details that appeal to both adults and children.
Learn about how and why earthquakes happen, the impact on Christchurch both under- and over-ground, and the individuals involved in the rescue and rebuild operations. The exhibition even features a lego station so that children (and adults!) can have a go at rebuilding the city.
The CBD, to the east of Hagley Park, has changed and flourished even in the short time we have been here.
New offices, bars, cafes, and shops are popping up all over the city, and gradually the gaps where buildings collapsed or have been demolished are being filled.
The Re:START Container Mall, set up following the earthquake to house shops and restaurants, and to restore life to the city centre, has just closed last week as businesses have moved to permanent residences.
The new lanes around Cashel Street are now full of designer chains and independent shops, whereas high street brands and department stores are mostly found on the main roads. The shops here are, as you would expect in a city centre, generally quite expensive. Papanui Road is also good for independent retailers but equally pricey!
Large malls can be found everywhere! Why a small city with a relatively tiny population needs so many malls is beyond me, but since Amazon doesn’t exist here and online shopping isn’t as popular as it is in the U.K. and the U.S., people do still shop in store and the malls continue to be hubs for each district. They house not just a full range of retailers, but also supermarkets, large food courts, indoor playgrounds, cinemas and salons.
Christchurch has a number of markets, both farmers’ markets and artisan markets. The largest is Riccarton Market, held at the Riccarton Park Racecource every Sunday. This has a car boot/garage sale feel to it but there are some stalls selling high quality, locally made goods, and if you’re willing to search through the tat, there are certainly bargains to be had. Get everything from fresh produce, to clothes, jewellery, homeware, books and more. I recently bought some locally made and totally eco-friendly shampoo bars that I’m really pleased with. Live music entertainment and a bouncy castle make this a fun family morning.
The Christchurch Farmers’ Market is held every Saturday at Riccarton House and Bush. Buy fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, and baked goods, and locally made jams, chutneys and juices. The selection and quality is far superior to that found in supermarkets, not to mention cheaper, and it’s a pleasure to support local farmers!
Christchurch has a great food scene and new restaurants, bars and cafes are continually opening, and those that have been making do using containers or other temporary residences are moving into new buildings. For a country so isolated from the rest of the world, we have been really pleased to discover that the range of cuisine on offer is diverse and authentic.
The city feels full of life and there is an air of excitement among the locals as their city is gradually restored to its former glory.
What’s on for kids?
There are 289 City Council owned playgrounds in Christchurch, and this of course doesn’t include those in shopping centres, schools (unlike in the U.K., school playgrounds are accessible for anyone out of school hours), cafes and other private land accessible to the public, so one is never far away! The most impressive of these is the Margaret Mahy Family Playground in the CBD (corner of Manchester and Armagh Streets), which opened in 2015 and is the largest playground in the Southern Hemisphere.
Although I’m not a fan of zoos, I gave the staff at Orana Wildlife Park a pretty good grilling on where their animals have come from. They assured me that they they do not accept animals from the wild (although the chain if you keep following it back isn’t always traceable), and that animals here have typically been born in captivity, either here or at other zoos, and therefore cannot be released. They do a lot of work on conservation and I was pleased to see that the animals all live in large enclosures (this obviously doesn’t compare to the wild but, if an animal has to live in captivity to ensure its survival, it seems like Orana Wildlife Park would be a nice place to live).
Theo was able to feed the giraffes himself, which he loved, and watch the lions and rhinos being fed.
Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is more like a petting zoo, and you can purchase both animal and bird feed at reception. Farm animals and wallabies are eager to be fed and extremely tolerant of being petted, and visitors can see a number of native birds, including Kiwis, in the large bird section.
Fruit picking is a fun day out for the whole family. We enjoy Tram Road Fruit Farm, a family run orchard where you can pick (depending on the season) raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, plums, greengages and nectarines. The fruit is absolutely delicious (the best cherries I’ve ever had!) and much cheaper than the supermarket.
Enjoy a relaxing tour of the city and Botanic Gardens along the Avon. Punters dressed in Edwardian attire skillfully glide tourists past leafy banks in handcrafted boats. This is a family sightseeing trip that the kids won’t want to end!
I also recommend keeping an eye out for events that are on during the time of your visit. We’ve discovered amateur theatre productions, pantomimes, parades and music festivals all geared at children. It seems that there’s always something fun going on!
As you drive out of the city, the Canterbury Plains eventually give way to the imposing and rugged Southern Alps. Canterbury is stunning and offers unrivalled opportunities for hiking, biking, skiing and climbing, all within an easy drive from the city. Christchurch is one of the world’s only locations where it is possible to ski and surf in the same day!
To explore north west Canterbury, Hanmer Springs is a good base. There are lots of options for accommodation and food, and loads to do whether it’s rain or shine. We really enjoyed camping at Hanmer Springs Forest Camp (there are rooms and RV sites as well as tent sites). They have a large playground, loads of space for kids to ride bikes, and several walking and biking trails that go directly from the campsite and are of good lengths for families.
If you’re game for something a bit lengthier, hiking up to the impressive 41m Dog Stream Waterfall is local and well signed, but gets you off the busier trails. Take Waterfall Track up through the twisted beech forest, where no tree grows in a straight line. Lichen gives the forest an erie silvery appearance, like a dusty attic.
With an ascent of roughly 300m, there are a few steep sections, but Theo bounded up the track and delighted in scrambling over rocks on the approach to the waterfall. Descend via Spur Track for views over the valley and a slightly longer walk. The final descent can be taken through a commercial forestry ground and is steep in places, so watch your footing!
From Hanmer Springs, you can also explore Lewis Pass. Although others disagree, I think Lewis Pass rivals Arthur’s Pass in terms of a scenic drive!
The Lewis Tops is a great 8-10km (5-6.2mi) walk, depending on how many of the tops you want to do! The track initially follows the curve of the road but after about 15 minutes the hum of passing cars is replaced by intermittent bird song and the welcome silence of wilderness. Theo enjoyed hopping over streams and running up the steep sections. At 400m above the road, the path suddenly emerges from the bush and the rolling ridge of the tops becomes visible. Follow the path marked with poles to see the valley from all angles. It’s a further 280m climb to the summit and if you’re feeling adventurous and have come prepared, you can camp on the tarns but this will at least double the length of your walk from the car park to bushline.
Central Canterbury is all about Arthur’s Pass. The mountains here are more rugged than Lewis Pass and the bush doesn’t start at the roadside, but, with the exception of winter when white fills the landscape, the colours are incredible. It’s all four seasons painted on to one canvas. Pick any one of the walks along the route and you’ll be in for a treat.
The Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall track is one of the most popular walks along Arthur’s Pass, with good reason. The Otira Valley track is particularly beautiful in Spring and Summer when alpine flowers are in bloom but the surrounding peaks remain dusted in snow. Both these tracks are easily accessible from Christchurch and ideal for families.
En route to Arthur’s Pass from Christchurch, you will pass Castle Hill, a collection of limestone formations, reminiscent of Henry Moore’s semi-abstract sculptures. The area is rich in Maori history and is popular with climbers. If free climbing isn’t your thing, fear not, there’s a path that will take you round the impressive rocks.
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is the highlight of south east Canterbury for many, along with the clear blue waters of Lake Tekapo. With 19 peaks over 3000m in the National Park alone, including the continent’s highest mountain, hikers and skiers are spoiled for choice. Glaciers, including New Zealand’s largest glacier, Tasman Glacier, cover 40% of the park and ensure a thrilling skiing experience.
Also in this region is Mount Sunday, perhaps better known as Edoras to any Lord of the Rings fans. This a wonderful short hike through tussock grassland with views over the expansive countryside from the summit. It can get windy (but if you’ve been in Christchurch, you’ll likely be used to this by now!)
The still blue water of Lake Tekapo, reflecting the mountains that frame it as clearly as a mirror, is a photographer’s paradise, but for the road less travelled (and photographed), head to Lake Alexandrina or Lake Pukaki.
With little to no light pollution, the skies over this area, known as the Mackenzie region, are recognised as one of the world’s best stargazing spots and has been named the International Dark Sky Reserve.
Before our arrival here, we were told a number of times that Christchurch was ‘the most British’ of New Zealand’s cities. For any Brits reading, clearly these people had never been to the U.K.! It’s not at all British! The culture is probably most comparable to Canadian (in our opinion – I’m sure Canadians would probably disagree!). Whether this is something that’s changed post-earthquake, I’m not sure.
The lives of Christchurch’s residents may have changed; loved ones have been lost, kitchen cupboards are now permanently stocked with emergency supplies just in case, valuable possessions are secured to their surface, and it’s not advised to sleep naked in case you find yourself unexpectedly out in the open, but the city has come together to ensure it remains the vibrant hub of the South Island and the door to all that Canterbury has to offer.
So, put Christchurch on your bucket list for 2018 (and come say hi!) before everyone else catches on!
‘Don’t fall in!’ my brain screamed at me as I paddled through crunching sheets of ice. I’m a competent kayaker; just a couple of weeks prior, we had kayaked 100 miles around the Isle of Man, but capsizing in the frigid waters of a Svalbard fjord was a somewhat more daunting prospect than the grey silt of the Irish Sea.
I laughed off the voice in my head and upped my tempo, enjoying the opportunity to release a burst of energy and splash Alex in the process. My biceps strained against the weight of the water.
I felt free, as I always do on the water, and inhaled a deep, satisfying breath that filled my lungs with clean, crisp air.
Mountains sprung from the edge of the water: white, rugged and dappled with tundra growth, the last evidence of a summer season past. Hiorthfjellet, our 928 meter-high quest for the day, sat directly ahead, watching our approach.
Our hike started uneventfully and, brimming with enthusiasm, our group made a speedy start. We were led by Viktor, a gung-ho Russian with long hair, a cheerful disposition and a lackadaisical approach to group safety.
As our elevation increased, so did the snow, and our pace began to slow. Viktor raced on ahead, his rifle casually slung over one shoulder in case we should meet any polar bears.
A few group members slipped in the snow trying to keep pace with Viktor, and the beginnings of mutterings about the sensibilities of our guide began to echo up and down the line of hikers.
We stopped at an abandoned mine shaft; a portal, frozen in time, into the harsh conditions in which miners lived and worked. The snow was falling thick and heavy, and the wind pounded at our eardrums. One woman decided she did not want to go on so a discussion was opened to the group.
I was aware that in Alex’s backpack was an engagement ring that I suspected would come out at the summit – in my backpack was a watch – so I was keen to continue our hike. Viktor proposed cutting across the mountain to an abandoned mining hut, where we could shelter and have some food. I reluctantly conceded that I would not be proposed to today, not on this summit.
Although once uttered in jest, the whispers about our safety under the supervision of Viktor grew more anxious as we began our route to the hut, and swiftly turned to exclamations of “this can’t be safe!” as we tiptoed as carefully as one can in hiking boots along a snow-covered ledge no wider than the footprint impressioned on it. Falling over now meant a tumble all the way down a mountain edge that would certainly result in death.
I was enjoying the adventure and, unless we’re talking about public speaking, I generally have no fear, so this was an adrenalin-filled excursion that had me beaming. Alex not so much. He doesn’t care for heights, or ledges, or anything he can fall off. I could sense him getting angrier and angrier.
We were at the front of the group, behind our guide, so were largely unaware of the events behind us. Periodic yelps and calls to wait told us that some were struggling. The woman who had expressed her desire to descend seemed baffled as to why we were still walking in a blizzard, and her husband’s patience was wearing thin.
We both lost our footing a couple of times, reaching out to desperately grab at rocks as we slid. On one fall Alex sprained his ankle. This was the final straw. From this point on he lay face down flat against the mountain, with his arms and legs spread in a starfish shape, and shimmied along the rest of the ledge. I tried to contain both my laughter and the urge to preserve this moment in a photo, but succeeded only in one; we have no photo.
Even if a journey is not as you expect, or you are unable to achieve its ultimate goal, the rewards can nonetheless be plentiful.
Viktor was unfazed, still smiling and joking. Although we all thankfully survived the treacherous amble to the hut, a few members of the group lost their sense of humour along the way. Hot soup restored previous spirits, the snow had ceased and we all joyously bounded down the mountain to the awaiting kayaks.
Although we didn’t make it to the summit and I had to wait to see my engagement ring, the views over the fjord and back toward Longyearbyen from the hut were worth the near-death hike. The icy water glistened and spread like veins into the snow-covered land. The white mountain tops oscillated across the horizon. The setting sun sent a warm glow across the frozen landscape.
Even if a journey is not as you expect, or you are unable to achieve its ultimate goal, the rewards can nonetheless be plentiful.
This was not the only example of a hiccup turned unexpected adventure during our time in Longyearbyen. We took a boat trip, for which we were kitted out in full-face goggles and a onesie that had me feeling like a sumo wrestler. It seemed like overkill but we were grateful once we were bouncing over the waves at high speed, icy water lashing up at us.
More unharnessed rollercoaster than sightseeing boat ride, this wasn’t for the faint-hearted (or those prone to sea-sickness!). Each passenger was positioned between standing-height padded rails, to which we clung for dear life while being flung in every direction. It was a heart-racing, fun-filled way to witness the beauty of Svalbard.
Flawless glaciers shimmered under the saturated blue sky. A white veil shrouded the mountains, exposing traces of the tundra below. We scanned the horizon for whales, daring only to let go of our hand rails for a split second to point them out. We were taken past Barentsburg, the only remaining Russian settlement in Svalbard, and docked at Isfjord Radio.
Mountains sprung from the edge of the water: white, rugged and dappled with tundra growth, the last evidence of a summer season past.
We showed ourselves around, jumping over rocks and trusting that we would have been alerted to the presence of polar bears in the area. While taking our photos and exploring the peninsula, the waves picked up even more and we were told that our bouncy outbound journey had not been typical, as we had thought. No, the journey is usually calmer and drier.
Sadly, the conditions had become dangerous and until the weather improved, we were stranded. The station was very comfortable and we all warmed up with a hot drink while we waited to learn our fate.
The waves crashed relentlessly against the rocks and threatened to capsize our relatively small boat, should we venture back. A call was put out and we were rescued by the Coast Guard.
This was an exciting and unexpected opportunity, and one that really opened my eyes to the range of work the Coast Guard do and the vessels on which they might be stationed.
Once again, we arrived safely back in Longyearbyen, grateful for the adventure that had been handed to us, even if it was a variation on our expectations.
For those that are curious, Alex and I did indeed exchange our engagement gifts in Svalbard, at the summit of Trollsteinen (Troll Rock). The hike across Lars Glacier to Trollsteinen was spectacular and from this vantage point, the colours of Longyearbyen’s houses popped against the white canvas on which they are scattered. The snow was thick and deep surrounding the glacier; the perfect location for a snowball fight!
Dog mushing, which can be done in any season and is sure to be enjoyed by children of any age, was a great way to see out an exhausting day of hiking. We sped across the tundra, the cold air seeping in through the onesie we were given prior to setting off. The dogs eagerly pulled our cart (we were a bit early for a sledge), keen to exercise both their leg and heart muscles. We took it in turns to steer them, following our guide’s cart up ahead, while the other sat back and enjoyed the ride through the arctic.
In writing about our time in Svalbard, I am reminded of a quote by author Greg Anderson: ‘Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.’ It didn’t matter that we were unable to summit Hiorthfjellet or get the boat back from Isfjord Radio; both experiences nonetheless contributed to making our trip to the world’s northernmost city unforgettable.